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JUST HIS LUCK by K. Parr

Gerald lay on his stomach in a bank, hands crossed over his head. Foot-sized puddles from rain customers had tracked inside crisscrossed the tiled floor beneath his cheek. Gerald, lucky as always, happened to be standing over one when masked gunmen burst in and demanded that everyone get on the ground! Now, dirty water seeped into his brand-new suit. He’d just had it dry-cleaned too. He bit back an annoyed sigh.

The gunmen split up. A few stood guard over the hostages, while others rooted behind the counter for quick cash. They had walkie-talkies between them, and the devices sporadically spat out staticky words from an accomplice down in the vaults. Silence reigned until a crackling voice announced in a panic, “Someone called the cops!”

The gunmen tensed. Some of the hostages whimpered, but Gerald barely refrained from rolling his eyes.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t scared. It was just that he’d been in this situation before, and he had no doubt how it would end—shattered windows, screaming, a caped crusader with a superpower or weapon, and witty banter, all of which would make him late for work. Again.

His boss had understood the first time, and the second, but this was just getting ridiculous.

As predicted, glass splintered, and shards rained down on Gerald from where a man had punched through the front doors.

“Never fear, citizens! I’m here to save you!”

Fantastic. Gerald shifted his head. It was a green guy this time—Gerald couldn’t be bothered to remember all their names. The superhero wore stretchy spandex and gloves, with goggles obscuring the top half of his face. His trademark too-white smile slipped from his mouth when the gunmen opened fire, but it returned when he raised his hand and easily repelled the bullets with an invisible shield. The bullets zinged back into the bank and lodged themselves in cubicles off to the side. Bank employees and patrons alike screamed.

The gunmen huddled together, as if their numbers would give them an edge.

Spoiler—it didn’t.

As the fight continued, Gerald focused on the second hand of his watch. Over the clicks of empty magazines, quiet sobbing, air whooshing from lungs, grunts of pain, and bodies thudding to the floor, he imagined it ticking ever closer to his unemployment. He glanced up only when silence descended.

The green guy wasn’t smiling anymore—he was concentrating on securing the gunmen with rope from his utility belt. When finished, he headed for the stairs, most likely aiming for the vaults.

In the distance, sirens wailed. Gerald sat up and appraised his suit. It was light gray and tailored to his tall, lean form—a truly custom piece—but now a splotch of dirty water stained the front. He scowled and made a mental note to stop by the dry-cleaners yet again. Thank goodness he had a change of clothes in his car so he would be presentable for work—and his date afterward.

The reminder of his evening perked him up. He really hoped it would go well.

With a renewed burst of energy, Gerald stood and brushed himself off. Glass crunched under his feet as he hopped over the broken doors and out to the sidewalk. Just as he stepped onto concrete, a hideous red car zoomed by with four police cruisers in hot pursuit.

Another crime, another glorious day in Gothamopolis.

The blaring sirens distorted and disappeared as Gerald hastened to the curb where he’d parked his silver sedan. He yanked his car door open, then whirled around when he sensed a presence behind him. A superhero stood there breathing hard, the cloudy sky reflected in her sunglasses. She wore a black-and-red jacket and had crosses dangling from her ears.

“I need to borrow your car!” Before Gerald could protest, she ripped the keys from his hands, flung him out of the way, and slammed the door. He gaped as his car peeled off, the scent of burning rubber trailing in its wake.

Gerald scrambled out of the road, his hands clenched into fists. Stupid superheroes. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself. Okay, he could do this. He added another mental note—stop by the department of motor vehicles to fill out an official Superhero Borrowed Vehicle form.

For now, though, the clock was still ticking. Gerald ducked into the nearest subway entrance.

On the train, several passengers shot him weird looks as he leaned against the center bar, one leg jittering in impatience. His lip curled at the state of his clothes, which looked even worse under the harsh fluorescent lighting. He caught his reflection in the window, and noticed that his fro had frizzed up even more in the humid aftermath of rain. Damn it. He’d spent half an hour taming it this morning.

