Previously in Comic Superhero…
Andrew and Jackson had taken some time out in Phat Albert’s comic store when Jackson raised the possibility of Andrew’s flirtatious behaviour towards Emily. Andrew shrugged it off as nonsense. An end of term party was an opportunity to have one last skerrick of fun before the onslaught of exams. Andrew couldn’t help wondering if Emily was to be present…
A tornado of t-shirts landed on the floor beside Friday’s discarded school uniform.
“Come on, it can’t be that hard to find,” cursed Andrew under his breath. “It’s got to be here somewhere. Jessica!”
“What?” a voice yelled back.
“Have you seen my favourite Phantom shirt?”
“Why would I have it?”
“Because you’re a pain in the butt sister who likes tormenting me.”
A motherly voice added to the cacophony, “Would you two stop yelling at each other. And yes, I am perfectly aware of the irony before you comment, young man.”
“Sorry, Mum. Just can’t find my favourite Phantom t-shirt.”
“Have you tried the dirty washing basket?”
“Yeah, your bedroom floor,” interrupted Jessica.
“Shut up,” said Andrew giving up the search. He settled on a black Superman t-shirt over his khaki shorts. A black shirt finished the ensemble.
Patting down his pockets Andrew checked that he had the essentials.
Passing through the hall he grabbed the car keys.
“Gotta go, Mum. Off to Mike’s place for the party. Picking up Jackson on the way through. Catch you later.”
The unusually warm September weather and the first weekend of the holidays combined to make the late afternoon feel like a Hawaiian shirt. Small pockets of kids grouped together, their school uniform to be forgotten for a few weeks, replaced by their uniform of choice. There was a sense of ease, a postponing of care and anxiety, as exams loomed just over the horizon.
Nathan spotted Andrew and Jackson, motioning for them to come over. Stuart joined them a moment later and the conversation bounced from holidays to jobs, television to music and comics.
“For tonight, any talk of exams is taboo,” said Andrew. “Mention the word and you get thrown in the pool.”
“I noticed you’re getting a bit of a pasting after Emily’s little joke,” said Stuart.
“It’s all over my facebook page. It’s so embarrassing,” said Andrew. “Here’s hoping it disappears quickly.”
“Speaking of Emily, she’s just arrived.”
In one sphincter-tightening moment, Emily entered Andrew’s view. He wanted to stay out of range, fearful of further mockery. The clinical austerity of her school uniform had changed to straight black jeans and strappy sandals, a long, loose t-shirt and silver pendant. Out of school uniform Andrew saw not his enemy, but a girl. Her hair flounced without restriction in the spirit of the holidays. Behind her walked Bianca and Joshua.
Jackson spat fizzy drink through his nose, spraying all those in close proximity. He pointed at Joshua sauntering up to the drinks table.
“Oi, Joshua!” yelled Jackson as he stood up. He pulled down on the bottom of his t-shirt at the hem to clearly display the iconography. Joshua was clad in the same Batman t-shirt as Jackson, a fashion faux pas akin to wearing the same dress to the formal.
Joshua walked over, drink in hand, pausing before Jackson’s outraged hissy fit. “Good taste, Jackson. Shame you have to be the copycat.”
“Yeah, we’ll see who knows more about Batman.”
The posturing continued as the pair began testing each other’s trivia about the caped crusader.
Andrew stepped away from the conversation, keeping close enough in orbit of his friends to feel secure. He was fascinated by the social form of Emily. She was relaxed and laughing. The school version of Emily was strict, uniformed and belligerent. Here she was carefree, although he suspected if he caught her eye, the Black Death would descend on him. Trying to reconcile the two masks of Emily was doing his head in.
Emily and Bianca disappeared into a nebula of girls and Andrew rejoined the conversation.
“Michael Keaton,” said Jackson. “Worst. Batman. Ever.”
Joshua countered. “I’d have to say Val Kilmer.”
The various pros and cons were put forward, staked as gospel, decried as apocryphal at best, heretical at worst. Nathan rose to leave the conversation and Andrew joined him, not wanting to be dragged into a contest.
It was unusually warm for September; hot enough for a swim for the brave of heart, but the water still took on a winter chill two inches below the surface. A few boys had taken the plunge, the gooseflesh in stark contrast to the macho grins.
A huddle of girls eyed the water with trepidation. Emily and Bianca pranced to the edge of the pool, towels clutched over their chests, discretely covering their swimwear. They recoiled at the temperature of the water while avoiding the light-hearted splashes directed at them. Retreating to a safe distance Emily and Bianca made a hasty decision. With gleeful abandon and appropriate squealing shrieks the pair discarded their towels, grabbed each other’s hands and ran into the pool.
The cold water soon forced Emily and Bianca out. Andrew watched Emily step out of the pool in a tank-top bikini and floral board shorts. A belly button ring dangled under the edge of her top. Andrew’s gaze moved from the glint of the belly button ornament to the curvature of her breasts accentuated by her swimmers. As she squeezed the water out of her hair, Andrew looked down in embarrassment, hoping she hadn’t seen him. He raised his eyes for a second look.
A pair of fingers snapped in front of Andrew’s face making him jump.
“You’re staring,” said Nathan.
“Was not,” said Andrew in defence as the blood rushed from the lower part of his body to his cheeks.
“Are you smitten? Are you in deep smit?” Nathan laughed as Andrew excused himself.
During the course of the afternoon and into the evening, Andrew and Emily stayed within the orbit of their own friends. After Emily’s time in the pool, Andrew’s gaze would stray back to her, drawn to her form.
“She’s like kryptonite,” Andrew thought.
Andrew saw her reaching into her handbag, pull out her phone and begin scrolling through messages. She dialled a number and waited, tapping a few times on the screen. The smile disappeared from her face. No one had seen her reaction, save Andrew. Walking briskly into the shadows she vanished.
Concern bartered with curiosity and he went in search. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness; a movement in the shadows showed him the direction of his quarry. She paced her stride out onto the street, stopping under a streetlight to check her phone. Her actions suggested frustration and Andrew kept to the shadows, unsure of what to do. Emily sat down on a low brick fence and shielded her eyes from an oncoming car.
In the quick snapshot of the car headlights, Emily’s face was tear-streaked. Any mask she wore was discarded; all her defences gone, vulnerable.
Andrew hesitated. He wanted to exploit the weakness of his enemy, but her tears seemed genuine. With his heart pounding a heavy metal blast beat in his chest, he stepped forward.
“Are you ok?”