The Superhero

The kid who would be Gray Bullet—the superhero that saved Manhattan in June of last year—was having a hard go of it, to say the least. I was, too. The Holiday Bash was approaching with alarming rapidity and, as seniors, it was expected we land dates, no matter how ugly, lest we be labeled weirdos or worse. It didn’t exactly help that we spent nearly all of our free time together; we knew that other kids whispered things about us. We hoped to dispel the rumors by showing up to the Bash separately, each of us arm-in-arm with a member of the fairer sex. As mentally uncomplicated as our classmates were, we expected that this would be more than sufficient to salvage our heterosexuality.

Neither one of us had the nerve to ask anybody, however.

One day after school—the Holiday Bash only three days away—the kid who would be Gray Bullet, Savior of Manhattan, took the bus home so that he could stay the night at my place. Our mission was to arrive at some semblance of a plan and effect it no later than by the end of fifth period tomorrow, after which we shared a French class and could discuss what had happened.

Gavin—Gray Bullet—spent the whole bus ride home looking out the window. I could tell he was thinking because at one point he let out an enormous stinker, which he made no comment about, either apologetic or accusatory (Gav was usually the accusatory type, but sometimes, when he was more depressed, his self-loathing was such that he would fess up). 

When the bus had deposited us at my place, when we were strolling determinedly up the walkway to the house, ready to tackle the issue at hand—this was when Gavin elected to share his idea with me. Sharing it was a bad idea in itself, because after some aghast argument on my part, I agreed—probably because I was so aghast, so caught off-guard, so amazed by the sheer brilliance of it. 

He stopped and turned to face me, and I stopped, too. I slung by backpack off my shoulders and set it on the ground, and I looked at him. I felt mildly annoyed that he’d chosen this moment of all moments, because it was December, which meant cold, and after-school Campbell’s on the burner inside, courtesy of mother.

Gavin looked around like a crazy person and took off his winter hat, as if to hear his own words better. His hair stood up, zany and clumpylooking.

“Look,” he said, which meant trouble, “all we gotta do, okay? All we gotta do is go as each other’s date. You see what I’m saying? You put on makeup and a bra and whatever and go as my date and partway through we switch out and I’ll go as yours, and that way they’ll all see  us there with dates, right? Except we won’t have to ask anyone. We’ll just trick em. Their really dumb, you know. We’ll just trick the shit right out of em.”

Like I said, ten minutes later, over a bowl of tomato and condensed milk, I was nodding along with him.

But in the end, it didn’t matter.

My mother and I took Gavin home at seven o’clock, and at eight-thirty the phone was ringing and it was him.

“Gavin.”

“Forget it,” he said to me, and he’d never sounded so heartbroken.

“Forget…?”

“Just forget the whole stupid thing.”

“Really? You… you sure?”

“Sure.” 

“Then what are we gonna do?”

“Nothing. We’re not gonna go. You can go if you want, I guess, I don’t care. I’m not going, though.”

“You’re just not going?”

“I’m just not going. It… it wouldn’t make any difference to them to go. They’d still hate us and say whatever.”

“They’re bad people.”

“They’re bad people,” he agreed. “Sometimes I think about how bad they are and I wish that I was bad too so that I wasn’t on the other side of it.” 

I didn’t know what to say to that, and Gavin didn’t know how to follow it up, so I listened to him breathe and waited for him to say he had to go do his homework and eventually he did.

I put the phone in the cradle and went to the window and put my forehead against the glass. It was cold. It was snowing outside. It was dark. You couldn’t even tell if it was black or white out there.