Looking Back – John McNair

            Why 6 AM? Why should anyone be up at this hour? Why WOULD anyone be up at this hour? Thinking back to it now, I don’t know how I made it through middle school. I guess I didn’t know any better then, but if I was sent back in time on a mission to do 6th through 8th over again, I honestly don’t know if I could. Strange times, let me tell ya. The most awkward stage in a human’s life and I was NOT a fan.

            Anyways. 6 AM. Usually, at this time I was groaning and moaning and doing my very best not to leave my sheets. Today was different.

            “Up and at ‘em Johnny Mac!” My mother called from the bottom of the steps. “It’s your last day at Martin!” She was much too jovial for six in the morning, but today I was fine with it. I leapt from my bed and quickly went through my morning routine of showering, brushing my teeth and throwing on some clothes. There would be no special treatment though. A t-shirt and gym shorts. All day. Every day. It’s not like anyone cared anyway.

            The rest of my morning was as normal as any other, aside from my mother chattering about me being a “middle school graduate,” as I sat at the kitchen table, eating cinnamon toast waffles and drinking a glass of milk. You don’t graduate middle school. You high tail it out of there as soon as they let you leave and you don’t ever look back. Not like my mom would understand. She was on the PTA at Martin Middle School and probably would love to go in my place if she could. I never had the heart to tell her how much I hated it. Well, it’s not like I hated actually going to school. I just hated the way it made me feel when I was there. I was very, very shy, and being an awkwardly tall kid with a Jew fro didn’t help my confidence in the slightest. It seemed to me that no one ever really noticed me or cared if I was around. I guess to sum it up, I felt very uncool. And back then “the cool” was everything.

            “John, I’ve got a wedding today so I won’t be home when you get back, but tonight we are going out to celebrate! Sound good?” I cracked a small smile and she tried to give me a kiss on the cheek, but I dodged it, so she settled for my forehead. “Have a wonderful day, John. I’ve got to run.”

All I wanted was a painless day. Hang with my few friends, eat some cake and ice cream, sign some yearbooks and get the hell out. But more than that, I was hoping that this day would bring something amazing to my life. Something that would make the last three years all worth it. I was planning something BIG. I was going to ask Annalise Panders to go to the Durham Bulls game with me. I had been planning to ask her for months and I had firmly decided that today would be the day that I would sum up the courage to bite the bullet.

            A rare, early-morning smile crossed my lips as my insides quivered with excitement. I made sure to duck quickly into another room so my dad wouldn’t see me looking so happy. That would be very suspicious. I sat on the couch in the living room and imagined her inquisitive, electric blue eyes that would get real squinty when she was thinking hard. I thought of that sly smirk she would get whenever she was pulling a prank on one of the “dumb boys,” as she called them in class. But most of all, I just thought of how nice she was to me. My mind raced back to the time that Mrs. Leonard, my 7th grade social studies teacher, asked Annalise and me to get a TV from the tech room so the class could watch a movie. That was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We talked the whole time with no awkward silences! That was quite a feat for me. I even made her laugh a few times.

            “You’re funny,” she had told me. I remember thinking, I am? But, I didn’t say anything. I just smiled and continued to talk to her about sports. That is when I first learned that she was a huge Durham Bulls fan, and honestly, after that, I was hooked. A pretty girl who liked sports AND paid attention to me? I couldn’t really ask for more.

            “You ready to go, Bucko?” My dad’s voice shook me from my daydreaming. I nodded at him, slung my backpack over my shoulder, and followed him out the door. After hopping into the shotgun of his Buick, I watched him stifle an extremely long yawn and take a swig of his coffee. The only person who might’ve been more excited than me about the end of middle school was my dad. He was the designated driver in the mornings and I’m quite sure he hated it.

            “Ok,” he said with a sigh as he started the car on. He immediately turned on his classical music station, frowned, and furrowed his brow as he listened intently to Brahms pour his soul out through the piano keys. I was so thankful for my dad in these situations. He appreciated silence more than anyone I knew and in the early mornings, especially this morning, silence was crucial. I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes in order to properly visualize popping the big question to Annalise. I had it all planned out….

