Know your heroes

Kate’s hand turned, as if of its own volition, and poured the coffee — a full cup, steaming hot — over the lap of the customer who had just pinched her ass. As he yelled and jumped to his feet, grabbing for his napkin, she stared at her fingers in dismay as they opened and let the mug drop to the table. It bounced without breaking, landing in his eggs.

“You… you… you…” He spluttered, patting frantically at his jeans.

“…are fired,” snapped the voice of her manager from behind her. “Grab your things and get out. Are you okay, sir?” He pushed past her, fluttering around the irate customer like a hummingbird at a bougainvillea.

Kate took a step back. Her mouth opened, then closed again. What was there to say, after all? She didn’t do it? But she had done it. It had been her hand, her fingers… just not her brain behind her body’s actions. She turned, head down, and hurried back to the kitchen. She could hear people talking, exclaiming, the buzz of conversations interrupted and resuming, and she could feel eyes on her.

It took her only seconds to grab her jacket. Without a word to anyone, not even the one cook who’d given her a friendly smile when she’d shown up to work that evening, she burst out the back door into the alley. What had happened? She shrugged into her jacket, feeling the sting of the cool night air on her bare skin.

For just a few seconds, her hand hadn’t been her own.

There was a tremor inside her chest. Incipient panic. She didn’t care about the job. It was just a job and not a very good one at that. It wasn’t as if she liked being groped when she was working, but the manager didn’t give a damn and the other waitresses were the pragmatic types. The first time she’d complained, the one showing her the ropes had shrugged and said, “Play along, the tips’ll be better.”

That wasn’t Kate’s style. But neither was pouring hot coffee in some asshole’s lap. She opened and closed her fingers.

“Hey, excuse me, hey.” A woman’s voice called from the end of the alley. Kate glanced in her direction. One of the customers. She’d seen her inside. Front table, by the window, sitting alone, dressed like one of the artists from the collective down the street, all in black, with skin pale as the white sand beach that Kate wished she was on.

The woman hurried in Kate’s direction. “Hey, I saw what happened in there. So sorry about your job, but good for you.”

“Um, yeah,” Kate muttered, dropping her gaze.

“Can I ask you… did you…” The woman paused. She sounded uneasy. “There’s… I’m not sure how to ask this.”

“Ask what?” Kate stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets. Her hands, that had been not her own. Maybe it was her imagination. That must be it.

“Well, see…” The woman glanced around her, as if looking for listeners. “Look, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

Kate snorted. “Coffee? Where? It’s like 3AM. Federico’s is the only place in town that’s open and I’m not going back in there.”

“Oh, yeah, of course not.” The woman scuffed a foot along the ground. She was wearing black boots with heels about two inches higher than Kate would ever have even considered walking in, but her movement was young, as if she were an awkward teenager instead of the twenty-something she appeared to be.

Kate looked at her more closely. Black leggings, a tight black mini, a black turtleneck, topped with a black leather jacket, plus the black eyeliner and deep red lipstick all added up to sophisticate at the least, maybe an artist. But her pale skin was flawless, her golden-brown eyes without guile. Young, Kate decided. Could she be a student?

“I work down the street.” The girl gestured toward the artist’s studios.

All right, maybe not that young. But definitely not as old as Kate had thought at first.

“Can I make you a coffee?”

Kate hesitated. “I should get home.”

The girl opened her hands. “Not like you’re gonna be late, right? You’ve got time.”

Kate still hesitated. What did this kid want with her?

The girl wrinkled her nose charmingly. “Tell you what, how about if I make it an Irish coffee? I’ve got some Bailey’s, maybe even some spiced rum if you’d rather have that. I bet you could use a drink.” The girl put a hand on Kate’s arm.

Kate didn’t feel like she’d made a decision. She definitely didn’t feel like she’d said yes. But as the girl towed her down the alley to the street, Kate didn’t resist. One drink couldn’t hurt, right? And she wasn’t looking forward to getting home anyway. Explaining to her mom that she’d been fired—for cause!—and would be starting her job hunt all over again… well, it wasn’t going to go well.

“So you’re not the first person I’ve seen do something unexpected this week,” the girl was saying. “This bus driver—it was so crazy—she was being hassled by a drunk guy. Not a homeless guy, but some frat boy type. He was on his own, no friends with him, so you know, maybe not actually a frat boy. They always seem to travel in crowds.”

Her tone was bitter. Kate wondered why but dropped the thought as they approached the door to the warehouse that held the artist’s studios. She’d never been inside before. From the outside it didn’t look like much: just another brick building in a long row of brick buildings.

“But he had that look,” the girl continued. “Money, maybe? Short hair, good-looking if you liked the type. Drunk off his ass, though, and seriously being a dick to the driver. And she—wow, it was so unexpected. She stopped the bus, middle of the street, grabbed his hand, twisted it behind his back. And shoved him off. Just shoved him out the door. She even raised her foot to give him a kick when he was stumbling down the stairs. I wanted to applaud, it was just what I wanted to do. But she was so surprised…”

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