For all we knew, the world was probably ending. Tensions between vampire gangs were at an all-time high, peace talks between world leaders and the newly-arrived extra-terrestrials had turned frosty and the anthropomorphic cats were now declaring war on anyone who had ever purchased repellent. If we weren’t living it, I can imagine how ridiculous that would sound. But that was all background noise right now. I was on my first date Melany.
Third cocktail, a Reggae Rum Punch this time. After downing something with whiskey and a Beachcomber Zombie with absinthe, we were both struggling to stay on our stools. The filters were wearing thin, but we didn’t care if anyone was listening, judging, envying. We talked about astrology, our favourite drinks, our exes, drugs, racism. I even told her about the time I threw up on a Leprechaun last Halloween.
‘You didn’t!’ Melany said, laughing behind her glass.
‘Yep. Not my proudest moment.’
There was nothing but honesty, no umm-ing or ah-ing – just two people who clicked. She was fascinating, unlike anyone I’d ever met before. Smart, beautiful, cultured – the perfect combination. To think I discovered her on an app when she was in the same city all along, on the same block, amazes me.
‘I travel a fair bit,’ she told me. ‘That’s probably why we’ve never crossed paths.’
‘Like, abroad?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, last year I went to Amsterdam, Budapest, Seoul.’
‘Wow, how do you afford it?’ I asked. She was a care worker – hardly the most luxurious of jobs in the world.
‘Embezzlement.’ She kept a straight face for about a second, then laughed. ‘No, I’m just good at saving up. If I can fly somewhere that’s not here, I’m there.’
We left the bar on our own terms and started walking back to her place. Still slightly tipsy, we took the longer, more scenic route through the local park. We weren’t in a rush. By this point, it was dark and the stars were visible. We lay down on the grass and she pointed to the constellation ahead of us. Somehow, I know I’ll remember this moment forever.
‘No, like, a pan you cook in. A frying pan. See.’ She scooted up to me and pointed again. ‘That’s the handle and that – yeah, that – that’s the pan.’
‘Oh, right. Yeah, that would make more sense. I suppose an actual pan probably pre-dates anything to do Peter Pan.’
‘Yeah, I think so too.’ She rested her head on my chest and lay there. Shooting stars – possibly UFOs in today’s climate – whizzed by, making for quite the romantic view.
When we got back to her place, there was no frenzied undressing or a dash to the nearest bed. Instead, she offered me tea and I accepted. We continued talking for about an hour when I noticed a keyboard in the corner of the living room.
‘I brought it last year, wanted to teach myself how to play, but I never got round to it,’ she said. ‘Hence why it looks more like of a table than a keyboard.’
I went over to it, moved her books to the floor and turned it on. She sat beside me, enthusiastically watching me stumble across the keys, until a song came to mind. Whatever it was, it felt happy, but at the same time, it was sad. Just before the final verse, I caught her eyes drift from the keys to me. I could swear I didn’t even finish the song before we kissed, but the way I remember it, the song continued to play as we did.
* * *
With a second date on the cards, I spent the entire weekend grinning like a fool. I don’t think a date had ever gone as well as that one and I couldn’t hide my excitement from anyone who knew me. However, on the day of our planned second date, less than an hour before we were due to meet, I received a text:
I’m really sorry to do this, but something has come up and I need to be there. Can we rearrange for next week? Xx
Dressed up and ready to go, I slumped down in my chair. Disappointed, but always understanding, I replied:
No worries, hope everything’s OK. When are you next free? Xx
I waited three days for a response. Assuming it must have been serious, I didn’t take it personally. She had been a notoriously slow replier before to our first date, but now, after three days of waiting, I couldn’t help but feel a little concerned. Remembering I could do far more than text with my mobile phone, I decided to call her. And to my surprise, she answered immediately.
‘Hey, Luke. I am so, so sorry I haven’t gotten back to you yet.’
She sounded sincere. ‘Oh, yeah, don’t worry about it.’ Playing it cool. ‘What’s been going on?’
‘Utter chaos,’ she said, with a disgruntled laugh. ‘Hey, look, can I get back to you when I’ve got a spare ten minutes? It’s just –’ She groaned to herself.
‘Thanks, brill. Will speak to you soon.’
She put the phone down. And that was the last I heard from her for another three days. After being probed about our date by every friend I had, the more I told people, the more I was starting to doubt I’d see her again.
