New Rourke Unmasked
...But What We Got Were Interesting Times
Portents and Pancakes | Super in the City | Truths We Tell, Secrets We Keep
It’s funny what can change in the matter of a few weeks. In general, we make allowances for shifting situations, but on occasion the unforeseen does happen. The aftermath usually devolves into a mad struggle for equilibrium or, at the very least, understanding. While we may make plans, and plan on contingencies, a true test of character is how we cope with surprise.
* * *
”Crapshoot‽ You’re dating Crapshoot‽”
”Pease don’t call him that. It’s rude.”
Akiva was sitting on an ottoman in Elisabeth’s apartment living room watching her hem a dress on a mannequin. The room was fairly cramped with shelves dominating the walls; full of scrap fabric tubs, bolts of cloth, books, along with other odds and ends organized in the complex inventory system only discernable by the most industrious of pack rats. Akiva remembered her mother having a room very much like this, the only room in the house that wasn’t permeated in the smell of her father’s cigarette smoke, it felt comfortable and safe.
”Okay, sorry.” Elisabeth said with a wry smirk, sliding another pin from her lips into the fabric. “You’re fucking dating Gabriel goddamn Docket‽ What the shit?”
Akiva assumed a passive-aggressive defense posture. “What’s wrong with him?”
”Well,” Elisabeth paused for some quick calculation, “nothing really. Actually, I can’t really blame you. He does have a whole Captain Tightpants thing going on with some scruffy nerf herder flair.”
”I always thought the two characters were meant to be analogous.”
”Trust me, there is a difference. But come on. Gabriel?”
”I happen think Harrison Ford has aged quite well.”
”Stop changing the subject.” Elisabeth snapped over her shoulder. “Seriously, are you going to eat that whole thing?”
Akiva had brought over a large Hawaiian pizza with the intention of girltalk. She understood the precept usually involved some manner of comfort food but had grown out of the habit. Over the decades, her memory had become somewhat fuzzy on the details. In the last fifty minutes, between casual catchupery and banter, Elizabeth had eaten one slice and a few bites of a second with a diet soda, while the much smaller Akiva had almost finished consuming half of the whole pie by itself. Akiva put down the slice she was in the process of inhaling, wiped her mouth and hands with a napkin, then coughed demurely.
Elisabeth watched this with an incredulous expression then returned to her work. “I know you’re hungry, but how can you pack it away so well? I’d blow up like a grapefruit.”
”It goes hand in hand with my not aging. I’ve always had this body.”
”God, I hate you so much.” Elisabeth imagined herself a prison warden and the dress her sole charge. Her steely gaze and deft hand made certain the dress knew that if it didn’t smarten up and behave; the full force of her displaced casual jealous would come crashing down. There would be a reckoning!
”Actually, I don’t usually eat. I don’t need to sleep either. But on occasion I have cravings.”
”Don’t I know it.” Elisabeth nodded. “Once a month, I go bonkers for anything that even tastes like orange.”
”I can’t tell you how glad I am that stopped when I got my powers.”
Elisabeth, mouth agape, spun around to face Akiva. “You can’t be serious.”
Elisabeth let out an exasperated sigh and returned to her work. “There is no justice in the world.” she said then continued in a quiet mocking voice. “I’m Akiva. I get to be cute forever. I don’t have to eat. I’m not in debt. I’m so totally together. I don’t menst—“ Elisabeth turned around faster this time, eyes wide. “How the hell are you pregnant‽”
Akiva paused, pizza half-way to her mouth. “I told you, it was an accident.”
Elisabeth narrowed her eyes. “You know, you are a lot more evasive when you’re sober. Also, BULLSHIT!”
Akiva put down the slice. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
”It means, I’ve been on this side of the Accident Talk before. I know what the Accident Talk is like.” Elisabeth stood up and paced the length of the little room. “You come in here with your pizza, and your ‘Hey, what are you doing tonight’, and your ‘Oh, yeah, I’m spawning. No biggie.’ attitude. This isn’t an Accident Talk. This is—this is—this is—this is an I’ve-done-something-and-I-need-you-to-be-okay-with-it talk.”
