Life Is Suffering. Have a RomCom?

*If you want to skip the musings about life and suffering and just read my story, skip to the Batman picture*

I’m not sure about any of the rest of you, but I’m feeling rather glum and cranky and sad 2696250-lg-greythese days. Lots of reasons and no reasons, you know? The weather is gloomy with rain, rain, more rain, rain, hey, look, it’s raining, rain, and grey skies for good measure. The temperatures this week have been very warm, but it nonetheless feels like we’re stuck in the rut of winter hoping that days will someday lengthen. Will spring come? Will it lift our spirits when it does? Can anything lift our spirits?

A local fourteen year old girl killed herself last week. My kids didn’t know her, but my daughter has a good friend who was her friend. My daughter plays in Honors band and this girl was in Honors orchestra, so their paths most likely crossed on the Honors tour or other places. The girl went to a school across town. She was bullied. I don’t know the full story–I don’t need to know the full story to feel the immediate upwelling of grief and fear and painful empathy. I didn’t know this girl, but I’ve cried for her and her family. My daughter–also fourteen–is shaken. Shaken by the glimpse of mortality so close, yet not close. Shaken by the realization that pain can be so great suicide seems like an answer. Shaken by her friend’s grief. Shaken by the extent of the world’s suffering.

Remember: Suicide is never the answer. Reach out to someone, anyone. Call the National Suicide hands-holding-a-heartPrevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Email me or call/text or tweet or FB me. Seriously. I’m here for you–even those of you I don’t know. I don’t need to know you to love you–and I do. I love you, each of you, for all that makes you you. If I don’t know you yet, I STILL love you. And I’d love to get to know you.

I’ve had two close friends struggle with suicidal ideation this winter. Thank all the gods they are both in a better place right now. I’ve had friends experience huge losses. My BFF has lived with the fear and trauma of a major family medical issue. Then, in my own family, there’s Parkinson’s. And the difficulties of middle school and all the pain of growing up.

I don’t know how to strip away the suffering that seems to be at the core of life. I guess I can’t. No one can–we just learn to love in spite of all the suffering. Stubbornly and desperately, we love.

So.

I can’t make things better for all of you, but I decided I would post my RomCom here for everyone to read. I don’t intend to publish it, so I’m happy for it to be out here as a freebie. Maybe it will bring a smile to your face–it’s kind of cute. Maybe it will be a reprieve.

Without further ado, I bring you “Fifty Thousand Batmans,” my story written for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge on the prompts: romantic comedy, cosplay, and fashion designer.


Fifty Thousand Batmans

by Sarah E. Stevens

 

Tanvi: Tomorrow!61si8r5umml-_sy550_

Andrew: I know, right?

Tanvi: I hope we don’t hate each other, haha.

Andrew: LOL if we do, at least the Con ends Sunday. 

Tanvi: We won’t hate each other. I just hope…

Andrew: What?

Tanvi: I don’t know. 

Andrew: What? Tell me.

Tanvi: Like. Sunday already seems too soon.

Andrew: Haha, I know. 

Tanvi: Haha, I feel stupid. 

Andrew: Not stupid. 🙂 

Tanvi: 🙂 I gotta sleep. Lots of travel tomorrow.

Andrew: Ok. Night. Tomorrow.

Tanvi: Tomorrow.  ❤ 😀

Tanvi hit send, then stared at her phone for a minute before she silenced it. She flopped down on the bed.

After seven months of playing World of Warcraft, she’d finally meet Andrew tomorrow. They’d clicked immediately after joining the same WoW guild and seemed to have everything in common, including their love of video games, Dungeons and Dragons, board games, and superheroes. And now they’d meet up at geekdom’s largest event: GenCon. Tanvi still couldn’t believe she and her best friend Grace scraped up enough money to go. Grace used every cent of her birthday money to buy their Con badges and Tanvi committed to putting all their food on her credit card. Student loan money would hit in a few weeks, so she could pay it off. Besides, after GenCon, they’d have enough business to make money. Hopefully.

*

“Oh my God. This is the longest line ever. Can’t we cut if we’re cosplaying?” Grace said, gesturing down at her elven mage outfit. She tossed her long red hair—a wig—behind her shoulders to show her pointed ears. Knowing Grace, she also wanted to draw even more attention to her green, faux-leaf bikini top.

