So this is an ongoing comedy web serial I began writing in September. Instead of continuing to publish it on posts, I’ve decided to move the whole story to a page where you can read it in its entirety without having to switch to different posts. I’ll add a new bite-sized chapter every Saturday.
If you don’t want to know anything about it, skip down to the Chapter 1 heading and read on, dear friend, otherwise, here is a brief synopsis and some other information.
One Day Dex Could Fly is a short story about a young, rather uptight law associate named Dex who inexplicably wakes up one morning with wings. He gets his loyal and loving yet sarcastic best friend, Sawyer, involved, and things go crazy from there. You can expect a character-driven comedy about a very normal guy thrust into very strange circumstances, and his unconventional best friend who’s not a side character but an equal protagonist in her own right. The story does take a drastic turn several chapters in, and it gets a little darker, but it’s still a comedy at heart. There is no cursing, no sex, no violence. The story unfolds in first person, with each chapter switching back and forth between Dex’s and Sawyer’s point of view.
(If you’d like to check out my other stories, head over to my Author Page.)
Chapter 1 – Dex
THE RISING SUN IS SHINING CLEAR AND BRIGHT, and the air is warm on my feathers as I look down, watching my winged, rippling shadow jump and skip over the trees and lush, green grass of Boston Commons, a large, beautiful city park between Beacon Hill and Downtown Crossing.
Dipping down a bit, I glide right over the top of Brewer Fountain, one of my favorite places in Boston, enjoying the familiar sound of the running water pouring out in little streams from a two tier column into a wide, shallow, double-lipped base. Children jump up, reaching for me, laughing and chasing me as far and as fast as they can on their tiny legs. Smiling, I turn my head for just a moment to look under my wing to see them recede into the distance, hopping up and down and waving at me. Their happiness awakens my own effervescent, childhood joy, which bubbles over into carefree laughter lost to the wind.
By the light I know I am going to get to work early as I head downtown. That is one of the many beauties of flying in the city. I miss all of the snarled traffic clogging the streets and smogging the air. Passing over the northeastern edge of the park I leave the serenity of nature behind for the asphalt and concrete of Downtown Crossing. I consider heading a little south to pop into Thinking Cup, knowing I’m running enough ahead of schedule to grab hot, fresh Cage-free Eggs and an Americano to go. Flying takes a lot of energy, and I’m already hungry.
But I don’t want my feet to touch the ground just yet.
Weaving between skyscrapers, I have almost reached the law offices of Sweeney Conn where I work as a first-year law associate. My job is all-consuming and stressful beyond description, but right now I am only thinking of the wind and the weightlessness and the beauty of the metal and glass giants winking sunlight.
I have to make a sharp turn up ahead. Dipping my right shoulder, my wings catch the shift in the wind, pulling me toward the narrow opening between the buildings and–
My eyes fly open and I suck in a breath as the hardwood floor of my apartment swings into view. I am about to roll off the edge of my bed. Gasping, mind reeling from the rude awakening, I teeter on the edge for half a second before realizing I have tipped past the point of no return. I am going to face plant.
As I reach for something, anything to keep from falling, the strangest sensation I have ever experienced shoots through my body, down to my very bones, almost as if a huge weight has lifted. I feel light, light as air in fact, and this enables me to hover on the edge of the bed for a few seconds longer as–
A prickling shoots across the surface of the skin stretching over my shoulder blades, and something opens out of them, making me breathe out in a rush as if someone just punched me in the gut. The sensation is not painful, per say, but rather reminds me of the feeling you get when you hit your funny bone or lift your foot for that final step that doesn’t exist at the top of a staircase, only to find empty air. Disconcerting and alarming.
Like fingers from a closed fist or the petals of a budded flower, I feel the new limbs open until they pull completely free of my skin. This is at once terrifying and oddly familiar…almost as if I’m allowing myself a satisfying stretch after being cooped up in a small space for hours. They continue to expand, nerves, sinews, muscles, bones lengthening at the buzzing speed of shooting stars, stretching out until they must be twenty feet across or more. I can feel the bones and joints are connected by a sort of webbing that automatically catches the air, creating a pull like a kite caught on a strong breeze.
This all happens in a matter of seconds, and my mind cannot fully process what is actually happening to me.
Muscles across my chest and back I didn’t know I had tighten, the identical appendages on each side of my back automatically work in tandem, and a great whoosh sounds, jerking my near-weightless body a few inches up and off the bed.
In my moment of complete and utter shock at what has just happened, my mind blanks and the same should-be nonexistent muscles in my upper body contract again, and the limbs smoothly, naturally fold inward, collapsing in a weight that is at once soft, heavy, and thick, tucking down the length of my body.
I promptly fall.
My right arm clips the edge of the bed and I land on the front of my left shoulder with a thud. I settle onto my stomach, groaning. Falling from that height should have hurt far worse on this unforgiving, hardwood floor. For a moment I wonder if it has something to do with my change in weight. I slide my left arm above my head to help alleviate the pain in my shoulder, and the new limbs and muscles in my upper body move again in a weird, uncomfortable way.
I lie there in shock, afraid to think about what just happened. About how I lifted off the bed. About how my body has just drastically altered. About how I feel as light as a—
My alarm clock goes off, making me start.
Naturally, I think about silencing it. Normally, this would’ve made my arms and legs and torso respond automatically, going through the motions that had long-since become muscle memory to comply with my subconscious commands.
But this time my body responds differently.
The new limbs open again, but instead of just catching air to help me hover for a moment, this time with a great sweep and thrush, I am lifted off the floor. I cry out in a panic as the floor retreats for a moment, then rapidly approaches. Without thinking, I land on a knee and foot, and launch my newly agile body up in tandem with the movements at my back. The floor retreats again until I am above the bed, then I instinctually make the limbs shift so that the sweep and thrush move forward, which pushes me backward, righting my body so it is vertical. Then I make them shift again, and I…and I—
Down. I rise slightly. Up. I sink slightly. And so on and so forth for several seconds.
My alarm continues to go off.
