Beatrice held me the entire way up the stairs. I was painfully aware of how much bigger she was than me, in every sense of the word. My eyes barely came up to her shoulders, she had actual curves, and her personality just filled the room. With her arm around me, I was pretty sure she had way more muscle as well.
Unless I tapped into my power, I was as good as invisible next to her. I allowed her to drag me along until we were in her room.
I looked around at the room. Beatrice had a dark purple and black decor to her room, not too different than some of my friends from school, though the materials were a lot cheaper. Posters on the walls of celebrities I didn’t recognize, most of them black. I wasn’t surprised to learn she didn’t keep her room tidy; the floor was a mess of discarded clothes, schoolbooks, stuffed animals, and CDs. At least there wasn’t anything organic in the mix.
I should tell her I’m- My thoughts met a swift death when Beatrice pulled off her shirt and tossed it in the corner. I stared at her, then the floor. Too late to say anything now. Through my peripheral vision, I watched her step out of her jeans. Wow she has nice legs. I turned my attention back to the door, where I couldn’t see her at all.
“You gonna get ready for bed, or just stand there all night?”
Quick, think of something! “I left my change of clothes in Domenic’s car. I should-”
“Don’t worry, you can borrow a nightgown.” I did my best imitation of a statue, my only comfort was my power didn’t seem inclined to kick in. I’d like at least one disaster to not happen tonight. “Don’t be shy, it’s not like you’ve got anything I don’t. Unless your underwear is made of thousand dollar bills, in which case you won’t have them in the morning.”
It’s like she has a power to know exactly how to mess with my head. “Sorry, I just, my family’s pretty conservative.”
“Eh, is cool, you can change while I’m brushing my teeth.” Oh thank God! “But while we’re on the subject, what the actual fuck are you doing with my brother? Because if you’re leading him on, I will break your face.” I retract my prior gratitude to God.
“I’m not leading him on, honest.” Am I?
“Then what’s the real reason he’s helping you?” I could hear Beatrice close a drawer and move about. “A guy doesn’t just go out and rescue some chick, then bring her back to his house like that unless she promised him something.”
What did Domenic tell them? I said I trusted him, and I meant it, but it would have been nice to know what he schemed. “I swear I didn’t do anything like that. He’s just helping me because…” I couldn’t think of an excuse, not until I knew what Domenic said. “I guess he’s just a nice guy like that.”
I could hear Beatrice shuffling about, and the ruffle of clothes. “That is such bullshit.” I looked up at her, ready to argue with her now that she was wearing something. My eyes went right back to the floor; her choice of night clothes were more salacious than going naked.
“My brother’s a living example of why nice guys finish last. He’s too busy helping others to even get in the race.”
What the hell. “You knew?”
“Of course I knew.” She walked closer, holding a pink ball of cloth out to me. “You don’t spend sixteen years living with someone and not know who they are deep down.”
I felt a flush of shame, but accepted the clothing Beatrice offered. “Don’t be so sure about that.” I spent sixteen years of my life thinking my parents were decent human beings, only to find out they’re god damn Nazis. I must be the stupidest person on the planet. “If you knew, why did you have to ask?”
Beatrice didn’t let go of the clothes when I grabbed them. “I wanted to make sure you knew.”
One of her hands, the one not in a cast, slipped over mine, grabbing me by the wrist. It was a firm grip, but even without my powers it wasn’t threatening. “My brother’s one of the good ones. If you’re not interested, fine, I get it. A girl like you probably likes the thug type.”
There is no possible way you could be more wrong. “I… trust me, that’s not it.”
“It’s cool, I get it.” Beatrice’s grip tightened just a little. “You like what you like, and that’s fine. But let him know you’re not interested before you break his heart. And keep in mind that sooner or later some girl’s gonna figure it out what a catch he is, and it’ll take the jaws of life trying to pry her off. So if you’re gonna change your mind, you should do it quick.”
“I’ll let him know I’m not interested.” Sorry. I know what you’re trying to do, but it won’t work. “But there’s a couple of my friends at school that might be.” It was a lie, and I think Beatrice knew that. He didn’t have muscles or a trust fund, so none of the girls I knew would give him a second glance. To say nothing of it being reputation suicide to hook up with a geek like Domenic.
“Oh, and one last thing.” She let go of the clothes. “If you tell Dom I said any of that, I will kill you and everyone you’ve ever known.”
Before I could respond, she moved around me and out the door. I took the time to change while she was cleaning up, then stepped out into the hall.
Domenic came up the stairs after I’d been waiting there for a couple minutes; I didn’t want to go poking around in a strange home to find the bathroom. I took the opportunity to examine him on the stairs.
