Fan Boys Ruin Everything
Jessica stopped short of telling Eckhart what she thought of the costume. “The horns need work,” is all she said.
She wished she could have added, “And all your colors are off. Your tights make your legs look like you should be dressed as a Tinker Bell fairy not Obito Yuchia.” He had nice thighs, Obito not Eckhart, but they were not very realistic. At least Jessica never saw anyone with such legs. She spent most of her time around 15-year-old boys, so maybe next year some of the boys she knew would have muscular thighs. She doubted it.
“I can’t get them to stand up.” Eckhart interrupted her inner criticism. “Do you have more hangers?”
He was looking in her big ugly mirror. The dresser set had been her grandmother’s from the fifties. The mirror was a huge round one with what looked like carved wood acorns and leaves and berries, but painted gold. It was just pressed plaster and some acorns had been knocked off and the gold paint chipped away. It looked more like something out of a haunted house than a glamorous bedroom, which is how her mother described it when she forced it into Jessica’s room.
“Besides, it was your grandmother’s, so you should be happy to have it,” her mother said, and that was that. No more room for discussion. Or room for her bed. The huge mirror was attached to a low desk thing. “A dressing table,” her mother said, “where you put on makeup.” Jessica used it for putting on makeup, but probably not in the way her mother, or grandmother, hoped. Eckhart had wires and tubs of body paint and spools of fake hair spread out on it. She hoped the green body paint he’d smeared on the drawer handle would wash off.
Jessica found a wire hanger and broke it off into a manageable piece to use on Eckhart’s head. The horns looked better, at least they stuck in the right direction, but she could see the coat hanger holding them up. “I don’t think this is gonna work,” Eckhart moaned. He often moaned.
“Look it’s,” Jessica pressed the button on Eckhart’s phone to check, “almost 11, and you have like sixteen messages from Maddie.” Maddie was Carl’s new girlfriend. Carl had been dating for maybe two weeks but it only took a few days before anything you wanted to say to Carl had to be filtered through Maddie. You couldn’t text Carl, or send him a Facebook message, or call him. Maddie answered. It’s not like Carl liked to chat and his texts to Eckhart were always one or two words. Yes. No. Around noon. Still, Jessica didn’t know if she liked or trusted Maddie, at least yet. They were meeting at Maddie’s house at 10:45 to drive to the convention. Maddie would drive. No one else had access to a car.
“She’s such a time Nazi,” Eckhart said. He opened his phone and stepped away from the dressing table. “I gotta fix my horns still,” he said. He was furiously scrolling through her texts. “Every single one says, where are you. Sixteen times.”
“Your horns look great,” Jessica lied. “I have to fix my hair. Call her and tell her we are on our way.” Her hair wouldn’t hang in the two waterfall swoops that Kitty Pryde used to frame her face. Jessica also had to do her lips. And the mascara around her right eye was already smudged.
“I don’t like to call her,” Eckhart shoved his phone at Jessica knocking her hand away from her face. “You do it.”
Maddie picked up before the first ring. “Where are you guys?”
Jessica couldn’t read the level of irritation. “Yeah, we’re like five minutes away. I had trouble with my hair.” Why’d she blame herself? It was Eckhart’s stupid horns that made them late.
“Oh hi, Jessica. I thought this was E.” Maddie called everyone by their first initial, except her. “I’m good with hair. Come on and I’ll fix you up.”
“We are just about there.” Jessica rolled her eyes at Eckhart who stared back terrified.
” I was afraid you’d been jumped or killed in a plane crash or train wreck. See you soon.” Maddie disconnected before Jessica could respond or say goodbye.
“How mad is she?” Eckhart took the phone like it was covered in Maddie’s ectoplasm.
“She was afraid we’d been killed in a plane crash or train wreck.” Jessica packed up her supplies and snapped her panties back in place as she stood up.
“What?” Eckhart had a slack face, his bottom lip drooping. “Why’d she think that?” He looked nothing like Obito.
“I don’t know. Never mind. Let’s go.” Jessica pulled him out of her room by his hand, which was still holding the phone like a radioactive ball of lead.
Carl was dressed as Wiccan. Of course. Jessica couldn’t understand why he insisted on dressing as someone different every time and tried to pick someone no one would duplicate. So here he was, short, this side of chubby, a few pimples scattered among the wispy hairs that he called his beard, and he’s dressed as a gay mutant with his girlfriend in tow. “You look great,” Jessica said. She tried to sound sarcastic but it came out sincere and Carl beamed.
“I bet I’m the only Wiccan here,” he said.
