I Am The Night (Part 1)
Comics Retcon Universe 013
I Am The Night
Bruce Wayne has been a vigilante stalking the nights of Chicago for months, doing what he could to help stop the rising crime rate. But he's just a man and now he's met his match.
Author's Note: Here's the beginning of a brand new story but I must warn you that he is not the Bat from the comics so I took some liberties with his character. I wanted to establish that this is a real world interpretation of him and as such he's not nearly as cool as he is in the comics or movies. So you need to keep that in mind when reading this. You also have to keep in mind that he is not the main character of this story. I'd like to thank djkauf for the editing and DC Comics for the wonderful characters.
August 15, 2011
“Master Bruce, you have a phone call”
I nodded and set down the paper. On the front page was a dark sketch of a shadowy figure, representing the vigilante that was stalking the nights of Chicago. The press were dubbing him the “Bat” from some unreliable sources. It was kinda ridiculous as was the sketch. It was too dark to see anything finite and they gave me pointed ears. I didn’t have pointed ears. But I guess that’s what I get when I use throwing stars shaped like bats to subdue my victims. Sensei said in order for you to truly scare your opponent you needed to harness your own fear and use it as a weapon. As a child, bats frightened me, they were my greatest fear and now I was using that fear against those I stalked.
But this “Bat” thing was ridiculous. I didn’t have a name, I didn’t want a name. I was supposed to be a force. Not something the press could latch onto and make their own. It was like that damn woman in San Francisco, following around heroes like she owned them. It was insufferable and beneath someone’s time to waste. It was wasting my time. That’s why I worked in the shadows. None of this gallivanting around out in the open, letting people see me.
Alfred---my butler---cleared his throat. “A hum…sir…the telephone.”
I sighed, setting down the paper. “Thank you Alfred.”
He nodded, turned like a toy soldier and walked out of the room. He’d been stiff like that ever since I was a boy. I used to be so afraid of him because he never smiled. I once told my father that I thought he was a robot to which my father burst out into laughter. He told me that Alfred wasn’t a robot that “he was British, sometimes they were just like that.” I didn’t know what he meant then and I still don’t. Alfred never changed though. Even after my parents were murdered, he was still the same stiff robotic man, never even cracking a smile. Thank God for Leslie or else I would have gone insane a long time ago.
I watched my tin soldier as he walked across the large expanse that was my study. It had been my father’s study once and I hadn’t changed a thing about it, except maybe some of the equipment. The Waynes were already exceptionally wealthy before my father came into his riches. My great great grandfather was involved in the railroad. He built quite an empire for my family, which only grew as the years went on. My great grandfather started Wayne Enterprises from scratch; it was originally just an Export company, shipping goods from Lake Michigan up into Canada. When my grandfather took over the business in the earlier fifties, he revolutionized things by investing in modern appliances: things like color TVs and microwaves. He controlled the company until my father came of age in the early seventies. Instead of going to business school like his father before him, my father decided to go into medicine. My grandfather was outraged. My father went through medical school, met my mother and got married. He opened a small family practice in the city with Dr. Leslie Thompson. The two of them were fairly successful until my grandfather’s failing health pulled Dad back into the business. For the five years that he was CEO he brought Wayne Enterprises into the twentieth century by pioneering medical research, expanding the company into several other fields besides exports.
In 1985, when I was nine years old, my parents were mugged and shot in front of me. I watched them die and all for the paper in their wallets. It was the single most defining moment in my life. It helped shape the man that I am today.
The room was large and overbearing but I liked it. It hadn’t changed much since my grandfather---Thomas Wayne the Third---had used it. This house and everything in it, were mainly mementos of his many travels. He was a bit of an adventurer whenever he could be. He traipsed around the globe, picking up treasures whenever possible. This room alone was filled with several of them, from different continents and tiny places that I never even heard of. I thought about changing things several times---moving some pictures, taking down my father’s medical degrees---but every time I tried to it just didn’t feel right. So here the room sat---a tomb to the two men who it really belonged to.
Stiff and timeless, just like the butler who tended it.
I waited until Alfred was all the way out of the room before I pushed the button. “Bruce Wayne.”
“Mr. Wayne” said a familiar voice on the other end.
I sighed. I’d been expecting and dreading this phone call for several days now. “Agent Faraday.”
I met Agent Faraday back in February, shortly after I started my job to clean up the mean streets of “Gotham”. I was investigating the incident with the Spa; Faraday was the man in charge. And no, none of that ever made it into the papers. The official story was a cult ritual gone bad but the truth was far more sinister. I thought I was being discreet when I started poking around in the darkened halls of the Spa but I wasn’t being as stealthy as I thought. Agent Faraday got the drop on me almost immediately. I think it might have been because he’d been waiting for me. I think he’d suspected for some time that the vigilante and I might be connected ... especially after the incident with Cassandra Sandsmark in the museum.
He even called me “Mr. Wayne” at the time of his discovery. Instead of arresting me, he offered me a job. Well actually, he offered to work with me. They had a bit of a problem and though they had the resources, they didn’t have my ability to investigate. Too much red tape. So he handed me a bottle of pills and asked me to find out what I could, strictly off the record of course. I was a bit of a whiz kid in school, graduated from high school by the age of fifteen. I went off to college a month later---the name Wayne had a lot of pull---I had my first degree by the age of eighteen in criminal psychology, I got my second in forensics at age twenty one and a third in chemistry by age twenty-four. As well as honing my mind, I also honed my body. Ever since the day my parents died, I wanted to make sure that it never happened again. Three days later, I had private martial arts instructors---one of which was held in high esteem. I trained with them day and night for ten years straight---alternating schools, learning new and important things. From there I went to California for the next three years and found myself apprenticing under the great John Zatara, Master Illusionist. I also crossed paths with Ted Grant, former prize boxer---he taught me how to take a beating and keep on coming.
Faraday had known all of this. That’s why he was certain I was the right man for the job.
Which brings me back to our conversation on the phone.
“What have you found out?” he asked, sounding tired.
I pushed a button on my desk, bringing up the console I had built into it. As soon as the monitor rose into place and I typed in my password, I brought up the file. The woman who was peddling them called the bottle of pills he handed me months ago “Ambrosia”. It was a play on the food of the Gods in Greek Myth, it fit in with the crazy cult she was running. In truth, they were much more deadly.
“Your Ambrosia was actually manufactured by a company called Alva. It was supposed to be steroid enhancement for soldiers but it had unwanted side effects.”
Faraday sighed. “Thankfully most of the girls that were on it only had been for a few months. I vaguely remember reading something about Alva; they had a black op pharmaceutical deal with the US Army for a while.”
I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me do so. “I traced the work to a man named Porter. He’s one of Alva’s top researchers; he has an office here in the city. I was thinking of paying him a visit as soon as night falls.”
“It’s taken you that many months to figure all that out?”
“I’ve been busy,” I said, referring to my numerous escapades.
“So I’ve read,” said Faraday “I’ve been up to my elbows in it as well if you haven’t noticed.”
“You know with all your resources you could have found out all this stuff by yourself.”
“I needed to test you Mr. Wayne,” said Faraday with a laugh. “To make sure you were every bit of a Detective as your fans on the Internet claim you to be.”
I scoffed. “Don’t believe everything you read.”
“I never do.”
Faraday clicked off. I continued to stare at the file on the computer. According to this, Porter’s office was actually in an old factory that Alva stopped using. The company got scared of his initial results and forced him into an early retirement. After the drug proved to be too hazardous, he sold it on the Black Market. That’s how that deranged woman got a hold of the pills. But word on the street was Porter had perfected his serum and was in the process of human testing. Of course I didn’t tell any of that to Faraday. Not that I needed to, I was sure he had people who already knew all about it. Like he said before, he was testing me but there was more to it than that.
I smiled as I clicked off the console. It lowered back into my desk. Then I clicked the intercom button. “Alfred, get the car ready, we’re going out again.”
The Internet had a lot of ideas about me, all of them false. According to the fan boys, I drove a sleek rocket powered car; someone actually dubbed it the “Bat mobile”. Give me a break. They also said I lived in a Cave somewhere, tinkering about in the dark in some over sized lab that was combination computer hub and chemistry set. As cool as that sounded, it was so far from the truth it was scary. The only car I drove around in was the Rolls Royce that belonged to my grandfather and the closest thing I had to a laboratory was the makeshift one I built in the basement of my spacious mansion. There were no computers save for the numerous PCs in just about every room of my house. I automated most of the place after I read that Bill Gates had a similar set up---well actually he dreamed that he had my kind of tech.
The other biggest rumor out there was the suit I wore. The only thing they managed to get right was the color. Yes, I did wear a cape but it wasn’t the kind they thought it was. It wasn’t really a cape either, more like a hooded robe; I wore to shield myself from the cold of the night and for the effect. It was a lot scarier to be seen flapping about then what I really was. Yes, my suit was armored–woven with Kevlar, but it wasn’t armor plated. No, there was no symbol of the bat on my chest and no I didn’t carry around my “gadgets” on a belt. I didn’t even have any gadgets, save for the night vision goggles and assortment of throwing stars I used.
I had a feeling that the legend of the “Bat” Man was going to outlive me for a very long time. It was kinda cool I suppose but it was so far from the truth it was scary. To think it all started because I wanted to bring justice to my parents’ killer. Everyone knew Joe Chill did it so when the jury came back and he was innocent, it was huge outrage. But at the time Chill was in deep with the Falconi crime family. He was a low-level enforcer, did some of the dirty work. The night he killed my parents he was on a fix---he was a little heavy into heroin at the time. He claimed he didn’t even remember doing it, which seemed to outrage everyone even more.
Falconi greased the palms of the judge and paid off several of the jury members. Chill got to walk and I had a purpose in life. It took me several years to catch up with him. I caught up with him outside a nightclub in the city---The 1000's---he was with some hooker. It was about two years ago, Chill was no longer with Falconi so he didn’t have his protection anymore. I dropped down on him from above, breaking his shoulder in the process. The hooker screamed and took off. At the time, I was new at the whole revenge thing. I thought I was doing pretty good until Chill pulled out a gun. He shot me in the arm and took off. I tried to give chase but the pain was too much. I missed my chance at him and I knew it.
Chill was killed in a botched convenience store robbery a week later. I was still recuperating from the gunshot wound. I went to a dark place after that, angered that I was unable to enact the revenge I spent years training for. Leslie helped me a lot, she taught me that there were a lot of bad people in the world like Joe Chill and many of them didn’t get the justice that they deserved. That’s what spawned me into my crusade. It took me the next two years to get everything right---there was a lot of trial and error---but in the end, things fell into place nicely. I used the nightclub as a base of operations, it was a crooked establishment run by a scumbag named Ballard. He was a business rival of mine actually but unlike some of the others---Luthor---he didn’t hide the fact that he was scum.
It was there that I met my first Metas. First, it was that shape shifter Chiller. I kept an eye on him because his name was so close to Chill. He arrived at the club after doing a job in California. Ballard had him impersonating some college football star to smear the kid’s name. It was practice for a bigger score. Ballard had this wild plot to assassinate the President and take his place. That’s where I realized there was something more to pretty Myka Carter. She was already trying---and failing---to land my receptionist, Beatrice De Costa. Who knew that Myka was harboring such a secret? After rescuing her and Bea in the alley from some of Ballard’s thugs, I kept tabs on her.
I ran a lot of illegal wiretaps and hacks. I had a hacker who could get into a system and get out before being caught. She was the one who found the information on the “virus” that Myka was looking for. She stumbled upon it by accident actually. I took everything she found and gave it to the would be hero, giving her the push she needed in the right direction. I wasn’t a Meta, it was too big for me to get involved with but it was the right bit of info. She needed to set things right with her career. It made me proud to know that I was making a difference.
Hopefully I’d make one tonight, too.
I was crouched on the rooftop across the street from the factory. It used to be the main pharmaceutical building where they manufactured the now defunct “ambrosia”. But after the Army cancelled the contract, Alva cut all ties and pulled out. That was over a year ago and the place was supposedly mothballed. But things started to change a few months ago. After the Bana Spa fiasco, I discovered that the power company was registering large amounts of usage in a building that was supposed to be abandoned. I did some digging and found out that the factory was also receiving weekly truck deliveries through the back entrance. On the books, this place was listed as storage and the deliveries were listed as “medical waste.”
It didn’t take long for me to find out what was really going on.
I pulled out my goggles and scanned the perimeter. There were two primary entrances into the building. One in the front, which had only one camera and the loading dock door in the back, which had two. The front one was probably the best bet but in my search of the place, I also found another door, one that had no cameras. There was a skylight on the top, thirty feet above the floor. Whoever set up security on the place never thought to put a camera there because no one in their right mind would dare enter from that spot. But I definitely wasn’t in my right mind.
I scanned the streets, making sure it was deserted. When it was clear, I dropped down onto the fire escape below then into the street. I ran across quickly, scaling the opposite fire escape up the factory wall with the same ease. On the Internet I apparently got around using a grappling hook and as efficient as that sounded it wasn’t very practical. There wasn’t a device small enough for me to carry around to do that and even if there was, there was nothing strong enough to fit into it that would be able to hold my weight. I got around like everyone else and like everyone else, I worked for it. I was in peak physical condition; I exercised for several hours a day. During my spare time---when I wasn’t jumping from rooftops---I spent time trying to figure out ways to train myself. I did a lot of mountain climbing and outdoor training.
I made my way to the roof and over to the skylight. Tonight I brought a duffel bag with me. I opened it, taking out a glasscutter. It wasn’t the most efficient tool but it got the job done. I cut a big enough hole to stick my hand through and unlock the window. After that, I lifted it open slowly. Then I took my harness from the bag. Once again, no grappling gun. I brought enough rope to get me down to the floor without a problem. After donning my gear and making sure my rope was secure, I slid down to the factory floor below. The whole thing took about two minutes or more. I left the rope hanging where it was so I could ascend later.
I had to smile at the ease of everything. The Internet made me out to be this great spook that disappeared into the shadows and flew through the air like a bat out of hell. But in truth, it was just a lot of gear, years of training and lots of guts. There were a lot of times that I thought I wasn’t going to get out of somewhere alive actually. Back in February---shortly after the spa incident---I tracked a man into the sewer. His name was Waylon Jones, a former Circus Side show attraction. He was dubbed the Croc Man because of the condition of his skin---it looked like scales. Jones had knocked over a few jewelry stores and was hiding out in the sewers. I got wind of it and ventured down there to flush him out. It never occurred to me how big a man Jones really was. It took everything I had to take him down.
After I left him tied up for the police, the Internet exploded. The Bat Man Ropes Killer Croc in the Sewer. It was absolutely crazy but as there were no witnesses people made up their own mind. I became a bit of a menace after that---the Chicago PD’s Number One Suspect. There were rumors that I worked for the Commissioner but those were just as much crap as the rest of it. Gordon was a good guy---he had a sweet daughter, Barbara---but that’s as far as our partnership went. In fact, he was convinced I was responsible for some of the crap that went around in the city. He said I was a nut with a hero complex and that I probably created some things so I could rush in and be the hero.
I put on my goggles again, looking around the darkness. There was definite evidence that something was going on here. There were a lot of wooden crates---marked with big purple L’s. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where they came from. It didn’t surprise me in the least that Lex was involved in all of this. It was no secret that he was looking heavily into the Metagene and everything that went with it. In fact while investigating the pills his name came up once or twice---as a private financial backer to Porter’s research. I looked around, it was clear that he was a lot more than private. There were a lot of boxes here.
I walked to the nearest one and broke in, taking a peek inside. There was nothing but foam packing peanuts but it was clear that something was going on. I pulled out my mini-camera and took several pictures, first of the boxes and then of the insides. Faraday was the documentation kind of guy. After taking my pictures, I started slinking around the place. I found a flight of stairs leading up into another part of the place. There were several areas like this one, all connected by an upper floor laboratory. If there were anything of substance, it would either be in one of those room or the vacant lab.
I climbed the stairs quickly then picked the lock on the door at the top. I pushed my way inside and found myself in a dark hallway. Well, it would have been dark if not for my goggles. I walked briskly along, looking at the doors on either side. At the end of the hall there was a door marked Lab One, a faint glow was coming from underneath it. I started for it when another door caught my interest first: it was Porter’s office. I picked the lock there too, and slipped into the room. I looked around the room, going to the file cabinets first but they were empty. So I tried the desk and the PC there. I had a minor in computer sciences so hacking into the computer wasn’t too much of a problem. I knew enough basics to get around the lax security.
It didn’t take me long to get into his private files either.
I took out a flash drive and started copying them, making evidence for my government friend. I’d make a copy for myself too, just in case I wanted to do some private investigating later. I didn’t plan to read anything right now until I came across a file labeled Project Venom. It piqued my interest so I clicked into it. It was password protected but I got around it quickly. After reading only a few lines, I realized I had hit the jackpot. This was exactly what Faraday was looking for; it was evidence that Porter continued his work on the drug after he sold the initial---flawed---batches. He was able to get over most of the side effects and after reconstituting the pills into a liquid form, he perfected it.
He called the concoction Venom. It was a very potent steroid that enhanced the users strength and durability by tenfold. Whoever took it was in essence a Superman. It was insane but the proof was staring me right in the face. The science was all there too and it scared the hell out of me. It became very clear as I read the file that this is what Faraday’s superiors were really after. They didn’t want to shut this operation down; they wanted the Venom formula for themselves. After all, it once belonged to the US government and now the government wanted it back.
I cursed. There was no way I could let Faraday get his hands on this. I continued downloading all of Porter’s files onto my flash drive then I smashed the tower and took the hard drive. It was the best way to do things and to keep it from going where it should never go. Faraday and his people knew where this place was after all. It was only a matter of time before they found it. But to make sure things were really taken care I needed to make sure he didn’t have any back up files in the Lab. I stuck the hard drive in my duffel---I brought it with me---then made my way out into the hall again. I moved fast, knowing that I had mere hours before Faraday followed. I was certain that my involvement here was his attempt for a scapegoat. I felt so damn used. It pissed me off even more that I actually suggested he might even be able to help Myka back when she needed it. I even gave her his card. That made my skin crawl just thinking about it.
I moved quickly to the lab. The door was locked with a card reader but there was no light on it. I tested the lock and sure enough, it opened without it. Whoever set it up must have forgotten to engage the system. When I opened the door all the way, I was shocked at what I saw. It looked like a normal laboratory but for one huge difference: it was all centered around a man strapped up in a mock of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, spread eagle. From Porter’s other files I knew this to be one of his human test subjects. My attention was diverted from the man to the small, bespectacled figure in the white lab coat.
“Dr. Porter, I assume?”
I startled him. He was in the process of injecting a syringe into one of the man’s various IV’s. His hand slipped and he jabbed the man in the arm instead, plunging most of the green liquid into the man’s body. There was no reaction from the subject but the doctor cursed. I looked back at the man. He was already a big guy to begin with, he looked like a body builder but I saw the various prison tats so I’m guessing he was an inmate from the local area. Porter’s files stated that he convinced the prison that he was trying to test cures for known diseases and needed test subjects. It helped that Luthor paid for everything---off the books of course.
The doctor snapped around at me. “Do you see what I’ve just done; I gave him far too much.”
He wiped furiously at the spot where the syringe went in. Instead of blood coming from the small puncture wound, it was the green substance.
“It looks like he’s had enough already” I said, adopting the raspy tone I used in this persona of mine.
“Mr. Diego is a special case. As you can clearly see his body has already been subjected to several doses of normal steroid to begin with, making him the ideal candidate.”
“What about the girls back in February, were they ideal candidates too?”
He scoffed, waving his hand. “I sold those defective pills; it’s not my responsibility if the buyer misuses them.”
This guy made me sick. “I’m shutting you down, doctor.”
He laughed. “My benefactor would never allow that. He has a lot of pull, you know. You can try to shut me down but he’ll squash you.”
I moved quickly through the space that separated the two of us. I grabbed the front of his lab coat and lifted him off the ground.
“Luthor can’t protect you from me, doctor.”
At the mention of his financier’s face, Porter started fidgeting. “You can’t, you can’t stop this. I need this, it’s vindication.”
“The DEO will be here soon, you can tell them all about it.”
Rage flashed before his eyes. “No” he said angrily, brandishing a scalpel. He slashed it across my exposed cheek, causing me to let him go. He dropped to the ground, knocking over the oxygen tank attached to his patient. When the tank hit the ground, it pulled the mask from the man’s face. The guy strapped to the vertical gurney was sedated but he started to stir. The doctor looked up, awe in his eyes. It was clear that this man---Diego---was in some kind of medically induced coma.
“This is incredible,” gasped Porter as Diego started to flutter. “The Venom is far more powerful than I could have imagined.”
Then Diego snapped awake. The first thing he did was scream. Then he flexed his muscles. When he did so I saw the green liquid flowing through his veins, it was inhuman. Then he snapped the leather straps that held him down, first the ones on his arms then his legs. He stumbled as he pushed himself off the gurney. I looked into his eyes---they were dark and bloodshot---for a moment, I saw no life there. Then it slowly started to come back.
Porter clamored to his feet. “Mr. Diego, I command you to get back onto the gurney. I need to run a battery of tests, this is incredible.”
Diego flexed his arms and wiggled his fingers. “You command me?” he asked in heavily accented English. “You, like those insignificant fools at the prison, you think you can tell me what to do.”
He reacted before I could. He lashed out, grabbing the doctor by the neck. He wrapped one whole hand around the man’s throat and lifted him off the ground. Then he squeezed. Porter’s face turned a shade of red, the purple and finally blue. I’m not sure what killed him first, choking to death or the fact that his neck broke seconds later. Diego dropped the lifeless body of the doctor onto the ground and smirked. He stared at him for a few seconds and then looked at me.
“You are with him?”
I didn’t respond. Instead, I reached for my belt---ok, I had one. Then I took out a retractable baton, like the ones that police officers sometimes use to subdue their quarry. Diego looked at the baton as I extended it at my side. There was no way conventional fighting was going to work on this guy. I knew what was in those pills---what they did to those girls---I also read Porter’s findings. I knew what he did to the drug to perfect it. This guy standing before me was a monster, a bane of everyone’s existence if allowed to walk free. I couldn’t allow that. I knew I didn’t have the strength nor the skill to stop him but maybe I could slow him down long enough until the cavalry arrived.
He eyed the baton and scoffed. “You are the jailer, then. You look like a man who can hold his own but can you hold it against me.”
He didn’t wait for me to respond. Instead, he kicked me in the chest. It wasn’t even a hard kick but with his chemically enhanced strength, it sent me flying. I smashed over the two lab tables in the room, spilling several jars of chemicals and knocking over the Bunsen burner. The Kevlar padding in my suit cushioned most of his kick but upon sitting up I felt it. I took a deep breath and it hurt like a son of a bitch. He broke a rib, maybe two. There was no way I could fight like this. The best I could do now was keep myself away from him.
Unfortunately, for me, he didn’t seem to like that plan.
