On Tuesday morning, I waited curiously as the train snapped to a stop and the doors slid open. I wondered if Matt would be with Janik and Steve or if he would continue his protest of all things past lives the entire week. After all, Friday was the biggest day of them all and he wouldn’t be able to escape the constant chatter throughout the school as the anticipation built up to that inevitable moment.
I couldn’t really blame him and part of me wanted to join the week’s boycott. But then I wasn’t exactly walking in his shoes as I could easily end the suspense and open my letters if I really wanted to know. Besides, another part of me enjoyed hearing who everyone had been, both the disappointments and the unexpected delights.
The best one I heard so far was a scrawny girl who used to be a New Zealand rugby player and a really successful coach. I’m sure she felt like tackling a few thugs who’d given her a hard time over the years.
Janik and Steve approached the train laughing.
“Where’s Matt?” I asked.
“Dude,” Janik said, “you should hear what Chris did last night in front of Jessica and Sophie.”
I ignored him and scanned the thinning crowd, but there was no sign of Matt.
“I can’t believe he did that,” Steve exclaimed.
“What an idiot,” Janik replied, grinning big. “He’s never going to live it down.”
“I take it Matt’s not coming?”
“What are you talking about?” Janik said, annoyed, as the doors slid shut.
Just before I was about to punch him in the arm, Matt stepped down the aisle and bumped into me, a sly grin touching one side of his mouth.
“You’d be lost without me, wouldn’t you?” Matt asked sarcastically.
“Whatever, dumb ass,” I replied and immediately wished I had a quicker wit. “So what did Chris do last night?” I asked, changing subjects.
“He was talking Jessica up with an ice cream cone, went to lick it and the scoop fell on her shirt,” Janik explained.
“I know, what an ass,” Matt added.
“It fell on her shirt ... where?”
“Hit her right between the sweater puppies!”
We all laughed, enjoying the visualization. Jessica was hot and pretty well stacked in that department, so Chris must’ve felt like an idiot.
Janik continued, “But the best part happened when Chris tried to wipe it off with his hand.”
“Did she kick his ass?”
“No, but she slapped him and said she was going to tell her brother.”
I knew her brother and figured Chris had nothing to fear. He was away at school and wasn’t going to do anything anytime soon. Besides, even though Chris was a likeable goofball who wasn’t shy when it came to hitting on the ladies, he was also big and not someone you wanted to get into a fight with. I figured sweater-gate wouldn’t quite rise to that occasion. On top of that, knowing Jessica and how she liked to flaunt it, I’m sure her brother had a long list of people he was supposed to pay a visit.
“So what did he do then?”
“He laughed with everyone else who saw it and ordered another ice cream cone.”
“Let’s give him crap about it all day,” Steve encouraged and we all agreed.
I walked out of statistics class dreading the rest of the term. I mean, who really cares about the probability distribution of blah, blah, blah? This would require way too much effort for what a senior class should be. Come on already, we should be on cruise control, coasting easily on the senioritis wave to ultimate freedom, right?
Anyway, as I slowly made my way to my locker – I was intent on taking as much time as possible getting to lunch and my lonely spot at the table – a verbal tsunami made its way through the halls. Something was up.
“There was a huge fight,” someone declared.
“Who was it?” another asked, but the first guy had no idea.
Two freshman, who were listening intently, glanced at each other with wide eyes and perked ears. This was high school and it meant big things happened in big ways and unless you were prepared for the big moments, you had better stay in the background. I knew exactly what they were thinking and laughed inside. I was the same way back then and just as they were thinking now, I certainly didn’t want to be the main attraction.
I swung open my locker and grabbed my lunch. I had remembered it this morning and made what my mom had always put together for me ... or at least I tried. My dad and I hadn’t quite kept up the same level of grocery shopping since she passed. Instead of the usual mix of peanuts and raisins, I settled for peanuts alone. Again, it was the small things that hurt the most.
“What the hell’s going on?” Chris announced. “Sounds like there was a wicked rumble.”
“I know,” I replied. “Who was it?”
“Someone actually said it was you, but that didn’t make sense.”
“Me? Why the hell would they think it was me?” I felt the uncomfortable spot light tracking my way.
“I don’t know, man. Did you punch someone and run?”
“Only if you tried to cop a feel on a hottie … oh, wait, you did do that.”
