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It was right after the Invasion, when a handful of people showed the world how much we needed them and we made them our heroes in return. It was right before the holidays, when we all went back to our families and remembered the prices our heroes paid. It was the fall of 1997 and Neil Benson, freshly an Omega and freshly 21, was discovering the joys of the bar.

Not of bars. Of the bar.

This is a story of love.

Back to the Legacy Home Page
by Marc Singer


It had been a worse place, once. My first couple of years teaching at Maryland, it was the 'Vous: a dank and odorous pit where the fights were frequent and the crowds were ugly—not ugly as in opposite of beautiful but ugly as in prefix of mob—and the sticky fluid sloshing across the floor wasn't necessarily beer. Then the owner cleaned up the place this past summer, a few months before Neil was a legal drinker or a local hero. When Neil finally set foot in the Cornerstone, as it was now called, he was greeted by a world of wood paneling and brass fixtures and microbrews on tap. A world of piped-in superstars like Beck and appreciative regulars like yours truly, new friends and new music to usher Neil into a new world of song and shouting and dance—and women in tight cotton pants—rows of quarters on the pool tables upstairs—the tart pleasures of the Vodka Collins and the sweet kiss of whiskey—I get knocked down, but I get up again—the clank of glass bottles—a parade of DJs and cover bands and twisting dancing women in polyester and cotton—and bottles and cans and just clap your hands just clap your hands.

Who couldn't fall in love in a place like that?

But as for me, my own problem was falling in love with a place like that. When Neil first ventured inside the Cornerstone, I and several of my fellow English TAs—that's teaching assistants thank you, not a certain other abbreviation, and I don't have tits anyway—were firmly entrenched as regulars. Once we recognized Neil, I went over to welcome him with my lovely colleagues Kay and Ella, the university's cutest TAs (and by that I do mean another abbreviation). We bought him drinks until he decided to stay.

I think we were enamored with the idea of hanging out with a bona fide hero. We were already spending so much time at the Cornerstone that a group mythology was forming around it (like my now-legendary confrontation with the Pep Boys outside the front door); well, what better than to be joined by a living piece of myth? Neil was a hero of Baltimore, a friend of the Paint Crew, the brother of Anne Benson, and the grandson of freakin' Overman. Inviting him in our ranks cemented the belief that we were drinking in Olympus.

At first, I think he just stayed with us because we never brought up the Invasion. The fratboy jackasses would get in Neil's face and tell him how cool he was for wading into that bloodbath, but we never did. I lost an uncle and a brother-in-law in the destruction of downtown Chicago, and I wouldn't want my face rubbed in it. So we all had an unspoken arrangement with Neil—around us, he wasn't a Benson or a Hauptmann or a guy who almost saved all his friends in Baltimore. He was just Neil. And you know, Neil was a pretty good guy.

Good enough that he got his own mythology out of the bargain. He was still an Omega, and he got a lot of mileage out of lifting up the bar tables or drinking most of us under them. (I'm the only guy he never quite outdrank. He has an Omega constitution, I just have a lot of practice with Johnnie Walker Black Label. You think I should consult a doctor?) Neil was College Park's only superhero, and we loved it.

So much, that we all thought it was kind of cool when College Park got its own super villain...


He first appeared about two weeks after the Invasion, when he coated an entire history class in a black adhesive slime. He made the stuff himself, with an Omega power he must have triggered during the stress of the Invasion. He never gave his name as he splattered College Park with that oily goo, so College Park christened him "the Creep."

I tangled with him a few times after my return to school... after the hospital stay and the funerals. The skinny little bastard kept calling me "Overboy" and trying to squirt that crap in my face. I was usually too fast for him—although he did glue me to the chapel tower for a couple hours during midterms.

Most of our fights went like that: lots of embarrassment, little result. At least I held his attention, keeping him from pestering people he could actually hurt. That was about as close to "Omega superhero" as I got. But I kept trying, you know? I owed it to some kids who showed me what a hero's supposed to be.

One afternoon, I almost had him. I got lucky and the Creep hit the Santa Fe Cafe while I was right down the street at the Cornerstone. Actually, I guess it was more than luck; I was there most days anyway...