He walked over to me and shook his head. “I will give you credit for surviving such a blow. A normal man would have surely died. You are made of thick hide I think.”
He reached for me. I swung at him feebly with the baton. He caught my wrist and snapped it. I screamed out in pain, dropping my only weapon. My duffel was on the other side of the room and anything else that might be construed as a weapon was smashed to pieces now. All my intellect and training was useless in a situation like this. I’d been a fool to think that I could make a difference. I was a man---a man without superpowers---and this was a situation I should have never been in.
He reached down and lifted me up off the ground. He put both of his hands underneath my back; I was in too much pain to struggle and fight back. “I have beaten you in combat and now I shall break you.”
He brought me up over his head and looked like he was going to bring me down on his knee. Everything was moving too fast. I wanted to close my eyes but I couldn’t do it. Instead I watched as he was about to snap my spine on his knee. But the snapping never came. Something else did though. It was a glint of gold. It sailed into the room and hit the son of a bitch in the throat. It stunned him, causing him to choke and cough. He dropped me, I screamed out, my vision started to blur. But I saw someone else charge into the room. There was a whip of long blonde hair and black leather. Whoever she was she was fast. She slammed into Diego, using her shoulder to throw him across the room. He smashed into the far wall.
She ran to him and delivered several well placed blows to his chest and face, overwhelming him with the ferocity of her attacks. It was like a sweet sensual ballet, the stuff that I should have been doing. I’m not sure why I couldn’t pull myself off the ground. I trained for this, I prepared for this. And yet that thing Diego had become---that monstrosity---he tore me down with one kick. One kick and a chance of all this being over. That was my last thought before I slipped into unconsciousness.
September 4, 2011
“Looking good, Steph!”
I know I was only saying it to myself but appearance was important, especially for a teenage girl my age. I turned left and right and took a step back, giving myself the full effect. What I saw in the mirror made me smile from ear to ear. There standing before me was a very pretty girl indeed. She might be a little flat in the chest department; you work with what God gives you, but she was still very pretty. It took me a long time to get myself to look this good, though. I had a stack of teen girl magazines, beauty tips and salon makeover shows to know that I’d done a pretty bang up job. It helped I was so short and thin. Usually something like that was a bad thing but not for me, not for Stephanie. I smiled shyly as I stepped closer to the mirror, tugging down the hem of my pink dress.
There was only one small problem…
“Steven” my father’s voice shouted up the stairs.
I froze in mid-pose and cursed. Yep, you guessed it. Though I look and even sound for the most part like a teenage girl I was in fact a very short and skinny teen boy. And there in lay my biggest problem. I was only a boy on the outside but on the inside I was every bit the girl that I tried to make myself to be. The only problem with that was that there were others around me that didn’t exactly like that idea. My biggest problem was currently stomping his way up the stairs.
I bit my lip, pulling the dress quickly over my head. There was no way I’d be able to get everything off before he reached my room but I was going to try. I was standing in a pair of panties and a bra---there was nothing in the cups of course. I moved quickly, grabbing my shirt off the floor. I jumped into bed, pulling my hair into a low ponytail. I threw the blanket over myself and clicked on the TV. Dad pushed his way into my room, glancing around like a vulture. I smiled, glad that I didn’t try the makeup this time. I say this time because the last time he caught me and gave me a black eye. I had to tell the teachers at school that I slipped in the shower and hit my face on the shower head, but I don’t think they believed me.
They wouldn’t have believed me if I told them that Dad hit me either. He was Arthur Brown, the Arthur Brown. He had pull in this city and I was his transgendered son that he loved with all his heart. Yeah, right. He once told me the only reason he kept me around was because I looked so much like Mom. Talk about love, huh.
“What the hell were you doing up here, you little fag?”
There was alcohol on his breath. Not beer mind you because he was too high end for that. Dad liked his Scotch. I think that’s the only thing he liked. Well that and his puzzles. He was big on his puzzles even after he was fired. Arthur Brown, the name doesn’t ring a bell. Well I guess it was a long time ago---ten years I guess---but Dad used to be on TV.
“I’m not doing anything, just watching TV.”
His eyes narrowed and he looked around the room. I went out of my way to make it look as masculine as possible just to throw off suspicion. The walls were painted blue and decorated with posters of Football players and half-naked girls. I had a desk in the corner with my laptop and a chair that had a back shaped like a baseball mitt. On my dresser were trophies, most of them were from Little League---that I played when I was nine. It was all a façade but it made Dad happy. My real stuff was hidden away, deep in my closet. The stuff that belonged to Stephanie. All her clothes, makeup, and jewelry.
“You weren’t doing any of your frou frou stuff were you?”
He staggered and swayed. Ladies and Gentlemen, my father, Arthur Brown. He used to be known as one of the smartest men on television at one time. Who Wants to Stump the Cluemaster? It was the stupidest show on TV but it made him a household name. Now he was nothing more than a has-been, washed up and forgotten. But I couldn’t blame him for that, Mom’s death broke the two of us to pieces. He fell into drink, I went into her closet. Not that her death made me want to be a girl but without Mom supporting me---she always understood---I wanted to be a guy less and less. Especially after Dad started drinking and became a total ass.
I sighed. “I stopped doing that stuff after you smacked me around the last time.”
He nodded. “Good, you’re my son, not some wannabe poof.”
He staggered some more, the half drunk bottle of Scotch still in his hand. Dad only had two passions: alcohol and solving problems. He used to have three. When Mom was alive, he used to worship the ground she walked on. But after her death---cancer is a bitch---he fell back to two. But when Dad was sober, you didn’t dare try to beat him in any way that required thinking. He might not be the smartest man on television anymore but he was still the smartest man I know. I admired him for that. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, I actually admired the abusive bastard.
“I have some homework to do now.”
I bit my lip, hoping the lie would work. School didn’t start until Tuesday.
“Good boy” he said smiling.
That always got him to leave, even when he was drunk. He may have been a bastard but schoolwork was very important to him. I might not have been as smart as he was but he made sure that I didn’t slack off. He was a stickler for those kinds of things. He used to say his old man was the same way, that’s why he was so smart. But I knew for a fact that grandpa was a nice guy, at least he always was with me. But the way Dad told things it was a completely different story.
“You studyyyy” he slurred, stumbling out of my room.
I waited to make sure he was completely gone, listening to him stumble down the hall. With any luck, he’d pass out and not wake up until morning. When I knew he was in his bedroom, I threw off the covers and ran to the door. I bolted it shut and then slumped against it, sighing in relief. If Dad had seen me in either the bra or panties, he would have beaten me so hard that I shuddered just thinking about it. I waited a long time before I pulled my shirt off and went back over to stare at myself in the mirror. My body was a very sad thing to look at. I was maybe one hundred and ten pounds when wet and at five six, I was definitely the smallest and scrawniest in my grade. I’m sure that that didn’t matter much but I was going to be a senior in a few days.
I sighed, pulled my hair free and giving my head a good shake. My hair was sandy blonde like Dad’s and fell just past my shoulder blades. Dad hated that it was so long but I told him girls like it that way. That seemed to keep him at bay but it was really pushing it. It was bad enough that I had a baby smooth face and feminine features. Though I had no feminine figure to speak of a lot of guys whistled when I walked by them. In school, I wore a lot of bulky clothes so you couldn’t really tell what gender I was. I guess the proper word to describe me is androgynous, which helps a great deal being the way that I am. I couldn’t imagine having hair all over my face or one of those deep baritone voices like a lot of the other guys.
Thankfully puberty was very kind too me. Not that Dad saw it that way. He wanted a big manly son that was as tall as he was---six three---and who could throw a pigskin across a football field. The only thing I got from him though was the color of my hair. Luckily, for me I took after Mom in that I had her size, her compassion and her temperament. Dad never used to be such an ass. In fact, I could remember a time when the two of us got along real well. Whenever he had time for me, we used to play in the park and he used to show me how to do puzzles. But after Mom---there’s no use dwelling on the past.
Now that my hair was loose, I was starting look more like myself. It really does pay to let your hair down and relax. Androgyny was the best thing that could have happened to me. Looking at the girl in the mirror---even with the underdeveloped chest and groin problem---I couldn’t help but smile. I knew from a very early age that I was different from other boys. Whereas my friends were playing with trucks and baseballs, all I wanted to do was have a doll and do gymnastics. My father never understood but Mom did. She helped me, especially with Dad. She came up with a compromise that suited him fine. If I played Little League baseball for him, I could do something for myself. He reluctantly agreed, and I joined the local gymnastics team.
I was small enough that gymnastics was a nice fit. I was a lousy ball player but it made Dad proud. My team won a few trophies as I’ve already mentioned. Not that I contributed. But as a gymnast, I excelled. I think that annoyed the hell out of Dad. He went to the meets but a proud father he was not. AS soon as Mom was gone, he made me quit. He said no son of his was going to prance around in spandex doing girly things. It’s not that I was but he didn’t understand. I still go to the gym every now and then and I still keep myself limber. I tried to afford the lessons myself---saving up my allowance----but it got too expensive and I ended up quitting after a month.
Ok enough thinking, I only had a small window. I left the admiring and went about my business. I went to the closet, dragging out my Stephanie box. Inside were all the things that belonged to her that were necessary for what I was about to do. What’s that you ask? Well today---for the very first time---Stephanie was going to see the world through her eyes. I’d been dressing for years but always in the sanctuary of my own room. The closest thing I ever got to going out the door in femme was a few months ago when I spent a day one Saturday at the mall wearing panties and a pair of girls jeans. Not that anyone could tell they belonged to a girl of course. They were a pair that once belonged to my cousin, Barbara; she was the only other person who understood me. When she gave them to me, she made me promise to be the best girl I could be.
I had a small Stephanie wardrobe---most of it hand-me-downs from her, except the underwear of course. She bought that for me. Besides the pink dress, I had two pairs of jeans, six t-shirts and a jean skirt that was so short it was practically criminal. I definitely wouldn’t be wearing that in public. I wouldn’t be wearing the dress either, especially after that close call with Dad. I know call me a coward but I was a little scared. It would have to be something safe and simple, meaning---jeans and a t-shirt. I took my box from the closet and carried it over to the bed, taking out the stuff I needed.
I walked over to the mirror, frowning at my lack of figure. I had some enhancement but nothing that screamed teenage girl. I didn’t have the money for those kinds of things, except for my chest. I sighed; I guess it couldn’t be helped. I went to my closet again and got some clothes, I pulled on my jeans first, making sure my you-know-what was safely tucked away. I looked down at my front; it was flat like a real girl. Then I reached into the box and took out my breast inserts. I went with a B cup, nothing too fancy. I stuck them in my bra and pulled a pastel colored shirt over my head. I pulled a baggy hoodie on over everything else.
In the mirror, I still looked like Steven but I knew that I was all Stephanie underneath. I was too afraid to wear any makeup for fear that one of my neighbors might see. But I could accessorize a bit so I put one some bangles and small studs in my ears. My father threw a fit when I pierced my ears last year. I told him that it was ok for a guy to pierce both but I still was smacked for it. I don’t think he much cared for the idea of his son prancing around with holes in his ears, even if I wore little skulls to school. No one else seemed to mind, or if they did, they didn’t say much to me. Not that many of my fellow students noticed me anyway.
After the earrings, I deemed Stephanie ready for the world. I took a deep breath and hoped the world was ready for her.
Dad and I used to live in Schaumburg, a village thirty miles north of Chicago. It was a nice place, a lot less noisy than the city. But after Mom died ... and he drank himself out of his job, we moved to the city. We lived in a low rent portion of it, in a three story duplex. It wasn’t the greatest neighborhood but it was home. It was all Dad could afford these days. Our modest place was a fairly good size. It had two bedrooms, a small living room and kitchen. The bathroom we shared but I never seemed to run into any problems there. The biggest problem was the layout. My room was situated right next door to his room and the stairs leading from outside. There were advantages and disadvantages to that, I suppose. The good thing about it was that I could open my door and run down the stairs without Dad seeing me most days. The bad thing of course was that our walls were paper-thin so if I was doing something important...Stephanie stuff...I needed to be extra quiet so as not to draw his attention.
When I left the apartment today, I passed one of our neighbors on the street. She gave me a strange look. It was after all the first day of September and here I was bundled up like it was October. But most people were used to seeing me this way. I liked my hoodie, though it was ratty and old it had a lot of character. I guess it helped that it was also purple. Don’t ask me why but I was rather fond of the color. I think it was because it was dark enough to still be considered semi-masculine but also girly too. Anyone who gave me a hard time about it I tell them that I’m a Vikings fan, which seems to shut them up. Hey, as long as you’re supporting your team’s colors...even purple... no one beat the shit out of you.
I walked to the curb and hailed a cab. It was a surprisingly dull day today. There weren’t many people out, which made things a lot easier for me, I guess. That still didn’t stem my nervousness or untwist the knots in my stomach. I felt like any minute I was going to throw up my breakfast. But I kept my cool as a cab finally pulled up. I opened the back door and slid inside, taking deep, reassuring breaths.
“Where to, miss?” asked the driver.
I nearly jumped for joy. Instead, I smiled and gave him directions. Today it was all about baby steps. So the first thing I did before leaving the house was call my best and only friend Jen. Besides my cousin Barbara, she was the only other person in the world who knew about Stephanie. The two of us were kindred spirits in that we both hailed from Planet Weird. Jen lived with her ultra-religious grandparents who made things extremely difficult for her, seeing as she was a Wiccan. Neither of them understood it, of course, and thought she was going to burn in hell for being a heathen. They constantly tried to convert her. Jen and I had another connection as well, we were both practically orphans. Her Mom died when she was young and her Dad was an Air Force pilot who was MIA. She wouldn’t admit that he was dead though because they never found his plane.
The cabbie dropped me off outside our favorite coffee shop. I paid him and got out. Jen was waiting outside, dancing anxiously on the balls of her feet. When I called her I told her I had a surprise but that she’d have to wait and see what it was. She hated surprises. Seeing her standing there---in her Mother Earth inspired dress---looking all excited made me excited too. When she caught sight of me, she smiled and frowned at the same time.
“Steve” she said as I walked up, my hands in my front pouch. “It’s eighty degrees out and you’re wearing that damn hoodie.”
“You should talk, how much does that dress weight?”
She stuck her tongue out at me and sighed. Then she slipped her arm through mine. As soon as she did so he hand brushed up against my enhanced chest. Her eyes widened. That did it for her and suddenly my surprise wasn’t much of a surprise anymore. She didn’t say anything right then and there though but I could see how excited she was. For weeks---no make that months, years even---she’d tried to talk me into going out in public as Stephanie. But each time I told her I was too afraid to do it. I’m not sure what changed my mind this time but I just knew I had to try. At least once anyway.
She pulled me off the street and into the alley between the coffee shop and the store next door. She made sure we were far enough down it before she squealed and wrapped her arms around me. She even cried a little bit which got me crying too. After we were done with our girly moment, she pulled away and frowned.
“Ok, Steph, off with the bag.”
I hugged my chest, my hands falling under my fake breasts. I couldn’t wait for the day when they would be real. I shook my head.
“I’m not ready for that yet.”
She smiled. “You came this far, girl, what’s one more small step.”
“You’re Armstronging me?”
Armstronging, it was something the two of us came up with. You know Neil Armstrong, “One small step”, blah blah blah. Well “one small step” kinda became my anthem. It was what Jen kept saying to me to push a little more of Stephanie out bit by bit. First, it was my hair, then piercing my ears, then some makeup here and there and finally the clothes. All of them were building up to this moment. This was the moment she kept on telling me was the “giant leap” I needed. See, Armstronging. I just couldn’t believe she was using it against me.
“Off with the hoodie’ she said, taking on a stern tone.
I took a deep breath and slowly pulled the hoodie off over my head. I was extremely uncomfortable but as soon as it was done, she was right. I did feel a lot better. I looked down at my chest and saw my breasts. Even if they were fake, they were still there. Jen smiled big and gave me another hug. We pulled away a few seconds later.
“Baby blue” she said, referring to the color of my shirt. “I like it; it brings out your eyes.”
The eyes in question, I rolled them. “Can I put my hoodie back on now?”
She shook her head. “Not a chance girl”
I was afraid that this might happen. Jen had a one-track mind and once she set that mind on something there was no stopping her. That’s why she was convinced her father was still alive. She said it was a feeling. She couldn’t describe it anymore than that but she just knew he was out there somewhere. Sometimes she even had dreams of him, traipsing around in a jungle with long hair and shaggy beard. To me they were just dreams but to her they were so real. I supported her however; I could because we were like sisters. If she believed her Dad was still out there, then so did I.
She dragged me out of the alley after that. I tried to drag my heels but let’s face it she was a lot stronger. Instead of dragging me back to the coffee shop, she took me in the opposite direction. I had no idea where were going until we got a couple stores away. I nearly froze when she pulled me into the little boutique. I’d been in here hundreds of times before with her. It was a trendy little shop that she liked to browse through. It catered exclusively to teen girls our age---that felt kinda nice to say. But it was never a style that Jen was into. She was all Mother Earth and all that junk. She came in here a lot because it got her grandparents off her back. They gave her a credit card and an allowance under the strict guidelines that she buy at least one thing from here once a month.
I think they were trying to stem her creativity or something like that. The woman behind the counter was named Debbie. I liked her because she thought I was a girl.
When she saw the two of us enter, she smiled. She knew all about Jen’s deal and always helped her find the perfect item. But when she saw us today, there was a look of surprise on her face. We’d been in here once already---yesterday in fact---so we weren’t due back here until the beginning of October. But I’m not sure if that’s why she was so shocked. She was staring at me and I think it took me all of ten seconds to figure out what it was.
“Stephanie, sweetie” she said, smiling big. “You have such a nice little figure, I don’t know why you wish to hide it all the time behind that baggy monstrosity.”
She pointed to the hoodie I was holding in my hand when she said the last bit.
Jen laughed. “I finally talked her out of it.”
“Good for you dear” said Debbie with a knowing smile.
After that, Jen went a little overboard and Debbie was only too happy to help. They were bound and determined to make a real girl out of me. I’m not sure if Debbie knew I was TG or if she thought I was just a tomboy but she treated me with the utmost respect. Jen pushed me into a changing room and the two of them kept passing outfits through the curtain. I’m not sure how many there were but after an hour, it felt like I’d tried on the whole store. The two of them tried to get me to leave there in a skirt, heels and a cute top but I managed to talk them down to a pair of jean shorts, sandals and a pink baby tee. Debbie wanted to put me in a cami top but I had to decline for obvious reasons.
Jen put my outfit on her card, even against my protests.
When we left the store, she took my arm again. “Now to the salon.”
“No offense, Steph but you look like a boy.”
I stuck my tongue out at her for that. “I have to work later you know.”
She nodded. “I’m not going to have them do anything serious. A Mani and a Pedi and some light makeup. Besides your boss is kinda hip, especially for a lady her age.”
I groaned. That was the understatement of the year. Jen smiled at my discomfort...I think she thrived on torturing me. But when I nodded, she squealed again and dragged me off toward the salon. I just hoped Leslie didn’t think it was odd that I was dressed like this.
Dr. Leslie Thompson ran a free clinic a few blocks away from my house, well within walking distance. She used to be a big time surgeon back in the day, worked with Thomas Wayne. She helped him set up the Wayne Medical Institution among her many accolades. My mother was a surgeon and Leslie was her mentor. I’ve known her all my life and though she had to be pushing seventy now, the woman had yet to slow down. Her motto was she’d rest when she was dead. If only so many people her age could have the same outlook on life. Heck, if only people half her age could have that outlook. I wish my father would have some kind of outlook.
I’d been working at the clinic part time since sixteen, so almost two years now...I’ll be eighteen in a month. At first, I was a volunteer, doing odd jobs for her here and there. I don’t like the term Candy Striper but I guess that’s what I was. After a few months of that, she decided to put me on the payroll. I wanted to protest but frankly, we needed the money badly. Dad worked at a print shop and though he brought in the cash, it all seemed to go to his drinking. What little money I made I was saving for some important decisions. I’m sure I don’t have to mention what those might be.
After my odd jobs came to an end, Leslie started teaching me some low-key medical stuff. Nothing that might get her in trouble...well not as long as I didn’t say anything. So I could suture small wounds, draw blood, things like that. Last week I got to help her set some stupid skater’s broken wrist. That was kinda cool. She knew all about my dreams of becoming a doctor like Mom, helping people less fortunate than myself. According to her, she’d been exactly where I was when she was young. I hardly doubted that but I didn’t doubt her stories of living off the streets, scrounging for food. She looked like a survivor; she had to be to want to set up shop in this part of town.
The locals called this area of the city the “Narrows” on account of the buildings being so close together. It was a wicked name for a wicked place. Everyone knew that if you were out past sun down then it was a good bet that you were going to lose some money. No one cared about this neck of the woods except maybe Leslie and of course the Bat. Everyone knew about him---the silent sentinel that patrolled the rooftops. He might have been an Urban Myth to some but he was still the coolest guy that I’d ever heard of. I know there are a lot of Metas out there now but he was the only one who really seemed to care about us.
Up until a month ago anyway. When I walked through the front door, the Clinic’s six beds were empty. It was one of those slow days, I guess. Leslie had an office in the back; she usually stayed there until she heard the little bell above the door ring. I walked sheepishly inside, trying not to make noise. I was trying to avoid the inevitable. The salon had really done a number on me. My nails were now filed and shaped, coated in a clear polish and my face was lightly done up. All of these things I might be able to hide, but Jen had to let them go one-step further. They tweezed my brows a bit, not too badly, but they were clearly not a guy’s brows anymore...my Dad was going to go nuts. They also trimmed off my split ends and styled my hair to make it look a bit more feminine. It was nothing too drastic but it pushed my androgyny a little closer to the girl side.
“Steven, dear, is that you?” shouted a voice from the back.
“Yes Leslie” I said as I carried my duffel through the main room toward the back.
I could call her Leslie when we were alone, but if there were patients it was Dr. Thompson. She said we needed an air of professionalism when other people saw us together. This coming from the sixty nine year old woman who planned on skydiving for her seventieth birthday celebration. She was about as professional as a standup comedian.
When I walked around the corner into the little hall, she stepped out of her office. There were two things I liked the most about her. One, she had a grandmotherly vibe without even trying. Not that she didn’t look like one. She was tall, always wore her white hair pulled up on the top of her head and dressed like a smart career woman...pants and flats. The second thing I loved most about her was her ability to take a situation and not be scared when something unexpected happened. That’s why when she turned around and saw me...a teenage girl...instead of her male assistant, she didn’t even bat an eyelash.
“So it’s Stephanie today then?”All I could do was nod numbly. She smiled and continued. “It’s about time, dear.”
