Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Date Night

“Goddammit!  I’m so sick of him doing this shit!”

Susan lets us get away with a little profanity from time to time, but two in one sentence bellowed across the house is enough to push her buttons.  “Wesley, watch your mouth!”

I clamp my jaw down hard enough that I immediately have to run my tongue around my mouth to make sure I didn’t chip any teeth.  I storm into the kitchen, failing to keep enough self-control to stave off the look of a teenage boy throwing a temper tantrum.  Whatever.  My pride’s taken worse hits.

Susan’s putting what look like tinfoil footballs in the oven.  The sight of foil-wrapped hot sandwiches, normally enough to calm even the mightiest of tantrums, doesn’t do much considering Anna and I are eating out tonight.  “Don’t you guys get sick of it?  I can’t use my gift to fu—” it takes a staggering amount of willpower to keep my mouth clean “mess with Boone.  Anna only uses hers for little things, not much call for force fields.  You and Paul don’t even have powers!  Don’t you guys get sick of Boone using his to…screw with you?”

Susan turns to me, one foil football still in hand and the oven standing open, pouring out waves of heat.  Concern replaces the anger.

“Susan, the oven…”

She blinks a few times, like she’s returning from a daydreamm or something, and puts the last hot sandwich in and closes the oven door.  Her voice is quiet and awkward, like she’s trying to restrain herself.

“What did Boone do?”

I don’t know what it is in her voice that’s making me itch, but something feels wrong about all this.  “N-nothing.  Nothing, he’s just being Boone, y’know?”

She chews on her lower lip.  “No, Wesley, I don’t know.  What did Boone do?”

“He…I don’t really know.  He did whatever it is he does, animates things, I guess.  I was—” I look away, wondering if there’s any way to avoid talking about Anna and my Date Night.  It’s an awkward situation, honestly.  Susan cares about me.  She cares about Anna.  She wants us both to be happy, but she’s not a huge fan of…us.  It’s really not a particularly good idea to let your pain in the ass foster kid date your best friends’ daughter.  Especially when said daughter is practically an adopted member of the Rhodes family as well.  “I was getting ready to go out tonight and Boone busted into the bathroom and messed up my hair.  But, not the same way I’d mess up his hair.  After he ruffled it up, it…” now that most of the anger’s drained out of me, I’m feeling like a seven year-old tattling on his mean big brother “it started moving and hissing like it was a bunch of little snakes or something.”  I hang my head.  “It was nothing.  It only went on for like two seconds.  I shouldn’t have come down here screaming like I did.  Sorry Susan.”  I raise my voice so it’ll reach the living room.  “Sorry Paul.”

Susan’s still giving me an intense, worried look and I’m really starting to wonder what it’s about.

“Susan, it’s fine.  Really.  He’s just being Boone.”

“Wes, how often does he do that kind of thing?”

She doesn’t sound mad, like she’s gonna go upstairs and wallop Boone over the head.  She doesn’t sound exasperated, like all the brotherly (does that apply to us?) horseplay is driving her nuts.  I have no idea where she’s going with all this.

“I dunno…more than a little, less than a lot.  He made a paper airplane fly around the room like an F-16 awhile back.”  I’m not really sure what she’s looking for here.  “It’s not all the time or anything.”

Her puzzled, worried super-stare is really freaking me out.

“Wes.  Do you know how many times I’ve seen Boone do something…special like that?”

“I’m starting to think that I have absolutely no idea.”

“Once.  In the nearly eleven years since Boone came to live with us, I’ve seen him do something like that once.  Paul and Anna might have seen more, but if they have it isn’t much.”

I blink.  I’ve been here for less than a year and I’d prolly need more than just my two hands to count the number of shows Boone’s put on.


She nods.  It takes me a minute to come out and ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

“So why show me?”

Susan presses her lips together, internal debate raging across her face for all the world to see.

“When did he start doing these things?”

“I don’t know, around the time I started parading around town in a ski mask to fight evil.”

She gives me an expectant look like I’m supposed to have made a connection somehow.  Goddammit, why do all the women in my life seem like they’re constantly a step ahead of me?  I shake my head and shrug.

“It’s because he envies you.  He envies that you can go out and show off your powers.  That you can help people and then have people on TV and on the internet talk about you like you’re this wonderful person doing these wonderful things.”

Oh dear God.  I still don’t get it.  I don’t consider myself a dull person, but if it keeps taking me this long to reach the center of the maze then I might have to reconsider.  I make a face.

“He wants to impress you, Wesley.  He wishes he could do the things you can do, but since he can’t he wants to impress you instead.”

If I’d been drinking anything I swear I would’ve done a spit take.  But Anna’s words come back to me (too fucking busy being jealous and thinking how fucking cool it is that you can do what you can do!) and I start feeling like the slow kid in class again.

“Impress me?  What I can do?  His deal is way cooler than mine.  All I can do is bench press a lot, run fast, and get hit in the face a lot.  He can…I don’t even know what exactly he can do but he takes inanimate things and animates them.”

“A gift that you’re being encouraged to use.  By the media, by the public, and even by your family.”  Susan says the last bit gingerly.

