Human/Super #18: Wildfire

 

HUMAN/SUPER #18

WILDFIRE

 

 

 

 

 

“I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

The words hung in the air like a fart nobody wanted to acknowledge. Bridget Gould looked up from the spaghetti boiling on the oven. Her girlfriend, Sue, leaned against the kitchen counter, her blonde ponytail swinging gently in the breeze of the ceiling fan.

“What?” Bridget muttered. “Why?”

“It just isn’t working out,” Sue said. “I’m not happy.”

“But… things have never been better between us,” Bridget said. “We haven’t had a single fight all summer, and you—”

“I’ve barely been around all summer,” Sue said. “You must have noticed. And the truth is… I’ve been seeing someone else.”

Bridget’s jaw dropped. Her eyes began to sting, a red glow creeping in around the edges.

“Get out of my house,” she hissed.

“I will,” Sue said. “I just need to gather a few—”

Now!” Bridget shouted.

“Okay, I’m going,” Sue said, stepping back. “I’ll come by when you’re at work tomorrow to pack my things.”

Bridget turned away. Sue’s footsteps crossed the living room, and the front door opened and shut. Bridget’s vision continued to redden, until all she saw was shades of crimson.

She glared at a photo of Sue on the refrigerator, and two round holes burned through the paper. She squeezed her eyes shut until the heat subsided.

She heard the ding of the oven timer and pulled the spaghetti off the burner. Her stomach growled, but the thought of eating anything suddenly made her nauseous. She dumped the pasta in the trash and headed to the garage.

She slid behind the wheel of her vintage blue roadster and turned the key. Listening to the roar of the engine took a bit of the edge off. But not enough.

She backed out of the garage and peeled away from the house. The streets were still slick with the afternoon’s rain, but she continued to pick up speed anyway, cruising through the suburbs and into downtown Victory City.

She came to a stoplight and this little redhead rolled up beside her in a hardtop convertible that matched her hair. The girl revved her engine and winked at Bridget. The light turned green.

Bridget hit the gas and tore off down the street. The redhead caught up quickly and nudged ahead inch by inch. Bridget pushed her car harder.

White smoke erupted from under the hood. She throttled down and coasted to the curb. The redhead’s taillights streaked as she drifted around the corner and disappeared into the city. Bridget sighed and got out of the car.

She popped the hood and tracked down the source of the problem: a radiator leak. Her vision turned red as she welded the hole shut.

She leaned against the grill and let the engine rest for a minute. As she stared up at the sky, a warmth crept across her face, but it wasn’t heat vision this time.

She reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

///

The phone rang. Bridget blinked and fumbled around the nightstand until her hand wrapped around the receiver. She placed it to her ear and lay back.

“Yeah?” she mumbled.

“Hey, Bridge,” her boss, Jeff Ransom, said. “I was just wondering if you were planning on coming to work today.”

“Shit,” she said, sitting up, “what time is it?”

“Ten-thirty,” Jeff replied. “Must’ve been a hell of a night.”

She glanced over at the empty side of the bed and said, “I guess you could say that.”

“Well, get some aspirin and some coffee in you and hurry over,” he said. “We’re starting to get backed up.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said, and hung up.

She sighed and climbed out of bed. After a quick shower, she threw on her work clothes and hurried out of the empty house. She hopped into her car and pulled out into the street.

She rolled up to a stoplight and glanced left. A middle-aged woman in a minivan checked her makeup in the rear-view mirror. The light turned green and Bridget continued through the intersection.

A part of her wanted to turn right around and head home, to wait for Sue to show up and maybe try to talk her out of leaving. But another part of her wanted to set Sue’s face on fire, so she erred on the side of caution and went straight to work instead.

///

Bridget lay on her back beneath a mid-sized pickup, installing a new muffler. Terrible pop music from the 1980s blared in her ears, keeping her mind from wandering. She welded the muffler in place and rolled out from under the truck.

She sat up and leaned her elbows on her knees. Last night’s conversation began to replay in her head. She closed her eyes and turned up the volume on her MP3 player.

Something flicked her forehead. She looked up and saw Jeff standing over her, dangling a matchbook in front of her face. An illustration of a gear in polished chrome graced the cover.

“What’s this?” she asked, pulling her headphones out.

“Someone just asked me to give it to you,” he replied.

He dropped it into her hand and she flipped it over. The word “GEARHEAD” was printed on the other side, along with an address downtown.

