This is final part, Part 17, of the story of How I Met Superman. To get caught up, you can find the preceding chapters here.
I drifted through the next few days in fog of disbelief. I couldn’t believe I was going with Chris Sanchez — this boy I’d had such a crush on. …
“Going together” — in those very, very early days of dating among my peers — was sort of like arranged marriages: You’d commit to trying each other out, exclusively, even though you barely knew each other.
And, in those first few days, Chris and I definitely barely knew each other. We’d meet each other at the walk-up rail to school each day, nodding shyly.
“Hey,” he’d say.
“Hi,” I’d respond.
And we’d lapse into an awkward silence.
So we’re going together now, I’d think. Now what?
On the second day, he looked like he was going to hold my hand, but seemed to change his mind, and took my books instead. “Where’s your next class?”
He nodded and began to walk me there.
And so it went.
We slowly relaxed enough to find out more about each other — we learned more about each other’s friends, each other’s families, sports we’d played, bands we liked. We talked at lunch, while walking from class to class, and while walking home. He never took my hand, though, or touched me in any way.
And I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“What do you make of that?” I begged Keith*, who called me one night to see how things were going.
“Nothing?” Keith asked. “No hand-holding? No touching you on the shoulder, nothing?”
“So what do you think? Is it me? Does he not really like me?”
“I don’t think that’s the issue,” he said slowly, mulling that over. “Huh …”
“I’ve gotta say, I’ve got to give Sanchez some credit here.”
“Just — from what I’ve heard — he’s not afraid to press things to first or second base with no problem with random girls in his neighborhood, so … to not even hold your hand. … Overall, I’ve got to give him credit. Maybe he’s actually being gentlemanly.” He gave another grunt of disbelief.
“So this is a good thing?”
“Yeah, I think it is. I was worried all this time he wasn’t your type. But maybe what I didn’t realize was … you’re his. And that’s what he needed to find.”
I thought this over and finally nodded. I could see what he meant. But it still made me feel slightly self-conscious that there was something so stand-offish about me that I could make a regularly “fast” guy into a straightlaced Quaker.
When I saw Chris at school the next day, he simply took my books from me, making sure not to touch my fingertips in the process.
I just sighed. This might be more work than I imagined. …
* * *
The “Valentine’s Day” dance — which was still called the Valentine’s Day dance despite the fact it was going to be held the Friday following Valentine’s Day — was going to be in the gym after the varsity basketball game. My parents wouldn’t yet let me drive there with Chris’ oldest brother, so I arranged to meet Chris there, then my parents said he could walk me home, along with Dawn.
The gym was quickly transformed with red-and-pink streamers and a few hearts pasted to the walls near the refreshment table. I arrived after the game with Dawn, wearing my favorite red sweater that had a scoop neck and great texture, along with white pants, my gold cross, a red ribbon in my hair, and five well-placed spritzes of Sweet Honesty perfume. Dawn had a similar outfit on, only in pink, and we bumped a few times to the band that was playing, then laughed and decided to go find the boys.
When I first saw Chris, I was standing at the refreshment table. He’d just walked in with Wade* and Tommy*, and he stood near the doorway, scanning the room, ignoring Wade, who was talking into his ear. He had on a pair of well-fitting blue jeans and a deep burgundy polo that accentuated his shoulders and gave him that perfect “V” shape I loved. He hung his hands on his hips and kept scanning the room. I knew he was looking for me. The thought shot a thrill right to my core, and I thought about waving but wanted to simply watch him for a minute. I loved the way he looked so single-focused, loved the way he looked almost territorial. When he finally spotted me across the gym — passing by me the first time, then doing a double take — he smiled, then nodded once to his friends and took off without them.
We sat together in the bleachers for the first part of the dance, when the band didn’t seem to know any slow songs. The energy in the room was wild and chaotic, but the corner where we sat felt calm. We each had punch in a paper cup, but he didn’t drink his — he just held it, and leaned forward from the bleacher seat above me, his elbows on his knees, and listened to whatever I was saying. Some of our friends came by and chatted. His oldest brother John came by, with girlfriend Denise, and Chris introduced all of us. John looked back and forth between us, completely amused.
“I didn’t believe you really existed,” John shouted over my shoulder, as the band rocked on.
“What do you mean?” I yelled back.
“He told me about you, but I thought he was making you up,” he said. He exchanged some knowing glance with Denise, and they both looked at me like I was a unicorn in a zoo. “He’s never … actually had a girlfriend before.”
“Alright, you’ve said enough.” Chris tried to push them along their way.
John and Denise laughed, and John finally slapped Chris on the shoulder. “Nice going,” he said. “Let me know if you two need a ride home tonight.”
Chris threw me a sheepish look when they left. “I hope they’re not scaring you off. I’m not … absolutely inept, or anything.”
I nodded. I was actually impressed that he used the word “inept.” But then I thought briefly about the disparity between the girls Keith was referring to and the lack of girlfriends his brother mentioned. … And as I tried to form an appropriate way to phrase a question about how many girlfriends he’d actually had, and whether or not they were really girlfriends, he slipped down to the next bleacher, beside me, and his arm came around me. He set the punch down on the seat below us and caught my other hand.
