Author's Notes: Warnings for excessive usage of rehashing – if that's not your thing, do keep away. Also, Standard Disclaimer: Brands, cartoons, TV shows et cetera that may be mentioned belong to their respective owners.
█ of boys in flight and shakespearean heroines █
when does sky turn into space
and air into wind?
saint mary © sparklehorse
Emily Hatcher is five when she first sees a flying boy. She is resting her chubby arms upon the rusty railings of her balcony and cradling her head of dark hair within the valley that her bent elbows make, feeling whimsical and decidedly older than all of the other five-year-olds because she has things to think about. Important things like finding the Missing Green Crayon in her set of twenty-four and hoping Mama won't notice that the grass in her picture is electric blue. It probably isn't very nice to have all that blue sticking out against the white walls of the hospital. Emily decides to draw a nicer picture next time; one that doesn't involve much grass or green. Maybe the beach.
She is about to hop off her stool and run back into her room when she hears a shout that sounds vaguely like "HELLOOO WOOORLD!", but she hardly has enough time to ponder over that because the next thing she sees is a boy falling from the skies above with a wide grin plastered across his crummy face before he strikes the ground with a resounding smack. Just like the time Sally Eggers jumped into the pool with her hands spread out and hit the water surface facedown, but with ten times more gusto and glee.
Toes stretched out, Emily tiptoes and peers down into her backyard of leaves and boy. He's lying on his back with his left leg twisted in the most awkward position, but he manages a short wave up at her. The back of his hand makes a one-winged angel amidst the pile of leaves that he's landed into, and she makes a mental note to draw one of those for Mama. (It's autumn at the moment, so there aren't any green leaves.) The toothy grin stays on his face even when his babysitter runs over, shrieking and crying after witnessing the crash landing because she is going to lose her job. The grin stays on his face even when the ambulance arrives and the paramedics have to hoist him up onto the stretcher because he can't stand up on his own.
She decides to call him Peter Pan, because that's the only other boy she knows who can fly.
Mama likes the angel picture a whole lot better than the blue-grass one because she displays it right next to her on the dresser. That's when Emily thinks she should get to know this Peter Pan boy better, since he's good inspiration for her pieces. She grips onto the straps of her small backpack tightly as she marches through the neighbourhood, determined to find the flying boy before the sun sets. By the tenth house and the end of her street, she's grumpy and hungry. The expedition is shelved away as "UNEVENTFUL" as she trudges back home to fill up her stomach with Dada's macaroni soup.
But Emily is in for a pleasant surprise when she visits Mama again, the next Tuesday. Halfway down the familiar corridor on the third floor with her newest picture (of the beach with lots of yellow and blue since the Missing Green Crayon is still Missing) clutched within her sweaty palms, she collides into something part human and part metal. They land on their butts, facing each other and utterly surprised. He recovers first, grabbing his steel crutches and hobbling upwards on one foot with the same toothy grin he wore during the flight.
Still sprawled on the ground and displaying her knickers to the whole world to see, her eyes widen. It's Peter Pan! The one she's been looking for like a madwoman (because five streets are one too many for a girl of her size) all this while! Extremely ecstatic that she's finally found the source of her inspiration, she forgets to be a reserved young lady with proper manners just the way Mama likes little girls to be.
"Peter Pan!" she breathes, then watches him blink at her for a few seconds before throwing his sandy-blond head back in laughter.
Beaming, the boy points one crutch at her and declares in delight, "I like that very much indeed, Juliet!" much to the chagrin of the nurses who are already much too tired to chase him around. For a temporarily handicapped child, he is awfully hard to catch and dreadfully loud without even meaning to be.
It's now Emily's turn to blink at him for a few seconds. Then she frowns. "But I'm not a Juliet."
The smile on Peter Pan's face dims as he knits his eyebrows together and joins her in her sombreness. A gush of regret hits her little heart, and she thinks hard of what to say next to salvage the situation. Desperately, she blurts out the sentence that she's been reciting since she could talk.
