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Chapter Three: Queer Spirit, American Spirit, Awkward Spirit

“You don’t look okay,” Blue said, the both of us standing in her room. “And if we’re going to be teammates, there can’t be anything between us. You understand that, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I get it.”

“So do you want to talk about it?”

I sighed, sitting on her bed. The same sort of dread I’d felt during the fight hit me again. I liked Blue. I really liked Blue, in a touch-y feel-y totally not no-homo sort of way.

“I like you,” I blurted.

She smiled, laughing a little.

“I like you, too.”

“No,” I said, “Not–” my thoughts trailed for a sec. “You know Ellen DeGeneres?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Blue said, giving me a side glance.

It’s not like I could blame her. I mean, there I was freaking out in her bedroom, basically reinventing my identity and trying to talk about it on the fly. “You know how she’s a lesbian?” I asked.

A spark of understanding flashed in Blue’s eyes.

“Yeah,” she said.

“I think I’m gay,” I said. Then, desperately wanting to make the point I’d started all this for, I said, “For you. Do you want to hang out sometime?”

In retrospect, I probably could have handled that a lot better.

“Telepathy can be confusing,” Blue said. “But you can’t let some gross man make you think–”

“He didn’t,” I said. “I’d been wondering for a while now, but kissing you made it finally click. I’m gay. Do you want to go out?”

Everything went quiet for a while, Blue not saying anything and me having already said way too much. I suddenly noticed the cross that hung over her bed. Can you believe that? A cross. I’d just asked a Christian girl on a date. A lesbian date. A date wherein two ladies like each other very much and–

“I’m not–” she began to say. I cut her off.

“No, I totally get it,” I said. “It was silly of me to ask. I don’t know why– Yeah. No. It’s cool. I think I’m going to go now.”

I walked out of the room as quickly as I could, head down, blushing.

— — —

There were so many types of Oreos: regular, double stuff, lemon, strawberry, reverse. The choices boggled me. I wanted all of them. I wanted none of them. I grabbed a regular pack and steered my cart away.

A week had passed since the fiasco with Blue, or Lesbiangate as I liked to think of it.

It was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t had anything to eat, which was a mistake. Everything looked so tasty. There were three boxes of pasta, two cans of Pringles, and a bag of Oreos in my cart.

“Good thing I got away from the junk food aisle,” I muttered to myself, rolling my cart away from the cookies. Before long, I found myself in front of the paper towels.

I stopped when I saw the Brawny paper towels. You know, the ones with the smiling lumberjack on them? Mr. Brawny made me think a lot about my life.

I mean, he was handsome. And that’s what straight ladies liked, right? Handsome men? I imagined touching his bare chest. It was probably kind of hairy. Also he would have been really sweaty. He probably smelled like pine trees, which I was allergic too. I imagined how gross it would be if I sneezed on his chest.

Obviously that wasn’t working. I was 0% interested in that man.

Did that make me a lesbian?

I shook off the idea, figuring he might not be my type. But what was my type? I looked back over my extensive sexual experience.

Nothing. There was literally nothing. I’d never had sex and honestly hadn’t been all that into the idea, anyway.

I liked Hellfire though, didn’t I?

I liked making fun of him, sure. And I thought he had a lot of nice-looking features. But did I want to have sex with him?

I started crying. I don’t know why I started crying, but I did. Charlie wouldn’t have a problem with me being gay. Hell, she’d probably be overjoyed. She’d love to have a gay daughter. With all the stuff she’d seen being a detective, my gayness would seem like the most normal thing in the world.

But what about Agent 09? Would she freak out? Would she disown me?

Everyone would look at me so differently after this. I wouldn’t be the smart one or the shy one or even the babble-y one. I’d be the gay one. That was it. That was how people would see me.

I was very much not done crying when a voice from behind me yelled, “By the mighty cock of Hancock! Face me, wench!”

“What?” I asked, turning around. “Shit,” I said, the second I realized it was The Patriot and The Hound. My problem with these guys wasn’t that they were dangerous — they weren’t. My problem was that they were so annoying. Like, they had a reputation for being especially annoying in the super-villain community. And you know how annoying some supervillains are? These guys ranked worse than The Mime. At least The Mime shut up sometimes.

