I gave myself a few minutes to collect my thoughts after Zach left, but I couldn’t decide what I was feeling, or what I was supposed to feel. I concluded that I was fucked up in the head, and then took Doctor Cantu’s advice: find a goal, then take steps in that direction. She insisted it worked, even if it was a tiny goal of no real significance like taking ten minutes out of the day to do some exercise. Anything that you could use to trick your brain into believing you did something important.
I looked at the envelope in my hands. There was no denying that a lot of people would consider it important. I almost went straight for my cell phone, but I changed my mind and got dressed first. It may sound paranoid, but after seeing what Flux could do to a cell phone, I felt justified in staying clothed around anything and everything with a built-in camera, even if it was supposedly turned off.
After dressing, I took another look at the envelope. The money was there, and it did indeed come to almost ten thousand, all in hundreds that looked to have come straight from the bank. The letter slipped out with the money, so I gave it a look as well. Zach was right about Revenant’s writing being worse than a doctor’s.
Then I spotted something Zach didn’t mention. “Yor the 2d person who ever beet me and the 3d too win the grand pries, and the 1st hotest.”
I grinned like an idiot. Of course Zach would leave that part out. The jealousy was a bit on the silly side, given the situation, but it was sweet in its own weird way. Kinda like Zach himself, now that I was thinking about it. I basked in that feeling for a little while; feeling happy for stupid, meaningless reasons was a luxury I’d long forgotten.
After a minute or so, I tried to read the abomination against literature that was Revenant’s handwriting once again. It was a weird to see so many easy, common words misspelled in ways you wouldn’t think possible, but there was almost a pattern to it. I wondered if there was a code written in; he did instruct me to ask Flux about it. With the first twinges of a headache forming from my attempts to puzzle out the code which might be in the message, I put the letter away and went for my phone.
Laura picked up on the first ring. “Is Zach there? Is he okay? Tell him if he’s not dead, I’m gonna murder his fucking face.”
“He didn’t call you?” What the hell, Zach? “He’s fine, he left about five minutes ago. He said he had to talk to your mom.” After comparing her to piranha wasps.
“Well, if he thinks Mom is bad, just wait unt… il…” Laura’s tone changed from pissed to knowing mid sentence. Somehow, I preferred pissed better. “So you’re saying he stayed the entire night. Okay, little bro gets a got laid pass. This time.”
God damn it. “How did you know?”
“What!? Rea- oww!” Laura hissed in pain. “Shit eating weasel fucker! Sorry! Sorry. Lesson learned, no sudden movements. Seriously, though, I didn’t think you guys’d actually… holy shit, this puts my entire understanding of the universe in question. Someone call up hell, tell them to stock up on fur coats.”
Of all the possible reactions Laura might have, this was… exactly what I expected. “What? I thought you wanted us to… uh… get together.”
“Well, yeah,” Laura said. “But I want lots of things. I want a Caribbean island and a small army of half-naked servants who are hot, but not so hot that they make me feel insecure. Maybe win the lottery. I’d settle for legalizing weed. That doesn’t mean I expect any of them to happen.”
I sighed. “Well, this one did happen.” And now I have to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do about it.
“Well, while we’re on the subject of the impossible, think I should buy a lottery ticket? Or did this burn up, like, all the luck?”
“I don’t put much faith in luck.” Not even bad luck. The world is far too sadistic for random chance alone. But speaking of money. “Revenant dropped off an envelope. Says something about no hard feelings and he’s not interested in a rematch.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” Like the flick of a switch, Laura dropped her teasing. “I’ve had my fill of psychotic stalkers for a lifetime. But if he thinks I’m gonna to be cool with him after he fractured half my ribs, he can go eat his own dick. I’d threaten to kick him in the balls, but knowing my luck he’d like it. Then I’d have to burn my shoes. Did you at least tell him that next time there wouldn’t be a get-out-of-death-free card?”
I didn’t hold her opinion of Revenant against her, but I could have done without her colorful language. Nor did I care for the reminder of how I murdered him, even though he did get better. “I didn’t see him in person. But he did leave a written apology to you, plus ten thousand dollars t-”
“Ten tho- OWW! Cum guzzling road whore!” Following that unique turn of phrase, Laura calmed her voice. “Ten grand?! Are you fucking serious?”
“In hundred dollar bills, no less. According to the note, he gave you enough to find a healer who won’t ask questions, plus a bit extra as an apology.”
“It ain’t the lottery, but I’ll take it.”
Huh. “So, I take it you’re accepting his apology, then?”
“It ain’t like I can do anything about it. Life’s too short to hold grudges, anyway. Water under the bridge, much like where he was dumped last night.” Laura still kept her voice down and her breathing shallow, but she seemed sincere, even cheerful, about the situation. “So, you got any idea what black market healing costs? Because I’m thinking I might just keep the bruises and the cash. I’ve dealt with worse for a whole lot less.”
My head was spinning from Laura jumping back and forth between emotions like channels on the television. From worried to teasing to pissed to elated all in the matter of a couple minutes. Are we sure Zach’s entire family isn’t bipolar or something? At least Zach had the excuse of being Imbued; all of us were fucked up, it was only a question of extent.
Wait, she asked a question. “I’m not sure. Most do pro bono work, but then you might have to explain the injuries.” I could have asked Muwth. Knowing her, she had at least two on speed dial and would get it done for free, without any strings attached save for the ones implied by the favor. Not too different from the chain of events that resulted in me meeting Zach in the first place.
