I held my cold coffee with both hands. A small drop of water formed outside the plastic cup, and I pushed it around with my index finger until it dispersed. I was not the type to go on coffee dates. I hated coffee. But she was an amazing girl. Besides, the problem with coffee was the caffeine. Decaf didn’t make everyone’s thoughts louder.
I had been at the café for 15 minutes already, and I had sipped about half of the coffee away. I didn’t want to focus on the people around me, or my mind would start going crazy. It had gotten easier to close my mind over the years, ever since I started to hear other people’s thoughts, but I still tried to stay away from places where people thought too much.
Still, the thoughts came in from time to time. It was like overhearing a neighboring conversation. You could ignore it if you were focused, but sometimes things came in.
Off to my side, on the corner of the café, a girl was thinking about her medical school test, freaking out very loudly about her parents’ reactions if she were to fail. Another loud one, an older man, typed away on his laptop, describing some of the most disturbing things I’d ever heard. I mean, I’m not one to kink shame, but that stuff was worse than anything I might have seen on the internet by accident.
“Hi!” Cas waved her hands a few inches away from my face.
I jumped back. “Hey,” I smiled instantly when I saw her face.
She plopped down on her chair, her smile making me blush.
“I hope I didn’t make you wait too long,” she said. She pulled up her purse and sat it on the table, then pushed herself back. “I’m going to go get something to drink if you don’t mind though. Can you take care of this?” she said and pointed at her purse after removing her wallet.
I shook my head.
“Be right back, then!”
As she walked away, it was as if the entire shop went silent. That was one of the things I loved about spending time with her. Somehow, I could focus on just her and forget about everyone’s thoughts. But the best thing about her was that I could hear her, and unlike most people, she was always genuine. As she ordered her chocolate latte, she drifted sometimes, thinking about some essay that she had to write for school, but she kept wanting to hurry up so that she could talk to me. She had been looking forward to this all week.
See, people lie. People lie a whole lot. I couldn’t believe it at first, but over the years it had become something I was used to. I was used to talking to who I thought were friends, only to have them criticize me behind my back. But Cas was different. She never thought about anything she wouldn’t tell me directly. Well, except for one thing. The same thing I hadn’t confessed to her.
“Okay, order placed,” she said, finally back to her seat across from mine. “So tell me, how has your week been? I’m sorry I haven’t been able to talk so much in the last few days.” She did an adorable apologetic bow, and then looked at me, thinking about how she loved the way I blushed.
I waved again. “No, no. It’s okay,” finding it increasingly hard not to blush. I had also been looking forward to meeting her for days, but as a security guard, my shifts were absolutely trash. I worked late nights or all night in some cases. So I spent a lot of the time sleeping while she was in class. “You know, work’s work. It’s kinda boring to be honest. It’s like, quiet. There’s no one there, especially at night. I guess it’s nice. But I’ve been thinking about you.”
Her eyes widened, and I could hear her thoughts go crazy as she pulled apart my words, trying to find any sign that I was into her. In a way I felt bad because I knew that she liked me, but she didn’t know I did. She had an inkling, but she couldn’t be sure. Still, I found it way to adorable to see her in her eyes.
“Cas. Chocolate Latte,” the barista called out.
I stood up before she realized they’d called her order. “I’ll go get it for you.”
She smiled and watched me walk away, her mind racing between compliments of me and theories about me.
“If anything goes wrong, they’re rich. They can afford it,” a man thought very loudly as I walked past him towards the bar. “They’re just a bunch of rich kids. Besides, it’s a big chain restaurant. They won’t lose much money. They’ll be too scared of the gun anyway. Don’t they have a rule about just giving the money and saving themselves? No one is going to fight.”
I froze, my hand on the latte. It was hot.
“Come on, do it you pussy,” the man kept thinking. “If you don’t do it, you won’t be able to afford the medicine. Just do it. They won’t catch you. The cameras haven’t seen your face. You were looking down at the floor and the hat makes it hard to really see anything.”
I’d heard people’s intrusive thoughts before. It had been disturbing. They ranged from suicide to murder. But this one was different. I had never run into someone thinking about holding up a store. I turned slowly and looked at the man. He wore a brown jacket and cap pulled down low. His eyes faced forward unblinking, red, and watery. His leg danced up and down, and his anxiety kept his heart racing.
This was the real thing. These weren’t intrusive thoughts. The man was about to do something stupid.
When I first discovered that I could read minds, I was in reading class in the seventh grade. We were all told to read in silence, and I had reluctantly picked up the book and started reading when everyone started shouting in the class. I looked around, confused. The teacher didn’t seem to mind the extreme noise even though it was reading time.
