The story, in three acts, of what it’s like being in high school when everyone but you has a super power.
Decibel. Octane. Wavelength. Hourglass. Paradox. Not a random collection of words, instead these are the names of the people of this world. A world with a similar past and present as ours, except for one key difference: Everyone here is born with a superpower.
You’ll meet Spore. You’ll meet Wing. You’ll meet Elcsum and Iris and Mesmer and Insight.
And you’ll also meet Carl.
Carl doesn’t have any superpowers.
Carl’s a mutant.
“I don’t want to go to the fucking dance, alright, El?” Carl screamed in to the phone. “It’s a dumbass dance for a bunch of kids to grind up on each other to shitty music from ten years ago!”
“I don’t know how you can say that out loud and not think it’ll be an awesome time,” the voice on the other end of the line answered back. “What are you afraid of? You have absolutely nothing to lose. Come on. Get dressed and I’ll come pick you up.”
Letting out an annoyed sigh, Carl responded, “Just go yourself. I’m not gonna have a good time. I won’t ask any girls to dance, and they won’t ask me. So what’s the point? I can stay at home and have the exact same experience, except I won’t have to put pants on.”
“You’re not wearing pants right now?” El asked after a momentary pause.
“Go without me.”
“I’m coming to get you. You need to come out of your shell. Senior year starts in two days. It’s our year. Let’s start it off right.”
El chuckled, “You’re cute when you think you have a choice.”
Closing his eyes and throwing his head back in defeat, Carl replied, “You’re comin’ no matter what I say, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Now for the love of God, put on some pants and meet me outside in ten minutes.”
“Fine. Alright. See you in ten.”
“See ya soon, bud.”
Doing as El requested, Carl started getting dressed. He dug through the pile of clothes on the floor of his closet; shirts and pants and socks and boxers flying in every corner of the room until he finally found the pair of jeans he was looking for. Bringing them up to his face, he let out a sniff to see if they were safe to go out in.
Breathing in, he hesitated for a moment as the scent lingered in his nose.
“Good enough,” he said to himself as he apathetically put them on. Now moving over to his dresser, he opened the top drawer and grabbed the first button-down shirt he could find. It was crimson red and about three years old, but it still fit him well enough. A little tight, perhaps, since he got it before he started working out, but still wearable. After fastening the buttons on the shirt except for the top two and rolling up his sleeves, he trudged down the stairs, the image of how the night was sure to go running through his head.
He imagined standing next to El as his friend charmingly made conversation with girls and guys alike while he stood there like some leech who’d shrivel up and die if detached from his side. And that was the best case scenario.
“Ma!” he yelled while crouched down in the hallway closet looking for his sneakers, “I’m going to the dance! El’s gonna be here in a few minutes to pick me up!”
“Okay, baby angel, have a good time! And call me when you get there!”
Carl closed his eyes and shook his head. He was 17. He didn’t need the nickname ‘baby angel’ anymore, and he definitely didn’t need to call her when he got to the dance.
“Ma!” he yelled again, “Why do you need me to call you? The dance is at the school, where I’ve been going every day for the past three years without callin’ you!”
“I just worry, honey! Have a good time playing with your friends!”
“We’re not ‘playing,’ ” he muttered to himself.
“What was that, young man?” his mom rejoined, her tone less ‘sweet’ motherly and more ‘mother’ motherly.
“Nothing, ma’am,” he sheepishly replied back. Carl often wondered if his mom’s, known as ‘Insight’ to everyone else, real power was super-hearing. In actuality, she had the power of empathy, which Carl knew all too well. She could sense your thoughts and feelings as if they were her own, making her overly emotional and sensitive to everyone around her. Couple that with a mother’s natural inclination to be protective of her child, and you could only imagine the kind of overbearing anxiety she had towards him and his siblings.
And although deep down he knew that it’s better to have a mother who worries too much as opposed to one who doesn’t worry at all, Carl still sometimes toyed with the idea of slipping a Xanax in her morning coffee.
Finally finding his sneakers, Carl wedged his feet in (he never bothered to untie them), dug his finger in to the back of each to bring up the flap that was now crammed between his heel and the shoe, and stood up to leave. As he grabbed the cold metal doorknob, he let out a quiet sigh and muttered to himself, “Here we go.”
He was already regretting this.
Carl stood outside, hands in his pockets, gazing at the night sky. He attempted to whistle, but all he was able to produce was a wet sputtering noise as spittle came flying out of his lips.
After a few minutes of waiting, Carl finally heard that familiar *swish* sound followed by a loud *thunk*.
This continued about five or six times until El ultimately landed right in front of him. As he did, he whipped his shaggy blonde hair to the side and out of the way of his brilliant blue eyes.
El, short for Elcsum, had the power of super-strength. Every muscle in his body was a hundred times stronger than normal, and, as such, his legs were powerful enough that he could leap to fantastic heights.
“Hey there, little buddy!” El said with a big grin on his face. “Ready to go?”
Carl hated ‘little buddy’ almost as much as he did ‘baby angel.’
“Does it matter?”
“Nope!” El replied as he grabbed Carl and they shot off in to the air. When El said he was coming to pick you up, he meant it literally.
Carl really wished his sister hadn’t borrowed the car.
“This is always degrading.”
“Oh, stop being a baby. We’re going to have fun tonight!”
Carl, knowing he really was sounding like a baby, resolved to be positive about the situation. El was right; he was being a downer. Acting like that will only guarantee having a crappy time.
“Fine, I’ll be nice and happy for the rest of the night. I promise. Here: Big smile for ya!”
Carl then opened both his mouth and eyes wide to give El a creepy, clown-like smile.
El winced and remarked, “I hate it when you make that face.”
“What face?” Carl asked, his smile even wider, his bright white teeth glistening in the moonlight.
“I have absolutely no issues dropping you.”
“You’re just uncomfortable because of all our sexual tension. But seriously, I’m still not sure why you wanted me to go.”
“What? Because you’re my best friend! Why wouldn’t I want you there? And…”
El opened his nostrils wide and sniffed.
“…and what’s that smell?” he asked, once again wincing.
Carl began to think maybe he should’ve put on a different pair of pants.
Changing the subject, Carl asked, “So, umm…who’s all gonna be there?”
“Errrrbody gonna be there! And I’m glad you got dressed up for it,” El replied, mocking his shirt. “Baby Gap have a half-off sale?”
“Psh,” Carl replied, “I love this shirt. Haters gonna hate.”
“Well at least it shows off your new build. Little Carl putting on some muscle over the summer…”
“…I can hear the ladies dripping from all the way up here.”
“Jesus Christ, El…”
“…we’re here. Look alive, bud!” El said, followed by a pat on the back that was a little too hard, causing Carl to stumble forward.
“Dude, you really, really need to remember to hold back more.”
“Hey, Muscles, sorry! I thought you could handle it.”
“Love you, too. Also, do me a favor and, every instinct you have, do the exact opposite of that.”
“I’m here, ain’t I?”
“Fair point. Aight,” El said, “time to get our groove on.”
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.
Licking his wounds, Carl began to slink away. And El, seeing his friend with that all-too-familiar blank stare of disappointment, edged up to comfort him.
“So what happened, killer?” El asked, throwing his right arm around Carl’s shoulders.
“Ah, shit, you know, man. Same ‘ol story. She’s afraid I’d be too much man for her and all that. My cock’s just way too big.”
“I hate it when that happens!” El yelled, throwing back his head. “Come on,” he then gave Carl a slap on the back, “I’ll buy you a drink.”
“You mean the free punch on the table over there?”
“Someone’s salty!” El exclaimed jovially. “Better make it a double.”
“I don’t know, man,” Carl sighed, his voice heavy with regret, “I think I’d rather just kinda head back.”
“It’s only been twenty minutes! Don’t be a bitch,” El chided.
“Oh, shit! I’m a bitch? Now I totally want to stay here and hang out with you.”
“Ah, sarcasm. It’s a wonder why you’re not more popular,” El quipped with a slightly annoyed smirk.
“Whatever, man. You stay; I’ll walk home.”
“You sure? Come on, man. Mingle. The music hasn’t even started yet!”
“Nah, I’m tired anyway,” Carl lied, hoping it’d get El off his back. “Call me tomorrow, alright?”
Accepting defeat, El finally acquiesced to Carl. “You got it, brotha,” he said, half-heartedly.
The two shook and brought it in for a slight hug and parted. “Later, man,” Carl replied as he began to walk away.
“Later,” El responded, saddened to see his friend go.
As Carl began his exit in to the main hallway, he turned back once more to see Spore, still snapping away, and El, who, within seconds, was already in the middle of getting a number from a tall Indian girl whom he didn’t recognize. Carl was always baffled at how easy El made it seem.
He briefly paused, holding the heavy metal door slightly ajar. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply in and out through his nose, turned, and finally walked out.
While moving towards the exit and past the sign in table, all Carl could hope for was to get home in time to watch something decent on Adult Swim. Hopefully, it’d wash the taste of this night out of his mouth.
“If you’re leaving, you can’t come…” a dull, flat voice began to say.
“I know!” Carl yelled as he continued towards the front door. But before he could get very far, he was stopped by Ms. Hawkins, who was unable to find a teacher to help out the band.
“Excuse me, you there!” she called out.
Turning around to see who it was, he met eyes with the principal, who responded, “Oh, Carl, it’s you. Great! Do you have a quick second to help the band set up? They’re running late enough as it is, and I want to get them on stage before everyone starts rioting,” she said with a slightly forced laugh.
“I actually wanted to…”
“Oh, perfect, thank you!” she said, hearing what she wanted to hear. “No good deed and all that, right?”
With a heavy sigh, Carl responded, “Yeah, right. Sure.”
Visibly relieved, Ms. Hawkins replied, “You’re a lifesaver. Listen, I need to get back inside, but they’re out in the parking lot.” Rushing towards the gym entrance and back to chaperoning, she exclaimed, “Thanks again, Carl!” with her voice trailing off as she ran.
Walking outside and making a right towards the parking lot instead of a left to go home, Carl, annoyed, resolved to help these two as quickly as possible and just head the hell back to his house. Seeing the two men with their van filled with equipment, he approached them and unenthusiastically muttered, “Hey, Ms. Hawkins told me that you guys needed some help.”
The two men turned around simultaneously, and Carl was surprised to see their identical features: Both men had shoulder-length brown hair, bright copper-colored eyes, and thin faces painted with three days worth of stubble. They only difference appeared to be which side their hair was parted on.
“Thanks, kid,” the one brother said, “What’s your name?”
“Hello, Carl. I’m Giovanni; this is my brother, Giuseppe.”
“That’s…interesting. Um…” he began, intrigued by their names.
The brothers stared at Carl as he toyed around with something that he was clearly hesitant to ask.
“What can you two…do?” Carl finally blurted, fully understanding the irony of his question.
Part of him was hoping they could do nothing.
With a big grin on his face, Giuseppe, who was clearly elated that Carl had asked that question, exclaimed, “Well, we rock all the boys and girls as the world famous…” he then paused for effect, threw back his head, stretched out his arms, and finished with “GEMINI BROTHERS!”
Carl turned to Giovanni, “Why is he yelling?”
“It’s…” Giovanni then sighed as he closed his eyes and rubbed his face with his hand, “it’s just what he does.”
“Anyway, what I meant was your names don’t describe your powers like everyone else’s.”
Raising his left eyebrow, a befuddled Giuseppe, who up until now was still staring upward with his arms outstretched, brought them to his side and met eyes with Carl. His question to the boy was a mere “What?”
“Your names,” Carl said, speaking more slowly and in a somewhat condescending manner, “what do they mean?”
“Hm,” Giuseppe pondered, “I don’t think we follow.”
Carl shot them a confused look and asked, “How don’t you know how it works?”
The two men turned to each other and shared a smile. Giovanni turned back to Carl and simply replied, “Humor us.”
A look of uncertainty pranced across Carl’s face, but he did as he was asked and explained, “Okay, well, as most people know, before you’re born, doctors are able to detect your power set, and your parents or whoever name you based on that. Like, my brother can hypnotize people, and he’s named Mesmer, and my sister can produce different kinds of EM waves out of her eyes, so she’s called Iris.”
“Giovanni, did you know that?”
“Of course I knew that, Giuseppe. Did you know that?”
“How wouldn’t I know that? Carl, did you know that?”
What the fuck is going on?
“Sorry. It’s just for a second, I thought…”
This never gets any easier.
“…you were like me.”
“Like you how?” questioned Giuseppe
“I…” he breathed in and then let out of heavy sigh, “I don’t have any powers.”
“Are you sure?” Giovanni asked.
“Are. You. Sure?” he asked again, more deliberately.
Mockingly, Carl responded, “Pretty damn sure, man…”
“Maybe you do have powers, and you don’t even realize it,” Giuseppe suggested. “Maybe you have something along the lines of superlative cheese-digesting abilities.”
Carl gave Giuseppe an annoyed stare.
“Lactose supertolerance,” he elaborated.
“Okay, forget it. You two need help bringing this crap in, right?”
“On second thought,” Giovanni answered, looking in to the open van, “I think we can manage.”
“Are you guys for…you know what? Never mind,” he said, throwing his hands up in the air. Facetiously, he added, “Good luck with the show.”
He swiftly pivoted to finally start his long walk back home but was stopped half a moment later.
“Why ‘Carl’?” Giovanni inquired.
Turning his head back slightly, Carl asked, “What?”
“Why ‘Carl’?” questioned Giuseppe this time.
“I really don’t get what you guys are asking,” he said, now completely turned around.
“If your brother is ‘Mesmer’…” started Giovanni.
“…and your sister is ‘Iris’…” continued Giuseppe.
“…then why are you ‘Carl’?” they both finished in unison.
Carl gave a quick, annoyed shrug and hastily responded, “I…I don’t know. My mom just liked the way it sounded. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Again, he tried to walk away but was stopped once more.
“Might be the opposite, don’t ya think?” Giuseppe called out.
“What my brother means is,” Giovanni said, “maybe it’s not that it doesn’t mean anything; maybe it’s that it could mean anything.”
“Still not getting it. Anyway, later. Good talk,” he replied with a sarcastic wave of his hand. He then finally managed to get away, grateful that they didn’t try calling him over for a third time.
Once he was completely gone, Giovanni turned to his brother and said, “At least this one’s not an objektophile, Beppe.”
“True,” Giuseppe said with a nod, “but he’s also not as much fun, Gio.”
Carl looped around the building and started making his trek home. His eyes were pointed downward. His hands were in his pockets. He had that overbearing feeling of depression again.
Upset over being shot down.
Jealous of his best friend.
Angry at himself.
It’s never me. It’ll never be me. I don’t get it. What am I doing wrong? I’m nice. I’m funny. I think I’m good looking.
Whatever. Fuck it. I don’t care.
Fiercely staring at the ground, these thoughts repeated in his head over and again until he got in to his house. He walked in and wasted no time in going up the stairs and collapsing on his bed.
As Carl looked around his room, he saw posters of action stars, statues of superheroes, and bookshelves filled with tales of knights and cowboys and wizards and warriors.
All things he wished he could be.
I hate my life.
The next morning, as Carl tried to sleep his misery away, he was, much to his displeasure, awoken by his best friend who was effortlessly leaping up two stories and shouting in to Carl’s open window.
With a pathetic moan, Carl pulled his sheets over his head.
El took the hint and promptly discarded it.
“What!” Carl finally screamed.
“Guess who I penetrated last night!”
Carl, now face down on his bed, grabbed a pillow to cover his head in an attempt to block out El.
All I want right now is to sleep, Carl thought as he let out a belabored moan.
“That’s exactly what she sounded like!”
“Please fuck off,” he muttered in a muffled voice.
Ignoring his friend’s request, El grabbed the ledge to the open window, thrust his body, legs first, over the sill, and made his way in.
The annoyance continued.
“Carl. Carl. Carl. Carl. Carl.”
“Wha-a-a-a-a-a-t?” Carl whimpered feebly.
“What’s up, buddy?”
It was obvious to anyone that El was dying to brag, but Carl, never having so much as kissed a girl, wasn’t too keen on hearing his friend’s sex story. Had he higher confidence, perhaps things would been different, but as it stood, he was inexperienced and uncertain of himself. But what he was certain of was trying to get El to drop it was futile.
“Alright, man,” he lightly moaned while pushing himself up from a supine position to lean against his headboard, “let’s hear it.”
Eagerly taking a seat on the edge of Carl’s bed, El began to relay what happened the previous night with the vigor and enthusiasm of a Greek poet singing his song around a fire.
“Picture it:” he started, “We’re at the dance, the music’s playing, our eyes meet from across the room,” he then paused for dramatic effect and expanded his arms with his palms opened wide, “and time slows down.”
“Who was it?”
“Explains the part about time slowin’ down.”
“It was very West Side Story.”
“What else happened?”
“Well, I went over to her; we started dancing. I had her slow things down around us a bit more so we could get a few good grinds in before any teacher could come break it up.”
“Gotta leave room for the Holy Spirit, my man.”
“Ha, seriously. Anyway, she then said we should go out to her car, and after that, it was game over.”
“Yeah, man. Her powers made it last twice as long as normal. It was fucking awesome.”
“Oh, so you got to disappoint a girl for an entire minute this time, huh?”
“Best goddamn minute of her life! Anyway, what about you? You never went in to detail with that chick from last night.”
“Uh, her name’s Spore; she’s new. She was there doing a photo assignment or some shit. Wants to be on the yearbook staff.”
“Yearbook staff? Yikes. Geek rejection is the worst kind of rejection. But hey, that’s what you get for trying to steal our womens.”
Dryly, Carl remarked while shaking his head, “Racism’s fun, man.”
“Sure is!” El agreed, tongue-in-cheek. “Anyway, let’s do something!”
“Why do you have so much energy?”
“You know how I get after hooking up! Come on, man; breakfast on me.”
Rubbing his eyes and letting out a yawn, Carl said in agreement, “Wake me up from a nice sleep, goddamn right breakfast on you. Lemme get dressed and see if I can borrow the car.”
“Why? I can just hop us around.”
“I know you can. That’s why I wanna borrow the car.”
“Such a baby. Fine, I’ll wait outside.”
“Aight, I’ll be out in two minutes.”
“Be quick about it; I’m starving,” El exclaimed right before diving head first out the window as if he were jumping in to a pool. As he sailed through the air, he twisted his body upright and landed nimbly on his feet, his specialty shock-absorbent sneakers soaking in the bulk of the impact. Immediately upon landing, El gave a quick hop over to the Freeman family car and glanced in to the window to ensure his hair wasn’t too tussled.
Carl, meanwhile, threw on a solid red t-shirt and black Nike mesh shorts, slipped his feet in to a pair of sandals by his door, quickly brushed his teeth, and headed downstairs to find his mom washing the dishes.
“Can I borrow the car?” he asked his mom, foregoing any ideal conversation.
“And good morning to you, too, young man,” she responded without looking up.
“Sorry, good morning. Can I borrow the car?” Carl asked, purposefully keeping his statements short as he was eager to leave.
“What for?” she questioned, always intent on knowing what her children were doing.
“El’s here; we’re gonna go out.”
“You’re not hungry?”
“He’s buying breakfast.”
“Y’all shouldn’t be fools spending your money like that when we have food here,” she asserted, her voice mild with discontent.
“He offered, and I ain’t gonna say no.”
Growing up poor and being taught to save money, Insight let out a disapproving sigh and responded, “Just don’t get back too late.”
“I won’t,” he said as he made a beeline for the door, grabbing the keys off the kitchen countertop as he did.
“I love you, hon,” she called out to him.
Without looking back, he swung the door open and nonchalantly replied, “You, too.”
Walking outside, he saw El still fiddling with his hair in the window. “You look gorgeous,” Carl quipped, “Come on, get in the car.”
“Sorry about that. You know, I sometimes get lost in my own eyes.”
Ignoring his comment, Carl asked, “You wanna hit up the mall? Grab something in the food court?”
“Sounds good to me. We can also check out the Gap. They probably have one of those end-of-summer clearance sales. Maybe we can get some of those nice tight shirts that show off your chesticles.”
“Mediums fit me weird,” Carl murmured, slightly embarrassed, while turning the key to start the engine.
“Ha! Sure,” El cracked.