“Yep,” was all she could manage before Maddie started.
“You want to stand out but I don’t know. It seems like asking for trouble from these pervs,” she said.
Maddie was Sailor Jupiter, which meant she was going to spend half her time correcting people. “Not Sailor Moon. Sailor Jupiter. There’s a huge difference.” As she’d already done with Eckhart at her house, where she and Carl were waiting on the front porch. “I’ll fix your hair in the car,” Maddie said as she brushed past them. Since she was driving, that didn’t happen and Jessica’s hair still drooped like limp sausages.
“That’s such a stereotype,” Eckhart responded to Maddie’s perv comment. “Like all these guys are sitting in mom’s basement looking for kids to kidnap on the internet.”
“It only takes one,” Maddie said. She was adjusting the drooping bow on her skirt. “And seriously look at Carl. Offer him a Butterfinger and he’s yours forever.”
Everyone but Carl thought that was funny. Jessica wasn’t sure what Carl got out of saying Maddie was his girlfriend. Apart from saying “I have a girlfriend,” which no one saw coming.
“Funny,” Carl managed. “The point of superheroes is not superiority but that they are outcasts.” They’d heard this speech before. Jessica was relived when Maddie cut him off.
“Well we need to get Shadowcat here her dragon or everyone’s gonna think she’s some generic ninja warrior princess, and then we really will need to deflect the pervs. Asian girlfriend fantasies and all.”
“And fix my hair,” Jessica forced a chuckle that came out like a cough.
“We have to get seats to the White Chapel talk,” Carl responded. “It’s in room J.”
“J for Jessica,” Maddie said. “We’ll meet you by the Wizards Well table at,” Maddie checked her Hello Kitty watch, “1:30.”
“You better have a purple dragon on your shoulder,” Eckhart said. He tried to wink but his face just kind of jumped up on one side. It was a new thing, to be charming. His horns drooped and the wink caused them to tilt to the side. Maddie gave Carl a playful punch on the shoulder, which Jessica assumed was meant to be some sort of affection, or inside joke. Still upset at not finishing his treatise on superheroes, Carl moped off and Eckhart followed but turned back to give the girls a wave.
“Should we go do my hair in the bathroom?” Jessica asked, offering Eckhart a flip of the wrist in response.
“Can we do the tables around here first?” Maddie responded. “It’s only gonna get more crowded, and I really hate crowds of pervs.” Jessica wanted to insist, but Maddie took off toward the display hall. “All the dragons will sell out,” Maddie said over her shoulder. “And you shouldn’t be so vain about things like hair. Kitty Pryde is about power, not vanity.”
The dragon was Jessica’s only reason for the outing. All her attempts to find the right kind of purple lizard had been fruitless and she’d given up on being Shadowcat or Kitty Pryde. Except Kitty was the girl she felt closest to; not a vixen but not crazy and angry like Jean Grey or Storm. She didn’t feel like she had to wear a push up bra or leotard to be Kitty.
Maddie got it. “She’s not a slut,” she’d said when Jessica explained, “but she’s not cutesy perv bait either.” Maddie suggested there would be dragons. “I mean, I like the cutesy perv stuff, thus,” she indicated her own costume of short, flounced skirt and oversized bows. “I mean what’s going on in Japan that they make so much of this stuff? I don’t care. I just love these gloves.”
Jessica and Maddie spent ninety minutes wending their way through booths stopping at whatever caught Maddie’s eye. The Odeum echoed and was drafty so that shafts of alternating cold air from the AC units and humid wafts from the constantly banging doors washed over them. Jessica felt the mascara smudging and gummy. The more she tried to avoid touching it, the more it itched. Maddie lurched from one table to another pushing through the bodies, mostly men, if you used that word biologically. The customers formed a circle around each booth so the only way to see anything was to wedge oneself into the sanctum. Their intrusion would be met with protest and umbrage but Maddie said, “I’m so sorry,” and tilted her chest forward to almost brush against Cyclops’s shoulder or Arrow’s arm so he either retreated in a puddle of fear at the female body so close or mumbled something about how these events used to be for real fans, not girls in dresses. The exceptions were tables mobbed by kids, real children. Seven, eight and nine-year-olds with a father, or occasionally a mother, standing back while the kids pawed over toys and cheap plastic accessories. Jessica saw no point in visiting these but Maddie, Sailor Jupiter, was on the lookout for upgrades and some specific sticker brand. “It’s like they are trying to create buzz by making them unattainable.”
