“So,” Jane said. “This is awkward.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, walking across the glass floor.
“That this is awkward?” Jane asked, obviously confused.
Marquez raised her eyebrow. “There’s nothing you can do to me that would warrant an apology.”
“I’m sorry what society did to you,” I said. I stopped, about ten feet from Jane and Marquez. Charlie was to the left of the desk, tied to a chair. She looked pissed, but also afraid. Sotto Voce sat in the chair next to her, getting tied up by Jane, who was wearing Sotto Voce’s cloak.
Marquez crossed her arms, nodding her head a few times, like she was really thinking about what I’d said. “Me too.”
“Things could’ve been different,” I said. “In another world, I bet you would’ve been really cool.”
“I’m cool in this world,” she said, almost purring the words. There was a glimmer of danger in her eyes, a glimmer of anger.
“You’re hurt in this world,” I said. “You’re mean and you’re hurt and it’s all because people didn’t accept you for who you were. They didn’t accept you for being gay,” Jane looked uncomfortable, but I didn’t care. I wanted to get through to Marquez, I wanted her to know that I understood.
“How are you so sure?”
“I know the stories, Marquez. Charlie told them to me.” Marquez cast a glance at Charlie. I kept talking. “She told me how you two dated when Charlie thought she was a guy and you thought you were straight. And she told me that you two had a nice breakup when you realized you were gay. Charlie said you should tell your parents. But when you did try telling your parents, they kicked you out. Charlie told me your mother tried to kill you, when she found out.”
Marquez closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “The stories she told you are true,” she said. She cast a glance at Charlie. “Your mother never was a liar. But that’s the thing about people hurting you. They do it again and again, until you stop giving them the power. You let straight people hurt you until they can’t anymore. Eventually, you stop caring about them. That’s when you strike back.”
“But I never hurt you,” I said.
“No,” she said. “You didn’t.”
“Charlie didn’t mean to,” I said.
“She sided with them,” Marquez said. “The cis people. The cysts. Those ugly, ignorant people who never even stopped to think how fluid the world is, those sheep who are merely along for the ride, never stopping to think about their pathetic different lives. She said I should see my father again. She said I should forgive him, for marrying that wretch of a woman. Those stupid–”
“Not all–” I began.
“Don’t,” she spat, cutting off my words. “I hate Charlie because she defended them. And now I’m going to show what happens when we turn on our own.”
“How?” I asked, afraid.
“By offering you a choice,” she said. “Come closer.”
“Come closer,” she said. “Wasting my time isn’t good for your mother’s health. Not for your friend, either.”
Jane stood next to Sotto Voce. A piece of darkness from the cloak that Jane was wearing grabbed Sotto Voce’s throat. Another stretched over and covered Charlie’s mouth and face.
I walked over to Marquez. She opened a drawer.
“If you don’t do exactly as I say, Jane’ll kill them both. Isn’t that right, Jane?”
“Yeah,” she said, giggling. “You always know how to make things fun, Mac.”
Marquez slipped her hand into the drawer and pulled out a gun.
“You’ve got two options,” she said. She gently took the gun and turned it around, so that it was pointing right at her forehead. “Come on. Lean in a little.”
My hands were shaking, but I did. I leaned over the desk, my hand only an inch away from the gun.
“Hold it,” Marqeuz whispered. “Grab it.”
I couldn’t. My hands were sweating. My heart felt like a bomb that exploded with every beat. I couldn’t. I couldn’t.
Marquez used her free hand to grab my wrist. She guided my hand over to the gun. I held it, loosely. She carried the weight, but my hand was there, wrapped around the gun. It felt cold.
“Kill me,” Marquez purred, “or your mother will die.”
“What?” I asked.
“Kill me,” Marquez repeated, “or your mother will die.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks. “Why?” I whispered.
“Because I don’t want to live in this world anymore,” she said. “Because it doesn’t matter what shape I turn into. People won’t ever accept me for who I am. Not if they know. And if I’m going to go, I might as well ruin Charlie, with me. And seeing you turn into a murderer? That will ruin her. And her ruination make the afterlife worth living.”
I looked over at Jane, to see if any of this was a surprise to her. Could she really watch the woman she loved kill herself? I could barely see her, she was so covered in shadow. But a bit of her face peaked out from behind the cloak’s hood. She was smiling. She looked turned on.
I yanked the gun out of Marquez’s hand.
The cloak receded from Charlie and Sotto Voce’s necks. It moved to capture the bullet.
*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*
The cloak caught each bullet as I ran towards Jane. I hit her over the head with the gun, and she slumped to the ground.
