Andrew swept up the pile of comic books from his desk and stashed them into his folder with his homework. He had a couple to return to his best mate, Jackson, and hoped to borrow some in return. The final year of school needed distractions from the regime of study. Andrew found them in the pages of comics.
With his schoolbag packed he headed out the door for the walk to school. Jackson’s route intersected with Andrew’s at the corner store. Jackson was walking out with a carton of strawberry milk and raised it in greeting.
“Finished your Modern History homework?” said Jackson.
“Yeah and the Biology stuff, too.”
“Bugger. Forgot that.” Jackson changed topic quickly, “Hey I got the new Wolverine comic yesterday. You can have it when I’ve finished.”
The pair continued the walk to school debating the merits of their comic superheroes. Jackson favoured Superman while Andrew liked The Phantom.
“But how can The Phantom be a superhero when he doesn’t have a superpower?” argued Jackson.
“Batman doesn’t have a superpower. And besides, it’s not the ability that makes someone a superhero, but the attitude. That makes The Phantom a superhero. He’s just classy.”
“Yeah, but a superpower just makes you that little bit more awesome,” countered Jackson.
Andrew longed for a superpower. All his childhood comic book heroes were bestowed with them. Jackson wanted Magneto’s ability to control metal.
“How awesome would it be to have Magneto’s power in Metal work!” Jackson proceeded to demonstrate, complete with sound effects.
“At least I don’t wear my underpants on the outside,” said Andrew.
“Yeah, but you’d look good in spandex,” said Jackson and they both fell about laughing. More than the power of flight and physical strength, adamantium claws and laser weapons, Andrew craved one power: the power of invisibility. His natural affinity for academic success made him a target of expectation. The art of being a chameleon at school was to let the uniform provide an exoskeleton. Beneath was no costume, just the fragile skin of adolescent ego. Sometimes the Invisibility Cloak of Harry Potter seemed like a good idea.
“What’s up first this morning?” asked Jackson.
“English, which means we are going to get our essays back.”
Jackson groaned and faced the sky, knowing his inevitable outcome. “At least you’re going to get a good mark. You always get good marks. No matter how hard I try, still can’t get it. You’re such The Quiet Achiever. Everyone suspects you do, but you don’t let on; you keep it to yourself. You’re kind of like the Clark Kent of English.”
“Maybe, but I still want to beat Emily Lewis,” said Andrew.
“You two have had a thing going on since Year 9. The first time she beat you, you were so ticked off.”
“She’s a know it all. All she wants is to be the best and gloats about it if she does. She always smirks if she beats me and it is so infuriating.”
“Just be careful you don’t do the same. If you make her look stupid she’ll unmask The Quiet Achiever.” Jackson pretended to be a magician and whip away a cloth to reveal the identity of his mate.
The school bell sounded in the distance. “We’d better hurry,” said Andrew as they entered the school’s grounds.
In English, Andrew and Jackson took their seats on the left of the classroom, just back from the middle. It gave them a good vantage point to see Emily who preferred the front.
Mrs Motherwell came in and the class sat up in Pavlovian response. The chat escalated as papers were returned and marks compared. Andrew said thanks as the paper was delivered. He turned it face down, resisting the urge to look. He wanted to wait until Emily had received hers.
Emily glanced quickly at the offending red mark at the top of the page before turning it face down on her desk. She turned to face Andrew, a grin spreading across her face.
“Andrew, what’d you get? Eighteen out of twenty.”
Andrew whipped his paper over. “Ha! Twenty! In your face, Lewis. ” Every superhero has an Achilles heel, their kryptonite. He succumbed to the most basic of tragic flaws, letting his hubris exalt him to dizzying heights.
Emily turned to hide her face, the shame of ridicule blushing her cheeks.
“Mr Andrew Hansen.” Mrs Motherwell interceded. “That is uncalled for. Despite the fact that you scored a perfect mark, it does not give you the right to gloat over us mere mortals. In the words of King Solomon, Pride precedes disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Jackson hid a smirk. “You got burned.”
“I knew it was a mistake once I’d said it.”
“Looks like The Quiet Achiever is no more. But you know, every superhero needs a nemesis.”
Andrew spent the rest of the lesson feeling naked and exposed. His identity was no longer a secret. From time to time he glanced towards Emily, but never held his gaze for long. The bell for the end of class came as a relief. He stood to pack away his books but was confronted by the stormy face of Emily inches away from his own, a finger pointed up his nose.
“I will beat you Andrew Hansen, if it’s the last thing I ever do.”
She turned and flounced away, her dark tresses flowing like a cape.