“That’s right!” The Patriot said, holding The Hound by a leash. “You should be afraid! Hound, do you smell our quarry’s fear?”

Despite what you might think, The Hound wasn’t actually a dog: he was a seventy year old man. So was the Patriot. They were these really old guys, attacking superheroes ‘for America.’ They’d been around since the 70’s, but no one had any idea what they were actually trying to accomplish.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple people leaving the store. That was the standard response to metahuman fights these days. Sure, you should keep your head down and call the cops. But the important thing was to stay as far away as possible.

The only exceptions were the rubberneckers. I hated the rubberneckers.

“Yeah, yeah,” The Hound said, sniffing the air. “Lots of fear.”

He took a step towards me, so I took a step back, leaving the shopping cart behind.

“Can you not?” I muttered.

“Don’t mumble, child,” The Patriot said. “That’s un-American! Speak like Patrick Henry, the great orator who silenced rooms! The great orator, who shaped a nation! Enunciate, like the great Patrick Henry, who once proclaimed, ‘Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!’”

“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” I muttered.

With that, the place felt quiet. I watched The Patriot. He stared back at me, looking ridiculous in this Fourth of July suit that was designed to look like the stars and stripes. He had matching flag-themed shoes, flag-themed sunglasses, and a flag-themed top hat. Worst of all, he wore a flag for a cape. Flags everywhere. He looked like something the Statue of Liberty had puked up after a hard night of partying.

He also had a rifle strapped to him.

The Hound was even more embarrassing. He had on a flag-themed speedo, and nothing else. He was a big, hairy man, standing on all fours. Suddenly, I was very sure about the whole lesbianism thing.

“Oh,” I said, realizing something.

“What?” The Patriot asked.

“You guys are gay,” I said. “For totally not personal reasons, I’m curious. How’s that going for you?”

“What?” The Patriot said again. “We’re not–”

“Yeah, we’re not–” The Hound chimed in.

“Homo-sexuals,” The Patriot said, half-whispering the word.

“We would never be–” The Hound began.

“Homo-sexuals,” The Patriot finished.

“No, it’s okay,” I said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay. I mean, I’ve been thinking about things. I’ve really been thinking. And I think I’m a lesbian. But that’s not bad, right?”

“It’s bad,” The Hound said.

“Un-patriotic! Immoral! Un-American! Un-Biblical!”

“Wow. That wasn’t the answer I was looking for. But you know, the Bible says a lot of things about a lot of things, and I don’t know why some Christians won’t let the gay thing go. I mean…” my thoughts trailed off and I realized something kind of important, “Why are you guys even here?”

“We came to kidnap you,” The Hound said. The Patriot shot him a dirty look.

“Sneaking up on me probably would have been a better idea.”

“Nay, Heathen!” The Patriot said, “We would never initiate the fight!”

I’m not going to lie. I’m glad I was ‘Heathen’, as opposed to ‘lesbian’ or ‘dyke’ or whatever other term he could try and box me in with.

There was yet another awkward lull in the conversation. The Hound stood next to my cart, biting his lip and looking anxious. The Patriot stood in front of it, looking a little more certain. He was waiting for me to say something, but I didn’t even know what to say to these people. It was like, should I just call them weird? They were weird, and I didn’t know what to do about that. The Patriot put his finger in his ear and rummaged around for a sec. Taking it out, he flicked some ear wax into my cart. I made a face.

Finally, I said, “If you’re not going to initiate a fight, and I’m not going to initiate a fight, how do you guys plan on fighting me?”

“I’m a patient man,” The Patriot said. He put his pinky in his other ear, rummaged around and flicked more ear wax into my cart. The Hound walked up to me — I’m not kidding, I can’t believe he did this — and placed his finger right in front of my face.

“Are you trying to poke me?” I asked.

“I’m not touching you,” he said.

“You guys are trying to annoy me into attacking you?”

“It’s a technique that has worked many times in the past. George Washington once–”

“I don’t know what you’re going to say,” I said, interrupting The Patriot. “But I’m going to tell you right now that you’re wrong, and you’re stupid.”

“And I’m annoying you!” The Patriot declared.

“Alright, you really want to wait this out? The cops should be here any minute.”