Eyes wide, heart hammering, I look a little to my left and see my reflection in the full body mirror hanging on the back of my closet door. The visual confirms what I already know.
I…I…I have wings.
Enormous, beautiful wings. Only they are partially transparent, like gossamer, as if the slightest gust of wind might blow them away. But they feel perfectly solid to me and move up and down in sweeping, powerful strokes. Somehow they pass through my chest-of-drawers on one side and my bed on the other at every downstroke, as if they can only affect me and the air and nothing else. It looks like I am half ghost. The feeling each time they pass through the solid furniture is uncomfortable. It’s a shivering, cold pressure, and it shoots ice up my nerve signals along the new bones, muscles, and sinews, making me wince. Even my feathers are affected. The way they are attached feels similar to how my hair is attached to my scalp. So even though the shivering sensation is there, the feel of the wind rushing through, over, and past my feathers is incredible.
As I continue to stare at my reflection, I see my upper body has changed drastically, my ribcage much, much bigger, the muscles around my sleeveless shirt far larger, and my upper body bones are huge, even if they feel lighter now.
But the changes I see are also partially transparent, superimposed over my regular body and clothes, just like my wings.
With a cry of shock and terror at the altered sight of myself, that automatic collapsing happens again and my wings fold downward, almost disappearing from my reflection. I drop to the floor and smoothly land in a crouch. The long feathers at the base of my wings pass through the floor, bringing that uncomfortable feeling again, but this time I’m a little more used to it.
Slowly standing, I stare at my reflection. My wings are folded over my shoulders and the outsides of my arms. I can see them clearly extending below my hands, reaching all the way down to my ankles. After a few seconds of stunned silence, I fully extend my wings and breathe in deeply at the unreal feeling as they open. The air flows over thousands of feathers, my enlarged lungs expand, filling a ribcage that can’t possibly be this big…
This…isn’t possible, I think. I’m still dreaming.
But in all of my flying dreams I’d never felt anything close to the hundreds–no, thousands–millions–of details, from the warm, downy sensation on my arms at the touch of the undersides of my wings to the millions of nerve endings that make the skin at the base of my feathers tingle at the slightest swirl of air that only dust motes should be able to reveal.
Meanwhile, my alarm continues to go off, and I realize in that moment—
It would’ve woken me. This isn’t a dream.
I have wings.
And I just flew.
CHAPTER 2 – SAWYER
I JAM MY COPY OF DEX’S APARTMENT KEY INTO THE LOCK, and jiggle it while holding onto the door handle, pulling up on it, then down, to one side, then the other, trying to open the stupid thing without breaking the key off. Whenever it’s cold like this, it always sticks. And mocks me.
I’m just glad I have a key. Not every guy is comfortable with giving their female best friend a key to their place when they’re dating someone else. And Dex, being a professional at executing practically every social faux pas known to the dating world (because he never takes my advice), has never hidden this fact from his girlfriends, not even his current one, Lauren. He explains it’s his way of testing the relationship.
I explain it’s his way of ending the relationship.
“Come on,” I mutter. The key almost turns, then gets stuck again. I sigh through my teeth and glare at the doorknob . “No one likes a tease,” I say, trying again. This time the key gets stuck halfway. Even though I’ve only been trying to open it for about twenty seconds, this is the last straw.
I never said I was patient.
“I hate you,” I say in a deceptively calm voice. “I hate you with every fiber of my being, and I will destroy you if it’s the last thing I do. What’s that? You’re an inanimate object? Well, too bad. You see that firewood ax over there? Yeah, just think about that. Tetanus? I’m wearing gloves, you moron. And my Tia made me get the shot when I bought that rust bucket from my cousin, Manuel, last year,” I say, letting go momentarily to jab a thumb over my shoulder at the AMC Gremlin, the most aptly named car of all time. “BUT GUESS WHO DIDN’T GET A TETANUS SHOT!” I yell at the door, and use all my strength to lift up on the doorknob while violently jiggling the key, and it finally turns all the way. “Yes!” I yell, pointing at the door as it swings open. “The shame of your defeat will last for all time!”
“SAWYER!” It’s Dex’s voice, echoing from inside, and he sounds panicked. This isn’t that unusual. Dex’s resting mode is at a 4 out of 10 in general twitchiness, but right now he sounds even more worked up than usual.
I step out of the cold, slam the door shut a little harder than strictly necessary (take THAT!), knock the snow from my boots on the rubber mat, and thunder up the private hallway of narrow stairs that lead to Dex’s second floor apartment. “I’m coming man, hang on!” I yell, huffing already. I slip, right myself with the rickety, wooden rail, and finally reach the top. The front door is already open.
Not good. It’s always locked. Even when Dex knows I’m coming over. He’s paranoid like that.
Now I’m really worried.
When he called forty minutes ago, Dex said nothing specific, only something about him being sick or whatever and to please, please come over ASAP, and to tell Boss Man it was totally his fault for me having to bail on work. (Dex doesn’t know Boss Man’s actual name and has never asked. Sometimes even I forget his real name. He’s the dude that signs the paychecks and that’s all that matters. Beauty of working as a newbie, fresh-out-of-college graphic artist at a chill, online magazine with a focus on conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.)
I’m not concerned about missing work, though. Especially when Dex sounds like he just found out the Apocalypse is here. I’m not exactly Mother Theresa when it comes to sick days anyway. Dex, on the other hand? So far he hasn’t missed a single day this year. And it’s November. Part of it’s the job, sure, but even if he had the same job as me, things wouldn’t be any different.
I love my best friend with the burning fire of a thousand suns, but Dex is the most uptight person I’ve ever met, bless him.
I pass the boring, uncomfortable, modern furniture in the living room, bypass the kitchen and turn left into Dex’s room.
And stop so quickly I almost slide on the rug at the door.
I was expecting Dex to be laid out in bed, but he is huddled in the corner of his room by his closet, arms wrapped around his legs, and he is staring at me, pale even for the super white boy he is. “…Dex?” I say. “What are you doing, man? Is this one of your weird, anti-anxiety meditation techniques you haven’t told me about yet?”
