Nicky Delgado woke up not sure if he wanted to go to school. Not only was this his first day of high school, but his first day of school in the new city as well. He wouldn't even know the other students in his own grade. I hope they don't pick on me, he thought as he trudged to the bathroom to brush his teeth. They know each other already and I'll stand out like a sore thumb. I hate being the new kid in school.
He was careful to brush his gums too, and then looked with disgust at the toothpaste he had splattered on the mirror. When will you learn to brush without getting the mirror dirty? He scolded himself. He grabbed a cloth to clean it.
He cringed at the stern voice of his father coming from downstairs.
"You better get down here soon."
Nicky quickly wiped the mirror and gantered down the steps where his father waited with hands on hips.
"The first day of school and you're already late. You're not even dressed yet. What's the matter with you? Your sister's been up half an hour already helping with breakfast."
Nicky glanced at Emily in the kitchen. She was scooping scrambled eggs into a bowl next to their mother making toast.
"I brushed my teeth," Nicky told his father.
"Let me see."
His father peered into his gaping mouth.
"You forgot to clean your gums again." Before Nicky could protest, his father raved on. "I spent a lot of money on the dentist for you. The least you could do is keep your mouth clean."
Thankfully, his father turned away towards the table. Nicky took his place at the other end. He hated his seat because he always had to look straight at his father. He had already tried to take his brother's seat after Robert left for college, but his father didn't allow him to.
His mother and sister put the food on the table. His mother stood by nervously while her husband began to eat, but Emily returned to the kitchen.
"These eggs are half way decent," the verdict came, "but your toast's too done again, Linda."
"I turned the setting down, but our old toaster doesn't toast the bread the same every time."
"I'm tired of listening to you beg for new appliances. Sit down and eat."
Linda sat demurely next to her husband and took a piece of toast to nibble on. Emily remained in the kitchen. Nicky envied her for being able to escape there during meal time.
"I'm coming home early today to get ready," his father told his mother. "I'll need some sandwiches. I have to get to the airport by three."
Nicky was glad his father was finally going on his first business trip since moving to Minnesota. He'd be gone by the time school was over.
"Mark. Are you giving the kids rides to school?"
"What on earth for?"
"Well, it's the first day."
"They're not babies. They should be able to walk to school by themselves."
And walk to school by himself Nicky did. He regretted that Emily was a year younger than him and still in junior high. At least he'd been able to go to school with her the year before. He still preferred walking alone than getting a ride from his father, so he didn't have to listen to his father tell him how big a favor he was doing for him.
Although Nicky dreaded going to school, he was glad for the opportunity to get away from the house. He wondered if he could make any friends. He hadn't really had a friend at the old school. Sure, there had been Johnny Rodriguez but he had so many other friends that Nicky felt he hardly noticed him. Johnny would also join in when others picked on him.
He knew where the school was because his mother had taken him there the week before. They had taken a schedule of his classes and found each of the rooms, so he at least didn't have to worry about finding them.
The yellow brick building had three stories, constructed along two main hallways on each floor in the shape of a 'T'. The top of the 'T' was the front of the school, facing west. The gymnasium was attached to the bottom end of the 'T' at the east end. A parking lot flanked the building on the south. The athletic fields were located on the north side.
Nicky entered through the main west door and jostled his way through the mass of students in the hall, avoiding eye contact with any of them. He headed for his homeroom located on the second floor at the southernmost tip of the school. He choose a seat in the sunny part of the room. The half-closed blinders broke the daylight into parallel bars of illumination across his desktop, himself, and the beige-tiled floor.
Mr. Roscoe, the homeroom teacher, turned out to be such a feeble old man that he was barely able to read the attendance sheet. He held it at the tip of his nose, mumbling the names so Nicky understood few of them besides his own. Roscoe was so slow that he took the entire homeroom period to finish the roll call and assign each student a locker. Nicky put his lunch in the locker, keeping the pencil and spiral notebook he had also brought from home.
His first class was English. After the bell rang, the heavy set gray-haired woman in the room introduced herself as Mrs. Kesselring. Nicky, sitting by himself in the front row, heard someone snickering in the back of the room.
Mrs. Kesselring heard it too. "You back there," she demanded. "What's so funny?"
