I stood alone and watched the morning sunrise. Before leaving, I checked my bag one more time to make sure everything I needed was in there; my towel, a grey baseball cap, and sunscreen. My mother smiled and blew me a kiss from our front porch, I waved goodbye to my parents and watched them disappear into the house. Five minutes later a grey, boxy Nissan pulled into the driveway. The back door swung open and my friend Tom gestured for me to get in.
“Good morning,” I’m greeted by Tom’s mother.
“Good morning, and thank you for the ride.”
“It’s no trouble dear, Jimmy's house is just a couple of streets away.”
She shot me a big smile and pulled out of the driveway. Tom had a serious look on his face, business as usual.
“You’re going a bit fast, mom,” he said.
I blushed, it was true.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a sly grin, “the police can’t stop you if you’re just a blur.”
“I see you’re one step ahead,” he said with a wry grin. It added a couple of lines to his forehead, deep ones that appeared often. All the sarcasm was making his face age faster.
Tom was a lot like his father, which is probably why he chose not to live with him after his parents divorced. Both are great guys, but neither is much fun. On top of his dry personality, Tom also inherited his father’s eyes, green and grey. He had smart features, and any time he got quiet it looked like he was in deep thought when most of the time he was just thinking about something boring and inconsequential. Tom was the most practical guy I knew, even his wildest dreams were down-to-Earth.
Five minutes later we pulled into Jimmy’s driveway.
“Bye boys, see you later,” Tom’s mother said.
She shot me one of her patented smiles and waved goodbye.
We walked up to Jimmy’s house together. It was an old, low, beige house with a brown roof. We rang the bell twice and waited for somebody to open the door. Jimmy’s father came out in a shabby grey shirt and blue jeans. He was a large man, we had to take a step back to avoid intruding on his personal space. He had a round face, thin grey hair and light blue eyes. He offered us a tight smile, turned around, called Jimmy, then left. Jimmy appeared at the door.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey guys, come inside.”
He turned around and led us through the house to his backyard, where his family installed a pool last summer. Jimmy claimed that he and his parents built this pool themselves.
Three big, blue floaties lay waiting for us in the water. Tom said that we should race them, from one end of the pool to the other, using our legs to propel ourselves forward. It wasn’t exactly fair, Tom was on the swim team and the track and field team, but I don’t mind losing. Jimmy made a counter-offer; he said that it would be more fun to try and knock each other off the floaties. He was tall and well-built and played on the football team. The guys looked at me expectantly.
“We have plenty of time, let’s do both games,” I said.
That’s exactly what we did. We began with the race, Tom beat us with ease. After that, we tried knocking each other off the floaties, and while Tom and I got some good hits Jimmy won that game.
The sun made its way west, but it still shone with the power and intensity that our short summers granted to it. Tom and Jimmy spent the sunny season sitting in their rooms, poring over their comic books so they could argue about them when the three of us met in person. I have never been able to enjoy comic books, so when the discussion inevitably goes in that direction I nod my head and do the best I can to follow along.
We sat in the lounge chairs by the pool, and I knew Tom and Jimmy were going to start talking about comic books, more specifically, ones about superheroes. It always led to a bitter fight, with Tom attaching to one character and Jimmy to another while I sat on the sidelines and watched. Their argument took a strange turn today, instead of fighting about the actual content of their comic books, they clashed about what to do with their vast collections.
“See, I like to read the comic book once or twice, with latex gloves on, then I store it in a protective bag,” Tom said.
“Why’s that?” Jimmy asked. He narrowed his eyes and turned to face Tom. I felt a deep sense of foreboding, a storm was brewing, one that threatened this perfect, sunny day.
“I want to pass them onto my kids,” Tom said with a stony expression.
“What would you do if your kids didn’t want your comic books?” I asked.
“Or if you didn’t have any kids,” Jimmy added. Tom ignored Jimmy and addressed me.
“If they decide not to read the comic books they can sell them, I have some pretty valuable stuff in my collection. The point is, it doesn’t make sense to keep the comic books to myself when I grow up.”
Jimmy scoffed and ran his hand through his long brown hair.
“What do you plan on doing with your collection?” Tom asked Jimmy.
“I’m going to keep it for myself.”
“You’re going to outgrow comic books eventually,” Tom said.
“No, I won’t.”
“What if your kids want the collection?”
“If my kids want comic books I’ll be happy to buy some for them.”
The sun continued it’s journey west as the boys argued. Eventually, they stopped looking at each other and turned to face me. A feeling of dread welled up in my stomach. It had occurred to me that they were nerdy, everyone in school knew, but somehow that only made them more popular. Their love of all things superhero humanized them in everybody’s eyes and strengthened their bond with each other. The drawback was that it often divided them. And no matter what, whether they agreed or disagreed, I never had my own opinion. They only ever used me to settle their disputes, like a coin you toss in the air. I didn’t have a strong personality which made me unpredictable and as such a fair way to settle arguments, a fifty-fifty chance of me leaning one way or the other.
“What would you do?” Jimmy asked me. Tom nodded his head.
I exhaled a deep sigh. I’ve always felt like an imposter around my friends. Not just because of the extra attention they received from our peers, but also because of how certain they were about their own personality and their futures. Everybody knew Tom and Jimmy enough to predict what they would do in a situation. They both knew they wanted to start families and have kids. They weren’t just coins you tossed in the air to settle a dispute. I wasn’t bold, sarcastic, strategic, or easy-going. I didn’t watch movies or read books or play sports.
“I don’t know,” I told my friends.
We settled into deep silence and watched the sun disappear underneath a row of suburban homes. I don’t know, but maybe one day I will.