She patted me gently on the cheek, smiled and walked into the main room. Just like that. There were no lectures, no asking for explanations. She saw me dressed like a girl and she accepted it like the turning of the seasons. I was stunned for a second but then smiled brightly. I shook off my numbness and carried my bag into the small locker-room. There used to be more of us working here but the local hospital was short staffed and most of the doctors who used to volunteer their time here could no longer do so. Up until a month or two ago there used to be another girl here...Brittany...but she went off to college. So now, it was just Leslie and me, which was kinda nice and homy.
I dropped my bag on the bench and opened my locker. My usual uniform was in there waiting. It consisted of nothing more than green scrubs. When I put them on, I felt like I was on Grey’s Anatomy. But today as I reached for them, I stopped. I wasn’t Steven today, I was Stephanie. If I was going to do this then I was going to go all out. I closed my locker and went over to the one Brittany used to use. When she left, she left her old outfit behind. I opened the locker and found the traditional red and white of a Candy Striper. It was kinda cute and I was always envious of her when I saw her wearing it. I took a deep breath and pulled it out. In my head, I heard Jen’s voice saying “one giant leap” over and over again so that’s exactly what I did. I stripped out of my new shorts and tee and took the plunge.
I put on Brittany’s old uniform...glad we were about the same size...and smiled. I walked over to the mirror mounted on the wall and all I could see was the pretty girl that I knew I was. I pulled my hair back into a high ponytail and put the little wedge shaped hat on my head, completing the look. Then I took another breath and walked out of the room. I took slow steps as I headed down the hall. When I got into the main room there was a young guy...a little older than me...sitting on one of the beds. I froze in mid-step, not even having heard the bell.
Leslie turned her head and looked at me but didn’t skip a beat. “This is Stephanie my assistant.” She said to the young guy. “Stephanie, be a dear and help me with young Tony here.”
I blushed red from head to toe and nodded. I walked over slowly and assisted as best as I could. His left hand was wrapped in a dishtowel...it was starting to get soaked with blood. Tony talked to me while Leslie went to work. When she unwound the dishtowel, he winced. There was a nice gash there but I’d seen worse. It would definitely need a few stitches though. Today it appeared I was here for a distraction. He told me what he’d done...the knife slipped while he was gutting a fish...and then he proceeded to tell me everything about himself.
It took every ounce of will power I had not to pass out. I was embarrassed as all hell. This outfit was ridiculous and the way I was bent over he could see right down my shirt. I just hoped it wasn’t too much for him to see that my boobs were in fact fake. I tried not to think about it and concentrated on something else. First it was his mouth as he talked, which only made my lips moisten. So then I looked at his eyes, they were emerald green and lovely. I guess you can figure out that I like boys; in fact, I like them a lot. At first, I thought maybe that made me gay but then I realized I was just any other normal teenage girl with a crush on a cute guy.
It took about an hour to finish up with Tony. When we were done, he asked me for my number. I opened my mouth to give him a response but Leslie beat me to it.
“I’m sorry Tony, Stephanie’s parents are strict Roman Catholics, you can’t date any one unless they approve of him.”
Tony looked a little disappointed. A part of me was disappointed too, he was kinda cute. But there were so many reasons why I couldn’t date him. So I apologized and he waved, nearly falling over as he backed out of the clinic.
Leslie laughed. “I do believe that boy was a little smitten with you.”
I flushed then looked down. “I think I’m going to change out of this outfit.”
Leslie laughed. “Well hurry; we have to make a house call.”
I nodded. I got about half way to the back room when I stopped. Curiosity got the better of me so I turned around and asked. “Where are we going?”
Leslie didn’t close up the Clinic unless it was really important.
Have you ever gone somewhere and felt freaked out long before you got there. It’s like going to a doctor’s appointment or the dentist. I know I was exceptionally freaked out about my first day of high school, especially being the kid who had yet to go through puberty. But, of course, none of that could compare to the way I was feeling now as the taxi pulled up to the huge gate. I looked out the window and just beyond the wrought iron bars, I could see the house. Ok, calling it a house was like calling the Taj Mahal a tomb. This thing wasn’t a house; it was like a fricken castle. It was set far back in a wooded area, surrounded by thick forests, and had an eerie atmosphere found in most horror movies. The mad scientist always lived in a place like that.
Not that Wayne was mad. He was far from it, actually. He was probably one of the youngest and most successful billionaires around, well youngest next to Olivia Queen of course.
“There isn’t a moat is there?” I asked, not realizing I said it aloud until Leslie laughed.
“I’ll have you know that Thomas Wayne---Bruce’s dear departed father---actually thought of putting one up. He said it would help keep away all the pesky reporters looking for interviews.”
I nodded and Leslie laughed again. I swallowed hard. “You don’t think it might be better if I stay at the clinic. The cab can drop you off and take me back.”
Leslie laughed for a third time. “There’s nothing dangerous in that place, dear. I’ve been there loads of times. In fact, I helped raise the boy that became one of the most successful men in the world, you know.”
I knew. Leslie didn’t talk about her personal life much but she had many nice things to say about Bruce Wayne. She and his father were partners in a small practice in the city. That was until Bruce’s grandfather died and his father---Thomas---had to step into the role of CEO. Not that he forgot where he came from, of course. He was actually the one who built the clinic, actually at that time, the neighborhood was a lot better. He hoped that it would show that he was giving back to the community in every way possible. Bruce continued that charity by opening several clinics just like Leslie’s throughout the city. His crowning achievement in the medical world was the Thomas Wayne Memorial Hospital built in his father’s honor.
I was born there and my mother did her residency there.
The cab driver looked as flummoxed as I. “Umm, I’m not sure what to do now.”
Leslie smiled and leaned forward. “Roll down your window, dear?” He did as she instructed. Leslie leaned toward it. “Al, it’s Leslie. Can you buzz us in?”
I looked to see what she was talking to. Then I saw a small circular camera on one of the stone gate ends. It didn’t show any sign of moving and there was no intercom that I could see. Sure enough, about a minute later, the gates shuddered and slowly started to open. The driver thanked Leslie and then drove on through. There was a long driveway leading up and when we got to the “castle”, it looped around in a large circle. In the center of the circle was this really cool fountain, it looked like Poseidon holding his trident. Looking at the trident, I saw extremely sharp gold tips and shuddered. I guess with this kind of money they could do something like that. It made me wonder if it was really gold or not.
When the cab stopped, I took a deep breath. The manor loomed over us. It looked big from the road but now being this close to it, I realized that the thing was enormous. It was expansive too. I looked out the window, looking left and right. It looked like the brown stone went on out of sight in either direction. I’m sure that wasn’t the case but to spend enough money to build this, all I’m saying is that some one really likes to show off.
Leslie seemed to read my mind. “Bruce’s Great Grandfather built it during the turn of the century. Back then, wealth was measured in the elaborate. Most of the Waynes who have come since then find this place about as garish as you do but none of them wanted to change it. Bruce, you will find, has made a lot of technological upgrades however.”
I nodded. About a year ago, I watched a television show where Mr. Wayne allowed a camera crew to film inside the mansion, apparently something that had never been done before. The man liked his privacy, which would explain why his house was so far from the city. During the guided tour, he showed off quite a bit, including the gardens, his personal gym, the two pools and the game room. There was a lot more too, but I couldn’t remember all of it. I couldn’t help but think though, what living or even growing up in a house like this might be like.
The driver got out and opened the door for the two of us. I slid out first, followed my Leslie. His calling us ladies made me feel really good. Leslie paid him as he got her bag and then he drove off, leaving us in blue blood country all alone. Looking up at the magnificent structure before me made me feel a little inadequate. Then I looked down at how I was dressed and felt even more out of place. I was no longer wearing the candy striper outfit---Thank God---but my shorts and tee were no better. If I’d known I was coming to a billionaire’s fortress today I wouldn’t have at least worn that stupid skirt. I tried to talk Leslie into allowing me to go home first but she said Mr. Wayne would not care about what I was wearing. I tugged on the end of the shorts but it wasn’t like I could make them longer.
“You look fine, dear.”
I followed Leslie up the massive stone steps; there were a pair of lions on either side of them. They looked like the statues on either side of the Art Institute in the city but these ones were made of marble. I reached out to touch one but decided against it. Leslie was already at the door so I ran to catch up. It was one of those big solid oak kinds with a knocker and everything. Leslie used the knocker and we waited. About a minute or so later, the door opened. The guy standing on the other side was tall, his hair all but gray but with flecks of black. He was wearing a charcoal colored suit with a bow tie. He had a stern look but the corners of his mouth turned up into a smile at the sight of Leslie.
“Hello Al, how’s the patient?”
“Insufferable” he said in a clipped British accent.
“Most men are when they’re not feeling well.”
Al didn’t look amused in the least. He turned his attention to me. “Is this the young assistant that you spoke of?”
Leslie nodded. “This is Crystal’s daughter, Stephanie.”
Leslie put her hand on my shoulder. I liked that she called me Mom’s daughter.
Al raised an eyebrow. “Her daughter?” He gave me a once over and smiled slightly. “I see, well delighted to meet you, young miss. I am Alfred Pennyworth, Master Bruce’s steward.”
I knew enough to know that what he really meant was butler. I’d never actually meant one of those before so that was kinda cool.
Alfred led us into the house and let me tell you, I was floored by what I saw. The inside definitely lived up to the outside. The foyer was ginormous---not a word, well it is now. The floors were made of polished marble, there was a giant crystal chandelier hovering high above my head and a huge painting of a couple---I assumed them to be Bruce’s parents---on the main wall. Underneath it was a marble pedestal on which stood a vase of white roses. Everything had an old vibe to it as if it’d been lived in for a long time even though it was well maintained. But looking around the foyer I couldn’t help but get a slight shiver as if someone was watching my every move.
“Come this way, Master Wayne is expecting you.”
Alfred led us out of the foyer, through a curved archway. I loved the wood panel feel of everything. In the hall, there were paintings on the wall. I didn’t know who painted them but I was pretty certain they weren’t prints. Most of the hallways were the same. After he led us through that one, we went down another. I’m not sure how many there were exactly but we walked for quite a bit. In one hall, there were tall windows, looking out into one of the gardens. I got a quick glance; there were so many flowers out there, more than I’d even seen. It looked like a nice place to relax. In another hall, I got a look at a courtyard, set up with a wicked looking hedge maze, all leading to a white gazebo. There might have been a bench there too.
We passed a lot of doors, too. I made the mistake of trying to open one only to get a shrewd glance from Alfred. Apparently, the billionaire prided himself on his privacy. Not that I could get in anyway, the door was locked. But I could see where a man like Bruce would want his secrets and I was pretty certain that a house like this had a lot of them.
Finally, Alfred led us up an elaborate staircase. Why it wasn’t in the main foyer was beyond me. It also bothered me that we had to walk so far to get there. I looked at my watch; we’d been walking for about ten minutes.
Alfred noticed my shock. “Master Bruce’s ancestor was a very paranoid man. Instead of making it easy to get to the second floor, we made it a challenge so as to deter anyone who wished to do him in.”
“Why would anyone want to hurt him?”
“As I said, he was very paranoid.”
On the second floor, things were less elaborate. The walls were still wood but now the floors were as well. There were still a lot of doors up here but I was certain most of them were locked as well. At the end of the hall was a room flanked by a pair of suits of armor worn by knights. They were kinda cool actually. I was kinda wondering where the suits of armor were, this being like a castle and all. Leslie smiled at the look on my face; Alfred once again didn’t look amused. He led us to the room and didn’t bother to knock but he did turn to me before going inside.
“I am only permitted to allow Dr. Thompson into the main room but Master Bruce has advised me to allow you to wait in his parlor.”
I nodded. “Sure no problem.”
Alfred nodded and took out a key, unlocking the door. Maybe that paranoid thing runs in the family.
As soon as the door was opened, I half expected to see a giant room but instead I saw a spiraling staircase. All at once, I knew what part of the place we were at. On the drive up, I noticed the two towers on either end of the property but I was convinced they were for show. After all the place looked like a castle, so I thought they were part of the design. But it turns out I was wrong. Not only were they not for show but apparently one of them housed Bruce’s bedroom. It was now very clear that paranoia ran in this family. Not that it bothered me either way. I thought it was kinda cool that he had a room in a tower like this.
“Mind your step, ladies.”
We followed Alfred up the winding staircase. I thought I was in pretty good shape but you had to be a damn biathlete to climb these damn stairs. Leslie was in front of me, Alfred in front of her. Both of them were four or five times my age and they were putting me to shame. I guess the moral of this story was no more sitting around on my butt all day. I’m not sure how long it took us to climb those stairs, it felt like hours. But when we finally reached the top, I nearly collapsed. Leslie literally held me up and then scolded me for being out of shape. Hey, what can I tell you, I’m a couch potato? Ever since Dad stopped me from Gymnastics, I don’t have any real reason to exercise anymore. It’s a sad thing to think about but it was the truth. I used to work out three days a day just to keep my lithe form in shape, Mom and I used to run every morning together and I spent more time at the Gym then I did at home. Not that Dad ever cared---or noticed for that matter---he was never home either.
Alfred took out the same key as before and unlocked the door in front of us. We were standing on a little landing and when the three of stepped through the threshold into this new room, I smiled. This place looked like some old time library. There were boxes lining three of the walls of the room, the fourth seemed to have only an old grandfather clock. The room had a particularly comfortable Old World feel with antique looking furniture and nuances. But those were combined with some of the modern tech took, like a flatscreen that looked like it descended from the ceiling and a stereo that was built into the center of one of the book shelves.
“Miss Stephanie, this is the parlor,” said Alfred “if you would wait here. Dr. Thompson and I must see to Mr. Wayne.”
I nodded, watching the two of them walk off. Alfred led Leslie to a door off to the side, most likely leading to Mr. Wayne’s bedroom. As soon as they were gone, I started to poke around a bit. I’d never been in a place with so many books before. It was strange to see a room this shape as well. Most rooms were square but because this one was in a tower, it had a circular design too. I decided to browse the bookshelves first. It didn’t take me long to realize that a lot of these books were decades old---they might even be centuries. First editions, I bet. I wonder if he read them or if they were just for show. I looked at a lot of them, scanning the titles.
Only one seemed particularly out of place. I only thought it was out of place because it was right in the middle of a bunch of books about espionage. It was a copy of Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo. Having a father like mine made me familiar with most books that kids my age might not even recognize. Before we moved into the slums, we used to have an expansive library. We didn’t have nearly as many books now, and none of them were first editions, but my father liked the classics. Being almost ten at the time I didn’t really read anything but this particular book caught my interest at once. It was all about a man who was wronged and was seeking revenge for it. I’m not sure why it struck such a chord though. Even now, the only reason it stuck out to me was because of the books around it.
I reached for it, wondering if there was any significance. My fingers were almost about to touch the delicate binding when I stopped. I had to no right to be pulling books off a stranger’s shelf. So I pulled my hand away and continued to explore. After browsing the books, I found myself in front of the grandfather clock. Like most of the furnishings in the room, it was an antique as well. It was ginormous too. I’m five six and this thing had to be at least six feet. I looked up at the clock face, not thinking anything was amiss until I looked at my own watch. According to me, it was only three thirty in the afternoon but according to the grandfather clock, it was ten forty seven at night. I leaned my head in closer and found that the clock was indeed busted.
I frowned and reached up to touch the hands, seeing if they were jammed.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said a voice from behind me.
I nearly jumped out of my clothes. I spun around and there leaning in the doorframe was a tall kid with jet black hair. He had a smug, casualness about him, made evident by the red motorcycle jacket and blue jeans he wore. He stared at me for a few seconds and then strode into the room as if he owned the place. I’d seen Wayne several times---on TV and in the papers–and this guy looked nothing like him. So he wasn’t a brother or anything and he was definitely too old to be his son.
“Do you make it a habit of sneaking up on people?” I asked, putting my hand on my chest, trying to steady the rapid beating of my still frightened heart.
He smirked as he flopped down on one of the couches, throwing his legs up onto one of the arms. Then he shrugged. “I just know the boss man doesn’t like people messing with the clock.”
I frowned. “It’s busted.”
He nodded. “Ten forty seven, there are a lot of clocks around here that say that.”
“What does it mean?”
He gave me this look like I’d grown a second hand. “You seriously don’t know?” I shook my head. He laughed. “I thought it was common knowledge in this city.”
He pushed himself from the couch, gliding effortlessly across the room to me. He got dangerously close, practically pushing me against the wall. He put his hands on the wall on either side of my head. He didn’t say anything for a second or two and just stared. He had the most striking blue eyes, like sapphires. There was no malice in them though, just a very overwhelming mischief. Even with the mischief though, I decided that I didn’t like this guy. Who invades someone’s personal space only seconds after meeting them?
“You’re too close,” I stammered as my heart skipped a beat. I’m not going to lie to you, this guy was gorgeous. But that didn’t mean I wanted him in my face like this.
He reached up and brushed a lock of hair from my face. “You’ve never heard the story of how Bruce’s parents were killed?”
I nodded. Of course, everyone knew the story. It was big news around here. It happened when he was nine years old. He and his parents were leaving a theater and some junkie mugged them. No one really knows what happened next---Bruce doesn’t talk about that part---but both his parents were shot and killed. It was a cold night in October and it happened on…Realization crossed my face and the boy leaning dangerously close to me smiled. He reached for with a finger and bopped my nose like I was a child.
“Bingo” he said and pulled away.
I had an overwhelming sense of grief for Bruce. I’d only lost my mother and it was from cancer but to lose both of his parents and in that matter. What does something like that do to a person? I looked over at the clock and I suppose there were worse ways to cope. If it made him feel better to turn all the clocks to ten forty seven and leave them there then that was fine by me.
My parlor guest backed further away and went back to his couch lounging. “So what’s your story, anyway?”
My heart skipped a neat again. Did he see through me that fast? Did he know my secret? “What do you mean?”
He smirked again. “Bruce doesn’t usually have pretty teen girls in his parlor.”
The compliment made me blush. Get a grip Steph, you hate this guy, remember. “Not that it’s any of your business but I’m here with Leslie.”
The guy raised an eyebrow. “Dr. T’s in there with Bruce right now?”
I nodded. Who was he to call her by an affection nickname like that?
The guy smiled and nodded. “Good, he’s been bitching and moaning.”
I got a chance to read Bruce’s chart before we left the clinic. When a man falls off a mountain climbing, there were grounds for bitching and moaning. He was lucky not to have died. If breaking a few ribs and bruising the hell out of yourself was the result then he was very lucky indeed. “Falling off a mountain allows you to moan like that.”
“A mountain?” asked the guy, looking confused for a split second. Then he recovered quickly. Then he laughed. “He told her it was a mountain?”
I nodded, he laughed aloud. He shook his head. “It was the stupid rock wall in the Gym.”
I suppose that explains why the injuries were less severe.
I couldn’t help but smile and laugh myself actually. Because we were laughing, neither one of us heard Alfred until he cleared his throat rather loudly behind me. I snapped around, nearly jumping ten feet into the air. What was it with people sneaking up in this place?
“Are you done having a jolly at Master Bruce’s expense, Master Tim?”
The guy on the couch---Tim, I guess---nodded. “Sorry, Al.”
Alfred frowned. Then he addressed me. “Miss Stephanie, Master Bruce wishes to speak with you.”
“Me?” I asked, shocked as all hell.
Tim laughed. “Hurry up, the Wizard is showing you behind the curtain, Dorothy.”
I turned and gave him a cold look. Cute but a definite ass.
I wanted to give him the finger but I didn’t think that was appropriate so instead I followed Alfred into the room that only moments before I was forbidden to tread. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I walked inside but I definitely wasn’t expecting hi-tech. It was nothing like the room I just left. Yes, it still had the wood paneling walls and the polished wood floors but it was there that the similarities ended. This room was like walking from the 19th century and into the 21st. The furniture was all modern and up to date; there were several large windows looking out to the grounds and beyond and lots of TV monitors. At first, I thought this guy was obsessed with his favorite shows until I saw that his favorite shows happened to be the house. They weren’t TV monitors, they were CCTV monitors. It looked like he had a camera in every room of the house.
Now that’s paranoid.
The man himself was lying on a large bed, wearing black silk pajamas. He was exactly like I had seen him on TV---black hair, blue eyes, strikingly handsome. Except he was a little paler now, sweaty and he had an IV in his arm. Leslie was sitting in the chair next to the bed, checking his vitals. He didn’t look too amused by it so clearly he was a man who didn’t like doctors.
“You’re Crystal’s daughter?” he asked, his voice was warm but strained as if he was in a great deal of pain.
I nodded. “Yes sir.”
He laughed. “There’s no sir here except maybe Alfred” The butler frowned, Bruce laughed and winced. “You can call me Bruce.”
I smiled. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be addressed so informally around others.
He smiled too. “I’m sorry about Tim,” he continued. “He can be a bit difficult. I’m also sorry about before, I wasn’t being an ass you know. I like to isolate and exclude people just to see how they react. I wanted to see if you were the type of person who was the curious sort or if you’d just sit there and do nothing.”
I bit my lip. He’d been watching me the whole time on the cameras. I was so embarrassed.
“I’m sorry for almost touching the clock and for laughing at your expense.”
He laughed too and regretted it afterwards. I could tell he was in a great deal of pain. Leslie frowned and him and at me. “You don’t have to apologize for me being stupid. I lied to Leslie because I didn’t want her to worry.”
“So you told me you fell off a real mountain instead of a fake one?”
She shook her head. “Because falling off a fake one would have made me worry more?”
He laughed again, wincing. “Ok, so I was protecting my bruised ego too. Do you know how embarrassing that sounds? Me, the accomplished climber, not securing his climb harness properly.”
“You’re just lucky you didn’t break your neck.”
According to Bruce’s file, he fell off the “mountain” nearly a month ago. I had to wonder why Leslie was just finding out about the less than severe nature of such a thing. It was clear that the two of them were close. The way Leslie talked about him it was like he was her own son. I saw the way he looked on her too; it was the way I used to look at my own mother. In this room was a strange little family---Bruce the son, Leslie and Alfred his surrogate parents. I felt sad and happy for the man all at the same time.
Bruce continued as if Leslie hadn’t interrupted. ‘You look like your mother, you have her eyes. She and I were good friends you know, I bet she didn’t’ tell you that?” I shook my head, he smiled. “We were classmates and did everything together when we were children. I miss her a lot, not as much as you do, I’m sure but there’s always been this spot in my heart that belonged to her and now that she’s gone…”
His voice trailed off. I felt a pang and the sadness nearly overwhelmed me. I got over grieving for Mom a long time ago but listening to his words, the grief was coming back. I fought it back but it hurt so much. It also hurt that Mom never mentioned she was friends with Bruce Wayne. I suppose Dad didn’t care for it. He’s the jealous type, very domineering and controlling. Not that Mom let him tell her what to do but they had a small circle of friends and he controlled most of that. It got worse when Mom got sick. You’d think she was a fragile glass flower the way Dad treated her. Like I said before, her death crushed him.
But looking at Bruce now, it was clear that Dad wasn’t the only one who was crushed.
A silence fell over the room until Alfred broke it. “Master Bruce, you wished to ask Miss Stephanie a favor?”
