Tori pulled her fisted hands from her coat pockets, looking around, trying to decide what to do. Please help me, God. Her eyes darted to Eddie behind the counter. He saw the quiet man moving toward the gunman, too. Eddie opened the cash register and started counting the bills out loud.
“Twenty, forty, sixty–”
“Just put it in the bag, man!” the kid shouted.
Eddie shot him an angry look. “I have to tell my dad how much got stolen for the insurance paperwork, you idiot! Eighty, one hundred…” Eddie kept counting, picking up the tens and then the fives.
Tori felt her lips twitch in a tiny smile. Brilliant! The kid was so focused on the money, he didn’t see the other guy sneaking up behind him. Tori tensed, praying this would work.
Behind her, near the women, a glass jar fell and broke. The young woman screamed.
The gunman swung around. “Everybody freeze!”
More screams tore the air. Tori ducked as the kid waved the gun. The idiot looked like he was in a gangster movie. He probably didn’t even know how to use the thing.
The gunman turned back to the cashier. “Give me the money and no one gets hurt!”
Eddie stopped counting and started putting the money into a paper bag. Tori thought he nodded to the other man, only four or five feet away now and gliding forward soundlessly.
When Eddie started to put all the change into the bag, the gunman interrupted him. “Forget the change! I don’t want no change! What, you never been held up before?! Get me the money from the safe, asshole, and I’m gone, and you live.”
Eddie shook his head. “I-I can’t – the safe–”
“Give him the money!” one of the women screamed.
The kid cocked his gun (okay, maybe he did know how to use it), looking back and forth between the customers and the cashier. As Tori watched from the cover of the candy aisle, the man behind the robber darted with amazing stealth first one way then the other, always keeping out of the gunman’s line of sight. How did he do that? He was over there, and then he was there, and then–
The robber didn’t see it coming – the other man closed the distance, thrusting the kid’s gun arm into the air, and shoving him into the counter! Eddie reached for the customary convenience store baseball bat, but he wasn’t fast enough. The robber twisted under the other guy. The two men tussled. The women screamed. Eddie ducked, and–
A shot rang out!
Tori flinched and ducked again. Could she do something to help? But what? She pressed a fist into her stomach, trying to keep the roiling fear down so she could think. The hot feeling in her stomach grew as she struggled between self-preservation and the overwhelming urge to help keep everyone safe.
The robber jumped away as the other man fell to the floor.
Another crash of glass. The gunman whirled again. He pointed the gun at the man with the crying baby.
Not the baby! Not if she could stop him. Tori grabbed handfuls of yellow M&Ms packages and started throwing them at the gunman. “Don’t shoot!” Tori screamed at him, hot anger bursting out. “Stop it! Put that gun down!”
The kid ducked her shots, candy hitting him in the face and shoulder, unable to keep the gun aimed any more. Tori marched toward him, too pissed off to think. Out of ammunition, she pointed her finger at him like a kindergarten teacher. “Put it down now, mister!”
The kid looked at her like she was crazy. Then with little hesitation, he put the gun on the counter.
A split second later, Eddie had the baseball bat against the robber’s throat. As the guy clawed for air, the front door burst open and police officers crashed in, flowing through the room like a dam had burst.
Tori jumped out of their way, her hand pressed to her queasy stomach. Police threw the robber to the ground and cuffed him. One officer checked the man who had been shot while another asked Eddie if he was okay. Tori noticed Eddie’s bleeding head. When had that happened? The police waved in EMTs who worked on the guy with the bullet wound.
The hero of the day. Tori hoped he was okay. That was amazing the way he just – just stepped in and saved everyone! The guy was a real hero! And so was Eddie!
“Are you all right, ma’am?” Tori felt a policeman shake her shoulder.
“The guy that was shot…” she said, still watching the EMTs. She couldn’t see the man himself. God, please let him be okay. She tried to focus on breathing, in and out, don’t look at the blood.
“They’re taking care of him. I’m sure he’ll be fine. Are you hurt?”
“No, I – no.” Tori tried to swallow but her mouth was bone dry. She noticed her hand hurt and looked down. Her fist had wrapped her purse strap in a death grip. She looked up at the policeman. “I thought he was going to shoot the baby.” There was no way she could ever, ever let someone hurt a child.
The policeman smiled and said, “The baby is fine. See?”
Tori followed his pointing finger to see the man rocking his little girl, talking to another officer. They both looked fine. Then the man looked at Tori and pointed at her as he spoke.
It only took Tori a moment to realize why. She looked down at the floor littered with peanut M&Ms – yellow, green, blue, red, brown.
The policeman laughed. “I’ve never seen anyone take down a gunman in quite that way before.”
“I’m sorry.” Tori didn’t know what to say. What had she been thinking? She never would have interfered like this a few months ago. The policeman questioned her about what had just happened, but Tori’s mind darted around like a chickadee. Since she’d stopped seeing her psychiatrist and stopped taking her medications, she felt better than ever. Freer and more alive. But maybe she shouldn’t allow herself to be quite so free. Walking up to a man with a gun!
The meds kept her from any kind of spontaneous action or uncontrolled emotional response. Maybe that was better than, than…whatever just happened.
“Are you okay?” The policeman looked at her closely.