I will admit I was a pretty stupid kid. It took me a week to realize what was going on, but I did catch on. I was also a big nerd, so I loved super heroes. So when I discovered this power, I kept wondering how I could apply it and use it to save people and change the world.
The dream died really fast though. Bullies were still stronger. I was not smart enough to use my power against them. And apparently being unable to have quiet during tests made all my professors think I had a learning disorder—and to be fair, it did make it extremely hard to learn. That’s why I ended up as a security guard doing night shifts while there was no one there but me.
I walked past the man and got to my table where Cas waited for me with the most precious of smiles. Still, I couldn’t take away my attention from that man. He continued arguing with himself, and I kept wondering if there was anything I could do. If he really had a gun, someone could get hurt.
“Hey Cas, do you mind if we switch sides?” I said while I still stood.
She nodded and moved to the other seat without asking although she did think about it.
“Can I ask you a real weird question?” I said.
“If it would put your life at risk, would you try to stop a robbery?”
She looked at me, confused. That type of question didn’t fit any of her expected conversations, so it took her longer to answer. “I think I would? It’s what’s right, no?”
“But the insurance would cover it, right?”
“I guess,” she paused. She had gotten serious. “But it’s wrong. But I guess it depends.”
I wondered. Maybe the guy wouldn’t do it. He was still arguing with himself, trying to convince himself not to do it. I could call the police before he decided to do anything. Or maybe I could just leave the café with Cas and do something else. Shit. I had no idea what to do.
“Why do you ask?” she said.
“Oh, it’s a security guard thing,” I said and gave a fake laugh. She didn’t believe me. “Ah, but tell me about your week. What have you been up to?”
She let it go, and her smile return. She started talking, telling me about school and some professor, but her voice was drowned. The man was so much louder now.
“Okay, that’s it,” he thought. “Fuck it. You have a gun. No one will do anything. Heroes are a thing of the past.”
I had to do something, so I jumped up. Cas looked at me with surprised eyes. “One second,” I said. “If anything goes wrong, get down.”
Almost simultaneously, the man stood up and turned to the cash register and began walking, the cashier smiling, thinking about how much she wanted to go home and rest from her long shift.
I darted and tackled the man. His gun flew out of his hands and fell a few feet away from us. Adequately shocked, the man kicked at me, his thoughts an incoherent mess.
People around us started screaming, and some bigger guy jumped at me, pulling me off the man.
“He’s got a gun,” I screamed. “He was going to rob the store!”
Some people looked, wondering what was going on. The cashier was freaking out. The big guy who had pulled me off the man processed things slowly, then noticed the gun on the floor before saying, “shit” aloud.
But it was too late. The man with the hat reached for the gun, aimed at me, and shot. People screamed. The big guy, the cashier, and the man on the floor went silent, as if their brains had just shut off.
“What the hell did I do?” The man on the floor screamed in his hands. “This was not how it was supposed to happen.”
I felt my legs weaken, and I fell. Warmth spread on my shoulder, then pain hit me. I’d just been shot.
“No,” the man said. “I’m sorry. I was.” He pulled himself up and ran out the door. No one stopped him.
The big guy pulled me to a seat and held me up. “You’re going to be alright, buddy,” he said.
Buzzing made everything harder to make out though. The voices in the shop were way too loud. I wasn’t sure if people were actually screaming or just freaking out.
“You’re going to be okay!” Cas shouted. “I already called the police. An ambulance is coming.” I hadn’t even notice Cas come up to me.
I felt so horrified when I saw her worried face. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“Quiet,” she said, holding me close to her.
Like before, the voices in the shop disappeared, and I focused on her. But it wasn’t what I hoped for. She blamed herself.
“He probably did this because of what I said. I should’ve said that I wouldn’t do this. He must have seen the gun and wanted to do something about it,” she thought so quickly I could barely keep up.
I smiled. “Hey, I’m going to be fine.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Can I ask you a stupid question?”
She looked at me, horrified. She didn’t want any more of those. Not today.
“Want to go on a real date? I’ve actually wanted to do more than just ‘hang out.’”
“After all of this? Really?” She sounded annoyed, but legitimately happy.
“It’s just my shoulder,” I said. “And if you think about it. I might get some sick leave from work. We could spend some time together.”
She nodded, and I could hear her thoughts shift from despair to happiness. Even if nothing had worked out like it should. At least that was going to be alright. I was not a super hero. I would never be. But at least I had gotten the ending the heroes get.