He seemed to recover quickly enough. “Yes, thank you Alfred.” The butler nodded, Bruce smiled. “Stephanie it would seem I’m in need of some company. Alfred is kind of a bore and Tim is well, you’ve met him.” I had to smile at that. Though his presence in this house made me wonder. Bruce continued. “Leslie says you’re her assistant, well over the next few weeks I want you to be mine as well. I’m bored being cooped up in this room all day and seeing as I can’t leave…”
Leslie interrupted. “Not on your life.”
Bruce talked as if she hadn’t. “Seeing as I can’t leave until I’m on the mend, I want you to be my eyes and ears to the world.”
“Me?” I was shocked to say the least.
He nodded. “I’ve been in this room for a month and things in this city are rapidly changing. I used to be on top of things you know, always out and about. But since my accident, I’ve been bored out of my mind.”
“So you want me to entertain you?”
He laughed. “You make me sound like I’m some kind of pervert who likes to bring young girls to his room and have his way with them.”
The thought had crossed my mind for a split second.
Leslie frowned at both of us.
It was definitely an interesting offer. Here I was just coming to make a less than routine house call and now a billionaire wanted me to be his gofer. I suppose it had its perks but it still left me wondering what he knew. Did he know about me, I mean really know about me? Everyone here was so nice and accommodating but they thought I was Crystal’s daughter. If they knew the truth, if they knew who was under the masquerade. It scared the hell out of me what Bruce would do to me if he knew that was not really the teenage girl that I was pretending to be.
“I’m not sure I’m the person you want…”
“I’ll pay you,” he added quickly.
“Bruce” Leslie scolded, clearly annoyed.
“Its not like I can’t afford it” he said, waving her off. “I’ll take whatever Leslie is giving you for your services and triple it.”
Holy…dollar signs appeared in my head. I know it was shallow but Dad and I could really use that money. Not that I’d tell him about any of this of course. But with the kind of cash he was offering, it would be more than enough to help me on my way toward my goals. It just seemed a little strange that a rich guy like him would want a fake teenage “girl” for company. Ok, so I don’t think I’m fake---I know I’m not---but what did he think?
I bit my lip. “Ok, but I’m not abandoning Leslie.”
Bruce smiled. “It will only be a couple of hours a day. You can go to Leslie’s after school like you planned and then I’ll send a car for you; I’ll even send you home with Alfred.”
I shook my head. “A cab will be fine.”
Bruce smiled. “Then it’s a deal?”
I sighed and nodded. “It’s a deal.”
What the hell was I getting myself in to?
We left shortly after Bruce offered me the job. Instead of getting a cab home, Bruce had Alfred drive us. It was one of the nicest cars I’d ever seen, a Rolls Royce, I think. I’m not sure what year it was because I’m not a car person, but it had white leather seats and a polished wood interior. Leslie and I sat in the back. She didn’t say much after I agreed to assist Bruce. But she didn’t seem to think it was such a good idea before I accepted the job. In her thinking, Bruce was up to something, which involved me getting hurt in some way. But that was Leslie for you, always caring about the welfare of others. I guess that’s what made her such a good doctor.
Alfred took us by a small second hand store before we went to the Clinic. As much as I loved being Stephanie, it was time for Cinderella to leave the Ball. I hadn’t really planned to go anywhere but out dressed like this today, and Jen took my guy clothes. She said I wouldn’t need them. So while I sat in the car with Alfred, Leslie went in and got me some appropriate clothing: boy jeans and a t-shirt with a baseball team logo on the front. Then we drove to the Clinic.
“You are a very lovely young woman, Stephanie,” said Leslie as Alfred drove away. “How your father can not see that is far beyond me.”
I smiled and gave her a big hug. The two of us walked inside arm and arm . I just hoped she didn’t lose much business while we were gone. Though it was a free Clinic, she got a stipend from the government to keep it open. I suppose that helped some. To lose almost a whole day’s work; that must have been quite a blow. When I asked her about it on the way to Bruce’s this afternoon, she told me not to worry about it. But I did worry, I worried a lot. I was worrying even as I wove my way through the empty beds and into the locker room.
I reluctantly took off everything new that was Stephanie’s. When I took the inserts out of my bra, I held them sadly in my hands. One day I hoped that I wouldn’t have to do that. Most normal girls got to have breasts at puberty; I could see hair on my chin. Not that I got much but there was enough to shave every once in a while. Having less hair helped me pass a lot easier though. Even in Gym class, it was hard to tell I was a boy unless you looked below. Even then, I didn’t have much to show for it. Standing in the locker room, pulling up the boy jeans, I had horrible memory flashes of Gym class. I was always small which made me the butt of the older kids’ jokes and torments.
I tried not to cry as I thought about it. I think I was taking too long because Leslie came in to check on me. I was sitting on the bench, shirtless. She came over and sat down next to me, pulling me to her chest. That’s when the dam burst. It was so hard being a teenager and knowing you were in the wrong body. It was a struggle every day to get out of bed in the morning. I even showered with my eyes closed sometimes, afraid of the foul body that God gave me. Not that he cared one way or the other. I’m a bitter Atheist, for a good reason. It was the only thing that my mother and I didn’t see eye to eye on. She wasn’t a devout Christian but she kept telling me that God had a plan. I wanted to know what his plan was with me: torture? He put me in the wrong damn body, completely ruining my whole damn life. Everything came to head when Mom got sick. It came on so suddenly and two months later, she was gone. What kind of God takes away the only good thing in my life? How can he torture me more when he tortured me so much already?
After Mom died was when I really turned my back.
“What time does your father get home, sweetheart?”
I looked at the clock on the wall. He worked weird shifts sometimes, especially for a guy in a print shop. I asked him about it once and he told me to mind my own damn business. When I asked him a second time, he popped me one. So I stopped asking. But he had the strangest hours, coming and going at all hours of the night. A lot of the time, he came home drunk too; so I don’t think he was working all night. I told all of this to Leslie and she nodded.
“Maybe you should stay with me tonight?”
I pulled away from her, wiping tears from my eyes. I shook my head. “I can’t. If I’m not there to cook him dinner he’ll flip out.”
Leslie looked like she wanted to break something. “The nerve of that man. When he got your mother pregnant so young I wanted to strangle him, your grandparents nearly did. When they got married, I thought he’d changed. He was such a bright boy, went off to college and everything. Your mother did too of course but your Dad was the real genius around here. He could have worked anywhere. He got a lot of offers: STAR Labs, CADMUS, even Luthercorp; why he chose that stupid TV show is beyond me.”
I knew all of this, of course. Leslie liked to reminisce a lot. She liked to talk about when Mom was younger. My grandparents weren’t very well off but they made ends meet. My grandfather worked in a factory, my grandmother was a housekeeper. They both died in a car accident when I was six. Dad didn’t have any family and Mom only had one sister, Barbara. Yeah, my cousin was named after her mother, how cool is that. Aunt Barbara died in childbirth; Uncle Jim named their daughter after her. Besides Dad, Barbara and Jim were the only family I had. I never knew how Leslie knew my grandparents but she always used to tell me that she watched Mom grow up.
After I cried some more, I finished getting dressed. Leslie helped me take off all my makeup. Then she did her best to make my hair look masculine. There was no hiding the feminine looking eyebrows but I told her Dad wouldn’t look that close anyway. She helped me put my clothes in a bag and instead of taking them home; she said I could keep them here. She also told me she’d help me put together a nice wardrobe for when I had to be Stephanie with Mr. Wayne.
When I left the Clinic, it was just getting a bit on the dark side. Luckily, I was only a few blocks from home. I power walked most of the way, afraid to be stuck out here after dark. As I said, it’s not a very good thing to do. About town minutes later I arrived at the apartment, panting. When I took out my key and unlocked the door, there was someone coming down our stairs. It surprised me a bit, having never known my Dad to have any kind of visitors. He was kinda thuggish looking with a square jaw and beady eyes. He smiled at me when he passed. I shivered in disgust. I waited to make sure he was gone before I ran up the stairs.
When I got inside, Dad was watching TV. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Leslie had to make a house call so I had to go with her.”
Dad looked at the clock. “It’s nearly five, where the hell did you go, the moon?”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter, I’m back now.”
“Good... I’m starving, make dinner.”
Welcome to my life.
I went to bed late last night and when I woke up, I was actually fairly refreshed. But at the same time I was dreading the day, it was after all the last official day of summer vacation. School started tomorrow and I know I should have been excited, senior year and all but I just couldn’t find myself caring. Though I suppose there were some advantages to it. In a couple of months, I’d be eighteen and I wouldn’t need my father’s consent for anything anymore. That meant I could do whatever I pleased. I definitely didn’t have enough money to do what I wanted to do but I was saving. The only other person who knew about my plan was Jen and as much as I wanted her help---she offered---I wanted to do it on my own.
I might have been well rested but I still had a wicked nightmare last night. I think it was brought on by a combination of the day’s events and something I saw on the news. It turns out the Bat now had some competition in the vigilante business. Last night, the masked man the press were dubbing the “Roving Raver” struck again. He apprehended a mugger. He left his usual calling card too, sprayed painted on the man’s face: two red R’s. The police promised that when normal citizens took the law into their own hands there would be prosecution for it. Of course, first they had to catch the guy. It was kinda refreshing that there was someone out there protecting the city while the Bat took a vacation or whatever. RR had been popping up all over the city in the last month.
Not that that was what my dream was about. In my dream, I was in girl mode and I was at Wayne Manor. At first, everything was real good. Bruce and Alfred were as nice as can be. Then I went to the bathroom and Bruce walked in. I was confused because he should have been in bed resting. But I was at the urinal---apparently in my dream, the bathrooms at his house had one---and I was standing there. He saw me with my skirt pulled up. Then he got real angry and started beating the hell out of me. I screamed for help and Alfred came but he started beating on me too. That’s when the Roving Ravager came---he was a blur of course. Instead of helping me, he started to laugh too. Then everyone started to laugh. It was the most horrible dream ever.
The dream stayed with me all morning. I hated holidays because Dad never worked. When he was home and sober, ---a rare thing on both fronts---he wasn’t as bad. But he was still a cranky son of a bitch. He also treated me like a slave. After I cooked breakfast, he usually made me do all the chores. I didn’t mind doing some of the feminine things but he wanted me to do everything. He said it was helping me build character but all it was really doing was showing me how lazy he really was. Today was no different. He sat on the couch, watching the Game Show Network while I tried my hardest to clean around him and not disturb him. Today was Cluemaster day after all; they were showing all his best episodes.
It was like Christmas for my Dad.
At noon, I reheated leftovers and then slipped out without him even knowing. Jen was waiting for me at the corner. She wanted to know how my day at the clinic went as Stephanie. First, I told about how Leslie was cool about it then I told her about Tony. He was cute after all. When I got to the part about Wayne Manor, she pretended to be jealous. Then I told her about Tim. When I described him, she thought he sounded cute until I told her about his flaws. Jen and I had the exact same taste in men, so what I didn’t like she didn’t like.
We spent the whole day pretending to be girlfriends even though I was in guy mode. She wanted to do something wild and crazy. She called this the last official day of childhood. Apparently, tomorrow was some important rite of passage for her. I didn’t get what the big deal was. But things like this were real powerful blah, blah, blah. I wasn’t feeling up to anything crazy so we parted about a block from my house. Jen never went any closer than that for fear of my Dad seeing us together. He didn’t like it that my only friend was a girl. I tried to tell him she was my girlfriend but he caught us giggling together once and knew I was full of it. So Jen stayed away whenever she could.
When I got home, Dad was passed out on the couch. I spent the rest of the night cleaning up his mess. Then I dropped off earlier. The worst day of my whole life was coming back around on me again: the first day of school.
“You’re wearing your hair like that?” asked Dad at the breakfast table.
I picked up my spoon and looked at my hair. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. I always liked ponytails. Though I had to admit this one might have been a little higher on my head than I usually wore it. When I was getting dressed this morning, I decided to push androgyny as far as I could go. I’d get to be Stephanie after school today with Leslie and then Bruce but I wanted to be half of her in school at least. That’s why I was pushing the envelope. The clothes were still Steven---at least on the surface. I was wearing a pair of panties underneath, not that I needed to worry about changing. I opted out of Gym for my last year, having taken two semesters of it in my junior year. It was kinda rough---especially all the ridicule---but it was worth it.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, putting down the spoon. “It always looks like this.”
My father frowned, dipping his spoon in his soggy cereal. “It looks girly like that.”
I huffed. “Everything about me looks girly to you.”
He gave me a stern look but didn’t go any further. He knew as well as I if I walked into school with any mark on me that it would draw attention to him. So he stayed his hand but I was certain as soon as I got home tonight I was going to get smacked. I guess it was something to dread. After my smart comment, neither of us said anything at the breakfast table. He hated it when I went to school though because I didn’t have enough time in the morning to fix a real breakfast. So on school days it was either cereal or toast.
“When are you going to be home tonight?”
I shrugged. “I promised I’d help Leslie a little more now. She thinks I’m old enough for some more responsibilities.”
Yes, that’s right. I didn’t tell him about the Wayne job. There was good money in that and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that deal because of him.
“Why you still work for that old bat is beyond me.”
“She’s not an old bat,” I snapped.
He huffed. “You remember that the next time she forgets your name or something.”
I got pissed, slamming my bowl on the table. Milk and cereal sprayed all over, even drenching him a bit. Before he could say anything though, I pushed up. He glared at me. I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself but instead I grabbed my backpack. I could stand most of his insults because they were directed solely at me but I hated it when he attacked people I cared about. So I did the only thing I could think of now, I turned and left. I heard him shout something profane at me but I didn’t care. I stormed down the stairs and out the door.
I was a few minutes early for the bus so I paced a bit. I don’t know what the hell my mother ever saw in him. He was the biggest scumbag on the face of the planet. As soon as I was eighteen, I was going to get the hell out of this dump. I’m not sure if I had it all planned out but I did have enough cash for an apartment at least. It wouldn’t be a big one but it would be better than living with him and all his shit. If I had to get another job---a better one---then so be it. I hadn’t planned to work for Leslie forever anyway. It pained me to think about leaving her but I might not have a choice. Even with Mr. Wayne’s money, I’d still need another job.
The bus finally came. It sucked that I was crying by the time it showed. When I walked on, it was clear that everyone could see my tears. I got a lot of jeers and things thrown at me. My biggest tormenter, of course, was Fernando Garcia, a thuggish football player who thought he was hot shit because his father was a big real estate mogul. Fernando and his friends had been tormenting me since grade school. They went out of their way to make my life a living hell. When they say me crying, it was like open season to them. I ignored all their catcalls and names. But you could only take so many “sissies” and “fags” before it got to you.
I pushed down the aisle and found a seat next to Jen. She frowned and shook her head, standing up and giving Fernando the finger.
“Don’t mind those assholes,” she said as she sat back down.
I nodded. “I think Dad is starting to notice how girly I’m looking.”
“Did he say something again?”
I shook my head. “No, but he made a comment about my hair.”
She frowned and took a deep breath. “I wish you’d just tell your uncle. He’s the big man, right? He can have the police arrest your Dad in a heartbeat.”
I nodded. But I didn’t want to bother my uncle with my burdens. Besides, it wouldn’t matter in a month or so because I’d finally be free of the bastard. I could go out and live my own life. Then everything would be right with the world. I could go to school as Steven and spend the rest of my day at home as Stephanie. I think if there was anyone more excited than me about this plan it was Jen. She was a few months younger than me and though she didn’t have the gall to move out on her own, she was excited for me nonetheless.
The bus made a few more stops before we got to school. I’m not going to bore you with my school day. It was like any normal first day. I went to home room, got my new schedule, had a new locker assigned to me. All underclassmen had the same lockers for three years but when you became a senior, you got a new one assigned in the senior specific hall. These lockers were blue---as opposed to the others which were yellow. They were also newer and a bit bigger, allowing more stuff. I usually took my books for the morning classes in one stop and then switched out before lunch. It saved me some trips. It also helped me avoid my tormenters because I didn’t have to go by my locker where they were bound to congregate to annoy me.
When I went to my locker before lunch, Jen was waiting. She looked particularly cute in a floor length floral dress. She was bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet, waiting impatiently. This was the first year that the two of us had lunch the same period. It was also the first time we’d get to use the senior cafeteria. The Senior Caf. was bigger and had a lot more varieties for us to eat. As an underclassman, one was prone to complain about such things but it was a privilege that only seniors got, like being able to drive cars to school if they had them.
“What took you so long?”
“Spencer” I said, referring to the aging history teacher.
He was notorious for falling asleep in the middle of class. When he woke up, he acted as if nothing happened. But he had a tendency to start teaching the same thing he had been before he fell asleep. Being a student of his was very troublesome. Most of his students tried to drop out or switch to another teacher before the first week was done. After that, we were stuck. I thought about switching too, but I kinda liked the old guy. Older people tended to be much more knowledgeable in things and even though he repeated himself, he knew a lot of stuff.
“Are you going to drop?” asked Jen as the two of us walked down the hall.
“Nope” I said with a smile. “I like him.”
In order to get to the Senior Caf. we had to pass through one of the underclassmen halls; mainly baby-faced freshmen populated this particular one. They all looked scared and out of place being the new fish in a very large pond. They were kinda cute like that and looking at them wandering about brought back fond memories. As Jen and I were passing by where our old lockers were something else brought back some not so fond memories. Fernando and his goon squad had found a new victim. He was a short, scrawny kid with black hair and freckles. He wasn’t as girly looking as say me but he was smaller than the others, singling him out as fresh meat.
Jen saw my look. “Forget it.”
I shook my head. “I’m not going to let him turn into me.”
Jen sighed. “Well I’m going to get the principal, don’t do anything too stupid.”
I didn’t mind if the violence was directed at me but I hated seeing others get pushed around. Usually I just tried to do what Jen was doing, going to get someone in authority. But this particular incident got under my skin for some reason. So I took a deep breath and stormed over. I pushed my way through the fish eyed on-lookers. At first, Fernando didn’t notice me. He reared his arm back to push the little freshman into the lockers when I did something stupid. I grabbed his arm, holding it in place. It got an immediate reaction.
“Oh, the fag has come to play too, I see.”
Fernando’s friends laughed.
“Leave him alone, you jack ass.”
Fernando let go of the kid and went for me. He grabbed my shirt and slammed me into the lockers. It hurt like a bitch. “You want some of this Stephanie, so be it.” He emphasized the “phanie” at the end, as if calling me a girl’s name made me even more of a sissy.
He slammed his fist into my gut, causing me to double over in pain. Then slammed his knee into my mouth. I could taste the blood. When he let me go, I dropped to the ground. I think he probably would have done a lot more if not for the Vice Principal. He shouted at the top of his lungs, causing most students to scatter. Then he wrapped his arms around Fernando from behind, pulling him away from me. It helped that the guy was also the wrestling coach. Fernando kicked and squirmed. Even his friends looked a little scared of him. The VP looked at them and me.
“You guys, my office right now!” Then he spoke softly to me. “Miss, do you need to go to the nurse’s office.”
Jen interrupted the giggles from some of my fellow on-lookers. “I’ll take her, Mr. Crow.” She helped me to my feet.
The freshman followed us most of the way. “Thanks for that” he said quickly. “My name is Jason.”
I shook his outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’ve never had a girl stand up for me before, that was awesome.”
I opened my mouth to spoil his hero worship but Jen cut me off.
“That’s Steph for you, helping the innocent.”
I frowned. Jason continued talking. “Well, I’ve gotta get to class, thanks for everything.”
He took off. I looked at Jen and rolled my eyes. “Really?”
She shrugged. “I think he might have a little crush on you. I didn’t want to crush his spirits by telling him you were a guy.”
Even though I liked the idea of people thinking I was a girl, it would just cause problems here at school. I told her that and she just shrugged. The two of us went to the nurse’s office. The nurse gave me some ice for my lip then made me stay there through the lunch period. When I got to my next class, I found out what had happened to Fernando and his goons. His goons had gotten in school suspension and Fernando was expelled. Apparently, he actually broke free from the VP’s grasp and tried to hit him. So he was escorted out of the school in handcuffs, which I was sad to say that I missed.
It didn’t take long for what I did to spread around the school. The only problem was that everyone now thought I was the “girl who stood up to that ass, Fernando”. I guess I could live with that. It made me popular pretty quick though. However, I couldn’t get used to it too much, especially when Fernando’s girlfriend, Jordana, singled me out in my last class of the day. She threw a bitch fit, calling me all sorts of names, stuff that would make a truck driver blush. Her insults landed her a nice suspension, too. After that, I was feeling pretty good about myself, having ruined the school career of one of my tormentors and getting several of his lackeys in serious trouble. Did I feel bad ... not in the least? Those who do harm to others need to be punished. Fernando was a real ass and maybe some time wherever he was going would help him get better.
“So today you start at the Manor; right?” asked Jen as she met me outside my last class.
I nodded. I could have started yesterday but Bruce wanted me to have my extra day of freedom. So after I spent a few hours at the clinic, he’d send a cab to pick me up and take me to the Manor. I’m still not exactly sure what my job there was going to be, but whatever it was I was kinda excited about it. I talked a little more about the place as Jen and I got onto the bus. I took the bus as far as the Clinic where I got off. Jen lived in a better part of the city, so she got off before me. When I got off, I found Leslie inside waiting for me.
“I’ve got some nice things for you to wear today, much more respectable than those shorts.”
I smiled and nodded. She gave me a day off yesterday, too. I’m not sure when it happened but now I’d be Stephanie all the time here as well. I loved the idea of it actually; it made me feel like Steven was the disguise. I couldn’t get to the locker room fast enough. What I found in my locker was a pair of pink scrubs. They were really cool and I dressed in them quickly. Leslie had also bought me an outfit to wear to the manor: a blouse, skirt and a pair of one-inch heels. It was really cute and much more professional looking. After I came out dressed in the scrubs, Leslie asked me about the fat lip. So I had to tell her what happened.
“At least the little bastard got in trouble for it.”
My short time at the Clinic was kinda slow. We got a mother with her sick child---he had the flu. Then a man came in after dropping a hammer on his foot and another came in with stomach pains---thinking he was having a heart attack. It turned out to be indigestion. Our final customer was a bit of a surprise actually, it was Tony, again. This time he was complaining about a sore wrist. But both of us could see through his ruse. It was obvious he came to see me ... probably thought I’d be the cute candy striper again. He kinda frowned when he saw my scrubs. Leslie looked at his wrist and Tony bombarded me with questions, he was cute but a little too nosey for my tastes.
Before I knew it, my time with Leslie was up. “Don’t let him make you do anything too outrageous and if he does, you call me immediately?” she said as she followed me out to the cab.
I laughed and nodded. The ride to the Manor was a quiet one. This time the gate opened immediately upon my arrival. The cabbie whistled when he saw the house, I guess this was his first time. He didn’t wait to get paid; apparently, it was all taken care of. When I got the front door, Alfred was already standing there waiting for me. He complimented me on my outfit then led the way through the winding halls to Master Bruce’s tower, as he affectionately called it. When we got to the parlor, I half expected to see Tim lounging on the couch again but he was nowhere in sight. Good riddance as far as I was concerned.
