When lunch time rolled around, I made up my mind to plan out my meeting with the enemy in advance. Last time she caught me off guard, but this time, we’d be meeting on my terms. After all, I reasoned, I was the one with the information she needed. She’d have to play by my rules to get it.
Of course, life never turns out like we plan.
I was walking out of the men’s room where I’d scarfed my lunch and laid the groundwork for my masterplan, when a firm hand landed on my shoulder.
I instantly spun around, hands at the ready. But it was just Yvonne, an amused smirk on her face.
“Hold your horses, cowboy.” She laughed at me. “What are you, Baxter? There’s no need to be scared of little ol’ me.”
“You just surprised me, is all.” I stiffened my shoulders and cracked my neck, trying to regain my composure. “What’s up?”
“Well, I just figured now that you’ve finished your lunch, you could make your report to me. I knew you’d be looking for me, so I thought I’d spare you the trouble and find you first.”
She gave me an artfully vapid look. “Aren’t I just the sweetest?”
“You want me to tell you everything here?” I looked around nervously. Damn, now I was starting to act like Bax.
“In front of the men’s room?” Yvonne giggled. “No silly, lets go to your lonely kid’s corner. You know,” she leaned in close. “Where we first met?”
“Sure, that’ll do fine.” I turned my head away. I was losing ground fast! If I didn’t put the breaks on, Yvonne’d have me under her thumb. Taking a deep breath, I followed my opponent towards the school’s back yard, running my plans over and over again in my head. This was war, and I wasn’t about to come up second best!
More than anything, the most important thing was to discover Yvonne’s wish. Baxter had failed on that score, so it came down to me.
After what seemed like an eternity, we reached my secluded lunchtime location, and Yvonne promptly sat herself down in the direct center of the only bench available, crossing her legs purposefully. Evidentially, I was to remain standing.
“All right, feel free to start any time.” She smiled at me. “Oh, but you can leave out Baxter’s wish I found that one out on my own.”
Damnit, what did she do to poor Baxter?
Taking a deep breath, I launched into my summary of Michael, Martin, and Brodie’s histories and wishes. Cutting out Baxter’s little comments and narrations sped up the whole process, and to my surprise, Yvonne didn’t seem terribly startled by the revelation of the Chen household’s interesting dynamic, nor about Martin or Brodie’s past.
Did anything surprise her?
However, as I concluded my tale, I did notice one small thing; every time I mentioned Jacob Schwartz, I caught her attention. Further, every time I praised Jacob’s exploits and advice, she frowned ever so slightly. It wasn’t much to go on, but it hinted at something interesting. Could it be that Yvonne actually hated Jacob? Either way, I had to test my theory.
“So,” She interrupted my train of thought. “How does it feel, now that you know the backstories of the kids you used to hate?”
“It hasn’t changed much, really.” I admitted. “I don’t see any reason why somebody should get a free pass on their actions because of the hand life dealt them. We’ve all got problems.”
“You’re a very close-minded boy, aren’t you?” She smiled.
I didn’t much like her tone when she called me “boy”. Time to press my hand.
“Well, take Jacob.” I interjected. I immediately noticed I had her attention. “There’s a kid that took the hand life dealt him and made something out of it. None of us ever knew about his problems, because he didn’t let them define him. He was the master of his own fate.”
There was no concealing her frown at my assessment. I was onto something!
“If anything, that just leads me to hate those three even more.” I continued. I didn’t really feel that way, but it was easier to pretend I did. “Jacob gave all of them advice or direction on how to fix their lives; good advice too! In spite of that, they still ended up as terrible excuses for human beings. Even Baxter, he didn’t learn anything from Jacob’s example.”
Yvonne shifted angrily in her seat.
“The reason all us kids looked up to Jacob was because he locked any darkness in his life inside of him, if there was any to begin with, and he just lived.” I continued. “Even when he had to leave us that summer, he held any pain at our upcoming parting in, and kept us all smiling until the end. That’s the best quality of Jacob, his eagerness to put the happiness of everyone before his own.” I lathered on more praise. “If anything…”
“You don’t know a damn thing about Jacob!” Yvonne yelled at me, slamming her fist on the park bench as she rose to her feet.
I was so dumbstruck by her sudden outburst, I couldn’t do anything but gape at her as she strode over to me, her face livid.
“The best quality of Jacob was his willingness to sacrifice his own happiness for others?” She spat out the words. “That’s a load of bull! What good is it if you make everyone else happy, but neglect yourself? None of you understood Jacob!”
This…I was not expecting this.
“I went to visit him, you know.” She continued, her voice lowering. “Two summers back, in fact.”
“Really?” I stammered out.
“That’s right. None of the rest of you kids ever thought of that, did you?” She scowled. “I pounded the pavement until I found out where he moved, then called around until I reached the school he transferred to. Despite how much everybody seemed to idolize Jacob, once he left, people sure tossed him aside, didn’t they?”
