Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Award-winning Fiction Post #5

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Lillian is in 10th grade.

Baxter the Great
by Lillian Hughes

“Hey, Ben,” Aaron says quickly, as he speeds away.

I jump at his sudden appearance and shout after him, “You know, we could ride together if you traded that bike in for a skateboard.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, faintly.

The best part about living where I live is school is right around the corner. The worst part is that the entrance is on the far side, so I have to travel about twice as far as I should. Which, actually, isn’t so bad when you’re on a skateboard. I almost eat it as the sidewalk dips down into a driveway-style curb, but I save myself and turn the corner. I secure my board to the bike rack and roll the last number on the combo lock up one. Aaron is at the other end, scrambling all his numbers.

“A nice way to save yourself some time,” I say, “is to just change one number, man.”

“It’s also a nice way to get your board stolen.” Aaron counters, finishing his scrambleizing with an elegant toss of his massive dreads. I pity the guy who has to sit behind him.

“You seen Jeff lately?” I ask.

“Nope. He was gone yesterday.”

“Yeah, where do you think he went?”

“Probably ditched.”

“Nah, I thought about that, but I really think Jeff is one of those guys who is all talk and no sizzle. Or whatever.”

“You want to make a bet?” Aaron smiles, his teeth especially white against his dark skin.

“Why don’t we ask him?” I say, as a familiar husky laugh erupts from somewhere in the hall.

We shove our way past all the other kids and find Jeff parked comfortably in the middle of the hallway with everyone else flowing around him like a rock in a river. Next to him, immediately recognizable by his impressively flaming red hair, is none other than Baxter the Great.

“Hey, hey, Brandon," Aaron deepens his voice and smacks him a little. Brandon smacks him back, saying some other form of hello.

I high-five low-five Jeff and say, “Where were you, man? I know you don’t get sick. Did you ditch or something?”

“Yeah,” Jeff opens his eyes wider so their grayish green color is fully visible. “Totally ditched. Know how come?”

I know he won’t let me answer, so I wait for him to say exactly ‘how come..

“Report cards.” He nods, apparently proud of himself.

“Report cards,” I repeat flatly, making sure I heard correctly.

“You idiot,” Aaron says, laughing. “You can’t avoid report cards.”

“Uuh, yaah I cahn, I just did,” Jeff taunts, crossing his arms.

“No you can’t,” I say. “They’re posted online, dummy. Your parents can check whenever they want.”

“And more importantly,” Aaron says, “they come out today, not yesterday.”

Jeff’s face falls into a look of pure annoyance, then it brightens and he says, “Okay. See you on Monday.” He starts to follow the general flow of the other kids, but Brandon catches him by the hood and pulls him back.

“No, you don’t. You got to be here today or the teachers will suspect something.”

“I’ll just say I was sick,” Jeff says, attempting to bat Brandon’s arm away.

“Seriously? Who gives report cards on a Thursday?” I laugh, still hung up on that.

“You won’t get into college, man,” Brandon says, spinning Jeff around to face him.

“OH NO!” Jeff yells so loud, some people turn to stare, stupidly. “Not college! Oh, what will I do? Oh deary, deary, don’t worry, Brandy, I got this. I don’t care about grades, man, I got all I need right here. Right now.”

“But right now won’t be here in three years,” Brandon says. “Don’t you want to move out of your parents’ house at some point?”

Jeff shrugs. “So I’ll be a plumber. I don’t care.”

Brandon looks annoyed, so I change the subject. “Hey, did you finish Ms. Keaton’s assignment?”

Aaron groans loudly. “Uh. Barely. I was up until three last night. I had basketball practice so I didn’t get to homework until six.”

“Luckily we didn’t have a meet yesterday,” I say.

“Wait, I forgot, what sport do you play?” Brandon asks.

“Hockey,” I say. “You play anything?”

He shrugs. “I used to play soccer when I was little, but the work load is too much now. I’m not doing it anymore.”

“Ooooh,” Jeff says. “See, that’s why you always kick butt in PE.”