“Master Bruce” said Alfred, knocking on Bruce’s door. “Miss Stephanie has arrived.”
“Show her in, Alfred.”
Alfred opened the door and left me alone. When I walked into the room, Bruce was sitting up in bed, looking a little better today than he did yesterday. His CCTV’s were not on either which was a good thing because the other day it made him look a bit paranoid. He smiled when he saw me and complimented me as well which made me blush.
He got right down to business. He started sending me on menial tasks, sending me up and down the damn tower so many times that I wanted to kill him. I felt like his slave, doing the stupidest things. But I did get to see a lot of the Manor, having to run from one end of it to the other. I was practically in and out of every room, having been given a key to do so. The only room I wasn’t sent to was the one directly beneath him in the tower. When I asked him about it, he said it was storage and not to worry about it. After an hour of errands, my legs were burning from being overworked. After another hour, he finally told me it was time for dinner. I had no idea I was eating with him but he insisted. Boy was Dad going to be mad without me there to make him his meal.
Alfred came and escorted me to the dining room. It was just as big and just as grand as the rest of the place. It had an enormously tall ceiling and one of the longest tables I’d ever seen. The room fit the castle motif to a tee, especially with all the suits of armor lining the walls. While Alfred left me alone, I did some wandering again. Like a cat, I went over to one of the suits, curiosity getting the better of me. This particular one was holding this real wicked looking poleaxe. I tried to imagine what something like that would do to someone as I reached out and touched it. I must have touched it a little too hard because it wobbled on its pedestal and fell at me.
I yipped like a dog and sprang backwards, my gymnastics taking over. I didn’t even know I could do a back flip anymore until I did. I executed the maneuver with ease. Unfortunately, the suit of armor went clattering loudly to the flood. I cursed and rushed over quickly, trying my hardest to lift the damn thing up. But it weighed a ton. As I was struggling with it, two hands appeared out of nowhere and helped me lift. I snapped around and saw Tim.
“Do you make a habit out of sneaking up on innocent girls?”
“I don’t know, do you make a habit out of touching things you shouldn’t?”
Touché. Then my heart did that thump thump thing, stupid heart. “Where did you come from anyway?” I asked as the two of us walked over to the table.
“I heard the loudest noise in the world and thought we were having an air raid.”
I frowned and he laughed. His laugh was kinda annoying. ‘What do you do here anyway?”
He ignored my question. Instead, he reached out and gently touched my lip. “Who did this?” he asked, sternly.
I smacked my hand way. “It’s nothing, I broke up a fight in school.”
Tim looked kinda pissed. “So you got hit for it.”
“The guy’s a jackass anyway.”
“A guy?” Tim looked even more pissed. “What kind of a guy hits a girl like that?”
I was interrupted by Alfred who arrived to tell us dinner was ready. Only Tim and I were seated. Apparently, Alfred ate elsewhere and Bruce couldn’t very well leave his room. Suffice to say dinner was a very quiet affair, which I was more than used to at home. Though Tim kept looking at me, fuming. I think he was still kinda pissed that someone hit me. I’m glad I didn’t tell him about getting punched in the gut; he probably would have gone nuts. Which kinda confused me a bit? I was a stranger to him and yet he was getting so worked up over it. As far as I could tell, he didn’t even like me.
After dinner, I did some more errands, which annoyed me. At the end, I found myself in front of Bruce, panting.
“Tired?” I nodded and he smiled. “Good, now I know you can take it. I saw you huffing and puffing up those stairs the last time you were here. We need to work out some of that and get you back to how you used to be, back when you were a gymnast.”
“You know about that?”
He nodded. “I like to know who I have in my employ, Steven.”
Shit. “I didn’t mean….I mean...I had no intention….”
I started to tear up. He spoke in a soothing tone. “Its ok, Stephanie. I’m not angry or upset. I knew the moment I saw you. You’re a brave girl for doing what you’re doing and I applaud you for it. It shows you’ve got guts and resilience, I like that.”
I smiled. “You’re not going to tell anyone else, are you?”
He smiled and shook his head. “If you mean Tim, then the answer is no.”
I sighed in relief. “What’s that guy’s problem, anyway” I blurted out before I could stop myself. I quickly put a hand over my mouth. “Sorry.”
Bruce laughed. “I’ll let him tell you. Suffice to say, Tim has had a troubled past.”
We talked a little more about things then he dismissed me for the night. Once again, he offered to have Alfred drive me home but I refused. So Alfred called a cab and waited with me outside until it came to pick me up. When it arrived, Alfred paid the driver up front, told him where to take me and bid me a good night.
“Why are you stopping?” I asked, as the cab pulled over to the curb.
The driver looked at me in his rearview. “This is as far as I go, kid.”
“But he paid you to take me to my apartment.”
“Look” he said, agitated. “Any moron who’s worth their salt knows not to go into the Narrows after dark. I’m not a moron. So sorry, little girl, this is as far as I go.”
“You’re a prick,” I said as I pushed open the door.
“Well I’m a living one, ain’t I” said the driver and I walked away.
What a fucking jackass. Who leaves a girl like me alone on the street after hours? Well I wasn’t technically a girl but he didn’t know that. I flipped him off as he was pulling away but I don’t think he saw me. So I cursed and spit in his direction. After that, I shivered a bit and got my bearings. I was a few blocks from home so I guess it wouldn’t be too bad if I walked it. I’d just have to move a little faster than I was used to, which was bad for me because my legs were on fire from all the moving today. I tried my best though, moving at a speed usually reserved for people in a rush.
But at night in the Narrows, everyone was in a rush.
I walked an entire block on my sore legs, they didn’t bother me one bit. But as soon as I got about halfway down the second block, I started to feel the burn. I stopped to catch my breath. As soon as I did, I realized it was a mistake. Up ahead there were at least three of them---college age thugs. They didn’t see me at first and I thought I was lucky. Then one of them caught me out of the corner of his eye or something. I cursed and tried to run across the street but they were faster. The first one grabbed my wrist and pulled me into him, wrapping his arms around me. I screamed and struggled but it was no use.
“Why fuss baby, dressed like that.”
He carried me into a nearby alley with his two friends laughing. They threw me against the wall and surrounded me. I fell to the ground but got to my feet quickly. I tried to run but they cut me off. I tried to push through them but they were too strong. One grabbed my ponytail and pulled me back into the wall again. I started to cry then screamed again. But even if someone heard, they wouldn’t do anything about it. This was the perk of living in the Narrows. Someone could get shot in front of someone else but no one would do a thing. It was a dog eat dog world in this part of the city. Things changed when the Bat showed up but the Bat was gone and crime was at an all time high again.
“Let me go” I sobbed.
They laughed and mimicked me in mocking tones.
“Frankie” said one of the taller ones to a shorter, fat one. “Show the little bitch what she’s in for.”
Frankie---the fat one---pulled out a knife. The third guy held me from behind as Frankie cut the buttons off my blouse. My original plan was to change at a nearby restaurant down the street; I was carrying my boy clothes in a bag. But I’d completely forgotten about it when the cabbie pissed me off. Now I was stuck in this alley, with these disgusting bastards. And things were about to get even worse as soon as they realized that I wasn’t what I was supposed to be.
“Take it slow, Frank,” said the tall one “I want to see a little white flesh before I get some titty.”
The Fat One nodded, cutting more buttons off, but slowly.
I screamed again and they laughed even louder.
I’m not really certain what happened after that. Whatever it was, it happened so quickly. They were laughing, having a good time watching me suffer and then something happened. I think the one behind me screamed. He was holding real tight to me then he was gone. His friends looked a little confused too. The Fat One abandoned his cutting and the tall one pulled out a small gun, pressing the barrel into my abdomen.
“I’ll shoot her,” he said with a shaky voice.
“Doubtful” said a cold voice from the dark.
I turned and squinted. There was a figure there, partially shrouded in black. The tall one raised his gun and fired but was clear he was shooting at nothing. Then the figure appeared again, dropping down from above. He slammed into the Fat One hard, driving him to the ground. The knife flew into the darkness. The dark figure slammed his fist into the bastard’s face. The tall one squeezed off another shot, the bullet went wild. The noise was loud and echoed off the narrow walls around us. Both of us clasped our ears, I dropped to the ground. He dropped the gun and stumbled backwards. The figure was there again, this time in between the two of us. He had something in his hand, something metal. It was short at first then extended in length.
It was a metal pole I think. He spun it in a quick circle then brought it down on the tall one’s shoulder, causing him to scream out in pain. When the man doubled over, the figure struck him again.
“Harming women is for fools and cowards,” said the figure in his cold tone, slamming the pole into the guy’s chest a second time.
The figure spun the pole around, driving it across the tall one’s face. My final attacker dropped to the ground and didn’t get back up. The figure nudged him with his foot. When the guy didn’t move, the figure bent down and I heard a hissing sound. When the figure stood back up, there was a spray painted pair of red R’s on the man’s prone form.
“Are you all right, miss?” asked my mysterious rescuer.
I nodded, speechless.
“Do you need medical attention?”
I shook my head.
I thought I saw a smile. Then he was gone. He just disappeared, running into the darkness. I stood in the alley a long time, watching him go. I stayed there for a few minutes, then pulled out my cell. I fumbled through telling the operator the details but I didn’t give her my name. Nor did I wait around for the police to arrive. I was too scared that they’d want me to file a report and find out I wasn’t a girl. So I ran as hard as I could toward home...not caring that my legs were killing me nor that I was dressed like a girl. Thankfully, when I got inside Dad was out cold on the couch. So I ran into my room and flopped down on my bed.
I cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up that morning, I panicked. Looking down I could see the fake breasts and the clothes I’d worn the night before. I also knew for a fact that I’d been so distraught the night before I hadn’t bothered to lock the door. I snapped around, looking at the clock. Thankfully, I’d awakened before the alarm sounded off. Usually when my alarm went off, Dad came huffing into the room, practically throwing me out of the bed. For a split second, I thought maybe there was a Divine power after all. But I shook it off and climbed out of bed. I undressed as fast as humanly possible---I think it was a new speed record. Instead of redressing, I grabbed one of my towels from the closet and rushed into the shower. I made sure I scrubbed off any trace of makeup that might be left.
When I got out of the shower and dressed in boy clothes, I went down to breakfast. Dad was already at the table, he looked sober for once. He also seemed to be doing work, which was rare. I looked at the laptop sitting in front of him, wondering where he got the money to buy one. He saw me looking and glared.
“We can’t afford that.”
He snapped back quickly. “Mind your own damn business, boy.”
I grumbled then went about fixing breakfast for the two of us. I made toast today seeing as he didn’t particularly like my cereal idea from yesterday. As I was fixing the toast...spreading the jam...he kept giving me strange looks. I thought maybe I had missed some of the makeup but he was looking elsewhere, at my lip.
“Who smacked you around?”
I set the toast in front of him. “Fernando Garcia.”
“You fighting at school now?”
I shook my head. “He and his friends were picking on a freshman, I intervened and this is what I got for my efforts.”
My father was silent for a few seconds. At first, I thought he was going to give me a compliment but then he fired back. “That’ll teach you to mind your own damn business.”
I fought back the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. Talking back to Dad never ended well. So I bit my lip and took the insult. He got smug after that. We ate in silence for a few moments then he got up abruptly. Probably to go to the bathroom. I took a curious glance at the laptop and bit my lip again. I became a curious cat again as I slipped around the table to look at what was so damn important. I frowned at what I saw on the screen. It was a spreadsheet of some kind with a bunch of numbers and names. None of it made much sense but the name “Friitawa” showed up once or twice. Another oddity that showed up was “V10”. What the hell was that?
The toilet flushed in the background. I quickly ran back to my seat, grabbing the remote and turning the TV on. It was the news, a scene showing what looked like a cab terminal. A blonde reporter was interviewing a gruff looking guy. I turned the volume up as Dad walked into the kitchen.
“Can you describe the woman?” asked the reporter.
The gruff guy nodded. “She was real scary with white skin and a flowing green cape. She went right to Jimmy and told him to rethink his actions in the future or face a night in the Narrows. Jimmy turned as white as she was and bolted.”
The reporter turned back to the screen. “There you have it, folks. Could this be another sighting of the mysterious Spectre?”
My father leaned over and clicked off the TV. “A load of shit if you ask me. All those Meta freaks hopping about. The government should do something about that.”
Dad had a thing about the Metas. He was always griping. Every time one of them popped up on the TV, it was “fuck this” or “fuck that” about them. Me, I loved the Metas and frankly, I’m a bit jealous. First, it was that girl Terra. She made it known to the world that she’s once been a guy and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Here was a guy that turned into a girl because of a genetic abnormality. Then a few months down the road, Booster Gold saved the President. It didn’t take long for it to come out that this gorgeous model used to be to be a college football star. There were tons more too, from all over the world. Most of them were guys and most...to me at least...were the luckiest bastards in the world.
Whenever Dad bitched about Metas though, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t need a reason to put another wedge between the two of us.
We ate breakfast and then I went to school. Jen was waiting for me outside again. She frowned when she saw the fat lip. I told her it was no big deal. Then she grilled me about my first day at Wayne Manor. I told her everything, except of course what happened to me on the way home. How can you tell your best friend a thing like that? Besides, I didn’t want her to worry. She’d try to give me mace or something crazy like that. Dad would flip out if he saw me with something that dangerous...he’d think I had it to use against him and whack me one. I did have an aluminum bat though, hidden under my bed. It was just in case he got too drunk and too violent. It hasn’t happened yet but I’m not taking any chances.
I definitely couldn’t wait until I was out of his house. When we got to school, people were still buzzing about yesterday’s incident. Everyone was still calling me things like “Super Girl.” If only they knew the truth. It was funny actually. I was the invisible kid that no one gave a second glance to and now I was a minor celebrity. Best of all, everyone thought I was a girl. Even my first few teachers of the day starting to refer to me as “young lady” or “Miss Brown”. It was the coolest thing in the world. I wonder how far I could push things before someone really remembered who I was.
On the way to lunch, I passed Arnold again. He was shoving his books into his locker, looking around as if someone was going to ambush him. I slowed down, making sure I blended into the crowd. Sure enough, it didn’t take long. It looked like a sophomore. He was bigger than me but it was clear that he meant malice for the new freshman punching bag. I wove my way through the crowd and stuck my foot out in front of the bastard. He didn’t even see it coming until he went right over it. Everyone who was around burst into laughter. The jerk got to his feet, glared at them and took off in total embarrassment.
I walked over to Arnold, Jen followed. Arnold turned around, nearly dropping his books because I’d snuck up on him. I think the Manor was wearing off on me, what with the sneaking. Ok, probably not but he was a jumpy kid to begin with.
“You scared me,” he said, bending quickly to scoop up his books.
I helped. When I stood back up and caught a glimpse into his locker. There was a weird looking dummy sitting on the shelf, a painted scar across his face.
“You a Ventriloquist?” I asked.
Arnold closed his locker quickly. “That’s ummm….Mr. Scarface…I’m thinking about doing an act in the Talent Show this year.”
I nodded. The Show wasn’t for another few months but all the good acts started practicing early.
“That’s cool” I said, then thumbed my finger at Jen. “Jen did a magic act last year.”
Arnold looked surprised. “I’ve never heard of a female magician before.”
Jen looked offended. I could see a feminist lecture coming on, all about how women can do anything that men could do but I cut her off. “How are things, Arnold?”
He shrugged. “A little better since you helped me but I think I have a target painted on my back or something.”
I nodded. “It sucks to be uncool. Trust me, I know.”
We talked to him for a few more minutes then he split, running off to his Math class. Jen rolled her eyes and I stuck my tongue out at her. Then the two of us went off to lunch. In the lunchroom, little Miss Bitch Jordana glared at me from her table. I ignored her. For a second I thought she was going to come storming over and confront me but she stayed in her seat. It helped that Jen kinda scared people. It was sorta common knowledge that she was a witch, even if she didn’t practice any magic. There was a rumor going around last year that she actually shrunk a guy’s penis because he tried groping her in the lunch line. The jerk did grope her but the only thing that happened was suspension.
After school, I spent my few hours at Leslie’s. It was a slow day again. Most days at the Clinic were like that. But we did get an interesting phone call. Usually whenever something bad showed up the authorities contacted the local medical places about it. This particular phone call was about a new recreational drug called “Thrill.” It just hit the streets last week and was already causing some problems, mainly with violent rages and property destruction. But the police weren’t taking any chances with it.
When it was time to go to Wayne’s, I half expected to see a cab again. I shuddered when I thought about what happened last night. I don’t think I was ready to get dumped somewhere dangerous again. I tried not to think about what happened last night but it was hard not to.
I was a bit surprised however to see a Ducati motorcycle out front, with Tim sitting on it. He was wearing his red jacket, looking smug. I groaned. What the hell was he doing here?
“What’s this?” I asked, frowning as I walked up to him.
“I’m your ride, now get on” he said, holding out a red helmet to me.
I shook my head. “I’m not dressed for that,” I said, indicating the skirt I was wearing.
He sighed. “It’s only a few minutes you’ll be fine.”
I groaned, snatching the helmet from him. I realized then that it wasn’t red but in fact a big design over the front of it. It was a giant red bird; it almost looked like a robin. It was kinda cool actually. I shook that thought away. There was nothing cool about him, nothing at all. I scowled at him as I put on the helmet and awkwardly climbed onto the back of his bike. He told me to wrap my arms around his chest and when I did so he grabbed them, making them tighter. It felt kinda uncomfortable but he didn’t give me time to complain. Instead, he started the motorcycle, whipped it in a quick circle and peeled off down the road. Just like I thought it would, my skirt billowed in the wind.
Thankfully, it was only about ten minutes or so. When we got to the Manor, he took the bike around back and into a garage. I was amazed at how many cars Bruce had. I wasn’t a car person but even I had to appreciate the sheer number of them. There had to be at least thirty, each of them a different kind, too. I noticed quite a few motorcycles too, not that Tim pulled his anywhere near those. He had his own specific spot. When I got off, I handed him back his helmet.
“What’s the deal anyway?” I asked as the two of us started walking toward a door. “I mean, he’s not your brother or something is he?”
“Who?” asked Tim as he held the door open for me.
“Bruce” I said as I found myself in a small landing with a flight of stairs.
Tim laughed. “Not even close.”
The two of us started up the stairs. He didn’t say anything more the whole way. When we got to the top, he opened the door for me. The stairs opened into one of the many hallways. I looked left and right, figuring out where I was. I turned to ask Tim what he was doing here but I was alone. I cursed. That guy sure liked to avoid personal questions, didn’t he? He was like a ghost too, disappearing into thin air like that. It creeped me out a bit actually.
I wove my way through the halls until I found my way to Bruce’s Tower. There was still so much of the Manor that I hadn’t seen and hoped to explore one day. He was nice enough to give me some free time before dinner and the only room that seemed to be locked was the one directly below him. Other than that, according to Alfred, I was “free to explore any room I wished.” In fact, he said if I had the time, there was an excellent movie theater in the west wing that showed all the latest flicks. How cool is that, having a movie theater in your own house. I wonder if Bruce would allow me to bring Jen here some time. I made a mental note to ask.
When I got to the boss man, he had more menial tasks for me today.
“No more stair walking,” I said, dropping down in the chair next to his bed.
He laughed. “Not for a bit. But I do need you to move some stuff for more.”
“Stuff?” I asked, he nodded.
“Alfred will show you to the kitchen.”
So after that, I followed Alfred out of the tower and through more winding hallways until we arrived at the kitchen. It was massive, like the ones you see on those cooking reality shows on TV. I gaped at the size of it. Alfred smiled and led me over to these giant metal doors and opened them up, showing me a giant pantry. There were a lot of boxes on the ground, sealed shut. Alfred reached into his pocket and handed me a box cutter.
“There’s an inventory list on the wall over there, Mr. Wayne wishes you to organize the pantry for me.”
“The whole thing?” I asked, looking at the bare shelves.
Alfred nodded. “If you start now, you should be done by dinner time.”
I groaned but went to work. I was no stranger to organizing, having done it for Leslie on many occasions. But that was a small supply cabinet and this place was huge. I rolled up the sleeves of my blouse and went to work. Once I got the hang of the system, it went a lot faster. But there was a lot of up and down and heavy lifting. There this little ladder I kept using. I had to carry one thing and put it on a high shelf then put something on a low shelf. Not as grueling as running the stairs all day but after an hour my arm muscles felt like jelly. I wonder if he tortured people for a living in his spare time.
Another hour later I only had a few more things, most of them real heavy.
“Why isn’t Tim doing this, he’s a guy” I grumbled.
“Because” said a smug and irritating voice from behind me. “I’m not dumb enough to get roped into something this stupid.”
I nearly dropped the box. Tim moved quickly, standing behind me, steadying me. Then he helped me guide the box onto its proper shelf.
I sighed, wiping my sweaty brow. I turned to him and frowned.
“Does that mean you get roped into doing the rest of the dumb stuff?”
He frowned. Hey, I have snark too, buddy.
“Alfred sent me to get you for dinner,” he said coldly then left with a stomp, like a spoiled six year old.
I followed him out of the room, through a kitchen that was now busy with people and into the dining room. During dinner, he sulked like a child. I felt pretty good, knocking him down a peg. Neither of us said a thing. After we were done, Alfred arrived to tell me I was done for the night and then told Tim to give me a ride home.
“I have things to do tonight” he whined.
Alfred stared at him coldly. “Master Bruce says that you can take a few minutes out of your extracurricular night time activities and give Miss Brown a ride home. Don’t you agree, Master Tim?”
Tim sighed and nodded. “C’mon, get your bag and let’s go.”
I rushed to get my stuff from Bruce’s parlor. Then I ran and met him down at the door leading to the garage. This time he had a helmet waiting for me; it was silver and looked to be about my size. I wonder where it came from. He didn’t say anything as we went down the stairs and got on his bike. He took off faster than before; I had to grip him real tight to hang on. When we drove past the alley from last night, my body tensed. A cold chill ran down my spine and I quickly turned away. If not for the Roving Ravager that might have been my crime scene.
Tim was reluctant to drop me off at the restaurant but I told him my Dad would freak if a guy brought me home. He shrugged, told me to be extra careful and then whipped away. I frowned then went into the restaurant. Luckily, it was pretty much deserted. I ran into the bathroom, changed into jeans and a t-shirt, wiped off all my makeup and pulled back my hair. I was back to looking like an androgynous boy again. The waitress looked at me strangely as I walked out of the bathroom but shrugged it off.
I ran as fast as I could toward home. No one tried to hurt me tonight.