“That,” Marquez said. “Wasn’t an option.”
I held the gun out, pointing it at her as I tried to untie the knot binding Sotto Voce’s wrists.
“I didn’t like the options,” I said. “I know who I am, and I couldn’t take either of those options.”
I’d almost finished untying Sotto Voce when I felt Marquez reach out and swat the gun away from me. Sotto Voce groaned a little bit while Marquez grabbed my wrist, pulling me away. Her arms were stretched out, but shrunk some as she pulled me closer.
“You know who you are?” she asked. “You’re queer. That’s who you are. That’s all you are. And all that you’re doing is denying your true nature.”
“No,” I said. “I am queer. I am hella queer. But I’m so much more than that. And I’m not going to let some fucked up bitch tell me that I have to go crazy to be gay.”
“When people see you,” she said, her flesh pulling me in. “They only define you by one thing. ‘Fat,’ ‘Black,’ ‘Crazy’. Only one thing defines you in people’s mind — that one thing that everyone thinks of you as. And it’s whatever makes you different. It’s whatever makes you Other. You and I? We’re queer. We’re queer from now til doomsday.”
“I’m queer,” I said. “And I’m proud of that. But I’m so much more.”
I squeezed my arm out of her arms, which had wrapped themselves around me. I jabbed one of my fingers into her eyes. She recoiled, letting go.
I turned around just as Sotto Voce was shaking in her chair. She pushed herself just far enough so that the chair tumbled on its side. She was inching closer to her cloak.
I dashed over to her. I checked behind me and Marquez was stretching her arm out, trying to grab me. I jumped, landing flat on my face, but just close enough to the cloak that I could fling it Sott Voce’s way. Marquez dragged me back towards her, the thick glass floor squeaking as my face slid across it. I looked at the fish in the water, wondering if fish ever had to deal with shit like this.
Sotto Voce’s cloak reached out, veering straight past me. I craned my neck in the most awkward way possible, just barely managing to watch Sotto Voce’s cloak slap Marquez. Something about that was rewarding. She let go of me and tried holding onto the shadowy cloak. But it was no use. Sotto Voce threw her against a wall. Marquez slouched to the ground.
“Sorry I thought you were a psycho killer,” I told Sotto Voce.
“It happens,” she said. “Though just so you know, the whole ‘all killers are crazy people’ thing is a myth.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But that’s good to know. You wouldn’t happen to want to grab a coffee sometime, would you?”
“Yeah,” she said, blushing just a little.
“We should probably untie Charlie, first.”
“Yeah,” she said.
I craned my head even more awkwardly, looking to see who had just burst through the door. It was Hellfire, in his most demony form. He was surrounded by an aura of flames. He was breathing. He was alright.
“I have ridden through the astral plane to fight my mortal enemy. I have tricked the gods of life and death, and I have inverted the very laws of nature, all so I could put him back into the pit of Hell. And you want to know something? I’m ready for more. Who wants to fight?” he bellowed.
“Uh, Hellfire?” I said. “That was a pretty cool speech, but you’re a little late. Sorry.”
He cast his glance towards the floor, sighing a bit. “Oh. Okay. That’s alright. Next time.”
— — —
After we’d talked to the cops about everything that had happened, and after everyone else had gone to bed, it was just me and Charlie. She stroked my hair while I lay in her lap.
“Mom, is superhero stuff this weird for everyone?” I asked.
“For everyone?” she said. “Probably not. Definitely not.”
“Then why’s it so weird for me?”
“You’re not everyone,” she said.
That made me feel better. I could never be everyone. It was true! It was an undeniable fact! I let Charlie pet me some more, and this felt like home for the first time.
“Do you think Marquez will ever be alright?” I asked.
I felt Charlie sigh, her stomach retracting just ever so slightly.
“No,” she said. “I don’t think she will be.”
“That’s sad,” I said.
“It is,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s–” I paused for a second. Then I backtracked, trying to say what I wanted to say. “I just wish she didn’t feel so– you know. I wish she felt better. Was she always like that?”
Charlie sighed a second time.
“Yes and no. She’s gotten worse over the years. Life did that to her, sadly. But she always hated people who weren’t like her.”
“You mean gay?” I asked.
“Not just that,” she said. “But that was a big one.”
“Do you think I’ll– Do you think I’ll ever become like that?”
“No,” she said. “Society was a big part of the problem with Marquez. People treat you differently for being gay, and that doesn’t feel good. But Marquez had it so much worse. Her own mother didn’t accept her. Her own mother didn’t want her to live. There’s something soul-crushing about that. Something Marquez could never recover from.”
