Life's disappointments are harder to take when you don't know any swear words.
Susie Derkins is seven months, three days, and ten hours older than Calvin. It lends her an air of maturity that he can never hope to match. At least, that's what Susie overheard Miss Wormwood saying to another teacher.
She kneels on the couch in the living room, chin propped on folded hands, and watches him through the gap in the lace curtains. He's hunkered down in yet another cardboard box with a tire in his hands like a steering wheel. The flimsy walls of the box are painted with swirling stripes of orange and red. They wobble and bulge as he throws himself from side to side and she leans closer to the glass, wondering if the next time he lurches it will spill him out on the lawn.
Hobbes is leaning against a nearby bush, goggles covering most of his face. Calvin gives a whoop! and tumbles backward out of the box.
Susie gasps, her hands flying up to cover her mouth until he pops up off the lawn and brushes grass out of his hair. He stumbles around, waving his arms and bellowing, until he wanders near the bush where Hobbes sits and pounces on the tiger. The two of them roll end over end until they butt up against the base of a tree, Calvin's mouth wide open as he laughs up at the sky.
When her mom calls her for lunch, she lets the curtains drop back into place and scrambles off the couch. She looks surprised to see Susie come into the kitchen from the dining room instead of the back door.
"Don't you want to go outside to play? It's so nice out today."
Susie shrugs and pulls out her chair.
"I can make lemonade if you want to invite Calvin over," her mom offers.
Her parents watch the same show every Wednesday night after Susie's supposed to be in bed. The ladies like to stick their noses in the air as they sail around in big-shouldered jackets and say mean things. Susie's already sitting down and her shirt has regular size shoulders but she tries it anyway.
"I don't like him. He plays stupid games."
Her mom laughs but it's quiet like she wants to do something else. She smooths a hand over Susie's hair as she puts a sandwich on the table.
I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know
Miss Wormwood retires at the end of the year (which is actually the middle of the year but no one seems to care except for Hobbes).
Calvin's mom gives him a card to take in on the last day, which turns out to be more of a letter. Tiny, cramped words march along the inside cover, wrap around the cheery 'Best of luck!' and spill over onto the back cover. He slides it back into the envelope and carefully runs his glue stick over the flap until it sticks closed again. Little streaks of paste cling to the paper, easily smoothed down with a thumb until it peels up in tacky clumps, gray and dull from his skin.
Susie eyes him from the other side of the aisle. He knows what she's thinking: that he's always up to something, and none of it is ever good. He makes her want to stamp her feet and scream and scream until he stops talking about stupid dinosaurs and cardboard machines.
When the bus pulls up outside the school, Calvin sticks his foot out into the aisle like he didn't even notice anyone was trying to walk there. Susie glares down, then at him, then hops over it and flounces off the bus. He follows in her wake, stuffing the glue stick and the envelope into his backpack. He remembers the card twenty minutes after the last bell rings and jams it in the bottom drawer of his dresser under a pair of shorts that don't fit anymore.
The summer passes in a blur of transmogrifications and expeditions to the moon, Hobbes his trusty companion and trusted lieutenant. Every once in a while, his mom asks if he wants to invite a friend over to play.
She says friend, but she means Susie.
"Where did she get the idea that I'm friends with her anyway?"
Calvin scowls at a rock that should have a big old dinosaur bone in it but has stripes of sparkling minerals instead. Hobbes doesn't say anything, just purrs a little and looks down the block toward the Derkins' house.
When the bus comes to get them for the first day of school, Susie slides into a seat right behind the driver. Calvin hovers on the top step, feeling Hobbes' dark eyes on his back from the upstairs window until he starts walking again and heads for the back row.
They don't learn about dinosaurs in second grade either.
Calvin stops pretending to pay attention and has to start going to talk to the counselor once a week. Her office smells like licorice, but not the good kind. She keeps a box of tissues on the edge of her desk. It's not big enough to be a good hat but with a little work he thinks it might be a great spy camera.
"If this time machine works," he tells Hobbes one afternoon, "I'm going straight to being an adult. No more school for me."
"I don't think they'll have any dinosaurs then either."
He pats the controls. "We'll pick one up on the way!"
