This is Part 4 of the story of How I Met Superman. To get caught up, you can find the preceding chapters here.
Our football team was called the Tigers. Football games were everything back then: Night air getting chillier, cold tickling our noses, bright stadium lights creating a fog across the field through which our blue-and-gold Tigers would emerge. The band would erupt, the students would leap from their seats, and then we’d all settle back down, shoulder-to-shoulder, drinking hot cocoa and cheering them on.
One night at a football game, I was sitting between Patrick* and my best friend Debi. I often sat between them this way because they really didn’t like each other. Patrick thought Debi took up too much of my time, and Debi thought Patrick was too mean to me. So mostly I just sat between them and let them ignore each other.
On this night, like many others, Debi was right, and Patrick and I had gotten in another fight. He’d stomped off along the wooden bleachers, and she’d looked at me again and rolled her eyes. I never knew what to think.
I tugged off the ring he’d let me wear – it was a large garnet birthstone ring of his that I wore on my thumb until I could get a chain, but on this night I thought I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want him anymore. Debi took the ring and inspected it under the dim bleacher lighting.
“He’s not good for you,” she said quietly.
I nodded and bit my lip.
“Let’s go get a Coke,” she said.
We stepped down the bleachers and crossed the blacktop pavement toward the smell of popcorn, leaning in toward each other above the deep notes of the marching band. We pressed our Dr. Pepper LipSmackers over our chapped lips and — in the middle of a conversation about the merits of nail-polish top layers, behind the bass of the half-time show — I suddenly spotted our friend Tommy* standing by the chain-link fence in the end zone. And right beside him stood Superman.
No one else.
Just Tommy and Superman.
They were leaning over the fence, watching the coaching plays, and creating … opportunity.
Debi and I wandered by, in the way teenage girls do (in the most-obvious-way-ever), and Tommy, to our delight, spotted us. He waved, or maybe he just lifted his hand, but I decided it was all the invitation I needed.
I’d never stood that close to Superman, and didn’t hesitate a nanosecond about standing as close as I could without being painfully ridiculous. He wasn’t tall – he was about the same height as me – but he felt strangely substantial, like a concrete wall. Solid. Immovable. Strong. I stood closer. I kept glancing at Tommy.
“Oh … “ Tommy finally took the hint. “Laurie and Debi, this is Chris. Chris – Laurie and Debi.”
We all nodded to each other. I think I was staring. I’d never stood this close to a boy I had such a faraway crush on, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Debi made small talk about the football game, and what she and I were planning on buying at the snack stand, and how the band was sounding better with the new drum major, but I don’t recall saying much at all. Superman was looking away a lot. My heart was pounding. I think I started babbling about something incoherent, like how much I liked the new Dr. Pepper flavor of LipSmackers.
Then he noticed something Debi had in her hand. “What’s that?” he nodded to her.
“It’s a boyfriend ring.” She slipped it on her hand and then held it out to see what we thought. “It’s Patrick’s. He gave it to Laurie.”
He looked at me. A long silence fell while he turned his attention back to her. “Then why are you wearing it?”
It was really an innocent question. And a reasonable one. But it held much more weight than he could’ve realized. Because I wasn’t wearing the ring. I didn’t want to anymore. And Superman wanted to know why. To me, it was exactly the question to everything.
Click here for Part 5: Making a Decision
*Names changed to protect the Don’t-Want-To-Be-Googled.