It was a good thing there were only two classes after gym. This didn’t allow Malton enough of a chance to reclaim his lost valiance before the day’s end. His ego had been shattered and he’d be looking for an opportunity to show that he was still the top dog in the bully department. I knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when and whether it would involve me directly.
I was surprised when nothing happened the next morning, but as soon as lunch rolled around, my luck had run out.
“If it isn’t the two lunchroom losers,” Malton barked while getting grunts of support from Chuck.
I looked at Rich, who had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich halfway in his mouth. The look in his eyes reflected the same sentiment – we both secretly hoped this was not really happening and was all a bad dream.
“Mommy make your lunch for you?” Chuck added, feeling powerful next to his keeper. Chuck turned to me and said, “I know yours didn’t.”
I almost leaped for his throat, but something held me back.
“Stick it,” Rich said in a sort of mumbled way, the gooey thickness of bread and peanut butter mucking up his words.
“What did you say?” Malton asked, pumping out his chest.
“He said keep your little bitch on a leash,” I snapped, stunning them all.
Malton reacted by smacking Rich’s sandwich from his hands. We all watched it fly several feet before hitting the floor. It slid a couple more feet before the whole lunchroom went silent. Something exciting was taking place and they were going to be firsthand witnesses.
“Get lost, assholes,” Rich exclaimed. “We didn’t ask for any trouble.”
“Maybe you didn’t, but he did,” Malton poked his finger into my chest, trying to antagonize me.
I was about to stand up when two lunch monitors rushed over and stepped between us.
“That’s enough, boys,” Mrs. Dorlis said firmly.
Malton glared at me and knowing he was in the better position – I was still sitting down – he grinned and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “What a bunch of losers.”
“Let’s go,” Mr. Elmhurst said, taking Malton by the arm, “one more word and you’ll all be in the principal’s office.” He led Malton away with Chuck nipping at their heels.
After ten or fifteen seconds, the rest of the lunchroom realized the buildup was more exciting than the climax and returned to their sandwiches and soy burgers.
“I take it that has everything to do with you spanking him in pickleball yesterday?” Rich said, relieved the situation hadn’t escalated.
“You should’ve seen the look on his face when he lost,” I replied. “I thought he was going to cry.”
“I wish I had,” Rich said and I noticed his hand was shaking. He saw that I had noticed and explained, “I think my heart is about to explode. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to a fight. I can’t control myself right now.”
“That’s okay, if you looked under the table, you’d see my leg won’t stop bouncing up and down.”
Rich laughed. “I guess that’s adrenaline, huh? They should find a way to package it and make millions.”
“Come on,” I said, “I’ll buy you a soy burger since that jackass ruined your sandwich because of me.”
“Sounds good, but can you stand on those shaky legs?”
I laughed and as we walked, I wondered why Rich and I hadn’t been better friends before.
Lunch ended and I was still full of adrenaline. The sensation was similar to the pins and needles before blacking out, but was slightly warmer and didn’t have the same sense of foreboding. Blood rushed through my veins and I was ultra alert. I bet I could sprint for a mile without stopping.
I noticed Matt at our locker and decided we’d better have a talk. I didn’t like the way we’d left things and it was strange not mixing it up with him. Something disturbing was going on – maybe family troubles or his palm print condition – and I reminded myself of that whenever thoughts of him poking me in the chest with that sword came to mind.
However, before I got there, I saw Malton moving his way and my gut wrenched. Matt was busy messing with something in our locker and had his back to the brute. I thought about warning him, but that would’ve sounded weird. We would look foolish and then he would despise me even more.
Just as Malton was two steps away, Matt stepped back to close his locker and moved directly into Malton’s path. This was it, I thought, and actually pictured the scene before it happened. I picked up my pace, but it was too late.
Malton shoulder-checked Matt, who flew off balance into his half-closed locker, which caused an even louder metallic bang. Matt dropped to one knee and steadied himself with an outstretched hand. The shocked look spread across his face was sickening, but turned to pain when Malton stepped on his hand and kept going.
“Watch out, dickhead,” Malton exclaimed and turned to play the crowd. “What a klutz!”
