Robert and Maya worked at the Hall of Humanity. Maya worked as a half-time Level IV Administrative Assistant ($14.59 per hour), and Robert worked as a Level V Superhero ($42,396 per year).
They once had this conversation while passing each other in the hall:
After that, Robert began finding reasons to look over files kept remarkably near Maya’s desk. Periodically, they even talked. Finally, when Robert discovered The Communist Manifesto on Maya’s desk, they started a weeks-long discussion on utopian government.
However, weeks were all they had, as soon Maya found a job as a paralegal across town and turned in her two weeks notice.
For Maya’s last day, they agreed to get ice cream after work, but as Robert was pulling 17 people from a flaming, overturned railcar, the weather turned cold. While changing into civilian clothes, he prepared himself for disappointment, as he didn’t expect Maya to want ice cream on such a cold day. But at five o’clock, he found Maya waiting outside the Hall of Humanity, sitting on the gaudy sculpture that allegedly represented justice.
“It got cold,” he said. “I thought you wouldn’t show.”
She smiled. “Ice cream is best on a cold day.”
They argued about ice cream and cold weather and Marxism all the way to the ice cream shop. As they ate, the conversation turned from Marxism to politics to politics-at-work and somehow back to ice cream after discussing regional differences in the number of people that fall off of tall buildings. Then, the conversation shifted back to Marxism once more.
After ice cream, Robert walked Maya to her bus stop. Before boarding the bus, she stared at him for a second.
“Call me at work sometime,” he said. “We’ll get ice cream again.”
Then the bus carried her away and Robert started to walk home. Along the way, he made up a story in his head involving Maya getting off the bus and following him, trying to catch up—following him because she was filled with the same fanatical joy that he was. He thought that maybe after he got home, took off his shoes, and put on some music, she would knock on the door and declare her love for him.
The stars were dim that night.
Were there a villain capable of holding a Superhero’s tongue hostage whenever the hero was inclined to pursue romantic intentions, it is possible that Robert’s closed-mouth approach toward potential mates would be blamed on this villain. However, no such villain has ever surfaced, so it is reasonable to assume that Robert was the way he was because of his own ineptitude.
This inability to engage people romantically was demonstrated one evening at a coffee shop, six months after Maya quit her job at the Hall of Humanity. Robert was reading and enjoying his night off when a woman asked him what time it was.
Minutes later, she bothered him again to ask what he was reading. Eventually, she sucked him into discussing neuropsychology, her major. Or at least, at first glance it may have looked as though a discussion were taking place, though in reality, she did all of the talking while Robert tried to nod in ways that made him look intelligent.
To Robert, someone that was willing to talk to him while he was dressed in civilian clothes was most welcome, and because of this, he moved to her table and listened to her speak about neuropsychology until the coffee shop closed.
Outside, before parting, Robert said, “Well, Mattie, it was nice meeting you.”
The coffee shop door locked behind them.
“Yes, nice talking to you,” Mattie said.
“Have a good night,” he said.
They parted. Robert started the walk to his apartment thinking about what a good thing it was that he didn’t get her number. After all, he was rather bored with neuropsychology these days.
Moments later, he wished he had gotten her number because at least they might have become friends. But it was too late—he hadn’t gotten it and now she was gone.
Desperately, Robert pivoted and looked, hoping that maybe she had followed him, that maybe she wanted to chat some more over a late night tea at his apartment. But she was nowhere to be seen.
At home, while he sipped a cup of Earl Grey, he glanced often at the door.
Outside, the last snow of the year began to fall.
On a particularly cool evening that summer, Robert continued his civilian life by seeing the usual summer action flick with the usual movie-going pal, Trapper (A.K.A. the Psi-Clone, Level VI Superhero, $46,454 per year). Trapper worked with Robert at the Hall of Humanity. Trapper was oblivious to a lot of things, and on this night that included being oblivious to the rare grace of the woman behind the concession counter. Her beauty defied the bland uniform on her body, which prompted Robert to choose her line even though it was longer.
Trapper didn’t notice. He was too busy talking about the Beatles. Just as Mattie had enjoyed talking about neuropsychology, Trapper never stopped talking about iconic rock.
Robert was doing his best to act like he wasn’t paying attention when Trapper said, “So I was like, ‘Ban the Beatles! What are you, Communist?!’ I can’t support those Russian ideas, man.
Look what Communism did to their country!”
Without taking his eyes off of the woman behind the counter, Robert said, “The U.S.S.R was Socialist at best, not Communist. And Marx and Engels weren’t Russian.”
Trapper ignored him. “So I turned him over to the coppers and I said, ‘Shouldn’t have robbed a liquor store with a patriotic Superhero around.’ He went easy.”
“Small Super Cola,” Robert said.
The woman behind the counter nodded and artfully dropped a cup under the nozzle. As the cup filled, her fingers punched keys on the cash register.
“Three seventy-five,” she said, smiling. She instinctively knew that he didn’t want anything else with that.
She took his five-dollar bill and gracefully placed money in his hand, saying, “One twenty-five is your change. Enjoy the show.”
“Thank you,” Robert said.
When the movie got out, Robert saw her locking up the cash registers. Droves of people divided them, so he simply watched her through the crowd as he and Trapper walked by.
“You need a lift?” Trapper asked. “I’ve got the spinner tonight.”
“No, thanks. I feel like walking.”
“Suit yourself. Take it easy.”
“Yeah. See ya’.”
Robert took giant breaths of fresh air as he walked home. Thoughts of spending the night in his empty apartment mellowed him. Several times he looked back to see if anyone was following, but the trees and bushes didn’t even move in the wind.
When he got home, he slumped to the floor to take off his shoes. Sighing, he leaned against the wall.
There was a knock.
He got up and tentatively opened the door. A figure stepped out of the darkness.
“Maya?” he said.
“I—I followed you home.”
“You were at the movie?”
“—Ten months ago,” she finished.
He thought for a moment and started to frown, but she grabbed him and held him and tears traveled from her cheek to his. His frown disappeared. Their mouths connected and their chests pounded against each other. Then, twirling round, they left the world behind for one brief and simple period of eternity. And that’s hard to do, even for a Superhero.