Five minutes early they arrived at the Wizard Well table as agreed. They waited fifteen more minutes before Maddie suggested they get mochas at the kiosk. “Watch,” she said, “we’ll be gone for three minutes and those two will be here tapping their toes and blame us for being late.”
Jessica didn’t see Carl having the musical ability to tap his toes, but she was tired of being in the way of festooned superheroes and their handled plastic shopping bags. Maddie ordered a “triple shot extra foamy scalding hot latte” to which “Petey,” according to his nametag, scowled. “What are you supposed to be?” he asked.
“Sailor Jupiter,” she said. “She’s a –”
“Of course she is,” the barista cut her off. “What about you, Ninja girl?”
“I’ll have a Pepsi,” Jessica said.
“She not a Ninja,” Maddie corrected. “She’s Kitty Pryde. You know, Shadowcat. I’m sure you have a poster of her over your bed or something.”
“Kitty cat, Ninja cat, Ninja, it’s all the same,” he said. “That will be seven fifty-eight.”
Maddie insisted on paying and they waited for the hot drink a step away from the counter. “Hot mocha something-thing for the moon sailor,” Petey said and plopped Maddie’s on the counter.
“You’re doing it on purpose,” Maddie took her drink.
“I would never,” he answered. “One Pepsi for the Ninja pride.” He handed over Jessica’s sweaty bottle with a wink. Maybe. Jessica wasn’t sure.
“Thanks for the great service,” Maddie said over her shoulder as she walked to the sugar and creamer.
“And thank you for the generous tip, Sailor Jupiter,” he called after.
“How can you drink that?” Maddie asked. She was dumping packet after packet of sugar on the foamy milk.
“I only like coffee in the morning,” Jessica offered in response, which was technically true, she liked the smell. Jessica noted that the drink mixture accounted for much of Maddie’s behavior – bursts of wild energy, both verbal and mobile, followed by a morose crash.
They returned, drinks in hand, and circumnavigated the comic store booth but no Wiccan or Obito to be seen. Jessica thought she saw Carl from behind, the same uneven ragged cape and thatch of hair, but it turned out to be a girl dressed like some LOTR sojourner, not a gay superhero.
As the coffee and sugar entered her system, Maddie revved up. First it was observations. “That Joker needs a better shade of purple. That Iron Man has a bad mask. That guy’s a Storm Trooper and he’s wearing black tennis shoes.” But the hour passed and her impatience grew. “We could have been doing stuff. Do they think we were just their ride? They aren’t the only ones to have stuff to do. Boys are asses. Don’t they have a watch?” Each statement demanded no response and Jessica felt no compulsion to answer. She’d grown tired of the smells and sounds and Maddie.
Maddie started to pace back and forth, gesticulating so that her bows started to flounce and people took a step away from her. Maddie enjoyed telling Carl what to do, that was obvious, but what did Carl get out if it? A ride. Help with his costume, which, despite it being a weird choice, was much better made than anything in previous years. Maddie’s eye for detail had seen to that. Maddie continued accusing and theorizing all the possibilities of the wasted afternoon. Jessica tuned her out. It hadn’t taken long for Maddie and Carl to settled into their arrangement, and knowing Carl over the last three years, she knew it couldn’t have been any sort of verbalized negotiations. They’d fallen into it. Like her and Eckhart. Jessica took a draw on her watery soda. Swallowing, her throat was full of acorns. An image popped into her mind of a numbered list. “Ways I use Eckhart for my own gain,” it was titled. None of the blanks were filled in, yet. She felt sure, in her crude daydream, if she flipped the paper over the other side would say, “Ways Eckhart uses Jessica.”
At the end of the school year in June, her mother had been on a “concerned parent” tear, probably prompted by an article on Facebook. “What do you and that boy do…um…all day?” she’d asked.
“Read, talk, play Xbox.” Jessica answered honestly, not realizing it was a set up.
“I mean. Well. In your room. Is there…anything…I mean. Do you think it’s a good idea to have the door closed?”
“Oh God,” Jessica saw the trap closing. This could be a repeat of the awful “this is a condom” demonstration she’d been subjected to the summer before high school. She was off bananas for months after that.
“We are just friends, Ma,” Jessica recovered.
“Oh, ok,” her mother also seemed relieved. “Well, if you’re just friends, well, friends with boys are good. At your age.” An awkward pause. “Pear?”
“Right. Fruit phobia.”
The intervention forced Jessica to think about what she and Eckhart did do all day, and, later that week, she found herself staring at him while he pored over a copy of Tokyo Ghoul trying to decipher the Japanese. They were drinking Sprite and Tampico cocktails.