“Who did?” she asked.

“Pretty little ginger with spiky hair,” he said, and grinned. “She have anything to do with you oversleeping this morning?”

Bridget sighed and shook her head.

“Sue broke up with me last night,” she said.

“Really?” he said. “I thought you two were finally getting along.”

“So did I,” Bridget said, “but apparently she’s been cheating on me for months.”

“Oh shit,” Jeff muttered.

“Yeah,” she said.

He pulled up a stool and sat beside her.

“And you had no idea this was happening?” he asked.

“None,” she replied. “I just thought she was really busy.”

“Instead she was getting busy,” he said.

She glared at him. He smirked.

“Sorry,” he said. “How are you holding up?”

“I have an overwhelming desire to burn something,” she said. “Does that answer your question?”

“I suppose it does,” he said, glancing at the matchbook in her hands. “Listen, if you want to take some time off….”

“No,” she said. “The last thing I need right now is to be alone with my thoughts.”

“Well, in that case, why don’t I sign you up for a few extra shifts?” he said. “Got plenty of work here to keep your mind off things.”

He nudged her with his elbow and she chuckled.

“I’ll pass, thanks,” she said.

“Worth a shot,” he said, and stared down at the floor for a moment. “Seriously, are you going to be okay?”

She shrugged.

“Probably,” she said. “I mean, it’s only, what, three years of my life down the toilet?”

“Sure,” he said, “but you’ve still got a good fifty left to waste.”

“You really suck at cheering people up, Jeff,” she said.

“Yeah,” he replied, leaning back against the truck with his hands behind his neck. “I really do.”

///

Bridget finished her shift a little early and took her time getting home. As she turned down her street and drove slowly toward her house, she spotted Sue’s car in the driveway.

She pulled up to the curb and stared out the windshield, trying to decide what to say. She heard the front door open, and she glanced toward the house.

Sue stood on the front step carrying a cardboard box full of clothing. Beside her, a tall woman with light brown skin and a dirty blonde bob carried another box. Sue took a step forward.

Bridget burned rubber down the street. A few blocks later, she pulled over and staggered out of the car. She stared down at the sidewalk and twin scorch marks streaked along the concrete.

She closed her eyes. The burning stopped, but tears began streaming down her face. She searched her pockets for a tissue, but all she found was a matchbook.

///

Bridget almost missed it at first, a little black door tucked away down a few steps in the middle of an alley. A plaque on the door read “GEARHEAD” in a bold font and the doorknob was engraved with the same gear symbol as the matchbook.

Inside, classic rock blasted from the sound system of a dimly-lit pub. Car parts decorated the rough stone walls, and a high-octane chase movie played on a little TV hanging over the bar. The redhead from last night stood behind the bar serving drinks. She smiled as Bridget approached.

“Hey!” she said. “You actually came!”

“Yeah, I actually did,” Bridget replied, climbing onto a stool. “I was pretty surprised to hear from you. How the hell did you find me?”

The redhead shrugged.

“Wasn’t all that hard,” she said. “You’ve got a pretty distinctive ride. All I had to do was ask around a bit.”

“Okay, I guess that makes sense,” Bridget said. “And you went to all that trouble because…?”

The redhead grinned and slid a bottle of beer to a guy a few stools down.

“I want a rematch,” she said. “For our little race.”

“Why?” Bridget said. “You won.”

“Yeah, by default,” the redhead replied. “I want to kick your ass fair and square.”

Bridget raised an eyebrow.

“You mean you want to try,” she said.

The redhead laughed.

“Okay, now we definitely have to do this,” she said.

Bridget sighed and said, “Where and when?”

“How about tomorrow night at nine?” the redhead said. “Down by the old scrapyard?”

Bridget drummed her fingers on the bar.

“I better not regret this,” she said.

“You won’t,” the redhead said. “Unless, of course, you lose. But what are the odds of that happening?”

She winked. Bridget rolled her eyes.

“My name’s Mercy, by the way,” the redhead said, extending her hand across the counter, but don’t expect any from me tomorrow.”

Bridget shook Mercy’s hand and smiled.

“I’m Bridget,” she said.

///

Bridget crept cautiously back into her neighborhood. The sky was dark now and there was no sign of Sue and her new girlfriend. Bridget pulled into her garage and headed into the house.

