Hero Or Villain?
When I answer, I’m shocked to hear Ryan’s voice on the other end of my phone.
“How was your Thanksgiving?” he asks me.
“It was really good. How was yours?”
“Good. It was fun. I was just thinking… you should come over tonight and we could catch up.”
What? This is crazy. Ryan is calling and asking me for… what? A date? I mean, not an official date to be sure. A non-public, nobody is ever going to know about it and we’re just hanging out at his house- non-date. Not really a date, no. Not even a big deal really, so I should go ahead and tell him that I’ll come… just because I have nowhere else to be tonight, of course.
“Okay. Sure. I guess I could come over for a little while.”
“Cool. You should bring that Christmas CD we like. We could listen to it.”
A plan? The non-date is planned? I mean, it’s a small plan, just listening to sentimental Christmas music that we mutually love and that he obviously remembers that we mutually love.
“Oh, yeah. Sure. That would be fun. I’ll bring it.”
An hour later, I find myself standing on Ryan’s front porch, clasping the CD in one hand, and reaching an unsure fist up to knock on the door with the other.
He answers right away.
“Hey Sparky. Come on in. Follow me. I’m just gonna grab a blanket from my room. I’ve got everything else set up downstairs.”
I walk by the floral couch where we’ve sat together looking through family photo albums. I see into the dining room, to the oak table we’ve gathered around for meals and games. I follow Ryan up the stairs, past the 8x10 photos of each of his siblings, their spouses and their children. How often I’ve dreamed of having my picture hanging there alongside them.
We enter his room. It hasn’t changed. Here’s the light switch that he used to flick on and off every night, three times meant “I love you”. There, at the head of his single bed, just above where his head rests at night is the window he used to look out to see my light turn on and off three times in response. There’s a small weight set in the corner. He passes it to get a blanket out of the closet.
There’s a chest of drawers against one wall. On it, there’s a set of books. They all look the same, but I know one is different. One is hollowed out. I walk over to the books and just look at them. He comes up behind me, curious.
“Do you still have the secret one?” I ask.
“I do,” he says.
He pulls it out from its place among the others, and opens it up.
They’re all there. All of the notes I’ve written him. I can see my swirly writing, my hand drawn hearts and smiley faces. “You still have them,” I say.
“Of course,” he says, “Don’t you still have the notes I wrote to you?”
Of course. “Yes, I do.”
He closes the book and puts it back. Those notes are full of things that shouldn’t be unfolded and let out again.
“Come on,” he says, “We’ll listen to the CD in the basement.”
There is one large room in Ryan’s basement that has no windows. His Dad finished the room, and built benches along each wall. They’re perfect for sitting on, but they were also built wide enough to work as beds for several of the kids when they were all living at home. The walls are ornate with exotic hangings and trinkets, purchased by Ryan’s parents on their travels. The room is so quiet, and when the lights are off, so very, very dark. Some have called it the Bat Cave, and I find that perfectly fitting tonight. I’m here with this masked stranger, reasons unknown.
Ryan crosses the room and lights a candle.
It’s all too much.
“Ryan,” I say, “What’s going on here?”
“What? I just thought this would be fun.” He gestures to the candle and the CD player.
Good ol’ fun. Good ol’ simplistic sounding fun. How complicated it can be.
He motions for me to sit next to him. He covers us both in a quilt, chases away the cold winter chill in this basement room. We listen to the Christmas music and he doesn’t say much. He doesn’t talk about how last year, for a Christmas gift, he wrote me my very own love song and sang it to me with a singing voice that he was just starting to use. A voice which has now become even more pure and melodic and confident, and yet another secret weapon in his girl magnet arsenal. He doesn’t talk about how the words to that song promised forever.
His face is inches from mine now though, and I swear I see it all in his eyes. I swear his expression is telling me that he remembers it and that he still feels it too.
“What are you thinking about?” I whisper.
His eyes drift to somewhere above us as he considers how to answer. Then he gives me a half smile and says, “I’m thinking that you think too much.”
He kisses me… and I stop thinking.
The next morning at school I’m singing songs in my head as I bounce down the halls. Ryan still has feelings for me. I wonder what he’ll say when he sees me today. Will he flirt with me in front of my friends? Will he seek me out to say hello? Or will we just pass each other in the hall and share a secret look, a knowing smile.
After third period one of my friends finds me at our lockers. “Have you heard the rumors going around about Ryan?” she asks.
This isn’t unusual. People tend to want to keep me informed about Ryan and his antics.
“No,” I say, “What’s going on?”
“He kissed somebody over Thanksgiving break.”
I can’t keep my mischievous smile hidden away. “Oh he did, did he?” I say. Don’t I know it.“Yeah. He’s telling everybody about it too, like he’s some kind of hero. She was a stranger! A girl from Logan that he didn’t even know.”
The happy little song in my head screeches to a halt. My playful expression slides down off of my cheeks and drops to the ground.
“Apparently he looked through his cousin’s yearbook, found the cutest girl in there, called her and went out with her! Who does that?”
Who does that? A hero? A villain? It depends on how much of the story you know.
At the end of the day I’m walking down a near empty hallway with Tiffany. Ryan approaches me, all smiles.
“Hey Sparky, can I get a ride home with you?” he near shouts as he comes toward us.
I stop in front of him, my face like ice. “I heard about the girl from Logan,” I say. “Who needs the confines of a little black book when high schools print yearbooks? Right?”
He looks at the ground. It’s impossible to tell whether he’s sorry or just annoyed that I have the nerve to confront him about it. After all, we aren’t together anymore. Last night, somebody should have told that to the music, the candles, the Bat cave and the kisses.
“Anyway, I can’t give you a ride home… I… I don’t have my car.”I feel Tiff’s eyes steal a surprised glance at me, and then at my hand which conceals my car keys. I give her a nod, knowing she’ll play along. I can see that she’s a little uncomfortable, but mostly impressed that I’m finding myself able to turn Ryan away for once.
“Come on Tiff, let’s go” I say.
We go to our lockers to pick up a few things and as we’re making our way to the doors of the school, I see Ryan talking and laughing with two girls. It stings worse than usual. A boy named T walks toward us and reaches us just steps from where Ryan and the girls are standing. “Hey,” he says to us, “I’m looking for ride home. Do either of you-“
“Sure T,” I say, syrupy sweet and plenty loud. “I can give you a ride home. My car is right outside.”
“Thanks gorgeous,” he says and puts his arm around my shoulder. I put my arm around his waist and we walk away together. I can feel Ryan’s eyes boring into the back of me. I know he has seen and heard. I know he deserves everything he gets… but I feel certain now that there are no heroes here. In the land of Can’t Be Together, Can’t Be Apart- there are no heroes.