Chris punched my arm. “Nice one, jack ass. See you later.”
By the time I reached the lunchroom, that’s all anyone was talking about, but no one knew what the hell had really happened. As I eyed my section of the table, I noticed someone sitting there and my heart raced. If a group of people planned on sitting in my spot then I was about to experience major humiliation. I pictured myself standing there, looking beleaguered in my search for a seat as the entire lunchroom laughed at the dork who didn’t have enough friends – a senior of all people. This was going to be painful.
Thankfully, the guy in my section was Rich Snellus, someone who didn’t hang with a large clique and was probably in the same boat as me.
“What’s up, Trenton?” he asked, equally timid, which led me to believe he had just played out the same frightful scenario in his head. “Is this section taken?”
“No,” I replied graciously. “In fact, I had it all to myself yesterday. Where’d you sit then?”
“My schedule was changed, so I had third lunch period. Do you mind if I sit here?”
We were equally relieved and Rich’s kind, laid back demeanor returned. “The guys I hang out with all have different lunches, so I’m on my own this term.”
“Cool. Same here.”
My luck had turned around, I thought. I mean, we certainly weren’t good friends, but had known each other since grade school and had always gotten along.
Rich was kind of geeky and maybe his like of NASCAR and comic books played into that, which was most likely the reason we never became better friends. But hey, to each his own, right … or is it ‘to each is own’ – I could never remember.
Now, the biggest thing I recalled about Rich was that his last name was Snellus, which for some reason in kids’ minds meant that he should be called ‘smell us’. You might think the unfair moniker would traumatize most people, but not Rich and that was something I had always admired. He took it in stride and eventually the name meant nothing more than the rhyme it gave way to.
“So what’s all the buzz about?” I asked. “I heard there was a fight or something.”
“Yeah, I saw the whole thing,” he said, biting into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“You did? Who was it?”
“I figured you’d know by now.”
“Why? What do you mean?” There it was again. How in the world did this fight that probably happened on the other side of school have anything to do with me?
“Matt got beat up by Malton.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No. I was a little surprised, though.”
“Malton was giving him crap about his hand defect and Matt actually took the first swing.”
“He did?” I asked, shocked. I never thought Matt would have the courage to do it, but I guess sometimes you’re just pushed a little too far and something snaps.
“But his punch missed and he wound up slamming his fist into the locker behind Malton – and you should see it, there’s a huge dent the size of a meteor. I bet they make him pay for it.”
“So then what happened?” I asked, a sickening feeling growing. I wanted to beat Malton over the head with nearest object. The guy was such an ass.
“Malton tackled him and started to ground and pound until the hall monitors broke it up.”
“How bad was it?”
“Matt was bloody, but that’s all I saw. Mr. Clayton stepped in and ordered us to our classes before taking them both away.” I shook my head and the look of outrage combined with disappointment must’ve been pretty apparent. “Sorry about Matt, I know you guys are good friends.”
“Yeah, I just wish his first punch would’ve landed. How awesome would that be to see Malton with a fat lip?”
“I’d pay big bucks to see that,” he said, the vision of the intimidator getting put in his place igniting a well-deserved smile. “You know what’s funny … our fathers actually work together.”
“Whose?” I asked, a little confused because Matt’s father was somewhere out west.
“Malton’s and mine. They’re bankers in Arlington.”
“Wow, it’s hard to picture that asshole with a dad.”
“I know, right? Anyway, the funny thing is that my mom is always wondering why the two of us don’t hang out.”
“If she only knew.”
“I know, so one time my dad responded that it’s probably a good thing because if the kid is anything like his father, then he’s probably a prick.”
We shared a laugh and enjoyed the distraction. Then came the awkward point when you wonder what you’re going to talk about next.
“So who were you?” he asked, referring to my past life and I secretly applauded the nice transition.
“I don’t know.”
“Didn’t you open it?”
“That’s crazy. I ripped mine open right away.”
“Who were you?”
“A scuba instructor in France.”
“The funny thing is that I’ve never even been in the ocean.”
“Now that’s crazy,” I said and we finished lunch talking about some of the other things we heard people did in their first recorded past lives. However, as the minutes ticked away, in the back of my mind, I wondered if Malton would be in gym class and what would happen. Maybe I’d hit him over the head with my pickleball paddle, I thought, and that image carried me over until Chinese class ended.