My shirt gets some looks, but I am not sure if most of the students even know who the punk ska band, Skankin’ Pickle are. When I walked out of the house I didn’t think it was a dumb shirt, but maybe it is. I can deal with it. At least my fly isn’t down - nor do I have an undetected zit on my nose.
I stroll into art class and pick out a workstation. I do a quick scan around the room. I don’t know any of these kids except for Josh Norman, a fellow sophomore; so, I sit down next to him. “Hey Josh.”
“Fergus, welcome back to the land of despair,” he replies with a noticeable change in his voice. It must have dropped an octave to a baritone. I can’t help but laugh, yet I gather he doesn’t know why.
There are a couple of kids that I recognize but have never talked to. You have the freshmen, with their freshmen hair and clothes. Followed by the juniors and seniors – who flaunt their superiority over us underclassmen. This is the first time I have ever been in a class where all four grades are represented. The seniors dominate the class, sitting together - lost in their little world. A few juniors hover around them since they are such a large group.
Then there is the jewel of the class - Patty Anderson. She stands on a higher plateau of the girls on this campus. She has long dark hair, blue-green eyes, kind of a hippy-type; but she is also involved in school spirit. She doesn’t act like one of those a ‘rah-rah’ cheerleader types.
Mr. Ballantyne takes roll while standing in the center of the room. We are sitting in a circle in these big slanted desks facing each other, which is a new thing for me. My eyes keep wondering to Patty. But I want to be careful she doesn’t catch me staring. She doesn’t even look up from whatever she is working on. My sister is always telling me to cut that staring crap out - it’s creepy. I am going to ask my sister about her. A little reconnaissance work.
As it turns out, Patty is the assistant to Mr. Ballantyne and will be helping us out throughout the semester. He introduces her to the class. As she addresses us I close my eyes and focus on her voice. It’s a perfect match for her.
So far school is starting out better than last year. Since Patty is the teacher’s assistant I will have to improve my art skills, because stick figures and yellow suns are not going to impress her. Time to take this crap seriously.
Class ends and we all scurry out. As I enter the hallway I hear a voice from behind me - “I like your shirt.”
I whip around, it’s a freshmen girl named Sherry (or Cheryl) or something like that.
“Uh, thanks.” What a weak-ass reply that was. To be fair I was rather taken by her full mouth of braces and short curly hair. You don’t see many kids with metal braces anymore. I could have said something to extend the conversation, but I had nothing. I was still too much in Patty mode. 0 for 1 already on the first day of school.
Second period class is American History with Mr. Flowers. My sister told me he smells like booze sometimes. I guess these teachers must do their thing to get by. Alcohol can’t be as bad as Mr. Ballantyne’s stinky hippy oil – or can it? When I get a whiff of that stuff I want to barf while I sneeze. Whoever says that stuff smells good is a dumb ass.
I walk in and grab a seat in the second row, which isn’t normal for me. I am more of a back row guy, but those seats where already taken.
Just as I sit down, in walks a girl named Jennifer. I knew her from elementary school, but she moved and went on to a different junior high. I haven’t talked to her since the fifth grade. I never had a chance to mention my crush on her. She was more interested in Sean, my good friend at the time. He didn’t give her the time of day; so that which only made her more interested in him. She sits down right in front of me, turns around and smiles,
“Hi,” she says in a nice little voice.
I reply with the same word. Did she recognize me? I know it has been five years, but I look the same, I think. She sure looks even hotter now.
Mr. Flowers gets things rolling. He doesn’t look too drunk. Maybe he’s an afternoon drinker, which would make more sense. Getting tanked in the morning is for the dedicated pros. Jennifer won’t turn around again because she is paying attention. I thought the conversation would flow, but I failed and couldn’t force anything out of my mouth. 0 for 2.
The class ends and we walk out. I don’t know what to say to her; I have no game. I do have hope this will all play out differently someday.
Third period is PE, and so far my schedule looks like easy money. I make the long trek across campus to the gym where Mr. Pallilo will give us the scoop on the class. The first day we should get a free pass. Some working out, maybe a couple jumping jacks – but never any homework. There should never be homework in PE.
Jumping jacks suck, but sit-ups are worse. When you start doing those you get stomach cramps for weeks. He should just give us a ball and let us figure it out.
Something is going on outside the gym where a crowd is starting to gather. Wow, day one and we already have a fight. On the other hand, it could just be a lame hacky sack game. I get in for a closer look - it's no hack game.
