One Night

August 18, 2006

As of 10:48 this morning, Jimmy is ten. His birthday celebration consists of a stack of superhero comics from the used book store and pizza his mom brought home from the restaurant where she works. It’s a little rubbery when reheated but tastes good. His mom sticks a candle in the middle and sings Happy Birthday in her best Aretha Franklin voice. Jimmy pretends he wants her to stop. He tells her he is too old to make a wish, but one pops into his head as he is blowing out the candle anyway. Jimmy wishes for a superpower of his own, and of course he knows it’s silly, but who’s to know? It’s not like superpowers are real. It’s not like anyone can read his mind.

October 2, 2006

Jimmy knows that putting metal in the microwave is stupid, but he is so busy reading his newest comic book that he doesn’t notice he left the fork on the plate. When the sparks start flying, he looks up just in time to see the full explosion. He holds the book out like a shield, but paper doesn’t offer much protection. Shards of metal and boiling hot food strike him in the face. The pain is all-consuming. Jimmy wonders if this is death and then, inconsequentially, how his mother will heat up her dinners without a microwave. His last emotion is embarrassment. He knows putting metal in the microwave is stupid.

October 3, 2006

Jimmy is shaken awake at 2:00 am by his frantic mother. He opens his eyes and the look of relief on her face is so overwhelming that he shuts them again. Her voice is loud in his ears, asking what happened. I died, he thinks, though this is obviously not true. His mother helps him sit up and they both look at the pile of shrapnel he was lying on. Jimmy remembers the hot metal passing through his body. There is no blood. Jimmy’s only pain is in his memory. On the floor with the rest of the wreckage is a shredded comic book. Jimmy can’t even read the title anymore. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I forgot the fork.” His mother is just glad that he’s okay.

January 23, 2007

Though he never speaks of it, Jimmy can’t stop thinking about the explosion. His mother bought a new microwave and a huge box of plastic forks. They laughed about it at the time, but when she’s not around Jimmy eats his food cold. He kept a handful of the shrapnel, which he has in an old lunch box under his bed. He takes it out almost every night and looks at it, wondering. Finally, he decides to try an experiment. None of the knives in the kitchen are sharp, but one still has a nice point to it. He stabs it into his hand. The pain is just as he remembered, but this time there is blood. Lots of blood. Jimmy cleans it up and wraps his hand in an old towel. When his mother comes home, he tell her that he fell at school while carrying a pencil.  She takes him in for stitches. It will take a few weeks to heal, the doctor says. It does, and Jimmy feels stupid for believing in birthday wishes. The night his bandages come off, Jimmy takes the lunch box full of shrapnel out from under the bed. He goes out back and throws it in the trash.

August 18, 2007

Jimmy is 11. This year, his mom has the day off, and she takes him bowling to celebrate. Jimmy’s mom used to bowl in a league. Tonight, she bowls a 235. Jimmy bowls a 98. She buys him ice cream to make up for beating him, but Jimmy never minds losing to her. When Jimmy’s mom ties her hair back and steps up to her lane, she smiles the smile he never sees any other time.  Even though they are in an ice cream shop, Jimmy’s mom puts a candle in his sundae and makes him blow it out. This year he does his best not to make a wish, but he can’t quite help it. It’s barely even a wish, more like an idle thought, that the world would be better if you didn’t have to outgrow birthday wishes.

October 2, 2007

He had planned to pretend that he didn’t notice what day it was, but at dinner time Jimmy finds himself standing in front of the new microwave. Tonight’s dinner is a burrito from the restaurant. Jimmy hates cold burritos. He presses the buttons. Nothing happens other than his food heating. Jimmy is glad no one is around to watch him dump the heated burrito in the sink. He’s not hungry anymore. He feels something he can’t name but it reminds him of the time his cereal box promised him a collectible Star Wars toy and there was nothing in it. Jimmy moves down the hall toward his bedroom and stops halfway. He leans his head against the wall in the dark. His head passes through it.