El made good on his word and treated Carl to a sausage, egg, and cheese on a biscuit in the food court. Upon finishing, Carl wiped the crumbs from his bottom lip, stood up, and the two headed towards the Gap.
“So how much for me to go in there and ask the lady if she has a pair of jeans with extra crotch space?” El asked, sporting a giant grin at the thought.
Carl wouldn’t get the chance to answer because as they were walking towards the store, he saw Wing Kong, the student who’d been terrorizing Carl for as long as he could remember, walking out.
Wing’s hair, layered, shoulder length, and jet black, was whipped out of the way of his face as he strutted out of the store, though his right eye remained covered. Contrasting the darkness of his hair were the two blindingly white, feathery protrusions sticking out of each side of his back and through the custom slits of his shirt. Currently folded in, at their maximum length, they reached a span of an impressive eight feet.
“Ah, fuck me,” Carl said, shaking his head.
“What?” El asked. He hadn’t yet spotted Wing.
“It’s your little lax buddy,” he muttered. His eyes were now closed, and the sense of impending frustration bore down upon him like a hammer on an anvil.
Looking up to see what he meant, El spotted Wing walking in their direction. With an annoyed glare, El replied, “Dude, you know I hate him as much as you.”
“Whatever,” Carl said, as the two instinctively started changing direction. “Let’s just loop around before he–”
“Look at these two,” Wing mused with a devious smirk. “Hello, Elcsum. And hello, Imp.”
A long time ago, Wing decided ‘Carl’ wasn’t fitting enough of a name and dubbed him with one he felt to be more appropriate: ‘Imp,’ short for ‘Impotent.’
Carl closed his eyes again and tilted his head back in defeat the second he heard that icy, unwavering voice coming from the lean and lithe Chinese-American student.
“Don’t call him that, Wang,” El warned as he and Carl turned to face him.
“So, so clever, El.”
“Dude, anytime, anywhere,” Carl added.
“Like you stand a chance, Imp,” Wing rejoined with a condescending laugh. A rush of power fell over him as he saw Carl’s face contort in to a guise of anger with an underlayer of hopelessness.
Fanning the flames, Wing added, “Honestly, why not do the gene pool a favor and just throw yourself off a building?”
It was hard for Carl to figure out which was worse: What he was saying or the smug look he had while he was saying it.
“Seriously, man,” El fumed, his lividity showing in his face as it turned bright red. “Back. The fuck. Off.”
“Calm down, Elcsum. Carl knows it’s all in good fun, don’t you, Carl?” Wing spouted, mockingly.
Carl’s response was a silent, angry glare.
“I’ll see you two later,” Wing remarked as he glided past Carl on the right. He then added “Take care, Imp” with a shoulder check accompanying the last word.
Feeling flushed with anger, El reached over, grabbed Wing, and jacked him up against the wall, roaring, “I said back the fuck off, Wing!”
“El, I can fucking handle this!” Carl yelled to him.
Keeping a calm composure, Wing merely stated, “Aw, defending your fag boyfriend. How sweet.” And half a second later, before either Carl or El could process it, his wings shot out at full length, and with a single, fierce flap, a small but intense gust of wind was produced, knocking back El and releasing Wing from his grip.
Landing gracefully on his feet, Wing saw no need to acknowledge what had just happened and instead focused on straightening the wrinkles El produced in his new pink Oxford shirt. It was then that a guard started sprinting over and used her abilities to produce a force field to shield off the two warring factions.
“All of you out now! Before I call the cops! You two out the north entrance,” she screamed, pointing at Carl and El, “and you with the wings out the south entrance!”
Wing, without saying a word, turned to Carl to give him a wink and mockingly kissed the air in front of him before floating away.
Carl and El, meanwhile, did as they were told and left the mall in the opposite direction. The two were silent for a full minute, both too angry to speak. The main difference between the two was to whom their anger was directed.
“Don’t let him get to you, man,” El finally said. “He’s the kind of kid whose mommy doesn’t love him or some shit, and he takes it out on everyone else.”
“I could’ve fucking handled it, El,” Carl sneered, not acknowledging El’s remark.
“I know you could’ve,” El agreed, ostensibly. “I just didn’t want you getting hurt.”
“Yeah, great, but I don’t need you to defend me. I’m a grown-ass man; I can take care of shit myself!” Carl’s voice grew loud as he replayed the scene in his head.
“Sorry for helping out my best friend! Christ,” El replied, rolling his eyes.
Carl, now completely stopped in his tracks, screamed, “Did it occur to you that I don’t need your fucking help! You’re not my fucking dad, El!”
El was quiet, his face visible with hurt. Puckering his lips as if to keep in what he really wanted to say, he decided not to further aggravate the situation and merely stated, “You know what? I think I’ll just jump home.”
And before Carl had a chance to respond, there was a *swish* followed by a half-hearted “See you later.”
“El, I…” Carl started, unable to finish his sentence.
Now angry more at himself than anyone else, Carl whipped open the door to his car, got in, and started for home. The drive was devoid of music as Carl focused, deep in thought, about what happened. He hated when El defended him like that. Hated it.
He wasn’t a child; El wasn’t his father.
He could handle things himself.
He was just looking out for you, you fuck, he thought, his emotions now in conflict with one another. What the fuck is wrong with you?
He tried his best to block out his thoughts for the remainder of the drive, but this proved impossible. Pulling in to the driveway, he lingered a moment longer than usual, his head resting on the wheel. Taking a few simple, short breaths in and out, he had to force his hand to grab the handle, open the door, and exit the vehicle.
As he entered his home, Carl’s disposition was palpable. Even without her ability, Insight, who was sipping coffee at the kitchen table, would’ve been able to tell right away that something was wrong. Her son had a tendency to wear his emotions like a sweater.
“Carl, honey, what’s wrong?”
“When will you learn this back and forth won’t ever work on me?”
Turning towards her and yelling, “I don’t know, ma, probably when you learn if I said nothin’s wrong that it means I don’t wanna talk about it!”
Feeding off his emotions, Insight stood up from her seat, raised an angry finger, and snapped back at her son, “You watch your mouth, first of all! Second of all, that doesn’t and won’t ever stop me from trying to help! It’s you who needs to come to terms with that, not me!”
Carl looked down at the ground like a shamed dog. Muttering, he replied, “I’m sorry, ma. It’s just…”
The was a momentary pause as tears began to run down his eyes.
“Why me, mom?”
Insight hugged her son, stroked his head, and they both cried together.
The next morning, after a night where sleep was intermittent and turning your brain off was impossible, Carl knew he needed to text El right away. The wave of raw emotions from the previous night had subsided, and he felt a burden of guilt upon him. Grabbing his phone, he quickly typed out a message in the hopes of patching things up.
Feeling a twinge of relief, Carl put his phone back on his nightstand and stared up at the ceiling. Any time they bickered, they always managed to make up the next day; neither of them wanted to stay angry at the other. There was a love between the two, and it’d take a lot more than that to ruin seven years of friendship.
Lately, however, they’ve been arguing more and more. Carl sometimes wondered if the apologies were just putting a band-aid on a bullet hole.
Carl did his best not to think of it and continued to lay in bed; it was be one of those days where even the idea of getting up to do something felt like it would take all the effort in the world. As he just laid, his mind was deprived of thought, and when he did finally manage to get up, he apathetically watched mindless TV, ate his mom’s leftover tuna casserole, toyed with the idea of working out, ate more casserole, showered, and got ready for bed. They day had gone by in a blink, as most do when you dread the one to come.
As the hours melted away and the darkness of night blanketed the sky, Carl was once again laying on his bed. Closing his eyes, he mused about how the only silver lining to tomorrow was that it marked the start of his final year of high school. Each day there would just be him going through the motions, and as he looked back on previous years, he found it impossible to pinpoint individual days. The past three years felt like an amorphous blob of a memory with nothing special or distinctive about it.
He never tried to kid himself in to thinking that he’d someday consider these the best years of his life.
*err* *err* *err* *err* *err* *err* *err* *err*
It felt like Carl had only been asleep for moments when his alarm clocked ripped him awake. Slamming the snooze button with the open palm of his hand, he hoped to get a few more minutes of rest in before having to get up.
Like a banshee, Insight howled, “Get up, Carl!”
This, it turned out, was a pipe dream.
“Mnmnmnnnnmn…” he moaned.
Using what felt like all his strength, Carl sat up in bed, shifted to plant both feet on the ground, and began rubbing his face with his hands. As his elbows rested on his thighs, he got comfortable once again and started to drift off.
“Don’t you fall back to sleep on me, young man!” she screamed once more.
Throwing his body off the bed, Carl went through his closet to find something passable to wear; he never had the best sense of style but figured you can’t go wrong with a polo shirt and jeans. After briskly rubbing on some deodorant (six swipes on each side) he slid his arms in to the holes of the baby blue polo, pulled his head through the top, and straightened it out. He chose a faded pair of jeans hanging in his closet; this time he was more thoughtful about its aroma.
Walking out of his room and making left towards the bathroom, he could hear the *wrrrr* of his sister’s hairdryer. Knowing better than to just walk in on her, he instead knocked and asked, “Iris, you almost done?”
“I’M DOIN’ MY HAIR!” she screamed, “GO AWAY!”
“How the hell long does it take you to do your hair! I woke up to you drying it a half hour ago!” Turned his head towards the downstairs, he yelled, “Ma! Tell Iris to hurry up!”
“Iris! Let Carl use the bathroom!”
“OH MY GOD, I HATE THIS HO– USE!” she screeched as the door to the bathroom flung open.
“Then move out,” Carl muttered to her as she exited.
“I wish,” she said with a huff.
As Carl was just about to head in to the bathroom, he heard a high-pitched voice say his name. It was Mesmer, his little brother.
“Hey, little man,” Carl responded as he turned to look at him, “what’s…”
Locking in to Carl’s eyes, Mesmer simply stated, “You wanted to use the bathroom later, right?”
Eyes wide and mouth agape, Carl said in superficial agreement, “Yeah…I, uh, I wanted to use it later.” He then moved out of the way and let Mesmer run in.
The moment Mesmer broke eye contact, Carl violently shook his head and snapped back in to consciousness. “You’re…oh, you little shit!” he yelled, banging on the door. “I’m gonna kill you when you get outta there!”
Mesmer let out a high, squeaky laugh as Carl heard the door lock shut.
Carl moped down the stairs; if the morning were any indication of how the rest of the year was going to be, it was going to be a long-ass nine months.
“Did you wash up, hon?”
“No, ma. You gotta tell Mesmer to stop screwing with me.”
“Mesmer!” Insight screamed without missing a beat, “get down here this instant!”
“Why!” he yelled back.
“Because I said so!”
Mesmer sauntered down the stairs in trepidation; the Freeman children always knew when they were about to get yelled at.
“What did I tell you about hypnotizing your siblings?” she reprimanded.
“It’s not my fault he’s a retard, ma!”
“You will watch your language, young man! Answer the question: What did I tell you?”
Under his breath, Mesmer murmured, “You told me not to…”
“What was that?”
“I said, ‘You told me not to’!”
“That’s right. Now apologize to your brother,” she commanded.
“Sorry, Carl,” he muttered listlessly.
“It’s whatever, little man.”
“Carl, get washed up. We need to leave soon, and I don’t want to be late for work. Iris!” she then yelled to the upstairs room on the far right. “Is Wavelength still coming to get you?”
“Yes, mom!” she screamed back in response. “Just like she did last week and every day last year when you asked! Anything else I can answer for you for the hundredth time!”
“I swear, that child goes off to college and she acts like she’s the damn queen of this castle,” she muttered to herself. In a normal tone, she then added, “Carl. Go do what you gotta do.”
Finally having his chance to get in to the bathroom, Carl reached for the knob but was met with that familiar locked sound.
“I’M DOIN’ MY HAIR!”
The two Freeman boys jumped in to the car, Mesmer up front while Carl sprawled out in the back. After pulling up to Mesmer’s school and, to his horror, asking him for a kiss on the cheek (“My friends are watching!”), Insight left him with the same warning she does every year: The teachers are trained against psychic abilities, so don’t even dare attempt anything. And with that, Mesmer left the car, and Insight proceeded to take Carl to school.
While gazing in to the rear view mirror, Insight inquired, “Carl, baby, you wanna hop up front?”
“I’m good back here.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed, Carl.”
“Are you feeling better?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
“I’m fine, ma.”
The theme of the conversation was curtness, so Insight decided it best to just remain quiet and drove in silence until she pulled up to the high school just as she did the junior high a few minutes earlier.
“Are you okay with taking the bus home?”
“I don’t got a choice, do I?”
“Your grandmother promised you her car for Christmas, remember? You can wait a few more months.”
“I guess. I gotta get in alright? Bell’s about to ring.”
“Okay. Bye, hon,” she said with a soft smile.
“Bye,” he replied back, already halfway out the vehicle.
Carl exited the car, and as he did, the bright sun hit him in the eyes, causing him to raise one hand up to block it while the other hand clung to the strap of his backpack, which was casually hanging off of one shoulder.
Immediately upon entering the school, Carl was amazed by how different it seemed to be from just two days ago. The hallways were crowded with both students and teachers; the air was filled with the sharp, tinny sounds of lockers being slammed and the acrid smells of cheap cologne soaked in to the clothes of incumbent freshman boys.
What a difference, Carl thought as he headed in to homeroom.
“And she was most definitely…wait for it…hot and bothered!” Carl overheard.
Maybe not that different.
Carl walked in and caught eyes with El; their last names were just close enough to get assigned to the same homeroom. The look they shared only lasted a moment, but it was lamentable and spoke volumes as both looked down and away the second it happened. Carl knew things would be fine, but he still felt terrible about the whole situation. For the time being, he decided to pretend like nothing happened and took a seat next to El and another buddy of theirs, Octane, who was one of the few to not yet hear any of El’s summer escapades.
Not that it would’ve stopped El if he had.
“Yo, Octane. What’s good, homie? Haven’t seen you since you left for your trip,” Carl said as the two shared a high five.
Octane, whose mouth always moved faster than his brain, responded with “Oh, so, dude, dude, dude, listen. We went on this trip to, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah,” his hand was now furiously tapping on his desk, “Mexico, and dude, it was like, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, and I met this chick, and I-I-I-I-I…ya know?”
“Nope,” El said.
“But God bless you for trying,” Carl added.
“Dudes, it was just…UGH, ya know? That’s how nuts that shit is. Yeah, so anyway, how was your summer, big C?”
“It was…” Carl began.
“Oh! Oh! Dude! Dude! Dude! Just remembered something crazy.” He then turned and said, “Sorry, Carl, anyway…”
Just then, Octane himself was interrupted as Mr. Woods came in to take attendance. He dispensed with the cursory introduction and then rattled through the names on the sheet to see if everyone was in, using a check mark or an X for yes or no.
“Yo, Ock, what period Honors English you get?” Carl asked.
“Can you check? Didn’t you get your schedule in the mail last week?” Carl asked, confused, but not surprised, that Octane didn’t seem to think to do that.
“Ah, ha, shit, yeah,” he said, then turned to his bag and with blinding speed rummaged around for his printed-out schedule, finding it in a quarter of the time it would’ve taken most everyone else.
“Uhhhh…yeah. Looks like third period.”
“With Ms. Griffin?”
Carl was relieved; this was the same period as him. Knowing a good friend of yours has the same class as you takes half the anxiety out of the first day.
“Nice. I had her last year; she arranges the desk in tables and lets you sit wherever. Can you save me a seat where you’re at since you’re gonna get there before me?”
“My section’s VIP only. Sorry, bitch.”
“Ha!” El let out with an amused laugh.
“Ha, nah, I’ll save you a seat. We got a retard quota we gotta fill anyway. New school policy.”
“Language, Freeman,” Mr. Woods replied absentmindedly while looking down at his class schedules. Turning to his watch, he then called out, “Alright, everyone quiet down for the morning announcements.”
Grabbing the remote on his desk, he turned on the small, sixteen-inch TV that as attached to the top right corner of the wall for the morning report.
“So, Ock,” El asked, “are you not doing the TV production crew this year?”
“I am, why?”
Using his head, El gestured to the TV, which now displayed a lone girl sitting at a news desk for two.
“Hello, class, I’m Vector Diaz…”
“Ah, crap! Mr. Woods, I need to…”
“I remember. I was just waiting to see how long it would take for you to.”
“Word. Alright, see ya fuckers!” Octane replied, and within seconds, he turned in to a blur of colors as his chestnut brown hair flew back. In what felt like no time at all, he went from sitting at his desk in homeroom to sitting at the news desk on the TV, the papers in front of Vector blowing all around her as she shot Octane an irritated glare.
“…and I’m Octane Rivers, everyone, wishing you all a gah-gah-great start to the new school year!” he exclaimed with a big, charismatic smile.
“Never changes, does he, El?” Carl asked.
“I certainly hope not,” he replied.
“Come to think of it,” Carl said while scratching his chin, “he’s not even supposed to be in this homeroom anyway.”
With a smile and shake of his head, El merely responded, “Incredible.”
They were both quiet for a beat, and Carl once again apologized.
“I’m sorry, man.”
“We don’t have to talk about it. It is what it is.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“I’m a big boy; it’s fine. We’re good, okay?”
Carl looked down slightly and nodded. He didn’t understand how El could forgive so readily, nor did he feel that he completely deserved it.
“Now on to more important things: Did you stalk that chick yet?”
“Come on, man,” Carl said, feigning offense, “give me some credit.”
“Alright, I may have done a quick search…”
“Carl P. Freeman…”
“There are four other Spores in the greater Los Angeles area; none of ‘em are under 18.”
“Good. Good,” El quietly stated with an acknowledging nod of his head.
“It’s a mute point anyway, she…”
“Moot,” El corrected.
“It’s moot point, not a mute point. Your point didn’t have its vocal chords ripped out or some shit.”
“Every time, man. Is that really necessary?”
“Sorry. Keep going.”
Continuing, Carl stated, “Anyway, it’s a moot point because she wasn’t into me.”
“You don’t know that. You said she was doing some assignment, right? I mean, granted there’s the overwhelming likelihood that she was blowing you off because, well, you’re you.”
“But it could be that she really did just want to do well on it,” El said, attempting to give Carl a bit of hope.
“But, I mean…she was probably blowing you off.”
He figured it best not let Carl get too hopeful. Just in case.
“Appreciate, man. Thanks.”
“It’s what I do.”
“Alright,” El said as they both stood up to the sound of the bell, “see you in Enviro?”
“Yep,” Carl replied as the two exchanged a high five, “see ya, man.”
“See ya, bruddha.”
Things progressed as one would expect the first day to, super-powered high school or not: Names were called, seats were assigned, homework was given, students awkwardly looked for friends to sit with at lunch, and girls were mercilessly ogled.
By the time Carl stepped in to room A142 for Advanced Placement Environmental Science, or AP Enviro to everyone who was taking it, the day was almost through. Having gotten turned around, Carl was a minute late when he arrived. The teacher was just finishing up the attendance as Carl interrupted.
“—ummers, has anyone seen a…”
“Here, here!” Carl exclaimed, “Carl Freeman! Sorry I’m late.”
“It’s fine, Mr. Freeman, but do try to show up on time, please,” the teacher said aridly.
“Sorry, sir,” he said to Mr. Winters as he took a seat behind El, giving him a pat on the shoulder.
“ ‘Sup, sexy.”
“Hey, lover,” El rejoined in a whisper, “how’s the day so far?”
“Aight. Saw that Wang’s in my gym class, though.”
“Ah, fuck that dude,” he heard from another student.
Turning to his right, he saw Octane seated next to El. Carl gave him a surprised look and said, “Yo, man. Didn’t know you were in this class.”
“Yeah, I signed up for it, like, like, an hour ago. Guidance counselor told me I needed to switch out of Intro to Film because I needed a science credit, and it was between this and Physics.”
“You didn’t know you needed a science class?”
“I did. I was just sort of hoping no one would notice.”
“Alright, alright, everyone listen. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Mr. Winters. I’ll be teaching Advanced Placement Environmental Science to you all this year.”
El cupped his hands, put them to his mouth and yelled, “Doc Drain! Drain Train! Whoop whoop!”