"Hello, my name is Emily and I am five years old." She speaks with such conviction that the older boy cannot bring himself to chuckle at her. Instead, he leans on his good foot and tries to keep his stern expression in place. They make a queer picture – an awkwardly gangly boy in his hospital robes and a grubby little girl with her red backpack, staring at each other in all seriousness. They have run into a dilemma. A dilemma that cannot be solved because Emily is not Juliet and Juliet is not Emily. Only slightly older, Peter Pan is at a loss, but not for long.
This time, his smile is the most radiant out of all his toothy grins she's seen. (And there have been many, despite their short and few meetings.) "You shall be Emily-Juliet then!" he proclaims triumphantly, eyes shining with excitement and the reflection of the glaring white hospital lights. Emily's own eyes are alight with admiration. Her source of inspiration is not just a boy who can fly, but someone with brilliant ideas as well! At five years old, she feels rather proud of her own achievements.
Now that they are properly introduced, Peter Pan and the newly-christened Emily-Juliet do a skip-hop (with Pan's crutches clanging noisily against the floor) down to Mama's room together, already best friends forever.
Emily Hatcher is six when she discovers that Peter Pan has a real name. Elementary school is all rather frightful especially when you're fresh out of preschool, but it's not too bad once she sees Peter Pan waving at her enthusiastically amidst the crowd of fourth-graders. He's making his way over to her when someone yells "Oi, Timothy!" from across the schoolyard and he makes the mistake of responding. It doesn't take long before he realises that Emily-Juliet is now very confused and rather annoyed. He also knows (through twice-a-week visits to the hospital the past year and Other Adventures) that she hits quite hard for a girl of her size when provoked.
"You lied to me!" she accuses, her face turning red like the tomatoes Mom always forces into his sandwiches despite his daily protests. It's not like he lied to her on purpose – or that he lied at all, since she was the one who came up with the name anyway, but he knows better than to tell her this.
Instead, he grins again. "Nobody else knows that I'm Peter Pan, so it's gonna be our very own secret," Timothy-Peter-Pan says in a stage whisper, his hand shading his mouth from the rest of the world but her.
The tomato returns to being Emily, although she's still sulking a little. "Then you're not allowed to tell people that I'm Emily-Juliet," she bargains, sticking her nose up defiantly. Peter Pan tilts his head back and considers this contract. All the other kids are staring and pointing at the strange pair since it's considered a crime to mix with the little ones with snot all over their faces once you've entered the holy FOURTH-GRADER TERRITORY marked in red, but he doesn't mind. Boys who jump off tall trees without a care in the world often see things in a different light.
"You've got yourself a deal, Emily-Juliet."
They shake on it, and head to class when the bell rings.
Emily Hatcher is nine when she develops an affinity for studying. Reading and adding apples to oranges come as second nature to her, as long as she listens in class and does her homework diligently. Sometimes, TiPP (they'd come to a mutual agreement that Timothy-Peter-Pan is too much of a mouthful) lets her to do his homework because she's finished reading her textbook four months in advance and has nothing else to do. He scores better when she does them, anyway. Not that that's a feat to boast about, since his average score is ten out of a hundred.
They hang out in her backyard when he doesn't have soccer practice. The hole that TiPP made in the ground when he fell from the sky has long been covered by grass, but he dug it up again and uses it as a "secret corner" to hide his treasured possessions – not even Emily's allowed to peek at them. It's not like she doesn't know what's in there anyway; probably just some action figures and spare candy.
Dad still doesn't come home much, but over the summer holidays he'd installed a nice wooden swing and a lunch-table set for her birthday, completing their chill-out area. It's perfect for the pair, with her crouching on a wooden stool, scratching away determinedly at some mathematical problem, and him standing on the swing, swaying back and forth. He's partly the reason why she's so good at multi-tasking, because he's always chattering about Mr. Brynes and his toupee, or Maurice Tatum's new pet snake, or the ghost in the janitors' closet. The list is non-exhaustive and makes Emily wonder how one person can know so much about everyone. She figures that's the reason why he's always lagging behind in schoolwork – he's too busy talking to people.
On Tuesdays, TiPP takes Emily-Juliet to the hospital on his rusty bicycle and they visit Mama together. He's always careful around the bends, because he doesn't want her to fly off and there can only be one flying child in the world! She doesn't mind the slow rides; besides, she can feel the cool breeze in her face when she sits behind, back-to-back with her chauffeur.
