Chapter 2: Defender
Amarea pulled her chair up beside Joey. “Leftovers?” she asked as she looked at his brown bag.
Joey shrugged; he was staring at Jimmy two tables down.
“What is it?” Amarea asked.
Joey shrugged again, taking Amarea’s lunch from her.
“Hey,” she cried, “That’s my lunch.”
Joey picked out an orange. “Duck,” he said. He pushed her under the table and hurled the orange at Jimmy. “FOOD FIGHT!” He yelled as he too ducked under the table. The cafeteria sprang into chaos, food and trays went flying. A dish of pudding landed with a squash beside Amarea.
“What did you do that for?” she asked.
Joey shrugged, “Thought it would be fun. Let’s get out of here.” Joey took her hand as he crawled under the table.
“Ew,” Amarea exclaimed when she placed her hand on a bun-less hamburger patty. When they reached the end of the table, the fire alarm began to ring. Everyone was being evacuated from the building. Joey rose, still holding Amarea’s hand. He began swinging it happily. He turned and gave her the biggest grin she had ever seen. “What?” she questioned. He just shrugged and grinned.
Amarea was not surprised when she heard Joey being called to the office after the so called fire drill. His punishment, she found out later, was to clean up the cafeteria.
“It was worth it,” he said on the phone later that night.
“Silly boy,” Amarea replied. “Sometimes I really wonder about you.”
The next day, Joey came to school with a black eye.
“What happened?” Amarea tried to touch his eye.
Joey simply shrugged, “You should see the other guy.” The other guy showed up the following day. He had stitches in his upper lip and eyebrow. Amarea recognized him. It was Jimmy Cho.
“You did that to him?” she questioned.
“Why?” She asked.
Just some girl, he replied sheepishly.
You were fighting over Maddie. That’s so dumb! She’s so in lust with you, Amarea said with disgust.
Yeah, Maddie. Joey cleared his throat, “So she’s in lust with me?”
“Yup,” she replied, “She writes Maddie Moore all over her folders.”
“Really?” he asked.
“No, you silly boy,” she said, pushing her notebook farther down in her backpack. “Do you really like her that much?”
Is she really worth all this? She reached up and touched his swollen eye.
“Yeah, she is,” Joey replied pulling away from Amarea. The bell rang and they headed off to class. At lunch, Amarea couldn’t find Joey. It was weird for him not to be there. She took her lunch to the elementary school playground behind the gym. It was peaceful there; she could think there. Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She opened it and saw a text message from Joey.
“Gone home, call you later,” the text read.
Amarea pushed the call button. Joey’s mother answered the phone.
“I’m sorry dear,” she said, “Joey can’t come to the phone right now.”
“But,” Amarea began.
“He’ll contact you in a few days,” she replied and ended the call.
“But,” Amarea said into the dead phone.
Amarea headed to the front office to talk with Mrs. Dane. Mrs. Dane was the pulse of the school; she always knew what was going on.
“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Dane said when Amarea entered the office.
Amarea was only slightly ticked two people had called her “dear” in the last five minutes. “What happened to Joey?” she asked a bit too crossly.
Mrs. Dane cocked her head and gave Amarea a weird look.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Dane,” Amarea began, “Joey texted me and told me he went home. Then his mom answered his phone and said he was going to be out for a couple of days.” She paused as Mrs. Dane nodded confirmation. “What happened?”
“Officially,” Mrs. Dane said, “He got in a fight.”
“What?” Amarea said, “With who?”
“Unofficially,” Mrs. Dane continued, “That kid’s got issues.”
“Joey’s my best friend,” Amarea said, tears sprang to her eyes.
“Yes, dear,” she consoled, “But he’s such a trouble maker.”
“It’s all Maddie’s fault,” Amarea said, “It’s all her fault.”
“Well, it’s not up to me to say,” Mrs. Dane said, “But if I were your mom, I’d make you stay away from that boy.”
“Why would you say that?” Amarea said. “When no one else would be my friend, Joey was there for me. I can talk to him, he’s there for me, and he’s my friend; which is more than I can say about 99% of the people in this school! Joey doesn’t even notice that I’m sick. He doesn’t care that I have no hair. He’s my friend. I can talk to him. I know him. I know his thoughts. He’s a great guy.” Amarea was exhausted, tears flowed down her cheeks.
“There, there, dear,” Mrs. Dane consoled as she patted Amarea’s shoulder. “You think he’s a good person.”
“You don’t understand,” she continued, “I can talk to him. I know his thoughts.”
“Yes, yes, dear,” she replied, “I understand. Maybe you two are good for each other. Maybe you can help him be better.”
