"Chemistry"

Adam Levy hated change. There was a reason the morning news called him the Immovable Object. But the economy was bad, his school budget had been cut, and the former middle school chemistry teacher had been laid off. His second job–saving innocents and stopping criminals–didn’t pay very well, so Adam had to go where there was work.

“You’ve been here how long now?” asked Mr. Gomez.

Adam had forgotten the English teacher’s first name. He had never been very good with names, especially since he’d grown up with pretty much everyone he had ever known. Being a new teacher at a new school in a new town was difficult for him. He didn’t know anybody, he was lonely, and he was still trying to get a handle on the nighttime subculture–always necessity for a superhero.

“Two months,” said Adam.

“How come you never go to the union get-togethers?”

Adam shrugged. Carl, he remembered. His colleague’s name was Carl Gomez. He was tall, thin, and young. With spiked hair that he bleached the front of. It made him cool. Adam’s fourth period traveled across the hall from Carl’s third, and there was a small group of girls that sat near his desk who spent the first half of chemistry fawning about their English teacher. They’d met when Adam had approached Carl to complain about how disruptive his attractiveness was being.

“You seeing anybody?”

Adam wondered for a moment whether it was appropriate for an English teacher to drop an auxiliary verb like that, but mostly because he was trying not to think about how awkward he must be seeming right now. “Uh… no. Not really.”

Adam hadn’t seen anybody since the accident. Three years ago, he’d pushed a girl with her eyes fixed on her iPhone out of the way of a hydroplaning SUV. The vehicle had hit him–its nose had ground and twisted around his frame. The girl had seen him and screamed. When Adam had opened his eyes, he had found himself completely unharmed and surrounded by glass and hot metal. He hadn’t found much time to date after that. His nighttime responsibilities–stopping bullets with his chest and abruptly ending car chases with his outstretched arm–kept him busy.

“Well, I’ve got a proposition for you.”

“I’m not gay,” Adam said quickly. Not too quickly, he hoped, but he wanted to make sure there hadn’t been any misunderstanding between them.

Carl laughed. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, I am, but actually it’s my best friend.”

Adam raised an eyebrow. “Oh.”

“She’s lovely, but she’s been kinda offish. I wanna help her get out there, you know? And you’re adorable.”

Adam chuckled. “Adorable? I’ve never been called that before.”

Carl shrugged. “You’re in the big city now, love.”


The Big Bustle was busy at nine-o’clock on Friday. Adam sat at a small wooden table, on a stool that made Adam–who was tall and broad-shouldered–feel tiny. He tried to look at himself through the reflection on his beer bottle, making sure that his hair remained tightly combed. He was supposed to meet Angie, who would be wearing a white blouse and a red skirt. She would have brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses.

Adam found himself nervous. He would probably be sweating, if he could sweat.

In order to distract himself, Adam looked at his phone–at first for the time, and then for the police feed he had subscribed to. Smartphones made it too easy to be a superhero these days–or a news blogger, depending on your interest.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her: red skirt, white blouse, red high heels, red lipstick, and brown hair. Her eyes were an unusual blue.

Adam waved sheepishly at her. Angie looked over the crowd of people with a mix of curiosity and fear. She saw Adam’s wave, smiled, set her glasses firmly over the bridge of her nose, and made her way through the mob to Adam’s table.

Adam considered moving to pull out Angie’s seat for her. He went as far as to stand before realizing that pulling out a stool in a crowded bar would probably be more awkward than chivalrous.

“Hi. You’re…” She paused as if searching for his name. “Adam, right?”

Adam nodded. “And you’re Angie.” He added nervously, “We both have A names.” He had stood in front of the mirror for an hour before the date, memorizing her name out of fear of losing it in his unconscious at some key moment. Clearly, she had the same issue, which relaxed him somewhat. “Please, take a seat,” he said, motioning to her chair.

“Oh!” Angie said, as if she’d suddenly become aware that there were chairs. She sat carefully. “So, Carl tells me you’re a teacher?”

“He tells you that right now?” Adam asked, then cringed at his own stupidity. He had meant to make a joke but had certainly just come off as a smart ass.

Angie smiled with a mix of apology and offense. He was off to a terrible start. “Well, not right now. But he said that’s how you know each other.”

“Oh yeah. We do. Know each other. Teaching. I’m across from him–across the hall from him. I do chemistry.” He stopped himself, realizing that he was rambling in infantile, simple sentences.

“Neat. What do you like about chemistry?”

“Lately I’ve been looking into electromagnetic variance in complex chiral molecules.” Adam had been convinced that anomalous electromagnetic readings coming from his body correlated with his superpower, but now he was worried that with a sentence he’d bored Angie. “What about you? What do you do?”

Angie looked like she was about to say something, but then she picked out her phone and looked at Adam. “Do you want a drink?”

Adam looked at his beer. It was almost empty. “Sure.”

She left his table with a strange and eager speed in her step. Adam worried he was already messing this up. He checked his phone again. No news. He looked up again. Through the window front, he could see a woman rushing along the sidewalk. Immediately after her was a man with a sinister gait.