"Sit up here so I can keep an eye on you," she pointed with her flabby arm to the seat next to Nicky.
A smirking youth with straight dark hair walked forward, followed by another student with the exact same height as the first but with curly sandy hair instead. Mrs. Kesselring didn't seem to notice that two people came to sit in front when she had only asked for one, or else she didn't care.
"The first thing I'm going to do is take attendance," she said.
As soon as she turned her back to get the class roster, the dark-haired student next to Nicky snapped his arm straight out in a Nazi salute. Several classmates laughed, and Mrs. Kesselring whirled about.
"I want to know what's so funny?"
When no answer came, she glanced at her students. "I can see already that I'm going to have a snotty class."
She began to read off the names on the class list. Nicky knew most of the names would be a blur, but he wanted to remember the ones of people he thought he might have a chance to make friends with.
Nicky felt the eyes of his classmates staring at him. This new school was much worse than the old one. In Miami he had been one of many Hispanic kids. Here among the predominately northern European Minnesotans, he felt different. Although everyone in his family had Americanized first names, he wished his surname could be changed as well.
"Here," he mumbled.
He looked at the pair sitting beside him, expecting them to be staring at him, but found them just talking between themselves. He became curious what their names were.
The shrill voice caught Nicky's attention. He turned to look. Billy was short with incredibly greasy hair and thick glasses. This guy's a loser like me, Nicky thought. I bet he'll be my friend.
Mrs. Kesselring read a few names later, "Brian Muttilege."
Brian's hoarse and gruff voice compelled Nicky to look. Brian wore a Led Zeppelin concert shirt and sunglasses. He wasn't very tall, but was big in a chubby way. Nicky decided to avoid him as much as possible.
"What was that?" Kesselring asked Brian.
"Mutt. That's my name."
The teacher nodded and continued the roll call. Nicky waited for a response from either of the two sitting with him in the front row, becoming more curious about their names.
Nicky's neighbor shot his arm straight forward, "Sieg heil!", and the class laughed.
"I don't think that's funny," Mrs. Kesselring glared at him. "Someone named Butch shouldn't make fun of other people's names." She looked at the roster. "Eugene Simpson."
Nicky wondered, and sure enough, Butch's curly-haired partner raised his hand. They didn't look like twins, Nicky thought. Maybe they're cousins, or more likely Butch is older and flunked a couple of grades. He wished he had a twin brother. Then he'd have a guaranteed friend in his own grade.
Two girls' names were called after Eugene, but Nicky didn't pay attention to them. He decided that Bill Hosin was the only person in the class he had a chance of making friends with. He spent the rest of the hour trying to think of how he would get to know him. He thought of going up to him after class, but he couldn't think of anything to say.
When the bell rang, Nicky sat in his seat until Billy walked past him on the way out. He closely followed Hosin out the door, but couldn't quite work up the nerve to tap him on the shoulder. I'll just see where he goes, Nicky told himself. I want to find out if he meets up with any friends. Unfortunately, Hosin headed for the gym on the other end of the school and Nicky had to go to biology class. I can sit next to him in tomorrow's English class, Nicky consoled himself. If I'm lucky, he'll be in one of my other classes.
Nicky took a seat in the front row again. Fifteen seconds after the bell rang, Brian Muttilege and Butch entered the room and took seats in the back. They're friends, Nicky thought. They must have been sitting together in English before Butch had to move to the front.
Then Nicky realized their biology teacher hadn't arrived yet. As the minutes passed, the class became more restless. Brian and Butch became the rowdiest as they started throwing a wad of paper at each other.
Finally, five minutes after the hour, the instructor arrived. He was a wiry fellow, and some part of his body; whether arm, leg, neck, or twitching shoulder; always moved. He planted himself in front of the class and twisted his waist from side to side as he stared at his students with beady eyes.
"You guys playing with the paper wad," he called. "Let's see if you can score." He pointed to the waste basket next to his desk.
Butch launched the wad across the room, but it landed closer to the teacher than the trash. "You're pitiful," said the teacher as he stooped and flicked the paper into the trash.
"My name is Mr. Much, Donald E. Much," he began pacing in front of the chalkboard. "We're going to study biology in here. Human biology."
