Mary came over later in the day, and Colin told her about Kurada’s interrogation.
“She has a skill for that. I assumed she or Manny would figure it out if you didn’t give yourself away. That’s why I had them pick you up.”
“Earth. You’ll meet him eventually. His methods are different from Kurada’s, but no less effective.”
“Is he a torture artist or something?”
Mary laughed. “Artist?”
“I don’t know what they’re called.”
“Pretty sure it’s just ‘torturers’, isn’t it? And no. His nickname is the Invisible Man. He overhers a lot of important information.”
“So he’s like a spy?”
“Not like a spy; he is a spy. And a damned good one, too.”
“So does everyone have a job but me?”
She smiled. “Are you getting restless? I’m sure we can find something for you while you work on controlling your talent. Were you thinking something more human?”
“Like a fry cook?”
She laughed and pulled out her phone. “A fry cook? Do those exist anymore? I thought it was an old-timey name for a diner cook.”
He shrugged. “Hey, diners still exist. But I don’t think I should risk being around too many people. Or any people. Or probably put in situations where I have to deal with people in ways that might set me off.”
“Well, I guess I’ll take the customer service call center job off the list.” She looked through her phone a while longer. “I’ll figure something out.”
“Okay.” He didn’t know how much longer she could make small talk, but he had to address the situation. “So…”
She smiled sweetly. “Hm?”
“Are we going to discuss the big electric elephant in the room?”
“You mean last night?” She looked away.
“I mean last night.”
“I don’t regret it, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That’s good,” he said.
“Do you?” She turned to face him, searching for an answer behind his answer.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. A little sore, but nothing to write home about.”
“Was I okay?”
“I wasn’t really expecting it to be any good, so I wasn’t disappointed.”
He smiled nervously. “So I was bad?”
She covered his mouth with her, pressed her body against his. “I wouldn’t be here if it was that bad.”
“I guess there’s only one thing I can do about that,” he said.
She nodded, touched her lips gently to his, and whispered, “Practice.”
He backed away to look at her face. “So you really don’t regret it? I was worried you would.”
She rolled her eyes. “You have asked me that so many times, I’m starting to regret it.”
“Well, you seemed like you wanted me to test you or something. You know, electrically. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t trying to commit ‘suicide by Colin’ or anything.”
“Lucky for us, I was just trying to get laid.”
“Then I’m sorry I did a bad job. I’d like the chance to make it up to you.”
“Well, if you don’t, I’m going to demand my money back.” She slipped out of her jacket and started to pull her shirt up.
“Whoa, right now?” he asked. “What if I lose control?”
“You won’t,” she said. “If last night taught me anything, it’s that you won’t hurt me.”
“Can we take it upstairs at least?”
“Ooh, sex in a real bed?” she asked. “Kinky.”
She was right, he didn’t hurt her. He felt awkward and clumsy and silly at times, but he didn’t hurt her. The sparks and surges that came from him weren’t stronger than her. He was thankful to experience it sober, even though he would have felt more confident if he’d just had one or two drinks. It was worth remembering, every detail of her body, every sound, every sensation. It was all worth committing to memory.
She threw on an oversized shirt and declared she was going to raid the fridge.
When Colin met her downstairs, she declared, “You literally have no edible food. And why do you have apples in the fridge?”
She bent over to pull them out and her shirt crept up in the back, sliding up the backs of her thighs, over the curve of her ass…
The power went out.
He laughed. “I’m working on it.”
“Food or blowing out the power every time you see an ass?”
“It’s not just any ass. But both.” He wrapped his arms around her. “So about that satisfaction guarantee…”
She smiled. “You can keep your money.”
After confirming her statement about edible food, they decided to go out to eat.
“Can we take the car without you blowing it up?”
“That depends, are you going to be wearing that shirt with no underwear to dinner?”
She shrugged. “I considered it. It is really comfortable.”
Mary drove them to a somewhat secluded restaurant on a hillside, where she apparently knew the owner.
“Hey Barry, this is my friend Colin. Colin this is Barry, he runs the place. He’s fire, like you.”
They nodded and shook hands, each man sizing the other up. Mary and Barry, how cute would that be? “Nice to meet you.”
“I will wait on you myself, of course,” Barry said. “If you need anything at all, I’ll be here in a flash.”
“Thanks, Barry.” Mary took the sleek menus and set them on the table.
“Thanks, Barry,” Colin echoed.