Charlie took in a deep breath, “I don’t want to apologize for Marquez, but it’s hard not to see why she turned out the way she did. Most of us have it better — we don’t have to worry for our lives, at least not to the same degree. We can let the hate of others roll off our backs. Of course we’ll see the bad in people, but we’ll see the good, too. And I’d say that’s the key. Defending yourself and calling people out when they give you shit, but never letting it bother you too much. The trick is loving people, even if you also hate them.”
“Marquez didn’t have that privilege,” Charlie said. “Her mother messed her up so bad, she wasn’t able to escape the hate.”
I nodded my head, knowing I should tell Agent 09 who I was.
— — —
My heart felt like it was going to explode, reform itself, explode again, and then shoot out of my chest, Alien-style. I wondered if I was exaggerating. I decided that I wasn’t.
“Sorry, Sarah, but you don’t have my full attention,” Agent 09 said, typing on her computer. “You see, the ideavirus has left us pretty short staffed, and it turns out that Francisco Franco is not dead. Therefore I–”
“Mom,” I said. “I really need to talk to you about something.”
I don’t know if it was something in my voice or the fact that I’d called her mom, but she stopped typing. She swiveled in her chair and looked at me.
“Sarah,” she said. “What is it?”
“Mom,” I said. “I’m gay.”
I really wasn’t a fan of the big pause that came after that. Agent 09 sat there, her eyes just a little bit wider, one eyebrow slightly raised.
“Oh,” she said.
“Oh?” I said.
“I just didn’t expect this,” she said.
“I was kind of surprised, too, once I figured it out,” I said.
“You’re sure?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure.”
“In that case,” Agent 09 said. “I’m happy for you. I know I can be cold sometimes, but I really do love you. I want what’s best for you.”
— — —
Hellfire, Blue, Sotto Voce, Cathect, and I all sat in the living room. Sotto Voce and I sat on the hard backed chairs to the right of the sofa, while Hellfire, Blue, and Cathect sat on the sofa itself.
“I’ve got to come up with a better name, and I really don’t think there’s going to be a better one than Cannaboy,” Cathect said.
“What about Douchebag?” I asked.
“Ooh, or maybe Jack-ass,” Blue said.
“Loud Mouth?” Sotto Voce whispered.
“Hey,” Cathect said. “I barely know you! Who said she could make fun of me?”
“It was pretty obvious,” I said. “Just given how we all think of you as a person.”
“I don’t know why you guys always have to be this way!” Cathect said. “I’m a very valuable member of the team!”
“You were asleep during the ninja attack,” Blue said, “you didn’t help us escape Sum Industries, and you got knocked out during our last fight.”
“But I’m the one who got you guys to the fight in the first place!” Cathect said. “Remember? The Chariot?”
“So you’re like a bus,” I said. “You’re as useful as a bus.”
“Buses are incredibly useful!” Cathect said.
“As useful as superheroes?” Blue asked.
“More useful!” Cathect said. “Superheroes fighting all the time means that it’s dangerous to go from one place to another. Buses, on the other hand, help people get from one place to another.”
“I’ve got it,” Hellfire said.
“Got what?” I asked.
“Porn Boy,” he said.
“Porn Boy?” Blue asked.
“Porn Boy,” Hellfire said. “Cathect’s new name.”
“Porn Boy,” Cathect said out loud, looking and sounding intrigued. “Porn Boy,” he said, just a little louder and a little more forcefully. “Porn Boy!” he yelled. “It’s my name! It’s my destiny! My clone will love the attention!”
“Clone?” Sotto Voce asked, leaning over and whispering to me.
“Long story,” I said. “It involves a clone of Cathect that’s also a porn star.” Actually, though, as soon as I said it I realized that basically was the story.
“My name is Porn Boy, and I am burdened with the weight of serious superheroics!” Cathect yelled.
The alarm went off. Blue grabbed the remote and turned on the TV.
“Hello, superheroes,” Agent 09 said. She sounded a little warmer, and even gave us an almost-smile when she talked. “You’re needed.”
“What’s up, mom?” I asked.
“Turns out a sphinx has taken a bank hostage, demanding that she speak to this team.”
“Cathect,” I said, pointedly.
“I’ll admit it. Mistakes were made,” he said. “I’ll also admit that almost all of them were made by me.”
That’s the end of the main story. Thanks for reading! If you liked this, you might also like my super villain comedy, A Bad Idea.