Rough Edges

Chapter Eight: Surprise Attack

Welcome back. In this chapter, Phil decides to prove he is as tough as any kid in the sixth grade.

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<~Larry Sanders~>

The almost four-hour bus ride to Pasco was uneventful. We’d stopped in Yakima for lunch, the team invading a local fast food restaurant. I’m sure they more than wiped out the restaurant’s ground beef supply.

Coach Hart and I checked us into the hotel in Pasco while Phil kept watching over the herd, not that they needed that much watching. They were good kids and were proud to represent the Mayfield Mustangs. We’d already gone through the process of assigning rooms. We handed out keys to the boys, reminding them of their responsibilities, and told them to be in the lobby at 5:30 for dinner. I suspected most of them would use the intervening hour to take a nap.

“Any bets on who will be late?” Coach Hart asked after we dismissed the team.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said. “Nobody will be late. Their success has been built on doing things right, which you know perfectly well. Besides, what self-respecting teenager would come late for food?”

“I was just asking.” He smiled as we stopped at his room, knowing he had yanked my chain. He would be rooming with Coach Ecklund, the middle school baseball coach as well as Korey’s father. Coach Ecklund was driving since he had a middle school game to coach. He wouldn’t be here until at least nine.

Phil and I entered our room and plopped down on our separate beds. We could have gotten a room with a single king bed, but propriety demanded we get separate beds. While everybody knew we were a gay couple, we still felt it best to maintain appearances.

“I’m going to do what the boys are probably doing right now,” I told Phil.

“What’s that, jerk off?”

“Damn, you have a dirty mind. I was thinking more of taking a well-deserved nap.”

But that was not to be as right then the room phone rang. It was the front desk. “Sure, send them up,” I said after listening to the desk clerk.

“Send who up?”

“I’ll let it be a pleasant surprise.”

I kicked off my shoes and waited for the inevitable knock on the door. It didn’t take long. As tired as I was, I was looking forward to seeing the two young men who were coming up to our room. I opened the door and grinned as Eric and Noah walked in.

“Hey, coaches!” they called out in unison, big smiles on their faces. Heartfelt hugs were exchanged between them and Phil and me. After the hugs, they sat on Phil’s bed while Phil and I sat on mine.

“Separate beds?” Eric asked. “Is there something we should know?”

“It’s all about image,” Phil told them.

“Yeah, like you guys are fooling anybody.”

As I’d mentioned before, Eric and Noah were maybe my all-time favorite players. They weren’t the most talented I’d coached, but damn they knew how to play the game. They had great smarts out on the field, just like they did in the classroom. Finishing in the top two in their graduating class proved that part. Eric pitching a perfect game in the Class A championship game at Safeco Field when he was a senior is probably the highlight of my career as a coach.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you. When did you guys get in?” The two were sophomores at Stanford.

“We got in an hour ago,” Noah said. “When we found out that Nicky might be suiting up, I convinced dad to buy a couple of plane tickets for us.” Noah’s father owned one of the largest trucking companies in the region and was not hurting for money. He was one of the biggest supporters of the booster club and of our summer program—a program that was started by the two young men in my hotel room when they were in middle school. That says even more about the quality individuals they were.

“Well, don’t hold your breath on Nick suiting up,” I told Noah. “He’s on the reserve roster in case someone gets hurt.”

“I know that coach. Supporting the Mighty Mustangs is the biggest reason we’re here, but by invoking Nicky’s name I managed to make it about family. That is a guarantee to loosen dad’s purse strings.”

“And we’ll even get to see Noah’s dad,” Eric put in, “as well as mine.”

Before I could say anything else, Noah’s phone chimed. He looked at it, reading a text message. “The twinkies and their boyfriends are down in the lobby. Okay if they come up, coach?”

“Of course it’s okay; this is like old home week.” The “twinkies” were identical twins Kevin and Kraig Corcoran, along with their boyfriends Lars and Hunter. The four were students at Central Washington University. They were in the same class in high school as Eric and Noah. Korey was the twins’ younger brother. The quartet was at the door quickly, and Noah let them in.