We all knew we were spending too much time there. Our clothes smelled of cheap smoke and the waitresses all knew us by name. But it was a good place to go, not to get away from the world but to be in it. And the people there were so great... Mike loved to joke that when he died and got to Hell it would be just like the Cornerstone, with all the same people partying inside and flames licking at the windows.

I was having a drink that afternoon, waiting for the TAs to get out of class, when I noticed a familiar face sitting at the bar. I'd seen her there plenty of times before, poured into polyester or leather. And I mean poured. And she'd seen me seeing her. Normally it would have stopped at that, with me never moving beyond watching. But there had been a lot of changes that fall, and she was looking at me... I set my glass down and strolled across the floor. The music pounded in sync with my feet and I picked up more speed, more force, more wild joy with each step...

Then a bouncer in a black-stained Santa Fe uniform careened through the Cornerstone's doors. "The Creep is hitting us!" he screamed. His eyes scanned across the bar, finding me a little too quickly near my usual spot. "You gotta stop him!"

I sighed. The Creep couldn't have annoyed me more if he tried. I looked across the bar, to see all eyes looking at me. Including her bottomless brown ones. Our eyes locked briefly, until hers gazed past me and through the windows, uphill to the Fe. She smiled a little and nodded her head up that way.

I grinned, maybe a little too much, and ran for the doors. But on the way out, I turned my head and winked. I actually winked.

Oh, I had such stick.

Then I pushed the doors open and jogged up to the Fe—at about fifty miles an hour—rolling up my sleeves and preparing for trouble. The Fe's outer patio was deserted, except for a few unlucky patrons who'd been glued to the fake stucco walls. I kicked the false saloon doors open and strutted inside.

Nearly all the Fe's tacky "Mexican" decorations were coated in dripping stains of black goo. The Creep, cackling madly, was crawling all over the walls; he hung on by secreting tiny amounts of goo from his bare hands and feet, and clinging with their adhesive pools. He left little black foot- and hand-prints everywhere. Except for the bare hands and feet, his costume had improved since the last time—from sweatshirt and ski mask to a black spandex workout suit, with some really tacky fur trim glued to the neck, wrists, and ankles. He topped it all off with a plastic Nixon mask.

The freak saw me and let out an even louder cackle. He shook his hands in V-for-victory signs and said "I am not a Creep." More laughter, which died out since I didn't join in. He held his arms out imploringly and said, "What do you think, Overboy?"

"I think this is the stupidest thing I've ever seen." Then he pointed and lobbed a stream of goo at me, and I ran a couple steps and jumped at him.

We each dodged the other. The Creep bounced around the upper walls of the Fe, spraying black ichor at me, while I tried and failed to grab him. After a while I got tired of jumping and threw beer bottles at him. Not for real—Anne said that could kill a person if I hit them right. I was throwing them above the Creep, trying to force him down. But he just stayed up in the rafters and the glassed-in ceiling windows, taunting me to come up after him.

By this time, we had quite a crowd watching, including some police. I guess the Creep decided cowardice was the better part of valor— probably his only part. He shot more goo at me, and I jumped out of the way... landing in another puddle of the stuff. The Creep laughed so hard, I thought he must have been peeing himself. While I wasted seconds taking off my shoes, which were stuck to the floor, he wriggled through an air vent and climbed onto the roof. By the time I ran outside and jumped up to chase him, he was gone.

I climbed back down to the crowd. I thought the police or the Fe owners would ream me for trashing the place, but they all acted like I was doing a job—no, a favor. Things sure have changed for Omegas after the Invasion. The crowd applauded, even though I'd never touched the Creep.

That was fine by me. The girl was applauding too. I walked up to her, trying to look casual in oil-spotted pants and bare feet. "Hi," I said, "I'm Neil Benson."

I winced inside. That was the stupidest line. It'd never work --

"I know," she said. "I'm Susan."

And then, the fall got interesting.


After that day at the Fe, College Park couldn't get enough of Neil, and Neil couldn't get enough of Susan. The first, I could see. College Park was coronating its local hero; the Diamondback did interviews, and the Cornerstone even put Neil's picture up on the wall. But Susan...