Dictator For Life Calvin proposed resolution condemning the existence of girls
Hobbes barely glances up from the comic book he's reading when Calvin slams his bedroom door. "Did your face stick like that again?"
"Mom's having a baby!"
There's a soft thump as Hobbes falls off the bed.
"Can you believe this? They're like a million years old! How did this happen?!"
"Well, when a mom and dad love each other..."
Calvin groans and throws himself face-first on his pillow. "Don't even," he says into it. "I'm already think I'm gonna be sick."
It's totally the grossest thing ever, even worse than the time Susie made him eat some of the mud pie he kept threatening to throw at her. Calvin doesn't want to think about his parents doing the things they learned about in health class, and from the videos Ronald found under his dad's bed. He can't look at either of them for days after they sat him down after dinner to tell him the big news.
Life gets even worse once news gets out in the neighborhood about the baby. Susie and her mom keep turning up in the kitchen after school, asking about names and ultrasounds and prenatal vitamins. Calvin can't even complain to his dad about how ridiculous and girly they're acting, since his dad is still walking around with a big stupid grin on his face most of the time.
"Aren't you excited?" Susie asks one morning as they wait for the bus. "You're going to have a little brother or sister!"
"Yeah, it's great. I'm the happiest kid in the world," Calvin mutters, leaning over the curb to look down the street. "Where's that stupid bus?"
"You're just jealous," she proclaims. "You're probably worried that the new baby's going to take all the attention away from you." She sticks her nose in the air and sniffs. "Typical."
"You watch too many talk shows. And I am not!"
"Am NOT," Calvin shouts, but Susie spits out the same words and, to add insult to injury, throws in a loud "Jinx!" at the end.
She smirks the whole length of the ride to school. Calvin stalks off the bus after her and glares at the back of her head. He wishes he still had Spaceman Spiff's Death Ray Zorcher, but it was destroyed when a vicious Zorg confiscated it after he deep-fat-fried one too many Zogwargs.
Just before the bell rings for homeroom, Susie corners him at his locker and says his full name.
"Thanks," he mutters.
"You still owe me a Coke," she replies. She's a few feet away, walking toward her classroom, when she turns around and clutches her books to her chest. "Having a little kid around wouldn't be so bad, would it?"
Before Calvin can say anything (or think of anything to say, to be honest), the bell rings and she disappears into the flood of kids stampeding up and down the hall.
I understand my tests are popular reading in the teachers' lounge.
Third, fourth, and fifth grades aren't much better than first or second were.
Calvin's grades dip lower and lower, until the counselor makes his mom come in for a meeting in the middle of the day. It's only the second week of school but he's already had a lunchtime detention and a note carried home to his parents.
Mom bites her bottom lip and rests a hand on her massively pregnant belly as they sit together on a bench in the hallway. "What are we going to do with you?" she sighs just before the door opens and they go inside.
The box of tissues is in the same place as always but the counselor is brand new. A guy, with hair that's too long and a voice that creaks like the floor outside his bedroom. Calvin wonders if the spot is marked on the desk so he knows where the box is supposed to go if someone moves it out of place. Permanent marker would be good but grownups don't like using those on nice stuff like desks, or cars, or living room walls. Maybe it uses tape, or that sticky stuff for posters. Maybe there's a secret compartment in the desk that he keeps stocked with boxes of tissues so all he has to do is press a button and a new one pops up out of a sliding door in the top.
"I think we need to talk about where Calvin will be next year." The counselor's nose is red and he keeps reaching for the tissues, only to stop at the last minute.
"What are you talking about?" Mom says. She sounds angry, which is nothing new. The bigger her belly, the shorter her temper. But it's not the kind of angry that she gets when he rides his bike to the pool after she said no, or when Hobbes talks him into playing Bull in the China Shop in his room when she has friends over for dinner.
The counselor looks like he can't decide whether he wants to sneeze or say something else, so Mom goes again: "He'll be at the middle school with the rest of his class!"
Calvin would rather be on a boat floating down the Amazon. Hobbes can act as interpreter for any vicious jungle cats they might run into when they go ashore. Never mind that Hobbes' reaction to that suggestion was a full-body yawn and curling up with his head on Calvin's lap.
