1. The Store
2. The House
3. The Dream
“Ta-daaaah!” Daph waves her hands in a melodramatic manner.
I raise an eyebrow. “Yeessss?”
“Behold the wonder that is – XXSports!”
I look at the rather small entrance to the shop, tucked in a large strip mall with a Trader Joe’s, a Marshall’s, and a nice Mediterranean restaurant that Jason took me to the other day. I hadn’t noticed XXSports between the dry cleaners and the bundt cake shop.
“Wait,” I say, “Is this a place that sells equipment for those nonsensical commercial fringe games that everyone thinks are so cool and hip but are just another way to rip off a younger generation of viewers who don’t watch more conventional sports?”
“Uhhhh …” She shakes her head. “You know, Marion asked me the same question. No, those are the X-Sports. This, my friend, is the best women’s sporting goods store in town, bar none.”
“Okay, I can see the attraction for you, but I don’t really do any organized sports.”
“I thought you said you did some self-defense classes. Martial arts training.”
Ugh. I had said that, after Daph had made a comment about a way I turned to catch a book that she’d knocked off the carrel. “Oh. Well, that’s not all that organized. I’m not in competition.”
She cocks her head at me.
Daph has an uncanny sense of when I’m telling the truth. Or not. “Okay, I’m not going to any tournaments.”
She laughs. “Right. But you’re still one of the most competitive people I know.”
“Oh, girl – you always have to have the last word, have to convince me and everyone else about your opinion, or convince yourself that we are beyond convincing but you’re still right. I’ll bet, even if your class or dojo doesn’t go to tournaments, you still compete to be the best person there. Amirite?”
Uncomfortably so. Even if I have to try three times as hard vs. people with powers. “Mmmaybe.”
She laughs again. It’s a throaty bray that some folk would find offputting, but I find charming in its whole-heartedness. “So there is something here that will tickle your fancy.”
“I really don’t need any sort of costume – er, uniform. It’s not that kind of … class, and I have everything of that sort I need.”
“But this place is the one local supplier of the best brand of the one thing that I know you do need, because I need it to, and I assure you, nobody in town has anything nearly as good.”
“And … that would be …?”
She leans in close. “Sports bras.”
The concept of athletic bras is, as you might guess, not unfamiliar to me. Being a globe-trotting daughter of a master science criminal, I’ve had access to a variety of them, rarely the same brand twice. Sometimes something upscale. Sometimes something I found in some shop in Ulan Bator. Sometimes options that turned out to be inadequate to the task; on a few occasions, something grabbed for me by one of Father’s minions based on my measurements, which almost never worked well.
(Father did not turn his genius to the design of the ideal sports bra for me. Which is perhaps just as well, as that would have been a bit disturbing.)
Once I was on my own, my resources were much more limited. Even now, back on my own, I’ve been relying on adequate models from a sporting goods store near the school. (AEGIS actually provided me something as part of my overall kit, but, like all classic complaints about military clothing from the supply sergeant, it was not quite the right size, in number of ways.)
Daph’s commentary on the store seems a bit odd when I realize they have only a single brand in stock, albeit in a variety of constructions and strap types and the like. The materials look good, though, and the price within the bounds of my purchasing ability –
(Does the ideal society provide clothing for free? Any sort of clothing, or just the basics? What about specialized clothing like sports bras? I digress.)
– so the key will be whether the actual bras themselves are what I need.
(I have copious commentary on any number of peripheral subjects here, from female physiognomy to normal brassiere construction to the Western sexualization-to-the-point-of-ludicrousness of lactation organs to the problematic nature of maneuvering around in a brawl with said organs trying to flap about. I will spare you for the moment, except to note that Daph is correct, and I do need a good sports bra. Several, in fact.)
“So lacrosse, that’s high impact. What would you say your athleticism level is, Alycia?”
“Yeah, high impact. That sounds about right. Okay, I’m a C cup, you’re probably – a B?”
I pause. “Yes.”
This feels vaguely awkward, though evidently only for me. My interactions with other women regarding lingerie have not had any baseline of normalcy – be it in barracks, military prisons, elite boarding schools, or the most bizarre conversation (which is saying something) I ever had with Summer. Daph’s take on all of this in such a prosaic, but focused, fashion is difficult to adjust to initially.
