BY SOPHIA MARUSIC
Finalist for the 2020 Adroit Prize for Prose
At first, I got the blog account so that I could post my shitty poetry. After, I didn’t want to write poetry anymore because I sounded like everyone else that wanted to write shitty poetry with images of cigarettes and ribcages and sunflowers. Then the account was to repost screen caps of television shows with soft sad British boys saying soft sad things to the only girl that understood them, so that later I could imagine what it would be like for these boys to tie me up and lick all of my teeth one by one. When all of this happened I was using the blog to cyberbully a popular performance artist, if you could even call what he did art, and write homoerotic fan fiction about Marvel superheroes.
My stories got thousands of hearts. People would send messages demanding more incest, more kinks, more Ironman and less Incredible Hulk. People would send me messages about how my writing was the only thing that they looked forward to in this cold and tiresome life. They would send me messages asking to buy locks of my hair, my used tissues, telling me that they were in love with me and would die if I didn’t respond.
I had been watching videos of soap sculptures for three hours when I couldn’t help myself any longer and searched ASMRBoyf on Youtube. The account had posted a new video thirty nine minutes ago and it already had over four thousand views: ASMR JEALOUSY ROLEPLAY sleep inducing (not clickbait). I clicked on it. A blond boy was centered close on the screen. He wore a pink button down and a face that could appear on a cereal box: green eyes, round cheeks, a strong jaw. The audio hummed with soft, white noise.
“I can’t believe you wore that dress tonight. What were you thinking?”
That stupid tingling feeling over my arms and the back of my neck.
“Oh really, you didn’t know that your ex-boyfriend was going to be there?”
His mouth was a cruel line.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t invite me. Did you want to see him alone?”
“You don’t care about me. You didn’t even text me when you got home. I had to text you
to find out.”
I started drafting a comment from an account that I had created exclusively for the
wbgirl4275: you are terrible and gross and you look like you smell like a petting zoo
youre trash actually
people like you shouldnt be allowed to have the internet
“I only say all of this because I love you so much.”
you are never going to find love because you dont deserve it
I imagined girls and boys across the country closing their eyes in the blue grey dark of their rooms and picturing ASMRBoyf’s sitcom boyface resting on the pillow next to them and thinking that this was as close as they would ever get to love. I, myself, was guilty of that, except I knew ASMRBoyf not just as ASMRBoyf but also as Jasper, and once I knew him as my Jasper, so it seemed more justified, more fleshy.
My comment was instantly disliked. Below it:
shwnmendz_gf: jaz don’t listen to these haters this bitch can go kill herself you’re perf bb
I closed my computer, satisfied.
The first story I wrote wasn’t good, but it exploded across the Marvel fan fiction multiverse for reasons I can’t fully explain because there was very little sex or magic involved. In the story, Iron Man asks Captain America if they can train together, to test new weapons and improve his hand to hand sparring. In many of these early moments, one man is sneaking glances at the muscled flat planes of the other’s chest in the Avenger Tower locker room. Neither of them fully understands. Iron Man starts hitting the super soldier with an open hand, feeling the urge leave the full mark of his touch blooming purple on the other man’s body. Cap just hits back harder.
When Jasper and I got coffee for the first time after working on a science project together, I pretended like I had never seen any of his videos. He made me watch one in the cinnamon spice noise of the Starbucks up the street from our school. ASMRBoyf: Sick GF Roleplay.
By the thirtieth chapter of my story, the two men stop eating. They stop sleeping and they revel in long anguished looks out of the window when they are alone. When they are together, they grapple until they can taste the sweat of the other in their lovestruck, thirsty mouths. Captain America breaks up with Black Widow although he doesn’t know why. She suspects the truth, but such is the nature of love: it is obvious to everyone else and someone must always get hurt. There are always more than two parts.
Black Widow tells Cap it’s about Iron Man; I tried free indirect discourse in this part, but I didn’t do it very well, so it reads in a very confusing way. However, the reader knows that after talking to Black Widow, the Captain is certain of his love. The soldier rushes to Tony Stark’s bedroom and catches him as he is emerging from the shower. Consumed with the fires of his passion, Captain America, over the course of several long and tortured paragraphs, reaches out to kiss the billionaire genius and that is where the story ends.
