When Nicky woke up early the next morning, he couldn't get back to sleep because he was so tense about his impending English speech. He would've used the extra time to rehearse the speech more, except he had left his materials at school. He stared at the ceiling instead.
Butch had started coming to the driveway to pick him up, so he waited in the warmth of the living room until the car arrived. He hopped into the back seat of the vehicle, and saw a pair of crutches wedged in the center of the passenger compartment. Then he noticed Butch's left ankle wrapped in a bandage.
"What happened?" he asked instinctively.
"I fell out of a tree," said Butch.
When they got to school, Butch asked Nicky to carry a red folder to English class for him. Eugene and Nicky walked slowly beside Butch toward the building while he struggled with the crutches.
"Go ahead, Nicky," said Eugene. "We'll meet you in class."
Nicky left his friends to go to his locker, where he exchanged his lunch and outerwear for his speech notes and map of Berlin. He sat behind his desk in Mrs. Kesselring's room and waited for the twins, but the bell rang first.
"Nicky," Kesselring called while she took attendance. "Where are Butch and Eugene?"
"They're coming," he answered. He didn't elaborate since the reason the Simpsons were tardy would be apparent as soon as they arrived.
The teacher wrinkled her nose but didn't ask any more questions. She finished taking attendance and sat behind her desk.
"All right, Nicky," she looked at her watch. "I'm ready for your speech."
Tension surged through his body as he walked to the front with his notes and map. He didn't like talking in front of the class at all. While he pinned the map on the bulletin board, Butch hobbled into the room with Eugene carrying a stack of books.
"You're late!" Kesselring snapped at them.
"It's not like I don't have a good reason," Butch said dourly.
She snorted and waited for them to sit down. Nicky finished posting the map and turned around for Kesselring's signal to begin.
She folded her hands on her desktop. "Tell me, Butch. I want to know what happened to your ankle."
Butch propped his left leg on his desk. "I hurt it."
"I can see that," Kesselring huffed. "Tell me how you hurt your ankle."
"I'd rather not."
"Okay, but I bet you told Nicky."
With the teacher staring at him, Nicky couldn't muster much willpower to resist her. "He fell out of a tree."
"Ah," Kesselring stroked the mole on her chin. "Tell me what Butch was doing in a tree."
Nicky shrugged. "I don't know."
She left her desk and strolled up the aisle where she could look over Butch. "I'm sick and tired of playing games with you, Butch Simpson. Tell me why you were in a tree and tell me right now."
Butch gave Eugene a look. Then he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and glared at the teacher. "I was peeping into your window."
"That's not funny," she shouted to squelch the laughter of her students, and then pointed a bony finger at Butch's nose. "I should send you to the office for that sassy remark."
"Give me a break," Butch implored. "I can barely move with these things," he tapped the crutches.
Kesselring stamped her foot. "I want to know the real reason you climbed a tree."
She put her hands on her hips. "Can't you see that I'm dying of curiosity?"
Nicky was getting restless standing in the front. He wanted to get his speech over with, and besides, maybe he could get the teacher to leave Butch alone. "Mrs. Kesselring," he called for her attention. "Can I start my speech?"
"All right," Kesselring threw up her hands and returned to her desk. "And, Nicky. It's may I start, not can I start."
"Yes, Mrs. Kesselring," said Nicky. He hated having his English corrected in front of everyone.
She told him he could begin. He opened the speech with a description of the impenetrable barriers on East Germany's border with West Germany; electrified fences, spotlights, mine fields, and dogs. However, millions of East Germans escaped across the border in Berlin before the wall was built in August 1961.
He talked about the construction of the wall and referred to his map in showing how it divided the city. He recounted the world's reaction to the hideous structure, including President Kennedy's visit to Berlin. For the remainder of the speech, he told stories of some of the most famous escape attempts and pointed to the location of each on the map. He liked that part because his classmates appeared to be interested in what he was saying.
He liked the teacher's reaction too. "That was a good speech," she said afterward. "Very well done."
Nicky looked inside the slip of paper she gave him and was disappointed with his grade. How could he get a 'B' if his speech was so good? After class was dismissed, he approached the teacher.
"You didn't say anything bad about my speech," he told her. "How come I got a 'B'?"
The teacher explained. "You had an advantage by listening to most of your classmates' speeches before you had to give yours. I had to grade you tougher to be fair."
Nicky didn't argue although he didn't see what was fair about his grade. He walked sullenly to Butch's desk to take his friend's books, including the red folder, to carry to biology class.
"You got screwed," Butch told him. "I liked your speech more than I liked Eugene's."
