JAKE AND THE DYNAMO
CHAPTER 25: WAKE UP CALL
Jake spun around. There in the corner next to the door sat a girl, curled up in a ball with her knees against her chest. She must have been hiding behind the door when he came in. She had her right arm pointed at him, her hand bunched into a fist. That hand was shaking.
With a loud clatter like tumbling kitchen utensils, several objects jumped out of her wrist: white knobs, spheres, and lozenges, all with long, gray tubes attached to them. The tubes pointed at him.
Tears ran down the girl’s face. She shuddered and ducked her head. “I’m … I’m r-really s-sorry—”
So dumbfounded was he that it took him several seconds to realize she had a dozen guns trained on him, enough time for her to shoot him several times over.
Once he did realize it, he broke out in a cold sweat, but it was still another second before he moved. He could bolt for the door, but she was right next to it. Or he could jump out the window, but he’d shred himself on the glass unless he took the time to throw it open, in which case she’d shoot him in the back.
He was about to leap toward the window anyway when something else made the decision for him. From the girl’s chest came a high, tinny voice: “Civilian noncombatant detected. Safety protocols enabled. Ranged weapons deactivating.”
With another cacophony of tinny clanking, the guns folded back into the girl’s arm. She shot to her feet and pounded a fist against her forearm. “No! No! Override safety! Override safety!”
If he’d been thinking clearly, he would have taken the chance to throw the window up and drop to the grass. Instead, he jumped her.
She shrieked as he grabbed her around the waist and lifted her off her feet. She was slender, yet heavier than she looked, apparently packing some solid muscle. But he still outweighed her by a lot. Unsure what to do, he threw her, and she landed hard on his bed, making the springs groan as she bounced.
He jumped her again and landed on top of her.
The strange circumstances had him confused. The moment she’d spoken from behind him, adrenaline had gushed into his veins. His heart thudded like mad, and his gasping breath poured in and out. His head felt clear, but he was taking too long to pick up important details—like her spiky pink hair and her bicycle helmet, or the white, molded armor over her chest that was now digging into his solar plexus.
For the second time, he was wrestling a magical girl. If she really intended to kill him, he’d be dead in a minute, and he’d go the hard way—she’d probably start by ripping his arms off.
Eyes wide, lips drained of color, and sweat streaming off her face, she lifted him up with one hand and grabbed his left arm just below the shoulder in a fierce, crushing grip. He gasped. She pulled—
Here it comes—
A voice from her chest said calmly, “Civilian noncombatant detected. Safety protocols enabled. Strength enhancements deactivating.”
“No!” the girl wailed.
He landed heavily, and one of her molded breasts hit him in the pit of his stomach, winding him.
She rained punches on his head and shoulders. Even without help from her power suit, she packed a wallop, but she wasn’t his match. He absorbed two slugs to the jaw and then, after catching her wrists, pinned her arms over her head. That gave him no leverage, so he ended up with his face in the bedsheets and her armor leaving bruises around his chest. She squirmed and bucked. After planting his right knee inside her left thigh, he tried to pin her right calf between his left arm and his side to keep her from kicking him. In the process, he realized he knew nothing at all about proper grappling.
Part of his mind, finally swimming through the fog of fear and surprise to reach clarity, pointed out that he’d just made several stupid decisions: the time to tackle her had been as soon as she’d raised the guns, before she could get a shot off. And once it was clear she couldn’t shoot, he tried for the door to call for Pretty Dynamo.
The clear thought evaporated as she continued to lash and reel under him. She panted hard and whimpered faintly as she tried to break his grip.
Dang, this actually feels kinda good—
“Let me go!” she gasped. “Please! Please, please, please! Oh, Princess, please—!”
He released her right wrist and clapped his hand over her mouth instead.
“You tried to kill me!” he hissed.
Her eyes widened further until he thought they’d leap from her skull. She hyperventilated into his palm, wetting it with her breath. Sweat poured from her forehead in a steady stream. Still she writhed, and it was all he could do to hold her down.
Holy Princess, this chick is totally freaking out.
With a bang, the door burst open, and the girl instantly froze.