Finally, the train pulled up to his stop. He pounded out of the station like a madman and ran for three blocks, his shoes slapping wet concrete. When he rounded the last corner, his workplace loomed ahead of him. Blue construction plastic lined the eighth floor of the skyscraper where, several months ago, a superhero had thrown a car through the building.

Luckily, no one had gotten hurt, though LuthCorp had lost a good chunk of space, most notably Gerald’s desk. Gerald had been blessed with food poisoning at the time, so when the car struck, he’d been trapped in the restroom enduring a severe case of diarrhea. The one time luck had been on his side.

Up on the eighth floor, Agnes eyed him over her round glasses as he approached their communal desk. With his workspace out of commission, Gerald’s boss had paired him with a desk mate so that he could still do his job during reconstruction. The problem? Agnes wasn’t the sharing type.

Agnes’s face pinched as she looked him up and down. “You’re late.”

Gerald could well imagine what she thought about the sweat stains on his suit, plus the dirty streaks from earlier. He caught his breath. “I was held up at the bank this morning.”

“Again?” She oozed sarcasm.

He lifted his head. “Yes, actually. It’s on the news by now, I’m sure.” The bank robbery had to be on at least one of the hundred news stations that covered daily events in the city.

“Right.” Agnes smiled sweetly as she jabbed a button on her telephone. “Mr. Lexor? Gerald’s just arrived.”

A burst of anger seared through Gerald, and he gritted his teeth. Why couldn’t a superhero fail to save Agnes in time?

“Send him in, please,” said Mr. Lexor’s voice.

“Right away, sir.”

With a glare at Agnes, Gerald stomped to his boss’s office, located in the corner suite. Inside, Mr. Lexor—a bald man wider than he was tall—sat behind his mahogany desk and gestured for Gerald to sit. Gerald collapsed into an uncomfortable armchair while Mr. Lexor steepled his fingers in front of him. “Looks like you’ve had a rough morning. And you’re late. Again.”

Gerald cringed. “I can explain.”

“No need. I saw the robbery on the news. I have to say, of all my employees, you’ve certainly had your fair share of bad luck.”

Gerald attempted a smile, though his lips didn’t fully cooperate. “I certainly have.”

“This presents a bit of a conundrum, you see. Most people use up their sick time or vacation time. But you? HR tells me your hostage time is gone. Zilch. Zero.”

With each synonym, Gerald sank further into his seat. “I hadn’t realized I was so close to the limit.”

“Well, you’re not. Not anymore.”

Gerald sat up. “Sir?”

“We’ve decided to reallocate some of your vacation time as hostage time.”

Gerald’s mouth dropped open, but he shut it with a snap. Relief and regret warred within him. He still had a job, but so much for that dream trip to Jamaica.

“You’ll have to stop by HR and fill out some forms,” Mr. Lexor continued, “But hopefully it should tide you over for a while.”

“Yes. Thank you, sir. Much appreciated.” Gerald stood.

“One more thing.”

“Yes?”

“You might want to change your clothes.”

Gerald flushed. “I have some gym clothes in my locker?”

Mr. Lexor smiled. “How lucky. Now try to safely enjoy the rest of your day.”

“Thank you.” His face burning, Gerald bee-lined toward the staff room so he could change before anyone else noticed his ruined outfit. He emerged in black running pants and an orange T-shirt. He looked far from professional, but he was clean and the shirt was tight, so it showed off his trim figure. Paired with the crazy story of his morning, perhaps Gerald’s date would find him endearing rather than stupidly unlucky when they met later.

Gerald returned to his desk to find it empty. Agnes must’ve gone on one of her ten thousand “bathroom” breaks. He slipped into his chair and discreetly pulled his phone from his pocket. He clicked the dating app to once again peruse his date’s profile.

The man—Brian—was handsome in his picture, though the angle made it difficult to get a full read. At the very least, he was white, with blond hair and a cleft chin. Classic American. He seemed nice, too. He worked at the local newspaper as a contributing editor/photographer, and he loved traveling and volunteering. Brian even wrote that he liked to dance, which was all kinds of cute.