I wrote “To Be Continued,” but I knew I would never finish it.
The comments from my readers were apocalyptic.
Last week I returned Jasper’s hoodies that I still had. I had to leave them on his front porch because no one was home, even though he said he would be there and I waited for forty three minutes. I bought him a new one, too, as a sort of thank you and a sorry I kept these for so long. It was a Captain America sweatshirt, which he would find funny if he still read my stories.
It was early evening and the entire house was quiet in a haunted sort of way. My parents were in Ohio for the weekend showing our dog, an English Springer Spaniel named Alfonso. My mother and father, who had already looked like each other for a number of years, had started to increasingly take after Alfonso, a fact that disturbed and amused me in equal parts. My older brother, Linus, wasn’t home either. He lived shamefully in the basement and called it renting. He was very small and never made very much noise. The only way to know he was home was the smell of burning pizza bagels and something vaguely chemical that I could never place.
A text message from Laertes:
Her: wanna go out tn
Me: what’s going on
Her: my valets told me they know the bouncer at Nuclear Coyote could be fun- at least
they could get us in
Me: ya sure my parents aren’t home
Her: is your brother
can he get us anything
has he said anything about me lately
Her: no he’s not home or no he can’t get us anything
or no he hasn’t said anything about me
Me: I’ll ask
And then I put my phone on airplane mode and closed my eyes. Laertes liked to flirt with my brother even though he looked like a capybara because he was very small. A few months ago, she was throwing up in my shower while I was shampooing her hair, and she told me that her dad used to hit her mom all the time before she and her mom left him and moved here. It was the first secret anyone had ever told me that mattered. I didn’t say anything after she said it, my fingers massaging grapefruit scent into her hair. She was naked and crying and vomiting up vanilla vodka. Vomit got on my sneakers, but that was okay because I was already wearing my sneakers in the shower. We didn’t talk about it later, either. As a sort of penance for my silence I had decided it was okay for her to love my brother.
Laertes was in my kitchen talking to Linus when I came downstairs. He was twenty two years old and making a sandwich with crunchy peanut butter and ham.
“Frankie, you look terrible.” Laertes said from her perch on our kitchen counter. She had a lemur demeanor, with big eyes ringed in eyeliner, thin, angular limbs that moved with a nearly inhuman mobility, and dark hair that would first be described as fuzzy before being described as anything else.
I looked in the mirror above the sink and saw that my nostrils were rimmed with blood like gory halos. I must have had a nosebleed during my nap, I would have to check my pillowcases. The rest of me was a normal beige color. I shrugged, “I just woke up.”
“It’s 9pm.” My brother said, his mouth full of peanuts and meat and Wonder Bread. I shrugged again. Laertes looked at him adoringly.
“Linus, we’re going out tonight. Do you have anything for us?” She shifted her weight onto her other arm, brushing her fingers over the back of his peanut buttered hand in a calculated casual display of affection. Her blatant flirting with the boy who had once torn the middle pages out of all of my favorite picture books didn’t bother me. She was privately a virgin.
Linus, shaking his mustardy hair out of his eyes, addressed me instead, “I told Mom and Dad I wouldn’t sell to you and your friends.”
“Fine by me,” I said. “Do you think I like people asking me if you have poppers?” He held up his small middle finger. It looked like a baby carrot.
Laertes snickered and he went back to eating.
“You should come with us,” she said. “We’re going to Nuclear Coyote.”
It was Linus’s turn to laugh. He finished his sandwich in repulsive, wolfing bites. “You guys will never get in there. You look twelve.”
“Kids from school go there all the time,” I said, but Laertes shot back louder.
“Oh yeah?” She tossed her black ringlets over her shoulder, “The valet at my building knows the bouncers. He’s in the fight tonight. He’s going to get us in.”
“Sure he is.”
“The fight?” I asked. “You didn’t say anything about a fight.”
“Yeah,” Laertes said, the whole of her body turned to my brother, straddling him with her irritation, “and he always checks me out when I come back from bikram. So he totally wants to hook up. And I might let him.”