“You…you can’t see them?” Dex asks, voice hoarse.
Dex swallows. “My wings.”
CHAPTER 3 – DEX
“OOOKAY, BUDDY,” SAWYER SAYS, HOLDING HER HANDS UP and looking at me like I’m a wild, skittish animal who might bolt.
I have wings. Maybe I will bolt.
Feeling tremendous pressure to assure her that I am not insane, I shoot to my feet, which wracks me with that horrible sensation as my wings emerge out of the floor and slide through the wall behind me as I rise.
My quick move has unforeseen consequences.
My bare feet actually lift off the ground about an inch before touching back down. But I suppose this makes sense as I feel like I weigh about 80 pounds now, while before I weighed 176 at 6’1.
Less than an hour ago, I was 100 pounds heavier. To say it’s disconcerting is a slap in the face to the word itself.
Expecting to stand, the force had made me unintentionally jump. As if I was an astronaut on the moon.
Oddly, even amidst all of this, I also realize I am uncomfortable at the fact that I am only wearing my pajama pants and a white sleeveless shirt. This is not acceptable. Not because I’m in my pajamas in front of Sawyer (she’s seen me in worse), but because I look so unkempt right now with my hair all a jagged mess and I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet.
I do not like looking or being or feeling out of control.
I am the definition of out of control right now.
“Sawyer,” I say, sounding way too panicked, but I am unable to tone myself down. “I–“
“Let’s just chiiill, Alexander, okay?” Sawyer says carefully, using my full name to signify how serious she is.
She hasn’t called me Alexander since the fourth grade when I unwittingly played a part in killing her hamster, Bean. I thought it needed some fresh air and sunshine because it looked sad.
It may have died from heatstroke in its little plastic sphere thirty minutes later. I had nightmares for months. Sawyer loved that hamster. She is the most forgiving person I know, but almost an entire week passed before she would speak to me again. It was a low point in my young life.
“It’s all cool,” Sawyer says as she removes her gloves, pocketing them, “it’s aaall gonna be roses, man. Let’s just chill and handle this like reasonable human beings.” She has stopped approaching me, and is still standing on my rug in her muddied, snow-covered boots.
I am distracted by annoyance over this. How many times have I asked her to leave her shoes downstairs?
“Why don’t you pop a squat on the bed,” Sawyer says, gesturing at my bed.
It’s unmade and yet again, I am briefly upset by the state of myself and my room.
“You can start from the beginning,” she says, rubbing her hands together, then opening them like an offering. “Tell me everything, bro. It was probably some wack dream, right? And you just need some time to sort it all out? Get your head on straight again, you know?”
She is speed talking and still looking at me like I might bolt.
“I can prove it,” I say. I have already prepared myself for this knowing Sawyer would have me demonstrate anyway just out of pure excitement.
This was before I knew she wouldn’t be able to see them.
To make room for myself before extending my wings, I take a step forward, and Sawyer moves slightly in response, blocking the doorway. Silent communication via eye contact lends me the ability to slowly move the extra couple of feet I need to minimize my wings interacting with physical objects. “You ready?” I say. I myself am not sure if I am ready. Physically, yes. Mentally, no. Thrills and chills shoot through me.
Sawyer says, “Ready as a cheater on test day.”
Normally, I would have said some quip to this, or at the very least rolled my eyes, but I am too consumed with fear and adrenaline to respond.
I extend my wings with a loud thruuush.
And Sawyer’s hair blows back.
Her eyes pop in surprise. “Dude…” Her mouth works but no other words make it past her lips.
I am also speechless. So Sawyer can feel their effect, but still not…? “Can you see them now?” I ask.
Sawyer shakes her head. She keeps the movement going a little too long, mouth still gaping.
I am slightly disappointed she still can’t see them.
Sawyer swallows a few times. She continues to shake her head. “No, man. Can’t see anything. You still just look like a string bean white kid from Brooklyn.”
I am not a string bean. I work out five days a week, I just have a lithe physique. But I keep this to myself. Arguing with Sawyer about anything is impossible.
Also, this is not important right now.
We both don’t have any words for several seconds. I watch as Sawyer’s breathing slows. She blinks a few times, regaining her composure, then she pauses, as if something occurred to her, and a smile breaks out across her face. “Ah,” she says, tapping the side of her nose and then pointing at me. “Very funny, man.”
It takes me a moment to find words. “What? How–how is this funny?”
“How did you do it?” Sawyer asks, gesturing at me, leaning from side to side, looking for something. “A wind machine? A fan? I have to tell you, I’m impressed. Seriously impressed, bro. And that recording of the wings or feathers moving around or whatever? Man. That was perfecto. “
My mouth gapes open. She can hear them, too? But…?
“Since when do you pull practical jokes?” Sawyer says. “We should totally pull this on Lauren,” she says with a wicked grin and the twinkle in her eye that has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. “It’ll be–“
“Sawyer! This isn’t a practical joke!” I open my mouth to say something else, then stop, realizing she’s never going to believe me unless–
I crouch a little, breathing in deeply as my new muscles flex, and launch into the air with a whoosh. Sawyer’s hair blows again and she actually takes a step back from the force of the wind. I am hovering now, wings pumping in a sweeping fluidity that fills me with an indescribable joy that quickly mingles with terror at my best friend’s rapidly changing expression.
Sawyer has turned a chalky gray and is getting paler by the moment. Her mouth is agape. Her eyes are bulging. Her head lolls and her eyelids flutter.
And she crumples to the floor in a dead faint.
CHAPTER 4 – SAWYER
“Bro, you have to be the only person in New England who has smelling salts in their house.”
Dex is still holding the plain, white mug that smells like my Abuela’s cleaning closet. My sinuses haven’t completely stopped burning yet, but hey, it could be worse. He could’ve slapped me. “One can never be too prepared,” Dex says, looking dead serious. He meets my eyes, but only for a second before turning away and setting the mug down on the kitchen counter. He stands there for a moment, still in just his PJ’s, and I can see the tension running through his shoulders. He takes a deep breath, then picks up the mug, pours it out in the sink, and starts washing it. I watch him scrub and scrub, working away at stains that don’t exist.