Gerald pictured Brian smiling at him over the dinner they’d planned, and a thrill of excitement jolted through him even as his gut squeezed with nerves. He needed tonight to go well, otherwise he’d have to resign himself to a life where his only human contact came from his colleagues—including Agnes—and over-zealous superheroes. The thought made him gag.

As he’d promised Brian, Gerald called the restaurant and set up a reservation for two at six o’clock. The Italian eatery was casual, and sat five blocks from LuthCorp so Gerald would have plenty of time to get there. It was perfect—after his day, he needed it to be.

Gerald opened his laptop and buckled down, ignoring Agnes’s usual grunts and groans every time she shifted in her chair. As an accountant, his afternoon passed in a blur of spreadsheets, calculations, and bar graphs. Numbers still whizzed through his mind when he noticed the time. Quickly, he shut down his computer and ran to tidy up in the bathroom. He didn’t look too horrible, and after some hurried primping, his hair seemed to cooperate. Gerald shot confident finger guns at his reflection and jogged out with a skip in his step.

Today’s bad luck was far behind him. So far, in fact, that Gerald didn’t even flinch when he passed two off-duty superheroes on the sidewalk. The man was stuffing his face with falafel. The woman wore a bright costume that included a full headpiece, which covered her mouth and prevented her from eating. Gerald caught a snatch of their conversation as he strolled by.

“Told you to leave your mouth exposed.”

The woman replied, but her voice was muffled.

“Yeah, see? No one can understand you. You really should’ve thought ahead.”

Gerald snorted. Superheroes were so absurd.

He arrived at the restaurant early and spent time in the waiting area playing stupid games on his phone. When his reservation came into effect, the hostess seated him, and Gerald admired the bistro lighting and old-fashioned decor as he waited for Brian to arrive.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Gerald tried not to panic, but he couldn’t help it. Was he in the right place? Yes, his phone messages told him this is where they’d agreed to meet. But what if he got the time wrong, or the date? Nope, he was on schedule.

Gerald had practically memorized the drinks menu before his date finally bobbed through the door. He recognized Brian from his profile picture and stood to greet him.

“I’m so sorry,” Brian said. “Something came up really last minute.” His blond hair was artfully tousled, and he wore a charming brown sweater over a pair of jeans. He was handsome, in a rugged way, with obvious muscles straining under his clothes.

Gerald pictured those bulging arms lifting him against the wall, and heat seared his insides. He did have a type.

“That’s fine. You’re here now.” Gerald smiled, and perhaps he imagined it, but he caught a whiff of smoke wafting from Brian—though that wasn’t strange in a city peppered with daily explosions. They shook hands. As suspected, Brian’s grip was firm, and Gerald’s palm tingled after they pulled apart.

They sat and eyed one another nervously. Now that Gerald had a full view of Brian’s face, his attraction was replaced by a niggling sensation that they had met before, though he couldn’t recall where.

Before he could inquire, a waitress swept by to give them menus and take their drink orders. Brian spoke up once she flitted away. “Have you eaten here before?” He opened his menu and perused it, his expression thoughtful.

“I’ve been here once or twice.”

“So, what’s a good choice for dinner?”

Gerald frowned. Something seemed so familiar about Brian. He could’ve sworn he’d at least heard Brian’s voice somewhere, but how? He shook his head to dispel the thought. “I’m a fan of the fettucine Alfredo myself.”

They chatted more about food before Brian set the menu aside and asked about Gerald’s day. For a moment, Gerald got lost in Brian’s blue, blue eyes. Then Gerald broke the trance with a shy smile. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Brian set his elbows on the table and propped his head on his hands. He grinned slowly. “Please enlighten me.”

“Well, I was in a hostage situation, at the bank on 10th.”

“Wait, you were there?” Brian’s eyes suddenly bulged. He leaned away and coughed behind his fist. “I, uh, heard about that on the news. Are you alright?”