            Annalise and I shared the same third period, which was after lunch, and that is when I would ask her. She sat in the back of the class so I would go back there and ask real smooth, “Hey Annalise! You mind if I sit?”

            And she would say, “Oh, of course John! It’s so great to see you!” So I would sit down and make some small talk. You know, “Can I sign your yearbook?” and “What are your plans this summer?” Stuff like that. Then after some solid buildup, I would get into the important stuff.

            “So, Annalise…I remember you telling me that you’re a big Bulls fan and I actually have an extra ticket to the game next Saturday. I think you’re really cool and was wondering if you would go with me!” This was the most important part and I had to get it just right. I had practiced in the mirror all week to make it perfect. Then, Annalise’s beautiful, blue eyes would get real big and she would say, “Oh my gosh! I would love to go to the game with you! That sounds like so much fun! And John…I think you are really cool too.”

            It was fail proof. I had been thinking about this forever and all I had to do was not screw up. Butterflies erupted into some Irish jig in my stomach as we pulled into the drop-off loop. I took a big, deep breath that my dad mistook for annoyance.

            “Just one more day, bud. I’ll pick you up after and we can get some Char-grill. Sound good?” He patted me on the shoulder and I nodded.

            “Thanks, Dad. See you.” I shouldered my pack and hopped out of the car. I filed behind a group of kids and watched my feet as I prepared myself for what I considered the most important thing I would ever do at Martin. For once, I hoped that this school would just have mercy on me and let something go my way, exactly like I planned it. Not too much to ask, right?

After coming through the main entrance, I cut down a side hall that had less foot traffic and was a shortcut to my first period. As I walked down the hall a door to my left swung open and out walks Annalise-fucking-Panders, her best friend, Stacy Wilkins at her side. I nearly puked on sight.

            “Hey, John! Pumped for our last day?” She said cheerfully, with her cute little grin. She looked amazing. Her short, wispy, blonde hair tickled the insides of her shoulders playfully, as she cocked her head to one side, waiting for my response. The entire school seemed like it got a whole lot hotter.

            I couldn’t speak. I had been seized by utter shock and the only things I could move were my eyes, which darted around the hall looking for an answer to her question. A thin line of sweat had formed over my entire body and my slightly agape mouth pleaded for moisture, as it tried to form words from a language that was suddenly incomprehensible. My feet were rooted to the ground and I did my very best to convince them to run and take me as far away as they could. But wait! A word! I remembered a word!

            “HEY,” I blurted out, much too loudly. I startled Stacy, who proceeded to look at me like a dying cockroach. I couldn’t blame her. I literally could not have been more awkward. I grimaced as I met Annalise’s eyes, expecting the worst, but it wasn’t disgust that I saw; it was amusement.

            “HEY!” She responded just as loudly, clearly entertained. “WHAT’S UP?” she asked, continuing the joke. Stacy now looked completely dumbfounded.

            I laughed, so thankful that Annalise had diffused the awkward bomb that was only seconds from detonating, and responded with a hearty, “NOT MUCH. YOU?”

            “Oh my god, please stop.” Stacy looked at Annalise like she was seriously reevaluating being friends with her. Annalise paid her no mind though. We both just looked at each other and laughed for a few seconds. As it started to die down, I decided that now was as good a time as any to ask her. I took a step closer and was about to say what I had practiced for weeks, but Stacy interrupted me.

            “Hel-lo, Dun-son!” She said in a sing-songy voice. I turned and saw Dunson Griffith striding towards us, with a big, fat grin on his face. Remember “the cool” I was talking about earlier? Well, Dunson had it. Everyone knew him and everyone liked him.

