Empowered: Act 2, Part 3
I’ll start right off and apologize for the interruption in posts. I won’t lie: I’m pretty disappointed in myself for missing last week’s, but my allergies were absolutely wrecking me, and I assumed everyone would rather wait a week than be treated to a subpar entry. I suppose I’m my own toughest critic, and I try to keep entries as regular as possible. So to try to compensate, this week’s is extra sized for your pleasure.
Before we start, a special thanks to dear friend Amy Chen and her suggestion of getting some Allegra to battle the allergies I was having. And now the return of Empowered, which is back and better than ever.
It was impossible for Carl to sleep that night, so after hours of desperate tossing and turning, he decided to leave the house just barely after the sun rose and go on a drive to clear his head and empty his thoughts. He had no idea where he was going; the only thing that he knew was that he had to go somewhere. Anywhere.
Following the road for about twenty-five minutes, Carl came upon a local park and decided it’d be as good a place as any to pull over. He got out and sat on top of his car, letting the cool, crisp morning air circulate in through his nose and out through his mouth. The act was therapeutic and helped him to relax slightly.
Try as he might, his thoughts were still plagued by Spore and the desire to talk to her. I wonder what she’s doing right now. Is she thinking of me? Maybe I should te…
A sudden noise of rubber against asphalt was able to divert his attention away from her and towards a pair of young boys playing a game of one-on-one on the basketball court about thirty yards away. As they played, the Hispanic teens, clearly twins, were using their powers to try to get the better of one another.
He recognized them as Fahrenheit and Celsius, ninth graders from his high school. While they played, Celsius would freeze his brother’s feet in place, and Fahrenheit would overheat them to melt the ice and regain mobility. They went back and forth like this: Body parts were frozen and singed in good fun as the boys played their game, using their hands to funnel their powers.
Carl looked at his own hands and then, for no logical reason, he outstretched his arms towards the grass, shut his eyes, furrowed his brow, and concentrated on channeling some sort of power.
“Never gets easier,” he mumbled as he looked again at his ineffective hands, unsure of what he had expected to happen.
He then glanced back towards the two boys, and after doing so, despair was replaced by a feeling of déjà vu. Initially confused, he had to comb his memories until he finally pinpointed what it was: The night of the dance, the night he met another pair of twins. A much different pair of twins. The guys with the weird names and ambiguous powers who talked about Carl’s name and Carl’s power – or lack thereof – and their words suddenly rang in his ears: ‘Maybe it’s not that it doesn’t mean anything; maybe it’s that it could mean anything.’
“The hell did that even mean?” he muttered to himself as he leaned back on the windshield of his car. It was strange; he hadn’t thought about them or that conversation since that night. Every time he thought back to that dance, the first and only thing he would think of was meeting Spore.
Now the brothers’ words had a sharp poignancy to them. Just as he thought he had found what ‘defined’ him, just as he began to feel special in some way…it all threatened to disappear forever.
He began to realize that there are few things worse than having a taste of something you’ve always wanted only to have it ripped away.
Carl sat on his car for a few minutes more as he watched this second pair of brothers attempt to outdo each other. When one froze, the other thawed. When one burned, the other cooled. Carl couldn’t help but note the harmony of it all. Fire and ice in perfect balance.
Hearing the door to the house open as Carl returned home, Insight came in to the hallway while still holding the plate she was drying. “Where were you, Carl? I was getting…”
She then caught eyes with her son and saw the sadness in him. He always exuded a sense of perpetual loneliness, but since he started dating Spore, this had been muted. But right now, it radiated off him like heat from an oven.
“Oh, hon, I’m so sorry,” Insight replied sympathetically as she herself became overwhelmed with that feeling of heartache. “But if you decide you want to talk about it…”
Carl stood in place for a few seconds and stared at the ground. Finally, he muttered a hollow “Thanks” and continued along his way, up the stairs, and towards his room. And with the towel she had been holding, Insight wiped her eyes and went back inside the kitchen, wishing Carl would just let her in for once.
As Carl neared his bedroom door, he heard a squeaky voice behind him before he could reach for the doorknob.
“What’s good, little man?” Carl asked unenthusiastically as he barely turned his head to face his younger brother.
“Do you wanna go to the comic shop with me?”
“Yeah, not today, buddy. Sorry,” Carl replied as he turned back towards his door, went in, and slammed it shut.
