SLOW AS MOLASSES



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I nearly shit in my pants when I walk out the bank door. One of the Princesses is waving to me from across the street. The one with the green costume. I smash her with my Power without thinking, then pick up the pillowcase of money I'd dropped when I seen her.


Crap. Crap. Crap. I got worse cramps in my stomach than the ones I'd had when the school buzz pegged me going out with crazy Julio Lopez. How the hell did she get here so fast? She must have been close by when the alarm sounded. Damn it.


I grip the pillowcase that covers my head with my free hand so it stays on while I scope out the score. No sign of the rest of her gang. Gotta beat it before they show up.


"Hi, there," she calls. "It looks like you're new to this. Robbing a bank is a really bad idea. It's not too late to call it off. Did you hurt anyone?"


She's way too calm. She should be struggling to move her feet or staring at her slow motion arms.


She's gooped so I move closer for a better look. Not too close though. I look her up and down. Lord, she's tall! And built like some white boy's wet dream. I'd kill for boobs like that, but there's still time for mine to grow some. She ain't got much of an ass, but I guess she still gets plenty of action.


"Nah," I say. "They're just gooped. It'll wear off."


"Good. Then we can fix this." She smiles. She must practice that smile a lot to get it that dope.


"Nothing to fix," I take another look around. "I'm outta here."


Her voice smacks me as I near the corner, "See you soon."


In your dreams, lady! I'll be long gone before the goop wears off. I round the corner, duck into a doorway. Off comes my hood. I jam it and the money sack into the backpack under my jacket, then start walking like I ain't got a care.


You don't need to hear the alleys I cut through, the buildings I enter on one side and come out on another, and the other tricks I use to throw anyone who might be following me. So I'm more pissed than worried when I spot her leaning against a building, stretching, 20 minutes later.


The first time I'd seen her, I'd gooped her without thinking. This time I concentrate, making my invisible goop extra strong and last extra long. This is the third time I'm gooping in less then an hour. I ain't never done it that often before. Sweat drips down my forehead. I feel a little bit dizzy. But it's worth it. Whatever she did last time to get out ain't happening again.


I'm only a couple of blocks from home when there she is again, walking my way. No. No. No. She can't be here. It's not fair. I set down on the curb and try to keep from crying. I stick my arms out when she reaches me.


"Okay, lady, you won. Cuff me and get it over with." It ain't gonna do no good to goop her again, and I sure ain't gonna outrun those long legs seein's how I'm feeling.


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"You can put down your arms. I'm not here to arrest you, Tonya. I'm your friend."


She knows my name! She probably knows where I live. The shock hits me like someone jerking your hair from behind.


She sets on the curb next to me. I skitter away. "I ain't your friend!"


She pays the acid in my voice no mind. "I didn't say you were my friend. I said I was yours. It's past eleven. Let's do lunch and chat." She pulls out her phone and makes a face. "This area is a real food desert. I'll take you somewhere decent on my Princess Cycle."


Somewhere decent-my-ass. Typical know-it-all white bitch. She touches her phone and something magic happens that flushes the anger from my mind.


The sweetest bike ever drops from the sky. It's the same shade of green as her costume. It doesn't smash to the ground, but sashays down with a gentle swish. She walks towards it and motions me to follow.


Sweet Jesus, look at them lines. My eyes follow them up and down like a kid's tongue on an ice cream cone.


She checks her phone again. "Have you ever been to a Mongolian Barbecue?"


Mongolian? Sounds Gross. I yank my eyes from the bike and make a face.


"No? And I don't suppose you'd be up for Pierogi Paradise."


Pierogi? What the hell is that! Is this chick trying to gross me out? I cross my arms in front of me and roll my eyes.


"Too bad. It's been a while. How about an all-you-can-eat buffet? There must something there you like."


I untense. I've eaten at those places. I slowly nod.


She's on her phone to the Buffet. I catch random phrases like Private Room, Food Trays, and No, Rapunzel's Not With Her, but I'm licking my lips and reaching out to the bike like it's a stray dog I'm trying to make friends with. I run my hand over it. Is it plastic or metal? Or maybe something altogether different.


Before I know it the chick's on the bike's seat and I'm setting behind her. In a blink we are up in the air. This is so slick! I let out a whoop of joy. She's too tall for me to see over, but the side view is fire. Then I gets an idea.


