By the time I got to the coffee shop/bookstore, I’d calmed down from my anxiety, cleared my darker thoughts about suicide and bestial living. Healing the teens, then seeing all those people rush toward me, it had set me on edge. I hadn’t realized I was a hairsbreadth away from a panic attack until I sat down with my food and took my first sip of coffee.
The bitter taste shocked me out of my funk. With my adjusted taste buds, I could truly appreciate the richness of the flavor, practically feel each individual mote of dissolved bean caress my tongue. I suppressed my urge to moan. I’d learned quickly that a man outwardly enjoying a foodgasm was a bit of a faux pas.
I let the flavors numb my thoughts for a bit, then reassessed my situation. I really, really hoped that Jamal and his friends had taken the hint. That when I said, “I guess they must have missed, huh?” it was code for “let’s pretend this didn’t happen and speak no more of it.” I hoped that was clear enough that when the adults on the street pestered them about what happened, they would also get the hint.
I sighed. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t expect a bunch of kids to care about protecting my identity. Besides, boys didn’t understand subtlety on that level. Jamal probably thought I’d been trying to say an action hero one-liner. If I’d been more clear-headed, I would have stayed behind and explained…
No. No, I would have gotten overwhelmed and actually panicked. I’d had to get out of there. I just had to brace myself for the fallout when I got back. For now, though, I’d center myself. I took another sip of coffee and blissed out to the taste. It was just simple black coffee, but I liked the bean they brewed at this place. Bitter, but flavorful, not acidic like a certain crappy trendy coffee chain I could name. I glared at the offending chains logo, leering at me from across the street.
I took a bite out of my sandwich, and psychedelically enjoyed the blend of meat, cheese, vegetable, and bread, the four food groups doing a dance in my mouth. I flipped open the book I’d purchased. Saisho no San by
Roberts. I’d been suckered in by the
Japanese title, but I could already tell it was a rather trashy novel, from the
three anime schoolgirls draped over each other on the cover. This place had to
sell what it could to make money, I suppose. Salvador
I let myself ignore my problems for a couple hours, half-finishing the book already. A trashy novel indeed, about a version of Earth where all women gained superhuman powers, but these abilities were fueled by sex. I wondered if the shop owner even knew the wares he was peddling? Probably. The two times I’d seen him, he kind of looked like a sleaze ball.
Still, it was an interesting premise, and not that far off from our own world, in its own way. Not the sex part, of course, but the fact that nearly every superhuman who came from the Doorways was a woman was a point of contention and intrigue for many people. Accusations of sexism on behalf of whatever forces created the Doorways were flung this way and that. If you believed the Doorways were a cosmic gamble with a death sentence if you failed, than clearly the creators were misandrist, since only a small fraction of men ever returned from them. If you believed the structures were gateways to other, more glorious worlds, as some claimed, then they were misogynist for kicking so many women back out.
The end result either way was that it was the superwoman, not the superman, who held sway over the fate of the world, and either side of the so-called gender war had lots of intense opinions about that as well.
As someone who’d walked both sides of the human experience of gender, I frankly thought groups like those were missing the damn point. When you came out of the Doorway with powers that broke our understanding of reality, gender was the furthest concern on your mind. At least it had been for me. The only time I’d concerned myself with it was when I’d decided to shift. The thing about over 99% of superhumans being female was that being a male was about the best damn disguise I could ask for.
And now I’d blown it. I frowned again, the high of my meal already fading. Food was a great trip, but the high was more fleeting than any drug, unfortunately. It was for the best, I supposed. As a meditative experience, it was fine, but becoming reliant on the high to function, that was where it got dangerous.
I had calmed myself now, and decided I was ready to face whatever awaited me back home. I would no doubt be dealing with at least a crowd of nosey neighbors wanting to know what my deal was, to confirm that I was indeed a superhuman. I guess there was no point in doing anything other than cop to it. Explain to them that I wasn’t there to start trouble, and I didn’t want trouble to come to me. Maybe lie about how my powers functioned, that healing the bullet wounds was some trick of a very brief rewind power. I couldn’t just fix things, couldn’t just heal people on demand. They might buy it. What did they know about how superhuman abilities really worked? No one really did, not even those who had them.
I’d just ask that if they left me alone, and didn’t spread around rumors about me, I’d leave them alone, and we could all go about our lives. I didn’t want to threaten them or anything. Most people knew to respect a superhuman.
Despite these self-assurances, I still took the scenic route home, winding my way around town for another hour before finally reaching my street. I kept myself focused, running through my head all the little speeches I’d give, tried to ready answers for all the questions I anticipated coming. So, I was a little bit surprised when I saw there wasn’t a throng of people milling about my front door. There wasn’t anyone on the street or sidewalk, either, but I saw a few people notice me from their windows. They either stared or they closed the curtains. I did nothing to provoke them to try and engage me.
There was only one person out on their balcony in the 4-plex next to mine, an old woman who liked to hang out on her rocker in the afternoon and mutter commentary about the goings-on and the kids these days. She stared down at me. I couldn’t help but look back, and she gave me a nod. I wasn’t sure if that was a hello or if that was some kind of attempt at assurance. I nodded back and went inside. I still expected someone to be there to confront me, but there was no one so much as sitting on the steps.
I glanced across the short hall that separated my place from Jamal’s. For a brief moment I wondered if I should check on him. Then I banished the thought. If I didn’t want to be bothered over this incident, I’m sure he didn’t either. I also didn’t want to risk his mother freaking out on me over what happened. I went inside and settled into my old recliner to finish the trashy novel.
Five minutes later, I heard heavy footsteps thudding up the stairs, just before a shotgun blew out my door handle.