“Geez, you look like hell,” I put out the cigarette I had been smoking on the nearby wall. The early morning sun was barely peeking through the alleyway, but its rays still managed to find the tangled mess of colorful rags and body armor. The man looked up at me, three distinct scars raked across his face. They’re old wounds, but no less shocking, much like his sadistic grin. I noticed he was sporting some fresh ones as well, a bruised eye, a few open cuts, and a welt the size of Ohio.
“Well, you of all people should know how it is, Joe. It’s going to be one of those days.” Happy Strife was his name, and the minute I unlocked the door to the bar he broke out in laughter. Tears welled up in his one blackened eye, but he didn’t seem to notice. I can only figure he had a late night run in with some costumed hero. I don’t ask. It ain’t none of my business, and it wouldn’t be the first time someone had gone a few bad rounds with a cape and been left with nowhere to go. So they come to me. They come to Friday’s.
When I switched on the lights to the bar the place went from pitch black to a comforting dingy. The old fluorescent lights hummed to life around me. One day I’m going to replace them with some of those new flashy LED’s, but for now they’re like me, past their prime but still kicking. The chairs were stacked on the tables, the floor was mopped, and the taps were all still washed from the previous night. So, I just stood there and took in my bar. It’s the only real private moment we ever get to share together, like an old married couple waking up in the morning, before the day begins.
I suppressed a groan as I walked to the bar top. My leg was bothering me bad so I leaned hard on the cane. Happy Strife followed me in, humming a nonsense tune as he found a table near the door. “First one’s on the house,” I said and I poured him a beer from the taps, but by the time I brought it over he was already passed out, head down on the table. “…one of those days,” I heard him mutter manically as I placed the drink next to him.
He was a mental patient who had an unhealthy obsession with knives, but I have to admit he was right about one thing. It was going to be one of those days. Same as it was every year.
I tried going about my normal routine, tapping a fresh keg, setting the glasses, and getting ready for the day, but I felt slow. I felt weighted down. So, when I couldn’t resist the urge anymore I finally reached into my breast pocket and found the old Polaroid. The smiling face that greeted me still makes my heart jump, even after all these years. A lively nest of red hair and two startling violet eyes stand out even through the stains and worn edges of the old photograph.
To My Guy Friday, XOXO, it read at the bottom. That was what she used to call me. God, I was so much younger back then, and so much… more.
Her name was Charlotte Magne, at least that was what they called her. I never knew if it was her real name or not and never thought to ask. She was a conqueror in every sense of the world, but also much… more. She was skilled in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and Two-Card Monty. She knew everything there was to know about tactics, philosophy, and old 1940’s black and white movies. She commanded armies of loyal warriors, but she hated sleeping with the covers on her. She wanted to rule the world, but when she was sad she liked brownies with chocolate ice cream. Word on the street always had it that she was some immortal or a Greek goddess or something, but I never paid much attention to that.
To me she wasn’t none of those things. She was just Charly, and I loved her. God knows why she ever gave me the time of day. We met during our stint together in the Atrocious Eight. It was the group’s fifth or sixth incarnation, I can never remember. I had been a member of the previous group, but she was new to the cause. Villain alliances never tend to last long and this one was no exception. Charly was not what you would call a “team player,” but our goals matched up for a time, so we all swallowed our pride and worked together.
We got off to a real rocky start, me and her. She even tried to kill me once or twice, but I still remember the first time I saw her. Her hair, those piercing eyes, and a uniform that hugged every curve, modest but intoxicating. She didn’t dress in those low cut numbers that other villainesses favored. No, she was real classy. Her elite guards batted me aside like I was nothing, but even if they hadn’t hit me, I still would have hit the floor at the sight of her. I had it bad.
