by Jacob Thomas Morris
By the time I brought my last customer his check, my feet were throbbing. I had worked a double shift and a nice hot bubble bath weighed heavily on my mind. Still, this was a customer I was happy to take my time with.
He’d been in the restaurant before. He always came in by himself and ordered the chicken cacciatore. The waitresses had nicknamed him “Dreamy McHotstuff.” And with good reason: this guy was smokin’ hot.
When I came over, he flashed me a smile. He had perfect teeth. The soft candlelight glow of the restaurant worked well with his chiseled jaw and piercing blue eyes. He looked even hotter than usual tonight.
“Did you enjoy your meal?” I asked, trying to inject as much flirt into my voice as possible without being obvious.
“Very much. Thank you.”
He took the check from me and his fingertips brushed mine. A thrill of warm tingles shot up my arm.
“What time do you get off?”
For a second my heart stopped beating. Thoughts of my bubble bath happily dissolved away.
“I’m off right now,” I managed to get out without stammering.
“My name’s Bradley. Would you care to join me for a drink?”
My belly did a flip-flop, but I played it cool. “Sounds fun.”
He waited while I ran his card, and we left together.
I was a little embarrassed that I was still in my waitress’s uniform — white top, black pants, my red hair pulled back into a loose bun — but I was willing to forget about it if it meant getting to know the best-looking guy I had ever seen.
“We can take my car,” he said. “I’ll drive you back to yours later.”
I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t have a car and had walked to work. I smiled and said, “Sure.”
I stopped walking when I caught sight of a blue Buick parked across the street. “Not again,” I muttered under my breath.
“Something wrong?” asked Bradley, his beautiful eyes sweeping the streets in search of danger.
“It’s my ex-boyfriend. He... um... follows me sometimes. He’s harmless really, but he’s having a hard time letting go.”
“Want me to talk to him?” There was a gleam of some emotion in Bradley’s face I couldn’t quite identify. “I bet I could scare him away.”
“No, no. He’s a nice guy. Just give me a second.”
I clomped across the street and knocked on Troy’s window. He unrolled it with a sheepish look on his face. A day’s worth of fast food bags were piled on the passenger seat.
“Have you been waiting out here all day?”
“No,” he said with a tone that clearly meant yes. “I just thought I’d come by and see if you needed a ride home.” His expression darkened. “But I can see you already have company. Who is that guy? He looks creepy.”
“You’re not my boyfriend anymore, Troy. I can keep company with whomever I want.”
“I know but...” He hesitated. “I think we should get back together. I know you still love me, and I love you Cath. I really do.”
I blew a couple of my overgrown bangs out of my face. “It’s not a matter of love, Troy. It’s a matter of trust. I trusted you with my biggest secret, and you couldn’t handle it. I hurt myself for you.”
“I know. I know. I freaked out. I’m sorry. You just really surprised me. I needed some time, you know?” He reached out and I allowed our hands to connect. He held two of my tiny fingers in his strong hands.
I thought for a moment that I would take him back, that I’d be able to forget he had called me a freak and stopped talking to me for three days. But then I remembered Dreamy McHotstuff was waiting across the street. I also remembered that for the last month Troy had been following me around like a creepy psycho stalker. I deserved better.
I pulled my hand away. “Go home, Troy. It’s over between us.”
I jogged back to where Bradley was waiting for me. He was leaning against one of the sweetest cars I’d ever seen. It was a gorgeous cherry red convertible that only fit two people inside.
“This is your car?”
“Pretty cool, right?”
Yup. It was pretty cool, all right.
Bradley didn’t open my door for me — something Troy always did — but I didn’t care. It wasn’t fair to compare one guy to another like that. After he got inside and turned on the engine, he reached out and held my hand.
My stomach somersaulted. It felt so good. Like fireworks on the 4th of July or presents on Christmas morning. Like I’d never have any problems again. Anything that had ever gone wrong in my life paled in comparison to the awesomeness of this moment.
Bradley drove fast and aggressively, which was fine with me. I undid my bun and let my long hair flow behind me. An old Styx song blasted from the stereo.
“So where are we going?” I asked after a while of driving. “I know a couple of great bars around here.”
Brad’s thumb stroked the back of my hand. He muted the music. “Why don’t we skip the bar and head back to my place.”
