This is Part 14 of the story of How I Met Superman. To get caught up, you can find the preceding chapters here.
It had been 13 days since Patrick’s party. In those two weeks, I’d had the joy of being walked home, several times, by Superman. And I was growing more and more attached.
I loved the way he held my books for me. I loved the way he looked at me sideways when we were walking. I loved the way he talked, but in very measured words, never wasting sentences. I loved the way he smiled when something struck him as funny, and how sometimes a smile was all he gave.
Valentine’s Day was fast approaching, but I wasn’t linking it to this boy I liked. For some reason, I still felt he was slightly out of my reach – like trying to get a ladybug to land on your finger: One false move and it was on its way.
Instead, as Valentine’s Day drew near, I was thinking about what I was going to make for my family. Valentines were sort of a big deal in our household of five – my mom really enjoyed it, and she would put out a box for us to put family valentines in, then we’d exchange them after dinner. Sometimes we went out to dinner, but not often. (In fact, maybe only once. We rarely went to restaurants back then.) Mostly we just had a Valentine’s dinner at home – spaghetti, most commonly – and then would open the valentine box. I always looked forward to seeing what my brothers and parents would write to me on their cards. To this day, Valentine’s Day seems like a family event to me.
I explained the box and the family cards to Superman as he walked me home on a Friday afternoon. It was maybe the fifth time he’d walked with me – this time with Dawn in tow – and he seemed to carefully listen to everything I was saying. Dawn told her own stories about Valentine’s Day, and we laughed like we usually do. Superman just listened. Just before we got to my front sidewalk, however – before even getting all the way to my house — he bowed his head a little and said goodbye.
Dawn looked at me, bemused. “I guess you don’t have a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day?” she whispered as we watched him walk away.
I had to laugh. Dawn’s delivery was always perfect. “I guess not,” I said.
But I didn’t worry about this.
I still had a feeling he was in my future.
On Valentine’s morning, I got up and rummaged through my craft box that my mom kept in my closet. I loved making things – paper art, necklaces, sand art, loomed potholders, macramé pot hangers, keychains, collages. I was like a walking craft store.
On this morning, I found some red and pink tissue and green pipe cleaners. I’d make roses. I’d learned how to do them the last year for Cinco de Mayo, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity – I’d do red tissue roses with little sentiments wrapped like a paper fortune around each stem. And maybe some pink. I’d do four. And maybe two for my grandparents.
And maybe one extra for Superman. …
In the late afternoon, my parents and brothers had a soccer game, so I knew I’d have the house to myself. As soon as they were gone, I went downstairs and spread out my supplies. I popped in one of my parents’ Neil Diamond 8-tracks, which was the only kind of stereo we had downstairs, and got to work – folding, crimping, wrapping, pressing. Though quiet and methodical, crafting was never boring to me. It always let me get lost.
A knock interrupted my thoughts. I peered around the family room doorway and tried to make out the shape behind the curtained windows. Was it … ? Could it be …? Oh my gosh, it was him.
I smoothed my hair and wished I hadn’t worn such an ugly sweater. But I couldn’t sneak upstairs to change, so instead, I simply made my way to the door.
“Hi,” he said shyly when I finally opened it.
Just like the last time he’d shown up on the porch, surprise was the major force pounding through my body — followed quickly, this time, by nervousness about how I looked and confusion about what he was doing here.
“I just thought I’d come by.” He searched my face. He seemed to wonder if it was okay.
I wasn’t sure if I should invite him in. My parents didn’t usually allow me to invite boys in when they weren’t home. But – wow – he came all the way over here … and it’s not like we were going to do anything …
I pressed my hand against my sweater, as if to hide myself, and opened the door wider. “Come in.”
He looked a little surprised. Glanced over my shoulder to see who might be home. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped over the threshold.
“I’m working on my craft I told you about,” I said, closing the door behind him and pointing the way into the family room.
He followed me to the breakfast bar while I tried to fix my hair.
