where the writers are
2: Bird
Shuttlecock
Boxing Gloves
"Big Boys," heading for the recreation field.

© 2012 Monty J Heying (all rights reserved)

 

(Fort Worth, Texas, November, 1958)

 

1                                                                                                      

Ms. Crow knocks four times and calls out, “Y’all decent? Well, get there if y’aren’t.” The petite dark-haired orphanage matron pauses, then steps through the gap in the row of back-to-back wooden lockers serving as a doorway into the back half of the Big Boys dormitory. She gazes around at the teenaged boys lounging on their bunk beds and slouching at government surplus one-armed school desks. Rope, a man-sized freckled seventeen year-old is stooping spread-legged before a large round mirror combing his greasy red flat-topped ducktail.

“Y’all pay attention,” she says. “We’re short a’ space up front; so it’s time for Matt to be a-movin’ back here with y’all older boys.”

“Awww, Miz Crow!” says Nomilk, a fifteen year-old burr-headed blonde standing hands on hips looking down at her. “Not Oyster Eater! We don’t want them little punks back here.”

Floyd, crew-cut and lean, throws her a frown before slipping on a white crew t-shirt. Rope and the rest either ignore her or glance up and return to what they were doing.

The double row of lockers is painted a pale “urpy green” (the boys call it), matching the walls and ceiling. The lockers bisect the long bunk-bed filled room, separating the inmates by age. Pre-teens toward the front means they’re not so vulnerable to bullying and other forms of abuse. The older boys in their fiefdom behind the lockers are reassured of their superiority and have less of a need to prove themselves.

For the past two years, Matt has felt reasonably secure insulated up front, but as he empties his locker and desk he worries about what will happen after he moves to the back.

Only during television time are the smaller boys allowed past the lockers. The first and only time Matt had trespassed there, he was promptly mobbed and thoroughly frogged, leaving bruises on both arms. Wisely, he had not complained to Mrs. Crow.

 “Whose bed’s that yonder?” Ms. Crow points to a corner, dipping her nose to peer above the rim of her glasses.

“That’s my bed,” says Packard, a sandy-haired muscular boy reading a Superman comic book at a large table.

She says, “Well…, I s’pose we kin put an upper bunk on there.”

Packard frowns. “Aw, man!”

“Now, don’t you go a’ causin’ trouble,” she says. “Matt’s the oldest one up front, ‘n we need the space.”

Floyd, Nomilk and Packard follow Ms. Crow downstairs and soon return with bed parts. While they assemble a bed obove Packard’s bunk, Matt begins transferring his things, feeling everyone’s eyes on him as he makes multiple trips through that foreboding gap in the lockers.

These high-density quarters are like a chicken coop. There’s a pecking order and little in the way of privacy and wiggle room. Each boy has a bunk bed, a school desk and a three by three-foot locker, five feet high. Even so, it’s a vast improvement for Matt, who for most of his nine pre-orphanage years had slept on a floor pallet of quilts, with his sister.

When Ms. Crow is satisfied with the project, she returns to her apartment near the dormitory entrance. Matt sets his trumpet case between his new bunk and the wall and makes the bed. As he’s smoothing the last of the wrinkles, he turns smack into Nomilk.

“You don’t belong back here, Punk,” the older boy says, shoving Matt and causing him to conk his head on the upper railing and sit down hard on the bed. “You belong up front with the rest o’ the twerps. I ought-a give you a pop in the mouth.” Nomilk balls his fist and fakes a punch. Matt cowers, raising his arms over his head. Nomilk sneers and shuffles away on the collapsed heels of his loafers, trailing the tattered hems of his jeans.

 “Hey! Get off my bed!” Packard yells.

The next morning Nomilk continues the harassment. Concealed from Ms. Crow and the orphanage staff, he shoves Matt aside and steps in front of him when they’re in line for breakfast. Later he trips Matt going up the stairs. At the bathroom sinks he shoves him again. Matt backs away, protesting, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!”

“Go ahead,” Nomilk says, “squeal to Mama Crow and watch what happens.”

Nomilk leaves, and Danny says, “Why don’t ya fight ‘im!”

“You crazy? I’ll get clobbered. The creep’s nearly a foot taller than me.”

“Use a baseball bat,” Danny says. “Didn’t your father teach you how to fight?”

Matt rolls his eyes. “Yeah, right. Who’s got a father? Besides, I don’t want ‘im hurt; I just want ‘im to let me alone.”

