What superhero runs away from danger? The whole idea of a superhero—aside from a great line delivered in the middle of a robbery, the definition of a hero is someone who gets someone else killed—is someone who runs into danger.
Remember, though, that I remain a failure at the actual hero thing. I might be getting better at being a spy, but a superhero? Not so much.
I really needed to find some means of defending myself that I could actually master so that I’d have some kind of option other than running away. Or hiding. Especially since this guy knew what I was capable of and so hiding as a child or old man or anything was out of the question. I needed something, anything, fast…
Clayton leaned against the wall, trying to catch his breath. The guard was relentless, but then again, this went far beyond shoplifting. He was not going to stop. He knew that Clay could be an old man or a child, and he was looking for him to switch. Clay stuck with a teenage form all through the mall, knowing that went best with the population and kept him looking like a shoplifter or vandal that the guard was after—but Brady and whoever that was with him might already know that this was him, and everything would be ruined then.
Clay dug out his cellphone, pressing a button and making the call. “April? Are you anywhere near the mall?”
“Oh, yeah, the Praxis exams that I had to take merited retail therapy,” she muttered, and he could see her rolling her eyes.
He leaned out, looking behind him for the guard. He didn’t see anything, but that wasn’t much comfort. “Don’t ask me why Brady felt the need to meet with the other man in the mall. I just need to know if you’re close enough to get me out of this or if I should call Larabee.”
“Out of what?” She demanded, her whole tone shifting. “Clayton, is everything—What is it? Are you hurt? Did Brady spot you? Tell me where you are. I’m coming to you right now.”
“I’m not hurt, but I probably will be. That security guard spotted me—I had no idea his day job was at the mall, or I would have been more careful and kept an eye on him, too, or just given up the surveillance thing today because I didn’t even want to spy on Brady, but—the guy is like a dog on a scent and won’t quit. And he knows what I can do, so he’s not going to be fooled if I try and blend in with any of the kids or the old people or anything.” Clay took another look, cursing when he saw the guard. He started running again. “I left the mall, started down a few blocks, but he is still after me, and I think he just saw me again. Damn it.”
“Okay,” she said, and he heard her keys jingling on the other end of the line. “I’m coming to you. Let’s see—there’s that crappy restaurant by the mall that—”
“I don’t really think hiding is going to work.”
“Clayton, you’re not a marathon runner. You won’t outrun this guy, either.”
Looking behind him, that was all too true. The guard was gaining on him. “I know, but he knows to look for me at any age and—”
“Restaurant or the bank. The bank might have security that could protect you, or it could work in his favor. It’s kind of up to you,” she said, and he knew she was thinking out loud. “They tore down that building on the corner, so you can’t hide there… We need something that’s going to keep you out of trouble, you know.”
“I tried self-defense. I was very bad at it and ended up with a tentacle.”
“The park is on the other side of that block. I think I can make that, and I can try blending in with the kids,” he said, liking that plan a lot better. He could shift into a little kid now, before he got there, and then no one would know that he was anything but a little kid there to play. “Yeah, I know, he could still catch me and hurt me, but he’s going to get in a lot of trouble if he does because he’d be going after a little kid.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Clayton passed the ball over to the other little boy, looking around for the guard. He didn’t think he’d really lost him, so where was he? Why was he hiding? Or was he staying away and waiting for Clay to think it was over? If he did that, then he must figure Clay would go back to being an adult and that he could get away with hurting him or something. Or worse.
Clay was waiting right here for April, though. He wasn’t risking changing back until she was here and he was able to get into a car that was moving away from here very fast. He didn’t know how long it had been since he shifted to this form, but he was relatively safe here, with the other parents watching their kids and bound to react to any strange man—even one in a guard uniform—harassing another child. As long as Clay didn’t have a random shift—and he’d been lucky so far without one—he would be fine.
He figured that thought had just jinxed him, and so he sighed, distracted enough to let the other kid hit him with the ball. “Ow! What was that for?”
The little boy smirked, and Clay almost went after him, but a voice stopped him, grabbing him by the hand. “No fighting.”
He looked up at April, and she was doing her best not to look at him. Admittedly, this was awkward. Almost everyone here must figure that she was his mother, and the implications of that were kind of unpleasant. Not that she was his mother, but she had to hate having everyone think that she was because it was too creepy. She was supposed to marry him, not be his mother.
“But I was going to say I think he might be waiting for me to leave and—”
“The car is right here. Speaking of cars, you really have to get your own again.”
“I can walk everywhere fine most of the time,” Clay said, shrugging. “And public transportation has its issues because of the random shifting—which technically makes driving a bad choice, too. I don’t know. I hate feeling so… helpless.”
She stopped and looked at him. “You’re not helpless. Sometimes running is the smart thing—and shift back to your normal age—I feel weird having a conversation like this. I’m not going to lecture you like a mother. That is just—”
“Creepy. Agreed,” Clay said. He looked for the guard again. Nothing. He wasn’t sure it had been long enough, but he didn’t really want to stay a kid, either. She could get him in the car if he did it a little too soon. Clay made sure he was as out of sight as possible and did the shift. “Better?”
She nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him in for a kiss. “I was worried about you. We have to do something about this. And about Brady. He called me, actually, when I was talking to you. I can’t believe him.”
“I hate him, but we might need to be cautious there. We don’t know how much he knows, and maybe we shouldn’t tip them off that we know.”
She made a face, and so he distracted her by kissing her again. He was relieved, feeling much better now that she was here. He could relax, and they could meet up with Larabee and make some kind of plan.
“Oh, look, the freak has a girlfriend.”
They broke apart, looking at the guard. So he had been waiting. Not good. Clay looked at April, and she jingled her car keys. Right. She could unlock it remotely, and they could both be inside and on their way away from the scary man in no time.
“I love you.”
“And I should get hazard pay for this,” she muttered as she pushed the button and they both ran for the car.