We were all happy for Neil at first. She was gorgeous, no doubt about it, with those long black curls and deep brown eyes. And Neil seemed really happy. Not happy with her, because he wasn't with her except when they met at the Cornerstone, but happy trying to be with her. He'd show up dressed a little nicer, with a spring in his step. He told me once that his best moments were preparing to go to the Cornerstone, anticipating seeing her, whether he actually did or not. Hell, I know how good that was—I was 21 too, you know. In fact, I was 21 for several years, until I woke up after a really bad bender and found I was 26 and sitting in the Cornerstone. Ba-dump bump.

So it was great when Neil was first trying for her. But after a while, he wasn't any closer to getting her. I mean, she'd still meet him at the Cornerstone, still laugh and smile and touch his biceps to see if she could feel how strong he was. But they never quite made it to a date or a kiss. He told me so, one night and only one night, when legions of beer had sacrificed themselves to wear down his guarded reserve just a bit. And in my drunken foolishness, I told him what I thought of the whole situation. He sobered up, left, and never spoke to me about her again.

But I didn't like her. I didn't like the way she beckoned him forward but held him at arm's length. Or maybe I just didn't like her because the one night he brought her to the TAs' merry little court, she didn't laugh at my jokes.

Ba-dump bump.


It was my first time in the Cornerstone. I went there in mid- November to check up on Neil. He hadn't spoken to anyone in the family in weeks. Harvey especially wanted to talk to Neil, but was too embarrassed or proud to go chase him down. I was happy to go instead; given all the trouble other people had after the Invasion—Tom, though that was past, and of course the Paint Crew—I wanted to make sure Neil wasn't feeling down.

My worries couldn't have been less founded. Neil was about the happiest I've seen him: surrounded by admirers, friends, and a dark-eyed girl he was obviously crazy over. When he saw me, he smiled and with a giant sweep of his arm invited me to join his boisterous knot over by the pool tables.

I tried to talk to Neil, but he was too insulated by new and casual friends. I got stuck talking to them instead. Apparently they're all graduate students at Maryland's English department, which makes me think it must be about the most debauched graduate program ever established. Nice folks, don't get me wrong. They brought me right into the group, though I didn't really come to drink. I think one of the TAs actually tried to pick me up, but his approach was so shy I could hardly tell.

After about an hour of answering questions, declining beers, and politely deflecting come-ons, I finally got to talk to Neil alone. His woman had left and he was a social human being again. "Great place, isn't it?" he asked me.

I'd gone to college at American in D.C., where everyone regarded College Park as a lowly suburb of fratboys and bumpkins. Nothing was to be as cool as The City. Yet the Cornerstone, for all the smoke and noise packed into the sedate wooden tables and walls, was a damn nice place. I told him so.

"The best thing about it," Neil told me as he uncharacteristically wrapped an arm around my shoulders, "is that for once, you're my 'big sister.'"

I wrinkled my nose. "I don't get it."

"...Instead of me always being your 'little brother.'"


He raved about the bar and his friends a little more. Then he asked me, "What do you think of Susan, huh?"

My eyes must've glazed over as I recalled her during the previous hour: tickling, touching, then twisting away as he tried to slide an arm around her waist... I tried to answer noncomittally, but he saw right through me. Must've been all those years sharing a swingset.

"You don't like her," Neil said.

"It's not that I don't like her," I said. "I just... don't like her."

His eyes turned hard and icy, like they were when I saw him after Baltimore. "Why not? Because she's not an Omega breeding partner?"

That, I thought, would be Harvey's reaction—but I never would've said so. "It's just an opinion, Neil, don't worry about it."

"I'm not." He took a drink, and thought for a moment. "But why?"

"Look, it's this feeling I got..."

"Don't tell me you used your telepathy on her!" he snapped.

"Oh God, of course not. Don't even joke about that." I paused. "I just think... she may not be interested in you."