October 3, 2007

Jimmy has been walking through walls all night. When his mom comes home at 1:30 in the morning, he pretends to be asleep in bed, but as soon as she settles in with the TV on, he walks straight through his window and outside. It is chilly. He can feel the wind blowing right through him. Jimmy walks down the street to the huge oak on the corner. He steps inside the tree. It is warm here inside of the wood and out of the wind. None of this is possible, but Jimmy doesn’t question it. He walks on. He passes through iron fences and brick walls. He walks into the restaurant where his mother works. It is dark and quiet. He goes straight through the huge metal doors of the walk-in freezer. This has always been one of his favorite places. When he was little, he would stare at those rows and rows of food boxes and imagine they were all his. He considers taking one of the frozen hand pies. His clothes pass through the walls with him. He imagines that a pie in his pocket would, too. The idea of stealing something makes him feel lonely, though, so instead, he walks out through the back wall and down the alley. He passes through dumpsters, the awful smell temporarily chasing away the feeling that he’s in a dream. He walks right through his neighbors house, but when he sees their baby sleeping peacefully in its crib, he leaves again quickly. The sun is almost up when he slips through back wall of his house and into his own bed. He thinks he’ll never be able to fall asleep, but he does.

October 4, 2007

All day long, dragging his tired body through another day at school, Jimmy thinks about what he can do once he is alone at home. There is no place he can’t go. There is nothing that could hurt him. He thinks of the heroes in his comic books. He imagines what they would do. Rescue kidnapped children, maybe. Or steal back things that thieves have stolen. He wonders how you find kidnappers and thieves. Maybe he should sneak into the police station and read their files. After school, he checks that no one is looking and then doesn’t bother opening the front door. Instead he darts into it at full speed. His head hits the wood so hard, he sees stars as he stumbles backward. Immediately he feels a rush of anger, though he doesn’t know who is angry with. Slowly he puts a hand out and presses it against the door. He feels its solid surface under his palm. He can’t tell if this moment is a dream, or if the dream was last night. He stands there for a long time hoping the answer will come to him. Then he takes out his key and lets himself inside the house.

March 16, 2008

Jimmy has not walked through any walls since that one night. By now he’s pretty much convinced himself that night was a hallucination. He reads about post traumatic stress disorder. He can’t tell if that’s what he has, but it kind of makes sense. He doesn’t mention it to anyone else, though, just in case the real answer is that he’s crazy.

August 18, 2008

Jimmy is 12. His mother has to work late, but she leaves him a big piece of cake in the fridge with a note that says she loves him. There are no candles, but the cake is Jimmy’s favorite Boston cream. He eats it as slowly as he can and tries to be grateful that he doesn’t have to worry about wishing. 

October 2, 2008

Everything Jimmy has read about PTSD says that there are triggers for your reactions to your trauma. He figures the kitchen, and particularly the microwave, are his triggers, but just to be safe, he leaves the house altogether. His mom is working late again, so he goes to a coffee shop that is open until 10. He orders hot chocolate and sits in a corner. It’s quiet. Only two other customers are in the shop, a sappy couple fawning over each other on the leather couch. Jimmy tries not to look at them. The girl behind the counter is busy cleaning up. It’s almost time to close, and she wants to get home as soon as possible. Jimmy feels perfectly normal. Maybe it’s the calm coffee shop, or maybe he doesn’t really have PTSD. Maybe he just ate something weird last year and had some crazy dreams. Jimmy tips his chair back against the wall. He falls right through it and into the kitchen of the bakery next door.

October 3, 2008

Jimmy tries to be angry that this is happening again, but all he can feel is excitement. He slowly stands up in the darkness of the bakery and takes a deep breath of yeast and cinnamon. Dimly, by the light of the exit sign, he can see lumps of something delicious set out to rise for tomorrow.  Nothing has ever smelled so good, and he doesn’t think a dream would be so real. He stands perfectly still in the darkness and makes a plan to find out for sure. Ten minutes later, he walks straight through the cinder block walls of an apartment building. He is in a long hallway. The staircase at the end is blocked by a locked door, but that’s not a problem. Jimmy climbs to the eleventh floor. He listens carefully outside the door of 1103. Everything is quiet. Jimmy walks through the kitchen sink and through the tiny sofa and through the giant TV and into a small bedroom. A boy is sleeping on the narrow bed. Marco was Jimmy’s best friend in fourth grade. They don’t hang out as much anymore, but he’s still the only person Jimmy trusts not to get him in trouble. He shakes Marco awake. Marco isn’t too happy about it. “How’d you get in here?” He asks. Jimmy just shrugs. “I need the homework for social studies,” he says. Marco gives it to him, but not without calling him a few names first.