The four of them all but filled the room. Hunter and the twins were big, well-built athletic young men, standing over six feet tall and weighing in at over 200 pounds. Lars was tall and slender, the build he’d had since middle school, while Eric and Noah were just under six feet tall and probably in the 170-175 range. Eric, Noah, and Lars took up Phil’s bed, while the twins sat on the two chairs in the room, and Hunter sat with Phil and me on what was my bed.

We spent time catching up. Eric and Noah had walked-on for the Stanford baseball team as freshmen. Although they didn’t make the cut, the coach did place them on a team that he used to develop young players. They made the cut this year, but they didn’t see much playing time. The four Central kids all played varsity ball as sophomores.

“So, who’s going to start tomorrow coach?” Kevin asked. “Korey makes it sound like it’s some kind of state secret. I guess only the catcher has a need to know.”

“You’re the expert on that subject, bro,” Kraig told him. Kevin had been the starting catcher for both state championship teams.

Kevin laughed. “I didn’t think I was part of the CIA, though. I told everything to everybody except what coach told me not to blab about.” He looked at me and laughed again. “You didn’t tell the little shit to keep it secret,  did you?”

“Nope. I think he’s just tweaking his big brothers. And he’s not such a little shit, unless six-one, 185 pounds is considered little.”

“To us, he will always be the little shit.”

“Well, tomorrow’s starter is not a state secret. Raul Garcia is getting the ball.” Garcia was a junior who had enrolled at Mayfield at the start of his sophomore year. His father was an electrical engineer who took on a job at the hydroelectric dam that was just south of Mayfield. Eric’s father, Dennis, was the general manager of the dam. Raul’s mother was a doctor who worked at a doc-in-the-box in Centralia, the county seat.

Raul was a good kid and a very talented player. He had been unhappy about being uprooted from his high school just before the start of his sophomore year. He had lived in the same house his entire life. His high school was a large school with a top-notch baseball program. He felt like he’d been demoted when he arrived at the small town of Mayfield. His father could have moved the family to Centralia and been the one to take on the 45-minute commute, but when he learned about the success of the Mayfield baseball program, he and his wife opted to live in Mayfield and have her make the commute.

This also made Raul unhappy. State championships or not, in his mind bigger was better. Centralia had a good baseball program and, as a bigger school, with more depth of talent. He was a bit of a troublemaker to start, acting out to show his frustrations with life. But, with input from me, his father, and some of the veteran players like Blaine, Korey, and Chandler, he started to come around. But he still could carry a chip on his shoulder and become uncommunicative and difficult to deal with at times. His parents were very cooperative, but they would occasionally have their problems dealing with his moodiness as well.

“Let’s see,” Kevin said. “Blazing fastball, hard slider, okay change-up. Tends to want to blow the ball by everybody, resulting in games where he has way too many walks. Can be stubborn on the mound, but responds to Korey threatening to beat the living shit out of him if he doesn’t grow up and pitch.”

“Spoken like a true catcher.” Eric knew all about Kevin as a catcher. The two had that special bond that pitchers and catchers develop and it went back to sixth grade. “Sounds like your brother gave you a good scouting report.”

“And, I hear he is quite the ladies’ man,” Hunter said. “At least according to Korey, the tell-all catcher.”

Kraig agreed. “Apparently he’s fucked…er…laid two of the cheerleaders, which is not an easy task, especially for a junior.”

“It’s okay to say fuck,” I told Kraig, “we’re all men here now.”

That led to a round of laughter, with Kraig saying, “If you looked at Hunter’s junk you might want to change that ‘ALL men’ part of the quote.”

“I guess you go without tonight,” Hunter said.

“Like anything could happen with the four of us crowded into a motel room,” Kevin pointed out.

“I thought that was when you had the most fun,” Noah smirked.