Neil stared at me, mutely, slack-jawed. I realized this was unthinkable to him: the bar and everyone in it were so totally interested in him, and he was an Omega, a hero—how could Susan not be? He hadn't learned that in bars beer gave everyone false smiles, except the bartenders, who wore them for tips.

"You're wrong," he said.

"I hope so. You seem really happy with her, and that's great. But if I'm right --"

"'If'?" he shouted. "What 'if'? You don't think 'if,' you think you're right!"

I couldn't think of an answer quickly enough. Neil pointed at me and said "That is the worst fucking thing about being related to you and Harvey! You're always so fucking right! You can't ever let us mere humans screw up once in a while! That's why the Paint Crew thought you were such a bitch!"

He instantly turned pale. I clenched my lips very tightly. I scowled at him. And I tightened one fist.

It was that word again. I've heard it slapped at me, even by the other Omegas. And I've heard it more than they think. It's the word that's used to demean and abuse women, like a verbal belt across the face. It supposedly goes to women who are "out of line," but that's a lie; I get it because I'm too controlled and responsible. And I did not need to hear that shit from my own brother.

He was already apologizing, like that erased it. I should have told him off, told him what a self-centered prick he was being, told him exactly what his precious Susan probably thought of him. Maybe I should have used that fist. But a fight between us could've destroyed the entire bar.

So I stood up, turned my back on him, and left. I did the right thing.

Just like I always do.


No, we couldn't say one word against Susan. And frankly, we shouldn't have—it was Neil's business, right?

So things rolled along, right through Thanksgiving. Neil didn't fight the Creep any more—the Creep steered clear of the Cornerstone after their last scrape, whereas Neil barely left it. We all barely left it, held there in the grip of our mutual gravity. Enchanted by all the things that could happen between us, even if they never really did. And none were held so strongly as Neil.

Maybe we should have said something. But Neil was our friend, we were there for him, that was enough for us. We figured he'd learn on his own.

In December, he did.


I knew it was coming. He had been building toward it for a while, and with the end of semester approaching he was running out of time. We'd be going our separate ways for Christmas, and I knew he was just too pushy to wait. The first week in December, he asked me out. Not to the bar, not to a party, not even a "get together"—I'd said no to all those anyway—but on a genuine date. He left me no choice.

I had to tell him I was already seeing someone. Had been for months.

I knew that I had to let him down easy. It was the only decent thing to do. But Neil didn't see things that way. He thought I'd lied to him, led him on. I told him it wasn't my fault he took a little flirting too seriously.

"That wasn't flirting!" he shouted, making people at nearby tables look at us. "You let me think it was something more!"

"I can't help what you think." I shouted a little too, just to be heard over the Fiona Apple coming through the speakers. "It was just flirting and nothing else and you have to deal with it!"

"Then why carry it on for weeks?" He went on like that for minutes, not letting it drop, and everyone in the bar was watching. I had to do something.

"Okay," I said, "you're right. I did let it go on."

He was shocked to hear his own answer thrown back at him. "But... why?"

I leaned across the table and let him peer into my eyes. I know they're my best weapon. "Because you're the hero here, Neil. The big Omega. You are the center of attention and you are the man."

I could see him struggling to wrap his brain around it. He said, "You wanted to make your boyfriend jealous?"

I accidentally chuckled. My boyfriend would never even know. "No," I said. "I did it because I could. And now I know I can have the biggest hero around if I want."

In fact, I knew I could throw him away.

"So that's really all," I finished. "We didn't have anything I didn't want, and now... I just can't let it go on. It's better for you this way." And it was; it's a nasty world out there, and he had to learn sometime. I patted the table, carefully not touching his hand, and stood up to leave.

He breathed very slowly and turned bright red. For a second I thought he might freak out and attack me, but for all his intensity he was too nice a guy for that. I walked away, before I'd have to deal with Pfaust and his little cronies. I did tell Neil to take care, just so I could feel I'd ended things properly.

To be honest, he really wasn't as cool anymore. The aliens were old news and he hadn't fought the Creep in weeks, you know? He wasn't as big and he sure wasn't a challenge.

I do hope he has the courtesy to stop hanging around the Cornerstone. I kind of view it as my place.


