Chapter 21

Today I feel like a force. I might be a bad ass today, hah, we will see. I’m walking to school while dribbling a basketball. I saw the ball lying on the driveway, and it cried out for me to pick it up. I have always been a good dribbler. This is a good challenge while I lug my bag of books and lunch. I try not to bring as many books home at night anymore. The whole back pack thing has gotten ridiculous. For Christ’s sake, don’t teachers and faculty know that whole generations of kids are going to become hunchbacks?

I get to school and open my locker, I find another note.

It reads, “Good luck today. Susan.” 

            This is a good start to my day. Who doesn’t want a little luck on their side? Then I walk into art class and have to shift my focus to the other girl who drives me crazy.

            Patty stops by my desk each class to say something. I’m sure other kids notice, but then again, why should I care? In fact, I don’t care. Go get your own game and stay out of mine. I tell Patty I want to see her art work because she is the hand-picked teacher’s assistant. She brings me to her desk in the back room and shows me a piece she has been working on. I’m blown away. She paints using oils, while the rest of us students are not allowed to. She painted a picture of a castle that is amazing. It looks like it should be in a museum. I ask her where she got the idea. She says that she took a lot of photos of castles while on a European vacation. She didn’t want to just copy a photo, so she pulled together ideas of the one’s she liked best and made her own. I think she is a true artist. I’m just some shmuck making doodles on paper who flirts with her. Trust me, if I was her boyfriend, I’d be showing off her art to everyone.

            In English literature class, we are allowed to pick a book from a stack the teacher (Mrs. Crump) has ‘approved.’ I do not recognize any of these titles. The biggest book I have ever read is the autobiography of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a book my dad read, so I did too. It took me a year to complete. It is over 900 pages and I read most of it on the toilet. I know that is disgusting, but for some reason I just left it in the bathroom and every time I sat down I read. I won’t recommend this to everyone, but it worked for me. When I was done, I threw the germ infested thing away.

The book I choose is entitled Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I narrowed it down to three books including Moby Dick and A Raisin in the Sun. I chose Lord of the Flies because it is about a bunch of boys stranded on an island. Mrs. Crump is glad I picked it because she feels every boy needs to read it at some point. It also looks like a thinner book than the others and it has bigger print. I think that is probably the criteria that most kids use. Thin good; thick bad.

As I walk to PE, I catch a glimpse of Mark Dornet - the punk who cracked me in the mug at the dance. I see him walk into the restroom outside the gym. I follow him, but I wait a second before I go in. I don’t know what I am going to do. He is in the stall. Maybe he’s doing something in there besides crapping. Smoking or twiddling with his phone is a possibility. I take a leak and he becomes silent. I wash my hands and he remains quiet as a mouse.

I start to walk out, then I see a bottle of liquid soap in the corner. Without giving it much thought, I grab it and open it up. I pour it onto the floor as fast and as quietly possible. I pick up the door stop and turn off the lights. Just before I close the door, I mumble in my best scary voice, “you better watch yourself, Mark. You punk ass.”

I slam the door and kick the stop under the bottom crack. I walk super-fast to the gym before anybody sees me. My heart is racing and I am feeling sinister. I walk down to the end and out the side door. I hide in some tall thick shrubs. I can see the restroom door from my location. After thirty seconds, Mark comes out slowly and looks around. Damn, I’m so dumb. All he had to do was open up the opposite door. I laugh to myself. He wipes his hands with a wad of towels and scrapes his shoes. He walks slowly while still looking around for his culprit. He slips and falls backwards onto his ass. I almost can’t compose myself. Poor bastard never knew what hit him.

            I can’t say I am proud of what I just did, but I wanted to screw with him. Honestly, it was childish. But then again, I could care less at this point. I have seen enough prison movies to know that bad stuff happens in the restroom. I wasn’t going to shank him, or anything like that. I also wasn’t going to kick in the stall, or mess with him, while he was doing his business. So I sent him a message that I think that Ferguson would be proud of. I can get revenge in different ways that are smarter and way more effective. I haven’t laughed like that in a while and I wish I took a video. I have got to get a cell phone soon. I could have shown Tim and Steve. We would have laughed our whole lives at this situation. 

