I would’ve settled for an unimaginative superpower. Perfect pitch. 20/20 vision. The ability to draw a perfect circle 100% of the time. Or no power at all, even. No-shows get non-ability checks from the government now since they passed that law six months ago. No powers would have been better than what I wound up with.
I walk into the diner at 8:45 p.m., the last rays of the sinking sun temporarily warming the chill evening air. I usually go out as late as possible to minimize the number of people I run into. At this hour, there are only three patrons: a middle-aged man sitting at the counter and a couple at a booth. A pair of bells above the door ring as it shuts behind me.
“Come on in, have a seat!” I hear someone call out from the kitchen. “Be right with ya!”
I take a seat at the far end of the restaurant. It’s been five years since I discovered what my power was. It possibly started to manifest sooner but there’s no way of telling when. Most people get them in their teens, around puberty. Some kids take to their powers immediately, some develop them slowly over time. Some are late bloomers, and a rare few just never get any.
Just like with puberty, it can be an awkward time. A friend of mine found out she could fly when she shot over the school on track and field day. Another kid I knew hit a baseball into orbit at a little league game and destroyed a $70,000 solar panel on the ISS. That one made the news. You learn to control it, but nobody really gets a hang of their powers until they meet “the one.”
The scientists think it’s a hormonal thing, but they don’t know how to explain it. They still don’t know if it’s the relationship that stabilizes the powers or the sudden improvement or amplification of both powers that solidifies the bond. But my friend found a guy who could control air currents. Turns out he could never generate enough lift to take off, but together she can lift him, and he can whisk them along. They’ve been married for two years now. The guy with super strength kept hurting himself from constantly breaking things with his ability. During one of his extended stays at the hospital, he met a girl there for much the same reason. They knew it was a match made in heaven when they shook hands and didn’t crush each other’s fingers. Together, along with therapy and practice, I hear they’ve stopped tearing doors off hinges and breaking down walls.
I’m brought out of my reminiscing when I hear the couple across the room laughing merrily, a spoon levitating between them. It dips into a dessert on the plate and floats gently over to the girl. She takes a bite. They both laugh. He keeps saying things like “so what about this…” and “or how about…” Every time he pauses she giggles again, as if he’s just told a joke. I try not to think about it, but deep down, I secretly know the worst thing about my ability is that I’ll never find someone who I can be with.
Just then, the waitress zips out from the kitchen. I say zips because she’s moving almost too fast to track. She buses a table in one corner of the room, gives the man at the counter his bill, and refills the couple’s coffee cups in ten seconds flat. By the time I register that she’s on her way towards me, it’s too late to call out.
As soon as she gets within two meters of me, she immediately decelerates to a regular pace. Her shoes skid on the linoleum tiles and she goes sprawling to the ground in front of me with a loud grunt that sounds more surprised than hurt. The menu she was holding flies across the room. Everyone turns to look, startled. I flinch.
“Sally? Is everything okay?” I see a cook poke his head out of the kitchen. “What the hell happened?!”
I was out of my seat and helping her up about two seconds after she hit the floor. The man from the counter comes over with the cook.
“Ah… I’m alright Harry. I-I guess I tripped.” She winces as she gets to her feet. The skin on her knees and palms is badly scraped.
“Tripped?” the chef grunts. “Two years you been workin’ here and I ain’t never even seen you drop no spoon. You feelin’ alright hun?” The waitress, Sally, nods. “Jesus, Sal, look at your hands!”
The man from the counter clears his throat.
“I believe I can help with that, miss. I’m a doctor.”
“Oh, it’s nothing a little iodine and some bandages wouldn’t fix, doc, don’t worry about it.” The doctor smiles.
“Why don’t I just show you?” He takes her hands gently in his and… nothing happens. He turns his palms over, looking confused. “I don’t understand… there’s usually a slight glow… the wounds should be healing…” He seems understandably troubled. The waitress gives a little gasp. “So, it’s not just me… just before I fell, I think… I think my powers just… stopped working.” She gingerly rubs her wrist. “What about you Harry?” The cook thrusts a hand out. Nothing happens. He tries again. Still nothing.
“What in the hell… mine was working just a minute ago… this is weird.” He turns to me. “How about you buddy?”
All this time I’ve been shrinking back, my face feeling hot. Now I can’t bring myself to meet their gazes.
“Uh… my powers are working just fine, actually…” This is met with confused stares from the other two, but the doctor’s eyes light up.
“Ah I see. You’re a null, aren’t you?” I grimace at the term. From across the room, the spoon floating between the two lovebirds clatters noisily to the table. I grit my teeth. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the doctor, who looks at the young couple and then back to me. My ears are burning now. I know I’ve technically done nothing wrong, but in a society where not having a superpower is considered a disability, taking them away might as well be a criminal act.
Harry the chef scratches his chin thoughtfully. “I ain’t never heard of that kinda’ power…”
“I’m really sorry miss,” but she shakes her head.
“It’s not like you did it on purpose, hey? I guess I ought to be more careful sometimes.”
“What’s the range of your, ah, talent?” the doctor asks.
“I can usually keep it to about two or three meters…” His eyes dart to the couple and back. “I should probably go… I’m sorry.”
“Naw, naw, kid, sit down. This I gotta see,” the cook says with a grin. That’s because it wasn’t a paramedic trying to heal a near-fatal injury or a firefighter trying to lift a broken beam off someone this time.
I take a deep breath and sit down. Closing my eyes, I go over the steps like I have a thousand times before. The chef takes a step back, then another. Suddenly, a little flame puffs into life in the middle of his palm. He chuckles. The doctor gently leads the waitress away. A soft white glow shines from his hands. The waitress straightens up. There’s not a scratch on her anymore.
