Life didn’t get better than this: enjoying an early spring evening with good food, better lagers, and great friends. Of course, Donna mused, to wrangle this, they’d had to stuff six people around the last four-person table available in the outdoor seating at Marie’s, but that just meant things were cozy and warm against the chill air. The banter and laughter as they watched the cars and pedestrians pass by outside the long planters topped with fragrant, trimmed bushes were worth the jostled elbows and inadvertent games of footsie.
“Tonya’s always like that, isn’t she?” Veena, the secretary that Donna shared an office with, wheezed as she continued her little tale. She was a dark-haired woman with a sharp, shrewish expression that didn’t quite match her cheery, flowery dress. “I told her, I did. I told her she oughta dump him right in the bin, I said, but no, she doesn’t listen, and see how it turned out? She finds him doing Terri from accounting right there on his desk.” Whilst she cackled at her own story, the others around the table shifted in their seats, uncomfortable and a bit mortified.
“I’m sure Tonya’s quite happy to have such a good, reliable friend in you.” Donna’s sarcastic drawl drew a snort from Tom.
“Well.” Pursing her lips, Veena busied herself with straightening her plate and silverware. “She hasn’t been returning my calls, but I’m sure she’s just in a funk. I’m sure I’ll see her on the weekend, and I’ll let you know all the details on Monday.” Whilst Donna rolled her eyes at that, Nerys didn’t bother to hide her contempt. Donna’s good friend and manager at Fischer Engineering, a firm specialising in building equipment for commercial and academic clients, she was cynically clever and hiding her contempt was not one of her strong points. Smoothing back an imaginary loose hair from her immaculate blonde bun, she crossed her arms and turned pointedly to gaze up and away.
“Oi! Look!” she exclaimed, pointing up at the sky. The group, as well a number of diners around them, turned to follow her finger. Above the city rooftops, a distinctly human figure soared across the sky, a dark silhouette against the wash of oranges of the English twilight.
“Is that Silver Falcon?” Paul gasped. He was on the Fischer legal team, and though Donna had no concept of how fine a solicitor he was, he otherwise certainly wasn’t particularly observant, as his question just now demonstrated.
“No, you wally,” Donna chided him, her brow furrowed with disbelief. “That’s a woman. Kathica, I’d say, because Crimson Angel doesn’t crook her knee up like that when she flies.”
“Leave it to Donna to know exactly how each superhero holds herself in the air,” Anna teased, then knocked her companionably in the arm with her elbow. One of the engineers in Nerys’ group, she was more comfortable with the techies than with Donna and Veena but shared Donna’s love of Thai food and the two knew all the best restaurants near the company building. Donna always felt a little intimidated walking with the tall curvy brunette, with her business suit and piercing intelligent eyes.
“What?” Donna couldn’t believe it wasn’t obvious. “Their pictures are all over the news every night. You never noticed that?’
“I have to say that I’m not looking at Kathica Myles to see how she holds her leg up,” Tom mumbled as he took a pull from his beer, and Paul nodded in agreement. In comparison with Anna, Tom, another engineer, was small and weaselly, an appearance that was heightened by his wrinkled shirt and trousers, which always seemed a size too large.
“That’s one who could cut her leotard a little lower at the hips and higher at the chest,” Nerys sneered.
“That one could do anything she wants and no one would dare to contradict her,” Veena pouted. “How can one person get so lucky? I mean, Fulham heiress and all, and then a tennis star, and then, of all the people who could have been affected by the Blue Rain, it’s her.”
“And she’s hot in that costume,” added Tom.
Anna nodded. “Yeah. She’s gorgeous.”
“It all makes up for her deficiencies,” Donna replied, tapping her head. “They say her brain’s emptier than the kegs at the Tap and Growler at Friday night close and all she cares about is seeing her mug on the news every night. That’s what she’s doing that for.”
“Well, whatever her reason is, I feel safer with her in the sky,” Anna replied.
“And Silver Falcon!” Donna exclaimed. “Look, there he goes, too! That’s him, I’m sure of it!” Again, the table and its neighbors turned to watch the distinctly male silhouette fly above them. Donna grinned, her blue eyes sparkling, and swept her coppery hair back with her hand even though it hadn’t been in her eyes obscuring the sight of the superhero. Well-settled in her late-thirties, maybe she was too old to worship them, but they just fascinated her, how these gifted people fought to protect the world every day. It did help, of course, that they were, like most celebrities, gorgeous and larger-than-life.
