by Nathan Elias
Before I died, I was just trying to be a normal teenager. While a lot of the kids at Toledo Technology Academy went to the Robotics Team after school, my best friend Athen and I preferred to mingle at the Westfield Mall with girls from other schools. The only four girls in our grade at TTA dated upperclassmen. Desperate to find girlfriends, Athen and I perused the food court and hip stores to gain perspective on the regulars. They were mostly from public schools and they stuck together in their respective cliques—preppy, sporty, religious. But then, there were the outsiders. The nerds and the artists, vocational school girls on the fringes of normalcy. I was most drawn to the art school crowd, dressed in all black, wearing concealer and pearl powder. Athen and I were still in uniform, green polo and khakis. There was a part of me that knew I would fit in better with the art kids than I ever could at my own school. I had no place studying robots at the technology academy. Art was in my soul. I envied those other students who learned to create art, not machines. I wanted to infiltrate their space, become one of them.
Being dead is like binge watching an adaptation of your life story. All you do is watch this other person say all of the stupid or meaningful things you said. My adaptation begins when I met the girl who changed my life. It was the third week of September, sophomore year.
“Three o’clock,” Athen said. “Theatre kids. New girl. She’s definitely a man-eater.”
I snuck a three-quarter-turn look her way, making eye contact from across the packed dining area. She had fair skin, ash brown hair that met her shoulders, and green eyes like a forest at sunset.
“She’s looking right over here,” I said. “If I don’t make this girl fall in love with me, I’m going to die.” Isn’t life ironic?
“You’re the most dramatic person I’ve ever met,” Athen said, shaking his head. “It’s just like you to steal a girl right out from under me.” As we walked toward the group, the girl looked up at me, and then looked away just as quickly. I could see her telling her friend that we were coming over.
“What’s up, everybody?” I said, trying to be casual. “You go to the art school, right?”
“How’d you guess?” her friend asked, pointing down to her shirt that had Toledo School for the Arts printed above a graphic of a jagged hook and pirate ship. She was the taller one of the two, with jet-black hair and a nose ring.
“Cool,” I said. “We go to TTA, but I was thinking about transferring to your school. I really want to be an actor, see.” I glanced down right at that moment to take in a perfect, slightly crooked smile on the face of the girl I had made eye contact with. It wasn’t just her natural beauty that drew me to her. I was equally entranced by the other things I had noticed about her, like her white Chuck’s, stained with sloppy handwriting in what looked like quotes and lyrics. I wanted to crawl down on the sticky mall floor and read every word on those shoes.
“Not just anyone can get in,” Nose Ring said. She nudged my future lover with her elbow. “You actually need to have talent.”
“How’d you get in?” I said to my new crush. “What’s your talent?”
She looked up, shocked, not quite registering the fact that me, the really handsome guy with shaggy hair, a cool studded belt, and custom Vans was standing in front of her asking personal questions. Or at least, that’s what I thought. I was so full of myself back then—when you’re dead, you really see your old self through a new lens.
“Sylvia’s got more talent in her pinky than you have in your whole body,” Nose Ring said.
“Oh yeah, well my pinky knows Romeo and Juliet better than your entire theatre department,” I said. “I’m a poet. Poetry is the art of moving language and it, like any other art, can be… performed!” I thrust my arms out in a grand gesture, mimicking so many actors I’d seen on the stage. Athen let out a sigh.
“There are puppets and there are actors,” Sylvia said with her palm facing me, as if to reject my dramatics. “Puppets are controlled by the world. Actors have choice and free will. Right now, I’m thinking you’re more like the former.”
The girls and Athen all stared at me, waiting to see if I had a comeback. Not only was I absent of words, I’m also pretty sure I wasn’t even breathing. I looked to Athen who was too caught up smoldering at Nose Ring with his eyebrows arched. Sylvia’s words burned through me. Puppets are controlled by the world. I’d found the perfect woman.
“I just met you, and I know we’re both super young, but I would totally be down to marry you like right this second.”
Sylvia stood up from her seat and looked me square in the eye. “I wouldn’t lift a finger to save your life, let alone marry you. Let’s go, Doris.” Her stride parted a group of football players in line for pizza.