            “What’s up Stacy! Annalise!” He walked right past me and gave the two girls hugs. I barely knew him, but since I felt like walking away would be too awkward, I just stood there like an idiot, watching and listening as if I was actually a part of their conversation. Dunson was more than a head shorter than me, but he made up for it with his brimming confidence. He was also the captain of our soccer team, which was the most popular sport at our school, so he was lean, yet muscular. To put it simply, when he was around, I felt much smaller. He even dressed nice. Today he was wearing khakis and a red and white button down with his ray bands hanging below his neck. For once, I wished I had worn something to school other than gym shorts. He had the habit of constantly pushing his long, wavy hair to the back, as it would always fall over his eyes. I heard girls say how cute he was all the time. I didn’t even want to know what I looked like standing next to him.

            “Hey, where are your yearbooks? I want to sign them!” Dunson pulled a sharpie out of his pocket and took the cap off.

            “You know we don’t get our yearbooks until later, Dumson.” Annalise smiled to herself, clearly very pleased with her pun. I couldn’t help but to chuckle and she gave me a quick wink. My insides started doing backflips. Dunson didn’t even notice, though. Instead he began to move the sharpie closer to the two girls.

            “Not till later, huh? Well, I gotta sign something! Hmmm, how about your shirts?” With a mischievous grin, Dunson quickly jabbed the sharpie towards Annalise.

            “DON’T YOU DARE! Dunson; this is a brand new blouse! I will end you if you get any closer with that thing.” She screamed, as she backed away from him, covering as much of her blouse with her arms as she could.

            “Ok, ok. Damn Anna. I was just kidding!”

            “You can sign my shirt, Dunson,” Stacy piped up. I noticed she hadn’t been able to take her eyes of him the whole time.

            Dunson bent down to sign the back of her shirt, while saying, “Hey are you guys coming to my party next Saturday? It’s gonna be awesome. I’ve got a pool and everything.”

            “Oh, hell yeah! That sounds like so much fun!” Annalise’s eyes got real big as she beamed at Dunson with excitement. My heart sank to the floor. Dunson was throwing a party the same day as the baseball game. And Annalise was going. Ten minutes into the last day of school and I was already ready to leave. All I could think of was how stupid I was to have thought that she would’ve even wanted to come with me. There was always going to be a Dunson that would grab her attention over me. I was completely tuning out the conversation now, as I stared down at the multicolored squares that covered the hallway. I really hated those squares.

            “Ok, then…You two want to go to class?” I heard Dunson ask, thankful that I could finally get away from the three.

            “Yeah sure.” Annalise said and began to follow them, but not before saying, “BYE, JOHN!” with a cheeky grin on her face.

            “Bye, Annalise.” I said quietly. Her smile quickly vanished and worry spread across her face, but Stacy had taken her by the hand and was leading her down the hallway, following Dunson. They turned the corner and they were gone. My feet were still planted in the same spot they had been when she had walked out that door. “Fuck.” I said loudly. Suddenly, I heard a stifled gasp. I twisted around and saw the smallest 6th grader I had ever seen. She was a chubby, Chinese girl and her mouth was agape, with terrified shock bursting from her eyes. I just stood there and looked at her for a second, cleared my throat, looked around the hallway, and then walked away.

            I slept walked through the day. Any excitement that I had was completely gone now. Now, it was just the battle with time. And time was kicking my ass. 1st period dragged by, as we gave out superlatives (I was most likely to be a basketball player) and talked about where we were going to high school and what we would be doing for the summer. When that snooze-fest was finally over I crossed the hall to English class and took a seat next to my best friend Woody.

            “Yo,” I said as I slumped down as far as I could slump.

            “Hey man. You ask her yet?” He asked excitedly. Woody had been living vicariously through me ever since I told him my bold plan of asking Annalise to the baseball game. I hated that I was about to disappoint him.

            “No. I’m not going to.”

            “Why not?!”

            “She’s going to Dunson’s party.” I could have cried. I still couldn’t get over how terribly awkward I had been when she emerged out of that room. All I wanted was to crawl in a hole and hide from the world.