 

After Saturday chores, Coach Weber pulls into the driveway in the orphanage bus to take the kids to a local theater for a matinee movie. Most of the older boys stay behind because nothing special is showing, but Matt eagerly climbs aboard the Blue Goose to escape the red brick walls and the constant threat of Nomilk.

On the asphalt that evening, Matt watches the older boys play full-court basketball. Nomilk is tall, but slow and clumsy, missing most of his shots and often getting the ball stolen. Matt plays Pig and Horse at another backboard with Danny and Ingstrom who are close to him in age, but he soon loses interest and drifts away to explore the nearby garage.

Matt pulls aside the heavy sliding door of the barn-like tin building and squeezes through. As his eyes adjust to the light, he runs his hands along the shiny chrome of a ‘53 Buick, imagining himself behind the wheel. He sees a door to a room on a raised wooden floor and goes in. Somewhere a rat scurries. The floor creaks under his feet and the air smells like decomposed cockroaches. Dim light from a painted-over window reveals unfinished walls, broken furniture and dust laden shelves cluttered with cobwebs and junk-filled crates. He picks up a jar of hardware and dumps nails, bolts, nuts and screws onto the workbench.

An idea comes. He threads a nut halfway onto a bolt, breaks off the head of a kitchen match and drops it into the cavity, then screws another bolt gently against the match-head and takes his miniature grenade outside. When he throws it against a brick wall it makes a satisfying “Pop!” He reloads with three match-heads, resulting in a loud “Bang!” and the pieces shooting across the ground. Out of matches, he pockets the nut and bolts and returns to watch the basketball game. He will bide his time for the right opportunity to use his new invention.

 

Near sunset, Ms. Crow looks out over the ball court from an upstairs window as Floyd bounces a pass to Rope, and the extremely tall redhead jukes between AJ and Packard and goes up for the dunk. She is pleased by the boys’ playground aggression and energy. This is how boys are s’pose to be—so very different from when Superintendent Lovejoy was in charge a few months ago. She shivers and gathers her arms about her, remembering an hour she spent behind her louvered apartment door in the dark, waiting, praying and weeping as the superintendent brutally whipped some boys for “bad grades.” It was but one of many such events. She wonders what kind of men the boys will make after two years of exposure to Deacon Lovejoy. Well, it’s in The Lord’s hands now, she thinks, and leans her pale forearms on the window sill, peering down.

“Bu-utch!” she calls. “Go tell them others it’s time to come in.”

The dark-haired freckled boy looks up and waves. “Yes, Ma’am,” he says and jogs toward the ball court.

Soon the stairwell echoes with the din of a stampede toward Ms. Crow at the top landing. “Soon’s y’all gitch’er showers, y’all kin watch TV,” she says, mentally accounting for each one as he goes by.

After showers, Floyd and Rasor rob the big grey study table of its chairs and push it up against the lockers. The older boys claim the chairs and assume their customary front row privilege around the TV, while Matt, Robby and the rest sprawl on the floor or squirm at school desks they’ve dragged up. Everyone’s in t-shirts and jeans or sweat pants. No one would be seen in pajamas. Ingstrom had a pair when he first moved up from the Little Boys’, but before he could put them on, Floyd and AJ tore them and stomped them into the chocolate asphalt tile floor.

 “What’s it gonna be, ‘Rawhide’ or ‘Lawrence Welk?’” Floyd says, snickering and spinning the dial.

“Rawhide!” comes the unanimous response.

“Yay, Crow’s not here,” AJ says. “We don’t have to watch them Champagne Ladies.” He makes a silly face. “Wa-anaful, a-wa-anaful, a-wa-naful.”

There’s a burst of laughter. Then time passes uneventfully until Ms. Crow reappears at ten o’clock in the pale glow of the TV, wiping cold cream from her face. “You boys kin watch ‘til twelve; then the TV’s off. Don’chya’ll make me come back now, y’hear?”

“Yes Ma’am,” Butch replies for the group.

Program after program plays until midnight, when AJ says, “Hey, let’s watch “Nightmare.” The Creature From The Black Lagoon’s on!”

“Yeah!” come the whispers.

Donner says, “You know Crow said no TV past midnight!”

