I got off the Metro with Janik, Steve and Chris and said I’d catch up with them after I pulled Matt out of his bunker. They bet me he wouldn’t come out, but I was confident I could drag him away from his cocoon. They laughed, unconvinced, and we parted ways.
I rang the bell and the light flickered twice so I stepped in. I was surprised to see Matt coming out of his secret lab when I entered his room. I wondered why he had broken the rule: three flickers meant he was working in the lab and I was to wait for him to let me in. Had I jumped the gun and opened the door before the third flicker? No, I thought, replaying the scene in my mind. I’m sure there were only two flickers. Either way, Matt would certainly let me know if I’d broken protocol and understanding the type of day he’d had, I wanted to handle things delicately.
“What’s up, man?” I asked and waited for an indication to his state of mind. He was locking the lab door so I couldn’t see his face. I was curious as to the damage that numbskull Malton had caused.
“I got my ass kicked today,” he said harshly while turning. As he stepped closer and came into better light, I clearly saw a cut on his lip and black-and-blue left eye.
“Dude, what the hell happened? I heard you destroyed that locker.”
“Too bad I missed,” he said, sourly. “I’m such an idiot. I should have pushed him first and then punched.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Doesn’t it look like it hurts?”
“Sorry, man. I wish one of us guys was there.”
“Why? There’s nothing you or any of them could do. I don’t even know what happened after I missed that moron’s face. All I remember is them pulling him off me and then getting scolded by Mr. Clayton.”
“Why did they send you home and not him?”
“They kicked me out for the rest of the week because I threw the first punch.”
“I know and they let that asshole stay in school.”
“So he doesn’t get any punishment?”
“He has two detentions to go to after school this week and one on Saturday.”
“At least that’s something.”
“Actually, when you think about it, I probably got the better end of the stick because who the hell wants to stay after school for detention and come in on a Saturday? Instead, I get to hang out at home. Not bad really.”
“You’re probably right,” I agreed and noticed something sticking out from under his bed that I’d never seen before. They looked like workout weights. “So, Janik and Steve think they’re going to take us for a lot of money today in nine-ball. What do you say we go and bleed them dry?”
“I don’t know. I told my mom I’d be here when she gets home. She had to convince Mr. Clayton to let me leave on my own.”
“We’ll be back before then. Come on, let’s play some pool.”
“I’d better not.”
“What else you gonna do ... lift some weights?” I said, glancing at the dumbbells under his bed and wondered how long he’d been using them. “I guess that explains the deformed locker.”
“I should’ve given him a deformed head,” Matt replied, ignoring the weights. “We’ll kick their asses at pool tomorrow. Besides, I’ve got some other stuff to work on.”
“Alright,” I said, not wanting to push. I figured he was embarrassed by the marks on his face and wanted to sooth his pride by being alone. “By the way, Mrs. Weinbach, our literature teacher, wanted me to tell you that we’ll be deconstructing two novels this term.”
“I know, so much for senior year being easy, right?”
“I’m afraid to ask which ones. Probably about people who’ve been dead for a million years written in old English.”
“You guessed it. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and The Sea Wolf by some guy named Jack London, even though he was an American.” My attempt at humor didn’t faze him. It was a pretty lame joke, I admit, but come on, Matt always used to give me a courtesy laugh – not today, though.
“Isn’t that first one a chick book?” he asked.
“Got me, but then again, I think it’s one of Allison’s favorites, but I can’t be sure.”
“What’s the other one about?”
“Adventure story about a guy who has to survive a boat trip with a brutal captain.”
“Why the hell doesn’t he just get off the boat?”
“Why the hell did he even get on the boat?”
“Sounds like a fun-filled year ahead of us.”
Matt wasn’t up for much more conversation and I quickly left wishing he had gotten luckier with that first punch. How would things have been different the rest of the year had he simply connected?