Nicky walked to school on Monday. He sat glumly through homeroom, not looking forward to the questions he knew his friends would ask him. He purposely arrived in English class just before the bell rang.
"You all right, Nicky?" Eugene whispered as Mrs. Kesselring started a lecture on punctuation.
"I'm grounded for a month," Nicky returned.
"Sorry I got you into trouble," Butch apologized.
"It's okay. I wanted to go to the races."
"Benjamin tried to keep Marshall from going to your house," said Eugene. "Did he make things worse?"
"What did he do to your dad?" asked Butch.
"Just threatened him."
"I thought he was going to pound the daylights out of him."
"You three," the teacher's voice bellered. "I want to know what you're talking about."
"Nothing," said Butch.
"I'm in no mood for your endless sass," Kesselring glared at him. "Tell me what you were talking about."
"So you caught us," said Butch. "We don't have to tell you what we were talking about."
"Nicky," the teacher stopped talking to Butch. "Tell me what you were talking about."
Nicky didn't want to in front of the entire class, but didn't want to get into any more trouble either. "I was telling Butch and Eugene my dad grounded me."
"Oh. What did you do?"
Nicky stared at the floor, feeling his face turn redder every second.
"Never mind," Kesselring returned to the front of the classroom. "I don't need to know."
Brian Muttilege thought he did. He pestered Nicky with the question as they walked with Butch between their English and biology classes.
Nicky gave in. "I went to the races with Butch without asking my father permission."
"He grounded you for that?" Brian held his mouth agape. "My old lady's lucky if I tell her where I'm going."
"Nicky's dad is super strict," said Butch.
"Mine's a tough bastard too," said Muttilege. "I used to always get whipped when he lived with us, especially when he was drunk."
Nicky had the rare thought of being grateful for his father. Brian's sounded worse. He took his seat in biology, a class he liked because the tests were easy, although unannounced, and Mr. Much showed a film almost every other day. Nicky liked the films even more since Much had showed him how to use the projector and let him set it up.
The teacher wheeled the projector into the room on its cart. Good. Film today, Nicky thought as Much shoved the cart at his desk. He caught it and took it to the back.
"I'm disappointed in this class," said Much, grabbing a sheet of paper from his desk and crumpling it into a ball. "No challenger for two weeks. Any takers?"
Nicky locked the cart's wheels into place, thinking about the time he would accept the challenge. I'll have to practice quite a bit first, he determined. Being grounded for a month will give me plenty of time. He threaded the film. Much turned off the lights when it was ready to go.
The film was about muscles and opened with a scene of a basketball team warming up. "There's Norm," called Much. "The one missing the shot." His tendency to talk during films annoyed Nicky.
The scene switched to a boxer working out. "My uncle!" shouted Butch.
"Shut up, Simpson," Much admonished. "I'll do the talking during movies."
The film lasted the entire hour. Eugene talked to Nicky as he rewound the reel between classes.
"Must be a bummer being grounded."
"You've never been grounded?"
Eugene shook his head.
"It gets boring," said Nicky.
"Will you still be able to go to Spanish Club?" Eugene asked.
Nicky hadn't thought he wouldn't be able to go to Spanish Club. The last session had been interesting with Miss Wainwright's friend there from Spain. This week she had promised to discuss bullfighting.
"I think I can," Nicky figured since Spanish Club was part of school. "I'll ask my Dad when he comes home tomorrow."
Nicky enjoyed the evening with his father gone. His mother didn't force him to stay in his room and he even watched Star Trek. He saw an episode in which Captain Kirk blew up a computer with total control over a society.
In his room, he looked at the chart of Harvey's card basketball game Emily gave him. Some of it made sense, however his unfamiliarity with basketball terms such as foul and violation kept him from figuring out how to play. Like the day before, he tried to invent a game of his own without much success. Any idea he had seemed like a game that already existed, such as a dice poker game he soon realized resembled Yahtzee. He decided to give up creating a new game.
* * * * *
Being grounded isn't the worst possible punishment. Nicky told himself this as he faced a stocky opponent on the other side of the line of scrimmage. No. If his father wanted to give him the ultimate punishment, he'd send him to physical education twenty-four hours a day.
He hated Walton's class more than ever after the football skills tests and learning fundamentals gave way to actually playing the game. He didn't mind playing defense because he discovered he never got blocked if he ran away from the ball. Unfortunately, he couldn't run away on offense.
Larry Harris, appointed team captain by the teacher, assigned him to the line because he couldn't play backfield or receiver. Still hurting from the last time he tried to block his beefy opponent, Nicky let him past on the next play and took delight in watching him two-hand touch Harris for a sack.
"Why didn't you block him?" Larry yelled at Nicky.