"Yah!" Nicky heard Brian's raspy voice.
Much paused for an instant before pacing some more. "Just because you're sexually active doesn't mean you're going to breeze through this course. Don't look so shocked, dearie," he looked at one of the girls. "I know many of you are doing it."
"Now for attendance," he announced, walking over by the door to get the class roster. "I don't take attendance." He wadded the list and tossed it into the garbage ten feet away before looking back at the class with a satisfied smile.
Nicky wanted him to take attendance. Without it he couldn't scope the class for more possible friends.
"I know some of you are already planning to skip class," said Mr. Much. "That's fine. I don't want students who don't want to be here. Be forewarned, though; I give pop quizes, don't announce tests in advance, and don't give makeups."
Gee whiz, thought Nicky. I better not get sick.
"Hello, school!" blurted the intercom. "I'm Mr. Moss, your principal, and welcome to another year at Roosevelt High. I'm sure it's going to be a great year, but let me start it off on the right note with a joke. What did the bug say after he hit the windshield? 'I bet I don't have the guts to do that again.' Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"I was wondering when we'd hear from Mr. Moss," Donald E. Much told the somewhat stunned class. "You'll get used to him before long."
He walked down one of the aisles, pausing for a closer look at the students in each row. "As stated previously, my name is Donald E. Much. That's Donald, not Don and not Donny. I want you to know that I'm a world class wastepaper basket shooter. I challenge anyone who thinks he can beat me. If you win, I'll give you an 'A' for the course; but I haven't been defeated yet."
Reaching the back, he planted his feet shoulder width apart in the aisle between Brian and Butch, facing the front, and began flexing his feet up and down from tiptoe. "I've told you a little about me. Since we're stuck together for the year, I want to know something about each of you. Let's start with you in the front."
Nicky's muscles tightened and his heart raced. I shouldn't have sat in front, he thought. I don't want to go first. Everybody's looking at me.
"Well, say something," Much urged.
"I don't know what to say," Nicky stammered.
"What's your name?
"Which school did you go to last year?"
What a dreadful question. "Parkside," Nicky wrenched the word out his mouth. Now everyone knew he was new.
"Miami." Nicky was convinced nobody would be his friend from this class.
Much's laugh tore into Nicky's gut. "Warm weather wimp," the teacher teased. "You won't like our winter."
Thankfully, Much went on to the next student without any further questions. Nicky was so distraught that half the class had been interviewed before he thought of paying attention to listen to people's names. Still, nothing of interest came up until the back row.
"You must be Rocky Mutt's little brother," Much wrinkled his nose as he looked Brian over. "I heard he was expelled."
Muttilege responded with a shrug. Much looked to his other side at Butch. "And who are you?"
"My name is Mr. Simpson, Butch T. Simpson. I'm going to study biology in here. Human biology."
"But you're a lousy wastepaper basket shooter."
"Shucks," Butch snapped his fingers. "I guess I can't get an 'A'."
Much shot a glance at the clock. "Only a few minutes left," he announced. "We'll start talking about biology tomorrow."
He stepped frontward down the aisle and straight out the door. The class naturally became rambunctious, but no one left until the bell rang. Nicky remained in his seat because his algebra class was in the same room. He saw Butch and Eugene talking outside the door. Eugene came inside at the bell and sat next to Nicky.
Nicky looked at Eugene, whose friendly smile helped ease his tension.
"Hi," he returned the greeting.
"Not really," said Nicky. "My family came to America before I learned to talk."
"That's too bad," replied Eugene. "I took Spanish in junior high. I was hoping to use it."
"I'm going to be taking Spanish this year," Nicky offered. "Then I'll be able to talk with you."
"That'll be fun," Eugene smiled. "But I thought you already knew Spanish because of your accent."
Nicky froze. He hadn't realized he had an accent. He was terrified by his differentness.
"You must have picked it up from your parents," Eugene quickly deduced. "Where did they come from?"
"Puerto Rico," Nicky lied. He wasn't going to tell anyone he was Cuban, for then he would certainly be hassled for being a Communist.
The conversation was interrupted by Mr. Much entering the room. Eugene leaned over and whispered into Nicky's ear. "Butch says this guy's kind of fun."