“You say it like the world’s telling me I’m awesome and should keep doing what I’m doing.  Most of the people encouraging me in the media aren’t personally fond of me, they just support the whole caped crusader thing in general and for every one of them there’s another person saying we’re lawless vigilantes trying to relive the old west Golden Era of American Violence or whatever.  And then there’s the bigoted sect of assholes who think all the freaks should be buried in a mass grave.”

Susan winces.  “But you are being encouraged.  Boone’s parents weren’t bad people, but they were rather poorly equipped to raise a child like Boone.  He—he scared them.  What he could do scared them and so they lashed out at him sometimes, especially when he actually made things happen.  They’d punish him for it, despite the fact that he really wasn’t in control of what was happening.  They made him hide what he could do.  It was traumatic for him.”  She makes an uncomfortable sound.  “I hate talking about him behind his back, but…this feels important.  He’s trusted you with his gift.  You need to know how rare that is.”

Alright, this is freaking me out.  Boone’s not supposed to have serious things going on in his life.  He’s supposed to be an asshole that doesn’t care about anything.  This feels wrong.  I blink and turn away from Susan and check my phone.  It tells me it’s time pick Anna up.  I wander across the street, taking the time to unwind a bit.  Mrs. Riley answers the door with a tight smile.  I don’t think she’s wild about her daughter dating someone with my colorful history, but I don’t have a record and Susan and Paul vouched for me.  That last bit must go a long way with her.  That and the fact that this is just a first date.  She’s probably holding onto the hope that Anna’ll come to her senses and dump me.

We swap terse small talk as she walks me upstairs to Anna’s door.  Music floats through the hallway and I can faintly hear her singing along.  Something soft and mellifluous.  Guster, maybe?

Mrs. Riley knocks on Anna’s door.

“Almost ready, hun?”


Why am I even trying to read this?  Most of the words don’t even make sense to me.  What’s qategna?  Injera?  Kibe?  I should just let Anna order for me.  Don’t know the first thing about Ethiopian food.  I’ll just—envies you—dammit, I can’t even not understand a menu without—how many times—all that shit Susan said popping into my head.  This—

I almost jump over the back of our little booth when something brushes against my leg.  Anna jolts back, looking a little alarmed, and then laughs.

“That was just my foot, Wes.  You were being so quiet…I just wanted to say hi.”

Well played, Wes.  Really.  Two dates in and you’re already spazzing all over the place.

I give her a sheepish smile.

“Sorry, kinda off in my own world for a second there.  So are you gonna help me order or am I just supposed to jab my finger blindly at something on the menu and hope it’s good?”

She smiles again.  “Jab blindly.  You’re cute when you flounder.”

I stop myself from opening and closing my mouth soundlessly like a fish and instead give Anna a glare.  She smiles even wider and pats my cheek.

“There it is.  Adorable.”

I’m still glaring my half-hearted glare when the waiter comes back.  I don’t remember his name and he’s not wearing a nametag but I remember it started with an ‘E’.  Anna orders a sambusa appetizer and an assa watt meal (oh God, what does that even mean?).  E looks expectantly at me.  I shoot Anna another glare out of the corner of my eye.

“I’ll have whatever—” I stop short of giving up and making Anna pick for me “you like best.  What’s your favorite meal?”

E returns my smile and after a moment of thought decides on yebeg tibs watt.  I don’t even know if that’s a real thing.  He takes our menus and heads back to the kitchen.  Anna snorts.

“Nice save.”

“I thought so.”


It’s not the deepest hour of winter or anything, but tonight’s definitely carrying a chill.  Anna’s fingers are twined between mine and I wish it wasn’t so cumbersome to walk and huddle for warmth.  I’d be an even bigger fan of winter dates if we could manage that.  She lifts our held hands and wedges them into my jacket pocket.  I’ve offered her my jacket twice now, but she just keeps smiling, calling me stupid, and telling me I’ll freeze.  I’m tempted to ask a third time just to see her smile.

A little voice in my head tells me that Anna absolutely owns me.  This is only our third date and already I’m inclined to agree with it.  I don’t even know what movie we’re seeing tonight.  Probably something awful.  I picked the restaurant so Anna gets to pick the movie.  Last time she picked the food and I picked the after-dinner entertainment.  Her taste in food is generally better than her taste in movies, so this whole switching off thing might not work out.  I can only hope she doesn’t wanna watch the whole thing.

I drop an extraordinary amount of money on two tickets for something called Within and Without and wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.  We skip the concession stand and head straight to the theater.

Less than a quarter of the way through the movie Anna starts whispering in my ear.  “I’m so sorry.  This is awful.”

Because I’m such a good boyfriend, I don’t even tell her I knew that coming in.  I just make a sad face and nod somberly.

She smiles.  “We don’t have to stay.  I didn’t think it would be this bad.”

I shake my head and whisper back, “You wanted to see this.”

She’s trying so hard not to laugh, whether at my pain or at my attempt at chivalry I’m not sure.  “No, this is so bad it skips straight past ‘it’s so bad it’s good’.  No one should suffer through this.”

