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American Contemporary High School

This story contains sensitive content

tw// strong language, beating scene, homphobic slur after protagonist is confronted by bully; these are high schoolers, including one of which who has little compassion for social decorum (despite being the one being aggressed against in this very specific instance)

December 15. The date stuck to the top of my head with dry misery. It was the date equivalent to eating one of those cafeteria biscuits that need a swig of near-expired chocolate milk to go down smooth. If I had a choice, it’d be more like the center of a Philly pretzel or the first bite of a dinner roll, something so soft that biting it felt like gnawing on a cloud.

Since it was the only thing I could do to keep my mind from wandering, I wiped the saliva from the side of my mouth and picked up the list I made at the end of 2022.

Coward’s List 2022

Go to gym

Beat up Mr. In-Vince-Ible

Kiss the girl you’ve liked for six years

FOOD FIGHT!!!!

Of course I hadn’t done anything I had on the list, that would take ‘discipline’ and ‘some semblance of realistic expectations.’ It was my own fault for not mixing realistic goals in with the the hard ones, though, and now I was SOL with one day left to do everything I wanted. Forget it was only December 15, it was my last chance in 2022 to take care of business. Me not having one item crossed off yet was a mix of cowardice and procrastination, and if I was gonna end the year happily, I was going to have to go against all my bad habits and all my alarm bells that made me put each one off. Every one, that is, except go to the gym. My time to bulk up in 2022 has come and gone.

Today was all about bucking trends. Most days, I’d dap up my guys and chat back and forth til we all forgot that we had a wakeup time of six in the morning. We’d also joke back and forth about how in the hell we managed to get up so early five days a week, but today, ooh ho ho. Today was not the day to speak to me unless you wanted to be ignored. The most Tyler and Griffin were gonna get from me was a couple daps of the hand before I planted my back against the wall and went into planning mode.

First off, Vince. We have lunch together, so when him and I are in the same room, I’ll need a way to attack him with maximum efficiency but minimum risk. I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to work, but basically the entire day hinged on it.

As for Vanessa, the girl I’ve been crushing on for six years, I thought it was best I save talking to her until the last period. If he didn’t kill me first, I’d consider that the go-ahead to try and try my luck with the girl I’d long feared would laugh in my face if she ever knew how I felt about her, but again, today was the day for me to say f the consequences.

As if by design, the first half of the day was mostly unspectacular. The most exciting part was when someone sunk a trash can shot from halfway across the room in third period AP Calc, a rare moment that only us nerds got to enjoy. I had my eyes on my own trash cans (the metaphor is a bit confused, but the point remains the same). Just like I had for the entire year, however, I shrunk whenever I had the opportunity to do something great. 

I’d seen the beauty and the beast of my life (so far) no less than twice before I wanted to today. Fortunately I didn’t have any early classes with either, so they didn’t have much of an opportunity to scare me in their own unique ways, but even so, I knew that if I had the courage, I’d soon have everything I was after, whether it was closure or catharsis

My first true test of my plan came with the ringing of the school bell. While 3000 hungry students buried themselves in their own corner of the school, I patterned my plans to mimic how Vince normally moved. He usually sat at the far end of the cafeteria so he could be the first one out when the bell rang. He didn’t sit near any friends because, according to him, ‘it’s lonely at the top.’ If he wasn’t so busy beating my face in, maybe I’d almost feel bad for him. Not bad enough to not throw an apple as his head to trigger a giant food fight, but bad enough to go ‘wow, that sucks.’

Anyways, with a Red Delicious and a mind full of (rare) malicious intent, I eyed him from across the room, I started to salivate at the chaos that’d be reaped at my hands as people started throwing food. My tracks would be covered like they were footsteps blown away in a sandstorm, and Vince would huff and puff down the hallway. Meanwhile, I’ll be laughing in the boys’ bathroom as my revenge for years of torment will be avenged with the strike of the head. 

With four years of abuse guiding my aim, I cocked the projectile in my hands and, with two words, deployed the smokescreen that’d  decoy to dissuade any misguided counterattack: “food fight!”

The apple found its home, but my appeal to the volatile immaturity of a locker room of high school boys failed. I was the only one that got the memo that battle lines had been crossed, that for the next ten minutes, the lunch room was akin to the spawn room in COD Zombies. With a disappointing plop, the cherry-red missile plopped to the floor, and for a moment, everything was still. Nobody spoke, nobody ate, nobody moved, except for me and the person whose attention I monopolized. At least I had a head start, but honestly, I was a little disappointed. How did it get to the point where the nerd was the only among them that dared to dare?

Probably because everyone else knew the consequences of poking the bear. I knew too, and I’m sure others wanted to take a swing at goliath, I was just the first one to lather myself in honey and run through the forest (the metaphor is a bit confused, but you get what I mean).

Since offensive measures had failed, I was reduced to flight from the lunchroom. As footsteps erupted behind me, I felt a not-so-subtle exhilaration paint my spirit. Whether it was from the school or the neanderthal behind me, I’d have to face the music at some point. The problem was that I either overestimated how fast I was or I underestimated the acceleration of that hippo, because I barely managed to turn a corner before I got my clock cleaned by an all-state defensive tackle.

The locker was turquoise blue when i was knocked into it, but after the collision, I wouldn’t be shocked if the whole row of them was painted red. I felt blood gushing down my face after I knocked my head on one of those outward protruding ventilation shafts built into each locker. 