A folded piece of paper sat on the kitchen counter. Bridget opened it and Sue’s copy of the house key fell out. On the paper, a message was written in Sue’s tidy scrawl.

 

Bridget,

I didn’t mean for that to happen. I thought we’d be out of there long before you got home, but it took longer than I expected. I don’t want you to think I was intentionally trying to hurt you. I know you’re angry with me right now, but I really do care about you. Maybe someday you’ll see that.

Goodbye,

Sue

 

Bridget dropped the note into the sink and stared at it until the paper burst into flames. The smoke detector overhead shrieked. She ran the tap to put out the fire and turned on the kitchen fan.

She glanced around the living room and took stock of what was missing. Most of the books, a third of the DVDs, Sue’s laptop, and various other knickknacks. The wrought-iron lamp she’d made Sue for her birthday last year had been left behind.

She stepped toward the bedroom and placed her hand on the doorknob. She closed her eyes and visualized the empty space: in the closet, in the dresser, on the nightstand, under the bed where Sue stored her exercise equipment.

Bridget backed away and curled up on the couch. She spent the rest of the night watching reality shows about car restoration. When she finally fell asleep, she dreamed herself behind the wheel, speeding down endless highways.

///

Bridget pulled up in front of the scrapyard at quarter to nine and was surprised to find a crowd of people gathered there, drinking and listening to loud music. Mercy waved from the hood of her car and hopped down to the pavement.

“So, uh, I may have told a few friends about our race,” she said, smiling slyly. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh, no, the more the merrier,” Bridget replied at least half sarcastically.

“Cool,” Mercy said, and pointed down the street. “So, it’s five hundred meters to the end of the block. Whoever gets there first, wins.”

“I know how a race works,” Bridget said.

Mercy winked.

“Just checking,” she said, and stepped back. “Oh, I’ve got something for you.”

She reached into her car and held up a license plate with a random string of numbers and letters.

“What’s that for?” Bridget asked.

“The cops, of course,” Mercy replied, stepping behind Bridget’s car.

“Cops?” Bridget said, and leaned out the window. “What cops?”

“You know this race isn’t legal, right?” Mercy asked.

“Of course,” Bridget replied. “I just—”

“Then don’t worry about it,” Mercy said. “It’s just a precaution. You hear sirens, you take off as fast as you can and don’t look back. They’ll run the plates and come up empty.”

“Remember what I said about regretting this?” Bridget asked.

Mercy grinned and returned to her car. A muscular guy with a shaved head and a tan spoke into a cellphone and waved both cars into the street. They lined up next to each other on either side of the yellow lines. Bridget’s phone vibrated.

“Have you seen my phone charger?” a message from Sue read. “I think I forgot to pack it yesterday.”

Bridget began to see red again. Tossing the phone in the back seat, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Mercy revved her engine. Bridget glanced out the window and did the same.

The bald guy took up position between the two cars and raised his hands over his head. Bridget stared down the stretch of road and gripped the steering wheel. The man dropped his arms, and she floored it.

The crowd disappeared into the distance. Buildings zoomed by, but Mercy stayed at her side. The g-force pressed her back in her seat, pushing the ache out of her chest.

As the finish line rapidly approached, Mercy fell suddenly behind. Bridget kept going and rolled into a drugstore parking lot where a second crowd waited. She glanced in the rear-view mirror and spotted the red convertible pulled over about halfway up the block.

“Can you believe this shit?” Mercy said with a laugh as Bridget pulled up beside her.

“Yeah, it’s like the universe doesn’t want us to race,” Bridget replied, getting out of her car.

“Or maybe it just wants us to keep trying,” Mercy said.

“I’m really not getting out of this, am I?” Bridget asked.

Mercy smiled and shook her head. Bridget stepped in front of the convertible and gestured for Mercy to pop the hood. She poked around for a few minutes while Mercy tried to start the engine.

“Looks like you’re going to need a new fuel pump,” Bridget said, shutting the hood. “If you swing by the shop in the morning, I can hook you up. In the meantime….”

She grabbed a tire iron from her trunk and reached under Mercy’s car. With a heavy swing, she smacked the fuel tank with the iron. The car started.

“This should get you home, at least,” she said. “Just make sure you take it slow.”

Aw,” Mercy said.

Bridget crossed her arms.

“Fine, just this once,” Mercy said, smiling. “I’ll see you tomorrow. And maybe then we can make plans for the next race.”