“Good for you,” Linus said. “He sounds like a great guy.” He started to make another sandwich.
My brother was once a great guy. He had always been a small guy, but he was once a great guy. When he was in eighth grade, they would bus him over to the high school to take advanced calculus with the seniors. When he was a sophomore, he took some kind of math test and placed in the top ten in the country. He had this girlfriend, Elizabeth, who was even smaller than him and loved him endlessly, and they worked at a summer program together and tutored underserved middle schoolers in our community. In his junior year of high school, while my parents chaperoned my Model United Nations trip, he holed up in his room for five straight days and lost three hundred thousand dollars playing online poker tournaments.
Laertes looked at him as if her heart was broken.
In one of my stories, Ironman comes home after a long day of fighting Ultron and needs to be stitched up. He’s tired and, as always, hopelessly and frustratingly in love. The only person home is Captain America and his super soldier hands are surprisingly gentle trying to knit this bloody gash back together. I wrote: his hands are like the shadows of songbirds over the early morning orange groves.
One time, Jasper got an appendectomy and I stayed in the waiting room for three hours, but when the doctor came out and told his mom that he could have visitors, I left. I never told him about this. He just thought I didn’t come.
In my story, there’s a moment where you would think they’re about to kiss, but then they don’t. Over time, Ironman’s wound festers. Captain America forgot to disinfect the needle before he started. They pretend like the moment the kiss almost happened never happened. Ironman forgives Cap for not remembering that he is not a super soldier with super immunity because he is still hopelessly and frustratingly in love. He loses his left arm below the elbow to infection. He feels the phantom touch of the soldier’s hand over his and, at times, a sharp and needling pain, but he survives.
I lost many followers after I posted this story. People messaged me asking if I was okay. I wanted to grab my readers by their faces and tell them THIS IS THE BEST YOU CAN HOPE FOR SOMETIMES.
Nuclear Coyote has a neon sign that flashes in orange and pink. Laertes stood underneath it, a dark shadow lit up in summer hues, furiously texting. Her finger was raised to me, telling me to wait just a minute. We stood out of line, a jostling clump of winter breath and smoky eyes. Linus had driven us after all and had already gone in fifteen minutes ago.
“Okay,” she said at last, letting out a rush of a sigh that clouded in front of her, “Alan is going to come out to get us right now.” Alan was her building valet. She had also said this seven minutes ago and also three minutes before that.
“We should get fake IDs,” I said, rubbing my shivering arms, “I just saw, like, fourteen people from school go in and it wasn’t a big deal.”
Laertes rolled her eyes, “Sure,” she huffed, “and be ineligible to work with the CIA forever? I don’t think so.”
I shrugged. I saw no allure in being a spy, but I was a little drunk already and had no reason to argue with her. I didn’t know where I would get a fake ID, anyway.
“Hey!” A deep voice carried over the noise of the line, “Larry! Baby!” Laertes squealed and jumped up, waving her arms wildly.
“Larry?” I asked, but she ignored me.
Suddenly, a shirtless giant appeared behind us and slung both of his giant arms over our shoulders, letting us take the full brunt of his giant weight. I nearly toppled to the ground, but Laertes giggled and swung into an embrace against his naked chest. He tickled her forehead with his beard. I looked at the hairy forearm pinning me against his hairless pectorals and saw a tattoo of Rebecca in cursive script. I wondered if Rebecca was also a seventeen year old girl.
He pushed us through the doors and past the bouncers with his giant body. The inside of Nuclear Coyote was as I imagined most bars to look, but in the middle of the dance floor was a boxing ring. The music thumped through the walls. He continued to steer us, keeping a firm grip on our shoulders. We were stopped by an out of commission juke box.
Alan released Laertes first and leaned into me, pushing his lips between my hair and meeting my ear with a wet whisper, “You’re very pretty, you know that? I’ve seen you when you come over to Larry’s. I’ve parked your car.” I shuddered, but gave a smile and a nod. Then he pushed us together, tousling our heads. “Let me get you girls some drinks. Stay here.”
“Wait,” I grabbed his arm and shouted over the bass, “Who’s Rebecca?”
Alan squinted at me, “Uh, my daughter.”
