Mrs. Gladstone wasted no time in getting the pickleball matches started after a shortened warm-up session. Each of us now had to play two matches per class, which meant no monkeying around. She explained that we were going to have three tournaments this semester instead of just one. My guess is that too many people didn’t like practicing and ended up jerking around, which led to her inability to maintain control. Regardless, I liked the idea of getting down to the nitty-gritty.
I threw on my gym clothes as quickly as possible and headed out of the locker room praying that I wouldn’t run into Malton. My stomach must’ve thought it was the Olympic high-dive tryouts with all the flips it was doing. I hated the ramped up feeling I always got before possible confrontations. It was a combination of dread and excitement all rolled into one.
What would I do if he mouthed off at me, I wondered. Maybe I should ignore him, I thought, but then again, why would he give me crap? Not only did he fear my cousin Gable, but he couldn’t be so stupid as to get into two fights in one day. They would certainly kick his butt out of school for that, right?
“Trenton,” a voice boomed from behind as I stepped into the gymnasium. I noticed the nets all set up and thought about not turning around. Other people were talking and I couldn’t tell if the voice who called me was Malton’s.
“Twice in one day,” the voice beamed closer. This time I recognized it and turned.
“What’s up, Rich ... are you ready to relish pickleball?” I asked sarcastically. Rich shook his head, recognizing our teacher’s one and only joke.
“Better than folk dancing, which they had me signed up for yesterday.”
“Ouch, that would suck,” I replied and we walked to our respective roll call lines and sat down.
I hadn’t seen Malton or heard him in the locker room so I figured they must have suspended him for the day.
“Have you ever played this game?” Rich asked.
“No, but it looks kind of interesting,” I said, not wanting to let on that I was actually looking forward to playing the game. It looked fun and I couldn’t wait to take a whack at the Wiffle ball.
“I’d rather play tennis,” he said, “but that class was all filled up.”
As I was about to reply, a boisterous ball of activity rumbled from inside the locker room and quickly rampaged through the door. In its wake was none other than Malton and his sidekick Chuck. If I hadn’t seen it, I would’ve sworn that Chuck had Malton raised above his shoulders, parading him around like a heavy weight champion.
Mrs. Gladstone barked for them to quickly find their seats so the games could begin. The two knuckleheads laughed at each other and approached the rest of us. Chuck spotted me first and my stomach tied the biggest knot a sailor had ever seen. Chuck elbowed Malton and nodded my way. I clenched my fist wondering what was about to happen, but as they got within a few feet, Malton just looked at me, gave a shit-eating grin, and pranced to his place in line. Chuck didn’t disobey his master’s wishes and followed suit.
Somebody should wipe those grins off their mugs, I thought and figured it was probably a good thing I didn’t have a paddle in hand or I might’ve used it.
Mrs. Gladstone blew the whistle and we fell out to our respective courts. I was glad I didn’t have to play either of those two in the near future, but knew the day would come. As I worked through my two matches, both of which I won, I kept wondering why Malton was in class and if that meant that maybe the fight wasn’t as bad as it sounded and Matt was doing fine. I hadn’t seen him, but if Malton was around then Matt should be too.
Anyway, the triumphant trouble-makers won their matches too as everyone in class was painfully made aware through their wild yells and notable cheers. It was as though his victory earlier in the day had somehow encouraged him to act even more obnoxious. I was glad when the period was over and couldn’t wait for study hall.
In between periods, Allison snuck up behind me, covered my eyes and whispered sensuously in my ear, “Boo!” I was expecting a complimentary kiss, but it never came.
“That’s all I get,” I exclaimed, feigning hurt.
“You wish,” she responded and playfully pushed me. “Unless you think I’m Jessica Barrera and you can pull a Chris on me.”
Chris, who was standing next to us, shook his head. “I’m never going to live this down, am I?”
“The difference between him and me,” I interjected, feeling bold, “is that I don’t need ice cream as an excuse.”
Allison slugged my arm hard and acted offended even though she loved the banter.
“Damn, Trenton,” Chris exclaimed, “you’ve got some balls.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Allison replied and changed subjects. “So I heard Matt got in a fight and was suspended. Is he okay?”
“He was suspended?” I asked, turning to Chris.
“Yeah, but I’ve got to go. See you after school, man.”
I turned to Allison, but she was already leaning in and gave me a peck on the cheek. “I like when you get frisky like that,” she said and winked.
I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there with a dumb grin on my face.
“I hope he’s okay. Tell him I said so,” she stated.
“What are you doing after school?” I asked.
“Debate team tryouts,” she answered and walked away with a wave. I shook my head and tried to picture it – a bunch of nerds and future politicians snapping at each other with dorky comebacks filled with statistics. Why in the world would she want to do that, I wondered, and headed to study hall.