He starts making a list of provisions that they'll need for their dangerous cruise into the heart of South America while the counselor tells them about the district's new enrichment program.
"School-sponsored treasure hunt?" Hobbes asks that night as he snacks on a tuna and mustard sandwich, delicately licking crumbs off his paws.
"More like freak class," Calvin mumbles. He flips through the encyclopedia and points at a page. "Hey! If we start our expedition here in Manaus, Brazil, we might be able to capture a Pied Tamarin!"
Hobbes twitches his whiskers. "I already have one," he says.
"My dad and I found one in our attic." When Calvin narrows his eyes, Hobbes scratches idly at his neck. "It was before you were born."
Calvin grumbles, "That's when all the good stuff happened."
Everybody I know fails the acid test of friendship.
Over the years, his parents had tried lots of things to try to get Calvin to act more like a normal kid.
There was the psychiatrist who gave him a pad of paper and some crayons and told him to draw his feelings. He tried, but the yellow came out all faded and the blue was the wrong color. She liked the ichthyosaurs swimming in their pale sea, though, and even pronounced their name correctly. She told his dad in a whisper that carried across the room that there was nothing wrong with Calvin that a more structured environment wouldn't fix.
Cub Scouts was a wash. He liked tramping around in the woods with a map and compass, but the Scout leader didn't like the way he kept trying to lead the rest of the troop in a war dance around the fire circle. He sat in the front seat of the den mother's car and waited for his parents to pick him up from camp. The glow from the fire on the other side of the clearing flickered over the war paint he'd streaked across his arms. As they pulled out onto the gravel road that led to the highway, he heard some of the boys whooping at him from the trees. He got up on his knees and twisted around, his hands fluttering in a complicated farewell salute through the back window until they faded.
The old school counselor, the lady with rings weighing down every finger, talked his mom into taking him to a doctor who prescribed Ritalin. The pills made him feel heavy and hollowed out. Like a zombified mummy but there wasn't any brain-eating or cool bandages and caches of gold. Hobbes didn't talk to him for six months, then pounced on him one day after school and tickled him until he cried. Mom told Dad she wasn't going to refill the prescription, and Dad pinched the bridge of his nose and nodded.
It took three weeks for the hollow feeling to fill in again. When it did and everything went back to normal, Calvin was pretty sure that was what made his parents smile at him again.
Middle school is actually kinda cool. The enrichment program he's in means that he gets to skip over boring stuff like pre-algebra and geography. The teacher gives them assignments like inventing their own board games and planning a geological expedition in town. Calvin gets extra credit for the trilobites he brings in, the ones he and Hobbes and Susie dug out of the ravine one summer.
Susie's in the enrichment program too and they're in most of the same classes again, the first time since third grade. She sits next to him on the first day of seventh grade English, and she's the only one who doesn't laugh when he reads his creative writing assignments out loud. They're supposed to be funny, that's kinda the point, but for some reason it makes him happier when she sits quietly and watches him with big dark eyes than when half the kids in the class pound on their desks and howl.
Over a couple of days during spring break, Hobbes helps him build an Unweirdifier 5000. They sit in the treehouse and fire it up, the stockpot helmet blocking out the autumn light. When Calvin emerges, he feels like a baby again - but with his body too big for his head instead of the other way around. There isn't as much burping up either.
"Billy invited me over for video games this weekend," he tells Hobbes as they climb back down the ladder. "He just got a Super Nintendo."
"Is that your lab partner in earth science?" When Calvin nods, Hobbes does too. "That sounds like fun. I heard F-Zero is awesome."
"Who'd you hear that from?"
"I have my ways."
He was right: F-Zero is pretty awesome. Calvin's not too sure about Billy though. He spends most of the afternoon asking about Susie: what she likes, who she hangs out with, stuff like that. It's never a flat-out question, either. He has this weird way of trying to sneak up on the subject like Calvin won't figure out what's going on.
At school, between classes, Billy leans against the locker next to Susie's like the wall's going to fall down if he doesn't.
Calvin gets his first detention in almost two years when he pulls the fire alarm.
