Two Weeks Later
Catra paced anxiously in Double Trouble’s private office, the advisor watching her serenely from behind their desk. Their hands steepled in front of their chin in quiet study. Trouble was pristinely dressed as always – a freshly ironed designer suit, diamond cufflinks, and white hair set in its unwavering pompadour. The acquisitions liaison was also showcasing some of her best attire today, in light of the neighborhood board meeting that was taking place in a few short hours. That night the board would be discussing the outcome of the property the Horde needed for their condo development.
At her colleague’s recommendation, Catra had chosen a more neutral stone colored suit with white blouse underneath. The lighter tones would be less menacing than her preferred black wardrobe. Her hair was mostly subdued in a bun at the back of her head. She’d removed the black nail polish that morning, which made her hands feel uncomfortably naked. But it was a small price to pay to ensure victory.
“Okay, run me through it one more time,” she said.
The attorney gestured with their hand as they spoke. “It’s quite simple, actually. Those Bright Moon rookies thought they could take over the territory using eminent domain. But they aren’t offering anywhere near enough compensation compared to what we could make through the condominium profits. Not to mention, they have no right to take the land away if there are other options.”
They patted the stack of papers on their desk with a wry grin. “And I found plenty of alternatives. Of course, they’re much pricier and not in as prime of a location. I can see why they had their hearts set on this one.”
Yea, that’s why I chose it too, Catra thought grimly.
“But no matter,” they continued, a pleasant lilt in their voice. “I’ll present my arguments and supporting evidence, the proposal will get dropped, and Bright Moon will only be able to cry about it. You can just sit back and enjoy the show.”
“I hope you’re right,” the anxious woman replied. “There’s no way they could get around these rules or whatever?”
“Not that I can see. Our case is pretty watertight. And obviously this isn’t my first time at this.”
She willed herself to stop pacing and breathed in deeply to relieve some of her bristling tension. “Okay. I trust you.”
Catra strode into the large meeting room of the municipal hall alongside Double Trouble. Her set jaw betrayed none of the roiling uneasiness she felt inside. One thing she’d learned long ago was to hide any weakness when facing an enemy. She was here to do a job, and all her energy was hyper-focused on accomplishing that task. Failure was not an option tonight.
“Wildcat!” an outburst poorly disguised as a whisper came from somewhere to her right and interrupted her thoughts.
Scorpia and Entrapta had taken a couple seats on the side of the room the Horde was designated to speak from. The taller woman was waving excitedly. To her surprise, Entrapta actually hadn’t smuggled in her goggles after Catra’s 10-minute telephone argument with her shortly before the meeting. The tech wizard was not convinced that they would attract unwanted attention and be inappropriate in a setting like this. Still, she’d humored Catra’s request. The corner of her lip curled up a tiny bit at that discovery.
The two Horde representatives settled behind a table and chairs at the front of the room, Trouble’s documents organized and readily available. Movement from the opposite side of the walkway caught her eye. A sharp-dressed woman with a voluminous white fauxhawk that spilled down to her right shoulder was mirroring their preparations at her own table. She was all business and reeked of lawyer. Next to her, looking uncomfortable and out of place, was none other than Adora. Tonight she was wearing a modest peach dress with quarter-length sleeves. Their eyes met, and the girl’s expression changed from distracted to pained. Catra’s stomach coiled guiltily; which annoyed her because there wasn’t any reason for her to feel guilty. What right did Adora have to look at her like that? The dark-haired woman looked away first and pretended to clarify something with her colleague.
Their business wasn’t first on the meeting’s agenda; so they had to sit and languish through all the other monotonous discussions before it was their turn to present. The Bright Moon side opened first with some warm and fuzzy sob story about how the children needed this property. The way the attorney wove her words together was impressive, though. Catra thought she might have been a good choice to represent the Horde if they didn’t already have Double Trouble’s talents at their disposal. After the woman returned to her seat, it was their turn to speak.
Double Trouble regally stepped to the front of their table and recited their rebuttal with all the conviction and punctuated feeling of a Broadway performer. They really were the best legal representation money could buy. Catra resisted smirking, which might have compromised the impression she needed to make with this neighborhood board. She did, however, steal a glance at the Bright Moon table. The blonde girl was biting her lip, eyes clearly mesmerized by the legal director’s presentation. Not looking too good now, is it, Adora? she thought with bitter satisfaction.
The Bright Moon lawyer was no rookie. She brought a lot of evidence to the platform and never seemed ruffled by the Horde’s counter-arguments. However, as Catra watched the expressions and body language of the people they had to convince, it gradually became more apparent the majority of the leaders were favoring their side. Trouble had been right. Their position was rock solid. When it was finally placed to the vote, 9 out of 10 board members sided in favor of the Horde. The chairman clacked his gavel and stamped the verdict on some official paperwork.