Someone in front of us shushes, making more noise than our whispering.

Anna moves closer, cupping her hand around her mouth to muffle the whisper even more.  “There ya go.  We’re obviously not welcome here.  Let’s take the hint.”

I smile this time.  I can take a hint.


You just couldn’t fucking resist, could you?

I growl and open the front door instead of kicking it off its hinges.  I drove around for an hour after dropping Anna off just to make sure I wouldn’t get home before Susan and Paul went to bed.  Boone’s still up, but unless I wanna drive around ‘til two o’clock (and fill up Susan’s car while I’m at it) just to guarantee a little privacy, I’ll have to live with that. 

It wasn’t even a good joke.  Pissed her off over a joke that wasn’t even funny.  Why am I like this?

Not that I’m a mind-reader or anything.  I couldn’t actually know she’d get upset, right?

Yeah, cuz most girls would love jokes like that from the guys they’re dating…

Dammit.  Four dates.  Four damn dates and I’m already screwing it up.  Not that I’m all that surprised, four dates is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in without suicide-bombing it into oblivion (not that anyone really needs to know that).  But there’s no way I’m insecure enough to try and sabotage things.  Even I’m not that dumb.

Nope, just dumb enough to sabotage things accidentally.

“Shut up, brain.”

“What’d you say?”

Apparently Boone’s still awake and watching TV in the living room.


“How’d the date go?”



“Fuck yourself.”

Boone laughs and I tromp up the steps to our room.  I close the door behind me and unbutton my flannel, tossing it onto my “not quite dirty” pile.

Apologizing would be a good idea.  It was a dumb joke, but it wasn’t a huge deal.  I didn’t beat it to death and she wasn’t super-pissed or anything.  Just apologize.  She’ll accept and then move on.  That’s how real couples do things, right?

Hm.  Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually apologized to a girl I was dating for being a dick.  Usually when it’s time to apologize, I’m right where I want to be—intentionally in trouble and uninterested in reconciliation.  Hell, I'm not sure I've ever apologized for being a dick to anyone.  Ever.

Not that I’m looking at an overabundance of choices here.  It’s really just apologize or ignore it and hope it goes away.  Not that ignoring it is without its charms.  Bad enough that I fucked up in the first place, but what good does it do to revisit it?  I’ll feel shitty, Anna’ll probably get a little mad, and that might lead to an actual fight. 

I freeze with only one arm through my hoodie.  Jesus Christ, am I actually thinking about not apologizing?  I was giving serious consideration to not apologizing to Anna.  I’m really trying to sabotage this.  I pull my hoodie down over my head a little more violently than necessary and hear the sound of stitches popping or whatever it is that makes that ripping popping sound in clothes.

Start thinking up an apology now, asshole.  No way am I getting out of this.

I start running through lines in my head ranging from “Anna, listen, about last night…” to “So, how ‘bout that terribly tasteless joke…”, fully expecting to dream not-quite-obscure dreams about Nazi sympathizers and verbal miscues.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


“I’d like to start class off today by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for deeming your term-papers worthy of such tremendous effort.  That only sixty-two percent of my classes turned their papers in on time has done nothing to dampen my spirits and that the average grade was a full twelve points below last year’s average is of no great importance.  I believe the blood, sweat, and tears that so clearly stained each and every paper is worth more than all the As in the world.”

Mr. Karimov stops for a second and looks around the class, dark eyebrows furrowed intensely.

“Now, have I made my sarcasm clear enough for everyone?”

There’s a general murmur of assent.

“Good because I’m going to give many of you a chance to give this assignment a second shot.  Anyone who got a B on this paper will be exempt from the rewrite but are welcome to give it another go.  Those of you who got an A will not be turning in rewrites at all, congratulations to you.  The rest of you will be required to rewrite your paper and turn it back in to me a week from today.  I’m handing you back your papers today complete with mark-ups and suggestions for improvements.  Take them home, read my marks, and come back in a week with a stronger second effort.  I know you all are capable of far better than this, I saw it on your earlier papers.  I will be taking your highest grade and putting it on the books.  Your lowest grade will be thrown out.  I hope you all appreciate this because I feel I’m being extraordinarily accommodating.  Are there any questions?”

Kevin Whelk leans over to me and whispers, “Twenty bucks says I’m under 50%.  I didn’t start my paper ‘til the night before.”

I arch an eyebrow.  Kevin’s a nice enough guy, but they’ve invented pet rocks with better study skills than him.  No way I’m taking that bet.  “I’ve never wanted a B more in my life.  No fucking way I’m rewriting that paper, it was bad enough the first time around.”

“What subject did you get?”

“Reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II.  You?”

It takes him a second to remember.  Not a good sign.  “How people treated veterans after the war.”

When Karimov finally gets to me I skip all the feedback and jump straight to the last page.  Big and bright green: 

Would it be inappropriate to yell “fuck yeah!” in the middle of class?