Nose Ring stood up to follow her, smirking at Athen and me. “Don’t take it personally,” she said. “Not every princess can envision themselves in your perfectly rehearsed high school fairy tale.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “I just met the girl I will devote my poetry to for the rest of my life. Like, you may very well be my muse, Sylvia!” I called after her. “No pressure, or anything. But, would you prefer a sonnet or a dramatic monologue?” My beckons rang unheard as she walked away. The girls faded into the swarming crowd.
“Look at this,” Athen said. He picked up a handbill from the bench where Sylvia and Nose Ring had been sitting. I snatched it from his hands, reading the large decorative font.
LIVE ON STAGE
TOLEDO SCHOOL FOR THE ARTS
AUDITIONS HELD SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15
“That’s it. I’m going to audition for Peter Pan and win her over,” I said. I folded the flyer up and shoved it in my pocket.
“You probably can’t audition,” Athen said. “You don’t even go to that school.”
“I guess we’re just going to have to crash the auditions.”
Athen laughed and patted me on the back. “That is the worst idea you’ve ever had.”
After meeting Sylvia, I paid little to no attention in class. I read and reread the Peter Pan novelization and play. If the teachers caught on to my lack of attention and forced me to participate, I would find a way to dedicate my work to Sylvia: in Automation class, we were assigned to program traffic lights to turn from green, to yellow, to red. Instead I programmed them all to blink red in a heart-shape. Inside the digital traffic light heart, I spelled S-Y-L-V-I-A with stop signs. In Materials Processing, we were supposed to build a mousetrap-powered car and I named my pink contraption The Sylvia 7. It won the class race. In typing class, while everyone else hammered away in unison the keystrokes F D S A SPACE J K L SEMICOLON SPACE, I utilized my time to compose a twenty-page doctrine of love for Sylvia. To you who captivated me in the food court, it began I promise my undying devotion and tenderness. You make my otherwise dull world glow with your radiance. You are the only burning star in my heart’s vast sky.
The morning Athen ran lines with me before the audition was the first time I looked to the sky and considered the possibility of flight. Peter Pan could fly with the help of fairy dust from Tinkerbell. Whenever I thought of Sylvia, a buzz coursed through me and amplified every step I took, every breath I drew. If Peter Pan could fly, why couldn’t I? Love would be my fairy dust. Walking through littered downtown Toledo, the Maumee River beneath us, I believed that if I leapt off the Cherry Street Bridge something magical would prevent me from hitting the dark, dirty water. I took the cold steel rail in my hands and hoisted myself up. With the wind grazing my back and the sprawling river before me, I felt like if I took a single step I’d be suspended above it all.
“Watch out for Tick-Tock the Crocodile,” Athen said, deadpan. “But seriously, please don’t fall. I don’t have the energy to save you.”
“You should audition,” I said. I climbed down from the railing. “You practically have the part of Captain Hook memorized.” I unsheathed my Styrofoam dagger from my backpack and went for his throat.
He evaded the lunge and disarmed my dagger like a true pirate. “I don’t think acting is really my thing,” he said.
“Come on, bro,” I said. “It’s something we could do together. I bet you’ll meet all kinds of girls. Maybe you can hang out with Nose Ring.”
“Nose Ring? Her name is Doris, which you might have overheard at the mall if you weren’t so in your head all the time.”
“I’m still not sure how I plan on asking Sylvia out,” I said, reaching for the dagger and steering the topic back to my most pressing concern. “Our first encounter was pure—spur of the moment, completely spontaneous. This time, she’ll see me at the audition, recognize me, and know that I’m there for her. To make her see me.”
“She didn’t seem to be that into you at the mall,” Athen said, forfeiting the dagger. “What if she sees you and thinks you’re desperate?” It struck me that Athen might have been jealous because I went after Sylvia right away. But who was he to stand in the way of true love?
“I know you saw her first,” I said, starting to cross the street. “But I don’t want this to come between us.”
“Despite what you may think, Sam—” he stopped in the middle of the intersection. Cars zipped around us. “—the world does not revolve around you.”
When I was alive, I thought Athen envied my bravado and charisma. If envy were possible in death, I might wish I had had more of Athen’s sensibilities: candor and realism. It wasn’t until after the accident that I understood what he meant that day on the bridge.