The Hound turned his head back to look nervously at The Patriot. “Boss?” he said.

“You think you frighten me, you boob-toting Benedict Arnold?” The Patriot asked.

I didn’t even bother commenting on the new nickname.

“No,” I said. “But I don’t have to.”

A few seconds passed.

“Boss?” The Hound asked, turning his head back again.

“Sh,” The Patriot said.

“Boss, she–”

“Sh,” The Patriot said.

We stood there like that for another ten seconds.

“This Communist has a point!” The Patriot said, turning the shotgun towards me. “You better come with us, Missy.”

I didn’t, because a shadow snapped out and grabbed The Patriot’s gun. He shot off a couple rounds, but the darkness stretched, slowing the bullets down until they plopped helplessly through my cart. I rammed my cart into The Patriot, who toppled over.

The Hound pounced towards me, and it was only when I was turning around that I saw the girl with the black cloak enter the aisle — the same girl from before. In a weird sort of way, the darkness seemed to light up her face.

I ran.

The Hound chased after me. I couldn’t see him. Instead I heard his panting, and the way his leash slid against the white supermarket floor. I swiped a bottle of liquid detergent off a shelf and kept running. Was The Hound getting closer to me?

No. Not even close. I turned around for a sec and saw that he was tangled in the leash, trying to get himself unstuck. He looked stupid for a second, and I almost broke into a smile. But then he got unstuck, and it’s like why did I just stand there like an idiot?

I wished I had my armor on. Instead I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I mean, really. How often is a t-shirt and jeans the wrong thing to wear?

I screwed the top off of the detergent and turned it over, letting it spill all over the white tile floor. Then I rounded the corner.

“Aw, girl. Did you just mess up my floors? The floors I just cleaned?” some lady asked, while The Hound chased me.

“Sorry!” I yelled, jumping out of her way. I craned my neck to see how close The Hound was. I didn’t need to worry.

“You are not gonna be tracking that all over this floor,” the lady said, raising the mop over her head and letting it strike The Hound. The mop broke and The Hound was stopped dead in his tracks.

“Is that collar a kinky thing?” she asked. “This is a family establishment. A place where people get their food. Get your crazy ass out of my supermarket.”

I stopped. Rested my hands on my knees, panting. Then I walked up to the lady.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Ah, don’t mention it,” she said, “I was a superhero once too, you know. I remember what it was like. I’m just sorry I made so many messes back then.”

“You need help cleaning up?” I asked.

“Only this mess,” she said, pointing at The Hound.

I smiled, picked up The Hound’s leash and dragged him through another aisle.

“Oh god,” he said, panting, “That was so awful. Please, oh god. Make it stop.”

I smirked, dragging him back to where The Patriot and the girl with the black cloak were. The Patriot lay sprawled next to the girl, face down.

I looked at her: her pale skin, that shadow mask, the red curl. I’d looked at her before, but I’d never really looked at her, not close up like this. I’d never noticed how beautiful she was.

“Hi,” I said. Those brown eyes of hers gazed into mine. She didn’t smile. But she didn’t frown, either. I didn’t know what to think.

“Guess I’ve been seeing a lot of you around, huh?” I asked, laughing weakly. “It’s like you’re following me or something.”

She replied with nothing more than a cold stare.

“Wait, you’re following me?” I asked. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

She said nothing.

“Answer me,” I said, getting closer and doing my best Hellfire impression, “or fight me.”

It looked like she was stifling a laugh.

“Hey, that’s not funny!” I insisted.

She pulled herself together and smiled.

“Sorry,” she said, quietly.

“If you’re going to be following me around, I think I have a right to at least know your name.”

She hesitated. Then she leaned in, grabbing my arm and putting her mouth less than an inch away from my ear.

“Sotto Voce,” she whispered.

“Sotto Voce,” I whispered back, feeling the name on my lips. I liked it.

I liked it a lot.

The automatic doors opened. I tensed up, checking to see. It was Detective Kirby, that lady detective from last week who had apparently arrested Satan. She had her gun drawn.

“Has this situation been handled?” she yelled, looking at me. The old lady working the cash register looked startled.

“Yeah,” I said.

The lady cop moved closer, scanning the room for any possible danger.