“Maybe,” Bridget replied.

Mercy gunned the engine and sped off down the street. Bridget sighed and shook her head. She climbed back into her car and headed home.

///

Bridget was up to her elbows in grease when Mercy rolled into the shop. A quick scrub did little more than smear the mess around. She wiped her hands on her coveralls and eyed the convertible.

“How’s it running today?” she asked.

“I had to wail on the tank a bit,” Mercy replied, climbing out of the car, “but after that it was fine.”

She tilted the driver’s seat forward and reached into the back. She emerged with a little girl, no older than three, in her arms. The girl’s pigtails match the color of Mercy’s spikes.

“This is Max,” Mercy said.

“Uh, hi,” Bridget said to the girl, and glanced at Mercy. “Is she….”

“She’s mine, yeah,” Mercy replied, squeezing her daughter. “You sound surprised.”

Bridget shook her head and said, “I’m just… having a hard time picturing you with a boyfriend.”

“Well, we split up a long time ago, but…” Mercy trailed off, and her eyes widened. “Wait, you thought I was…?”

Bridget turned away and rooted through a pile of car parts.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“It’s the hair, isn’t it?” Mercy said. “Chicks dig the hair.”

Bridget chuckled.

“There is that,” she said.

She picked up a fuel pump and weighed it in her hands.

“Listen,” Mercy said, “if I’ve somehow led you on, I’m really sorry. I swear I didn’t mean to.”

“It’s not your fault,” Bridget said. “It was stupid of me to think I’d met someone new within minutes of a big breakup.”

“Wait, what breakup?” Mercy asked.

“Never mind,” Bridget replied.

She turned and marched past Mercy. She moved the car into position and jacked it up. Mercy took a seat nearby with Max and handed the kid a toy truck. Bridget lay back on the creeper.

“It’s going to take a while,” she said. “You don’t have to stay.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Mercy asked.

Bridget hesitated.

“No,” she said finally, and rolled under the car.

///

Bridget finished putting everything back together and lowered the car to the floor. She turned the key and the engine purred. Mercy stood from her seat.

“Wow,” she said. “Sounds better than ever.”

“Well, I am a professional,” Bridget replied, winking.

“I wouldn’t doubt it for a second,” Mercy said. “So how much do I owe you?”

“It’s on the house,” Bridget said.

“Seriously?” Mercy asked.

Bridget shoved her hands in her pockets and nodded.

“Well then,” Mercy said, “I guess I won’t try bullying you into that rematch after all.”

“I appreciate that,” Bridget said, chuckling.

Mercy fastened Max into her car seat and climbed behind the wheel. She grabbed a scrap of paper and pen from her glove compartment and jotted down a phone number.

“Still, doesn’t mean we can’t hang out,” she said, handing the note to Bridget. “Call me anytime.”

“I’ll think about it,” Bridget said with a smirk, shoving the note into her pocket.

“See you around, Bridget,” Mercy said, and glanced back over her shoulder. “Say goodbye to the nice lady, Max.”

“Bye,” Max mumbled, rolling her truck around the back seat.

Bridget waved as Mercy backed out of the garage and pulled out into the street. She stood still for a long moment, listening to the convertible’s engine fading into the distance.

“Well, that was awkward,” Jeff said behind her.

“You shouldn’t spy on private conversations,” she said.

“I own the place,” he said. “I can do whatever I want.”

“Pretty sure it doesn’t actually work like that,” she said.

He shrugged and said, “So… you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “A little disappointed is all.”

“Just a little?” he asked.

She rolled her eyes.

“I’m going to get back to work now,” she said. “That okay with you?”

“I suppose I’ll allow it,” he replied.

He hummed to himself as he strolled off to another part of the shop. Bridget returned to the truck she’d been working on before Mercy showed up, and popped the hood.

///

Bridget almost turned right around and drove away when she spotted Sue’s car parked in front of her house. Instead, she pulled into her garage and sat behind the wheel for a long moment. Sue followed her in on foot.

“What are you doing here?” Bridget asked.

“I need my phone charger,” Sue replied. “I texted you yesterday but you didn’t answer.”

Bridget got out of the car and headed for the living room.

“Why don’t you just buy a new one and leave me in peace?” she asked.

“It’s a proprietary charger, Bridget,” Sue replied. “They’re expensive. I’m not going to spend a ton of money just to avoid a few minutes of awkwardness.”

