Empowered: Act 1, Part 2
Hey, everyone! We’re back with Act 1, Part 2 of Empowered! For those of you who enjoyed the first part, I think you’ll like this one even more. We’re getting in to the real meat of the story, with old friends and new loves being introduced. And it’s my hope that the story will take you back to the simpler (although perhaps not better) times of high school. I know it’s evoked some memories from me, and I hope it’s the same for you. Let’s begin!
The pair of friends walked through the entrance, the doors having already been propped open. As they did, the reality of school starting again hit them like a tidal wave. Images of times past and times to come rushed through their minds, but all Carl could think was, ‘Our year’…I hope.
After the sensation of nostalgia subsided, Carl and El made their way on to the sign-in line; the teacher seated at the table in front of the gym entrance had the glamorous job of monitoring the attendees. As the two stood there, Carl managed to overhear a name uttered to the teacher, and immediately his stomach felt as if a boxer just unleashed everything he had.
The voice was cold and metallic.
“Thank you. You’re signed in. Remember, if you leave, you can’t come back in.”
“The horror,” the student replied. Carl could only image the dickhead ‘roll of the eyes’ move that accompanied this.
As the student stepped off the line and in to the gymnasium, El moved in front of the desk.
“Hello, and welcome to the Senior Mixer. Name please?” said the man to El in a dry, hanging drawl that seemed to go on for an eternity.
“Doc Drain! Drain Train! How was your summer?” El exclaimed, much more enthusiastic than he should be.
“Really?” El said, slightly disheartened. “I had you for Honors Bio last year.”
“Star of the lacrosse team?”
Breathing in deeply and letting out a disappointed sigh, he responded, “Elcsum Gray,” and without missing a beat, he added, “And this is my lovely date, Carlita.”
“Fuckin’ hate you,” Carl muttered to El under his breath while shaking his head slightly.
“Thank you,” Mr. Drain Winters, better known as ‘Doc Drain’ to his students, replied as he scribbled down El’s name on to the sheet in front of him. In a tone drier than the Sahara, he continued, “You’re signed in. Remember, if you leave, you can’t come back in.”
“Okay,” El remarked in agreement as he stepped out of the way.
Carl then moved to the front; it was his turn to deal with the good doctor.
“Hello, and welcome to the Senior Mixer. Name please?”
“Thank you. You’re signed in. Remember…”
“If I leave, I can’t come back in. Yeah, yeah. I got it.”
Not paying any attention to Carl, Drain finished, “…if you leave, you can’t come back in.” Seeing no need to acknowledge that last statement, Carl walked away from the table and towards El. Before making their way in, they could once again hear “Hello, and welcome to the Senior Mixer” with a flat, dreary inflection that hadn’t changed and likely never will.
“Come on, bud,” El said to Carl as he patted him on the shoulder, “let’s rock this.”
Within minutes, Carl’s prediction had come true, with the exception that music wasn’t yet playing: El was being his usual charming self, and people were huddled around him as witty anecdotes, pithy comebacks, and exaggerated tales of the summer flew at them left and right.
Carl stood, drink in hand, and nodded.
He nodded a lot.
When someone else finally spoke, El pulled him to the side and reprimandingly whispered, “You look like a friggin’ pigeon! What the hell are you doing?”
“I don’t know, man. Participating?”
“By making it seem that your head is too heavy for your neck to support it?”
“You were dominating the conversation. What the hell you want me to do?”
“Fine. I’ll set you up, and you knock it down. Be cool!”
Stepping back in to them semicircle of classmates, El interrupted and said, “Carl just reminded me of the greatest thing that happened this summer. Tell ‘em, bud!”
Christ, that’s the goddamn set up? Carl thought. Never one for improvisation, Carl decided to do what he does best.
Carl then brought a balled-up fist to his mouth and cleared his throat.
“I gotta go to the bathroom.”
Turning promptly and making a beeline to the lavatory, Carl could overhear El. “Classic Carl! Always leaves ‘em wanting more, right?”
“Stupid!” he mumbled to himself. “Stupid, stupid, stupid! ‘I gotta go to the bathroom,’ that’s the best you can come up with? They’ll probably call me ‘Crapper Carl’ or some shit from now on.”
Leaning in with his shoulder to push the bathroom door open, Carl angrily threw his drink in the trash, placed both hands on the cold porcelain sink, and stared in to the mirror.
“Be cool,” he said to his reflection. “You got this shit.”
He unscrewed the left faucet and let it run for a few seconds. He cupped his hands, collected some ice cold water, and splashed it on his face.
“Alright,” he said once again to the mirror, “don’t be a social retard for once.”
Drying off his face and exiting the bathroom, Carl, with a strong, deliberate gait, made his way back to the dance. As he did, he noticed someone else reaching for the door as well.
It was a girl.
“Oh, my bad,” he replied as he pulled the door open and stepped to the side. “After you.”