He didn't wait for a reply, assigning someone else to block the stocky defenseman instead. Nicky happily took a position across from Butch, whom he didn't have to block because he didn't try either.
Butch participated more on his team's offense, proving himself to be a capable ball carrier. Nicky supposed he got plenty of practice running away from his uncle. Larry Harris, remembering his foot, tackled Butch instead of tagging him down; and Walton didn't say anything.
Ten minutes before the end of the hour, a bell rang from the school building. Nicky called it the Liberty Bell because it meant he could quit playing football soon. When the current series of plays was completed, Walton sent his students to run the standard two laps around the football field before returning to the locker room.
The next hour, Mr. Fulcroft presided over the Continental Congress in his classroom. He called the session to order by rapping his pointer on the side of his podium.
"Today we're going to debate the question of independence," he announced. "I'll give each colony a chance to state its case, and remember I'm going to use what you say to determine how well you did your research."
The student's desks were clustered by colony in a semi-circle around the teacher. He called on South Carolina first, which stated a strong case against independence.
"We oppose separating ourselves from England. We agree that King George abuses his power, but we don't see any choice but to serve under him. We depend on growing tobacco and cotton. Who will we sell our cotton to if England doesn't buy it? The textile mills are in England, and other industries too from which we get manufactured goods. We can't survive without England. The British even help us defend ourselves against the French and savages.
"Besides, whether we like it or not, we're the king's subjects. We're obligated to serve under his rule, or we can expect to be considered traitors and treated as such. We don't have any choice except to keep making appeals for better treatment from our mother country."
When Delaware's turn came, Nicky hoped Billy Hosin would talk but he didn't. Nicky stood nervously to speak. He didn't like talking to the entire class.
"We support independence, I think. That is, we're a small colony and can't do much to fight on our own. We can provide a few soldiers and some supplies to the cause, but we need help from the other colonies if we're going to declare independence. We can't hold out by ourselves against the British garrison on our soil. We need to increase trade with other colonies to make up for the trade we would otherwise have with England. The revolution can only succeed if all the colonies cooperate. Otherwise, we'll live under the king's tyranny the best we can."
Nicky sat down, wishing he had spoken better.
"The debate so far has been good," Fulcroft commented from behind his podium. "I see history coming alive here. Once history escapes the staleness of a textbook, it can be applied to the present."
He called on Pennsylvania next. While the delegate spoke, Nicky wished he could see Butch argue for Pennsylvania in the next hour. He was sure it would be interesting. In his class the most interesting speech came from Terry Freeman, a member of the school debate team.
"My fellow delegates, I speak for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bay in saying that any further association with the Monarchy is intolerable. The king is a tyrant. He's like an overbearing father, placing ever more restrictions on us without allowing us any say in the matter nor the right to complain. Why should we remain loyal subjects when George rules over us rather than for us? I say he's lost the authority to be our king.
"And who says we need England? The British themselves claim we need their tea and threaten to cut our supply. I say we don't need tea. We can drink Pennsylvania whiskey or water if we have to. We can build our own industry too. We'll buy the cotton from the south and process it ourselves. Massachusetts stands for independence!"
Holly Bunting spoke next for New Jersey, the last colony to be called. "We agree with the goal of independence, but not with the method of the New England patriots. We think we should negotiate with the king and oppose Parliament on legal grounds rather than resort to arms. We would all like to continue a relationship with England as long as we're allowed to manage our internal affairs."
"Impossible!" Terry Freeman stood. "We've attempted peaceful discourse only to have our every appeal answered by further infringement of our rights. The mother country refuses to recognize our coming of age. We have no choice but to revolt."
"This is excellent," said Fulcroft, now seated behind his desk. He fingered his pointer. "What Holly proposes is essentially dominion status. Terry's fiery retort reminds me of John Adams. He's also correct because the British weren't willing to enter into an equal partnership like they did later with Canada and Australia."
The bell signaled the end of the class. "Tomorrow we'll vote on the question of independence," the teacher shouted after his students as they left the room. "If it passes, I'll have a copy of the Declaration for everyone to sign."
After supper, Nicky lingered at the table as his father settled back with a cup of coffee. He thought about how he was going to word the question about Spanish Club. He no longer felt so confident that he'd be able to go.
"What are you waiting for?" Mark said sternly between sips. "You're supposed to go upstairs."
"Dad," Nicky sucked in his breath. "I need to stay after school Thursday for Spanish Club."
"I'll be at school," Nicky gave his best argument.
"That doesn't matter," his father's nostrils flared. "You're grounded after school, and school ends at three."
Nicky hurried to his room before his father started yelling in earnest. He sat on his bed frustrated for a few minutes, although his father's response had been expected.
