Character sketch: The Debutante

It felt like yesterday despite being almost 15 years ago when Billie Jean Carusoe walked down the country club’s grand staircase — left standing just for this purpose — in a white satin gown with matching gloves. Head-to-toe in status symbols, from a great-grandmother’s add-a-pearl necklace to her very own diamond tennis bracelet, Billie Jean floated along with ten other girls her age, all competing to outdo each other with the perfect blend of Mommy and Daddy’s dream and teenage rebellion.

Thanks to the full white skirt, no one could see Wendy Jackson’s black lace thong, shoplifted not because she couldn’t afford it but because she couldn’t risk her mother finding the receipt. The white satin bodice hid the diamond stud in Trina Sawyer’s navel (though her mother didn’t mind that, as she had been the one to take her to Spencers for that little 16th birthday gift). Sniff close enough and you might detect the weed Loretta Debs had smoked the night before, if you didn’t suffocate from the smell of Ed Hardy perfume she had bathed in before slipping on her bespoke gown.

And as for Billie Jean? The white gloves hid her knuckles, bruised and swollen from the week’s boxing matches at Arturo’s. Her slight black eye had healed in time, and with an extra coat of makeup expertly applied by her sister, no one was the wiser as to what the tallest of Poppleton Fields Country Club’s debutantes did after school every day.

Now Billie Jean silently guarded an event filled with the same kind of tycoons, socialites and ladder-climbers who politely applauded her ability to be 17 and walk in a glorified Disney princess costume. Her gloves were no longer white satin, but indestructible teflon-coated fibers that firmed up when she made a fist so that every punch landed twice the blow. While the gown decayed in her mother’s closet, her cowled coat fluttered in the night air. But despite leaving that traditional Southern lifestyle behind, Billie Jean refused to forget the feeling of satisfaction she had when her parents beamed all summer after her debut.

Her enemies knew her by the beatings she delivered in dark alleys and on slum rooftops, but she prefered another monicker: The Debutante.

Advertisements

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 25: Travis Boccoli

Travis Boccoli — “spelled like Broccoli, but without the R and nutritional value” he taglined himself online — had finally bit the coffee bean and traveled up to Centropolis to visit his sister and her bougie husband. They had gotten married while he was down in Guatemala working on a coffee plantation, but the invitation never reached him. Something about living in a dirt-floor hut made you out of reach, even from ivory linen stationery embossed with real gold leaf. The night his whole family was dining on caviar and filet mignon in celebration of her matrimony, he ate the same corn tortillas and black beans as usual, feeling superior to the entire lot of them.

But once he had gotten back states-side, his family descended on him. His mother complained that he had lost too much weight; his father asked when he was going to get a real job. And his sister? 

“Travis, darling, I wish you had been there!” Cleo Meachum nee Boccoli had said over the phone. “We had a small chamber ensemble of the Centropolis Symphony Orchestra play a Radiohead song so it would feel a bit more like you were there.”

He smirked at the thought of something like “Creep” or “Something I Can Never Have” accompanying her nuptials, though he couldn’t trust Cleo to know what the lyrics were to those songs. She had always been a Top Forty flake. 

But when Cleo invited him to spend a couple weeks in her old apartment while the lease ran out, he decided it would be better than living at his parent’s house on the East Coast and packed up a couple flannel shirts, some jeans and his laptop. His blog, Brews with Boccoli, had just landed an ad deal from a couple micro-roasters, provided he keep his traffic up, and a trip to Centropolis would give him an in with the urban set. 

So the day Cleo had announced she was having a dinner party to introduce him to a few of her and Jack Meachum’s friends, he disappeared into what looked like a local coffee roaster to taste and review some of their offerings. He knew he was in for a critic’s feast when the first thing he heard was the whining voice of some folk singer with a name pronounced five different ways, and the second thing was “Cherry almond mocha blended latte with coconut milk for Alex.” 