“No, of course you aren’t,” Bridget said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sue asked.

“You know what it means,” Bridget replied. “When was the last time you actually took someone else’s feelings into consideration?”

“That’s all I’ve ever done,” Sue said. “I had to walk on goddamn eggshells to keep you happy, but it was never enough. You throw a temper tantrum no matter what I do. It’s just not worth the effort anymore.”

“You mean I’m not worth the effort,” Bridget said.

“Is that what you want me to say?” Sue asked. “You want me to be as cruel as I possibly can so you can tell yourself that I’m just a huge bitch and you were too good for me anyway? Would that make you happy?”

“No,” Bridget said through gritted teeth.

“Then what do you want?” Sue asked.

“Nothing,” Bridget replied. “Just find your thing and go.”

She leaned against the back of the couch as Sue rolled her eyes and ducked into the bedroom. While she waited, Bridget stared down at the lamp on the end table, remembering all the hours she put into forging it, and how excited she’d been when Sue unwrapped it.

“Found it,” Sue said, emerging from the bedroom. “Must’ve gotten knocked behind the nightstand while we were packing.”

“Right,” Bridget said bitterly. “You and what’s-her-face.”

“Celeste,” Sue replied.

Bridget scoffed.

“I still can’t believe you let her into my house,” she said.

“What else was I supposed to do?” Sue asked. “Make her stay in the car?”

“Yes!” Bridget snapped. “That’s exactly what you should have done.”

Sue sighed and headed for the front door. She paused, hand on the knob, and glanced back.

“Bridget, you need to grow up,” she said. “For your own sake, if no one else’s.”

Out,” Bridget said.

Sue opened the door and stepped out. Bridget clenched her fists, but the rage bubbling up inside her just wouldn’t go away.

“And take your fucking lamp!” she shouted.

She grabbed it from the end table and threw it out the door. Sue jumped out of the way as the lightbulb popped on the stone walkway. Bridget stepped outside as Sue’s car peeled off down the street.

Bridget imagined blasting one of Sue’s tires and watching the car spin out into a telephone pole. But she closed her eyes and took a deep breath instead. She shoved a hand into her pocket and found Mercy’s note. She dialed the number on her cell.

“It’s me,” Bridget said.

“Back for more already?” Mercy said, chuckling. “I didn’t realize I was so irresistible.”

“Do you want to drive, or what?” Bridget asked.

“Southeast corner of Victorious Park,” Mercy replied. “Two hours.”

“You’re on,” Bridget said.

///

Bridget knew she had the right place when she spotted the crowd gathered by the park entrance. Mercy was leaning against her car in the middle of them. Bridget pulled up and rolled down the window.

“How do you find all these people at such short notice?” Bridget asked.

“Facebook,” Mercy replied, slapping a fake license plate onto Bridget’s car. “You’re not going to try to back out again, are you?”

“No,” Bridget said.

“Good,” Mercy said, “because we’re getting serious this time. The park’s two kilometers long on this side. We’re going all the way to the other end.”

“Works for me,” Bridget said. “You think your car can handle it?”

“Well, that depends on whether my mechanic’s as good as she says she is,” Mercy replied with a wink.

The bald guy from last night stepped in front of the cars with a cellphone to his ear. He hung up and turned to the racers. Mercy and Bridget revved their engines simultaneously as the man raised his arms.

The hands dropped, and Bridget hit the gas. They were neck-and-neck for a while, but soon Bridget pulled ahead by a car’s length. She grinned to herself and stared down the street, trees whipping by on her right.

She saw the lights before she heard the siren, flashing blue and red in the rearview mirror. A police car had pulled out from a side street and was gaining on them quickly.

Bridget hung a left and glanced back. Mercy kept on going with the cop right on her tail. Bridget turned right and followed parallel to them. Block by block, the cop kept up with the convertible, preventing Mercy from turning left.

Bridget turned right and slipped behind the cop. She rolled down the window and stared at the right rear tire of the squad car. Her vision went red and the tire burst open. The cop hit the brakes and careened into the curb.

Bridget zoomed past the cop and caught up with the convertible. Mercy pointed ahead to the next intersection and made a left turn. Bridget followed, and they weaved their way through various side streets before winding up in an alley between two old apartment buildings.

“Holy shit,” Mercy said, pacing from one side to the other. “That was intense. I’ve never seen the cops drive like that before. He almost had me. If his tire hadn’t blown out….”

