The kick didn’t do as much damage as it could have — by which I mean that it didn’t make his knee point the wrong direction. On the other hand, it did do what it was supposed to.
Sean fell over, landing in the snow next to where Jody held my arm down.
He didn’t stop talking either. “I can’t stand on my leg. I can’t stand on my fucking leg…”
I felt Jody’s grip on my arm loosen and I pulled it out of his hands, using the momentum to roll toward Dayton and punch him in the face.
I didn’t hit him hard enough to take him out, but he let go of my right arm.
I pushed myself up, trying to avoid stepping on Sean as I stood, moving toward Dayton’s car. Because Lee pushed paying attention to what you’re standing on, I choose to move over the sidewalk and stand on the other side of a particularly slick section of ice.
Neither Dayton nor Jody moved.
“If we’re all done,” I said, “I’ll just go home and you guys can… do whatever. I mean seriously, why fight?”
“Don’t just lie there,” Sean said. “You see what he did to me? Remember your car, Dayton? You could take him down by yourself. And Jody, didn’t you say you hated guys like that?”
Oh great. A pep talk.
Dayton stood up, reminding me just how big he actually was. With football season over, I’d heard that he gotten into bodybuilding.
“Hey,” I said, “you don’t have to listen to him.”
Dayton didn’t say anything.
Jody got up. “Who do you think we should listen to? You?”
Dayton stepped onto the sidewalk.
The key point in fighting someone like Dayton was to make sure it didn’t turn into a wrestling match. In a wrestling match, strength helps, and I wasn’t going to win that contest.
I waited for him to get both feet on the ice.
Then I punched him in the face.
His feet went out from under him and he fell sideways onto the sidewalk, hitting his head against it.
Remembering the last time I’d knocked him down, I turned away from Dayton’s fall to face Jody.
Jody’s eyes were still on Dayton’s body.
“Hey,” I said. “We don’t really have to fight. Seriously. I’ve been training for years now, and I’m actually pretty good at it.”
“Stick your training up your ass, bed wetter.”
He charged me.
I threw him like I had Dayton in the beginning of the fight, my reasoning being that now that I was only facing one opponent, I could do that all day. Eventually he’d get sick of eating snow and stop fighting me.
I’d forgotten about something though — the car. I had been standing in front of it and he hit it with a solid thump. Unconscious, he lay next to the back tire, face scraped by the rusty metal.
I wondered how recently he’d gotten a tetanus shot.
“Holy shit.” Sean had pulled himself up on the fence. “Someone get Mr. Sledge. Tell him Nick just beat the fuck out of us.”
He wasn’t talking to me.
During the fight a small crowd (maybe ten people) had formed on the other side of the fence — which made sense given that I wasn’t even off school property yet. I’d been walking next to our parking lot and it wasn’t even half an hour after school.
How had I managed not to notice the people?
From the crowd, Kayla said, “Nick, are you okay?”
She stood next to half the girl’s basketball team. They had a game against Grand Lake North today.
“Fine,” I said, but then I drew in a breath. It hurt. “Wait, I don’t know. I think I might have a broken rib.”
“Does anyone know the number of the office?” She said to the person next to her, a short, dark-skinned girl I didn’t know. The girl shrugged.
“I’ll run in,” Kayla said. “We’ve got that much time.”
“I’ve got it.” A boy two cars over from her pointed to his phone. I didn’t know his name, but I knew he was a freshman.
Less than a minute later, Mr. Sledge came running out of the school’s front door. He didn’t look happy.
* * *
Four hours and one emergency room visit later, I found myself at home finishing supper at the kitchen table. Mom had bought a whopper value meal from Burger King on the way back from the hospital.
Given what Vaughn had said about Sean’s connections with other descendants of Red Lightning’s army, and knowing what had happened after Haley injected him with poison, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Mr. Sledge tried to pin the whole thing on me.
I was anyway.
Being questioned by a police officer on the way out of the emergency room didn’t make me feel any better, but the cracked rib supported my version of events. Better yet, it turned out that a couple different students had seen the whole thing from beginning to end.
Because of that, they couldn’t do much to me. The key word in that sentence being “much.”
Dad came into the house around eight o’clock, just as I was throwing the bag and wrappers into the trash can under the sink.
“Gah,” he muttered, shutting the side door behind him. “I think I must have gotten ten phone calls on this already. Nick, what happened this afternoon?”
Standing next to the sink, I told him, starting from the beginning.
“I understand defending yourself, but the part with the snowball? You didn’t have to do that. Don’t most martial arts teachers teach you to avoid fights?”
“Yeah,” I said. Lee had said things like that — sort of. He’d phrased it as, “Don’t get into a fight that will get you in trouble. Ambush them later and dispose of the body quietly.”
“Well, I told the Assistant Principal that I agreed with scheduling a few sessions with the school counselor to work on any anger issues you may have.”
“You’re kidding me. I don’t have anger issues.”
“It doesn’t matter. This isn’t about you. This is about pacifying them. I got called by all their parents today. If you get counseling for a little while, they’ll go away. If you don’t, Mr. Drucker threatened a civil suit.”
“But I don’t need counseling. They need counseling.”
“I’m told they’ll get it too. Besides, I know Mr. McGhee. He’s a good guy. You’ll like him.”
I doubted somehow that they’d end up talking to anyone at all, but arguing with Dad wasn’t going to change anything. The force of the almighty dollar was at work.
“Ok,” I said. “I’ll deal with it.”
I went up to my room after that, still kind of pissed off about the whole thing. Dad had to cave in. He didn’t have much of a choice. He’d built a practice on working with families, particularly troubled teens. A lawsuit, even one that ended quickly, wasn’t going to make him look good at all.
I’d lived in that particular fishbowl for years and I understood, but it still stank.
“Bed wetter,” Jody had said. His parents obviously owned at least one of Dad’s books. I wondered if it had done him any good.