It’s strange, and a little bit funny, how different people deal with grief.
After Father Ken disappeared (I don’t want to say “died” because, honestly, I can’t tell you whether or not he actually did), I decided to give everyone a little time to cope. Seeing as how I’m the leader now, as far as Ishmael is concerned, I figured I might as well start putting things together. Before this, we all just sort of did our own thing, and whenever Ishmael would come in an announce something we would drop what we were doing and go do that. The entire process was a complete headache, and I heard more than one person complaining about the boss’ unpredictability, so to speak. As I sat down to chart it all out, I was well aware of the irony that forming a ragtag group of rebels to take out an oppressive conglomeration wasn’t all that different from a business itself. Maybe I could have gotten a tax write-off.
So, I got to work. It always helps to take my mind off things when they get unbearable. For the others, well… Aonghus and Dr. Bill just disappeared but, due to both of their advanced age, it seemed to be an old fashioned way of dealing with it. “Never let them see you cry, old sport” and all that. My Mom did much the same, and our communal dinners at night just weren’t the same as she silently doled out Mexican casseroles and boiled dinner. I checked on them from time to time, but each of them was nearly impenetrable.
The same could not be said for the younger members of our team.
Rat threw himself into his work, too… but his sort of work isn’t always what I would deem “constructive.” At one point he burst into the kitchen at about 3am looking like the Unabomber on shore leave. I was halfway through a “can’t sleep” cup of chamomile and watching old episodes of Freakazoid on cable as I saw him tear into the cabinets, grab about four packets of ramen noodles, tear the first one open and gnaw on it like it was a jawbreaker. And then, he was gone. About seven hours later, the news blew up that parts of Philly, including the AE, had just experienced a rather nasty blackout caused by an unknown source. This caused untold expense in generators and, most importantly, showed that they were vulnerable. I tried to ask Rat about it later that day and he, still without sleep, muttered something about “practice” and “gas lines being next.” I made a mental note to sit down and hash things out, but the next time I turned around he was face down on the couch, snoring, a half-chewed block of ramen still in his hand.
I talked to Brigitte more and more as the days passed. At first it was strictly to make sure she was recovering, but after a short while our relationship became distinctly less professional. The first time it happened, she tried to make herself look different… more like Xandra… and I had to put a stop to that right away. Being with a shapeshifter can have its… unexpected moments. Most of the time, though, we just watched a lot of old Charlie Chaplin movies and drank way too much Champ Cherry. I have to admit, I was an idiot at first and figured she would be inconsolable after Father Ken, but she quickly read me the riot act and told a few choice stories from her childhood that made it easy to see that, although her skin may be able to change, it would always be diamond-hard.
Xandra was a different story, as was to be expected. She’d taken her job as counselor very seriously, making sure to talk to everyone in the wake of Father Ken’s disappearance, and when she came around to talk to me she reported back as much as she thought was prudent.
“I talked to Rat,” she told me as we sat down over coffee at the kitchen table, “he’s obviously upset… but I think I managed to calm him down. Brigitte, well…”
She stole a glance at me that made my ears burn.
“I think she’s looking for someone else to talk to right now.”
“How about everyone else?” I asked quickly, trying to change the subject.
“Dr. Bill could handle just about anything, I’d wager. He was sad when we talked, but his sadness always seems so… eternal. I get the feeling this isn’t the first time he’s seen a comrade-in-arms go. Aonghus, well… he’s a pretty tough nut to crack, but if the noises from his workshop are any indication, it looks like he’s working on his frustrations with a hammer.”
“Ah,” I nodded, feeling the warmth of the coffee through the cup in my hands, “so, are you going to suggest any, like, therapy or… stuff? Y’know, put ’em on the couch?”
“I can’t see where it would do any good,” Xandra replied with a sigh, “different people just deal with things differently and, trust me, I know when a buttoned-down person is about to cause some damage.”
“Think about it, Noble. You know who my Dad is, right?”
“Huh,” I scoffed, “Half of the stuff in this house has his name on it in one way or another.”
“Exactly. And you don’t get that rich and powerful by falling apart at the seams. My Dad… well, I learned a lot about how people hide things from him… from both my parents, actually. When there’s so much expected of you, they can’t see you sweat.”
“Is that how you keep your cool?” I asked, blowing on my coffee.
“Ha! No,” she smiled a smile engineered by the finest orthodontists, “I just got all of my sweating done before I was eighteen. Now, I just don’t give a shit.”
“I wish I knew how to do that.”
I surprised myself with the amount of honesty in my voice. Xandra finished her cup and set it down, looking square into my soul.
“You wouldn’t be you if you did, you know that… and I like you like this. We all do.”