Bridget leaned back against the side of her car with her arms crossed, and said, “Yeah, that was me.”

Mercy stopped in her tracks.

“What do you mean?” she muttered.

Bridget’s vision went red again and she carved an “M” into the red brick wall.

“Damn, girl,” Mercy said. “You’ve been holding out on me. I knew there was more to you than met the eye. Uh, no pun intended.”

She chuckled.

“It’s not funny,” Bridget said. “I just attacked a police officer. I could go to jail for this. And not just the regular jail where they put people who don’t have superpowers.”

“Oh, relax,” Mercy said. “They’ll never find you.”

You did,” Bridget replied.

“But I’m awesome,” Mercy said. “They’re just cops.”

“I don’t understand how you can be so calm about this,” Bridget said. “You almost got arrested too.”

“Wouldn’t have been the first time,” Mercy said. “Probably won’t be the last.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Bridget asked. “What about Max?”

“Max will be fine,” Mercy said. “It’s not easy to raise a kid on a bartender’s salary, but as a racer, I can win her a better future. And if a little jail time is the price I have to pay, it’ll be worth every minute. I may not be a very good mother, but I can do that for her, at least.”

“No offence,” Bridget said, “but that’s really stupid.”

Mercy shrugged and said, “Yeah, well, at least I’m not just doing this because I’m on the rebound and trying to get laid.”

“Oh, screw you,” Bridget snapped. “I’m not—”

Somewhere nearby, a siren wailed.

“I’m out of here,” Mercy said.

She ripped the fake plate off her car and got in.

“Give me a call sometime, if you ever manage to pull that stick out of your ass,” she said.

She peeled out of the alley and disappeared into the night. Bridget clenched her fists and climbed into her car. She wanted to hit the gas and tear around the city, but instead she headed straight home, well below the speed limit.

///

Bridget woke half-sprawled on the couch and stared up at two scorch marks on the ceiling. She took a shower, got dressed, and staggered to the kitchen for some breakfast.

She threw some bacon into the frying pan and stared at it until it sizzled. Her thoughts drifted to yesterday’s arguments and the bacon began to blacken.

The smoke alarm went off. She glared up at the ceiling and melted the detector into a smouldering glob of plastic. She slammed the frying pan into the sink, shattering a glass and slicing open her thumb.

She let loose a string of barely-coherent profanities and pressed a piece of paper towel to her wound. She hurried to the bathroom and bandaged her finger. Giving up on breakfast, she headed to the garage and hopped into her car.

The garage door rolled up, and for a split second she imagined a police car waiting outside to arrest her. She fumbled for the remote and shut the door.

She took the bus to work instead.

///

By the end of her shift, Bridget still didn’t feel any better, so she asked Jeff if she could take him up on his offer of extra shifts. After he finished teasing her, he said yes.

For a few days, it actually seemed to help. Kept her busy, kept her mind off things. She could go in, work the day away, and then pass out on the couch as soon as she got home. But she knew she couldn’t keep it up forever.

As she sat on the bench at the bus stop almost a week later, a red convertible sped by, and all she could think about was Mercy. She dug out her cellphone and dialed. After about a dozen rings, she got an answer.

“Hey,” Bridget said. “Uh… how’s it going?”

“I can’t really talk right now, Bridget,” Mercy said. “I just dropped Max off at my mom’s house and I’m on my way to a race.”

“Oh,” Bridget said.

A pause.

“You’re not going to tell me not to go?” Mercy asked.

“Would you listen?” Bridget replied.

“The prize money for this race alone is enough to put Mercy through university,” Mercy said, “so no.”

“Okay, then,” Bridget said. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Mercy said. “Listen, um… we’re racing down by the Public Works building… if you wanted to watch.”

Bridget took a deep breath and said, “Maybe.”

Another pause.

“I should go,” Mercy said. “I’ll… see you around.”

“Bye,” Bridget replied, and hung up.

She waited another ten minutes for her bus home, but when it arrived, she just let it pass right by. She crossed the street and caught a bus going the opposite direction.

///

Bridget got off the bus several blocks from the Public Works building and spotted a crowd up the street a ways. There were at least a hundred people gathered, maybe two. Bridget could barely see the cars past the crowd.

She started walking toward them. She heard engines rev and tires squeal. The crowd let up a cheer, but it was immediately drowned out by sirens.

