Nicky arrived downstairs the next morning to the welcome news that his father had already left for the airport. His ragged mother silently gave him toast and a glass of orange juice. Nicky noticed a bruise beneath her left eye, which she had tried to cover with makeup, but said nothing. He had seen worse.
He ate a double portion of Emily's eggs to make up for missing the previous night's supper. Nobody spoke during breakfast, while eggs fried and dishes clanged. He exchanged words with Emily before leaving for school, but his mother remained speechless. She gave him a tender kiss on the forehead, with tears streaking through her makeup.
He shuffled morosely to Roosevelt High and settled into the first row of English class. Butch, Eugene, and Brian came into the room; playfully shoving each other around. Their laughter made Nicky feel worse.
Nicky didn't pay attention during the lesson until Mrs. Kesselring asked Butch what an adjective was.
"I don't know."
Mrs. Kesselring's face turned red. "How can you be in high school and not know what an adjective is?" she berated him.
Butch shrugged his shoulders and slouched further into his chair.
"Stand up!" Kesselring commanded.
Butch did, leaning lazily against his desk. Brian broke out in a horsey laugh.
"Shut up, Mutt!" the teacher yelled. "This isn't funny."
Brian tried to stifle his laughter by putting his hand over his mouth. Mrs. Kesselring shifted her attention back to Butch.
"Do you know what a noun is?"
"Come up here and write one on the board."
Butch sauntered to the front and wrote 'Butch' on the chalkboard.
"I didn't expect a proper noun, but it will do," said Mrs. Kesselring. "Now write an adjective to go with the noun."
Butch added a word so the board read, 'Butch drives'.
"No, no, no! That's wrong!" the teacher ranted. "An adjective is supposed to describe a noun. If you had written, 'stupid Butch', that would've been right. Try again."
This time Butch wrote 'fat teacher'. By now most of the students in the class were snickering or laughing.
Mrs. Kesselring whirled on them and screamed. "I don't think it's funny." She turned back to Butch. "I want you to go see Mr. Moss."
Butch started back to his desk, but Kesselring shouted, "Right now!", so he left for the principal's office. The rest of the lesson proceeded normally. At the end of class, Eugene took Butch's books with him.
Nicky went on to biology. Butch came in with his books. He was late, but had still beaten Mr. Much. He looked around for Brian and, furrowing his brow when he didn't find him, took a seat by himself in the back.
Nicky's dour mood had slowly brighted, and he looked forward to talking with Eugene in algebra class when Brian and Butch weren't around. He sat anxiously in his seat after biology class, waiting for Eugene to finish speaking with Butch outside the door. Eugene came in at the bell and, as Nicky hoped, sat in an adjoining seat which had fortunately remained open. Unfortunately, they barely had time to exchange greetings before Mr. Much, who hadn't left the room between classes, began another intense algebra lecture. As the end of the hour approached, Nicky fretted about what he was going to say to Eugene, but needn't have since Eugene took the initiative once the bell ended Much's mathematical onslaught.
"Do you want to eat lunch with us, Nicky?"
Although nervous about keeping company with Brian and Butch, Nicky accepted the offer with a big smile.
"Can you meet us in the lunch room?" asked Eugene.
"Where do you sit?" Nicky questioned. "I couldn't find you yesterday."
"We went out for pizza yesterday," Eugene explained, as he rose from his seat and ventured for the door. "You'll spot us today."
"I'm wondering," said Nicky, going with him. "Are you and Butch brothers or cousins?"
"Twins," answered Eugene, and added after Nicky wrinkled his nose. "Fraternal twins. They don't look alike."
Excited, yet apprehensive, Nicky passed by his locker before going to the lunch room. He had no problem finding Butch and Eugene at a table, and approached with relief that Brian Muttilege hadn't arrived yet.
"Butch, this is Nicky," Eugene introduced him.
"Hi," Butch's smile surprised Nicky. "I've seen you in a bunch of my classes."
Butch emptied the contents of his lunch bag on the table. Five twinkies. Nicky had to look twice.
"Is that your whole lunch?" he inquired.
"Yep. I love twinkies."
Eugene's lunch proved to be more nutritious; consisting of the standard sandwich, apple, chips, and cookies. Nicky had a better one than usual, with a few sweets which were normally censored by his father.
"What's taking Mutt so long?" Eugene asked Butch during his third twinkie.
"He's in detention."
"Already? What did he do?"
"He was caught smoking in the bathroom."
"Just tobacco. He quit grass after what happened to Rocky."
Nicky squirmed. I shouldn't be hanging around these guys, he thought. But I want some friends. What if they want me to smoke a cigarette?
"So, Nicky," said Butch with half of the next twinkie in his mouth. "Do you want a ride home after school?"
"Sure," said Nicky. "If it's all right."
"No problem. Where's your last class?"