That was it. They’d won. Catra finally allowed her shoulders to relax a bit and breathed out a deep sigh from her seat. Trouble signaled her to accompany them up to the board table. They shook each member’s hand and offered their gratitude. She observed the Bright Moon team doing the same a few strides behind them. Suddenly she itched to say something to gloat over her victory and dispel all the dreaded suspense that had been eating her alive the past few weeks. Once they were out of earshot of the officials, Catra bridged the space between herself and her rival.
“Well, I guess all that trouble was for nothing in the end, huh Princess?” she snarked.
The other woman hit her with a ferocious glare. “How can you be so despicable?” she spat.
That was a strong reaction. Catra almost faltered but smoothed her features in time. “Despicable? That’s pretty dramatic, don’t you think? Or did you forget my job was at stake here?”
She hadn’t noticed until now, but there were actually tears welling in the girl’s sky blue eyes.
“I get that you were doing your job, but it’s how you go out of your way, and even seem to enjoy, rubbing it in! You treat me – us – like your enemy. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when you ignored my note after the concert. But this definitely confirmed how you really feel about me. Message fucking received. Hopefully we can stop meeting like this now.”
Adora stormed off to find her attorney and leave. Catra was left in stunned silence. What the hell was she talking about? Something about a note? How Catra felt about her? That definitely gave the impression that she felt something about Catra. Her stomach drooped. And whatever those feelings had been, they definitely just went up in flames a few seconds ago. Why did that revelation make her feel like she’d lost something? Could she actually be disappointed about poisoning her brief and fleeting connection with the rival skater?
Back at the apartment, Catra shrugged off the congratulations of her roommates and retired to the solitude of her bedroom. She caught sight of the outfit she’d worn to the coffeeshop event strewn amidst the rest of her dirty clothes on the floor. Something compelled her to pick up the jacket, remembering gloomily the reassuring weight of two arms draped over its collar. A flicker of white peeking out from one of its pockets caught her eye. She pulled it out to examine it properly, and her heart sank. On a battered napkin square there was a message hastily scribbled in small, slightly slanted curves.
Let’s talk later
She reverently placed the napkin on her bedside table and sank stiffly into the mattress. That was the note Adora was talking about. She thought Catra knew about it and purposely didn’t contact her. That Catra’d been leading her on and purposely hurt her feelings just to get her way. Hadn’t she though? The truth in that statement stung.
Maybe I am despicable…
She couldn’t get the images out of her mind – the purity of the girl’s smile when she felt safe enough to open up about her interests, the mischievous glint in her eyes when she lined up next to Catra at the jam line, and her complete revulsion towards the Horde agent just a couple hours ago. She curled her body into a tight ball and let out a soft whimper. Other memories began intruding too.
Catra’s mother stumbled into her bedroom and collided with Catra’s dresser. A few figurines and other decorations clattered from the top at the impact. The woman’s dilated pupils were distant, set in a gaunt face. Her right arm was pockmarked with scars. The veins in that limb had been blown out for some time now, and new marks were making a home on the remaining arm.
“You’ve gotta hide me,” the woman slurred without recognizing that she was speaking to her own daughter. “They’re at the door. I heard them.”
Catra sighed and led her by the arm towards her closet. There were already a few pillows and a blanket nestled in one half since this was a fairly common occurrence anymore. Her mother gratefully sat on the floor inside and pulled the blanket over her head.
“You’re such a fucking idiot!”
“Why do you hate me so much?!”
“You let Mom hide in your closet all the time like a total weirdo!”
At that a traumatized woman burst out from behind the closet door, hair askew and eyes darting wildly. In one hand she held a stiletto heel from a pair that Catra never wore and forgot were even buried in her closet. Her mother waved the pointed end around like a shiv to indicate that she wanted both teenage girls to keep their distance. It was clear she didn’t recognize them again.
“Mom!” Catra pleaded. “It’s just us. We’re not going to hurt you.”
“You can’t take me! I don’t wanna go!” she croaked back. “I know who you really are – who you work for!”
She launched for the smaller girl, likely because she was the one who’d spoken to her. Catra winced and looked away instinctively, but her body couldn’t understand to move to safety in time. At the last possible second, a dark blur shoved her to the ground, and she heard a garbled yell above her. Her older sister was wrestling with their hallucinating parent, fighting to claw the weapon from her hands. Their mother’s eyes were wide with unadulterated terror, and she was wrestling as though her life depended on it. Catra sobbed and prayed neither of them would get hurt.
The pair tumbled over the corner of Catra’s twin bed and pitched onto the floor. The one glimmer of hope was that the shoe clattered away from them. The younger daughter frantically scurried on hands and knees toward the discarded object and clutched it in her arms. She bounded out of the room to look for the phone. She had to call for help before something worse happened.
