“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.”
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.