High school. The land of the haves and the have-nots. The cool kids and the outcasts who gather at the nerd table in the lunchroom. The quarterback and the 3rd trombone in the school band. The Petrie dish for the natural evolution of separations within a species long before sociologists wrote about tribes and caste systems. Calvin knew where he was, and he knew he didn’t belong there.
He fit in, but he hated where he fit in. His “friends” were companions. He concealed his disdain for them but never felt comfortable in their midst. It is a sad and lonely place for a teenager who thinks he’s cool, but no one recognizes just how cool he is.
“Calvin, why don’t you come along with us? It’ll be fun. Joey’s mom is making a spaghetti dinner before the Homecoming Dance, and then we all sleep over at Tom’s. He’s got Halloween One and Two.”
“No, Bernie, I think I’ll pass on it.”
“Come on, the dance will be fun. Cecelia says she’s going with a group of girls. There will be a lot of girls to dance with. Are you sure?”
Calvin put the odds of anyone in his group getting out on the dance floor Saturday night at absolute zero. Talk, talk, talk. That’s all they ever did- talk about hooking up with one of the cheerleaders, talk about getting a cool car someday, talk about an exciting road trip. Fanciful dreams of the have-nots. Calvin would rather stick needles in both of his eyes and walk into traffic than stand in a stag line at the Homecoming Dance with these guys.
“No, I’m sure.”
Calvin. Average student, average intelligence, average in appearance, and unfortunately in light of discarded dreams, well below average in athletic ability. Now a senior, he still lamented the fact he couldn’t make his freshman basketball team. Remarkably, in his three years plus at Central High, he hadn’t done a thing anyone could remember.
Some say it was a serpent. Milton said it was a cormorant. Either way, it was a ruse with life-altering consequences.
New kids in class draw a lot of attention, this one more than most. Stunningly handsome, hair as black as coal, penetrating deep blue eyes, and a confident, calm presence unusual to the high school scene. He noticed Calvin as quickly as everyone noticed him.
Was it coincidence or design? The new arrival counted out three desks and plopped himself down next to Calvin. They spoke in near whispers.
“Hey, I’m Lew. I don’t know where you guys are in the book, but I have a little trouble with math.”
The smile was capturing.
“So, I might need a little help.”
An unusual feeling overtook Calvin. The new kid, the center of attention, looking every bit the part of one of the cool kids, was talking to him. Was it possible that he could become his friend, the kind of friend he wanted, the kind of friend he deserved? It was a scene coming out of a movie- Sal Mineo latching onto James Dean.
“I’d be glad to help. Math is my strong subject. My name is Calvin.”
Calvin struggled in math, but he jumped at the chance to befriend the new, cool kid. If he could just get into Lew’s orbit, he knew he could immediately leap to the top of the school’s social ladder merely by association.
Calvin was excited about his prospects as he walked down the hallway to the lunchroom. He and Lew had exchanged phone numbers and planned to meet that night at the city library to get his new friend caught up on classwork and any other things related to life at Central High. The whole school was talking about the new kid. If he were at his side, people would be talking about him. He would be noticed. For the first time in his life, he would be somebody.
Calvin was sitting at the nerd table in the lunchroom with Joey, Tom, and Bernie as Lew left the serving line, meal tray in hand, and looked for a place to sit. Torn. Calvin wanted Lew to come sit with him for all to see, but he would be embarrassed to have Lew discover he dwelled in the land of the nerds. The usual level of conversation at his table would take embarrassment to humiliation and likely drive Lew to greener pastures. Calvin considered feigning he dropped something and duck under his table. Too late. Lew was headed his way.
“Hey, Calvin, do you mind if I sit at your table?”
Shock waves rippled through the lunchroom. Joey, Tom, and Bernie couldn’t believe the new cool kid spoke to their friend, knew his name, and wanted to sit with them. Students in the room who witnessed the event were curious… puzzled…dismayed…aghast. Rumors circulated that the new cool kid was Calvin’s cousin who just moved into the area. Why else would the coolest kid to ever stroll the hallways of Central High take a place at the nerd table? Calvin himself wondered. He would soon find out.
“Thanks for meeting up with me, Calvin. I really appreciate it. You can imagine how hard it is for a guy to be dropped into a new school. Getting to know someone with connections will really help.”
“I understand. It’s no problem. Sure, I can show you the ropes around here.”
The first clue. Calvin stumbled through a chapter of his Trigonometry book with the new student. Lew picked it up faster than Mr. Edwards could teach it. In fact, at one point Calvin thought he could have written the book.
Clue number two. Lew was more interested in Calvin than he was in life at Central High.
“So, you didn’t make it through tryouts?”
“No, I got cut the 2nd day.”
“That’s too bad. And you look like a baller to me. Life isn’t fair sometimes.”
That was clue number three, the puzzling focus on Calvin’s life was laced with a masterful way of highlighting the injustices Calvin had suffered. Eve had no warning, no reason to suspect. Neither did Calvin.