October 4, 2008

At school, Marco confronts Jimmy right away about last night’s visit. “That was creepy, dude,” he says. Jimmy apologizes. He pretends he’s flunking social studies and that this mom is mad about it. This is something Marco understands. He walks away, and Jimmy is left standing in the hallway with a grin on his face. He is solid again today. His ability is gone. But the social studies homework in his hand is proof that it will come back.

December 11, 2008

Jimmy has succeeded in getting accepted into a mentor program that matches police officers with at-risk youth. It wasn’t that hard to convince the director that Jimmy is at risk. Today he meets his new mentor, Officer Jackson, who takes him out for pizza and asks about Jimmy’s life. Jimmy shows a lot of interest in Officer Jackson’s job. He hints that he might like to be a cop someday. He asks if they ever do ridealongs. Officer Jackson is impressed by Jimmy’s respectful manner. He wants to encourage a kid like this. He promises him he’ll see what he can do.

April 30, 2009

By now, Jimmy is a regular at the police station. Officer Jackson is proud of him and all the other officers know him by name. Wanda, who covers the front desk, always keeps candy in her desk drawer just for Jimmy. No one will let him near anything important, but sometimes Jimmy is there when perps are brought in. He always listens carefully to what they say. A surprising number of them give up names and places just while mouthing off. Jimmy has a notebook in his backpack. The officers think it’s for school, but really he is keeping track of everything he hears. “That’s some kind of neat handwriting,” Officer Jackson says when he sees Jimmy writing in it. Jimmy snaps the notebook shut. “In a couple of years, we could probably find you a job in the file room or something,” says Officer Jackson. Jimmy tries to look like this offer means nothing.

August 18, 2009

In the kitchen, Jimmy’s mom is making pancakes for his birthday breakfast. When he stands next to her, they both notice for the first time that he is taller than she is. Jimmy’s mom jokes that this means it’s time for him to start making the birthday pancakes. When Jimmy tries to take the spatula from her, though, she swats his hand away. “I’m still the mom here,” she says, “and don’t you forget it, teenager.” Pancakes have never tasted so good. 

October 2, 2009

Jimmy has his plan in place. He’s discovered an old warehouse that a local fence uses to store stolen goods before he sells them. Jimmy also knows where one of the local chop shops is hidden. The police have long suspected that stolen cars are taken there, but they haven’t been able to get the evidence they need to bust the guy who owns it. Jimmy has black pants and a long-sleeved black tshirt. He has a dark ski mask to hide his face and black leather gloves for his hands.  He has an old digital camera he bought off of the Internet and a beat up bike he bought from a kid at school. He is all ready, but his mom has the night off, so he has to wait until she’s asleep. They spend the evening watching a Twilight Zone marathon, and Jimmy’s mom asks him eight times why he keeps jiggling his leg like a madman. She tells him they should make a Twilight Zone  episode about it. Jimmy doesn’t have to fake his laugh.

October 3, 2009

Jimmy’s mom falls asleep around midnight but he waits until one just to be safe. Now he slips out the back wall and around to the alley where he’s hidden the bike. In no time at all, he’s at the chop shop. He leaves the bike down the block and walks into the locked pawn shop next door. He passes silently through its garish displays and carefully sticks his head through the wall into the garage where the stolen cars are being disassembled. At least eight men are at work there, and at least four cars have been delivered tonight. Jimmy sees a place where he can come through the wall on the opposite side and hide behind some barrels to take his pictures. He gets shots of men’s faces, including the boss. He gets shots of the  cars and the license plates. He even sneaks back outside and takes outside shots. Then he heads across town to the warehouse. Jimmy takes more pictures here, but he also takes several pieces of expensive jewelry. He stuffs his pockets with them and then walks right out of the locked safe and hops on his bike.