“Maybe Daryl has some idea.” Glen knew Muwth as well as I did, if not better. He could decide if he was willing to take more favors from her.
“Cool. Well, I’mma go now. Gotta figure out how I’m gonna spend my ‘got my ass kicked’ money. I’m thinkin’ new shoes.”
I wish I could bounce back like she does. I’d be traumatized for life in her position. “Yeah, I’ve got stuff to take care of, as well.” Trying to explain myself to Mrs. Battle to start with.
“Yeah, if I were you the first thing I’d do is go hit up the pharmacy. Little bit of Plan B, little bit of get on the fucking pill. Pun totally intended.”
My brain shut down in response to its blood flow being redirected to my face. “But I don’t!” I stopped yelling in order to breathe and figure out what I wanted to say. All arguments revolving around how hormone based treatments had a history of poor interactions with depression meds were dropped, if for no other reason than because I did not want to discuss my medical history with anyone, let alone Laura. “He had condoms.”
If I lived to see the heat death of the universe, it wouldn’t be long enough to wrap my head around what I just said.
“So he actually listened to me for once in his life.”
What. “That was your idea?” I’d thought it weird that he carried protection in his costume, but I had so many other things on my mind at the time that I didn’t ask any questions. “I thought you said you didn’t think it was gonna happen!”
“Hey. If you wanna win the lottery, you gotta pay for a ticket, right?” Laura proved yet again that she was an endless font of the most unexpected analogies. “Or are you saying you’d rather take your chances without one?”
“No. No, you’re right.” Taking chances was the opposite of my desires. “I just… never expected to have a conversation like this with…” anyone “I mean, this is your brother you’re talking about. Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable?” It makes me uncomfortable.
“Well, who else is it gonna be? My parents? I wouldn’t trust either of them to take proper care of a ficus.” There bitterness in Laura’s voice. I could relate. “But seriously though, in this day and age it should be illegal to go out outside without a rubber. I mean, they make you pay for car insurance… same deal, only comdoms cost less, and car accidents are less likely to completely fuck up the rest of your life.”
“I never thought of it like that, before.” I wasn’t sure how I felt now that I was, but that was a different subject.
“Okay, and now I gotta go make those calls before the hydros wear off. Hey, how about we get together later for a double-date? Y’know, go to a nice restaurant. You can go in costume to protect your identity and shock the wait staff, the whole nine yards. I’m buying.”
“That sounds like” the worst idea I’ve ever heard. “fun.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Well, look who I’m competing against.” Oh shit, I can’t believe I said that! “S-”
“Ooh… I’m gonna need to pay the healer extra for that burn. ‘Kay, now I’m gone for real.”
“Wait!-” Again I was too late; she’d hung up. Dammit.
I still wanted to ask her a bunch of things, mostly about how bad Zach was going to get it from his mother, when we’d be able to meet up again, and what the plan was now that we’d cleared yet another of the city’s problems. So much to deal with, but more than that, I was looking forward making more progress. Playing hero, stupid as it was, felt good. It felt like I was helping, instead of watching the world go by without me.
“Gold Regalia, Eufron.” I endured the pressure and prodding as my power acted as a corset to augment my appearance, then overlayed itself with armor. Platform boots and molded armor that didn’t fit the definition of ‘boob plate’, but still kept feminine curves, followed after. At least my power spared me the humiliation of having to twirl a baton or shout some nonsense about love and friendship in order to activate.
I left my loft and went downstairs, where Mrs. Battle was sorting some of the props backstage. Her smile was knowing and amused. “Your young man wore you out?”
You have no idea. Also: what? “Sorry, it won’t happen again.” At least Eufron did me the service of hiding every inch of my tomato red skin.
“Oh?” She took a step away from the props. Her smile drooped some, and her tone changed. “You mean you’re not seeing each other? He certainly seemed to think it was more than a one time thing. Was he that disappointing?”
“Yes! I mean, no! I mean…” Why is this happening to me? “I mean we are dating, now. And it was fine, it’s just that it was a lapse in judgment for me to bring someone back to your theater for… well, we’re not married and-”
“Hah!” Mrs. Battle barked out a single, sharp laugh. “I’ve been in this theater since I was in diapers, and working here since the sixties. I don’t think I can name a place in this building where I haven’t caught some young couple in flagrante delicto. I lost my virginity here, myself. I wasn’t married, either.”
If I had Zach’s confidence, I’d have said something about that making two of us, or maybe something about mental images I didn’t need. Instead, I opted for the polite response. “I guess there’s more history here than I realized.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Mrs. Battle said with a chuckle. “Once back in the eighties, we had to call the fire department to get our lead actress and her boyfriend down from the fly system. Never did learn how they got up there. Or why they took their pants off before they snuck in.”
I looked up at the section of rigging visible from this part of the back stage. It wasn’t a huge stage, but depending on where they were up there, it would require rescue workers to get someone down. “I guess I was worried over nothing? No lectures about who I bring to your building?”
“It’s an apartment, where you pay rent and I’m your landlord. As long as you’re not doing anything illegal, it’s none of my business.” She reached over, and touched my right fore arm. “Besides, you’re a smart girl, you don’t need anyone hovering over you telling you what you’re supposed to do. If you think it’s right, then you should do it. You do think it’s right, right?”
There’s a million loaded questions in one, ones I’d been struggling with since the first time he kissed me. “Yeah, I think it is.”
“Good.” She waited a moment. “At least if you get stuck in the rafters, you can get yourself down.”