The Eight used to meet in this old pizza parlor on Gorgon and 9th. It had belonged to The Pizza-Man, before he lost his mind and started committing pizza themed murders. He was dead by that time, so we figured he wouldn’t mind if we crashed there. It wasn’t exactly a luxury condo, but you couldn’t beat the food. So one night I stole a bottle of wine from a nearby liquor store and invited Charly up to the roof with the promise of pepperoni and pineapple. I knew it was her favorite. We spent the time drinking and talking about movies till the sun came up. That was when I met the real her.
To others she was tough and hard, but never with me, not after that night. She had fears and doubts and hopes, but she was also more alive than anyone I had ever met before. She saw the world with a clarity I could never match. I still don’t get why she loved me back. I was just some moron dressed like a day planner, but when she inevitably betrayed the Atrocious Eight, she didn’t betray me. We both watched from the back of her escaping speed boat as the rest of our group was hauled off by the cops, while we stood there safe, our hands entwined and her violet eyes staring up at me.
Yet, nothing lasts forever. There always comes a day when everything ends, and the downside of being a former calendar-themed super-villain is that I never forget an anniversary, even when sometimes I rather wish I had.
We had taken over the Asteria Observatory. Charly had a scheme to use this force field generator to make a dome over Titan City. She figured after that it would be a simple matter for her army to overwhelm the TCPD and take over the joint. We needed the lens from the observatory’s telescope to help focus the generator, and since the dome was also going to block out the sun she even arranged so that we committed the crime on a Sunday, because she knew it was important to me. Then, everything went sideways.
When it happened, our henchmen were busy securing the place and setting up the device. I saw the smoke before I saw the flames. The force field generator had malfunctioned somehow, and when I came rushing into the telescope room, I found Charly and her personal guards doing battle with Shining Templar. I’m still not sure how that medieval moron even found us. I did what I could to help, but Templar was always a bit out of my league. Then the generator exploded and my world just went black.
I woke up a few seconds later. I was outside the main room and the entire place was engulfed in flames. I had assumed the blast had knocked me backwards through the doorway, but when I looked up Shining Templar was standing over me. He had saved my life, but I couldn’t find Charly. I screamed something, I don’t remember what. It could have been her name or it could have been complete nonsense. I do know that I went charging back toward the heart of the inferno with some fool rescue plan in mind, or least I tried.
Templar stopped me, his massive gauntlet held me back like I was nothing, but I wasn’t about to be stopped. On instinct, I grabbed a sharp piece of debris and drove it into the soft part under his armor, something Charly had taught me. He yelled in pain and let go. I turned to run but then I screamed again, this time in pain. I looked down and my leg was bent in the wrong direction with his massive armored foot pressing down on it. My bones must have been near shattered, and before I passed out the last thing I remember seeing was a burnt body. It was clutching Charly’s favorite sword in its right hand.
Twenty-eight years to the day… I ran my thumb over the cheek of the photograph and felt the worn away groove, smooth beneath my calloused hand. I knew that if I tried hard enough I might be able to feel her warm cheek again. I might be able to picture her blush at the touch and smell her in my nostrils. To My Guy Friday. XOXO.
The door to the bar opened and I turned away from it. I wasn’t crying or anything, but I was never keen to have Georgia or Edward see me when I get like that.
“Excuse me, sir.” The voice made me stop. It didn’t belong to one of my employees or even one of my customers. It was like pineapple and wine and it made me freeze where I stood.
“Excuse me, are you Mr. Friday?”
Finally, I turned back, putting the picture in my pocket. Happy Strife was still passed out on his table and there was no one else in the bar but a small woman, wrapped in a modest cardigan jacket. A messenger bag was slung over her shoulder, sporting patches from music bands I had never heard of before. The girl had a piercing through her nose and several in each ear, and her hair was short, straight, and platinum blonde, not long, curly, or red at all. Her eyes were blue, not violet, but everything else was the same. Everything else made my heart jump, and I couldn’t speak.
She smiled almost like she recognized me, but it flattened as if she was unsure about something. “You are Mr. Friday, aren’t you?”
“Charly?” I said when I found my voice again.
