The rest of the school day was pretty routine. My last class was PE, which I incidentally shared with Kelly. It was hard to keep my face straight when I saw him walk into the locker room. He had a thick, bloody piece of gauze taped over his nose. He glared at me when he saw me, but that was the only interaction we made. While I was getting into my black shorts, black wife-beater that showed off my ink, and black sneakers—because a real headbanger can make even gym class metal—I heard one of his friends ask him, “Hey, Kel. What happened to your nose, man?”
“Happened during practice,” he muttered.
I stifled a laugh as I pulled my hair back, then I put on some deodorant and went out into the gym, jogging to my spot on the floor.
“Hey there, metalhead,” said the kid in the spot to the right of me. It was Nick, the closest thing I had to a friend. He was a skinny kid with glasses who came off as kind of a nerd. We met the semester before when I saved him from a pummeling.
“Hey, dork,” I replied. Everyone had taken their places and the stretching routine began.
“I saw you talking to that fine brunette this morning,” he said suggestively, adjusting his glasses.
I smiled. “Sarah Winter. She invited me to her party tonight.”
I saw Nick gape at me from the corner of my eye. “You’re not gonna go, are you?” he asked, his voice cracking.
“Hell yeah, I am. Why not?”
“Are you crazy? Her boyfriend will murder you!”
“Kelly?” I scoffed. “Only killing that guy does is to his own brain cells.”
Everyone broke away to run laps, lift weights, or shoot hoops. I did the latter. Nick and I played some one-on-one while Kelly and his friends jogged around the perimeter of the gym—probably waiting for the coach to waddle back to his office, close the door, eat a Big Mac, and jack off into an issue of Sports Illustrated, before they started anything.
I dribbled my way around Nick and ran for the basket, jumped up into a perfect lay-up, and turned around to pass him the ball.
“C’mon, man. At least try to stop me,” I said, but he wasn’t paying attention. I joined him at the three-point line and followed his dreamy stare to Helen, a pretty blonde girl who was talking to Coach, having him sign some sort of paper for her.
“Earth to Captain Blue Balls,” I said, waving my hand in front of his face. He blinked out of his trance. “Oh, good. You’re back. Listen, I just had a brilliant idea.”
“Okay, this might sound a little crazy, but hear me out. Maybe you should… I dunno, fucking talk to her.”
“You’re right. That is crazy.”
“C’mon. You’ve got plenty in common. You have a few classes together, you’re both on the smartass team or whatever it’s called, you’re both single…”
“Hey. Grinley, Davis. Get moving, boys,” Coach called, clapping his hands. Helen went up the stairs that cut through the bleachers, disappearing out the door and into the hall.
“Yes, sir,” I called back, turned around, and sank a shot from the three-point line. “Nothin’ but net,” I bragged, high-fiving Nick. Coach shook his head wistfully and went into his office.
“Damn, did you see that?” I overheard one of Kelly’s friends saying as they passed. “There’s no way we wouldn’t go to state if we had him.”
“Yeah, too bad we don’t accept freaks,” Kelly replied loudly.
“What was that?” I asked, spinning toward him and letting Nick sink a shot.
Kelly stopped and whirled around to face me. “I said, you could never be on the basketball team because it doesn’t accept freaks!”
“Doesn’t it?” I questioned, grinning. “Then how the hell did you get in?”
A chorus of “Oooh” rose up around us as the other guys stopped what they were doing, anticipating a fight. Kelly’s fists started to shake.
“Lemme guess,” I went on. “Dear old dad pulled some strings for you, right?”
“Oooh!” the crowd said, and laughed.
“You’re just jealous that I still have a father!” Kelly snapped.
There was nothing but an uncomfortable silence from our spectators that time. Kelly was aiming for the heart.
Still, the smile didn’t move from my face. “Getting kinda personal now,” I said, unaffected. “All right, sport, I’ll explain it to you. The reason I won’t go out for the team is because I’m not cool with a bunch of dudes trying to spank my ass under the pretense of sportsmanship!”
Laughter filled the room and Kelly became worried he was losing.
“Oh yeah?” he shouted. “The long hair and tight jeans had me convinced you’d be into that!”
I waited for the laughter to die, then I shrugged and said, “Sorry to disappoint.”
Finally, he gritted his teeth and grabbed me by the front of my shirt. Then Coach’s whistle blew.
“Harris! Grinley! Break it up! You wanna fight? Try out for wrestling!” he demanded, walking toward us pretty quickly for a man his size.
I smirked down at Kelly and said, “You heard the boss.”
Reluctantly, he let go and shoved me away.
Coach came up between us and called to the others, “All right, show’s over! Back to work!” The other guys went back to their business, jogging, lifting, and shooting hoops. Then he began the lecture. “I’m gonna let this go this time, because nobody threw any punches, and it’s not worth the paperwork. Do you understand, boys?”
“Yes, sir,” we both muttered.
“Listen, Kelly. This better not happen again. I don’t want to be the one to call upstairs and tell Mr. Harris his son is getting into fights. Is that clear?”
“But he—” he began to whine, pointing at me.