There’s a subtlety to the art of superheroing.  It’s not all punching and jumping around roofs; there’s staking out the right part of town, figuring out which person to hit and which to rescue, and understand that when you hear “Help!  Someone please help m—” you need to leap into action.  It takes most people years to get down all those nuances; I must be a fast learner.  I scramble down the old apartment’s fire escape, crossing my fingers that it holds the whole time, and take off running the second my feet hit the pavement.  I see them across the street.  They’re struggling against someone’s garage door down a little dirt series of driveways.  I really don’t think now is the time to start examining sexism in the world of street crime, but I figure the guy is the bad guy here.  One, he seems far less interested in getting away than she does and two, he’s got the look of a man who wouldn’t sound like a woman when he cries out for help.  Plus, he’s the one holding a knife.


He looks over when I shout and freezes for a second—long enough to get himself kneed in the balls by his would be victim.  He doubles up, nearly dragging her to the ground.  I don’t know if she breaks his grip or if he shoves her down, but either way she’s on the ground and he’s limping away like that’s actually gonna earn him a clean escape.  I chase him down and shoulder-tackle him into a waist-high chain link fence.  He hits it and flips over it, landing in an awkward heap on the other side.  It’s pretty much the pinnacle of physical humor, but it does make a bit more work for me.  Life’s full of little trade-offs.

I hop over after him, toss him back over the fence, and hop after him again.  Apparently he dropped his knife at some point because instead of trying to stab me to death he awkwardly punches me in the hip.  I kick him in the chest and wrench his arms behind his back, cable tying his wrists.  I grab his ankle and drag him back to the mouth of the driveway, puffs of icy breath and dirt trailing behind him.  I don’t quite get all the way there before the woman tackles me hard enough that it takes me a second to realize she’s hugging me and not attacking me.  It’s a perfect sitcom moment.  A complete stranger just barreled into me, wrapped her arms around me, and is crying into my chest while I stand there awkward with my arms held out like I’m not sure if it’s okay to hug her back.  When I make out the words “thank you” repeated a couple times I figure it’s safe to respond in kind.  There’s a subtlety to all this.

The last person I’d “saved” had just been role-playing with her husband.  She called me a pervert and he threw a bottle at my head.  This is infinitely more satisfying. 

Plus, I might actually get home early enough to catch Anna before she leaves.  It’s a good night.



“Living room, Wes.”

“Good cuz I’m cold and I need someone to listen to how awesome I am.”

I set my backpack down at the foot of the stairs and wander into the living room.  I’m a second away from rambling on about how well tonight went when I see Susan on the couch next to Anna.  Wow.  That got awkward fast.  Is seeing your foster mother supposed to be this awkward?  Didn’t we talk about this so we could stop the awkward?  Prolly should have thought about how we were gonna make this less awkward.  Do we sit silently and appreciate that we’ve worked out our differences in opinion or do we talk openly about it like everything’s all wonderful and whatnot?  I try to think of anything we’ve said to each other that would suggest a solution.

Susan told me I should come to her if I needed any help, but I think that’s just cuts and bruises, right?

Paul seemed unusually torn on the matter.  Proud of me helping people, but guilty that he approves a little?  Worried that I’ll get hurt, but pleased that I’m making something of myself?  Happy that Susan and I are on speaking terms, but worried about Susan’s stress?  I don’t know.  Paul’s hard to pin down.

Anna’s too happy that I talked it out with Susan to think about much else.

Boone isn’t here but I know he’s snickering somewhere.

I clear my throat.  “What’ve you two been up to?”

Anna leans over the arm of the couch and her hair falls over half her face.  It’s a little tousled and really attractive. 

“Nothing really.  She’s been knitting, I’ve been reading.  How about you?”

Susan’s still knitting, but she’s slowed down a bit.  I guess now’s the time to set the precedent one way or the other.

“I got a hug from the woman I helped tonight.”

Anna gives me an odd look and I rush to clarify.

“I stopped someone from hurting her and she was so panicky and grateful that she pretty much tackled me and cried into my jacket.  Took almost a full minute before I felt like she wouldn’t fall apart if I let go.  I stayed on one of the roofs nearby until the cops arrived, just in case.  Usually when I do that I just act like I’m leaving, but she was so freaked out that I actually pointed out where I was gonna go.  Had to ask her not to tell that police I was still around, just in case.”

Anna and Susan are quiet for a second and while they’re grasping for something to say the toilet flushes in the other room and Paul pokes his head into the living room. 

“Oh, hey Wes.  Thought I heard you getting in.  I’m calling it for the night.”

“G’night, Paul.”

He waves and heads upstairs.  I get the impression that Susan wouldn’t mind following him just to get away from this conversation.  I wonder if I made the right call.

“What did the police do when they got there?”  Susan asks.

I shrug.  “Same thing the police always do when some asshole gets caught trying to cause trouble, made sure she was in one piece and weren’t too gentle about tossing him in the cruiser.”

Susan purses her lips.  “It’s ridiculous the amount of street crime we have to live with.  I really hope Mayor Shaw was serious about looking into the police’s methods.  I don’t know how there can be this much trouble if they’re doing their jobs.”

