Last week I shared a scene from Cold Spring, a historical fiction novel I'm writing, set in the early twentieth century.
This week, I'll present a scene from my other WIP (work in progress). This novel doesn't have a title yet. It's the sequel to my superhero novel (not yet published, but being considered by a publisher) titled Going Through the Change. Both novels feature a group of menopausal women who develop superpowers thanks to the machinations of a mad scientist.
I know! It doesn't have much in common with my other novel, but I write in two really distinct genres and really enjoy both.
This scene introduces you to Linda/Leonel. You can meet Patricia, another of my super-women, in a short story published here, at FreedomFiction. I hope you enjoy it!
Linda Álvarez was getting bored. She had arrived early that morning ready for action, only to be sent to the medical devision for an array of tests. She accepted that and cooperated with the medical team. After all, part of what she wanted from her association with the Department was answers about what exactly Dr. Liu had done to her. After all these months she didn’t even know if her transformation into a man was permanent. The doctors took all their samples and readings and seemed quite excited about getting to work on the analysis. So, they had sent Linda to the gym to meet her trainer.
The gym had been abuzz with activity when she walked in, but it went silent in a wave as she crossed the floor to the desk at the far wall. She kept walking and tried to ignore the silence and focused attention, but she felt her cheeks growing warm. The Director had warned her that her recruitment had garnered a lot of attention in-house and that the other agents would be anxious to see what she could do. Even at the Department, where they specialized in the unusual, where their cases weren’t just classified, but often, unclassifiable, a man with such incredible strength was a person of interest. Linda was grateful that the Director had agreed to keep the rest of her story quiet. It would be far worse if they all knew that she had only recently become a man.
She arrived at the desk and presented her badge to the young woman working there. She beamed at Linda and winked. “Just a second, Mr. Álvarez.” Mister. That still took some getting used to, even after all these months. Inside, she still felt like Linda Álvarez, wife to David, mother and grandmother. Like she had spent all these months trying to convince her daughter, this change was not a choice she made, it was just something she was learning to adjust to. It was like that old joke about immigration: I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me. Straightening out the mess that a sudden gender change made with all Linda’s official records was something else the Director was taking care of for her. This ID card and the driver’s license the Department had arranged for made her new life as Leonel Álvarez very official and somehow more real.
Linda straightened as a tall, muscular man crossed the gym, obviously heading her direction. He was a very handsome man, and walked with a swagger that suggested that he was well aware of his appearance and accustomed to the attention it garnered. He also looked little familiar, though she wasn’t sure where she might have seen him. “Álvarez!” His voice was loud and confident, his tone warm and welcoming. “So glad you decided to take the Director up on his offer.”
He extended a hand to shake Linda’s and she reminded herself to return the grip firmly, but not so firmly as to break his fingers. She must have done well, because the man seemed pleased.
“Mike Lester. I’ll be your trainer.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed the palms into each other in a gesture of enthusiasm. “Let’s see what you can do.”
He led her to a corner of the gym with a variety of free weights lifting equipment. “Your paperwork says that you’re quite strong. What do you bench?”
Linda was confused for a moment, then realized what he was asking. She framed her answer carefully, making sure she didn’t sound disrespectful. “I don’t know, sir. I’ve never lifted weights.”
Mr. Lester snapped his head up to look at her. Disbelief was clear in his expression. He stood back up from where he had been looking at the weights on the ground, apparently selecting some to work with. He had a large disk in his hands.
“I bench 5 reps of 315, clean,” he said.
Linda could tell by his tone that she was supposed to be impressed by this phrase, though it meant little to her. From her tone-up sessions at Curves, she knew that reps meant how many times you did something, but she did quite understand the number or what made it clean.
In the long tradition of new students everywhere, she kept her ignorance to herself and nodded to the teacher. He nodded back and said, “Let’s start with finding out what you can comfortably hold.” He held the disk out to Linda. It looked big and heavy, so she widened her stance a little in preparation, then took it. It didn’t feel like much, almost as if he had handed her a textbook.
“Hold it from beneath, like this.” He moved her hands into the desired position, so she was holding it in front of her like a breakfast tray. “I’m going to stack additional weights atop this one. Let me know when you start having difficulty holding it.” Linda nodded again. Mr. Lester crossed the few steps to the weight pile several more times and returned. When Linda was holding six disks, he paused. “Doing okay there, Álvarez?”
She was growing a little bored, but other than that she was fine. “Yes, sir.” She wished she knew if it was correct to call him sir. The trainer was younger than Linda was, but he was in a position of authority. She guessed she’d stick with formality unless he correct her.
Mr. Lester did not look entirely pleased by that response. He went seeking more of the broad, black disks and stacked them into her arms. When she was holding ten, he stood looking around and Linda saw that was all the weights of that size available in the room.
When a camera flash went off, Linda realized that they had attracted the attention of all the weight-lifters in the room. The guy who took the picture, an attractive African American man with mischievous eyes, grinned and gave Linda a thumbs-up signal. She smiled back at him, wishing she had tied back her hair. A strand was tickling her nose. She shifted the weight onto her left arm so that she could pull the hair back, then resettled it into both her arms.
