Marina crumpled to her knees at the top of the staircase leading to the 18th Century Spanish Cathedral where her parents first kissed. She didn’t need to glance behind her to know that the domed roof had caved in and fire was melting the faces of the saints into insane globs of liquid glass.
A silver claw grabbed the Corinthian pillar to her right. Hero-Man came zooming above the torn-up sidewalk, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with an overturned car as he rappelled over to Marina’s side. He stood beside her, breathing raggedly, big auburn eyes gazing into hers behind the golden falcon mask.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” Marina said softly.
Hero-Man smiled, wiped sweat from his chin, and stepped closer to her. “Yeah, pretty amazing, right? I defeated that monster in less than 30 seconds.” He smiled and waved at a cameraman approaching the decimated avenue where Marina had learned to ride a bike.
“We were going to go to the museum. Light lunch on the gardens, some people watching…”
Hero-Man snorted. “Yeah, how boring would that have been? Good thing this emergency came up instead so I could show you my moves. Much better afternoon, huh?”
Marina traced the burn marks on the hem of her nicest semiformal dress. A glance up at Hero-Man revealed he was moving to put an arm around her. She darted out of his reach. “You need a shower, dude,” she said, starting down the steps.
“Good idea. Shower, then a late lunch. Hard Rock Cafe sound good?”
Three fire trucks pulled up and began spraying the flames licking around smashed cars and on tiled Spanish roofs. Marina kicked off her one remaining high-heeled shoe and hurried down the street, headed for her parents’ house a few streets down. Behind her, she could hear Hero-Man’s voice echoing against the decimated buildings: “Oh, okay, so you don’t wanna do a late lunch? How about early dinner, then? Early dinner sounds better to me. Hard Rock Cafe? 5 pm?”
Marina walked faster as the blood coursed to her head, making her jaw tighten such that she feared her dental implant might pop out of her mouth. Just because she was the prettiest brunette in southern California did not mean she had to put up with superhero boyfriends.
She sighed when a silvery claw grasped the street sign on the corner, and waited for the buff guy in the red tights to land in front of her. “What? What more do you have to do to me before you move on to the next helpless damsel in distress?”
Hero-Man set his jaw, lips trembling. “I defeated a monster to save your life. Then I offered to take you to a restaurant. On me. What more do you want?”
Marina forced herself to look in his eyes. Idiot though he was, he deserved the truth. “That was no monster.”
Hero-Man coughed up a scorched Twix bar. “What? That walking ball of slime and feathers with giant Edward-Scissorhandsian claws and nine googly eyes wasn’t a monster? Next you’ll tell me that thing was your father.”
“My brother,” Marina corrected him. She stood tall, letting the last remains of her mangled denim jacket fall to the ground. “He was born different, okay? That doesn’t make him a monster. He’s excellent on the tuba, he can formulate complex equations and he’s the best Go Fish player I know. Every time he tries to go for a walk, one of those stupid heroes has to try and stop him from, oh, I don’t know, breaking a mirror or violating Sesame Street’s copyright to Big Bird in some warped fashion? I thought you were different. You told me you were different. I guess that should have been a warning sign right there.” Marina flicked the silver claw off the street sign pole so the string blocking her path retracted, then she went on her way.
“I can’t believe someone that looks like you could be related to that thing,” Hero-Man chuckled incredulously. Behind her, Marina could hear a police car pulling up, some authoritative voices asking Hero-Man some questions. She kept on going.
“Yes, I damaged some property, but it was all in the name of public safety,” Hero-Man announced on the television news on that night. “I saw a threat, I made a judgement, I had to react, right?”
“Monster,” Marina whispered at the hunk on the screen. She took a sip of lemonade and patted her brother Gil’s feathery shoulder. “Go fish, bro.”
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