My mind flashed to a picture of Brigitte again, and my ears lit up once more.
“You see, humans… we’ve got it all wrong. We’ve drawn this line in the sand, right, and we say that everything on this side is good and everything on this side is bad. If you actually sit down and look at it, and if you can get over your human sense to please, you’ll notice that in reality there is no line in the sand. The sand… it’s fuckin’ everywhere.”
She got up and shuffled over to the sink on bright blue slippers, dropping her cup in the sink. She sidled over to me, and it was only when she was standing next to me, her hip at my cheek, that I finally clocked she was wearing pajama pants, a cotton cami… and not much else.
“There’s no one way for everyone. Happiness isn’t always good and anger isn’t always bad. Sometimes you meet people who are only happy when they ARE angry. Sometimes you meet people that are sad when they’re happy. But humans, we have this nasty habit of living for other people, sometimes for people we’ll never even meet, and living by their rules, not ours. What we really should be doing is just doing whatever satisfies us.”
She bent double at the waist and descended on me, planting her lips on mine with a gentle intensity that was aided by gravity… as were two other things I felt brush my shoulder. As wonderful as the experience was, I couldn’t help thinking of Brigitte, and the time we’d spent together as of late, and… more than anything, the laughter. She always had this one laugh when she really let fly, her entire body would shake and her breath would come in gasps, her face screwed up tightly, on the verge of tears. Most importantly, though, is that I would see the size of her head fluctuate just slightly when she was having such a good laugh, and for a moment she wouldn’t be worried about how she looked.
“What was that for?” I blurted the minute she came up for air. She gave me a coy smile and sighed.
“Because it satisfied me,” she said with no shortage of personal pleasure, “and it told me everything I needed to know.”
“And what was that?”
“That you liked it…” her smile grew devilish, “but your mind was elsewhere.”
She took a few more soft steps out of the kitchen, and paused at the doorway, looking back.
“I’m a little jealous, I think… sad I didn’t get to you earlier, but oh, well… just promise me you’ll keep the door open if anyone wants to share, all right?”
I couldn’t speak, and she knew it, and she also knew what my answer would have been. I sat there and finished my coffee, thinking about what she had said, particularly in regard to Ishmael. For him, was being happy a bad thing? After all he’d been through, after all he’d seen… maybe he thought it wasn’t right for him to be happy? Perhaps being happy made him feel like he wasn’t doing what he needed to do, like he was trying to ignore something…
Something. That word seemed to come up a lot when talking to him. He always wanted to be doing “something,” because everyone should care about “something” and be willing to die for “something” even if they didn’t know what it was. I suppose each of us had a different “something” we were fighting for, and all of those “somethings” seemed to fit together underneath Ishmael’s one big “something…” and this recent episode with Father Ken and Queen Mab had him doubting himself. And when Ishmael doubted himself, he decided he had to do, yes, “something.”
So, one night on the six o’clock news, we heard it.
“Authorities have arrested a young Mythic man they believe is responsible for a campaign of terror and violence that has stretched over several years.”
We all craned our necks, quickly and painfully, to see ugly footage of Ishmael being lead, in handcuffs. It was unmistakably him, holding his head high and proud. Gone was his usual broad-brimmed hat, showing instead close cropped, dark hair and distinctively pointed ears framing the hard face and piercing eyes. For a brief second before he was placed in the police car, he stared right down the barrel of the camera, into every house and, more importantly, into every one of us. We all suffered a collective shiver as the newscast continued, a shellacked man in a dark suit using the most serious voice he could muster:
“Police are not releasing his name at present, but sources say the Mythic was arrested after a violent altercation with security officers at a South Side warehouse.”
“Strange that he didn’t use any of those magic powers to fight back, isn’t it Jim?” asked the hairsprayed lady at his left.
“Well, Tiffany… maybe he just didn’t have the juice.”
They gave an insincere chuckle and then went back to reporting about a local tax referendum. We all sat at the table, stunned, our homemade pizza growing cold on our plates. Then, all at once, our brains kicked into action. Without needing to say a word, we all went to our stations: Rat was on the web, Aonghus went to prep the vehicles with Dr. Bill, Xandra and Brigitte started drawing up plans and checking local maps, and my mother got her scoped rifle out of the linen closet and headed upstairs as lookout. I felt a little silly, standing in a suddenly empty kitchen with my thumb squarely up my butt, but as I heard the various sounds of mobilizing I start to realize that, honestly, I had already done my job… except for one thing.
I walked over to the double-barrel Bunn-o-matic my Mom had purchased at a consignment store and set both pots on full blast. It was going to be a long night.