October 4, 2009

Jimmy didn’t sleep at all last night, but he doesn’t feel tired yet. After school, he drops by the police station. The place is nearly empty. Wanda tells him about how a mysterious person left a disk full of pictures and a whole pile of stolen jewelry on the police chief’s desk. The pictures were enough evidence to arrest a whole ring of auto thieves and to bring in a local fence and confiscate his current stash. She says they’re pretty sure the fence will give up some of the thieves who work with him. “Who knew our city had a secret vigilante?” She says. “It’s like we have our own Batman.” Jimmy does not think he will feel tired for a long time.

November 13, 2009

It is hard to imagine waiting a whole year for October 2 to come around again. Jimmy has already started doing research on other criminals, but everything he finds out makes him want to do something now. He tries to come up with a plan that doesn’t rely on his ability, but everything seems impossible.  Jimmy stops going to the police station as often. It’s depressing to listen to the speculation about the secret vigilante. It’s depressing to be treated like a thirteen year old kid. It’s depressing to realize that for a whole year, that’s all he is.

August 18, 2010

Fourteen feels good. October seems closer now, and Jimmy has just heard of a serial kidnap case that he thinks he can help with. He spends the whole afternoon at the police station, and when his mom comes to get him, the officers bring out a cake. Everyone sings. Jimmy doesn’t hesitate as he blows out the candles. His wish has been in place for a while now.

September 24, 2010

The police just found a kid’s body. Jimmy feels sick. The kid had been missing for three weeks. It’s the fourth kid that’s been found dead, and there is still one girl missing. The police don’t know where she’s being kept, but they are working around the clock to find out. Jimmy can’t help but feel that if he had his abilities all the time, he could have stopped that kid’s death. He could be searching every house in town, walking through them all every night. Instead, he’s waiting, watching the police follow leads and try to get enough evidence for search warrants. The dead kid might give them more clues. If they can just get a general direction, Jimmy knows he can find the missing girl. He wills away the days until October 2.

October 2, 2010

The police say the boy had to have been killed near to where his body was found, but they have not yet found the kidnapper or the missing girl. Jimmy knows this could take all night, so he tells his mom that he’s sleeping over at a friend’s. She’s surprised, but she doesn’t question it. Jimmy is wearing all black again and his face is covered. He has a map and a flashlight and several protein bars in his pocket.  He goes up and down the blocks, slipping in and out of every floor of every house. He checks out all the businesses. He enters safes and freezers, basements and storage units. At first, he has to be very careful to check for occupants, but as it gets later, most people are asleep. He moves faster.

October 3, 2010

It is four in the morning when Jimmy drops down into the basement of an old house on the very edge of his search territory. A noise in the corner catches his attention, but he’s seen enough rats tonight to know better than to hope. He shines his light back and forth across the space. There in the corner is a pile of rags, and it is trembling. Two dark eyes stare back at him, terrified. Jimmy’s heart is pounding. He walks quietly across the cement floor and kneels down by the girl. She flinches away but the gag on her mouth keeps her from screaming. “It’s okay,” Jimmy says. “I’m going to get you out of here.” She presses herself into the corner, shrinking from his hands as he tries to untie her. Jimmy stops and takes off his mask. He watches her recognize that they are the same age. He unties her hands and lifts her up. Then he carries her up the stairs and straight through the locked door of her prison.

October 4, 2010

Jimmy knows that he should stay away, but he can’t help himself. As soon as it is light, he heads back to the police station where he had dropped the girl off just a few hours before. He walks up the sidewalk and sees her being loaded into an ambulance. She catches his eye, and he knows she recognizes him, but she doesn’t say anything. Her parents crowd around her, each holding one of her hands.  They have been crying. She has not. Inside the station, Jimmy hears the whole story of how the girl walked in the front door alone last night, telling of a masked rescuer who delivered her moments before. No one saw the man who saved her, but she had a piece of paper with an address. Together with her description of the kidnapper, the evidence is more than enough. They have already made the arrest.

