It was clear to Byron that he was going to have the longest four years ever. Not only had he managed to piss off the biggest jerk in school, he was sure that he and his friends wouldn’t rest until they had gotten their revenge… Interesting…
It wasn’t that Byron enjoyed fighting or even hurting others, but he had to admit there was a certain thrill in it, especially when faced with opponents he had never met before. There was some validation in it, like that his nine years training in the martial arts was worth every penny.
And now he would pass on some of his knowledge to the clumbsy and frighteningly talkative Todd Muckleroy. It was one 2 hour phone call that resulted in Byron’s early departure on a Saturday morning towards the Muckleroy estate. It was only a mile walk from his house, so Byron thought he would get a little exercise before their training. He didn’t want his dad to drive him, knowing he would totally get the wrong idea, and it this would be a good chance to use his GPS app on his phone.
The end of August approached and the frigid morning told Byron that Fall wasn’t playing around. Wearing an outfit of shorts and a tank-top, Byron felt more than a little chilled… Byron focused. He was being followed… At least it felt like he was being followed. It was hard to explain; ever since he was a little boy he had a sense for these things, like a ripple in the air disturbing his personal space.
He smiled. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘A little warm up would be fine before we got started. I can’t kick Todd around all day…’
“Turn right on Catharine Drive,” said his GPS. It startled Byron. He was almost there; only five more minutes. He kept right on the path until he came to a ridiculously large house.
“Whoa,” said Byron. It was huge. ‘What the heck does this kid’s family do for a living?’ thought Byron as he walked down the path to the front door.
The house popped in the morning sun, white and clean like fresh snow. The black tiled roof kept Byron’s eyes from burning as he shielded his eyes looking for the front door. ‘Holy schnikes!’ he thought, practically sprinting to it. He found the circular doorbell and pressed it
It didn’t take long for Todd to answer the door, and Byron couldn’t help but snicker as he saw, once again Todd in business attire.
“Hi,” he said, “Welcome Byron. May I offer you a cold beverage or a hearty snack before we begin?”
Byron groaned as he stepped through the doorway. “Don’t you have any workout clothes?”
“These are my workout clothes. I have a suit for every occasion.”
“Words fail me, Todd,” he said, admiring the sculpted owl guarding the steps to the second floor from its perch on the banister. “You’re parents must be rich!”
Todd adjusted his glasses, blushing, “My parents invest a lot of their money and, well, I guess they know what they’re doing.”
“Aside from being successful bank thieves,” he said, walking down the hallway to the kitchen, seeing granite counters and marble floors. Byron gave a low whistle.
“Well,” said Byron, clapping his hands together, “You get changed, and I ‘ll get ready to whip you into shape.”
“Uh, Byron?” said Todd still at the door, “Did she come with you?”
It was Charisa, head down, rubbing her hands together and twisting her foot into the concrete porch. ‘Ugh,’ thought Byron, ‘What now?’
“Hi,” said Todd, cheerfully, “Charisa, right? Come on in, I have cold drinks and snacks.”
“No, no, no, no,” said Byron, shaking his finger, “Don’t invite her in here! What the heck are you doing here, Charisa?”
“I, uh, followed you,” she said, eyes to the ground, “I wanted to thank you for last night.”
“You already thanked me,” said Byron, “There’s no need to follow me around. Though, I have to admit you did a pretty good job.”
Charisa blushed. “Th-thank you,” she said, “Can I still come in?”
“Of course,” said Todd, “The more the merrier!”
Byron shook his head and was about the protest when he heard Todd gasp.
“Oh golly,” said Todd, in a panic as he grabbed his underwear, “Don’t give me a wedgie!” He slammed the door and ran upstairs.
“Who was that?” said Byron.
“That was Howie Nelson,” said Charisa, “He-he’s a sophomore, like me. He’s on the football and track team.”
“Was that him?” said Byron smiling, “Well I hope he’s not here on my behalf.” Byron opened the door and saw Howie outside. He looked a little unsure of himself, rubbing the back of his neck looking towards the ground.
“Hi,” said Byron, “Can I help you?”
“I just wanted to apologize for yesterday,” he said, “I wanted to step in and stop what was happening…”
“And you didn’t,” said Byron, smiling.
“Well, I did run and get Mr. Flunderson,” said Howie, sheepishly.
“All the way upstairs, huh?”
“He was actually downstairs and… He was actually the first teacher I met,” he said, looking Byron straight in the eye.
“Why are you here?”
“I, I told you. I’m sorry. That’s all I wanted to say,” he said, “…Also that the guys are going to get back at you for what happened.”
“Thanks for the heads up,” said Byron, coldly, “Anything else?”
“They’re going after Mr. Flunderson too,” he said.