In the doorway stood Dana in a baggy, frumpy set of blue flannel pajamas decorated with lightning bolts. Her ratty hair hovered around her face like a frizzy halo, and she still had Jake’s floppy Triceratops toy tucked under one arm. “Rrrr!” she snarled. “Why is it so loud in here? Can’t you do that disgusting stuff quietly—?”
She paused, mouth open, when her eyes took in the scene. The girl under Jake lay still, and her lithe body slumped down into the bed. She and Jake both stared at Dana, and Dana stared back. Jake felt the girl’s sweat-slicked stomach rise and fall beneath him, briefly sticking to his undershirt. She panted hard into his hand, but she had stopped panicking.
Somewhere in the distance, up the lonely street, a dog howled at the moon. Downstairs, a wall clock pounded out its steady, rhythmic clash with that peculiar loudness clocks have at night.
In the dark doorway, Dana was little more than a silhouette, a paper cutout in the window of a doll’s house. But a sliver of moonlight slipped from behind the blinds and highlighted her half-lidded eyes, which shone like two fires burning copper salts. Her jutting lower lip was blood red.
The silence, punctuated by the banging clock, the heavy breathing, and the agitated canine stretched on for an eternity. No one moved.
Oh, Dana, Jake thought, I know exactly what you’re—
“Figures,” Dana finally muttered. She turned around, closed the door, and left.
If she doesn’t get back in here as Pretty Dynamo, I’m gonna be pissed.
Distracted, he relaxed his grip. The girl scrambled out from under him and shot back into her corner beside the door, where she curled into the fetal position and hid her face behind her hands. Shuddering, she mumbled, “Oh, please, please don’t come any closer. Stay away, stay away. Don’t hurt me. Don’t touch me. Please, please, please. Oh, Princess, I don’t wanna get pregnant—”
Jake sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Who are you, and how did you get Sukeban Tsubasa’s power suit?”
She stopped mumbling. She lowered her hands to reveal her tear-stained face.
“I am Sukeban Tsubasa.”
“No you’re not! You don’t sound anything like her! And she’s got no reason to attack me in my room!”
Putting her hands on the wall to steady herself and keeping her back pressed into the corner, she climbed to her feet.
She closed her eyes and, in a soft, pink glow, floated into the air. The power suit evaporated, leaving her bare. Slowly, she rotated, and Jake’s jaw dropped. His heart redoubled its hard pounding, and in his throat formed a lump so big he was afraid he’d choke on it.
She had a superb figure, like a statuette, slim and finely sculpted with long, slender legs and a supple waist set with firm muscle. And he saw all of it. A strange, buzzing warmth spread from his head down to his feet.
Of course, he’d seen Dana without her clothes on, but that was different. That was Dana. This was the first time he’d seen this, and it was if all the deepest secrets of the universe were revealing themselves to him. He almost doubled over as some new, unidentifiable sensation struck him like a punch to the gut.
The vision lasted only a moment. She returned to the floor, and then she was in trousers, a button-up shirt, and a sweater vest. Her hair was black instead of pink.
He tilted his head. He blinked again.
She had the same face, yet it was different somehow. He knew her, but he didn’t know her. Her identity hung for a moment in a field of uncertainty, as if his mind was deliberately, insistently refusing to acknowledge who she was.
Something gave way in his brain, as if a tight muscle in his skull suddenly released. He rubbed his temples to get rid of the feeling, and a faint headache settled behind his eyeballs.
“Hold on,” he said. “You’re …”
She squeezed her eyes shut and, sniffling, nodded.
She nodded again. “The name’s Tsubasa Bando, but I’ve always gone to English-language schools. Someone started calling me T.B. in first grade. It stuck.”
“Wait a minute, aren’t you … hold on … you’re a girl?”
“What do you mean?” she hissed. “Of course I am! You found out—”
“Found out what?”
“That I’m a girl!”
“Yes! When you … when you …”
She slid back down the wall, curled into a ball again, and covered her face.
“When you ruined me for marriage!” she wailed, and then she burst into fresh tears.
He simply sat on the bed and stared at her, open-mouthed. After she’d bawled for a full minute with no sign of stopping, he said, “What are you talking about?”
“In the arcade!” she blubbered. “When you … you touched my … you grabbed my …”
Her face turned bright red. She shoved her nose between her knees and continued crying.