“Wow Doc! The pain’s all gone too!” In the blink of an eye she retrieves the discarded menu and zooms back, coming to a careful stop before she gets too close. She walks towards me with exaggerated steps and hands it over. “No harm, no foul?” She smiles politely. The chef claps me on the shoulder and walks away. The doctor gives me a meaningful smile, tinged with pity.
“Uh… thanks…” With the show over, Sally the supersonic waitress takes my order and then whips across the room to the couple. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but at one point or another each looks at me. The familiar feeling settles over me. That’s what it’s like, having my power. I couldn’t repel people any more if I had wound up with magnetism instead. Sally whips up with a pot of coffee and a mug, again coming to a halt before walking towards me, pouring and walking away.
The bell at the door jangles again. A young woman enters. I keep my eyes on the steam rising from the mug.
“Take a seat hon, I’ll be right with ya.” The woman quickly finds a seat by the back, walking between tables. Sally, already back to her old rhythm it seems, goes zooming around to greet the new customer. She procures another cup and speeds over. What happens next only takes moments. In short order, the waitress roughly bumps into the table instead of stopping, fumbling with the pot and accidentally splashing coffee. The woman cries out and Sally immediately apologizes. Without thinking, she sets the pot down and bolts away to get a napkin—shooting right past the counter at twice the usual speed. She careens into a wall with a thwack that sounds significantly more painful than embarrassing and flops onto her back, out cold. There are a few seconds of stunned silence.
Harry pokes his head out from the kitchen: “Again Sal? How many times are—” he trails off when he sees her motionless on the floor. “Jesus Christ! Sally!” The doctor is already by her side, hands glowing. He stops the chef before he can exit from behind the counter.
“You need to call an ambulance. Right now. This is beyond my talent to fix alone.” He turns back to the unconscious waitress, face grim. A big gash has opened on her forehead. “What the hell happened!?”
“Oh God… I—I’m so sorry…” The woman who walked in is now on her feet, face white as a sheet, hands clasped in front of her mouth. A loud pinging sound interrupts before she can say another word. I turn in the direction of the young couple, who are both sitting mouth agape, staring at the same unfortunate spoon, now embedded in the far wall. Then the girl cries out.
“Jane!” This is her date, leaping across to see if she’s okay. The doctor strains his neck trying to see what’s going on. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened, the spoon, it just—I never…” but she’s not listening. She doesn’t appear hurt. Not physically. Still, she puts her hands over her ears and shrieks. “Rich, oh God, Rich, make it stop! It’s too loud! Too many voices!” The girl collapses out of her seat curling into a ball on the floor. “Make it stop!” she pleads. “Please make it stop!”
The boy doesn’t know what to do. He’s rubbing her back, trying to help. Silverware, dishes, table settings, all around the diner are starting to rattle.
“What the HELL IS GOING ON?!” Harry shouts above the din. Things devolve quickly after that. The glow from the doctor’s hands explodes into a brilliant whiteness. Sally’s eyes snap open and she arches her back with a loud gasp.
“How…?” that doctor’s eyes widen in alarm. Simultaneously, both of Harry’s hands erupt in flames.
“GAH DAMN IT!” the bewildered chef starts waving them around wildly, his sleeves catching fire. The girl Jane is still keening on the floor. Rich is crouched by her side; a maelstrom of utensils and tableware starts whirling around the room. Through it all, the young woman is still standing, frozen. Tears of fear and horror pouring down her cheeks. A look I’ve never seen on someone else.
Then it clicks.
I stand up and walk over through all the chaos, until I’m right beside her. I put my hand on her shoulder and turn her to face me. She meets my gaze. Something in my eyes must be speaking to her too, and that’s when I know for sure. I wrap my arms around her and pull her close. She’s soft and small and smells like lavender. I feel hot tears soaking through my shirt.
“It’s okay,” I say. “Everything is going to be okay.”
Everything stops, all at once.
All the dishes fall to the floor. The blinding light from the doctor’s hands disappears. Harry’s firearms sputter and go out. The room is silent, except for a few whimpers coming from Jane, and the muffled sobbing coming from the woman in my arms.
The doctor tends to everyone in short order. Sally was fine the moment the flash hit. He says he never had results that fast, even with his partner right next to him. Harry has some light burns, but the doc takes care of those. Besides needing a new shirt and having no more hair on his arms, he’s fine. He grumbles about closing early tonight. Sally agrees. Rich had a cut above the eye where an errant saucer clipped him, and Jane had a small headache, but both are no worse for wear.
He approaches me wordlessly. There’s a small gash on my forearm I didn’t notice in all the confusion. He holds out his hand to heal it. I start to protest, but before I can say anything, the warm glow appears around his fingers. My arm tingles for a moment and when he pulls away, I see my cut is gone. I’m flabbergasted, but the doctor smiles knowingly. He gives me a nod and a wink and walks away.
I turn my attention to the woman. My soul mate, I realize, and I don’t even know her name yet. I loosen my embrace and she pulls her head away, but her arms are still tightly wrapped around me, and mine around her. She looks blurry. I blink and wipe at my eyes. Her face is red and raw and beautiful. Messy hair and cheeks shiny with tears. The red rimming her eyes makes the blue inside them pop.
“Hi” I say. She laughs. A low, soft giggle. I can’t help but laugh a little too.
“Hi.” She buries her face in my chest and says something else, but I can’t make it out.
“What was that?” I ask.
“Don’t let go,” she repeats, softly. “Don’t ever let go.”
“I won’t. I promise.”