The compliment cheered him a little. He was also glad that the speech was over, although he still couldn't relax because thoughts of wrestling entered his mind.
They had to change floors to reach Mr. Much's room. Butch took some time navigating the steps on crutches, causing them to be late. Their tardiness didn't matter, however, because Much wasn't in the room yet.
Nicky noticed Wanda watching them as they made their way to their desks. He had been feeling better about the previous day's disappointment, but seeing her again rekindled some of the sadness.
She looked at Butch's ankle. "What did you do to yourself, Butch?"
"Fell out of a tree," Butch hobbled past her.
Nicky lingered for an instant, but Wanda didn't take notice of him. Nope, she doesn't like me, he concluded, and sat down.
After biology, when Butch left for his third hour shop class, he left his books with Nicky. Eugene took them after algebra to return to Butch's locker. Nicky stopped by his own locker and sat by himself in the cafeteria at the table he always shared with Butch and Eugene.
They arrived while he ate his apple. Eugene had the red folder and set it on the table by his left elbow. Butch shoved it across the surface to Nicky.
"Can you keep this and give it to me between our history classes?" he requested.
I don't know," said Nicky. "I don't want to be late for Spanish."
"I'll be on time," Butch promised. "My math class is just down the hall."
"What are you going to do with your math book?" Nicky wondered.
"I don't need it today," answered Butch. "We have a test."
Nicky took the folder. "I guess I can keep this for you."
"Take a look inside," said Butch. "My history project's in there."
Nicky eagerly looked inside. He saw a sheet of paper showing a map of the northwestern United States at the top and writing below.
"It's a game on the Lewis and Clark expedition," Butch identified it.
Nicky took a closer look. Sure enough. He saw a path of numbered spaces going from St. Louis, up the Missouri River, through the Rocky Mountains, and down to the mouth of the Columbia River.
"How do you play?"
Butch explained. "You flip a coin to move your piece from St. Louis to the Pacific coast and back. Heads moves you one space, and tails two. Each turn takes one month. You win if you finish the expedition faster than Lewis and Clark really did."
How did he think of this? Nicky asked himself. His own project seemed boring in comparison.
"Each space has a number," Butch continued. "For each one you land on, you look up its number below to find out what happens to your expedition."
Nicky read some of the numbered entries. Weak current; move one extra space upriver. Wait one month for Indian guide. High Rockies; cannot pass through during winter months.
Nicky played the game after he ate. He flipped a number of tails and moved quickly up the Missouri River during the first year. Then he landed on a get lost space and had to follow a side trail into Canana. A food shortage and windstorm delayed him until winter, forcing him to wait on the eastern side of the mountains for spring. He reached the Pacific seven months behind schedule. He missed a shortcut on the return trip which could've helped him to catch up, so he didn't reach St. Louis by November 1806 in time to win the game.
Butch glanced at the clock after Nicky finished. "Well, twenty minutes until wrestling," he noted. He propped his bandaged ankle on the table. "I'm real sad to be missing that."
Nicky's tenseness intensified. He wished he didn't have to wrestle.
"What are you going to do during gym?" he asked his friend.
"Oh, I still have to go," said Butch. He grinned. "I can't wait to see Walton's face when he sees I won't be wrestling Harris."
As expected, Walton wasn't pleased. He curled his lip and pressed his nose against Butch's. "You better not be faking this, Simpson," he growled.
"I have an excuse from my father," Butch put his crutches under one arm and pulled a note from a pocket. "My uncle signed it too."
Snatching the note, Walton crumpled it and threw it to the floor without looking at it. "I don't care what excuse you have," he huffed. "You're still doing situps with the rest of the class."
The exercises were all situps; a hundred of them. They made Nicky's stomach feel like he had been punched there a dozen times.
Walton had his students sit around the wrestling mat for the matches, except for Butch who leaned against the bleachers. The teacher stood in one corner of the mat and scanned a sheet on his clipboard.
"Let's see," he mulled. "Harris wins by forfeit because of that sissy Simpson."
Nicky shook with nervousness, hoping he wouldn't have to wrestle yet.
"Nehring and Van Dyke, get in here."
Nicky let go of his breath. Walton set aside the clipboard in order to officiate the match. Nehring, the stocky classmate Nicky had always hated blocking in football, and Van Dyke assumed the starting position in the center of the mat. Walton's whistle blew.
After the wrestlers rolled around for practically a minute, the teacher hollered. "You guys wrestle like pansies. I want to see some blood!"
The match lasted the entire three minutes with Nehring winning on points. Walton consulted his clipboard.
"Slake and Delgado."