Phil and I were enjoying the back-and-forth banter. It was the kind of talk we couldn’t have with them when they were our players and students at the high school. Not that they didn’t say things within earshot just to see if they could elicit a response. They never did as we kept our professional cool.

“Well, according to Korey, Raul is really hung,” Lars told us. “Would that be your observation coach?”

“I wouldn’t know,” was my diplomatic reply.

“You can’t tell us you don’t check out the guys in the locker room,” Kevin said, “because you’d be lying if you did. Hell, some of us would parade past the gym office window in the nude just to give you something to gawk at.”

I could feel myself blush, but once again I kept my professional cool. I knew that Kevin was one of those parading, sometimes showing off his six-inch erection. It was something we didn’t discuss then, and I had no intention of discussing now. But, I also knew that since middle school Kevin had a thing for adult men. Phil and I knew a lot more about those boys than we’d ever admit to.

I wasn’t about to tell Kevin and Kraig about catching his brother Korey and his boyfriend Chandler deep kissing and humping cocks in the shower after practice late in the season. I thought the locker room was empty but then heard a shower going. It was rare that someone left a shower on, but it happened for reasons I never could fathom. I wanted to go home, so I walked into the locker room, turned into the shower area, and saw the two seniors busily making out. It took a lot to shake up those two, and seeing me standing at the entrance to the shower was one of those times. They broke quickly, both in full body blush, apologizing profusely. Their teen cocks were rock hard and I think they were on the verge of spurting. I wanted to laugh, but I knew I couldn’t. I told them to find a more appropriate place to make out, they told me they didn’t think I’d be coming out of my office, and we never talked about it again.

Their big saving grace is that they were out as gay boyfriends, or things could have been worse. On the other hand, that might also have been the reason they pushed the limit, knowing that even if they got caught I knew what the story was between the two of them.

Hell, I’d been “gawking” at boys in the showers ever since I first set foot into a locker room. I’d love to say the first time Phil and I saw each other naked was in the locker room in middle school, but we didn’t have PE together, so that wasn’t the case. But, there were plenty of other boys to gawk at, including Perry and Q who were both in my PE class.

“I don’t mind being naked in front of you guys,” Q said during lunch a couple of days after school started, “cuz we’re best buds and love to mess around.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s a lot easier to mess around if you’re naked.”

“But, getting naked in front of all kinds of guys I don’t know…uh, uh, that is NOT something I am looking forward to.”

“I get naked in front of my brother’s friends all the time,” Perry told us.

“Yeah, but you still know them really good,” Q said, “and you mess around with them.”

“I’m afraid I’ll pop a boner,” Jung said. We all agreed that we had the same fear.

“The worst thing is, if Jung pops a boner we won’t be able to see it because he’s in a different PE class than us,” I pointed out.

“Then he’ll just have to show it to us on the bus,” Perry laughed.

“P, you are such a perv,” Q kidded.

“Don’t call me P.”

“I like Red’s idea,” I said. “If any of us pops a boner in the showers we have to show it on the bus.”

“Don’t call me Red,” Perry said, knowing we were going to ignore his pleas.

“We’ll have to check the idea with Daniel and Ben,” Q pointed out. Daniel and Ben were eating with some kids who played on our soccer team. The sixth graders alternated PE and health every other day. We wouldn’t have to start showering until the third week of school.

“Since nobody has PE with Jung, we’ll have to take his word for whether he had a boner or not,” Perry said.

“Hey, if you can’t trust Jung, who can you trust?” I asked sincerely.

“And just so you can all be sure, I will pinky swear to stand up tall and be honest,” Jung offered. We all interlocked pinkies with Jung, which meant we had made the most solemn of promises.

“And we all know what’s going to stand up tall on Jung,” Q laughed as we cleaned up our table and headed for the athletic field to blow off some steam.

As I left the lunchroom, I couldn’t help but notice a lone figure at the end of one of the tables. I walked over to him and gave him my winningest smile. “You don’t have to eat alone. You can always have lunch with us.”