The next week or so was kinda dull. My celebrity status in school died down finally and I sorta fell back into the crowd; for which I was glad. But that still didn’t stop people from thinking I was a girl. In fact, I actually got asked out. It was a shy Junior...and though he was cute...there was just no way. So I turned him down gently, afraid that my status as a “girl” might be brought to everyone’s attention. My teachers continued to treat me as one and Arnold was a constant second companion of mine now. Not that he could sit with us in lunch but he spent a lot of time at my locker. He and Jen didn’t get along at all...what with his sexist remark the other day, but that was a small bump. He was kinda a bright kid, if a bit shy. He liked to talk a lot too, mainly about ventriloquism. He was a big fan of it. He kept telling the two of us about his act, really excited about the things he could do. I was really happy for him; the kid had really come out of his shell. Though I wished that the jackasses would leave him alone. It made me wonder if I was going to have to turn another one of them into Fernando and set another “example.”
Things at Leslie’s were picking up too. Thrill went from being a small annoyance in the last few days to a big problem. It was all over the streets now. The users were called Thrill Seekers because apparently the drug tapped into your adrenaline. It gave you a massive high, making you feel like a superhero, if only for a while. But as soon as you were off that high, it made you crazy. There were reports all over the city now of teens going wildly out of control, vandalizing everything. The police were stretched thin. So was the Roving Ravager. Almost every night for the last week, his name was in the news. Not only was he taking out Thrill Seekers but other criminals, too. But even he was missing a lot as if there were just too many bad guys in the city for just one person.
Things at Wayne’s were reaching an all time annoyance level, too. Aside from the occasional odd things to do, I had yet to be his “eyes or ears” for anything. I mean, wasn’t that what he was paying me for. I asked him about it and he told me that I needed to “work up to that point.” I suppose that made sense but after a week, you’d think I’d be making a little headway. Though I did have an interesting day a few days ago. Did I mention Mr. Wayne had a dog? Well his name is Ace and he’s this giant black thing. I’m not even sure what breed he is.
Anyway, I was playing doggie babysitter and Ace must have seen a mouse or something. Because he took off and led me on a wild chase. I’m not sure how many halls I chased him through but we finally ended up in a spare bedroom. Ace was at the wall, barking and growling. I walked over and looked but there was no hole.
“Nothing there boy?” I said, grabbing his collar and trying to drag him out of some place I knew we shouldn’t be.
But Ace pulled hard, barking madly at the wall. He was too strong for me and I let go, falling on my butt. A cloud of dust rose into the air for a split second then a draft sucked it down. I looked in amazement as it was actually sucked under the wall. I blinked, not sure what I’d just seen. I stayed on the ground, moving to all fours. Ace was at the wall, whining and scratching, digging at the bottom of it. I pushed him aside and bent down to peer at the bottom of the wall. Sure enough, there was a crack there. It was hard to see unless you were looking for it. I smiled. I actually wondered if a place like this might have some cool secrets. Now, I actually found one.
I got to my feet and started to look for some kind of lever. Usually in the old movies, there was always some kind of lever.
I looked all over the room, poking at the furniture, trying all the nearby lamps. After about ten minutes of searching, I saw a likely candidate. It was a rusty light fixture on the far wall. It was the only thing in the room that looked older than everything else. I smiled and walked quickly over, giving it a gentle tug but nothing happened. I frowned then remembered sometimes people turn them. So that’s what I did. The fixture moved almost completely horizontal. There was a loud click then a rusting hinge squeaked. I heard Ace bark happily. I turned around and watched as his black shape disappeared into the new opening in the wall. I cursed and gave chase.
As soon as I got inside, I found a narrow passage that extended for what looked like forever. Someone must have been in it recently because the area around me was filled with boxes. There was also a light switch on the wall. When I clicked it on, the passage illuminated before me, showing a wicked obstacle course of boxes and other junk. Ace was way ahead of me now, barking. His bark echoed down the corridor. I cursed again and gave chase. The last week of Wayne’s tedious tasks had done a lot for me already. I found myself running faster and reacting to things that I never thought I could. It was like all my gymnast muscles were working again. I dodged, wove and jumped over all the obstacles in my path. I wasn’t as fast as the dog but it didn’t take me long to catch sight of him.
Things got a little tight after that. I had to turn sideways and jump at the same time. A move that would have been particularly difficult for a normal person. But because I had some training with difficult actions, I was able to pull it off effortlessly. On the other side of the tight squeeze, I found Ace. He was at a dead end. Barking and growling. I looked around and frowned. But thankfully, there was another lever. I reached over and gave a tug, opening the wall up. Ace ran into the new room, barking happily. I went into it as well and saw a damning sight. Tim was on the couch---I think I was in the Entertainment room---there was a girl underneath him. The two of them were going at it pretty good, her shirt on the floor.
I turned several shades of red. The two of them didn’t even notice the dog go running into the room barking. They must have been really concentrating. I took a deep breath and stalked out of the room. When I got to the door and tore it open, I felt my heart beating like a hammer. How can he do something like that with others in the house? Granted it was a huge house but it still wasn’t decent. I stomped down the hall, fuming. I don’t know why I was so mad though, after all, there was no way I’d ever date a jackass like him.
At dinner, I got to meet her.
“Steph” said Tim with a smile as he walked in with his leggy, raven-haired beauty. “This is Ariana.”
I smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
Alfred followed them into the room. “Master Tim, will your guest, Miss Dzerchenko, be staying for dinner?”
That name sounded awfully familiar. Then it hit me: it was the printing shop where my Dad worked. Before Tim could answer, I fired off a question. “Does your family own the printing shop in the Narrows?”
She smiled and nodded. “My father, actually.”
“Then you must know Arthur Brown?”
Ariana looked confused and then answered. “It doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Are you sure? He works in the Shop?”
Ariana laughed. “I’ve worked there since I was fifteen and there has never been an Arthur working there.”
That sent me reeling. The son of a bitch. He’d been lying to me for months. He said he got a job at Dzerchenko’s, said that’s where he’d been getting his money from. He was pulling in a good paycheck too, bigger than anything he’d brought home in a long time---except for his TV gig of course. But if he wasn’t working at the print shop, where the hell was he working? The thought bothered me all through dinner. When it was over and I could go, Alfred had to bring me home. I had him drop me off at the restaurant where I went in to change. The waitress there was named Gloria and it didn’t take long for her to catch onto my secret. She was cool with it, especially when I told her about my Dad. She even helped me with taking off my makeup when the place wasn’t too busy.
When I got there though, I was so distraught I didn’t go inside. Why would Dad lie like that, it made no sense? My head was in a fog as I walked the block or so home. I wasn’t even paying attention to the way I was dressed when I climbed the stairs and walked into the apartment. I froze when I opened the door and saw Dad sitting on the couch. He must have heard the door open because he turned to look at me. For a second he just stared. I couldn’t figure out what he was staring at until I looked down. I saw the lumps of the fake breasts, my cream-colored blouse and the skirt. My heart pounded in my chest.
“You fucking little fag.” Dad roared, flying to his feet.
I took off for my room, but because I was in heels, I was moving a lot slower. I almost got completely inside before he grabbed my hair. He gave it a violent tug and pulled me hard onto my back. Then he threw his knee on my chest, pinning me to the ground. He tore at my blouse, ripping it in half. His eyes widened in anger at the sight of my bra and fake breasts. He snatched the bra, yanking it angrily off my chest. I screamed out in pain, it tore into my flesh as it snapped free. Then he laid a punch into my face, hitting me in the mouth. Another came for my nose but I threw up my hands to block it. That caused him to punch some more but he shifted his weight, moving his knee.
I flung up and away. I ran into my room, slamming the door. He came barreling toward it. I dropped to the ground, sliding under the bed. I grabbed the bat. He threw the door open and grabbed my ankle. He pulled me out from under the bed and flipped me around. I lashed out with the bat, connecting with the side of his head. He stumbled back. I scrambled to my feet, swinging wildly. I hit him in the side. Then I slammed the end of it into his stomach, knocking him backwards out of the room. I might have hit him in the groin and not the stomach because he was doubled over in pain. I slammed the door shut quickly, moving like a mad man. I pushed my dresser in front of the door. Then pushed my bed up against it. My father recovered and started pounding on the door, screaming all kinds of names at me.
I ran into the corner and cowered in it, crying. He pounded for about twenty minutes, screaming himself hoarse. He only stopped when his cell rang. A few seconds later, he answered:
“What?” he said angrily and then more subdued. “The Warehouse? Tonight?” He cursed. “I’ll be there in ten.”
I thought he was done with me then, but he wasn’t. He threw himself at the door in one last-ditch effort to get inside. When that failed, he said angrily. “I want you out of my house you little fag. If I get back and you’re still here, you’re going to wish you’d never been born.”
He pounded off down the stairs. I didn’t move until I heard the door open and slam shut. Even then, I stayed in the corner for another ten minutes or so. When I finally got up, I refused to let go of the bat. Instead, I held onto it as I hastily packed. As if I was going to stay here anymore. I went to my closet, taking out everything that belonged to Stephanie. There wasn’t much but I shoved it all in my bag. With it packed, I pushed the things away from the door and left the room, leaving everything that was Steven behind.
Still holding the bat, I walked into the living room. We had a huge 52-inch plasma screen. He bought it with the money he’d been making. The money he lied about. I swung the bat into the screen and smashed it. I smashed his stereo too. Then went into the kitchen and smashed all the cupboard doors. I went around the house, smashing anything that reminded me off the bastard. I ended up at his bedroom door. He always kept it locked. But that didn’t withstand the smashing of my bat. Once I had the knob off, I kicked open the door. I went to his dresser where I knew he kept Mom’s jewelry and things. I opened that drawer and took all of it, putting it in my bag. It was hers, not his. Now it was mine.
There was another TV in his room. I smashed that too. I grabbed all his clothes and tossed them out the window. Then started swinging the bat at the walls, smashing giant holes in them. You wonder where I got my temper from, huh? After my demolition of the room, I found the laptop. It was the same one I saw the spreadsheet on a few days ago. I thought about smashing it too. In fact, I was raising the bat, about to bring it down on the damn thing when I stopped and changed my mind. Instead, I dropped the bat, letting it clang on the floor. I reached down and opened the laptop, he had left it on. The spreadsheet was still there and it looked the same.
But something about it looked illegal. I’m not sure why but all of it looked bad. I angrily snapped it shut, opened my bag and stuffed it inside. I was barely able to close my bag but I didn’t care. Then I turned and ran out of the room. I pulled on my purple hoodie before I left the house, making sure the hood was hiding my battered face. I hadn’t even looked at it but I knew it was probably pretty bad. I didn’t care at the moment; I needed to get away from this place. Away from him. I ran down the stairs, out the door and around the corner. It started to rain as I stood on the corner, trying to figure out what to do. The only thought I had in my mind was to make him pay. I was tired of this shit, tired of all of it. He was an evil person and evil people deserved to be in prison.
I looked at my bag and smiled. Surprisingly I found a taxi driver that wasn’t afraid to venture into the Narrows. I flagged him down and gave him Jen’s address. If anyone knew what I was going through it was her. I thought about sending him to the Manor but I didn’t want to bother Bruce with my problems. The same thing with Leslie. As far as Uncle Jim, I’m sure he’d know all about it when I was done. I’d make sure everyone in the city would know about the kind of scum that Arthur Brown was.
When we pulled up in front of Jen’s place a few minutes later, I gave him twenty bucks. It might have been too much but I didn’t care. It was Dad’s money anyway---I took it from his sock drawer, all five hundred of it he had there. I’m sure it was dirty money but I didn’t care. If the police wanted it, I’d give them the rest. Hell, I’d give it to everyone if I could, tell them it was dirty money owned by Arthur Brown. They’d line up just to see it and touch it. This money was held by the great Cluemaster, imagine that.
I walked up to Jen’s door. I knocked and rang the bell several times. Her grandparents didn’t like me much. They knew all about my “heathen” ways too, but frankly, I didn’t give a fuck tonight. When the door finally opened, thankfully it was Jen on the other side. She was about to make a comment when I looked at her. She gasped, seeing my face under the hood. I didn’t have to say a thing as she pulled open the door and yanked me inside.
We didn’t get any further than the foyer. She held me tightly and I cried in her arms.
When I woke up in the morning, I was as confused as all hell because I had no idea where I was. I sat up–groggy---and blinked a few times, then stretched my arms. The first thing I noticed was my lack of breasts and the second thing I noticed was the fact that I was wearing a t-shirt. I looked around, confused as all hell. This wasn’t my bedroom, this wasn’t my bed. The walls were a pale blue, the bed was a queen size and the room looked like old people decorated it. I squinted and as soon as I did, pain shot up my face. I reached up and touched my cheek, it was puffy and sore. Then I remembered. The events of last night came back to me. My Dad saw me dressed as Stephanie and flipped out.
I groaned and threw off the rest of my covers. The t-shirt seemed to be the only thing I was wearing, no boxers like I usually did. I lifted up the bottom and saw panties. I blushed. Clearly someone undressed me last night but I was having a hard time remembering. The last thing I consciously remember was coming to Jen’s house. I collapsed into her arms shortly after arriving. There were a lot of questions---first Jen; then her grandparents. They had never really liked me, thought I was a bad influence for their granddaughter. I can’t imagine what must have been going through their heads seeing me half en femme. After I told them what happened, her grandfather called the police. He may have been a dick but he didn’t screw around. I vaguely remember telling a police officer what happened and then nothing more.
I inched to the edge of the bed and dropped off. My ankle was kinda sore too as well as my stomach. I suppose that hurt from when he kneeled on top of me. My ankle hurt because he had a hold of it so tight that it nearly cut off my circulation. For a second last night, I thought he was going to kill me. If I hadn’t gotten away, I’m positive he would have. Thinking about it made me cry. It also made me sick to my stomach. I felt the bile rise and ran into the bathroom. This was the spare room at the Morgan’s, I’d been in here once before. There were two bathrooms on this floor of the place, the master suite one and the floor bathroom---which joined this room and the one next door, Jen’s.
I rushed to the toilet and threw up. I threw up again then felt better. But I didn’t feel well enough to get up. Jen must have heard me because she pulled open the door and rushed in. She was dressed in a wispy silk nightgown. It was pink and looked kinda cute on her. She dropped to her knees, pulling the hair from my face.
“Hey girl.” she said weakly. “You ok?”
I turned to her, tears rolling down my cheeks. She pulled me into a hug and I cried on her shoulder for a while. When I pulled away, wiping the tears, I spoke: “Did they catch my Dad?”
She sighed and shook her head. “They checked the warehouse district but he was nowhere in sight. They scoped out the apartment too but he didn’t show. My grandpa called a few minutes ago, they’re going to put a guy on the building though, so if he comes back they’ll grab him.”
I nodded. “If he’s smart he’ll run.”
Jen nodded then slowly helped me to my feet. She said something about a shower and I numbly nodded. She helped pull the shirt over my head then slowly slid the panties down my legs. I numbly stepped out of them. Then she got the shower running. The hot water stung like a bitch, especially on my swollen face. But it felt good, too. A few seconds later, Jen slipped in, too. Any normal teenage guy would have loved taking a shower with a hot babe like Jen but I was far from normal. Besides, I had no attraction to her whatsoever. I didn’t even think of her in any other way than being my best friend in the whole wide world.
I closed my eyes, remembering the first time we met. We were in the park together, both of us about five I think. We were in the sandbox and one of the boys dumped a bucket of sand all over my head. I burst into tears because it ruined my pretty pigtails and pink dress. Yep, even back then my mother let me indulge. Well, Jen was on the other side of the playground. When she saw that, she stormed over, snatched a handful of sand up and threw it in the boy’s face. The boy screamed and cried, falling backwards out of the sandbox and onto a pile of dog crap. The other kids laughed and he ran away crying some more. Then Jen said the best thing in the world to me: “Us girls need to stick together.”
I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when she thought I was a girl. She didn’t find out I was a boy until a few days later, but even then, she still played with me.
When I told her I wanted to be a girl she smiled and called me “Stephanie”. She was the first one to give me that name and I loved it. Jen’s been my rock ever since, standing up for me when I needed it. Last night when I ran from Dad, she was the only one I was really thinking about. All that mattered was getting to her. Because I knew that as long as I was with Jen then nothing in the world could go wrong.
“You’re quiet,” said her soft voice. “What are you thinking about?”
I smiled and opened my eyes. “The time we met.”
She laughed. “We called that kid Crap Pants for weeks after that.”
We both laughed. It hurt like hell but it felt good too.
“Turn around” she said and I did as she asked. Looking at her full frontal nudity did nothing for me. If anything I was a bit jealous---her being the real girl and me, well I was a work in progress. She handed me a puff thing.
“I washed your back... now it’s my turn.”
I nodded and she turned around. I closed my eyes again and started rubbing the soapy puff across her back. I wasn’t closing my eyes to avoid looking at her naked back, I actually liked her back. I closed my eyes because it allowed me to think some more. My thoughts drifted to my father of all people. He was scum and as scum, he needed to be scrubbed from this world. I wasn’t talking about killing him---no, that would be too easy. I wanted to ruin him, destroy him like he did to me last night. A part of me died when he yanked me onto that floor and tried to beat me to death. Which part I wasn’t sure, but standing here now---thinking about it---I knew it was gone and it wasn’t coming back. Did I want to get revenge? Oh yes! But I was above all that. It wouldn’t be revenge, it would be justice. Bad people deserved justice. People who did harm to others deserved to be punished.
I opened my eyes and stopped scrubbing. “Jen” I asked in a soft voice, she responded with a hmmm sound. “I know what I want to do.”
“What’s that sweetie?”
“I want to see that bastard pay for what he did.”
We went back into the spare room and I dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt---all girl clothes of course. No more pretending to be a boy for me, I was sick of it. After that, I pulled the laptop out of my back and flipped it open. Closing it last night probably wasn’t the brightest idea because it shut the damn thing off. When I turned it back on, I frowned, because sure enough it was password protected. I tried several things but nothing seemed to work. Jen took it from me and tried too, but she couldn’t crack into it either. It was kinda discouraging actually, that laptop was a big part of my plan. Whatever my father was doing had to be in that thing and of course now we couldn’t get into it. I wracked my brain trying to think of anyone who could do it and the only person who came to mind was my cousin Barbara.
“You have to call her,” said Jen, sitting in the chair next to my borrowed bed.
I shook my head. “She’ll just tell my uncle.”
“Isn’t that what we want?” asked Jen “he’s the police commissioner. We give him the laptop, he has his people look over it and then they arrest your Dad. Case closed.”
I shook my head. I wanted to punish him but I wanted to be actively involved in it. He could have killed me last night, he would have killed me. I’m not sure how I got the strength to get out from under him, but I did. Now I wanted him to suffer and I wanted to be there when that happened. I wasn’t going to hurt him but I wasn’t going to let him get away with it either. So yes, I’d get the police involved but I wanted first crack at him. But without the laptop, my options were slim. I only knew one other thing: the warehouse. I didn’t even know which one it was but the way Dad talked it was important.
The way he said “The Warehouse” on the phone last night meant that he’d been there before and probably would go there again. I needed to find that place but of course in order to do that I needed to find Dad.
“We can’t,” I said after my thoughts. “If we give it to him he’ll go after Dad.”
Jen looked confused. “Duh.”
I sighed. How could I tell my friend that I wanted that privilege? I’m not sure why it was so important but I wanted to be the one who brought him to justice. I wanted to watch him suffer like me. I’d let the cops have him when I was done. I took a deep breath and said,
“I don’t think there’s enough to convict him of anything.”
“He beat you up, there’s more than enough” Jen grabbed the laptop, shaking it in my face. “We have this, too. There’s got to be enough here.”
I nodded. “But I want more.”
Jen frowned. “What more can you possibly get?”
I smiled. “I want to be the one who spoils his fun.”
I quickly started laying out my plan. I don’t think Jen liked it very much but she was my BFF and promised that she’d support me no matter what. Halfway through the explanation her grandmother called up to us and told us it was time for breakfast. Before I went downstairs I went into the bathroom, I needed to see the damage. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a shadow of my former self. My face was swollen and bruised, half of it looked like I’d been stung by a giant bee. When I touched it with a finger, I winced from the pain. The bastard had really done a number on me, I was just glad that yesterday was Friday and now it was Saturday morning. If I went to school like this people would have thought I’d been pounded on by a gorilla.
On the way out, Jen was waiting for me. “I put the laptop in my trunk. I still think we should take it to your uncle but if you really want to do it your way.”
I nodded. She smiled weakly then the two of us went down the stairs. In the kitchen, her grandmother frowned at my appearance. There was nothing overly feminine about me today except maybe my clothes. But they were the only ones I had and the two of them...she and her husband...would have to deal with it. Jen’s grandfather kept giving me looks throughout the meal. I managed to thank them for helping me last night but they didn’t say much. It was always like this. Her grandparents were both retired but at one time, her grandfather used to work for the city. Because of that they were extremely well off. They didn’t exactly live in the Narrows; it was more on the edge of it. I wouldn’t exactly call their place lavish but it was a low-end penthouse, taking up two floors. That’s why they had three bedrooms and bathrooms.
After breakfast, we went to Jen’s room. Her grandmother told us to keep the door open. When we first met as kids, Jen’s parents were still alive. Her mother was a happy woman, always smiling. She...like my own mother...understood my need to be different. When her mother died and her father disappeared, her grandparents thumbed their noses at me. They never tried to stop her from being my friend but they didn’t keep their opinion of me to themselves. I knew turning up here last night was risky; especially dressed as I was, but it was the closest place.
“They’re not going to let me stay another night, you know,” I said as the two of sat together on her bed.
Jen sighed. “Where will you go?”
“Uncle Jim’s, probably.”
I thought about going to Leslie’s or the Manor. But Leslie lived in a real small place, barely big enough for her. She would have been more than happy to take me but I didn’t want to impose on her. Besides, if I walked in looking like this, she’d have a fit. I couldn’t do that to her. As far as the Manor was concerned, I felt like a stranger there. Even after more than a week of going there, I still felt odd and out of place. Bruce was still bedridden but he was on the mend and Tim had Arianna now. It was only a matter of time before I wasn’t needed, anyway. I think the only one who’d miss me was Ace and only because I was the only one who took him on walks. Not that I wouldn’t stop going there after school of course but I didn’t want to impose on them anymore than on the Morgans.
There was another reason for leaving the city too, a much more obvious one: Dad. I’m sure he’d figured out that I trashed the place. In fact, I was certain he knew I had the laptop, too. So it might be a good idea to get out of here as soon as possible. I told all that to Jen and she seemed to understand. She went to retrieve it as I retrieved my bag. I packed my stuff and she came into the room, smiling weakly.
“Are you really going to find out what’s on there?”
I nodded. “He was getting that cash from somewhere and the answer have to be in here,” I said, taking it from her and stuffing it into the bag.
“What about the rest of it” she asked and I nodded.