“I hope you don’t think you made a mistake,” he said, stroking my knuckles.
I nodded dumbly. Then shook my head. I couldn’t remember what question I was answering. My heart was thundering in my chest and I was wholly focused on the feeling of his strong arm across my back, his hand at my waist, his attention on my fingertips, which he was now tracing with his own. A slow song threw its first few strums to the crowd, which suddenly calmed as a body and then seemed to try to regroup as new couples were formed and others escaped the dance floor in the rapidly dimming light. Some kind of mood lighting threw stars across the ceiling and walls. We both glanced up.
“Want to dance?” he asked softly.
Yes. Strangely, it felt like the place we’d begun — back at Patrick’s party weeks ago — and the place I’d wanted to get back to.
He waited for my nod, then took my hand — he was holding my hand, I thought with relief — and led me down the bleachers and onto the floor, leaving our punch behind. His hand was rough and callused — not like the soft hands of the boyfriends I’d had before, but tougher, probably from the weight room, and I loved that immediately. We found a place somewhere in the middle of the crowd, and I slipped my arms around his neck, feeling like this was the place I was meant to be: standing here, swaying with Superman to some slow song from a movie soundtrack, touching those wide shoulders and muscular arms I’d been staring at since September. But now my one clear thought was disbelief, mingled with the realization that this one was mine. …
* * *
With the touching and first hand-holding now out of the way, Chris didn’t let go of me for the rest of the dance. He had his hand at the small of my back, at my elbow, around my shoulders, holding my hand all evening long. We talked with friends, danced a few more dances, drank some chalky punch, ate a buttermilk cookie or two, and then the dance was over and we needed to go home.
He volunteered to walk me and Dawn home, and it was the first time he let go of me. It was a warm night for February — we were still experiencing the after-affects of the Santa Ana winds that blew in from the desert — and the three of us talked and laughed about new dramas that came up from the evening, offering our critiques of the band as well as the impromptu dance contests that always cropped up between some of our better dancers. At the end of our last critique, we landed in front of my house, Dawn and I turning at the foot of the driveway.
“Well, thanks,” I told Chris.
Dawn chimed in her agreement, then looked at us awkwardly. A long silence stretched. She looked at me, looked at Chris. He looked at her, looked at me. …
“Well,” I finally said. “We should go inside.”
He nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets, glancing at me from under his bangs.
Like some maiden-aunt chaperone from the 17th century, Dawn waited for me to head up the driveway, then followed behind me.
But before we could get all the way to the top, Chris called out, “Wait!”
He’d started to leave, but had turned and walked back to where he’d left us. “C’mere,” he said more quietly.
The directive was obviously meant for me. It sent my heart pounding and — thankfully — sent Dawn ducking away, finally getting the hint. She threw me one more knowing smile over her shoulder before heading into my house, then I headed down the driveway.
Chris still had his hands shoved in his pockets when I landed in front of him. He smirked at me with a strange combination of amusement and frustration.
“I forgot something,” he said quietly.
I was getting ready to form some kind of intelligent banter, but before I could get my brain locked in with my mouth, he took my jaw in both hands and leaned forward, pausing only once, briefly, right before touching his lips to mine.
All sound and other thoughts fell away — the crickets around us, the sound of Dawn escaping into the front door, the click of the porch light going on. I was completely immersed in the feel of Chris’ lips moving across mine, the feel of his fingers entwined in my hair, the taste of mint and delicious discovery. But before I could even bring my hand up to touch his wrist, before I could respond with even half the intensity needed to come anywhere close to matching his, he broke the kiss and stepped away, looking at me as if he weren’t sure what just happened.
And then he left.
All I could think of — as the streetlamp caught him again across the street, now jogging home — was this one is mine. …
* * *
The next day in English class, my favorite teacher, Mr. Drummond, was passing papers back to the class. He came to my desk, then flipped through the papers to find mine, looking at me over the rim of his glasses.
“So Sanchez now, huh?” he said, his eyes back on the papers.
I smiled. He didn’t much approve of students having boyfriends and girlfriends either — as most teachers didn’t — preferring we kept our minds on our straight As. But Mr. Drummond always seemed to know which of his students was going out with which others before even the students did sometimes, and he’d teased me about my rapid-fire last two boyfriends.
“Yep,” I said confidently.
He found my paper and slid it to me, along with a sarcastic smile. “So how long do you think this one’s going to last?”
“This one’s going to last forever,” I said.
He gave an exaggerated nod and moved on to hand out the next paper.
I didn’t say it with complete confidence. I had no idea what was in store, of course. I mostly wanted to dissuade Mr. Drummond from thinking all freshmen were completely fickle, and from thinking I was anything but smart and capable.
But my answer had come so quickly and easily, I realized.
And — as I tucked my paper back into my Pee-Chee, along with a paper Mr. Drummond had given me earlier about a writing contest coming up — I thought the idea didn’t seem strange at all. I could do this. I could have the dried corsages on the dresser top, as well as the straight As and the heart-pounding kisses and the writing contests and the friends. …
This boy was different.
This one was mine.
And he was going to last forever.
* * *
And that’s the story of How I Met Superman. I hope you liked it! Happy Valentine’s Day!
*Names changed to protect the Don’t-Want-to-be-Googled.