With a smile and a ‘thank you,’ the girl walked in, and Carl followed shortly after. Not immediately, however; he wanted to give himself a moment to cock his head downward and score a quick glimpse of her backside.
Making his way back to El, he gave him a punch on the shoulder to get his attention then promptly grabbed a loose piece of his shirt to drag him over and out of earshot from anyone around.
“Ow!” El whined while rubbing his shoulder, “What the hell, dude?”
“Oh, stop crying. It’s not my fault you’re not as durable as you are strong.”
“I’m fragile. Like a beautiful angel. Now what’s going on? You made us both look like a couple of jackasses when you left.”
“They probably forgot I was there two seconds later,” Carl replied with a roll of his eyes, “and I bet you just told ‘em the story of you and Flame to get the attention back on you anyway.”
“Well, she was most definitely…”
“ ‘…hot and bothered,’ ” Carl said, hastily finishing El’s anecdote, “Yeah, I know, I know. Listen,” he then jerked his head to the left to draw El’s attention to the girl he had just met, who was now standing off in the corner and taking pictures of the event, “do you know who that is?”
The girl, roughly 5’2” with dirty blonde hair, thick black frames, and a petite figure, was holding a large, professional-looking camera, complete with a strap around her neck for safe-keeping. A stranger to both Carl and El, they both looked upon her in awe.
“No clue, man,” El replied. “She must be new.”
“I held the door open for her earlier.”
“Holy shit! How hard did she blow you after that?”
“Fuck off. I’m just sayin’, I kind of have an in. Think I should go talk to her?”
“I mean, it’ll be tough since you’ve gotten rid of the pencil ‘stache and corn rows,” El joked, “but best of luck anyway, man.”
“You’re one to talk. I remember frosted tips and a pizza face not too long ago.”
“It wasn’t that…”
“Connect the dots, lah lah lah lah,” Carl began singing while pointing to different spots on El’s face, “connect the…”
“Just go over there!” El barked with a push, wanting both help out his best friend, and, more so, end the ridicule.
“Alright, alright! Chill!”
Carl, after stumbling slightly from El’s shove, regained his footing and nervously walked over to the girl he had met a few minutes prior. He sidled up next to her, but she was too busy taking pictures of the students and the surrounding area to notice.
“Ah-hem,” he said, clearing his throat.
“AH-HEM,” he said again, even louder.
Noticing the disaster-in-the-making, El gave a nudge to his portly Asian friend and said, “Hey, Brainstorm, do me a favor and TK a little tap on that girl’s shoulder by Carl.”
“You got it, man.”
With a raise of his right hand and a twitch of his left eye, Brainstorm sent the tiniest of prods to prick the girl’s left shoulder. Her attention was immediately turned to where Carl was standing.
Seeing both her and El looking his way at the exact same time, he caught a glimpse of his best friend shooting him a cheesy smile and a ‘wink-and-the-gun’ before looking away.
I coulda done it myself, El, Carl thought, annoyed.
“Um, hey,” was her only response to Carl after turning his way.
“Hi. Hey. Yeah.”
After a moment that felt like a millennium, he shot out his hand perfectly straight and parallel with the floor.
“Carl. Is my name.”
“Hi,” she said with a curious smirk while stretching out her hand to meet his, “Spore is mine. Um, thanks again for holding the door open for me.”
Carl, thinking two steps ahead of the conversation, didn’t directly respond to her statement and instead followed up with, “I, uh, haven’t seen you around here. You new?”
The girl gave a slight nod and answered, “Yeah, my parents moved here from North Cali at the beginning of the month. My dad got a new job in the area, so…here we are.”
She didn’t sound overly enthused.
With a half smile, he replied, “It’s nice to meet you.”
Smiling back, she responded with a curious look on her face, “Thanks, you, too…‘Carl,’ you said?”
Before she could ask the follow-up question that always accompanied whenever he told someone his name, he quickly asked, “Spore, huh? Plant manipulation I’m guessing.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s nothing great, really…”
“Ha, I’m sure that’s not true,” he said playfully.
“Judge for yourself,” she responded. She then pointed out a window and said, “Here, I’ll show you. Keep an eye on that tree.”
Dropping her arms to her side, Carl noticed her brown eyes shift to a bright green as she tilted her head to the left.
“Look,” she said.
Now cocking his head to look outside, he saw the top branch on the large oak begin to move; the smaller branches on it contorted to form what looked like fingers. The branch then slowly went up and down, mimicking a wave of the hand.
“That’s pretty cool. I mean, there are a lot of crazy things you can do with phytokinesis. You ever try chemical manipulation and activate any recessive mutation or release pheromones or anything like that?”
With a fairly impressed look on her face, Spore replied, “You sure seem to know a lot about plant biology.”
Carl spent a lot of his free hours reading everything he could on different powers, researching if there were any others out there like him and the possibilities of trying to trigger any latent abilities he might have.
“I read a lot” was his only response.
“Oh, okay. But no, not really. That kind of stuff takes years to develop. My grandma had the same power set, and she was teaching me a lot, but she passed a little while ago.”