Some of the people around him let out nervous laughs. I couldn’t blame them because deep down I knew they were glad it wasn’t them. Matt tried to jump up but nailed his shoulder on the underside of the half-open locker door. His hand and shoulder were now screaming in pain and he could only glare at Malton who continued walking as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“Matt, are you alright?” I asked, touching his shoulder, but he threw me a disgusted eyeful and pushed my hand away.
“Get away from me,” he exclaimed, now fully embarrassed.
I turned toward Malton, who had stopped to enjoy the show.
“And the two losers make such a nice couple,” Malton said, gaining a few laughs. I glared at him hard and took a step forward. “What are you going to do, Trenton? This isn’t a pickleball match, you know?”
I glanced at Matt, clenched my fist and felt the uncomfortable pins and needles surface. “No,” I said, “otherwise you’d be crying over the spanking I gave you.”
The fireworks in his tiny brain exploded, but before he could act on impulse, I punched him square in the jaw and he staggered back then fell on his butt.
A collective gasp erupted followed by the cheers brought on by the best entertainment the unscripted school day could provide. “Fight, fight, fight...” rang out and Malton, as if on cue, sprang to his feet, rubbing his jaw.
He came at me fast and I instinctively threw both fists out in an awkward jab motion and much to my surprise, connected. However, his forward motion took us both down and we rolled on the floor. I immediately panicked when we stopped because Malton was on top, but my double-punch must’ve dazed him because he was unresponsive. I quickly threw him off and sat on top, which brought him back to consciousness.
The crowd still chanted and I wondered when the monitors would break it up but realized they couldn’t penetrate the thick mass of excited bodies. It was like a concert ... until a punch struck me in the neck.
Malton had my full attention now – this was a matter of life and death. I got two punches in before he bucked me off, but Malton was dazed and certainly not used to someone fighting back so effectively. While he was on all fours, I jumped up and kicked him in the gut and he flopped to the ground.
The crowd roared even louder and motivated me to move in for the kill, but I spotted Allison out of the corner of my eye and froze. The expression she wore wasn’t one of joy or contempt, but rather disappointment and I knew no matter how I was seen in the public eye, the devastating look she delivered would be all that mattered.
In the seconds that unfolded during my exchange with Allison, Malton somehow found the power to stand and mustered every last ounce of energy in his defeated body. His reputation was on the line and unless he did something drastic, his whole life’s work was about to crumble beneath his feet.
Malton swung a haymaker with all his might, but before he could follow through, Matt stepped in and clocked him so hard in the jaw that Malton fell to the ground, lights out.
“Ooohhh!” the crowd gasped, a combination of gawker’s delight and revulsion.
Matt turned to me, holding his aching hand, and said, “I didn’t need you to stick up for me!”
Just then, with Malton still face down on the carpet, the monitors broke through the crowd and like coppers descending on a keg party, they scattered.
Ten minutes later, I was planted in Mr. Clayton’s chair. He was full of piss and vinegar, but I wondered if a secret part of him wasn’t cheering inside. Despite the no-fighting policy, the bully had been given his comeuppance and no matter how you scripted it, it was a good day for little guys all around the world.
“Here, here,” shouted a group of English fisherman as I pictured them in a pub, swinging pints through the air.
Then my thoughts switched to Allison and that devastating look she’d given. How could she not be happy for me? I was only defending myself from a thug who’d gotten away with his antics for far too long. But as Mr. Clayton continued his tirade, part of me knew Allison wouldn’t respect someone who lowers himself to the bully’s level. I understood that to some degree, but I also understood that sometimes in life you have to stand up to aggressive behavior and that often meant meeting them on their own terms and defeating them … eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, or something like that.
Mr. Clayton told me to wait where I was and slammed the door. As he roared through the outer admin office like a bull in a China shop, I found the silver lining in all of this – I hadn’t blacked out. Now that was something to be happy about.
Why hadn’t it happened? Had I somehow controlled the situation? These were questions I certainly intended to find the answers to and come tomorrow night, Dr. Marconi would have to help me sort it all out.