GenExt – Time goes on

As the week wound itself out, Ben became a dervish of activity. With an updated resume and renewed purpose, he set out for jobs in the area, only to be told at the buildings to apply online. Even the temp agency wouldn’t take his information. By Friday, Ben was scouring the internet for jobs  by day and “moonlighting” by night, and filling the gaps inbetween with desperate catnaps and far too much coffee. He was becoming irritable from the self-imposed lack of sleep, frustrated from silence on the job hunt, and started to suffer from a nasty rash of headaches. By Friday, Lucy had had enough.
“Go back to sleep,” she said curtly, coming out of the shower, “or go to sleep, if you haven’t yet.”
“Don’t wanna,” Ben grunted, staring intently at a laptop’s glowing screen, the only light source in the tiny apartment’s living room.
“You look like crap, and you sound worse. What time did you get in last night?”
” ‘Bout four.”
“Fun night?” she asked, pouring herself some of Ben’s coffee.
“A mugger, three domestic abuse calls, and a speeder on 241.”
“What are you up to now?”
“Reading the news.”
Lucy walked over behind her husband, still in a towel, glancing over his shoulder.
“I don’t know if your brother would call that site ‘news,’ honey…”
“I can trust Dan’s reports, but as for the other stations and those other schmucks… they don’t know what’s really going on out there.”
“Y’know what else they don’t know?”
She threw open her towel, beaming.
“They don’t know what’s going on over here, either!”
Ben finally looked away from the laptop, and his face was like that of a starving man.
“Ohh, I wish you didn’t have to go to work right now…”
“Please!” Lucy scoffed, heading into the bedroom to get dressed, “You’re so worn out I bet you’d pass out before we got to the good parts.”
“Nuh-uh. Just gimme some more coffee.”
“No more coffee for you,” Lucy took a sip, “this is the last of it.”
“I’ll make more.”
Lucy stepped out of the little bedroom, now clad in an ugly purple polyester polo shirt with the Lancaster County logo on it. It was the sort of shirt that looked the same on everyone: bad, but Ben still cast a hungry eye on his wife as she approached him.
“You really should get some more sleep.”
“I can’t, Luce,” Ben shook his head, “It’s like I’m a shark: if I stop moving, I’ll die. If I can just fill my head with enough thoughts and news and stuff to do… I won’t think about what happened on Monday and I won’t get pissed.”
“Yeah, but you don’t need to take it out on yourself. It’s their fault and it’s their stupid rule. You were a good worker, they’re just assholes.”
“I coulda done more,” Ben said with a sigh, “I coulda been more friendly, I coulda gone out drinking with them or something…”
“Ben, I know you…”
Lucy knelt down next to him and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Even if you did go out with them, you wouldn’t fit in. You’re just… you’re a weirdo, Ben. Your whole family is.”
A thousand images of costumed vigilantism flashed through Ben’s mind, and he gave a little nod.
“But that’s why I love you, you little weirdo.”
They shared a smile in the dimly lit living room, and Ben placed his aching head against Lucy’s, drawing strength from her coolness and from the intoxicating scent of her hair… not just her shampoo, but her own essence as well, a scent that was tied to a billion moments of joy in his mind.
“Well, sharky,” Lucy said finally, standing up and shouldering her purse, “I’ve gotta go. Promise me you’ll get a little sleep today; I don’t want you looking like crap at your brother’s tonight.”
“Ungh,” Ben replied, remembering his brother’s forceful invitation from earlier in the week.
“And take a shower. You smell like old beer.”
“Yeah, funny story,” Ben muttered into the laptop screen, “one of the beaters last night, he musta been pretty wasted because he thought a cup of Milwaukee’s Best would somehow be an effective projectile weapon.”
“Eeew,” Lucy pulled a face as she unlocked the apartment front door, “Now, get over here and kiss your wife goodbye.”
“If I don’t, do you have to stay here?” Ben shot a look over the laptop, but Lucy shot him down with another look. He made to get up from the dining room table, but paused abruptly with a gasp.
“You okay?” Lucy asked as her husband staggered slightly to the door.
“Speeder last night. Hit me into the side of the Amtrak station. Got a bubble up… but I still smacked pretty good.”
“Awwww, that’s my good little warrior,” Lucy cooed, kissing him on the forehead, “you sure you’re OK?”
“I’ll take a couple ibuprofen before I lay down.”
“Good. I can’t have you crippled for the kids.”
“Ha ha…” Ben laughed drily. Lucy chewed her lip a little bit and spoke again.