            “Oh. Hey, I’m going to that!” Woody said hurriedly. I side-eyed him and he quickly put his head down as a nonverbal apology. Well, it looks like everyone is invited to this party, except me. I put my head in my hands out of pure frustration. “I’m sure Dunson would be fine with you coming, man,” Woody piped up.

            “I don’t want to go to his stupid party.” All I wanted was to go to his stupid party. Woody and I didn’t talk about it anymore after that and reverted back to our usual talk of sports. Our English teacher, Mrs. Bennett, was giving us what she called a “free day,” meaning that we could just sit around and talk and play games the whole time. Thankfully, this passed the time by rather quickly and when the assistant principal, Mrs. Panchi came in to take us to lunch, I started to become a little more upbeat. It’s almost over, John. Just lunch, a few more classes and then I can leave this place forever.

            We followed Mrs. Panchi to the cafeteria, but before she opened the doors to let us in, she whirled around on the ball of her foot and pierced us with her death stare. Mrs. Panchi, was probably the only person in the school that no one messed with. She was a large, fierce, Indian lady who had a deeper voice than my dad. There was a rumor going around that she was actually the real principal, and Rhett Thorley was the assistant, but she liked to maintain a closer eye on the students. There was also a rumor that Mrs. Panchi ate babies, so there you go. You can’t trust anything you hear in middle school.

            “All right, all of you,” her deep voice bellowed through the halls. “I don’t care if this is the last day. You will go into the cafeteria. You will eat your food like civilized humans. And then you will clean up after yourselves and leave the cafeteria. I will not tolerate any horseplay, and any wrongdoer will be punished in the same manner as always. Is that understood?” It was more like a statement rather than a question. “Yes, ma’am’s” were heard from a few students.

            “IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”

            “YES MA’AM.” Mrs. Panchi nodded curtly and opened the doors. I walked with Woody to our regular spots. Everyone always sat in the exact same spot during lunch. We didn’t have assigned seating; that’s just what everyone did.

I tried to clear my head as I listened to the squabbling and chattering around me. Reminding myself that I was already halfway through the day, I feigned laughter and intrigue when appropriate. The good thing about lunch was that I was never expected to talk, only to listen and occasionally give some insight. I reached inside my bag and pulled out my Trix yogurt, an infamous food item at the table.

            “Trix are for kids, McNair!” teased Charles, who was two seats to my right. The right half of the table joined in a unanimous, hearty laugh.

            Is that still funny? I thought. How is the same joke still funny for a whole year? As usual, I did not voice these questions. Instead, I simply shrugged, opened the cup of yogurt, and dipped my spoon in.

            Just as I was about to take a bite, I heard, “What the…FUCK!” I looked to my right and saw Charles who sat in utter shock, a banana peel draped over his face. The table across from us erupted with laughter.

            “Take that Chaz!” shouted Dunson, a snarky grin etched on his face. I couldn’t help but smile as well as I saw Charles turn blood red. My smile quickly vanished when he stood up and launched his pastrami sandwich at his attacker. Fortunately for Dunson, Charles misfired. Unfortunately for Taylor, Brandon and Josh the sandwich exploded in front of them and they were subsequently plastered in pastrami, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. And just like that, it was war.

            Taylor shot a pickle. Joe sniped kids with his arsenal of grapes. Woody used his lunchbox as a shield as he tossed bits of cookie. Hayden opened a bag of chips like he was pulling the pin out of a frag grenade and flung it, causing a detonation in the middle of one of the girls’ table. Utter chaos. Soon everyone was joining in, as assorted items from packed lunches and school trays were hurled from one end of the cafeteria to the other. I even saw Annalise throwing Lunchable pizzas like ninja stars. Suddenly, throwing food didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

            Before I could think anymore about it something slapped me across the face. Hard. I looked down and saw a pear rolling under the table. A fucking pear. Of all the things I could’ve been hit with, I got hit with one of my least favorite foods of all time. Suddenly, something filled my insides that I had rarely felt. A long-dormant monster awoke. That single pear ignited something in me and there was no stopping it. I was going to throw something.