The good doctor, whose ability was the absorption and redirection of kinetic energy, was affectionately known as ‘Doc Drain’ to his students. A student years ago labeled him that, knowing he’d be too apathetic to care.
In his droning way of speaking, Doc Drain replied, “And yes, it is common knowledge that everyone prefers to call me by my first name. Be that as it may, as long as you get your work done and do not make my life any harder than it already is, you may call me whatever you would like. Even ‘Sally.’ ”
He then, cracking the smallest of smiles, let out a quick, paltry laugh at his own joke as the rest of the class remained silent, unsure whether or not he was serious.
“Moving on, we have exactly twelve people in this class, so I want you all to briefly talk amongst yourselves and find a partner for the first half of the year, keeping in mind that this will be your science companion until January.” He then added, unironically, “No pressure.”
Carl was confused; by his count, there were only eleven students total. Regardless, he didn’t pay much mind to this as both he and El ascended from their desks. “So I guess you and I…” Carl began.
Just then, another body ran through the door of room A142. It was a girl.
It was her.
“Sorry, sorry!” she exclaimed apologetically. “I’m still getting used to the layout here! I’m Spore Summers.” She then set her books down on a desk two behind where Carl was standing.
Carl noticed her before she had a chance to notice him.
Goddamnit, it makes sense she’d take this class. Why the hell didn’t I think that? he thought, reprimanding himself.
“Thank you, Ms. Summers,” Doc Drain let slowly seep out, giving her the same spiel he gave Carl moments ago, “but please remember to do show up on time. As it stands right now, we are currently choosing lab partners.”
“Dude,” Carl whispered to El, “why didn’t you tell me she was in this class if you heard him call attendance!”
“You said there were at least four other Spores in the greater Los Angeles area! I didn’t want to just recklessly jump to conclusions. That’s how people get hurt, Carl.”
Carl sighed, “Whatever, I’ll nod or whatever if we make eye contact, but I’m gonna do everything I can to…”
It was then that Carl noticed the devious look in El’s crystal blue eyes.
“Why are you smiling at me like that?”
El’s grin was a diabolical one that encompassed his entire face.
He simply stated, “You’ll thank me for this one day.”
Carl’s eyes widened.
“Oh, you motherfucker.”
“Go with God, my child.”
Then, with the faintest pokes of his forefinger, El, for the second time in less than a week, sent Carl stumbling backwards and in to Spore. He then nonchalantly turned to Octane and asked, “So, Ock, partners?”
“Oh, sorry, my friend there…” Carl stated as he knocked in to her, doing his best to pretend like he didn’t know who it was that he had just staggered in to.
“Hey!” she exclaimed, genuinely happy to see him, “Carl, right?”
“Hey, uh…Sprout?” Carl responded, trying to be cool.
“Um, no. Spore.”
“Ah, yeah, right, right.”
Audibly, El snickered.
“Hey, so, would you want to be my lab partner? I mean,” she laughed, “you’re actually, like, one of two people I know so far.”
“Oh,” Carl said, taken aback. “Yeah, cool. That’d be cool. I mean, everyone here is gonna be crazy disappointed that they won’t get to be my partner, but there’s only so much Carl to go around, ya know?” A bit of playful confidence shined through.
“Wow, so you’re like…really popular it sounds like,” Spore rejoined in good-natured sarcasm.
“It’s a curse, really. Honestly, it’s downright selfish of me to limit myself to just one partner.”
“It really, really is,” she playfully agreed.
“They need to allow some sort of science-class polygamy,” he said with a smirk.
She once again let out that beautiful, full-bodied laugh.
While looking down at his desk and straightening out a stack of papers, Doc Drain asked in his trademark lifeless drawl, “Do we have all our partners? That’s fantastic,” not allowing any time for students to actually respond. “Now, if you can all take a seat – you can sit wherever you would like – we are going to take a small practice quiz to see what you know. It will not count towards your grade.”
The students all plopped in to their seats; Carl sat three seats in on the side farthest to the left with El in front of him, Spore behind him, and Octane to his right.
While everyone settled in, El raised his hand and asked, “So what’s the incentive to do well?”
“Always the smartass,” Ock leaned in and replied in his ear.
“Fine,” Doc Drain responded, “it will now be graded.”
Groans emanated throughout the class.
“Ha…” El said, letting out a nervous laugh. “Whoops?”
Despite his misstep, El managed to (annoyingly so) get a 10 out of 10 on the quiz, Ock received a respectable 7 out of 10, and Spore, not surprisingly, also received a perfect score.
Carl got a 5.
“It’s fine,” Spore said as he made conversation with her after class. “First quiz of the year. Don’t sweat it.”
“Psh, yeah, I’m not too worried,” Carl replied, lying through his teeth.
She probably think I’m a fuckin’ moron now.
“See ya tomorrow, pal,” El said as he walked by. Then, taking a moment to formally introduce himself to Spore, he stretched out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Elcsum, but everyone just calls me ‘El’.”
With a *swish* Octane stood momentarily next to El and similarly stated, “I’m-Octane-but-you-can-call-me-Ock.” Then just as quickly zoomed off saying, “Sorry-got-to-get-to-the-computer-lab.”
Momentarily befuddled, Spore shrugged it off and then turned to El to playfully scold him. “So you’re the jerk who made the quiz count towards our actual grade, huh?”
“It’s true; I am quite the jerk. And although Carl here didn’t get top marks, had it been a handsome test, he would’ve been first in the class, right?”
Carl looked at El mortified.
“What are you doing?” he whispered.
“I…yeah, gotta go,” she said. She then waved casually. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“See…see ya,” Carl responded.
“Have a good one,” El added, smiling wide.
Waiting for her to exit the classroom, Carl turned to El and just said, “Dude!”
“Hindsight being 20/20, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Well, now that I look like a jackass in front of her, it makes you look all the better. You can thank me later when you’re dick-deep in poontang.”
“Jesus, between you and Ock, it’s like I’m a lightning rod for retards.”
“Wah, wah, wah. Anyway, wanna hit up the diner?”
“Nah, man. I wanna head home and work out.”
“So methodical about that now. Boring.”
“Hey, we can’t all be naturally strong like you, you dick.”
“Not my fault I’d have to bench press a goddamn locomotive to even get a tiny burn,” El whined. Despite his powers, the boy was actually quite slender.
“Now who’s the one crying? Poor baby, are your diamond slippers too tight as well?”
“Want me to drop you off at least?”
“Yeah, I was actually gonna ask, my mom ain’t gonna be able to pick me up. You mind giving me rides home?”
“Yeah, man. No sweat. I’ll pick ya up, too. I’ll take the spare car so I don’t have to hear you bitch the entire time.”
“Thanks, man. I owe you.”
“Nah, no big deal. No one wants to be driven by their mom every day, not even one as foine as yours.”
“I’m just saying, man. Milf-town, USA.”
“Lettin’ it go because you just agreed to drive me, but you ain’t makin’ it easy.”
“Haha, I’ll stop. Alright, let’s ditch this bitch.”
The next few days went by with little consequence, as most school days tend to do, and Carl went through the motions, trying to skate by doing as little as possible, as most school students tend to do.
Today, however, was a different day. Today was lab day.
“You nervous? I’d be nervous if I were you. You nervous?” Octane asked repeatedly as the pair walked out of English.
“Nah, man. Just another day,” Carl stated, doing his best to sound aloof.
“You seem pretty dressed up for just another day,” Octane said with a laugh. “Those khakis?”
“Yeah, so what? I always wear these.”
“Tag’s still on ‘em, bro.”
“Are you…” Carl then looked behind himself and could clearly see the thin white piece of cardboard reading ‘GAP – 30/30’ dangling from the back pocket.
Octane let out a laugh, “Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya think ya got enough cologne on? Is she smell blind or something?”
“Eight spritzes was too much?”
“Nah, man. I’m sure she likes that bathed-in-Axe scent.”
“Fuck. Is it too late to wash it off?”
“Dude, dude, dude,” Octane said, stopping and putting his hands up in front of Carl in an attempt to calm him down. “Just be cool, and you’ll be aight.”
“ ‘Be cool, and you’ll be aight,’ ” Carl hollowly repeated. “Thanks, man. Solid advice.”
“Okay, okay, okay, fine. Don’t be a pussy. That better?”
“You know what? It’s easy for you to say. You already have a girlfriend.”
“And I got shot down by, like, nine other girls before I started dating her.”
“Yeah, man. And what do I care? A girl shots ya down, ya move on with your life and on to the next one.”
“Yeah, guess so,” Carl exhaled, not quite believing his own words. The two then got to their dividing point. “See ya in Enviro, alright?”
“See ya, man,” Octane replied as the two split off in to opposite directions.
Carl stared at the clock in his Government class that Friday afternoon, watching the time slowly melt away until the bell rung, signaling the end of the period. After it inevitably did, Carl trudged to class, unable to tell if he was excited or terrified – probably a little of both.
Pushing open the door to A142, Carl’s ears were immediately assaulted with the sounds of Canadian folk-pop that Doc Drain loved to play between his lessons. The teacher’s eyes were closed as he carelessly swayed his head back and forth to the beats of that fresh Ontario sound. A sight no one wanted to see, Carl then turned his head and caught a glimpse of Spore, who in turn noticed him.
A few days prior, she had begun sitting with a new friend of hers from the yearbook staff at the other end of the classroom. But as she and Carl caught each other’s attention, her bright brown eyes gleamed at him, and she then smiled wide and gently waved her hand from side to side.
Terrified. Definitely more terrified, he thought as he shot her an awkward smile and gave a quick, jittery wave in return before plunking down in his usual seat behind El.
The music continued to play as the students piled in to the classroom: “Who will save the river valley? Who will save the…”
Much to everyone’s relief, Doc Drain then clicked off the CD player and, with a yawn, stated, “Okay, okay, everyone listen. As this is our first laboratory assignment, we are going to start things off at a slower pace.”
“He can move slower than this?” Octane whined with his head down on his desk.
“To my left,” he said, while slowly crossing his chest with his right arm to point to a stack of papers, “are your materials for our first lab exercise. We will be studying population density. Are there any questions so far? No? Fantastic. So you all have your partners. Please each of you grab a packet and retire to one of the lab tables. You have this entire period to work on it, and we will go over it in the next period.”
Carl walked up to the table, giving a slight sprint so he could get two packets at once, one for him and one for Spore, who he saw was bringing her materials to a table in the back left corner of the classroom.
Today, Spore was dressed in a pink and green floral sundress. Yesterday, it was a purple tank top with a thin gray cardigan and dark, tight jeans. The day before that had been another sundress, this one white with faint yellow stripes.
Carl acted like he didn’t notice such things as he walked towards her, packets in hand.
“Thanks!” she said as Carl handed her the worksheets. “You like nice today by the way. Big plans?”
“Nah,” he replied with a dismissive wave, “I dress like this all the time.”
She smiled and looked down, blushing.
“What’s up?” he asked, cockeyed.
She looked back up at him, her face pink with amusement. “The sticker’s still on the side.”
“Are you…” he murmured to himself as he once again turned to look at his own backside, only to find that a long, thin plastic strip running down the seam of his pants.
“Crap,” he muttered while ripping it off.
She laughed and said, “It’s okay. They make you look handsome if that makes you feel any better.”
Carl used all his strength to repress a smile.
“But I bet you hear that all the time.”
“Just from my mom,” he replied as he scratched the back of his head, half-joking, half-serious.
Laughing, she remarked, “Sounds like a sweet lady. But anyway, we should probably get started on this before Mr. Win—”
“Who will save the river valley?” began echoing throughout the room, cutting Spore off midsentence. Doc Drain once again began to sway his head back and forth with a placid smile on his face.
It was hard for the students to determine which was worse: The painful monotony of eight pages worth of fill-in-the-blank questions or having Canadian political satire music on loop for an entire period.
Doing all they could to block out the music, the students in class worked through the packet. Conferring with their partners, they used formulas and concepts that they had learned over the course of that week to best answer the questions. As the first period dwindled to a close, the bell rung, marking the five-minute break the students had between classes.
Neither Carl nor Spore felt the urge to get up during the break and instead the two made idle conversation with one another. She asked about his family, and he did the same. Here and there, he was able to pepper in a charming comment to bring a smile to her face. Something about Spore brought out a witty, enchanting side to him that even he didn’t know existed.
In what felt like no time, the bell rung once again, and the class spent the remainder of the day listening to Doc Drain drearily read off the answers.
All forty-two of them.
“…and the answer to #42 is…anyone? Anyone? It is ‘jellyfish.’ Once again, the answer to #42 is,” he paused for what seemed like no reason at all then finished, “ ‘jellyfish.’ Now, are there any questions?”
“Why, God, why?” Octane cried in his hands. For someone who’s used to moving at unbelievable speeds, this class was particularly painful for him.
“No? Then I see no harm in letting you out a few minutes earl—”
Octane was gone before Drain could finish his sentence.
The classroom then filled with the noises of bags unzipping and zipping back up, papers being shuffled, and books being carelessly tossed around. At their lab station, Carl stuffed his materials in to his backpack, and Spore carefully placed everything in to hers.
“So, you know we have that test next week, right?” Spore asked rhetorically while fitting her arms in to the straps of her bag.
“Yeah,” Carl answered with a shake of his head. “Who gives a test in the first two weeks of class? Frickin’ ridiculous.”
“Ugh, I know! I can’t believe it. I’ll probably have to study all weekend,” she replied, the tone in her voice slightly indicative.
“Yeah, I hear that,” Carl responded with a mellow bob of his head.
“Ugh, and I’m so unmotivated, too, ya know?”
“Yeah, same,” he replied, blissfully ignorant.
El, who was one table over, managed to catch bits and pieces of the conversation. He nudged Octane, who had come back after realizing he had left all his things behind, and whispered something in to his ear.
In a brief moment when Spore looked away, Octane zipped to the right of Carl and relayed El’s message.
Zipping back an eighth of a second before she looked back up, Spore smiled a sweet, albeit forced, smile and wished Carl to have a happy weekend.
“So, see you Monday, right?” she asked.
“Oh, I mean, yeah, but if you wanna, and you can…you can say no if you don’t wanna,” Carl spouted out nervously while scratching behind his right ear.
Squinting her eyes quizzically, she responded with a simple, “Um…what?”
Carl realized he, almost literally, had said nothing.
“I mean, like,” he began, and then looked down and cleared his throat, “if you want to, maybe we can study…together? I, uh, haha, I probably could use all the help I can get, ya know?”
“Sure! Sure, that’d be great,” she agreed, not trying to hide her elation. “Here, I’ll give you my number. Can I have your phone real quick?”
“Yeah, go for it,” he said, anxiously handing it over.
*click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click*
“Here you go,” she said, handing the phone back. “Text me tomorrow and we’ll figure something out.”
“Yeah, cool. Definitely.”
“Well,” she said with a smile, one she didn’t have to force, “see you this weekend hopefully.”
“Without a doubt. Talk to you.”
And with that, Spore turned and walked out, slightly beaming. As she did, Carl took note of how gracefully she moved.
“And what do we have here, Mr. Freeman?” El said from behind as he and Octane walked towards Carl.
Turning around, Carl’s response to him was “El, man. I really don’t need you to do this crap for me.”
“Oh, please,” El said, rolling his eyes. “You were floundering like a…Ock, what flounders?”
“You were floundering like a flounder!”
“I don’t think…” Carl started before El cut him off.
“And did you get her number or not, hm?”
“Maybe…” Carl muttered.
“ ‘Thank you, Mr. Gray,’ ” El responded, wanting Carl to respond in kind.
Carl sighed, “Thank you, Mr. Gray.”
“You are very welcome. When you bone her, I want full details.”
“Full details,” Octane said in agreement.
“We’re just studying; nothing’s gonna happen,” Carl said while examining his phone. He attempted to keep a cool composure but a tiny smirk betrayed him. And Octane, with a blinding swipe of his hand, snatched the phone from his grip.
“Aw, aw, aw, aw, aw,” he mocked as he turned the phone to El. “Look at this.”
“Awwww,” El said, joining in, “she put her name in as ‘Spore’ followed by a smiley face!”
“Doesn’t mean anything,” Carl said as he grabbed his phone back, slightly embarrassed.
“Dude!” That’s like the uh-uh-uh-uh,” Octane countered as he began snapping his fingers trying to find the right words, “the ‘I wanna fuck’ emoticon! You’re in there like swimwear.”
“I respectfully disagree, Octane,” El replied. “The winky face, now that’s the ‘I wanna fuck’ emoticon.”
“See, there are shades of gray, Gray,” Octane returned. “Let’s say the winky face is the ‘I’ll fuck you now’ emoticon, but the smiley face is the ‘I’ll fuck you, but you’ll have to work for it’ emoticon. Carl what-what-what do you think?”
The two hadn’t notice Carl walking away thirty seconds prior.
“Huh. Yeah, that figures,” Octane stated.
“He wouldn’t have known the answer anyway,” El retorted.
The next morning, El was at Carl’s house, spending the day playing video games. Fighting games were one of the few things Carl could do better at than El, which annoyed him to no end.
“FINISH HIM!” the voice on the TV commanded.
“God-fucking-damnit!” El growled as he crushed the dark purple controller between his hands as if it were dried kindling.
“You better have brought another, man,” Carl replied, shaking his head.
“Always do,” El responded as he pulled out a new controller from his backpack and plugged it in. “So you text her yet?”
“What the hell are you waiting for?”
“Tryin’ to play it cool.”
“You haven’t played it cool a day in your life. Don’t start now.”
“Fuck you. I know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, and I bet all those girls you haven’t fucked would agree with you.”
“Real nice, dickhead.”
“Okay, fine, sorry, but I am trying to help you out. Just trust me on this, okay?”
“Alright,” Carl sighed. Removing the phone from his pocket, he carefully began typing and asked, “How’s this: “ ‘Yo, it’s Carl. How’s tomorrow night work for you?’ ”
“Short and to the point; I like it.”
“I’m about to hit send,” he said with his thumb hovering above the button.
“I swear to God, I’ll break your hand and send it for you.”
“Fine, Christ,” he said, hitting the button. The second he did, his stomach immediately felt as if there were two tons of bricks in it.
Five minutes passed without a reciprocating text. This didn’t stop Carl from checking his phone.
“You would’ve felt it vibrate, man,” El replied, not taking his eyes off the TV. “Just focus on the game.”
Another five minutes passed. Still nothing.
“Maybe it didn’t send,” Carl sputtered in a worry as he once again checked his messages. “You know how sometimes I’ll text you, and you’ll be all like, ‘Shit, I never got that text.’ ”
“I will seriously bitch slap you if you don’t stop.”
Carl agreed to wait at least ten minutes before checking again.
Then he checked after two.
“That’s it. I’m going to break—” El began before being cut off by a *bzzzzz* sound.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit!” Carl yelled. “It’s her.”
“What’s it say?”
“I don’t wanna look. You check,” he said, tossing El his phone.
“You’re unbelievable,” El muttered. “Alright, it says, ‘Cool. Is my place okay? My parents probably won’t like me going to some random boy’s house l-o-l. Eight work? 1414 Sparrow Court.’ ”
Carl let out a sigh of relief as his heart slowed down its furious stampeding.
“Now you can’t text her for two hours.”
“What?” Carl asked, baffled. “Why?”
“You don’t want to seem too eager, man. Fuck, I’d say not to text her back until like 9 tomorrow to seem that much cooler.”
“What? You just send fifteen minutes ago not to play it cool!”
“Yeah, because it didn’t matter when you initiated contact. But you don’t wanna respond right away like you were sitting around waiting for her to text you back.”
“You’re a fucking idiot.”
“I don’t make the rules, Carlson. All I ask is that you learn from my experience. You’re trying to bang two rocks together to start a fire, and I’m hanging you a Zippo.”
El then held his hand out, pretending to be holding a lighter.
“Carl, take the Zippo.”
“You can’t be…”
“Carlson,” El said in a feigned authoritative toned.
Relenting, Carl took the imaginary lighter from El’s hand to shut him up.
Waiting for what felt like the longest two hours of his life, El finally gave him permission to text Spore back, and as soon as he did, Carl began the manically tapping away a message on his phone.
He then erased it.
He then composed another message.
That message was also promptly erased.
