A month passed since that afternoon at the club, that night in the park. I thanked the tech kids at school for their help, and when they bugged me about it, I told them it wasn’t important anymore. Justin asked to keep the glove, so I let him; Beaver told me I still owed them. I don’t think they’ve got the guts to take me up on that debt.
I see Pace almost every day. We talk. Little things, mostly, till Pace gets all Yoda on me and I can’t think of anything to say. He keeps asking if I want to meet the others in the Underground, but after my last meeting with them, I’m not so keen on reintroductions.
I’ve spent the month training. I’ve learned to bypass the physical stress and induct it mentally; inverted meditation, in a way. My focus is stronger now, reaching that point of orange ambiance, but once I’m there, it’s all anger and energy inside. Part of me wants to get past that; part of me knows it’s my only fuel for the brightest fire.
We’re in the park again, Pace and me. On the bench as before, my arms to my chest, his arms spread-eagle, one draped behind my back. The leaves are starting to turn. The wind blows. I shiver a little; Pace just laughs. He hasn’t said anything yet. Neither have I.
“Listen”–we speak at the same time and stop just as fast.
“What?” I ask.
“Just listen,” he says. “Don’t try to think. Don’t try to speak. Just listen.” He smiles. His smiles have gotten warmer since then, or maybe I’ve just warmed up to them.
I try it his way. I look at the grass, the streetlamps as they stand sleeping in the sunlight. The green leaves poked with red and yellow at the edges. I take a deep breath, try to count the colors to keep myself from thinking; then I realize as I try to stop thinking, I’m just thinking more. It’s dizzying.
Pace notices and laughs at me, pushing me in the arm. I look at him, give him a half-skewed smile, and then look back at where the moon was that night a month ago.
“Listen,” I say again, reciting the words almost from memory. “Pace, there’s something missing.” It’s harder than I thought it’d be. I’ve gone over the words a hundred times, but now they’re all gone. Just disappeared. Thoughtless. “I want to go back.”
I feel the muscles in his arm tense up before he realizes how much he’s touching me and instantly pulls away.
“Go back where?” he says, then with more excitement, “The Underground?”
I lean forward, sighing, and put my head in my hands. I’d rehearsed this. I was ready to win an Emmy. Now it’s all gone and I’m left on my own to explain something I barely understand.
“I want to go back,” I say again, staring at a broken brown leaf on the sidewalk. “I don’t want to be super anymore. It was fun at first, I guess, but now it’s just one more thing to deal with. I can’t…I can’t get close to people anymore. I never know when I might explode–literally.”
Silence. Now it’s easy to listen–waiting for him to speak, waiting for his rebuttals and rebukes, his fruitless fight to keep me with him, to join them, the Underground. Instead he puts his hand on my back, all the tenseness gone, his fingers as light as the sunlight on my skin.
Still he says nothing. He knows what I know, what I already knew, what I needed to hear from him. I can’t go back. Once awake, you’re not asleep; where a tree falls, there it is. And in a way, I’d fallen: I’d learned I was super, and there I hit the ground.
“You’ve landed, eh?” I can feel his smile: grin-like, but friendly.
I nod slowly, still staring at the leaf. I sort of feel like it, just lying there, dried out. I move my foot over it and grind it into dust. The wind blows, and some of the leaf flies away with it.
“I landed, too,” Pace says, “once.”
“Once?” I look up at him. “I thought you were still falling.”
“I am,” he says with full-blown grin. “But I learned the best way to get up again isn’t to try standing; it’s to roll over till you fall out of bed.” He extends a hand to the ground, and his face goes a way I hadn’t seen it go before, caught between contemplation and concentration. I follow his gaze, his fingers, to the crumbled leaf: It swirls upwards just a bit, then the wind carries all of it away and Pace relaxes, leaning back on the bench.
“I’ve been there, done that. Didn’t need the t-shirt.” He smiles again, replacing his arm around my shoulders. “It’s just a part of who we are, being super. It doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, either. When I first made that top spin, I tried so hard to do it better I gave myself migraines for months. Then it got better and I was so dizzy all the time my mother thought I needed glasses when I had 20/20 eyes.”
Pace shrugs and I lean back a bit, more into him maybe, to keep listening.
“I didn’t want to be super anymore. When I told the other kids, they mocked me. When I told adults, they belittled me, told my parents, such an imaginative little boy you have. I felt I’d landed, so I stopped spinning. But I never could stop it all the way, and when I started high school, I started to realize it let me do other things than just spin tops. I found it in the way I think, the way I move, the way I live. It’s a part of me. It’s no less a part of me than any other part of me. And when I realized that, I realized being super isn’t super at all. It’s just being me, as normal as anyone else.”
“How’d you get there?”
He shrugs. “I’ve always loved learning. When I taught myself to use my gift to do that, I found it’d already been what I’d always been doing. It wasn’t discovering being super that made the difference; it was discovering that I’d always been super that let me rediscover myself. And once that was done, the rest came together.”
They called me a bully, those tech guys at school. They shied away and shivered as I stared at them, afraid what I’d do if they got on me the wrong way, but they didn’t know what had really happened. The guy I’d beaten up junior year wasn’t just some guy who’d ticked me off; he was a jerk who got on my friends and when he wouldn’t get off, I got him off myself. I denied the claims of heroism–the swooning girls were alright for a bit, but the guys calling me softy in the locker room made me change my mind about things–so I ended up with a reputation that preceded my intentions. No one likes a jock who’s valiant.
When I went after Fondlebrain, sure, I was after the thrill. But there was something deeper there, that wasn’t just in it for the kill, but for the crime: I wanted to stop him. I wanted to save people.
Pace said it was all about finding who you are, realizing you’ve always been super.
Back in my room, I grin and for a moment, I feel like Pace. My heart’s beating, my blood rushing, as I see the orange glow around me. Then as it draws into my skin, as I look past myself toward the mirror hanging on my wall, I realize it’s all inside me: the light I see is bare skin in my reflection. All this energy is an illusion in my mind–no one else sees it.
I wonder briefly if it’s the same for others, if Pace sees orange, too.
Then I lift my hand, holding in the power, and try to move with it. Reaching this point is easy now, but controlling it is a challenge: I stop myself, just in case I break the wall down or something, and decide for a safer test. I move my hand inward, using every fiber of my brain to not unleash the energy inside, and then rest my hand against my chest. There’s static there, as the power arcs between my touching flesh, and I try to get a feel for that as I start to slide my hand down my skin, not knowing how I’ll unleash the energy this time; there’s nothing I can safely break here, in the middle of the house as I am. I try to move my foot forward, and when I’m able to slide it just a bit, I feel a flicker of hope for escape.
It feels like an hour, as I slowly open the bedroom door, thankful I’d already pulled on my pants, and begin into the hall. I find my way outside, three more hours, and then let it go, straight into the ground beneath me: A single downward thrust, leaving a three-inch deep crater in the dirt, but I’ve been holding on so long, the orange light is still inside me. In a second’s moment I lose my focus, and then it’s all gone. Just disappeared. Dissipated.
Suddenly I see the sky. The sun. The city as I move toward Fondlebrain’s ruthless meltdown. I pause behind him and summon my rage, then I knock him on his back and hold him down till he submits. Then I walk away, leave him for the cops to come. But at least he’s still living this time.
I look skyward, feel the sunlight on my skin. I’ve found my calling. I’ve found my full. It’s all inside me. It always has been. I didn’t wake up super. I’ve been super all along.