Mary chuckled when Barry was out of earshot.
“How old are you?”
“I’m twelve.” He stuck his tongue out. “So what’s good here?”
They looked over the menu.
“Did you bring me here to make Barry jealous?”
Mary looked away.
“And you accuse me of being childish?” Colin set his menu down.
“You are childish,” she said. “He is one of the few unaffiliated elementals in the area with any sort of influence over anything. If he sees that I’m courting the new guy, maybe he’ll think about joining up.”
“Courting me? I don’t like the sound of that. It sounds like ‘recruiting’ when you say it.”
“Look, I’m great at public speaking and I’m terrible at improv. I’m not what you’d call ‘socially adept.’ All I’m saying is that you’re the new guy in town and I wanted to make sure that I got to you before the other guys do.”
“I haven’t heard from any other guys.”
“Maybe they don’t know who you are. Maybe they think you’ve already committed.” She looked at her water glass. “I still hope you do.”
He watched a bead of condensation form on her glass and roll down to the napkin under it. “Is that what last night was all about? And this morning? To turn the tables and get me to commit?”
She looked up and shrugged. “Someone’s gotta take one for the team, right?”
The blood drained form his face.
Mary burst into laughter. “Colin, I’m joking. Do you really think I’m the kind of woman who could have sex with someone I didn’t like? Especially when that person could kill me?”
“So you like me, huh?” He pretended to be bashful behind his menu.
The smile on her face fell. “Shit.”
“What?” He followed her gaze to the man who’d just arrived. Some paunchy older man with small eyes set in his round face.
Colin shivered when the man turned to face him. The dude was distinctly creepy, but he didn’t linger on Colin.
“Who is that?” Colin whispered.
Mary put a finger to her lips, careful to keep her back to the man. She gave a tiny shake of her head.
Barry returned with a plastic check holder. “Are you sure I can’t interest you in dessert?”
Dessert? What happened to food?
“Thank you, folks,” said Barry. “Very generous, you have a great weekend.”
“You too,” Colin said.
Mary whispered, “I’ll see you outside.”
She went toward the restrooms, so her back remained to the man. Colin left through the front doors.
“Who was that guy?” he asked when they were both in the car. “He was seriously creepy.”
“That’s the guy who killed Zep,” she said. She wiped her eye, smudging mascara onto her sleeve. “Dammit.”
“So he’s the water who shot her?”
“He’s the only one who could have. He hangs out there, he hates us. He’s a Balancer, Zep is definitely not. Was. She was not.”
“Don’t a lot of people hang out at beaches though? How do you know it was him?”
Yes, people do. But elemental groups are territorial. That’s why it’s so important to get Barry on our side. We’d have his place, but we’d also have his connections through the Chamber of Commerce, we’ll have his wife’s connections through the Board of Education, we’ll have his lawyers. We will have friends in high places, and that’s the only thing separating us from the Balancers right now. I’m sorry, this really isn’t your problem.”
“Hey, if it’s your problem, it’s mine too.” Colin looked out the window as they passed the park. “We should still get something to eat.”
Mary nodded. “Let’s do that. I need to get my mind off of that son a bitch. There’s nothing I can do about it. We don’t have proof that it was him, and anyway what the hell am I going to do? Shoot him?”
He wanted to help of course, but he couldn’t shake the fact that Mary would have liked him to kill the creepy guy. Colin couldn’t shake the feeling that he would, if he could, and if she asked him to.
“Hey, that reminds me,” Mary said. “I got you a present.”
“A present, for me?”
“Don’t get too excited, it’s a potato clock.”
“A potato clock?”
“Yes, a potato clock. You attach some wires to a potato to power a clock. You can use it to practice your control. Kind of like you said you were doing with the lightbulbs.”
“Oh. Thanks, I guess.”
They ate and Mary dropped him off at home before heading to CERT to handle some urgent business.
He opened the potato clock and threw the instructions away. He stared at the digital clock face, three wires, four rods, and strip of adhesive. He considered retrieving the instructions, but figured they wouldn’t help someone who isn’t using potatoes.
He followed the picture on the box, using his fists as the potatoes. He waited. Nothing happened. He focused, the way he did with lightbulbs. Nothing happened. He set it down and poured a drink. He finished it and poured another.
He needed new habits.
He looked up videos on proper sit-up form and tried a few. He started some laundry. He watched some TV. He took a shower. And when he realized he was bored and had nothing else to do, he went to bed.