‘Yeah, it went so well. But, I haven’t seen her since.’
Just about everyone I told gave me a certain look. A look that said, ‘Sorry, mate. Better luck next time.’ Determined to prove them wrong, I text her again.
Hey, hope you’re alright. Thought I’d have heard back from you by now. My friend, Alfie, has two tickets for a live music thing this Saturday. It’s a first come, first serve kind of thing, but let me know if you’d be interested. Xx
Radio silence. Once again.
What could possibly be taking her so long? Surely, you can’t go this long without checking your phone. We’re millennials for goodness sake, all we do is stare at the damn things. My mind was racing. Did she really enjoy the date as much as she said? Had she met someone else?
This was getting ridiculous. On the Friday, I went over to her house, trying to hide my frustration. Remembering how she had lambasted society’s reliance of technology, I thought maybe she would appreciate a face-to-face. I took a deep breath and I rang the doorbell. After a minute, still no reply. Pretty standard at this point. However, I was sure that I’d heard movement from inside, so I went around the back, where I found the kitchen window left wide open.
I heard a door slam shut somewhere and rushed back round to the front of the house, just quick enough to see a van speed off up the road. I caught the briefest glimpse of the driver and passenger, but neither of them Melany. Must’ve been the neighbours.
I returned around the back and found myself pushing down on the door handle – it opened. I knocked and called out, ‘Melany?’ Nothing. I stepped inside.
From behind I heard a whoosh! Before I could turn, a blur of black and yellow streaked through the backdoor, knocking me to the ground. I was flipped onto my back and came face-to-face with the Bumblebee, our neighbourhood superhero, fist in mid-air.
‘Luke?’ She lowered her fist and pulled me to my feet. Flipping her hair out of her face, she pulled off the eye mask. Stood before in the iconic black protective armour, yellow boots and cape, was Melany.
‘What the hell are you doing in my house?’ she snapped.
‘I thought I heard someone inside. The backdoor was unlocked, I just… You’re the Bumblebee?’
She sat me down in the living room with a cup of tea while she dressed into her usual attire.
‘Sorry, I kind of broke in,’ I said, as she sat down opposite. ‘It’s just… I felt like you were ignoring me. Our date went so well and then, it was radio silence.’
She smiled regretfully and moved over to the sofa I was on. ‘It’s so hard to juggle all of this. It’s not that I haven’t thought about you – I’ve hated myself for leaving you on hold like that – it’s just… this has to come first. I save people and I stop bad guys, pretty much every other day. This last week alone, I’ve stopped a vampire killing spree, prevented a gang of cats from blowing up a dogs’ home and that whole alien thing… they were planning on sterilising humanity, so… I threw them back into space. It’s been exhausting.’
‘I… guess I understand.’
‘Honestly, I get so many calls and messages every day and I just don’t have the energy to reply. Please don’t take it personally, I’m not someone who plays those kinds of games with people’
I nodded. Wanting to move on from the downbeat tone of the conversation, I asked ‘What powers do you have?’
‘I can fly.’
‘Of course. Explains the all the travelling, I guess.’ She nodded.
‘Except for when it comes to texting back.’
She laughed, somewhat ashamed. ‘Yes, except for when it comes to texting. I will forever be sorry about that.’
‘No, I feel you’re justified.’
‘And on top of that, I’ve got super-strength – I can totally pick you up, and X-ray vision.’
I subconsciously moved my hand over my crotch. ‘X-ray vision?’
She laughed. ‘Don’t worry, you’re pretty well-endowed?’
I felt the smirk grow across my face, until I thought about it for a moment. ‘Pretty well-endowed?’
She ignored the question and stood up, looking around. ‘You said you heard someone in here when you arrived, right?’
‘Yeah, but I think it was probably from your neighbour’s house. I dunno, I saw two people get into a van and drive off.’
‘Shit.’ She ran into the kitchen and opened the cupboard under the sink, suddenly dropping to her knees. Inside was a sphere with a ticking countdown. ‘It’s a bomb.’
I rushed in, pulled her away from it. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘It’s coated in a radioactive substance. It weakens my powers.’
‘What can I do?’ I asked. ‘Can you see any wires with your X-ray vision?’
She shook her head. ‘No, I can’t use my powers at all right now. I knew I felt weaker when I came in.’
‘Let’s just get out of here, then,’ I said, pulling her to her feet.
