“I can’t believe he said that.” Haley’s voice crackled over the cellphone and I could hear someone shouting that they were getting low on plates.
“I’m going to move someplace I can hear better,” she said.
Scraping noises followed. Then a door shut.
The next time she spoke, I could hear her perfectly.
“I went outside.”
“Hope you’ve got your coat.”
“I’m not stupid.”
I sat at my desk in my room, looking out the side window toward the street. Against the light of the streetlight, I could see snow falling.
“I didn’t say you were. It just looks cold out there.”
“It’s not as bad as it was.”
Haley didn’t say anything for a little while. I began to wonder if we’d lost the connection.
“He’s such a jerk. He’s such an… asshole.”
She stopped talking again. This time I waited.
“It didn’t go like he said it did. We were making out, and he might have been thinking about sex, but I wasn’t. I don’t even know if the pill would work for me. All I knew was that he was pushing me further than I wanted to go.”
“Are you saying he was trying to rape you?”
“I didn’t think so then. Right now… I don’t know. It might have been going that way. He wouldn’t listen to me and I got nervous and I started to feel the change begin. So I stabbed him with the dewclaw and I called my parents.”
“The worst part was that it didn’t end there. His dad knew someone at the police department, and the police wanted to know how a neurotoxin got into his blood. It just went on and on. Eventually they gave up, but not before everyone had hired lawyers. It was awful.”
“I never heard about any of that.”
“By the time you and Daniel and Cassie started having DVD nights, it was over and I wasn’t going to bring it up.”
“There wasn’t even a hint, though.”
“I didn’t want to think about it any more,” she said.
I heard the sound of a door opening and a voice in the background.
In a slightly annoyed voice she said, “I have to work. Talk to you later.”
* * *
During spring semester, the first class I had in the morning was American History. I enjoyed the class anyway. History was really more Daniel’s thing than mine, but, I liked Mr. Beacham. Every school had a teacher that resembled the teacher in “Dead Poets’ Society,” the kind who had the class rip pages out of textbooks that he thought ridiculous or stood on his desk to make a point.
Mr. Beacham hadn’t done any of those things specifically, but he was the closest we had.
In school, people knew him most for a lecture he delivered to every American History class near the end of the semester. In it, he took a contrarian point of view on superheroes, arguing that they made the Bill of Rights irrelevant and subverted the rule of law.
No one knew what he really believed, but, from all I’d ever heard, he made a good argument.
Since it was still early in the semester, we were nowhere near that lecture. We were talking about the controversies surrounding slavery prior to the Civil War.
I scribbled notes as he lectured, enjoying the class less than usual because I was more aware than usual that I shared it with Sean.
Mr. Beacham lectured about the Dred Scott decision without any theatrics. It didn’t make for a bad class, but it didn’t come up to his normal standards either.
On the other hand, theatrics might not have been appropriate for the story of a slave whose attempt to become free ultimately played a role in causing the Civil War.
When class ended, I followed everyone else out of the room and started down the hall to my next class — physics.
Sean walked out as I did and walked with me.
“Nick, I got a call from Haley last night. She told me to leave you alone. Do I scare you?”
He made a scary face.
“I didn’t know I scared you so much that you had to sic your girlfriend on me. Is she going to beat me up if I don’t leave you alone? I’m so frightened.”
I ignored him.
Just three rooms further down the hall and I’d be able to step into the physics classroom.
I walked a little faster, pulling ahead of him, but not being able to make a break for it because the halls were basically wall to wall people.
He grabbed my right arm.
I stopped and twisted my arm, moving it downward and out of his hand. I’d practiced the move for years, but this was the first time I’d used it for real.
“Can’t you just stop bothering me?” I asked — which probably ranks high on the list of least clever responses to high school bullying.
I’d also moved my feet into a subtle version of a basic stance, not pulling my arms up ready to block and strike, but giving myself the option.
Now that I’d turned around and stood facing him, I couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t in anything resembling a fighting stance. Basic targets — nose, solar plexus, groin, and knees — were completely open and unprotected. Didn’t he know anything? What had he thought he was going to do once he caught me?
People pushed past us, not really aware of what was going on. Jamal, from my physics class, passed us saying, “Can’t you guys stand somewhere else? You’re blocking the hall.”
“Fuck off, Jamal,” Sean suggested.
Jamal gave him the finger and walked away.
With Sean distracted, I followed Jamal, pushing through a group of girls (“Hey!” “Sorry”), and managing to get to the side of the hall which, if I were willing to risk bumping into lockers and trophy cases, was almost always free of people.
I got into the classroom just as the warning bell rang.
I spent the beginning of class wondering if Sean had any idea of how badly he could get hurt if he kept bothering us.
I also wondered how far I was willing to go to stop it.