I let him go and he walked away, weaving between the faceless bodies between us and the bar. The music beat so loud that the air seemed to shake with it.
“This is great, isn’t it?” Laertes screamed, doing a little dance and dropping it low against the jukebox. As answer, I joined her, grinding up against her thighs. She laced her arms underneath my boobs and yelled into my neck, “Where’s Linus?”
I scanned the room for my brother and pointed at a clump of people in the far corner by the bathrooms. He did a lot of business on nights out.
“God, I hope we have sex tonight,” Laertes said, still rocking my hips in time with hers.
“I hope Linus and I hook up again,” she said, slower and louder, every word a shooting pain up my spine that somehow ended in my toenails. I stopped dancing. At that moment, Alan arrived with our drinks, big, icy, neon blue things.
“I hope you guys like gin,” he sang, “Do you want to take a shot first?”
I pulled away and turned to face Laertes. “You and Linus have hooked up?” My stomach felt like it was full of tar and something prehistoric was bubbling to the surface.
“Yeah, I mean? Yeah, a few weeks ago, but…” she grabbed my hand. The music was being increasingly polluted with the rhythmic whirs of machinery and saxophone. I threw her hand off of mine.
“Okay, let’s all cool down for a second, maybe have a drink,” Alan said with patronizing calm.
I grabbed my drink from him, “Fuck off, you creep.”
“Whoa, okay. Jesus.” he said, but didn’t move back at all because he was a creep.
“Frankie, come on,” Laertes whined, “I thought you knew. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”
“Whatever,” I said. Even though I knew it probably didn’t happen, I couldn’t shake the image of Linus washing Laertes hair while she was crying and vomiting in the shower. I wondered what secrets she told him. How his tiny hands felt on her scalp. Was he better at comforting her, or was our uneasy silence genetic?
I turned to find my brother to yell at him about boundaries and his continued loss of great guyness that had deposited him at the bottom of a canyon of disgrace when I saw Jasper. ASMRBoyf. Leaning against the wall in a salmon button down, waiting by the bathroom. I turned back to face Laertes, my toenails throbbing, and threw up onto her boots.
In another one of my stories, Captain America decides Ironman’s lifestyle isn’t for him. He breaks up with him, retires, and lives as a civilian. He starts a chain of cross-fit gyms and commits to the keto diet and discovers what it is to be fully happy. Love wasn’t enough to make that other life the one he wanted. Maybe that meant it was never love. Ironman ponders these questions and unravels and drinks heavily and stops building. He starts sending Ironman drones to spy on Cap in the middle of the night. I changed the names in this one and submitted it to an English class and my teacher told me it was a delightful examination of voyeurism.
When Jasper ended things, he said, “It’s not you, it’s me.” And I said that I thought that he said it so perfectly that I nearly believed it.
I had to run from Laertes while she was still screaming. She hadn’t seen Jasper, too focused on the vomit splashing around her ankles. As I walked towards him, wiping clear bile from the corners of my lips, I imagined that I was walking down the aisle rather than the hallway to a bar bathroom. If we got married, would he be one of those grooms that shed a tear when he finally saw me?
I tapped his arm. He didn’t cry at my beauty, but spooked and dropped his drink, sloshing it down the front of his shirt.
“Fuck, Frankie,” he didn’t look at me, but over my head, frantically and wild eyed for anyone else. “What are you doing here? Did you follow me?”
I wasn’t listening, mesmerized by the rummy stain fading through his shirt that now looked more melon colored than salmon. I took napkins from around my drink and started patting at his chest, letting my hand linger. He grabbed both of my wrists tightly and I had to tell him he was hurting me.
“Did you follow me here? We’ve talked about this. I’ll call the police. I’ll call my dad and and he’ll call your mom.” His mouth was a cruel line. I shook my head.
“No,” I cried out over the music, “I didn’t know you were going to be here, I swear.” Without meaning to, just looking at his marble sneer, I started to cry. He seemed to soften a little, or at least he let go of my wrists.
“Who are you here with?”
“Laertes and Linus.” I said, sniffling, “I’m sorry. You can have my drink.” I offered him the blue drink Alan had given me and he took a long chug, his green eyes never leaving my face.