Tori wasn’t sure of the correct response. She was alive – thank God – and she was going to see Joe again, and day eleven of married life. But…she wasn’t exactly feeling well. Her stomach was calming down, but she felt herself beginning to shake from the inside out.
“Let’s sit you down for a minute, shall we?” The policeman took her arm and escorted her outside toward his car.
The bitter cold night air helped clear her head. As they walked past the stretcher where the wounded man lay, Tori paused. Had everyone thanked him? He certainly deserved their gratitude. She bent down. But she didn’t know what to say. What words were enough?
“You’re very brave,” she murmured, touching his uninjured shoulder briefly. “Thank you so much.”
He glared back at her. “What? Your suit at the cleaners?” he whispered fiercely, “Or is this your day off?”
Tori pulled back a little. “What?” Why was he attacking her?
“I’d think a guy with a gun would be enough that you could use your powers before someone gets shot,” he spat at her. “But no, had to be the hero, huh? Had to wait till you were the only superhero who could save the day! That’s why I work alone. Superheroes like you are just superegos. You don’t care about anything but your media image!”
The EMT moved Tori out of the way. She heard the man moan as they hustled him into the ambulance.
What was he talking about? When she called out to the gunman she was just…worried, scared. That’s all. It was probably a stupid thing to do, but it distracted him enough so that Eddie could grab him.
The policeman put his arm around Tori as she swayed on her feet. He tucked her into the back seat of his police car. “Why don’t you put your head down?” he suggested.
Tori shook her head. She just needed to get her bearings. The car was warm, and she closed her eyes, leaning back into the seat. She let her mind wander as she tried to relax. She tried not to think about what kinds of people had been sitting in the back of this police car lately. Could lice survive the winter? Ugh, best not to think about it.
Her thoughts returned to the conversation with the man who’d been shot. It hit her then – was he saying he was a superhero? Tori’s eyes flew open and she turned in time to see the ambulance pull away. She’d met a superhero?
She flopped back against the seat. No! Impossible! Her parents had always insisted the “superhero” stories in the news were publicity stunts. Crime was on the rise and the city government would say anything to look like they had it under control.
She’d heard her mother’s voice saying a hundred times over the years, “There’s no such thing as superheroes. A few freaks out there who want to be more than they are, but no one has any kind of supernatural power.”
Tori accepted this version of the world. It made sense. It was logical, orderly. To believe that people might have supernatural abilities opened the door to possibilities Tori didn’t want to consider. She and her sister Lexie had enough freak factor with the strange things that sometimes happened around them.
This guy accusing her of being a superhero did seem a little freaky, that’s true. Of course, he’d been shot, lost blood, was probably out of his mind with pain. But that other guy…
Tori’s mind drifted back for a moment to Halloween. Some kid had grabbed her purse and taken off. Tori chased him, but she tripped and fell. Moments later a man dressed as Zorro appeared, gorgeous and thrilling. He helped her get her purse back, and picked her up like she weighed no more than a doll. Then he kissed her like–
Tori shook her head and opened her eyes. Sure it was a great kiss, but she never saw him again. She met Joe a couple days later, fell madly in love with him, and married him on Christmas Eve.
She straightened her shoulders. She had no intention of thinking about another man now that she was married. But she wondered if her parents were wrong. Maybe superheroes did exist. If so, they weren’t all freaks. Not Zorro, anyway.
Still, why would this possible “superhero” accuse her of being a superhero? Maybe in the pain of getting shot, he…got confused. In her mind’s eye, Tori saw the look on the robber’s face as he put the gun down. There was something about it, something familiar. Her mind tripped and twisted with roiling emotions and panic-infused imagination. She needed to stop this crazy thinking.
But her brain wouldn’t stop working on it. Now she remembered. Last night when she and Joe had stopped over at her sister Lexie’s and little Ben wouldn’t go to bed, she’d put on her Aunt Tori voice and forcefully insisted he go to bed. He’d looked at her with that same funny look on his face. Then he did. The barely-three-year-old turned and went to his room without another word.
And a few months ago. When Lexie told her that it wasn’t just that Tori could convince people of things, but that she could force people to do things. And Lexie had only said that because – oh my gosh, that’s right! – Tori had insisted that Lexie tell her what she was thinking.
Tori felt her breath coming quicker but she couldn’t catch it, she couldn’t breathe. She kept trying to breathe, but the air just kept going in and out of her mouth without hitting her lungs and she couldn’t get a breath and–
The door opened and the policeman said something but Tori couldn’t catch his words and then he was pushing her head onto her knees and still talking and she thought she heard, “That’s it. Breathe.”
Tori gulped in air, then tried to slow down and get the blood to stop pounding in her head. It’s not possible. It simply wasn’t possible to live for twenty-seven years and not know…not make the connection.
She’d test it. Then she’d know. It wouldn’t work, and then she’d know her mother was right. There is no such thing as superheroes. No such thing as super powers.
Tori looked up at the cop. “I need some M&Ms. I went in for M&Ms and I need them please.” She knew she was jabbering, but she had to know. “Please get me some.”
“Just take a deep breath and–”
She glared into his eyes, hoping and terrified and feeling very, very alone. Her gut burned with heat. “I need M&Ms! Please!”
The cop stopped in the middle of his sentence. He looked at her for a moment, then stood up and turned back toward the store. When he came back with every kind of M&Ms flavor the store sold, Tori fainted.