Nicky's insides tightened so much that they hurt. He gloomily took the lower starting position, taking little consolation in the fact that he was actually larger than his opponent. At the whistle, he dropped flat and stiffened his body so Slake couldn't turn him over.
"Come on, Delgado," Walton bellowed into his ear. "Don't be so worthless. My mother in the nursing home can wrestle better than you."
Anger surged through Nicky. He flailed his limbs in an attempt to free himself. Slake's elbow struck him in the nose as he broke free, sending spasms of pain across his face. He stood holding his nose, and was shocked by the sight of blood dripping through his fingers.
"Don't stand there like an idiot," Walton yelled at him. "You're making a mess."
Nicky hurried to the side, where he knelt and pulled his shirt over his nose. Walton ordered Larry Harris to get him a towel before calling out the names of the next two wrestlers. Larry came with the towel, telling Nicky to tilt his head back and press it against his nose.
When the bleeding stopped, Nicky watched the match. Walton crouched over the wrestlers, counting for a possible pin. Suddenly, the bottom wrestler flipped the other one over and a flying foot hit Walton in the groin.
As the teacher rolled on the mat groaning, Butch spoke up. "Mr. Walton. Do you have your supporter on?"
After class, Nicky took his bloody gym shirt with him to deposit in his regular locker so he could take it home to be washed. He took his seat in history class and picked caked blood from underneath his nose.
Mr. Fulcroft collected assignments, including Nicky's word search. "I'll have copies of these for each of you later in the week," he held aloft the stack of papers. "I'm going to base next week's test on what I have here."
He swapped the stack for his pointer and began to lecture from behind the podium.
"You'll recall that yesterday we discussed the film we watched in class last week. I want to elaborate on a few points." He stared over his spectacles. "Remember that we can't believe everything we see in the movies. Hollywood often distorts history, and we Americans aren't always the good guys."
It isn't unpatriotic to question America's role in history, he argued, because of a need to be honest. Nations are like people, which makes sense since nations are essentially groups of people and governments are run by people. There are rich ones and poor ones. Some are generous, some belligerent, and others keep to themselves.
"I'm not making stereotypes to say individual nations reflect certain personalities," the teacher tapped his pointer on the side of the podium. "The United States likes to do things its own way. Germany is industrious. Poland is spirited. Japan copies ideas and improves them."
Like any person, he continued, a nation possesses a combination of good and bad traits and has reasons for the way it acts. The Soviets do many things, for instance, because they're paranoid.
"This is why we study history," Fulcroft concluded. "It tells us many things about ourselves."
He ended the hour by encouraging his students to watch the election returns that evening. Nicky was interested but didn't expect to see much during his half hour of television.
He thought about Fulcroft's lecture while he waited for Butch, although he couldn't recall most of the words. Rather, he remembered a sort of personal quality about them.
Butch, true to his word, arrived in ample time for Nicky to hand him the red folder and step across the hall to Miss Wainwright's room. In the car on the way home, Butch told Eugene what had happened to Mr. Walton.
"I bet he didn't think he had to wear a jock for being a referee," Eugene joked.
"No," Butch laughed. "But then, kick."
"I can imagine Walton thinking to himself," Eugene chuckled. "I don't need one for vollyball."
"Spike!" Butch completed the phrase. "How about this one? I don't need one for swimming."
"Belly flop!" exclaimed Eugene.
"I don't need one for cross country."
Eugene looked blank, not having an answer.
Butch supplied it. "Tree!"
Nicky joined his friends in sidesplitting laughter. He thoroughly enjoyed making fun of Mr. Walton.
"I don't need one for golf," said Eugene.
Nicky knew that one. "Fore!" He started to think, wanting to come up with his own Mr. Walton joke.
"I don't need one for square dancing," said Eugene. "Grand right and left."
"I've got one," Nicky's idea came to him. His friends looked at him. "I don't need one for archery."
Butch and Eugene looked at each other and replied simultaneously. "Bull's eye!"
The three youths laughed long and hard. Butch almost swerved off the road. Nicky's stomach ached. He hadn't felt so good in a long time.
Still giggling, Butch pulled into a service station. He got out to pump gasoline, walking on his bandaged ankle.
Nicky unrolled a window. "You're faking."
"Sure am," said Butch, taking a nozzle and plugging it into his car. "You didn't think I was going to let that goon Harris mangle me, did you?"
"What about your written excuse?" Nicky asked, thinking Butch had forged the signatures on it.
"My dad and uncle actually signed that," said Butch. "They know I'm faking."
Nicky closed the window with a thought. Which country in the world most resembled Butch?
Read Chapter 17.
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