“Okay, fine,” I say, “the only person under 85.”
Dex keeps scrubbing. I get the feeling he doesn’t want to look at me. Or he doesn’t want me looking at him.
Yeah, that’s not happening. He just flew. I saw him fly. And he’s going to do it again. For verification purposes of course. Once I can convince him I won’t faint again. Dex moms me more than mama does, which is impressive. It’s a talent.
I am sitting in view of the kitchen on the living room couch that’s about as soft as cardboard over metal, holding one of those old-timey, polka dot bladder ice packs to the side of my head. It must’ve come with the smelling salts in the first aid kit from 1940. I guess the old stuff works, though, because there’s only a dull ache at my mostly-numb temple now. The couch has one of those annoying half-height backs that hits me right below the shoulder blades if I try and lean back. And I’m a vertically-challenged woman. I have no idea why in the world Dex, who is literally half a foot taller than me, would get something like this. Plus, bro has no padding anywhere, so this thing has to feel like concrete to him.
Hm. Maybe the height will make it more comfortable for him with his wings now.
“When are you going to fly again?” I ask, tossing the ice pack onto the boring side table with the slim, metal lamp that looks about as stable as a paperclip. “I promise I won’t faint again.”
Dex turns his head without actually looking at me. “Sawyer,” he says, voice tight. “The varnish.”
“The ice pack. The condensation will ruin the varnish.” He is still scrubbing.
He can fly, has wings, and he’s worried about varnish?!
“Dex!” I say, and jump to my feet. I feel a tiny bit woozy for just a second, then stalk into the kitchen and lean against the counter, staring point blank at him. He won’t look at me. There aren’t any suds left in the mug and barely any water, and the sound the fancy, scrubber wand is making against the ceramic grates on me. But I am not moving or saying anything else until he stops. I end up only having to wait about fifteen seconds.
Dex drops the mug and wand into the sink with a clunk-crash, and turns toward me. “What.“
“Are you serious right now? What do you mean, what? This should be the most incredible day of your life, man! You can fly! You have invisible wings!” I say, reaching out to wave my hands through the empty air around his shoulders where I imagine they are.
Dex sucks in a breath and jerks away from me, stepping back and grimacing. As he does, I feel a slight breeze and hear the rustle of feathers. Which is amazing.
“What?” I ask, worried now. “What’s wrong?”
Dex shakes his head. “I–it’s hard to explain. When you…um. They…” He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Okay, so fact number one–“
“Not the fact thing again. You’ve been fact sober since the Fourth of July.” Dex had spent forty-five minutes boring me to death with facts about fireworks while I was trying to flirt with the cute guy sitting on the picnic blanket next to us in Boston Commons. Dex had droned on and on, nerding me by association and thereby killing any chance I might’ve had with the guy as he’d spouted fact after fact, telling me everything from the history of fireworks to…well, I’d checked out once he mentioned ancient China. “Don’t fall off the wagon now, man, you were doing so good.”
“Facts are essential to creating a model of reality, Sawyer. And at the moment, this is my new reality.”
I am not sure what this means. So I nod as if I do, and gesture for him to go on.
“Fact number one: they look transparent to me, almost diaphanous.”
I thread my eyebrows. “Dex, I love you, bro, but you’re a walking dictionary. What in the world does diaphanous mean? Because it sounds like some kind of dinosaur, and now I’m picturing dinosaur-dragon wings. Which is awesome, but I’m assuming that’s not what you’ve got goin’ on back there,” I say, gesturing at him.
Dex is staring at me, expressionless. “Ghost-like, Sawyer. They look ghost-like.”
“Well, that’s not creepy at all. You have ghost wings? You’re not half dead are you? A reject angel? Part reaper? Because all of those would also be awesome.” I pause. “Unless…” I lean my head back, eyeing him warily. “Unless you’re here to reap my soul or something.”
“Sawyer, stop being ridiculous and just listen.”
“I am listening. It was a valid question. We’re talking about life or death here, man. Are you here to reap my soul or what?”
“I’m going to ignore you now and just keep talking.”
“Fact number two: except for my own body, they pass through solid objects and vice versa. So when you did that…your hands were…”
“All up in your wings?”
Dex gives me a pained, uncomfortable look. “I’d rather you not use that particular phrase, but…sure. I don’t know if they’re outside of the visible spectrum, or perhaps they’re stuck somewhere between dimensions…it could be some kind of subatomic, quantum field–“
“Yeah, Dex, that’s fascinating and all,” I say, “meanwhile, paint’s drying and I’m waiting for you to explain why you don’t want my hands all up in your wings.”
Dex’s mouth goes into a thin line and he closes his eyes. He’s counting in his head right now for patience. I can tell. He does it all the time with me.
But I’m just teasing him. It’s too much fun and he makes it all too easy.
Once upon a time, he would’ve been stoked to have something like this happen to him. I know he used to have flying dreams all the time, which he would tell me about with excitement and in great detail (I swear, Dex could take three hours to tell me the plot of a two hour movie), and we used to pretend we could fly by jumping out of the swings on the swingset.
Dex was still a little highstrung and OCD back then, but lately I’ve felt us slowly growing apart. Ever since he started that stupid job at that stupid law firm.
I’m not bitter or worried about it at all.
Dex opens his eyes and he gives me a steady look. “Fact number three: when solid objects pass through them, it feels really strange and unpleasant. Like that feeling you get when the hair raises on the back of your neck, only this is worse and I feel it all the way through my…through them.”
I notice Dex has not once referred to his wings by name. Except for the first time when I saw him huddled in the corner of his room.
This seems like it might be an issue later on with him being in denial and all.
Naturally, I ignore this. We’ll deal with it later.
“So how big are they?” I ask. “I mean, they’ve gotta be huge to lift you.”