“You can go fuck yourself,” was his reply.

I shrugged and walked away. After the way he’d received me from the first day in homeroom I should have given up on the bastard. And normally, I think I would have. I was friendly and outgoing, but there were limits. I had wonderful long-time friends who were all great guys (at least in my mind) and I really didn’t need to force myself upon them.

I would have quit right then with Phil, except I had seen him on the baseball field the past summer the two times my team played his team. I didn’t know much about psychology, but I knew a respected leader when I saw one, and the catcher of Phil’s team was that kind of kid. Phil was the catcher, and on top of leading his team, he was a damned good catcher.

My thoughts returned to the young men in the hotel room. “This has been fun, gentlemen, but I see the time for dinner is arriving. Time for us to herd everyone into the banquet room. You’re welcome to eat with us.”

“Is the school footing the bill?” Kevin asked with a sly smile.

“Of course not; the baseball program isn’t made of money,” I told them teasingly.

“Aww,” came the chorus from the group.

“But, I could call the president of the Booster Club and see if he will spring for dinner for some members of the alumni.”

“That would be my dad,” Noah grinned. “I think this is a done deal.”

Noah was right. His father, Seth, immediately agreed to pay for the meals for the four graduates out of his discretionary fund. “If the board doesn’t like it,” he added, “I’ll cover it with a donation.”

“Thanks dad,” Noah yelled before I hung up the phone. One thing I’ve always admired about Noah, and his brother Nicky as well, is that even though he came from a well-to-do household, he always had his feet planted firmly on the ground. He never thought that money made him better than his peers or anybody else. The result was that is virtually everybody liked and respected Noah.

The team was excited when they learned the four alums would be eating with them, Chandler and Nicky most of all. I was pleased to hear a lot of the talk between players and graduates center on being in the state tournament and the kind of mindset the team would need the next day. While the team was required to wear dress shirts and ties, the alums were not. They were dressed in what is referred to in some circles as “smart casual.” The players and the grads didn’t clear the banquet room until well after we’d all finished eating.

Phil, Coach Hart, and I sat in the lobby in case the hotel needed help in chasing the boys out of the banquet room. But they were used to lingering diners and deftly worked around the group. As the three of us waited and talked, two more graduates showed up. It was Mike the Donkey and his partner Ryan the Dawg. While the two weren’t part of our state tournament teams, they were seniors on my first team as varsity coach and when Eric and his class were in eighth grade. Although they never won a championship, the two were instrumental in the success of the baseball program, both for their caliber of play and their mentoring of the younger players.

“Hey, coach,” the Donkey called out in his usual outgoing style, flashing his wide smile. “Are you sitting here to check on the boys coming back from the bar?”

“They’re all in the banquet room, talking baseball,” I laughed.

“Is that what they call it?” the Donkey asked. “In our day we weren’t afraid to call it talking sex.”

“Your timing is a bit off. I’m surprised you missed dinner.” The Donkey’s appetite was legendary.

“I’ll blame it all on the Dawg.”

I told him who was in the banquet room with the team. He started howling with laughter. “Oh, then they aren’t talking sex…they’re probably laid out on the table having sex.”

“You are incorrigible.”

“It’s why I am trusted to be a positive influence on the youth of our state.” The Donkey was a junior high teacher in a school district north of Seattle (“They call me Mr. Donkey,” he once informed me, tongue firmly planted in cheek) while The Dawg was finishing up graduate work in fine arts at the University of Washington.

“Go in and tell them hello,” I told them.

“Outside of Nick and Chandler and the old timers, I doubt anybody will remember me.”

“Allow yourself to be introduced,” I instructed Michael. “Your reputation is well known.”

Michael grinned at the coach’s comment. “I take it the tables have been cleared…at least of food.”

“Yes they have.”

“I think the six grads in there can take care of inspiring the herd just fine. But, I will say hello to my old buddies before the Dawg and I find ourselves a buffet.”

“I was wondering when you were going to bring up food,” Ryan laughed.