Can she go past our place so's I can wave to my sister? At first I think she's gonna say no, but she changes her mind and brings us there. I wave to Nellie and ask girl-in-green to get us out of here. I crack up thinking how Nellie's going to try to explain to Mama about her big sister being on a floating bike six stories up outside the window.


Nothing much happens on the trip, but my heart's banging like rain on sheet metal from the feel of the wind in my face and the sky in my eyes. We land, go through a back door, and are hit with the smell of dozens of platters piled high with food. My stomach growls me a warning--don't even think about passing this up. We grab us some food and set down across the table from one another.


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I dig into the Sweet and Sour Chicken. "So what happens now, lady?"


"The name's Cinderella, or just Ella. What happens next depends on you, Tonya."


I snort. "Yeah, right. I don't know what game you're playin', but I don't see you lettin' me just walk out of here."


She puts down her fork, folds her hands in front of her, and looks me in the eye. "I told you that I wasn't here to arrest you. You can walk right out that door if you want to. But please hear me out first."


"You have no idea how much trouble you have gotten yourself into. You've committed two felonies. The first is for robbery. You're young, and you didn't hurt anyone, so a good lawyer might be able to get them to take it easy on you."


She picks up her fork and takes a bit of some salad. Most of the stuff on her plate are fruits and vegetables. But there is some chicken and maybe fish too, so she's no vegan.


"Your real problem is using your superpower while committing a crime. That makes it a Federal Offence. And a felony. Maybe your goop didn't hurt anyone, but there are villains who fire lasers, heat rays, and lightning bolts. The law is very tough on bad guys with powers."


I swallow and pause. I hadn't really thought about that.


"Now let's say I let you go. Maybe I convince the other Princesses that you're a good kid who's just made a mistake and that they should leave you alone.


"But we're not the only heroes, you know. Prairie City is our home, so the others give us a certain amount of space, but if we don't take care of the garbage in our backyard, they'll step in. Now Beauty can be a bit--shall we say--enthusiastic in her work, but she's an angel of mercy compared to someone like The Noose of Justice or Kid Sadist."


She pauses and points. "Don't stop eating. I'm not trying to scare or upset you. I just want you to understand the ramifications."


I take another bite of a barbecued spare rib. Somehow it doesn't taste as good as it did before.


"Anyway, they're the good guys. They play by the rules, at least most of the time. They'll get you behind bars and forget about you. That's if you're lucky.


"There are some very nasty people out there, Tonya. Crime bosses, evil geniuses, would-be alien invaders, and more. They wouldn't think twice about hurting you, or threatening your friends and family, especially your little sister, to get you to work for them."


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I slam by fist on the table. "They damn well better not. Anyone tries to hurt Nellie and I'll rip their heart out!"


She lowers her voice. "And so it goes. Violence begets violence. You use your power and kill someone. The gloves come off. Good guys, bad guys, the police, the Feds--everyone comes after you. It's not a pretty picture."


I'm scared, and angry, and nervous. My hands start to shake. She pats me on the wrist. I forget to pull away.


"Maybe there's another way."


She gives me a wink, sets her phone on the table, and gives me the stay quiet sign.


"Hello, Beauty. Is this a good time? Thank you so much. Beauty, you briefed us on something a while ago, but I'm a bit fuzzy on the details. Let's say you wanted to help someone out who made a bad choice and used their powers to commit a felony. But no one was hurt. Isn't there a way to get them released to my custody?"


The voice that comes through the speaker is a higher pitch than Cinderella's.


"Hello, Ella. Yes, there is, but you should not use it. I repeat, you should not use it. Ella, you know I love you, but you are too kindhearted to think straight sometimes. You would be putting your life in their hands. If they robbed a bank, if they killed someone, you would be the one held responsible. You would go to prison. In this state, you could even be executed."


Cinderella clears her throat. "Thank you, Beauty. But let's imagine that I decided to do it. The someone is 15 years old, a single-parent child, poor grades, bad neighborhood, and so on."


A sigh comes from phone. "Why do I even bother? Ella, I have butted heads with you enough times to know that there is no arguing with you when you believe something is the moral thing to do, so I will not go there. So if someone is the product of a bad environment, get them out of that environment. Homeschool in a different home. I can design a curriculum to get them caught up. It will be grueling: eight hours a day, six days a week, plus two hours mandatory extracurricular activities: chess, weightlifting, martial arts, gymnastics. In three years they will have their high school equivalency, read above their grade level, be at least a brown belt, learned self-discipline, and mastered a number of real-life skills."