Dex looks at me sideways. “Well, um…that leads to fact number four: I…I’m pretty sure I only weigh about 80 pounds.”
My jaw drops. 80 pounds, I mouth, not quite able to get my voice box up and running. I clear my throat. “Dex, my tia’s dog, Osito, weighs 80 pounds. I mean, I think I weighed that when I was ten.”
Dex doesn’t say anything, but a flush is climbing up his neck.
“I should test it,” I say, excited at the thought. How crazy would it be if Dex weighed the same as a little kid? “Let me see if I can pick you up.”
“No, Sawyer, please–don’t–!” Dex has put his hands up and is already moving backwards, but I’m too fast for him. I wrap my arms around his waist and heave him up into the air.
He’s still heavy to me, but I can lift him. In fact, I almost fall backwards from overestimating how much strength I’d need.
“Sawyer! Put me–“
I start to twirl him around, laughing as I do. Weight-wise, it literally feels like I’m spinning my niece, Victoria, around and around. “This–is–awesome!” I yell over the rush of wind.
Suddenly, there’s a loud whoosh, and something jerks me to the side, breaking my grip on Dex. I go sprawling onto the linoleum. Once I shake my head and the daze clears, I look up to see Dex looking down at me with fury all over his face.
And he’s flying. Right there in the middle of the kitchen, moving up and down in tiny, rhythmic dips and rises timed with the powerful gusts that keep blowing my hair back from my face, threatening to dry my eyes out. I blink rapidly at the wind and the incredible sight. I can clearly imagine his wings now, and in my mind he looks like an avenging angel.
Except for the pajama pants and wife beater of course.
After a few seconds, he rises a little higher, then drops to the ground, landing in a graceful crouch. Before I can say anything, he’s stalked passed me out the kitchen with a gust and a rustle of feathers. I scramble to my feet and follow him into his bedroom. “Dex, wait,” I say. “I couldn’t resist. I’m sorry, okay? Please don’t be mad at me. I hate it when you’re mad at me.” Annoyed is fine. Mad is not.
He’s rummaging around in his closet, checking a shirt with several ties before deciding on one. He throws a pair of slacks onto the bed, along with the shirt and tie, pauses, then hangs them back up and starts to make his bed. “I have to get to work,” he says. “I’m already half an hour late and I’m sure I’ve got a million messages and emails. Hopefully I’m not fired.” Bed made, he makes sure to straighten and smooth all the pillows, then gets his clothes again. “Johansson’s going to kill me,” he mutters to no one in particular as he shrugs on his pale blue shirt and starts to button it, wincing as it covers his shoulders. “I have to finish that patent by noon, and—”
“Dex!” I say finally. It has taken me this long to be able to speak again from the shock of his little announcement. “You can’t go to work, man! You’ve got giant wings sticking out of your back!”
“Invisible wings,” Dex says. “I look normal, and that’s all that matters. So I’m going.”
“So you’re flying there, I’m assuming,” I say, deadpan.
Dex gives me a look that could probably kill a small cat. “I’m taking the T. Like I always do.” The T is Boston’s answer to New York’s subway system.
“Yeah, that sounds awesome—you in an underground train with a ton of people all up in your wings.”
“Can you please stop saying that,” Dex says as he tightens his tie–it’s a little crooked, and that makes me happy for a second–snags his briefcase from its place next to the bookshelf, and walks passed me out the door. He pauses at the side table, scoops up the ice pack, wipes the wood down with his forearm, then tosses the pack to me and I catch it. “Sawyer, I cannot–will not–let this ruin or disrupt my life. Now I’m going to work.” Without another word, he whirls around and heads for the door.
Oh, no he didn’t.
I look at the ice pack, toss it onto the cardboard couch, and run after him. “Well, if you’re going, then I’m going with you!”
CHAPTER 5 – DEX
I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TO VOMIT.
I’m holding on tightly to the metal rail that stretches all along the train car at neck level as the T jitters and skips and swerves over tracks that occasionally squeal in protest against the wheels and the cold. But it’s not the T making me sick. A small rather sweaty man with glasses and a briefcase just like mine, is standing at my back and keeps swerving into me at every jolt. Or, well, into my wings. My invisible wings. Which keeps wracking me with that horrible, shivering feeling. From his point of view, he’s technically not touching me, so I can’t say anything.
I’m not sure if I would’ve anyway. I’m not that great at confrontation. That’s what Sawyer’s for.
Worst of all, the man has stood in the same place since we all got on together four stops ago, and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s ever getting off. We’re riding the Red Line and my apartment is right by Braintree–the farthest station south on the T–which means we still have five more stops to go until we get to Downtown Crossing.
Wings or not, I’m going to work. If I can just get to my desk, I’ll be fine.
Since we got on I’ve tried to keep my mind off the nausea by watching the narrow, two and three story houses of Boston fly past, interwoven with shopping districts, and clusters of buildings and warehouses crowded together like miniature downtowns, with an occasional church steeple or historical landmark peeking up above the rooftops.
But right now we’re in a tunnel and the darkness and vague claustrophobia only make the nausea worse.
“You don’t look so good, dude,” Sawyer says, eyeing me. “You’re not gonna puke on me, are you?”
I shake my head and whisper, “No, it’s just–this guy keeps jostling me.”
Sawyer leans around me and blatantly looks at the guy. I swerve to the side to block her view and give her a look that says, Cut it out–!
Sawyer’s eyebrows go up, she shrugs and settles back in place. “Yeah, this thing is rocking us like an overzealous mother. Wanna switch places?”
I shake my head again and lower my voice even more. “I think I’ll be okay, he just keeps moving in and out of my…” I close my mouth to hold back the bile rising in my throat as the man does it again, and I shudder. All I had this morning was a cup of black coffee and a heavy dose of terror, so the empty stomach doesn’t help.
“In and out of your wings?” Sawyer asks. She’s not whispering at all. In fact, her voice sounds insanely loud to me.
