Read while listening, from Natasha’s POV.
It’s 7:45 PM. Seven hours before the scum of the earth crawl out of their beer-stinking holes to sell women in my hometown. Time for me to head out if I plan to catch anyone tonight. History paper will have to wait.
I drop the well-earned ice cream container in the trash and start looking for the door. Not as if it’s hard to find, ha! No, it’s busted as wide open as a truck depot from the bug-woman’s visit.
“Hey, where you going?” Skye asks, suddenly forgetting my treachery for stealing the ice cream as he trots after me.
“We were kidding about the ice cream,” Black Butterfly insists.
“I know,” I say. “I have to hunt.”
Skye noticeably shivers at my tone. “Can you say that again?”
“Don’t be creepy,” Butterfly elbows him.
“I’m not! She sounded–”
I interrupt before they can get bickering again. “I have to hunt. We don’t all have the luxury of having the bad guys come to us for bagging,” I say. Skye looks alarmed, and I take note of that, but Robotman re-enters with a resounding clap and a smile that could fry a vampire.
“Hey, muchachos! Picked you up some em-pan-a-das!” He almost sings the last word. “Bet you thought I was just skipping out on cleaning up. But–oh, it looks like you all skipped out on that, too.”
“I thought we were eating healthy,” Black Butterfly says. “Not for weight or anything, I’m very body positive,” she assures me as she glances at her butt’s reflection in Robotman’s armor. “But I thought we were eating healthy today.”
“Girl, learn to say thank-you.” Skye’s almost climbing over Robotman to get to those fried meat-filled turnovers. Robotman steps up to me, and speaks quietly, as if I’m the only one in the room.
“The special occasion’s your acceptance into the team,” he says.
“Pink says she approves, too,” Black Butterfly holds up her phone again, smiling.
“She do everything by phone?” I wonder.
“She’s away a lot. She says she enjoys depositing the villains, and all the paperwork that goes with that. It’s a thankless job, so we appreciate her contribution,” Butterfly says. I take note of this.
Skye’s somehow already got two empanadas in his face. “Unanimous yes for you!” He cheers.
“Er–not ‘xactly unanimous, ‘mana,” Robotman says, again as if talking only to me, in confidence. “I voted no. You’re a great hero, but I’m not sure you’re built to be a team player.”
The others get all offended on my behalf, but I step closer to Robotman, curious. I’m not sensitive. I like honesty. It takes guts to have that. “That all?” I ask.
“Well, I was out-voted. Team thinks you fit right in!” Robotman throws his hands up in the air with a big grin, just this great big genuine grin, and wraps me in the most uncomfortable metal hug. “And I trust my team.”
“Well that’s great buddy but–hey, I–” I’m so squished. “Hey buddy? I don’t want on your team.”
He lets me go. The other two go ballistic.
“Why would you tell her you voted no?” Skye snaps.
Butterfly chimes in: “Perhaps more tact would have been appropriate!”
Robotman’s cellphone even buzzes, signaling Pink’s disapproval, too.
“Whoa whoa whoa! Don’t eat the man alive!” I laugh. “Skye, I said I’d come hang out–I never promised to join your team. I’ve got my own thing going on. I’m feeling Mr. Roboto here. I vote no, too. And,” I grab an empanada on the way out. “My vote’s the only one that matters.”
I give Robotman a sympathetic fist-bump, and make my exit.
2:00 AM. The shadows move around me as the wind hums in the trees. The chill runs up and down my spine, and I’m reminded of the cute little electric superhero who admires the way I say hunt. Coming from anyone else, it’d sound creepy, but he seemed so genuine, almost straddling the line between fanboy and–poet? Still, someone needs to teach that boy some manners.
Hey brain. Shut up. I’m hunting. I shake my head as if I can shake this afternoon out of it, and creep closer to the four men clustered together on the park bench. Two pimps, two Johns.
“You can take them down easily,” a voice whispers in my ear.
I flip out and go for a throat. Soft, slender neck meets my fingers–big, doe-like brown eyes stare at me in fear, a modified black and purple Salwar Kameez floats around me–
“Holy crap, Black Butterfly, what are you doing here?” I hiss.
“Sorry,” she coughs in a whisper, well-aware it’s her own fault she just got squeezed like a stress ball during the Holiday rush. “I just wanted to double-check that everything’s alright between us.”
“Alright? Sure, fine, everything’s cool, I already said no hard feelings, didn’t I?” I’m crouching down closer to the ground now, creeping forward on my fingertips to hear the conversation around my targets. The two Johns are standing now–both college-aged idiots pretending they don’t know better, one in sunglasses–at night?–and one in a leather jacket, dressed like they’re so bad, out buying their first prostitutes. They don’t bother to check if it’s human trafficking or not. They don’t know that’s even real. And they don’t get punished like the pimps do. Like they should. I clench my teeth. Half of the girls this ring sells are my age, and these guys don’t think to blink. Stupid creeps.