"My name is Donald E. Much. Since this is second-year algebra, I assume you're all good students." He snatched the class roster from the doorpost and crumpled it. "I don't think attendance is necessary," he said as he arched his latest shot into the garbage. "Now let's get to work."
Nicky didn't have much time to wonder about Much's different treatment of the algebra class because the teacher scribbled a flurry of equations on the chalkboard which he was hard pressed to copy into his notes. Before he knew it, the bell had rung and Much passed out a mimeographed homework assignment.
"I wonder how Butch thought this guy was fun," Eugene wiped his brow.
Nicky parted ways from Eugene to go to his locker. Feeling grateful that he hadn't gotten a textbook yet in any of his morning classes, he traded his pencil and notebook for his lunch and headed to the lunchroom with nervous thoughts of meeting Billy Hosin.
Eating lunch by himself, Nicky scanned the room for his potential friend. He soon spotted Hosin in the process of selecting a table, but he wasn't alone as he had hoped. Moreover, to Nicky's astonishment, Billy's companion was a girl hanging onto his arm. She was petite enough to be smaller than her scrawny boyfriend, and Nicky thought she was more cute than he thought Hosin's appearance would allow. As he watched them sit and begin giggling among themselves, Nicky felt a mixture of jealousy and resentment.
He looked for Eugene next, although he wasn't sure he could approach him with Brian and Butch around. However, he couldn't find any of them in the lunchroom so he returned to his locker to get his algebra homework to work on for the rest of the lunch hour.
His first afternoon class was physical education, always his least favorite. Never did Nicky feel more inadequate than when playing sports. To make matters worse, Mr. Walton turned out to be at least as bad as any gym teacher he'd ever had.
"This is my gym," Walton asserted, rubbing his crewcut. "You do what I say in here, and don't ask questions."
Then he enumerated a long list of rules including no talking, no chewing gum, no rings on fingers, no watches, hairnets or ponytails for long hair, and no exceptions to the standard gym uniform. In regard to the latter, he emphasized the importance of wearing an athletic supporter.
"If you take a blow without your supporter on, you're likely to get a hernia," he threatened. "And then you need an extremely painful operation."
Nicky was sufficiently scared to resolve to always wear his supporter in gym class.
"Harris!" Walton's bark made Nicky cringe. It reminded him of his father. "What did I say about talking?"
"Not to do it," answered Harris' husky voice.
"Give me fifty!" Walton demanded. "I want to hear you count them."
Harris; blonde, square-jawed, and apparently a football player; dropped to the floor and began counting off pushups. "One! Two! Three! Four!" The first couple dozen came easy. "Eighteen! Nineteen! Twenty!"
"This is what happens to anyone who thinks he can ignore the rules," Walton stood over Harris, gloating. Nicky cringed.
"Thirty . . . thirty-one." Harris slowed. His hair had become matted with sweat. "Thirty-five." The sweat dripped off his chin and glistened off the floor. "Forty." His arms, also covered with sweat, trembled.
"Come on, sissy!" shouted Walton. "I want fifty!"
Nicky's stomach tightened at the scene. Harris struggled for another few pushups. He paused on the upswing, hanging his head between his arms.
Walton stooped and balled into Harris' ear. "You don't think you're so smart now, do you? Answer me!"
"No," Harris heaved.
"Don't you know it's rude not to look at someone who's talking to you?" Walton yelled. "Look at me!"
Harris raised his head and looked at the gym instructor, redfaced. His cheeks seemed about ready to burst with sweat. Walton pressed in closer, so their noses nearly touched.
"You do fifty pushups or you're going to take the pin test. Do you hear me?"
Harris forced a few more pushups. Nicky didn't want to find out what the pin test was. He looked around at his other classmates, who also watched Harris' ordeal in silence. He was surprised to spot Butch, whom he hadn't seen before. Nicky wondered. Did he sneak in late?
Harris flopped to his stomach.
"Keep your stomach up!" Walton shouted.
Harris struggled up for the fiftieth time and collapsed without counting off the last pushup. Walton turned away and retrieved his clipboard. He took roll call, giving everyone a floor assignment as he went. Nicky had to stand over a piece of tape on the floor marked with the number fourteen.