“Okay,” Mesmer murmured to himself before walking downstairs and in to the kitchen.
Having overhead the discussion, Insight kindly told her son, “I can take you a little later, hon.”
“It’s okay, mom.”
“You sure, sweetie?”
“Yeah. Thanks, mom.”
Giving her son a weak smile, she added, “I’m glad you didn’t use your powers to force him to go.”
“I didn’t wanna have to force him,” Mesmer whispered as he opened the refrigerator door and took out a gallon of milk.
Insight looked on as her youngest poured himself a glass of 2% and sipped it half-heartedly.
Carl was able to exercise enough self-restraint to go all of Saturday without contacting Spore, despite every waking moment being filled with thoughts of her, and by Sunday morning, teenage melodrama had fully sunk its claws in to Carl and had no intentions of letting go.
What am I going to do? How am I ever gonna find someone like her again? I won’t. If I don’t have her, I’ll have no one. I’m losing her. I need to get her back before it’s too late. If I don’t have her, I’ll never have anyone again. No one like her. She’s perfect.
As he laid sprawled out on his bed, Carl jerked his head up and looked at the calendar pinned to his wall. “How the hell long is ‘a few days’ supposed to be?” he asked himself out loud.
He grasped his phone firmly in his right hand; every time it vibrated, his held his breath for a moment until he saw if it was her or not.
True to her word, Spore remained silent.
That weekend had marked the first time since becoming ‘official’ that they had gone the span of an entire day without speaking. Carl couldn’t help but wonder if she realized this like he did, and he couldn’t help but wonder if it bothered her as much as it bothered him.
While he was in the midst of drowning himself in in melancholy and misery, a sudden succession of booming knocks on his door brought him back to his senses.
*thunk* *thunk* *thunk*
“Carl, you in there?”
“What is it, ‘Ris!”
“Can I borrow your car?”
“She’s out! Let me borrow it; I need to go to the library.”
“I might go somewhere later; take the bus,” he answered back, blatantly lying, just not being in a generous mood.
“Are you serious! You might go somewhere? What the hell kind of shit is that!”
“Go away, ‘Ris!”
“Nice to know getting dumped turned you in to an even bigger ass than usual!”
“She didn’t dump me! We’re on a break!”
“Yeah, uh-huh,” she sneered back. Then taking a moment, she flashed a quick glimpse through her brother’s wooden bedroom door to see if she could spot the keys. The first and only thing she was able to focus on, however, was the pained expression in his face.
She hesitated for a moment, deciding to pick her words carefully as the faintest echo of her own former love blew in and out of her thoughts. With an entirely changed tone, she replied softly, “It’ll make you stronger, baby brother. And it gets easier. I promise.”
“Just go away,” he answered, his voice heavy with exhaustion.
Iris walked away as her brother asked while Carl continued wallowing in his room, his depression now even worse after bickering with his sister. Her words made it sound like things were already over.
They’re not. I’ll prove it, Carl thought, and in a moment of weakness, he brought his phone to his face and sent out a simple ‘Hey’ to his estranged girlfriend.
The minutes felt like hours until he received a response back. And when she finally did respond, it was a succinct ‘Hi.’
‘How r u?’ Carl typed back eagerly.
Her response: ‘I thought we agreed not to talk for a few days?’
Carl grimaced. I guess she’s not too bothered after all.
‘I know,’ he typed in to his phone, ‘but I just wanted to see how u are.’
‘I’m fine. U?’ she responded tersely.
‘Good,’ he said, his second barefaced lie of the day.
Spore felt it best to leave the conversation at that as Carl foolishly waited for a text back.
On that bitter Monday morning in late January, Carl couldn’t remember a time where he felt like going to school less, and considering his high school career thus far, that was saying a lot. His legs, which inexplicably used to feel full of jelly at the thought of Spore, now felt of lead, as if his body were rejecting the act of walking through the school entrance and seeing her that day.
“What am I going to do in Enviro, man?” he whined to El as the two sat in homeroom.
“Listen, she said for you guys to keep your distance, so do just that. Yeah, I know it’s gonna suck, but show her you can be a man about it. Pretend like you don’t really care. Act like everything’s fine. She’ll be upset that you’re doing so well without her. By tomorrow, she’ll call off the break. Trust me. Make her think that you don’t need her, and she’ll want to prove otherwise.”