“Also, if you’d like… there’s a job open down at the county shop. It’s not much… but you’ll be doing something… and we could use the money…”
“Would I get to see you more often?”
“I suppose so,” Lucy beamed.
“Then it sounds worth it. Better than sitting around here waiting for the phone to not-ring.”
“Great! I’ll ask them about it, and we can talk about it before we go out tonight, okay?”
“Sure thing, honey.”
“Love you!”
“Love you, too. Take care.”
“You too!”
They kissed, smiled, and Lucy went off to work. Ben shuffled back to the laptop and dove again back into the internet news. Before he knew it, it was after noon. He nibbled a piece of toast and headed into the shower. He noted, with a little satisfaction, that since he began “moonlighting” officially he had managed to lose a fair amount of weight. He filled the tub with hot water and crawled inside, trying to soothe his aching back.
On impulse, he slid his head and shoulders under the water with his eyes closed, and imagined for a moment what it might have looked like from above, serene and peaceful under the clear, shimmering water. He listened to the water rush around his ears, feeling comfort in the sensation of water around him, letting himself slip away. It was weightless, careless, and for a moment it was blissful, being away from it all, almost away from existence itself…
He sat back up in the tub with a start, breathing heavily, gulping life back into his lungs. Something very strange had just come over him, and he never wanted to feel like that again. It had been a similar calm to the feeling he felt with his wife, but there was also that feeling of falling away that sickened him. As he finished up his shower, he resolved to work even harder toward that the Lucy feeling and to try all he could to banish the bathtub feeling from his mind. When Lucy came home, she found him shaven, shellacked, and dressed for the dinner party and surprisingly chipper.
“Well, don’t you look nice.”
“Not as nice as you, darling!”
She glanced down at the polo and gave a snort.
“Yeah, right.”
He walked forward and squeezed her in a massive hug.
“I missed you so much!” he whispered into her ear. She responded with a giggle of her own and hugged back.
“Did you get some sleep?” she asked when he finally let her go.
“A little,” he said back with a grin, “I’m trying something new. I’m trying to be happier.”
“Well, just don’t go Stepford on me.”
“Nah. That’s against my programming.”
“Y’know,” Lucy mused as she headed into the bedroom, tossing off the polo, “if you said you were a robot, I wouldn’t be all that surprised.”
“Technically, I’d probably be a cyborg…”
She turned on him, still without a shirt, and shot him a glare.
“Shut up and kiss me.”
“Yes ma’am!”
Later that night, they were sharing that secret smile that married couples do from time to time as they sat around the large dining room table at Tom’s suburban Harrisburg home. The entire family was in attendance, with family patriarch Bob Graf occupying a space at the head of the table. Since his run in with Dr. Holocaust, the last of his super powers had finally drained from him and, after a long hospital stay, the man once known as Ultro was a shell of his former self. He sat slumped in the chair, wheezing heavily and groaning with every exertion. Ben noted with some worry that his condition had seemed to worsen since the last time he saw him, and he pulled his mother aside almost immediately to acquire about his father’s health.
“The doctors can’t find anything,” she shrugged, “it’s like he’s just giving up. I try to get him up and moving, go places, do something… but all he does now is sit in the chair in front of the TV. It’s like he’s completely changed now… I don’t really know what to do.”
“Is it something… mental?”
“He’s refusing to see a doctor for that, specifically. He keeps saying he ‘isn’t crazy,’ so he doesn’t need it.”
“Oh, for crying out…”
That new information seemed to weigh heavily on Ben’s mind during the dinner, as Bob picked at his food and ate very little. Ben seemed to notice that many others at the table seemed not to notice Bob’s odd behavior: Dan looked deflated by the appearance of his two brothers with their wives, and as the meal came to a close Ben understood why.
Tom seemed preoccupied as host of the house, making sure everyone had enough to eat and drink. At the end of the meal, he stood up with purpose and made his announcement to the family.
“Thanks for coming, everyone. We, uh…”
Tom wasn’t his normal collected self; he seemed awkward, possibly even frightened. It was not a side of him that Ben could remember seeing, well, ever. Ben’s mind was already racing, going through a list of possible announcements that could merit this sort of a family meeting. Tom wasn’t usually one for pomp and circumstance, and he usually kept very close to himself on personal matters. Come to thin k of it, he usually kept close to himself on public matters, too. This must have been something very important to warrant coming out of his shell for a dinner and announcement like this. By the time Tom finally said it, Ben had narrowed it down to renewing of vows, some sort of big trip, or most probably…
“We wanted everyone here to tell you this, the whole family, and, uh… well, we’re going to have a baby.”

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