“Is… that… clear?” Coach repeated.
Kelly glared at me and said again, “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Get back to your laps,” he directed. The jock went back to join his pals, and Coach turned to me. “Jake…” he started.
“I know,” I sighed. “He’s the vice principal’s son, so if I wanna graduate, I gotta stay outta his way.”
“It’s not just that,” he said. “You know he’s got an explosive temper.”
“Yeah, yeah. A guy got taken off the field on a stretcher last year. I know. I heard.”
“Then you understand my concern.”
“All right,” he said, dismissing me. “Get on with your game.”
Nick passed me the ball and we continued the match. Coach went back to his office, but he kept the door open and frequently glanced up from the work on his desk to make sure Kelly and I were staying cool. But Kelly just jogged along and kept his head down. Maybe I had really taught him a lesson. Still, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck prickle up when I looked at him. I knew our rivalry had to come to a head eventually, and when it did, shit was going to get real.
After gym, I showered quick, just standing in the water for a minute and getting out. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of Kelly picking a fight with me while we were both naked and wet, surrounded by other naked, wet dudes. That kinda shit had happened before, and I wouldn’t put it past him. For God’s sake, the guy’s favorite hobby is all about a bunch of men rolling around in the grass together, fighting over a ball.
When I was dressed and on my way out, Kelly and his friends had just come out of the shower. He’d taken the bandage off his nose. The cut was open and raw and the skin around it was swelled and bruising, but it wasn’t bleeding anymore. He glared poison at me. I smiled wide and waved. As I was walking away, I heard him say to his friends, “God, I’d love to wipe that stupid grin off his face once and for all.”
I carried my gym bag to my locker after the bell rang, trying to think of how I could “accidentally” run into Sarah. She always waited for Kelly at his locker at the end of the day, so I thought I’d mosey by there on my way to detention. I grabbed the books I’d need to do my homework and put them in my backpack, unrolled my sleeve and took out my smokes, threw on my jacket, put the pack under the right epaulet, grabbed my gym bag, and started casually down the hall.
Sure enough, when I peeked around the corner of the hallway, there she was, sitting on the floor in front of Kelly’s locker, other kids stepping around her, a few of her girlfriends saying goodbye and that they’d see her at the party. She waved at them and went back to her book. I smiled and walked toward her. She was reading Hamlet, like the rest of the senior class, annotating with a pencil as she went. I stopped in front of her. I could feel the stares around us and hear the whispers. After all, this was high school; the rock ‘n’ roll hellion was simply not allowed to talk to the sweet, pretty, popular princess. But I didn’t care. This was between me and her.
“‘Let me be cruel, not unnatural,'” I said. She looked up and smiled. “‘I will speak daggers to her, but use none.'” I grinned and reached down to her. She took my hand and I pulled her to her feet. I had never touched her before.
“Waiting for Prince Charming?” I asked.
Because here I am.
She laughed and said, “I guess. Kelly and his friends shoot around in the gym after school. It usually takes him a while.”
It made me suspicious when she said that. I knew he wasn’t playing basketball back there. He had showered and changed his clothes. Why wouldn’t he just stay in his gym clothes until he left?
I probably should have told her that, but I didn’t want to stir anything up. Not yet, anyway. So I just said, “All right. Anyway, I was wondering…”
…if you can hear my heart pounding from where you’re standing.
“…Have you ever been on a motorcycle?”
She gave me a knowing smile. “No…”
“Well, if you’re gonna be waiting around anyway, I’ve got fifteen minutes of detention to serve…”
“What did you do this time?” she asked with a laugh.
“Nothing! I was just smoking,” I told her, and added reluctantly, “…in the boys’ room.”
She giggled. It was so cute, I couldn’t hold back a grin.
“So, what do you say? Lemme give you a lift home?” I offered.
She seemed to consider it. She studied me with her gorgeous blue eyes and finally said, “I’d love to, Grin. But Kelly would be really mad.”
“That’s fine. He’d only be mad at me.”
“Yeah, but,” she said, averting her eyes and shaking her head, “he’d be mad at me, too.”
I didn’t like the way she said that. I’d always wondered why she was dating that asshole, besides the obvious pressure from the societal rules of high school. Now I had a theory. She was probably scared of him and his violent temper. The thought of him lashing out at her made my face burn red.
“Grin,” she said, touching my arm. “Are you okay?”
I saw genuine concern on her face, so I forced out a smile. “Yeah. I’ll see you tonight, okay?”
She nodded, not looking convinced. I turned and walked toward the stairs. When I was out of her sight, I allowed the anger to boil through my veins like acid. I dropped my bags at the bottom of the steps. The halls downstairs were still quite crowded. It didn’t matter. As if the rage created an invisible force around me, everyone stepped back to let me through. The loud talking and laughter died down to curious whispers.
“Looks like a fight.”
“Who do you think pissed him off?”
“I saw him talking to Kelly Harris’ girlfriend.”
“Where’s he going?”
“Hey, look! Grin’s gonna kick someone’s ass!”
I turned a corner and went down a short hallway to the gym doors. They weren’t locked yet. I shoved inside, but there was no one around. I checked in the locker room, but it was empty, too.