“Sshhh!” I hiss, glaring, and then look around the train car nervously. “Are you insane?” I say through my teeth. “Shut. Up.“
“Dude, chill. I’m just making sure I understand what’s going on here. Besides, no one cares,” Sawyer continues. “This is Boston, not Smallfrytown with gossipy old ladies and nosy, bored, retired old-timers. But hey, if it makes you feel better, we could come up with a code name for them. You know, I was just listening to Iron Maiden yesterday–how about Icarus?”
The Iron Maiden is a medieval torture device and Icarus is a character from Greek mythology. I can see the connection with Icarus, but the torture device?
On second thought…maybe that’s accurate.
But this doesn’t matter because her suggestion sounds ridiculous anyway. I raise an eyebrow. “My Icarus? What–“
At that moment, while I’m distracted, the tunnel curves and this time the man literally bumps into me, slamming into my back, and–
My wings automatically unfurl with a huge, rustling whoosh to keep me from falling.
A young woman sitting across from me is staring, open-mouthed. Her hair looks as if she’s been riding in a convertible. The two men one seat over are also staring at me. And so is everyone else in the train car.
Unfortunately, I can’t really fold my wings back without creating more wind and sound, and the sensation of the rails and seats and the people invading my wings is hitting me from every angle, vibrating through every nerve at each jitter from the train car. I’m hunched over, trying not to be more conspicuous than I already am. It’s almost too much for me to handle as my stomach squirms and my head swims from the sensory overload.
“Whoooaaa,” Sawyer says in an overly dramatic voice, looking around with wide eyes like a bad actress in a soap opera. “That was a craaazy breeze. Must’ve been the air conditioner turning on or something.”
There is no air conditioning right now. It’s November.
The tense silence continues and I am totally clueless as to what to do. I can hardly even focus from the nausea and dizziness as I feel the blood drain from my face. Every eye is on me. I look at Sawyer in a panic as the tension builds. She shakes her head, just as clueless with how to deal with this as I am.
Then she stops and blinks as her eyes drift. It’s her “idea face.” After the longest couple seconds of my life, she gives me an apologetic look, and punches me in the gut.
Immediately, bile and coffee spew out of my mouth, splashing onto the aisle–and the young woman’s shoes.
She cries out in disgust, pulling her feet up. “Gross! Ew, ew, eeew!”
At that moment, the T comes to a halt. We must’ve reached the JFK/U Mass stop. Everyone jumps from their seats and bolts as soon as the doors open, including the bespectacled sweaty man with the briefcase. A couple of people start to board, but turn right back around at the horrible stench.
I waver, gasping for air, then stumble back and collapse onto the chair behind me. Trying to ignore the sour, bitter taste in my mouth and the odor filling the car, I cross my arms over my stomach, groaning. Sweat has gathered and I feel lightheaded. The T starts up again and, not wanting my wings to be stuck in the seat and the train car, I wrap them around myself until they’re giving me a giant, fluffy hug.
Right now I could use a giant, fluffy hug.
Sawyer sits next to me, careful to avoid the vomit. “Hey, man, I didn’t hit you too hard, did I? I thought you were close to puking anyway, so… Sometimes I don’t know my own strength, you know? I may be soft and cuddly on the outside, but I’m steel under there, bro, you can count on that.”
I don’t respond. I can’t talk yet.
“Please don’t be mad,” Sawyer says after a moment, misinterpreting my silence. “I hate it when you’re mad at me, and I already said I was sorry.”
“I’m not mad,” I manage to say. “Why would I be mad?”
“Uh…’cause I punched you?”
“You got them all to leave. That was,” I raise my eyebrows and shake my head, “inspired. Painful…but inspired. I just feel like I got kicked in the stomach by a horse, so it’s…kind of hard to breathe, much less talk.”
“Dude, you’ve been kicked in the stomach by a horse?”
CHAPTER 6 – SAWYER
DEX SKIDS TO A SUDDEN STOP OUTSIDE THE REVOLVING DOORS like one of those cartoon characters sliding on their heels, leaving twin puffs of smoke behind.
There’s not literally smoke, but you get the idea.
I take the moment to stare up at the huge skyscraper where the smarmy law offices of Sweeney Conn take up the entire forty-second floor. Dex has been working here for six months, but I’ve avoided it like the plague. Probably because it is the plague.
Oh, man, don’t even get me started on the corporate machine. I don’t ruffle easy, guys, but politics ain’t my conversational cup of tea, despite Dex always trying to get me to talk about it. Maybe he feels guilty for working for them since they primarily get major corporations out of lawsuits from the little guy.
“What’s up, dude? Why’d you stop?” I ask, noticing for the first time how out of breath and red-faced Dex is. I assume it’s a combination of paleness and the promiscuous November wind–that stuff gets inside your clothes faster than a gold digger. (Not that I would know–my gold isn’t the monetary type.)
Dex shakes his head. “It’s these…” he trails off, then gestures with his head like he wants me to look at something behind him. It takes me a second to realize he’s talking about his wings. “They keep catching the wind and I don’t know how to keep them from opening up. The drag is killing me.”
I consider what he just said for a moment. Makes sense. But I’m still unsure how this is a bad situation. “I would show some sympathy love here, man, but…you have magical wings, so…” I shrug to indicate this explains everything.
“They’re not magical, Sawyer. It’s got to be some kind of…I don’t know, interdimensional entanglement or something.”
Interdimensional? Suddenly, I have a thought. “Dude. If that’s true, and there really are other dimensions, like in comic books and stuff, now I’m wondering if the other version of you is suddenly like, ‘What the heck, man? Where did my wings go? Everyone else has wings. Now I’m some kind of freak of nature trying to hide the fact that I don’t have wings and can’t fly.'”
“Can we focus here?” Dex says, exasperated.
“Yeah, yeah,” I say with a wave, “my bad. So! What’s the plan with Sweeney Conn? Requesting some time off? I got a million excuses ready for you, man. And it’s not at all because I have an actual list for myself already.”
“You’re not coming in,” Dex says firmly, giving me the eye. “Though I appreciate your, uh…offer to aid me in subterfuge.”
I make a face. “Subterfuge? You really are a walking dictionary, man.”