Despite some grumbling, Donner turns off the TV, and everyone heads for bed—everyone except Floyd and his half-brother AJ. After making sure Ms. Crow’s door is closed, the two gently lift the table and square it against the television. They hang blankets over the sides to trap the light from the television, securing them on top with books and shoes. Inside their makeshift table-tent with the sound barely audible, Floyd gently dials to “Nightmare.” The two are soon are joined by several others, but when Matt lifts the blanket he’s pushed away.

 

At six o’clock, Ms. Crow comes out in robe and slippers, calling, “Time to git up…, git up, git up! Rise and shine, my little songbirds!” and banging the tin footboard of Robby Horton’s bed. Groans and complaints are followed by the thumping of bare feet and the gentle hammering of locker doors as the boys go from bed to bathroom with towel and toothbrush. Robby rolls over and covers his head.

“C’mon, now! Rise and shine! I’m a-goin’ back to my room, and if’n I have to come back here, somebody’s a-gonna git my washrag in the face.” She leans over and bangs on Robby’s headboard, and he sits up rubbing his eyes. Robby and the others who were not up late watching scary movies dress and go down to breakfast.

At Ms. Crow’s table Matt stands behind his chair waiting for grace to be said, gazing down on plastic plates, platters and bowls in pastel shades of blue, pink, green and yellow brimming with fried eggs, Spam, toast, butter and jelly. Rope, alone, is at the older boys’ table. After a barely audible prayer recited by one of the Little Girls across the room, there’s a mass scraping of chairs, and the meal begins.

Matt is reaching for the milk pitcher when AJ, Floyd, Packard, Donner, Nomilk and Rasor straggle past. Her dark eyes flashing, Ms. Crow sets down her coffee, marches to their table and stands with her arms folded across her chest. She makes eye contact with each in turn as she speaks.

“I want you boys to know that ever’ one o’ ye’s got two d’merits for a-comin’ down late. I’m sure them p’cahn trees down the hill can use a fresh coat o’ white-warsh.” Flushed around the neck and face, she returns to her table and picks up her coffee.

 

In the bathroom after breakfast, Nomilk shoves Matt. “Punk!” he says. “How come you didn’t get no demerit?”

Matt steps back. “I…, wasn’t… late to breakfast like y’all were.”

Floyd, Rasor and Packard walk in, and Matt knows he’s had it.

“What’r you, her pet?” Donner says. “All-o’-us got black marks ‘cept you!” He pushes Matt into the corner by the urinals. “You’re Mama Crow’s boy, that’s what—Crow-boy.”

“Yeah, Crow’s pet,” Nomilk says, smirking.

“Crow-bird! Caw! Caw!” AJ chimes in from a toilet stall.

“Grab that Birdboy,” Rasor says, rubbing his hands. “It’s froggy time!”

Packard and Floyd easily overpower Matt and hold him while Donner methodically rolls up his sleeve and socks his upper arm at a sharp angle, raising a welt. Nomilk is next, leaving a similar red pulsing lump.

“Oo-weee, watch that froggy jump!” Rasor says. “Now, turn ‘im. I want me some fresh meat.” Matt can only brace himself and grit his teeth as the blow rocks him, but Rasor follows through with the point of an elbow. Matt staggers, wincing in pain.

Donner says, “Hah! You got him good! A double frog!”

Matt pulls away as they muse and laugh, then pushes toward the door, muttering, “Assholes!”

 “Let ‘im go,” Rasor smirks. “Let’s burn one, y’all.”

Matt goes out into the dormitory rubbing his arm, reflecting on how much less insulting Birdboy is than Oyster Eater.

The group collects at the far toilet stall and light cigarettes. Rasor cranes his neck, blowing smoke out the window. Nomilk squats with his back to the wall blowing a rapid string of tiny smoke rings by tapping his cheek. Packard and Donner stand, each with a foot on a toilet rim.

“That was fun,” Rasor says, smiling at Nomilk.“You got it in for him, don’ cha?”

“That goody-goody little fart,” Nomilk says. “He never got whuppin’s from Lovejoy like we did.”

Rasor spits into the toilet through the gap between his two front teeth. “Thank you, Nomilk. You just had to remind me of that motherfucking Lovejoy.” He slams his palm into the wall, rattling the window.

A puzzled look comes over Donner; then he bursts into laughter.

Rasor glances around. “What’s so funny?”

“Motherfucker?” Donner says. “How about mother-fucked!” He laughs crazy hard, eyes glistening, throwing back his head.

“Has he gone looney?” Nomilk says, looking puzzled.

