I call Patty over to my desk. “Who is your favorite artist?”
She looks at me with a surprised expression, then retorts, “Living or dead?”
“What medium?” Another question with a question. I am now stumped and have no clue what “medium” refers to in this context. There’s that awkward silence that everyone hates. She knows that I don’t know what it means. But she doesn’t give me that stupid sighing noise, or a disgusted eye stare that some girls make.
“Georgia O’Keefe,” she says as she grins.
I know better not to ask who that is, but I just can’t help it. “Oh yeah, one of the greatest of all time.”
She laughs. “You don’t know who she is, do you?”
“If you like her, she must be great.” My cornball response makes her smile.
“Fergus go look in the art books on the shelf, she’s in there.”
She knows I am just trying to get on her good side. This is my attempt at flirting which the Manifesto mentions as a skill to be developed. She’s a senior, but she doesn’t appear to be hung up on the whole age thing; nor is she stuck up. I want to ask her out, but I need to work on my art knowledge so we can at least have something to talk about. I should also find out if she has a boyfriend. If she agrees to a date, then I still don’t know how the hell I am going to pull it off. I have thought about asking my sister to go on a double date. That would probably be a very weird thing to do. I know my sister well enough that she might not want me in the back seat staring at her and her boyfriend. Most of the guys she has brought around I want to pound into the ground. They treat me like I am just a stupid young punk. I never take their lip, so she gets mad at me when I talk back to them.
Seeing Patty in the morning makes my day. But I’m still curious about Susan. She seems so different than everyone else; and not just because she’s from Germany. Her long blonde hair and tan body makes me crazy. But if that wasn’t enough, she is geeky.
I spot her in the hallway after lunch. I work my way through the crowd without crashing into anybody. Last thing I need is another brawl.
I catch up to her at her locker. I glance up and take note of her locker number. Having a little note book in your pocket is another Ferguson thing I picked up. I had written down some German expressions in my book and now it was my chance at using them. Her back is turned to me as she faces her locker. My heart begins to beat faster. My palms start to sweat.
“Hallo Susan, wie geht es dir?” (Hi Susan, how are you?”)
She spins around so fast it takes me by surprise. The look on her face is one of shock. She glares at me with this puzzled stare, then shakes her head. I hope I didn’t say it wrong and call her a whore or something.
She smiles. “Mir geht es gut und wie ihr tag ist?” (I’m okay, how is your day?)
What next? I pause for a moment. Then I remember. “Ausgezeichnet.” (Excellent.)
I’m told this is the one word that you should know in German. My pronunciation is probably shit.
“Ah dein Deutsch ist nicht schlecht.” (Ah, your German is not bad.) She smiles.
Again, I’m not exactly sure what she just said. “Ausezeichnet.” I put one thumb up.
She laughs. “What is your name again?”
“Fergus, Fergus Gordon. You remember me, right?”
“Yes, I see you around. What happened to your eye?”
“My face got in the way of someone’s fist.” She shoots me a puzzled look. I think my humor just got lost in translation.
We have this conversation that last almost seven minutes, which is definitely the longest I’ve talked to the opposite sex in this capacity. I like her even more now, and I am stoked. I have a game plan already for Susan in mind. “Learn ze German”. Not just the words, but how to enunciate them properly. I’m sure what I said sounded like I had a bag of marbles in my mouth. German is not a language that rolls off of the tongue. It’s one that doesn’t require a lot of facial movement though. As I watched Susan’s mouth, she hardly moves her lips. Her English is perfect and probably better than mine.
I have my first cross country meet today. I’m going to run with nine other teammates against Piedmont High School at a park across town. There is a creek, hills and a dirt path to run on. When they say it’s cross country they don’t mean you are running through forest and canyons. The last thing the school wants is for you to get bit by a snake or have a boulder crash down on you. That would not entice future cross country runners to join the team.
In my race, there were twenty guys to compete against - I came in sixteenth place. I worked hard to make sure I did not come in dead last; even though there was no way I was going to. Jeff Lictonberg is on our team and he is worse than me. He finished a minute behind me, and I also beat two of Piedmont’s runners. One of their guys was far worse than Jeff. I don’t’ think he had two real legs. He had some sort of leg wrapping on the bottom half on one of them. Poor guy ran with a bum leg, or maybe no leg; but kudos to him for trying.
I ran neck and neck with a kid from Piedmont for most of the race. We both respected each other because I would look at him and him at me. I think we both wanted to make sure we didn’t come in last place. The race was about four miles. I did better than I thought. I had some spring in my step this time. I didn’t cough up a lung, nor did I have to sit down after I crossed the finish line.