Michael poked his head into the banquet room and waved. I heard Eric’s voice call out gleefully, “Michael! It’s the Donkey! Come on in.”

“I gotta go eat,” the Donkey yelled back. “Just wanted to wave hi.” Before he could move away from the door, Eric and Noah had him in a double hug. I know that the Donkey and the Dawg had helped those two deal with their gayness when they were in middle and high school. I suspect there had been a physical aspect to that relationship as well as psychological.

“How is it I am not surprised that food is your prime motivation for the night,” Noah said.

“Food ranks a close second to sex when it comes to motivating a Donkey.” After more chatter and hugs, with a kiss thrown in between Michael and Eric, the Dawg and Donkey headed out to eat and Noah and Eric returned to the banquet room. About fifteen minutes later I reluctantly broke up the conclave. I met with the team, reminding them of the rules for the night and the schedule for the morning.

Eric and Noah had a room at the hotel, courtesy of Seth McCall, Noah’s father. The twins and their boyfriends had a room at a motel up the road. Phil, Coach Hart, and I herded the boys to their rooms, and then Phil and I settled into our own room.

“Do you think the hormones will take over tonight?” Phil asked as we cuddled on one of the beds.

“They did the last time we were here,” I replied, “as well as in Seattle.”

“Too bad this group couldn’t have the experience of playing at Safeco Field.”

The two big classifications played their state tournament at Safeco Field in Seattle every year the Mariners aren’t scheduled that weekend. One of the three smaller classifications rotated in every year as well. We were an A school, and the A classification was the one that had rotated in two years ago. This year the Mariners were at home during tournament weekend, so the tournaments were scattered around the state.

“It worked out just right for us two years ago,” I reminisced. “It was an experience those boys and the town of Mayfield will never forget.”

It was early and we had a lot of extra energy, which we burned up with a nice romp on the bed. Phil was just as good between the sheets as he’d been when we had our first sex in middle school. But in those first few months of sixth grade, neither of us would ever have guessed where we’d end up as adults.

To keep my mind from racing through tomorrow’s game, something I had no control over at the moment, I set my thoughts back to those nascent days of the relationship between Phil and me.

After Phil’s rejection of my overtures in the lunchroom, I made one more attempt to reach out to him. We studiously ignored each other on the bus as well as in homeroom. He still sat behind me in homeroom, but he might as well have been in a different classroom for all of the attention we paid each other. I decided I had plenty of great friends and I didn’t need to waste my time with someone who seemed happy to be an asshole.

Q and Jung spent Friday night at my house. We went there straight from the bus. Perry, Ben, and Daniel had family commitments, or at least that’s what they said. We suspected Perry’s commitments consisted of messing around with Perry’s brother and his friends. We figured we’d find out more on the bus Monday morning.

The three of us behaved like eleven-year-old boys before and after dinner. We kicked a soccer ball around and played catch in my back yard. We shot baskets in my driveway. We played video games in my room. We told jokes, gossiped, laughed, giggled, groped, and played grab ass. By bedtime, we were afflicted with serious horniness.

“Monday we shower after PE for the first time,” Q said. “It’s going to be really weird seeing so many guys naked.” The PE teacher was breaking us into showering together very slowly. For the first two weeks of school, slapping on deodorant after PE was satisfactory.

“I wonder if any of us will pop wood and have to pay off a bet on the bus.” I knew we were all excited and a bit frightened by the wager we’d made. All six of us had agreed to the bet. We knew that somebody was going to get hard, we just didn’t know who would do it and when. Like everybody else, I hoped it would be somebody other than me who got a boner in the shower.

“That mean kid is in my PE class,” Jung said.

“What mean kid?” I asked, knowing full well who he was talking about.

“He means Phil. You know, the kid who gets on the bus on the other side of Stevens,” Q told me. “The one you keep trying to be friends with.”

“Did you see the look he gave you on the way home today?” Jung asked me.

“No, I was busy talking to Q.”