A complete silence took over the room, followed by lots of whispering chatter. “Did you see that? With one arm? One thousand pounds! Who is this guy?”
Mr. Lester made a note in a small device he was carrying, then gestured for Linda to follow him, without looking at her or the on-lookers. “You can leave the stack, here.” He gestured at a metal rack. Linda slid the disks onto the shelf. The stack wobbled and the top two weights fell. Lunging, she caught them, one in each hand, and placed them gently beside the larger stack. Dusting her hands on the back of her pants, she hurried to follow Mr. Lester across the gym, blushing again at the sounds of conversation building behind her. She didn’t linger to hear what judgments were made.
She caught up with Mr. Lester in the opposite corner of the gymnasium, where a variety of fighting dummies were stored. She couldn’t tell if the trainer was upset with her or just focused on the task at hand, but she wanted this training session to go well, and, so far, she thought it wasn’t. Trying to break the ice, she asked him, “You look familiar to me, sir. Have we met?”
He looked pleased to have been recognized. “Not officially. But I was part of the retrieval and clean-up team at the college campus.”
Linda didn’t remember everything about that day very clearly, but she thought she remembered this man convincing her to let go of Jessica so they could address her wounds. She mentally redressed the man in a dark blue jumpsuit like the men in the team had been wearing. Yeah. That was him. “Thank you for your help with Jessica’s care. She has healed well.”
“So, I’ve heard. The Department is excited to get someone with her skills. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s hot.”
Linda was taken aback. For a moment she said nothing. She wasn’t expecting to talk about Jessica’s physical attractiveness. Then she realized that Lester was asking if she and Jessica were a couple. “I know, right?” she responded, trying to seem casual. “My girl has to beat them off with a stick.” She didn’t like the idea of this man eyeing Jessica while she was still vulnerable from the divorce and her recovery from her burns. There was the air of a wolf about him. It wouldn’t hurt to let him believe that Jessica was more than just her friend.
It also delayed the whole conversation about David. After spending more than twenty years with David, it was so strange to suddenly have her relationship with him become a point of contention, with some people arguing that they shouldn’t have the right to be together. Linda had always supported the right of those who love each other to marry, regardless of gender. It was strange to become the center of that fight instead of just an ally, but, for her, nothing had changed. She wasn’t interested in testing Lester’s politics today.
She was interested in seeing if he could or would tell her more about what happened to Helen, though, and the search for Dr. Liu. So far, the information flow was very one-way. Linda had told the director and the doctor’s everything she knew. But there seemed to be some contention about how much she should be told in return. She was having trouble getting used to the idea of “clearance” and didn’t really have a good sense of who was supposed to know what yet. Mostly, she just tried to keep her mouth shut. She didn’t know how much Mike Lester knew about what had gone down there, but it was worth a try.
She kept her question vague, as if she didn’t know the names of the other people involved. “I hear that they took the fire-lady someplace. Did they get anything out of her to help with the search for the crazy doctor?” Linda didn’t say it aloud, but she had been plagued with bad dreams about that day. She was especially worried about the part she had played in Jessica’s injuries and, even though it had been in defense, she regretted the force she had applied to Helen. She should have been able to solve that problem in some other way. Throwing a sixty-something year old woman into a brick wall was just wrong. She’d been praying that the woman had survived her injuries.
“Last I heard, she was still asleep,” Lester said. He didn’t sound especially concerned about it. Linda guessed it wouldn’t be that big a deal from his perspective. She had been hurt while trying to kill people, after all. Even if she had been manipulated by Dr. Liu, too, she wasn’t an innocent.
“A coma then?” The man nodded. At least she wasn’t dead. People came back from comas. One of her cousins had come back after nearly a year. He was as normal now as he had ever been. Linda tried to scrub at some of the guilt on her soul with that brush. It helped a little. “So, what’s next?”
“Heavy bag. This one is fitted with a sensor to get a sense of the force you bring to bear in a punch. Here. Put these on.” He handed Linda a set of fingerless gloves with leather padding over the fist. She slid her hands in and flexed them. She thought she might enjoy this part. It would feel good to work out some of her bad feelings in an honest sweat. “You ready?”
“Mike, please. No need to be so formal.” His smile was certainly winning. Linda felt a little tingle of response in her pants and told herself to focus. She’d be working with a lot of handsome men here at the Department, after all.
“I’m ready, Mike.”
For the next few minutes, she followed Mike’s directions and jabbed at the punching bag gently from several different angles and with several different kinds of thrusts. When she seemed to have the motions down, he said, “Alrighty then, let’s see what you can do, Killer.”
The word jarred her. Killer? It’s just a word, she told herself. Just something guys say to pump each other up. Focus. So, focus she did.
Her next punch threw the heavy bag through the cinderblock gymnasium wall and out the other side, wedging it in a soda machine in an alcove across from the gym. Sparks flew out of the crumpled machine, now visible through the gaping hole in the gymnasium wall.
Linda cringed. “I’m so sorry, Mike. I know a guy who can fix this.”