“Well? What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Don’t you help people?” asked Howie, “I mean, that’s what you do. You helped Tina, you helped her,” he pointed to Charisa, “Aren’t you going to help him?”
“Why don’t you?” said Byron, “Am I the only person with a moral compass around here? Have you all lost your senses? Why treat others horribly? Are you, are they, better than everyone else?
“I know Aaron Thompson is. He’s just so… neat!” said Byron, “People worship him, hang on every one of his words. Who am I to you? What the hell did you guys do before I came to town?
“When I came here, I was expecting what I always got: nothing! Nothing from you, her, him, sure as hell nothing from Aaron Thompson! I wanted to be left alone! I wanted peace and quiet. Now I have to drag wedgie boy out of his room and shape him up so you dumb-asses won’t bully him anymore!”
Charisa looked up for the first time and stared at Howie, who now had his head lowered. She could tell he was embarrassed. “I know. I know what we did,” she said, tears dripping from her eyes, “We just watched.”
Byron turned. She wasn’t stuttering. “We watched, because, we, we didn’t know what to do. We just let it happen because we… we aren’t strong like you. Please Byron, please shape me up too.”
She actually got on her knees and looked up at him, her eyes pleading. Looking down on her, he knew what choice he had to make. He didn’t want to—God knew he didn’t want to–but he had to.
“What about you, lanky?” said Byron, redirecting to Howie, “What are you going to do? Sit and watch?”
Howie also saw the choice in front of him. He knew what the right decision was; it was spelled out in front of him, but he couldn’t make that choice yet.
“I can’t,” he said, “I can’t, Byron. I’ll try to talk to the guys. That’s what I can do.”
“Go talk then,” said Byron, “Talk all you want. You want to be like them instead of who you are? Keep talking. Because that’s all it is: cheap talk!”
Byron slammed the door this time. He looked back at Charisa, who was still kneeling. She smiled for the first time. Byron rolled his eyes, a slight blush tinging his cheeks. “Come on,” he said, giving her his hand. “Let’s drag Todd out of his room.”
“Alright,” she said. They went up the stairs, all the way to the third floor, and found a shut door with a Yoda poster, with the words: READ, YOU SHOULD (because everyone listens when the caps lock is on).
“If this isn’t it,” said Byron, “His parents have some weird type of fetish.”
Charisa laughed. It brought a smile to Byron’s face. They knocked together.
“Todd,” said Byron, “Howie’s gone. He isn’t coming back. Well, I guess I can’t make that promise, but I can promise that there will be no wedgies. Not while I’m around.”
Todd cracked the door open to see if Howie was indeed gone. He sighed. “For a second there,” he said, “I thought I was going to have to use my wand of unicorn magic to…”
Byron took the wand from Todd’s hand and broke it.
“Hey,” said Todd, “It’s not real; it’s make believe.”
“Well now’s the time for real life,” said Byron, “You in?”
Todd looked at him and then at Charisa. “Affirmative,” he said smiling, “Where do we start?”
It started outside as the three of them began to run around the block. Todd huffed and puffed as he tried to keep up with Byron, who made the pace. Charisa, though light on her feet, still wasn’t very fast, but could keep up for the most part.
“Why… are… we… running?” said Todd as Byron slowed down to run with them.
“I want to know your breaking point,” said Byron.
“Come again?” said Todd panicking.
Byron smiled. “You see Todd, first I have to break you. Second, I rebuild you. You’ll still be your silly, annoying self, but a more lethal, annoying you.”
“Oh…” he said, “Cool!”
“Alright,” said Byron, “Now for this final lap I want you to sprint. Go as fast as you can back home. You got that Charisa?” She nodded. “Ok. Go!” Byron zoomed away and to his surprise Charisa zoomed past him. “Whoa!” said Byron.
Todd continued to push. “I am going as fast as I can!”
The rest of the afternoon went great. After the run, Byron had them stretch. Charisa was very limber. Todd was not. Then he brought out his punching pad. Todd had some great punches. Charisa’s were weak. Charisa could kick higher. Todd could kick harder. The results were pretty much what Byron had expected. They trained for six hours, until Todd and Charisa were barely able to move.
“Well,” said Byron, “That’s it.” he wiped the sweat off his face. “Next Saturday, Charisa, wear some workout clothes. I hope your skirt didn’t get too messed up.”
Charisa blushed. “Oh yes,” she said, “Yes, sure I-I’ll wear some workout clothes.”
“Next Saturday?” said Todd, “You mean all that work and we still have to keep working? Aren’t I as strong as you yet?”
Byron whacked him on the head. “I’ve been doing this since I was five years old, Todd. You’ve still got a long way to go, do you want to give up?”
“No,” he said, “I want to be strong.”
“Then next Saturday,” said Byron, “Right here. Same time. See you in school Todd, I’m going to walk Charisa home now.”
