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Hard to Love

By Briar Sweet All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Drama

Eins

Hard to Love

The up-tempo bass line of Imelda May's "Johnny Got a Boom Boom" wakes me at the start, and I am already shimmying in my sheets before the first line.

Perfect song to start the day, and, when I reach over to stop the alarm, I know its going to get even better. It's Wednesday, my favourite day of the week: new comic book day.

The shipment comes in before I arrive at the shop at eight-thirty. I always go in an half hour before schedule so that I can set-up and peruse the new merchandise at my leisure, as well as finish any tasks left unfinished the night before.

The shop is situated on the corner end of a shopping strip between a frozen-yogurt shop and a florist, and seems to have the effective space of a TARDIS. The owner, or whomever designed the layout, managed to get the most effective use of the square footage, giving it the effect of seeming 'bigger on the inside'.

With our floor-to-ceiling glass window store-front, the indirect sunlight is bright enough to illuminate the shop so that I don't need to turn on the overhead lights on most days. There is an entire wall, opposite the register, devoted to the display of new stock. The last week's issues are stacked on open-faced shelves below, and all later issues go onto the shelves in the aisles. Many of these series are just re-boots of decades old stories – classics - with slowly aging characters; slower than their readers. It seems like they are doomed to live forever in print as youths or thirty-something billionaires. I suppose it keeps the fans feeling young, stuck in a time-warp or wormhole; though the readers themselves grow old, the heroes and villains stay forever young.

The writing is what causes me to invest in a series. When writers dumb down the narrative and dialogue with constant reader re-assurances and obvious foreshadowing I become annoyed and bored. These I cannot recommend to any intelligent customer, even if it is a well-known publisher or character.


Five minutes after I unlock the doors, I have already made the first purchase. My new stack of fresh-out-of-the-box, individually-wrapped, comic books are tucked away under the counter and the shop is about thirty dollars richer. The customers start drifting through the single wide door, at ten-fifteen. I smile and greet each customer, most of whom I know now by name.


I found out about The Comic Shop at the end of my first year of university. There were fliers posted around campus announcing their Free Comic Book Day event: a week long store promotion with games and discounts.

I'm not as well-informed on original character story-lines as my male counterparts at the Comic Shop. If you have questions about Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman (or any others of the Justice League), X-Men, Avengers, or Fantastic Four; I will re-direct you to Whitley or one of my other co-workers on shift. If you want to know what happened to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the latest muck-up by Fargo in Eureka; debate about the best Doctor from the entire or new series of Doctor Who, or whether making Firefly into an animated series was a good idea – then I am your girl. Heck I can even discuss the Full Metal Alchemist laws of Alchemy.

Geek Girls, as women like me are labeled, used to be seen as something of a rarity in real life. That a female could maintain a genuine interest in comic books and sci-fi/fantasy novels or media geared toward males, beyond that of a fad or trend (and, later, seeking male attention), was inconceivable to the majority of males in the Geekdom. Geek (and Gamer) Girls were likened to unicorns, we weren't believed to exist. Now not only are Geek and Gamer Girls well accepted, but we are our own community.

I found my love for comic books by chance, about six years ago, when I heard that my favourite television show would be continued in print after being canceled. Before then I had only read novels and manga series, but I have always enjoyed science fiction. Whitley introduced me to other series he thought might interest me based on my television and film preferences, and he has been weaning me from the TV show covers ever since. He joins me at the register at ten-thirty today. One of the perks of being the shop owner is being able to clock-in whenever you like.

At three, a familiar twenty-something young man enters the shop. His style of dress is above average but not on trend, fitted and modest. Today he wears a green tee, slim jeans, and black boots, the hood of his black denim jacket is retracted. I watch as he maneuvers his way to the new issues section with his hands in his pockets, head up, focused on his mission. He finds his preference and picks up the thin books featuring his favourite hero this week. That's the thing about heroes with allies, they can end up in multiple stories as the team battles an enduring, or returning, villain. He makes his way to the figurines on display for a brief glimpse before he comes to the register to pay for his items.

I smile. "Hey. Captain America, right?"

He smiles and nods. "Yeah," he says as he puts the issues on the counter. I input the prices for each issue and the register tallies up the total.

"Are you looking for anything specific in the action figures? I saw you looking around."

"Nah," he says. "Just checking to see if anything new is out." His voice is deep and somber, but not menacing or rough. The kind of voice one might enjoy from a narrator of an audio book at bedtime. Something like Trace Adkins or Matthew McConaughy. He hands me the cash due, printed on the register's digital screen.

"Alright," I say as I hand him his change, "See you next week then."

"Hey Whitley," I say as the next person lays their purchases on the counter, "are we expecting any new action figures soon?"

