Chasing Superman This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

August 7, 2014
During the summers, you and I would run through our backyards together, underneath your Mother’s clothesline, swatting at hung t-shirts and socks, breathlessly giddy. That was when we were little, paired together by parents because we were close in age and we were lucky enough to take to each other. The first time we met I had PB&J crumbs stuck to my cheeks, you were wearing a Superman cape. We stood opposite each other with our mothers towering over us, studying our movements like football coaches watching athletes carryout a play.
“I’m Carl Jay Roger,” you stuck out a germy hand for me to shake. “Call me C.J. though, I like it better.”
I twisted my left Mary Jane into the dirt we stood on, “Okay, I’m Penny.” I lifted the bell of my dress and curtsied, looking up with a grin as our moms giggled and you looked confused. “It’s what fancy ladies do,” I informed you.
“Okay,” you brushed it off. “Let’s play tag,” you tapped my shoulder lightly and ran through my backyard gate into the cul-de-sac. I sped off after you, my ponytail swinging against my back. I’ve been chasing you ever since.
***


We took on the world together, putting dirt in the bake sale brownie mix in fourth grade, conquering middle school and all its brace-faced awkwardness, I remember vividly walking into our first day of high school together, gripping each other’s sweaty hands.
It was no secret that you were destined for teenaged greatness, the lacrosse prodigy and straight A student, mothers loved you and daughters talked about the blue of your eyes over popcorn bowls at slumber parties. You were kind enough to bring me to the top with you, I was on your arm at all the parties, I sat next to you at lunch, you even let me wear your game day jersey the Friday before tournaments. We were a unit, a package deal, day ones. But things got complicated when I you got muscles and a sudden soft spot for girls, that was around the same time boys began to tease me and I started drawing thin brown lines across my eyelids in the mornings because I thought it made me prettier.
I think everyone knew, my mom probably called it when we were playing tag in the hot July between second and third grade, your buddies probably joked with you about the way you opened the car door for me in the locker room, but you didn’t budge. You didn’t make a move. So I did. Just not the move I wanted to make.
***
“Party at Charlie’s tonight, Pen.” You said to me at lunch the day before it all happened, leaned over a turkey sandwich. “You wanna ride with me?”
I poked at my pasta salad. “Sure,” I said.
“Okay,” your face lit up and I noticed a new freckle on your face, just barely crossing the bridge of your nose. “We might have to sneak out though, depending on how much trouble I get in for failing my pre-cal quiz.”
My face twisted into a smile, painted petal pink. “Sounds good, it’s not like we’re not pros at it by now anyway.” Now seniors in high school, we’d perfected our sneaking out route by winter break sophomore year.
You laughed lightly, “True. All thanks to me of course.”
“Hey,” I flicked a noodle at you. “I’d like a little credit please.”
“Okay,” you pushed the noddle aside. “You get a fourth of the credit.”
I shook my head at you and kicked you softly under the table, surrounded by our friends. You nudged me back, and a secret made its way from your head to your lips, holding on for dear life to the sweet corner of your mouth, itching to jump into the conversation, but you held it back.
***
We did end up sneaking out that night. My new floral print skirt almost got caught on the storm drain, but I managed to shimmy my way down the side of my house before ripping my outfit or waking my parents. We scampered through the yard and you hurried me to the side of your car, opening the door quickly and shutting it when I’d slid safely in. Coasting out of our neighborhood, you whisked us off to Charlie’s party, on the other side of town.
We walked into the party, busting with sloppy, wasted youths. Walking to Charlie’s back porch, we found our friends, most of them already hammered, staggered by the beer pong table.
“You guys can’t seriously already be drunk,” I huffed as I approached them, pathetically stumbling and goofy.
“Oh come on, Penny.” Jacob Ruiz said, pushing a red plastic cup in my face. “Loosen up, take a sip.”
I did and then I promptly spit it out.
You burst out laughing. “Pen,” your words were choppy with laughter. “Sips, not gigantic gulps.” You took the cup from me and started drinking, winking slyly at me. I mouthed thank you and left to get a coke.
Jacob had somehow beat me there, he was standing over the drink table, getting the JV cheerleaders beers. “Hey Penny,” he chuckled. “What’s your poison? Wanna give the beer another try, Shiner is my favorite?”
I smiled flatly, “No thanks on the beer but I’d love a coke.”
“Coming right up,” he said.
I got distracted talking to someone else about something, I don’t really remember. I guess looking back at that, it was pretty stupid. Jacob handed me a cup and I thanked him, taking a drink, walking back to find you.