Carl didn’t respond with words, just a quiet grunt of acknowledgement.
“And thankfully we’re picking new lab partners today,” El continued. “Ock can be yours this semester, and he’s more than capable of keeping you preoccupied.”
“You’re not gonna be partners with me?” Carl asked, irked.
“I already told Glacier that I’d be hers. Plus…”
“Plus you wanna fuck her.”
“I wanna fuck her, that’s correct.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“I already promised her, like, a month ago, and it’s not like Ock isn’t your friend. You know that I’m always here any time you need me, except for 45 minutes every sixth day when we have lab.”
“Yeah…yeah, I know. Thanks.”
“Any time, man. And it’ll be alright. Chin up, okay?”
“Yeah…chin up,” Carl repeated quietly.
The first day of the new semester was not unlike the first day of the year: Teachers discussed their syllabi and what was expected of the class, seats were assigned, and, in the case of gym class, students were able to choose which unit they’d prefer to be in.
“Alright, everyone, you know the drill,” Mr. Woods called out to the dozens of students seated in the bleachers. “Form a line and pick a sport; it’s all indoor activities for the next couple months, so you have volleyball, badminton, mat sports, and cooperative learning to choose from. As always, it’s first come, first serve, so get to it.”
The students all got in line, and Carl, who normally waited until after Wing picked his elective, paid no attention this time around; his mind, understandably enough, had been elsewhere all day.
Jotting his name down for ‘mat sports’ (Whatever the hell that means, he thought to himself, uncaringly), Carl dragged himself back on to the bleachers to stew in his depression.
Wing, ever observant, was sure to take note of what unit Carl signed up for. Wing had no compulsions to not be in Carl’s class. And Wing knew full well what ‘mat sports’ entailed as he wrote his name on the same sheet Carl had written his moments ago.
Walking up the bleachers and past Carl, Wing, with a smile akin to that of the Cheshire Cat, simply stated, “See you for dodgeball, Imp.”
Carl shut his eyes and angrily shook his head, partially blaming Spore for distracting him.
When the bell for the second-to-last period rang, Carl felt dread drape over him like a heavy wool blanket. Going to this class was the last thing in the world he wanted right now.
He walked in to A142, and he noticed that, as usual, Spore wasn’t there yet. He sat in his normal seat and just waited.
Although he tried forcing himself not to, every time he heard the door open, his head would immediately shoot to the left like a dog who saw a stray animal on his master’s lawn. And when the inevitable moment occurred where Spore walked in to class, she caught eyes with Carl for only a moment. Hastily looking away, she continued walking to the other side of the room to sit next to Decibel.
Carl’s mind once again wandered back to the happier times he longed for.
Two months ago:
“Happy two months, sweetie.”
“Happy two months, cutie.”
They both then took a sip from their glasses; hers filled with iced green tea and his with Dr. Pepper.
“I got you something,” he said as he pulled a small white box out of his pocket and placed in gently in to her eager hands.
“Aw, you didn’t have to.”
“Really? Alright, I’ll take it back,” he joked as he reached for the box he had just given her.
“No! Mine now!” she exclaimed with a playful smile, bringing the box to her chest. Opening it up, her smile broadened ever more. He had gotten her a necklace with a golden shamrock pendant.
“I remember you saying something up liking plants, right?”
She smiled back at him, “It’s beautiful. Thank you, Carl.”
“It’s the best I could do on a bus boy’s salary, but I’m glad you like it.”
Looking at him with those big brown eyes and through her black-framed glasses, she replied, “I love it.”
“Here,” he said, gesturing that he wanted her to hand him back the necklace, “let me put it on you.”
She handed it back to him, and he carefully unclasped it as she leaned her head forward for him to fasten it around her neck. Before she could lean her head back, he gave her a soft, tender kiss on the lips.
“You can be sweet sometimes, you know that?” she said.
“Just don’t tell anybody. I got a rep to maintain.”
“Oh, yeah. I’m sure the guys at the comic book shop would be mortified to hear that you kissed a girl. Isn’t that against nerd law?”
“You just think you’re so funny, don’t you?”
She shrugged her shoulders and beamed, “Yep!”
“So you’re okay that we went here, right?” Carl asked, changing the subject of the conversation.