December 28, 2010

It is easier to be patient this year, but Jimmy still feels depressed every time he hears of a crime he could have helped prevent. He remembers the eyes of the girl he rescued. He thinks of her every day. Her face is a talisman against the faces of victims he sees on TV. The ones he didn’t save. The ones he didn’t help. He knows the girl’s name now and where she lives, but he makes no attempt to see her. He hopes she can move on. He hopes she can forget.

August 18, 2011

As promised, the day Jimmy turns fifteen, he is officially given a job at the police station. It’s just copying and filing and delivering messages and making coffee, but for the first time, he has two things he’s needed for a while: access to information and a steady income. That night when his mom sings to him over his birthday pie, he doesn’t feel the need for any wishes.

September 30, 2011

Jimmy has been making preparations for weeks. Not only does he think he knows where some thieves have been hiding out, there is a young boy missing. He disappeared two days ago. The police suspect a family member, but they’ve searched the house of everyone on the list and found nothing. Jimmy is planning his own kind of search.

October 1, 2011

The police get a tip from a family member. They return to the house of the missing boy’s uncle. There is a secret room hidden behind the bathroom mirror. The boy is there. He was killed hours before the police arrive.

October 2, 2011

Prickling hot rage courses through Jimmy’s veins. His head feels like it will explode from it. He could have found that secret room in seconds. He could have saved that boy. He could have…if he could use his ability more than once a year. He leaves the house the minute it’s dark, without even giving his mother an excuse. He heads straight to the thieves’ hideout. It is empty. Judging from the food in the refrigerator and the trash left everywhere, they were here until this morning. Jimmy throws an empty beer bottle against the wall and it smashes loudly. He stands in the living room, surrounded by the smell of stale smoke, and realizes that he has no more leads. He will be able to walk through walls until the sun comes up again, but there is nowhere he needs to go.  What is the point of having a superpower if you can’t help people when they actually need it? What is the point of being special if you always arrive too late?

October 3, 2011

Jimmy wanders the city, entering buildings randomly until the pointlessness makes him sick. He wants to break something, but nothing seems worth breaking. Instead he goes home. His mom is sitting at the table. The worry on her face piles guilt on top of his anger and despair. She asks where he’s been, and when he says he’s just been walking, she believes him. He stands in the doorway and they look at each other for a long time. Neither of them says anything. Jimmy notices that she has wrinkles around her eyes that didn’t used to be there. The silence is broken when his mother starts coughing. “Get some sleep,” she says. “It helps more than you might think.” Jimmy doesn’t think that’s true, but he’s happy for the excuse to go to his room.

April 3, 2012

All winter, Jimmy was so lost inside his own head that he didn’t notice that his mother’s cough didn’t go away. Even now that it it’s getting warmer outside, she is coughing more than ever. She is watching the news and nearly hacking up a lung when he comes into the living room with their TV dinners. Even though she changes the channel right away, he still sees the report of a murder over on fourth street. Jimmy hasn’t made a secret of his hatred of the news. He doesn’t want to see all the horrible things that people are getting away with every day. He doesn’t want to know about what he can’t stop. He quit his job at the police station. He walks dogs in the neighborhood now. It doesn’t pay much, but it keeps him moving. Jimmy hates sitting still these days. His mom coughs again. “You should see the doctor,” he says, but his mind is still on the picture of that murder victim, so he doesn’t notice when she just shakes her head.

August 18, 2012

Jimmy is sixteen. He takes his mom out to dinner with his dog-walking money, and she says he’s quite a man now. She looks happy, but he also notices that she’s pale and she coughs her way through the grilled chicken she never finishes. After he blows out his candle, he tell her he wished she would see a doctor. He doesn’t let up until she promises she will.

September 13, 2012

October is coming, and once again Jimmy is making plans. His mother finally saw that doctor, and the diagnosis is lung cancer. They’ve known for a week now. Jimmy’s mom says he’s not to worry. She says she’s going to fight this, but he knows the truth. She can’t afford the treatments the doctor recommends. She has the cheapest insurance, and though they’ll cover the basics, she needs way more than that. She still goes to work six days a week, but ever since she saw the doctor, her cough seems worse. She tries to smile and tell him she’s fine, but he remembers what her real smile looks like.