She still takes things to Mama, just not art-pieces. While she gets compliments from her English, Mathematics and Science teachers, her Art teacher is often yanking off his toupee in frustration. (Her lack of talent in the artistic arena may be due to childhood trauma about things that cannot be mentioned, including the Missing Green Crayon.) Still sore about the bright red F across her last watercolour assignment, she brandishes all her other test-papers to Mama proudly. There are gold stickers at the top of each page and multiple red ticks scattered all over – this makes TiPP feel like hanging his head in shame.
Mama always smiles and pats her daughter's head, but she doesn't talk as much as before. Usually the reticent one, Emily explodes into life when she's with her mother. She talks animatedly about everything and anything, often stealing the funniest stories from TiPP, who loves adding his own little remarks during the retelling for dramatic flair. They stay by Mama's side, Emily's hand never leaving her mother's until visiting hours are over. When she goes to the cooler to get water, TiPP quietly sneaks her recent artwork to Mama with a twinkle in his eye – he loves this little espionage-alliance of theirs.
The children don't notice, but there are more wires, more drugs being administered, more patrolling nurses who tease Emily about her "boyfriend". (She always responds with a frown while TiPP grins and gives them a thumbs-up.)
Emily Hatcher is eleven when she covers Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet during English. Now capable of algebra and many other Profound Things, Emily is many times wiser than before. As wise as an owl. But she still can't figure out why TiPP chose the name "Juliet" – at least the nickname she chose for him has some form of basis to it. It doesn't make it any better when she learns that Juliet's just some weepy girl who speaks in a roundabout manner and dies after drinking some stupid poison. Emily is quite offended that TiPP named her after a weakling, yes indeed.
She confronts him during lunch-break, ignoring the sneers from his (female) friends. In many ways, Emily is quite like a chainsaw – small but powerful. Nothing can stand in her way when she sets her mind to doing something, least of all girls with bubblegum pink nail art and cheap hair extensions. Or dumb boys who do nothing but chest-bump each other and run after a ball all the time. Really, she doesn't understand why TiPP's even friends with these people, but she supposes it's them who're always flocking to him. (Because everyone wants to be friends with TiPP – this tugs at her heartstrings a little but she ignores it. There are more important things at hand.)
"What can I do for you, Emily-Juliet?" he quips, hopping off his seat on the table (as usual) and bending down to her eye level. His friends wrinkle their noses in disgust behind his back because "junior high kids are so gross".
Unfazed, she looks him squarely in the eye. "Why did you choose Juliet?" she demands, straight-to-the-point. The friends raise their eyebrows and she feels like telling them to poke their big noses elsewhere. He looks puzzled for a while before bursting into laughter and ruffling her hair. His fingers feel warm against her scalp.
"Because you were pondering about the moon and the stars on the balcony when I was climbing up that tree, Milady!" he explains.
"I was not—" she begins to argue that she really wasn't, but he doesn't let her finish.
"You were so lovely that I fell out of the tree!" he adds with all sincerity. Emily colours a little – only an idiot like TiPP can say embarrassing things like these and get away with it. (She wonders, briefly, if he does this to every other girl.)
"Fine," she huffs, trying her utmost to squash the happy butterflies floating up her stomach.
Emily Hatcher is twelve when people start to leave her.
1) Some stray dog breaks in, picks up her pet turtle between its teeth, and flees. TiPP finds the dog eventually and beats it up, but poor Mrs. Dalloway is nowhere to be found by then. Emily mourns for days, because the turtle was an indirect gift from Mama through Dad. She ends up taking in the stray and names him Lost Boy. TiPP does not find this amusing, till this day. (My army of Lost Boys consists of a dog with fleas!?)
2) Her second-best-friend and also her best-girl-friend Sally stops being friends with her for reasons unbeknownst to her. (The rumour mill says that Emily Hatcher and Sally Eggers fought over Timothy Manning's affections, causing their friendship to sour, which may have been slightly true on Sally's end. TiPP makes sure Emily-Juliet never hears of it and threatens to sock people in the face if they continue to spread it.)
3) Dad gets a phone call in the middle of the night and he drops the receiver; Emily is jolted awake as it clatters to the floor noisily. They head to the hospital in their pyjamas and don't bother to wash their faces. The trip there is painfully silent – Dad zips through the empty roads, knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. Emily's heart is thundering in her chest and her throat is dry and suddenly she feels very young.
