Feb 12

Under the Cowl – Part Eight

Three days later he was back at work. He had cut a square of cloth from some of the extra cape material he had left over from making his costume and pinned the Lava Punch buttons to it. The purple square was tacked to the wall of his cube with thumbtacks and a picture of him and the Scrap Pictures lady was pinned next to it. Every time he looked at it he smiled and he had been in a good mood all day, even humming a little while he coded.

“Hey Buddy!”

Wayne stepped into the entrance to Norton’s cube and leaned casually against the opening. His voice thick with condescension, Wayne sneered down at Norton and asked him how his vacation was.

Norton’s shoulders drooped slightly, his good mood gone. He turned away from the entrance to his cube as much as he could without losing sight of his monitor and tried to focus on his work and forget that Wayne was there. As he looked away, his eyes fell on the purple square pinned to his wall.

“Well?” Wayne prompted, interrupting Norton’s reverie, “Did they name you King of the Nerds, or what?”

Norton looked at the Batman button the Lava Punch girl had made for him and then at the photo of him and the Scrap Pictures lady. His closed his eyes as his breathing became fast and shallow. “I’m Batman” he mumbled softly.

“What was that now?”

Norton tried to swallow the lump forming in his throat and opened his eyes. “I’m Batman” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Unable to hear Norton’s responses, and afraid he’d miss something ripe for mocking, Wayne leaned forward slightly, placing his right hand on Norton’s desk for support. “So, you gonna tell me about the Nerd Expo? Or do I have to beg? ‘Cause, seriously, I am dieing to hear about it.”

There was a cold knot in his stomach and his hands were clammy, but Norton clenched his fists and turned his chair toward the entrance of his cube. He swallowed again then stood and faced Wayne squarely.

Wayne stood back, waving his hands in front of his chest in mock concern, and laughed at him.

“For your information,” Norton said his voice uneven but determined, “Comic Con is NOT a Nerd Expo.”

“Oh really?” Wayne asked. He leaned against the cube’s opening and grinned at him, clearly happy to have finally provoked a response.

“Yes. Really” Norton said, his voice cracking slightly, “Everybody knows that it’s called the Geek Prom.” His heart was pounding in his chest, but Norton’s courage grew as he spoke and his voice became stronger, “If you’re going to make fun of it, you should at least know what you’re talking about. Not that you ever do. Frank mentioned you called in sick both days the R&D Lab was in crisis. What’s the matter? Too dumb to do my job?”

“Hey!” Wayne’s smile evaporated and he stepped toward Norton angrily. A flush of pink had spread across his cheeks and he shoved his finger in Norton’s face. “You better watch it!”

“Or what?” Norton asked levelly. He looked down at the finger hovering just under his nose then up to Wayne’s face. “You’ll make things difficult for me?” He laughed a short bark of contempt. “You’ve been making my life miserable for years. That’s hardly a threat.” Norton stepped back from Wayne and crossed his arms to hide the fact that his hands were shaking. He took a deep breath to steady his voice and continued, “I’m not ashamed of who I am. Or of my hobbies.”

“You’re so pathetic!” Wayne’s voice cracked as he tried to contain his anger, “You read comic books and play video games… and… and… play dress up!” He ripped the photo from Norton’s wall and threw it on the desk in disgust. “That’s not how an adult is supposed to act! And everyone else thinks so too. Everyone thinks you’re pathetic. E. VERY. ONE. You’re pathetic and an embarrassment. You should wear a bag over your head so we don’t have to look at you.”

Taken aback by the venom in Wayne’s voice, Norton averted his gaze and stared at the floor as he struggled for a response. Wayne had been cruel in the past, but he had never lost his cool like this before. Norton wondered if he had hit a nerve with his “dumb” comment. Without really looking at anything, Norton’s line of sight crossed the threshold of his cube and he blinked in disbelief: he could see three pairs of shoes, just beyond the opening to his cube. A small grin formed at the corners of his mouth and he looked up again, meeting Wayne’s eyes. “I’m tired of this, Wayne” he said, standing straighter, “You need to leave me alone or I’m going to lodge a formal complaint of harassment with HR.”

Wayne advanced further on Norton, his face now a bright shade of crimson. It occurred to Norton that, had this been a story in a comic book, huge clouds of steam would probably be pouring from Wayne’s ears right now accompanied by a shrieking whistle, like a tea kettle that had just reached the boiling point. The image made the whole fight seem almost comical and he laughed weakly. Confused by the laugh and floundering for a response, Wayne opened and closed his mouth wordlessly a few times before finding his voice. “You…” he began angrily, but Norton interrupted him.

“I wouldn’t if I were you. You have an audience. And I know how you hate that.” The smile that had been trying to break free spread over Norton’s face like a sunrise as he pointed over Wayne’s shoulder. Wayne’s jaw clacked shut in horror and his stomach tightened as he realized he had been shouting. A lot. The color drained from his face and he turned around. With the exception of Norton, the entire Software Group – including their boss – was standing behind him. Most of them looked stunned but his boss looked furious. She pointed angrily at her office. “Now!” she barked.

Wayne swallowed thickly, his face ashen, and walked away from Norton’s cube without another word. Everyone was silent until the Director’s door closed with a soft click. Then they all crowded Norton’s cube talking at once. The blood pounding in his ears made it hard for Norton to hear, but he did his best to answer their questions and not give away the fact that he was shaking inside. The entire group was sympathetic but insisted he was a complete moron for not having said something sooner. Norton couldn’t argue with them on that point, and they didn’t mean it as an insult, so he just shrugged and agreed that, yes, he was a moron. Eventually the group broke up and moved away but Frank stayed, hovering by the entrance to his cube. “Dude, can I ask you somethin’?”

“Sure” Norton said. He reached up and re-pinned the picture that Wayne had ripped down. He sat down and turned his chair to face Frank.

“Those buttons on your wall. You got them at Comic Con, right?”

Norton glanced at the buttons and grinned. “Yep” he said, turning back to Frank, “from one of the independent artist booths.”

“Uh… is that one… Dude, is it supposed to look like poop?”

Norton laughed and leaned back in his chair. “Yeah. It’s a poop button.”

Frank stared at him blankly for a minute then gave him a lopsided smile and shook his head. “You’re a weird one. You know that?” Norton shrugged in response and Frank laughed. “Of course, my wife says the same thing about me and baseball so…” his voice trailed off. “You got any good vacation stories?”

“Really?” Norton looked at him dubiously, “You want to hear about Comic Con?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ve never been to a comic book convention before. They had a write-up on it on MSNBC while you were out – I even looked for you in some of the photos. It looked pretty crazy.”

Norton grinned at him and pointed over the wall with his thumb in the direction of Frank’s cube. “Grab your chair. I’ll tell you how I got the poop button.”



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  1. Liz

    I like it! Do some more short stories!

    1. thegoblin

      Thanks Liz! I’m glad you liked it.

      I’m working on some poems right now but I’m thinking of tackling another story (or at least a short character sketch) after that ^__^

  2. -the mama

    Well Sarah, I finally read the whole story. It made me smile and laugh. Thank you.

    1. thegoblin

      I’m glad you liked it 🙂

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