The Toledo School for the Arts looked more like the sarcophagus of an industrial building in the heart of downtown Toledo than an educational institution. The closer we got to the school, the more I feared I’d throw up. Sure, I kept cool on the outside, but inside, I was a wreck. I kept imagining Sylvia and the rest of the art kids laughing at my pathetic attempt to audition. I told myself to pretend I was as cool as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. I adjusted my beanie, threw my hands in my pockets, and walked through the doors like I was a real Hollywood icon trying to be modest.
The inside of the school smelled like oil paint and sweat; it was alive with creativity. We meandered through hallways with walls covered with art for a good ten minutes before we found the right room. I wondered if any of the art was Sylvia’s and tried to find a sketch of my face among the portraits. I could have wandered those dingy hallways forever, looking for my reflection on the wall. Finally, we saw the flyer with the pirate ship and jagged hook. I expected a desk where I’d fill out information, but it was one giant black theatre room with a bunch of kids sitting on metal chairs watching the one on stage who was delivering a monologue. The door slammed behind me and everyone shot around to look at us. That’s when I saw Sylvia sitting there, in the same outfit from last week. I could barely keep myself from running over to her and reciting an excerpt from my love doctrine. When she registered who I was, she flipped her hood to cover her face and slunk down lower in her chair.
“To what do we owe this pleasure?” a gray-haired woman in a black dress called from the first row. I assumed she was the director of the play.
“I’m here to audition,” I said. “Is there a signup sheet, or—”
“I have never seen your face before in my life, child,” she said. “Do you attend the School for the Arts?”
“That’s the thing,” I said. “On the flyer for the audition, it didn’t say anything about being a student here.”
“Well, I’m afraid you must be registered at this institution in order to perform.” She lowered her glasses back down onto her bony, forlorn face and turned to resume the audition. Before the actor on stage began again, I stepped forward.
“But this isn’t a private school. Students from all over the city go here, right?”
“Correct,” she said, turning back around. I could see Sylvia trying to become invisible. Why would she be embarrassed by me when, just the other day, I so valiantly confessed my admiration for her?
“Then, like sports programs, students from other schools should be able to try out, right?”
She flipped her hair, eyeing me up and down. “And what institution do you attend, child?”
“Toledo Technology Academy, ma’am,” I said. The students chuckled, which only fueled my need to show them what I could do.
“Do you have any experience in the thee-ay-ter?” she asked.
“I acted when I was a kid, and I know this play front to back.”
“Oh, so you were a child actor,” she laughed at her own joke. “Then you must be eager to dazzle us.” This made the students laugh harder. I noticed Doris sitting a row away from Sylvia, snickering.
“You are in for it now, Romeo,” Doris said.
“Well, child,” the director proceeded. “If you are so inclined and inspired to interrupt my audition because you lust for thee-ay-ter—then by all means step forth and grace us with your magic. Light up this room with your symphony. Show us what you got.”
“Right now?” I said. I looked up to the guy on stage whose audition I botched.
“Well, go on,” the director said. “You’ve already altered the aura of the room with your paper-thin machismo.”
“Seriously, Mrs. Chabbock?” Doris pleaded. “You’re going to allow this pretentious faker to waste our time?”
“Even fools deserve a chance,” Mrs. Chabbock said. I could see Sylvia tightening the cord of her hoodie until it scrunched around her face. I walked past the grid of metal chairs, jumped up onto the stage, and took the place of the guy before me. It felt as though my heart was hammering against my rib cage. With the stage lights beaming in my eyes, all I could see were the vague silhouettes of the kids in their chairs and Mrs. Chabbock across from me, her eyes wide and wicked as if she expected me to summon the devil.
I turned around to face the curtain. Even then, I knew how cliché I looked—a know-nothing actor. But I had once seen James Dean do it in a documentary. To get into character he would turn away from his audience, close his eyes, and return as someone new. When I pivoted back to face the audience, I felt my body detach from my soul.