It tasted like coke so I drank it like coke, quickly and with big swallows. Until I started seeing two of you, I didn’t even realize anything was off. Apparently I’m an emotional drunk because I later heard through other people what I’d said.
“That shirt looks terrible on you.”
“I’m like, ninety nine percent sure Jeremy H. is gay.”
“My neck hurts.”
“I’ve been in love with you since we were seven.”
You know, basic stupid drunken blabbering.
You looked at me with big, shocked blue eyes. Turning quickly to a laughing Jacob, you gripped his shirt collar and scolded him. “Goddammit, Jacob. Did you get her drunk?”
His words crashed into each other coming out of his mouth. “Lighten up C.J., it’s more fun this way.”
You shoved him hard and put your jacket over my bare shoulders, “Penny.” You lightly took ahold of my shoulders and lifted my chin. “Pen, how are you feeling?”
“Like I’m about to throw up.”
And I did. All over Charlie’s mom’s new rug. What a shame too, it was one of those fancy rugs, imported and overpriced.
“I’m gonna get you home,” you basically carried me to your car, tucking me into the passenger seat.
I don’t remember anything else. All I know is I woke up the next morning in your bed, dressed in pajamas I didn’t recognize with a splitting headache and terrible feeling in my gut.
“I didn’t put the pajamas on you, Tracy did.” You said when you saw me sit up, an odd emotion floating around behind your eyes, sitting shirtless in your desk chair.
“C.J.,” I started to say with a low, scratchy voice.
You stopped me. “Pen, it’s not your fault. Jacob got you drunk and I’m going to kick his ass for it.” You got up from your chair and moved next to me, sitting on your crumpled Star Wars sheets. “Are you okay?”
I rubbed my face, I felt smeared mascara and sticky sweat. “Yeah, I think I’m hung over though.”
You laughed, “I know for a fact you’re hung over, Penny.” Nodding to a glass of water and an Alka-Seltzer tab on your night stand, you were smiling. “Don’t worry about your parents, Tracy called last night and said you were spending the night.”
Confused with a newfound light sensitivity, I squinted at you. “Why am I in your room and not Tracy’s?” I wondered if I’d said anything to Tracy in my drunk spell, I hoped not, I loved your sister, I didn’t want her thinking I was a jerk.
You looked down and fidgeted with a corner of the bed sheets. “I wanted to make sure you were okay, keep an eye on you, you know?”
I nodded slowly, griping my temples with tenderness. “C.J.,” I looked at you, terrified. “What happened last night?”
You took my hand sweetly like you always did when you said things you knew I wouldn’t like. “Well, Jacob spiked your coke and got you drunk.” You were going to stop there but I nudged you to keep going. “You said things.”
“What things?”
“Oh, just silly things. Some were rude and it was no big deal, everyone else was drunk anyway so they probably won’t remember it.” The blue of your eyes made my heart happy when you looked up at me. “But you did say something to me. You said you loved me. That you had since we were kids.”
Damn you, drunk Penny. I was so embarrassed, “Oh God,” I slapped myself in the head and immediately winced in pain.
You half smiled and I couldn’t tell what the other half was, it was something I hadn’t seen. “Is it true, Pen?”
“Yeah. I guess,” I peeked out from behind my wavy hair to see your face react. It didn’t move the way I thought it would, you smiled and your cheeks melted into a red I’d never seen painted on your face. “Are you totally weirded out?”
You took in a deep breath and tilted your head to the side. “Well, honestly at first I was but I thought about it. And the more I thought about it on the way home and while you were sleeping, the more I realized that I felt the same way. I think I do, I mean, I’m sure I do.”
I let out a huff of relief and you tickled my palm lightly, I jerked up, your eyes were smiling and so was my soul. “What?” The wild look in your eye was sudden and unnerving.
“I don’t want to kiss you while you’re hung over, or I totally would right now.” You giggled, tightening your soft grip on my hand. “Penny,” you started. “Can I tell you a secret?”
I nodded.
“The day we met, you curtsied instead of shaking my hand, and I knew in that moment, you were the girl for me.” You said, wiggling around in your sheets.
“Because of a curtsy?” I asked, stunned.
“No,” you inched closer to me. “Because of something in your smile that I’ve never quite figured out, something that’s never gone away.”
I smiled.
“See,” you pointed to my lips and my heart wanted to explode right then.
“C.J.,” I fumbled. “Can I tell you a secret?”
You nodded.
“You can kiss me now, even though I’m hung over.”
So you did.
We weren’t running breathlessly after each other anymore, we’d caught up. It’s over and now we can rest in the arms of one another, tangled in Star Wars sheets and all the truth we’d kept hidden in childhood memories disguised as things they weren’t. It was beautiful, though the light made my head pound, I didn’t mind. You made me feel better, you’re not my weakness, you’re my strength. You aren’t my kryptonite, you’re my Superman.





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