by Abraham Assed
One late Friday afternoon during tenth grade, I walked to the 7-Eleven a few blocks away from my house. I went inside and wandered around the shelves of candy, chips, jerky, and gum, unsure of what I wanted, and stared at the shelves long enough to prompt the clerk to call out to me.
“You need help there?”
I grabbed some beef jerky and went to the register, placing my selection and a couple of crumpled one dollar bills on the counter.
“Mid-terms must be driving you up the wall or you’re trying to give me the slip,” he said. “You’re a dollar short.”
Pulling out some change from my pocket, I picked out four quarters and dropped them in front of the clerk. “Those were last month; we’re getting ready for finals now,” I replied.
He looked at me like I had just said the stupidest thing he’d ever heard and handed me back my change without saying a word.
After taking my jerky and stuffing it in the inside pocket of my jacket, I walked out. “Asshole,” I mumbled as the door shut behind me.
“Who’s an asshole?”
Startled, I spun around to see Kristy Holls from history class leaning on the front window of the gas station. “Are you talking about that clerk in there?”
“That guy is such an ass. I went in there one time to give him cash so my mom could fill up but I forgot the pump number. He threw the money back at me and said ‘come back when I do my homework.’” Kristy put her hands in her pockets, shaking her head. “What’d he do to you?”
“Nothing bad, he, um, just wasn’t…” I shook my head, unsure what to say. Kristy stared at me with her dark blue eyes. She blew a bubble of gum and popped it, squishing the gum between her teeth audibly as she chewed. “He wasn’t polite,” I said. Really? That’s what I came up with? I sound like an idiot.
“Right. That clerk is a jerk. I’m surprised he’s still working here.” She shrugged. “I guess it’s true, they don’t have to like you just because they serve you.”
I loosened up a bit. Kristy crossed her arms in her long sleeve grey shirt and shifted her eyes toward the gas pumps. The silence between us settled. I was shy, but with most people I could carry on a conversation and even joke around. With girls though, I stuck my head in the sand.
Before I could think about what to say, Kristy blurted, “So, Wade.” Using my nickname that had stuck after my sixth grade teacher mispronounced it as “Ah-wade-dee” instead of “Ah-wad-ee.” The ‘Wade’ part caught on. “You’re in Arnie’s English class?”
“Yea,” I replied.
“He talks about you sometimes.”
“Yeah, he says that you’re a really nice guy.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said the obvious. “Thank you, I mean him, well, both of you.” I felt like kicking myself. “So, how has Arnie been?”
“Okay. We were supposed to meet up and go to the game but he bailed on me. He had to go pick up his Mom on the other side of town.” She kicked a small rock across the pavement. “It sucks. I was looking forward to that all week.”
“Can’t you go on your own?” I asked.
“Yea, but it’s not fun to go alone. You know how it is.”
I did know how it was for Kristy. Except for Arnie, she had no real friends. I didn’t think she had a mean bone in her body, but she did have a reputation that put her at the bottom of the high school caste system. Last year a rumor had spread that she was flirting with an upper-classman at a party. Trouble was, the boy was already dating Cady Gretchen—and anyone who crossed her had hell to pay. Once the rumor had spread, Kristy’s name had been coupled with slut or whore.
After standing there for what seemed like hours, I figured this was the part where we would bid farewell. But still she stood there, staring at the gas pumps. Any minute, Kristy would say “okay, see you around” and go about her way.
“Wade.” She turned to face me. “Do you want to go to the game?” My face must have showed how random that question was. “I mean if you want to, we could hang out somewhere else. Or if you can’t, it’s cool, I don’t mind.”
My eyes widened as I thought it over. Should I say no? I shouldn’t have been going to any game with a girl, especially one I only knew casually from school. I had enough reason to decline and go home. But if I said no, I’d feel bad about putting her down. She was nothing but nice to me. She deserved a break, didn’t she? It was only a game.
“Sure. I’ll go.”
She smiled wide. “Great.” She hopped up and down. “Come on, let’s go.”
As we got closer to school, the cheers grew louder. The game had already started. When we arrived at the parking lot around the stadium, Kristy led me through a small opening in the fence. The stadium was packed, as it was every season. We went through the main entrance and headed to the bleachers where supporters for our team sat, and found some vacant spots near the back.
When we took our seats, Kristy nudged closer to me, which made me nervous. I was sitting next to a girl, in public. What if one of the guys from mosque saw me with a girl? They’d tell their parents and word would get to mine. People would think there was something going on between me and her. Was she trying to gaslight me as part of some ploy to humiliate me?
I was overthinking. Possibly, no one would care. Why would they? They ignored me in the hallways. Besides, with people’s attention toward the field, no one would notice us. And I didn’t think Kristy would be that nefarious.
The first half of the game ended with the opposing team having already scored three touchdowns and taking out two of our team’s players. During half time, a group of seniors trekked across the bleachers a few rows down—among them were Cady Gretchen and this semester’s boyfriend, Amir, my former friend from mosque. Before high school, Amir was what all the parents from the community adored. He was smart, polite, and had a third of the Qur’an committed to memory. He’d always bragged about becoming a Sheikh and opening his own mosque. But when high school started, he’d spiked his hair, ditched his nerdy outfits, rarely went to mosque, and every year was with a different girl. He also made a point of picking on the other Muslims who stuck with their faith, me being his favorite target.