Chortling and red-faced, Donner says, “Don’t you get it? How our parents fucked us dumping us here!”

“Shut up!” Packard says. “It ain’t that way!”

All but Donner and Nomilk toss their cigarettes into a toilet and leave the echo chamber of the bathroom reverberating with Donner’s mad laughter.

 

2

Visitation is over. It’s been a pleasant fall afternoon, sunny and cool, with the smell of dry leaves in the air. From two until four-thirty on the first Sunday of the month, families can visit, usually grandparents, aunts and uncles—if anyone. Shouts carry from the recreation field where Nomilk and other boys not expecting visitors are playing football. Sparrows are squabbling in the sycamore above Matt and his older sister, Anne, as they trudge in silence toward the broad concrete stairs of the front entrance.

Inside, Anne returns to the Big Girls’ dormitory, and Matt heads upstairs with a shopping bag. Inside is a large box of chocolate-covered cherries hidden under a pair of second-hand slacks from Aunty’s church. He hangs up the pants and stashes the chocolates at the foot of his locker. After evening services, he is stooping for the box when Nomilk jerks open the door.

“What’cha got there, Bird-boy?”

Startled, Matt tries to hide the candy, but Nomilk pushes him away and takes the box.

“Well-well, looky here, goodies from granny!”

“That’s mine! Give it back!” Matt reaches repeatedly for the box, but Nomilk holds it high, fending him off.

“You wuzn’t gonna share, wuz you?”

“Give it back, dadgummit!” Matt says, grabbing for the unreachable box as the bigger boy moves away.

At the table, Nomilk takes two of the candies and hands-off to Donner. “Y’all have some chocolate covered cherries,” he says. “Pass ‘em ‘round!”

“That’s not fair!” Matt says. “They’re mine!”

With Nomilk restraining Matt, the boys converge, and soon the tattered box lies empty on the table.

Long after curfew, Matt lies listening to the whine of truck gears out on East Lancaster. He’s absorbed by a memory of Nomilk bending over and grabbing his ankles and the board in Lovejoy’s pudgy hand slicing downward. “Whack!” Nomilk grunts and his knees buckle. Sweating, Matt rolls over and drags the pillow over his head, and images come of Nomilk’s bullying, the frogging and the candy theft. Matt’s reaction to Nomilk has always, until this very moment, been fear, but now it’s anger that comes as he mulls over scenes from today. After midnight he drifts off, picturing the bolt grenade.

The hum of morning traffic on the highway awakens Matt. Hoping to avoid Nomilk, he lies there daydreaming until Ms. Crow comes out. But in the bathroom Nomilk shoves him, and anger flashes. Matt grits his teeth and gives way, ready to explode but unsure of what to do. He’s surprised and afraid, but not of Nomilk; of his own anger.

Matt’s daily chore is janitorial duty in the kitchen—sweeping, mopping and burning the trash. After breakfast, he reaches for the matchbox over the stove and takes a few extra. Mr. John glances up from peeling potatoes into a large pot of water. “You be careful now, with them there matches, y’hear?” he says in a crusty voice.

“Okay,” Matt nods and stuffs the jumbo matches into a shirt pocket.

 

The dormitory is empty Friday when Matt comes in after school, except for Robby, sorting through the contents of large a cardboard box. He’s a buck-toothed, bent-nosed, frail-looking boy who carries an inhaler for asthma. He’s a quarter Cherokee, with dark eyes and thick straight hair, nearly black.

“They’re donations from church,” Robby says. “Miz Crow says we can have whatever’s here, first-come, first-served. There’s not much left.”

Matt sets down his books and fishes among the box’s contents, eventually pulling out a warped badminton racquet and a bag of well-used shuttlecocks. He stows them in his locker and changes clothes.

After supper, he heads downstairs with his bolt grenade and matches. The larger boys are in a basketball game as he makes his way to the dingy workshop. He finds the parts and assembles two more bolt grenades, then loads each one with four match-heads. A board squeaks.

“What are you doing?”

Matt jumps, startled at Robby in the doorway. “You scared the heck out of me!” Matt says, turning back to his work.

“So, what are you doing?” Robby takes out his inhaler and draws two deep, wheezing breaths. As Matt describes the plan Robby smiles. He too has been bullied by Nomilk and the others.

“Who taught you how to do this?” Robby says, examining a grenade.