I hesitated. Bradley was hot. Super hot. But I wasn’t that kind of girl. What kind of girl? I asked myself. The kind who good things happen to? The kind who finally finds Prince Charming?
I opened my mouth to say “okay” but before any sound could come out, I thought of Troy. He was so the opposite of Bradley, but I did love him. He was strong and kind like the world’s most gentle giant. Maybe he deserved a second chance.
As if my thoughts had summoned him, Troy’s Buick pulled up next to us at a stoplight.
“Your boyfriend’s having a hard time letting go.”
“I know, I’m so sorry, Brad—”
Something pricked my leg. I looked down to see Bradley had stabbed me with something. It looked like a syringe.
The last thing I saw before passing out was Dreamy McHotstuff giving me a suggestive wink.
* * *
Four weeks earlier, I had finally decided to tell Troy my secret.
Troy was on the local university’s football team. He had broken his arm at practice and was going to miss the last game of the season. He wasn’t a star player or anything, but he was pretty crushed about it.
One evening, I knocked lightly on his bedroom door, and he called for me to come in.
I had been in his room a couple times before, but I guess those other times he had cleaned up before letting me in. It smelled like a men’s locker room, or at least what I imagined a men’s locker room would smell like — just like a women’s locker room but smellier.
The floor was covered with a thick layer of clothing, in spite of the fact that two clothes hampers against the wall were filled well beyond capacity. Sports posters decorated the walls, and in the corner, model airplanes, relics from Troy’s childhood, hung from the ceiling.
Troy lay in bed with a Colts-themed quilt pulled up to his chin. He had only broken his arm but he looked like he was on death’s doorstep. What a baby.
“How you doin’, cowboy?”
He smiled. “My arm hurts and my life is ruined, but I’m happy to see you, beautiful.” His good arm came out from underneath the quilt and reached for me. I took a step closer and cradled his hand between both of mine like a nine pound baby.
“You broke one arm and your life is ruined? I thought you were tougher than that.”
He let out a long sigh. “I know I’m exaggerating. I’m just really bummed right now.”
I sat down on the bed and traced the right side of his face with my fingertips. I tried to smile, but I was too nervous for it to have seemed sincere. “What if I told you I could help?”
“Oh yes, please ‘help’ me.” He raised his eyebrows up and down suggestively and pulled me in closer. I caught a whiff of his musky cologne. “I’m feeling better just thinking about it.”
“No. I mean I can fix your arm, dummy.”
He didn’t say anything. It looked like he was trying not to smile. He thought I was joking.
“I’m serious. It’s like... a family gift. I can heal people.”
His suppressed smile widened, itching to tear away the thin veil of politeness that covered it. “What? Like you’re going to snap your fingers, and my arm will be all better?”
“I wish,” I said. “What I can do is take on your wounds. Your broken arm will transfer to me.”
He still looked like he wasn’t taking me seriously, but he shook his head firmly. “We’re not doing that. I’m not going to let my girlfriend break her arm for me. Not even in a joke.”
I gave him a teasing shove. “Well, maybe you don’t have a choice, mister. You’re going to play in that game whether you like or not.”
I crossed the room and moved a pile of books off of an old folding chair and onto the floor. I sat down, leaned back and closed my eyes in concentration.
“Cath, I’m serious. Knock it off. This isn’t funny.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “Something is always lost in the transfer. You broke your arm in three places, I’ll probably only break mine in two or maybe one break and a sprain. And I’ll heal about twice as fast as a normal person.”
I stretched out my mind, entering a state of deep meditation. I could sense the pain in his arm. I could feel his body struggling to repair it. My jaw clenched in anticipation of the pain I was about to inflict on myself.
I hadn’t done this since my mom died. We used to pass pain back and forth. With each pass the pain lessened until it evaporated into nothing. Now that she was gone, whatever pain I chose to take on I would be stuck with.
I opened my eyes in time to see Troy’s go wide with fear. My arm twisted in weird directions and my bones broke with a crunch. I let out a scream; I couldn’t help myself.
“What are you doing?” yelled Troy. “You’re hurting yourself. Stop it!”
I continued to concentrate until the transfer of pain was complete.
“Get out of my house, you sick freak!”
His words slapped me in the face and stung bitterly. It was the worst thing he could have said.