October 2, 2012

It’s the easiest thing in the world to walk into the wall of the safe and pull the money off the shelf and back through the wall with him. He knows if he went all the way inside an alarm would go off, but this way he’s in and out in five minutes. One hundred thousand dollars makes a surprisingly small bundle. It fits in the oversized pocket of his winter coat. Jimmy walks through the closed businesses along the street until he is far enough away that it won’t matter if he’s seen. He keeps walking.

October 3, 2012

Coming here wasn’t a part of Jimmy’s plan. He thought he was just wandering, not ready to go home yet, but his feet have brought him to this old house. In the back yard, he sees that the cellar door has been jimmied open, but he still walks through the wall to get inside. She’s waiting there just as he knew that she would be, and she is not surprised to see him appear out of nowhere. She is older now, just as he is, and cleaner, and she is not afraid. Her hair is a mass of dark curls. They stare at each other for a long time. She only has one question. “Why me?” He feels the weight of every person he hasn’t saved in that question. He doesn’t have the heart to tell her she just got lucky. She was kidnapped at the right time of year. He says nothing. He drinks in the sight of her wide, unflinching eyes and tries not to think about the bundle in his pocket. Then he disappears through the wall and goes home.

November 21, 2012

Jimmy’s mother has started her treatments, and though they are awful, her coughing has all but stopped.  He told her that he set up an online funding account and that kind strangers have been donating to help her. The Internet is a wonderful place, he says. She insists on writing a long thank-you for him to post. He tells her the donors will love it. He checks the police investigation into the robbery on tenth street last month. They have no leads. There was no sign of negligence. No one lost their job. The bank was insured, of course. No one has lost anything.

January 14, 2013

The treatment was not enough. Jimmy’s mother improved for a while, but the cancer was too strong. She’s at home now, resting. She doesn’t go into work anymore. Jimmy brings her hot water and crackers and holds her hand while she coughs. When she thinks he’s going to school, he is actually working shifts at the hardware store down the street. They think he’s in a night school program. Actually, he hasn’t been to a class since before Christmas. He misses it, but the missing feels good.

March 4, 2013

It rains the day of his mother’s funeral. Jimmy stands there with some of the officers from the police station and a few waitresses from the restaurant. His umbrella keeps his head dry, but his pants and shoes are soaked. Wanda, the receptionist, stands next to him. She has told him he can come live with her and her two young sons. Her only condition is that he has to go back to school. He has agreed to this because he doesn’t want to leave the neighborhood and because it doesn’t seem to matter what he does now. When the service is over, Wanda tells him she’ll be waiting in the car and that he should take his time. Jimmy waits until he is all alone by the graveside. Then he takes a plastic fork from his pocket and drops it into the hole. When he turns around, he is face to face with a tall girl with steady eyes. He doesn’t question how she found him. She doesn’t say she’s sorry for his loss. She just stand there with no umbrella, the rain making rivers in her dark curls. “You want to know my secret?” she asks. When he doesn’t respond, she tells him anyway. “I stopped feeling sorry for myself.”

August 18, 2013

Wanda makes Jimmy a birthday cake, and her boys are so excited you would think it was their birthday. Jimmy eats a piece to make them happy. He opens the homemade card with a crayon picture of Superman and thanks the artist with some tickles. Then he goes to the coffee shop down the street where the girl with the dark hair is waiting with one candle in her hand. She makes him blow it out even though he says he doesn’t make wishes anymore. While the smoke is still curling up from the wick, the girl smiles and says she stole his wish since he didn’t want it. Then she shows him her notebook. As soon as he reads the first page, he snaps it shut and hands it back to her. She doesn’t take it. The notebook sits on the table, looking like someone’s homework, looking normal. “It’s one more night than anyone else has,” the girl says as she leaves. Jimmy doesn’t read the notebook, but he doesn’t leave it there, either.