“I wish,” Tanvi said. “We need our badges, though. Line or no line.”

“Can I take your picture?” a man asked. “Great costumes.”

Tanvi and Grace posed while the man took several shots. Then, Tanvi fished in her belt pouch and handed him a business card. “We design for cosplayers. We can make anything to order. Like us on Facebook and tell your friends. ”

“Okay,” he said. He shoved the card deep in the pocket of his jeans.

That’ll go right in the trash, Tanvi thought. Waste of two cents.

“Your armor looks so badass,” said Grace. She ran a finger along the edge of Tanvi’s foam gauntlet.

“They really need to teach us this at the Art Institute. There’s lots of money in cosplay.”

“That’s why we’re gonna make it big.”

Tanvi caught a glimpse of a Batman down the hall and her heart jumped. Andrew? Her pulse pounded in her ears as she stepped out of line and looked. No. Stupid. She knew his flight didn’t get in for two hours. She needed to calm down.

“Hey, I’m running to the bathroom. Be back before you move far.” Tanvi gestured to the line snaking down the hallway.

“Have fun.”

Navigating the bathroom was a pain in the neck. Tanvi took off her leg armor so she could pull down her black leggings, the whole time vowing not to drink anything else all day so she didn’t have to do this often. As she fastened the armor back over her thighs, she bumped her belt pouch and—

“CRAP!”

Phone, right in the toilet. Panicked, Tanvi plunged her hand in to grab it.

“Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew,” she chanted as she hurried to the sink, then paused in confusion. She couldn’t clean off the phone without getting it even wetter.

“Did you drop it in?” asked a teenager applying mascara in the mirror.

“Yeah.”

“Here.” The teen pulled a bottle of hand sanitizer from her purse.

“Thanks.” Tanvi gingerly squirted the sanitizer on the phone and rubbed it around with a paper towel until it evaporated. With a shrug, she deemed it disinfected. She held her breath and pushed the front button.

Nothing.

Dead, black screen.

She pushed the power button, then held it down.

“I heard you should put it in rice,” said the same teen.

“Good thing I brought a bag of rice to GenCon,” said Tanvi.

“Yeah, right? I love your costume. Where’d you get it?”

“I made it. Here.” She handed the teen a card and hurried back to the registration line in a panic. “Grace, I dropped my phone in the toilet and it’s dead!”

“Oh, hell no.”

“Hell yes. How am I going to text Andrew?”

“Don’t you know his number?”

“Of course not. Do you know anyone’s number?”

“My mom’s. Facebook him?”

“He doesn’t have Facebook. Thinks it’s stupid.”

“Well, he’s stupid.”

“Helpful.”

“Sorry.”

“Seriously, what am I going to do?” said Tanvi.

“He’s here as Batman, right? You’ll find all the Batmans. Batmen? People-in-Batman-costumes. GenCon’s not that big,” said Grace.

“There’s over fifty thousand people here.”

“Yeah, but there’s not fifty thousand Batmans. Batmen.”

*

But the next day, it seemed like there were fifty thousand Batmans and Tanvi cursed the new movie under her breath.

She stood on the second floor and scanned the crowd entering the vendor hall. She saw seven Batmen—seven—within the first three minutes. Every time Tanvi caught a glimpse of a black-garbed superhero, her stomach lurched. They all wore masks, of course, which did not help. Tanvi ruled out some by virtue of their height or girth, but that still left several possibilities.

“Andrew!” she yelled, hoping someone might look up. No one heard her above the noise of the crowd.

Tanvi headed down the escalator after a promising Batman and hurried to keep him in sight. She wended her way through the vendor stalls.

There he was. Looked about six feet tall. Not too heavy, not too thin. She pushed past a couple blocking the aisle with a double-wide stroller, ducked under the outstretched arm of someone reaching for boardgames, and slid to a stop next to her target.

“Andrew?” she said.

“What?” The man turned to look at her and she could see blue eyes through the eyeholes in his black mask. She could also see wrinkles. Definitely not a college student.

“Uh, nevermind.” She backed away. Her foot caught on the wheel of that damned stroller and she sprawled in the aisle. Her foam sword got tangled in the legs of the crowd, making several other people stumble.