The last bell of the day rang. Amarea pushed past Mrs. Dane, “You just don’t understand.” She headed straight towards Maddie. Amarea bumped into Maddie and sent her books flying. “Sorry,” Amarea muttered hatefully under her breath as she hurried away.
Amarea didn’t talk to Joey for the rest of the week. He had been suspended until Monday. On Monday, she really didn’t want to see him.
Fighting over a girl, how stupid is that? Amarea was still mad about the whole incident.
Depends on the girl, I guess, Joey replied casually.
Joey? Amarea hadn’t planned on being so excited to hear his voice or rather his thoughts. Her heart raced as she turned to look for him. She found him in the entryway. His black eye was now a sickly yellow color. He walked up to her and put his arm around her.
Did you miss me? Joey grinned.
No. She lied.
Not even a little bit? Joey leaned into her.
To be honest, I can’t believe how stupid you are, Amarea stated.
What’s that supposed to mean? Joey asked.
You got in another fight over Maddie, Amarea said.
That’s so immature, Amarea said. She rolled her eyes and pulled away from him.
I guess you wouldn’t like it if someone fought over you, Joey replied.
Seriously? Who would fight over me? Amarea spat out.
You’re such a jerk, Amarea yelled.
You’re ungrateful, Joey stated flatly.
Ungrateful? For what? She asked.
Joey shrugged, never mind. I’ve got to get to class. Joey refused to let her inside his head the rest of the day. He sang theme songs to various television shows all day long. The following day he sang every Beatles’ song he could remember, by Wednesday he was tired of singing. He decided to answer Amarea’s question. She’d been asking the same question for days.
I can’t say I understand the question, Joey said.
What part of the question do you not understand? Amarea asked.
Well, all of it, I guess, he admitted.
How can you not understand a question as simple as this one? Amarea giggled.
How can I not not understand a question as simple as this one? Joey asked, his brow furrowing.
That’s what I said only one less not, she replied.
One less knot? Joey asked.
Not knot! NOT! Amarea called out.
What are you talking about, and why are you yelling at me? Joey asked.
Are you always this difficult? She asked.
Wasn’t that the first question you asked? Joey smiled.
It was, Amarea beamed, happy to know the conversation had made the way back to the original question.
You really are weird; you know that? Joey asked.
I do, she replied.
The answer is yes. Now get out of my head and leave me alone, Joey admonished.
Not until you promise you’re going to miss me? Amarea blushed at her brashness.
NO! You are such a pest! Don’t you have anything better to do? Joey asked.
In the middle of math class, no, she stated.
Well I do, I need to concentrate! I’m not as smart as SOME people I know. I actually have to pay attention, he replied.
Maddie is wearing that blue dress you like, Amarea called out.
“Oh will you please SHUT UP!”
“Mr. Moore,” Mrs. Righman said, “Did you just tell me to shut up?”
“Oh crap,” Joey said, “did I say that out loud?”
“Yes, you did,” she answered. “I believe you need to go have a talk with Mrs. Humphries.”
Thanks a whole lot, Joey shot out.
For what? Amarea asked innocently.
Don’t act all innocent. Don’t talk to me ever again! Joey said.
Fine! Who needs you anyway? Amarea called back.
As he trudged down the hallway, Joey wondered what punishment Mrs. Humphries would dump on him this time. He could always expect detention or some other pleasant reward every time he visited with her. In fact, as the tally went, he had more detentions than Chris Jacobs, the 12th grader who was the “worst kid in school.” He washed the cafeteria tables so many times he knew all the graffiti. Some of the writings were from the 80’s.
“Mr. Moore,” Mrs. Dane the school secretary said, “what a pleasant surprise. It’s been what, a whole week since our last visit.”
To be fair, Jimmy was asking for a jab in the nose when he made that crack about Amarea sun tanning at midnight. It’s not like she was going to punch anyone’s lights out, so Joey did it for her. Joey spent the next two days at home, but it was worth it.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Joey said. “But this is different. I wasn’t even talking to Mrs. Righman.”
“She’s waiting for you.” she motioned towards Mrs. Humphries office.
“Have a seat, Joseph,” Mrs. Humphries began, scowling over a manila folder, “I get tired of seeing you every week.”
“Trust me,” Joey responded, “I get tired of being here.”
“I’ve contacted your parents,” Joey tried not to cringe; “They are on their way to my office.”
“But it was a misunderstanding.” Joey defended himself. “I wasn’t even talking to Mrs. Righman. I was talking to…myself.”
“Joey, you’re a good kid, but you put yourself in the middle of things. Add to that the fact that you always seem to get in trouble defending certain students.”
The way she said certain made it sound like a dirty word. What was so wrong with defending hairless weaklings?