“Yes, Wendy, I know fairies!” I cried. “But, they’re nearly all dead now. You see, when the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into thousands of pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” I looked across the audience, not breaking character, so that I could gauge their response. Just like I thought—cold silence. “So, there ought to be a fairy for every boy and girl. There isn’t of course. You see children know such a lot now. Soon as they don’t believe in fairies, there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” At this point, Peter Pan realizes he can’t find Tinkerbell. But something came over me. I changed the line so that Sylvia would know once and for all what this was really about. “I can’t think she is gone. Sylvia, Sylvia, where are you?”
Then, as if Peter Pan had taken complete control of my body, I leapt off the stage, flying toward Sylvia, and landed with a half-roll to my knees and into a bow. When I stood up and looked toward the crowd, I expected them to explode in applause, but all I heard was Doris saying, “Please, somebody spare me.”
Sylvia bolted up and stormed out of the dark theatre, Doris chasing after her.
“Sylvia!” I cried. “Wait!” I ran across the auditorium and through the door.
“They can’t be far,” I said to myself. I started sprinting through the hallways, those makeshift galleries of student art, but didn’t see Sylvia or Doris anywhere. I went outside and looked for them, but the streets were empty.
“She’s gone,” Athen said, coming up behind me and gasping for breath.
The decrepit downtown buildings surrounded us like the walls of a maze. I called out Sylvia’s name as loud as I could. Nothing. Nothing but the sound of my own voice reverberating back.
I was feeling depressed until I got a call the next day from Mrs. Chabbock. “You, my child, are Peter Pan!” she wailed into the phone. “Of course, I had to bend some rules because you are not a part of this institution. No matter. You will lead this play with Sylvia Pryor as Wendy. You will not let me down. Rehearsals begin in a week.” She hung up before I could respond. We both got the leads. Peter and Wendy, Sam and Sylvia.
I showed up to the first rehearsal in green tights and a tunic. “This isn’t a dress rehearsal,” Doris said from the stage. “You look like Mary Martin on the poster for the 1950s version of the Broadway production.” The rest of the cast and crew snickered. Beside Doris, Sylvia looked like she was about to vomit. I felt embarrassed for her. Nobody else was in costume, just tee shirts and sweat pants.
“There he is. My Peter Pan.” Mrs. Chabbock embraced me and eyed my clothes. “A little over-prepared, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from an actor with such intense emotions. Partner with Miss Pryor. Run act one, Peter’s entrance.” She nudged me toward the stage. It was the moment I had been waiting for—one on one time with Sylvia. When I walked onto the stage Doris yawned in my direction, staring at me while sanding the side of the pirate ship. I wasn’t about to let her attitude ruin everything.
“How are you?” I asked Sylvia, ignoring Doris. “How is school going? Hey, do you have a boyfriend?”
“Is he serious right now?” Doris groaned.
“It’s fine, Doris,” Sylvia said. “Can we just get on with the lines?” She tied her hair back and avoided eye contact. It was my first time being so close to her, within arm’s reach. Her scent, cigarettes and sugarplum, were enough to make me feel drunk. But I had to suppress my intoxication. This was my shot. I had my lines memorized, but Sylvia had imbued the entire script into her being. She finally gazed into my eyes as we circled the stage. The rest of the group gathered around us, unwilling to break our momentum. Once we got to the part when Peter teaches Wendy and her brothers to fly, everyone—even Doris and Mrs. Chabbock—was speechless.
Mrs. Chabbock stepped forward after an electric silence and faced everyone but Sylvia and me. “That is all for rehearsal today. We meet again next week.” As everyone headed toward the exit, Mrs. Chabbock turned to us. “Your chemistry is undeniable. I know that I have cast the right performers. But do not let me catch one of you trying to upstage the other again.” Her eyes jumped to Sylvia as she said this. “Theatre is a communal art. You will learn to view each other with respect.” She stepped down from the stage and exited the room. Sylvia darted for the door. I tried to stay near her, like a shadow.
“Did you hear that? Our chemistry is undeniable.” She kept walking with no response. “Sylvia—if you ever feel like rehearsing more, I wouldn’t mind coming to your house.”