            But what? I thought. I looked down at my stash. Doritos? No. Gatorade? Jesus, John you want to throw something, not kill someone. And then my eyes fell on my freshly opened Trix yogurt. Suddenly, I no longer saw a dual flavored cup of deliciousness, but a container filled with the swirling tyranny and oppression that was middle school. I saw the bullies, the early mornings and the pushy teachers. I saw my lack of confidence and desire for what I couldn’t have. In that cup of yogurt I saw my escape. So I threw it. I didn’t care where I threw it. I didn’t care if I hit anyone. I just needed to throw it and in that single moment I felt that I was truly free. I was myself and I was the happiest I had ever been at Martin Middle School.

            A few minutes more of blissful food fight passed until finally, a loud, shrill whistle halted the anarchy. Mrs. Panchi stood on a table, her hand raised firmly in the air.

            “ENOUGH!” her deep voice bellowed. No one was scared anymore though. Kids laughed and shouted and she shouted right back. I still wore a dumb grin as I looked around at the confusion. But then, in one moment, any happiness I had was quickly gone. Three tables down, I saw her. Annalise sat in utter horror as double-colored yogurt dripped from her hair onto her brand new, white blouse. The bell rang. Lunch was over. And so was my life.

            I don’t really remember too well what happened after that. All I know is that I sort of turned into a zombie. After I saw Annalise run out of the cafeteria with tears streaming down her face, a switch in my brain must have turned off. All I remember is offering to help clean up after Mrs. Panchi was done verbally abusing the entire 8th grade. She thanked me and then had everyone else go back to their homerooms where some sort of punishment would probably be held. The next thing I knew, Panchi was leading me down a hallway and I was sitting out side Principal Rhett Thorley’s office. She walked in his office and I heard her deep voice explaining the situation. Soon, she walked out, Thorley beckoned me in, and I was sitting in front of the Martin Middle School principal.

            He was a short man and if you saw him walking on the street you certainly wouldn’t think he was a middle school principal. He slicked his greasy, black hair to the back and always wound up his sleeves tightly around his forearms. His slick hair matched his skin, which was always in a constant sweat. There was a rumor that he changed shirts at least two times a day.

“Well, John, I hope you realize what a serious matter this is. The behavior that has taken place today is nothing short of atrocious. Our rules have been severely violated, and mark my words, John, I will get to the bottom of this. Just because today is the last day of school does not mean that those responsible will escape justice.”

            Jesus, man, who got murdered again? Principal Rhett Thorley squinted at me through greedy, beady eyes as he twirled his finger slowly around the closest stress ball. His desk was littered with them. This one looked like Earth.

            “Yes, sir,” I said quietly.

            “Good. Because I believe we can both help each other out here.” Thorley squeezed the ball and slid his chair to the left to examine his computer. He squinted at the screen and began to tap away violently at his keyboard. I looked to my right and saw a lonely beam of sun creep through the window and strike a random spot on Thorley’s bare, white wall. Further outside, I could see kids running around on the track. Some of them I recognized. I watched as Woody and Charles threw a football and sighed as I realized that I was as happy in that room, as I would be out there. I knew that in some bathroom Annalise was probably crying her eyes out as teachers and friends helped her wash Trix yogurt out of her hair as they hopelessly tried to get the stains out of her blouse. You are so stupid, John. SO, SO STUPID. Every kid in this school knows you eat that yogurt. She KNOWS it was you. And she HATES you. I had never been so mad at myself.

            “Well, well, well!” My head shot back to Thorley, having totally forgotten about him. “John McNair, you are quite the student! A fantastic grade record, perfect attendance and no school violations to boot! I knew I liked you when Mrs. Panchi told me you stayed behind to clean up that mess. Not surprising considering you are your mother’s son.”