Akiva stood up and grabbed her coat. “I don’t have to take this.”
Elisabeth threw her arms wide. ”Hey, you came to me, honey.”
”Then, that was my mistake.”
”Probably not the first.”
Akiva stomped to the front door, her small feet making indignant, yet barely noticeable, impressions on the carpet. However, before she opened the door, she stopped and leaned her head against the wood. “Beth?” she said quietly.
”Can you keep a secret?”
”Yeah.” Elisabeth answered with slightly less bravado.
Akiva turned around to lean on the door. She wiped away the tears that were beginning to form with a sniff. “I mean a really…really big one.”
Elisabeth walked over and embraced her friend, then she sat Akiva back down on the ottoman and handed her a box of tissues. “Tell me.”
”I’ve,” Akiva started but diverted her eyes to the tissue box and pondered how many it would take to soak up a deluge of loss and regret, “tried to have a child before. I was even married once.”
”It only lasted four years. He grew up, I stayed the same.”
”Did you see a doctor or—“
”No, you don’t get it.” Akiva looked up at Elisabeth’s questioning concerned face. Akiva had spent a lifetime as a professional writer but still struggled to find the words for something she had never been able to explain to herself. “I’ve tired. Nothing worked. I don’t change, Beth. I don’t age. I don’t get sick. You can’t pierce my skin, can’t trim my hair, nothing.”
”So, what’s different now?”
”Gabriel. It’s because of him.”
”I don’t understand.”
”His ability. The luck, or whatever it is. As long as he isn’t trying for probability to work in his favor it does. That...fluke of the universe is the only thing that has managed to overcome this stasis that my body is under.”
"Then that's great." Elisabeth said brightening up. "So, what's the problem?"
Akiva lowered her head again.
"You've told him, right?"
Akiva shook her head.
"He doesn't know? Go tell him."
Akiva bit her lower lip and looked at Elisabeth sideways. It took a moment, but Elisabeth finally caught on.
"He doesn't know because you weren't going to tell him." Elisabeth just barely managed to hide her revulsion at the though. "You planned this? Did you even know him before you asked me for dating advice?"
"I knew of him."
"Jesus, Akiva!" Elisabeth stood up. She started to pace again, glancing around the room but couldn't find anything to focus. She understood the societal pressures to have children all too well, but manipulation like this was taking things too far. "You used him! My god, you turned his power against him."
”I had to do something.”
”This is wrong! You have to know that.”
"You don't know what it's like!" Akiva pleaded.
"Fine. Tell me what it's like."
"I'm not normal!" Akiva shouted, tears rolling down her cheeks. She wanted to continue but, her voice caught in her throat.
Elisabeth rubbed her forehead. "None of us are normal, Akiva. You're old enough to know that by now."
"Yes. I am." Akiva gritted her teeth. "I know that more than anyone. I know that I will know it for a lot longer than anyone else. And I know how different I am. I get to watch others grow up, have lives, have families...And I get to watch all of this while I stay the same. Alone. Everyone I know grows old and dies while I watch. The world changes and leaves me behind. You have no idea how crazy that that makes me. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if there was someone like me I could at least bare it."
Elisabeth stopped and sat on the floor across from Akiva. Both of them were silent, listening to the seconds tick by in an unending march. The universe mercilessly advanced towards entropy. If there was a final accounting for each person's life by what criteria could it judge the actions of a desperate heart trying to tend a wound that wouldn't heal?
It was Elisabeth who finally broke the stalemate. "Look, I'm your friend. I plan on being so for a very long time. I'm not going to sit here and debate your reasons. And I'll keep my mouth shut about them, but there is one thing you have to do for me."
"You have to tell him."
* * *
"Crap." Gabriel said. "Complete fucking crap."
"You don't really think that do you?" Akiva replied.
"I'm totally serious." he said, waving a hand to signal the end of the discussion. "Worst movie I've ever seen."