The two walked in silence. It was getting late and the sun was sinking in the sky. Charisa wasn’t sure if she should talk or not. She wanted to, but she didn’t know what to say and also she thought that maybe Byron wanted quiet, so she just thought about what she wanted to say.
‘Lovely evening, Byron,’ thought Charisa.
‘Yes it is a rather lovely evening. It makes me think of a poem I wrote,’ thought make-believe-Byron.
‘You write poetry? So do I.’
‘I really like dark poetry. Death is so cool,’ thought make-believe-Byron.
“Me too!” said Charisa out loud.
“Huh?” said Byron.
“Oh,” said Charisa, blushing, “Sorry…”
“So Charisa,” said Byron, “You’re very flexible. Did you used to take gymnastics or something?”
Charisa froze. “Well… I, um, actually, used to be a cheerleader. A long time ago.”
“Really?” said Byron, “For what? peewee football?”
“Actually, yes,” she said.
“Why’d you quit?”
“I, uh,” she said, “I was…”
As she looked ahead she saw Aaron, Russell, Ted and Howie walking towards them. She gasped and Byron turned his head back, facing forward. The four of them stopped.
“Well hello, Lucas,” said Aaron, “Fancy meeting you here. We just wanted to talk to you.”
“Hey Charisa,” said Russell smiling.
Charisa leapt behind Byron, shaking as she grabbed his shoulder. “What do you guys want?” said Byron.
“We just want to talk,” said Aaron, “Isn’t that right guys?”
Howie looked uncomfortable.
Byron smiled. “What do you want to talk about?”
“How we’re going to kick your ass!” said Aaron, “Grab him!”
Ted and Russell grabbed Byron by the arms and pinned him to the ground. Charisa jumped on Russell’s back and began to beat on the back of his head, but Aaron grabbed her by the back of the neck and threw her at Howie.
“Hold her still, Howie,” said Aaron as he moved forward to where Byron was pinned. Ted and Russell grabbed Byron’s ankles and pinned them to the ground too. Aaron stood right between Byron’ legs.
“You know what, Lucas,” said Aaron, “I don’t like you. I don’t understand what you’re doing. What are you doing? It vexes me to no end. You stay quiet, we leave you alone, but you keep raising your head where it doesn’t belong.”
Charisa cried and struggled in Howie’s arms. ‘What am I doing?’ thought Howie, ‘We were just supposed to talk to Lucas not hurt him.’
Charisa looked up at him. His hand covered her mouth so she couldn’t speak, but Howie knew what she was thinking. He was thinking the same thing.
‘Am I really going to watch another horrible thing happen?’
He threw Charisa to the ground and walked up to Aaron.
“Tell you what I’m going to do, Lucas,” said Aaron, “I’m going to crush your sack all over the concrete. You’re never going to use it anyway, you freak!”
Howie tapped Aaron on the shoulder, “Aaron, please don’t.”
“Faggot!” he slapped Howie across the face, “I told you to hold the girl! Do your job!”
Byron smiled up at Aaron. He didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing his fear. “You’re supposed to be scared,” said Aaron his face red and angry, “Cower!” he raised his right foot to smash Byron’s balls but just as he was going to, Howie kicked Aaron in the sack from behind.
“Oh,” said Aaron in falsetto. He nearly landed on top of Byron, but Howie grabbed his shoulder and threw him to the side. Ted let go of Byron to help Aaron.
“Ted!” said Russell, “You idiot!” Byron, with his free arm and leg, hit Russell in both temples knocking him out cold for the second time. As Ted saw what had happened, he went to punch Howie, but Howie blocked Ted’s fist, placed his foot behind Ted’s and palm striked him in the chest, toppling him over on top of Aaron as he grasped his throbbing sac.
“Get out of here, you guys!” said Howie, “Hurry!”
The three ran away from the scene and kept running till they made it to Charisa’s house. An awkward silence fell between them as they sat in Charisa’s living room. It wasn’t how Byron pictured it. He figured there would be black all around and maybe… some bats? Instead they were greeted by a happy, fat, black cat and Charisa’s normal-looking parents, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe.
Charisa told them about the three boys jumping them on the way home and just like a scene out of a Happy Days, Mrs. Monroe brought them some hot cocoa.
“It’s just nice to see Charisa bring home some normal friends for a change,” said Mrs. Monroe.
“Mom!” she said as she snuggled with Sleepy, her pudgy, black cat.
After saying good bye to Charisa, Mr. Monroe, took Byron and Howie home. “It’s safer this way,” he said.
“Why’d you do it?” whispered Byron, as they sat in the back seat of Mr. Monroe’s station wagon.
“I had to,” said Howie staring straight ahead, “I’m not that guy.”
Byron didn’t say a word. He just smiled as they drove away.