“Go back and tell her to take you home.”
Then the lights shut off and everything began to strobe.
“Who’s ready to rumble?” a voice boomed over the speakers, rolling the Rs and drawing out the e. Spotlights triangulated on boxing ring. In one corner was a hulking figure, undoubtedly Alan, dressed as Captain America. The other man was dressed as Ironman. He seemed nervous, his hands running over the front of his plastic suit. The various clumps that had occupied corners of the room flocked to the ring. They screamed with gladiatorial bloodlust. Alan waved his arms in the air, begging for more.
The bell wailed. I looked away. The music stopped and there was only the sound of flesh smacking flesh.
I was still crying. Jasper was watching me like I was something he had stepped in and now had to now leave to change his shoes. He told me to go home again, took another long drink and then coughed heavily. I was able to get a word in while he sputtered.
“Don’t you miss me at all?” I asked. “Do you read my stories? I write them for you.”
“Miss you?” Jasper laughed without humor and finished off the drink. “Frankie, we hooked up once. We went on two dates. You have to stop texting me. You have to stop following me. You have to stop leaving things in my locker and at my house. You have to stop emailing me that weird, thinly veiled porn you write. And you have to stop commenting all that horrible crazy shit on my videos.”
The ancient black goop of my insides bubbled up again, “What?”
“wbgirl? Come on. Knock it off.” He swayed a little as he spoke.
Something dangerous and dark was coming out of my liver, something saber-toothed and older than man. Behind Jasper’s head, Captain Alan launched himself from the corner of the ring and landed elbow first into Ironman’s eye socket. I felt the crunch fossilize through the room. People screamed. Nuclear Coyote came to halt. Ten minutes may have passed, an eternity.
“I…” I was afraid the tar would spill into my lungs if I said anything else. “Did you get your sweatshirt back?”
Jasper swayed against me, his hand gripping my shoulder to hold himself up, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You told me that you would be at home so I could drop them off.” I said lamely, but Jasper wasn’t paying attention.
He blinked furiously, unable to focus his eyes, “What the fuck did you do to me? Did you put something in this drink?”
The referee was holding Alan’s fist in the air while Ironman was being strapped to a stretcher. His face was full of holes, a topographical map of ouch.
“Captain America did it,” I said shaking him, as his head nodded and his eyes closed, “I didn’t know. It wasn’t for you.”
I was holding up his body by the side. And then even though I knew it was terrible, I kissed the top of his head, where I imagined his skull would open if it could and I could see his brain. And then I did it again, and again, and again.
I cried the entire drive back from Nuclear Coyote, curled up in the backseat with my head in Laertes’s lap as she continually wiped my nose with a fast food receipt to prevent the stream of snot from puddling on her leg. My upper lip quickly became chapped and raw, a mustache of irritation.
“What did you do?” Linus kept asking, turning around from the driver’s seat, his eyes wide and scared like the flashing yellow lights as we sped over the train tracks. “Frankie, what did you do?”
“Linus, literally shut the fuck up.” Laertes said, pinching my nose between her two fingers while I wailed. And he did.
I was still crying hard when I got into bed without changing out of my clothes or brushing my teeth. Before I got under the covers, I couldn’t tell you why I was crying; if it was that I was going to be blamed, if it was that Jasper would never love me the way I loved him. But my distress found shape; there was something terribly sad about the feeling of a leather jacket between bedsheets and my hot, old tongue in my mouth. Socks on for sleep sort of sadness.
Eventually, my crying subsided somewhat; I started to sweat but didn’t want to remove the covers. Linus and Laertes were talking in loud drunkish voices outside of my door that had the cadence of a whisper but not the volume.
“I thought you were supposed to be able to tell where he was, how did you not know he was going to be there? You’re on your phone literally all the time. This is your fault.” Linus said.
“He doesn’t post every single thing he does! And this isn’t anyone’s fault. She said Alan drugged that drink. He got them for us. She couldn’t have known. And she wouldn’t do that.”
“Do you know that?”
“She doesn’t talk about him anymore.”
“But you’ve read her stories.”