Benson hadn't been playing with me for a while. November had gotten downright boring without him, even when I slimed our stupid turtle mascot during halftime at a football game. Oh, I was happy at the time—those stadium fuckers paid dearly for throwing me and my buddies out. How can you be "too rowdy" at a football game, anyway? I laughed as I stuck Testudo to the goal post with my Creep-Crap (TM), and I flipped off the whole fucking crowd.

But when I was climbing up the side of those ugly stadium seats, jumping and squirting my way to safety, I felt strangely... bored. This just wasn't as fun without Overboy to kick around. I had to remedy that.

He'd been holing himself up in the Cornerstone. Maybe he knew I was too young to get in. That was another reason to get even with the Cornerstone... with all the bars, but with the Cornerstone especially. I heard all the English TAs hung out with Benson there, and that dick Pfaust flunked me in Freshman Writing. I had plenty of scores to settle... once I figured out a way to tackle Benson on his turf.

I finally discovered it in December. While playing around with a lighter, I discovered that my Creep-Crap was flammable.


After Susan left, I just sat there stunned. I barely noticed the world, although I did somehow keep ordering drinks. Those were the only things that penetrated my skull—I suppose it must have been pretty thick.

I thought I had been so cool. I thought I'd really had her. And yet... everyone else had seen this coming, hadn't they? Why hadn't I? Why was I so fucking stupid?

The TAs came in after a while. Their cheeks were flushed a cheery red from the cold December walk, and they were laughing at some joke I hadn't heard. They rolled up to me, signs of some other world I'd been thrown out of. It was like nobody had told them that the Golden Age had ended.

But they guessed, as soon as they saw my face. The gang sat down and asked what was wrong. I didn't get a single "I told you so," even from Mike. He said Susan had been leading me on all along, that there was no way I could have known. Everyone else agreed, and slowly, they began knitting me back together.

We were there for a few hours and a lot of drinks. I was still feeling so shellshocked and isolated from the world that I didn't quite believe my eyes when I saw it around nine o'clock. I blinked and looked again, and it was still there. The TAs and the rest of the bargoers noticed it too. It was real.

Outside every window of the Cornerstone, flames were licking upwards. They threw hot orange light over us as we all partied and panicked inside.

I was the first one up and out the doors. I thought I would have to push through flames, but the doors were clear. The rest of the Cornerstone, however, was coated in burning black slime. And perched in a circle free of oil and fire in the middle of the front wall, laughing behind his bright red devil mask, was the Creep.

"Hey, Overboy!" he screamed. "Miss me?"

I wanted to wring his neck, but the crisis made me focus on the important things first. The Creep might have left all the fire exits clear, but the amount of flame he spread could destroy several buildings, and the smoke would kill all the people in them. I had to save the crowd... and the bar...

I considered ripping open a fire hydrant, but I had no way of directing the water, and it might not have put out the oil anyway. So I ran at top speed, dashing into every bar or store on the Route and grabbing their fire extinguishers. I strafed the Cornerstone with two dozen of them, halting the fire's spread and quenching most of it. Then I started evacuating customers through the doors and windows.

The Creep tried to restart his inferno. He spread more oil over the Cornerstone, then reached inside his collar and pulled out a lighter. Slipping one greasy thumb over the wheel, he tried to light it --

I grabbed an empty fire extinguisher and threw it like a javelin. It slammed into his hand with a satisfying crunch, and he dropped the lighter. He whined, "That hurt!" And he looked down at my face.

I think he could tell I wasn't having a very good day.

The Creep yelped and ran along the face of the Cornerstone. He leaped over the last pockets of flame and jumped onto the next building. The fire was mostly out, and sirens were approaching. I wasn't letting this little psycho get away. I squatted down, jumped up to the rooftops, and ran after him.

The Creep threw a couple squirts of oil at me, but I sidestepped them easily. I was too angry to trip myself up this time. The Creep ran out of building pretty quickly, and when he tried to leap over to the next one, I tackled him in mid-air. We both hit pavement hard; he minded much more than I did.