“Get back here!” her mother garbled through entangled limbs from the other room. “You can’t lead them back to me!”
The teen grabbed the landline off the receiver and pressed those three specific numbers. The line connected immediately.
“9-1-1, state your emergency.”
“Help!” she wheezed. “My mom, she doesn’t understand. She’s trying to hurt us! You’ve gotta help Lucia!”
Adora couldn’t face her flatmates after the board meeting. She sent Glimmer the devastating news of her failure by text and locked herself in her apartment to hide from the world.
We’ll figure it out. We always do, right? Glimmer’s reply flashed on her phone screen in the dark. A second text arrived shortly after.
Do you want to talk about it?
The blonde girl sighed and clicked open the messenger.
I think I’d rather be alone right now.
I’m so sorry…
For letting you down
Don’t be ridiculous
You didn’t let me down
Try to take it easy on yourself
I’m here if you need anything
She locked the screen and set the phone down on her bedside table. She burrowed face-down into her pillow. Finally, there was nobody around for her to need to pretend, and the tears were allowed to come.
They kept coming until she finally collapsed from exhaustion a few hours later. Then sadness gave way to fear and pain when the nightmares claimed what little peace she had left.
She dreamed of running. No matter how hard and far she pushed her legs, she never got any closer to her destination. She was running out of time. If she didn’t make it, the bad thing would happen. She had to be there this time.
Then there was the girl from the rival roller derby team. She laughed derisively while Adora kept struggling to move.
“How could you actually believe I’d be interested in you?” she sneered. “You’re such a disappointment.”
“I’m trying!” Adora shouted back with a sob. “So hard…”
“You’ll never be good enough,” the scathing woman leaned forward to breathe in her ear. “I know it. You know it. And Glimmer knows it. Everyone knows.”
“No!” the real yell startled Adora out of the nightmare. She shivered on top of her blankets. She’d passed out earlier without actually getting into the bed. She lay there the rest of the night, but her mind wouldn’t calm enough for sleep to resume.
Adora avoided Glimmer at work the next day. Luckily, the director had multiple meetings scheduled and was busy herself. They carpooled to practice along with Bow, as usual. Adora rode in the backseat and let the other two chatter about random small talk in the front. Whenever they’d glance at her she’d force a weak smile and try to appear her usual self.
She felt lackluster during the warmup drills. Her mind was elsewhere, and her body didn’t have the motivation. Finally, in a partner drill, Glimmer cornered her. The goal of the drill was to constantly vie for position in the front while also trying to hold their partner back behind them. As a pivot blocker, Glimmer was more effective at the blocking portions in the front. Still, Adora was the star jammer on their team. When the shorter player repeatedly outmaneuvered her captain, it was obvious something wasn’t right.
“Adora,” she began earnestly. “It’s okay to be upset about what happened yesterday. I am, too. But I hope you understand that I don’t blame you.”
“Maybe you should,” the taller girl muttered while trapped behind her shoulder.
Glimmer flipped around so they were facing one another but didn’t give up her forward position.
“I’m serious, Adora. This isn’t your responsibility. You did everything you could. They just won this time.”
Her friend was avoiding eye contact, bottom lip clamped between her teeth. The nervous habit was one of her easiest tells. Glimmer gave up on the exercise and squeezed both the girl’s shoulders instead.
“Look at me.”
Reluctantly, blue eyes drifted up to meet her pink ones.
“You’re my best friend,” she said with a consoling smile. “I know you, and you work harder than anyone else I’ve ever met. I watched you do everything that could have possibly been done. You definitely did better than I could have. There’s no way I would have gotten all those signatures in time! Adora, you were amazing. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
The jammer collapsed into her for a tight hug. She returned the squeeze and rubbed one of Adora’s shoulders, which quivered slightly.
“I’m here,” she cooed over her friend’s hunched back.
A few feet away, Bow and Perfuma were partnered for the same exercise. They quietly rolled over and added their bodies to the lopsided embrace.
“You’re not alone, Adora.” Bow offered, having overheard some of his girlfriend’s comments.
Perfuma chimed in. “We’re all here to help. We are our best selves when we support one another.”
They backed away to offer space when their captain was finally ready to move. She wiped her eyes with a section of forearm that was only mildly sweaty. Sniffling and bleary-eyed, she grinned at the circle of friends.
“Thanks, you guys. You really are the best.”
The rest of practice, Adora felt free to push her body and savor the rush of endorphins that came from exerting herself. It was nice to feel in control of something again. These were skills she knew and could perform well. To make the experience even better, she got to do it all alongside her friends, who had proven many times they had her back – on and off the track. Few things could compete with the warmth she felt in that moment.