"I think maybe the Unweirdifier 5000 needs some modifications," he tells Hobbes as his parents yell at each other downstairs and Rose wails in her room.
Hobbes gives him a funny look then pulls Dad's old Polaroid out of the closet. It's been rigged up to work as a brain wave scanner but they haven't had to use it in years. "Here, get up against the wall. Let's see what we're dealing with."
They lay on the floor, nearly nose to nose with the slowly developing picture between them. Calvin holds his breath, trying to make sense of the upside-down blurs.
"Okay, look." Hobbes taps a claw against the darkest of the blurs. "Now, I'm no brain scientist but it looks like your cootie filter's been reabsorbed."
"Is that bad? That sounds bad."
Hobbes' eyes go all dreamy and unfocused. "Not at all."
Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.
Calvin sits still for about twenty seconds then launches himself up out of his chair again. "I think we've got pop around here somewhere. You want one?"
Susie sighs and taps her pencil against her notebook.
"Or juice! There's orange juice and cranberry juice and apple juice. I think Rose drank the last of the grape juice." With half his body in the refrigerator like he's trying to crawl inside, Calvin sounds like he's in a cave.
"I don't want any juice, Calvin! I want to finish this stupid assignment!"
He looks impressed with the volume of her voice as he straightens up and closes the door. His hair spikes up at weird angles off his head and Susie wants to wet a comb and smooth them down again.
"Will you please just sit down?" she pleads. She's been trying to get him to take this project seriously for a week. They have to get up in front of the class on Monday to act out the skit they're supposed to be writing, and so far all she has is a headache.
Calvin throws himself in his seat again, his long, spindly legs bumping hers under the table until she pulls away. "Fine. What are we doing again?"
She grunts in frustration and slides the assignment in front of him. He leans forward to read it, a tiny smirk lifting one side of his mouth. After a few seconds, he says, "Oh, right," and leans back again. His shoes tap against hers until she swings her legs away and glares at him.
He laces his fingers together behind his head and jerks his chin at her. "Okay, get ready to write. I've got it all worked out."
Sure you do, she thinks, pencil at the ready. She's never met anyone else who had it less worked out than he does.
"All right. Get this: Hola, Constancia, me llamo Felipe. Mi amigo Juan dice que te gusta nadar. Tengo una bicicleta para dos. ¿Quieres ir a la piscina conmigo?"
Her hand flies across the page as she tries to keep up with him.
"And then you say: ¡Ay, Felipe! ¡Que lástima! Yo amo nadar pero mi novio El Bruto me prohíbe hablar con otros hombres." He clutches his hands under his chin and bats his eyes at her.
Susie stops writing long enough to glare at him. "That's stupid. I'm not saying that."
"Hey, if you don't want to get an A...." Calvin shrugs like it doesn't make a difference to him one way or the other.
"How is that going to get us an A?"
"Señora watches soaps in the teacher's lounge at lunchtime. We throw a little bit of star-crossed lovers in here, she's going to eat it up."
"Ugh, whatever," she groans, going back to writing. The temptation of a possible A is too much for her to resist, and she knows Calvin knows it too. She's been struggling in the class, her tongue tripping over words as her brain feverishly flips back and forth between English and Spanish. Calvin, on the other hand, took to the second language like a pig to a mud puddle. He gets higher grades than she does on assignments and tests, which makes her want to grind her teeth. She switched names with three girls in class just so she could be his partner on this dumb skit.
And Jessica can shut her big fat mouth because that's the only reason Susie did it.
Calvin dictates a half-dozen more lines to her. Her hand cramps up from the tight grip she has on her pencil as he leans closer and closer across the table, until he's practically laying on top of it, his head cocked to the side to try to read her upside-down writing. When she spells brujería wrong, he takes the pencil out of her hand to correct it.
She folds her arms and sits back as he takes over, scribbling all over her neat writing with his messy scrawl. His tongue pokes out the side of his mouth as he writes.
"How are you so good at this stupid language anyway?" she grumps at him. It's so not fair; she's the one who spends hours and hours studying while he lazes around in his yard the way he did when they were little.
"Dunno, lots of practice, I guess. You remember how we used to play conquistadors?"