“Ah!” He slammed his fist into his palm. “That explains it! I thought your chest felt weird, but I was thinkin’, I dunno, maybe you used to do a lotta pushups but then let yourself go.”
Immediately, she stopped crying. She raised her head. “You didn’t know?”
“You didn’t know? Even when you had your hand all over my … my …”
Jake cleared his throat and rolled his shoulders. “Um, maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t really touch a lot of girls there, so—”
She lowered her head. “I came here for nothing,” she whispered. She clenched her fists and shook. “A day and a half of torment for nothing—”
“Yeah, well, the good news is, you don’t have to kill me, right?”
She glared. “But you know now, so I still have to kill you!”
“How about we make this our little secret instead?”
Her eyes narrowed. She trembled and swallowed hard. “You’d do that?”
“If it means you not killing me, I am perfectly happy keeping the secret that you’re a crossdressing sapphist.”
“I’m not a—!”
She slapped a hand over her mouth, closed her eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. Once she returned to her apparently fragile calm, she hissed, “It’s an act! All of it! The whole thing is an act!”
“Yes!” She rolled her eyes. “Cassandra and Megumi are in on it. They’re old friends I’ve known since kindergarten. Everywhere I go, they spread the rumors about what a hot guy I am, and then other girls join in so they don’t feel left out.”
“They don’t rent out their services, do they?”
“Never mind. Why in the world would you do this?”
Looking away from him, she fidgeted and mumbled something incoherent.
She mumbled again.
“Sorry, I still didn’t—”
She squeezed her eyes shut and curled the fingers of one trembling hand. “I said, I’m androphobic.”
“You’re afraid of spiders?”
Slapping her forehead, she hissed, “Men. I’m afraid of men!”
“So you dress like what you’re afraid of?”
“Is that a Batman thing?”
“What? No! I do it because I can keep boys away if I’ve got a crowd of girls around me all the time!”
Jake nodded and scratched his head. “So what do you do about P.E.?”
She shrugged. “Fake doctor’s note. It says I have a heart condition. The girls love that. Besides, it helps with the image. I mean, I can’t pose as a broad-shouldered linebacker, can I? So I play a sickly dandy they can nurse back to health instead.”
“Girls go for that?”
“You saw it yourself. Yeah, they go for it.” She laughed faintly. “I mean, Megumi-chan and Cass are just playing around, but still.”
He chewed the inside of his cheek. “Are you really Sukeban Tsubasa?”
“But all that talk on TV about your boyfriends, the smoking, the drinking—”
She dug her fingers into her hair. “It’s an act! All of it’s an act! I don’t do any of that stuff!” She wiped a wrist across her nose, and her eyes welled with tears again. “I’d like to. I’d love to hang out with boys. I’d love to be able to do this and that and maybe even the other thing with boys—”
“You’re way too young for the other thing.”
“—but I can’t!” She resumed bawling.
“You didn’t sound like Tsubasa earlier. Where was your persona?”
“I don’t have one!” she sobbed. “I don’t have a persona! I’m not even a real magical girl! It’s just a power suit, that’s all! Some aliens were buying a new one, so they handed me their old one cuz they could write it off their taxes if they gave it to a human.”
She wiped her wrist across her nose and sniffed hard. “Yeah, it’s a charitable donation. Y’know, since the forces of evil have us marked for destruction.”
“How do they prove they donated it?”
“I had to make ’em a receipt. Estimating its value in Rigelian Denarii was the pits.”
“But you have a little raccoon dog following you around—”
“That’s the instruction manual. He’s a self-aware robot. He’s not a familiar, and I don’t have a contract.”
“But still, your voice—”
“Oh, that. I can change my voice.” She stopped crying, and in an instant, Sukeban Tsubasa’s peculiar accent poured from her mouth: “Oh man, me an’ dem boys, we gonna do all kinds o’ bad stuff t’gedder. We gonna smoke an’ drink an’ swear—”
“And then there’s this.” She dropped her eyelids, parted her moist lips, and gave him a come-hither gaze that made his heart miss a beat. “My darling,” she said, her voice now low, oily, “come with me to the verdant hillsides, and tonight we shall gaze upon the stars and drink in one another’s love.”
