Introducing the Misfits
Thirty-eight-year-old Finnegan Yates slouched over the drafting table in the oppressive summer heat of Zanesville, Ohio. An electric fan whirred from the brick ceiling in his loft while milky light poured through the slanted windows. Beads of sweat threatened to drip down the curve of his nose, and the dense humidity steamed his black-framed glasses. With the back of one hand, he swept his floppy brown hair to one side. He removed his glasses, rubbing the lenses with the edge of his cotton T-shirt before slipping them on, and picking up a stubby pencil. Halfway through sketching the first panel of Madame X with her long black hair and breastplate of love flying in the sky, he straightened his stiff back and sighed. What crime was she stopping or whose life was she saving? Thinking, he drummed the blunt eraser against the table. He had an end-of-the-month deadline and no original ideas for this particular story.
A soft pink light glowed around the exaggerated curves of Madame X’s corseted body before she leaped out of the panel and sat cross-legged on the drafting table. “Don’t worry.” She swung one perfect long leg toward Finnegan’s shoulder. “I have an idea.”
As soon as her bare toes grazed Finnegan’s collar bone, he shivered. Goose bumps rose along his skin. He tossed the pencil on the drafting table and crossed his gangly arms. After fifteen years of collaboration, he speculated if her idea was solid like the storyline about rescuing the depressed postpartum mother from killing her newborn child or impossibly unrealistic like the one about the drunken homeless man finding true love with a small island princess. He tightened his jaw and nodded. “Tell me.”
“Not yet.” She narrowed her eyes and stroked his skin with her toes. “Ideas are like sex. You need to start with foreplay.”
He snapped his arms wide open. “I don’t have time to dick around. I have three weeks to come up with a story, so please just fucking tell me.”
She tossed back her head and laughed.
He softened his shoulders, caving toward the table. He loved the sound of her voice—rich, sultry, and disarmingly seductive. When he’d created the superheroine after a dry spell of one-night stands, he poured all the best characteristics of the women he knew into her. Madame X sported firm, round breasts, long, tanned legs, jet-black hair, and haunting green eyes. But her inner characteristics mirrored his male role models. She controlled and dominated, seduced and conquered. The amalgam resulted in a character who appealed and appalled people’s sensibilities. But he didn’t care. He loved her. Madame X, healer of the human heart, rescued broken families, reunited estranged lovers, and reconciled people whom others deemed beyond hope. Fueled by sex, her superpower of love channeled through her fourth chakra, opening with rays of light reminiscent of Jesus’s Sacred Heart. She poured forth pure, unconditional acceptance that broke through discrimination, hatred, and violence.
Frowning, she pointed a long, manicured nail at the opening panels. “First, I’ve been around over a decade. I can’t be seducing twenty-year-olds at startups.” She swung her long black hair over a bare shoulder. “I need to focus on older men in their fifties and sixties.”
“You don’t age in a comic strip.” He fixed his gaze on the signature heart-shaped gold plate covering her buxom breasts in the tight corset.
She batted her eyelashes. “Don’t you see . . . If my interest in the type of men I prey on changes, then the storyline changes?”
He tipped his head back. According to her origin story, younger men held more potency in their sperm, which triggered a higher activation in her heart chakra. But maybe more experienced men could bring something else to the table that might expand her powers. “Okay. I’ll make them older.” He picked up the pencil and added crow’s feet to the corner of the man’s eyes.
Shaking her head, she stabbed a finger at the unfinished sketch. “No men in their thirties and forties. Too complicated. They all want to get married and settle down. I don’t have time for a relationship. I just need to keep up my strength with a quickie, understand?”
He bit the end of the eraser. The rubber flakes tasted like sawdust in his mouth. For a moment, he thought about kissing her. Fresh shame flamed his cheeks. The one time he lunged for her lips, she had pulled away. Her disappearance left him forlorn for a week without any inspiration. If she hadn’t returned, he might have missed his monthly deadline. But in a story, anything could happen. “Why don’t I write myself into the storyline? I’m thirty-eight and have no interest in settling down.”
The front door banged open, and Molly Kim strode into the loft. Ever since they’d met in the first grade, Molly buried herself in her academics. Right now, she was a graduate student of women’s studies. The heavy clomp of her Doc Martens woke Curtis, a half pug, half Chihuahua puppy, from the doggie bed next to the futon.
Curtis stretched his back and yawned.
Molly stepped around him, her thin arms laden with a tower of books. She grunted. “I hate summer school.” With her left foot, she shut the door. She strode toward the futon, smelling of stale cigarettes, sour perspiration, and sweet perfume. “Hey, man, you cool with just chilling? I’ve got a paper due on Monday, and I can’t paint the town red this weekend.” She dumped the stack of books on the frayed futon and waved toward Madame X. “What’s she doing here?”
Finnegan removed the pencil from his mouth and tapped the empty frames on the strip. “We’re working on the next edition.”
Madame X hopped off the drafting table and strutted toward Molly.
Finnegan loved both women in as many ways as the women were different. Molly was a short, Korean woman with no breasts and no butt worth mentioning. Madame X was a tall, Amazonian woman with enough breasts and butt to keep the porn industry humming.
“I don’t appreciate you interrupting us.” Madame X bent down and sneered.
Squinting, Molly placed her hands on her hips and rose on the tips of her toes. “You can’t talk that way to me, bitch. I’m writing my dissertation on you and how you’ve corrupted the #MeToo movement by making it #MeTooMuch.”