The discussion went beyond basketball. Calvin didn’t have a girlfriend. Calvin never had a girlfriend. He struggled with his schoolwork and often incurred the wrath of his parents for mediocre to failing grades. He didn’t have a car, and use of the family mini-van was granted grudgingly and infrequently. The unsuspecting Calvin felt comfortable with his new friend, and soon it all came out. The revelations were candid and personal.
“Joey, Tom, and Bernie- I guess they’re nice enough, but they’re not really the kind of guys I’d like to hang around with.”
“I completely understand. I was in the same boat back in Kansas.”
Lew and Calvin, compatriots in the battle to attain their rightful place in life? Lew, the coolest guy at Central High, and Calvin, the…well, Calvin as described above… fellow travelers, kindred spirits, birds of a feather? Wishful thinking can take one to dangerous places.
“Just so I know, is it ‘L-E-W’ or is it ‘L-O-U’?”
“Either way works. It’s short for Lucifer.”
“Lucifer? Your name is Lucifer? Uh, Who would name their kid Lucifer?”
“No one named me. I’ve always been Lucifer.”
Double oh-oh. Calvin struggled to come up with a response. The name itself. The fact no one named him. He’s always been. Puzzling, mysterious…weird. Calvin knew there was something not quite right with this guy, but he tread carefully lest he cut his lifeline to a new, improved existence.
“No offense intended, but the name is just a little… different.”
“No offense taken.”
Lucifer skillfully led the discussion deep into the Neverland dream world of the long-suffering nerd. Nearly every sentence began with a ‘What if’ followed by something delicious and tempting to the teenage mind.
“What if you could date the hottest girl in the school?”
“What if you were the star of the basketball team?”
“What if you could ace every test?”
“What if you drove a Hummer?”
Wishful thinking. Lucifer’s voice was hypnotic. Calvin could feel it, holding hands with the beautiful Marcie after school, nailing a 3-pointer at the buzzer, National Honor Society, pulling into the student parking lot to the envy of all, and finally, strutting his stuff like the cool guy he knew he was. He could taste it.
“Would you like these things to happen, Calvin?”
“I can arrange it, Calvin. I can make it all happen for you, give you the life you desire, the life you deserve.”
“Uh, how are you going to do that?”
“Hang on to your shorts, Calvin. I’m not just Lucifer. I am THE Lucifer, the devil, Satan, Beelzebub. Take your pick. That’s me.”
Calvin snapped out of his dream world. He had arrived at the bridge too far.
“Listen…Lew…I should be getting home. I…”
“Calvin, I understand this can be a little overwhelming, especially for a young person. That’s why I offer a free, no obligation, 90-day trial.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You get all the goodies for a while. If you like it and want to keep it all, we make the deal.”
“You get the goodies, I get your soul.”
“Your soul. You know, that mythical thing you humans think makes you special. You don’t really need it anyway.”
Calvin was not a religious person. Like many young people, he had not spent much time pondering the meaning of life, the origins of the Universe, or the existence of a higher being. He wasn’t even sure he had a soul, but the idea of losing one was troubling. Whatever the case, he quickly concluded that the idea of giving his soul to a kid in his Trig class was whacko stuff.
“No, I think I’ll stand pat. It’s been interesting.”
Calvin got up from the table and headed toward the exit.
“Calvin, I know you don’t believe me, but let’s try this. I’ll start sending a few goodies your way, you know, just to show it’s all legit. Then we’ll talk again.”
Calvin was done with it but replied politely.
“Sure, sounds good.”
“And, Calvin, one more thing. If you had a Hummer, what color would you want.?”
No harm in responding.
“I’d say black.”
When they left the library, Calvin saw a shiny black Hummer parked under the lamppost at the entrance to the library.
Strange things, all good, started happening to Calvin. With minimal effort, he was acing all his tests. Answers seemed to come to him as easily as the air he breathed. Kids, cool kids, started to say hello to him in the hallways. And then the miracles of all miracles.
“Calvin, I hear you’re a whiz in Trig. I’m just not getting this latest chapter. I was wondering if you could help me, maybe stop over at my house, and we could study together?”
“Why, of course. I believe your name is… Marcie.”
One night Calvin eyed the basketball in his garage. He thought of Lucifer and all the positive turns in his life. He stepped out of the garage, basketball in hand, and walked to the 3-point line his Dad had marked on the driveway. Three bounces and the ball was away. Swish. Swish. Swish. Again and again. Calvin couldn’t miss. He moved across the court gracefully, putting in shots, left hand and right hand, from all over the court. From a distance, you would have thought Michael Jordan moved into the neighborhood.
The “goodies” kept on coming while Lucifer waited patiently. Calvin didn’t want to believe it, but in his heart, he knew it was not all coincidence. Strange forces were at work.