“Busy feeling him up you mean.” Jung grinned.

“I got my index finger inside his zipper.” I blushed, embarrassed that Jung caught me. “He was so hard I didn’t have to reach in very far.” Then a thought occurred to me. “Shit, how did you catch us? You were two seats away. If you saw me doing that so did some other guys…”

“…and girls,” Jung added.

Now I was really embarrassed. Then I saw Q fighting down laughter and I knew what had happened. “You told Jung about it, you rat,” I said, throwing a friendly punch off his arm. “See if I suck your dick tonight.”

“I’m sure Jung knows what to do,” Q laughed.

“Why do you keep trying to be friends with that mean Phil jerk?” Jung asked.

“I quit doing that. I am ignoring him totally in homeroom.”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t see him give you that look.”

“Was it a mean look?”

Jung shook his head. “No, it was the kind of look Q gives you when he’s horny. Like the look Perry gives everybody when he’s horny.”

“You think he was perving on me?” I asked.

“I dunno. You could get perved on by worse. He’s not a bad looking dude. I’ll tell you what he looks like naked after school on Monday.”

“Now I will ignore him even more,” I said with conviction. The problem was, I more than agreed with Jung. He really wasn’t a bad looking dude—in fact he was a really cute looking dude in my budding preteen gay mind. That gave me two reasons to think he wasn’t as bad as he pretended to be: he was a really good catcher and leader, and he was, well, hot.

Q ended up sucking me, and I sucked Jung, and Jung sucked Q, and that was how our horniness was dealt with. We could have done a daisy chain, but there was something to be said for watching two friends going at each other on my bed. The bed was a mess when we finished, sheets and blankets strewn on the floor. We put it back together haphazardly. It was good enough for us to sleep on.

Phil and I ignored each other again on Monday, at least until he got on the bus after school. He shot me the kind of look Jung had been referring to. As soon as he saw me looking back at him, he turned away and pretended he hadn’t been looking at me.

Jung was sitting in the seat ahead of me. He turned around and grinned after Phil passed us.

“Did you see his look this time?” Jung asked. I nodded. “He looks nice naked, too,” Jung went on. “He has all of the right parts.”

I blushed a little as I wished he was in my PE class so I could be the one seeing him naked. I was beginning to wonder if I was the one perving on Phil rather than the other way around.

Phil and I went through a slightly different procedure at lunch on Tuesday. I observed where he sat and made sure my path to my lunch table went past where he was sitting by himself. I don’t know why I wanted him to notice me without my soliciting his attention, but I did. When he boarded the bus at the end of the school day, he glared at me and then looked away. Once again he acted like he hadn’t noticed me, when I knew he had. We were flirting just like the middle school kids we were.

This routine went on through Wednesday. Q had noticed much of this flirtation, and on Thursday morning decided during our bus ride to school to find out what was going on with Phil and me.

“You guys are acting like a couple of girls,” he pointed out.

“Fuck you,” I grumbled, proud of my increasing use of forbidden words.

“Serious. You secretly look each at other in homeroom, you always go by where he’s sitting at lunch, then you both go all gaga getting on the bus after school. If you had PE with him, you’d for sure be the first one to lose the boner challenge.”

“Fuck you,” I grumbled again. One thing about relying on expletives is that I didn’t have to come up with a wide range of retorts.

“That’s all you gotta say?”

“No, but it’s all I’m gonna say.”

“Can you spend tomorrow night at my house?” Q asked, deftly changing the subject.

“I’ll ask mom after school and call you. But we’re not going to talk about me and Phil.”

He leaned and whispered in my ear, “Deal, if you promise to get me off watching TV in the living room?”

I was shocked by his suggestion. “What about your parents?”

“That’s what’s gonna make it fun,” he grinned.

Phil got on the bus after we crossed Stevens Avenue. On the morning run, only the seats to the front were empty by the time we got to our stop on that side of the main drag. My friends and I sat as far to the back as we could without pissing off the seventh and eighth graders, so Phil and I made little or no contact until we got to homeroom.