“Lotta people say most of the cops aren’t doing their jobs cuz they get paid better to look the other way, but I dunno if that’s just people trying to turn a rough city into Gotham City for the sake of drama.”

Susan shrugs.  “You always hear things like that when someone’s trying to lay blame for something.  It’s been stirred up lately because of all the…” she gestures at me “mixed feelings toward this costumed situation.  People wanna know why this is happening, and one of the easiest ways to acknowledge their existence is to peg them as an extension of people’s dissatisfaction with the legal system in general.”

I swallow heavily.  “I take it you’ve spent some time thinking about this?”

She nods.  “Have to know what my kids are doing with their lives.  You should see the statistics I came up with when I thought you were getting into boxing.”

I’m not sure I wanna know the answer, but it feels like I need to ask the question anyway.  “So what do you think of all the…” I gesture at myself “mixed feelings toward this costumed situation?”

Susan looks over at me for a minute.  “All that matters is how I feel about you, and I believe I’ve made that quite clear, Wesley.”

I make a face.  The motherly affection card.  It’s the foulest form of cheating, the lowest of hits below the belt, an attack against which there is no defense.  Dammit.  I sigh and admit defeat.

“Thanks, Susan.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Growing Pains

It started out as paranoia, but at this point I know Anna and Susan are talking behind my back and breakfast today just reinforces it.  Whispers that die out the second I walk into the room, meaningful looks exchanged when Anna and Susan see me, and just a general sense of unease when all three of us are in a room together.

I’m getting that same vibe from them when they walk into the kitchen this morning.  Anna doesn't usually come in and eat with us on school days.  I start downing my eggs a bit faster.  Susan’s been extra awkward lately, like she’s had something to say that she just can’t get out and as far as I’m concerned the longer we go without discussing my costumed business the longer it’ll take her to tell me she can’t let me keep it up.  I don’t really wanna have that argument because I have no intention of stopping.

I pick up my plate and tip it back, shoveling the last two or three bites of egg into my mouth.

 “Wes, would you sit back down?”

“Can’t.  Already running late.”

“Wesley, I’m trying to be respectful of your—”

I shrug my backpack up onto my shoulders, walking backward toward the door, “Sorry.  School.”

I’m out the door before I stop to think about what a ridiculous dick I am.


“Anna, please—”

“You have to talk to her, this isn’t just going to go away if you ign—”

“No.  Anna, no goddammit, not righ—”

“You can’t just ignore her feelings, We—”

“This is my lif—”

“What you’re doing affects everyone arou—”

“Well I don’t hear Boone giving me shit for—”

“That’s because Boone’s too fucking busy being jealous and thinking how fucking cool it is that you can do what you do!”

The entire hall’s watching us now.  Some people are pretending they aren’t but others have stopped their conversations and are openly staring at us like one of us is going to hit the other any minute now.  I’m not so sure Anna won’t hit me.

I lower my voice.  “We can’t do this right now.  We have eighth period study hall together.  I won’t duck you once classes are over and we can talk about it on the way home.”

I can see her working it over.  She isn’t happy with me.  I think if she could find a way to strap a shock collar around my neck, she would—just in case.  “Fine.  When this conversation happens though, so help me God if you are insensitive enough to say anything remotely resembling that she isn’t your mother I will kill you where you stand.”

Nice to know that my reputation precedes me.


Anna’s already sitting at her desk when I walk into the room and I have to remind myself rather firmly that I promised her not to cut and run.  Yeah, I know.  I’m a bitch.

She doesn’t say anything when I walk past her; just makes brief eye contact and goes back to her book.  I sit down behind her and choke on silence.  If Boone were here I would hate him for the shit he’d be giving us but at least it wouldn’t be so goddamn quiet.  But he’s not and it is and it’s my fault.  My hand is actually twitching, wanting to tap her on the shoulder but not having anything to say.

This is insane.  I’ve become that annoying idiot in every stupid, angsty teen drama that whines about everyone and is universally reviled by moviegoers, readers, and/or TV junkies.  And now I hate myself for whining about whining…more whining!  Just wonderful! 

The bell rings and Mr. Mitchum reminds us all to shut the hell up and not disturb our neighbors (I’ve always liked Mr. Mitchum).  Anna pulls a book out of her bag and starts working. 

Oh fuck this.  Deal with this like an adult.  Or at least the closest facsimile of one you can manage.

I tear a page out of my notebook and scribble on it.

Am I being an asshole?

I fold it up and drop it over Anna’s shoulder.  She stiffens a bit when it falls in her lap, but she picks it up and I hear the soft crinkle of unfolding paper.  After a minute she arches her back, grabs one hand with the other, and pulls her arms up over her head, stretching.  Her hair falls over the front of my desk.  I try not to think about the view I could be getting right now if I were sitting somewhere else.  I don’t figure my libido for much of a problem solver, though it’s trying quite hard to convince me otherwise.  Her hand opens and my little square of paper tumbles down onto my desk.  She lowers her arms, lifts her hair, and goes back to her homework.  The moment passes.

I open the note.

No.  Just self-centered.

I scribble and pass.

I’m not sure that’s much better.


A little.

Close enough that you’re still pissed.