That startles a laugh out of her. "We played once! You made me be Queen Isabella and sit on a cardboard throne for hours while you hacked through the bushes with Hobbes."
Calvin slants a look sideways, his hair falling forward on his face. "You actually remember that?"
She can't help the blush she feels splashing across her face. "Hey, it wasn't every day you made me wear an old bathrobe and an Easter basket for a crown."
"Yeah, but-" He looks over her shoulder and cuts himself off, then grins and hands her back her pencil. "You wanna try acting this out now? There's some stuff we can use for props in the living room."
She nods and gets up to follow him as he whoops and tears out of the kitchen. As she pushes her chair in under the table, she looks around to see if she can figure out what made him stop talking. There's nothing, though, not as far she can tell. His parents took Rose to her pee-wee gymnastics class and Susie and Calvin are alone in the house until they get back. The TV on the counter is off. Hobbes is propped against the microwave, a wide stitched grin on his face. She rubs his belly as she passes and hopes Calvin won't sneak back in to make fun of her.
"It's nice to see you again, Mr Tiger," she says with a curtsy before she steps into the dining room.
In my opinion, we don't devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.
The day Calvin graduates from high school, he pretends to be accepting a medal of honor as he walks across the stage in his baggy gown and crooked mortarboard. The sun is in his eyes and his t-shirt is soaked clean through. He shakes the principal's hand and uses the roll of the diploma to shade his eyes long enough to look out into the crowd.
Mom and Dad are sitting six rows back, dead center. He grins and pops a salute, watching as Mom pressed a hand to her chest and Dad wiped his eyes under his glasses. Between them, Rose holds up Hobbes and cheers.
The guidance counselor cups a hand over the microphone after announcing the next name. "Just keep walking, mister," she says when he gets too close. Her eyebrow lifts so high it looks like it's going to wing its way right off her face.
Calvin clicks his heels together and gives her a half-bow before Ronald crashes into his back and pushes them both off the stage. He makes it back to his seat as Jessica's name is called. When his palms sting from clapping, he realizes he dropped his diploma somewhere on the grass between the stage and his row of folding chairs. While the rest of the class tosses their caps in the air, he goes down on all fours. He crawls around as the crowd surges around him, parents' shiny loafers and dressy heels mingling with the sneakers and sandals his classmates are wearing. He stops in front of a pair of tanned feet in fancy black sandals, the hem of a graduation robe swinging a few inches off the ground.
Susie's holding two diplomas when he looks up. "Lose something?"
It's hard to act casual when you're pretty much rolling around on the ground at someone's feet. Calvin tries it anyway. "I thought I saw a rabid wolverine skulking under the chairs. "
"Hmm," Susie says, which is almost as good as an actual laugh. "Maybe it'll eat Billy."
Calvin doesn't know what to say. If there really was a wolverine, he wouldn't mind if it did. But that's not the kind of thing you say to a girl about her apparently off-again boyfriend, even if he makes her cry at least once a week. So, instead, he asks if she's going to Jessica's graduation party. They've all already done the whole fancy family thing, with the gifts and checks and boring finger sandwiches. This graduation party is grads only, with Jessica's older sister providing kegs and the kind of supervision that probably doesn't fool anybody's parents.
To his surprise (and Susie's too, judging by the look on her face as she says it), she is going to the party. Somewhere deep inside his head, he slides on a pair of black sunglasses and boogies his way across the football field to where his family is waiting.
Hobbes spends the whole ride home giggling with Rose as they make kissy faces at him from the passenger seat of his battered old car. He growls at them as he drives. At a stoplight, he catches one of Rose's flailing hands in his, pretending to gnaw on her flesh while she shrieks and tries to squirm away.
Happiness isn't good enough for me! I demand euphoria!
"This party blows," Moe announces from the top of the basement stairs. A plume of sweet, pungent smoke trails behind him as he heads into the kitchen for another beer.
Jessica's hand is like a claw on Calvin's arm. "What is he doing here?" she hisses. "He got kicked out of school in tenth grade!" She raises her voice. "This party is supposed to be for graduates only!"
