When seventeen-year-old Mark Potts fell from a balcony, he lost both the use of his legs and any faith in heroes. Now twenty-nine, he’s long-since come to terms with his injury. His job provides more opportunities for eye-rolling than for riding to anybody’s rescue, but with two kids to bring up, he barely has time for his husband, much less for heroics. Besides, Starr Bradford is a policeman -- how many heroes does one family need?
Mark and Starr love each other madly, but stress management is a load-bearing pillar of their happiness. When Mark’s coping skills fail him at exactly the wrong moment, he’s left hanging by a thread of words he should’ve kept in his mouth. He has the power to repair their relationship, but when Starr’s workday suddenly goes south, will he get to wield it? Keeping it together long enough to find out is a job worthy of any superhero!
His little red, white, and blue heart swelled with pride to see civilian first responders hailed as heroes in the aftermath of September 11th. For a period he boasted of his own resurrected dream to become a firefighter, and he took a CPR class at a local rec center lest he be called upon to save any lives in the interim. Then a cousin -- a strapping, toothsome, country cousin from his mother’s Nebraska hometown with a great big butt and a brand new baby -- joined the Army, and Mark’s first glimpse of his photo, taped to the fridge one Saturday morning after the mail came, set his path in stone: he was young and bright; he was swimming and working out and getting stronger; he would become a soldier. He would serve his country with honor and pride, and see if he couldn’t save the world in the process.
After a summer spent rigidly enforcing the rules at a local pool, he’d ransacked the Army surplus store, and wouldn’t press anything against his rapidly booming body that wasn’t desert camouflage except for the two hours on Sunday he spent in his church suit. He shot from five-six to five-foot-eleven in less than a year, packed on forty-five pounds of chest and shoulders, and by the time he was sixteen he swaggered through life as if the only thing standing between the world and Peace American-Style was his eighteenth birthday.
By spring break of his junior year it was all but a done deal. The death of his cousin on his fourth day in Afghanistan served only to bolster Mark’s resolve. After school on his birthday in September, he’d enlist. He’d go ahead and graduate if they wanted him to, but he’d be in Basic by the following summer at the latest, and it couldn’t come fast enough.
His parents didn’t even flinch when he mentioned a gang of guys going up to his buddy Jeremiah’s family cabin in the mountains over spring break. Mark was the most strait-laced and responsible person either one of them had come to know -- if they worried about him at all in those days, it was that he wasn’t screwing around enough for a kid his age. He hadn’t pierced his ears or dyed his hair or gotten a tattoo (that they knew about); and, except for that one time in the eighth grade, he’d never smoked -- not cigarettes, not pot, not cloves in a coffee house. On weekends he drank cheap supermarket beer out of the back of Jeremiah’s truck, got buzzed but not blitzed, and occasionally brought off one or another of his willing buddies in his jeans.
He was nobody’s party animal. He certainly wasn’t any kind of King of the Keg Stand, but everybody else was doing them on the cabin deck that night, and by then Mark was actually pretty drunk, an unfamiliar and not entirely unawesome feeling. He had a core of steel and he was coordinated enough -- obviously Bobby Klinkerman was tanked, but holding a guy’s legs while he chugged from a keg wasn’t exactly akin to operating heavy machinery.
There were twice as many versions of what happened next as there had been dumbass teenagers on the deck. Mark had no memory of the fall; he had no idea if it was anybody’s “fault” that he’d tipped over the railing, and what could it possibly matter if it was? What would he be, less paralyzed? He remembered clambering up onto the keg. He remembered half-gagging on a nose full of beer. He remembered waking up in hell.
He remembered that when he most needed one to swoop in and save the day, there wasn’t a hero to be found.