She shook her head. It was a slight movement, confident but not brusque. It was familiar and very foreign all at once. “Helen. My name is Helen, Mr. Friday.”
“JJ,” I said, and the moment had passed. I was starting to remember where I was. Of course it wasn’t Charly. The girl was too young, maybe even as young as Charly had been when she… the night of the fire. “What do you want?”
She seemed hurt by my words. I hadn’t meant to sound harsh, but there it was. At least she shook it off well enough. “Charlotte Troy… ehh… Magne. She was my mother.”
“Your… No, sorry kid. I don’t buy that. She died. I saw it.”
“She told me once that leaving you was the hardest thing she ever had to do. After the fire she thought it would just be easier for everyone if they believed her dead. I think she just wanted a fresh start.”
“No. She died. I know she did.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Friday. She didn’t.”
“No,” I slammed my hand hard on the bar. It came away pounding, even Happy Strife muttered something before going back to sleep. “She died.”
The girl just stood there, as if not knowing what else to say, but her look said enough. This Helen, was not lying, at least not as far as I could tell. I wanted to rail against her, but something in her look took the wind from my gut. “I went to prison for her…”
“She knew that too, and she was always real sorry about it. It was probably the thing she regretted the most. It was never her plan to leave you in there. More than once she thought about getting you out, but I guess after a while there were other things to worry about.”
My hand was still throbbing, but it was more than the pain that made me regret my outburst. My world felt like it was spinning. “You? She had a baby… Wait, am I?”
“No,” said the girl. “You’re not my father. That’s not what this is about.”
“What is it about?”
“Making amends. My mother wanted to apologize.” She was twisting her hand on her shoulder bag. It was the same sort of nervous habit as Charly.
“Then she can damn well do it herself.” I started wiping down a nearby glass, even though it was still clean.
“She’s gone… About two months ago, now.” Here eyes followed me. They seemed as clear as her mother’s even if they were the wrong color.
“She’s been alive this whole time?”
“It ain’t your fault, kid. None of us get a choice of who we’re born to. My old man used to slap me around depending on what day of the week it was, and now it turns out your mother was just as no-good.”
“My mother was a great woman.” Now it was her turn to get mad. She spread her stance and dropped her arms, just like Charly used to do, like she was preparing for a fight.
“You’re mother was a super-villain. She wanted to take over the world and hurt plenty of people to do it.”
“I know what my mother was.”
“There are more ways to hurt people than with swords and explosives, kid. She was also a coward. She ran from her life when she couldn’t bear it anymore. She ran from her responsibilities, the people who depended on her, and the people who loved her. She thought it better to pretend to be dead than to face them, than to face me. I would call that being no-good.”
The girl, Helen, dropped her hands and clutched her bag again. The anger died, fading away like a rainstorm in the summer, just like her mother. “You’re right. I can’t defend those actions. She should have told you the truth.” She turned to leave. “I’m sorry. It was a mistake to come.”
“Wait.” I made my voice soft, maybe for the first time since the conversation began. “Was she happy?”
Helen was almost to the door, but she turned back around. “She was. She moved to Florida… Sun City. She changed her name and got a real estate license. She had a happy life, but I think she always felt as if she was missing something. Like she had unfinished business.” The girl let out a breath, composing herself. She reached into her bag and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I need to…”
“Don’t move, my tasty doll,” said Happy Strife with a cackle. He moved faster than I thought he could. Maybe I hadn’t really noticed. Maybe I had been too distracted, but suddenly he was behind her. The bells on his costume jingled as he grabbed Helen tighter, the knife in his hand cutting a clean red mark down her cheek. “Sweet sweet blood, like finger paint on my new little dolly.”
“Don’t you touch her.” I moved faster than I had in a long time, brandishing my cane like a weapon as I raced out from behind the bar. I was too slow.
