Chapter 71

               “Let’s start at the beginning,” Owen said. He scanned Bubble Bubble’s room, having never been invited in before, and noted that it was significantly larger than his own. She’d decorated it tastefully, save for the fact that most decorations featured her promoting some brand of product. It reminded Owen of the rooms a new Hero usually had when getting their first taste of fame and public lauding.

                “There’s not much to tell.” Bubble Bubble shut the door behind Hexcellent as the tattooed girl scurried past. “It was two years ago when I was just getting real endorsement deals. Corbin Calhoun was charming and handsome, plus a real director to boot. After we wrapped the commercial he asked me out for dinner and one thing led to another. Two days later I was reading a magazine that talked about him and his girlfriend, who he’d failed to mention existed, going on a vacation to Paris. I never took his calls or worked with him again. Of course, whoever leaked the hotel footage of he and I making out in an elevator and going into a room didn’t add in those details.”

                “I’m going to make a wager that he isn’t telling that version of the story,” Owen said.

                “Sadly, no.” Galvanize said. He settled into a computer chair Bubble Bubble had left out while the others began sitting cross legged on the floor. “According to Mr. Greene, the story is that Bubble Bubble seduced Corbin, leading him astray. There have even been some sources trying to claim that as a Super, she had some unnatural sway over his actions.”

                An all-too-familiar vein throbbed in the back of Owen’s neck, but for BB’s sake he kept his face neutral. Despite decades of research and a well-controlled government program, people still liked to trot out the “who knows what a Super can really do” card if it made life easier on them. Heroes were usually spared the indignity, if only because no one wanted to piss off the people stopping the real bad guys from laying waste to a city. Other Supers weren’t quite so lucky.

                “From what I heard, Mr. Greene is launching defamation suits against every news outlet that tries to report that angle. Bubble Bubble’s powers have been on record and used in public for years, so there’s no foundation for such claims,” Galvanize added.

                “He can sue whoever he wants to, as long I don’t have to show up at the hearings,” Bubble Bubble said. “It doesn’t matter how this shakes out, no matter what I’m fucked. All my brands are about being upscale, desirable, and classy. Screwing some director makes me look like a desperate slut. I’d be amazed if most of my sponsors haven’t already dropped me.” She lowered her head and leaned against the far wall, small droplets of tears beginning to run down her face anew.

                “The ones owned by Mordent will probably stick with you,” Zone said. It wasn’t terribly helpful, but at least he was trying.

                “It’s just so unfair. I made one mistake when I was younger, and now everything I’ve been working so hard, so damned hard, to get is going to burn up right in front of me. I’m so careful, I’m so good, I’m…” She turned her head and screamed toward the ceiling, “I’m the perfect pristine fucking mascot!” Her shoulder slumped as the anger seemed to leave her as quickly as it came. “All those years posing, holding my tongue, being demure, all of it is going to be forgotten; just because of one stupid mistake.”

                “You’re wrong,” Owen side, standing from the floor and walking over to the withered form of his teammate. “Not about all the bad shit coming, you’ve got a pretty firm grasp on that, but about the mistake. You never made one. You’re an adult who had consensual sex with another adult. The only mistake anyone made was this Corbin guy for lying about being single. These next few days are going to suck, and the weeks to come will be rough, but don’t you dare think for a minute that you’re to blame.”

                “Maybe not, but I’m going to be the one who pays for it,” Bubble Bubble said. “Corbin’s a successful director and a human. I’m nothing but a corpie and a genetic freak. Who do you think people are going to side with?”

                “Probably the wrong person, as they often do,” Owen admitted. “But we can’t control them. No Super can make the world think the way they want it too. All we can control is who you think is really responsible here. Some of the blame goes to whoever leaked that video; most belongs to Corbin for making this a scandal worthy incident. Tell me the truth now, do you really think you did anything wrong?”