Black Butterfly’s still talking. “I know, but I just wanted to make sure your feelings weren’t hurt, between Robotman’s condescension and Skye’s creepiness and–”
“Girl, you just failed us the Bechdel test,” I grumble under my breath. The pimps stand, too, to shake hands with the buyers. They don’t do the fancy pomp and circumstance. Some pimps do: I’ve seen those guys, all decked out in purple and green, golden canes and all–but these guys, my local movers and the shakers, don’t need all the colors for advertising and recruitment. They’re comfortable in flexible pants and incognito hoodies. True evil doesn’t need to play bad boy.
True evil has nice sneakers, though.
Oh my gosh, is she still talking?! “I just don’t want you to be offended. I try to create peace between everyone, you see.”
“You got it. Peace.” This is before the sale. They’ll be leaving together, to see where the girls are. I’m curious about this meeting because normally it’s one on one–one pimp to a buyer or two. And normally it’s not these guys. I’ve heard things about these guys. Heard they might be the top dogs I’m looking for: the guys I need to connect to the trafficking ring to shut it down. You only get so far beating up low-level peons. Rescuing one girl at a time only makes the bad guys smarter. When I’m old enough to run for president, that’s when I’ll really…
Alright, they’re on the move. I dash, low to the ground, my one ungloved palm stinging with park cement. We take cover at the nearest bush, right by their car. Make that two cars. Dangit, I’m too loud to follow a vehicle on my thunder blasts.
“Hey.” I poke the girl behind me. “Hey, you can fly, right?”
“Do you lift?” I ask.
“Excuse me?” She looks confused.
I look at her skinny arms. “You don’t pump much steel, do you?”
“Oh, now you’re just body-shaming.” Butterfly grips me around the waist, throws one massive flap of her wings, shooting leaves around us and wind up my nose, and when my prey turns around we’re nowhere to be seen, far, far above their heads in the shadow of the clouds covering the sliver of silver moon. “Where to?”
“Well, if you don’t drop me, just follow those cars,” I say.
“You’re not going to just beat them up, are you?” she asks.
“We’re not going to have a long conversation.” Her skinny arms cut into the edge of my bra wire as she tenses up. “Ow! No, I won’t just beat them up!”
“That’s good,” she says.
“I’m going to find out if they’re in charge of this ring I’ve been following,” I say.
“Then video tape them and bring them in?” she says.
“I can’t bring people in. I’ll lead the police to them.” I pause as the cars take a right, away from the park and towards the swanky area of town. We’re soaring over neon lights and party bars now. “That’s a benefit of working with the Guardians, huh. You can do what you want.”
“Not whatever we want, no, but Robotman has worked out a deal with our local police, and I think also with the military and some government legal advisors. He’s good with people.”
“So are you, I hear,” I smile.
“I’ve managed to talk down or rehabilitate about half of the supervillains we’ve encountered, yes.”
“And the other half fool you because you’re soft,” I say.
“That’s why I have teammates.” Her soft voice is unapologetic. “We keep each other in balance.”
It’s a long flight. She’s stronger than she looks, for sure. “How’d you become a superhero?” I ask.
“I accidentally made a local gang look weak by pulling a business owner out of a fire they’d set.” There’s a bitter laugh hidden in her gentle tone. “The business owner paid me back by calling me a terrorist. Then, when the gang tried to punish him for living, and kidnapped his family instead, he said that was my fault, too.”
“How old were you?”
“Fifteen. If you’re running a protection racket you can’t have fifteen year old girls rescuing people who don’t pay up.” She chuckles. “If you ask some people, that family really didn’t even merit rescuing.” We dip a little as the cars park, and she looks for a place to land. “For some reason, that makes me feel even better about doing it again and again and again.”
“Like your high road is higher than everyone else’s,” I say.
“Now that just makes me sound arrogant.” She drops me off around the corner from my prey. I stretch out, so glad not to have her sweating all over me anymore, and take a deep, free breath. “Happy hunting,” she says.
“You’re not going to stay and help out?” I ask.
“You prefer to work alone, don’t you?” She bats her eyelashes, waves like a princess, and flaps off into the night air, trailing purple streamers.
I do. I’ve got eyes on the bad guys again. I might steal myself a pair of those evil sneakers.
Still. It’s a good night to make new friends.
Thanks for reading and listening, and thanks to Rabia (twitter: @fairlyliterary) for trying out her audio skills for the first time with me! You can check out her blog here.
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