They've got Mama in the emergency room because there's internal bleeding and cancer cells spreading – but wait I thought we had that under control – not now Sir, and other difficult situations and she's done very well, she's held the battle for so long – eight years! – and we'll do our best, (here, they glance at the poor daughter huddled in the corner) don't worry, we'll do our best. The doors slam as the doctors hurry back in.
Emily punches the digits of TiPP's home number into a payphone with trembling fingers. The ringing tone seems to go on for eons, but he finally answers with a groggy "Hullo…" and all of a sudden, she doesn't quite know what to say.
"Who's this?" he asks, sounding a little more awake. She imagines him rubbing the back of his hand against his crusty eyes. Please don't hang up.
For a moment, there is silence as they listen to each other breathe through the static. "Emily. Are you at the hospital?" His tone is urgent. She manages to croak out an affirmative, voice cracking in the middle.
"I'm coming down right now."
TiPP's footsteps echo through the dim hospital corridors – the sound is oddly comforting. He skids to a halt before Emily, breathless. She can see that he's wearing mismatched shoes but she can't bring herself to laugh about it. He doesn't ask if she's all right because that's always the worst question to ask – who the hell is ever all right? – and doesn't say anything else either. Just plops down onto the seat next to hers and weaves his fingers through hers. (Her hands feel so small, now.)
Dad is pacing around and looking more like Laurie-Hatcher-who-loves-his-wife-more-than-the-world than Dad and this makes her nauseous. TiPP squeezes her hand knowingly.
They stay in the same position for three hours until one of the doctors pushes the doors open, splatters of blood on his robe. (The harbinger of bad news.) He takes Dad aside and they talk in hushed tones. Emily feels like screaming at them that she has the right to know, but she doesn't do it. She doesn't, because she already knows.
"She's dead, isn't she?" Emily's voice sounds flat to her own ears. Her father looks down, and seems much older than he really is under the blaring white lights.
"I see." This is her newly procured voice for professional matters. Clear, crisp, detached. Her eyes are surprisingly dry.
"I'm going home," she announces to no one in particular and gets up, dragging TiPP out of the place that smells like death. Like her mother's death.
She is talking too loudly, too much, just like the people she despises. She knows all this, but she can't stop.
"I can't believe they were all hush-hush about it when it's just so obvious, yeah? Maybe if I was still five, haha, maybe that would've fooled me. What kind of doctor strides out with my mo- his patient's blood all over him and doesn't tell her daughter about what happened? I mean, I've always known she was going to di- di- this was going to happen. I mean, yeah. I've been preparing myself for eight years!"
"Emily-Juliet," TiPP murmurs as he trails after her.
"And Dad! I don't know what he's doing either, looking down at his shoes and not giving me a definitive answer; but okay, it's not like I didn't know because what kind of idiot wouldn't in that sort of atmosphere? What kind of idiot does he think I am huh, I know I'm just twelve and—" she continues blabbering on.
His hands clamp down on her shoulders, hard enough to make her stop but not enough to hurt. She breathes in sharply and refuses to look at him. He says her name again, in a softer tone.
"Are you going to leave me too?" she asks quietly, her voice breaking his heart.
His eyes are resolute. "I'll stay by your side forever."
The funeral is a quiet affair with a closed casket. (Emily feels relieved that she doesn't have to see Mama's face for the last time. She wants to kill herself for feeling this way.) Only the closer relatives, a few dear friends and TiPP's family are present; one of them does the elegy, another says something else – the words don't really register in Emily's brain. The coffin is lowered six feet under, the procession is over. Mama is dead, officially.
Emily retches all over the flowers when she gets back home. She feels her legs give way and sits in the middle of the porch in her black dress and does not cry. Always close behind, TiPP hauls her up and wipes her mouth with his sleeve before pushing her into the backyard, their little secret base.
"I'm here," he says, as he seats her in the wooden swing. "I'm here," he repeats, swaying her gently.
It's only then that she decides it's all right to cry, and bawls her eyes out for what feels like a hundred years. He stays by her side throughout this, handing her tissue.
