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On the corner of Old Connecticut Path and Hardy, Shane met up with Paige. A feeling of relief came over him, as he saw her coming out of the corner of his eye a few moments before she saw him. Finally someone who understands, Shane thought. Maybe she can make some sense of my crazy-ass daydreams. Or, at least she’ll listen. Shane and Paige had been friends since kindergarten, and they shared a mutual respect that was rare in a middle school where most boys viciously teased and pretended to hate most girls, and vice versa.

“Damn Shane, I can hear you draggin’ your feet a block away! Even before I saw you, I knew’d it was you.”

“Hey buddy,” Shane replied. “Still tired I guess. Couldn’t sleep, woke up too early . . . I think I was walkin’ in my sleep on my route this morning. The Coach freaked me out somethin’ awful.”

“Really?” Paige’s dark brown eyes widened with interest. “What’d he do?”

“Well . . .” Shane hesitated. He always told Paige everything, but this was more bizarre than usual. “This is gonna sound crazy but, I think he caught me daydreamin’, and like . . . he scared me so bad . . . I kinda started dreamin’ on him. I mean like, right while he was talkin’ at me.”

Paige looked at him quizzically. “Huh?”

“Yeah, ya know, like . . . I could see him and hear him yellin’ at me, but then he got all blurry and hazy, like a . . . a dream. And his face changed too, it kinda blurred into an old-guy-Coach, or like an old relative or something.” Shane peered at his confidant, hoping she wouldn’t think he was a total freak.

“Uhh, sounds kinda nutso to me, Shane,” she replied. “You been smokin’ some of Bobby’s grass?”

“Very funny, just forget about it, ya freakin’ retard!” Shane scowled.

“Okay! Mellow out, ya chucklehead,” she answered with a slight grin. The awkward pair schlepped on to school in silence, red cheeked and puffing visible breaths in the frigid morning air. Perhaps part of their successful friendship was due to their ability to stick together in silence. This set them apart from the typical middle school maturity level of arguing and dirt slinging that most kids prided themselves on. They could toss around profanities with the best of them, but Shane and Paige had an unspoken bond from a lifetime of close friendship where they protected each other from that.

Shane sat next to Paige in their first class, social studies, which helped him stay focused and awake for at least the first part of the day. His attention still wandered off at times. Other times, he sank in his chair, propping his forehead on his hand to try to hide the fact that his eyes were getting too heavy to stay open. But in this class, Paige could keep him in check. They sat toward the back of the class, so she could poke him when he gazed off out the window daydreaming when Mr. Golasso wasn’t looking, or kick his feet when he leaned on his hand and his breathing got louder. She could always recognize when he was falling asleep.

Today Mr. Golasso was going on at great length about their new family research project. “. . . This project will count for a full quarter of your grade this term and is to be taken very seriously. All students must research their family line and submit a five-page research paper addressing two main queries: how did your family change our rich American history, and how American history has changed your family?”

Shane’s attention was fading in and out, just barely enough to get the main idea and spin a new mental picture of how he might have a long lost relative who was a World War II fighter pilot, or maybe spy in the Revolutionary War. He’d skimmed his textbook already, and had a genuine interest in American history, especially as it related to Boston and it’s role in the American Revolution, but as always he couldn’t stay with the dry, monotone lecture in the classroom so his attention went its own way.

“. . . and when you’ve compiled as much research data as possible,” Mr. Golasso blathered on, “you need to consider all historical events on America’s timeline, and how they align with your family history’s timeline, and deeply reflect on how these lines affect each other in your narrative which will be due no later than . . .”

The bell snapped Shane out of his seat, eager to get out of the class. Paige rolled her eyes at the huge assignment, and muttered, “See you at lunch,” as they filed out into the hall.

Shane made it through his morning classes without being noticed, which was a daily goal he was usually glad to achieve. He entered the noisy cafeteria, focused only on his safe little unpopular corner where he sat with his two friends. He slipped into his regular lunch spot next to Jimmer and across from Paige and opened his sack lunch.

“Anything good today, jerk-off?” Jimmer asked kiddingly.

“Nah, just baloney, kinda like your freakin’ head, ya skid,” Shane fired back.

The two boys had played soccer together for years and shared a common sarcasm that was a bit harsher than the friendship he had with Paige.

“Hah-hah, back at ya, spaz!” Jimmer retreated by flipping Shane a middle finger and shoving half his sandwich in his mouth.