I see a couple of older students trying to put a freshman kid head first into the garbage can. The mean tradition of throwing freshmen into garbage cans is obviously still alive. The older guys are varsity football players, six foot, over two hundred pounds. The freshman is putting up a good fight, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s in that dirty ass can.
A lot of kids are laughing, but I hate this shit. It almost happened to me once, but it was stopped because a teacher saw it going down. I take a closer look at the freshman. Oh crap! That’s Kyle; my friend Tim’s younger brother.
Kyle kicks and squirms as he throws short armed punches at the goons. One guy whose name is Manny Gomes grabs him by the back of the collar and in one move picks Kyle up and puts his head and shoulders into the can. It happens so fast and awkward that the can falls over with Kyle inside it. I can hear bottles and cans roll onto the concrete. Some of the crowd laughs, but most of them are kind of in shock. I hate jock bullies; especially when they pick on my friends.
Kyle gets out of the can as fast as possible. The look of glee and triumph on the football player’s face pushes me over the edge. The jerk is grinning like he just sacked the quarterback, not some kid that weighs a hundred pounds.
“Nice job moron,” I yell.
As soon as I say it I realize I might have screwed with the wrong guy. He looks at me for a second. He then lunges towards me and pushes me hard in the chest. It happens so fast that I fall backwards. I land hard on my ass and I’m stunned for a moment. Gomes walks away. Kyle grabs my hand and yanks me to my feet. I get up fast.
“Is that all you got meat?” I say in a shrill voice.
He stops dead in his tracks and spins around. I realize what I said and prepare myself for a fight.
He comes at me fast without hesitation, but instead of throwing the first punch I stand there waiting for his approach. He grabs me by the shirt and lifts me up and attempts to slam me to the ground, but I throw a wild punch and it lands right on the side of his head. It didn’t really faze him because I am back on the ground again. Kyle thrusts himself towards him and tries a tackle. He bounces off of the guy like he hit a stone wall. Gomes lifts him up and throws him like a rag doll to the side. I scurry to get up, but the bully pins me to the ground. I’m fucked. The crowd still watches this sad ass fight.
“You a tough guy punk?” he yells at me.
He slaps me across the face, not hard, but it succeeds in getting my attention.
“Blow me, I’m not the one putting people in garbage cans, you should be picking on kids your own size, you big asshole.”
He gets up in my grill and blurts, “Tough talk for someone on the ground.”
“Get off of me, get off me,” I say, as forcefully as I can.
Kyle hollers at him, “Go away dude, you won”. He finally lifts his knee off of my chest and his hands from my shoulders. I cough a couple of times as I lay there. The bully stands over me and then steps back. There is a milk carton lying next to me and he kicks it. It rolls across my chest and milk dribbles onto my shirt. I see him walk away as I lie there in defeat.
The whole time this was happening I forgot there were students gathering around us. Everything occurred in a flash; it was like an out-of-body experience. Even though it wasn’t much of a fight it feels like I took an ‘ass-whoopin’. It’s weird and embarrassing. Kyle helps me up as a few kids ask me if I’m alright. I just nod at them.
“You okay?” I ask Kyle.
He nods. “Your shirt is torn Fergus, he ripped it - that jerk.”
It isn’t completely ripped but it is torn at the neck and shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” I quickly say.
I still have a nervous sense throughout my entire body, with a sick feeling in my stomach. I have never been in a fight with a guy that much bigger than me. He had at least seventy-five pounds on me. I don’t know what to do about the whole situation. I am hoping that it will just blow over soon. The last thing I want is that guy stalking me the whole year. Do I tell anybody about it? What did the other kids who witnessed it think? Poor Kyle, getting dumped into the can with all that garbage in there. His brother Tim is going to be mad.
I go to PE, which is in the gym. I sit in the bleachers, because there is no real class today. My buddy Steve is also here and I tell him the whole story. Steve says he already heard about the fight before I even sat down.
“Wow, that didn’t take long. What did you hear?” I ask.
“That you tried to stop a trashing and got thrown down yourself. Well, not thrown, more like slammed to the ground. But props for standing up to Manny Gomes. Okay, not really standing up, but you didn’t back down. Screw those guys. But watch your back man; it might not be over. Manny Gomes doesn’t seem like the type of guy who let’s things go fast.” I nod in approval as the bell rings.
I walk to the next class. Mr. Pallilo gave me a spare gym shirt. I tell him I ripped mine accidently. He probably doesn’t believe me because I am just another lame brain kid to him. So now I have to wear a gym shirt to fourth period English. Somehow, I must keep it together, so I can make it to lunch.