The tinkling of the bell over the door floated through the aisles to where Emma was straightening up the displays one last time before close. She closed her eyes, sighed, and slid the customer service mask back into place. After all, nine fifty-five was technically still within the shop’s operating hours.
She set down the Superman comic she’d been surreptitiously reading as she cleaned and made her way back up to the front. “Hi, welcome to Legendary Comics,” she said as she headed toward the register. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
The girl looked a little younger than Emma, maybe twenty-two or twenty-three. Her red hoodie was soaked from the rain and she smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I know you’re closing soon,” she said, her voice soft. “I just wanted to see if you had a comic and this was the only chance I got to come in.”
Emma shrugged. “It’s no problem,” she said. “We’re still open. What are you looking for?”
“Like, Radioactive Man?” Emma asked, already moving toward the Marvel comics section of the shop.
“No, sorry!” the girl said. “Um, the comic Radioactive. By Faye Rockaway. It’s kind of obscure, I guess.”
“I can check the system, but that doesn’t sound familiar,” Emma said.
She walked behind the counter and pulled up the inventory program on the computer. “Yeah…” she said, scanning the titles. “It doesn’t look like us or the other location in Sutton have it. I could order it for you if you want though.”
“Please,” the girl said. She smiled again. “Thank you.”
Emma nodded as she placed the order. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Um, Layla Jeffries.”
“Well, Layla Jeffries, your book should be here in a couple of days. Sorry we didn’t have it. We’ve apparently got dozens of comics featuring Radioactive Man, but that doesn’t really help.”
Layla laughed. “I’m not really a fan of superhero comics,” she said.
“Same,” Emma admitted. “I’ve tried. I feel like I’m legally obligated to if I work in a comic shop. But there’s just so much backstory and history to learn. And if you don’t know it, it’s so hard to keep up. I just tried reading this Superman story everyone keeps recommending and I just can’t keep track.”
“I just think they’re unrealistic,” Layla said.
Emma shrugged again. “I mean, yeah,” she said with a laugh. “I guess you’re right about that.”
Layla glanced at the clock above the front counter. “I’ll get out of here and let you close,” she said, pulling her hood over her dark brown hair. “Thanks so much.”
“You’re welcome,” Emma said with a smile. “We’ll call you when your comic comes in.”
“Perfect!” Layla said, flashing a grin. “Bye!”
Emma locked the door behind her and pulled the shade. She went behind the counter, where Layla’s order was still up on the screen.
Radioactive: An Experimental Look into the History of Nuclear Power.
It looked painfully boring to Emma, but she wasn’t about to comment on a customer’s tastes. Especially not someone as sweet as Layla.
Ten minutes later, she was climbing into her car. The rain was still pounding down, making it nearly impossible to see out her windshield. Emma braced herself, turned on some quiet music to help her relax, and slowly pulled out of the parking lot and onto the empty side street.
Luckily, the roads were nearly empty as she crawled home through Northbridge. The rain hammered on the roof of the car and flooded the windshield faster than the wipers could clear it.
She hit a puddle and lost control for a moment, the car sliding toward the sidewalk. Emma wrenched the wheel and got back onto the road, adrenaline spiking.
“Almost home,” she muttered, pulling onto a dark road.
Either there were no streetlights on this street or they were out. Regardless, the only light came from her headlights as they hit the water and bounced right back into her eyes. She squinted and slowed down even more, holding her breath as she crept down the street.
About a hundred meters from the turn onto her own street, the rain seemed to lighten up. Encouraged, Emma gently nudged the gas and the car sped up the smallest bit.
This was enough to send her hydroplaning at the next puddle. The car skidded toward the guardrail and the embankment behind. Emma screamed, squeezing her eyes shut at the sight of the drop ahead of her.
Then suddenly, the car stopped. Emma’s seatbelt caught her as she fell forward, pinning her in place. Opening her eyes, she could see the car was halfway over the embankment and she was gazing down at a gaping abyss in the darkness. But something was holding the car in place.
Trembling, she looked in the rearview mirror and gasped. There was a figure back there. It was pouring again and she couldn’t see who it was. But there was someone directly behind the car and whoever it was was now pulling her car ever-so-slowly back to safety.
The second the car stopped moving, Emma pushed open the door and leaped out into the rain. Everything felt louder and more vibrant, the sound of the rain drumming on her head and the feeling of it cool on her face.
She hurried to the back of the car, wanting to see who her rescuer was. There was no way a single person could have done this alone. How-
She stopped short as she saw Layla clutching the bumper of her car. Her hood had fallen back and her hair stuck to her cheeks as she pulled the car smoothly away from the broken guardrail. Layla looked over, saw Emma looking at her, and shrugged.
“Like I said,” she called over the rain. “Those comics are too unrealistic!”