Gerald waved his hand dismissively. “I’m fine. That was my fourth hostage situation, so no big deal.”

Fourth?”

Gerald scoffed. “Right? I swear I’m like a magnet to them.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

The waitress returned with their drinks and jotted down their food orders. After she left, Brian plunged a straw into his soda and sipped loudly and deeply, his gaze distant.

“So,” Gerald started after a long silence. “How was your day?”

Brian jerked out of his daze and regaled Gerald with his assignment for the paper, which was to write a story about panda cubs born at the zoo. Gerald’s heart warmed as Brian gushed about their “insane cuteness,” and how he couldn’t stop smiling while taking their pictures.

And then the joyful, affectionate mood of the evening collapsed with a piercing ringtone. Gerald jumped at the sound while Brian winced.

“Sorry. I just need to check this.” Brian looked down at his lap, read something off his phone, and scrubbed a hand down his face. “Ugh. I’m so sorry, but I have to go.”

“What? But our food’s not even here yet.” Cold disappointment slid down Gerald’s throat and pooled in his stomach.

“I’m really, really sorry.” Brian scraped back his chair and stood. “But I was having fun, and I’d like to try this again. What do you say? Give me another shot?” He grinned, flashing his very white teeth, and just like that, the final piece snapped into place.

That megawatt smile with too-white teeth. Green guy.

Gerald felt lightheaded.

“Gerald?”

He blinked back to the present. “Uh. Yeah, sure, whatever.”

“I’ll text you.” Brian slapped some bills onto the table before striding out of the restaurant.

Gerald stared after him, stupefied. Sirens whizzed by outside the establishment, probably headed toward whatever crime Brian had been called upon to stop.

More dizziness flooded Gerald, and he stumbled to his feet, nearly tipping over his chair as he raced to the bathroom and locked himself inside. He was still holding his cloth napkin, and with trembling hands, he squeezed it into a tight ball. He pressed the wad to his mouth and screamed into the fabric as he cursed superheroes with every fiber of his being. They’d ruined his car, his desk, and now his dating life. Why couldn’t they leave him alone?

When Gerald ran out of breath, he removed the napkin and stared at himself in the mirror. He splashed cold water on his face, and straightened his shirt. Then with a mighty breath, he exited the bathroom to finish his date alone.

Back at his table, the waitress brought out two plates of steaming fettucine Alfredo. She set one down before Gerald, and the other in front of Brian’s vacated seat.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked.

Gerald gazed at Brian’s empty chair, then up at her with a pasted smile. He bit back a hysterical laugh as his eye twitched. “Can I get this to go?” He gestured to Brian’s dish.

The waitress seemed a bit alarmed by his expression. “Um, of course. I’ll grab you a box.” She hurried back to the kitchen.

Gerald dug into his pasta with gusto. Well, dinner wasn’t ruined, and this restaurant’s Alfredo was delicious. But just as he twirled a third bite around his fork, the door to the restaurant banged open.

“Get down on the ground! This is a robbery,” a man shouted. He wore a ski mask, and gestured with a rifle in his hands. Two identically-clad men flanked him, each with their own guns.

Restaurant patrons screamed, but Gerald rubbed his temples. He released a heavy sigh, then slid to the floor. When the gunmen faced away, he reached up to carefully maneuver his plate down with him. He shuffled under the table and concealed himself with the tablecloth.

There in the dusty darkness, he ate his fettucine Alfredo and waited for the inevitable, as was his luck.

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AUTHOR BIO:

K. Parr is the author of a young adult fantasy novel and short story available through NineStar Press. She received her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2017, and currently works as a youth services librarian in Rhode Island. In her spare time, she reads and writes fanfiction, keeps up with way too many TV shows, and is heavily invested in the lives of numerous caped crusaders.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Just His Luck”:

Just when we thought we’d seen every possible superhero story, along comes author K. Parr, who grabs us from the opening, artfully sprinkles in a handful of clichés to add an extra bit of humor and satire, and turns out this delightfully unexpected, excellently crafted, out-of-the-box piece.