“What the hell is wrong with you, you psycho? Just say ‘Ok.’ ”
“ ‘Ok’ or just ‘K’? Maybe ‘Sounds good’?”
“Maybe grow a sack.”
Ignoring El, Carl, with about a dozen clicks sent ‘Sounds great : )’ to the girl. As soon as he did, he looked mortified thinking of what he had just sent.
Snatching the phone, El asked, “Sweet holy mother of Jesus, did you really just send her a smiley?”
“I panicked,” Carl replied, taking it back.
“That was quick,” El remarked. “What’s it say?”
“ ‘L-o-l, see you then’.”
Shaking his head, El replied, “Dodged a bullet, man. A smiley? Jesus Christ, dude.”
The two boys hung out by Carl’s house the rest of the day, and before he left, El wished him luck tomorrow and once again requested to hear all about Carl ‘tapping that ass.’ Shortly after, Carl went to bed, having a dreamless sleep, and woke up at 10 AM the next day.
He couldn’t explain it, but the ten hours preceding their study session seemed to move at both super speed and in slow motion. When he had a pang of excitement, the clock wouldn’t move; when he thought about calling it off, the big hand jumped ahead fifteen minutes. Finally, at 7:30 PM, Carl left his house and started the drive over.
The GPS told him that her house was a mere fifteen minutes away, but Carl wanted to get there early as he was going stir crazy sitting around and waiting. Borrowing his mom’s 2004 maroon Mercury Sable, Carl nervously drove towards her house, toying with the idea of cancelling as he did.
‘I got a dentist appointment, sorry.’ No, shit, that’s stupid. Who has a dentist appointment at 8 PM on a Sunday?
‘Sorry, my brother’s dead. Yeah, ma always told him not to eat paint chips.’ That one might actually…
Just then, the number ‘1414’ popped in to the corner of his eye, and he slammed on the brakes, nearly overshooting her house. Backing the car in snuggly next to the curb, he grabbed his backpack, got out of the car, and treaded slowly to her door, his legs feeling as if they were full of lead.
Walking towards her front door and along the walkway, he noticed a row of flowers whose light purples bulbs were in a partial bloom. Curious, he bent down to look at the paper tag still attached to one of them, which read ‘hyacinth.’
“Huh,” he said to himself, as he rose back up. Breathing in deeply, he finished walking the last few feet to the door and rang the bell.
Within seconds, Spore was there, dressed in a pair of light jeans and a green t-shirt adorned with a shamrock.
“Hey!” she said with a smile. “Did you find the place alright?”
“Yeah, no problem,” he responded, walking in to her home.
“Great! Would you like anything to drink?”
“Ah, no thanks. I’m good,” he replied as he cocked his head in all different angles to take in the view of her home. “Where you want to study?”
She shrugged. “My room, I guess. The living room’s kind of a mess right now.”
“Your parents okay with that?” Carl asked with a cockeyed gaze.
“Well, they actually decided to go to the movies a few minutes ago, so it doesn’t really matter.”
“Oh, word,” Carl replied breathlessly. “Yeah, sounds good then.”
“Cool! Upstairs, first door on the right. I’m going to get some water. You sure you don’t want anything?”
“N—no thanks,” he replied, now nervous at the thought of being alone in her room.
“Okay, cool! I’ll be up in a second. You can make yourself comfortable.”
Slowly walking up the stairs and in to the first room on the right, he let the strap of his backpack slowly slide down his arm and in to his hand. Placing it on the ground in front of him, he took in the sights of the room: Four light pink walls with a gray ceiling, framed pictures of dried flowers adorning the area, and a pet goldfish swimming aimlessly back and forth in a bowl on her desk.
Taking a seat on her soft, queen-size bed, he took note of the ornate wooden headboard with what appeared to be leaves carved in to it.
She’s definitely got a theme going here, he thought. He then heard footsteps approaching the door and immediately arose as she came in to the room.
“No, it’s okay. Sit,” she said as she sipped on her water. Setting it down, she brought her desk chair and a binder over, placed the chair in front of Carl, and gently lowered herself in.
“So, uh, where do you wanna start?” Carl asked.
“From the beginning seems to make the most sense, doesn’t it? He said the test is only going to be on the first chapter anyway.”
“Ha, yeah, true.”
“Cool,” she replied. “These should help; I printed out a few study guides Mr. Winters posted online.”
Handing Carl the papers from out of her notebook, he replied with a smile, “I’m surprised that dude knows how to post stuff online. I honestly didn’t even think he knew what the Internet was.”
Laughing, she went, “Oh, you’re so mean to him! He’s a nice man.”
“Please. You’re just into him ‘cause of his sick dance moves.”
“Ha! You got me,” she giggled. Turning around to pick up her textbook that she left on the floor, she cracked open the cover and said, “Okay: Chapter 1.”
Over the course of the next hour, the two went back and forth quizzing each other on questions, referring to the corresponding answer key to see if they were correct or not. Carl was surprised at how many he had gotten right, especially considering how hard it was for him to completely focus as he kept stealing quick glances of Spore the moments he was supposed to be looking in the textbook.
When they finally finished all the questions, Carl remarked, “I actually did pretty decent. You must be my lucky charm.”
“Seems like it,” she said while cocking her head and giving a partial smile. She then added, “So?”
“So…what?” Carl asked in return.
She laughed, momentarily looked down at her feet, and then looked back up at him. “Are you going to kiss me now or what?”
Carl’s heart started pounding so hard he could barely hear.
Spore smiled and leaned in; Carl closed his eyes and did the same. Their mouths then pressed up against each other; her lips were moist and tasted of strawberries.
He pulled back for a second and smiled. “Hell of a way to finish chapter 1.”
They both then leaned back in, and outside, the hyacinths began to bloom.
END OF ACT 1
Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap, Carl kept repeating in his head as he drove home from Spore’s house.
She actually kissed me. SHE kissed ME. El’s not gonna believe this. He’s never gonna let me hear the end of it, either.
Is that what a tongue in your mouth feels like? Why does it feel good? I never thought having someone’s tongue in my…
A sudden *hooooooonk* snapped Carl out of his daze as he nearly missed stopping at a four-way intersection.
“Oh, shit! Sorry!” he yelled, despite the fact the driver in the other vehicle was long gone at this point.
Putting the thought of nearly getting sideswiped by another car out of his mind as quickly as it had entered, Carl’s mind immediately flew back to what just happened. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. I need to call El.
Frantically parking the car in the driveway and slamming the door shut, he rushed in to the house, but before he could get very far, he was stopped by big sister Iris as she came out of the kitchen and in to the front hallway.
“How was your date, princess?” Iris asked as she held a plate of celery sticks with almond butter, the hallway being filled with a loud *crunch* noise as she bit in to them.
“It wasn’t a date. We were just studyin’,” Carl replied, clearly trying to break away from the conversation and make his way up the stairs.
Narrowing her eyes, a light green aura began to glow around them as she stared at Carl’s chest.
“Then why’s your heart beatin’ so fast?”
Turning around to see what she was doing, Carl noticed her eyes and yelled, “I told you to stop using x-ray vision on me! You’re gonna friggin’ give me cancer!”
“Fine,” she replied as the green aura turned crimson, indicating infrared vision. With a self-satisfied grin, she then commented, “Your body temperature is goin’ wild. What exactly went on at your little friend’s house?”
“None of your business, Ris! Ain’t you got your own shit to deal with that you don’t have to butt in to mine?” he moaned as he once again began hopping up the stairs.
There was another loud *crunch* as she bit in to a celery stick. “She’s gonna break your heart.”
“What?” he asked, stopping on the stairs once more.
“Just don’t be surprised,” she answered in a very matter-of-fact way as she wiped almond butter off her bottom lip.
“Wow, you’re bein’ kind of a bitch right now, aren’t you?”
“I’m bein’ the complete opposite. I wish someone woulda told me this when I was your age. First love or whatever, someone’s gettin’ their heart broke. And you ain’t no heartbreaker, baby brother, so…”
“ ‘First love’? What the hell are you even talkin’ about? All we did was study.”
*crunch* “Uh-huh. Just be careful. High school girls can be bitches. I know from experience.”
“Yeah, whatever, thanks for readin’ way too in to something that ain’t there,” Carl said with a slight hiss as he finished jogging up the staircase.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she muttered to herself as she walked back in to the kitchen.
“Thinks she sees so much,” Carl mumbled under his breath as he walked to his room. “Her and Mesmer always fuckin’ with me. They need to cut that shit out.”
Trying to forget the conversation he just had, Carl ripped his phone out his pocket and began furiously scrolled through his contacts for El’s number. He had the number within seconds, and he anxiously tapped his foot as the phone rang.
“Ye-oh! What’s up?” El asked enthusiastically from the other end of the phone.
“I kissed her,” Carl said immediately.
“You…really? Awesome! So awesome!” El gushed, his enthusiasm almost matching Carl’s.
“Yeah, well, I mean, she actually kissed me, but…”
“Still counts. You’re a pussy for not going for it first, but it still counts. You touch her tits?”
“What? No. I barely knew what to do with my mouth. You think I know what the fuck to do with a bra?”
“Yeah, I just rip it off. Saves me the hassle.”
“Yeah, well, in my case, no tits. We just made out for, like, a half hour.”
“Yeah, man. It was…it was awesome.”
“Happy for you, bud. Just don’t act all weird around her tomorrow now.”
“…huh,” Carl replied pensively. He hadn’t even considered what would happen when he saw her again.
Immediately, he was hit by a wave of self-doubt and uncertainty. El assured him it’d be fine a minute later before hanging up and heading off to bed. The words, however, rolled right off Carl as he dove in to an ocean of recurring questions that he had no idea how to answer:
What do I say to her? Do I say anything? Maybe I’ll wait until she says something to me. But would she say something? I don’t know. I don’t see why she wouldn’t. But maybe she’s asking herself why wouldn’t I say something to her. Shit, should I text her? Maybe if I text her, it’ll seem less weird when I do see her. No, don’t text her. Play it cool. She always gets to class after you, so just give her a head nod as she walks in. Yeah, that’ll wo—
“Hey, Carl!” Spore said to him as she walked in to class and past Carl, textbook close against her chest.
What the fuck? Carl thought, flummoxed. Everything had been a blur since the night before, and it was like his body had been on autopilot the entire day. He hadn’t even realized that he was already in Enviro.
“Hi, hey, yeah!” Carl called out to her after needing two seconds to process what had just happened.
Looking over to catch a quick glimpse of the girl, she smiled and offered him a soft, delicate wave before turning and talking with Decibel.
As Doc Drain croaked out that day’s lesson, he was sure to remind the students of the upcoming test. Carl, however, paid no mind to what the teacher was saying and instead was trying to formulate his plan of attack for talking to Spore after class.
When the bell finally rung, and on the advice of El and Octane, Carl waited for her just outside the doorway. As he saw her approach with Decibel, his chest immediately tightened with anxiety, but he forced himself to produce a slight wave and half smile as the two of them locked eyes.
“Oh, hey!” she exclaimed, surprised to see Carl outside the door. Turning to Decibel, she said, “Talk to you tomorrow, Dez!”
Now turning back towards Carl, she responded, “Hey. Sorry about that.”
“It’s cool.” He then paused for a moment as he looked in to her eyes. “I had a really nice time with you last night.”
“Me, too! I think with my help you might actually pass now.”
“Hey, you were a good study partner, but you weren’t that good,” he quipped, self-mockingly.
“I wasn’t?” she said, cocking her head a bit and giving Carl and devious look.
She laughed at his hesitance and responded, “Well, I thought you were very good at studying.”
“Thanks, I…study with my pillow in bed sometimes. It’s good practice.”
Spore giggled and replied, “Well, I’m jealous of your pillow.”
Carl laughed nervously, unsure of what to say.
“I hope we…um…could study again soon,” he responded.
“I’d like that a lot,” she said, smiling. “Maybe this weekend?”
“Yeah!” Carl exclaimed. Then trying to hide his excitement, he repeated in a much more reserved manner, “Yeah. That’d be cool.”
“Cool! I gotta head to the computer lab now,” she said, pointing in the opposite direction Carl was going. “So I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”
“No doubt. Have a good one.”
“You, too! Bye!”
“Later,” he replied in a pretend aloofness.
“Like a boss,” El said, coming out from behind the classroom door where he had been busy eavesdropping. “Date #2, huh?”
“Ha, yeah. Guess so.”
“Nice job, man. I just got one question for you.”
“What’d you name your pillow?”
“Ha, I was just kidding around with her,” Carl replied as he pushed open the exit door to the parking lot.
“Oh, I see what it is. You named it after me, didn’t you? It all makes so much sense now.”
“Ya got me. I’m in love with you, and dry humping my pillow at night is the only way I can express it.”
“We’ve graduated to dry humping now, have we? Goddamn, you’re a freak sometimes,” El joked as he unlocked his car. “Be sure to ease Spore in to that.”
“If I even end up hanging out with her again, anyway,” Carl responded, not wholly convinced a second date would happen. But as unbelievable as it seemed to him, Carl and Spore did end up seeing each other that weekend. And the weekend after. And the one after that as well.
Before either of them knew it, they had become a full-fledged couple. And by the time January came around, things had felt as if they were finally going Carl’s way. Much to his sister’s chagrin, he received his grandmother’s car for Christmas as promised; with Spore’s help, his grades improved; he got in to a decent college on early admission; and he even managed to not have any of his gym electives line up with Wing’s, successfully avoiding him for the first half of the year.
But what really made the past four months feel special was the girl he had fallen for. Spore was his first kiss, his first girlfriend…his first everything.
El had been sure to make the obvious ‘de-flower’ jokes.
And the ‘cross-pollination’ jokes.
And the ‘planting the seed’ jokes.
Carl dating a girl named ‘Spore’ really opened up a lot of doors for El.
But regardless of El’s comments, Spore made Carl happier than he ever thought possible. Thinking about her made his knees feel as if they were full of jelly; his heart would flutter when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and instinctively knew it was she. There were video chats that went late in to the night, text messages first thing in the morning, pet names that Carl prayed his friends would never find out about, and tender handholding as the two traveled together down the hallways together.
It was the stage of dating where each party thinks that there’s no possible way they’d ever fight. What could there ever be to fight about?
We’re perfect together, Carl would think.
She’s my soul mate.
She’s my destiny.
Indeed, Carl was soaring. But like the *swish* and *thunk* noises he knew all too well, what goes up, invariably, must come down.
“Are you happy with us, Carl?” Spore asked hesitantly in to her phone on a chilly Friday night in January.
Carl had noticed that Spore had been acting strangely for the past few weeks, but he had thought nothing of it up until this point. Now nervous, Carl replied in to his phone, “I am. Why? Aren’t you?”
Spore’s reticence was louder than anything she could have said.
“I dunno…” she said softly.
Spore let out a quiet *sniff* and replied, “I just…it sometimes feels like we don’t understand each other. And I just feel like we want different things sometimes.”
Her voice was equal parts sad and sweet.
“Like what, baby?”
She hesitated a moment before once again saying, “I dunno…” Letting out another *sniff*, she then continued, “I’ve just been feeling lately that my heart hasn’t been in all the way. It’s hard to just put in to words. I’m sorry, baby.”
“So what now?” Carl asked, the sorrow in his voice now mirroring hers.
“I think we need to go on a break.”
At these words, Carl’s heart felt as it had been replaced by a stone which then dropped in to his stomach.
“I don’t get it. Things have been going so well.”
“Baby, you not noticing that things have been going well is why we need to take some time apart. We need to, like…think things over, you know?”
“But…” Carl started, not sure how to go forward with what he wanted to say. “But I don’t want to.”
“You always do this…” Spore answered, her voice changing from forlorn to mildly annoyed accompanied at his comment.
“You put yourself first.”
“Are you serious? I spend all my time with you!”
“But we spend that time doing what you want to do.”
“When I wanted to go to that art show, who went with me? My sister. When I wanted to try out that new vegan restaurant, where’d we end up going? T.G.I. Friday’s. Remember when I asked you to rent The Notebook and you came back with The Transporter?”
“I misheard you…”
“They sound nothing alike!”
“Alright, listen. Listen. I’m sorry, baby. For everything. Okay? I promise to be better.”
“I just…” she paused for a moment to be certain of her words, “I just think we need to take some time to figure out what we want and who we need to be in this relationship.”
Carl was silent for a moment. Any self-confidence he had gained over the past four months of being with her was beginning to crumble down before him.
“Does this have anything to do with me being…different?”
“What? No! How could you even think that! How could you even think that I’d think that!”
“I’m just sayin’, if it is, and you want like a ‘real man’…”
“I don’t know what to say to you sometimes. Listen, let’s not talk for a few days, okay?” She then echoed her sentiment from earlier. “We need to take some time to figure out what we want.”
Carl didn’t respond. He knew what he wanted.
“I’ll talk to you later, okay? I guess for now, we’ll just keep our distance in class. Do you
“Whatever,” he said in a low, angry voice.
“I’m sorry. Bye, baby.”
“Bitch,” he muttered to himself as he stared at his phone.
Put myself first…sorry I don’t wanna go to a stupid vegan restaurant. Sorry I don’t wanna watch a dumbass movie about a dude mailing letters and building a house. Sorry I don’t wanna stand around and look at paintings all damn day. Yeah, I’m a real asshole. Guess she forgot about the money I spent on dinners, how much it cost me in gas driving her all around town, the necklace I bought her…
Carl plopped down in to his desk chair and hunched forward. In frustration, he began rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. Once he stopped, he tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. He then closed his eyes, and without warning, a memory of time’s past crawled its way in to his mind.
Three months ago:
“Happy one-month anniversary,” Carl said to Spore as they stood in his room.
“Aw, you keep track. Such a softie.”
“Psh, no way. I just realized, like, fifteen minutes ago.”
“Uh-huh,” she said with an incredulous smile.
“I’m really lucky to have you,” he said, shifting to a more serious tone.
“Carl…” she said, her voice drawn out. “You’re too nice to me.”
“Well, you let me touch your boobs, so…”
Faking irritation, she responded and covered her chest, “Hmf, I’m more than just my boobs, Mr.
“Really? I wouldn’t say so.”
Playfully, she let out a whimper and sad frown at this.
“Such a cutie,” he said as he came up and held her by the waist.
“I like you a lot,” she said in a soft voice, looking in to his eyes.
“I like you, too,” he returned.
Their hearts beat in rapid unison as they both leaned their heads to their right and shared a delicate kiss.
Pulling away after about thirty seconds, he said, “So, I have a big night planned for us tonight.”
“Is that so?”
“It is,” he said with a nod. “Pizza and chip ‘n’ putt at the golf course.”
Putting her hand to her chest, Spore gasped speciously, “Oh, Carl Freeman, you can really sweep a girl off her feet when you want to.”
“I know,” he laughed. “I surprise myself sometimes.”
“Are you going to ‘let me win’ again?”
“Hey, I have crappy depth perception. Plus, I’m pretty sure I saw the grass move the ball forward
more than once.”
Spore smiled and shrugged, “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Changing the subject, she then stated, “Oh, also, I was thinking, maybe we can go to that art show I was telling you about tomorrow.”
“Oh, yeah…I mean, I would, but you’d probably have more fun with your sister, wouldn’t you? I mean,” he then laughed, “I’d probably just complain the whole time anyway.”
Masking her disappointment, she decided to feign agreement. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I haven’t seen much of her lately anyway, I suppose.”
“See? Everyone wins.”
Turning briefly to look at the clock on his wall, Carl then turned back and asked, “Ready to go, Ms. Summers?”
Smiling once more, she replied, “Always, Mr. Freeman.”
Money for gas, a round of golf, pizza, and ice cream after, Carl thought, tallying the amount in his head. He opened his eyes and muttered to himself, “Yeah, I’m real selfish.”
Getting up out of his chair, he then laid down on his bed and attempted to mindlessly watch television, hoping to sever the thoughts of Spore for the time being. But it was futile; a swirl of emotions filled every inch of his body and showed no sign of leaving any time soon.
Deciding to give El a call, he grabbed for his phone and held it above his face. As he remained flat on his bed, he began furiously pressing away.
After four rings, El simply answered, “Yo, what’s up?”
“Nothing,” he returned.