Emily Hatcher is thirteen when Timothy-Peter-Pan disappears from her life.
"Liar," she whispers to the darkness.
Emily Hatcher is fourteen when she loses her first kiss in a dare. (It goes along the line of "Hey, if you kiss that nerd over there we'll give you ten bucks.") The perpetuator is a boy from the grade above hers, and he doesn't have very nice breath. She's startled at first, but recovers swiftly and smashes her forehead into his by reflex, in a grand total of twenty milliseconds. Her skull is harder than most – she knows that for a fact – and he is knocked out cold. His friends scurry over and stare at her half in terror and half in awe, with that big red mark forming in between her bangs. They drag him away, quite glad that they don't have to fork out the ten bucks after all.
Mr. Kiss Thief hunts her down in History class and makes a fool out of the both of them when he drags her to the rooftop in the middle of the lesson. He likes her. He likes girls who smash his forehead open? There's still a band-aid over his head injury; he bluffs everyone that it came from a particularly rough scuffle during rugby practice. Isn't that what the helmets are for? He's the reserve quarterback, which means he's second-best in the team. Oh yeah? TiPP was the main striker at fourteen. He really likes her. I thought TiPP did too. He wants to date her. No.
"I'll think about it."
She finds out later that his name is Romeo Venturi, by some horrible stroke of fate. Oh, the irony.
Already world-weary and cynical, Emily's lips turn up in a wry smile. TiPP would be so amused.
She says yes to Romeo. (Isn't that the way things are supposed to be? None of that nonsense about flying boys.)
One day, she decides to unearth TiPP's treasures and burn everything as a form of vengeance. It's easy to find his treasure hole, because the grass above it is yellower than the rest of her backyard. That, and the fact that the hole he dug is painfully shallow – she probably should've dug it up a long time ago.
Beneath the soil and the insect matter, she uncovers a square tin box with rounded sides – a cookie box he stole from one of the Brownie girls. It's surprisingly difficult to pry open, and she has half the mind to just toss it into the fire she's just created, but curiosity gets the better of her. Using a dining knife, she forces the lid off and finds a mysteriously familiar green crayon, a few F-graded art assignments from elementary school, a Polaroid of her with her brows furrowed in concentration, a red hair ribbon, another photograph of her in sepia. And action figures and expired candy.
The fire is blazing, by no small effort on her part. (Lots of wood and kerosene.) Sooner or later, her new neighbours will start screeching at everything and will probably do something dumb like call the fire fighters, or the ambulance. Worse, ring her Dad in the office and inform him that his daughter's planning to burn the neighbourhood down.
She douses the fire.
Somehow, Sally-the-ex-best-girl-friend becomes lab partners and semi-best-friends with Romeo. She also finds it extremely entertaining to feed him information about Emily's past (with subtle hints about Timothy Manning) while they're lighting up Bunsen burners and mixing chemicals or doing other… stuff.
"Didn't some older guy call you Juliet or something when you were kids?" He's guffawing like a donkey. "We'd be such a pair; Romeo and Juliet! Fancy that—"
"Don't. Call me that," Emily hisses, and doesn't know why tears are springing to her eyes.
Romeo drinks the poison and dies. Juliet wakes up and laughs at him. That would be TiPP's version of the text.
Emily Hatcher is seventeen when she sees a flying boy again. This time, there is no crash landing, no broken bones. Instead, he lands on the balls of his feet with his knees bent, dust flying up around him dramatically. She blinks. It's Timothy-Peter-Pan, with longer limbs and messy hair. A huge scar down his elbow. Dimples – or maybe he's always had them? Defined collarbones, wrists, and everything else Emily has ever bothered to look out for. The bigger Peter Pan gets up from his crouching position and holds out a hand to Emily Hatcher and flashes the same brilliant grin he had on the first time that they'd met.
She doesn't know what else to do but to cry.
"Stupid old man. Paedophile," she bites out between sobs. "Why did you come back? I hate you. Go away! Go back to where you came from, you bastard!"
He has the cheek to look slightly hurt, but his expression quickly dissolves into a small, apologetic smile. Hands circling her wrists, he pulls her towards him and hesitates a little before kissing away her tears. She doesn't resist (because she can't), but it's sort of pissing her off how he dares to come back waltzing into her life after four excruciatingly long and lonely years.