Eckhart looked up and his face flushed crimson “What?” he asked.
“Huh?” Jessica managed.
Eckhart looked side to side with his eyes like he did when uncomfortable. Jessica noticed it first in calculus when he was called on. “You’re staring,” he said. “Do you want this? I’m almost done.”
“Yeah,” Jessica said, “when you’re done.”
“You can have it now,” he offered the book and it hung limply from his hand. “I can look at it later.”
“No, when you’re done.” Jessica could feel her face getting hot. Was she blushing? Why was she blushing?
“Really,” he said. He bobbed the book up and down and it flipped open to a picture that may or may not have been a breast.
Jessica felt her face flush. “Just look at it, asshat,” she said. She jumped up and spilled her drink across the front porch steps to make a sticky stain where bees collected for the next few days.
To forget the blush, she got angry at Eckhart for being such a dunce. Why were they even friends? It was convenient. For both of them. Maybe that’s all it was, convenience. That was the day she started that list.
“So what do you think?” Maddie said. Jessica hadn’t been listening, of course.
She had to come up with something. “Yeah, they are totally unreliable.” It could be a joke or she could be serious, depending on what Maddie had said.
“Sheesh, why do you have to be so judgy, Jessica?”
“What?” Jessica didn’t think her and Maddie knew each other well enough for that kind of retort.
Maddie gave her a little smirk. “Everyone’s trying to help you and you’re being selfish. You’re so controlling.” She followed that one up with a chuckle, something low and growling.
Jessica’s mouth searched for a vowel or a consonant to start a word, start an answer, but nothing came out.
Maddie shrugged so that the bow across her boobs flopped around. “That’s why E worships you so much. I mean you totally control him. It’s kind of sad to watch.”
Jessica finally found language to respond but the tardy Obito and Wiccan appeared laughing and swinging one of the plastic handled bags Jessica had begun to recently despise.
Carl’s smile fell when Maddie spoke. “Sheesh, do you know how long we’ve been waiting? Jessica was ready to go and I told her to wait. I think we should have left you here.”
Carl looked beaten. “We are like 15 minutes late,” he said.
“1:30!? It’s 2:45!”
Carl flashed a toothy grin. “1:30? I thought we were meeting at 2:30?” His cape was tied up on the end into a knot. He was swinging it around and trying without much effort to see how close he could get to hitting someone’s leg without touching. He swung it at Maddie first, then Eckhart.
“How could you think that?” Maddie swatted at the cape ball. “Did anyone say that?” she first asked Carl, then Eckhart.
“Can we go? I’m tired of this place,” Jessica said. She noticed Maddie had not asked her but she didn’t know what that meant.
Carl stopped swinging his knotted ball. “But Eckhart and I haven’t even looked through the tables.” He finally realized the girls were not in a playful mood.
One of Eckhart’s horns had given up and hung flat down the side of his head like a donkey ear.
“Well Maddie and I have looked through them twice, so we want to go.” Jessica took a step out of the circle and moved toward the exit.
“Don’t speak for me, Jessica,” Maddie said. Jessica could see her eyes sweeping up and down her dragon-less costume. “We still haven’t found that elusive, mythical reptile.” She turned to Carl and pulled up the end of his cape to undue the knot. “And I could look through the tables again.”
Neither Carl nor Maddie returned Jessica’s look and Eckhart was very interested in a fraying edge of his costume. “Well, I can’t,” Jessica started.
“Why do you have to get so aggressive?” Maddie dropped the wrinkled but untied edge of Carl’s cape. “Just relax. Wow, that Pepsi went straight to your anger spot, huh?” Maddie offered that same growling laugh.
Jessica turned back. “No, it didn’t. I just like being respected sometimes.”
“Jessica, no one is disrespecting you,” Eckhart stopped futzing with the seam. “We let you come with us, didn’t we? I mean you aren’t even that much of a fan.”
“What?” was all Jessica could manage.
Carl spoke up. “E, I don’t think that was the best thing to say.”
“I want to go home. Are we leaving or are you all staying?” Jessica felt her cheeks reddening. Why’d her body have to react like this?
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Eckhart offered. “I mean a fan of these places.” He indicated the hordes of costume-clad attendees, but Jessica only saw the plastic-handled bags swinging back and forth, back and forth.
“I’m leaving with or without you guys.” Jessica looked at them each in the face but read nothing but annoyance. She expected, well, at least some shock, or discussion. She wasn’t the one in the wrong.
“What are you going to do – walk?” Carl asked.