“Sucks about the new history project huh?” Paige mentioned between bites. “That is gonna take a ton o’ work! Five pages? Reflect on how family and timelines affect each other? What a load o’ crap! How freakin’ beat is that?” Paige vented.

“Actually, I didn’t get that part,” Shane admitted. “Doesn’t ‘reflect’ mean to like, remember stuff that happened to you? How do we do that if we weren’t even born?”

“Reflection means like sunlight shining on glass, or like a mirror. Golasso’s a moron,” Jimmer snapped.

“Hey Paige, you still got that dictionary?” asked Shane.

“Yeah, but it sucks. S’posed to be a pocket dictionary, but all the definitions are like three words, it never helps.”

“Aw what the hell, look up reflect. Jus’ for shits and giggles,” Shane suggested. Never wanting to let her friend down, Paige pulled out the small book and thumbed through the pages with a hopeless expression looking for the word reflect.

“Oh, here it is. Reflect. Whoa, twelve definitions! This book never has that many, check it out,” Paige pointed at the list of alternate definitions. The boys glanced at it upside-down from across the table but were both too lazy to move.

“Aw, jus’ tell us,” Jimmer whined.

“Okay, okay,” Paige continued. “Most of ’em start with ‘to cast back,’ like casting back light or an image . . . but there’s a couple different ones too. Like this one: ’to think, ponder, or meditate—as in to reflect on one’s virtues and flaws.’ Oh and this last one: ’to give a particular impression—as in: The test will reflect your knowledge.’”

Shane and Jimmer both looked at Paige with slight frowns, as if this was a more intellectual topic than they had bargained for during a lunch period.

“Well, I guess it just means we have to think really hard about whatever we can find . . . and write whatever the hell we want. Damned if I know,” Paige concluded.

Before they knew it, the bell rang signaling the trio to get up and rush off to their separate classes.

“Good luck in your game, Shane!” Paige called as they went separate ways in the hall.

“Try not to get your legs broke with those JVs,” Jimmer added with a trace of jealousy in his voice. He was not called up as Shane was, and still played on the seventh and eighth grade modified soccer team.

Shane just nodded, put his head down, and dragged himself to class. He had forgotten how much he liked away games, and before he knew it he was getting out of class early for the bus ride to Natick.

Too bad chicken pox took out the whole varsity midfield. The coach looks mad as hell to have to use me at varsity center-mid. I’ll show him. He doesn’t know what I can do on the field. We kick off, and I’m running the show, directing the midfield, faking my mark out of his jock, threading the needle with a perfect through-pass, then I break off and sprint an overlap run just in time to strike the high cross with a diving header! Goal in the side netting! What a play! The varsity guys gather in the center circle to give me high-fives, but look at me kinda funny like they’re wondering ‘who the hell is this skinny JV kid!?’ I bet they’ll remember me now. Who knows, it’s early in the game, maybe I’ll get a hat trick and be in the paper. Whole school’d flip right out if . . .

“Sullivan!” Kirk, the captain of the JV team was staring at Shane over the back of the bus seat. Shane was daydreaming while feeling the sun on his face in his window seat of the bumpy bus ride. “Lace up your cleats, we’re almost there. JVs play on the upper field, you’re carryin’ the balls, and we warm-up right away, so hustle your ass up there.”

“Sure thing,” Shane responded, looking down. He was a bit embarrassed and wondered what Kirk thought of him just now. Crap, maybe he thought I was sleeping. Or, no. He probably knew I was daydreaming ‘cause he gave me a job. People always give ya jobs just when ya don’t need one. Or maybe he even thought I was getting focused on the game, I coulda’ been doin’ that.

During the game, Shane played about half the time and split shifts with the left and right winged defenders. Although he wished for center midfield, he was at the bottom of the totem pole and put in at random times when the defense got tired. Although the Framingham Flyers were losing almost immediately, Shane was making tough plays and not letting anyone get by him.

Gotta keep it up, fast feet, smart passes, stop everything . . . Shane mentally coached himself while on the field. At least they haven’t scored on my shift, so even if we lose, the coaches will know I’m a solid player. Just as he finished the thought and began backpedaling, a Natick midfielder streaked to the corner and lofted a beautiful cross. The ball soared to the middle of the goalmouth as Shane followed his mark toward it. Shane slipped as they both leapt for the ball, falling to his right knee instead of jumping. His opponent misplayed the header, which hit the bridge of his nose and went straight down rather than at the goal. But, because of Shane’s awkward posture recovering from his slip, the loose ball hit his back, bounced on the heel of his cleat, and rolled in the goal.