Matt says, “Nobody. I just looked at those bolts and nuts, and the idea came out’a nowhere.”

“And they really work?” Robby says.

Matt nods and smiles. “You betcha!”

Robby follows Matt outside, and they scuttle to a shallow ditch bordering the ball court and lie flat on the ground, watching the players. It’s dusk, and the rest of the younger boys have gone inside. The game is intense. The score is close. The court is unlit, and only a few minutes of waning light remain.

When Robby lobs the first grenade over the ten-foot-high fence, it explodes about thirty feet from the players, but they are too engrossed in the game to notice. It could have been a car backfiring. Matt and Robby chuckle and give each other “thumbs-up.” Then Matt rises to one knee and heaves the remaining two in rapid succession.

The explosions come during a free-throw, and the game stops. Matt and Robby take off running in opposite directions. Matt has no trouble outrunning Nomilk, but nobody has ever outrun Floyd Plummer. Floyd easily catches Robby, trips him to the grass and starts kicking him in the thigh with the side of his foot. Matt ducks between the incinerator and the trash box. He’s lucky; before Floyd sees him Ms. Crow calls everyone inside.

Going up the stairs, the wide-eyed Nomilk turns and points at Matt, mouthing a barely audible, “I’m gonna kick your ass up ‘tween your ears.”

Matt flips him a clumsy middle finger—a gesture he’s never used before. For an instant he wishes he hadn’t, but doubt is quickly flushed away by the warm glow of satisfaction. Whatever happens now will be worth that look of surprise and anger on Nomilk’s face.

In the dormitory it’s the normal Friday routine as the boys gather after showers in front of the TV for the Gillette Friday Night Fights. Avoiding Nomilk, Matt watches briefly and then goes to his locker for a bite of chocolate from a Hershey bar he’d stashed. When he opens the door, a badminton birdie tumbles out. Curious, he studies it, pulling out some feathers. He skins off the white leather wrapping with his pocket knife, and as he turns the smooth lead-weighted cork in his fingers, The Idea comes, and he knows it’s the most beautiful idea he’s ever had. He glances behind him at Nomilk and Donner, then turns and pumps his fist.

His stomach churning with excitement, Matt collects the half-dozen shuttlecocks, two chocolate bars, and a tin cup, then lifts the bunk bed away from the wall and sets to work behind it. Soon the floor is littered with the remains of decapitated badminton birdies; the chocolate is melting in the cup on the radiator; and six rounded pieces of cork are in the window sill on a piece of cardboard. Matt peeks over the bed at Nomilk and the others absorbed in the boxing match, then lifts the cup and pours.

When all is ready, Matt strolls over and leans casually against a bunk. “Who’s in the dark trunks?” he says, pretending interest in the boxing match.

“McCormack,” Butch says.

Matt slowly brings a crumpled paper bag from behind his back and reaches inside.

“Gimme that!” Nomilk says, snatching the bag. He reaches in and pulls out what looks and feels like a chocolate covered cherry. “Hey, more Granny loot!” he says.

“That’s mine!” Matt says, suppressing a smile. He inches toward the gap in the lockers, torn between an urge to run and the burning desire to witness what is coming. Nomilk takes one and tosses the bag to Donner, then holds the perfectly weighted mound of chocolate-covered cork to his nose and sniffs.

As Donner pops one into his mouth, Rasor snatches the bag and Nomilk bites down. On hearing the satisfying “crunch,” Matt snorts and inches toward the gap in the lockers. Nomilk grimaces and spits gooey brown chunks into his hand as Matt explodes laughing. Nomilk lunges, blocking Matt’s exit, but Robby sticks out a foot and trips him while Matt springs like a chipmunk from floor to chair to table top and onto the lockers.

Safely perched above the confusion and turmoil, Matt is on the verge of hysteria as his tormentors curse and spit. Nomilk grabs for him, but he rolls away. The space between lockers and ceiling is too narrow for the larger boy. Matt crabs along to the gap and leaps, barely making it across.

Robby and the smaller boys are on their feet cheering as Matt evades the sputtering and confused Nomilk and Donner. Matt crawls to the far wall and lies back, drumming the lockers with hands and feet, howling with laughter.

The larger boys join Nomilk, yelling and clawing at him over the top of the lockers. Bunks noisily scrape the floor as they are shoved up and used as ladders to get at Matt, who is laughing too hard to care as they drag him down.