I'm about to tell that bitch on the other end of the phone what she can do with her homeschool away from home when Cinderella gives me the signal to stop.


"Thank you, Beauty. Let me think it over. I'll talk to you tonight."


She disconnects a heartbeat before I explode, waving my arms in the air.


"That smug, arrogant bitch! Might as well put me in chains and whip me any time I give a wrong answer, while we're at it. Yes, Mam. Thank you, Mam. Anything else your little samba can do for you, my White Savior?"


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Suddenly Cinderella is besides me, one hand around my mouth, the other arm pulling me out of my chair. Lord that girl is strong. She doesn't even seem to notice my struggles as she spins me around to face her.


"That's quite enough. Being angry is fine. Maybe I'd be angry too in your place. But you don't get to badmouth her. You don't know what she's been through, what any of us have been through. Beauty is Beauty. You give her a problem and she will always solve it the most logical, efficient way. But that doesn't mean we have to follow her suggestions."


We set back down to eat. I rub my arm where Cinderella had grabbed it. She frowns.


"Sorry if I squeezed too hard. You know, some of her ideas really aren't bad. We all do weight training and martial arts. Don't write something off just because Beauty said it."


She sets down and starts eating. I do the same.


"Tonya, would you be willing to go back to school? Not the school where you've had problems, not homeschool in your apartment, but maybe we could rent a place in your neighborhood and bring in a couple of teachers."


I stick my fork in the lo mein and start to twirl. "Look, I get that you're tryin' to help, but I ain't going somewhere that's just me and some white chick teacher, assumin' you can get someone. I'd go crazy!"


She stops and rubs her chin. "What about if it was you and a few of your friends? And if I got a Black teacher?"


"What's your angle?" I put down my fork and stare at her. Why are you pushin' so hard?"


She gives me that dope smile again. "I told you, Tonya, I'm your friend. You do things for friends."


"Did my goop get in your head and do something to you? Or do you have a White Savior complex, too? Anyways, I wouldn't want just a couple of friends, I'd want a posse, Say fifty."


"15? That's more than I was expecting. But maybe we could manage that."


"Not 15, 50!" She gives me a look that says she doesn't believe I have that many friends.


"I suppose I could settle for less. Like 30."


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"30? I just can't see being able to make that work. There would be lots of behind-the-scenes deals we'd need to do. The more people we have, the more complicated it gets. 30. 30. I'm sorry, Tonya. I'm a superhero, not a miracle worker. Could you possibly settle for 20?"


My stomach does a flip. I don't understand why she wants this so bad, but if I stick to my guns, she may walk away. And there would go my leverage to pull other favors. I make a big show of hesitating and very, very reluctantly agreeing.


"Whew. Things looked bad there. I thought everything was going to fall apart. Let's get some more food before it gets cold."


I ain't going on about everything we talked 'bout. She has her ideas. I have mine. But she listens and is willin' to be talked around to my way of seeing things. Not all of the time, but some of the time.


"I had forgotten negotiating was so difficult," she stretches her arms, "I'm glad that Snow and Beauty usually handle it. Let's get you home and we'll wrap this up tomorrow."


We're back on her bike and heading home when we both notice something wrong. Traffic's a real mess down by the river. We set down to a two car accident. It's not good. There's glass, blood, and a body past the cars. Not good at all. Everyone has their phone out. Some are talking. Most are taking pictures.


Cin looks into the cars, checks the body, and runs back to me.


"Tonya, I need you to do something. I have to take care of that boy over there. Use your goop on everyone in those two cars. Slow down their bleeding until help comes."


"Yo, Cinderella. No can do. I've already gooped three times today. I'm beat."


She grabs my shoulders with both hands. This ain't the Saint Cindy I seen earlier. This is a mama cat protecting her litter from a pack of hungry dogs.


"There's no time for this. Tonya, you have two choices. One side is everyone who's ever told you you're worthless and can't amount to anything. The other side is your magical superhero friend. Choose. I have to try to save him" And then she is off.


I don't know why I even bother, but it doesn't feel right to not even try. I feed my goop into both cars and keep it there when it wants to fade away. My eyes start to get blurry, so I close them. I upchuck all the food I had just eaten, so I'm dirty and I stink. My head starts to pound the way it does when you drunk too much. But I keep at it until someone starts to shake me.


