Wendy Watson was having a day.
First off, her mother (in all her hectoring Latina glory) was arriving on the 3:15 flight from Miami and the loft Wendy and her equally young, photogenic artist roommate Lacey shared in the partially condemned building they subletted illegally was still in that state between "habitable" and "oh my god hide the porn and sex toys and put out the giant votive candles and embroidered cushions my aunt Salita keeps sending me with catchy slogans like 'Little Havana Is For Lovers' and 'Cubans Do It Better'".
Secondly, giant mutant condors were poised to attack the city using laser beams shot from their eyes, after a group of city officials zoned their natural habitat for commercial building and what had been a super-secret giant mutant condor breeding ground was currently sporting signs for a new Target (now with fresh grocery).
And lastly, Tyler Ford was working overtime recording his second album—following the collapse of his well-paid job with awesome benefits as Manservant Neville had turned out to be a megalomaniacal psycho bent on world domination, with a side order of a Return of the Jedi metal bikini fetish.
What really upset Wendy, more than the possibility of immanent death via laser beam from a pissed off bird the size of a Buick was that her mother didn't really understand why Wendy's boyfriend couldn't meet them for a family dinner at Dos Hermanos.
"Mom, the trip was really last minute—" Wendy sighed into her mobile phone as Ida belted her into the Middle-jetpack.
"It was a Ding fare! You know I always keep an eye out for those Ding fares."
"—and his second album is really important—"
"If it were your father, he would have found a way."
"Mom, dad's been missing since 1999. I don't think we can reliably say that when faced with scheduling issues, Dad wouldn't have skipped appetizers at the local tapas restaurant to put food on the table and a roof over our heads."
"Whatever you do, don't try and bank left while firing the tranquilizer darts, because not matter how high you are on joy-juice, you'll plummet like a stone," Ida warned her, and Wendy flinched.
"Wendy? Did someone just mention 'joy-juice'?" Her mother sounded like she was now going to show up to dinner with a pamphlet from the church on the dangers of substance abuse.
"It's for an HR form, Mom. I'm doing paperwork."
"Hope you're wearing asbestos underwear!" Ida said cheerfully just loud enough for Wendy's mother to hear.
"What kind of paperwork?"
"Um... Candle factory?" Wendy said as she checked the settings on her Middlegun.
"Honey, I'm just saying—if your Taylor—"
"His name is Tyler, Mom."
"—Tyler really cared about you, he'd want to meet your family."
"He does want to meet my family. But the band goes on tour next month, and the session musicians and recording engineer have already been booked—"
"C'mon, Dubbie! The condors are on the move!" the Middleman called from the doorway, his own jetpack sleek and shining against the olive drab wool of his Eisenhower jacket.
"Gotta go, Mom. Lacey will be there at the airport to meet you in the baggage claim. Tell me you didn't bring the alligator suitcase—you know it upsets her."
"Your friend is too sensitive. I'm sure the alligator lived a full and happy life," her mother protested, but Wendy clicked the phone shut and headed to the roof.
"Tyler, it really means a lot to my mom," Wendy explained as she rose high above the city, propelled by a clean energy alcohol-based fuel of the Middle-jetpack.
"I know, I know. It's just that Stan is leaving for Japan in the morning and we still need to lay down the bassline on the new single. But if we do nail it tonight, I can get Saturday off so we can see that new exhibit at the Museum of Post-Modern Art before it closes."
"Aileen Cabral, The Art of Sea Glass?"
"No, the Semi-Abstract Expressionist exhibit."
"Ooooooh. I would so love to do that, but my mom's not real big on Semi-Abstract Expressionism. Or Abstract Expressionism. Or anything that's not a saint, or painted on velvet."
"Ouch. That sounds a little harsh. Didn't she come to Lacey's last Confrontational Spoken Word performance?"
"Only because she worries Lacey will become discouraged and either waste away alone in the Big Scary City, or possibly turn to a life of crime as a cat burglar in exotic European locales where people don't shave their armpits."
"So... she's a traditionalist."
"She doesn't understand why I can't paint Russian nesting dolls for her cousin who runs the factory in Cleveland."
"Wait—is that why you have a set of matryoshka with Munch's 'The Scream'?"
"Yeah, somehow Cousin Jerry didn't really think they'd sell. But the itty bitty teeny tiny little screaming guy is just so cute."
"Your mom will love the museum. They even have snow cones. Everybody loves a snow cone."
"My mom's more of a flan person."
"I'm sure that somewhere we can find a cart with a guy who has flan on a stick."
"Not all food is available on a stick."
"But all the best food comes on a stick."
"And it's hard to get the egg custard to stick to the stick."
"How does she feel about random foodstuffs that have been battered and deep fried?"
"Who doesn't love deep fried battered random foodstuffs?" Wendy asked somewhat rhetorically as she banked right, avoiding the snapping jaws of a very angry giant mutated condor which screamed in anger at being denied a tasty treat.
"Was that a giant mutated condor?"
"What? No. Of course not. Why would you say that?"
"Because it sounded just like a giant mutated condor."
"I think it was workmen outside. Doing road work. With jackhammers that, you know, sometimes sound just like birds with a thirty foot wingspan and beaks that can snap you in tw—ACK!"
"I banked left."
"In this... videogame I'm playing based on Supremo-Destructo Martial Arts Combat Challenge."
"There's a SMACC game?"
"Um... it's in beta. And now I'm falling, and being attached by the, um, aliens. And stuff. Look, Tyler, I gotta go. But I love you, okay? And if you can't make it, it's okay. We'll work something out."
"You're my girl, Wendy Watson."
"Dubbie! Hit the thrusters!"
