Super Fake Love Song - David Yoon

What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done for love?

Once upon a time, a girl sent flowers to herself from a fake secret admirer to draw attention from a boy, only to be found out by the boy’s friend’s mother, who owned the flower shop.

Once upon a time, a boy crashed his car with that of a boy’s just for a chance to talk to him, only to send them both to the hospital and get charged with gross negligence.

Once upon a time, a girl faked a French accent at her new school to pique the interest of a Francophile girl, only to be busted by the arrival of an actual French student.

Once upon a time, a boy faked being the front man of a rock band in order to impress a girl, only to—


Every superhero has an origin story. Every villain has an origin story.

Every loser has an origin story, too.

Did you know that?

I do.

My time of judgment officially fell one moment in middle school. This one moment clearly defined me as a loser. This one moment cast my loserdom into cold carbonite.

I was thirteen. My family had only recently moved from the tiny humble hamlet of Arroyo Plato to the sprawling opulence of Rancho Ruby.

I had returned from Math to find my locker hanging ajar, its padlock somehow picked. We had lockers in middle school—I missed the backpack hooks of my old school of yesteryear and their implicit belief in the goodness of society—and I liked to keep my paladin figurine on the topmost shelf to visit between classes.

A paladin was a warrior blessed with the power of divine magic.

I had scraped the figurine into form by my own hand from a small block of plaster, then painted it, then sprayed it with a clear coat to protect against scratches.

The sword. The shield. The sigil. The spurs.

It was my one and only copy; I hadn’t learned how to cast molds yet, or electroplate, or airbrush, or any of the other things I would later master.

On this day, I opened my locker to discover the figurine had gone missing. In its place was a line, drawn in white chalk, leading down and away. Scrawled instructions read:


I knew this clumsy handwriting; I suspected it was that of Gunner Schwinghammer, who had been born as a fully grown man-child and wowed the adult administration with his preternatural ability to catch and run a football with high school–level acumen. While my friend count never grew beyond two—Milo and Jamal—Gunner’s friend count was always increasing.

And indeed, as I followed the line past the water fountains and down the breezeway, I glanced up to see Gunner following me with glittering eyes.

I shook him off. Gunner weighed fifty-two thousand pounds; I weighed six. Gunner was royalty incumbent; I was a serf with stinking mud caked on my boots.

For now, I could only hope that the figurine hadn’t gotten dinged beyond the point of reasonable repair.

I continued to follow the line of chalk as it skipped over cracks and jumped down a curb and into the fresh stinking black of the parking lot.


How far did this stupid line go?

As far as the last car, and into the eraser-red concrete of the baseball area. Down three quick steps, careening right into the shade of an empty dugout.

Around me, the indifferent sun was busy sparkling the dew of another beautiful morning laden with the scent of fresh-cut grass, which was actually a distress chemical released by the mutilated blades in an anguished effort to repair themselves.

The line finally came to rest in the perpetual darkness beneath the fiberglass benches.



What I saw was worse than all the looks and all the whispers. What I saw would always be worse than all that Gunner would come to offer: the outright name-calling, the cafeteria-tray flipping, the body checks in the hallway. All the stuff that would follow me past middle school and across the quad into the domain of senior high.

What I saw was my first warning ever.

Paladin Gray had been worn down to a nub, because the figurine itself had been used to draw the line that led me here.

This, the line warned, marks the end of your childhood.

From that day on, I understood.

I understood that here, in Rancho Ruby, no part of my thirteen-year-old self was up to standard. I understood that from now on, every day was a new day in the worst possible way: each day I