Jessica marched off. It wasn’t as dramatic as she hoped because the outside doors were a good 100 yards away, but Eckhart did follow while Maddie and Carl stayed behind.
“It’s too far, Jessica,” Maddie yelled after her. “The roads are full of pervs and you’ll look ridiculous in that ninja outfit.”
Jessica turned and gave Maddie the middle finger, although not as quickly as she’d hoped because she always had a hard time remembering which one was the rude finger.
Eckhart loped beside her. “Come on Jess, it’s just like a half hour. I’ll make Carl move fast. Promise.”
“You can’t make Carl do anything.” Jessica meant to emphasize the “you” but it sounded more like she were about to cry, which she was sure she wasn’t. And if she was, it was out of anger not hurt.
“Anyone can make Carl do anything.” Eckhart meant it to be funny, to defuse the tension she was sure.
She stopped walking so that he pulled up a step past her, closer to the door. “If the four of us were stranded on a desert island,” she said, “and you had one banana, who would you give it to?”
“What?” Eckhart in his drooping horns and his skinny boy thighs seemed genuinely confused.
“Fine, I’ll make it easier, who would you share it with?”
“Well, everybody I guess. That’s a weird question. Why’re you asking such a weird question?”
“Never mind.” Jessica started back to the door. Seriously, it was like a half mile away. She could feel how hot it was outside and her feet hurt, but a dramatic gesture needed to be followed through on. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I though we were doing pizza?” Eckhart called after her. He should dress like a zombie apocalypse refugee as he already looked like one she thought.
“Maybe later this week. I have a lot of homework.”
“Jessica –” Eckhart was cut off by the door. She made it across the parking lot to the road embankment before she looked back. The sunlight reflected off the glass. She couldn’t really remember which door she’d left from anyway and the crush of costumed boys going in and out would have made it hard to distinguish Eckhart anyway.
Jessica knew the way home. It was a straight shot, although really too far on foot. She felt a slick of sweat sliding down the small of her back between her butt cheeks. She doubted the drama of her gesture and thought about compromising and finding Maddie’s car and waiting until they came out. She could say nothing and sit in sullen silence until they dropped her off.
No, let Eckhart wonder what happened. Let Carl feel conflicted while he looked at plastic toys and comic books. And whatever Maddie felt, she could feel.
Jessica pushed up the sleeves of her jumper and the elastic cut into her forearms. She was passing a series of fast food joints, lined up one after the other, when someone called out. “Ninja Kitty!” the voice said. A male. She ignored it first not knowing it was for her, and then she did realize but refused to look out of annoyance. The voice didn’t let up. He was sitting on the bumper of a small pickup. “Ninja Kitty!” he yelled a third time. He ate from a paper bag. “Sorry, I forgot your name.”
Jessica turned around. “Kitty Pryde,” she spat out. It was the guy from the coffee counter. He no longer wore the apron but still had the baseball cap with the exclamatory Café! logo.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “For forgetting I mean. Where’s your friend? The anime chick?”
“I don’t know,” Jessica said. It was true. She didn’t know.
“Didn’t you like the convention?” he asked. He stood up and threw his paper bag toward the trashcan, missing by four feet.
“I can only take so much nerd in one day,” she said. Petey, that was his name. He walked to retrieve the paper bag and was now ten feet away. He was taller than she expected. Maybe younger too, she couldn’t really tell.
“Where are you going?” he asked. He wiped his hands on his legs. They weren’t superhero thighs but they weren’t skinny either.
“Home,” she said.
“Need a ride?” he asked.
“It’s down the street,” she said.
Jessica took two steps further along, stepping over the taco bags, crushed plastic cups, and flattened beer cans. Sheesh, how much did people drink and drive on this road, she thought.
“I’m going that way anyway,” he said. “I mean X-Men shouldn’t really be forced to walk in this heat.”
She paused. It was stupid. He was a perv, Maddie would say. She turned around. “I thought you didn’t know who I was?” She had to hold her hand over her face and squint one eye to see his face. He had a mini-truck and ate cheap tacos from a paper bag in a parking lot. Jessica thought about how much satisfaction Maddie would take in knowing she’d been right, about the perv part at least. She was always right. Carl would care less and would sheepishly retreat not knowing what to say. Eckhart though. She tried to imagine his response. What would he think of her taking a ride from “Petey”? Petey the pervy coffee guy. Eckhart with his lopsided horns and his little boy legs. Would Eckhart be shocked or sad or indifferent? Jessica realized she didn’t know. She turned around and pushed the hair out of her face, hair that was sticky and flat now.
“I’d love a ride,” she said. “I’d love one.”