            Today is the day of my cross country meet against a school called Branham, at the local park. I know nothing about them, except they have the same mascot as us; a Bruin - how original. Our race is at 2:45 p.m. The days are so short now, and the starting times are getting earlier and earlier.

I line up to race. There are twenty of us. We have eight runners and they have twelve. Branham has all kinds of runners: big football types, little guys, skinny guys, nerdy types, etc. We are down two runners. So that currently puts me as the sixth best runner on our team.

I nervously stand at the starting line. The gun pops, and we’re off. I feel strong. There are the usual runners bolting ahead. They are better than me right now, but not for long as far as I am concerned. I am built to run. I have good potential and a smooth stride; that’s what my coach has told me. This race has a faster pace than normal. Our two best guys are being challenged by three of theirs. I’m in the middle of the pack with seven others, then followed by all the rest.

I’m not slowing down at all. I have a good feeling, with plenty of gas in the tank. Coach Kappler has drilled into my head to pace myself so many times that it has finally seemed to pay off. I run the first two miles at a pace that is definitely my best time.

I glance at the runners around me. Some have that look of feeling pain. Coach

says when you see that, it is time to ratchet up the pace even more. Sure enough, I lose three guys and catch up to a small group of four. I’m in sixth place with my eyes set on the guys in front of me. One has only three strides on me. We are past the half way mark. I think this one might be a game changer. It really feels like I am competing – rather than just participating. I’m not just another wanna-be runner anymore.

There is about a mile left, and I’m still in sixth place. I’m right behind the guy in front of me. I pressure him, but still hold onto my reserves. With a half mile to go, the guy in fifth place is only five strides ahead. I can catch him. I can see the finish line in the distance. The top runners are way ahead, but there are two Branham guys still in my sight.

With a quarter mile left, I see Coach Kappler waving his arms and clapping his hands. I come up on him and he yells at me, “Hold on Fergus, just hold on.”

That gives me a boost. I decide to step it up and run up to the side of the guy that was in front of me. I peek at him at him, he looks back at me. We both turn it up a notch and catch up to the guy in fourth place. My last burst of energy is still in reserve; we are 200 yards away.

I let out all the gas in the tank. We have worked on this for weeks. But now I don’t know if it is good enough. The other guys are right next to me. I don’t look at them anymore. I’m a hundred yards away, breathing hard, pushing the air out like a locomotive. There is pain in my lungs - screw it I’ll push on. I pass one guy, so now I’m in a dead heat with the other runner. Now, only twenty yards away, I’m in survival mode. I won’t let myself quit. There’s only a half-step between us, maybe less. It is all about fighting back the pain and my ability to hang on.

This is crazy. We are yards away from the finish line when I feel like I am going to fall. My teammates shout out my name. I lean and plunge over the finish, stumbling to the ground. I land face first and roll to a dramatic ending.

My teammates pick me up and congratulate me on my fourth-place victory. I’m in a tired daze and bent over. I try to regain my breath. A couple of varsity guys pat me on the back.

“Good job Fergus, way to fight,” one of them says.

I walk around for a minute while I sip my water. Then she appears  - Patty sits on her bike right in front of me.

“Fergus, you were awesome,” she says, excited.

What an odd moment. I have nothing; she’s caught me off guard.

“You must be exhausted. I saw the finish … That was exciting.”

 “Thanks,” I say as I crack a smile. I’m still trying to catch my breath. “So, you came to watch the race?”

“I like to watch sports and support my friends. My best friend is on the girl’s team, but she is not racing today. I know you are on the boy’s team, so I came to watch,” she replies.

This is new - I have a fan. An incredible, beautiful, fan I might add. It’s one of the best feelings a guy can have.