“Only when it’s soccer,” Brandon corrects quickly, holding up a shushing finger. “I stink at everything else.”

“Hey, we… we all do,” Jeff says pausing to let the bell finish ringing. “Buh-bye.”

“Bye, Brandon, bye Aaron,” I call. Jeff comes with me and we head to our first class, which is approximately the farthest classroom away from everything else, so we have plenty of time to talk about everything and nothing.

I think it’s kind of not at all funny how time wanders off when you’re not in the least bit excited about something yet to come.

Basically, one minute I’m talking to Jeff on my way to first period, the next I’m staring at him on the field, watching him flick his sweaty black bangs out of his eyes. “Come on, Ben,” he says, smiling and looking at my feet. “Let me go.”

“We will not let you go,” I say, glancing at the yellow flags clipped around his waist.

“Let me go,” he says again.

“We will not let you go,” I say, looking back up to his face in the hopes of seeing some glint of mischief that would betray his next move. Wow, I feel so poetic.

“LET ME GOOOOOOO,” Jeff erupts into a high-pitched singing voice and scuttles around me while my guard is down. Shoot, he’ll dodge the rest of the defenders, easily. Sure enough, he zig-zags so quickly I can hardly keep up watching. He curves around into the safe zone where a few other yellow flags are standing looking motiveless.

I watch and wait as he stretches playfully, scoops up the football from the middle of the box marked off by cones, and promptly zooms straight down the field.

“Get him!” I shout, lining myself up to try and take him down. Brandon and a few more guys herd him off to the left, so I run sideways to keep up.

Jeff runs right at me, not even caring to slow down, but I stand, ready for almost anything. He leaps sideways at the last second, but I was ready for that, too, so I spin and claw at his shirt, trying to rip off the flags. He looks at me through the gap between his arm and the football pressed to his side, and smacks my hand away.

“HEY!” I call, slowing down as we passed the mid yard line. “Flag guarding! That’s a flag guard! Don’t call it a score--”

One of the teachers blows his whistle and I make a noise like a gorilla finally giving up.

“Yeah! Alright!” Jeff celebrates, jogging around in a small circle. He drop-kicks the football back over to the safe zone box, but all the kids are walking toward the benches like a bunch of iron shavings to a magnet. “Aw, what?” Jeff looks around. “Is it time to go in?”

“Guess so,” I say, gratefully ripping off my own flags and starting off in that direction. It’s hot.

I look over my shoulder and see Jeff dash over to get the football. Where does he get all this energy? He doesn’t play a sport. Maybe that’s it.

A clipboard is going around in my class’s area, so I sign and get my report card from my teacher. A few quick rips along the indicated dotted lines and all my hard work is ready to stare me in the face, but I don’t open it. I’m a little skeptical. Hm. Nice use of vocab.

I walk back behind the bleachers where the coaches are screaming at all the kids going into the locker rooms not to go in to the locker rooms yet. I take a long drink from the fountain and sit against a support beam, staring at the outside of my progress report.

Brandon wanders over, lazily and sits next to me. “Wha’d you get?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Haven’t looked at mine yet.”

“Do it.”

“Alright.” I open my card, bracing myself. C+, B-, C, B, B, C-. Not too bad. Not as bad as I was expecting. “Ah, see?” I say. “Always assume the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”

“Wow. That was so deep.”

“Wha’d you get?”

“Oh, you know,” he lifts his card a little in a half-hearted gesture. “Whatever. Cs I guess.”

“Uh-oh, here comes Jeff.”

Jeff is brandishing his card wildly, laughing, Aaron behind him, swearing quietly.

“A new record!” Jeff was yelling. “Straight Fs!”

“Seriously?” I ask, shocked.

Jeff stops in front of me. “No. What, are you kidding me? I’m not that hopeless.” He sits down and shows me his grades. “See? Only two Fs. Man, I got to step it up in History.”

“It was that first test,” Aaron says. “It blew everyone out of the water. I got knocked down to a B minus.”

“What,” Jeff elbows Aaron in the leg. “A B minus isn’t good enough for you, four- er- no eyes?”