Not pissed.  Frustrated.  Confused.

Fuck.  I owe Susan an apology, don’t I?


Gah!  But I’m not wrong!

Now you’re being an asshole.

Ugh.  Slow down.  Think about what you mean before you say it.

No, I mean I know I’ve been acting like a three year-old, but going out on the town like I do isn’t wrong.  Right?

It takes Anna awhile to answer.

No, but it is illegal and dangerous and it affects everyone around you.  You may be the one running around and getting into trouble, but we’re aiding and abetting or whatever.  Listen, this note’s getting kind of dangerous to keep passing.  Just pocket it and we’ll talk after class.  Okay?

I jam the note into my pocket instead of doing something stupid and smart ass like passing the note back to agree with her.  Probably the first decent thing I’ve done since all this started.  Now, all I have to do is sit around for another thirty-five minutes and pretend to be able to focus on anything other than how much I suck.


“Shut up, Boone.”

“What?  I haven’t even said anything.”

“I know you haven’t, but you will.  So, shut up.”

Boone looks between Anna and me, leading our procession out past the huddled student masses and onto the sidewalk.

“Dude, who or what got wedged up your ass?”

I’m not sure why I’m snapping at him, but I can’t seem to stop myself.  “Don’t you have someplace to be?”

Boone gives me an odd look.  “Fine, fuck you.  I’m heading downtown anyway.  Anna, your boyfriend needs a reach around or something; he’s kinda being a dick.”

Anna puts a hand on Boone’s arm.  “Stop teasing him.  Please?”

Boone throws his hands up and rolls his eyes.  “Fine!  I’ll see you guys later.”

We’re silent for a little while before the crowds thin out enough for us to talk.  Anna sighs.

“Well, that wasn’t a very good start.”

“I don’t need his shit on top of everything else.”

“He wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t antagonized him.  He’s not all that happy about this clusterfuck either.”

“There’s only so many times someone can pick fights before they lose the benefit of the doubt.”

Silence again.  Why am I so bad at this?  I take a deep breath and try again.

“I’ll talk to him tonight.  I have no idea what one says to Boone to try and have a serious conversation, but I’ll try anyway.  Just know that if one of us ends up dead, I tried as hard as I could.”

Anna takes my hand and squeezes.  “Thank you.”

I rub my eyes, trying to push back the headache boiling up behind them and hope Anna doesn’t let me walk into a light pole or something.  I’m gonna end up with an ulcer and it won’t even be my costumed life that gives it to me.  “Why do I feel like you’ve already figured out how this is going to end and you’re just trying to lead me across the finish line?”

“Because I’m older and wiser than you.”

“You’re barely a year older.”

“True, but girls also mature faster than boys.”

I nod my head in concession.  “Well I can’t speak for men and women as a whole, but it certainly seems true in this case.”

Anna puts her hand on my cheek, gets up on her tiptoes, and kisses my other cheek.  “Keep making stupid jokes.  It’s a far more appealing sort of childishness.”

“Pfft.  They’re not stupid; they’re disarmingly clever masquerading as stupidity.  You’d be amazed how often it works for me.”

She snorts.  “How are you still talking?”

“I’m not really sure.  I think my off switch was broken by one of the many blows to the head I’ve received.”

“Oh my God, who actually answers that question?”

“Guess I do.”

Anna makes an exasperated sound and shoves me into a newspaper dispenser.


The woman at the front desk of the hospital recognizes me as “one of Susan’s” and starts chattering away the second she’s told me Susan isn’t due for her dinner break for another eleven minutes.  I smile and tell her everyone’s doing great and really wish she would move her hands so I could see her nametag.  Bless her heart, she’s a sweet woman just dying to know how her favorite family’s doing but I don’t recognize her at all and I’m gonna run out of bland pleasantries before she runs out of breath and has to inhale again.  I jump in the second she pauses to shift our conversation from one family member to another.

“I hate to be rude, but this food’s cooled off while I was walking over here and I was hoping to have it heated up and all ready to go when she gets into the cafeteria.”

She clicks her tongue.  “You really are a sweetheart.  Do you know where the caf is?”

“Yep, thanks.”

“Alright, well be sure to swing by before you leave.”

“Wouldn’t dream of ducking you.”

I smile as I leave and hope she gets off before I have to come back through the lobby.  Down a hallway to the left and then down the stairs and I push the cafeteria doors open.  I rush toward the back and hope Daisy’s working.  I don’t know any of the other cafeteria workers and I don’t think I’m actually allowed to use their microwaves.  Sure enough, as I get a little closer I see her frizzy beehive of orange hair bobbing above the short line of hungry people.  Daisy’s tall and thin and has a thing for purple and blue dresses.  She’s a dead ringer for The Magic School Bus’ Ms. Frizzle.  Susan calls her the Friz, but I’m not sure I could get away with it.  I raise my hand over my head and wave.

“Daisy!  Hey!”

She waves back, careful not to swing her ladle around too much and hit someone with green bean juice.  Daisy has a smile that nearly cracks her face in two and she isn’t stingy about using it.  “Wesley, darling, have you eaten?”