He doesn't look up from his register where he is inputting a customer's information for our members programme.

"No. I don't think so. Not until Winter holidays."

I have never seen Mr. Captain America purchase a figurine. I wonder if he already owns all of the ones he wanted.


The mysterious Mr. Captain America is only one of the young university students who frequent the shop. Astero County University is a mile outside of the city of Astero, where The Comic Shop is located. Most of our customers are young students, from high school to university age, which means that September and January are our busiest months. New faces look for refuge amongst the familiar titles, as I once did, and familiar faces return from holidays out of town to catch up on the latest stories with extra cash at the start of term.

Early-October brought a nice but totally expected, not at all surprise. Merchandise was released for the new Captain America film. This film introduces Isaiah Bradley the black World War Two hero who underwent the same super-soldier process as the Avenger. This is a very controversial story-line among fans now, as much as it was when the story was first released as a comic book series. The official release date is November first, which means adult fanboys will be camped out in cinema lines on All Hallow's Eve in full costume for the midnight premier.

The Comic Shop, however, is a small business, and we had to wait until the larger vendors' orders were filled before we received our shipment. Today is the second Saturday of the month and the shipment has arrived. The displays are set up in the shop window so that everyone will know that their local comic book shop, though late in the game, now has the "Isaiah Bradley: Super Soldier" merchandise.

My shift starts at four-thirty today. I pull on my black low-heel boots which stand beside the two other pairs of everyday shoes which remain by my door: black trainers, and black Mary-Jane style flats. I stopped wearing heels to work a month into the job. Standing for eight hours, sometimes longer, raised up on my toes is not comfortable. It is no wonder that all major comic book artists are men. No woman would consider wearing skin-tight leather and high-heeled stilettos as comfortable or practical for heroic duties. One could not possibly chase after an enemy in them – and forget about jumping across rooftops.

My pocket watch is in my hand as I push through the sleeve of my burgundy pea coat. It reads four o'clock: I have half of an hour to make the ten minute drive through dreary weather. The sky isn't too dark. It may not rain. I leave the umbrella beside the front door.


As I approach the shop door so does Mr. Standing-Order Captain America himself. He is wearing a heavy, green, hooded jacket. Does he own any other style of jacket, I wonder? I reach the handle first, smile, and hold open the door for him.

"Good afternoon," I say. He nods and passes me by for the display table. The contrast of the comfortable warmth inside with the chill outside makes me shiver and I pull the door closed behind us. The heat is on low enough to take the chill out of the air. Any higher and the heat might damage the books. I hang up my over-clothes in the employee break room, clock in, and then approach our close-lipped customer. I tuck my hands into the hidden pockets of my skirt.

"I suppose you'll be watching the movie on November first?" I say.

He nods and scans the table: action figures, posters, movie still glossies, pins, stickers, key chains, and trading cards.

"Yeah. Midnight premier."

I nod this time. All I know about the story is what I've seen from the trailers and what little I've picked up from hearing my co-workers go on about it. I hadn't planned to see it myself.

"What about you?" he says. His hands are back in his pockets and he is looking at me. Specifically. He normally seems to be looking past me or not in my direction at all. I am not sure how to feel or where to look, so I look beyond him and out the shop windows at the windswept clouds rolling across the sky.

"I haven't decided yet," I say. That's a safe answer. I do not yet know how extreme his level of fan-craze is. An offended fan boy is not something I want to face at the start of my shift.

"You should go," he says in his usual even tone. "You know, before the spoilers come out."

I start to nod, but then frown and ponder.

"But there can't be any spoilers," I say, "it's a comic book. Most everyone going to see it on the first has already read it."

"Have you read it?" he says.

I press my lips together in embarrassment, and then say, "No, I haven't. Not yet."

"Then there will be spoilers."

I smile. "Hmph. Fair point."

"Do you want to come to the premier with me?" He says, and then goes on before I can respond. "There is a theatre that is never full for geeky stuff like this, which is why we choose it."

"We?" I thought he was asking me for a date but perhaps it's just a group event. That could be fun.

"Yeah, my flatmates and I bought our tickets together."

"Oh, okay. Well, which theatre is it?"

"The Phantasma Seven, just across the town line, in Jaynestown."

"I'm not sure that I know it but, yeah, sure. Double excuse to dress up, right?" I say.

His eyebrows furrow and then release as he opens his mouth in comprehension. "Right, it'll be Halloween night. I forgot."

"Will you be in cosplay?"

"Yes, but I won't be the only one," he says. I nod. "I've been waiting a long time for this," he says. "'Truth' was the first comic book I bought with my own money, and it's my favourite. Rogers showed up in his story-line a few times later on so I caught up on his story too, and I've been following Captain America ever since."