My eyes are still blurry. My stomach tries to heave, but there is nothing there to come up. There's a weight on my shoulders and I seen someone had thrown a coat over them. Cin pulls me into her. "You did good, Tonya. They're going to be alright."


Something seems wrong about her voice, but I'm too spaced to think straight. It's not until the rush of wind slaps my face I realize we're on her bike in the sky. I feel her arm holding me.


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Then a plane appears out of nowhere and swallows the bike. The hatch closes and she leads me to a bench, and holds me next to her on the seat.


The plane sets down, the door to the cockpit opens and out walks the smokingest lady I ever seen, dressed like Cin, but in white. Now, Cinderella is fine, but this chick is so hot the asphalt must melt when she crosses the street. I'm not into girls, but for her I'd be willing to switch teams. I just stand there, my mouth open like a goldfish.


Her eyes go wide, she sprints to us and grabs Cin's hands. "Ella, what's wrong?"


"This is Tonya." She points at me. "She helped me at the accident scene. She needs to get cleaned up. And I, I couldn't save him. He died in my arms."


She throws her arms around the super hottie and buries her face in her shoulder. "He wasn't wearing a seat belt and was thrown through the windshield. I tried to save him, to stop the bleeding, but I couldn't. And he was scared, Snow. I could see it in his eyes. He was so very scared. And then he was...gone."


I don't think of this till later because of my brain being fried staring at the lady in white, but it's kinda funny. You see these supes on TV and you don't give no thought to what they must see and what it must do to them. Its not all zooming through the air and giving folks a whomping.


The woman in white hands says something, and hands Cinderella a tissue. Cin nods, wipes her eyes, and uses another to blow her nose. They both turn an' look at me.


"Ella, she's really sensitive to my beauty. Take her to the showers and get her cleaned up. She's closest in size to Rapunzel. I'll get her civvies for you."


The splash of soap and water washes me back into me. It's like waking up from a dream, a really, really badass dream. The ice on my brain is melting. Cin hands me a towel and some mouthwash when I'm scrubbed.


"I'll wash your clothes and return them to you tomorrow. Rapunzel's spares are the best we can do. I'll pin them so they fit a little better. When you're dry we'll go down the hall and I'll heat up some food for you."


I stop when we hit the end of the corridor. Damn-it-all! We're underground in a cave as big as a football field. This is double bat shit! I must really have been mojoed to not see it until now.


In a mite bit we're settin' in a small break room. I grab a roast beef sandwich and a piece of chocolate cake. Ella puts a bowl of fruit on the table. Her phone rings. She answers.


"Hello, Rapunzel. Did Snow put you up to calling? It was rough, but I'm okay now. I'll tell you more tonight. Yes, she's with me. All over the news? They're calling her Molasses? Hold on."


She turns to me. "Tonya, apparently you're Prairie City's newest superhero. One of the EMTs said it was like moving through molasses when they approached the cars, so they've named you Molasses. Is that okay with you? Well this is certainly going to make fixing the bank job easier. Beauty and Snow should be able to whip up a story about how you weren't really robbing that bank but were on a secret mission. Wait. Rapunzel's talking again."


"Yes, 'punzel. Of course you can meet her. She's wearing your civilian clothes right now. You can come with me tomorrow when I drop off her clothes and get back yours. Love you. Bye."


She hands me her phone. "Do you want to phone your mother? She might be worried. I hope it's okay for me to bring Rapunzel. She's the best! And she's so funny!"


I start dialing mama and stop when I see the look on her face.


My stomach drops. "What's wrong?"


"I'm just realizing something. Even if we make the bank job go away, it's still going to be rough for you to go back to school. Everyone will soon know you're a superhero. Would you be willing to take that deal I offered you on a special school for you and your friends? It's your choice, but I really think you would be much better off."


I think it over. I ain't had much use for school, but someplace special for me and my peeps would be nice. And there would be no Julio Lopez or Roger Carmen. And I'm sure the place would have heat in the winter and AC in the summer. And I can't believe I'm thinking this, but I'm getting to like Ella.


"Okay. I'll do your school under one condition."


She looks at me very serious, like she's afraid of what I'm gonna ask. "And that would be ..."


"Once a week you come by and take me for a ride on that crazy bike of yours!"


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