The final score was four to two. Shane had not caused the loss by any means, and played quite well other than the fluke own-goal, but he looked as if he had just lost the state finals singlehandedly. He would replay his mistake in his mind and beat himself up for hours. To make matters worse, the junior varsity had to walk down to the varsity game and sit together to watch the rest of their second half, which Framingham also lost, two to zero. A double loss to Natick, Framingham High’s rival school. This was a monumentally bad situation, and every player knew it.

The boys were told to sit on a small hillside near the buses. Both teams knew a good rant from the Coach was coming. Coach Collins and Coach Morgan approached and Collins tore into it with a piercing voice toward both teams.

“What in the hell have we been practicing here gentlemen!? Communicate on defense, mids run the whole field, work the four-four-two, keep the ball on the ground, can’t you guys remember what we do every day!? Christ, maybe we shouldn’t even have practice if ya gonna be as embarrassing as you were today. Ya learn by doin’ that’s what my great-granddad used to say! You can’t just glide through it in practice, ya gotta do it for real in competition if ya want to truly understand why and how we run the goddamn plays!” Shane’s eyes flashed up at the coach’s face. He ranted on, but Shane was frozen by those last words.

‘Learn by doin!?’ That’s what the creepy ghost face told me when I was all spaced out at the coach’s house! Shane’s mind was racing. He just said that was from his great-grandfather! Holy crap, did I see his great-grandfather’s face through his eyes!? I couldn’t have dreamed it. I have no idea how to even make that up! Damn, I gotta tell Paige. I must be losin’ it!

The bus got back to school after dark, and it was eight o’clock by the time Shane walked home. He called Paige as soon as he could, and she came right over. Both Shane’s parents were working as usual, Bobby was out partying, Jeannie was in the living room studying, and Tammy stayed in her room talking on the phone. Shane met Paige at the door anxiously and they passed through the house unnoticed and climbed up the ladder-stairs to his room with Paige asking, “What is it, what the hell is it?”

“Okay, listen.” Shane flopped on Bobby’s bottom bunk, while Paige sat down on his old wooden chair. “Remember this morning, when I told you I was daydreaming and I thought I saw Coach turn into another guy?” he asked eagerly. Paige barely started nodding as Shane kept babbling. “Well he said something to me. Like a message . . . like advice. He told me that ‘ya gotta live through it,’ and to ‘go for it,’ and ‘that’s how you truly understand stuff in your life’ or somethin’. I didn’t tell you that part this morning ‘cause you said I was smokin’ grass, but I was gonna tell you, I swear!”

“Okay, calm down!” Paige could sense his urgency. She got up, spun the desk chair around backwards and straddled it. Her wavy black hair fell all around her shoulders as she moved and her round, dark, caring eyes focused on Shane as she came to rest. “Just take a deep breath, and slow down. I’m listening for real this time,” she said with a soothing tone. Shane had to make an effort not to be distracted by Paige’s beauty, which was happening more and more as she developed into an attractive young woman right before his eyes.

“Okay. So both teams lost and really stunk up the field today, I mean, we played wicked bad. So Coach Collins sits us all on this hill by the bus for a serious ass-chewin’. I mean, he is yellin’ like a bastard. And in his rant, he says the same exact words that the creepy blurry guy said this morning! And he says that his great-grandfather used to say that! Same words. Same thing. ’Member, I told you this morning he looked like an old guy, like someone related, didn’t I?” Shane questioned himself in his excitement.

“Same words? No kiddin’? His great-grandfather?” Paige sat up straighter and had a slightly stunned expression.

“What? You . . . do you believe me?” Shane asked his friend hopefully.

“Yeah. I believe you,” she replied. “I just, well, ya just gave me a chill right down my back, Shane. It’s just wicked spooky, but you couldn’t make that up, it’s just too . . . real. I can tell in your heart, it’s real.” Paige tilted her head slightly and looked at him differently. “So what do you think it was? I mean, ya think you saw a ghost?”