The evening air was cool as they walked down the street from the movie theater to the parking garage. Rounding a corner, they saw a woman who had laid out a small blanket and was doing tarot readings for passersby. Gabriel recognized her immediately.
"Shit, that's her. The crazy chick I told you about."
”The one who told you we’d meet?”
Gabriel grumbled. “Would have been nice if that note had been more clear.”
Akiva peered at Summer. "She looks harmless."
"She's a kook. She tried selling me this line about big important whatnots and crap changing for me."
Akiva, while still dreading the conversation that had been running through her mind all day, decided a little more delay couldn't hurt. "I'm not a big important whatnot?"
"So, she got one little detail right." Gabriel teased.
"Who are you calling little?" Akiva said, playfully slapping him on the shoulder. "You should go say hi."
They walked over to the blanket and waited until Summer finished a reading she was currently doing.
"Still trying to con folks?" Gabriel asked, once her customer had left.
Summer didn't turn to face him. She just sat gathering up her cards. "We can't all have money and places to sleep fall in our laps, Gabriel. Besides, I knew you'd come crawling back at some point."
"Ha." Gabriel said for lack of a better reply.
"The universe isn't done with you yet, Gabriel. Just you wait. My predictions are never wrong."
"I'll say." Akiva said.
"Who's that?" Summer started to say, but as she turned her face in Akiva's direction, Summer's eyes went wide, and her words turned into a scream of terror and pain. She fell over backwards. Shaking, she crawled over to the wall of the building and used it as a guide as she tried to get away, hyperventilating.
"The hell was that?" Gabriel said.
Akiva's face had gone white from shock and couldn't bring herself to look at Gabriel. "You should help her."
"She's your friend."
"I wouldn't call her that."
"Just, please. You can't leave her in that state, she'll get hurt. I'll see you back at your place later."
Akiva turned and waked away, robbing Gabriel of a chance to respond. He gathered up the blanket, cards, and things then shoved them into Summer’s duffel bag. Once he’d caught up with her, he grabbed her arm. She instinctively recoiled.
“Don’t touch me!” she yelled, slapping him away with her free hand.
“Will you stop! It’s me, Gabriel.”
Summer pressed her face and hands to the wall, rubbing her forehead against the brick. With some effort and whimpers she managed to get her breathing under control. "I need a drink." Summer muttered.
"Booze. All the booze."
* * *
Despite his reservations to going there, Candlebrook Tavern’s Door Two was the closest location to get alcohol. There were four patrons in the bar that night playing poker; Gabriel recognized one but the rest were strangers. Regardless, he had no intention of socializing on the off chance that one of them might suddenly feel the urge to take him on an “adventure”. Rick, behind the bar doing inventory, turned around when he heard the door open.
”Hey, jackass! You can’t just bring random people in here!” Rick shouted. He didn’t much care for Gabriel.
”Fuck you, asshole.” Gabriel replied. The feeling was mutual. “She’s blind. She’s not going to reveal anyone’s secret identity. She just needs something to calm her nerves.”
Actually, Summer found that she could vaguely perceive the floor, ceiling, walls, and shapes of the furniture in the bar as accumulated magical energy from the dimensional barrier seeped through. The door had almost been a neon sign to her. She’d seen another a few days earlier, but she hadn’t been able to determine what it was beyond a collection of stable forces ripping reality a new one. She decided to keep this to herself as she was still trying to remember how many toes she currently had.
Gabriel led her over to a bar stool and plopped her down then leaned her forward so that she’d stop tipping sideways.
”What’ll it be?” Rick asked.
Summer whispered to Gabriel, “Who’s that?”
”That’s Rick. He’s the bartender.”
While processing this new information a series of expressions wafted across her face until what seemed to be the correct course of action occurred to her. “…Is he cute?”
Rick was a shapeshifter. He had the ability to assume the guise of anyone whom he had ever met. Somehow during the course of his life, he’d met someone who looked like Tom Waits with shoulder-length dreadlocks. The reasons why Rick would choose to appear thus were something Gabriel would have rather not thought about.
”Ask me again, later.” Gabriel said. “Just order.”
