11

Margo left often enough that there weren’t any Find Margo rallies at school or anything, but we all felt her absence. High school is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship — nor, contrary to popular belief, an anarchic state. High school is a divine-right monarchy. And when the queen goes on vacation, things change. Specifically, they get worse. It was during Margo’s trip to Mississippi sophomore year, for example, that Becca had unleashed the Bloody Ben story to the world. And this was no different. The little girl with her finger in the dam had run off. Flooding was inevitable.

That morning, I was on time for once and got a ride with Ben. We found everyone unusually quiet outside the band room. “Dude,” our friend Frank said with great seriousness.

“What?”

“Chuck Parson, Taddy Mac, and Clint Bauer took Clint’s Tahoe and ran over twelve bikes belonging to freshmen and sophomores.”

“That sucks,” I said, shaking my head.

Our friend Ashley added, “Also, yesterday somebody posted our phone numbers in the boys’ bathroom with — well, with dirty stuff.”

I shook my head again, and then joined the silence. We couldn’t turn them in; we’d tried that plenty in middle school, and it inevitably resulted in more punishment. Usually, we’d just have to wait until someone like Margo reminded everyone what immature jackasses they all were.

But Margo had given me a way of starting a counteroffensive. And I was just about to say something when, in my peripheral vision, I saw a large individual running toward us at a full sprint. He wore a black ski mask and carried a large, complex green water cannon. As he ran past he tagged me on the shoulder and I lost my footing, landing against the cracked concrete on my left side. As he reached the door, he turned back and shouted toward me, “You screw with us and you’re gonna get smackdown .” The voice was not familiar to me.

Ben and another of our friends picked me up. My shoulder hurt, but I didn’t want to rub it. “You okay?” asked Radar.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I rubbed the shoulder now.

Radar shook his head. “Someone needs to tell him that while it is possible to get smacked down, and it is also possible to get a smackdown, it is not possible to get ‘smackdown.’” I laughed. Someone nodded toward the parking lot, and I looked up to see two little freshmen guys walking toward us, their T-shirts hanging wet and limp from their narrow frames.

“It was pee!” one of them shouted at us. The other one didn’t say anything; he just held his hands far away from his T-shirt, which only sort of worked. I could see rivulets of liquid snaking from his sleeve down his arm.

“Was it animal pee or human pee?” someone asked.

“How would I know! What, am I an expert in the study of pee?”

I walked over to the kid. I put my hand on the top of his head, the only place that seemed totally dry. “We’ll fix this,” I said. The second bell rang, and Radar and I raced to calc. As I slid into my desk I dinged my arm, and the pain radiated into my shoulder. Radar tapped his notebook, where he’d circled a note: Shoulder okay?

I wrote on the corner of my notebook: Compared to those freshmen, I spent the morning in a field of rainbows frolicking with puppies .

Radar laughed enough for Mr. Jiminez to shoot him a look. I wrote, I have a plan, but we have to figure out who it was .

Radar wrote back, Jasper Hanson , and circled it several times. That was a surprise.

How do you know?

Radar wrote, You didn’t notice? Dumbass was wearing his own football jersey .

Jasper Hanson was a junior. I’d always thought him harmless, and actually sort of nice — in that bumbling, dude-how’s-it-going kind of way. Not the kind of guy you’d expect to see shooting geysers of pee at freshmen. Honestly, in the governmental bureaucracy of Winter Park High School, Jasper Hanson was like Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of Athletics and Malfeasance. When a guy like that gets promoted to Executive Vice President of Urine Gunning, immediate action must be taken.

 

So when I got home that afternoon, I created an email account and wrote my old friend Jason Worthington.

From: mavenger@gmail.com

 

To: jworthington90@yahoo.com

 

Subject: You, Me, Becca Arrington’s House, Your Penis, Etc.

Dear Mr. Worthington,

  1. $200 in cash should be provided to each of the 12 people whose bikes your colleagues destroyed via Chevy Tahoe. This shouldn’t be a problem, given your magnificent wealth.
  2. This graffiti situation in the boys’ bathroom has to stop.
  3. Water guns? With pee? Really? Grow up.
  4. You should treat your fellow students with respect, particularly those less socially fortunate than you.
  5. You should probably instruct members of your clan to behave in similarly considerate ways.

 

I realize that it will be very difficult to accomplish some of these tasks. But then again, it will also be very difficult not to share the attached photograph with the world.

Yours truly,

 

Your Friendly Neighborhood Nemesis

The reply came twelve minutes later.

Look, Quentin, and yeah, I know it’s you. You know it wasn’t me who squirt-peed those freshmen. I’m sorry, but it’s not like I control the actions of other people.

My answer:

Mr. Worthington,

I understand that you do not control Chuck and Jasper.

But you see, I am in a similar situation. I do not control the little devil sitting on my left shoulder. The devil is saying, “PRINT THE PICTURE PRINT THE PICTURE TAPE IT UP ALL OVER SCHOOL DO IT DO IT DO IT.” And then on my right shoulder, there is a little tiny white angel. And the angel is saying, “Man, I sure as shit hope all those freshmen get their money bright and early on Monday morning.”

 

So do I, little angel. So do I.

Best wishes,

 

Your Friendly Neighborhood Nemesis

He did not reply, and he didn’t need to. Everything had been said.

 

Ben came over after dinner and we played Resurrection, pausing every half hour or so to call Radar, who was on a date with Angela. We left him eleven messages, each more annoying and salacious than the last. It was after nine o’clock when the doorbell rang. “Quentin!” my mom shouted. Ben and I figured it was Radar, so we paused the game and walked out into the living room. Chuck Parson and Jason Worthington were standing in my doorway. I walked over to them, and Jason said, “Hey, Quentin,” and I nodded my head. Jason glanced over at Chuck, who looked at me and mumbled, “Sorry, Quentin.”

“For what?” I asked.

“For telling Jasper to piss-gun those freshmen,” he mumbled. He paused, and then said, “And the bikes.”

Ben opened his arms, as if to hug. “C’mere, bro,” he said.

“What?”

“C’mere,” he said again. Chuck stepped forward. “Closer,” Ben said. Chuck was standing fully in the entryway now, maybe a foot from Ben. Out of nowhere, Ben slammed a punch into Chuck’s gut. Chuck barely flinched, but he immediately reared back to clobber Ben. Jase grabbed his arm, though. “Chill, bro,” Jase said. “It’s not like it hurt.” Jase reached out his hand, to shake. “I like your guts, bro,” he said. “I mean, you’re an asshole. But still.” I shook his hand.

They left then, getting into Jase’s Lexus and backing down the driveway. As soon as I closed the front door, Ben let out a mighty groan. “Ahhhhhhhggg . Oh, sweet Lord Jesus, my hand.” He attempted to make a fist and winced. “I think Chuck Parson had a textbook strapped to his stomach.”

“Those are called abs,” I told him.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve heard of those.” I clapped him on the back and we headed back to the bedroom to play Resurrection. We’d just unpaused it when Ben said, “By the way, did you notice that Jase says ‘bro’? I’ve totally brought bro back. Just with the sheer force of my own awesomeness.”

“Yeah, you’re spending Friday night gaming and nursing the hand you broke while trying to sucker punch somebody. No wonder Jase Worthington has chosen to hitch his star to your wagon.”

“At least I’m good at Resurrection,” he said, whereupon he shot me in the back even though we were playing in team mode.

We played for a while longer, until Ben just curled onto the floor, holding the controller up to his chest, and went to sleep. I was tired, too — it had been a long day. I figured Margo would be back by Monday anyway, but even so, I felt a little pride at having been the person who stemmed the tide of lame.

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