She exhaled deeply. “School is just fine.” I followed her down hallways lined with portraits until we were both outside. She rushed to an old, rusted blue Buick idling across the street. The guy behind the wheel huffed on a cigar that looked too big for his rodent-like face. I wasn’t sure if he was her father or what, because from a distance he looked maybe ten years older than us. I wanted to walk up to the car and introduce myself. I wanted to learn about her personal life. Once she was inside, she slammed the door and covered her face with her hood. It looked like the driver was yelling at her and laughing. I couldn’t make out the words, but I started toward them ready to ask him what his problem was. When he saw me standing in the middle of the street staring at them, he hocked a giant spitball out the window and blasted his radio. The tires screeched as he pulled away.
Sometimes I pause the adaptation of my life’s story here. I rewind and watch this guy spit at me again. In this instant replay, I notice a smirk on his face and a faded tattoo on his neck. I can’t tell if it is the top of a question mark, or the pointed end of a hook. What would have happened if I had followed Sylvia that day? Maybe it all would have been different. Maybe I wouldn’t have died. Either way, I had no way of knowing how important this moment would be. I felt that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t act on it. I was too busy in my own head, like Athen said, too concerned with myself. I was still that puppet from the first day that Sylvia and I met. If I had made a choice to act, then maybe I could have saved myself. I wish I had a way of knowing if I saved her.
Seeing Sylvia every week for rehearsal became the highlight of my existence. When we finally got to the scene where Peter Pan teaches Wendy to fly, Sylvia and I were both hoisted up by our harnesses. The equipment was heavy, clunky. While Sylvia retained perfect mid-air balance, I teetered from side to side, forward and back, in my struggle to glide over to her. When I finally reached her, I took her clammy hands in mine. As the stagehands tried to figure out the dolly, us suspended above everyone’s heads, I kissed her fingers. She slapped me hard across the face.
After they pulled us down, the cast and crew chastised me for going off script. I stepped aside, trying to ignore their heckles while they reset for the scene I had ruined. That’s when the pink pill bottle caught my eye. It was across the stage, in the darkness beyond the spotlight. When I was sure that no one could see me, I walked over to the shadows and put the bottle in my pocket. I couldn’t really say why I did this. Curiosity, maybe? To whom did it belong? What kind of pills did it hold? I surveyed the theatre, but nobody, not even Doris, looked like they had just lost something important.
That night I had stayed late to rehearse my monologue when Sylvia wandered into the theatre.
“You look lost,” I said from the stage. She jumped, releasing a sudden shriek.
“I could kill you,” she said.
“I found something on the stage. It was right where we landed.”
“What did you find?” The chasm between us amplified her voice, as if she knew how to manipulate the acoustics of the auditorium.
“Pills. A bottleful of different kinds.”
“Did you take one?”
The bottle was still in my pocket. “No,” I said and held it out for her to see.
“Did you want to?” she asked, taking the pill bottle and twisting it open.
In the void of the auditorium, I couldn’t resist her. I would have given anything to share a moment with Sylvia. She plucked a pill, half black and half purple, from the bottle, placed it on her tongue. She gave one to me. I wanted to ask what the drug was, but I didn’t want to spoil the moment. For the first time outside of rehearsal, the eye contact she made with me felt inviting, as if I didn’t need her permission to look back. When she swallowed the pill dry, no water, I mimed her.
“So what’s supposed to happen?” I asked. She took me by the hand and guided me up the steps of the giant, fake pirate ship. I looked around at the set—the clock tower, the hollowed-out trees of Never Land, the massive papier-mâché crocodile—and wished that all the make-believe could be our real life. Alone in the theatre with Sylvia, I felt as if we were trespassing and embarking on a true adventure.
“Now we can learn what it really means to take flight,” she said. Once we were aboard Hook’s ship, she released my hand and made her way toward the mast. Her grace and agility on the set made her look more like Tinkerbell than Wendy. This was a different Sylvia, one I hadn’t even known existed until this moment. “Follow me and we can get lost long enough to forget.” She smirked, a glimmer of mischief in her eyes.
“Forget that in here we’re safe and that out there,” she pointed toward the theatre doors. “Out there, we’re nothing.” She smiled, ascending the rope ladder up the mast. Once she reached the second level she looked down at me, dangling her feet. “What, are you scared?”
I took the rope into my hands, followed up after her. A sensation pulsed through my body—first through my skin and then in my neck. It seized my heart. I thought it was love until I realized it was the pill. When I took my place next to Sylvia, we looked down on Neverland and London sharing the same stage. “I thought that I’d never get a chance with you.”