“I guess I did,” Shane answered. “But it wasn’t like the stories of those old haunted buildings in Boston where people see the ghosts of a writer, or a mayor, or some kid and get all scared outta their minds. It was like I could see into his past or his family history, and well, I mean . . .”

“Go on,” Paige coaxed with a serious look in her eyes.

“Well, I think part of his history had a message. Maybe a message, just for me,” Shane felt embarrassed to share the crazy ideas he had been thinking.

Paige paused, trying to find a way to make sense of it all. “Oh, man. Do you think you are like, clairvoyant or something?”

“What’s that mean?”

“Looked it up once. It’s like a sixth sense, and some people can use it to get information about people, or places. Like ESP. Only, I think it tells ya what’s going to happen, or what they’re thinking now.”

They stayed up for a couple of hours playing records and trying figure out what happened. They heard Shane’s father come home from the pub after his three-to-eleven shift. From the sound of the old floorboards, he proceeded straight into his room to bed. That signaled both of them that it was getting late.

“I dunno,” Shane muttered. “But whatever this is, we gotta keep it under wraps. Anybody who ever talks about stuff like this is usually seen as a witch or a phony or just plain strange.”

“Okay,” Paige said casually, standing up and stretching her legs.

Shane stood and approached her, grabbing her hand and holding it in both of his. This gesture brought them toe-to-toe, and certainly got her attention as she almost lost her breath when she faced him.

“I mean it, Paige. This is just us. Nobody can know, unless I’m ready to tell.”

“You got it” was all she could think of to say. She started to lean toward him slightly, pursing her lips a bit, when Shane broke the contact and climbed up into his loft bunk, oblivious to her intentions.

“Thanks, buddy. Better take the trellis, Pops doesn’t know you’re up here.” Paige wrapped herself up in her coat and prepared to leave the Sullivan house the traditional way teenagers had for many years, if not generations. She gently passed through the bathroom to the girls’ side. She stepped lightly to not trigger any creaky boards.

By this time, Jeannie had made it upstairs and was getting undressed for bed, and Tammy was still flirting on the phone in her robe by the open window. Despite her shivering, she blew her smoke out into the freezing air to avoid any parental nagging. This was a good sign for Paige. The open window aided her effort to make a noiseless escape.

“Hey. Your pops is home,” Paige whispered as she entered their room. “I’m takin’ the trellis.”

“Okay Paigey. G’night,” Tammy whispered back and waved dramatically.

“Careful, it’s wet,” Jeannie added. Paige tucked her head under the open window, stepped over the sill, and out of sight into the bitter darkness.

Both upstairs bedrooms had windows right over a porch roof that stretched the length of the back of the house. The porch roof was easy to walk on, even hang out on in warmer weather, but on the girls’ side there was a sturdy, broad-based trellis that was originally part of a larger structure for a grape arbor that never lasted due to lack of care. The result was wooden grid, painted white to match the house, with no plant life growing on it as obstacles. It was easily usable as a ladder, and just a few steps from the girls’ window. As the oldest, Bobby had initially capitalized on this opportunity by using it as a late night exit, especially for girlfriends.

The Sullivan house was known as a hangout place and a party house due to their parents’ late work schedules. Bobby was a varsity athlete even as a freshman, so teammates dropping in for beers, cheerleaders coming over to hang out, parties with teens smoking marijuana and fooling around had been commonplace since Shane was in elementary school. And now in recent years, with Bobby growing into the role of star athlete in three sports, he had become notoriously promiscuous and the trellis had seen more traffic from girls who needed to sneak out. Jeannie and Tammy contributed to the trellis’ use as well. They had both become sexually active early in high school, being surrounded by upperclassmen. Many of the older boys who met the legal drinking age of eighteen were happy to help them indulge. It was a time when early adulthood seemed to come even earlier, and it surrounded Shane’s home like a smoke-scented fog, earning their address the nickname Sullivan’s Hotel.

Shane eventually drifted off to sleep, only to suddenly glance at the clock to see that he had once again awakened just before his five o’clock alarm went off. He twisted the knob to shut it off and his daily routine had begun. He slipped out to meet Hatcher, packed his papers carefully for his route, and set out on his daily path, alone with his thoughts. No sports radio or weather reports on his transistor today. Too much to think about. Shane went through the tasks of his route almost absentmindedly as he pondered.