Joey’s parents arrived. Sadly, Mrs. Moore gave him a weak smile, and his dad just looked at him and shook his head.
“Let me see, your list of offenses,” Mrs. Humphries said the word with a funny sort of accent. “You’ve been caught in the girl’s bathroom three times. Is there something wrong with the boys’ facilities?”
“No stall doors,” Joey replied. His father stifled a chuckle.
“You started a food fight in the cafeteria last week. I believe you threw an orange at Jimmy Cho’s head,” she stated.
“He deserved it!” Joey said, “He called…” he paused.
“Amarea a name,” Mrs. Humphries finished, “Yes, it’s all in the official record. We still have gravy stains on the ceiling.”
“Ew,” his parents said together.
“You’ve skipped numerous classes,” she continued.
“But,” Joey began.
She raised her hand, “Yes, I know, you’ve always had a good reason. You’ve been kicked off the bus four times.”
“You don’t ride the bus,” his mom said.
“Amarea’s,” Joey mumbled.
“How are you even getting on the bus?” Mrs. Humphries asked. “Mr. Pounds is our best driver.”
“I leave class early,” Joey admitted, “And get on before everyone else does.”
“But why?” she questioned.
“To make sure,” Joey began.
“Let me guess, to make sure no one messes with Amarea,” she finished.
There was silence for several minutes.
“Joey,” she began, “You need a different hobby, something that doesn’t get you into so much trouble. Last month, you punched a student. I am sure that you think he deserved it, and if it had been on school grounds, you would have been expelled. Last week, you punched another student. You received the maximum punishment that time,” she paused, “Joey’s newest action was to tell his teacher to shut up in the middle of her lesson.”
There was no gasp or shocked look on his parent’s faces.
“Joey has been doing moderately well in his classes,” she stated. “He is not involved in any extracurricular activities that I am aware of. I feel that it would benefit him greatly to have an outlet,” she paused.
His parents looked at each other, unsure of what Mrs. Humphries was getting at.
“I think Joey would benefit from a trip to the local hospital,” Mrs. Humphries said.
His mom gasped.
Before Mrs. Humphries could continue, his mom said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Humphries, but you think my son needs to be institutionalized?”
“No,” Mrs. Humphries responded, smiling. “I have some information on a new program that is sponsored by the hospital.”
“A program?” his mom asked, “Do you think Joey’s sick or on drugs?”
His dad laughed and his mom elbowed him in the ribs.
“No,” Mrs. Humphries said calmly, “It’s a program where students volunteer at the hospital.” She pushed a flyer across her desk.
Be A Buddy Volunteers needed at Sandy Springs Children’s Hospital. Volunteers must be able to read to, play games with, and mentor residents. Volunteers needed daily after school and on Saturdays for activities. For more information contact Sally Worthington, Volunteer Coordinator.
“And you think this will help Joey?” his mom asked.
“Yes, I do,” she replied. “It seems like a good program to help kids get back on track by giving service to those who really need it.”
“Well,” his mom said, “We’ll discuss this tonight. Thank you so much for your concern.”
“I’m here to help,” Mrs. Humphries responded kindly, “I simply want Joey to succeed.” Mrs. Humphries showed Joey and his parents out of her office. She shook their hands and wished them a pleasant day.
“You’re doing it,” his mom said as soon as they left the school building.
“No, I’m not,” Joey said, “It’s stupid.”
“You’re doing it,” his dad said.
“I thought you said we would talk about it tonight,” Joey said.
“We talked about it and decided it would be for the best,” his dad said.
“When did you talk about it? We just left Mrs. Humphries’ office two seconds ago,” Joey stated.
“Just then,” his mom said, “in the two seconds it took to leave the office.”
“Whatever! You can’t make me go,” Joey said defiantly.
“Mrs. Moore,” Mrs. Dane called as she came through the school door. “Mrs. Humphries wanted you to have this.” She handed his mom a piece of paper.
“You’re doing it!” his mom stated, handing the paper to his dad.
“Definitely doing it!” his dad agreed, handing the paper to Joey.
The paper was a reality check: Current Demerits: 27. Demerits required for expulsion: 30. For each eight hours worked at Be a Buddy, one demerit will be subtracted. “I’ll do it,” Joey surrendered.
When Joey got home, his mom made him call the Be a Buddy Program Director, Sally Worthington. Mrs. W., as she wanted to be called, was overjoyed at Joey’s willingness to start. She gave him directions on how to get to the center by bus. She expected him promptly at 9:00 a.m. She told him to wear something comfortable he wouldn’t mind getting dirty. Joey wondered what he had gotten himself into.