Instead of Sleep

Bryce stood in front of a full-length mirror in Ava’s bedroom, admiring his figure.

Ava could see her own reflection, watching Bryce watch himself.

He had pulled the boxers up over his trousers and let his thumbs stretch and then release the elastic against the reinforced strip of khaki beneath it with a muffled snap. The layered waistbands hung about two inches below where Ava imagined his navel would be. That is, if he had one. The doubled fabric, in addition to the bunching of the elastic, created an outward, lateral curve in silhouette from his abdomen: he looked like he had hips. Blue polka dots scattered deliberately about on the mid-thigh shorts, a series of plots – mapping an ever-elusive, unknown target – confounding her eyes.

His head and arms had then found corresponding holes in an old t-shirt. The threadbare, translucent, dark blue material and the pale skin of his torso beneath it produced a sheer effect. The cracked, yellow, iron-on block letters across the front read, FREAK U 2 above a cracked, iron-on cartoon chicken. The shirt that once fit now hung loosely from his lanky body, except that the untucked fabric at the bottom clung to his pants and outer-underpants. The frayed sleeves came just above his elbows, and the ends of stray strings brushed a few faded but distinct freckles.

Bryce kicked off a pair of steel-toed boots and slipped on some running shoes. These were only a couple of months old, and Bryce used them for his early-morning jogs before work. He pulled the laces tight, tied an overhand knot, looped the bow, then tied the bow into another overhand knot. He wiggled his toes, rotated his ankles to stretch, then sprang back to standing. A few distant sirens passed. Fire department. Police. Every night for the past three weeks. No other sounds broke the night’s silence with this much frequency or terror.

Ava handed Bryce his glasses. He raised the unfolded frames to his face and slid the arms back to rest on his ears and settled the center piece on the bridge of his nose.  She gave him one last glanceover. Something looked skiwumpus. Smirking, she stepped close and tapped the left top corner of the glasses up, restoring symmetry to his incredible, perfect face. He’d had the glasses anyway – he’d need sonar without them – but this was the finishing touch.

“This? This is it? This is your costume?” Ava wore a fitted black t-shirt and black skinny jeans with black, narrow slippers. Her shiny, jet black hair was pulled back into a tight pony tail, revealing strong cheekbones that softened into her natural, closed smile. The black further slimmed her already slender body. It was a flattering outfit, and Bryce pretended not to notice. They’d be stealthing around in the dark where he couldn’t see her anyway.

Ava raised an eyebrow and nodded once at the mirror, trying to stifle laughter.

“Hey, at least the blues match.”

“I guess you have a point, there.”

She exited the room before him, then he stepped out and closed the door. They crept down the carpeted stairs that led right to the front door of the house. Bryce unlocked the deadbolt and wrapped his hand around the doorknob. He turned it.  He placed his other hand firmly on Ava’s shoulder, and she looked at him. She held her breath.  She knew what he was going to say. Her eyes followed as he opened the door and switched off the porchlight. She stepped into the thick darkness and sensed the soft thud of the door pressing into the jamb. She felt him right behind her and exhaled. Ava heard it: a faint whisper, but it was enough.

“Let’s go fight some crime.”

A little discussion.

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