The runt squirmed out from under me, hopped up on a low brick wall, and tried to glue me to the sidewalk. I rolled aside at the last instant, got my footing, and punched him. It was a light little tap, that knocked him through the big glass window of the Closet of Comics. He smashed through a display that showed the stars of the "Invasions" series, including Anne and Harvey.

Before I could run in after him, the Creep bounded out of the store and over my head. I turned and ran into the street after him, and I noticed he'd stopped on the median strip and was pointing at me. He was going to stick me to the street, right in front of a screaming fire engine. I lunged forward and snapped my fist into his hand. He activated his power, and black ooze spurted around my hand.

The Creep laughed—then stopped, immediately, realizing what he'd done. My hand was clutching his wrist, and he'd just glued me to his own costume. The Creep looked up at me, his plastic smile unchanged but his eyes terrified behind the mask. And I punched him in the face.

The mask split apart, to reveal some sniveling kid. I had no idea who he was. It hardly mattered. He was every asshole who ever shouted at the movies, cut you off on the Beltway, blew cigar smoke in your face, treated women like shit and kept getting them while the "nice" guys... I couldn't stand it anymore. I hit him again.

Not hard enough to really damage the punk. I just winded him, bruised him, let him feel some much-deserved punishment. He was stuck to me and he wasn't getting away. He tried to goo my face, but he was woozy and I was furious; he went limp, only held up by my arm. A crowd of students gathered in the street, cheering for me to kick his ass. The Creep begged me to let him go, but I hit him again, with the red and white siren lights flashing over us. His head lolled back and he nearly blacked out. The crowd screamed for more. I pulled my fist back...

Someone grabbed it from behind and I whirled around. It was Harvey. My grandfather. Anne was down the street, helping the firemen, but he was right here holding my fist. "Back off!" I shouted. "I can handle this!"

"You've already handled it," Harvey said. "This kid doesn't need any more."

"You know so fucking much," I screamed. He flinched back from my words, but didn't let go. "Well you don't know how pissed I am right now!"

"Maybe not," he said. "But is he the one you're really mad at?"

Huffing for breath, I stared at him a few minutes. Then I dropped my hand, and used it and a foot to pry myself off the Creep. I kicked him to the ground and he passed out, a stain of urine spreading across his groin.

I trudged down to help save the Cornerstone. Harvey placed a consoling hand on my shoulder, but I shrugged it off. I guess it hurt him when I did that; I was in a mood to spread some hurt. And anyway, he and Anne were right again.


Except for the ruined paint job, the Cornerstone was up and running in just a few days. When I first went back, Neil was already sitting at the bar, staring straight ahead into the mirror.

"I really screwed up," he said, before I could say anything. "With the Susan, and with the Creep."

I sat next to him. "You stopped him, and you saved us all." Well, we might have lived anyway—but what's life without the Cornerstone?

"I never should have beat him that badly," Neil said. "Christ, I thought I was straightened out after Baltimore. I thought I already was a big hero here. I still have a long way to go..." But the way he stared at himself, it looked like he planned on getting there. I told him so.

He finally cocked his head to the side and looked at me. "Why don't you start in, Mike? Tell me how wrong I was. Tell me I should've avoided Susan in the first place."

Well, I could've. Or I could've told him he was simply being 21, and despite what the bars say a 21-year-old is still a half-teenager who does things like obsess over the wrong women. I could've, but what right did I have to say so? In all honesty, I'd developed a little problem of my own lately with Kay and Ella, and the fact that I liked one but was fucking the other. So who was I to get on a high horse?

I clapped Neil on the shoulder and said, "Why don't you tell me what's on your mind." And he did. It made him feel better, and maybe it would bring the whole sorry episode to an end.

Except for one annoying detail... The Creep was in jail, but I had this nagging feeling that the real villain had gotten away unscathed.


It was my second and last time in the Cornerstone. I waited until Neil and Harvey went to the English TAs' "family night" holiday party— Mike Pfaust had set up the event to get Neil out of the bar. I didn't want Neil to see me; and if he were there, the person I was looking for wouldn't be.