“No, that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“If that’s not the start of someone asking for a favor then I don’t know what is.”

If I had more time, I might banter a bit more but I’ve got all of two minutes before Susan gets off for dinner.  “Heh.  I’ve kinda got myself in a tough place with Susan and I’m looking to run a Hail Mary to get back in her good graces.”

“Well, who am I to keep you from making nice?  You know the drill.”

“Thank you.  If Susan comes in before I get back, can you keep her from ordering anything?”

“You got it.”

The microwave’s back behind a mixer big enough to blend Hansel, Gretel, and their two fattest friends together into a wonderful pie filling.  I put our plates on the counter and surround them with Tupperware.  I drop a slice of meatloaf onto Susan’s plate and slide it into the microwave.  While the meatloaf is spinning round and round, I load three slices onto my own plate and pop the tops on the salads.  The bell tolls and I stick a couple rolls on Susan’s plate and hit the go button again.  I repeat the whole process with my plate and poke my head out of the kitchen.  Susan’s sitting at the end of a table, looking a little bewildered.  I toss rolls onto my plate and reheat it before gathering Susan’s plate, salad, and little cup of dressing.  I get halfway across the room before she notices me.  Her confusion deepens before she remembers to smile.

“Wesley, what are you doing here?  Is everything okay?”

“That’s what I’m hoping to sort out, actually.  But first, a bribe.”  I drop the food in front of her and smile.  “I’ll be right back.”

I repeat the process but this time I tuck a twenty ounce bottle under each arm.  It takes a moment longer than before to unload my food, lest I ruin my good start with a carbonated assault on Susan’s person.  We eat in silence (or what passes for silence in a relatively public cafeteria) for a minute before I decided that awkward chit-chat is better than awkward silence.

“How’s your food?”

“It’s wonderful.  Very thoughtful.”

“I made the rolls.”

She laughs and takes a bite of a roll that clearly came out of a Pillsbury tin.  “They’re delicious.”

I swallow enough spinach to choke myself and blurt, “I’m sorry I suck at this and if you have the time and energy after your shift tonight we can talk about all the stupid shit I’ve been running away from talking about.” 

Oh, wow.  That was bad even for me.  Don’t smack your head against the table repeatedly while chanting “stupid, stupid, stupid”.  Don’t do it.  This doesn’t need to get any worse.

She sets her roll down and puts her hand on top of mine.  “Let’s just eat for now and worry about all those happy thoughts afterward.”

Susan doesn’t eat quickly, but afterward still comes too soon.

“So when does your shift end?”

“Nine.  How’d you get over here?”

“Took the bus, why?”

“Take the car back home.  It’s too cold to be standing around at the bus stop.  You can come pick me up at nine and we’ll start sorting this out then.  Deal?”

I fidget a bit.  “Deal.”


Neither Susan nor I really know how to start so we spend the entire ride home making small talk.  How was your day?  Not too bad, how about you?  Isn’t the weather just delightful?  Don’t you wish one of us could say something important?  I’ve got the house keys in the door before I stop myself.  If we go inside with Anna and Boone and Paul we’ll get caught up in whatever’s going on in their lives.

“On TV, people always sit on their front steps and talk.  That or they poke their heads in through open windows.  Does anyone ever do that in real life?”

“Not really.  Enough people have heated or air conditioned homes they can have discussions in that sitting outside has become largely obsolete.”

“Ah.  Well, how about we do it anyway?  I always thought it made things seem more important.”

She smiles thinly and sits down, squirming a little in the silence.  “I hate to start this off with a cliché, but it all seems so obvious in hindsight.  It worried me that you and Boone and Anna were all so fascinated with these masked vigilantes, but it would never have occurred to me that one of you was going out there doing what they do.”  She shakes her head.  “I had a hard enough time agreeing to let you box—which I assume was just a way for you to cover all the cuts and bruises—all the violence that comes with this isn’t healthy.  Boxing is a sport, of sorts, there are rules and limits and protection.  This costumed business, it’s even more violent and it has none of the protection, none of the rules.  It’s—it’s real violence, for lack of a better term.  People out to hurt and kill each other and there is no aspect of it that impacts human beings in a healthy way.”  It takes a moment of fumbling for Susan to find her words and when she does they all come out in a rush.  “I appreciate that you’re doing this to do something good and that you’re not a child and that if you want to keep doing this, Paul and I are truly incapable of stopping you, but I cannot consider myself your parent and not at least talk to you about all this.”  By the time she’s done she’s a little hunched over and breathing shallowly.  She looks brittle.  I should do something comforting, but I can’t seem to lift my hand.

“But you want me to stop, don’t you?”

She nods.

“Would it help if we talked about what I actually do?”

“When I found out, I went online and did some research but it was all a little spotty.  Second-hand accounts, terrified victims, and anonymous statements given by police officers who don’t have an official line to support because of how damn crazy this superhero business is.”

Alright.  Start at the beginning.