His heart pounded like a taiko. She had attacked him in his room, which had sent him into metabolic overdrive, and then she had taken her clothes off in front of him and wept in front of him, and now she was acting seductive. It was all he could do to keep his hormone-ravaged teenage body from running across the room, seizing her, and throwing her onto the bed again.
Maybe she has a good reason to be afraid of me.
He dug his fingers into the bedclothes, gulped air, and took several deep breaths until he felt calmer.
Tsubasa looked calmer herself. Maybe playing her familiar roles kept her fear at bay. She straightened her legs out, sat against the wall, and folded her hands in her lap. She took a deep, shuddering breath.
Jake’s desires changed shape as his heartbeat slowed. He wanted to put his arms around her, pat her back, and let her cry on his shoulder. Of course, he knew that if he tried it, she’d flip out again. It really wasn’t fair, a girl crying in front of a guy who wasn’t allowed to hold her.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“A little,” she whispered. She gave him a small, soggy smile. “I think I’ve cried myself out.”
“You still scared of me?”
“Terrified.” She looked away. With one fine-boned hand, she toyed absently with a door hinge. “But I think I’ll be okay as long as you stay over there. “Twenty feet. That’s what I can usually handle, and I can get a little closer if I have something, or some girls, in between. It used to be worse.”
Jake cleared his throat. “You’re pretty good. The voice thing, I mean. I was in one play in middle school. It was a big production and the theater club had to do some recruiting to fill out the cast. Some of the guys in the club could do voices, but I think you’re better than any of them.”
She twisted her mouth and, looking glum, said, “Thanks.”
“You do theater?”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Have you tried—?”
“Too many boys.”
“Oh. Yeah. I guess so.” He cleared his throat again. “If you’re scared of me, why did you attack me? And how’d you find me?”
“Your girlfriend called you Jake Blatowski, and I figured you must live in Juban. You were easy to find after that.” She sniffled and rubbed a hand over her nose. “I know it was dumb, but I didn’t know what else to do, and I was so scared you’d tell everybody. I thought if I came here, at least I’d feel brave or something for trying it—”
She pulled up her knees again and rested her forehead on them. “I wasn’t thinking. Not clearly. I was just … I was just scared. That’s all.”
Several seconds passed. Even with the door closed, Jake could hear the clock downstairs rolling out its steady, mechanical beat.
“I’m so tired of being scared,” she whispered.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I guess there are some jerks out there, but still, most of the guys you know are probably okay—”
“I know that, Jake. Explaining it doesn’t help.”
“What exactly are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know. Getting raped, I guess. When you grabbed me a minute ago, I really thought … I thought, this is it, this is everything I’m afraid of, it’s actually happening—”
“You attacked me first. I thought you were gonna shoot me.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I wanted to feel brave, but it was just stupid. I wasn’t thinking.” She rubbed a hand across her hair. “I don’t think I could’ve gone through with it even if the suit had worked.” She peeked at him over her knees. “You gonna press charges?”
“Well, it’s assault, I think. Maybe attempted murder.” He coughed into his fist. “But you’re a magical girl, so I’d be the one to get in trouble.”
She dropped her forehead back to her knees. “I’m not a magical girl. I wish I was. I wish I had a persona like they have. Then maybe I could at least have some time when I wasn’t afraid.”
He laughed quietly. “I’ve talked to magical girls with personas, Tsubasa. I don’t think they like them, so maybe you’re lucky.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m just a fake. I pretend to be cool and brave, but I’m scared to death inside.”
“You still fight monsters.”
“Monsters don’t scare me like boys do.”
He set his hands in his lap. “I think you’re a real magical girl. Who says you have to have a persona, and who says your familiar can’t be an instruction manual? You’ve got powers, and you protect Urbanopolis. That’s what matters.”
She smiled weakly.
Sheesh, there must be something wrong with me, because all of this is really turning me on.
He coughed into his fist again. “You know, there are, um, ways to deal with this kind of thing—”
“I know. I have gotten better. A little bit. But, I don’t know, it’s so much easier to dress up as T.B. and play with the girls. It’s fun.” She stared glumly at the worn-out carpet. “We go to amusement parks and restaurants and movies. Sometimes I’ll take one on a date, but mostly we all go together and hang out.”