‘No, you don’t understand,’ she said, ‘that thing can take out an entire block.’
‘Shit. Is the substance toxic to me? Maybe I can do something.’
She shook her head again. ‘No, just to me.’
I sprung into action, wrapping my arms around it. I tried to pull it out of the cupboard, but it was bolted to the ground.
There was a minute left on the countdown.
‘Seriously? You’re going to do this?’ I asked, looking up to the ceiling. I wasn’t entirely sure where to look, how to address him.
‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,’ she said.
‘Is it possible that I have a superpower, as well?’ I wondered aloud.
‘I got my powers in an accident when I was in my teens, so it’s unlikely. I’ve never met anyone else like me.’
‘Surely, that’s my character arc though?’
‘Your character arc?’
‘Yeah, I discover I have a power, save the day and we fight crime together. Is that it, writer? Is that your masterplan?’ I closed my eyes, limbered up.
‘Writer?’ asked Melany. ‘You mean –?’
‘Yeah. God of the machine. The guy typing all of this.’
‘Me?’ boomed a voice from above.
I snapped my fingers and pointed. ‘Yes, you.’
‘Are you aloud to acknowledge him?’ said Melany. ‘I thought there were rules about that.’
‘The way I see it, the world’s probably gonna end anyway, so why not?’ I looked up, assuming he’d be up there somewhere, looking down on us. ‘What’s the plan then, mister writer person? Give me a brief synopsis. How are we stopping this?’
‘You know, she’s right. You can’t just break the fourth wall and ask me to deus-ex-machina your way out of this. Quite frankly, I’m a better writer than that.’
‘Well, either you write us a way out of this or we die. And I’m guessing you didn’t write this to just to kill us off, right?’ He remained silent. ‘Right?’
‘Really? Are you that much of a sadist that you’d write perfectly readable story, just to kill us off? What’s the purpose of that?’
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, you’re giving me ear ache. As if I’m having an argument with a character. A character! I dunno, pour flour on the bomb. It will magically neutralise the substance or something, allowing the Bumblebee to regain her strength and kick that shit into space, ultimately saving the day. Happy now?’
‘Yes, thank you.’
I found the nearest bag of flour and threw it onto the bomb’s shell. With 20 seconds on the countdown, Melany could stand again. With what seemed to be little effort, she tore the bomb out of the cupboard and took it into the garden. With no time for a run-up, she swung her leg, delivering a kick so hard, the bomb whistled into the atmosphere where it exploded, lighting up the neighbourhood like an almighty firework.
‘You’re amazing,’ I said. The undressed superhero smiled back.
* * *
The following day, I received a text message from Melany. After the whole bomb drama, she flew off in search of the villains responsible, promising to get back to me once she did. I opened the message:
Hey there, Luke. I wanted to thank you again for helping me (i.e. saving a lot of lives) yesterday, I don’t think I could have done it without you. I think you’re a great guy and honestly our date one of the best nights I’ve had in a very long time. However, I think you need someone who’s more available for the kind of commitment you’re looking for and right now, I just can’t be that person. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to see you again, but now you know the truth about me and you’ve seen how dangerous my life can be. Bad people got to me yesterday because I made a mistake and it nearly got us both killed. I’m sorry.
I sighed, letting the phone slip from my hand.
“You’re a great guy”: the standard opener to the friendliest version of “you’re dumped.” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that and I’m sure it wouldn’t be last. I lay there in bed, too exhausted to know how to reply. Perhaps, with the right words, I could convince her otherwise. Surely it wasn’t impossible…
‘How about it, writer? Is that the ending we’re going for? I know you’re probably pissed about the deus ex machina thing, but… you can’t have it end like this?’
He sighed. ‘If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that happy endings don’t exist in real life. My art imitates life. To be precise, my life. No matter how owed you might feel, the universe is cruel.’
‘First of all, I don’t see how this, in any way, imitates your life. And why is your art more important than your protagonist’s happiness? If you can’t be happy, I can’t be happy – is that how this works?’ He was silent. ‘Well, I guess that’s it then. What even is the point of this story? Or is that the point?
‘I suppose that’s your point, isn’t it? Narcissistically talented, probably writing this with a smug look on your face, thinking you’re the shit. For fuck’s sake, write a happy ending for once in your life.’ I calmed myself down. ‘Please?’
He simply replied: ‘I write what I know.’