“Why?” Veena snorted after the figure had gone. “Why should they make you feel safer? It’s not like either of them’d ever stoop so low to help you if someone grabbed your purse from the planter there.” Anna turned to notice she’d left her purse within easy reach of anyone passing by on the pavement and snatched it back, dropping it under the table at her feet. “Them heroes, they’re after the ones on their level, and maybe a bank robber or two.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Anna stated, crossing her arms and glaring at Veena. “There’s enough evil in the world. I’m glad some of them are fighting for good.”
“I doubt Kathica had good or bad in mind at all during the Blue Rain. I’m sure she ran outside every time the meteors began to fall, hoping to pick up powers,” Nerys laughed. “Or better yet, she had her private jet on standby so she could really be up there. Anything to keep her name in the news.”
“Who didn’t?” asked Paul. “Not that we had much chance here in the city, but I’ll admit I went out a few times.”
“And what did you get, Paul?” teased Donna.
“An increased capacity for beer.” To prove it, he downed his half-full pint in one gulp, to the laughter of the table.
“Well,” Donna continued after taking another drink, “from what I can tell, getting powers from that stuff was pure chance. You watch the interviews; they all say they just woke up one day able to do things. And then there was that cottage outside of Cromer, got hit by one of the things directly, but none of the eight people in it got anything.”
“Of course Donna knows all about the primes,” Nerys snorted, rolling her eyes.
“It’s all over the rags,” Donna shrugged. “Maybe if you knew how to read, you’d know all this, too.” She flashed a cheery smile at Nerys’ sneer. “But that’s all people want to know. The primes are the celebrities now. No one cares about actors and singers anymore. Did you see? That blonde on that reality show, Irina Carter, she got pissed at a club last Friday and got into a fight with a fan, and they said it was because no one was paying attention to her anymore.”
“All publicity is good publicity?” Tom asked.
“Right-o!” Donna grinned.
“And still, Donna knows all,” teased Veena.
“She does?” came a voice approaching the table. A black man with bright eyes and a brighter smile, clad in an expensive, crisp business suit came up behind Donna, clapping her on the shoulders with both hands. “Must be about primes then. Kathica, I’d wager, unless she’s finally figured out where Silver Falcon goes home at night.”
“Lance!” Donna breathed. “Finally!”
“I got hung up at the office. Is there room for me?”
“Of course!” Donna scooted her chair against Anna. “Budge up, won’t you?” The friends squeezed themselves together enough to allow Lance to pull up a chair. Sitting down and pulling it in, he leaned over to steal a kiss from Donna before turning back to the table, and she nestled against his shoulder for a moment.
“What kind of work keeps you this late?” asked Paul. “Always wondered what kind of overtime there is for human resources.”
“Getting a budget report sent up before the big planning meeting tomorrow.” He shot a sceptical look at Nerys before continuing. “You know, benefits expenses and all that.”
“Oh, that’s never good,” Veena whinged, “when planning involves looking at the benefits. And you know, they always cut the staff benefits, never the engineers.” She didn’t notice the two engineers at the table rolling their eyes at her.
“Well, they’ve assured me that they’re not cutting anyone’s benefits this time,” Lance nodded at the entire table. “They just need the numbers for reference.”
“Right. I’m sure you believe that,” Nerys cooed through cynically pursed lips. ”Well, let me second that anyway. The meeting tomorrow is for considering increasing headcount, possibly as much as one new engineer per group and four new mechanics in the main pool. You know I’ve been asking for another person for our group for a year now.”
“As long as that’s all you all will be looking at,” Veena grumped.
“Yes, that’s all,” she confirmed.
“She’s telling the truth,” Donna added, “because she knows that if they cut my pay or benefits, I’ll just have to take my revenge. It’s useful working for your best friend.” As Nerys glared at her, Donna leaned over and kissed Lance on the cheek. “Sorry, love, but I’ve got to go.”
“But I just got here! Stay a bit,” he pleaded, hugging her to his side with one arm.
“Can’t. Told you, I promised my mum I’d help her tonight with the arrangements for her party and I’m already late. And then work tomorrow, of course.” Grabbing her purse, she pushed out her chair and stood up. “You coming, Nerys?”
The blonde downed the last of her drink and rose with Donna. “Yeah. Long day for me tomorrow, too.” Bidding farewell to their friends, the two women threaded their way out of the pub and headed for the Tube station.