Up until now, I’d only ever seen him from afar at school, or in some combination of darkness and my glow; this was my first good look at him. He was tall and lanky, still growing into a man’s body. I had no problem believing other girls would find him cute, in a dorky sort of way.
He was breathing way too hard for someone who only had to climb a set of stairs. I felt a rush of guilt. That’s my fault. I’m the one who attacked him without giving him a chance to explain himself.
He noticed me looking. “Are you okay?” And even after that, his first concern is my wellbeing.
He did his best to maintain eye contact, but he did drift to my chest for a second. I was showing a bit more skin than I was comfortable with, a consequence of Beatrice’s nightgown being too big. It was flattering to know he found me attractive, at least.
“I… uh… I was just looking for the bathroom.”
“Oh, it’s down there.” Domenic couldn’t quite keep the expression of pain off his face when he gestured.
“Thanks.” I hurried off the way he pointed. I pretended not to notice Domenic’s eyes following me. Beatrice is right, he is one of the good ones.
The thought was almost enough to make me give it a shot. I’d be lying to claim the idea of my parents learning I was dating a black man didn’t tempt me. But that would be breaking the promise not to break his heart.
Beatrice was wearing the smuggest smile when I turned the corner to the bathroom. “Smooth as a baby porcupine rolling in a gravel pit.”
“You set that up on purpose.” I stepped into the bathroom; it was barely large enough to fit the two of us standing. I tried not to think of my bathroom at home, which was bigger than Beatrice’s room.
“You can’t prove a thing.” She didn’t have much choice but to brush up against me as she made her way out of the room. “New toothbrush on the counter for you. Nanna’s a bit of a hoarder, so we got like thirty of them. I bet she’ll use this as proof we need more.”
By the time I washed up, checked on my scrapes, and got back to Beatrice’s room she was already asleep. Or doing a good job of pretending, at least. She’d put another blanket and pillow on her bed, a pretty clear message that I would be sleeping there.
A look at the floor made it was abundantly clear I’d have to push stuff out of the way to sleep there. I climbed into bed, then stared at the ceiling in a vain attempt not to think of the warm body next to me. I’m never going to get to sleep.
I woke up to my shoulder being pushed. “You’d better get up before Nanna comes in here and whips you for being lazy.”
“Bwuh?” Profound, I know. I opened my eyes to Beatrice leaning over me. She was still in her nightgown. “Uh… umm… hi.”
“So, what do you think the odds are that your parents cancelled your credit card?” Beatrice was all conspiratorial smiles.
My confusion broke for anger as the memories of yesterday’s humiliation hit me. “I don’t want anything to do with them or their money.”
“Domenic told me you had a stubborn streak almost as long as Nanna’s.” Her smile didn’t so much as waiver. She leaned in close enough that if she wanted, she could have bit my cheek. “That’s why you won’t be spending a single dime.”
I could smell that she was fresh from the shower; the blend of warm water and strawberry shampoo. “I won’t?”
“Unless you want to.” She moved back and held up my charge card in the two fingers on her right hand that weren’t bandaged together. “I, however, am going to max this puppy out. By the way, you really shouldn’t leave this stuff out where everyone can see it. We’re just lucky the neighborhood knows we’re poor so they don’t bother breaking into our cars. Now get dressed before Nanna finds chores for us to do.” She tossed some clothes at me and ran out the door.
I let myself get lost in thought while I changed and did my hair. The clothes Beatrice picked out were from my box of possessions. They were the kind of clothes I’d wear if I needed to go hiking rather than be out with my friends.
As I thought about it, I decided that the shopping spree with Beatrice could be a lot of fun. She was nice, pretty, and her enthusiasm was infectious. The idea of her spending my parents’ money after they’d hurt her people so badly pushed me over the edge.
I still needed to talk to Domenic as well; perhaps find some way to thank him, and for that matter apologize. Then I’d ask him about helping me with my career as a hero. He was smart, and the only person other than my family who knew about my powers.
The scrapes from yesterday were still on my arms, confirmation that I didn’t have even slow regeneration. Which meant if I went out into a fight, I was playing for keeps. Especially since I was a Tank; people who otherwise pull their punches would feel justified in going all out against me. Then there was always the risk of some power that just ignored my forcefield for some reason.
In many ways, it was the worst position to be in as a hero. I was built to be a front-line fighter, my power made me a flashing target, and the one attack that got through my shield would be the one that ended me. I, more than most, would be risking my life out there.
I looked at myself in the mirror. I will be someone who deserves to call herself a hero, even if it kills me.
A knock came on the bathroom door. “Are we gonna have to send in a search party?”
“I’ll be out in a second!” For better or worse, this was the life I’d chosen for myself; I was going to make the best of it.