She released a long sigh. “I’d like to stop. Really. I’d like to wear a pretty dress and grow my hair out. And I know I’m not being fair to Cass or Megumi-chan. They’ve been pretending to be my girlfriends for such a long time, but I think it’d be nice if they could get boyfriends instead—I mean real boyfriends.”
Her cheeks turned pink, and she played awkwardly with the door hinge again. “And, um, I’d kinda like to have a boyfriend, too.”
A vision streamed across his mind. Jake could see himself with Tsubasa. Over many months, they’d steadily become more comfortable with each other, more fond of each other. He’d help her gradually overcome her phobia, and they’d grow closer, both physically and emotionally. In time, she’d be able to tolerate letting him stand within five feet of her, then two, then one. Then would come the day when, trembling like a leaf, she’d fall into his arms and he’d clasp her tightly, whispering sweet reassurances into her ear—
“I know you don’t owe me anything,” she whispered with a sniffle. “But, um, I need help. I need to practice getting closer to boys. But I don’t really know any boys—”
His heart skipped again. Oh my Princess, it’s happening. That stupid fantasy I just had is actually happening.
He could feel blood pulsing through his temples. He shifted uncomfortably on the bed.
“—and the truth is,” Tsubasa continued as she shyly lowered her eyes and flipped a lock of hair over one finger, “I am a little more comfortable with you than I am with most guys—
Jake thought his heart would burst out of his ribs. His mouth was suddenly bone dry. Princess in a sailor suit, it is really, actually, totally happening!
“—because, I mean,” she said, her voice slipping back into T.B.’s alluring huskiness, “it’s obvious that you’re … well, you know.”
She bunched her fists together. “And there’s a guy I really, really like!” Her lip trembled, and her voice wavered. “If I can’t get over this … if I can’t stop being afraid all the time … I wanna stop being afraid of boys, at least enough so I can tell him how I feel. Even if he doesn’t like me back, I just wanna tell him. That’s all.”
She lowered her hands back into her lap, and a few tears fell on them.
“I’m gonna be an old maid,” she mumbled. “I know that already. But I wanna be able to tell him anyway.”
Jake’s heart slowed, and his shoulders sagged.
It’s not happening.
“Do I know him?” he asked.
She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded.
Putting her fists against her cheeks, she pressed her forehead to her knees again. “It’s … Ralph.”
His name came out as a squeak.
Jake stared at her for half a minute. Again, the clock downstairs seemed impossibly loud.
“Oh, I don’t know.” She slapped a hand against the wall. “He’s nice, and he’s funny, and he’s cute, and … and he looks like maybe I could fight him off if I had to.”
Is that what girls want in a guy?
“Ralph might not look like much, Tsubasa, but he’s got a mean fastball, and he bench-presses more than I do. I don’t think you could fight him off without your power suit.”
“But you wouldn’t have to! He’s a great guy! He’s got a lot of sisters, so he knows how to treat girls. He’d be a perfect gentleman. And he really likes magical girls, too, so if he knew you were Sukeban Tsubasa, he’d probably be crazy about you.”
She shook her head. “He hates me.”
“He might not like T.B. very much, but he thinks T.B. is a guy.”
“What difference does that make?”
“A lot. Trust me. First off, he’s jealous. But second, he thinks T.B. is a weakling. Guys don’t like other guys who are weak, but they like their girls that way.”
Her eyebrows came together. “Why?”
“Dunno. It’s just how we are. Like, you said the girls want to nurse you back to health, right? Guys have something like that, too.”
“Are you like that?”
He’d just been fantasizing about helping her get over her phobia, so he apparently was.
And for the briefest moment, his mind turned to Dana—the way he always wanted to pick her up, clean her off, bandage her up, feed her—
He rapped his knuckles against his head. “Yeah, I guess I’m kinda like that.”
“Is Ralph like that?”
He shrugged. “Dunno. But he’s a guy, too, so he must be.”
Her voice became very quiet, and she interlaced her fingers. “Do you think he’d like me?”
He smiled at her. “I think, Tsubasa, if Ralph met the real you, he’d like you a lot.”
A cold tingle ran the length of his spine.
Am I speaking for Ralph … or myself?