“How far have you gotten?” he said, sliding onto the barstool next to mine.
“About halfway.” I indicated my mess. “Want to make one?”
“No.” He laughed. He leaned his jaw on his fist and watched me instead.
I finished my project: folding, crimping, wrapping, pressing. I forgot my self-consciousness and soon was laughing and talking with him – about movies we liked, television shows we watched, funny lines we liked, characters we remembered. He sang a few notes of “Conjunction, Junction” for me, and I chimed in.
As I finished making my last family rose, I discretely made one for him.
We kept talking — we discussed the merits of Neil Diamond 8-tracks versus John Denver ones, and I told him about how my brother sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell all the way to Ohio on a summer trip. He admitted he loved Glen Campbell. I attached my last paper sentiment to my last rose, and then heard the front door open.
My parents stopped dead in their tracks in the hallway, seeing us sitting there at the breakfast bar, but then they continued on their way in. I scrambled to hide my roses. My brothers threw their soccer balls and shin guards into the room and then ran upstairs to change. My dad and mom came into the kitchen to see who this was in their home.
“Mom, Dad, this is Chris,” I said casually. I hated to leave him in the curiosity-stare like a zoo animal, but I had to hide my roses. I shuffled out of the room to push them all into the valentine’s box on the dining room table. All except one, of course. I put that one under my sweater and resumed my place at the barstool.
My mom hadn’t made herself scarce. Instead, she hung along the breakfast bar and pretended to wipe down the countertops. She gave me a secret raised-eyebrow look, like Is this the one? Then she smiled at him and began grilling him with questions.
Superman fielded the questions expertly – where he lived, who his family was, yes he had a brother named Dave, they’d lived there for about eight years. … But his answers fell into single syllables as the shyness creeped up around him. Soon, he was scrambling off the barstool and ready to leave.
“Okay,” I said, disappointed. “Let me walk you to the door.”
When we got to the entryway, he lunged for it ahead of me. He was out on the porch in no time, but I stopped him.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said, handing him the rose from my hem.
He looked truly stunned. Even though he’d been watching me make them for the better part of an hour, he looked as if it were a surprising gift. He took it carefully and nodded. “I wanted to ask you something.”
My heart started pounding. I stood straighter.
He glanced over my shoulder. Without looking, I could completely picture my mom peeking around the family room doorway, although his face didn’t register any sighting of her. But I stepped out anyway and carefully closed the door behind me.
He looked choked for an answer. “I just … wondered … what you were doing tomorrow?”
Somehow that didn’t feel like the question he was going to ask, but I shrugged and answered: “Dawn and Syndy* and I are going to ride our bikes to the beach.”
He nodded, as if satisfied that he got exactly what he came for, but I didn’t think that was it.
Then he turned away. “Okay. Bye.”
And I stood there, confused.
When I went inside the house, my mom was fussing in the kitchen, waiting for me to return.
“So he seems nice,” she said carefully.
I was relieved she liked him. Or at least didn’t dislike him. But at that point, I knew that — regardless of what she thought — I liked him very, very much. Her approval was welcome, but not mandatory. That feeling of rebelliousness — of knowing that my feelings for him transcended my need for approval — was shocking to me. It was one of the first things, in a long string of things, that made him seem instantly different from anyone else I’d ever liked.
“He is,” was all I said.
“He doesn’t talk much, though,” she said, smiling.
I nodded. I remembered him standing on the porch, meaning to ask me one thing but switching gears. “No, sometimes he doesn’t,” I admitted.
He still left me baffled. Did he come here with one agenda and then change his mind? Was it something I said? Was it my ugly sweater?
I tugged at it, then smoothed my hair back behind my ear again. I needed to stop worrying about it.
I was falling a little harder, though. And I knew there could be a really rough tumble ahead.
Click here for Part 15: The Winds of Change. …
* Names changed to protect the Don’t-Want-to-be-Googled.