Author's note: This was fun to write. Every time I sit down to write these words I contemplate what I want to say, and then just sort of let it work itself out from there. For this section I was planning on doing one very specific thing. And at this, I have utterly failed. But I failed because the failure was necessary, or, more accurately, I wouldn't have succeeded anyway without explaining what is explained herein. As I write this story I can't help but feel that it's quickly growing into something unrecognizable, but exciting. I'm finally starting to really know these characters, and it's going to be interesting to see if I can get it all down on (virtual) paper before they move on from my head to greener pastures.
There is something immensely satisfying about my physiology. Years ago, I wasn’t really all that impressive to look at, and I knew it. When I walked I practiced looking at my shoes and pretending I was somewhere else, and I almost never smiled. There was nothing wrong, exactly, with my smile, except that I didn’t like it and didn’t think anyone else would, either. I learned my shoes really well in those days. And when someone smiled at me—someone like, say, Carl—I had a tendency to feel a bit like a mouse scuttling before a particularly happy cat. It was one of the reasons for the tasp, initially. Then, of course, the tasp did its thing, and suddenly my meek little smile was full of long, sharp teeth. I had to learn to do little half smiles, where the corners of my mouth went up but that was pretty much it. Full-on smiles made people uncomfortable, and occasionally excuse themselves so they could stand anywhere that wasn’t near the thing that looked like it was going to bite their throat out. I remember thinking that, were I a more aggressive person, that smile would be the perfect tool to cultivate. I dismissed it at the time. I was more worried about skipping school and making sure my parents didn’t find out. I walked neighborhoods that I normally wouldn’t have done, and found that people left me alone purely because of how I looked. Oh, they’d sometimes shoot me angry or haughty glances, but always from a safe distance. And that was when I truly realized the power that I had given myself. If I did nothing but act like my old meek self, people generally left me alone, even were deferential towards me—not a polite kind of deferential, but nonetheless an effective one that meant if I could endure abuse I could have pretty much whatever I wanted. And that was if I acted meek and submissive. But if I were to act strong…
I fired a full-on smile at Carl.
“What do you want?”
If I could have smiled any bigger, I would have. A small part of me had been hoping to avoid any confrontation by bluffing my way through it, what my societal upbringing had accidentally instilled in the old me to an alarming degree. But a not-so-small part of me wanted to punch him in the face. If my little smile had cowed him, I would have been obligated to let him go. It wouldn’t have been any fun.
“I think you should let Casey go,” I said.
“Yeah? You think that?” He took a step—not towards Casey, but towards me.
I was wrong. I could smile bigger.
“No need,” I said, with my voice pitched low so only he could hear us, “to get excited.” There, my social obligations were fulfilled. If little big man Carl advanced anymore it would be like click “I agree” whenever you install a program. And I knew that Carl, like most people, would not read the fine print because he thought he had it all figured out already, and it was just a formality. Look at me. I put it to you: would you attack me, a six-nine walking sentient carnivore who’s smiling like this at you?
Sometimes the fine print isn’t really all that fine. But people don’t read it anyhow.
At this point, nobody had noticed the brewing confrontation. The place was packed, and I suppose he always looked angry, and I always looked scary, and, well, what a perfect pair of friends we made in the flash impressions of dozens of people in those few seconds: I with my arm around Corey’s shoulder, smiling and looking goddamn good and probably more than a little fabulous in my tight fishnet, invisible beneath my fur but sculpting it into reptilian shapes by density; Carl, approaching at a deceptive leisurely pace, pale shoulders thrown back; and Corey looking droopily at Carl, leaning into my arm. That part felt the best. As he came at me, hands balling into fists, I felt my grin stretch just a little bit wider: he was right-handed, and Corey was on my left.
“Bitch, I think you and me should step outside.”
“He wasn’t talking to you, Corey. And Carl, I didn’t know you thought of me that way.”
“Let go of her, ya fucking user.”
“If I’d known that, I would have worn my special clothes.”
“Motherfucker, I ain’t playing. Now I’m taking her home, and that’s how it’s gonna happen. You dig?” He stopped, his face within a foot of mine. His eyes never left mine. Like an alpha wolf challenging an alpha from another pack. In that moment I gained what some people would call respect for Carl. I call it anticipation. He could no longer claim to be ignorant of how the violence started, or what would come to pass. He had eliminated my last societal restraint. With that move he had effectively agreed to the terms and conditions. Good man.
“Oh I dig.” I winked. “How far you wanna get dug?”
He didn’t blink.
“And how hard?”
“You and I should step outside.”
“Come on, boys, le’s not do this, mkay?”
And that’s when I realized why Carl was going to play it smart. He honestly thought he would beat me, and he didn’t want to get in trouble for it. I had become a problem that needed to be dealt with quietly, like that unsavory bite of too-tough chicken that you endure until you think no one’s watching you spit it into your napkin. And, well, I didn’t really feel like quiet at that moment.
With a precision that honestly startled even me, I closed the ten inches between his face and mine, curled my lips back, and snapped my jaws together on either side of his nose. There was a slight tug as he jerked away, and I had just a moment to reflect on how strange that was; my meat was never moving on its own. It was not painful, but weird, the way being ticklish is weird, but not nearly that pleasant. “The fuck!” He shouted. And—oh, bless all that is holy—he looked straight at me. Not around, to see who else saw. Right. At. Me.
I couldn’t contain myself. I giggled.
He came at me silently, but like a thrown rock, right hand balled and raised, then propelled forward. And—
A small nudge in the shoulder blade, and Corey’s center of gravity caromed forward, directly into the path of Carl’s fist. She didn’t have time to say anything before it cracked her in the side of the jaw and sent her tumbling into the crowd. Here by the door it was more sedate, and even though no one had really noticed our little dominance display, there was no way anyone could deny that this was happening. I spun to put myself between Carl and Corey, stood her up and made sure she was OK. I turned her chin to look. She just stared straight ahead, didn’t say anything.
“Are you all right?” I said loudly.
Her eyes snapped to mine. “Yes. I’m fine.” Then: “I’m fine!” She pulled herself to her feet and stared at Carl, then back at me. And then, remarkably, back to Carl. “What. The. Fuck,” she said.
I gave it a second or two. I wanted Carl to stew for a moment in the attention of several strangers who just saw him punch a drunk girl in the face. When I turned, his expression was caught somewhere between rage and horror. After a moment it settled on the former, and I was once again the target.
All the right moves, Carl.
I gave him my biggest, best smile: Let’s see what you’re made of. And I launched myself at him.