“Nah,” Aaron tosses his dreads again, still failing to clear the way for his alleged eyes. “I’m fine as long as I’m passing. It’s just that it’s so early in the year, I feel like I should be doing better.”

“What about you, Baxter?” Jeff turns to Brandon.

“What about me, Wood?” Brandon says.

“Wha’d you get on your test?” Jeff leans over and smacks his knees.

“Drool. Happy?” Brandon bats him away. “Shove off.”

“Ooooh,” Jeff smiles, recoiling. “Somebody’s got a little paper in front of them with more Fs than… I don’t know, the F section of a dictionary.”

“Nuh-uh,” Brandon says angrily.

“Come on, I know that look anywhere,” Jeff teases, grabbing for his report.

“Unless it’s one of those switcheroos where it turns out he has all As,” I laugh. “Like in some bad sitcom,” I turn to Brandon. His face is frozen. “You do!” I say, not daring to believe it.

“What?” Jeff snatches Brandon’s card and looks at it with disbelief. “Wow. How?”

Brandon leans back against the post, defeated, and says, “I don’t know. I just do my work. It’s not… it’s not hard. For me.”

Aaron and I crowd around Jeff to see. All As and two A pluses. “Whoa.” I could only dream of grades like that. I had an A once. I’ll never do it again.

“Look at the courses.” Aaron points.

“Chemistry, Honors English...Pre-Calculus??” Jeff looks up and laughs. “Man, get this guy some glasses and a plaid shirt, am I right?”

Brandon just sits there and takes it, as if he knew it was coming.

This seems to make Jeff falter a little. Aaron’s elbow in his ribs helps, too.

“That wasn’t cool, Jeff,” I say, grabbing Brandon’s card and handing it back to him.

“Aw, geez, I was just messing around, Brandy,” Jeff says.

“No, no,” Brandon says. “I get it. This is why I never let you see my grades last year. Besides it being none of your business, I knew you’d probably have some stuff to say about me. Then you’d start looking at me different. Like I was supposed to be part of some other group or something. Like hey, there goes Baxter. He’s too smart. He doesn’t belong.”

I don’t really believe it still, but I gauge that now might be a good time for some comforting stuff. “Hey, no, man. We won’t disown you for being smart. That’s dumb.”

“I think that’s his point,” Aaron says. “And dude, it’s not like anything’s changed. You were always smart. And we always knew you were kinda smart anyway, right?”

“Hm.” Brandon shifts a little. “You two, I’m not so worried about.”

We both look at Jeff between us, who is still looking at the place Brandon’s grades used to be, although he’s lowered his hands now. He looks up, noticing the silence and throws his head around casually, but nervously. “Hey, yeah, no. I--what? Oh, man, no. I won’t tease you. I’ll try not to. No no, but--ah…” he goes quiet for a second, then reorders his thoughts. “Look, dude, I won’t look at you weird. I won’t be all scared off by your Godliness.” He can’t go one second without slipping in a little jab, can he? “And tell you what, no one else will either. Know how come? ‘Cause you’re my friend. No one messes with my buddies, or they’ll have to answer to me. Dig?”

Brandon breaks into a very badly restrained smile and says, “No one says ‘dig’ anymore, dude.”

“We could bring it back,” Jeff says as the whistles blow and the other kids migrate toward the locker room. “We could bring it back. So we cool?”

Brandon stands and looks at the fist Jeff had offered. He bumps it with his own fist. “Yeah, we cool, Wood.” They start off toward the locker rooms.

I stand up too, ignoring the damp butt mark I leave on the hot asphalt. I’ll be glad to get out of the heat. Aaron’s waiting for me, hands behind his back. We walk together and I watch Jeff as he playfully smacks Brandon around, and Brandon, who returns with his own good-natured hits.

“I’m glad we have friends like Jeff,” Aaron says. “It’s a good thing he’s as understanding as he is stupid.”

I laugh. “Hey, Aaron, Jeff may be an idiot, but he’s not stupid.”

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