A continuation of Today I am Wretch...
“She came out of NO WHERE!”
I did. I really did. I might be getting too good at this.
“I saw, lad,” Jacob was wiping peroxide across Conley’s shoulder blades. Conley’s super speed applied slightly to his healing, but the Queen of Diamonds had gotten him pretty good this time. As if she’d been in a mood for him being an ass lately or something. Huh.
“You saw? You were out there? That’s really dangerous, dude.”
Jacob paused and looked at me across the room. I was at the stove making a generous stack of chicken quesadillas to fill up ‘Sir Steam’ after his loss, as if that would make up for my causing it. I shrugged my shoulders back at Jacob’s unspoken question.
“Conley… it’s on Reddit already. An’ it’s not good.”
Mattis, our only friend left still strong enough to spot Conley at the gym, cracked his knuckles as if to challenge the keyboard warriors himself, “You’re going to have to get back in the public eye pretty quick before this takes off.”
“It’s already taken off.”
They all looked up at me then, and I did my best to stare back at them calmly before steadily adding another tortilla to my pan.
“What do you- tssss OW, Jacob! What do you mean?”
I turned back around to answer Conley, and it really was hard to see him in pain. I was upset, but really hadn’t meant for him to go down that hard. Even from across the room I could see the bruises still blooming across his cheek and down one arm.
We’d gotten into it in the middle of the street. Like a couple of losers.
That’s why I’d been so mad. Here’d I’d been, working my ass off for how long? to create this sophisticated arch nemesis for him, this slow burn of a woman to come out of the woodwork- not some cheapskate Mole Man, but a Queen! Late nights designing, plotting, scheming, webbing into the networking of more established villains to portray someone worthy of the hero he was destined to be and he-
He’d been too godsdamned busy at a D level celebrity party to take the bait to stop a small yes small but still fire at my uncle’s apartment complex. MY UNCLE. Had I set it? No of course not. One of my contemporary’s had done that, without my previous knowledge. Said contemporary is now out of the game for… the foreseeable future.
Conley had been informed about the fire. He could have gotten there in time. He’s SUPER HUMAN FAST. And due to my uncle’s status in the art world, there would have been lights, cameras, fan fare. He could have made a moving speech to the press about how this one “meant something more” because of his dear friend’s family (which also would have you know, been nice to have me and my uncle fawning in the background looking innocent and all). But do you know what he said? You know what got reported back to me by another contemporary (because of course there were villains at a D list celebrity party, who do you think the host was?)
“It’s just a little flame. That’s what the fire department is for. Can I have another spritzer?”
CAN YOU HAVE ANOTHER SPRITZER? I’LL GIVE YOU A SPRITZ.
And that’s why, when after I’d moved my uncle to my own home until the fire department cleared his complex for good measure, and was walking back to check on his crazy ass cat lady neighbor because he begged me to, I saw Conley walking tipsily on the street with some entourage behind him, and couldn’t help myself. Here, this whole time, my goal had been to create such an entourage for him, to encourage a fan club just like that one. And he was soaking up their two-bit worship instead of doing. his damn. job.
The irony was not lost on me. And my new barbed-laced gloves were not lost on his face.
The face which looked quite gloomy even as I placed a large stack of quesadillas before him.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, retreating back to the stove, “it’s already on YouTube. And there are some TikTok dances about it.”
“…dances?” He muffled between cheesy mouthfuls.
“Yeah,” Mattis pulled up the app, “Like, apparently some kids got video from a window. And some people thought the Queen’s lasers made cool sounds… so they like, set it to music.”
Conley flipped through some of the videos, cursing occasionally and taking angrier and angrier bites out of his food.
“They’re taking her side!”
Jacob began cleaning up all the astringent stinking paper towels, and I stood to help him, just now realizing how much work he’d had to do on our friend. Staring at his shoulders as I followed him to the bathroom, that guilt felt even heavier. I hadn’t factored it in when I was beating all of my resentment out on Conley.
I grabbed Jacob tightly by the wrist as we washed our hands to get the remnants of blood and hydrogen peroxide off. I didn’t know whether there wasn’t enough air in the room, or if I just couldn’t force it down my throat.
Sweet Jacob didn’t hesitate, in a swift movement he pulled the door closed, and me tightly into his chest. My body shook, as if it was trying to literally shake off the entire day. From worrying about my uncle, to the fury with Conley. Then, (can I face it?) enjoying the fight for the first time, only to see the ripple it’s had on Mattis and Jacob… I- good gods. I wanted my mom. My knees began to lose any strength to hold me up. I was going to fall, and then barf, and then maybe never get up again.
Thankfully, Jacob’s arms were still holding me upright, and that was another thing to feel terrible about. This was all because of me, yet here he was being so kind and caring.
He of course misread my concern, “I know you’re scared for ‘im, hun. We’re all worried. But he’s strong, this is jus-a blip. It’ll be alright.”
I pulled back enough to look at him, and staring up into his sandstone eyes, I wanted to just tell him everything. Simply blurt: Actually, I’m only a little worried about Conley. I’m really worried about my sanity. ‘Cause I’m the bad guy, and I’m getting too good at it. And I’m so so sorry you’re covered in our friend’s blood and Mattis is having to strategize again and it’s all my fault!
But I couldn’t say that. Not only for how terrible cliche’ it would be, and Uncle had preached against cliche’ as long as I can remember, but because I’d chosen this burden. I was a big girl who decided to be the Queen of Diamonds, and I would have to keep my big girl pants on through this too.
Not just that, but I’d already caused my friends so much trouble today; asking Jacob to bear this with me would just be causing more.
So instead, I said what I could:
“Thank you. I don’t know what he’d do if you weren’t always here to sew him back together.”
He squeezed me tightly and kissed my forehead. I felt his smile as he whispered into my hair, “If we, weren’t here.”
Retch (verb): 1. Make the sound and movement of vomiting. 2. Vomit
(noun): A movement or sound of vomiting.
What does it mean, to be really good at doing the wrong thing? Is it still called a Gift at that point? I wonder.
The Queen of Diamonds is easily one of my favorite characters to work with, but also a hard one! She has so much to think about, and so many warring intentions. I think working with her challenges me as a writer, which is both good for me and scary.
Because the other thing about her is that her story isn’t really… hers? It’s also Conley’s. And now Mattis’s, and Jacob’s, and also her Uncle’s*, and her sister’s, and she knows that. It’s something we all have to remember sometimes. Yes, our actions are our own, but the ripple effect, hits every chapter of the loved ones around us. The Queen of Hearts is just hitting them with lasers!
So happy reading, and happy rippling, lovely readers!
Anyone figured out who her Uncle is yet?! I’ll send a special treat to the first person to guess right. Send your guesses to me via the Connect page 🙂