How in the hell did I do that? I gotta figure this out so I know what the hell is wrong with me. Let’s see here, blurred vision, there was like a shiny light, a dead great-grandfather, ‘learn by doin’ . . . I guess if I take that advice now, I’ll figure out more if it happens again. I gotta do another one, have another vision. But how? Maybe make it like last time, redo what was going on then? Not like copyin’ that time, but . . . well, I was freezin’, tired as hell from luggin’ my carrier bag up Waverly Hill, and Coach scared the crap outta me ‘cause I was daydreamin’. I guess I could do all that again somehow. Cold, tired, and daydreamin’ happen to me ‘bout every day. Jus’ gotta put ‘em all together and see if I can have another vision. Hmm, might need some help for that. I know I can trust Paige. Bobby and the girls are out though; they’d jus’ tease me forever. I wonder who else I could let in? Holy crap. Last paper.

Shane’s route had seemingly completed itself in a brief moment as he was wrapped up in his thoughts. Shane knew that he had a deeper level of focused thought, and fantasy in a way, because he knew at this point in his routine each day that he had to turn it off and focus on the upcoming day. Slipping back into the house, getting all set for school, breakfast, the woodstove, and unfinished homework all needed Shane’s attention, so he put his day together mentally as he walked home in the dawning neighborhood.

Lunchtime was the next chance Shane had to really talk to Paige.

“I gotta do it again, Paige,” Shane explained, sitting at their usual table. “If my only vision told me to learn by doin’ it, then . . . I gotta keep doin’ it. I gotta have more of ’em.”

“I guess I kinda thought that part was like, ya know, advice for life in general. Not like, how to see more old dead guys talk to ya,” she replied.

“It is. But I think it’s both,” Shane responded. “I was thinkin’ on my route this mornin’ about how I had the vision. I was outta breath, had no sleep from tryin’ to study while Bobby made noise with some bimbo, and I was freezin’ my ass off when it happened.”

“Don’t forget daydreamin’,” Paige interjected. “I know you, Shane. This had to come from that far-out imagination of yours. I mean, I know it was a real vision and all, but what were you thinking about when you had it?”

“What vision? What did he have?” Jimmer had been approaching with his lunch tray from the side. Neither had noticed as he picked up Paige’s last sentence and sat down, eagerly diving in to their conversation.

Paige froze, knowing the seriousness on Shane’s request for secrecy. She peered at Shane not knowing what to say. Slowly, Shane nodded toward Jimmer a few times while pointing his eyes and his eyebrows upward. Paige intuited this correctly as a signal to spill everything.

“Welll, umm . . . Shane had a vision, and no foolin’ around, ’cause it’s REAL.” Paige glared at Jimmer in defense of her friend’s sensitive feelings, preventing any immediate teasing that was sure to follow. Jimmer, successfully intimidated, barely squeaked out his response.

“’Kay, jeez. You guys can tell me, I won’t say nothin’. I just don’t wanna be left out is all. So, what’d ya see, what’d ya see?” Jimmer begged. From that point on, he was in.

“Coach Collins’s great-grandfather. An’ he said some stuff that he used to say when he was alive. Got proof,” said Shane. Just then he snapped his fingers and blurted, “Oh, I was scared! I was daydreaming, but the coach scared the crap outta me in the dark. That’s when everything got blurry and hazy.”

“Whoa, no kiddin’?” Jimmer’s eyes widened.

“Told ya it’s real,” Paige said. “Look, if we’re gonna plan another one, we need to figure out how to have all those things happen at once. Hopefully before ten, I got a curfew last night for bein’ out too late.”

“Alright,” Shane began. “I got the tired part covered, I didn’t sleep hardly at all last night. Cold is easy, the weather’s freezin’ an’ I’ll stop dressin’ warm.”

“And you can control when and what you daydream about,” Paige added. “But how do you control when you get scared?”

“Aw, easy one!” Jimmer chipped in. “Pick a fight. Ya always feel scared when you’re right about to be smashed on the jaw. Like, blood boilin’ scared. What about a varsity player; Smitty’s got a hell of a temper.”

“Hmm, not bad.” Shane liked the idea. “I see him after practice a lot of times when I’m waiting for Jeannie to get done with the swim team. By then it’s dark, cold, I’m extra tired, an’ he’s always teasin’ everybody. I can just tease back.”

“Yeah, but you know you’re volunteering for like, a black eye or a broken nose, right?” Paige asked. “I mean, that is kinda crazy, just for a vision.”