I opened my mouth to say something but she rushed forward and grabbed me in a tight hug, crying a bit. She didn’t say anything but she was scared for me. Hell, I was scared too. I was stupid as well but my father needed to be punished and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
The Morgans were nice enough to give me money for a cab. I thanked them for their hospitality and hugged Jen on the curb. I promised to call her as soon as I got to my Uncle Jim’s. When I got into the cab, I waved dumbly until I was out of sight. Then I instructed the cab driver to take me to a bar a few blocks away. Yes, I had every intention of going to my uncle’s but first I wanted to look for Dad. No, I’m not a glutton for punishment but I wanted to make him pay. There were only two places that I knew my father frequented. One was a small seedy bar a few blocks from our house called the Dive and the other was a sports bar in one of the better parts of the city called Pucks. But he didn’t go to Pucks unless the Blackhawks were playing. I knew enough to know that hockey season didn’t start until next month.
When we pulled up in front of The Dive, the driver gave me a look. “Are you sure you want to go in there, princess?”
I nodded, giving him a twenty. “I have to haul my father’s drunken ass out of there.”
He frowned. “All right but I’m not too keen about letting you go in there by yourself.”
I smiled. “You’re a good guy, but I’ll be fine.”
I didn’t wait for him to say anything else as I pushed open the cab and stepped onto the curb. I watched and waited for him to go. As soon as he drove off, I made my way to the alley. Like most of them in the Narrows, it was barely wide enough for much of anything. The alley led to the back, which is where I wanted to go. There was a fire escape back there that I climbed. When I got to the roof, I found a sky light and looked down. I could see pretty much the whole of the bar. My father was a particularly cautious man but he had habits and addictions. He might have been wanted by the police but there was no way he’d give up his Saturday afternoon drinking.
I peered through the dirty glass and found him. He was sitting at the bar, drinking alone. I looked at my watch, it was almost one. It was nice enough that Morgans let me stay until lunch but I knew even that was pushing it. I could see both of them getting agitated, afraid that a double dose of “evil” might rub off on them. So I knew I’d outstayed my welcome. Jen tried to convince them to let me stay another night but it was a losing battle. In the end, I was just gracious that they didn’t throw me out last night.
I looked at my watch again, thinking. I knew that my father would stay there until after hours, probably until at least six or so. From there I didn’t know where he’d go. I thought he went to work but now I knew that wasn’t the case. Maybe he’d go off to wherever it was that he got the money. Maybe he’d lead me to that warehouse he was talking about. I know it was a long shot but I needed one of those. My father was a creature of habit but circumstances had changed that. I knew for a fact that the police were probably staking out our place right now and probably the print shop too, even though he didn’t work there. If they were smart then they knew about this place, too. But what with them being stretched so thin, I found that highly doubtful.
I watched him for about an hour when I heard a ringing. At first, I had no idea where it was coming from. I had one of those little prepaid cell phones but in my haste last night, I left it at home. I looked around and heard it coming from my bag. I frowned and rifled through it, finding a pink cell. It was Jen’s. Damn her. I grabbed it and flipped it open, wondering who it could be.
“Hey Stevie" said a familiar voice.
I groaned. “Hey Babs.”
My cousin Barbara didn’t usually call me “Stevie”. But seeing as it was a gender neutral nickname it worked. But if she was calling me it that meant my uncle was probably close by. Whereas Barbara knew all about Stephanie, Uncle Jim did not. I don’t think he’d have a problem with it but I just haven’t gotten around to telling him. I guess I was a little scared that he wouldn’t accept me like Barbara.
‘Where are you?”
“How did you get this number?”
“Don’t play the answering a question with a question game, Cuz. I am the daughter of a cop; I know when you’re dodging.”
I sighed. I already had a pretty good idea who gave her the number, probably the same person who stashed the phone on me. “Are you alone?”
Barbara didn’t answer for a few minutes. I heard the sound of a door opening then closing. Then she said. “Now I am.”
I took a deep breath. “I’m on the roof of The Dive.”
Babs and I had no secrets. She was the closest thing to a sister I had, besides Jen of course. We were a few years apart; she was a Junior in college. She was majoring in Education with a minor in computer science, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world.
“You better not be,” she said sternly. When I didn’t deny it, she sighed. “Damn it, Steph. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“He’s in there, Babs. I can see him through the sky light.”
“And you want some revenge... is that it?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
I cursed as soon as I said it. If anyone would understand, it would be her. Babs wasn’t exactly like me but she definitely understood all about wanting revenge. When she was sixteen, she made the mistake of answering the door. It was Halloween and she thought it was a Trick or Treater. It turned out to be one of the criminals who her father was trying to catch. The man was dressed like a clown and I think he thought it was Uncle Jim at the door. But when Barbara opened it, he fired. She was lucky in that the bullet didn’t kill her but it did sever her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down. Babs went to a dark place for a long time. It took months of physical therapy and counseling to bring her out of it. Even then, she still talks about wanting to find the bastard and return the favor.
So yes, she knew all about revenge.
I sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Babs, you know I didn’t mean it…”
She cut me off. “Revenge isn’t the answer. Let me have Dad call it in, he can send a car. They can pick the bastard up.”
“I want to do this myself.”
Babs didn’t say anything for a long time. At first, I thought maybe she hung up on me but then she finally came back. “Then put the laptop someplace safe first.”
I groaned, of course Jen told her about the laptop.
“You’re not going to tell Uncle Jim?”
‘How can I tell him something I don’t know? In fact, you’re at the park, thinking things through. You’ll be back home later.”
“Thanks Babs, I owe you.”
I clicked the phone shut and took one last look into the bar below. Dad was still going to be there for hours. I took a deep breath and left the rooftop. I climbed down the fire escape and hailed a cab, knowing exactly what place I was going to put the laptop.
Ok, so Dad didn’t stay in The Dive all day, what do I know. After I left The Dive hours ago, I went to the local bus station. I’d been there a few times, contemplating leaving this damn city. Every time, I either chickened out or Jen talked me out of it. But I’d been in here enough to know about renting a locker. I made sure I could rent it the longest I could and stuck the laptop in there. Then for good measure, I got an envelope and mailed the key to Barbara, just in case. That took up a few hours and when I got back to The Dive, Dad was gone.
It took me until eight or so to find him. There are a lot of seedy places in the Narrows for someone like him to go. I finally found him in a little watering hole so small that it barely had room for the bar. They didn’t even bother to see if I was the right age when I slipped inside. I put on my purple hoodie before doing so, pulling the hood over my head as far as it could go. I sat in the back; the place was jammed with people. I got one glass of water---never touched a drop because it was dirty---and I waited. He didn’t crawl out of there until almost midnight. But I followed him nonetheless.
I stayed at a distance, keeping to the shadows. On the corner there was a guy selling all sorts of Halloween masks, I caught him just as he was closing up. I browsed his wares, looking for something that might hide my face better. I found a plain black mask that pulled completely over my head; there were only slits for my eyes. I gave him too much, which he thanked me for. When I was out of sight, I dropped my hood and pulled it over my head. It had a mesh front that I could breathe through and formed on my head like a second skin. After that, I pulled my hood back up and continued my following.
He walked the entire way. Well staggered is more like it. I guess I’d stagger too like that if I’d spent nearly the whole day drinking. I was surprised he was even walking, let alone standing. But my father had an amazingly high tolerance for alcohol and to be fair he wasn’t drinking the whole day. He had a few drinks here, ate some things and then drank a bit more. Like I said before he might have been a drunk but he was a smart drunk. That still didn’t stop him from being a little drunk now, stumbling about in the streets. I followed at a safe distance, moving several steps behind him. Thankfully, it was a little chilly tonight so there weren’t a lot of people on the street, good, bad or in-between. I wasn’t really in the mood to come across another bunch of jackasses. Besides tonight, I didn’t have any masked vigilantes ready to save me. At least I didn’t think I did, though it was kinda a nice thought if he was in fact keeping an eye on me.
I’m not sure how long I’d been following him but eventually he staggered his way into the warehouse district. There were a lot of them in this city; this particular one was on the far side, away from the docks. It was a shadier warehouse block, where a lot of criminals have been known to operate. The cops knew all about it of course but it took numbers to take this place down and frankly they didn’t have them. My uncle was always complaining about the numbers. That’s why he sorta turned the other way when The Bat or other like inclined individuals took the law into their own hands. He was getting a lot of flack over it from the Mayor, City Council and the District Attorney. But as far as my uncle was concerned it didn’t matter how the city was getting cleaned up just as long as someone was doing it.
There was a bulky goon at the gate. When he saw Dad come stumbling up he groaned.
“Art, you’re drunk again” he grumbled.
“My fucking kid called the cops on me, give me a break.”
The goon shook his head. “Maybe you shouldn’t have whaled on him so much then, you jack ass.”
I kinda liked this guy, even if he was a thug.
“You letting me in or not?”
The goon frowned then unlocked the gate, letting Dad pass. I waited and watched, trying to see if I could find an opening. I knew there’d be no way I could go through the same way Dad did. I watched with a frown as he disappeared in between two of the large buildings. I was losing him. I cursed and scanned the fence. The fence was chain link, about ten feet high. If I tried to climb it, I’d make noise. I looked along the length of it, squinting in the dark. I found what I was looking for about ten feet from where the goon stood. There was a dumpster there. Why they put one next to a fence---on the outside---was beyond me. I guess these guys weren’t too smart.
I took a deep breath and made a run for it. I used to be so nimble on my feet when I was younger. That’s why I was such a good gymnast.
But over the years---without practice---I was really loud. Thankfully all the work at the Manor had helped nimble me up again. I hopped onto the dumpster, barely touching it with the balls of my feet before I flipped clean over the top of the fence. It was just like the vault, if just a tad bit higher. I made the landing on the other side too, not even making a sound. I stayed low and darted from the fence, the goon never even flinched.
I took off for the same gap my father disappeared through moments before. I made up for lost time by moving fast. I just caught him slipping into one of the many warehouses. There was a goon on the outside of this place too, even bigger than the one at the fence. But I had no intention of ever going near him. Instead, I made a quick dash for the side of the building, slipping along it in the dark. Whatever was stored in these places it left the whole area smelling like a sewer. I pinched my nose but that hardly helped to hold back the smell. It was sickening and I almost gagged twice. When I reached a metal ladder running along the side of the structure, I could have kissed it. Instead, I grabbed the first rung, testing to make sure it would hold my weight.
When I found that it was secure, I scurried up it like a spider.
When I got to the top, I found myself staring across a vast flat surface of concrete and more bad smell. But I didn’t pinch my nose; instead I climbed over the little wall and got my bearings. I looked about, the only light coming from one of the numerous skylights. I chose the closest and moved toward, following it like a beacon. I moved quick and low like before, sorta like the hero did in those old spy movies. Once I got to the grimy glass and wiped it with my sleeve, I was able to get a good look on the scene below. There were at least half a dozen men down there and a lot of wooden crates. Unfortunately from up here all I could see were the tops of their heads. I guess it was too much to hope that one of them might peek up and let me see his face.
Then I saw my father. He came stumbling into my range of view. Seconds after, the goon from the door followed. I leaned forward, pushing on the frame a bit. There was a section of the pane that seemed to move, so clearly it was meant to be opened. Now I could hear what they were saying below.
“Arthur” said one of the men, holding his arms out, looking like he was going to hug my father. “You don’t call, you don’t write.”
My Dad flinched when the guy put his hands on his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Roman.”
Dad dropped his shoulders, clearly scared of this guy. I’ve never seen Dad scared of anyone. Whoever this Roman guy was he was clearly bad news.
Roman continued, still holding Dad’s shoulders. “Why don’t you tell me what happened yesterday?”
Dad looked scared. It felt good to see him cowering for once. “It was my damn kid. He’s a fag; I caught him dressed up like a sissy. I lost my temper; beat the snot out of him.”
“You and that temper” said the guy, Roman.
Dad nodded. “When I got back into the house he trashed the fucking place. Did a real number on it actually. It took me all night to sort through the mess and when I did…”
Roman finished. “That’s when you noticed the laptop was gone?”
My Dad nodded. “The little bastard took it.”
I’m not sure how I knew it but I knew that Roman wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t see his face but I could read it in his body language. His entire body looked real tense and when the hands on my father’s shoulders tightened down on them. Dad winced. It was clear that this Roman guy was really powerful and I’m not talking about strong either. He cast a glance at his goons and that’s all it took. Two of them came forward and grabbed Dad, pulling him out of Roman’s grasp. They pulled his arms behind his back and Roman laughed. That was definitely the laugh of a man who didn’t believe a word that my Dad said. Which is kinda a shame because it was the first time I’d ever heard my father being honest.
Roman slipped something on his hand and then punched Dad in the gut. I didn’t see what it was but when he pulled back for a second blow, I saw a glint of light off metal. I was transfixed as this thug went to work on my father. There was a bit of satisfaction at watching him finally getting the beating he rightly deserved. I was so transfixed by the scene below that I didn’t hear the roof’s second occupant approach until he was almost on top of me. I saw him out of the corner of my eye though. I also saw him raise his gun, pointing it at my head.
“Move a muscle, kid and you’re dead.”
I nodded, fear coursing through me. A lot of people say they wouldn’t be afraid in a situation like this but those are the people who can only talk about it. For the other people---the ones like me---I can say that I was extremely terrified. After all, it’s not every day that someone points a gun in your face. So I raised my hands, showing him that I was unarmed. I thought maybe if I could show him I wasn’t a threat he wouldn’t shoot me.
“I’m not here to cause any problems” I said, “I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d take a peek.”
Why in the hell was I being a wise ass to a man with a gun. Where was I getting the courage to speak at all?
The man didn’t say a thing. Instead, he motioned me away from the skylight with the gun. I obliged him quickly enough. Then he stepped around it, keeping the gun trained on me the whole time. This was usually the part in the story where the hero jumped the guy when he wasn’t paying attention. The two of them have a little scuffle and go crashing through the skylight. But this wasn’t a movie and there was no way a kid like me could ever get the upper hand on him. So instead, I let him back me up toward the ladder.
He pulled out a radio. “Frank, I found someone on the roof. I think it’s one of those vigilantes. Meet me at the bottom of the ladder.”
Vigilante? He thought I was like The Bat or the Roving Ravager. I guess I wasn’t giving him any reason to think otherwise; after all, I was wearing a hood and a mask. So I actually did look a little like one of them.
“I’m not spying on anyone. I thought there might be some action so I decided to take a peek.”
He scoffed. “Wearing a mask, kid?”
I shrugged. “It’s cold out.”
He motioned me away from the wall, taking a quick look over the side. I guess I could have used that split second to slam into him, knocking him over the edge. But there were two flaws to that plan. The first being that this wasn’t an action movie and I was a kid. The second being he had to be two hundred pounds heavier than I was and a lot bigger. Slamming into him probably would have done nothing but put me in a whole lot of hurt. So instead, I let him look over the edge. He turned back to me and smirked.
“Down the ladder, freak.”
I nodded, doing as he asked. As I started down the ladder, all I could think about was how stupid I was thinking that this was going to turn out any other way.
“What the hell is this?” asked a figure as I was pushed into the warehouse.
The place looked a lot bigger on the inside. After getting pushed rather violently through the door, I got a good look at my surroundings. There were a lot of wooden crates, stacked on top of one another in rows and of all different sizes. There were no labels so I couldn’t tell what was in any of them but it was clear that whatever they were, they were important. At least to the goons assembled here. Besides the two that pushed me in there were actually eight in a little sectioned off area, that’s not including my Dad. I locked eyes with him. He was the only one in the room on his knees. He was also the only one who probably looked a lot worse than he did when he walked in. His face was pretty battered and bloody and he was breathing heavily, barely able to hold his head up.
It was clear that they didn’t believe his story.
One of my companions finally spoke up. “We found him snooping around on the roof.”
The guy who spoke before frowned. He was about Dad’s age, his black haired slicked back. He was handsome, I suppose, in that sinister “I’m a mobster” kinda way. The same could be said about his suit. It was expensive, not as expensive as the ones Bruce had in his closet but pretty close. He wore gold cufflinks and appeared to be the only one in the room that wasn’t packing. At least he didn’t have a gun in his hand or the tell tale bulge of one underneath his coat.
“I think you’re a bit early kid,” he said with a laugh. “Halloween is next month.”
The others laughed. This guy did all the talking and now that he was doing more of it, I was now certain that this had to be Roman. It was nice to put a face to the top of the head.
Roman held up his hand and laughing died off immediately. Then he made a gesture. It didn’t’ take me long to figure out what that meant. My two companions came from behind me, grabbing me underneath my arms. They lifted me into the air, carrying me over into the center of the area. There was a chair there and they dropped me roughly into it. Then another guy came forward, grabbing my arms and pulling my hands violently behind my back. It hurt like a bitch and felt like he’d just wrenched my arms from their sockets. When he tied my hands there, the knots were so tight that they cut off my circulation. It was clear that the knot tier had done it before.
Roman looked to one of his other guys. “Rhino, take Arthur and make sure the cops find him.”
A massive wall of a man stepped forward. I looked up and up at him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any one so big before. The big guy grinned and reached down, wrapped a large hand on my Dad’s shoulder. He pulled him to his feet then tossed him easily over his shoulder. My Dad moaned but he showed no sign of struggling. I watched as the big guy---Rhino---carried my Dad out of the warehouse. A small part of me wished I could have seen what else might happen to him, hoping Rhino roughed him up a bit more.
“Now, what do we have here” said Roman, addressing me.
First, he flipped back my hood then he grabbed my mask, giving it a quick tug. He pulled it off my head, my hair cascading out of it. His men gasped, even he was taken back. Only for a second. I tried to look stern even though I was fucking terrified.
“It’s a girl,” one of his guys gasped.
“No” said another quickly. “It’s Brown’s kid. I’ve seen him come and go.”
I cursed inwardly and searched the faces. I recognized one of them as the guy I bumped into the other day coming down our stairs. Why I hadn’t seen him when I first came in, I don’t know.
Roman smiled. “Following your Daddy, little boy?” He reached forward and grabbed my chin, turning my face this way and that. “Or is it little girl?”
His men laughed. “Only to make sure he ended up in jail.”
Roman smirked, touching my bruised face. “He did do a number on you.” He shook his head, letting me go. “It’s a shame too, because I bet it was a real pretty face, even for a boy.”
He bent down so that he was looking me eye to eye. “Steven, isn’t it?” I didn’t say anything. He smiled. “Your father told quite a tale here tonight, I’m sure you heard most of it. He seems to think that you trashed his place and then you took something of his, something of great value.”
Once again, I didn’t say a thing. There was no way I was letting this scum get his laptop back.
Roman shook his head. “It’s not nice to take things that don’t belong to you.”
He straightened back up and made a gesture. I flinched, half expecting to get the same beating that my father got. But it never came. Instead, I heard a snap sound and something that sounded an awful lot like a blowtorch. I had no idea what was going on because whatever it was, it was happening behind me. Though I did see someone pass a crowbar behind me. I fidgeted in my seat, working my hands, trying to loosen the knots. All it seemed to do was cause pain. I could feel the ropes cutting into my arms, rubbing them raw, causing them to bleed. Whatever was going on behind me was going on far too long for my taste. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to scare me or something much more sinister.
I got my answer a few minutes later.
I saw the crowbar passed to Roman and my eyes bulged out of my head. The end of it, not the curved end but the other---was red hot. They were using the blowtorch to heat up the metal and now they were going to---Oh God. I kicked and squirmed, trying my hardest to get away. Roman smirked, bringing the burning hot implement closer and closer to my face.
“I’ll pull it away as soon as you tell me where my laptop is,” he said, the crowbar about five inches from my cheek.
I could feel the heat from it, it was burning my cheek.
“I don’t know where it is” I lied bravely.
Brave to the end, until that thing burns out one of my eyes.
Roman smirked and shook his head. He moved the crowbar closer. I lashed out in one last ditch attempt to save myself. I’m not really sure what happened or how I did it. But I managed to push off the ground with the ball of my foot, sliding the chair back. Roman stumbled, shocked. Then I lashed out with my other foot, kicking the crowbar away. Unfortunately for him I kicked it right at his face. The burning hot end hit him directly across the left side of it. He screamed out in pain. It was blood curdling, like I’d never heard before. My slide ended and I fell backwards just as he dropped the crowbar on the ground. Roman was writhing about, clutching his face. All his men were trying to help him; none of them were paying attention to where the crowbar went.
I was now on my back, still tied to the damn chair. But I saw where the makeshift poker was. It fell sideways, landing against one of the boxes. I watched in awe as it burned through the wood. Then in terror when it set fire whatever was inside---I think it was straw. When the box burst into flames, the fire jumping to the one next to it---Roman’s men finally noticed. They grabbed their boss and pulled the writhing man to his feet. They half carried half dragged him toward the exit. Me they left, as the flames tore around me quickly.
I tried pulling my hands out of the ropes but it was no use. The flames were roaring around me now, many of the boxes ablaze. The fire was starting toward the walls and roof. It would only be a matter of time before the whole place went up. I twisted and turned, trying my hardest to get free. But no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t do it. The flames danced around me, moving closer and closer. I could feel them at my feet, melting the rubber of my shoes. I kicked and tried to roll away but it was no use. Then the smoke came, black and gagging. I started to cough. It stung my eyes and made things difficult. But I wasn’t about to give up. I closed my eyes and had one thought, one last ditch effort. It was crazy and it would hurt like hell but I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to take a deep breath but I didn’t. Instead, I opened my eyes and rolled toward the flames. I made sure that I got my back into them, hoping that most of it was concentrated on my hands. As soon as I felt it, I rolled away, the chair and my clothes on fire. I rolled and kicked, trying my hardest to get free.
I’m not sure how or when it happened but my hands came free. I could have screamed “Thank God”, but instead I pulled them out of the charred ropes and got a good look at them. I half expected to see charred, burned flesh but they were fine. In fact they looked better than fine. The skin was softer and my fingers more slender. I blinked back tears then pushed myself out of the chair. I patted at my smoldering clothes, my hoodie all but burnt off me. Then I got to my feet and staggered through the flames. I had no idea where I was going but anywhere was better than here. I felt strange as I walked, heavier in my chest, lighter in other places. I figured maybe it was the stress. After all, I was nearly burned alive.
The flames and smoke obscured my view and I found myself walking right into a wall. I cursed and looked around. The only exit I saw was at least ten feet up, a window. It was a vertical climb straight up, far too high for me to jump. But something came over me, something unnatural. I looked behind me, saw a burning wall of boxes about to go crashing down and took my chance. When I jumped at them I felt more flexible and agile than I’d felt in years. When my feet sprung off the boxes then, I felt alive and free. Then I hit the wall, running up it like a cat. When I reached the window, I smashed the glass with my elbow and looked out.
The ground was at least ten feet away. I was about to jump when the wall of boxes fell behind me, tumbling right toward me from behind. They slammed into the wall, sending me flying out the window. The last thing I saw before everything went black was the ground rushing toward me.