He was silent for a second then responded, “Yeah, that’s the worst.”
Carl never knew what to say to people in grief.
“Uh…yeah. Well, anyway, what kind of ability does ‘Carl’ imply?”
This never gets any easier.
“…I actually don’t have any powers.”
“When the doctors did the ultrasound, they didn’t see anything on the monitor. They thought it was a fluke; my mom actually went to two other hospitals, and yeah…nada.”
“I’ve never heard of that before.”
“Ha,” Carl said with an uncomfortable laugh, “no one has.”
“I’m…” she paused for a moment, then finished, “I’m really sorry to hear that.”
“I manage,” he asserted with a shrug, implying falsely that he accepted his fate. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never get pushed over the edge and in a moment of intensity have fireballs come out of my hands or something.”
Spore furrowed her brow and gave him a quizzical look.
“I, uh…I’m really into sci-fi.”
Deciding to shift gears quickly, Carl gave a quick upward flick of his head and asked, “So, what’s with the camera?”
“Well, when my parents and I came in to enroll the other day, I asked about anything in photography since I’m really into it. It was always something I liked to do, so I was told to take some pictures of the dance for the yearbook.”
“Real quick,” she said while bringing her camera up to her face, “smile!”
Taken off guard, Carl hadn’t had time to form a normal-looking smile. The end result looked more than a little awkward.
Looking at the preview on her camera, she cocked her head back and gave a full-bodied laugh.
Carl couldn’t help but notice how pretty she looked.
“I’ll be sure to get you a copy. But, um, not to be rude, I really need to get back to the assignment.”
“Yeah, right, definitely. Definitely,” he said, nodding a lot once again.
Stop nodding, goddamnit!
At this time, the principal took to the stage that the theater crew put together earlier that week. A microphone and stand were in tow.
The feedback echoed through the gymnasium, causing everyone, including Carl and Spore, to turn her way.
The principal, a fit black woman draped in purple and much younger than one would expect a principal to be, held the mike in both hands and declared, “Thank you all for coming! I hope you’re all having a great time! For those of you who are new, my name is Ms. Hawkins; hopefully we’ll never have the pleasure of meeting in my office.”
A modest laugh resonated through the room.
“And I apologize for the delay; the band…” she then shot an annoyed glare at the two men standing in the doorway, “…got a little held up. But they just arrived and will be ready to rock your socks soon, so get ready!”
Quickly walking off the stage, Ms. Hawkins approached the two tall, thin men, both wearing matching olive green leather jackets and dark brown corduroy pants.
“Remember to keep it clean,” she said with a mild sneer and an angry forefinger in their faces. “I know the reputation you two have. And we’re not paying in full considering you showed up a full hour late.”
“Do you know how far away Sicily is, love?” the one man piped.
“What?” she asked, befuddled by the remark.
“Don’t listen to him,” the other man advised. “The money won’t be an issue. But if we could request some help bringing our equipment in, that’d be fantastic. The sooner it’s all set up, the sooner we can go on.”
“Fine” was her only response and she promptly turned and began to march away from the two men.
When she was only a mere ten steps away, the one man turned to the other and cackled, “Bit of tight ass that one is, don’t you think, brother?”
“I heard that!” she snarled.
“I said it loud enough so you could, love!”
Back in the gymnasium, Carl was looking down at his feet in anxiety. Collecting some nerve, he began to ask Spore, “So, um, I know you got this assignment and all, but maybe after you snap a few more pictures and the band starts playing, I was thinking…”
Silence for a few seconds as he continued to gather his courage.
“Oh,” she replied, slightly taken aback, “um…I mean, I’d like to. I really would. But I really need to be taking more pictures. I want to make a good impression, ya know?”
“Yeah, word. Word,” he awkwardly replied, hands now in his pockets. The nodding recommenced.
There was a pause for a moment.
STOP! he screamed in his mind.
“Cool, cool, cool.”
YOU’RE GOING TO DIE A VIRGIN!
“But hey,” she said, “it was really nice meeting you. I’ll see you around, alright?”
“Yep, yep!” he agreed, forcing a big, toothy smile.
Sweet Jesus, did you have stroke at some point?
“See ya around!” he exclaimed with a quick wave of his right hand.
God, I hope I don’t see her around.
TO BE CONTINUED
Oh, Carl, Carl, Carl. We’ve all been there, though (well, all us guys, anyway). Cute blonde girl with a booty? How can any man resist? Although, let’s not forget the immortal words of Bell Biv Devoe: Never trust a big butt and a smile. But who knows? It may just work out for the best.
And also, look who’s back! If you were confused at Giovanni’s comment at the end of Wood You Be Mine? (“There are other worlds than these.”), now you have an idea. How did they get here? Well, that I’m not quite ready to reveal, but you will see them interact with Carl next week. And hey, they’re always fun, right? See you then (and hopefully on Facebook or Twitter as well) for Act 1, Part 3 of Empowered!