Summer swiveled her head in what she assumed was the right direction and said, “I’ll have a triple bourbon and a toke.”
Rick peered at her suspiciously before getting a glass. “You’ll start with a single, and then we’ll see from there.”
After her second drink, Summer didn’t need the straw anymore and could hold the glass to her mouth with two hands. Gabriel, most of the way through a stout beer, yet still rather annoyed, propped his chin on one hand. “Okay, spill.” he said.
”You ever stare at the sun for a while then look away when your eyes start to hurt?”
”Yeah.” Gabriel shrugged.
”Try looking into the big-as-life sun, five feet from your face, while on a metric butt-load of LSD. You might start to get the idea.”
Rick raised an eyebrow. “What happened to her?”
“She was hustling—”
”Fortune telling!” Summer blurted.
”On the street a few blocks over. Summer took one look at Akiva and flipped her lid.”
Rick glared at Gabriel. “You told me she was blind.”
”She is. But she claims she can see magical energies.”
”But Akiva’s not magic. She just fiddles with time.”
”TIME‽” Summer shouted. She stood up wobbly; Gabriel grabbed her shoulder and forced her to sit back down. “Time! That’s…grah!”
”Okay,” Gabriel snarled, “just what the hell is wrong with you?”
”Do you…She’s a…You have no idea do you?”
”Barkeep!” Summer said, dramatically pointing a finger at Rick’s left elbow. “I need two pint glasses, two short glasses, a shot glass, and access to the beer tap.”
Rick gave Gabriel an incredulous look. Gabriel nodded to say that he would pay if anything broke. Summer was led around behind the bar and given the glasses. She began filling them by placing a finger inside the rim to measure then laid them out on the bar in front of Gabriel; a full pint glass, a half-filled pint glass, full short glass, half-full short glass, and the shot glass received a drop of beer.
”This,” she said, pointing at the glasses in succession, “is the god of beer. This is a demi-god. An elemental of inebriation. A super-person with power over booze. And finally your average drunk. Which one of these best fulfills the concept of beer?”
”The god.” Gabriel said. “The full pint.”
”Wrong!” Summer exclaimed, having triumphantly executed a slippery metaphor.
”Please stop shouting.” Rick said.
Summer placed her hand on the beer tap. “It’s the source. The fountain from which all beer flows.”
”What are you getting at?”
”You’re friend, Akiva, isn’t a superhero with time powers. I don’t know how it happened, but she is the embodiment of time itself.”
”Really?” Gabriel said, doubtfully. “How could you know that?”
Summer leaned over the bar. “Because, I’ve seen one of the primal forces before.” She pointed at her eyes. “It did this to me. That’s not something you forget.”
Rick frowned. “Akiva didn’t get her powers till she was nineteen. Is it possible for that to happen to a normal person?”
”Anything is possible.” Summer answered. “And it’s not without precedent.”
”You mean, Merlin.”
”What, the wizard?” Gabriel asked growing confused.
”Some legends say that Merlin aged backwards through time.”
Gabriel slapped his hands on the bar and stood up. “This is fucking stupid. Summer. You’re crazy. Stay here if you want. I’m going to go have sex with my girlfriend.”
Rick grabbed Gabriel by the collar and nearly hauled him all the way over the bar. Rick’s grip was surprisingly strong. His voice grew deeper, heavier, along with a shift in his accent and diction. “Listen to me, you insufferable ignoramus. Akiva Shen has no knowledge of this. If it were true, and she were to discover her true nature, she would have the ability to unmake existence! No thinking being should be allowed access to that much power. She is your responsibility now. Do you understand me? Do. Not. Tell. Her.”
* * *
Gabriel walked into upscale apartment he was “house sitting” much closer to midnight than he would have liked. He’d had a few more drinks than he should have but walking Summer to a hotel, and himself back home, had given him time to clear his head. Akiva was at the breakfast table off the kitchen staring at her laptop. He poured himself a glass of water and sat down across from her.
”Whatcha working on?” he asked.
Akiva frowned then closed the lid of the laptop. “Just trying to put some thoughts in order.”