“Hold that li’l sumbitch!” Rasor says as he and Donner pin Matt to the floor while Nomilk sits on Matt’s chest and shoves slimy brown bits of cork at his mouth, nose and ears.

“Hey! What the heck’s going on here?” barks Coach Weber. Everyone freezes. Ms. Crow’s weekend off began at six.

Weber is a big man, tall and solid, with slicked-back sand-colored hair. He looks around at the skewed bunk beds and overturned chairs. “You boys get up from there!” he says, and as they get to their feet, Matt wipes his face, snickering.

“Okay, fine. You two knuckleheads want to go at it, you’ll do it right. Rasor, go get the gloves.”

On hearing the word “gloves,” Matt goes instantly sober.

“John, Donner, all y’all, make some room here,” Weber says. “Move those beds over. Those chairs…, over there.” He points. “That table, move it in front of the TV. Turn that off.”

The boys rearrange furniture, clearing a space.

Matt looks around for an escape. Momilk is smiling and rubbing his palms. It is Matt’s first real fight, and at sight of the huge red leather boxing gloves he’s ready to bolt. His chest pounds as the panic takes hold. Always before he’s been able to run from trouble. But there’s nowhere to run this time.

 “Get the gloves on,” Weber says. “You’re gonna settle this like gentlemen.”

Matt can’t believe Coach Weber expects him to fight someone this big. He looks at the floor as Danny shoves on a glove that swallows his forearm. Danny laces one and Robby the other.

Robby whispers, “Kick his ass!”

“Hell, kick ‘im in the balls!” Danny mumbles.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Weber says. Matt’s legs are shaking as he goes to where Weber and Nomilk are standing. “Marquis of Queensberry Rules,” Weber says. “No kicking, no holding on, kneeing, head butting, biting or hitting below the belt. There’ll be one three-minute round.”

Matt’s head is pounding as Weber removes his watch and holds it in front of him. Weber’s words and the cheers and jeers seem like they’re coming from another room. Nomilk glares at him as their gloves touch. Matt lifts the heavy gloves in front of his face and shuffles in a wide arc around Nomilk as he’s seen on TV. The larger boy weaves and leans from the waist, anchored at one foot. Then he lunges, swinging. Matt ducks, easily avoiding the attempt.

“Attaboy, Nomilk! Knock ‘im out!” Donner yells.

Matt feels the swish of air as Nomilk swings again and misses. He glances at Weber, thinking, This isn’t so bad, when a right hook smashes his head around. His legs go weak, and Nomilk lunges, but Matt drops to the floor and rolls to his feet behind him. The room roars with laughter and yelling as blood trickles from Matt’s nose. Nomilk lunges repeatedly, but each time Matt ducks and continues shuffling in an arc just beyond reach. He keeps his gloves high, his attention focused instinctively on Nomilk’s eyes, reading his moves. The fear has left him.

The pattern continues, with Nomilk attacking and Matt crouching and circling catlike just out of reach. Nomilk connects a glancing blow, and again Matt drops and rolls, producing another burst of yelling and laughter. Then everything seems to slow down. As the sweat-drenched Nomilk drops his guard, Matt is suddenly aware of the metallic salty taste of his own blood, and rage erupts. Blindly he charges, wind-milling his arms, connecting four times in rapid succession. Nomilk backs up, blinking in surprise. Matt fakes a lunge, then charges again in a blur of arms and gloves.

Matt, raging, is the aggressor for the rest of the fight. When Weber calls time, Nomilk’s arms drop to his sides and hang limp. No winner is declared. Matt’s arms and legs are like rubber. He heads for the bathroom, where Robby and Danny congratulate him and remove his gloves.

“I thought I was gonna get clobbered,” Matt says. “’But I did okay.”

His hands shake as he removes his shirt and drops it into the sink. He runs cold water and watches the blood swirl down the drain. The swollen red face looking back from the mirror seems like it’s someone else’s. He douses his throbbing head under the faucet.

Butch opens the door and throws him a towel. “Wow, Bird, …that was some fight!”

Matt nods, staring at his reflection. It feels good not being afraid of Nomilk, but there’s a strangeness to everything. It’s as if he’s never been in this bathroom before. Even Butch—it’s like seeing him for the first time. He stares into the mirror and knows that bigger boys aren’t a problem anymore. Even Lovejoy is history now. What happens when you run out of people to be afraid of, he wonders. He shucks his clothes and goes into the shower.

 

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