“So, you like throwing apples at people, huh? Well, now I get to eat you for lunch. No homo.” Butch said. 

“Wow, I knew you were dumb, but homophobic? That’s a new low.” I said before he drove an elbow into my nose. I knew the risk when I threw the apple, but I didn’t know 

he was gonna keep wailing on me when I was already on the ground. 

“Got anything else you wanna say, or should I let you off with a warning?” 

“Yeah, your defaulting to aggression is a clear indicator of either a lack of intelligence or emotional instability.” I said. 

Though justified, I’m ashamed to say my emotions led to me responding more emotional in tandem. I was at the point of crossing the Rubicon. I was in a boxing match with a big, dumb animal that had me pinned against the floor that I didn’t have a chance of beating, so I did the only thing I could do: hurl insults as it turned my face into mashed potatoes. To quote Andy Samberg, “he hit me with a left and a sucker punch right, then twenty two consecutive sucker punch rights.”

If nothing else, this was a reminder for why I waited so damn long before pushing back against him. Nobody enjoys getting physically abused, but truth has its consequences. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t push this back as I had for three years. Despite the pain (and the likely surgery I’d need to close the open wound above my left eye), the pride that I didn’t know I had was contented. Even though I’d probably have to deal with him for the next six months, I could look back and remember the time I nearly 

got hospitalized for doing the right thing. Okay, it sounds less than ideal when put that way. 

So, my smokescreen turned into a wet fart, my head ripped open like it was a toy on Christmas, and I suffered a concussion. Oh, and apparently all this happened while my crush was watching. Juuuuust great. The only redeeming quality about this day was that Van saved me from dying, but at that point, it probably woulda been better off if she didn’t. Let me die with some dignity instead of chasing someone off with pepper spray. 

I tried to play it off cool, like the room wasn’t spinning with every step, like Vince didn’t just damn near send me to the hospital, but truth be told, after I realized the wound to my pride was less painful than the cracks I took to the head, I was glad she was there by my side. It made the ass beating I was just handed go down a little more smoothly. As was par for the course, I had trouble looking at her, trouble speaking to her, but I almost wanted to count it since I felt like it was the closest I was going to get.

No, it wasn’t good enough. I didn’t say I wanted to be near my crush, I said I wanted a kiss, so I did the only thing an awkward kid like me could do: I spent the entire walk to the nurse’s office bracing to ask a simple question, overcomplicating what should have theoretically been a very simple proposition, psyching myself out to the point I almost backed out. 

No, it was too late now. This was the closest I had ever gotten. I wasn’t going to let my broken nose, mild concussion, and wobbly feet go to waste. Once we reached the outside of the nurse’s office, I made my move. 

“Hey Vanessa, my head’s kinda fucked up right now, so I don’t know if it’s the blood talking or what, but there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you for…. Shit, six years? And I thought that now was as good a time as any. I know you have to get to class, so I’ll keep this brief. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but is there any chance I could have a kiss? I’d be okay if it’s on the forehea- actually no, my head’s a bit bloody right now, ha ha. Whatever part of me isn’t covered in blood. Like I said, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” I rambled. There, the toothpaste was out of the tube, and there was no putting it back now. If she was gonna laugh at me, it would hurt, but I don’t think she was capable of hurting me anymore than I’d already been injured. 

“It sure took you long enough, didn’t it?” she responded. It was kinda the response I was looking for but not the one I was expecting. 

“What do you mean ?”

“You’re not exactly subtle. Even though you’ve never said anything to me, I’ve seen the looks you throw me in the hallway. Whenever I try to throw one back, though, you’ve always got your head buried in your books. Lots of book smarts without much street smarts to show for it.”

“You’re really gonna talk mess to a kid that might have a concussion?” I asked. She didn’t answer. At least, not with words. Instead, she gave me the reward I had long coveted: a warm smile and a kiss on the forehead that lingered for about three to four seconds. If her lips weren’t blood red before, they certainly were now. As if it were her lipstick that transferred the red to my forehead and not the other way around, so much blood rushed to my cheeks that I thought my face might explode. 

With a press of her lips, she stole all the words from my mouth. Whatever I could possibly hope to say wouldn’t do justice to the moment she had given me. No matter what happened for the rest of the day, nobody could take this from me. Vince could storm the room and suffocate me until the struggling stopped, those three seconds made up for the 189 million seconds I spent debating whether or not she would run away screaming. Granted, I felt a wave of new embarrassment once I realized that I had spent the last six years building up the moment in my head just to learn it was never that difficult to begin with, but thinking about that was too much for the moment. There was no point obsessing over failure when I had everything I ever wanted leaning over my head. For the moment, I was comfortable knowing that the girl that I’d loved for a third of my life and I were finally standing eye to eye. Well, the metaphor isn’t quite perfect, but you know what I mean.

January 07, 2023 03:37

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1 comment

Jeannette Miller
17:20 Jan 09, 2023

Dylan, not quite sure you needed the TW in the beginning. The slur was pretty mild from my perspective. As for the fight, I could see it in my head clearly but what was concerning to me was the lack of adults breaking it up. I get that it happened in the hallway but if Vanessa was there to rescue him, then were there other students watching? Maybe a teacher could break it up and Vanessa could walk with him and Vince could've been taken away to the principal's office? Anyway, a good take on the prompt and realistic version of what could've ...

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