“Yeah, well. We’ll see,” Shane replied looking down.

Practice was long and tough, due to both teams’ embarrassing losses the previous day. If that wasn’t enough, Shane was caught daydreaming during a shooting drill and had to run sprints in the middle of both the varsity and the junior varsity practice fields. He seemed to daydream more when he wasn’t well rested, which now led to sprints and even more exhaustion, as if his flaws were ganging up on him. A slight, cold rain during the last half-hour scrimmage soaked Shane to the bone, making his plan more complete than even he could have imagined.

He walked back into the high school building shaking, soaking wet, and more tired than he could ever remember feeling. He slumped into his usual spot near a stairwell by the main entrance where he waited for Jeannie to come out of the girls’ locker room from swim team practice. Here he could peer out the windows of the front doors, or do homework on the floor while he waited. Today, like many other cold days he was grateful for the old iron radiator aligned nearby on the wall. He forgot about the ‘cold’ element of his plan while he shivered and warmed himself up by it.

From this daily behavior, Shane had discovered that if he flattened his back against the wall in just the right spot, and craned his neck toward the locker room, he could see glimpses of the high school girls passing from the showers to the lockers to get dressed whenever the old oak doors swung open from girls going in and out. The old school building did not have the best design for privacy, but Shane kept it to himself as if he were the protector of a secret.

Just think what would happen if I told Jimmer about this view, Shane thought as the door swung open and curiosity got the better of him. He’d probably tell all the guys and show up here droolin’ like a bastard an’ makin’ a big fuss. We’d get busted for sure, and the principal’d give us all in-school suspension and everybody’d know we’re horndogs.

The doors swung again, revealing Jeannie’s best friend Shauna. Shauna’s locker was at the end of the locker aisle nearest the shower, aligned just right with the door opening. Instead of swinging shut this time, the door was caught by the swim coach, who assumed that no one, certainly not a curious boy, was hiding by a dark corner in the deserted hallway at this late hour. As she partially blocked the doorway and shouted announcements at the team, there was enough of an opening for Shane to see Shauna dry off, drop her towel, quickly pull on her bra, and look around for her panties. Shane stared undetected as he felt himself getting hard, and rationalized in his mind. Sure it’s a thrill to see pretty girls naked. But I guess I’m kinda used to it. With my shameless sisters fighting for the shower every morning, and Bobby’s foolin’ around right below my loft bunk when Ma an’ Pops are out, I’ve seen a lot that would make most fourteen-year-olds lose it for sure. I can handle it. I . . .

Just then Shauna turned her bare backside and completely bent down to the ground to search her duffel bag, as if showing off her flexibility. Shane gasped, then looked away. Any shred of mystery that her athletically toned body had held for him as he had watched Jeannie’s swim meets was now gone. Shane felt guilty. He mumbled mentally . . . whoa, I shouldn’t o’ looked. Don’t look, no more looking. Bad idea.

The sound of some varsity players coming down the hall captured Shane’s attention as he remembered his plan. Maybe the locker room distraction or knowing that he was about to get hurt, or a combination of both, made his heartbeat pound harder and faster as he got up to approach them. It was the goalkeeper, Smitty, and the defensive line. They looked gigantic having just hit the weight room after the varsity practice. The shadows of the most violent threat in Middlesex County high school sports filled the dimly lit hallway. Although Shane nearly matched their height, he felt like a lanky child in front of them.

“Hey Sully, score anymore goals for the other team?” Smitty teased, playing into Shane’s hand. He was expecting an easy target, as Shane usually slumped his head down, too nervous to respond to varsity teasing.

“At least I didn’t let the weakest pussies in the league score on me twice, ya candy-ass!” Shane shot back, hiding his fear with a frown.

“What!? What the hell’d you jus’ say to me, ya lil’ fuck-head!?” Smitty yelled, grabbing Shane by the jacket collar. Shane turned red as a rush of nervous energy came over him.

“I . . . I . . . said you’re the pussy who lets pussies score on ya, you candy-ass fag,” Shane muttered, barely getting the words out. It had started again. Shane’s nervous scowl slowly shifted into an awkward smile at the worst possible moment. He felt successful as Smitty’s image began to blur. The area around him appeared to fog up, and Smitty’s silhouette began to glow with a corona of light. It was just like the first vision. Jeannie and Shauna came out of the locker room to the sound of Smitty’s voice booming threatening words at Shane.