He had finished his algebra homework before supper, so he practiced shooting paper wads. He kicked some of the shots, but knew he had to learn Much's shots. He made many of the straightaway and bank shots, but the behind the back ones continued to give him trouble. He surprised himself on the shots he sank using his left hand, when he normally used his right. Nicky believed more than ever he could beat Mr. Much.
Then he studied about the Berlin Wall. The subject fascinated him. He felt some of the agony of the wall as he thought about the families it separated. How many relatives did he have in Cuba? He had never known any grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
The accounts of escapes were particularly enthralling. Some were ingenious and others desperate, but all were courageous. Nicky wished he knew more about his own family's flight. He could never get his mother to talk about it, and he didn't dare ask his father. Perhaps his brother could tell him. He determined to ask him when he came home for Thanksgiving.
* * * * *
"Are you going to be able to go to Spanish Club tomorrow?" Eugene asked Nicky as they waited by the Simpsons' lockers for Butch.
Nicky shook his head and wrinkled his nose at the same time.
"I don't understand your dad," said Eugene. "He doesn't seem to want you to have any fun."
"You'll have to tell me what Miss Wainwright says about bullfighting," said Nicky.
"I'm not going."
Nicky felt funny. He didn't want Eugene skipping Spanish Club on account of him. "You can still go," he said. "I don't mind."
Eugene looked him in the eye. "Remember when you didn't want to go unless I did? I don't want to go by myself either."
They waited for Butch one more minute before giving up and heading to the lunch room without him.
"How long did you say you're grounded for?" asked Eugene. "A month?"
"That's right," Nicky replied.
"Gee, Butch and I are having our birthday party in a couple of weeks," said Eugene. "On the seventeenth. I bet you can't come."
"Not a chance," Nicky said sullenly.
Butch waited for them in the lunch room, seated at their usual table with a roly-poly girl. She had brown bobbed hair and a mole by the corner of her mouth. Her large eyelashes looked false, but could've been real because she didn't have any other makeup on.
"Hi, Eugene," she said cheerily.
"Hi," said Eugene. He looked around the room. "Where's Mutt? In detention again?"
"Probably," said Butch with a twinkie in his mouth.
"Butch," the girl poked her finger into his side. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
"Oh," Butch swallowed. "I thought you knew each other already. Nicky, this is Marcia. We're working together in history." He looked at her. "Nicky has Fulcroft the hour before us."
"Really?" she leaned toward Nicky. "Which colony do you have?"
"Butch and I have Pennsylvania. We had a great time debating each other."
Nicky didn't understand. "Each other?"
"You know," said Marcia, twisting one of her hands in front of herself. "Most of the Pennsylvania delegation opposed independence, but Benjamin Franklin strongly favored it."
"I played him," said Butch. "I called Marcia a spineless royal brownnoser."
"And I called Butch a tottering old man with too much balls," said Marcia. "We kept yelling and calling each other names."
"What did Fulcroft think?" asked Eugene.
"He loved it," Butch smiled. "He said we were living history. When we sign the Declaration of Independence, I'm going to write my name big like John Hancock."
Nicky's class voted unanimously in favor of independence since South Carolina took Mr. Fulcroft's suggestion to follow the consensus, like the colony did historically. Then the teacher unraveled a copy of the Declaration of Independence, except this one didn't have any signatures, on a table in front of the room with books on top of each of the four corners to hold them down. He placed a bottle of ink and a feather quill pen next to it.
"Now we re-enact one of history's great moments," he announced, holding his pointer between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands.
He called the students forward by delegation, starting with the southernmost colony, Georgia, and continuing northward. When Delaware's turn came, Nicky went up by himself because Billy Hosin was absent that day with the flu. The quill shook in his hand as he signed his name to the document.
After the New Hampshire delegation had signed the Declaration, Fulcroft held it up for the class to see. "This was easy for you to sign, but had serious implications for the men who signed it in 1776. They committed themselves to a struggle for liberty which would last for years with no chance of turning back. They risked property, and even their lives if the British captured them."
He paused to curl the Declaration together and waved the roll at his students as if it were his pointer. "There's a lesson here for us today. We each get opportunity to direct the course of our future. Hopefully we choose the path which ends up best in the end, irregardless of whatever hardship that decision brings in the meantime."
* * * * *
Miss Wainwright asked Nicky before class on Friday why he had missed Spanish Club the night before.
"My father wouldn't let me come," Nicky answered.
"That's odd," the teacher wrinkled her nose. "Do you want me to give him a call?"
"No, please don't."
"Okay, Nicky, I won't," she promised. "If you're having troubles, you can talk to me any time. All right?"
Nicky liked that she was concerned, but didn't know how he would begin to tell her anything.
"Okay," he forced a smile.
Read Chapter 13.
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