I couldn’t form words. I knew the proper response was “thank you, sir,” but I couldn’t take his words as a compliment. If he had said, “John, you’re the scum of the earth” I probably would have stood up, shook his hand and asked for more. But instead he had to prattle off about what a good student I was. That was the last thing I wanted to hear and it only made me angrier with myself, and even worse, angry with Thorley. I decided to keep quiet.

Clearly not noticing, he continued, “John, I need your help. I need details. Copious details. Anything that you saw or remember. Do you know who started it? More than one person maybe? Absolutely anything you can think of would be greatly appreciated.” His last word formed his mouth into some type of grimace as he bared his teeth at me. Is he in pain? What’s wrong with this guy? I noticed that his hand was tightly wrapped around the stress ball. The grimace continued until it struck me. This man was trying to smile at me. And he was failing. Badly. What kind of lunatic doesn’t know how to smile? That is when I knew that I wasn’t going to tell Principal Rhett Thorley one damn thing. But I had to tell him something. My mind raced for some cop-out.

Moments that felt like hours passed and Thorley’s “smile” faded away. He leaned forward slightly and he no longer squeezed his ball, but his hand hovered just above it as he eagerly anticipated the impending release that my expected betrayal would bring. I looked at Thorley, glanced outside and then back at Thorley. His head dipped slightly, inviting me to indulge in the treachery of snitching. Thoughts of Dunson and Charles flashed through my mind. My vision started to get blurry and beads of sweat started to form on my forehead. I had to say something or tell on someone…but who? And then it struck me. I thought of the perfect patsy to pin the crime on. Someone who deserved any punishment they got.

“I won’t tell anyone you told m—.”

“It was me.” He snatched his ball and squeezed hard, but immediately dropped it as my words registered. His earth rolled across the desk and came crashing down at my feet.

“Wh—what?” he stammered.

“I started the food fight.” I gazed back at him calmly, totally OK with the fact that I was losing my mind.

“You…started the food fight,” he repeated back to me.

“Yes.”

“But why?!”

I thought for a moment and then said, “My mom packed me a pear. And I hate pears.”

Principal Thorley sat back in his chair hard, completely dumbfounded as he stuck his hand through his greasy hair and left it there. I smirked on the inside at how absurd he looked. But then I took it too far.

“Oh, and I hate your school too.” ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND? My brain screamed at me. But I just didn’t care. I feel dead already, who cares if they actually kill me?

A darkness took over Thorley’s face as he rose from his chair, a few strands of hair now hanging over his forehead. He pointed at me and said, “Your mother is a leading member of the PTA for this school you hate so much young man. What do you think she will do when she hears about this?”

“Well,” I said thoughtfully, “hopefully, she stops giving me pears.”

“OUT!” Thorley bellowed, pointing to his door. There was no stress ball in the world that was big enough to help this man. I immediately sprung out of the chair and hurried to the door. Rhett Thorley walked quickly behind me and then getting strangely silent he said, “Get your things. You are going home. No ice cream. No cake. No yearbooks. No friends. You will stay in Mrs. Panchi’s office until your mother picks you up. Say goodbye to Martin Middle School, John.” And with that he slammed the door in my face and it was over.

“Goodbye, Martin.” I said as I looked around the empty hallway. A sudden sadness filled me as I thought of my friends and even more so when I thought of Annalise. I realized that I might never see some of them again. I sighed as the adrenaline that had been pumping through my veins began to escape. The thrill was gone. And I was alone again.

            After I grabbed everything I needed from my locker, I trekked to Mrs. Panchi’s office, who was waiting for me behind her desk.

            “Sit.” She said sternly, pointing to a chair against the wall. I sat. “I can’t get in contact with your mother, so your father is on the way.” I had to hide a smile. My dad coming meant a much less stern lecture on the way home. My mom was still going to give it to me, but at least I wouldn’t have to be trapped in a small space with her. My smile quickly vanished when I realized how disappointed she was going to be in me. That was going to be the worst part of this whole fiasco. Hearing a parent giving you the old “disappointed in you” speech was the absolute worst. Way worse than them just yelling at you. I knew my mom was really going to lay it on me. I cringed at the thought.