Calvin and Marcie became an item. Movies, school dances, and after-school study sessions. Straight A’s on all tests and homework assignments. He moved off the nerd table and sat with Lucifer and other members of the cool class. The most Joey, Tom, and Bernie got from Calvin was a half-hearted, muttered, barely audible “hey” when they passed each other in the halls.
Calvin tried out for the basketball team. The varsity coach could only wonder where Calvin had been the last few years. Coach Roy had never seen such skills, and Calvin was quickly pegged for the Lions’ starting point guard. He was having so much fun that he lost track of time.
“Hey, Calvin, how’s life treating you?”
“Pretty good, Lucifer, pretty good.”
“I need to remind you. There are just a couple of weeks left in your 90-day free trial. You’re going to have to decide. In the meantime, I thought you could use some wheels.”
Lucifer tossed a set of keys to Calvin.
“For the Hummer in the student parking lot.”
The apple was looking better and better.
“So, tell me again, I give you my soul, and everything keeps on going like it is?”
“For how long?”
“We only offer lifetime contracts.”
“And just how would I go about giving you my soul? I’ve never done it before. Do I sign something?”
“No paperwork. I’ll just know. You reach that point in your mind, and I’ll know. We can tell things like that.”
“I decide to give you my soul, and that’s it?”
“And I get all the good stuff forever?”
“And why do you want it anyway?”
“Calvin, the damn thing is useless. Has it ever done anything for you? You don’t even know if you have one. I just want it because I have a competition going on with the Big Guy ever since the Rebellion and I got the boot. He’s up on me a little, but in today’s world I’m gaining on Him fast.”
“The Big Guy?”
“God, who do you think? You’ve got two weeks, Calvin.”
Calvin had heard a lot about a soul. Now he needed to figure out what it was and if he really needed one. Two nights at the St. Peter’s 24-Hour Chapel and Mass on Sunday didn’t move the ball. A soul. He couldn’t see it, touch it, or smell it. On the other hand, all the goodies coming his way were real, tangible, and there to be enjoyed. One in the hand was looking to be a better option than two, or in this case, a perhaps mythical soul, in the bush. It would be hard for Calvin to give up driving Marcie home in his shiny black Hummer after dropping 27 points on the court.
There was no fanfare, no formal announcement, no ceremonial signing. Calvin just decided to give up his soul in exchange for all that Lucifer promised.
Lucifer was in the stands for the big game against Jefferson that night. Warmups came off in normal fashion, but then the wheels came off. Calvin couldn’t have put the ball in the hoop if he had been sitting on the backboard. Turnover after turnover, stumbling around out on the court like… well, like the Calvin of old. The Coach pulled him from the game in the first quarter, and as he sat on the bench trying to comprehend what had just happened, he saw two late arrivals enter the gym- Marcie and the football team’s quarterback… holding hands. A bewildered Calvin turned to see a smiling Lucifer in the stands.
After the game, the crestfallen Calvin shuffled out of the locker room. Lucifer was waiting for him.
“What the hell happened, Lucifer?! My game stunk, and Marcie was with her old boyfriend!”
“Yeah, I saw that. Bummer. I’ll walk out with you, Calvin.”
The first thing Calvin noticed when they stepped out into the parking lot was that his Hummer was not there.
“Where’s my Hummer?!”
“What do you mean gone? My Hummer, my girl, my game, all gone? I suppose my grades will take a hit.”
“Oh, yeah, big time. They’re going to suck, man.”
“Lucifer, I thought we had a deal!”
“Calvin, have you ever read the fable of the frog and the scorpion?”
“Well, the scorpion can’t swim, and he promises the frog he won’t sting him if he gives him a ride across a stream. The frog believes him because if the scorpion stung him, the frog would die and the scorpion would drown. Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. The dying frog asks the scorpion why he would do such a thing because he would now drown and die himself. To which the scorpion replied, ‘I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.’ Good story, you should read it sometime.”
A troubled look appeared on Calvin’s face.
“So, I broke my promise. I lied about everything. You must understand, Calvin, I’m the devil. That’s kind of what I do.”
“Dammit, Lucifer, that’s really low.”
“No kidding. Look at it as a learning experience. You always need to know who you’re dealing with.
“So, this whole thing was all for nothing?”
“No, not at all. I got your soul.”
“No, you’re not holding up your part of the bargain so I get my soul back.”
“No such luck, Calvin. Once you lose your soul, you can’t get it back. It’s been fun, Calvin. I’ve got to run. I’ve got my eye on a kid from Jefferson.”
And Lucifer was gone.
The landscape of the lunchroom at Central High changed. It still featured the cool kids’ tables, areas for the non-descript, and the nerds’ table. Sadly, additional seating was added to the scene- the Calvin table. Jettisoned by the cool kids, and shunned by the nerds he dissed during his popular days, Calvin now eats alone in the corner of the cafeteria. Some days, between bites of his corn dog, a room-temperature pizza slice, or a chicken tender, Calvin will ponder the meaning of the word, as well as his new status in life- soulless.