After the bus got back to school, I showered and looked at the clock. It had gotten late. Ferguson’s mother’s house is in the opposite direction from mine. It’s getting dark and her house is a mile away. Running with books on my back really sucks, but her street is only fifteen minutes away. I have her house number written in my little notebook: 871 Anita Lane, at the end of the block.
As I walk up the tree lined street, there are high school kids hanging out in the drive way of a home that is near the Bogen house. They are all huddled around a slick car. Just my luck; it’s Manny Gomes and some of his football goons. They see me coming, but I don’t think Manny recognizes me right away. There is no turning back at this point. I put my head down, pull my hood over my head and move on ahead. As I come up to their driveway, Manny spots me. I wasn’t going to look at him, but my head turns directly at him for some reason. He gets up from the back tailgate of a truck.
“What’s up with you?”
I stop and look behind me because I wasn’t sure if he is talking to me. I stand my ground, silent. He gets up and walks towards me. He stares me directly in the eyes. He begins laughing. This Manny guy is psycho. He points to my still blackened eye and turns to his buddies. He can smash me right now into the pavement but he rather mock me. The question is, what’s coming next?
“That little shithead hit you when you weren’t looking. At the dance.”
“Yeah, he got me good,” I nervously mumble.
“Hey, look guys, check at this kid’s shiner. He got sucker punched by some little punk at the dance,” Manny entertains his buddies with his analysis.
I stand there, speechless. Manny has this weird eye ball thing where one of them looks like it is pointed in a different direction. I try not to stare into his eyes anymore. I look down and away.
“Are you going to kick his ass?” he asks with this crazed excitement.
“I don’t even know who hit me, do you?”
“Not sure what his name is, but I can find him. You can’t let that little punk get away with chicken shit stuff like that.”
This coming from a guy that tried to throw a freshman into a trash can.
“Sure, let me know, then I’ll take care of business,” I answer.
Are we friends now? I don’t know what’s happening. It’s time to change the subject. “Who lives in that corner house?” I ask as I point to an old house up the street.
“What’s your name again?”
“Gordon? Is your sister Cindy?” He inquires with a stupid smirk resting firmly on his face.
Manny wears an Oakland Raider t shirt with the sleeves cut off. I remember him last year he had a ridiculous mohawk, now he just has some fucked up looking curly mop-top. He glances over at his two friends like they know something about my sister. I don’t like this. I’m going to ask her about these guys when I get home.
“So, do you know who lives there?” I insist.
“It’s just some old lady that lives there,” a slight annoyance in his tone. I just want to leave, but this moron is calling the shots here. It wouldn’t be wise to walk away until he is done interrogating me. I’m outnumbered and cornered, what a messed up situation.
I stand here waiting with this trio of dipshits in silence. Finally, Manny looks at me and laughs. “Fucking just go over there. She probably won’t even answer the door.”
I slowly walk away from him towards the Bogen house. As I get closer to the house Manny barks out, “Hey Gordon, can you bring in her garbage cans?”
His buddies laugh as I keep walking. What a jerk-off. He was probably bullied himself once. Now he’s just a sad sack with self-confidence issues. I do not know where I stand with him, but I no longer really fear him.
The house isn’t a two story like ours, it’s a single level with well-trimmed bushes and a perfectly landscaped lawn. There are shoes lined up near the door. I knock three times because the doorbell sounds like it doesn’t work. I wait for a minute … The door finally opens up slowly. An old Asian woman answers. I don’t know what to say; she is silent as well.
“Is Mrs. Bogen here?” I finally blurt out.
She mutters something in her language and walks away. But leaves the door open. I turn to walk away, when I hear a voice. “May I help you?”
I spin around to see a young Asian girl, about my age. I couldn’t help it, but I look at the large mole on her face, it’s above her eye brow. She looks familiar because of the mole.
“Hi, sorry … I am looking for somebody who used to live here. I guess they must have moved away.”
She smiles. “You go to Booker, right?”
“Yeah, my name’s Fergus, Fergus Gordon.”
Her smile gets bigger. “I’m Tanya. Are you related to Cindy Gordon?”
“Yeah, that’s my sister. Do you know her?”
“Sure, she’s nice.”
Is there anybody my sister doesn’t know?
“Who are you looking for?” she asks.
“Mary Bogen, she used to live here. We are old family friends.”
“She lives here, but she is in bed right now and is not feeling well. My grandmother, mother and I help her out.”
Score. I don’t want to press the issue though, so I tell Tanya that I will come back. I write my name down on a note with our house phone number. I give it to her and instruct her to give it to Mrs. Bogen. I’m going to find out about this Ferguson character once and for all.