"So, are you married to a fat old woman with three ugly kids already?" she growls and keeps her head high, despite the blush creeping across her cheeks.
He stops kissing her. "Seven. They're my worst nightmare," he says gravely. She punches him in the gut.
They're in the backyard again, him stooping gingerly on the swing because he's way too big for it now, her still sitting at the same spot where the light breaks through the trees and sets her aglow.
"Where were you? Why didn't you call?" Emily's well aware that she sounds like a girlfriend with insecurity issues. The unspoken why did you leave? hangs in the air between them.
"The parents got divorced. Mom took me with her. Lost your number." TiPP's sentences are clipped and uncomfortable; she's never heard him like this before. Granted, the last time they'd met was four years ago, but the TiPP she remembers is full of childish bravado and confidence, just like Peter Pan.
"You have my number imprinted in your head," she states matter-of-factly, but her tone is not unkind; just curious. She's forgiven him a long time ago.
"I didn't—" he pauses and collects his thoughts. "Mom left too, with a guy, and for a time I couldn't even pay the water bill." He runs a hand over the back of his head. "Look, I'm sorry and I don't have any excuses. I guess I was just afraid to come for you because I had nothing—"
"Y'know, I found out what you were desperately trying to hide away from me," Emily interrupts conversationally, twiddling her thumbs. "You're pretty dumb, hiding all that stuff in my backyard," she continues, enjoying the look of horror on his face. The day someone has an upper-hand over Tim Manning!
But she's not in this to torture him. (Not really.) "They… they kept me from giving up (on you)." Her eyelids flutter downwards in slight embarrassment. He slips off the swing and onto the table (from old habit, she still doesn't get why he doesn't like chairs much), and bends down to hoop his fingers behind her ears.
But the golden moment is broken as Lost Boy bounds up to TiPP and wags his tail, even though this is the same boy (man) who beat him up many years ago. Emily can't help but feel a sense of betrayal; it must be bad karma since she was the one who chose the name anyway. Halfway through wrestling with the dog on the grass, TiPP asks casually, "Were there any boys?"
Emily freezes. "His name was Romeo. Funny, isn't it?" Nervous laughter punctuates the atmosphere.
TiPP definitely doesn't look as amused as she'd thought he would be. Scratch that, TiPP doesn't look amused at all.
"We broke up after a month," she says quickly, in a failed attempt to salvage the situation.
His voice is low and dangerous. Again, another side of TiPP she's never seen before. "Did you… do anything with him?"
She pretends to look thoughtful. "Well… He did take my first kiss…"
"I'm going to kill him."
Emily Hatcher is eighteen when she enters college and moves away from home… into TiPP's apartment. (Dad has a fit, but ultimately agrees. Begrudgingly. And with a list of fifty-seven rules.) Turns out she's enrolled into the university he's studying at on scholarship. Timothy Manning is on a scholarship!? Apparently, TiPP's pretty smart when he doesn't spend his time frolicking with the entire world.
Today's the first day Emily will start living in the apartment officially, and she feels those damned butterflies rising in her stomach again, even though she's been to the place several hundred times over the past year. Luggage in one hand and tin box of treasures in the other, she rings the doorbell with a certain level of anticipation.
A rustle – she should really be getting used to this already – and a sandy-haired boy (man) drops from the sky and lands before her. He spins her around and traps her against the door between his gangly arms.
"Hello, my name is Timothy-Peter-Pan and I am twenty-one years old. It's nice to meet you," TiPP chimes, holding out his right hand.
Emily should feel exasperated, or tired, but she can't stop her lips from quirking into a smile as she shakes his hand. "I'm Emily-Juliet. Eighteen years old. It's nice to meet you too."
He laughs and presses his lips against hers as they tumble through the door.
End Notes: Oh my god, this turned into a ball of fluff. I quite hate the ending, don't you? Anyway, yes, I have a thing for flying boys, it seems. This monster was left to rot in my "Unfinished Junk" folder for the longest time (with Emily stuck at six years old), but I finally mustered the courage and inspiration to finish it up. Do tell me what you think about it! I am quite fond of old(er) men lusting over young girls.