“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.
“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?”
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.