“She had a big crush and it fizzled out and he was kinda a dick and she’s getting over it. She didn’t drug him. She wouldn’t know what to do afterwards if she did.”
“His parents called the house and said she was just sitting on their porch last week with his sweatshirt.”
“Yeah, she was returning it. What’d you say to them?”
“Six months after their one date? How’d she even get it in the first place?”
“Okay, it was two dates and one was ice skating. And men can be chivalrous sometimes, particularly on dates. Not that you would know anything about that.”
I heard Linus’s exasperated sigh. “Fuck, Laertes, this is not the time.”
“It never is.”
“God, I should call my parents. What do I tell them?”
“Alan drugged that drink! Tell them a thirty year old guy tried to roofie their only daughter.”
“You know how it looks though, Laer.”
“Love is complicated.”
“Shut up. This isn’t. It’s going to ruin her life and I just…”
And then there was a choked noise and then silence. After a pause, there was the ruffling noise of embrace, the wet cluck of kissing, my best friend moaning into my brother’s mouth.
It was almost two in the morning. I started to cry again, loudly.
The door flung open and Laertes was all elbow and shadow, climbing into bed with me with no amount of grace and wrapping her arms around me.
“You’re so sweaty, do you want to take this jacket off?” She said, pulling back slightly. I shook my head. “That’s stupid.” And then she wrenched it off of my arms, leaving me clammy and shaking. Linus had followed in reluctantly. He shuffled over next to me and handed me a little pill and a glass of water and, too tired to argue, I took it and swallowed.
“What was that?” Laertes hissed, “We didn’t talk about that.”
“It’s just to chill her out. Here.” And then he took one, too, and Laertes took the third from his outstretched palm and dry swallowed it while glaring. I stopped crying to watch the way his fingers reflexively cupped around hers for a brief moment. Then Linus laid on the floor next to Laertes’s side of the bed and held onto her bare foot that dangled over the edge, the sole of it black and dusty. I knew that the drugs couldn’t kick in that fast, but everything felt softer and fuzzy already.
After a minute, Laertes said “Did you know the drink was drugged when you gave it to Jasper?”
I flinched. “No.”
She ran her hand up and down my arm, making the hairs stand up. She asked me what we had been talking about and I told her that he had told me to go home.
“I don’t even try to talk to him anymore. I don’t look for him, I don’t go to his soccer games even when other people are going, I was just trying to be friendly tonight.” I protested weakly, my back to her.
“Okay.” Laertes said. “Maybe we don’t try to be friendly anymore.”
I nodded. I realized in the space of that moment I was the most exhausted I had ever been and in the middle of realizing it I fell promptly asleep.
I woke up and checked my watch to discover that I had only been asleep for seven minutes. My body felt very fast inside; Laertes was curled on top of Linus on the floor, the sheets dragged on top of them. I opened my laptop. Jasper had posted a video, ASMRBoyf STORYTIME: The Time I Was Drugged By a Crazy Fan. The letters swam around the screen and ate each other like sharks in utero.
I have one story where Iron Man wins, if you can say that there is a winning and a losing. Captain America develops adult cystic acne and cheats on his billionaire lover because of his low self-esteem. The soldier tells Tony Stark that he’s just a man, that they had fallen into a rut, that they both knew each other’s bodies too well to be excited anymore. Iron Man puts on his Iron Glove and Iron Blasts Captain American into oblivion.
I bookmarked Jasper’s new video but didn’t click on it. I refreshed the page again and again, but didn’t click on it.
When Jasper and I fell to the ground at Nuclear Coyote, a small concerned circle gathered around us. Along the outer orbitals, I could hear Laertes and Linus yelling my name, trying to force their way to the front. They were blocked by the stretcher carrying Ironman, which was trying to ram through our little pocket. I looked down at Jasper and pushed his hair off his face, laced my fingers between his.
Ironman’s head lolled to our side as they carted him by. His wounded eye yawned long and awful like another mouth, but I knew that he could see me. He understood me. His eye mouthed: Frankie, it’s okay, it wasn’t your fault. No matter what they say later, it’s not you it’s him. And then he passed and I was still on the floor, holding Jasper. We must have been the loneliest two superheroes in the world.