By the time, she stood up and straightened her armor, the not-Andrew Batman had disappeared, so at least she didn’t need to explain herself. She pasted on a smile and handed out business cards to the cluster of people gawking at her.

*

“I’ve chased like forty-nine Batmans. Batmen. None of them Andrew,” Tanvi collapsed next to Grace on the bench.

As some people stopped to look at them, they stood up to smile, pose for more pictures, and hand out cards.

“Maybe you should give up on Andrew. Look!” Grace splayed a handful of papers.

“What is that?”

“Phone numbers. And hotel rooms. Lots of guys around here love slutty elven mages with long, red hair. You could meet someone new!”

“I want to find Andrew.”

“Did you see there’s a video game room?”

“No, where?”

Grace pointed down the hall. “I’m not sure if they have WoW. But if they do—”

“If they do, I can message him! Grace, you’re a genius.” Tanvi bounded to her feet. “Come on.”

“Okay, but I need to meet this guy Travis by the pizza truck at 5:00. If he buys me dinner, you won’t have to.”

The video game area was dark, lit mostly by large screens. Tanvi blinked until her eyes adjusted, paid for her entry with generic tickets, then headed to an area with monitors displaying WoW.

“Come on, come on,” Tanvi muttered as she logged in. As soon as the game loaded, she sent a message to Andrew.

My phone broke. Where are you? Call me at the Red Roof Inn, room 429. 

No answer, of course. He wasn’t logged in. Why would he be? But Tanvi hoped he’d think to check his WoW messages.

He would. Wouldn’t he?

*

Morning of day two and still no Andrew. She’d gone back to the hotel early last night, but the phone never rang. Grace stumbled in full of stories about late night Dungeons and Dragons and some guy named Zach. Tanvi didn’t know what happened to pizza-truck Travis.

The costume parade started in an hour. Perfect place to find the right Batman.

Today, they both cosplayed Overwatch. Tanvi was Tracer, wearing bright orange leggings and a futuristic aviator jacket, replete with a blue LED light.

“You’re sure he’s Batman again?” asked Grace.

“Yes, all Con. He loves Batman.”

“So must everyone else.” Grace gestured behind Tanvi.

Tanvi looked.

A veritable locust swarm of Batmans just joined the parade.

“Holy crap, there must be like a hundred of them,” Tanvi said. “Andrew’s got to be here! This must be a Batman meet-up or something.”

She darted toward the swarm and pushed into their midst. She passed by Batman after Batman, rejecting some with a glance, studying others a moment longer.

“Andrew?” she called. Many Batmen looked at her with seeming amusement.

“Looking for me?” A Batman stepped toward her and she ran toward him. She flung her arms around him and reached up to kiss his cheek.

“Andrew!” she said. “Oh my God, I thought I’d never find you.”

“Who’s Andrew?” said the Batman.

Tanvi froze in confusion.

“Hey, cute girl,” said another Batman. “I’ll be your Andrew if I get a kiss.”

“No, I’m Andrew,” a shorter Batman said.

“I’m Andrew,” said another, stepping forward.

Soon, a chorus of Caped Crusaders surrounded her, all claiming, “I am Andrew!”

Blushing furiously, she turned tail and fled through the mass of catcalling Batmans. She ran past Grace, down the corridor, and around the corner into relative peace and quiet where she collapsed in embarrassment.

*

After the parade fiasco, Tanvi’s heart stopped thumping at the sight of every Batman. Instead, her face flushed and she kept wondering which one she’d kissed. After several hours of fruitless Andrew-hunting, she handed over more tickets to check her WoW messages.

I thought you were ignoring me, haha. Called ur hotel this morning. Where R U? Meet me at giant Settlers of Catan sheep around 2 pm? 

“Yes!” Tanvi flung her arms up in triumph. “Grace, we gotta get to those inflatable sheep. Right away. It’s 1:55.”

Tanvi raced toward the exhibit hall. A bellydancer troupe performed near the entrance and she slowed down to navigate them. A group of middle schoolers dressed like the Pokemon pushed past her in a whirl of fur and color. She could see the giant Catan sheep through open doors and fought to get closer. Then she saw a guy in a Batman costume, leaning against a table nearby.