            “Now I have got to go make sure none of your other classmates cause as much trouble as you just did, Mr. McNair.” She gave me a look of disgust as she walked to the door. “I expected more out of you.” That was the last I ever heard from Mrs. Panchi. I twiddled my thumbs as I waited for my dad to show up. I couldn’t believe I was really about to be done with this school AND I got to tell off the principal. It’s not like this was going to hurt me either. Thorley had said it himself. I hadn’t missed a single day of middle school and I made good grades. This was going to be just a minor blip on my radar.

            Suddenly, the door creaked open and I saw an eye peering through. I looked back at the eye, bewildered. The eye stared back at me and then the door swung open, and none other than Dunson Griffith strode through.

            “McNair! What are you doing here?” He said, clearly amused. I didn’t even realize he knew who I was.

            “Uhhh. I have to leave. They are making me leave.”

            “Why?”

            “I kind of told them that I started the food fight.”

            Dunson looked at me curiously. “Why did you do that? I started the food fight.”

            “Yeah, well. I didn’t want to snitch. And I hate this fucking place anyways. Seemed like an easy out.”

A few moments passed and then Dunson burst into laughter. “I hear that, McNair. Well thanks for not snitching. I’m here cus Panchi took my skateboard earlier this year and you better believe I’m not letting her keep it.”

            “She keeps everything she takes in that closet and it’s always locked. How are you going to get in?”

            Dunson winked at me and then dug into his pockets to bring out a huge set of keys. “Let’s just say I have friends in janitorial places. Keep watch would ya? It might take me a while to find the right one.” I nodded, walked to the door and scanned the hallway. It did take him a few minutes, but finally I heard, “AHA! Got it.” Dunson barged triumphantly through the closet and quickly emerged with his skateboard, smiling ear to ear. I was even happy for him. I had to admit it. Dunson had charm.

            “So, McNair. You coming to my party or what?” He asked as he walked into the hallway and hopped on the board.

            I was taken aback. “What?”

            “Yeah man. I asked you earlier this morning, but you were in some kind of daze. I don’t even think you heard me.”

            “Oh, damn. Uhhh. Sorry man. I guess I didn’t. The thing is…I kind of smacked Annalise with my Trix yogurt in the food fight…I don’t think I can show my face around her anymore.” I looked at the floor. Too embarrassed to look Dunson in the eyes. But when all I heard was silence I had to look up. Dunson was looking at me wide eyed. This continued for at least ten more seconds until he started laughing so hard that he had to jump off his skateboard, before he fell off.

            “That was you?” He said incredulously when he finally calmed down. “McNair, that is the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. What a way to go out.” He reached for a high five, but I just looked at it.

            “I feel terrible.” Once again, I felt like I could cry. I think Dunson could see it.

            “Oh, man. Don’t worry too much about it, dude. Look. She will be there next Saturday and that’s the perfect time to own up and apologize and gain some ground back. I’ll put in a good word too, man. Don’t count yourself out so easy.”

            “Uhh. Ok. Thanks, Dunson.” Why is he being so nice to me? Dunson had never paid me any mind before, so I couldn’t figure out why he was now.

            “John!” I turned to my left and saw my dad striding down the hallway.

            I turned back to Dunson and said, “Gotta go.”

            “Later, dude.” He held out a fist and I bumped it and watched as he skated down the opposite direction and turned the corner.

            “Hey, dude.” My father said with his classic dad sarcasm.

            I laughed and said, “Hey, dad.” We turned around and walked out the main entrance of the school to his Buick. I hopped in the shotgun and he began to pull out of the loop. He stopped at the intersection and I noticed he was giving me the side-eye along with a goofy grin.

            “What?” I asked with a laugh.

            “Nothing! How bout that Char grill?” He asked.

            “Oh, yeah.” We both laughed and he pulled out and drove away. Martin Middle School loomed in the side mirror, but I didn’t see it.