With a frown, Younder turned again to Matt. “Okay young man, come with me.” He gestured toward his office, and Matt walked inside.
“Sit down,” the Principal said, moving to the chair behind his desk.
Matt spied a large wooden high-backed chair sitting in front of the desk. Rumor was it had been used for electrocutions and still had marks from wires and electrodes. Perhaps even charred flesh. While he looked for the telltale evidence, he suddenly felt eyes glaring at him. He looked up to see Younder sitting with hands clasped like a prison warden.
“Well, I’m waiting,” he chirped with a hint of annoyance.
Matt sat. Younder glanced at the pink piece of paper in front of him. “It says here you told someone in class to shut up. Is that correct?”
He saw no reason to lie. “Yes, I did.”
“Care to say why?”
Well, I could. But what good would it do? Probably just another lecture on sucking it up. Forget it, time to play possum. He shook his head, “No.”
Younder tapped his fingers near the four-foot black paddle laying on his desk. As the paddle wobbled, Matt could see the words Attitude Adjuster written on it in gold paint.
“You know you aren’t supposed to do that. You understand?”
“You won’t do that again, will you?”
He shook his head, “No.”
The look on Younder’s face was a mixture of boredom and disgust, like a custodian having seen one too many dirty toilets. As his eyes wandered around the room, his feet tapped a bit. “Okay,” he replied. “I think you learned your lesson, besides it is almost time for pictures anyway. Go back to class.”
What? Did I hear that right?
Younder leaned forward and spoke slower. “I said you can go now.”
Whoohoo! Another beating averted. He jumped up and whipped through the door, happily chugging his unmarked lily-white backside back to class.
* * *
Later on, the line for pictures spilled from the gym into the hall by the library. Matt stood next to Leigh. “Hey,” Leigh said. “How do I look?”
He looked his friend over. Perched in the boy’s left nostril, hung a vaguely brownish-green and yellow, dried booger.
Matt started to say something, but suddenly remembered the incident on the bus. “You look fine,” he lied. Serves you right, you little prick.
Leigh smiled. “What are you going to do about your hair?”
Nuts! He’d forgotten about the cowlick. Digging in his back pocket for his comb, he instead found his mother’s hairbrush. As stealthfully as he could, he slid it out and dragged it directly over his porcupine quill. “Hey, Leigh. Did I get it?”
“Nah,” Leigh replied. “It’s still there.”
Piss. He glanced into the glass windows of the library; the willfully insolent hair stared back at him. With growing desperation, he dragged the hair rake through his reddish mess. The line kept advancing toward the gym area. Leigh was next. Matt turned and nodded to the kid behind him. “Go ahead of me.” Drifting farther back, he combed, smoothed, raked, hoed, swept and pummeled the rebellious mess. Finally, he stared at the glass and saw his hair lying flat and comatose. Cool!
A voice called from the gym, “Next!”
With a smug grin, he marched into the gym and took his seat in front of the photographer. A few clicks later, and a requisite “cheese” he motored toward the playground for recess. As he passed the door window, he noticed his cowlick standing at attention, essentially giving him the finger for all his hair taming efforts. Ah shit …
Hands deep in his pockets, he meandered toward the ball court on the playground. Great, I’m going to have that stupid cowlick in my class photo. This day just sucks. How could it get worse?
“Hey Stevens!” a shout came from behind him.
He turned. “Wha-” Pain shot through him as a heavy farm boot embedded itself in his crotch. Air shot out of his lungs as he doubled over and fell like a statue onto the ground. His mouth opened to scream, but with no air in his lungs, all he could make were choking noises. Steel toed boots smelling like hog crap appeared in his line of sight. He instantly knew who had ambushed him – Lester MacNey.
“Gotcha faggot,” the twice held-back sixth grader barked to the heavens. The red-haired, pale-faced farm boy stood over him, his green eyes wide and staring, a crusty lipped smile spread across his features, showcasing his yellow teeth.
Matt writhed on the ground, dimly cognizant that Lester “the ball molester” had added his genitals to the farm-boy’s trophy case.
Pain swirled in Matt’s mind. Oh God, I’m dying. Onlookers stared in relief of not being today’s winner of Lester’s lottery of sadism. With a self-congratulatory swagger, the miscreant stepped away to look for other prizes to collect on his safari of pain.
Matt rolled until he could get enough air to sit up. I think my balls have been mashed. With that motivating thought, he shambled back to the school building and headed toward the nurse’s office.