#49: Cotton Candy and Lilacs

"Brace yourself," Alicia said. "You've never felt anything like this before, and it's going to be awesome."

Whitley took a moment for a wholly inappropriate mental picture, before proceeding to slip into the tailored "New Power Girl" unitard Alicia had sewn for her. Even with only the bottom half of her body in, she had to agree; it was awesome. While Alicia exalted the life-affirming powers of cosplay, Whitley enjoyed the rare thrill of wearing custom-tailored clothing. She was already brainstorming how she could work a white spandex bodysuit with an embroidered gold band around the waist into her wardrobe. She was seven-foot-two, after all. It wasn’t as if people weren't already staring.

"I used a combination of spandex and pleather so it stretches where it needs to but doesn't look like some knock-off you'd order on eBay."

Whitley slipped into the sleeves and allowed Alicia to zip her in. The material clung to her body like a glove. "Wow," she said, rotating her arms. "This is..."


"—form-fitting," Whitley countered, though she didn't hide her satisfaction with the result.

"Oh, come on!" Alicia exclaimed, tossing her hands up. "You should be doing big ol' seven-foot backflips around this room! Do you know how few people have the proportions to pull one of these outfits off? No way I'm letting you pass up this opportunity. I mean, don't get me wrong, quality goes a long way. Tweaking designs to play to your body's strengths is huge. That's what makes cosplay so fun." Alicia's eyes sparkled with excitement. "But when you find a character that's a 99.9% match to your natural look, it's something special, like, synergy."

"A little THC certainly doesn't hurt either," Whitley muttered under her breath. It was 5:00 in the evening and, as she'd done every other day of her seven-day suspension, she'd gotten thoroughly baked by noon and remained that way for most of the day. That had left plenty of time for Alicia to fastidiously take every measurement of Whitley's body for the perfect fit.

"Yes, Alicia, the fit is excellent, and it looks great. You nailed the tailoring."

Alicia nodded rapidly. "Yeah, I know. I'm good at what I do. Finish getting in costume. I want to see this!" Full-throttle-cosplay-Alicia had a distinctly different flavor than full-throttle-everyday-Alicia. While her enthusiasm typically scattershot in all directions, every bit of her energy now focused on Whitley.

Whitley slid her arms into the armor plate, which Alicia had thoughtfully tailored into a cotton crop top. Alicia snapped the outer armor shut and stepped away, admiring the result.

"Okay, how's your mobility?"

Whitley extended her hands forward, up, to the side, then down. "Fine. Feels good."

"Okay, good. I've turned the heat down since the convention center tends to be on the cooler side. How do you think you'll hold up?"

"More ventilation would be nice." Whitley tapped on the yellow oval on her upper chest. "Maybe an opening here?"

"Nope, it took me too long to find good material for that. It stays. Anyways, I think you're ready for the jacket. By the way, did you look up the new Power Girl? She's pretty cool."

"I dig her," Whitley said, pulling on her gloves. "She's smart, strong, and we have the same hair. I wish she'd been around when I was a kid."

"So who was your favorite superhero when you were a kid?"

"Janet Jackson"

"Ohmygod I'd totally read her comic."

"So what about the old Power Girl?"

"Basically, my body with Krysta's boobs and your attitude."

"She sounds fun too." Whitley gave up trying to fasten her gloves and presented her hands to Alicia. "So, I assume all super-ladies had a friend to lace their gloves for them."

"I think it's one of their superpowers. AAAAAHHHH! Oh my God, you're going to be such a hit! Selfie!"

Already dressed in her Kale cosplay, Alicia attached her phone to a wall-mount, and the girls snapped photos. Not being familiar with the character, Whitley stuck to whatever reactions came naturally in response to Alicia, none of which were particularly subtle.

"Okay," Alicia said. "You're all set here. Now, I have to finish your jacket for Cage. Then I have to finish my cape and make a little hem adjustment—turns out my biceps have gotten more awesome since last year. After that, I have a few more tweaks for Kale, then if it somehow isn't Thursday evening by then, I can—"

"What's the deal with the boots?"

"Ugh!" Alicia groaned. "I had four costumes to make, and—with the addition of the three training sessions this week with your volleyball team—I lost some key morning work hours. At the last minute, I had to skimp on the design because I found some that matched the color."


"I'm glad you're going with me to Con, I am, but I don't need you to give me attitude about it. I have WAY too much to get done in the next few days. If you don't want to go, you don't have to go."

"Alicia, I meant how do I get into them?"

Alicia paused, her face inscrutable. "Oh. I hid a zipper on the inside. Use the pull straps."

"Do we need to take a break?"

Alicia sighed and held out her hands. "No, I need to finish this stuff sooner rather than later."

"I don't know, girl I think you could use a little bag time."

Alicia raised an eyebrow but shook her head. "Oh, that's tempting, but I reeeeeally need to—"

"Maybe I can interest you in some sparring?"



The impact of Alicia's fist on the punching bag had Whitley reconsidering her offer. While they agreed to stick to boxing, limiting Alicia to only fists hardly made her less dangerous.


Whitley had seen Alicia bench over 200 pounds. She'd heard the impact of Alicia striking the punching bag all the way from her second-floor bedroom. She'd even—at Alicia's insistance—felt the dense, solid-as-steel muscles adorning Alicia's arms and legs. Whitley also knew of Alicia's proficiency in both Taekwondo and Krav Maga where, in only three tournaments as a teen, Alicia had built the kind of dominant reputation it had taken Whitley over two years to earn on the volleyball court. Alicia was also impulsive and decidedly lacking in self-control.

I'm about to get my ass beat in a basement gym that smells like cotton candy and lilacs.