“Thank you,” he says with a nod and a pleased smile. “I take that as a compliment.”
“I think you need to reconsider your definition of compliment,” I say with a roll of my eyes.
But the whole dictionary tangent was just a distraction.
Before Dex can open his mouth to respond, I snag the lanyard peeking out of his breast pocket and make a beeline for the revolving doors, pushing through and around before Dex can get there. He would normally smoke me in a race–I blame my short legs–but he can’t move fast enough because of the wings and the wind. I turn to see Dex trying to get in, pausing, trying again, then stopping completely with a glare directed at me.
I smile at him. So maybe it’s hard to get into revolving doors with wings. Who knew?
Before he realizes there’s a normal door next to the revolving ones, I turn, only to be greeted by an overweight security guy.
Man, I haven’t even reached the metal detectors yet.
Alright, then. Let’s do this. “Heeey, Officer. How can I help you? The coffee’s in the cafeteria if that’s what you were looking for.” I could’ve said donut, but I’m not exactly Slenderella either, so I don’t do fat jokes. Besides, this guy probably hears enough of that from his coworkers, and if not them, then his friends, and if not them, then his family, and if not them, then the internet and entertainment images, and if not all of that, then his mirror.
In my experience, it’s usually all of them.
“The–what?” He looks at me with a confused expression, which makes his bushy, Tom Selleck mustache twist like some hairy caterpillar on a fishing hook. Just after this, his face crumples and his eyebrows pull down as what I said dawns on him, and now I’m thinking about Mr. Potato’s angry eyes from Toy Story.
Just after this I try and remember if I took my Adderall this morning.
I’m guessing no.
I hold up the lanyard. “I’m a guest for Dex Roth. He asked me to bring his lanyard. Silly goose,” I say with a laugh and a shake of my head, “he left it in my car this morning.”
Mustache Man’s eyes narrow even more as he checks out the lanyard, wiggling his hairy caterpillar and huffing a bit. “Hmph.”
Hmph? Who says hmph anymore?
“I still need to see some ID,” he says.
“Way ahead of you, man,” I say, holding out my expired driver’s license.
Eyes moving back and forth from the license to my face a couple times, he finally says, “Okay. But–” He seems to search for some kind of threat to make.
I smack him on the side of the arm and flash him one of my famous charming smiles. “Don’t worry, bro. I’ll have him call down after I get up there to verify. Cool?”
Mustache Man considers this for a moment, then says, “Okay. But don’t take too long!”
I give him a faux, two-finger salute. “Yes, sir!” I spin on my heel and get through the metal detectors before I hear Dex’s voice behind me. He must be trying to talk his way past Mustache Man.
I hurry-not-hurry to the elevators, and hide behind a cluster of sour-faced attorneys.
Once again, I thank my lucky stars I’m just a graphic artist at a low-key magazine with a less-than-respectable reputation. There’s no pressure to reach people’s expectations that way, and I sleep like a baby.
The doors open and we all pile in. There’s considerable space between me and the stiffs. Some powerful, expensive cologne fills the small space with an odor that makes me miss the smell of Dex’s barf.
The doors start to close and Dex slips in at the last second, grimacing as I assume they close on his wings. We stand there staring at each other for a couple seconds as the elevator moves up. He’s not happy with me. Obviously. In a sign of peace, I return the lanyard with another charming smile. He snaps it from my fingers and with a slight rustle, turns with his back to me, punching the button labeled 42. Ignoring the silent treatment, I look around the elevator.
No one is looking at each other. In fact, they’re all staring up at the yellow glow as it jumps from number to number like some kind of antisocial robots.
I’ve lived here in Beantown since the fourth grade but I’m still not used to the Nor’easter attitude. I’m originally from San Antonio, Texas, and back home–corporate lawyers or not–someone would’ve at least said, “Hello,” to me by now, and there’d be some kind of conversation going on.
Man, I miss SA.
And my abuelo.
And decent tacos.
A couple of socially-awkward minutes later, we step onto the forty-second floor and Dex grabs my arm, pulling me against the wall adorned with a proud display of brass lettering spelling out “Sweeney Conn.”
“That’s just as bad as when you say, ‘facts’.”
Dex ignores me. “Don’t. Say. Anything,” he says in a low voice. “Just let me do the talking.”
I wave my hands in a gesture of chill. “Dude, I’ve got it all worked out, okay? Just say it’s national Bring a Mexican to Work Day.”
Dex stares at me in disbelief.
“Come on, man, it’s obvious. It’s too politically incorrect for anyone to say something, and they won’t want to verify it before letting me in because that’ll look bad. They’re big-shot lawyers. They can see the headlines now. Also, they’ll be worried about whether or not I’m actually Mexican. If they question it, that would be offensive.”
“Sawyer, that’s the worst, most horrifying plan I’ve ever heard.”
“That’s why it’s going to work.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Exactly,” I say, turning to walk toward the front desk.
Dex blows past me before I can get there in a display of his old track and field days. “Hi, Piper, you’re looking good today,” he says awkwardly with a forced smile.
Oh, this is going to be bad. So bad.
Don’t get me wrong, Dex has undeniable game with his looks, nice guy charm, unicorn-level listening powers, and brains (as long as he doesn’t descend into fact-lecture territory). But Piper just stares at him with a look that makes me think she sees Dex the same way she sees a stinkbug. She would squash him, but that would be too gross to bother.
First year associate thing, I guess.
Dex clears his throat. “This is Sawyer Villarreal,” he says, tilting his head in my direction.
I smile and wave. She doesn’t even look.
“She’s interviewing me on a piece for the Boston College Courier.”
“You?” she says to Dex, eyebrows raised in blatant disbelief.
“Yeah, it’s a puff piece on recent graduates who decided to stay in Boston.”
I look at Dex, unable to hide how impressed I am right now with his subterfuge skills.
Okay, so maybe his was a better idea.
But mine would’ve been way more fun.
“Have her sign the visitor’s ledger,” Piper says in a bored tone, already typing away on her computer, eyes glued to the monitor.