“First one happened on accident.  Big hooded boy with a knife meets mousy little girl with a purse.  A tale as old as time.  No mask, no hood, no secret identity.  I just saw him before he saw me and I stopped him.  The woman freaked out, crying and hugging me until the police arrived.  It was—good.  And I mean, I don’t know, but isn’t that the kinda shit people are always so hyped up on?  People helping people?  One of the most popular entertainment mediums in the world is based around the concept of people with the ability to help helping.  There has to be a reason everyone’s so obsessed with superheroes, real and fictional.”  I rub my nose with my knuckle and grasp for words.  “I’m getting better at it every time I go out; better at helping people and better at protecting myself.  I don’t think I’ll ever be a name brand superhero, saving the world every month, but I can make people feel safer walking home at night.  I can cut down on people busting up local businesses.  I—I can help people.”

Silence.  Raging internal debates rule the day.

“It never even occurred to me.”  I can’t tell if she’s talking to herself or to me.  “You know, I think I could read every parenting book every published and I wouldn’t find a single tip on what to do when your son or daughter is a superhero.”

“Maybe you should write a book.  ‘So Your Child Wears a Full-Body Stocking and Fights Evil in the Dead of Night’.  It’s a little wordy, but I think I’m onto something.”

She smiles thinly.  “You’re going to get hurt.  Really hurt.”

“People get hurt every day.”

“Now is not the time to be flip, Wesley.” The fragility leaves her momentarily and I backtrack quickly.

“I’m not being flip, that’s just how it is.  You can’t go through life expecting to avoid pain.  Mind you, I’m asking for quite a bit more pain than is usual, but I figure that’s balanced out by the pain I help other people avoid.”

Another pause.

“This isn’t healthy, being exposed to the kind of violence you’re being exposed to and taking the lives of others onto your shoulders.  You’re making yourself responsible for so much more than anyone your age, or any age for that matter, should.  How can anyone ever know that they’re able to handle all that?”

I scratch my cheek, listening to the little bit of stubble crinkle.  “I’ve heard people talk the same way about having kids.  Not that having kids and fighting crime are the same thing,” Although there are some striking similarities.  “Just that no one really knows if they’re gonna be ready for it, ready to take responsibility for another life, and yet people kinda have to jump in.  They have to take a leap of faith at some point and just trust that they’ll be up to the task.”

Okay, that had to have scored me some major points, right?

“Plus, if I get myself in any real trouble I can have Paul as my lawyer!  I’ve got all my angles covered!”

She gives me another weak smile.  “It’s freezing out here.  I’m gonna go inside and talk to Paul about this.”  She kisses my temple before standing up.  “You’ll just have to survive the embarrassment of being kissed in public this one time.  We all care about you, Wes.  Especially me.”

I stop her before she gets to the door and hug her quickly and awkwardly.

“Yeah, me too.”

I give her a minute or two head start so I can avoid her and Paul on their way upstairs before heading in myself.  Anna’s waiting in the foyer.

“How’d it go?”

“Won’t really know until tomorrow, but I don’t think I did anything too fucking stupid.”

She bounces onto her tiptoes and puts her arms around my neck.  “Thank you.”

“Yeah, but now I’ve gotta talk to Boone and I’m fairly certain he won’t be nearly as pleasant or cooperative as Susan.”

"I've gotta head home now, but text me an update after you talk to Boone."  Anna squeezes my hand.  "Good luck."

Boone’s sprawled across one of the recliners in the living room, one leg draped over the arm and the other on the footrest.  He’s watching Pulp Fiction.  Samuel L. Jackson’s double daring Brett to say “what” again. 

Alright, just like a band-aid.

“This scene always makes me want a cheeseburger.”  I mutter.

Boone looks over his shoulder at me.  “Shut the fuck up, man.  I don’t wanna drive out to Wendy’s just because you got me craving a burger.”

Samuel L. Jackson shoots Brett in the arm and starts quoting a semi-fictitious Bible passage.

“Hey, about earlier, I uh—”

“No.  No, no.  If you apologize…I’m going to cry.”  He sniffles and wipes the back of his hand across his face.  “I, I can’t handle this right now.  Oh—oh God!”

“You are such a pain in the ass, you know that right?”

“Deal with it.”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Table of Contents

Okay, so I have a little gizmo on the side of my blog that organizes and directs people to the stories I've written for my current project (still need a better name for it, I've got three or four possibilities and I don't like any of them haha), but I think I want a post that acts as a table of contents so I can post a link to a specific post that lets people start from the top and just roll through the stories.  Considering I've only got four followers and scarce few readers this might be completely gratuitous, but hey, if I don't take my writing seriously who will?  So here it is, a nice, clean table of contents.

Stories in Chronological Order:
The Atomic Punk

His Name Is Alan Thompson

Golden Age Wesley

An Origin Story (Because Who Doesn't Love Flashbacks?) (Part 1)

An Origin Story (Because Who Doesn't Love Flashbacks?) (Part 2)

Growing Pains


Date Night

A Brief and Uneventful Interlude

Sewer Rat

The Comedown

First Time

Magnetic Moment

Held Hands and Hate Crimes

Nuclear Family Fission
Miscellaneous Stories to Appear Later:
Night Watchman