“Love is bullshit,” she laughed, loud and from her belly. “And then I go and meet you. You think that you’re charming but you’re not. I want to hate you.”
“I don’t believe you think love is bullshit,” I said. “And you don’t hate me. If you did, you wouldn’t be sitting here with me right now.”
“I’m sitting here because I have nowhere else to go.” She turned toward the darkness, hiding her expression from me. I thought back to the guy in the car and his nasty cigar. I wouldn’t have wanted to go back to that either.
“That guy in the car, was that your dad?”
She sniffled, then laughed. “No, not my dad.”
“Uncle? Brother? Boyfriend?”
“It’s complicated, Sam.” It was the first time I’d heard her speak my name.
“Did he give you the pills?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it.” Her voice went hoarse as she dangled her feet over the cardboard ocean waves. I put my arm around her and she jerked away at first, but finally let me settle in. I trembled. It felt so good being that close to her.
“For what it’s worth, I’m here for you, Sylvia.” I felt like a walking cliché, but what else could I say to her? I restrained from reaching out to hold her hand or kiss her on the lips or embrace her tighter. I can still feel the enclosure of that silence. The high from those mysterious pills. The expanse of the theatre. That blurred line between reality and make-believe on that stage… It’s the same thing I felt when I realized I was dead.
“Are you ready?” Sylvia asked.
“Ready for what?
“To fly,” she said, taking my hand as she began her free fall from the mast. We plummeted toward the stage, fingers entwined. I envisioned us breaking our bones, shattering into pieces, scattering like fairy dust. But we never touched the ground. She led me up into the rafters, swooped around beams, and glided above the rows of empty seats. I still try to look back and understand the science behind all this, but the only thing that really matters is that for that one night, we flew.
With opening night in a week, I started to get behind on my homework. I should have studied harder for my midterms, put some effort into the steel miniature windmill that counted for half of my Materials Processing grade, and not cheated on my trigonometry test by inputting answers into a secret file on my TI-83 graphic calculator. Instead of studying, I either rehearsed for the play or composed love poems for Sylvia. Otherwise I’d spend the nights tossing and turning, worrying about her, the pills, and the fact that even though we had flown hand in hand that night, we had not yet defined the terms of our relationship. I wanted Sylvia to see that I could be her real Peter Pan. I wanted to fend off her Captain Hook, the creep from the car. I wanted to love Sylvia freely. Good form—in the novel, Peter Pan didn’t even know he had good form. Only Hook could see it, and he was nothing but jealous of Peter’s ability to exist, fight, live, and love with no effort at all. After our night together in the empty theater, Sylvia didn’t speak to me outside of rehearsal. She acted like us flying together never happened.
Opening night was a total disaster. Backstage, a little before the curtain would rise, I saw Mrs. Chabbock questioning Sylvia, the pink pill bottle in her hands. Someone must have found it on the pirate ship. Sylvia was crying, drops of mascara-tinted tears staining the top of her blue dress.
“They’re not hers,” I said, stepping forward. “They’re mine.”
“My heart is broken,” Mrs. Chabbock said mournfully. Sylvia’s eyes found mine. I prayed that she wouldn’t contradict me in front of Mrs. Chabbock. “I can’t let you do the play. I have to call your parents and tell them about this.” She guided me to her office, sat me down, and said, “Where did you get the pills, Sam?”
“I found them,” I said. All I could picture was Sylvia’s face. Would she even care that I wasn’t there to do the play?
“Such a shame,” Mrs. Chabbock said. “Such a waste of talent.” She filled out paperwork without speaking and then called my parents. I didn’t care what consequence I would face if it meant that Sylvia wouldn’t get in trouble.
My parents took me home and lectured me. It was time to make some necessary life changes: commit to my school work, pull my head out of the clouds. I stayed home from school the next day because I was facing expulsion. I spent the whole day online, staring at Sylvia’s profile pictures. My sister Zoe came home, took one look at me, and said, “You need an intervention.” We got in her car, drove to Tom’s Famous Lemonade, and smoked cigarettes in the parking lot, an offer made only in case of an “existential crisis”. I told her about the night that I flew.