The table shook hard and shuttered under the weight as Happy Strife slammed down into it. I couldn’t be sure if the cracking I heard was the wood or a few of the bones in the maniac’s nose. He laughed in surprise and pain as Helen stood over him, a cold steel look in her eye. One of Strife’s arms was twisted behind him, possibly broken. “The dolly has a kung-fu grip,” he spat out blood and a tooth as he spoke. I made a note that I would have to have Gill wash down the table.
The knife clattered away. He tried reaching for it with his non-broken hand, but again the girl was faster. Like a trained warrior she effortlessly scooped it up and plunged it hard into the laughing man’s hand. This time his mad chuckle seemed to have more pain than glee in it. The knife dug deep into the wood, pinning him to the table. “…one of those days,” he mumbled madly before passing out.
“You have your mother’s reflexes,” I said.
“How dare he touch me.” There was still blood on her cheek from where Strife had cut her.
“Let me see that,” I said as I turned her head toward me. We were closer than I meant to get and the girl just seemed to freeze under my touch. I took my thumb and gently wiped away the blood to get a better look, but the wound was small, smaller than it should have been. Even as I watched, the shallow cut finished healing, the skin coming together like new. There wasn’t even a scar.
“How did you…” I looked down at the blood on my thumb and froze. There was something else there too. I held it up close under the flickering florescent lights so I could examine it. It was a contact lens, a blue-colored contact lens. Then, it was my turn to freeze.
She looked at me like a someone might look at an approaching train. It wasn’t fear, just shock and maybe even a bit of embarrassment. All I really saw were her eyes, wide and watery. Her left was blue and her right was now a piercing violet, like the eyes I sometimes see in my dreams.
“Charly?” I barely spoke it, barely dared to let it be heard.
That single word was enough to break whatever spell had come over her. It was enough to bring her to herself. In one swift motion she pulled out of my grip and was gone. The front door swinging slowly open, the morning light engulfing her face as she backed out the bar.
“Wait,” I started after her, but I didn’t get two steps before my damn cane broke in half and I found myself on the floor. By the time I looked back up the light was gone. The door swung shut and I was alone.
There was a folded piece of paper nearby and I grabbed it before hauling my ass back to my feet. I opened it up carefully, like one might open a coffin. There was a picture inside, not a ratty old Polaroid but a proper glossy. It showed me and Charly on the beach. I remembered the day. We had gone to meet one of her agents, but we took a few hours to enjoy the sun and the sand. It had been one of those rare moments of normalcy for both of us. Then I turned to the paper itself.
To My Guy Friday,
I don’t even know if I can send this letter. I have sat down to write it so many times. What is there really left to say between us? Maybe, I love you. I never said that very often when I had the chance. Now that I’m gone it’s all I can think to say, but I know you, Friday. You want more, and right now you’re angry and confused, and you want to stay angry and confused. That will pass. It always did with you.
I’m not dead, obviously, but I am gone. There are things about me you will never know, things you never asked about. I was always grateful for that. More than your love I knew I had your respect and that meant something. I think you always wondered why I loved you in return, and I think because you always wondered was why I loved you. I want to say thank you. I felt something for you that I had not felt for anyone in a very long time, and maybe that’s why I had to leave.
Friday, don’t hold onto the anger. You love remembering anniversaries, but grant me one request. Don’t hold on to the day it all ended. I included a picture with this letter. It’s of that day we spent in Morocco. It was a perfect day, and if you need to hold onto an anniversary, hold onto that day. I do.
I turned the picture over in my hand. There was a date written on the back in pen with a circle around it. I could almost see her hand making the marks, writing the numbers with care.
The front door swung open and I looked up expectantly, but it wasn’t her.
“Lord in tarnation, JJ. What in the name of Hell’s boondocks happened here?” My table waitress motioned to the bleeding and unconscious Happy Strife.
I folded the letter up and tucked the new glossy and the old Polaroid inside of it. Then I gently put it all back in my breast pocket. I turned and hobbled toward the bar, leaving my broken cane where it lay. “You know how it is, Georgia. It’s just another day.”