"Wow. That is really awesome actually. I guess I should read up."

He shrugged. "You don't have to, but, you work in a comic book shop; it won't be difficult."


As I gather my belongings from beneath the register at the end of my shift, Whitley taps on my register's computer screen. "What's this?" he says. I look up and see the pastel-blue sticky note. He plucks it from the screen and holds it closer to my face so that I can read it in the dim light. It reads: Brendan Lankershim, Phantasma Theatre #7, Jaynestown, midnight premier, Nov. 1.

"I'm – " I shake my head and stand. "It's a reminder. For movie tickets." I snatch the note from his hand and open my purse to find something to stick it to.

"The Isaiah Bradley movie?"

I nod. "That's the one."

"Huh."

I look up at Whitley with a suspicious frown. "What?"

"I thought you weren't interested."

I look back into my purse and decide to just stick it to my leather wallet. "Someone invited me. So what?"

"I didn't think you were interested. I just had to ask?" he says.

I shrug. "Uh... Yeah, I guess."

"The guys and I are going to see it after we close. Dunn is going to pick up dinner for us while we wait in line. Come with us."

That was a much more pleasing offer, but I had already agreed to attend the premier with Brendan – our Captain America. "Thanks, but I don't squelch on my word. Maybe another movie."


I leave my friend's costume party around nine forty-five to make it to the cinema in Jaynestown by ten. The traffic is sparse with night-time festivities in full swing and I arrive in the car park at ten on the dot. I bought my ticket in advance so I can head straight to the queue, which looks to have seventy-five to an hundred excited fans. It is the coldest night of Autumn and there are gaps in the line where blankets are spread out on the pavement with chatting teens or tiring children trying to stay warm. I am glad I wore layers. We won't be let inside of the theatre for another hour at least.

I make my way down the queue taking a good hard look at all of the faces behind the black, red, or blue masks of the Isaiah Bradley cosplayers until I find Brendan with two other young men dressed as United States Army soldiers at the front of the queue. He waves to me and I know I have found the right one.

"Hi," I say. "How long have you been waiting?"

"Queue opened at nine, but we arrived around eight."

I turn to the silent Army men who have been watching me and I smile. "Hi, I'm Veda."

I shake their hands as they introduce themselves: Darren and Bret.

The tallest, Darren, is about five foot ten with straight dark brown hair. "I like your costume," he says. His voice is not particularly deep - androgynous. "I have not seen a gender bend of Isaiah Bradly before."

"Thanks. I really didn't know who else to dress as so…"

"Did you make your dress?" Brett says. His vocal tone is lighter and more melodic than Darren's. He is the shortest at about five foot seven, and has short light brown hair.

"I did. I was so glad I already had some red and white fabric because there was almost none to be found in the stores."

My skirt is ankle-length, straight, and printed with thick red and white vertical stripes. The top is a black V-neck with long sleeves and a wide belt with a large white star as the buckle fastened around my waist.

"Where did your costumes come from?" I say. Their soldier uniforms look standard issue, modern; but Brendan is wearing a black shirt with a large white star painted on the chest (fitted enough to emphasise his well-toned musculature) and black jeans with a red hooded eye mask on his face with a black helmet at his side.

"We are in the Army OTC," Brett said.

"I made mine, sort of," Brendan said. "Just painted the shirt and bought the helmet, and I cut holes in a bandana for the mask."

I smile. "You all look great."

They nod and thank me, and then the silence sets in.


"So... I read a few issues of the 'Truth' series," I say, and a sliver of a smile flashes across Brendan's lips, "but, were Isaiah and the others given the serum before or after Steve Rogers? That seemed a bit fuzzy to me."

The boys are quiet for some time, exchanging glances, and I wonder whether this is a hot topic for them. Brett speaks up in full tones of surety.

"We don't have a unified conclusion. It depends on how you interpret the events. If Isaiah came first, then he could not be charged for taking up the costume of Captain America -"

"But this is during World War Two," Darren says, "and they would not believe anything he said to the contrary, and he had no proof."

Brendan cuts in, "Right. And Patriot X said himself that Bradley was the first."

"Yeah, but it could just be how the legend was passed down," Darren says. "History has two sides and both try to put themselves in the best light. Besides, Isaiah finds the Captain America book that was published a year before his transformation procedure."

"The 'Captain America' series begins before Pearl Harbour, and 'Truth' begins during. Steve came first," Brett says with insistence.

I put my hand on Brett's shoulder and say with a calm, but raised, voice, "I guess we will find out in the movie. That should clarify it for all of us, yeah?"

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