“I would like you to know that I think this is all a load of shit,” Zoe said. “None of this adds up, and now you’re up a creek”
“I don’t care about school. I don’t care about the play. All I care about is Sylvia. I got the pills from her, and I have no idea where she got them from.”
She passed me a fresh cigarette.
“I’m taking you to her,” Zoe said. She started the car and barreled out of the lemonade stand parking lot. “The play should be letting out in ten minutes, right?”
“They banned me from the premises,” I said.
“Maybe so,” she said, “but they can’t ban you from loving someone.” Her cigarette dangled from her mouth as she drove. The breeze from the Maumee River blew in through her windows and carried ashes past my face. We sped down Bancroft Avenue, the empty warehouses and neon bar lights swirling past us in a blur. Zoe pulled up to TSA with a screeching stop. From outside the school, I heard applause and whistles. Peter Pan was a success—my understudy kissed Sylvia, and the crowd probably loved their chemistry. I bet nobody even realized that I was gone.
“Go get her,” Zoe said. I stepped out of the car and she peeled off down the street. I listened to the applause fade away and waited for Sylvia, knowing I’d see her hood-covered head trying to escape the area unseen. When the theatregoers exited the school, I spotted her patched hoodie moving briskly through the crowd, her eyes glued to the sidewalk.
“Sylvia!” I yelled. She didn’t slow down, so I ran. When I caught up to her, I could see mascara running down her cheeks again. I took her by the hand and guided her across the street. Her hands were cold from the winter breeze drifting by way of the river. I put them to my face.
“I wasn’t sure if I would see you,” she said and pulled her hands away, burying them in her hoodie pouch.
“I got a misdemeanor and probation,” I said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
“I’m sorry you can’t do the play,” she said. Her eyes began to glisten in the glow of the street lamps.
“I only did the play for you,” I said. A car pulled up beside us. It was the rusted Buick, its headlights gleaming in our eyes. The same guy sat at the wheel, a lit cigar clenched between his grinning teeth. I tried to keep her there with me, but she pulled away and got into the car without another word. My heart devolved into something less palpable than muscle, more tenacious than rock.
As the Buick rolled down the street I began to sprint. The guy behind the wheel didn’t see me chasing until they came to a stop sign. I lunged forward, grappling the edge of their fender in my hands. He turned the corner and I hit the pavement, tumbled to the curb. As I fell, my gaze caught an image of him laughing and Sylvia’s horrified face. I stood up and sped after them. I was afraid I would lose her forever. If I could fly, I’d be able to catch up to them. I needed the magic from that night, but the pills had all been confiscated. In pursuit of Sylvia, I leapt over hydrants, puddles, and steel grates. Each time, I thought for certain my body would catch the wind just right and the Buick’s taillights would once again be in arm’s reach. No matter what, I wouldn’t let Sylvia go back with that man. I imagined him taking her to some trailer park, smoking cigarettes while she cooked dinner. The streetlights above me flickered each time I passed beneath one. A domino effect of lights blinking out followed me en route to Sylvia, like stars on the road winding into an earthbound constellation on the way to Neverland. “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning!” The faster I went, the more indistinguishable the road became from the sky. Suddenly a singe of heat coursed through my body, the same feeling I got from Sylvia’s pills. Maybe the chemical was still in my system. I jumped into the air and didn’t stop until I was side by side with her. She rolled down her window, her hair flailing in the riverside breeze.
“I won’t let you go,” I said. I held on to the Buick, one hand on the passenger side mirror, one on the door handle. My legs hovered, parallel to the vehicle. She unbuckled her seat belt, leaned her head out of the window, and kissed me. Suspended in air, our bodies developed their own gravitational pull. Flying above the Maumee River, we defied the logic of love, reinvented the laws of physics.
This is the last moment of my life I can review—my body soaring above the Maumee River, hand in hand with Sylvia. If I ever hit the water, I have no memory of it. The split second between life and death felt like when I auditioned for Peter Pan, stepping away from the curtain and into the character, soul detaching from body. Now I’m trapped here in death, watching myself meet Sylvia and leave her over, and over, and over again. Peter Pan never wanted to grow up, so he flew away to Neverland. I, on the other hand, never wanted to be out of love with Sylvia and now, I never will be.