“That’s it! You’re dead, ya little shit! You’re gonna need a medic to find all your teeth!” His words froze everyone there, yet they were merely garbled sounds trailing off to Shane. He just stared into Smitty’s eyes, as if on the edge of his seat captivated by the best movie he’d ever seen.

“What the hell is wrong with you, asshole? Got nothin’ to say now, huh freak?” Shane raised his hands halfway up to attempt a boxer’s stance but he was too focused on his gaze into Smitty’s eyes.

“No! You . . . don’t!” Jeannie screamed as the behemoth raised a fist.

His other hand choked Shane’s collar as he punched Shane’s face with all his might. Shane heard a loud crack as he received the blow. The shock and adrenaline were so immediate that he didn’t sense much initial pain. Feeling a warm fluid trickling down his face, he touched it to see if his nose was running or bleeding. His fingers found his face already swollen and slippery with blood. The sight of blood on them made Shane realize feelings of pain and dizziness. His whole body crumbled and collapsed on the floor. Smitty, now enraged, showed no mercy to his unconscious victim. He put one knee down and pounded Shane’s chest with another blow. At this point, Smitty’s friends pulled him up and restricted his arms, understanding his temper and the damage he had already done. As they pulled him away, Smitty got off a kick to Shane’s stomach.

Jeannie and Shauna ran to attend to him, both crying and cursing at Smitty as the varsity boys backed him off. He had landed his first hit right under Shane’s left eye, which had blown up like a balloon. His nose gushed blood, and the strange smile remained on his face, which confused everyone who saw it.

As they applied ice, stroked his hair, and begged him to wake up, Coach Collins came around the corner and turned every head with his definitive, piercing voice.

“Smitty! Sullivan! ISS tomorrow! Everybody get the hell outta here and go home!”

Shane started to come to. As the coach noticed his injuries, his vital signs, and the two girls helping him up to get home, he said no more. Shauna and Jeannie each grabbed a wrist and draped Shane over their shoulders, dragging him to Jeannie’s car.

As she drove home, Jeannie fired off numerous questions drilling Shane on how this happened, peppered with curse words aimed at Smitty. Shane was in too much pain to answer any of it. His head rang like a fire alarm, and his face throbbed like he had never felt before.

“He’s got all his teeth!” Shauna called up to Jeannie from the backseat.

Jeannie drove a rusty, nine-year-old Rambler Classic with big bench style seats. This made it easy for Shane to lie flat on his back with his head in Shauna’s lap. “I don’t think his nose is broke, but it won’t stop bleeding!” Shauna was checking him frantically, sensing the seriousness of this emergency.

“Just keep pressure on it!” Jeannie yelled from the front, glancing in her rearview mirror.

Shane, on the other hand, was in shock and trying to ignore the pain by finding perverse pleasure from his physical contact with Shauna. His head rested on her toned thighs, covered with tight denim. He gazed up at her pretty face. She looked desperate to help him. Shauna’s left hand gently pinched his nose and caressed his face while her right hand felt over his ribs, stomach, and chest, searching for injuries she could report.

“No broken bones, I’m pretty sure!”

As the Rambler rumbled over the bumpy road, Shane focused on Shauna’s eyes and tried to think about how beautiful she was. It was a welcome diversion to the pain and panic of losing too much blood, so he leaned into her midsection as much as he could from his position. Shauna seemed to welcome this movement, propping him up slightly so that she could cradle him against her breast in a motherly way. She tried to sound soothing and not too nervous.

“You’ll be okay, Shane. Just relax.” As if in response, his eyes rolled back and he passed out again.

When he awoke next, Shane was surrounded by his sisters, Shauna, Paige, Bobby, and Bobby’s latest date. Everyone was staring at him as his eyes slowly regained focus and adjusted to the light of the living room.

“Can’t get ma, she’s helping in a surgical room,” said Tammy, hanging up the phone.

“At least he’s wakin’ up now. Told ya we didn’t need no trip to the ER. Woulda’ caused holy hell, goin’ down there. You okay Shane? Ya really showed Smitty, breakin’ his fist with ya face like that,” Bobby kidded.

“Jesus Bobby!” Jeannie yelled. “If you’re wrong, it’s your ass!”

