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A Series of Jams

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“What do you mean, they asked for a second meeting?” Lucia slammed a fist down on her desk. “I thought you said this purchase was a done deal.”

Catra’s fingers twitched tensely behind her back. Taking a breath to subdue her nerves she replied, “That was the impression Nevan gave me at our meeting yesterday, but he called this morning and said things might have changed. Apparently they got another offer from some self-righteous charity trying to turn it into a daycare or something like that. Now the seller wants to talk to us again himself.”

She watched her sister pace behind her large glass desk. A vein in her forehead was bulging furiously. It was time to rein this situation in quickly before it turned volatile for Catra.

“Let me handle it,” the subordinate continued with more assuredness than she actually felt. “I have a good relationship with Thaymor, and they’ll be present at the second meeting. This guy just needs to be reassured that his business is well-invested with the Horde.”

“As if our reputation didn’t already precede us,” the director spat venomously, but at least her anger appeared to be focused on the stranger who owned the property instead of Catra herself. “It’s a wonder how idiots like that even come to own buildings to begin with. No connection at all to the powers that actually matter in this city.”

“He’ll know soon enough,” Catra placated with a small bow.

“That he will,” came the cold reply. “Keep me informed.”

***

Back at her cubicle, Catra googled this mysterious challenger, Bright Moon. The organization’s web page revealed that they had founded a number of community centers in Etheria. She noted all the locations listed so far were in the northern neighborhoods where the wealthier residents lived. It seemed Bright Moon had set its sights on her territory now? They’ve got another thing coming, she thought derisively.

The “About” page revealed that the nonprofit was owned by, to Catra’s amazement, that glittery pink girl from the Alliance derby team.

“Sparkles…”

But did that mean? Is that why She-ra –she said her name was Adora - was meeting with Nevan yesterday? It wasn’t too much of a leap that she worked for her friend’s organization. Catra rubbed her temples in frustration. Of course she’d be the one messing with Catra’s actual life now, putting her job at risk. Spoiled north-siders never knew when to stay out of other people’s business.

Catra reflected on her encounter with the other skater yesterday. She hadn’t looked like a pretentious rich person. She just looked…nice. Her hair was in that same ponytail that she had during the scrimmage, only now a small poof above her forehead was visible with no helmet covering it. Usually Catra thought that would look extremely dorky, but with Adora it was actually kind of cute. She knew she managed to fluster the other woman for a second time when she left yesterday. It gave her a small tickle of satisfaction to know she could manipulate somebody with her words and body language.

“You’re in a good mood,” her daydreaming was interrupted by a familiar voice.

Double Trouble leaned against her desk with an amused smirk on their face. “Did somebody finally demote your sinister sister?”

Catra snickered and shook her head. “If that ever happened, I’d buy the whole floor pizza.”

She hummed pleasantly. “No, it’s not such a good day actually. I have to have a second meeting for that land I’m poaching. Apparently somebody actually thinks they can get in our way. Sis is pissed.”

“That’s unusual,” Trouble replied thoughtfully. “Well, I know they won’t last long against you, Kitten.”

“Thanks, Trouble.”

The welcome interruption reignited some of her earnestness while she prepared for the second meeting.

***

Catra pulled her Rebel into an open space in the small parking lot adjacent to Quicky Convenience. The business’s name always made her eyeroll. She entered through the main door since it was closest but headed across the front of the store towards the attached deli. On her way, a small man with familiar blond waves ducked out from an aisle of snacks.

“Oh hey, Catra,” he called pleasantly.

She waved lazily. “Hey Kyle. Your boyfriend here right now?”

At the sound of her voice, Rogelio lumbered up to the deli counter, wiping his hands on a dirty apron cinched around his waist. He cocked his head at her with a grin. The guy never spoke unless he had to; and oddly enough, he communicated just fine without speaking.

“Hey, ‘Gelio. Can I get my usual? It’s been a shitstorm of a week.”

He nodded stoically and returned to the kitchen in back. Some clattering lilted out over the sound of the rickety ceiling fans that were creaking and shaking precariously at full speed overhead. There was no air conditioning in the building, and it was always a little stuffy when she walked in. Still, it felt like visiting a relative’s house. Something about it was comforting – even if Catra would never admit something like that to these two idiots from her team. She didn’t really need to, though; because it was already understood.

Kyle, Master Grief when he was on the track, came over and sat in a matching chair at the wire frame table she’d claimed while waiting for her food. His striped button-down shirt betrayed some sweat from the morning’s work, and his tie hung a little too low over his belt. He always projected this impression of being perpetually flustered no matter what setting he was in. But that just made his friends want to look out for him, even if they teased and harassed him to oblivion while doing so.

“What’s going on with your week?” Kyle asked sincerely. “Are you still upset about the scrimmage?”