These weren’t coffee people. These were donut-in-a-cup people. Just wait until he wrote up his treatise on the weakening of the American tastebud and used this overpriced joint as a framework. He walked up to the window and was immediately asked if he’d be interested in a taster of the barista’s newest concoction, a latte with almond milk, honey and cayenne pepper. 

He smiled at the cashier — friendly in her eyes, but devious in truth — and said “Sure, plus a small dark roast, small medium roast, and an espresso shot.” 

“Coffee blogger, huh?” she asked, unfazed. “We get one of you every weekend. I’ll just give you our flight so you don’t have to pretend to drink a full small size of each.” 

Travis’ smile turned genuine. The girl was cute. A treble clef tattoo curled behind her ear, and when she handed him his change he saw — no, was it really? — a Scrappy-Doo tattoo on her wrist.  

“Enjoy,” she said sarcastically. “I’ll bring it to you when it’s up.” 

Travis took a seat at one of the cramped tables, as far away as possible from a group of loud women comparing drinking stories from the night before. One one side of him was a woman watching something on her tablet while picking purple nail polish off her nails and letting the scraps fall to the floor like violet-colored dandruff. On the other side was a tall man who had propped his feet up on the chair across from him as he pretended to read his book. Travis knew the scheme well, having perfected it while eavesdropping on his parents’ arguments when he was a kid. 

He saw the cashier coming toward him with the flight of coffee on a tray, and he had less than a minute to decide whether to ask her to dinner that night. His sister wouldn’t mind one more — after all, she wasn’t doing the cooking or cleanup.  

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 20: Splendiferous

Lester Ranovich hated working the custodial dayshift — not based on the work, which was easier than nightshift cleaning, but because of the way the fancy people at the fancy 111 East building would either be over-friendly or pretend he didn’t exist. The latter was what he preferred, honestly. He knew that none of these designer suit-clad desk jockeys were remotely interested in how his weekend was or how he was doing.  

Sometimes he liked to play a game to see if they were paying attention. “How are you?” he’d ask. “Fine, you?” they would always fire back. Always replying to a question with the same question and hoping they’d get the same answer back, “Fine,” and then move on. But this was when he’d get tricky. His granddaughter had just gotten a dictionary for her birthday, and every night after dinner they’d pore over it looking for a word for the next day that they would each have to use in conversation. She was 10. He was nearing 63. Both took immense joy from the challenge.

Today’s word: “Splendiferous: extraordinarily or showily impressive.” 

So whenever anyone asked how he was doing, he would answer with “Splendiferous.” Depending on the word, he either came off as the harbinger of morbidity or just a crazy old loon.  

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 19: An artist known as Epsom

The sculpture garden had exactly seven lifesize clay statues, donated to the gala by a nephew of one of the board of directors. His name was Matthew Gimley Solomon IV — a curse of a name handed down from grandfather to father to son to grandson — but the underground art world knew him better as Epsom. It was a little science joke he had created when he learned his initials, MgSO4, were also the formula for magnesium sulfate, better known as epsom salts.

It wasn’t that his work for the Gladstone Gala sculpture garden was particularly good. All seven statues were of humanoid creatures — an angel, a demon, a little girl, a little boy, a sorcerer, an archer, and an oracle carved from stone and each possessing a single rusted-metal feature — and while they demonstrated his talent for sculpture, they didn’t showcase any of the creative spirit he put into his other work, which was too avant-garde for this crowd. The board wanted to show open-mindedness by spotlighting the work of a one-name artist but not alienate their more traditional — and generous — donors, so while they allowed Epsom to go by his art name, they asked that he refrain from his usual melting-wax statues of screaming refugee children or towering spires made of tarnished wristwatches with broken glass faces.  