She shrieked and grabbed Grace. “Grace, that’s him! That’s him. It’s got to be. That’s Andrew.”

“Right,” Grace peeled her friend’s fingers off her upper arm. “That’s why we’re here, loser. Go talk to him!”

Now that the moment had arrived, though, Tanvi felt rooted to the spot. The Batman shifted his feet and looked up at the sheep, then at the crowds pushing through the area. Suddenly, he stood up tall and walked away.

“Where’s he going?” Tanvi said. She took two steps closer to the exhibit hall.

Andrew hurried up to a girl and tapped on her shoulder. When the girl turned around, he grabbed her in a giant hug, nearly lifting her from the ground.

“That girl’s cosplaying Mei. From Overwatch,” said Tanvi.

“Maybe he knows her?”

They watched. The girl pushed away from Andrew and said something with a sharp look on her face. He took a step backward and lifted his hands. They spoke. He shook his head.

“Grace, he thought that girl was me.”

“So what if he did?”

“He knew I was coming as Tracer. He knew. I told him.”

“Maybe he got confused. It’s been a long Con already.”

“Look at me.” Tanvi gestured at her outfit. “Mei wears a fur-trimmed, blue parka and snow boots. Do I look anything like that?”

“Tanvi, calm down and go say hi.”

“No.”

“No?”

Tanvi turned and walked away from the exhibit hall. She leaned against a wall, then slid down to sit with her knees hugged into her chest.

“You’re not going to go meet Andrew because he forgot what Overwatch character you are?” Grace asked.

“It’s all been a lie, Grace. Every bit of it. I don’t even know him.”

“Because he thought you were Mei instead of Tracer?”

“Because he doesn’t care enough to remember! I remember everything he’s ever said to me. Everything. Quiz me.”

“Tanvi. That’s stupid. Also? Kind of creepy.”

Tanvi covered her face with her hands. “That girl doesn’t even look like me.”

“Wow. You are ridiculous, my friend. Ridiculous.”

“Am I?”

“Uh, yeah. You are. That’s why I said it. You’ve been talking to this guy for seven months, right?”

“Right.”

“And this weekend is the only time you have to see him, because he lives in New Jersey. Am I still right?”

“So?”

“So, get off your ass, put a big smile on your face, and go meet Andrew,” Grace said.

Tanvi sat.

A shadow paused in front of Tanvi and Grace. Both girls looked up.

“Tanvi?” Batman said. “Is that—you’re Tanvi, right?”

Tanvi scrambled to her feet. “Um. Hi.”

The Batman’s mouth curved in a huge smile and Tanvi could see his brown eyes crinkle behind the facemask. “I’m Andrew.”

“Yeah, hi.” She smiled back. “I’m Tanvi.”

“Hi.”

They stood there looking awkwardly at each other for a moment.

“Oh, come on.” Grace stood up. “Andrew, Tanvi. Tanvi, Andrew. You’ve been looking for each other for two days. Now you’ve found each other. So, come on. Hug.”

They both looked at her. Andrew took a half step forward and paused, then Tanvi moved the rest of the way into his arms. Tanvi thought she could hear his heart racing.

“That’s more like it! Now, Andrew, Tanvi’s upset because she saw you hug that Mei-girl. Apparently you couldn’t even remember what her cosplay was.”

“You saw that?” The bottoms of Andrews cheeks—the part not hidden by his mask—reddened. “I was really nervous. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“It’s okay,” said Tanvi. And she thought maybe it was.

“It’s definitely okay, because Tanvi’s kissed like half a dozen guys today.”

“No! Like. One,” said Tanvi.

“What?” Andrew looked confused.

“Don’t worry, she thought he was you. Now, Andrew,” said Grace. “Take off that mask so we can see you.”

Tanvi smiled, then shrugged as if to agree.

Andrew pulled off his Batman mask and shook his head. Brown floppy hair, warm eyes, brows slightly raised.

“Nice,” said Grace. “He’ll do. Right, Tanvi?”

“Out of all the fifty thousand Batmans, I think he might just do,” she said.

“Fifty thousand Batmans?” said Andrew.

“Batmen?” offered Tanvi.

“People-in-Batman-costumes,” said Grace.

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