Five seconds of silence dragged by, forcing El to once again ask, “Alright, so what’s up?”
“What are you up to?”
“Why? Aren’t you hanging out with Spore?”
“We, uh…we got in to a fight, sort of,” Carl mumbled.
“Oh, and I get to be your Plan B. Sweet,” El remarked sarcastically.
“Come on, man. You know it’s not like that.”
“What’s it like then? You’ve been a ghost these past few months.”
Carl was quiet, unsure of how to defend himself.
With a sigh, El once again broke the silence. “Yeah. Come on over. I wasn’t doing anything anyway.”
“Alright, sweet. I’ll be there in like fifteen. See you soon.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
While Carl hung up the phone on his end, a few miles away, El was switching back to the cute blonde he had on hold.
“Hey, Vector, sorry about that. Um, so about tonight…”
“And then she tells me that I always put myself first!” Carl said as he paced around El’s room in a huff as El laid face up on his bed.
The room, with four forest green walls and a light gray ceiling, was adorned with a sleek, black wooden desk; upon it were the latest model MacBook Pro and a framed picture of El with his parents. Up against the adjacent wall was a cabinet filled with trophies from playing football and lacrosse, medals from various science fair competitions, and a National Honors Society certificate.
“Uh-huh” was El’s contribution to Carl’s rant as he focused intently on a foam football he had been throwing up in to the air and catching.
“And I’m like, what do you want from me? I treat you well. I care for you. I’m always there for you. What else can I do?”
“Yeah,” he added, still throwing the football.
“It’s ridiculous! I spend so much time with her, and yet that’s not good enough. She’s the selfish one!”
“Fuckin’ women, man.”
“Think I should text her?”
Finally sitting up, El responded, “Well, first of all, because she told you that you two shouldn’t talk for a few days. Second of all, it’ll make you look pathetic. It’s been, what, two hours?”
“But she has to know I’m thinking about her.”
“I’m sure she does, man. And I’m sure she’s thinking about you, too. But she said she needs space. Give it to her.”
Carl let out a heavy, angry sigh. “This sucks.”
“I know, bruddha. You’ll be alright, though. Trust me.”
“I wonder what she’s doing right now,” he said with his head in his lap as he plopped down in to El’s desk chair.
“Just don’t think about it, bud. Come on; let’s get your mind off it. Wanna go bowling or something?”
“Spore and I used to go bowling,” Carl whimpered.
“We were supposed to see a movie tonight. She always liked going to the movies,” Carl added, his tone dripping with self-pity.
“Okay,” El sighed. “What’s something you two didn’t do together?”
“I don’t know,” Carl muttered.
“Well, I could cum for you. I’m willing to bet she never did that.”
“Fucked up, man,” Carl replied, his speech muffled by his lap.
“Too soon? Too soon. Okay, what else…”
“Are you sure I shouldn’t text her?” he asked, picking his head up. “What if I said…”
“Yes I’m sure! Now, come on. I actually just remembered that Yawn is having people over tonight. We’ll go there, play some pool, and just shoot the shit. How’s that sound?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Carl replied, knowing he had no other options besides being alone.
“Sweet. I’ll drive.”
As the two traveled down the road in El’s Jeep Wrangler, it was clear to El that Carl’s disposition was changing from anger to depression at an exponential rate. Attempting to get Carl’s mind on to something else, he tried to throw out any topic of conversation he could think of.
“Alright, man, better game: Final Fantasy VII or Ocarina of Time?”
Disinterested, Carl responded, “I don’t know.”
“I gotta go Ocarina. It’s just about as perfect as a game could be, ya know? Except for that fucking owl. Plus, I don’t really like role-playing games, so I never understood the hype around Final Fantasy.”
Looking over, El saw Carl staring melancholically out the window, barely listening to what he had to say.
“That’s a weird term, isn’t it? ‘Role-playing game’? I mean, in what game don’t you play a role, right?”
“Yeah,” Carl said, now thinking that maybe being alone would’ve been the better option. The last thing he wanted right now was to be around people who were happy and having fun.
“So anyway, I was reading this physics article online, and there’s this theory on infinite universes where any reality that could possibly exist does exist,” El said as he pulled in to Yawn’s driveway.
“Okay?” Carl responded as the two got out of the car.
“What I’m saying is, that means there’s a universe out there where, right now, you’re fucking eighteen supermodels, if it makes you feel any better about things.”
“I’d rather be in the universe where I wasn’t on this damn break.”
“Well, that’s just silly. A universe where you fuck eighteen supermodels, and you choose that one,” El replied as he rang Yawn’s doorbell. Within moments, the stocky, well-built Indian boy answered the door.
“Hey, guys!” Yawn exclaimed, happy to see the pair. “Glad you came. Everyone’s downstairs; make yourselves comfortable. You want anything to eat or drink, just let me know. Parents are gone for the week, so help yourself to a beer or six.”
The two thanked Yawn and went in to his professionally finished basement where Brainstorm, Hourglass, and others were watching TV, playing drinking games, laughing, flirting, and having a good time. Shortly after Carl and El showed up, Octane and his girlfriend, Blitz, arrived.
“Yo-yo-yo, guys. What’s happening? Big C, where’s Spore at?”
“She, uh…” Carl looked at the ground, downcast.
“She’s sick,” El finished, not wanting Carl’s misery to become the focus of the night. “Apple scab or something. Right, Carl?”
“Ah, bummer. You-you-you guys wanna play us in pool?” Octane asked, gesturing to the finely finished oaken billiards table.
“Absolutely we do,” El said, answering for the both of them. “Come on, let’s show these jabronies how we run shit.”
“Sweet, I’ll rack ‘em,” Octane replied as he and Blitz walked to the table.
Whispering to Carl, El asked, “You feeling better?”
“Feelin’ as good as I’m gonna, I guess.”
“What are you funboys whispering about?” Octane yelled, having already finished racking. “Come on; we need to shoot to see who goes first.”
As the four played, Carl noticed Octane’s interactions with Blitz. In between turns, she would go over and tickle him, using her electric powers as she did so to make his long, chestnut brown hair stand up on end. And every time he went to make his shot, she’d playfully give him a shock with a poke of her finger.
“We’re on the same team, you goof!” Octane would reply jovially. “You’re going to make me miss!”
The skinny brunette smiled and replied, “Crap! Losing at basement pool. My parents will, like,
totally disown me.”
As he saw Octane and Blitz banter back and forth, Carl found it impossible to not have his mind shoot back to Spore. He was then hit with a rush of dread: What if he and Spore will never again joke like that, laugh like that, or touch that? Carl became lost in his own sad, depressing thoughts as the reality of their break set in, but Blitz managed to break him from his self-imposed trance.
“You’re up, Carl,” she said, smiling at Carl and handing him the pool cue.
Lacking even the slightest amount of enthusiasm, Carl barely took a second to line up his shot and completely missed on the 7-ball that was teetering on the edge of the front left corner pocket.
“Gotta be more careful, big C,” Octane replied as he took the cue from Carl’s hands. He then began zipping around the table, sinking shot after shot as he did.
*zip* 10-ball in the back right corner pocket.
*zip* 15-ball in the left side pocket.
*zip* 12-ball in back left corner pocket.
*zip* 8-ball in the front right corner pocket.
“Tha-tha-that’s game. Re-rack?”
“Nah,” Carl said, “I think I’m good. El, you tryin’ to head out?”
Looking at his watch and seeing that they had barely been there for an hour, El lied and said, “Yeah, I’m…I’m pretty tired actually.”
“Ah, come on, guys! Stay! We just got here.”
El looked over at Carl to see if his mood at all changed. It hadn’t.
“Nah, it’s been a day,” El answered. “Ready, bud?”
“Yeah. I’ll see you guys later,” Carl mumbled. He then went up the stairs and outside without saying a word to anyone else.
“Is-is-is he alright, El?” Octane asked.
El exhaled and looked down. “He’s fine. Just going through some stuff is all.”
Giving a disappointed nod, Octane replied, “Word. Alright, bro, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Later, man. Later, Blitz,” El replied.
“Bye! Tell Carl I hope he feels better!”
El smiled a little and replied, “Sure thing.”
The drive back to El’s house was painfully quiet, and despite knowing what the answer would be, El eventually asked, “You have a good time?”
“It was aight,” Carl muttered unconvincingly.
“Take your mind off her at all?”
“Not really, man.”
“Just remember you guys aren’t broken up, alright? You’re just taking some time off. Don’t sweat it. Just give her what she needs to figure out it all out, and it’ll be fine. I promise.”
“You really think?” Carl asked, his voice filled with sad hope.
“Yeah, man. Absolutely.”
“Appreciate it, El.”
“No worries,” he replied as he pulled up next to Carl’s car. “Give me a call tomorrow if you wanna do something, alright?”
“Thanks. Think I’m just gonna lay low, though.”
“I hear ya, boss. Feel better, okay?”
“Will do,” Carl said as he opened the passenger side door. “Later, man.”
Carl drove home in silence; he tried forcing himself to think of nothing, but the dull ache of despair was a constant reminder of the girl he was losing.
In his depression, he didn’t bother with brushing his teeth and washing his face after coming home; he instead just decided to crawl underneath the covers of his bed.
He didn’t want to lose her. He couldn’t lose her. The past few months had made Carl feel special for once in his life. He felt as if he could do anything; he felt as if he could be anything. With Spore, he never felt helpless or handicapped. She made him feel strong. She made him feel invincible. And now, he was facing the possibility that that feeling would be gone forever.
He didn’t want her to go.
He didn’t want to lose that feeling.
He didn’t want to be powerless again.
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.
“ ‘Can’t wait for tonight,’ ” Carl said to Octane while they sat at their lab table the following Friday morning.
“Wha-wha-what? What’s tonight? Are we doing something? I didn’t know if we were doing something. What are we doing?”
“No, that’s Spore’s status,” Carl corrected as he looked at the Facebook app on his iPhone. “ ‘Can’t wait for tonight.’ ”
“You should really block her, man. Reading her statuses ain’t-ain’t-ain’t healthy,” Octane replied.
“What do you think she’s doing?”
“Think it has something to do with why she’s out today?”
“Not sure, man.”
“Do you think she’s hanging out with another guy?”
“She wouldn’t do that to you. It’s been, what, two weeks? Plus you’re technically still together.”
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know.”
“Easier said than done, but just don’t think about it,” Octane said with a shrug. “It’s not gonna make it any better for you.”
Disregarding his advice, Carl then asked, “Has she said anything to you during the yearbook club?”
“I don’t really interact with-with-with her too much. She does the photo editing for the printed book; I do the video editing for the-the-the DVD. Plus, it’d just be kinda awkward to talk about it: ‘Hey, Spore. I like what you did with the Spanish Club page, also, how come you don’t want to fuck Carl as much lately?’ ”
“Yeah, fair enough.”
“Have you-you-you given any thought to what she said?”
“About your issues or whatever.”
“She’s ridiculous. Like, she was upset that we only did the crap I wanted to do apparently. So I told her last week we can do whatever she wants to, then she says that there are ‘deep problems’ that I’m not focusing on. She’s just bein’ a girl.”
An incredulous “Huh” was Octane’s only contribution.
“Whatever. El says it’ll all be fine so long as I play it cool.”
“Speaking of…” Octane said as he cocked his head towards El’s direction.
Diverting his attention away from Octane, Carl glanced over his right shoulder and saw El at his table with Glacier. He was leaning and smiling, and she was smiling back wide as him. Carl managed to overhear part of their conversation:
“You know, it’s funny,” El began, “girls all seem to want the bad boy who’s only good for her. And guy just wants the good girl who’s only bad for him.”
El’s overt flirtation made the fair-skinned redhead blush, and she shot him an intrigued glance.
“He really does know a lot about women, doesn’t he?” Carl asked, his voice bubbling slightly with jealousy.
“Dude’s got charm to spare; that’s for sure,” Octane replied, noticing Carl’s annoyed disposition.
“What’s wrong now?”
“Nothing,” Carl replied, cutting short his lingering stare at El’s table.
Unconvinced, Octane merely asked, “Seems happy, though, doesn’t he?”
Carl scoffed and shook his head in agreement, not picking up on the point his friend had tried to make.
“He tell you about this parents?” Octane asked.
“What about ‘em?”
“You should ask.”
“Yeah, maybe later,” Carl replied, disregarding what Octane had just said.
Not being able to get her off his mind, Carl sent Spore a text that night at 9:30. ‘Whats tonite?’ the message read, referencing her Facebook post. Three hours passed without a response, and Carl sent another text to her, this one more acidic in tone: ‘Can’t respond? Real nice.’ This, too, went unanswered.
Without welcome or warning, Carl’s thoughts were plagued by the worst-case scenario: Spore cheating on him.
Is that what’s going on? Is she with someone else? Is why she’s having such an easy time of all this?
Has she moved on?
All he could think now was her in some other man’s arms. Someone bigger than him, smarter than him, more attractive than him. Someone that’s making her laugh, making her heart beat fast. Someone holding her, kissing her, getting in to bed with her, and sleeping with her.
Someone taking his power away from him.
These unfounded fears filled Carl with an irrational contempt for this imaginary home-wrecker that he had concocted.
Whatever, let her get with someone else, he thought as his eyes started to fill with tears. Like I give a shit.
He then planted his face in to his pillow and forced himself to go to sleep.
That next morning, Carl dug through the bottom drawer of his desk. Finally finding what he was looking for, he cracked open the cover to the notebook he just retrieved, put pen against paper, and began writing:
Carl closed the marble notebook that he had opened for the first time in almost six months and put it in his desk, making sure to cover it with a stack of papers so no one would see it. Unsure of what to do next, he pulled out his phone to call El.
“Yo, bud,” El answered on the other line.
“Yo, what are you up to?”
“Glacier’s about to come by. I rented some BS nature documentary and told her it’d be a good way to study.”
“Oh, I was gonna see if you wanted to come here.”
“I already have these plans. Sorry, man. Everything alright?”
“I…uh…I texted Spore last night.”
“I couldn’t help it! I can’t get her off my mind, man.”
“It’s alright. I guess you’re still pretty inexperienced, so it’s bound to happen,” El replied, unaware of the condescending weight of his words.
“Don’t be a dick.”
“Just saying, man. You ought to listen to me more; I know what I’m talking about.”
“You’re not always right, you know.”
“Except that she didn’t text you back, did she?”
“What’s your problem right now? Seriously?”
“Nothing. Have fun,” Carl replied. Without waiting for a response from El, he clicked his phone off and threw it angrily on his bed.
So damn selfish. Dude’s got enough and fucks enough. Doesn’t realize how good he has it either, I bet. Comes so goddamn easy for him.
After spending the rest of the weekend in an angry, depressed solitude, Carl was dreading going through the motions of another week of high school. As the minutes slowly ticked away and lunchtime rolled around, Carl, though not having had much of an appetite since the break, knew he had to eat. Purchasing a cafeteria lunch of an overcooked cheeseburger, fries that were too soggy to enjoy, watered-down iced tea, and a stale chocolate chip cookie, he sat down at his usual table with his friends: Copycat, Shift, Brainstorm, Yawn, and Reach.
“Yo, big Carl. How you holding up?” asked Brainstorm.
“Aight,” he responded, looking down at his unappealing lunch.
“Stiff upper lip, buddy,” Shift said. “Plenty of fish in the sea.”
“Yeah, but something tells me his rod is defective,” joked Reach.
“Not cool, man,” retorted Yawn.
“It’s whatever,” Carl muttered, caring neither for the comment nor conversation in general.
Moving the topic away from Carl and towards teenage boy antics, Shift said with a smirk, “Hey, ‘Storm, those chips look good.”
“Yeah, they’re harvest chedd—”
But before he could finish, Shift phased half of his torso through Reach, seated to his right, and solidified his hand to take the snack off his tray.
“Oh, that’s real cute,” Brainstorm replied. “But I think I’ll help myself to your hotdog,” he then mimed a lasso and whipped Shift’s hotdog off his plate and right in to his hand, “and I feel that Yawn’s pickle would go great with it.” Doing the same motion, he swiped Yawn’s dill spear off his plate and placed in snuggle between the bun and meat.
“You guys are so immature,” Reach noted. Then, pretending to stretch, he elongated his arms, curved around both Carl and Shift in an attempt to take Yawn’s salad off his plate.
“Don’t think so buddy. Sweet dreams,” Yawn said with a wink.
“Crap,” was the only word Reach could get out before he went face down in his tray.
“Shouldn’t have made…” Copycat prime stated.
“…eye contact,” his duplicate finished, as one went right and the other went left to loot what Reach’s face wasn’t touching on his plate. The two halves of Copycat merged back together as he made his way back to his seat, holding the bounty that both parts had stolen.
“Well,” Brainstorm stated, “Looks like CC is today’s winner.”
“You, uh, want some of these chips, bud?” Copycat asked Carl, who he noticed was staring blankly at his food.
“Nah, man,” Carl remarked, having less of an appetite than before. “Not really hungry.”
One month ago:
“And they play this stupid game where they steal each others’ lunches the whole time. It’s obnoxious.”
“It’s just so stupid,” Carl replied, attempting to mask his jealousy.
“You can join in, too.”
“Yeah, well, except that…”
“I know, Carl. I know.”
“I’m just sayin’.”
“You just say it a lot, babe.”
“But at least I got you, right?”
Spore was silent and looked down.
“What’s wrong?” Carl asked.
“Nothing. But it wouldn’t matter whether or not we’re together,” she then let her words linger for a moment before continuing. “Just because you don’t have a power doesn’t mean you’re not special. You are, Carl. I keep trying to tell you that.”
“Yeah, and my mom’s been telling me that since I was born. And after you see everyone around you getting stronger and stronger every day, it starts losin’ its meaning.”
“Oh, cutie,” Spore replied, shaking her heard. “When will you learn?”
“I’m slow, remember?”
Spore let out a tiny laugh. She then looked at the blue-and-yellow rental box on Carl’s nightstand and saw The Transporter labeled across the side.
“I thought you were going to rent The Notebook?”
“Oh, is…is that what you said?” Carl remarked. “I’m almost positive you said The Transporter.”
“ ‘Pure popcorn pleasure for older teens and up,’ ” Spore said, picking up the box and reciting the review on the back. “Carl, there’s actually something I’ve wanted to talk to you about.”
“Um,” she began, looking at him in the eyes, the eyes of a boy she didn’t want to hurt. “Nothing. It was nothing.”
“Hey, Carl!” Brainstorm said, snapping his fingers in front of Carl’s face. “Snap out of it; you’re going to be late for Health.”
Carl hadn’t realized he had been lost in his thoughts for majority of the lunch period. Coming out of his daze, he thanked Brainstorm, grabbed his things, and went on with his day. When he wasn’t thinking about Spore, he was thinking of ways to try to not think of her. With her being all he could focus on, everything else around him was a blob of places and people and things. None of it seemed distinct, nor did any of it seem important. It was just there.
As Carl began his trudge to Environmental, he came upon a surprising sight: Spore stood outside the doorway, waiting for him.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she returned.
“How’ve you been?”
“What was with that text last night?”
she asked with certain bite in her voice.
“Just curious what you were doin’.”
“Ugh, I went with my family to visit my grandparents up north. That’s what. What did you think I was doing?”
“I don’t know. With some other dude?”
“Is that what you think of me? That I’m going to go slut it up behind your back?”
“Guess so…” Carl muttered, looking away.
“I don’t think we should be together anymore, Carl. I’m sorry.”
“You’re so selfish…” he sneered as he shook his head. “Not me.”
“Me? I’m the selfish one! Are you serious!”
“You make me care for you, then you did this shit? Without really giving things a chance? No one’s ever gonna love you as much as I do.”
“Oh my God, you’re unbelievable. I asked you for one thing, Carl, one thing: A little time. But no, you couldn’t give me that. I told you that you always put yourself first, and what do you do to try to prove me wrong? You go out of your way to talk to me when I specifically asked for you not to. Did you really not see how you were doing the exact thing I said was the problem!
“I care for you, Carl. I really do,” she continued, “but I don’t think you ever really cared for me as much as you just cared for yourself. And I really think ‘us’ wasn’t as great as you seem to think it was. I hope…I know one day you’ll find what you’re looking for, but it just won’t be with me. I’m sorry.”