Police cars swarmed from all directions, pouring out of side streets and converging on the crowd and the racers. The spectators scattered but the police rounded them up easily, throwing them to the ground and tying their hands behind their backs.

Bridget watched all this from a nearby bus stop, trying to look as disinterested as possible. When the majority of the spectators had either fled or been arrested, she managed to get a look at the cars, surrounded by police with their drivers face down on the street. She didn’t see Mercy among them.

Her phone rang; Mercy’s number lit up the call display.

“Are you okay?” Bridget asked.

“I think so,” Mercy replied. “Where are you?”

“A couple blocks from the race,” Bridget said. “There are cops everywhere.”

There was silence on the line for a moment.

“Can we meet?” Mercy asked. “I’m at a coffee shop a few streets over. The sign said ‘Dave’s’.”

“I’m on my way,” Bridget replied.

She found Dave’s Café with her phone and followed the directions northeast. The coffee shop was mostly empty. Mercy was sitting at a table by the window. She leapt from her seat and hugged Bridget tightly.

“You’re not going to go all gay on me, are you?” Bridget asked. “Because… I’d totally be up for that.”

Mercy laughed weakly and said, “Sorry.”

She returned to her seat and leaned forward with her head in her hands.

“I’ll go get us some coffee,” Bridget said. “How do you take it?”

“Milk,” Mercy replied. “Two sugars.”

Bridget stepped up to the counter and ordered a coffee and a chai latte from a young black man with close-cropped hair. As he started pouring the coffee, a second, identical man appeared from thin air beside him. The doppelganger made the latte, and both of them merged back together with a cup in either hand.

“Thanks,” she said, and headed back to the table.

Mercy took the coffee and stared into it.

“After you called,” she said, “I started having second thoughts. I was sitting there waiting for the race to start, and suddenly my hands were shaking. The rest of the cars moved into position, but I couldn’t do it. I just took off. And that’s when I heard the sirens.”

“Close call,” Bridget said.

“Too close,” Mercy replied, and looked up from her coffee. “How did you get away?”

“I was running late,” Bridget said. “I was still some distance away when it all went down. If I hadn’t taken the bus, I would’ve arrived on time and been rounded up with the rest of them.”

You took the bus?” Mercy asked. “Why?”

“Well, I’ve been nervous about taking my car out in public lately,” Bridget replied. “I’m not quite as eager to tempt fate as some people.”

Mercy chuckled.

“I guess I can’t blame you there,” she said.

An awkward silence fell over them. Bridget sipped her latte; it was getting cold, so she gave it a shot of heat vision.

“I might actually give it a new paint job,” Bridget said. “Just to be safe.”

“Oh yeah?” Mercy said. “What did you have in mind?”

Bridget leaned back and said, “I’m thinking red.”

///

“Take the next left,” Bridget said.

Mercy turned onto Bridget’s street. Bridget pointed to her house up ahead.

“That’s it there,” she said.

“Nice place,” Mercy said.

“Thanks,” Bridget said. “It belonged to my parents before they divorced. They gave it to me instead of fighting over it.”

“Sweet deal,” Mercy said.

“Yeah,” Bridget replied. “So… what are you going to do now?”

“I don’t really know,” Mercy said. “I want to keep driving, but the thought of losing Max…. I mean, she’s a tough kid, she could handle it… but I can’t. So I have to find another way.”

“You know, they’re always filming movies around town,” Bridget said. “I bet you could be a pretty badass stunt driver.”

“Perhaps,” Mercy said, chuckling. “I’m sure I’ll figure out something eventually. In the meantime, I’m just going to slow the hell down for a bit.”

“That works, too,” Bridget said, and glanced out the window. “Well, I should probably head inside now. Do you want to come in for a drink?”

“Right now I just want to curl up next to my little girl and watch her sleep,” Mercy said. “Rain check?”

“Sure,” Bridget said. “Thanks for the lift.”

Mercy smiled and said, “Thanks for everything.”

Bridget opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. She watched Mercy pull away from the curb and recede down the street. Bridget turned to her house.

The lamp was still lying on the walkway, all bent out of shape with the lightbulb shattered across the stone. She picked up the big hunk of metal and brought it inside.

She set it back on the end table. It wobbled a little, but remained standing. Fixing it would take a lot of work, but she knew she was up to the challenge.

 

 

 

END