Adam looked over at Angie. She was waiting at the bar, and there was a long enough row of people clamoring for the bartender’s attention that he suspected he’d have enough time. Adam rushed to the back door, walked out into the alley, and pulled his shirt off. Underneath his clothes was his skintight silver costume. He slipped a hooded mask over his head and rushed after the woman and the man.

He followed them to a dark alley, where the woman was already screaming and the man held a gun at her chest. “Shut up,” he said, and pressed his body against hers and his dirty hand against her mouth.

“Let her go,” said Adam in a  deep, growling voice he’d practiced precisely for these kinds of situations.

The man turned his gun towards Adam. “You better walk away.”

Adam defiantly marched towards the man.

The gun fired once. Twice. Three times. Small flashes of light burst from Adam’s chest where the bullets struck him. Then a fourth bullet hit him between the eyes. Adam covered his face and stumbled back. “Dammit! The face? Really?”

The man’s mouth fell open, and he emptied his clip.

Adam ran towards the man and gripped the barrel of the gun. He pushed it forward quickly, smashing the gun against the man’s nose. The man let go of the gun and cursed as he pressed both hands against his face.

“Doesn’t feel too good, does it?” Adam wasn’t especially strong, so he held the barrel of the gun and smashed the butt of it against the man’s head twice, so that the man fell to the ground. Then he looked at the terrified woman. “Uh… shit. Normally I deal with this, but could you call the police? I’m kinda in the middle of something.”

“W-what?” she stuttered.

Adam didn’t have time. Angie was probably heading back from the bartender right now. “Just call the police,” he repeated. And he ran back into the bar, pulling his dress shirt back on and pulling his mask off, tucking it behind the collar of his shirt.

“Where did you go?” she asked when he returned to the table. There were two cold beers on the table.

“I…” He thought for a moment. Why had he left? Why had he left? “I was smoking,” he lied.

“Oh.” Angie seemed disappointed. “You don’t smell like smoke.”

“E-cigarettes. They don’t leave any smells. I’m pretty partial to smells.”

Angie smiled. “Oh. Well that’s cool. Sorry, you asked a question.”

“Yeah!” Adam answered. “I was about to ask what you do.”

“I…um…I’m a real estate agent. It’s nice because it opens up my schedule for other things.”

“Like what?” Adam asked.

Angie looked up, as if she was thinking of how to reply. “You know, hobbies. I like to run a lot.”

Adam smiled. An athlete–no wonder she looked so fit. This girl might normally have been out of his league. He hoped that Carl had talked him up some. “That’s cool. I did cross country in high school. Mostly because my best friend was in it, and he wanted company though.”

She smiled again. Then she checked her phone and quickly turned in her chair. “I have to…go to the bathroom,” she said.

This wasn’t going well, Adam was sure.

“I’m sorry.” And with that, Angie was gone. Again, way too quickly.

Adam looked at his phone. There was a news update: a silent alarm at a jewelry shop had gone off about a half-a-mile away. Adam glanced towards the restroom. There was a line of women waiting in front of the pink, wooden door. Angie wasn’t there. Adam furrowed his brow. He’d just been ditched.

Adam downed his beer and ran outside, again pulling off his shirt and slipping the silvery hood over his head. The Immovable Object had work to do. Less than five minutes had passed before he made it to the jewelry shop. The front window was broken and the aluminium grating had been cut open. Adam rushed inside to see three men rummaging through display cases, taking everything they could and filling several dufflebags with their loot. The men paused to look at Adam. One of them pulled out a pistol. The other a shotgun.

“What the hell is this?” said the man with a shotgun. “Halloween?”

“It’s your unlucky day,” Adam said in his growling voice.

The man with the shotgun replied by shooting Adam in the chest. The buckshot blasted against his frame in a shower of sparks.

“No cigar,” Adam said. He loved one-liners.

Before he could react, a blue and black blur shot through the shop. The three men went flying into the air, and their guns fell to the ground, the barrels bent and crushed by some invisible force.

With the men out of commission, the blur settled in the middle of the room. A woman in a striped, blue-and-black costume and a small blue cape stood in front of him. “Who are you?” she demanded in a throaty superhero voice.

“The Immovable Object,” Adam said defiantly.

The woman grinned. “Funny. I’m the Unstoppable Force.” She rushed at him.

They smashed against each other, releasing a shockwave that cracked the walls of the store and shattered every bit of glass in the place. Adam felt pain for the first time in his life, and he fell to the ground. In front of him, Unstoppable Force was on the floor holding her head. Her mask had slipped off.

“Angie?” Adam said, his eyes wide and his mouth agape.

Angie tilted her head. “Adam,” she answered.

He smiled. “So you’re a superhero?”

Angie smiled back. “You are too.”

“I thought you’d ditched me,” he said, appreciating the fact that he’d been wrong.

Angie shook her head. “No. I like you. I just… Well, I had this to do.”

Adam looked at his surroundings. Shattered glass and wood and precious jewels littered the floor. “So. Second date?”