“I think she’s coming around”
I opened my eyes and blinked, a bright light was shining back and forth in front of them. At first, all I saw was the light and it hurt like a bitch. When the light disappeared and the blotchy vision began to fade, I saw a dark shape looming over me. At first, I almost freaked until the shape started to take form, turning into Leslie. I smiled and then got really confused. I tried to remember what had happened but it was a bit of a blur. I remembered the warehouse. I remembered almost burning to death and somehow getting out of the ropes... then I think I jumped up to a window. Everything else after that was a bit hazy.
I tried to sit up but Leslie gently pushed me back down. When she did so I noticed I was wearing a paper gown and that I was lying in a bed. I looked around, realizing I was in the Clinic. How and why I was here was still a bit lost on me. I tried sitting up again but she kept her hand on my chest and shook her head. I opened my mouth to say something but found my throat was a bit dry.
“Water” I croaked and Leslie nodded.
“Sure, sweetheart” she said and then turned to someone else. “Barb, honey, can you bring her some water.”
Barb? My head snapped in direction Leslie was talking and sure enough, Babs was there. I heard the whirl of her electronic chair and then she was at my bedside, smiling at me. It was funny that Barbara had such shocking red hair, seeing that she was the only one of the family who did. Our mothers were sisters and both of them were blonde. Uncle Jim---before it was gray---had been brown. So where Barbara got her red hair from was a complete mystery to us. I used to pick on her about it from time to time and she used to mock me for sounding like a little girl. It was good harmless fun. Seeing her now though made me realize that something bad had happened.
She frowned at me, holding the paper cup just out of my reach. “Next time you’ll listen to me and leave it to the proper authorities!”
I nodded and reached for the water. She handed it to me then brushed a long strand of hair from my face. I hardly noticed the gesture as I chugged the water like a maniac. My throat was so dry like my throat had been scorched. When I finished drinking, she took the cup from me, still running her fingers through my hair.
“What happened?” I asked, noticing a slight change to my voice but shrugged it off as my throat still being a little parched.
“You tell us,” said Leslie, pulling out her stethoscope.
I frowned and looked at Barbara. So I took a deep breath and told the two of them everything I remembered. When I got to the part about the fire, Babs punched me. I deserved it. I’d done something really stupid last night and it almost killed me. It should have killed me actually. That had to be one of the biggest questions on my mind. When I finished all I could remember, I asked Leslie why I was still alive. She looked at Barbara and then moved away. I thought maybe she was dodging the question until she came back over with a hand mirror. When I took it and frowned, she raised my head so that I could see my face in the mirror. What I saw shocked the hell out of me. No, it wasn’t because I was horribly burned or something. It was the opposite in fact. My face wasn’t scarred at all; in fact, the bruising was gone, too. It was like none of it had ever happened. But there was more, much more. My skin looked healthier, softer even. My features were different too, not drastically different but different nonetheless. My nose was a bit smaller and a tad bit narrower and my cheekbones were higher. My lips looked a bit fuller too.
The most shocking were my eyes. Before, they were blue but now they were piercing, like two sapphires.
“What in the hell happened?” I asked and grasped my throat.
It wasn’t the result of a dry throat. My throat was fine and yet my voice was completely different. I pulled the mirror back a bit and caught sight of something else, my hair. Before it was long for a guy, at my shoulders. Now it was not only long---probably down my back---it looked shinier. I held the mirror with one hand and ran my other hand through it. It was softer too, like Jen’s. I gasped. There was no way anything like this was possible.
I sat up slightly and turned to look at Barbara, trying to figure things out. When I did so, I noticed something else immediately. There was a weight on my chest and it shifted when I moved. I looked down and realized the blanket didn’t slide off me when I sat up. Instead, it rested there, supported by the two protrusions sticking from it. I dropped the mirror. A smile split across my face and I threw off the covers. Excitement coursed through my whole body. I tried to get out of bed but Leslie held me steady. I pushed off her hands though, I wanted to see this. There were several wires and an IV in my arm. I grabbed the IV and pulled, wincing at the discomfort.
Then I jumped off the bed. My center of gravity was off and I wobbled a bit. Leslie rushed around the bed to keep me from falling.
“Stephanie, you need to get back in bed, dear.”
I brushed her off. “I want to see,” I said excitedly and before she could stop me, I rushed for the bathroom.
I was faster than before, lighter on my feet or something. When I got to the bathroom, I shut and locked the door behind me. Then I rushed to the mirror. It was true, the image staring back at me was me but so much different. So much better. I grabbed the gown and tore it over my head, staring at my naked body. It was the body I should have had, the body I was meant to have. Staring back at me from the mirror was Stephanie Brown, all girl. A huge smile spread across my face and I squealed in joy. Yes, squealed. Hey, I was a girl after all.
There was a knock on the door. “Honey, are you ok?”
“I’m fine, Babs” I said excitedly. “Better than fine.”
Barbara laughed. “That’s great, sweetie, but you need to come back to the bed so that Leslie can finish running some tests.”
I frowned and opened the door. When Barbara saw my naked form, she shielded her eyes for a second. I grabbed her hand and pulled it away. “Why hide your eyes,” I said happily. “We’re all girls here.”
I laughed and gleefully trotted back over to the bed. When I jumped up onto it for a second I felt lighter than air. It was kinda cool. It was clear what had happened to me, only an idiot wouldn’t know. But what I wanted to know was why it hadn’t happened until now. I’d read some stories on the Internet, I knew how Terra changed and even Myka. But why hadn’t I changed until last night. I racked my brain and came to the conclusion that it must have been the fire. It must have been some kinda catalyst. As I sat there and thought about it some more, Leslie ran her checkup. She took some blood, mentioned something about sending it off to a colleague at STAR Labs for testing. Then she ran through what could be a routine physical. When she got to my weight and height, I frowned when I discovered not much had changed there.
When she was done, she told me to get dressed. I smiled, gave her a big hug and ran off into the locker room. I only had a few selections from before, down by one since my Dad ripped the one I had been wearing pretty good. I found a clean pair of underwear and quickly discovered that I’d definitely need to do some shopping. Neither the panties nor the bra fit right, both were too tight. But then again I’d been dressing a male body not a female one. I got giddy with excitement though as I looked down at my breasts, my real ones. They were mine, not fake blobs of whatever. I reached up and touched them, feeling their weight in my hands. I had to be at least a B Cup, possibly a C.
I tried putting on a skirt but my hips were too big for it. So I ended up rummaging and found a pair of stretch jeans. They molded to my body, showing off my new butt quite nicely. Then I found a plain white tee, it was a bit tight in the chest area but it would do. My shoes were pretty much the same which made me frown. I had small dainty feet to begin with but I was hoping for something a little bigger. Oh well, life goes on. I was too damn happy to really complain. After dressing, I took some extra time and got the makeup kit that Leslie had made up for me. I decided to go all out because I had nothing more to hide. After my face was done, I went out into the main room.
Barbara whistled, I blushed.
“No one could tell that you were ever a guy.”
Leslie smiled too. “Are you feeling all right, sweetie?”
I nodded. “I’m fine, better than fine actually.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Leslie with a frown. “I talked to my friend at STAR Labs; she’s dealt with this kind of thing before. She wants me to bring you over to run some tests just to make sure that you are in fact a Meta.”
“I think the answer is staring us right in the face,” said Barbara “She was in a horrible fire and should be covered in burn scars. Look at her, Leslie, there isn’t a scratch on her.”
Leslie nodded. “We need to be sure, though.”
Barbara nodded and turned to me. “What do you think, Steph?”
I shrugged. I didn’t need tests to prove to me what I already knew: I was Meta. But I nodded just so that Leslie could be reassured. She smiled and went to the phone, picking it up and calling her friend. I wandered over to Babs and bent to give her a hug. I wrapped my arms around her and for a moment, everything was right in the world. I knew it wasn’t of course. There were still a lot of obstacles and I’m sure what happened last night was going to get back to me; I think I was still on a bit of a high. After all, it’s not every day that some one’s fondest wish comes true.
Leslie came back over. “Jenet wants to see us now.”
I have to say that I don’t remember the ride to STAR Labs because I kinda dozed off. When I woke up again, Leslie was pulling her car into the parking lot. Barbara wanted to go with us but couldn’t because she had to get to class. I was kinda glad she didn’t tag along. She started mothering me before we left, poking and prodding---asking me if I was really all right. I think it surprised her a bit that I had yet to cry. She seemed to think that what I went through last night was extremely traumatic and as such, I should be a wreck. To tell you the truth, it kinda freaked me out that I wasn’t a wreck too. Something like that should have made me quivering but I was actually OK about it. Sorta like what happened to me after the Roving Ravager saved me in the alley. It affected me but not in the way it should have. How freaky is that?
We got out of the car and went in to a nondescript gray building. It looked like any other building except it had a glass dome on the top of it and on the front in large block letters was the words STAR Labs. I didn’t know much about the place other than what was in the papers. They were a cutting edge research facility, dealing with a lot of different scientific fields. They’d been in the papers a lot lately for Meta related things. They were on the forefront of trying to identify the Metagene in individuals. I’m not sure what their ultimate goal was and it never really concerned me until now. I just hoped that they weren’t taking my blood just so they could use it to cure me. There was no way I was going back to the hell of being a girl stuck in a guy’s body.
When we reached the building, Leslie led me through a pair of high-tech sliding doors. The lobby was sterile and pristine, every surface seemed to shine. Three of the four walls were made of glass while the fourth was where a circular reception area was located. There was a pretty blonde behind the counter, filing her nails. She couldn’t have been much older than Babs. She barely looked at us as Leslie announced herself. The girl typed at her computer keyboard---looking bored. Behind her there was a hiss and a door opened. Leslie smiled and ushered me forward.
“State of the Art facility and a flake like her at the desk” she said, loud enough for the girl to hear.
I smiled as I followed her. The hall was long and just as shiny as the rest of the place. I felt like I was in the Manor again, except here the floors were linoleum and the walls were white, without any bit of decoration whatsoever. I felt like I was in a hospital, except in hospitals they at least tried to make the place look cheerful. This place was sterile and creepy, like it was only meant for science people. I shuddered as the hallway turned onto another one just like it. Except this new one had doors, lots of them. I tried to count how many but it got too annoying so I stopped.
Finally though we came upon a door with a glass window and a name stenciled on it in gold lettering: Dr. Jenet Klyburn, Geneticist. I took a deep breath as Leslie knocked on the door. A muffled voice on the other end told us to enter. When Leslie opened the door, I was surprised at how much the room contrasted with the rest of the place. It was still white and sterile looking but at least there was some color. There were prints on the wall, a few potted plants on the windowsill and a small desk in the corner. Sitting behind the desk was a red headed middle-aged woman in a white lab coat. She smiled at both of us as she quickly got up, went around the desk then gave Leslie a hug.
“It’s been too long, Doc” said the woman when they separated.
“Jenet, dear, you don’t have to call me Doc anymore.”
The woman---Jenet---waved it off. Then she turned to me. “This must be Stephanie?”
I nodded. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Klyburn.”
She laughed. “Please, it’s Jenet. The only ones who call me Dr. Klyburn are the kiss ass Grad students.”
Both she and Leslie laughed. It was clear the two of them were old friends. After the laughing was over, Jenet got right down to business. She pointed to the examining table and told me to hop up. I did as I was told and then she started to ask me questions. She didn’t want to know anything about me before---which was a relief---but she did ask me some questions about how the change happened. I tried to be as vague as possible. It was something that Leslie, Barbara and I decided before we got into the car earlier. They both thought it would be in my best interest that I not advertise that I was moonlighting as a vigilante when the change happened. There were too many questions and not enough answers. I tried to convince them that it wasn’t what I was doing, but they didn’t seem to want to listen. So together the three of us came up with a cover story, stemming from Dad catching me dressed and almost beating me senseless. Speaking of him, the police caught him. Well, actually caught him wasn’t the proper term I guess. I’m not sure when it happened but he was dropped off in front of the nearest precinct, practically gift wrapped. Barbara didn’t know much but when they examined him they found traces of soot and other damaging evidence on him linking him to the warehouse. I think the DA wants to prosecute him on the warehouse fire as well as trying to beat me to death, which is fine by me. I promised myself to ask Uncle Jim about it as soon as I was done here.
“So I take it this turning into a girl thing was a happy occurrence then?”
I nodded. “Oh God, yes.”
Jenet smiled. “I wish all my other patients were as enthusiastic as you about the change.”
“You’ve had other Meta patients?”
She nodded. “I’m not supposed to say anything but there have been quite a few, one of them who favors blue and gold in fact.”
She gestured toward the wall behind her desk. I looked over and saw a framed poster of Booster Gold, standing in a sexy pose. I’m not sure how it happened but Myka was the Poster Girl for Metas everywhere. Not that I’m surprised. Her posters were all over the city and her face was all over the TV. She didn’t do much hero work but she did a lot of selling. She was a big time celebrity, peddling everything from suntan lotion to sports equipment. I suppose she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to our kind. God that felt good to say.
After the few questions, Jenet asked me to remove my shirt so she could do her doctor thing. I did as I was asked and got the complete physical. I was kinda annoyed that I got more than two in one day though. At the end of which she stuck a cotton swab into my mouth, after that she stuck it in a test tube and put it in a glass cabinet in the corner. Then she told me I was set and to put my shirt back on.
“Will that be able to tell you what I can do?” I asked as I pulled my shirt over my head.
Jenet frowned. “Don’t you know, sweetheart?”
I shook my head. Leslie piped in. “After the battering she took it’s clear that she’s got some regeneration capabilities at least.”
Jenet looked deep in thought. Then she smiled. “Can we run a little test?”
I nodded and she smiled. She walked over to her drawer and took out a scalpel. When she walked over to me and approached my arm, I pulled back. She reassured me everything was going to be fine, she was just going to make a tiny cut. I held out my hand and she tried to slit the tip of my index finger. But nothing happened so she tried again. All three of us stared at finger like it belonged to an alien. Then Jenet looked at her scalpel, probably wondering if it was a dull blade. She pricked her own finger and cursed as blood appeared and slowly started to run down it. Ok so I’m not regenerator girl but apparently I’m a freaky girl who can’t get hurt. How messed up is that?
“Interesting” Jenet asked, still being the scientist.
I nodded. “That’s definitely not normal.”
She chewed her lip. “Would you mind if I ran some X-Rays?”
I looked at Leslie. “It’s up to you, sweetie.”
I gave her my consent then we moved onto another room. She made me undress and put on one of those paper gowns. I was kinda embarrassed about it but it was real quick. I’ve never had an X-Ray before but it was cool. It didn’t hurt at all and it didn’t take very long. Afterwards she had me get redressed and took me to a room where I could wait. Leslie stayed with her. I found myself alone in a room that looked like a doctor’s office waiting room. There was chairs lining the walls, a TV mounted in the corner and a stack of magazines on the little table in the center. I rifled through them looking for something interesting but they were all pretty much out of date.
I frowned and decided to find something on TV. As I was flipping through the channels, the door opened and another girl came into the room. She was about my age, reddish brown hair, t-shirt and jeans. She looked out of place and as nervous as hell. She smiled at me and took a seat on the other side of the room. I watched her for a few minutes but it was clear that she was really uncomfortable. It didn’t take a genius to figure out she was a Meta too. It was the way she sat and walked, it screamed guy. It was the way she looked, too. Her clothes were a bit too tight even though they were for the proper gender and her hair was done all wrong. I felt bad for her because it was clear that she didn’t want this at all.
“Hi” I said, trying to make small talk. “My name’s Stephanie, what’s yours?”
She snorted. “Kevin…I mean, Kitty I guess.”
“That’s cute,” I said, trying to be nice. It was, too, I wish I’d thought of something that cute.
She scoffed. “My Mom’s idea.”
She shifted a bit, allowing me to see some of her ankle. It was then that I saw a purple dragon tat there. “Cool tat.”
She tugged on her pant leg but it was clear that it was just a tad short. “That’s Lockheed. He’s my school’s mascot. It was pretty cool when me and guys got them though it was on my arm before; I’m not sure how it got down there.”
I smiled and nodded. I decided to break the ice. “What’s your thing?”
She shrugged. “Damned if I know. I took a bad tackle in practice, knocked me out cold. When I woke up, bam, boob city. Two nights ago, I woke up underneath my bed. Then this morning I was in the basement, three floors beneath my room. My Mom freaked and brought me here. They said on the news they could help people like me.”
I nodded. We talked for a bit more. Kitty went to a school just outside Chicago or at least she did. After becoming her new self, she hasn’t been back since. Her mother was seriously considering moving, making a clean start somewhere else. Kitty said she found a brochure in the mail for some private school in Westchester County New York. She wasn’t too keen on the idea but it sounded cool to me. Ever since reading Harry Potter I was a big fan of private schools. Not that Dad could afford one and even if he could, there was no way he would send me to one. But a girl could dream. The two of us talked about other things until Jenet came to get me. I wished her luck, she smiled and grumbled a thanks and I followed Jenet back to her office.
“So what’s the verdict?” I asked as I sat on the edge of her exam table.
She frowned. “Your skin appears to be normal but there were some abnormalities in your bone density and muscle tissue.”
She shook her head. “No, but I’d like to do some more testing if you’re ok with it.”
I wasn’t so sure I wanted all of this today. I told her as much.
“We don’t have to do it today but maybe next week, allow you to have some settling in time. I can call you later, schedule an appointment.”
I thought about it for a second. It might be cool to figure out what my new powers were if I had any at all. “Sounds good to me.”
Uncle Jim lived in Schaumburg, in a brown Victorian across the street from a park. I used to go there a lot when I was a kid but after Mom died, Dad said he couldn’t be bothered. When Leslie pulled up in front of the large house, I sighed. I looked out the window, staring with glee at my new home. Since Dad was now in jail and I couldn’t exactly live with the Morgans, Uncle Jim and Barbara were it. But Barbara lived in a little studio apartment in the city which was just big enough for her. Uncle Jim had a huge house with five bedrooms, two baths and a gigantic backyard. He was all alone too since Babs went to college. His wife, Barbara---Mom’s sister---died when I was three. So I guess that makes our family small and close knit.
“You sure you want to do this kiddo?” asked Leslie. “I have plenty of space in my apartment.”
I smiled and shook my head. “I’m sure.”
Leslie offered for me to live with her after it was decided I couldn’t go back to the Narrows. But I didn’t want to impose. We thought about Bruce but living in the Manor kinda creeped me out. The place was too big and foreign. Besides, I wanted to be near family. That’s when Babs called her Dad. They talked for about an hour; I think it took her that long to convince Uncle Jim about what was going on. He was a good guy---very understanding---and said he couldn’t have been happier. I’m not sure if that was true or not but it was nice of him to say so.
Leslie got out first and opened the door for me. Then she went around to the trunk and got my bag. I didn’t have much, just what I managed to grab from my room when I fled. Though she did offer to take me over there and get the rest of my stuff if I wanted. I was tempted but most of it belonged to Steven and that life was over as far as I was concerned. I wanted to start new and fresh and what better way to do it then here. Though there were still a lot of things to work out. School, for instance. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that actually. I still want to go to my old one though, it’s not like anyone would notice the difference. I was in my senior year after all and it would be stupid to switch what with it still being the second week of classes. Another thing was my new identity. I’m still not sure how I was going to get one of those.
When I got out of the car, I looked up at the house. When I was younger, I thought it was the biggest place in the world. It had white columns and trim, a huge wraparound porch and a bunch of peaks and gables. I used to think it was like a castle and always imagined myself as the fairy princess. Now looking at it I couldn’t help but feel warm inside. This was going to be home. I think I could live with that. I took a deep breath and walked down the little stone path wedged in between a nicely manicured lawn. There were flower boxes under most of the windows and even trimmed hedges under the large window in the front. Uncle Jim didn’t have much time for yard work but whomever he hired to do it was fantastic.
When Leslie and I started up the porch, the front door opened. Uncle Jim was standing there in a red wool sweater and jeans, his casual look. His trademark mustache was well groomed, his glasses having switched to bifocals since I’d last seen him. He walked out onto the porch; a leather bound book tucked under one arm. He had a warm welcoming smile that always made me wish that this man had been my father. When he smiled at me now I did everything I could to keep myself from breaking down and running into his arms.
“So you must be my new niece,” he said with a hearty laugh.
I nodded. “Hi Uncle Jim, thanks for this.”
He smiled and nodded. Then addressed Leslie. “It’s always a pleasure, Leslie. Thanks for looking after my new girl here.”
Leslie smiled. “Anything for your family, Jim.”
It didn’t surprise me that Leslie knew Uncle Jim. Hell, Leslie seemed to know everyone.
The two of them chattered on the porch for a bit. I asked if I could go on in. Uncle Jim nodded and said it was my house now, so I didn’t need to ask for permission. So I walked inside and smiled. Nothing had changed since the last time I’d been here. Some of the electronics was updated but the main room looked pretty much the same since I was little. Aunt Barbara had decorated it and I think Uncle Jim was afraid to change it. I kinda liked it, it was very homy. It was definitely a lot better than the crap that Dad had in our old living room. I walked inside and flopped down on one of two large couches. I wanted to cry but instead I grabbed one of the pillows and sighed into it.
Ten minutes later, Uncle Jim came in. He was carrying my bag and walked over to his chair, sitting in it slowly. We both sat there in silence for a while. It was kinda awkward, what with the two of us not sure what to say. I felt really out of place, like an Interloper. After all, he was the Police Commissioner, my father was a criminal and the only time I saw him was when he was being interviewed on TV. It felt kinda weird sitting here actually. I think he might have been a little uncomfortable, too.
But he did finally break the silence. “I was thinking of putting you up in one of the guest rooms. It’s kinda bare at the moment but I’m sure we can get it decorated to your liking.”
I smiled and nodded. “Is it the one next to Bab’s old room?”
He nodded. “C’mon, I’ll take you there.”
He led me up the stairs to the second floor. He took me to one of the rooms in the front of the house, giving me a nice view of the park. I smiled because he remembered. When I used to come here, I loved the park. Sometimes Mom and I used to spend the night and this room was my favorite. Partially because of the view but also because it had such a huge bed. When Jim unlocked the door and let me in, I smiled because nothing had changed. It was kinda bare at the moment and it needed some color on the walls but it would definitely do. I surprised him and myself when I gave him a big hug.
It was kinda awkward for both of us. When I pulled away, he smiled. “When you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen.”
I nodded and he left, probably back to his study to read his book.
I waited until I heard him go down the stairs. Then I closed the door and ran over to the bed, flopping down on it. The comforter on top was soft and welcoming. It also smelled a bit like Mom, which was a nice added bonus. I’m not sure how he pulled it off but I loved it. I laid there for a while---on my back---staring at the ceiling. Then I realized that I should probably call Jen, seeing that the last time I talked to her was before my stupid Dad stalking. I sat up, grabbed the phone off the bedside table and dialed her number.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hey girlfriend, how’s it going?”
It was the way I started every phone conversation with her.
“Stephanie?” I laughed. “You sound different, is everything ok?”
I took a deep breath. “You’ll never believe what happened to me.”
To Be Continued