That was uncalled for.
“Anyway, I visited him that summer. Talked to him about old times, and about his new school, and you know what? Jacob was so lonely it tore my heart out.” She glared at me accusingly, as if this was all somehow my fault. “Fun and games with kids younger than you was all fine in a small town like ours, but in a bigger city, that’s social suicide. Once you’re seen hanging out with the younger grades, nobody your age will have anything to do with you. You’ll forever be the immature middle-schooler who somehow ended up in high-school.”
Damn. Somehow, the image of a solitary Jacob, eating his lunch alone in the corner of a cafeteria popped into my head, and it broke my heart.
“Jacob was always the kind of person to internalize his problems, rather than burden anyone else with them. After all, he was the leader. People came to him with their problems. But where could he go with his own?” She flicked her eyes to the side. “What Jacob needed…what Jacob needs is someone to be by his side…someone to confide in. Someone to support him, even if nobody else does.”
Oh. Suddenly everything made sense.
“You love Jacob, don’t you?” I blurted out.
I never claimed to be the most tactful person.
To my surprise, Yvonne turned completely crimson in response, avoiding eye contact as she fiddled with a lock of her hair. “It’s not like that.” She muttered. “Don’t try to change the subject.”
I smiled. There was no need to do any further probing, I understood everything now.
“So that’s your wish.” I said simply.
She stared at me wide-eyed, then slowly grinned as her face reverted to her usual demeanor.
“Why you sly dog…You were fishing for me, weren’t you? So that’s what all that idiocy with Baxter was about.”
She planted a palm against her face, chuckling to herself. “Well, you got me. So, what’s your big plan, now that you know everyone’s wish?”
To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. But then, maybe I didn’t have to. The more I thought about it, there was only one thing left for me to do, and it was what I had been chasing all along.
“I’m going to hunt down the Junk Genie, and make a wish of my own.” I replied.
Yvonne laughed, a surprisingly friendly laugh. “Well, why not, right? Still, as long as we’re both after the same thing, want to team up?”
“You know if there’s only one wish, I’m not gonna use it for something stupid like you and Jacob getting together.” I countered.
“Now who’s being stupid?” She retorted. “I’m capable of doing that all on my own.”
I laughed in spite of myself. She was absolutely right.
“All right, I guess I might as well.” I agreed. “When do you want to go?”
“This Friday evening.” She replied. “We’ll meet up at the junk yard after supper. Say, seven o’clock?”
“It’s a date.”
“Not on your life.” She shot back. “Well, see you then, Ted.”
Then, we both turned and walked away. It wasn’t until I was half way home when I realized that was the first time somebody my age had finally called me Ted.
The sun rose on the fateful day, and, already tense with excitement, I likewise rose to greet the morning. Even though the real “event” wouldn’t start until after supper tonight, that did nothing to curb the sense of tension.
After arriving at school, just a look around the classroom told me I wasn’t alone in this; somehow, it seemed Brodie, Michael, and Martin were planning to raid the Junk Genie hideout today as well, and their excitement was plainly visible, each in their own way.
Brodie was prattling to Michael about some embellished story, naturally starring him. His already loud voice somehow seemed even more piercing than usual as he jumped randomly back and forth between story points nonsensically.
Michael, however, didn’t seem to care. Unusually subdued, he rhythmically clicked his pen, nodding and grunting his affirmation at Brodie’s rambling narrative.
Martin was in a similarly withdrawn mood, pugnaciously crushing his hand grippers as he stiffly paced in a circle at the back of the classroom.
Oddly enough, one other person of interest seemed to be out of sorts. Alexander, who at this time would normally be reviewing his notes before class, was standing at the edge of the classroom, gazing out the window looking very preoccupied.
Of course, our teachers were unaffected by the heavy mood of equal parts festivity and foreboding, and so another ordinary day of classes started.
I tried to see if I could locate Yvonne or Baxter during my recess break, but they seemed to be keeping an unusually low profile. Likely, both were preparing for tonight in their own unique way, so I decided to leave them to it.
Lunch break I spent winding down my nerves in my usual way, by listening to my Walkman on low volume while I slouched over my desk, head rested on my arms. Across the classroom, it looked like Brodie and Martin were blowing off steam by playing “bloody knuckles”, while Michael acted as some kind of superfluous referee.
Afternoon classes and second recess went by in a similar manner, and to my surprise, by the time school was out I was feeling almost calm. Almost.
I had barely left the school grounds when a familiar voice hailed me from the side.
“All ready, Ted?” Was all Yvonne asked.
“I will be, once I eat something.” I returned, trying to twist my face into a good-natured smile.
Yvonne answered with an indecipherable smirk, then turned and went her own way home. Although I could have waited to see if Baxter was still around, I decide I’d much rather be alone with my thoughts, and trudged home reminiscing about old times.ns220.127.116.11da2