“Hey, I’m okay,” Shane mumbled. “I’m okay. I’m . . . really. Quit the yellin’ though, huh? Head’s ringin’ pretty good.”

He slowly sat up and started to feel his own face cautiously to see how bad the damage was. At this moment he realized just how big Smitty’s hands were, as his knuckles had impacted from the corner of Shane’s left eyelid all the way down to the left teeth and gum on his upper jaw. His teeth felt loose and sore, his lip swollen and gashed up by his own teeth on the inside, his face and nose throbbed with pain, and his eye felt like a blood blister that needed to be popped. He attempted to laugh and crack a joke of it all, but failed. After wincing out a “jeez,” followed by an attempt at a chuckle, he learned how much pain Smitty’s blow to the chest and stomach kick had caused.

At least his group of onlookers had stopped staring and began to take action.

“I’ll get more ice, it’ll bring down the swelling,” said Tammy. “And aspirin too, for his headache.”

“No, not aspirin!” Jeannie spoke out. “That’s a blood thinner, he’s losin’ blood like a bastard. When people give blood they treat ’em with orange juice and sweets, like cookies. Get ’im that.”

“Water too, I’ll fill my water bottle for him,” Bobby said, getting up and rummaging through his sports bag.

Jeannie came in from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and found a bottle of vitamins with extra iron, and they agreed that would do Shane some good. The group took turns hovering and attending to Shane. They talked to him, comforted him, and checked their mother’s medical books about concussions and other possible problems he might have. They even monitored his breathing and pulse for most of the night.

At one brief point in all this commotion Paige was holding Shane’s hand, sitting closely beside him, and everyone else was momentarily distracted with all the other tasks in motion to help him. Shane made eye contact with her. His face lit up with a positive look, like he forgot all the pain for an instant.

He gave a thumbs-up and whispered, “I got it. I did it again!”

Paige barely contained her excitement, tensing up and smiling. She bit her lip to change the expression on her face as Jeannie, the self-appointed supervisor looked over.

“Did he say something!?” she asked.

“No, um, n-no. He was, I think, he’s dreaming, like mumbling or something.” Shane closed his eyes and posed as if he were sleeping.

As Shane’s condition didn’t appear to get any worse, and the ice brought the swelling down, the visitors went home before Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan arrived from their night shifts. His siblings felt more confident that Shane would just have a black eye and a headache, and decided to let him tell their parents the next day. He slept soundly with a steak and a bag of ice on it while Bobby stood guard. The next morning he woke to a slightly lesser throbbing head-and-face ache and suffered through his route.

Although he had the perfect excuse to stay home from school, and two highly skilled note-forging sisters, he couldn’t wait to walk to school and meet Paige on their corner. He hadn’t had the chance to share anything from his vision yet.

As they approached each other, Paige’s face soured. Shane knew she was reacting to how bad he looked.

“I know, pretty rough, huh?” he said.

“Damn, never seen a black eye so bad before! It got way blacker overnight. No hidin’ that one, Shane,” Paige looked concerned, already thinking about the implications at school.

“Yeah, Bobby even tried a steak on it in between ice packs, but no use I guess. Gonna be an interesting day today for sure.”

“Interesting?” she said quizzically. “Don’t ya mean embarrassing? Everyone’s gonna talk.”

“Don’t care. I won’t be there to hear it, I’ll be in ISS with Smitty.”

“Holy crap! I forgot, in school suspension. Where ya gotta go?”

“Coach told Jeannie I got high school ISS ’cause I’m a high school athlete.”

“Damn, that is a wicked pisser! You gotta spend all day in there with the guy who broke your face! I feel so bad for ya,” Paige said.

“Nah. It’s okay. The vision I had showed me a lot. If this deal works like the last time, I think I can handle Smitty,” Shane replied with a surprising confidence. “Just wish this headache would quit. Jeannie said no aspirin.”

“Well, maybe sugar, like a coke?” Paige pointed to the Murphy’s store on their way. “Ya gotta tell me everything Shane, I was up all night wonderin’ about it!”

“Hmm, coke. Or coffee. My dad makes coffee when his head hurts in the morning. Probably hungover, but it works for him.”

They stopped into Murphy’s and Shane bought a steaming cup of coffee, dumping cream and sugar into it so that he could stand the taste. As they tread on to school, he did his best to explain his vision in fragmented thoughts between slugs from his paper cup, which steamed constantly in the chilly morning air.

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