Ugh, she’d actually managed to forget about that for a couple hours. Dragging her fingers down her cheek she answered, “Maybe. But also there’s some bullshit at work. Actually, it seems like those Alliance losers might be the ones causing my bullshit at work.”

When Kyle only met her statement with dazed confusion she continued. “I ran into their captain yesterday at a new location I’m scoping, and now today I find out there’s some nonprofit trying to steal it from us.”

“Yeesh,” Kyle grimaced. “I bet your sister’s pissed.”

“Understatement of the year,” Catra groaned back. “One more setback and she’s definitely going to tear me to shreds.”

A large hand rested surprisingly gently on her shoulder. She looked up to find a sympathetic expression on Rogelio’s face as he delivered a tray with a messy sandwich covered in melted cheese. Some French fries and other assorted ingredients poked out from inside the cheesy bun.

While she ate, Kyle prattled on with random stories about interesting customers he’d encountered throughout the week. Rogelio grunted or chimed in occasionally. The hot food and easy company relieved some of Catra’s stress so that she was able to jump back into her work when she returned to the large office building.

She stayed late gathering more information for the morning’s meeting with the property owner. When she glanced at the time on her work monitor, she nearly exclaimed. She was going to be late to practice!

When Catra got back to the apartment to retrieve her gear, she saw a note from Scorpia on the counter.

Sorry we had to head out, Wildcat! Hope to see you there! – Scorpia

With an exasperated moan, Catra grabbed her gear bag lying inside her bedroom door and darted back to her motorcycle. It fucking figured this was happening. It’s just been that kind of day.

***

“Watch it, Cat!” Lonnie yelled.

The short muscular woman was sprawled backwards on the floor after Catra slammed into their wall of blockers too fast and hard. Lonnie swatted aside the hand she offered to help her up.

“What’s up with you tonight? First you miss warmups, and then you try to kill us!”

Catra’s rage boiled. Her teammate acted like she’d purposely run them all over. Sure, they were supposed to knock each other down – correctly. But Catra had misjudged her pace and hit them at the wrong moment. Her gut lurched with worry and guilt that she might have hit somebody in the spine. But apparently everyone only thought the worst of her, even when she tried. The jammer ripped the cover off her helmet and whipped it at Lonnie’s chest.

“You do it then, if you think you’re so much better!” she roared and raced off the track to where her bag was waiting.

“Trust that I will!” Lonnie shouted back from across the room. Catra could faintly hear her continue grumbling at a regular volume. “What’s her fucking deal? She just stormed off like that!”

Blinking back angry tears, Catra ripped her pads off and threw everything haphazardly into her bag. She stomped out of the warehouse and hid around back where there was a waist-high brick wall separating the walkway from a trash-filled creek. Sitting on the wall, she hugged her knees to her chest and struggled to force air into her tightening lungs. She couldn’t hold in the tears anymore and choked back the sobs wracking her body. Catra hated the way her body would hijack control in moments like this and wished she could just beat this response out of her. But this had been happening for years, and it had never worked to fight once it got this far. She rode out the tears, gasping and shaking until they eventually subsided. She realized she could once again hear the chirp of crickets and water lapping at the bricks a short distance below her bare feet. She hadn’t bothered with shoes when she stormed out of practice.

The weary woman inhaled with raspy quivering breaths and wiped a bubble of snot into her shoulder. It finally felt like she was present in her own body again. She concentrated on the coarse rub of the brick against her thighs and the light breeze ruffling her shaggy hair.

After some time, her ears pricked at the sound of a set of footsteps approaching. She remained still and refused to acknowledge the other person. A familiar voice grunted as she climbed clumsily onto the wall next to Catra. She was within reach but gave the smaller girl her personal space.

“Hey, Wildcat,” Scorpia said gently. “I hoped you’d be back here.”

Catra snorted. “That makes one person.”

“You know, we missed you in there,” her friend continued. “And Lonnie wasn’t really mad at you. I think she was a little freaked out when she fell like that. You know.”

The jammer pulled her knees up again in an attempt to hide the pain on her face.

“She acted like I meant to do it,” she hissed from behind her folded limbs.

“Nah, she doesn’t think that,” Scorpia attempted. “I mean, maybe she did at first. But she had a chance to calm down. Maybe you should try talking to her now. Clear the air?”

Catra turned her back to her roommate, curling into a tighter ball. Suddenly two big muscular arms were wrapping around her, knees and all, and squeezing tightly.

“You know I’ll always believe in you, right?”

The imprisoned girl squeaked in surprise and protest. “Personal space, Scorpia!” she yowled.

Finally Scorpia yielded to her protests and let go. Catra’s cheeks were on fire from embarrassment – and mild asphyxiation. Stupid Scorpia. But she’d never let Catra down since they met. She’s even the one who convinced Catra to move out of her house and finally feel like she had some control over her pathetic shitty life. She sighed in defeat, realizing her friend had her best interests in mind.