                Bubble Bubble didn’t answer. Instead, she began to cry again, leaning forward and pressing her already tearstained face against Owen’s borrowed sweatshirt. It was coated in a thin film of concrete dust, but she didn’t pull back, rather she wrapped her arms around his sizable torso and pulled herself closer. He hugged her back carefully, marveling at how slender and delicate this woman who he’d seen save dozens of people truly was. She just a damn kid, only a few years older than his sons, and this was what the same media that had torn him down was reducing her too. Anger tried to well up in him, but Owen forced it down. There was no place for rage right now. It might make him feel better but it wouldn’t do anything for Bubble Bubble.

                “I once crapped myself during a skateboarding competition.”

                Zone’s words broke the melancholy spell that Bubble Bubble’s tears had cast, as everyone in the room, BB included, turned to stare at the chiseled, spikey haired man who was staring at the floor in red-faced shame.

                “Whaaaaaaaaat the fuck now?” Hexcellent’s eyes were so wide they seemed to have physically grown.

                “I had the flu, but I was just starting out and it was my first paid gig. I really needed the money. After I did my tricks, and I mean right after, my body let me know that the floodgates were opening no matter what, and I could do with that information as I pleased. I managed to duck behind some bushes, but… things happened and then there I was, standing around in a competition with my jeans ruined. I was sure my life was over, so I decided to go big. I stripped naked, fastened my helmet over my junk, and streaked past the stands. I lucked out and people thought I was a bad boy instead of realizing what had happened.” Zone finally looked up from the floor to find the entire room in rapt attention at where he was going with this story. “I just… my point is that we all have things that are embarrassing. Like, career wrecking embarrassing. It really blows that the media got yours, so I thought it might help if you knew one of mine.”

                Bubble Bubble stared at him for a long moment, then snorted out a snotty, half-cough of a laugh. It was a bit disgusting after all the tears, but it was also beautiful to hear. Owen realized it might be the first time he’d ever heard Bubble Bubble laugh, or do anything, without carefully measuring her response.

                “I was in a porno,” Galvanize said slowly. “Not as an actor, well I mean I acted but… I was the guy who found the real performers in the ballpit, and no that is not a play on words.”

                “Holy shit!” Hexcellent yelped. “Mr. Fly Right was in a skin flick. Please tell me you used a fake name.”

                “I didn’t choose one, but they listed me as Rock Thruster.” Galvanize hung his head in shame while the rest of the laughed and hooted nearly uncontrollably. “It was before I decided to do rescue work, and I had a friend on set. You all get the idea.”

                Eyes turned slowly to Hexcellent, who was enjoying her chuckles so much she didn’t notice until the stares had gotten awkward. “Oh! Um… shit. You all pretty much know my dark and dirty secrets. Drugs, sex, rock and roll all paired with a nice side of petty crimes.” She looked at Bubble Bubble who, was, in spite of everything around her, smiling just a touch.

                “But… oh fuck it. Like most Supers I got my powers when I was a kid, so my first summon wasn’t Impers. It was a bunny I called Hopcules, because he was strong and brave, that I called up because I was afraid of the dark.”

                “You are shitting us,” Bubble Bubble said. “You, you, had a summon that was a fluffy bunny? I have to see this to believe it.”

                “Sorry, but I can’t call it up anymore,” Hexcellent said. “Summons are pretty tied up in who we as summoners are mentally, and I haven’t been that naïve little kid for a long time. I swear on my tattoos and vintage albums though, it’s the god’s honest truth.”

                “As for me, everyone here knows my big secret: destroyed my own marriage because I couldn’t be honest about who I was, even to myself,” Owen said. “I wasn’t like you, BB. I fucked up my own life; you’re just caught in someone else’s blowback. If it’s too much and you have to go, I definitely understand. But if you want to stay and fight to keep that image you worked so hard for, know that everyone in this room has got your back.”

                Bubble Bubble looked around to see all of her other teammates nodding and a fresh set of tears came to her eyes. It had been so very, impossibly long since anyone had ever looked out for her. Ten minutes earlier she would have bet all her money that no one cared about her beyond what she offered business wise. Now that she realized she might be wrong, Bubble Bubble wasn’t quite so keen to give these people up just yet.