“Lemme see some I.D.”

I reached for my pocket, and she shot me a look.

“Slowly,” she said.

I reached into my pocket as slowly as I could, taking out my wallet. I slid out my metahuman identification card and reached out to give it to her. She crossed the distance between us, swiping the card from me. After a brief scan, she nodded her head.

“You’re not in-costume,” she said.

“These guys attacked me. I was just getting groceries, acting as a civilian.”

“And you took both of them out by yourself?”

I turned around to look at Sotto Voce, but she wasn’t there. I wondered how she did it.

“Sure,” I said.

— — —

I was tired by the time I got home from the police station, but Cathect wouldn’t give me a moment’s rest. He sprawled on the couch, his feet hanging over the armrest. He sprung up when I came in.

“Took you a while. Where’d you go to get groceries, Oz?” he asked.

I set my grocery bag on the table. It wasn’t very heavy.

“Hey, big spender,” Cathect said, jokingly.

The lady at the grocery store had given me one roll of Brawny paper towels before I left, because apparently she’d noticed me crying over it. “Honey, if it means so much to you, just take it,” she’d said.

But I wasn’t about to tell Cathect that.

“Haha, Cathect. You’re so funny,” I said. “We really needed paper towels. The Patriot and The Hound tried to fight me, so I had to go down to the station, afterward.”

“The Patriot and The Hound?” Cathect said, “Those old guys? They’re the cutest couple.”

“It’s not official,” I said.

“Stupid laws,” he mumbled.

While I started explaining everything that had happened, Hellfire walked out of his room. He rested his shoulder against the wall and listened to the whole story, minus the part where I cried over the paper towels.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Hellfire said.

There was so much concern in his eyes. I guess I appreciated that.

“Me too,” I said, walking past him and into the hallway. There were four doors, each leading into one of ours rooms. I hesitated in front of Blue’s room. We hadn’t really talked since I asked her out. We hadn’t talked at all, actually. She must’ve been avoiding me. It’s not like I could blame her.

I closed the door and got on the Internet, checking out the Metahuman Database. Sotto Voce wasn’t listed as a registered metahuman. Had she lied to me, or was she just not registered? Maybe she was registered, but as a part of some top secret agency?

I typed her name into Google and found a Wikipedia entry. Something about Italian, something about music, blah blah. There was a section devoted to the Sotto Voce myth, which caught my interest.

“Twenty-seven different metahumans have taken up the name Sotto Voce. In myth, it’s believed that each Sotto Voce represents the queer feminine spirit of their respective era. The last known Sotto Voce died in 1991. This era’s Sotto Voce has yet to come forth, and some wonder whether–”

A knock at the door.

“Come in,” I said, swivelling in my chair so that I faced the door. Hellfire stood in the doorway.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I said. “So how about this heat, huh? What, did you bring Hell with you or something?”

“No,” he said, his gaze intense.

“I was just–” I almost began to explain that I was joking, but gave up. “What’re you doing here?”

“Wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said, “Like, I’m alright. Not 100%. Not feeling A+. I’m probably not a B, either. I’m not average, so C is out. I guess I’m a D? But I’m a D+. I’m not dying and I have friends, so I’m not doing the worst, but I could definitely be–”

“Sotto Voce,” he said. “We still don’t know much about her.”

“She helped me out today.”

“We don’t know why,” he said.

“But we know she helped me out today.”

“We also don’t know why The Patriot and The Hound tried to kidnap you,” Hellfire said.

“Honestly, I’m not super worried,” I said. “It was probably just some harebrained scheme that’s already irrelevant.”

“Those two are often hired guns,” Hellfire said. “What if someone sent them after you?”

“If someone sent them after me, they obviously don’t care all that much about finding me.”

Hellfire let out a long, deep sigh. “I’m still worried about Sotto Voce. She’s stalking you. That’s dangerous.”

“I think she wants to bang you,” Cathect yelled. Even if I didn’t know his voice, I would’ve known it was Cathect saying that.

“Thanks, Cathect,” I shouted. “But I really don’t need you giving me dating tips.”

“So long as you use protection,” Cathect yelled.

“Why would two ladies need a condom?” Hellfire asked.

Cathect laughed.

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