I saw Susan Stanton at a table, surrounded by admiring young men. It looked like her reputation had only increased since she blew off Neil. She recognized me—everybody does—and actually asked how Neil was doing.

I wasn't in the mood for any games. I refused to sit or even take off my coat. "I'm here to talk about what you did to him."

The admirers, suddenly uncomfortable, slipped back into the crowd. It was just me and her. Susan smiled and told me, "I'm sorry, but I didn't do anything. He hurt himself."

"Bullshit." I planted my hands on the table and leaned over her. "You led him on, chewed him up, and spit him out." I lowered my voice to a harsh whisper. "Come on, Susan. Drop the act. There's nobody around to impress anymore."

She smiled again—a tight, close-lipped smile that warped her whole face into a pointed mask. I think that was her real smile. "Fine. I did lead him on. He's a grown boy and he can deal with it. Why are you here?"

I leaned even closer. "I'm here to tell you that I'm sick of you. It's manipulative little creeps like you who give women a bad name. Every time you treat a man like shit, you give them one more reason to hate us and mistrust us and call us all bitches. And in your case, God help me, they'd be right. I am sick of that word and I am sick of you. So stop fucking it up for the rest of us and clean up your act. Or I swear I will clean it for you."

She chuckled more and more as I spoke. It was a fight not to strangle her, especially when she burst into laughter after I finished. "I can't believe this 'I am woman, hear me roar' shit! Is that all you came to do? Deliver the big moral lecture? That is so fucking weak!" She stood up, meeting me eye to eye. "You go ahead and be moral, Benson. I will still be right here, playing with any boy I want. And if your brother comes back for more, I'll play with him, too. Now get out of my bar."

I said nothing—just backed off. Susan shrugged and sat down again, and soon the boys were flocking back.

Except there was something different this time. They looked at her and—the first one saw her plans for him, his money used up and his desires unfulfilled. The second saw her view of him, the disgust she hid behind her perfectly polished charm. The third saw her words about him, the insults she spread behind his back. They all saw what she'd done to Neil.

The boys pulled back, mumbled excuses to visit other people or leave the bar entirely. Susan, confused, got up and moved to other tables in search of female friends. She found, them, but everywhere she went, they somehow knew about her lies, her deceptions—about the real Susan Stanton she'd so carefully hidden from them. And they were repulsed.

Most of the friends just ignored her, although some started confrontations right there in the Cornerstone. Susan reeled back and hit the bar, but even the most total strangers reacted like they knew her— and hated her. They could all see her raging self-centeredness, her habitual lies, her desperate need to hurt others instead of taking any responsibility for herself. The bartender could even tell she didn't plan to tip him. And everyone in the Cornerstone averted their eyes, closed their ears, and turned their backs on Susan Stanton.

As she ran out of the bar, there was only one person who would talk to her: me. Anne Benson.

The telepath.

It dawned on her about the same time the tears came streaming from her eyes. "Why... why did you do this to me?"

I stepped forward, smiling, and grabbed her by her collar. And I whispered:

"Don't you ever hurt my little brother again."

Susan Stanton ran off crying into the night. And that part of me I hate, that part I always keep under control, felt happy to see her go. I walked back to my car, and smiled all the way home. I smiled all through the TAs' family night, too, though nobody could guess why.

I know what I did didn't change the past or make Neil any happier. I know it was completely unethical and immoral. I know it made me a rotten person. But it felt right.

It's a nasty world we live in.


Author's note: Life has lots of funny twists and turns... by the time I finally manage to write the angry, nasty story I thought of in September, things have turned around and I'm suddenly facing an enjoyable situation again. But I'm still glad I managed to bang this thing out, if only because it helps make some sense of the Cornerstone and the group I go there with. Maybe this story only captures one aspect of the Cornerstone, and doesn't quite convey that giddy feeling I sometimes get when I walk out of there with the right people. Maybe I haven't quite said all I need to say about it. But this'll do for now.

Next issue: The final story in this trilogy dealing with the fallout from the Invasion. The Paint Crew... is putting on a show. Coming very soon!

All characters created by, written by, and Copyright 1997 Marc Singer. A Legacy House production.

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