Spore turned and went in to the classroom. Carl stood there and attempted to let her words marinate in his mind.
And with that, things were officially over. Spore had ended it. Everything Carl had…all the love and joy and happiness and strength…it was all gone. In what felt like no time at all, things had gone from great to downright bad.
And little did Carl know, things were about to go from bad to worse.
Gym class was the only class where Carl, in theory, was equal. Wanting to test students on their ‘natural’ athletic abilities, schools outfitted gym classes with nullifiers that suppress the gene that gives a person his or her power. Originally developed to better contain convicts in prison, the nullifiers leveled the playing field for physical education. Only those with physically manifested attributes, such as Wing, partially retained their abilities. In his case, his wings remained; however, he lost the ability to manipulate wind.
Until today, Carl had been on Wing’s team each time they played dodgeball, and he had little to no reason to not enjoy the sport.
Getting hit in the face for the fourth time that period, he could hear Wing say to a friend, “Even with the Carl-makers, he still doesn’t stand a chance.”
“ ‘Carl-makers,’ that’s was always really funny, Wing, you fucking used tampon of a human being,” he muttered to himself as he rubbed his right cheek and took a seat with his teammates who’ve also been ejected from the game. Carl, whose mind was permeated with thoughts of his recent breakup, had been too distracted to play effectively, and Wing had taken full advantage of that fact.
After four more minutes of play, Mr. Woods blew his whistle, ending the second round. “Okay,” he said, “the score is 1-1. Next game decides it.”
“See you out there, Imp,” Wing called out from the other bench.
“Watch it, Kong,” Mr. Woods stated, having heard the antagonizing remarks. “I don’t want to have this conversation with you again.”
Superficially, Wing replied, “Of course, sir. My apologies,” then quickly following his words with devious smirk at Carl.
Carl shook his head as the lividity rose within him. With his current emotional state, it meant that Wing’s actions were more caustic to him than usual. Every time Wing antagonized him, the anger in Carl was stirred harder and harder. Usually, Carl’s goal was to just do his best to not make his team lose; today, his effort was to be focused on cracking Wing across the face with a dodgeball.
He missed the first shot he took at Wing. And he missed the subsequent five times he tried to hit the lithe young man, who was too quick for Carl to successfully land a blow. Fury replaced precision as Carl impetuously – and unsuccessfully – launched ball after ball at Wing.
And as each ball harmless flew past him, Wing would laugh harder and harder. And every time he let out that loud, deep, mocking laugh, Carl’s anger was stirred even more.
The agitation was clear on Carl’s face; he saw no need and no use in hiding it. He wanted to hurt Wing. Badly.
“Missed again, Imp,” Wing taunted as he deftly swerved out of the way of the red rubber ball that was about to connect with his head.
Carl immediately found another by his feet and sent it on the same course towards him.
“Don’t try too hard, Imp,” you’re just embarrassing yourself now. “Come on; I’ll make it easy for you,” he said. Then expanding the feathery protrusions on his back to their full length, he smiled as wide as his wingspan and gestured with his hands that he wanted Carl to throw the ball.
Though panting hard with exhaustion, Carl obliged Wing, but his throw was a weak and lifeless one. As the ball neared his enemy, a small flap of his wings was enough to send the red rubber projectile off course.
“That’s enough, Kong!” Mr. Woods yelled. “You know the rule about powers; you get a zero for the day!”
“Pity,” Wing remarked, feeling the failing grade for the day was more than worth the embarrassment now painted across Carl’s face. “It was an admirable try, Imp.”
Wing then turned his back to take his place on his team’s bench. As he did so, Carl, feeling a resurgence of strength, picked up another ball a few feet away and held it tight against his chest. Forfeiting any integrity, he wound up and released the ball, hitting Wing in the back of his head and interrupting his graceful stride.
Wing turned to face Carl, his face as red as the ball that had hit him. Sentiments had been quickly switched as Carl felt a wave of satisfaction and Wing a deeper loathing for Carl than ever before.
Mr. Woods blared on his whistle three times, ejecting Carl from the game as well.
“Freeman!” he screamed. “You’re out, too! Failing grade for the day, and you’re lucky I don’t fail you for the quarter for an act like that!”
Carl was silent. He didn’t know what had come over him, but he felt no regret for what he had done. Like Wing, the chance for humiliation greatly exceeded the desire for a passing grade in gym class.
“Nice shot, Freeman,” Wing sneered from the opposing bench, “but I suppose we all get lucky once.”
Carl said nothing and instead scowled at the young Chinese boy, accompanying it with a smirk of self-satisfaction.
When class ended, the boys took to the locker room to get dressed, but before Carl and Wing could go inside, Mr. Woods called them to stay behind.
“Kong! Freeman! You’re not going anywhere just yet,” he yelled. “Everyone else inside; this is none of your business.”
The other young boys, always eager to hear a fellow classmate get reprimanded by the teacher, groaned and slowly marched in to the locker room, hoping to at least hear the introduction to Carl and Wing’s verbal berating.
“I don’t know the problem you two have with each other, and frankly, I don’t fucking care,” the gym teacher growled, not concerned with sugarcoating his language. “If I see either of you pull anything like that in my class again, we’re going to have a serious problem. Do you understand me!”
Carl looked at Mr. Woods in shame; Wing stared at him in indifference. The teacher let his words linger on the ears for a moment before continuing. “Now shake hands like men and put this behind you. And I’ll repeat myself: I better not fucking see this kind of behavior again. Do I make myself clear?”
The boys simply nodded before turning to shake hands. Carl was trying – and failing – to keep a calm composure, but the anger in his eyes betrayed him as he looked at Wing. As they shook, Carl noticed how icy Wing’s grip was, starkly contrasting the furious heat in his own.
“Go,” Mr. Woods finished. “I don’t want to look at either one of you right now.”
The two remained silent before entering the locker room. The moment the door closed, Wing’s antagonism resumed.
“Must be nice, I’d assume, not being a freak for a change, even though it’s only for forty-five minutes every other day,” Wing whispered. Although better at hiding it, he was filled with as much indignation as Carl.
And Carl, whose anger never had a chance to fully subside, was being stirred once more.
“Really, it must be nice,” he said again before walking past Carl and towards his locker.
Carl reached for his own locker and began to turn the dial, hoping in vain that this was the last he’d have to deal with Wing for the day. Under his breath, mumbled the combination to his lock. “Zero three, three zero, one two.”
With a *clunk*, the lock came off, and the door opened up. He spent moments applying body spray and putting his normal clothes back on. Wasting no time, he slammed the locker shut and began walking towards the exit and out in to the hallway.
“See you later, Freakman,” Wing uttered coolly after exiting a few moments after Carl.
Turning around and getting in to Wing’s face, Carl growled, “Listen, you piece of shit, I ain’t afraid of you.” Even angrier than he was before, he the finished with “Back the fuck off before you regret it.”
A crowd of students began to gather as they heard the raised voices. El and Octane, both on their way to their gym period, were amongst them.
“Oh, Imp, you’re so much fun to be around…” Wing spouted with a fiendish sneer and narrowed eyes. “It’s a wonder why Spore ever dumped you, isn’t it?”
Wing, taken off guard, now laid on the ground with bloody nose while Carl’s right fist felt as if it had just been struck by a hammer.
Voices emanated throughout the hall:
“Did you see that!”
“Carl knocked him on his ass!”
“Should’ve done it years ago.”
“You gonna take that, Kong?”
“Get up, Wing! Or are you too scared to get hit again by a ‘freak’!” Carl screamed at him. “Get up, you b—”
It was then that El grabbed him and exited out of the school before the situation could escalate any further. Luckily, no teachers had been present for the altercation.
“Get the fuck off me, man! What the hell are you doing!”
“Making sure you don’t get fucking expelled; that’s what I’m fucking doing, you dick! What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I knew what I was doing! I was giving that dickhead what he had coming for years!”
“Oh great, you hit him and you’re the one kicked out. You’re fucking lucky a teacher didn’t see that! Think for a change! Christ!”
The voices of the two were raised as Octane, who had followed along immediately, tried to diffuse the situation.
“Both of you, chill out,” he said calmly with his hands up and facing outward. “It’s over.”
“Yeah, and you just got it all figured out, don’t you? Perfect fucking Elcsum Gray needs to use his strength to save Carl and tell him what he did wrong,” Carl replied, ignoring Octane’s pleas for amity.
“Oh do not even start with this bullshit again, man! I’m tired of having your back and then you treating me like an asshole because of it! You’re lucky you even have friends after how big of a dick you’ve been this past year!”
Octane interjected again, still trying in futility to end things before they escalated.
“Carl, he was just trying to help. And El, he’s told you this before; he doesn’t want you doing things for him. You’re both-both-both acting like children.”
Also paying no attention to Octane, El continued his rant. “Getting pissed at me for looking out for you, forgetting about me and Ock the second you get a girlfriend then calling when you only when you need something. Want me to go on?” The frustration in El’s words was seething with months of anger and resentment.
“Yeah, then if I’m such a piece of shit, don’t talk to me anymore,” Carl said as he begin to turn away from his friends and back to the school.
“Spore was right,” El uttered.
“Fuck,” Octane whispered to himself as he shook his head.
Carl stopped in his tracks and turned around. It was El who was now stirring his anger.
“What?” Carl replied, incensed and walking up within inches of El.
“Spore was right. You really are selfish,” El replied.
“Fuck you!” he yelled, pushing El back.
“What, are you going to fight me now? Get a grip,” El said, rolling his eyes.
“Fuck off, man!” Carl exclaimed.
“Guys!” Octane screamed.
“I’m tired of this ‘woe-is-me’ bullshit, Carl! Yes, your girlfriend dumped you, and yeah, you don’t have a power. It sucks, but fucking get over it already! Grow a goddamn pair and act like a man for once.”
“Go fuck yourself, El. You could never possibly understand what I have to go through. You have it so fuckin’ easy.”
“You know what?”
El then grabbed Carl, and within moments, he jumped them so they were far enough from school grounds and to an empty parking lot nearby. Octane followed in short order.
Immediately upon landing, El looked at Carl and, in a very matter-of-fact way, requested, “Hit me.”
“You heard me, Carl. You’ve wanted to for a while now. Hit me,” he said again, this time giving him a small push on the shoulder.
“Don’t push me, man.”
“What’s that matter? It’s what you want, right? To kick my ass? That’ll make you feel better, won’t it? That’ll make you feel powerful, right? Come on, kick perfect fucking Elcsum Gray’s ass, or are you a pussy?”
Carl’s forgot the pain in his right hand as it balled in to fist on his side.
“Carl…” Octane pleaded. For once, he was at a loss for words.
“Too scared, Imp?”
Carl, for the second time in a matter of minutes, hit a man in the face. This time, it was the face of his best friend instead of his worst enemy. Like Wing, the blow knocked El to the ground, and as Carl saw his friend’s face now swollen and covered in blood, he looked at his hand in terrible awe over what he had just done.
He couldn’t believe himself.
El slowly lifted himself to the ground and brushed the dirt of his clothing. With his tongue, he gathered the blood that had filled his mouth and spat it on the ground. Turning to Carl, he asked him one simple question.
“How powerful do you feel now?”
END OF ACT 2
It was now early May, and Carl was more alone than he had ever been in his entire life. Having learned of the fight with Wing, the school gave Carl two weeks of out-of-school suspension and placed him in a different gym class. This didn’t do much to quell the feelings on either side; Carl and Wing continued to detest each other and would share looks of mutual antipathy whenever paths were crossed.
The worst part about that, however, wasn’t the animosity; it was that Wing was one of the few people who still acknowledged his existence.
Octane continued to play mediator; he chose no sides between Carl and El as the pair hadn’t spoken since the day of the fight. Spore, too, was effectively out of his life. She had become an expert at focusing intently on a point in the distance any time they walked passed each other. To her, Carl had become another face in the crowd.
Carl knew that he screwed up. He knew everything was a mess. And he knew he that he had become his own worst enemy.
But what he didn’t know was how he was supposed to fix it.
He wanted to apologize to El. He wanted to make things right by Spore. He wanted it all to go back to how it used to be…but something held him back. Any time he went to pick up the phone to dial a number, the thought of uttering the words ‘I’m sorry’ seemed like an impossibility. He pretended that it had been pride holding him back, but deep down he knew that he was just too afraid to try to make amends. If he tried and failed, then that would mean he’d truly had lost them both forever.
Even his notebook, which in the most desperate of times provided a small degree of solace, went untouched. Writing down what happened would make the reality of the situation too palpable. And even more so, he was too ashamed to let his dad ‘know’ what happened.
Finishing up another day of school – one day closer to leaving it all behind – Carl walked in to his home. He was soon stopped by his mother.
“Sit,” she commanded succinctly while pointing with fierce intention at a kitchen chair.
“Mom, I don’t really want to…”
“I said sit!”
Taken aback by her tone, Carl did as he was asked and sat down at the kitchen island to face his mother.
“You, young man, have been throwing everything out of whack around this house these past few months, and it ends now.” Raising her fist straight up, she extended her forefinger and said, “First the anger and depression with Spore,” raising her middle finger, she added, “then not only the fight with that Asian boy, but with El, your best friend,” straightening out her ring finger, she then finished, “and now moping around this house, treating your family like people who live with you instead of people who love you…it needs to stop, Carl. I’m – we’re all – drowning in your negativity, and I’m sick of it.”
“Mom, just because you can ‘feel’ what I feel doesn’t mean you at all understand,” Carl remarked with an eye roll as he got up from the island and began to walk away.
“I did not say you could leave, young man!”
Carl, whose mother had rarely taken this kind of tone with him, looked at her with tinge of fear and sat back down.
“Carl,” she began, her voice placating, “I’ve always told you how special you. And you are, Carl. You really, really are. What you’ve had to deal with in your life, it’s not easy, and it’s not at all fair, no. But do you know how you’re not special? How you’re feeling. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has gone through this, Carl. The anger, the jealousy, the bitterness, the loneliness, the self-loathing…you’re not the first one to ever have to deal with it. You’re not even the only one of your friends who feels it.”
Before Carl had a chance to refute this, Insight continued.
“Do you know how inferior Elcsum feels all the time? Do you know how he feels the need to act a fool because he’s afraid people won’t like who he really is? He’s so concerned with what people think of him that he’s created this false persona that he thinks everyone would like. The jokes, the false confidence, the way he is with girls…it’s all an act.”
“You could tell all that by being around him?” Carl asked, surprised at the scope of his mother’s power.
“His sense of self-worth – how little of it there is – pours out of him, Carl. It’s a constant stream. And I feel so, so sorry for him. I know you’re jealous of him…”
“I’m not jeal—”
“I know you’re jealous of him,” Insight reiterated after being cut off, “but despite everything he has going for him, he’s just as scared and lonely as you are. No one’s perfect, Carl. And no one truly has it easy. You won’t get anywhere in this world until you accept the fact that we’re all troubled and we all have issues that we need to deal with. In that way, we’re all powerless. Not just you.”
“Make up with him. Be the friend he needs. Get your life back in order.”
Carl looked down for a moment before meeting his mom in the eyes. This woman, whom he had always considered an overly emotional, overly intrusive mess, stood before him stronger and more intelligent than he had ever realized.
“And what if he doesn’t want to?” he asked, looking down once more.
“You won’t know until you try, baby. But, from what I know about the boy, he’d be just as eager to rectify things as you are.”
“I’m an asshole, ma.”
Walking over to her son, she leaned in to give him a kiss on the head. She then promptly smacked him on the back of it.
“I know you’re upset, but that’s no excuse to use that kind of language.”
Carl smirked as he rubbed the back of his head. “I love you, too, ma. And, um…thanks.”
“Anything for my baby angel,” she replied with a smile.
“Why did you take so long to tell me all this?”
“I was hopin’ you’d figure it out for yourself,” she said, “but then I remembered how damned stubborn you can be sometimes, just like your father, God rest his soul.”
“I remind you of him?”
“Except he wouldn’t curse in front of a lady, young man.”
“I said sorry!”
“I’m just teasin’ you. Why don’t you go get washed up? Dinner’s gonna be ready soon.”
Later that night, Carl, deciding to call one of the few people who still didn’t mind being around him, picked up his phone to ring Octane. He couldn’t deny the validity of what his mom had told him; he needed to get himself back on the right path and fix things, starting with El. So for the first time in a long time, he reached out to a friend. He was tired of avoiding his friends. And he was tired of avoiding the truth.
“Yo, man,” he said in to the phone after Octane had answered.
“Yo yo, what’s up, what’s up?”
“Nothin’. You doin’ anything?”
“Ain’t doing shit. You wanna come over?”
“Yeah, let’s chill, but wouldn’t it be quicker if you…”
He then heard a booming *swoosh* sound lasting around seven seconds followed by a *knock* *knock* *knock* at the door.
“What’s-what’s-what’s going on, man?” Octane asked as the two hung out in Carl’s room. “You haven’t been too chatty lately.”
“Yeah, well, shit’s been shit, ya know?”
“Ha, yeah, man. I’ve noticed.”
“Has El said anything about…anything?”
“Not really. Doesn’t really bring it up.”
“I see,” Carl replied, not sure what to make of that fact.
“You try talking to him?”
“I don’t think he wants to talk.”
“You-you-you’d be surprised, man. Dude misses you for sure.”
“How do you know?”
“He just hasn’t been the same since, ya know?”
“Yeah…” Carl said.
There was silence for a beat until Octane changed the topic slightly.
“You never asked him about his parents, did you?”
“Must’ve forgotten,” Carl admitted, slightly ashamed. “What about them?”
“They got a divorce. It’s been super hard on him.”
“They…really? They always seemed so happy, though.”
“Yeah, well, I guess they were-were-weren’t gonna fight in front of his friends or anything.”
“I can’t believe he never said anything.”
“You never asked, man. You always go to him when you have a problem, but can you-you-you name a time when you asked him if he had any of his own?”
“I never even thought to,” Carl answered, his shame growing. “Has he mentioned that to you before?”
“No, but I see more than people realize,” Octane replied. “For-for instance, people kind of think I’m this goof, and that’s fine. What people wanna think of me doesn’t bother me. But you know who it does bother?”
“El,” Carl muttered.
“My mom already laid in to me about it,” Carl said. “Never really knew, ya know? I guess, how could I?”
“He’s good at putting on a show, that’s for sure,” Octane agreed. “But you guys are best buds; you’ll be alright. Just talk it out like bros.”
“What if he doesn’t want to?”
“Said it before, and I’ll say it again: Don’t be a pussy, Freeman.”
Carl let out a light chuckle.
“I’m glad you’re back to not being such-such-such a douche.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” Carl agreed.
“Spore really did a number on ya, didn’t she?”
“For real, man. I thought she was the one.”
“What about her made-made-made you feel that way?”
Carl was at a loss for words. Had he been asked this question months ago, he would’ve spouted off catchwords such as ‘fate,’ ‘destiny,’ or ‘soul mate,’ but now what he felt for her began to feel like a distant blur. And conversely, why he felt that way became all the more clear.
“…because I liked that someone liked me,” he admitted.
“Ha, I hear ya, bro. But the only person that’s gotta like you is you.”
“You know, you’re a lot smarter than people give you credit for.”
“I play shit close to the chest.”
“Ha, I can…”
“Or is it vest?”
“Close to the vest? But who the hell wears vests?”
“I mean, six-to-one, right? Does it matter? Like-like-like, if you’re wearing a vest but it’s really chest, the difference is like, an eighth on an inch of cloth, right? So it’d still be really close.”
“I take it all back.”
“Bitch. But seriously, dude…talk to him. I’m sure he wants to hear from ya.”
“Yeah…yeah. Thanks, man.”
“No worries, bud.”
“So, um…what about you? Everything good on your end?”
Octane smirked. “You’re-you’re-you’re learning. Shit’s good. Having trouble finding a good way to finish off the yearbook DVD, though.”
“Really? Don’t yearbooks get issued next month?”
“Yeah, dude. I-I-I gotta finish it up.”
“You know what you could do: Cap the whole thing off with prom.”
“That’s-that-that’s actually a pretty sweet idea. You just think of that now?”
“Keep a secret?”
“I really, really like musicals. I think ending things on a dance number would be awesome.”
