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The Greatest Good

Jed Sabin is an IRB-approved scientist by day and a mad cocktail scientist by night. They get all their best writing ideas while driving home from playing hockey.
"I think I might be developing superpowers," says Ronnie.
Dana looks up from her cereal. "Really? Hon, that's great!"
Ronnie shrugs. "I mean, I'm not sure yet. We'll see. But I'm thinking about what I'd want the suit to look like, just in case."
"Oh, gotta have the suit," Dana agrees.
Ronnie's thinking copper trim. She's not sure about the main color yet. Maybe green, or navy blue. She picks up some fabric swatches to test out different combinations.
Every time she goes to the gym, her weights and reps inch up. It could be normal. She's been going more often, it makes sense. It doesn't mean she's special.
She jumps in the air, and for a fraction of a second before she comes down, it almost feels like she's hovering.
Green and copper has been done to death. She'd better go with the navy.
"Watch this," says Ronnie. She jumps in the air and slowly floats down.
Dana gasps. "Whoa!"
"It's real, right?" Ronnie asks anxiously. "I'm not imagining it?"
"No way," Dana assures her. "It's definitely real. Aw, babe, I'm so happy for you!" She hugs Ronnie tight.
Ronnie rests a hand on the small of her back, a little dazed. "Well," she says. "I guess I'd better get busy."
She decides to go with dark grey. The copper will really pop against it, she thinks.
She commissions someone she finds on the internet to sew it based on her sketches. They've never done a superhero suit before, but Ronnie likes that. She doesn't want her suit to look like everyone else's. She wants it to be fresh. This person has done plenty of the right kind of clothes, mostly for dancers--skintight, eye-catching, easy to move in. It should be perfect.
It's not perfect. It's what she asked for, pretty much, but it's not what was in her head.
Maybe she should try it in navy after all.
Navy doesn't work either. Ronnie gives up on fresh and hires someone who's done suits before, then gives up on that and tries to do it herself. Then she has four suits, she's not happy with any of them, and she's spent way too much money.
"I liked the navy one," says Dana, trying to be helpful.
Ronnie sighs. She's tried them all on a dozen times, and the person in the mirror isn't who she needs to be. She doesn't look like a hero or an icon. She's just Ronnie in a catsuit.
She can hover indefinitely now, and her strength has outgrown the gym's dumbbell selection. There's no doubt in her mind anymore that she can be a superhero. No doubt at all.
"Help!" cries an old lady across the street. "My poor Mr. Whiskers!"
Dana raises an eyebrow. Ronnie shakes her head. She doesn't want to be wearing jeans and a Knicks tank top the first time she uses her powers in public.
"You're gonna just leave her there crying about her stranded cat because you're not wearing the perfect clothes?" Dana demands.
Ronnie looks over at the cat. It's completely fine, hanging out on a branch and looking a little taken aback by all the fuss. "It's not even that high up," she points out. "I bet it could jump from there."
"You know what, I'm gonna hit the drugstore," says Dana. "I'll see you at home." She doesn't wait for an acknowledgement before walking away.
Ronnie sticks around until someone else gets the cat down. It's not another superhero, or even a firefighter or anything, it's just some guy standing on a lawn chair. See? No big deal.
"What is it you even want?" Dana yells through the bathroom door, twenty minutes into a fight that started at the other end of the house. "You picked the first prom dress that fit you, for god's sake! Why the hell is this outfit such a huge deal?"
"Because prom didn't matter!" Ronnie yells back. "This matters! Helping people matters!"
"How am I supposed to believe that helping people matters to you when you're so hung up on your neckline?"
"Nobody ever made a god damn Wikipedia page about prom!" Ronnie screams, and bursts into tears.
The door slowly swings open. Ronnie looks away, trying to swallow her sobs. She feels Dana's hand on her shoulder and grabs it hard.
"It's gonna be fine," Dana says, the anger gone from her voice. "You don't have to be perfect on day one. Just save a cat in your jeans, okay?" She squeezes Ronnie's hand. "You can cement your legacy some other time."
Ronnie buries her face in Dana's shoulder. "I'm sorry," she says, muffled.
Dana rubs her back. "Let's get to bed," she says. "You're not in any shape to go around saving anything tonight."
Ronnie picks the navy one. She can always change her mind later. She keeps it in her bag and notes the nearest bathroom everywhere she goes, in case she needs to duck in and suit up.
Two weeks later, a hurricane hits their neighborhood in the middle of the night. Ronnie wakes up to the sound of screaming and races outside to see a telephone pole fallen on someone's house.
In the morning, the news stories all show the same picture: Ronnie lifting the pole up into the air, surrounded by crackling electricity, wearing neon green striped underwear and an ancient My Chemical Romance concert T-shirt with the neck cut out.
"Iconic," says Dana, setting it as her lockscreen.
"Thanks," says Ronnie dryly, and puts on her jeans to go give the construction crew a hand.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 28th, 2020


I wrote the bulk of this story ten months ago, got frustrated with it because it wasn't coming together perfectly, and put it down. Last month I reread what I'd written and laughed at myself: the ending my character obviously needed was permission to not come together perfectly.

- Jed Sabin
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