Gabriel gave her an empathetic grunt while taking a drink.
”How is your friend?”
On his way home, Gabriel had been contemplating various ways to broach the topic of how he liked Akiva yet had grown a little afraid of her and was quite hoping she wouldn’t take that the wrong way. He had come up with a few ideas, some better than others, but right now he couldn’t remember any of them. As usual in these sorts of situations, when Gabriel didn’t have a strong hand, he relied on diversion.
”You look like a librarian.” he said. That probably hadn’t been the best start.
”Thanks.” Akiva said, looking at him cock-eyed. “I’ll try to take that as a complement.”
”You should. Librarians are usually either beat with the ugly stick or damn sexy.”
Akiva narrowed her eyes. “I’m going to try harder to take that as a compliment.”
Gabriel leaned back in his chair and went, “Pffft.”
”Is something the matter?”
”No.” Gabriel winced and rubbed his head. “Just a rough night. How about you?”
Akiva liked to think that she was a sensible woman, and she knew for a fact that given enough time, any problem eventually became a simply hurtle. All that was needed was to take the first step. She also knew that no amount of time was going to make what she had to say any easier. Whenever she was confronted with what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, experience had taught her that coming at it from a different angle granted better opportunities. Sometimes moving forwards meant moving sideways.
”There is something I need to tell you. I understand that you may not like it. Taking into account our relationship, I believe you should be informed out of courtesy.” She stopped and replayed what she had just said in her head. She hadn’t thought she could have made the situation worse.
Gabriel waited expectantly, trying to cover a mounting anxiety over the numerous situations running through his mind.
Akiva’s spine went rigid. She stared ahead like a deer caught in headlights. ”I’m pregnant.”
Gabriel felt every muscle in his body come to a halt. Once he was sure that his heart was beating again, he very slowly took a drink of water. He opened his mouth to speak, but after a few seconds of hanging open, his breath ran, out turning into a very poignant, “Huh.”
”I remember, quite clearly--because I was paying close attention, you telling me that couldn’t happen.”
Akiva shrugged slightly. “I was pretty sure it couldn’t.”
Gabriel slammed his palm on the table causing Akiva to jump slightly. “Damnit, Summer was right. My luck must have overcome your time whatever.”
Akiva turned her head away, surprised that he had put it together so quickly. “Something like that.”
”Had to happen eventually.”
Akiva’s head snapped back. “It did?”
”Did you think this luck curse would have allowed me to have a kid if I couldn’t handle it? If I didn’t eventually want a kid, it probably would have made me infertile.”
Akiva paused. “No. Actually I hadn’t thought of that.”
”At least you’re a good choice. With our ridiculous power set, a kid couldn’t run into any big trouble.”
”This is not how expected you to take the news.”
Gabriel gave Akiva an incredulous smirk. “You’ve only known me for about a month.”
”Yes, sorry.” Akiva frowned again. “I must have misread you.”
”So…” Gabriel started.
”Do I need to—“
”You can stop right there. I may be in my eighties, but I’m not so old fashioned that I do not recognize marriage is an entirely different topic.”
”It’s just that—”
”No.” Akiva said, a slight anger beginning to flush her cheeks. “I do not require you to marry me. I have done perfectly fine by myself. I can damn well care for a child alone!”
”Whoa!” Gabriel said, putting his hands up. “Where did that come from?”
Akiva scrunched up her eyes and took a breath. “I am sorry. That was…something else.”
”Can I say something?”
”I know, we are two very different people. You got ideas about who I am, just like I got…ideas about you. I might look like I don’t care about stuff from time to time, but I don’t run from my responsibilities. And hey, I like you. You’re the one of the only super-nuts in this city who hasn’t tried to take advantage of me.”
Akiva lowered her eyes again.
“Irregardless, there’s a kid now.” Gabriel continued. “Its parents might not be together, but I don’t want to be away.”
In spite of his use of “irregardless”, Akiva found a meager smile floating up from the pit of her stomach. “So,” she said, “that’s all there is to say?”