“Fag,” Octane replied jovially.
“Ha, fuck you. You know it’s a good idea.”
“Yeah, that actually is pretty sweet. Are you gonna go, though?”
“To prom? Well…” Carl began, embarrassed, “I, um…I bought tickets last month or so. I kind of,” he then cleared his throat and continued, “I kind of thought I’d still be able to win Spore back and wanted to be prepared for when I did.”
“Word. You better now with all that?”
“Other than wasting ninety bucks on these stupid tickets, yeah. I mean, I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t hurt sometimes, but I guess every day’s a little better.”
“Time-time-time heals all, broseph. So you gonna try to go or no?”
“Probably not. You want them?”
“Nah, I’m aight. Hold on to ‘em. Might just change your mind.”
“We’ll see,” Carl replied incredulously as he turned to look towards his dresser where the two tickets were secretly housed.
“Aight, bro. I’m gonna head out. Talk to you later, my man.”
“Later, bud. And, um…good talk. Thanks.”
“Yeah, man. I don’t like seeing either you or-or-or El all messed up. Anything I can to-to-to help.”
“Appreciated, man. Take it easy.”
“Later,” Octane replied. And with a *swoosh*, he rocketed out of Carl’s house, his long brown hair and unzipped gray hoodie being swooshed back as he did.
Carl stood up and breathed deeply. For the first time in a long time, he was beginning to feel normal again.
“What next…?” he asked himself. Reaching in to his pocket, he felt his phone. He stared at it for a moment, but something didn’t feel quite right.
He opened his top desk drawer and put the phone in there, out of sight and out of mind. After closing the top drawer, his hand drifted towards the bottom one to retrieve his notebook.
Putting down his pen and closing the cover, Carl tucked his notebook – a personal tome of his father – on his bookshelf next to those stories of wizards and warriors, instead of hiding it away his his desk drawer. It would serve as constant reminder of who his true hero is and always will be.
His mom said she reminded him of his father; it’s time he started acting like it.
Rubbing his face to try to subvert any tears that may form, he reached in to his top drawer to pull out his cell phone. He unlocked the phone, scrolled right to his contacts application, down to ‘E,’ and hovered his thumb over his best friend’s name. As it wavered precariously over the screen of his phone, Carl’s mind became flooded with thoughts:
What if he don’t actually wanna talk? What if Ock’s wrong and El’s happy with the way things are? Shit, if he did wanna talk, why hasn’t he made even the slightest attempt to? If…
…if I wasn’t so afraid, this’d be easier.
Exhaling deeply, he put his phone in his pocket and laid down on his bed. As he stared at the ceiling, he asked himself one question:
What would El do if he fucked up as bad as I did?
He pondered for a moment before springing up from bed. Like his mom said, what El would do is act confident if he weren’t. If Carl were to fix their friendship, he’d need to be strong for once in his life.
Grabbing the keys to his car, he sped over to his friend’s house, but not before making a quick stop along the way. His heart thudded with nervousness as he pulled up and parked on the street, noticing that only El’s car was in the driveway.
Walking up the sidewalk and ringing the doorbell, he immediately heard footsteps approach the door. Carl’s heart skipped a beat for a moment; what was he going to tell him? Sure he was sorry, but what could he ever say to really make things right?
Guess I’ll have to wing it, Carl thought half a second before El opened the door.
The door opened with swift *woosh*, and immediately upon seeing him, Carl uttered, “El, I…”
Emphatically banging on the door, interspersing the knocks with “El!” and “Let me in!” but to no avail. Attempting a different method, he ran over to the backyard to face El’s open window.
“El!” he yelled, but with no reciprocation.
So he tried again.
“El! El! El! El!”
Now jumping with all his strength to try to have his voice carry farther in to his friends room, he began, “Fine! I know you don’t want to talk, but at least listen. El…I know I fucked up. I’m sorry, man. I’m a piece of shit. I don’t know what I can say or what I can do except tell you that you were right. I was…I am jealous of you, and it was wrong for me to feel that way. And if I had taken the time to ask more about you and how you’ve been doin’ with things and if you got any problems of your own, I woulda realized that you don’t have it perfect, either.
“But I didn’t…and then to make shit worse, I ditched you the second I got a girlfriend, even though you’re there for me rain or frickin’ shine any time I needed you. And then I topped it off by acting like you were the asshole and socked you right in the fuckin’ face. What the hell kind of person does something like that?”
Finally peeking his head slightly out of his window, El said his first words to Carl in months:
“A raging douchebag.”
“That about sums it up, don’t it?”
After a brief pause where both parties needed a moment to let things settle, El called out again, “I’ll be down in a second.”
Smiling, Carl sprinted over to the door to meet his friend.
“I missed you, man,” El replied after opening it to see Carl once more.
“Are you done with all of it?”
“Yeah…yeah, I am. I, uh…I talked to Ock about some things. Dude can be pretty wise sometimes.”
“When he can actually get words out,” El said, allowing a minor smile to form.
Moving away from the door, El motioned for Carl to come in, and the two walked silently in to the kitchen.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Carl said, lightly hitting himself in the head. “One sec.”
Running from the house and to his car, he rummaged through the back seat to retrieve a square white cardboard box and then jogged back to El’s door.
“Here’s the pizza I owed you,” Carl said with an unsure smirk.
“You’re a prince,” El replied. “Come on; let’s eat inside.”
“Just you here?”
Placing the pizza down on the kitchen island, the boys each pulled up a chair and sat down, grabbing a slice and putting it on a plate in front of them as they did.
“So for what happened to us…” Carl began, not certain about how to finish his sentence, “I don’t know if I can say sorry enough. Sorry and…thanks, as weird as that sounds.”
“Thanks for letting you hit me in the face?” El remarked with surprising levity.
“Ha…well, it started to help me realize, like you said, how much of a fuckin’ d-bag I was.”
“Well, you got it out of your system, let’s hope.”
“I wanted to say sorry right away, you know,” Carl said. “But I really just didn’t know how.”
“Yeah,” El remarked solemnly, wishing that Carl had.
“Face healed pretty quickly, though.”
“God wouldn’t allow me to not be pretty for too long,” El quipped, a devious grin now on his face.
“Still a dick,” Carl laughed, shaking his head.
Walking over, El outstretched his arms. “Come here.”
Sharing a hug, El replied, “Really did miss you, bud.”
“Okay, enough of that homo shit,” El joked, “there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for the past four months.”
“Just how good did it feel to pop Wing in the nose?”
“Really, really fucking good,” Carl answered, smiling.
“Ha! I can only imagine. But I hear he hasn’t let it go yet.”
“That right? What’d you hear?”
“Wants to fight you at prom. Figures they won’t expel him that close to graduation, and if he has the chance to embarrass you in front of all those people, he’s gonna do it.”
“Where’d you hear this?”
“Lax practice. Guys talk.”
“Well, too bad for him, I ain’t going to prom.”
“If not prom then some other time. Just be careful,” El warned.
“I will. You gonna go? I was just talking to Ock about it earlier tonight.”
“Really? I figured you’d be all over that.”
“To tell you the truth, man, I was pretty bummed these past few months and never bothered to get a date or a ticket. And now there isn’t anyone left to ask anyway.”
“Sorry, man. I actually got tickets if you want ‘em.”
“Don’t sweat it. We’ll bro out that night.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“So what have you been up to these past few months?” El asked.
“Readin’ a lot of comics. Playin’ a lot of video games.”
“Business as usual then?”
“More or less. How ‘bout you?”
“Chillin’ with the guys. Seeing a lot of Ock lately. Yawn’s had some parties, too.”
“Guess you got our friends in the divorce,” Carl joked, referencing their falling out. But as the words escaped his lips and brushed pain across El’s face like paint on a canvas,
Carl’s heart immediately dropped.
“El, man…shit. Ock told me what happened with your parents. I’m…”
“No, no…it’s cool,” El replied, hurt but not offended. “It’s for the best I realized.”
“Really? How so?”
“Just…they were really unhappy for a long time. And, yeah, I wanted them to stay together. But I guess I accepted that if I want them to truly be happy, then they’re gonna have to be apart for a while.”
“I…yeah. I never would’ve thought of it like that.”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s not like I figured it out right away. But one night, I was just laying there in bed, staring at the ceiling. And I was playing through all the scenarios in my head: Mom and dad getting back together, us going on a vacation, smiling, taking pictures, all that stuff. But the thought of it all just felt kinda empty, ya know? Like it was all just fiction. Because then I thought about how much they fought, how many times my dad would storm out of here after a big blow up, or how many times I caught my mom crying…I don’t know. I guess I realized I liked the idea of them together than them actually being together, ya know? I don’t really know how to explain it.”
“Makes a lot of sense actually,” Carl mumbled.
“So, yeah…been dealing with that, but it’s been alright. Life goes on, ya know?”
“Certainly hope so, man. So you hear back from any schools?”
“Yeah, I was between UCLA and UCB for a while, but I’m got in to the honors program at UCLA, so I think I’m gonna go there.”
“Still thinking pre-med?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Any idea what kind of medicine you’d wanna get into?”
“No clue. Too soon for that. You decide on your major yet?”
“Not too sure, either. Something in English, I guess. Like journalism.”
“That’d be pretty sweet,” El said as he took a big bite of the greasy cheese pizza that Carl had provided.
“Yeah, but who knows. Like you said, too soon to really know.”
“Well, whatever you go with, you’ll be great.”
“Thanks, man. So, you ever end up bangin’ Glacier?”
“Nah, man. All she wanted to do was make out. Like constantly. Just kiss. Some junior high bullshit.”
“You poor bastard.”
“I know! What about you, though? Any new girls?”
“Have you spoken to Spore at all?”
“No. As much as I’ve wanted to, I was just too depressed and too ashamed. I, uh…I didn’t handle the breakup too great.”
“You don’t say…”
“Ha, I was just talkin’ to Ock about that, too. I mean, I’d be lying if I said I still don’t think about her, but I guess I just realized that, looking back on the whole thing…”
“…you liked the idea of it better.”
“Something like that.”
The two boys shared a poignant smile and continued to eat their pizza.
“Good to see you two talking again,” Octane said to Carl and El after class the following Monday.
“Yeah, Carl finally took out his tampon and we made up,” El replied, shooting Carl a devious grin.
“Well, it was lodged up there pretty high,” Carl said in mock defense.
“Fu-fu-fucking gross,” Octane replied in disgust. “Now I have a mental image of you fishing out…fuck, you know what? Cha-cha-cha-changing the subject. I told Mrs. Prince what you said about filming prom and making that the end of the senior video. She thought it was a great idea. Nice job.”
“I have my moments,” Carl said modestly.
“Few and far between, but I guess you were due for one,” El added.
“You two definitely not going?” Octane asked, pushing the school doors open and exiting the building.
“Probably just gonna chill,” Carl replied.
“Too bad,” Octane remarked. “Gonna be pretty sweet.” Looking over at El, who pulled out the remote to unlock his car, Octane then asked, “You-you-you drove today?”
“It’s too goddamn hot to jump to school. I don’t know how you don’t pass out from running in this heat.”
“Short bursts, lots of water, and not being a pussy all help.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Easier said than done. He is a pretty huge pussy,” Carl added.
“You are what you eat lots and lots of,” El said with a grin. “Anyway, speaking of prom, Blitz isn’t gonna mind you basically doing schoolwork the entire night?”
“Wo-wo-won’t be the whole night. Plus, I’d be able to manage both her and the project.”
“Hope so for your sake,” Carl replied.
“El, you tell him about Wing?” Octane asked as he cocked his head towards Carl.
“He did,” Carl said, answering for his friend, “and that’s another reason I don’t wanna go. If the dude’s lookin’ to start shit, then why bother?”
“True, but that shouldn’t stop you from going to what’s basically a big end-of-high school party.”
“Eh, I’m sure we’ll get over it. Let’s be honest; high school ending is its own damn celebration.” Turning to face the school’s exterior, Carl then added, “Can’t wait to get the hell out of this place.”
“Oh, it hasn’t been that bad,” El rejoined, rolling his eyes. “We had some good times.”
“Yeah, like that time Spore surgically attached testicles to my heart and kicked them there repeatedly.”
Musing about what that’d entail, Octane nodded and remarked, “That’d be funnier if it didn’t sound so damn pathetic.”
“Yeah, you just gotta get over that, man,” El replied. “The ‘woe-is-me grace period’ is over. You’re now entering the ‘if you don’t stop crying over it, I’m going to punch you in the balls period.’ ”
“Just sayin’, guys. You know I’m a lot better now, but she’s still on my mind.”
“Yeah, well, that’s another reason we’re not going, isn’t it? Ain’t got no biddies to bring,” El added.
“Yeah, alright, true. Alright, bros, I’m-I’m-I’m out.”
“Later, man,” Carl responded.
“Later, boss,” El added.
Shortly after Octane left, Carl and El similarly parted ways. On his drive home, Carl reflected upon their conversation: The three of them hanging out, making stupid jokes at each other’s expense…things were starting to feel like old times again.
But at the same time, it felt different; it felt better. He and El were able to connect on a new level, and he saw a side of Octane he never realized was there. His friends had this depth that he never knew existed, and he had no idea how it took him so long to see that. They were well-rounded people with their own struggles and feelings and lives that extended beyond what Carl saw.
Carl also realized this didn’t extend to only his friends.
Coming straight home, Carl walked up the stairs in his room, thinking how nice it was that, for a change, he had no real homework to do and no tests to study for. The year – and his entire high school career – was winding down fast.
Before turning in to his room, he noticed Mesmer’s door was slightly ajar. Peering in, he saw his little brother sitting Indian style on the floor, his back pressed up against his bed. In his hands was a single issue of a comic. Carl was unable to make out the title.
“Hey, little man,” Carl said as he knocked on his brother’s door and slowly pushed it open.
“Hey, Carl,” Mesmer responded without looking up, clearly enthralled by the comic.
Instead of responding, Mesmer tilted the comic so it was perpendicular with the floor, giving Carl full view of its title and cover.
“What’s Marvel Boy?” he asked.
“He’s an alien. His spaceship was shot down over Earth, and everyone on board but him was killed. Like his friends and family and stuff. He ends up going nuts and declares war on Earth.”
“Sounds kinda sweet.”
“He’s real cool. I actually read this issue about a hundred times.”
“What’s so good about it?”
“Well, this monster thing that was a prisoner on his ship escaped when it crashed, and it’s now wrecking New York City. But he knows that he needs to do the right thing and stop it before anyone got hurt.”
“Why not just let it wreak havoc, though? I thought he declared war.”
“Because he’s not really a bad guy or anything, and he doesn’t actually wanna see anyone hurt. He’s just all angry and alone. But I think most of all is he knows that whether or not it was his fault, this monster thing was loose and no one else was gonna stop it. He’s reluctant, but he knows that he’s gotta, like, face it and do what’s right.”
“Damn, sound pretty sick.”
“Wanna read it when I’m done?”
“Actually, I was gonna go to the comic shop today anyway,” Carl lied. “Maybe I’ll pick up my own copy. You wanna come? All your shit’ll be on me.”
“Really?” Mesmer asked with his left eyebrow cocked with incredulity.
“Yeah, little man. Come on, before I change my mind.” Then turning his head away from his brother and out the doorway, Carl yelled to his mom, “Ma! Gonna take Mesmer to the comic shop! We’ll be back before dinner!”
“Don’t stay out too late!” she yelled back.
“You ready? Get your shoes on and let’s go,” Carl said.
“You really don’t gotta take me if you don’t want to,” Mesmer said as they drove to the shop.
“Nah, man. I want to. When was the last time we just chilled, you and me?”
“Years,” Mesmer said as he looked out the window.
“Yeah, well, that’s my point. Time me and you do some broin’ out. And…” Carl began, not sure how to finish his statement. Finally, he continued, “and I haven’t been the best brother ever. It’d be kinda nice to change that.”
“Yeah, you haven’t,” Mesmer agreed.
“ ‘Yeah’?” Carl repeated, slightly amused. “You ain’t gonne be all like ‘No, Carl! You’re great! Don’t be so hard on yourself!’ and all that?”
“No, you kinda sucked a lot of the times,” Mesmer said, also amused. “But you’re buying me comics, so I think we’re good.”
“It’s a brand new day, little man,” Carl remarked as he made a right in to the store’s parking lot.
Keeping to his word, Carl let Mesmer pick up a whole stack of comics, thankfully most from the quarter bin. The happiness on Mesmer’s face as he lugged the hoard to the cashier would be worth any cash Carl would have to spend that day.
When they got home, Mesmer eagerly bolted up the stairs and in to his bedroom, yelling “Thanks, Carl!” in his wake. Likewise, Carl went in to his own room and cracked open the hardcover collected edition of the Marvel Boy series that he had just purchased. As he rifled through the pages, he thought about what his brother had told him:
A monster let loose. No one else able to stop it. Reluctant hero’s responsibility.
Carl closed the book and looked down. A grin danced cross his face. It started small, but as he mused more and more upon the idea that just popped in his head, his grin grew wider and wider. Before he knew it, he was laughing heartily to himself.
After a few seconds, he regained composure. Almost immediately, he took out his phone and called El.
He’ll love this.
“Yo, Carl, what’s up?”
“Would you be my date to prom?”
“This is everything I’ve ever wanted and more,” El gushed.
“I thought you’d like it. So you’ll go?”
“Absolutely I’ll go. What’s with the sudden change of heart, though?”
“Wing’s pissed, and yeah he’s a dick who deserved getting that punch in the face, but it’s a problem I still caused. If he wants a goddamn showdown, then let’s have it. Maybe we can put all this shit to rest for good before it gets any worse.”
“All while wearing a baller ass tux, am I right?”
“When you’re right, you’re right.”
“I’m not putting out, ya know.”
“Good point. Ugh, what am I going to wear! Such little time to decide. Is coral in this season?”
“You’ll figure it out. And I’m glad you’re down.”
“I like it. And if he does decide to start anything, you know I’ll have your back,” El said. He then decided to add, “If you want it.”
“Good. Also, maybe we can get in on a limo with Ock and Blitz.”
“Actually, for old time’s sake, why don’t you just come pick me up?”
“I am loving this idea more and more with every word.”
“Figured you would.”
“Wanna check out tuxes tomorrow?”
“Actually, I think I know where I can get one of my own.”
“Hey, mom?” Carl asked while knocking on his mother’s door.
“Yes, dear?” she asked, looking up from the book she had been reading. It was a horror novel with the face of a werewolf on the cover, its maw drenched in blood.
“This is gonna sound like a weird question, but do you have any of dad’s old clothes?”
“His clothes? Why?”
“I decided to go to prom, and I didn’t know if he happened to have a tux or something.”
“Since when are you going to prom?”
“Since five minutes ago.”
“Did you and Spore get back together?”
“Some other girl from class?”
“Oh, so you’re just going by yourself?”
“Then who are you going with?”
“I mean, we’re not…”
“I’ve always said he was overcompensating with those girls,” Insight mumbled to herself.
“What? No! We’re just goin’ as friends. Not like that.”
“I’d still love you all the same, hon.”
“We’re not gay!”
“Okay, dear. But if you were…”
“Oh, I’m just kidding with you. Now, as far as tuxes go, let’s check the attic.”
Ruffling through a worn cardboard box marked ‘Dad – dress clothes,’ Insight let out a loud “Ah!” as she found exactly what she was looking for. Slowly ascending from her crouched-down position, Insight carefully held up the charcoal gray tuxedo jacket that was Carl’s father’s from many years ago.
“Here we go,” she said with a smile on her face. Holding in front of Carl’s chest to see the comparison, she added, “I may have to take it in a bit; your father had such broad shoulders. But I think it’ll fit just fine.”
“Come on. Pants should be in there, too. Grab them and let’s try everything on.”
After spending a few minutes getting dressed, Carl exited his room, now fully adorned with the gray tuxedo, white button-up shirt, and deep purple tie, ready for his mother’s critique.
“Oh, Carl,” she gasped with a tear forming in her eye and a smile forming across her face. “You look just like him.”
Returning with a smile of his own, Carl simply replied, “Thanks, mom.”
“When did my little boy because a handsome young man?”
“Scary, ain’t it?”
“You have no idea, Carl.”