“Alright, Scorpia. Let’s go find Lonnie.”

***

“Geez, Cat, I’m past it now. I know you’re not that kind of asshole,” Lonnie scrunched her face over her glass of beer. “Just like, take care of yourself, okay? And if something’s up you can talk to us. We’re like family and shit.”

Catra shuffled nervously atop the bar stool next to her teammate. Fright Zone often went to the bar to hang out after practices, even on work nights.

 “Yeah, I guess,” she conceded. “It’s mostly work shit. A lot’s been riding my ass this week, and I guess it fucked with my game tonight.”

The dreaded girl bumped their shoulders. “Next time let’s do it differently.”

“Sure,” Catra agreed sheepishly.

“Alright, time for shots!” the pivot announced, slapping the counter.

***

Scorpia guided a floppy Catra into the car while Entrapta rode her motorcycle back to their apartment. The tech genius didn’t exactly have a license, but her love of machines meant she understood how to operate the bike. Plus the huskier roommate was better equipped to manage Catra’s dead weight.

The dark-haired girl swayed dizzily and belched a combination of beer and liquor into her friend’s face. The larger woman merely placed her gingerly in the backseat with a sympathetic smile.

“Sco-hic-orpia,” Catra drawled at her. “Yer the best. I’d -hic- lost without you.”

Her red-haired companion smiled. “I love you too, buddy.”

***

It was way too bright out. Catra’s head throbbed as she rode to work that morning. Anyone who tried to make eye contact with her in the office aisles was met with a tired glare. It had taken everything for her to leave her lumpy mattress that morning. But today was her meeting with the property owner. It was either face the day or lose everything. She slouched groggily into her desk chair. Slowly she gathered the files she would need for the meeting. The words threatened to bleed together on the pages.

“You’re a wreck, Kitten.”

Double Trouble slid into the space beside her. She didn’t have the energy to look up at them and merely groaned in response. A cardboard mug slid onto her desk a few inches away.

“You need this more than I do,” they said from above. “I’ll just have my assistant fetch me another one. Good luck today, Kit Cat.”

A few sips of the scorching hot liquid brought some life back to the hungover woman. The bitterness tingled on her tongue. It surprised her that Trouble drank straight black coffee. Then again, nothing ruffled them – apparently bitter drinks included. She said a silent thank you to her imperturbable friend.

***

“Catra Capitán, Acquisitions Liaison for Horde LLC,” the woman said, extending her business card to the stranger who greeted her with Nevan of Thaymor. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

The man returned her pleasantries but appeared out of place in such a formal setting. Her sister had been right. This guy was a fish out of water, in over his head trying to deal in commercial properties. Catra artfully placed her metaphorical claws in the sweaty man, articulating with precision what he saw to gain from doing business with her corporation. The process would be so easy for him. All he really needed to do was sign, and the rest would be handled separately.

“Would your plans help the people in this area?” he finally managed to ask her.

She paused at the question. Obviously the Bright Moon proposal had made some impact on him, and he actually cared about shit like that.

Thinking quickly, she replied, “Yes, it certainly would add a lot of value to this community. Many of the buildings here are poorly maintained, unappealing, and most importantly dangerous. As we make efforts to renovate property in this area, it’s going to promote more business from the residents and even visitors. The economy here will improve, and it ripples through many other facets. Housing, education, and public recognition are just a few to start. Plus, the homes here now are over-crowded. In large cities like Etheria, creating more residential housing is always a necessity.”

The owner fidgeted a bit, digesting her words. She watched his thoughts play out clearly on his face. He’d be a terrible gambler. Catra knew she was getting through to him.

“Look,” she added smoothly. “I know you also got an offer for a children’s center, is that correct? That does sound lovely too. Just remember that those children will still need a suitable place to live. And there is no shame in looking after your own interests in the process. Think about which offer will best meet your needs, too.”

That was just the right push. His expression relaxed dramatically, and their smiles grew in unison.

Nevan nodded supportively. “I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Salineas. Both offers are perfectly respectable, but you need to take your interests into consideration.”

Catra made a mental note to buy the broker a drink next time they met. They were maneuvering this seller perfectly.

The man hesitantly opened up. “You’ve made a strong case, Ms. Capitán. I’m definitely feeling more confident in this agreement than I was before. I was taught to always sleep on an important decision. So I will have Nevan give you my final decision tomorrow.”

That wasn’t exactly the response she was angling for, but she was careful not to betray any of her thoughts. She gave the owner her sweetest smile.

“Certainly, Mr. Salineas. That is an admirable business practice. I’ll eagerly await your answer. And please, you can call me Catra.”

“You represent your company well, Ms. Catra,” he declared jovially. “I hope they give you a big promotion soon.”

She chuckled politely. If only he knew how little the Horde valued her. But she was proving her worth just the same. Eventually they would all have to recognize how much she did for them, for Lucia.