"I'm just saying—your mom has no idea if that alligator donated its body to Gucci. Or that it died peacefully in its sleep of natural causes in Boca."
"I know, Lacey."
"And it's not as if you can't find really nice-looking cruelty-free luggage, you know? There was this adorable hemp shoulderbag I saw at the Twelfth St Market last week that I tried to tell her about. And no, you couldn't actually smoke the bag—that's not the point."
"That was a totally cute bag! I mean, the giant 'Make Mary-Jane Legal' on the side probably wasn't her thing—"
"I meant it just as an example, you know?"
"I know," Wendy sighed as she waded into the giant mutated condor's nest and began wrapping a harness around one of the Mini Cooper-sized eggs. "My mom is really attached to that suitcase, though. She's had it since before I was born. I asked her not to bring it, but you know how she is."
"And then she made empanadas with chicken, Wendy. Not even free-range chicken. Just... from the store." Wendy could hear the abject horror in her roommate's voice even over the Bluetooth, which was currently a little bit covered in bird poop.
"Yeah—in my family, meat kinda comes wrapped in cellophane and stuck to Styrofoam plates. Free-range is only something that applies to my cousin Nita's kids at weddings and Quinceañeras."
"I tried to tell her those poor little fluffy birds that had half their beaks sawn off and crammed into cages and stuffed to the gills with antibiotics, and sometimes they resort to chicken cannibalism—"
Wendy could recognize Lacey was about to give an Impassioned Speech. And as she already had her own giant bird problem to contend with.
"Chicken Cannibalism? Okay, you know what? I was already kinda against Fatboy Chick'n Nuggets n' Strips. But now I'm never going near anything with white meat or the other white meat ever again."
"You promise, Dub-dub?"
Wendy gave the Middleman the thumbs up, and he started lifting the eggs out of the nest with the Middle-crane.
"Cross my heart and hope to only ever eat cage free, free-range omelettes ever again."
"Yo, Wendy Watson," Noser answered the phone the same way he greeted her in the corridor of the building where they squatted. However, from the Mariachi music she could hear in the background, Wendy was pretty sure they were already at the restaurant.
"Okay, Noser, I need you to stall." Wendy was on speaker in the Middle Locker Room, as she tried to wash any evidence of giant mutant condors out of her hair and from beneath her nails.
"Stall like the time you and Lacey were climbing down the fire escape while Pip was headed up in the elevator, looking for the rent? Or stall like the time the cops got called on Art Crawl V: Revenge of Art Crawl because Joe 90 tried to do his Polynesian Fire Dancing Act on the third floor and one of his amazingly phallic sculptures started doing the whole Towering Inferno thing?"
"Stall like I'm stuck in traffic getting to Dos Hermanos from work and I'll be there any minute?"
"I can do that, Wendy Watson. We're already on our second pitcher of Sangria, and your mom is busy showing Perfect Warren your baby pictures on her iDroid."
"Nah—it's all good. You were only naked in the one with the piñata."
"The piñata shaped like Captain Planet, or the piñata shaped like Odie from Garfield and Friends?"
"I think I detected a green-haired eco avenger."
"That's the PG-rated one, at least."
"Lacey is chowing down on vegan sopapillas, and Tyler texted to say the session got cut short and he's on his way. Apparently while snacking on delicious mass-produced Tex-Mex fried foods this afternoon, his recording engineer was caught in a raid at the Booty Chest."
"The pirate-themed sports bar with scantily clad waitresses filled with chumsucking frat boys and gropers who objectify minimum wage earning women?"
"The very same. Did you know that not all of the groping mashers and frat boys sucking down pitchers of beer were in fact of legal drinking age?"
"The possibility had crossed my mind," Wendy mused as she shimmied into a pair of jeans and the poly-cotton peach Guayabera blouse her Abuella had sent her for her 20th birthday (and her 19th birthday, and her 18th birthday, and actually every birthday after her 14th when Abuella had moved in with Tia Salita in Coconut Grove because of her hip).
"So they're pushing back some dude's flight, and long story short, Your Boyfriend's Back."
"Noser? Make sure my mom doesn't show him the Odie piñata photo before I get there?"
"I will do what I can, but your mom is kinda a force of nature."
"I know. If only we could get her to use her powers for good, instead of evil."
"So... fifteen minutes?"
"More like twenty—unless I use the spare key. Thanks, Noser. I owe you big time."
"Hey boss—are you sure you don't want to come with me?" Wendy asked as she skipped down the last three steps into the Middleman headquarters where the Middleman was sitting at a long dark wood table, updating the Middlelore by the light of a green banker's lamp. "Dos Hermanos do a mean glass of milk. And I'm sure someone can rustle you up a bologna sandwich, or something."
Ida rolled her eyes as she skated past, her bionic arms full of jetpack. "Yeah—tortillas won't be the only thing you're rolling, I'm sure."
"Suck it, Cylon."
"Blow me, Mary Jane."
"Ladies, ladies—" the Middleman said out of habit as his assistant and his apprentice glared at one another. "No need for animosity. No, I'm just fine, Wendy. You go out for the evening and have a good time with your friends and family."
"You know... just because she brought Perfect Warren doesn't mean Lacey wouldn't be glad to see you," Wendy said softly as she shouldered her purse, tucking her dark hair with red streaks back behind her ears.
The Middleman smiled, but there was still a hint of Polyditetrahexamono-Trioctalon-related emotional trauma shining in their depths.
"I've plenty of work here to keep me busy. And there's a midnight showing of High Noon playing at the Rialto that I might try to catch—assuming there are no Red Balls tonight."
"Okay, but... if you change your mind," She lifted her wrist where she wore her retro NASA-punk Middlewatch, "you've got my number."
He tapped his matching Middlewatch. "On speed-dial."