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art by Melissa Mead

Everyone Loves A Hero

Fran Wilde lives and writes in the Northeastern US, and recently spent a year designing educational MMORPGs. Her poetry and critical work has appeared in literary and academic magazines, and her digital projects are strewn across the Internet like excess glitter. She writes about writing, geekery, and data's bad-hair days at franwilde.wordpress.com.
The hero roars up on his Harley, and deploys a grin that could melt an ice cave. "Hey hon, what's new?"
I can tell you firsthand that it's impossible to hate a hero. It's also difficult to date one, unless you enjoy dangling from cliffs, being chased by henchmen through a burning building, or struggling winsomely against chains that bind you to the tracks. Otherwise, you'll never get his full attention. He's too busy running out the front door, still chewing half a mouthful of the full-grain pasta lasagna that you baked, because there's an earthquake or someone's cat is stranded up a tree.
"Hey yourself. How's the cat?" I smile back and continue to weed the vegetable patch.
Granted, maybe I'm a little to blame for that last one, since I put Andrea Laughlin's kitten in the tree. Who knew she wouldn't notice until dinnertime?
"Cat's a kitten, and it's fine, plus I fixed Andrea's clogged sink," he says, turning off the engine. He heads into the house to wash up.
No job's too small, for my hero. Except the boring ones that no one says "thank you" for. Like sewing the buttons back on all his shirts, and, occasionally, on a slow week, drumming him up work. It's hard having him around the house when things are slow. Heroes are rough on the fixtures. Plus, I swear he'll wear out my mirror, practicing "it's nothing ma'am," and "all in a day's work, sir."
I remove my gardening gloves by the front door and walk in to find him standing over the sink, eating cold lasagna out of the pan. "Sure I can't get you something? Glass of wine? A chair?"
He shakes his head. "Need to get some zzzs. Tomorrow I have an interview with The Times about the meteor that almost hit that kid."
I was that kid once. The day we met, he swept me off my feet, out of the way of an oncoming train. I'd checked the schedule very carefully, but he didn't need to know that. We went out to dinner; he was sweet. The next date, I think he bribed the driver to let the horse run amok in the park, with me bouncing along in the carriage, terrified. He thought it romantic. I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and started carrying a Swiss army knife and other supplies. Soon, I could escape most things on my own. That was way more fun than waiting on the tracks.
Thing is, I'd love to talk shop with him. I have some great ideas for how we could teach people to rescue themselves. Now we never seem to have a meal that isn't interrupted by his phone ringing. I'd love to talk like we used to, about asteroids, giant robots, or angry teen zombies. Or to go out to dinner once in a while. But now he says, "We won't get any peace," or, "That's not a wise way to spend hard-earned money."
Not that he's earning the money. Sure, managers never want to charge him at the grocery store or the gas station, but he always talks them into it. "That's just not my way," he smiles, and shakes their hand as I fork over the credit card. He doesn't have any of his own. He's been asked many times to do endorsements, but he's seen how that goes, and doesn't want to cheapen his image. So I earn the paycheck, and he gets to be the hero.
Morning arrives, and he's off early to meet the reporter, so I avoid the fight over who used up the hot water, or why he leaves talcum caked on the floor when he puts his super-suit on. I make a cup of coffee and head to my job, on time, for once.
He's told me he thinks my work is heroic, and it probably is, though there are lots of us working together, and we get lab coats and goggles instead of capes and spandex. "Heroes can't do it all," he points out, and certainly they're pretty weak when it comes to stopping famine and plague. So, I do what I can. It pays well.
Plus, it gets me out of the house. I don't have to answer "Did you buy more energy bars?" when I'm in the lab. And no one here knows I'm living with a hero, so no one tells me how lucky I am, how fun it must be, while I pull the phages from the fridge and head to my station.
Sure, I've hinted that he should get his own place. I've set up fights, packed his bags for him. He takes it all in stride, smiles that smile, and I cave. So I've spent a lot of time at work lately. Doing my little part to save the planet. Sometimes, while I wait for the samples to finish a run through the big machines, I think about beach vacations, or flirting with a foreign prince. Sometimes I consider my credit card balance.
And sometimes, while I'm working, I come up with new projects for him.
The idea I had the other day wasn't too hard to get rolling. A reporter asks for an interview. He doesn't get as many these days, but still he gets some. She's young and cute. She flirts, and flatters him, like I've paid her to do, and if he doesn't respond, she doses his drink with something I cooked up in the lab after hours.
It might work. He can use the smile on her all he wants.
When he wakes up, in the hotel room I rented, she'll show him what she really does for a living, and I hope they'll both enjoy it. I know I'll enjoy paying off a credit card or two with the proceeds from the photos.
I hope it works.
Heroes. You can't live with them, and they're darn hard to get rid of.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

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