October 2, 2013

Jimmy sits on the stairs that lead up to Wanda’s apartment. There is a composition notebook unopened on his lap. He isn’t looking at it. He’s looking at the street, where two little boys are playing soccer on the sidewalk. The youngest misses most of the time, swinging his foot on open air while the ball just sits, unmoved. Jimmy opens the notebook.

October 3, 2013

After a long night of work, Jimmy goes to the basement of the old house. The girl is not there, but he sits in the dark, in the far corner where he first saw her. He sits there so long, he is suddenly afraid that it has been too long, that the sun has come up and he’s trapped. He hurries outside just in time. When he gets home, the sun is already above the trees, and the girl is waiting on the steps. She’s holding a soccer ball, covered in dew from being left out all night. He stands on the sidewalk looking up at her. “It’s not nearly enough,” he says. She shrugs. It never is.

August 18, 2014

For Jimmy’s 18th birthday, the officers at the precinct chip in to buy him his own laptop. “You’re a whiz with the computer now,” they say when they present it to him. “You’re going to need this in college.” They all slap him on the back while Wanda passes around pieces of cake. None of them have any idea what he plans to do with their gift. Late at night, he sits at the kitchen table. The girl with the dark curly hair sits across from him. They are not applying to colleges, as Wanda thinks. Jimmy is quietly hacking into the police database. The girl is taking notes on what he finds. All these months later, she has eight full notebooks. No one knows more about their city than these two. And the girl is endlessly creative in thinking of ways to use the information.

October 3, 2014

The police station is buzzing with activity. When the day shift arrived, they found the evidence room crammed with unregistered guns. They found lockers full of illegal drugs. Each was tagged with the address where it was found and several have photos attached and one even has a voice recording of a very incriminating conversation. None of this will be admissible in court, but it’s enough information to fuel their investigations for weeks. The night shift never saw anyone come in here. Something shorted out the cameras, too. Down the street at the homeless shelter and soup kitchen, the director has just discovered a stack of cash in his donation box. Across town, the runaway shelter has a similar stack right in the middle of the kitchen counter. The ER at the hospital has an envelope on the reception desk with a small handwritten note. On another street in another part of town, a drug lord is systematically beating his employees to find out who stole from him. There was no break in.  It had to be an inside job. At the tenth street bank, there is a neat stack on the shelf in the vault. It’s exactly 100,00 dollars.

August 18, 2015

Jimmy is moving out of Wanda’s apartment, and her boys stand around, shifting from foot to foot while he zips up his duffle bag. He gives them each a fist bump and a $10 bill. He’ll see them again soon. He’s only moving a few blocks away, to be closer to school.  He’s already promised Wanda to come by for dinner once a week. Jimmy got accepted to four different colleges, but he chose the one that’s right here at home. He’ll study computer science. He’ll still work at the police station. Before he leaves, Wanda sits him down and puts a blueberry pie on the table. It has one candle in it. She and the boys sing Happy Birthday off key, and when he leaves, she makes him take the leftover pie with him. He takes the candle, too. Someone else gets all his wishes now.

October 2, 2015

Jimmy is dressed and ready to go long before it’s dark. He has the plan mapped out of four sheets of notebook paper, and his room is full of supplies. He opens the front door, and the girl is waiting outside, wearing all black. Jimmy raises one eyebrow. The girl shrugs. “We already know you can carry me through walls,” she says. Jimmy thinks of all the possible dangers but he also thinks of having an extra pair of hands. It’s just so much work to do in one night. And if he’s being honest, most of the ideas are hers anyway. “If I’m carrying you, you’ll have to take the pack,” he says. She turns around and lets him slip it onto her shoulders.

August 18, 2016

As of 10:48 this morning, Jimmy is twenty years old. His birthday dinner consists of pepperoni pizza with olives on one half only. The girl sticks a candle in the middle and sings Happy Birthday, and when she finishes he waits patiently. She always takes her time. She likes to think things through. Finally, she blows out the flame, and though she doesn’t tell him what she wished for, he knows anyway. He also knows that it will come true. His birthday wishes always do.

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