“Oh,” she said, “yeah, no, it’s…it’s fine. That other place was probably too expensive anyway.”
“Yeah, plus I looked online, and the menu was kinda crappy. What the hell is baba ghanoush anyway?”
She let out of a smirk and said reassuringly, “It’s fine. Friday’s is…” she paused for a moment and looked around the restaurant, seeing the pin-striped servers, tacky memorabilia gracing the walls, and overweight patrons ignoring their screaming children.
“…it’s kind of our place, I suppose.”
“Exactly,” he replied, not picking up on the mild disappointment in her voice that she tried to hide.
“Thank you again for the necklace, Carl. It’s beautiful. And you really didn’t have to.”
“Anything for you, sweetie.”
Spore smiled at him and took another sip of her tea.
When class eventually started, Doc Drain instructed the students to do as they had done months ago and pick a lab partner for the remainder of the year. “No pressure,” he added as he had done before.
As discussed, El partnered with Glacier Green, while Carl paired up with Octane, and Spore with Decibel. After a few minutes had passed, Doc Drain indicated for the students to take to their seats as the day’s lesson was about to begin.
With his left arm propped on his desk, Carl rested his head on his fist as Doc Drain’s words breezed past him, only managing to catch a stray one here and there as he was lost in his own thoughts, trying to mend his fractured relationship.
El’s gonna bitch me out about it, but I gotta talk to her after class. Just remind her of the good times. Stir up some feelings that she has to still have, and she’ll realize how much she missed me and how stupid this whole thing is.
And yeah, fine, she’s upset that I never do anything that she wants to do. She feels neglected or something. Alright, so from now on, we do everything she wants to. Problem solved.
There. Figured out what I want and what I need to do. Took all of five minutes. If that doesn’t work then…
“…evolution. Mr. Freeman?”
“Huh?” Carl replied, snapping out of his daze.
“Am I boring you, Mr. Freeman?”
“No, sorry, I just…”
“Do pay attention. You won’t have Ms. Summers as your partner to rely on this semester.”
Doc Drain’s words were a knife in Carl’s heart. He closed his eyes, looked down, and forced himself to mutter a simple “Sorry, sir.”
Spore looked sympathetically at Carl. The last thing she ever wanted was to see him hurt.
Waiting until the teacher’s eyes were diverted from his direction, Carl discretely held his phone underneath his desk and typed out a message to Spore.
‘Can we talk after class?’
Carl could hear the faint *bzzz* *bzzz* from all the way across the classroom. He didn’t turn her way; instead, he focused with his peripheral vision to try and catch her reaction.
Her noticeable exasperation didn’t fill Carl with much joy, but as she turned to look at him, her reserved head nod gave him a pang of false hope.
Despite El’s objections, Carl waited for Spore in the hallway outside of A142. As she exited, she approached him with trepidation; she didn’t want to say anything to the boy to hurt him anymore than he already was.
“Hey,” she said.
“Just like old times, right? Talkin’ outside here.”
“Carl…” she started.
“I miss you. And I don’t like not talking to you.”
“I don’t like it, either. I really don’t, and I’m not just saying that. But I said we need to take a few days to figure things out.”
Carl was quiet for a moment then stated, “I have figured it out.”
To Carl’s surprise, this visibly irritated Spore, who responded, “Have you? In three days, you’ve figured everything out?”
“From now on, we can go to that one restaurant you wanted to go to, and then I’ll go out and rent you whatever movie you want. All that stuff. Whatever you want. I promise. Okay, sweetie?”
“You don’t get it, Carl. You’re looking at the surface problems and not the deeper ones.”
“Please, I need time. We both need time. Give me some space, okay? Just like a week or two.”
Carl was silent.
She began to walk away, but stopped herself to add, “And please don’t text me. I won’t respond.”
She slowly turned her head back and continued on.
As Carl watched her wander from him, he noticed her neck was bare.
TO BE CONTINUED
Teen drama and high school go together like hamburgers and French fries, but as common as it is, that doesn’t make it suck any less, does it? We’ve all been there: Angst, depression, heartache. Fun times, right? Got a story of high school to share? Post it on my Facebook page or shoot me a tweet. Or even if you have a random compliment, complaint, suggestion, or criticism, I’m all ears. I’m especially interested in knowing if the extra week was worth the wait.
As always, thanks for reading. See you in a week (I promise this time).