31 December 2010

"Sweet Nothings"

By Curtis C. Chen

Amy concentrated while holding the piece of candy, thinking: You're not fat. Stop cutting yourself. You are not fat.

The girl on the other side of the counter was wearing long sleeves, but Amy had seen her bare wrists when she turned to point something out to one of her friends. The older scars were horizontal, across the width of the girl's arm; but the newer, brick-red scabs were diagonal slashes, turning ever closer to fatal.

"Here's a free sample of our Milk Bordeaux," Amy said, identifying the candy in the tiny paper cup as she slid it across the top of the counter.

"Thanks," the girl said, picking up the candy between her thumb and forefinger.

You're not fat, Amy kept thinking. She was pretty sure her power to imbue objects with thought impulses only worked as long as she was touching them, but it couldn't hurt to try.

She forced a smile while ringing up the girl's purchases. Amy's face was starting to feel sore from feigning holiday cheer. After the teenagers had left, Amy rubbed her jaw muscles with both hands.

"Long day?" said a male voice.

Amy looked up and saw Joe leaning against the doorway and smiling at her. His mall security uniform was rumpled, as always, but Amy knew that was just an act; when push came to shove, the stern looks he could summon far outweighed his informal appearance.

"At least it's Friday," Amy said. "Free sample?"

"Nah," Joe said, patting his midsection. "I get enough of that at home."

"Right," Amy said, smiling. "I forget your wife's got that cottage industry—"

An arm appeared over Joe's left shoulder, and the attached hand closed around his throat. Joe made a gurgling noise and jerked forward and to the side.

Amy saw the owner of the arm, a stocky bald man wearing a gray suit and dark glasses. The man's other arm raised a menacing black pistol to the side of Joe's head.

"Step out from behind the counter," the man said.

Amy couldn't say anything for a second. "M-me?"

The man looked annoyed. "Yes, you! Amy Washington! Get out here before I—"

As suddenly as the man had appeared, he stopped talking. His hands twitched, and Amy was afraid the gun would go off; but then his entire body went limp, and he crumpled to the floor. Joe fell forward, also unconscious, and Amy rushed around the counter to help him. She froze when she saw the woman.

The woman—tall, blond, imposing—stood behind the collapsed man. She had one hand inside her jacket, which she slowly withdrew as Amy watched. The woman held both hands up, palms out, empty.

Another man, younger, with brown hair and an angular face, came jogging up and skidded to a halt beside the blond woman.

"I can't believe that worked!" the younger man said to the blond woman. "Were you actually touching him?"

"Discuss later," the blond woman replied. She looked at Amy. "Miss Washington, you need to come with us."


Photo: See's Candy by Brad Lauster, December, 2009