“Josh…,” Mary sighed at her costumed savior. The would-be mugger fled out of the dim alley but the caped crusader did not follow him. Mary followed her usual shortcut home behind the strip mall she worked at. The sun disappeared below the horizon while the thug, a well-known school bully, waved a knife at her; only a dark purple sky remained. The hero made it clear to the hoodlum that he was being watched from now on before he let him escape. “You showed me this exact outfit in our freshman year,” she tugged at the pearl-white cape for effect. His coffee-brown eyes softened.
“You.. you remember that?” he asked with every ounce of his normal insecurity. His softer, warmer voice replaced the deep gravel he threatened the bully with. Mary nodded.
“Yeah, it’s a cool design,” she touched the logo on his chest: a generic yin-yang symbol centered on a black and white bodysuit. The symbol’s white side stood out against the black half of the suit on his left. The black side was surrounded by a plain white bodysuit. “Where’ve you been? Everyone thought you moved.” Josh gave a curt, shallow laugh.
“Ha. You mean they noticed?” Mary gave a half shrug with her right shoulder and a half-smirk.
‘I noticed,” she said. It was the only honest thing she could say. Josh had always been an outsider; though, it was mostly his own fault. He often kept himself isolated for all of elementary and junior high; Mary knew him since kindergarten. During their freshman year, she realized that Josh was simply socially awkward. He did not know how to open up and talk to someone that wasn’t already talking to him. She took it upon herself to talk to him more and more. “So… you can fly now?” she asked. He floated down from the rooftops once the robber showed his blade; his white cape billowed in the gentle breeze caused by his descent.
“Yeah,” he grinned. “And I heal fast and I’m strong,” he said; he straightened his back as he listed his powers. “Like, really strong. I can lift that dumpster,” he pointed at a rusty, once-green garbage bin. It was a cube that stood taller than Mary’s 5’3″ frame. It overflowed with flies and rotting food.
“Gross, don’t touch it,” Mary said. “How’d you get powers?” she asked to distract him from showing off.
“I was born with them,” he shrugged. “But I didn’t know I had them until my uncle gave me a tattoo.”
“Uncle Mundo?” she asked. Mary did not know too much about Josh’s family, but she knew one of his uncles ran a tattoo shop downtown. He nodded.
“For my 18th birthday my parents let me in on a family secret,” he smiled at her with wide eyes. “School just wasn’t important anymore.”
“You could’ve told me, you know. I called you…,” she shook her head. “…no answer. I went to your house. No one answered and when I looked through the window it was empty like you moved.” Josh shrugged.
“Sorry. I’m living with my uncle now. Once I knew the secret my parents wanted to go traveling. Hey, wanna meet him?” he asked. Without waiting for her to answer he scooped up the short girl and floated into the dark sky. She closed her eyes when she realized what was happening but opened them again once he leveled off. The city looked like a toy town far below them.
“So how does it work? Did he tattoo magic wings on your or something?” She pressed her forehead against the side of his head to ask him directly in his ear. The rush of the wind made normal conversation difficult. Josh shook his head as they began to descend. Their city was not very large and Mary’s work was near downtown, to begin with. He only needed to fly over a couple of blocks.
They landed in front of a narrow, bright storefront. A wooden sign over the top named the place “Mundo’s Ink”. The shop was no wider than maybe 8 feet across, but it looked deep. Looking through the heavy glass door the deep interior reminded Mary of a train car. Josh pulled the door open and it caused several heavy cowbells to ring as they walked in. A lean, tall stick of a man stood from one of the seats and leaned against the glass display case of body jewelry.
“Hey, Joshy. Who’s your friend?” he asked and gave Mary a big smile. Josh removed his cape and wadded it up rather than folding it.
“Mary from school,” he said. His smile grew proud. “I flew down and saved her from some trouble.” Mundo burst out into deep laughter that seemed odd coming out of his wispy frame.
“This girl needs a tattoo,” he said. Mundo walked to a nearby tattoo chair and patted the seat. Mary jumped at the chance for a free tattoo. She’d been considering one for a while but her finances weren’t in a place where she had that kind of extra money yet. Her parents were fine with it as long as she paid for it herself. Between her car payments and saving up for college, an indulgence like a tattoo needed to be put off.
“I think it’s great you’re giving her a tattoo.. but why?” Josh asked. “I saved her. Why is she getting a tattoo?” Mary was the only person at school that took the time to get to know Josh. She understood that statements like that were sincere questions, he wasn’t trying to be petty. Mundo laughed as he prepared his equipment.
“Because if she has a tattoo she won’t need you to save her next time,” he said.
“Huh?” Mary asked. Her mind quickly filled with the possibility that he was going to give her powers too. But she did not know how to ask the question delicately.
“No way!” Josh said. He stared at her with wide, awed eyes. Almost as if this was his first time truly noticing her. Mundo nodded then looked at Mary.
“#35 is your favorite number. I’m going to put that on you with a star. Sounds good, right?” he asked as a formality, but he seemed to have already decided. Mary just nodded. She couldn’t believe how perfect that sounded to her.