"These are your assigned places for exercises," Walton told the class. "Starting with next time, you'll be in uniform waiting at your position by two minutes after the bell or you owe me twenty."
Then he assigned gym lockers and handed out locks and combinations, which thankfully used up the rest of the hour. Nicky snapped his lock into place and moved on to American history.
He found Bill Hosin sitting in the room with his girl friend, whose name he learned to be Holly Bunting when attendance was taken. The teacher, Mr. Fulcroft, was a squat balding man, wearing wire spectacles.
"I imagine many of you are asking what point there is in studying history," he lectured, waving a pointer as if he were conducting an orchestra. "After all, it doesn't seem to be something you're going to use in life like reading or arithmetic. However, despite what the adage says, history does repeat itself unless we can learn from mistakes in the past and do things better."
He continued with an example, giving a long treatise on how the second World War would never have occurred if the proper lessons had been learned from the first. The whole time the pointer remained in his hand, like an extended appendage which gestured more frantically whenever he wanted to emphasize a point. Despite this distraction, what he talked about interested Nicky and the hour passed quickly.
The day ended with Spanish class. Nicky was glad for the opportunity to learn more of his ethnic language than what he had picked up from his mother and former schoolmates. He rarely heard his father speak Spanish, nor his brother Robert who had been fortunate enough to learn to talk in Spanish before coming to America.
The teacher, Miss Wainwright, was an attractive blonde with a bubbly personality. She liked Nicky immediately because he was Hispanic. He already knew the simple phrases she taught on how to introduce himself and ask for someone's name, and she complimented his accent. Having forgotten the terror of gym class, Nicky skipped home in a good mood.
"Hola!" he greeted his mother in the kitchen as she placed a casserole into the oven. "Me llamo Nicky. ĘComo te llamas?"
"Oh, Nicky! You've had Spanish class," she responded delightfully, before thinking of switching languages. "Me llamo Linda. Me gusto mucho que aprendes espanol."
Nicky didn't understand all of the last part, but returned his mother's smile. He glanced hungrily at the casserole beginning to heat in the oven. They usually ate his father's favorite food, hamburgers, when he was home and Nicky was sick of them. He asked his mother how long before they could eat supper.
"At least an hour, Nicky," she replied. "Would you like to have a snack?"
Nicky nodded. How wonderful things were when his father was gone! He never allowed him to have a snack. His mother cheerfully set him down at the table with a glass of milk and a plate of Emily's delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.
He heard someone coming in the front door and assumed Emily was home from junior high. His anticipation of talking with his sister about school dissipated as his father stomped into the kitchen. Nicky fought off an urge to hide his snack under the table, realizing the futility the attempt and placing his half-eaten cookie back on the plate instead.
His mother gasped and nearly dropped a spoon when she saw him. "What are you doing home, Mark?"
"My flight was cancelled," Mark huffed, slamming his brief case into a chair. "The next charter's in the morning."
"I'm sorry," said Linda. "Why don't you relax in the living room and I'll bring you a drink?"
Too late, Nicky froze. His father was glaring at him. He lurched back in his seat as his father grabbed the snack in front of him, tossing the cookies in the trash and pouring the milk down the drain.
"Linda, how come you're feeding your son before dinner?"
His mother tried to hold her ground. "That was wasteful," she said, looking at the milkened sink.
"Don't talk back to me," her husband warned. "What kind of wife are you? As soon as I leave home, you spoil the kids behind my back. I don't know why I put up with you."
Tears welled up in her eyes and she sobbed. He yelled at her to stop, but she only cried harder. Then, in his fury, he struck her; and Nicky could no longer stand it.
"It's not Mom's fault," Nicky shoved himself between his parents. "I was hungry."
"Stay out of this," his father pushed him hard into the table.
Nicky tried to intervene again, but received a stunning forearm blow across his neck. He found himself backlaid on the floor.
"Get up to your room," his father kicked his rear. "And no supper. You've ruined it anyway."
Nicky headed for the stairs exchanging distraught glances with Emily, now standing in the kitchen doorway. He bolted for his room and buried his head into his pillow. He tried to block out the awful sounds from below; his father yelling, and mother screaming as he hit her; but to no avail. He heard each blow, and each one pained him more than the forearm smash he had received himself.
Read Chapter 2.
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