I like how she gave Dex instructions for me instead of giving them to me directly. I’m standing right in front of her.
I pick up the pen and write under NAME: “Piper Eats Toenails.”
Sure, it’s juvenile, but when has that ever stopped me?
“Thanks!” I say brightly, and follow Dex to the right. We pass a couple of fancy offices and conference rooms decorated with fake plants and weird abstract art and end up in a space that’s more of a wide, glorified hallway than a room. It’s filled with twenty or so cubicles lining the walls side by side that face each other across the room. It’s like coming upon a slum in the middle of a wealthy city.
The moment we step into the hallway-room, a sharply dressed little man darts out of a breakroom to our left and blocks Dex’s way, as if he’d been hovering in there waiting for Dex to arrive. “Roth!” he yells, and I immediately imagine him stomping his feet in a full-blown tantrum. “You’re an hour and forty-three minutes late!”
He knew it down to the minute?
Also, kind of sad. Bro needs a life.
“Mr. Johansson!” Dex says, going ramrod straight. “I’m sorry, the patent–“
“Dex’s grandmother died last night.”
Temper Tantrum and Dex both look at me at the same time. Dex is white as a sheet and his eyes look like they might pop out of his head. The lawyer looks like he just found out he’s going to need a colonoscopy.
“Yes–” Dex says haltingly. “The funeral’s–“
“On Saturday,” I finish for him. Luckily, it’s Thursday. This might work out after all. “So can he take today and tomorrow off?” I ask.
The lawyer doesn’t say anything, and I can tell he’s aware every eye in the room is trained on him. It looks like he’s debating about how to respond in this delicate situation. He must know that even for lawyers, there’s a line between being a tough boss, and just a straight-up sociopath. “Condolences,” he says to Dex flatly. “But I don’t see why your parents can’t take care of the arrangements.”
“Dex is an only child and he was all she had left,” I say sadly.
I can see sweat gathering on Dex’s forehead.
None of this is even remotely true. Dex’s parents and both of his grandmothers are still alive, and he has four older half-siblings.
The lawyer turns his volcanic crater eyes on me. They make Mustache Man’s angry eyes look like actual toy parts. “And who are you and what are you doing here?” Avoiding the initial question. I see how it is. Classic lawyer move.
“I’m his sister.”
Dex makes a choking noise.
“His…sister,” Temper Tantrum says with a raised eyebrow.
“My Dad married his Mom.”
His eyes suddenly darken, but gleam at the same time. Like a shark’s. “I thought you said he was an only child.”
“He was raised as an only child. Our parents married, but they divorced when we were young. Dad raised me in Philly. Dex lived with his Mom. But his grandmother never accepted me or my Dad. Mixed marriage, you know? Generational gap. So sad. So his Mom and grandmother had a falling out over it all, but Dex was caught in the middle. He was all she had and now all the funeral arrangements are on him.”
The lawyer seems to ponder this for a moment. “That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here,” he says to me.
“She’s my sister,” Dex says with a hint of wounded disbelief. “She flew in last-minute this morning, so I was picking her up from the airport. That’s why I’m late.”
I am too shocked at the caught Hail Mary to keep my jaw from dropping.
Mr. Temper Tantrum’s mouth works for a moment. “And–and why didn’t you call to inform me of all of this earlier?!”
“I did,” Dex says. “Piper kept putting me on hold.” He leans forward and the lawyer raises his eyebrows at the sense that Dex is about to let him in on a secret. “I wouldn’t be too hard on her, though,” he says under his breath, “since she’s new and all.”
I resist doing a fist pump. Smooth criminal right there. Dex senses my glee and gives me a quick sidelong glance. One corner of his mouth twitches up for half a second.
This is just like old times and it makes me smile. Dex wasn’t always a stick in the mud. Maybe having wings is the best thing that’s ever happened to him in more ways than one.
Temper Tantrum straightens and looks superior. “That’s up to me to decide, Roth. Not you.”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Johansson.”
There’s an uncomfortable silence, then the lawyer barks across the room. “Thompson!”
One of the slum minions jumps and looks up. “Y-yes!”
“You’re taking care of Roth’s patent. I want it on my desk by 11:59 AM!”
“O…kay,” he says, and slumps down in his chair.
Temper Tantrum nods, then rushes from the room with the dramatic flair of an ostrich.
As soon as he disappears into the breakroom, Dex says, “Let me at least take some of my work home, okay? It’ll just take a second.”
Wow. The dude just does not know how to take a break.
But at least he’s going home. I’m proud of him.
I follow him to his tiny cubicle in the calmest manner possible. Everyone is staring at us and Thompson looks like he wants to flay Dex alive.
Dex’s desk has zilch individuality. Well, no, there’s one sign an actual human and not a robot works here–a framed picture of Lauren. Not the two of them together though. Just Lauren.
Oh, this must be addressed.
As Dex sets his briefcase on his desk with a heavy sigh of relief, I point at the picture. “I know she pretty much owns you, man, but that’s just sad.”
“What?” he asks a little defensively.
“The first thing a girl does when she starts dating, is post about it online, usually with a picture of the two of them.”
“And your point is?”
“She gave this to you, right?”
“That means two things in her mind. One, your entire relationship is about her, and two, you’re not a permanent enough fixture in her life to even get a picture of the two of you together.”
Dex looks stunned for half a second, then ignores me and starts to gather papers and put them in a folder.
“It’s simple,” I say. “If you insist on having a picture of her on your desk, print out one of the two of you, and toss this lone ranger one in your trashcan–oh, hey!” I say, pretending to examine the little can under his desk. I point inside it. “Look! It’s your self-respect.”
“Shut up, Sawyer,” Dex mutters as he pops the locks on his briefcase and opens it—
We both gasp at the same time, then look at each other with what I’m sure are identical looks of horror.
The case is full to the brim of crisp stacks of $100 bills.
Hope you enjoyed it! Chapter 7 coming this Saturday (10/26/19).
© 2019 Mandy R. Campbell