Calvin disentangles himself from her grip, slowly and carefully. He would swear he still has marks on his shoulder from the last time she got pissed in his general vicinity. "Jessy, calm down. He's not hurting anything-"
There's a loud crash from the kitchen and he winces.
"Okay, he's not hurting anybody. Just chill. He'll get bored in a few minutes and pick a fight with somebody, which means they'll be out on the lawn in less than five. You don't have to worry about him."
And, sure enough, that's exactly what happens. Moe stomps out the front door, hot on the heels of a beefy kid from Calvin's math class, and doesn't come back. Jessica doesn't even notice; somebody found her parents' camcorder and hooked it up to the TV, so she spends the next half-hour alternating between shrieking at people to put it back where they found it and pointing out everybody she knows on the old tapes.
Calvin nurses the same cup of beer for most of the night. He's never really learned to like it, but he tolerates it enough so he doesn't look like a total dork. He takes a sip and has to fight to choke down the bitter, warm liquid.
A small hand whacks him in the back, right between his shoulderblades.
"Whoa, take it easy there, big guy," Susie says as she hops down from the top of the rock wall he's leaning against. Their shoulders brush as she lifts her own red cup and takes a long drink.
"You made it," he says stupidly, a big goofy grin stretching across his face.
Maybe he was down in the basement too long, but he would swear that Susie pretty much glows under the soft yellow light streaming out of an upstairs window. Her hair's pulled back into a ponytail and he wants to wrap his hand in it and tug, the way he used to when it grew out of that horrible bowl-cut after first grade.
"'Course I made it," she says. "I told you I would."
Her own smile rounds out her face even more than normal. Calvin stares at her lips for too long and she fidgets and takes another drink.
"Where's Jessy?" she asks. "I thought you guys would be all over each other."
"Oh, uh, we kinda broke up," Calvin says.
He can't look at her all of a sudden, so he bends down to drop his cup on the ground then heaves himself up to sit on the wall. Susie shoves her cup in his hand and scrambles up beside him. "I'm sorry," she says, her voice as soft as the hand she puts on his leg.
Calvin clears his throat and covers her tiny hand with one of his. She turns hers palm-up and curls their fingers together.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
He doesn't. He and Jessica were never meant for anything long-term. They just kind of drifted together and fit well enough that they didn't bother to drift apart. But Calvin's been half in love with Susie for years, and it's totally obvious to anyone who knows him.
Except for Susie, of course.
He tells her it's not a big deal and he's not upset, and she sighs a little before she drops it. She starts talking about all the stuff they have to do before they leave for college in the fall. Calvin mostly just listens to the sound of her voice, still buzzing from the weed and the beer and the feel of her hand in his.
Inside, the music shifts from bass-thumping to something hot and low, with horns and guitars and a throaty female voice. The light from the upstairs window got turned off at some point and he only notices it now because he looks down at their hands and sees that Susie's skin still practically glows in the darkness. It's just a trick of the tiny sliver of reflected light that bounces off the moon's surface, he knows that, but it seems to mean something more. It's probably the weed talking, but he curves one hand around her neck and pulls her into a kiss.
Susie makes a startled noise that vibrates against his lips, and then she's kissing him back. It's the best feeling in the entire world, her lips moving against his as her hands tangle in his hair. Calvin feels like he just hit the World Series-winning home run, defeated the Evil Zebtroll Emperor who imprisoned the entire Galactic Congress, rescued the princess, designed the rocket that flies him to Mars, single-handedly saved Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween.... In all the years he's been playing make-believe, he's never even come close to imagining how this moment feels.
At least until she pulls away, with a quiet, "Calvin, we can't. I'm sorry - you have no idea how sorry I am - but we can't."
His voice takes a few tries before it works right. "Don't I get a vote in this?"
Susie's hands tremble against his face as she whispers, "Not this time," and presses one more soft, close-mouthed kiss to his lips.
And then she's gone.
Is that your face, or is a 'possum stuck in your collar?
Susie spends the next six weeks doing everything she can to avoid Calvin. She leaves for her summer job hours before her shifts start, just so she can get out of the house before he's even started to think about getting up. She sleeps on the couch in the TV room so he won't see the light in her window and try to climb up like he did when they were twelve.