Oh no. Finnegan shook his head. Not again. He wanted to keep the women apart, but they always showed up at the same time. He didn’t know which was worse—Madame X’s sexual empowerment or Molly’s disdain toward extreme feminists. Secretly, he thought Molly had a schoolgirl crush on his creation, but he would never share that sentiment aloud with anyone, not even with Curtis.
Tossing back her head, Madame X laughed. “You, my little plaything, are a nuisance. No wonder you’re a lesbian. No man would want you.”
Molly flopped onto the futon and spread her legs apart, patting her crotch. “Lick my pussy, bitch.”
“Enough!” Finnegan lurched off the chair and stood squarely between the two women. “Molly, apologize. Madame X, be nice.”
With wide eyes, Molly jabbed a thumb at her chest. “Why should I apologize?”
Pivoting on her bare heels, Madame X narrowed her gaze. “I’m always nice.”
When Finnegan spied the slight smile playing at the corners of Madame X’s lips, he felt a flicker of lust deep in his groin. Turning away, he raked his fingers through his hair.
“Hello, hello, hello darlings!” Drake Silva opened the door to the loft. Heat rippled through the room.
With striking black eyes rimmed with charcoal liner, mocha-colored skin, and dreadlocks, Drake looked more like a man on vacation than a salesclerk at Mass Media Comics. At night, he mixed music at nightclubs.
Drake smacked his hands together and smiled. “Ladies.” He bowed toward Molly and Madame X. “And gentlemen.” He nodded toward Finnegan.
Curtis perked up his head.
“Hannah just proposed to me, and I said, ‘Yes!’” He flung out his hand and wiggled his fingers.
After grabbing his wrist, Molly rolled off the futon and stood. “Hot damn, that rock’s huge.”
A diamond the size of a small marble glittered in a thick gold band.
Finnegan sucked in a breath and held it for as long as he could. Drake, a consummate gigolo and perpetual Peter Pan, was engaged to be married. Out of everyone he knew, Finnegan never guessed Drake would succumb to convention first. Seizing the edge of the drafting table, he sank into the swivel chair. Every muscle in his body twitched. He could not imagine DJ Drake, who tore up the dance floor with as many women as he could cycle through in one night, as a married man.
Madame X prodded Finnegan’s chest. “I want to be married.”
Widening his eyes, he shrugged. “How can you be married? You live to fuck and fuck to live.”
“Find me someone to fuck forever.” She sat on the edge of the drafting table and crossed her legs. Leaning close, she kissed his cheek and pouted. “Pretty please with sugar on top.”
“No way.” Finnegan shook his head.
Drake stooped and swayed in a made-up dance. “Yo, man, I don’t see why she can’t get into a serious relationship.” He clapped his hands and swung his hips back and forth to the silent beat. “Find her a guy like Hannah.”
Finnegan sighed. Hannah, a socialite originally from Palm Beach, had attended Defiance College to study social sciences. When she’d graduated, she moved to Zanesville to work with impoverished youth. How would Madame X find a man who cared more about healing the world than self-serving sex? A headache bloomed between his temples. Removing his glasses, he rubbed his eyes. “She’s never slept with a man more than twice. If she pair-bonds, the poor guy will either suspect her secret identity or wrongly accuse her of being a slut.” He lifted his head and frowned. “The series will end.”
Molly folded her arms. “Why can’t she go on the hunt for a boyfriend? After all, isn’t her superpower true love?”
“Molly’s right.” Madame X smiled. “I rescue others through true love. Why can’t I rescue myself? Don’t I deserve to get married and live happily ever after?”
Finnegan gaped. “A self-rescuing superheroine?”
Drake shrugged. “Why not?”
Madame X placed her feet in Finnegan’s lap. With her toes, she massaged his crotch. “Find me a husband, and I’ll let you fuck me.”
Warmth spread throughout his legs, and he shuddered. He’d been living vicariously through Madame X for so many years he couldn’t remember the last time he was laid. Nudging her feet out of his lap, he stood and paced. He lived strip to strip. His parents were dead, and his cousin lived in Arizona in a retirement community. Molly shared an apartment with her long-time girlfriend. Drake was getting married.
He was alone.
Finnegan swept Curtis into his arms, cradling the dog like a baby. “I agree the story has potential, but I can’t risk the concept.” He lengthened his stride, his fingers rubbing underneath Curtis’s chin. “What if no one believes a sex-hungry, one-night stand kind of woman can fall in love?” Pausing, he raised his gaze toward the ceiling. “The series will end, and I’ll be unable to support myself.”
Only the whirr of the oscillating fan buzzed throughout the room.
Finnegan glanced around at the bewildered faces of his friends. A trickle of sweat dripped from his forehead and dropped onto his chest.
Curtis lapped it up like a raindrop.
Madame X jumped off the drafting table. “If you don’t find me a husband by the end of this issue, I’ll stop showing up. You’ll have nothing to write about.”
A pulse throbbed in his forehead, and a pain seized in his chest. “Don’t threaten me. I created you.”
Turning, Madame X opened the front door, stepped into the hall, and slammed the door.
After setting Curtis on the floor, Finnegan slumped into the swivel chair, propped his elbows on the drafting table, and buried his head in his hands. Although the heat didn’t dissipate, goose bumps prickled his bare arms.
Fuck. How would he write this damn story alone?