Matthew Gimley Solomon IV had put up a fight for appearances sake before publicly acknowledging that in the spirit of hope and healing, he would be creating something “new and fresh for the gala that aligned with the foundation’s values and hope for a better world.” What he really did was go into the old storage unit he rented for unwanted work and taken a feather duster to a seven-piece collection he completed in his second year at art school. Some repairs should have been made to the metal embellishments, as a couple pieces had submitted to time and rust to loosen from their clay holds, but Epsom couldn’t be bothered. A bitter taste flooded his mouth as he remembered how the professor had given him a passing grade with a neon yellow post-it note that read “Great technique, but no heart.” On the upside, those five words had inspired him to make his work all heart, with very little technique. On the downside, that approach had gotten him kicked out of the school. 

Epsom had refused to attend the gala, insisting that he had another appearance priorly arranged. He was present for the installation of his seven clay-and-metal creatures but left under the cover of a hoodie and jogging pants before the guests had arrived. The only appearance he had to make that night was a date with a former Calvin Klein underwear model at his penthouse where there was always a bottle of Moet in the fridge and box of condoms in the nightstand drawer. 

So he had no idea that his mediocre art school project was about to become the focal point of a vigilante-villain showdown.  

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 15: Meet Constance Lin

There are many kinds of reporters, but none are more diametrically opposite than the Conference Room Reporter and the War Zone Reporter. Their stories can be just as critical to a functioning democratic society, but their tolerances are different.

A War Zone Reporter doesn’t flinch at the sound of an F-15 screaming overhead or run for cover when a bomb detonates three neighborhoods over, but will die of boredom sitting across a table from a source and his or her three lawyers. A Conference Room Reporter can weather the monotonous monsoon of picked-and-polished information that talking heads begrudgingly supply, but has no stomach for personal peril other than a potential cease and desist. 

That’s why the Federal Vigilante Agency’s press room — located on the third floor and shrouded from the city with wood panels meant to keep Nightfire’s presence a secret from the courtyard below — had broken into chaos. All of these local news crews and writers whose worst fears were a dying phone battery during an exclusive interview were facing certain death at the hands of a madman who had just made his presence known by splashing his logo in dripping neon green light along the wall behind Nightfire. 

At least, that was Constance Lin’s take on things from where she stood in the back of the room. Being six feet tall helped her see over the melee, but the extra four inches added by her high heels also meant a less stable base when the room is swarming with panicked people.  

The room flashed with light, an abrupt bolt that seared itself into everyone’s eyes as it vanished. Up on the wall, down on the floor, pasted to the back of heads, no matter where Constance looked, there it was: the sun-bright outline of a flaming, falling meteor that made up Flashbang’s calling card. 

Suddenly the heat of embarrassment — no, just awareness at being the outlier, as if that was anything new to her — of mentioning the fax she had received was gone out of her cheeks. Instead, her brain buzzed with the reminder that she needed to survive. She had come too far to be brought down by some asshole with a fancy light show. 

Constance Lin is a crucial supporting character in my NaNoWriMo project, Nobody’s Hero.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 9: The Hitman’s Son

Countless children’s stories told the tales of sons and daughters overcoming their parents’ sins. A robber’s son catches a thief. A killer’s daughter saves a life. Everyone learns to love the little hero or heroine, and the past holds no impact. That wasn’t the case for young Hamish.

At 10 Hamish and his mother learned of his father’s side-job as a hitman for the mob. At 10 and a half, he watched her leave on a crisp autumn day. The sun was so blinding that he could barely see the car pull out of the driveway, but the important thing was that he wasn’t in the passenger seat. His uncle said he looked too much like his father, and that was why she didn’t want to take him with her. He was like the ugly t-shirt no one buys at the airport gift shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma because it would remind them too much of having to spend time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And so Hamish stayed with his father for two years before the feds caught up to him, and then was transferred to his high school janitor uncle three hundred miles away. His mother still wouldn’t talk to him, or even see him.

The same went for his schoolmates when they learned of his dark past. Unlike all the heroes in the books who have two or three close allies, he had none. Eventually, he became accustomed to being alone. Then college came.

Hamish made the same move that most 18-year-olds make at the time they leave home for the unknown of university life. He reinvented himself, armed with a new suit purchased for him by his uncle and a stack of 1960s sci-fi fiction.

And that’s where his story begins.