He broke his arm that time, but she's pretty sure she broke his heart.
Susie's pretty sure she broke her own, too.
The thing is, and this is why she can't explain it to him, because Calvin never believes anyone when they tell him he can't do something. But the thing is, she's been falling in love with him since she was six years old. She knows he has been too. All the teasing and the jokes and the fighting - they really were the most ridiculously stereotypical kids-with-crushes who have ever existed.
But they're only eighteen years old now. It took Susie six months to decide which college acceptance would be the best fit. Even then she only picked one because her mom said if she didn't, she wouldn't like the school they picked for her. There is nothing more she wants in the world than to race across the lawn between their houses and throw herself at Calvin. She wants to smother him with kisses and baby-talk at him until he makes that horrible, disgusted face that never fails to make her laugh.
She wants to spend forever with him.
It's just that forever is such a long time. She wants to go away to school and figure out who she is when she's away from everything that's familiar. She wants to make mistakes, maybe flunk a class just to see what it feels like. There's this whole world beyond the one she knows, and she can't stay here. She can't pick Calvin before she knows what else is out there.
Susie finds out from her mom that Calvin's leaving for college the day after she does. Rose dances up to her on the back porch one day and tells her that Hobbes says she's being an idiot.
She is. She knows she is, but she has to be or the next time she blinks, they'll be forty years old and bitter and hateful about all the things they've never done.
Still, it doesn't stop her from ringing his doorbell the morning she's supposed to leave. Rose answers, Hobbes lashed to her back with an old, frayed tie. "He's sulking in his room," she sings as she dances back into the kitchen.
The third stair from the top creaks when Susie steps on it and Calvin's door flies open.
"Rose, I swear to God if you don't leave me a- Oh."
Susie clings to the railing to keep from flinging herself up the last few steps. "Hi," she says. "Um, I'm getting ready to go."
He sticks his hands in his pockets and slumps his shoulders forward, stares down at his feet. She screws her courage to the sticking-place and climbs the last few steps.
Her parents are probably already waiting for her by the car, with all of her stuff crammed into the backseat. Susie goes up on tiptoe and wraps her arms around him. After a long, awkward moment, he hugs her back, and she just knows that he's weighing the odds of whether or not they can make a clean getaway.
She's more than half-tempted to let him steal her away in his crappy car and go on the lam, both of them living out of the same suitcase and eating in greasy diners and having to skip out on the motel bill as they break beds across the country. It sounds like the perfect plan, until she starts thinking about her minuscule bank account. The rattling engine in his car. The sheer amount of tuna he goes through in a week.
The way Calvin's face lights up when he talks about majoring in graphic design or film-making or writing. How much she wants to see him succeed at whatever he wants to do.
She finally drops her arms and steps back, blinking back tears. "So, uh, I guess I'll see you when I see you."
"Sure," he says. "Yeah. Good luck at school."
"You too." There is so much more Susie wants to say but if she doesn't leave right now - like, right the fuck now - she's never going to leave at all. She shoots him a shaky smile and goes back downstairs, her heartbeat almost as loud as her footsteps on the bare wood. Rose is nowhere to be seen, for a change, but Hobbes is propped up on the table where they drop their mail. He looks sad, his little stitched mouth turned down and his eyes drooping.
"Take care of him," she whispers as she lets herself out the front door.
Trifle not with tired tigers.
Calvin doesn't see her again for years.
They email back and forth constantly in freshman year, but her dad gets a transfer and her parents sell the house and move to the city before the summer starts. He spends most of it at home, moping and mowing lawns and teaching Rose how to properly transmogrify worms. Susie sends him a letter, hand-written on paper that smells like her, and he keeps it under his pillow for weeks like some kind of ridiculous loser in a chick flick. Even Hobbes, the eternal romantic, starts rolling his eyes and finding somewhere else to hang out.
Sophomore year, Calvin emails her every time something huge happens - even if his definition of huge isn't exactly strict - but her replies get shorter and shorter until they finally stop coming at all. He tells himself that that's it, no more, and tries to make up for lost time.