"Mine too. Room 214."
"You have Mr. Fulcroft?"
"Yep. Do you?"
"Why don't we meet there after school?" Eugene broke in.
Butch and Nicky agreed. After lunch, Butch took a triangular fold of paper from his pocket. Nicky didn't know how to play table football so he watched Butch and Eugene. With forefingers they took turns hitting the paper across the table towards each other, trying to get it to overhang the edge of the table to score a touchdown. If someone hit the paper off the table, the other player could try for a field goal.
"I wonder if Mr. Much plays this game," Butch remarked. "I should challenge him."
He won and told Nicky he had to play him. Nicky didn't want to, but Eugene persuaded him.
"You go first," Butch offered.
Nicky hit the paper football off the table.
"Field goal!" announced Butch.
Nicky put his forefingers together and upraised his thumbs in the shape of a goalpost like he had seen Butch and Eugene do in the previous game. Butch shot the football into his face, and many more times after that for numerous field goals and extra points.
Eugene had to coax Nicky to play him next. Nicky enjoyed his second game more, even though he lost again, because he played better and Eugene didn't shoot the ball so hard. The game ended during the final minutes of the lunch hour.
"I'm glad I don't have gym today," Nicky remarked.
"Me too," said Butch. "That teacher's the biggest jerk in the world."
"He scares me."
"He doesn't faze me," Butch shrugged.
Eugene left for class. Butch and Nicky spent the next hour playing more football. Then Nicky went to Mr. Fulcroft's class for another pointer-flapping dissertation from the history teacher.
"Yesterday I told you what makes history important," Fulcroft started, staring at his students over his spectacles. "We're going to concentrate on American history in this course, starting with the Age of Exploration. Since you've studied this stuff before in junior high, I have a project in mind instead of memorizing a bunch of dates. But first I'm sure you need a review."
He handed out a mimeographed list of thirty explorers, starting with Marco Polo and ending with James Cook.
"As I discuss this list, I suggest everyone write down what each explorer discovered," said Fulcroft, twirling his pointer in a figure eight. "It will be on the test."
He pulled down a map of the world and started through the list of explorers, pointing out the travels of each one. Nicky thought he was going to beat a hole through the map with the pointer. The material would've been boring without the anecdotes Fulcroft included in the lecture, like how the Portuguese king kept changing commanders for the voyages around Africa so none of them would become too important. He got two-thirds through the list, to Sir Francis Drake, before the bell cut him off. He assigned a chapter to read out of the textbook, and Nicky went into the hall to wait for Butch.
"The bell's going to ring soon," said Butch when he arrived some minutes later.
"My class is just across the hall," Nicky pointed.
"Spanish? Don't you already know Spanish?"
The bell drowned out Nicky's "no". Butch walked into history class, waving an imaginary pointer in his hand like Mr. Fulcroft. Nicky dashed into the room across the hall, but fortunately Miss Wainwright didn't mind him being a few seconds late.
She reviewed the first day's lesson and then taught the present tense conjugations of ser, one of the verbs meaning 'to be'. Nicky knew them, but had never seen the forms organized by first, second, and third person; singular and plural like the teacher wrote them on the board. It made more sense than ever before.
After that, Miss Wainwright used some of the conjugations to teach the class the names of objects in the room. Que es esto? What is this? Es una mesa. It's a table. Que son estos? What are these? Son libros. They're books. Nicky liked Spanish class.
He met Butch across the hall afterwards, and they waited until Eugene came. The trio passed by Nicky's locker, and then went to Butch's and Eugene's adjacent ones. Like Nicky, Eugene kept several textbooks and notebooks, but Butch dumped everything into his locker.
"Didn't you get any homework?" asked Nicky.
"I don't do homework," said Butch.
"How do you get good grades?"
"'C's are good enough," replied Butch.
"Sometimes I help him," Eugene put in, "so we can stay in the same classes."
The twins led the way out of the building, to the parking lot instead of the pickup circle on the west side where Nicky expected.
"Where are you getting picked up?" Nicky wondered.
"Nobody's picking us up," said Butch.
Eugene noticed Nicky's puzzled look and explained. "Butch drives."
Nicky pondered this for a few steps before asking Butch, "You have your license already?"
"How can I? I'm not sixteen yet."
"Does your Dad know?" Nicky was incredulous. His father wasn't going to let him drive until eighteen, if then.
"He doesn't care as long as I stay out of trouble," Butch answered. "Here's my car."
It was green, except for a black hood, with considerable rust along the bottom. Nicky saw a lamppost, two chipmunks, and a rabbit painted on the driver's door.
"Get in the front on the other side," Butch invited.
Nicky walked around the back, observing the bumper almost hanging to the pavement. The rear tire on the other side peeled tread, and like the others lacked a hubcap.
