An excerpt from my work-in-progress, a young adult novel titled Two Roads Diverged.
The Year 1984
Chapter One – Mother of the Year
Briar punched the door of Birchwood High School. He’d used this side door to enter the building for the past four years—the
one he trusted to shave off a few precious minutes from his morning commute (because it was the closest to the road and therefore
the most direct) but today, for the first time, the door was locked. Why did something always stand in his way? After tugging
at the handle for much longer than he should have bothered, hoping it might just magically pop open, he cursed out loud and
sprinted over the grass in the direction of the main entrance.
In the past few days, the sun
had come out and the Birchwood High grounds had grown a thick spring lawn complete with fat flowering bushes and scattered
dandelions—not that they made it any less of a prison. At the top of the hill, Eugene Coralis sat hunched in his wheelchair,
fumbling in his effort to light a cigarette while a group of junior girls wearing mini skirts and black-rubber Madonna bracelets
watched from yards away. Were they actually laughing at him?
did you guys eat for breakfast this morning, bitch flakes?” Tommy grumbled.
gaped at him as if he’d broken some sacred promise never to insult a popular girl—let alone four at one time.
And now their nasty laughter followed him up the stairs. But so what? He was used to it.
As he burst through the main entrance, the starkly lit corridors made him feel self-conscious. Something about vibrating
fluorescent lights screamed rules and obedience, and we know what you did last night. He slipped
past the guidance counselors’ offices, sneakers squeaking, while just a few stragglers slammed locker doors and scuttled
off to their first-period classrooms. If Tommy didn’t hightail it up to the second floor, he was going to walk in after
the bell again. Just as he reached the stairwell, someone behind him shouted, “Get your gay-dar out, it’s Tommy
Tommy spun around to the unsightly presence of Vince Mopar and Jim Atkinson coming
up fast, two lunkheads who’d been getting on his case since freshman year. Were they really going to do this
now, only four weeks away from graduation? Four weeks until every senior at Birchwood went his separate way—Tommy couldn’t
“What do you want, Mopar?” he said, breaking the first rule of anger management, which
is Do not engage.
A crazed grin caused Vince’s lizard-like eyes to bulge more than usual. He
was an ugly, pasty-white guy with an even uglier smile. “I'm just wondering if your mother’s gay gene passed on
to you, that’s all.”
Tommy knew what he should to do: Take a breath. Count backwards
from ten. Let the words wash over him like water off a duck’s ass. But it was early in the morning, and he had woken
on the ornery side of the bed. His alarm hadn’t gone off so he’d missed his ride, and now he had to deal with
the kind of bullshit that made him hate his fellow man.
“I’m pretty sure he’s
got a girlfriend,” Jim muttered, looking like he didn’t want any part of whatever this might turn out to be.
“So he says,” Vince said, frowning. “Doesn’t mean he’s not …” he raised
his hand and waggled a pinky finger, “you know.”
Nothing had changed in the four
years Tommy had attended this shithole of a school. He was still getting crap for something his mother had done—the
adultery she’d committed with the woman next door and the town-wide scandal that resulted when his parents met in divorce
court. And he was damn well sick of it.
But that didn’t mean there was anything he could
do about it. So he put his mantra into action: Water off a duck’s ass. Water off a duck’s ass, the catchphrase
he and Mr. O came up with when he joined the guidance counselor’s anger management support group. Only problem was,
repeating the mantra didn’t always work. Sometimes the anger still rose up from the dark, murky side where dirt devils
spun up out of the landscape of his brain and anchored their forked tails into his fleshy gray matter, refusing to slide away
like water off a duck’s ass. Water off a duck’s ass.
“Well?” Vince said.
“Are you a homo or what?”
Tommy sighed and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. Probably because I don’t speak idiot,” before continuing
in the direction of the stairwell. He did not want to be late. If he was, Perkins would give him detention (again) and today
was Wednesday, the day Marybeth came over after school. He needed to keep walking, to practice self-control, to let the insults
slide like water off a duck’s ass, duck’s ass, duck’s ass …
He pushed open the door and was about to shoot up the steps, when Vince shouted, “You better run, you
With that, the loop of Tommy’s mantra snapped. The air grew still and a surge
of heat rose up the trunk of his body like smoke through a chimney. An angry red atom spun circles through his brain, and
Tommy aborted his trek to class. Like a man with a new mission, he marched straight at his assailant, thumping Mopar’s
plaid-shirted chest with both of his angry palms. As Vince stumbled back, the scent of AquaFresh emerged in a puff of exhalation.
Jim Atkinson backed away. “I’ll see ya in math, Vince,” passing them on his way
to the stairwell.
Still pressing Vince into the wall, Tommy grimaced, his words squeezing through
gritted teeth: “I am so sick of you and your friends. It’s been four years, asshole. I mean, four years,
Vince turned his head to the side, laughing nervously, though he tried to act as
if the situation were in his control. “You seem upset,” he said in a mocking tone. “Did I hurt your feelings?”
It was unusual for Vince to be so bold without his older, larger brother nearby. But then again
every senior in school knew about Tommy’s last fight and the suspension he served, and how he wouldn’t graduate
with the rest of the class of 1984 should another strike be leveled against him. In other words, Vince knew Tommy couldn’t
risk getting caught in another brawl on school grounds.
okay if you’re of that persuasion,” Vince said, with a hideous grin. “Takes all kinds to make the world
go round, you know? And, look man, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” He fluttered his lashes in a girlie fashion.
Pop! Tommy landed a punch off the side of Vince’s steep slope of a nose. Some blood bubbled
up and spurted, then lined the edge of his upper lip in a thin stream.
Vince shouted and returned the favor with a fist rising toward Tommy’s mouth. But Tommy’s left hand still had
a good grip on him, and the punch only grazed the side of his face.
After that, they slid and scuffled
in an angry sort of dance, where each struggled for control. Vince tried to press Tommy down to the ground via his shoulders.
He had a few inches on Tommy and probably twenty-five pounds—and should have been able to do it—but Tommy eluded
him by attacking at waist height in a move he’d learned on the wrestling team back in junior high. As he squeezed and
lifted, breathing in Vince’s oniony body odor, he kicked one of the kid’s gunboat feet out from under him. Vince’s
other foot slid fast away just before his ass slammed the ground.
Vince’s smile had gone and
the red of embarrassment climbed the stem of his neck. “Don’t ever hug me like that, you homo!” he cried.
Tommy hovered over his prey, seething with the hot pulse of writhing male hormones and adrenaline
spilling into his bloodstream. He considered what to do next. Water off a duck’s ass. Water off a duck’s ass.
The mantra was back, reminding him he should walk away while he still could—before one of the office doors down the
hall opened and a guidance counselor or the principal himself emerged.
And then the bell rang, and shit!
he was late for first period again.
by Kim Catanzarite—All rights reserved.