With a tuxedo procured and tickets purchased, Carl was more than ready for the prom. And without warning, the next couple weeks breezed right by, and the big night was upon him.
“Lookin’ swanky, baby brother,” Iris said as she snapped pictures of him in their living room.
“Thanks, ‘Ris,” Carl replied.
“So, since El’s pickin’ you up, can I borrow your car tonight?”
As Carl reached in to his pocket with every intention of loaning Iris his keys, he found himself holding on to them for a few seconds longer. And in those few seconds, he came to a decision.
“You know what? Since I’m going away to college in a few months…” he said as he tossed Iris his keys, “why don’t you take care of the car for me?”
“Are you shittin’ me?,” she asked staring at the keys that were now cupped in her hands. “ ‘Cause if this is a joke, I swear to God I’ll microwave the shit out of your brain.”
“I shit you not, ‘Ris. Plus you deserve it anyway.”
“Huh,” was all she could muster as she stared at the keys that were now in her hand. A wave of disbelief washed over her.
“Just don’t trash it too badly, okay? And I get to drive it whenever I come home for breaks.”
“Deal!” she yelled as she went over to hug Carl. “Thanks, Carl,” she whispered.
“Yeah, no problem,” he said as they parted. He then looked at the ground for a moment before responding again.
“I shoulda listened to you, ya know.”
Having a touch of her mother’s intuition, Iris understood immediately and replied, “I know. But it’s hard to get anything through that peanut head of yours.”
“Fair enough,” he said with a mild smirk.
“Thanks again, Carl. You didn’t have to.”
“I know, but I wanted to.”
“Now I gotta be nice to you and shit,” Iris responded facetiously.
Carl merely smiled at her, letting his dark brown eyes, full of warmth at the sight of his sister’s joy, say everything he needed.
“I’m gonna go upload the pictures. Have a fun night, alright?”
“Aight. Thanks again, ‘Ris.”
“Any time, baby brother,” she replied with a smile. Iris then turned around and sped upstairs. In the meanwhile, she switched the application on her phone from the camera to her contacts and immediately dialed Wavelength. From the next floor up, Carl could clearly hear, “Yo, Wave! You won’t guess what I just got!”
“That was a very nice thing you did, Carl,” Insight said as she walked in to the living room.
“Thanks, mom. It felt right, ya know?”
Smiling back, she simply said, “I know.”
“Hey, mom…do I have a peanut head?”
“Hm,” she began while examining her son. “No, it’s too pointy to be a peanut. More almond shaped if anything.”
Carl closed his eyes and groaned as he felt the top of his head in an attempt to reassure himself that it’s a normal shape. As he did, Insight leaned in and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
“My handsome young man,” she said.
*bzzzzz* *bzzzzz* *bzzzzz*
“Ah, that’s El,” Carl said as he looked at the text he just received on his phone. “I gotta go. He’s gonna be here in a minute.”
“Okay, sweetie. Have a good night.”
“I will, and, um…thanks, mom.”
“I don’t know…everything? I…”
Like her daughter moments ago, Insight knew inherently what Carl wanted to say but didn’t know how to. Instead of letting him fumble over his words, Insight went up and gave her son a strong hug.
“It’s what I do, sweet boy.”
“I love you, mom.”
“I love you, too, Carl. Now go and have fun.”
“I will. Goodnight, ma,” he said as he exited the house.
“Call me when you get there!” she yelled to him as the door shut.
“ ’Sup, gorgeous?” El asked he landed in front of Carl, swishing his golden hair out of his eyes as he did so. El, in addition to a classic black tux embellished with a red vest and matching tie, was wearing an enormous grin on his face. He was clearly ecstatic for the night.
“ ‘Sup, my man?” Carl responded as the two high-fived. “Lookin’ good.”
“Ain’t lookin’ too bad yourself, bud. But we can blow each other later; we’re running late.”
“Aight, let’s hop to it then.”
“So what are you gonna do if and when Wing looks to start something?”, El asked after about fifteen minutes of *swishing* and *thunking*.
“Don’t know. Just gotta deal with it as it comes. I escalated shit more than I should’ve, and I’m not gonna seek the dude out for a confrontation, but if it happens, it happens, ya know?”
“But whatever happens, though, I know you got my back.”
“Always,” El answered as they landed in front of The Manor House, the charming, picturesque venue that was chosen to host the school’s prom night.
“No line,” Carl remarked. “Everyone must be inside already.”
“Yeah, man. Told you we were running late. Let’s sign in and get in there.”
The two walked towards the sign in table, which was guarded by an elderly gentleman and his pad and pencil. “Name, please?” he asked
“You can’t be serious!” El exclaimed.
“We’re in your class!”
“Gray! Elcsum-freaking-Gray! And Carl-freaking-Freeman!”
“Here ya go,” Carl said in a much calmer voice, handing them over to the teacher.
“Thank you. Please enjoy the senior prom. If you leave…”
“…you can’t come back in,” the three of them said in unison.
“After you,” Carl said to El, who opened the door to the gigantic hall, adorned with the school’s colors of blue and gold while music played from a speaker system.
Before Carl himself walked in, he turned back for a moment and asked, “Hey, Doc?”
“Is, um…do you happen to remember if…”
“Ms. Summers isn’t in there, Mr. Freeman.”
“Oh, yeah, I mean, I was just…”
“Enjoy the dance, son,” Doc Drain replied with a sharp look the rarely accompanied his cadence.
“Will do,” Carl said before turning and going in to the hall himself. And moments after Carl caught up with El, a familiar sight was upon them.
“Well, well, well. Look at these handsome gentlemen here,” Octane said as he zipped up to them, camera firmly in hand. “Guys, say something for the camera.”
“Mrs. Rice, if you’re watching this…I’m legal in a month,” El replied as he stared in to the lens.
“Welp, that’s going to have to get edited out,” Octane grumbled.
“Ock, where’s are our table at?” Carl asked.
“Back left over there,” Octane said while nonchalantly pointing to the general area of their seats. “Just look for Blitz.”
“Oh, I think I see her,” El replied. “She’s the pissed-off-looking brunette sitting by herself, right?”
“Yeah, that-that-that sounds about right,” Octane replied. “Alright, let’s go. Food should be out in a minute.”
As the group of friends sat down at their table, Ms. Hawkins took to the microphone on stage and stated, “Hello, everyone. I hope you’re having as wonderful a time as I am! The band is scheduled to go on a bit later, but until then, let’s all continue to enjoy the DJ stylings of Yawn Patel!” she exclaimed, motioning to Yawn who had been providing the music for the dance up until this point. “Enjoy your meals and have a great rest of the night!”
“You guys didn’t see Wing anywhere, did you?” Carl asked to his friends as they finished their food.
“Nah, guess he’s a no-show,” Octane replied.
With a mouthful of food, El added, “Dude’s a total pussy.”
Carl nodded in acknowledgment, neither relieved nor dismayed. He then felt his damp forehead and said, “Aight, well, it’s hot as shit in here. I’m gonna step out for a second.”
Octane, who had once again began filming with the camera, turned to Carl and said, “Alright. There’s a back exit by the bathroom. Just-just-just don’t let Double-D see you, and you should be straight.”
Giving a slight nod of acknowledgement, Carl exited to bask for a few minutes in the cool night air before returning back to the dance. Unknowingly, Octane captured his departure.
After he left, El turned towards Octane and stated, “Yo, Ock. Lemme see what you got so far.”
“Here-here-here ya go,” Octane replied, handing over the video camera and instructing him on what to do. “Here: This is the view screen, and this button here let’s you rewind.”
Hitting the button, El was forced to pause it within mere moments as his eyes grew wide.
Rewinding the tape back a few seconds and pausing it, El tilted the viewing screen to Octane and stated, “Okay, here you see Carl going outside, right?”
“Yeah,” Octane acknowledged.
“Okay, well…” El said before hitting the play button. Within two seconds, he hit the pause button again, “…who does that look like following right behind him?”
Although Octane had begun turning the camera away at the time, it was clear in that split second of video who was right behind their friend.
As Carl leaned on the sturdy brick facade, he let the night air flow in and out of his nostrils. He’d plan to stay outside for another minute or two, hoping the sweat collected on his chest and back would somewhat subside by then.
Without forewarning, Carl heard a *creeeeaaaaaaak* followed by a loud *SLAM*, indicating that he now had company.
“I hope you didn’t let Doc Drain see you, or else we’re both…” Carl began saying as he looked over to the student who had just exited. He stopped immediately upon seeing who it was.
“Hello, Imp,” Wing stated coldly.
“We have a bit of unfinished business, don’t we?” Wing asked with a dark, stoic glare.
“Suppose we do.”
“Carl!” El exclaimed as he busted through the backdoor with Octane right behind him.
“Guys, it’s cool. I got this.”
Fists clenched, El forced himself to give a slight nod, but his hesitation made his whole body feel as if it were about to burst at the seams.
Octane, worried about the fight as well, set his camera down on a nearby trashcan, neglecting to turn it off.
“So what’s the plan, Wing? Gonna beat my ass now? I thought you wanted an audience for that.”
“The best laid plans, Imp,” Wing replied as he surveyed his surroundings. “This seemed like as good an opportunity as I’d have, so I decided to take it. I’ll just have to settle for your two faggot friends.”
“Or not,” Carl snapped back. “I have nothing to prove to you, Wing, or to myself. Part of why I came tonight is to tell you that. Things went too far, and I’m not gonna say sorry for hittin’ you, but what’s done is done. I’m no one to you, so just let it go. Let’s act like men and put it all behind us, alright?” Carl said. Thinking the discussion over, Carl attempted to open the door.
And with a fierce flap, Wing slammed it shut.
“No. Not alright.”
“What’s your deal, man?” Carl asked, turning back around. “What do you give a shit? You wanna hit me? Hit me and be done with it.”
Carl then spread his arms out, completely straight and parallel with the ground. Stone-faced, he merely said, “Free shot.”
Octane was completely transfixed by the situation, his heart thumping faster than its usual 120 beats per minute. El, too, watched intently, his eyes frozen on Wing. His fists were clenched so tightly that he nearly drew blood.
Wing’s own fists were clenched as well, but unlike El, he was able to use them. Soon after Carl’s invitation, Wing answered with a quick right jab to his stomach.
“Carl!” El yelled.
Coughing violently, Carl put up his hand to indicate to El to stay back. As he bent over, Carl clenched his stomach, took a few deep breaths, spat, and raised himself back up. He stood tall like a statue, eyes fastened on Wing.
“Not going to fight back, Freeman?” Wing sneered. “Afraid you can’t get another cheap shot in?”
Looking over at his friends, Carl smiled at them before turning his attention back towards Wing. Not interested in his games anymore, Carl simply stated, “You know what, Wing? You’re a sad person. I used to hate you, man. But being here with you right now, all I can do is pity you. To be so angry all the time…I get that. I really do. And I hope one day you’ll get over whatever the hell it is that makes you this way. But until then, seriously, fuck off. I’m done with this, and I’m done with you.” He then gave Wing a dismissive wave and walked calmly towards El and Octane.
Realizing he wouldn’t be getting the fight he wanted or the satisfaction of emasculating Carl, Wing stood there and screeched, “Don’t walk away from me, Freeman, you pussy! YOU PUSSY!”
Approaching El, Carl leaned in to his ear and whispered, “Give him a round of applause.”
“Thought you said you pitied him?”
“I do, but I know you don’t.”
“Thank you,” El said, brimming with joy. “Finally.”
Carl once again opened the door, but before going inside, he turned to Wing and simply said, “Have a good life, Wing.”
He pulled the door closed, walking away a selfless victor.
“We’re not done here, Carl! We’re not done!” Wing continued to scream in vain.
With a devilish grin, El interjected with, “Hey, Wing!”
“What!” he yelled, turning towards El.
“Say goodnight, bitch.”
Extending his arms as far back as they could go, El brought them together to create a loud, booming clap. A bolt of air shot towards Wing like a bullet, hitting him dead center in the chest. Though normally sure footed, the boy was thrown back and in to a nearby parked car, rendering him unconscious.
As the alarms of all the cars in the parking lot began going off, El and Octane knew to get inside before any chaperones came out to investigate the disturbance. El led the way, and Octane grabbed him camera, put the cap on, and followed.
The two quickly caught up with Carl. When they did, El patted him on the back and remarked, “Proud of you, bud.”
“Thanks, man,” Carl replied.
“Octane Rivers!” the normally easygoing Blitz yelled to the three boys as they came back inside. “I am sick of waiting around for you! Drop that stupid camera off right now!”
“I’ll just leave it on the…”
“No! Get it out of here, or else I know you’re still going to play around with it! No one’s going to see you leave. Just go and be quick about it.”
“Baby, I’m sorry, we just got caught up in…”
“Time me,” Octane said as he began running as fast as he can to the school to return the camera.
Octane blew in to the school, the doors being wide open as parents and teachers were helping set up for the traditional post-prom party. Zipping passed them all, Octane came to a halt upon entering the A/V room, not realizing that he’d have company when he entered.
“Spore? What-what-what are you doing here?” he said, surprised. The bespectacled blonde was at the computer, her face covered with stress.
“The Macs you guys have in here are better for photo editing than the ones in the computer lab, and I have to finish working on this stupid supplemental edition that Mr. Hall is making me do. Apparently, no one realized that half the junior class was missing before the yearbooks got published! Fuck my life.”
“Ah, bu-bu-bummer. Well, I really need to…”
“You look nice by the way,” she said, her tone placating. “How’s prom?”
“Fun. Good times. But I need to go before Blitz breaks up with me. Just here to drop off the…” he started saying before popping open the view screen of his camera, immediately discovering that he never turned it off. Rewinding to see what the last bit of footage was that he got, the camera then boomed with:
“Don’t walk away from me, Freeman, you pussy! YOU PUSSY!”
Octane and Spore shared an awkward glance as she looked upon him quizzically.
“What was that?”
“Oh, that? It was nothing. There was a…stray cat at prom. Someone must’ve been really pissed about it. Anyway, don’t, um…don’t watch that. But yeah, gotta go. Have a good rest of the night.”
Disregarding his request, Spore picked up the camera, noticing immediately all the players involved. Rewinding back to where the fight began, her eyes opened wide at what she saw.
Back at the dance, Ms. Hawkins took the stage again, it now being set up for a band, and thanked Yawn, who was disassembling his DJ booth. “And now, since it wouldn’t be a prom without live music, it’s my pleasure to once again welcome…” she then sighed heavily before forcing herself to finish, “…The Gemini Brothers.”
Ms. Hawkins then added, “They’ll be out momentarily, so sit tight and enjoy yourselves!”
“Thanks, love,” Giuseppe said as Ms. Hawkins left the stage and met them behind its curtain.
“Don’t thank me; thank all the other bands that cancelled on us. At least you two actually showed up this on time for a change.”
“New York is much closer than the Sicily, dear,” Giuseppe said whimsically.
“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, and I don’t care. Just…”
Ms. Hawkins peered over at Giovanni, whose complexion was greener than his jacket.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh, just a bug. Nothing to worry about,” he replied, then immediately balling up a fist and letting out a small belch in to it. “We’re all set to perform, yeah?”
“Too bad we’re the ones playing; otherwise, I’d ask you to save me a dance,” Giuseppe said to Ms. Hawkins with a devilish grin.
“With a scruffy mess like you? In your dreams,” she stated as she began walking away. She denied to herself that a minor smile formed.
“What a tongue on that one, Beppe.”
“And what an ass to go with it, Gio,” he said, tilting his head down.
“I heard that!” she yelled back.
“Said it loud enough so you could, love!”
Waiting for the principal to be out of earshot, Giuseppe blunty stated, “You really need to learn to hold you alcohol, brother.”
“That man can drink. What do you want from me, Beppe?”
“For your ovaries to go inside out and in to a pair of testicles, Gio.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works.”
Peeking out from the stage, Giuseppe turned to Giovanni and said, “Well, speaking of lady parts, I don’t see her out there, Gio.”
“She’ll come, Beppe.”
“Look at you being all optimistic for a change,” he said, turning back and looking at his brother.
“Someone called me dour once.”
“You? Ridiculous!” Giuseppe noted.
“Not as ridiculous as what we having waiting for us,” Giovanni added.
The two shared the same smile. It was one of both sadness and camaraderie.
“Regardless, for Carl’s sake…” started Giovanni.
“…and for our own…” continued Giuseppe.
“…I hope she does,” they both finished in unison.
“Anyway, let’s not leave our audience waiting, yeah?” Giuseppe said, strapping on his guitar.
“Let’s rock,” Giovanni added.
Walking on to the stage, Giuseppe threw up his arms and exclaimed to the crowd, “Boys and girls, lovely to see you all again! We have a fantastic playlist for you all planned, so get your dancing shoes on and get ready to kick it!”
Covering the microphone, Giuseppe turned to Giovanni and said, “Okay, Gio. This is a blues riff in the ‘B.’ Watch me for the changes…”
“…I’ll try to keep up, yeah?”
Releasing a fury of strums on the strings of his guitar, Giuseppe looked over at his brother who was likewise beating his drums with the intensity of thunderstorm. A rock ballad emitted from their instruments and their voices, and the senior class gleefully danced to their exciting melodies.
“These guys again?” Carl asked El as the two watched them play.
“They were pretty good at the senior mixer,” El remarked, “although they are a bit…”
The pair looked on to see Giuseppe jumping up and kicking the air and Giovanni headbanging so hard that he looked to be a blur of hair.
Suddenly, a soft, sweet voice emanated from behind them and said, “Hi, Carl.”
Turning around, the boys were shocked to see Spore there. Not at all dressed for the occasion, she sported a pink t-shirt and faded jeans.
Carl still thought she was the prettiest girl at the prom.
Without a word, El gave Carl a slight tap on the shoulder and walked away, giving his friend some privacy.
“What are you doing here?”
“I saw Octane’s tape…and the fight. I think he recorded it by accident.”
“And I heard everything you said and saw everything you did. I’m really proud of you, Carl. You did a good thing by walking away.”
“I have you to thank.”
“You were always good, Carl. You were just kind of a dummy about it,” she said with a half smirk.
Smiling back, Carl asked, “How did you get in without a ticket?”
“Some pheromones were enough to convince Mr. Winters to make an exception.”
“So you’ve been practicing, huh?”
With a smile and shrug, she simply answered, “A bit.”
“I notice you don’t got a camera with you this time.”
“Hm,” she said, looking down at her chest. “Guess not.”
“And I guess that also means you don’t have a reason not to dance,” he replied with a devilish grin.
Looking down and shaking her head jovially, Spore then locked eyes with Carl and responded again with, “Guess not.”
It was then that the band’s first song finished up and Giuseppe took to the microphone once more. “Okay, okay, boy and girls, we’re going to slow it down for a bit, so why don’t you all find a partner and hold them tight, yeah?”
Starting the beats off slower, Giovanni began softly tapping his drums with the sticks as Giuseppe smoothly strummed his guitar. Together, they began singing.
Love is not a game we play,
Love may never go our way,
Love will cause you ups and downs,
Love will give you laughs and frowns,
It may hurt, but you must know,
Love will never let you go.
“Better do as they say,” Carl replied as he extended his right hand to Spore.
As soon as she grabbed it, Carl moved his body in and put his left hand on her waist.
“I really am proud of you, Carl,” she whispered.
Cark smiled and her remark and gave a slight nod. He looked up at the band for a moment, only to see Giuseppe giving him a slight wink and Giovanni giving him a minor salute.
Love may bloom and love may die,
You’ll swear to God, you’ll fall and cry,
But through the tears, please know this true,
Love will one day come to you.
As he held Spore, he realized that he had it all wrong. She was never his power. Once, he was jealous of the people who had their abilities determined before birth. He now realized he was the lucky one. Everyone else in the world was arbitrarily and involuntarily defined; he was able to be whomever and whatever he wanted to be on his own terms. And in that moment, he finally understood what The Gemini Brothers meant all those months ago.
A caring son. A loving brother. A selfless friend. Honor. Integrity. Finding the balance between yourself and the people you care about…that was true power.
And things had finally gotten easier.
“So when you walked away from him, how did that make you feel, Carl?” she asked.
Carl twirled his ex-girlfriend and then dipped her modestly. Smiling, he simply said, “Empowered.”