My arm hung loosely to my side, looking deformed and grotesque. Tears dripped from my eyes, and I was still in enough pain that it was difficult to speak. “But Troy, I did this for you.”
I don’t think he even heard me. Disgust and terror were plastered to his face. His mom burst into the room because of the screaming and rushed me to the hospital.
Three days later Troy realized he wasn’t in pain anymore. He cut off his cast and discovered his arm had been completely healed. He’d been following me ever since.
* * *
When I woke up, I was tied to a bed by four bright orange ropes. My wrists were tied to the headboard and my ankles to something I couldn’t see. I was stretched so tight I could hardly wiggle.
I was in some kind of cheap motel room. Outdated beige wallpaper lined the walls, and a large generic landscape print hung in a low-budget frame on the wall opposite me.
Something was stuffed in my mouth so firmly I couldn’t move my tongue. I tried to scream but all that came out was muted nonsense.
That’s when I saw Bradley and his stupid perfect teeth. “Good morning, Catherine,” he said with a smile that made me want to vomit.
Was it morning already?
“I’m sorry about that syringe, but it was necessary.”
I needed to find a way to escape. I needed help. Troy. Troy was following me. Had he seen me come in here with Bradley? Would he have seen Bradley carrying my body inside? Where was he?
“Worried about your boyfriend?” he asked, when he saw me craning my neck in both directions.
“I’m afraid he won’t be following you around anymore.” His smile deepened and he pulled a stiletto knife from his trouser pocket. It was dripping with blood. “It was fun killing him, but, unlike you, I’m afraid he wasn’t anyone special. Big guy like that, the way he was following us, I thought he might have been someone you hired for protection. You really should have hired someone, you know. I mean, someone with your gift needs protection.”
He touched the blade to my bare skin and tickled my arm with it. The last of my courage withered away before the feeling of the wet blade. I felt paralyzed with fear, which was just as well, since I couldn’t move or speak.
“You’ve been on my list for a long time, Catherine. I’ve been watching you. All those times coming into your restaurant, eating alone, that was all for you.”
He sat down in a chair and rested his hands on the bed. Dried blood was crusted under his fingernails. “I know what you are. And I know how to steal your power. You see I’m not your run-of-the-mill crazy killer. I’m a special kind of monster. The world is filled with all sorts of special abilities like yours, and I collect them.”
He pulled out his knife again. “See, people like you store their powers in one or two body parts. With mind readers it’s the brain; super-strength jocks, in the biceps. I learned that one by trial and error.
“The last girl gave me the heavenly face you see before you today. Without her I’d look like a toad. All I have to do is eat you and I get your powers for a while. ”
I twisted and squirmed, pulling at my restraints, but it was useless. I looked at him in terror.
“Aw, sweetie, I won’t eat all of you. Just your eyes. A healer’s powers is in her eyes.”
I fought panic. If I panicked I would die. I had to think of something. I stretched out my mind and concentrated. I could feel Troy. He was still holding on to the last threads of life.
Despite the grimness of the situation, if I could have moved my mouth, I might have smiled. Bradley had made a mistake. I didn’t need my eyes to heal.
I concentrated hard and screamed against the wad in my mouth. Stabbing pain pierced through my chest over and over again.
Bradley turned at my outburst to see Troy burst into the room with blood all over his shirt. In seconds he tackled Bradley to the ground. I always knew Bradley was buff, but he was no match for my hulk of a boyfriend.
* * *
Troy was at my side when I woke up in the hospital. The doctors said it was a miracle I had survived my injuries. They, of course, thought my wounds came from Bradley.
“So I guess you saved me,” he said, breaking the somber silence that hung in the air.
“And you saved me. I say we make a pretty good team.”
“Thanks, Healer Woman.”
“Yeah, I’ve been working on the name. We can think of something else if you don’t like it. Someone with your abilities needs an alternate identity. There are people out there that need your help, and there are sickos with knives that need to be stopped. I think there’s a lot of good we can do together.”
“Well, you’re the superhero. I’m more like a sidekick.”
“Won’t that make you envious?”
He squeezed my hand. “No way, babe. I’ll be kicking at your side forever if you’ll let me.”
My stomach flip-flopped. I looked into Troy’s soft brown eyes and smiled. Troy pulled my chin towards him and kissed me. It was at that moment I felt all my problems truly melt away.
Copyright © 2014 by Jacob Thomas Morris