"What're you watching?" Jason asks groggily as he emerges from the second bedroom. He's wearing baggy sweatpants and no shirt, and his hair is artfully touseled. His torso is covered in lean, ropy muscle. Apparently pilates and vegetarianism do exactly what he claims. He's been voted "favorite teacher" in the school of Arts and Scientists the last four years. He claims his numbers are especially high among the female students, both graduate and undergrad. I suddenly wonder if he takes advantage. I'm sure he doesn't.
He rubs the sleep from his eyes, and when they finally focus on me, his face tells me what I already know.
After three hours with the police, explaining again and again the unlikely course of events, I flew home. Too wound to sleep, I sat myself down on the couch, turned on the TV, and then proceeded to eat basically everything in the apartment which, including the leftovers from the party, turned out to be quite a lot. I did not shower. I did not even take off my uniform entirely. So, what Jason sees, right as this moment, is me sitting on the couch, suit unzipped and stripped to the waist, my bare gut rolled out under my ribs. My pale skin is illuminated faintly by the giant new TV. The shotgun blast bruises, which had covered most of my arm, chest, left side and upper thigh, have already faded to a pale greenish yellow. My face is still spattered with dried blood, and the sticky evidence of my night covers the suit. Small chunks of congealed of blood dot the microfiber couch all around me, mixed with pizza crust crumbs and bits of cookie. And, as I sit silhouetted in he pale morning light, I am surrounded by an enormous pile of pizza boxes, candy bar wrappers, the bags from three loaves of bread, and all manner of empty bottles and boxes.
I lift my head and force a smile. I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. "It's no worse than it looks."
He hesitates in the hallway for a moment, then sits in the chair beside the couch. "Fucking Jesus, man. You okay? Should I call someone?"
"Thanks. No. I'm fine. My body just needs to recharge." I turn back to the TV. " They've been playing it all morning."
"What?" Jason's eyes follow mine to the TV, where a cute little girl laughs maniacally as she shoves a huge couch into a woodchipper. Commercial for some rental company.
"The new armor is fly, bro." I say. " Totally saved my ass. Thanks."
Jason's mouth opens and then closes. I realize that, while he's been making my uniforms for over a decade, he's never seen them in use, or afterward, except on the news. Not that there have been many moments like this anyway. "Good," he finally manages to say. Then the morning news returns.
The story has been basically the same since the first early morning broadcast. A shot of the alley from a camera at one end, taken about an hour after the cops arrived. Tarps covering two bodies. Others being loaded into ambulances. Wet blood glistening sickly in the streetlights. In the background, Providence, talking to an older beat cop and a pair of detectives. The kids, those whose bodies are intact enough to identify, appear to range from their early to late teens. The kids are a surprising mix of black and latino -- important because gangs in this city are typically racially segregated. The kids appear to have been selling drugs. Two of the kids are dead, one by a shotgun blast from another kid, the other apparently by an energy blast from Providence. While four of the surviving kids sustained relatively minor wounds, either from gunshots or from Providence's super-powered fists, one is currently in critical care. The doctors give this kid a twenty percent chance of survival. The anchor keeps hammering the word "kid," as anchors before him have been doing for the past two hours. A police captain tells the press that, while a thorough investigation will begin immediately, preliminary findings are that, when attacked by several drug dealers with guns, Providence responded with appropriate force in justified self-defense.
Cut back to the anchor, a superimposed picture of Providence in a costume two generations old hanging over his shoulder. He looks in the camera and asks, "Are we safer for Providence's presence, or is the local superhero simply replacing one violence with another?" Then, another commercial.
Jason is silent through the whole thing.
I get up from the couch. An empty cereal box falls from my lap onto the floor. Wendell jumps out from the pile under which he's been sleeping, startled by the falling box. He races back toward the bedroom where Jennie is still sleeping off the drink and euphoria of the night before. I look down at my hands which, thanks to my gloves, are free from blood, and at my naked torso, green with fading bruises. There are granola crumbs in my belly button. I look at Jason again. He's doing his best to appear unmoved, but his lips are pressed into a thin line, and his face is three shades paler than it was when he entered the room.
"I'm going to take a shower," I say, "before Jen wakes up. Can you do me a huge favor and put that stuff in a trash bag? They're under the sink."
Jason looks at me and blinks. I head back to the bathroom, not waiting for a response. I strip out of my uniform and turn the water on, all the way hot. It sears my skin as I step under the streaming water and I let it. I scrub as hard as I can with a loofa, and I watch brownish-red water swirl down the drain. I try to remember anything from last night prior to the drug bust, but I can't think of anything except adoring faces beaming at Jennie. I stand there, face turned upward into the stream, my nerve endings screaming as the superheated water scalds my skin and my healing factor simultaneously strains to repair it.