It only takes him six years (and two different rounds of academic probation, thanks for asking) to scrape by with a degree from State. He gets a job in the city - a horrible apartment and matching roommate too - and spends almost sixty hours a week trying to figure out how he hasn't gotten fired yet. The work's not bad, but it's not great, either. Mostly what he does are the crappy custom jobs that no one else wants to touch: wedding stationery, grocery store ads, restaurant menus, the occasional logo that gets rejected for being too whatever the client hates most.
He's still not real good with people. The roommate moves out after a year, and he somehow lucks into a promotion at work that comes with a slightly fatter paycheck so he doesn't bother to find another. Another year passes, then another. Work gets steadily better until he's heading up an entire team and cherry-picking the assignments he wants to work on. He dates around, not a lot, but not a little, either.
And his cell phone rings constantly as Rose tries to navigate her way through the minefield that is high school. He does the best he can but she's a completely different species and, anyway, all of his best advice came from Hobbes first.
The week after he tells her that, he comes home to find a gigantic cardboard box waiting for him in the landlord's apartment.
"You ain't smuggling mail-order brides in here, are ya?"
It's not the weirdest thing the guy's ever said to him, but it's pretty close. Calvin thanks him and wrestles it into the elevator. The sticker on the top says it comes from home but whoever sent it didn't bother to write anything on the box itself. When he gets it into his living room and slices open the top, packing peanuts explode all over the room. He's dialing the phone before he's even done picking them out of his beer.
"Ooh, is it there already?" Rose squeals instead of saying hello. "No, don't talk to me until you've been through the whole thing. OkayIloveyoubye."
Calvin drops the phone as the peanuts still in the box start to move. "I've got a Zorcher and I'm not afraid to use it!" he warns whatever's inside.
Hobbes sticks his head up and growls, "Yeah, well, I've got razor-sharp claws and an empty stomach so get me out of here."
Later, after he's been satiated with a plateful of sandwiches and a glass of chocolate milk, Hobbes wipes his mouth with the back of his paw. "Rose sent a letter for you, too. But don't bother reading it; I'll just tell you."
Calvin props his chin on one hand and waves Hobbes on with the other.
"Basically, Rose and I agree: you're an idiot. And we know you're not going to stop being an idiot until someone makes you stop. So."
Hobbes mutters something under his breath that sounds an awful lot like "apparently the cootie filter did more damage than we thought" then draws himself up to his full height and sticks out his chest.
"So, it's time to find Susie."
Girls are like slugs - they probably serve some purpose, but it's hard to imagine what.
The first thing Susie says when she opens her door is, "God, it took you long enough."
"ME? What about you? I'm not the one who-"
But the rest of that argument is lost in the kiss she plants on him, like a dame in an old black and white movie where he's the jaded, world-weary detective who's crossed oceans and continents to find her, instead of a couple of miles and one pedestrian bridge.
I hate to think that all my current experiences will someday become stories with no point.
"Hobbes, old man, we've had a pretty good run."
"I'm neither old nor a man but otherwise I agree," Hobbes says.
They stand at the window for a few minutes, eyes trained on the tiny, wriggling mass in the bassinet.
Calvin squints and tilts his head. "She looks kind of like a bologna loaf, doesn't she? I mean, all those blankets. It's hard to tell what's baby and what's not."
Hobbes closes his eyes and rubs his cheek against Calvin's shoulder. They haven't been close to the same height for years and he didn't realize how much he missed the smell of boy and human and family until Calvin swung him up in his arms as they left Susie asleep in her room.
"I can't believe I did that," Calvin says, his voice little more than a whisper that tickles against Hobbes' whiskers. His fingers leave marks on the glass as he spreads his hand.
"Don't let Susie hear you say that!"
The answering laugh is tired but joyous. Hobbes is struck by a sudden sensation of floating, as though he and Calvin are about to soar up to the ceiling and bob along until they find an open window. He kneads his paws against Calvin's chest, hooking his claws in his shirt. When Calvin speaks again, his voice rumbles through Hobbes - an echo of his own purr.
"So, what do you say? You ready to show Emily the world?"
"I stepped down as G.R.O.S.S. president when Rose was born," Hobbes assures him. "But you better teach her how to make tuna sandwiches the right way."