That morning the routine was the same. I looked at him without really looking at him as he passed my seat and sat in the desk behind me. At lunch, the routine changed. He wasn’t sitting alone at the table where he usually sat. Instead, he was sitting a couple of tables away with Carlos Perez, his buddy Skyler, and a couple of the other big losers in the sixth grade. I’d seen them all together in the foyer before school started.

I found myself feeling disappointed and angry when I saw who he was with. In my mind he was better than that. I knew that, how? I knew that because of his playing baseball—playing catcher—and showing leadership. Only losers followed assholes like Carlos. I didn’t even know the kid; in fact the first time I’d seen him other than on the baseball field was on the first day of school. Once again, in my naïve fashion, I equated Phil as a person with Phil as a baseball catcher. It turned out I was way off base in the short run, but close to on the money in the long haul.

I took the seat between Q and Daniel at our usual lunch table. “I think Phil is a real asshole,” I announced.

“Oh? You mean you finally figured that out?” Q asked. Big, silent Daniel said nothing. With Daniel, you never knew what he was thinking until he decided to let you know—if he decided to let you know.

“Did you see who he was sitting with?” I asked.

“I don’t pay any attention to the asshole, and it’s nice you finally agree with me that he is an asshole.” If I had been a bit more sophisticated I would have said my good friend Q was a bit jealous.

“He keeps talking about how tough he is and how he wants to beat people up,” Perry cut in. “I bet any one of us could beat him up by ourselves.” He looked around the table and then said, “Except maybe for Daniel and Jung”

“P, you are full of crap as usual,” Q told him.

“Don’t call me P,” Perry said mechanically.

“You should point out that P comes before Q in the alphabet,” I reminded Perry for what seemed like the millionth time.

“Tell that to somebody who gives a shit,” Perry shot back.

Sometimes I wondered if we’d been friends too long with the way we hit each other with the same old insults. I wondered, not for the first time, if maybe it was time for me to make another attempt to ask Phil to eat with us to help us expand our personal horizons.

We bussed our trays. Since it was a sunny day we agreed to meet out on the athletic fields for the rest of lunch break. Ben and I were the last two in our group to leave the lunchroom. I looked over to where Phil had been sitting and saw that he and his buddies were gone.

There are two ways to go outdoors from the lunchroom. One way is to go out of the main door which led directly to the foyer. From there a person could turn left and enter the courtyard or turn right, which would lead to a wide pathway that went between the main wing and the lunchroom and led to the athletic fields. The other, shorter way, was to go out of the side exit of the lunchroom. This exit led to a corridor where a person could turn left or right to reach exits that emptied directly to the fields.

Ben and I chose to use the short way. Ben was a true non-conformist, what with his Mohawk and his penchant for painting his finger and toenails on occasion. He was suspended after the first week of school because of his haircut and for wearing an inappropriate shirt (it was advertising a certain brand of beer). His parents came to school threatening to sue regarding the hair issue, but supporting the principal regarding the shirt. They said Ben had worn a sweatshirt over the offending shirt. They would see to it he didn’t wear inappropriate clothing again. We were hearing talk of the school adopting uniforms in the future and were certain violations like Ben’s would cause that unwanted occurrence to happen.

When we entered the corridor, we were greeted by Phil, who gave us a look of disdain. I saw one of the guys he’d been sitting with hovering in the background.

At first I thought Phil was going to attack Ben, because he was different and quiet. But, as I’ve found out in more than one wild wrestling match, Ben was also strong and supple. I don’t know why, but I was surprised by how much shorter Phil was than me and Ben, as if that made him less of a threat. I let myself focus on that thought as I asked him, as politely as I could, what he wanted.

“This,” he said forcefully, as he pistoned his right fist into my gut. He turned and walked out the side door as the surprise and force of his blow dropped me to my knees. His attack knocked the breath out of me and I found myself unable to draw a new one.

NEXT: The Gang