Especially when it ends up with us in the dressing room with a half-dozen possible candidates stacked on the chair, myself stripped to the waist line, and Daphne eyeing me with an intensity I would normally expect from Jason or, in a more analogous situation, the denizens of Zhukov Academy, except without a trace of carnality about it. It still doesn’t make me any more comfortable.
It’s not a matter of body sensitivity – again, living in a barracks, or in a military school/prison like Zhukov quickly erodes such a thing. It just evokes unpleasant memories, coupled with the sense that Daph knows more about this, for some unknown reason, than I do.
“Okay, I’m going to guess the racerback straps, if we have the right size. They should provide the --” She stops, looking to the side as though a thought has occurred to her.
After a moment, I prod, “Provide …?”
She stands upright, eyes meeting mine. “No. This is not right.”
“Well, yeah, I have to admit I’m a bit uncomfortable, but that’s my upbringing, plus the air conditioning in here is a bit high, but --”
“I will not allow this.”
“Look, this was your idea --”
She spins about, throws open the curtain between the dressing room and the rest of the shop, and run out.
Okay, that’s not what I was expecting.
Lack of body sensitivity doesn’t mean I don’t feel like flashing the entire store when Daph abruptly exits the dressing room, leaving the curtain wide open. Fortunately the alcove faces the back of the store laterally, so I can just step over and pull closed the curtain before turning to fumble back into my clothing –
A flash of bright light. A loud crash. Glass shattering. A scream, male. Another, female. The hell …?
I hear footsteps slapping the floor towards me, and I step out of the dressing room. Young man, white, scraggly light brown hair and beard, army surplus jacket, black tee, jeans, pistol in his hand, fear in his face turning to surprise as a topless woman walks in front of him –
He screeches to a halt in the aisle, gawking, fear forgotten (see what I mean about ludicrousness?), until I kick the gun out of his hand, step in and drive an elbow into his throat (not quite hard enough to kill, more than enough to disable), even as I’m taking in the rest of the shop.
The store extends back-to-front the depth of the overall. The check-out counter by the entrance is hard to see, with all the display racks in-between, but I can see Daph up there, and another person dressed similarly to the one I just dispatched. He does something and she hits him with what looks like a glowing baseball bat – and there’s another crash of glass.
I’m already moving when Daph shouts, “No!” Followed by, "No, no, no, no!" in a steadily increasing volume and pitch and sense of panic … and then runs out the front of the shop.
I get up to the front counter to see the clerk lying on the ground, bleeding from a head wound. Except – there’s blood, but no wound I can see. The same is untrue for not one but two more men (ages in their early twenties, similarly scruffy), who are lying, bloody and unconscious, smashed down into the glass display cabinet / counter where the cash register was. They’re cut up pretty badly, but I don’t see any arterial spurting or anything that looks life threatening for the moment. There are some limb pointed in painful and/or unnatural directions.
I turn to run after Daph, pause, start to reach down for the phone, and realize the complications of both a foiled robbery and of my own dishabille. In order then –
I run back to the dressing room, throw on my t-shirt (black, with “My favorite season is the Fall of the Patriarchy” on the front, an anonymous gift I found in my locker at AEGIS last time I checked in), stuff my own bra into my satchel, and go running back to the front of the shop (giving my sparring partner an additional kick to the head where he was still lying, gasping, to ensure his continued cooperation), grabbing his pistol from where I dropped it (using a sports shirt on the rack to avoid fingerprints/DNA), running to the front of the store again, checking on the clerk (no discernable injuries, just blood, heartbeat good, should be coming out of it shortly), pick up two more pistols of various makes and but general low quality, put all three guns into a shopping bag which I set next to the clerk, find the phone, call 911 about a robbery with people injured, hang up the phone before the questions can start, and run out the door after Daph.
Who, of course, is nowhere to be seen. Which seems like a good idea at the moment, and then I see her car – a used silver Corolla – pulling out of the lot, which means I’m also on my own for transportation.
I am not happy about this. And I never did get to try on any of the bras.
[to be continued]
author: *** Dave H.