Shooting baskets, my ass.
I came back out and was about to give up, but then I heard voices coming from outside. The door that led out to the dumpsters was held open with an empty water bottle. I crept across the room to the wall near the hinges of the door and listened. I heard Kelly’s voice.
“I swear, I’m gonna kill that fucking metalhead.”
I smiled, flattered. They were talking about me. I peeked through the crack between the door and the wall and saw them sitting on the fire escape stairs, passing around a joint. There were four of them: Kelly was the arrogant one, Brad was the dumb one, Allan was the horny one, and Mark was the okay one. They were always hanging out together like a pack of letterman jacket-clad wolves.
“Come on,” Allan said, trying to hold his breath as he spoke. “You’re not really gonna kill him.” He exhaled a thick cloud and gave the joint to Brad.
“Well, I’m gonna fuck him up pretty bad. How about that?”
“What did he even do to you? The worst I’ve ever seen him do is talk shit and draw on your locker with Sharpie.”
I chuckled quietly. Vandalizing Kelly’s locker was one of my favorite ways to break up the monotony. That Monday I’d written a note on it that said, “When I told you to suck my cock, it was an insult, not an offer. Stop calling me. — Grin.” Some brave souls had mimed fellatio behind his back for the rest of the day.
“He’s been talking to Sarah,” Kelly growled.
“Oh, by the way, are we going to her party tonight?” Brad interjected.
“Would you stay the fuck on topic!” Kelly yelled at him, pinching the joint from his hand. “Yes, we’re going! Now shut up.”
“I think you need to stop smoking, man,” Mark said. Mark was the only one I didn’t really have a problem with. He was a pretty sensible guy, always trying to keep Kelly from doing stupid things. He was the one who had come along to back him up when he’d tried to fight me earlier.
“Why? Coach isn’t stupid enough to kick me off the team.” He took a puff and passed. “Did you see how he let me off back there? Then he turned around and chewed Grinley’s ass for it!”
The guys laughed. So did I, but for a different reason.
“It’s not that, Kel. You just turn into a dick when you’re high,” Mark explained. “Weed’s supposed to chill you out.”
Kelly scoffed and said, “Fuck you. And why aren’t you hitting it? So you’re clean when you narc?”
“I’m not a snitch,” Mark told him. Then, to placate him, he added, “I’m just not so valuable to the team that I won’t get kicked off.”
Kelly smiled a bit, but Brad looked at the joint skeptically as if realizing something he hadn’t before. He gave it to Allan without hitting it.
“Well, oh wise Mark, why the fuck shouldn’t I be pissed off about another guy talking to my girlfriend?”
“Okay, so Grin’s been talking to Sarah. So what? You know she’s not the cheating type,” Mark said.
“Yeah. You know Grin. He flirts with all the girls,” Brad added.
“Well, not mine,” Kelly muttered.
“You tap that yet?” Allan asked obnoxiously.
“Dude, c’mon,” Mark protested.
“What? I’m just asking!” Allan defended.
Kelly scoffed again. “She’s such a prude. We haven’t even gotten past the fucking clothes barrier.”
“She’s a virgin, isn’t she?” Brad asked.
“Yeah. She says she wants to do it with someone she’s in love with. Whatever. …Hey, Mark. Where ya goin’?”
“School’s out, man. I’m going home,” Mark muttered, picking up his backpack and heading toward the door. I pressed my back against the wall, but when Mark came inside and the door closed on the bottle, he saw me anyway. He looked at me, confused. I put my finger to my lips and went back to spying. The jocks were wondering what had gotten into their friend.
“What are you doing?” Mark asked.
“Eavesdropping. What’s it look like?” I whispered.
He rolled his eyes and went on his way.
“…I mean, can you imagine what a puss I’d look like if I didn’t make it with a girl I’ve been dating for a whole fucking month?” Kelly was whining.
“At least Stacy will be there tonight,” Allan said. “You said she’s great in bed.”
I scowled. It made me angry to find out that Kelly was cheating on Sarah, but it wasn’t really a surprise to me. Kelly was an asshole and Stacy was a slut.
“She’s all right,” Kelly murmured, shrugging. Then he smirked. “But there’s nothing like tearing open a virgin.”
My hands reflexively balled into tight fists until my fingernails bit into my palms. I wanted to go out there and… Damn. I was so pissed, I didn’t know what I wanted to do to that son of a bitch!
“Hey, maybe Sarah will fall in love with you tonight,” Allan suggested. “Y’know, with her parents out of town, everyone else enjoying the party…”
“Damn straight,” Kelly said confidently, standing. “C’mon, let’s get outta here. I gotta drive her home.”
All right, I had a choice to make: call him out at that moment and fight until one of us had to leave in an ambulance, or keep close to Sarah at the party and defend her virtue should Kelly attempt to make her “fall in love” with him.
I sighed and left the gym to go to detention. While the first scenario would get me some instant gratification, the second was the right thing to do. And I’m a guy that does the right thing. Or tries to. Most of the time. Either way, I couldn’t wait for the party.