"The door's jammed," Eugene called. "You have to go in the window."
Nicky crawled through the open window while Butch took his position behind the wheel and Eugene climbed into the back.
"This is your own car?" Nicky couldn't believe it.
"I found it."
"Someone abandoned it across the street from where we live," said Butch. "None of the neighbors knew whose it was so I claimed it."
"Why would anyone abandon their car?"
"It's a piece of junk, and didn't run," Butch stuck the keys into the ignition. "Sixty-three Chevy Impala," he beamed proudly. "I put a 454 engine in here."
He turned the ignition and revved the engine. It made horrendous noise. Nicky felt Eugene tapping on his shoulder.
"Butch is looking for a muffler."
"Wait up, assholes."
Nicky recognized the raspy voice of Brian Muttilege. Brian jumped into the back seat, shoving Eugene over to Nicky's side. He lit up a cigarette, which made Nicky uncomfortable until he realized neither of the Simpsons were going to smoke.
"When are you going to get some tunes in this crate?" Brian demanded as Butch pulled into the street. "I'm dying for some Deep Purple."
"I have better things to spend money on than a stereo." Butch told him. "Like gas."
"We thought you had to stay after school," Eugene said to Brian.
"No," Brian blew smoke. "Just detention for the rest of the noon hours this week."
"Is it bad?" Butch inquired, looking at Brian through the rearview mirror.
"Not really. Just boring. Didn't you receive detention for getting thrown out of English this morning?"
"Nope," said Butch, stopping at a red light. "Mr. Moss laughed when I told him what happened."
"It was funny," Brian chuckled. "Stupid Butch."
"Butch knows what an adjective is," Eugene defended his brother. "He was just riling up the teacher."
"Nicky," said Butch as the light turned green. "Want to cruise around with us a little bit?"
"I can't," Nicky declined. "I should go straight home."
Butch questioned Nicky where he lived, and Nicky told him the general vicinity of his house. Butch obeyed the letter but not the spirit of the traffic laws. He squeeled the tires when accelerating and delighted in abrupt lane changes. He made sudden stops, but didn't bother to use the brakes on turns. Nicky had to hang onto the door on right turns to keep from flying into Butch's lap. Before the turns, Butch would manually flip the signal because it didn't blink automatically.
Brian ignored Nicky, and the Simpson twins didn't introduce them, so Nicky kept quiet until he directed Butch to drop him off at a corner near his house.
"I can take you to your driveway," Butch offered.
"I can walk," Nicky turned him down. He didn't want his mother to see the car and ask questions. "Thanks for the ride."
"Do you want us to pick you up in the morning?" Butch asked as Nicky climbed out the window.
Nicky thought quickly. "Sure. Pick me up here at quarter to eight."
Butch agreed and peeled off. Nicky walked the short distance home feeling both happiness and dread. He liked having friends, and their free spirits appealed to him; but he feared they wouldn't want to be his friends once they found out what his life was like.
His mother was still a little moody, but she at least talked to him. Nicky was glad she gave him milk and cookies, because he had decided against asking for a snack.
"How's Spanish class?" she asked.
"I like the teacher," answered Nicky. "She's real nice."
And pretty too, he thought.
He told his mother what he had been taught, and then Emily arrived home. Nicky followed his sister to her room, eager to talk because they hadn't had the chance since school started.
"Do you like your new school, Emily?"
"I was really scared at first, but it's not too bad now. How about you? Do you like your teachers?"
"My English teacher yells a lot," said Nicky. Mostly at Butch, he thought. "I have the same teacher for biology and algebra. He's strange. I hate the gym teacher, of course, but I really like my history and Spanish teachers."
"I wish I were taking Spanish," Emily sat on her bed, kicking her legs. "Tell me what you're learning."
"Nothing new yet, but it's fun."
Emily was curious, so he recited the phrases from class. He told her how friendly Miss Wainwright was, how he spoke the language better than any of his classmates, and how he didn't feel as out of place in that class as the others.
"Do you have any friends in there?"
Emily's question stopped Nicky short as he realized he hadn't looked for friends in sixth hour because he enjoyed the class so much.
"No," he eventually answered. "But I got a couple of other friends, I think."
"What are they like?"
"They're hard to describe," said Nicky. "Dad probably won't like them. Have you made any friends?"
Emily blushed. "Not yet, but there's a fellow in math who keeps talking to me."
"Do you like him?"
"Kind of," she wrinkled her freckled nose. "He's not super looking or anything, but he's real nice."
"What's his name?"
"What if he asks you out?"
"I don't know. You know Dad won't let me."
Nicky considered his own situation. Dad won't let me hang around Butch and Eugene, he told himself. He heard mother calling for supper. Descending the stairs ahead of Emily, he was glad their father wasn't coming home until the weekend.
Read Chapter 3.
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