Regardless of the odds, having been off the volleyball court for a week, Whitley’s competitive fire still burned within her—she could never really turn it off. In fact, she sometimes wondered whether the reason she got high so often was to put a muzzle on her passion. It had been at least a year since the last time she'd done any sparring, but she held a solid enough grasp of the fundamentals that she felt she could take Alicia by surprise.

Having finished her warm-up, Alicia secured her helmet and gloves, watching as Whitley drilled a few test hits into the bag. Despite her height and length, Whitley moved quickly and landed powerful blows when she attacked. Alicia also noticed a marked improvement in Whitley's form with each strike.

"I'm impressed," Alicia said. "Did you take martial arts?"

"I took kickboxing as an elective in college. It was a nice change of pace, and it improved my body awareness and control. By my Junior year, the coach made me give it up because of the injury risk, but I still snuck it in occasionally."

"Looks like it's coming back. This fight is gonna' be fun!" Alicia slipped in her mouth guard and bounced on her toes as she smacked her gloves together. "You ready?"

Whitley bobbed her head side-to-side and raised both gloves. "As I'll ever b—"

"Let's do this!"

Whitley immediately drifted to her left, intending to take some time to evaluate Alicia's footwork. High on adrenaline, Alicia moved in quickly with a jab-cross combo. While incredibly strong and deceptively fast, Alicia was all-confidence and zero-strategy. Regardless, Alicia's speed and raw power gave her the most glaring advantages in past competitions, particularly against other women. It reminded Whitley of herself in high school, delivering crushing spikes with the kind of force that demoralized opposing defenses.

Another quick trio of punches spurred Whitley into the moment. The wind of the missed blows grazed her nose, almost throwing her off from blocking a sneak-attack right hook. Undaunted, Alicia unleashed another combo, the third punch impacting Whitley's forearm with a force that would leave a bruise. If Alicia were looking for a quick and easy win, she could continue to punish Whitley's guard until it became too painful to block. She was intrigued, however, by the unique challenges of such a tall, lengthy opponent.

Whitley suddenly shuffled into close quarters, taking Alicia by surprise. Unsure of what to expect, Alicia froze momentarily, and Whitley pounced. She feigned a jab with her left and followed with a quick uppercut to Alicia's body knocking the wind out of her. Alicia winced and dropped to one knee. Whitley stepped back and waited, but did not assist.

"You okay?"

"Yup," Alicia said, regaining her breath. "Give me a sec."

Whitley knew better to ask whether or not Alicia wanted to continue. Alicia's earlier outburst was a clear sign the girl was stressed and in need of a release. Gone was Alicia's trademark giddiness—her steel focus now shone through. It was the same focus Whitley had seen when Alicia worked at the sewing machine or drew sketches, but with an added dose of cold determination. After barely a minute, Alicia stood to her feet and popped onto her toes.


They resumed their match, trading blows, neither landing a solid hit. Whitley's unexpected aptitude both surprised and frustrated Alicia. While even she would never say it aloud, she knew Whitley shouldn't stand a chance against her. In fact, Alicia didn't know what annoyed her more: the way Whitley's confidence primed her for success, or the fact that the same self-confidence was now weaponized against her. Regardless, she continued to struggle to adapt to Whitley's unconventional attacks and calculated footwork.

Returning to her most successful attack, Whitley moved in again, tossing a fake with her left and following with an overconfident right. Alicia dodged and swung her counterattack. When Whitley realized her mistake, her momentum was already driving her forwards, contrary to the motion of the pink glove headed for her face.

Whitley would not remember the impact, though the image of Alicia's wicked, eager smile would remain forever etched in her mind.


Slowly drifting back into consciousness, Whitley laid on the floor with her legs raised on a workout pad. Eventually, she recognized Alicia's voice.

"...twelve...thirteen...fourteen...fifteen. Oh hey. You all there yet?"

"The room is...echoey."

"Take it easy. I laid you out pretty hard," Alicia said, returning to counting. Whitley turned her head to see Alicia completing a set of 45-pound bicep curls.

"How long was I out?"

"Under fifteen seconds, so no emergency. You just laid there mumbling while I ran through the concussion protocol. You're okay."

Whitley ran her fingers over her cheek, which prickled with numbness. "So, how bad did you want to punch me in the face?"

Alicia finished her set and racked her weights. Facing away from Whitley, she wiped her brow with a towel. "About as bad as you wanted to get punched in the face."

"In that case, you're welcome." Whitley waited for a reply from Alicia, but none came. "Alicia, it's fine. You don't have to feel guilty for decking me or even wanting to do it. In my experience with me, that's a pretty normal impulse. You are one of the lucky few to have actually done it."

Alicia turned around to face Whitley. "Thing is, I don't feel guilty. Is that weird?"

"Nah. I can't say whether it was a conscious urge or not, but something inside me was hellbent on seeing that our match ended that way." Whitley pulled herself to her feet and rubbed her cheek again. "I'm gonna get baked, ice my cheek, and do a little more research on miss Tanya 'Power Girl' Spears. You're welcome to join."

"Aw, thanks! I've got more work to do though. I'll be up to make dinner in a bit."

"Don't be too late," Whitley said, lumbering up the stairs. "I'm heading to bed early. I have practice tomorrow morning." Alicia could almost hear Whitley grin eagerly at the thought of returning to the volleyball team.

"Hey, Whitley. If you ever want to do this again, I promise not to knock you out next time."

"Sure, though I wouldn't let it happen again."

Alicia scoffed playfully. "That so?"


"Then it's a fight date!"

Whitley chuckled. "Sure, Alicia. A fight date." Whitley waved once more as she reached the top of the stairs, before ducking into the kitchen. Within minutes, Alicia picked up the smell of marijuana through the vent from the living room above her. Alicia moved on to her tricep extensions, grinning broadly.

This is gonna be way better than morning jogging!