When he looked my way, at first he was surprised—then he smiled. “Hey, waddle shit,” he shouted his moronic nickname for me. Cady’s laughter rang in my ears as my mind flashed back to that Donald Duck shirt I used to wear in middle school. Amir thought he was brilliant when he tagged “shit” to the back of “waddle.”
“Piss off, Amir,” I yelled back.
He gestured toward Kristy. “Sloppy seconds, eh? You must be really desperate, Waddle shit.” They laughed.
“There’s nothing going on between us.” My neck stiffened as I gritted my teeth.
“Sure, it always starts off that way,” Cady said and then looked at Kristy. “Am I right, Kristy?” They laughed harder and walked on.
I glared at them until I noticed Kristy was looking at me. I sighed. “Don’t worry about him, he’s an asshole.”
Kristy slowly nodded, then looked away. I tried to focus on the game but my mind was scrambled. Going with her was a big mistake. I should have known better. What were people going to think? What if she did want me to get into her pants? Rumors weren’t always untrue.
The next play, the opposing team scored another touchdown. “We really suck this year,” Kristy stated.
“We do,” I replied. Fans from the visiting team erupted in cheers. On our side of the stadium, more people got up and left. I wondered about asking Kristy if we could leave. She couldn’t be enjoying this.
As if she had read my mind, she got up and stepped over the bleacher in front of us. “Let’s get of here,” she said with defeat in her voice.
We walked through the school parking lot. People were getting in their cars and pulling out. As we maneuvered around, a car pulled up to us and stopped mere inches from impact. The driver leaned on the horn and stuck her head out the window. “Move it, bitch,” Cady Gretchen taunted. “What, you on your back so much, you’re having a hard time walking?” Cady teased as her passengers laughed.
Kristy blushed as she ducked between two parked cars and disappeared.
“Move it waddle shit,” Cady turned her attack to me. “She doesn’t like to wait you know.” Cady laughed then ducked her head back into the car, rolling up the window. She gunned the engine and nearly sideswiped me, her and the other girls in the car laughing hysterically. Unthinkingly, I spat at the driver’s window. Cady starred in disgust as my drool rolled down the glass. I flipped her off and walked behind her car.
I met up with Kristy at a side entrance, and we walked up the sidewalk away from the stadium. Kristy brushed her fingers through her hair and stared up at the black sky as we waited for the walk signal to flash at the intersection.
Instead of walking back toward the gas station, she turned in the opposite direction. She was walking so fast, a whole block separated us. “Where are we going?” I shouted.
She kept walking.
“Wait up.” I had to run to catch up to her. When I reached her, in a firm voice I said, “Stop.”
She paused and stood there motionless.
“What the hell are you-” I stopped questioning her as I heard her sniffle.
She crossed her arms and ran off the sidewalk and over a knoll of dead grass, to the empty lot where an old grocery store used to stand before it was demolished. I climbed over the knoll and found her standing by the tree in the middle of the parking lot. “Hey, Kristy, are, are you okay?”
She turned around, tears streaking her face. “No.” She pulled her hand into her sleeve and wiped her nose. I couldn’t find the words to say, so I looked away. The roar of the stadium and sounds of traffic on the street echoed around us, and I shivered as a breeze made its way up my jacket sleeves. My eyes shifted to the pitch black sky, not a star to be found.
Kristy walked around the tree, out of sight. I forced myself to follow and found her sitting by the bottom of the trunk, her knees up to her face and her arms around her legs. “Go away, Wade.”
I put my hands in my jacket pockets and leaned against the tree. A million words ran through my mind. Not one of them any good for me to say. I hated myself for thinking of her the way I had back at the game. I knew what they said about her was not true. She’d come to me because there was no one else to go to.
I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I said. She remained silent, no longer sniffling. “I know what they say is bullshit. I should have bashed that douchebag’s face into the stadium.” I slammed my heel into the tree trunk. She looked up, the wind blowing strands of her hair ascross her face. “Kristy, you’re… a nice person. That’s all that matters.”
A car pulled into the lot. We came out from behind the tree. It drove toward us, the headlights blinding. The car pulled over to the side and Amir got out. Kristy held onto my arm as Amir marched toward us.
“Waddle shit,” he said, less than a foot away.
“What do you want, Amir?”
“You spat on Cady.”
“I spat on her window. Plus, she almost ran us over.”
“You don’t fuck with my chick.” Amir closed the gap between us.
“She’ll have another guy in her pants next week anyway. Why does it matter?”
Amir glared at me like I was the thing he hated the most. I glared back. We locked eyes for what felt like an eternity, until he finally took a step back. For a moment, I felt relief—until Amir struck me in my stomach. I fell to the ground, gasping for air.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.” He kicked me on my side. My body rumbled.
Kristy ran up on Amir, trying to stop his assault. She pounded with her fists on his back. “Stop it! Stop it!” I heard her cry. “Get away from him!” Her counterattack was a mere annoyance to him, and he grabbed her wrist to force her back.
As I struggled to one knee, Kristy punched Amir in his mouth, splitting his lip. He brought his fingers to his lips and wiped off a smear of blood. Glaring at his red stained hands, he balled a bloody a fist and grabbed Kristy’s hair.
She yelped as he yanked, reaching up to try to pry his hand off her.
“You fucking slut,” he spat out. With his other hand, he slapped her face. The sound of his palm against her cheek echoed throughout the lot.
At that moment I forgot my pain. I was on both feet, charging up to Amir. As he turned to face me, I plunged my knuckles into the side of his face. He staggered then regained balance and dove into me. I elbowed him in the back of his neck, breaking his momentum as he fell to one knee. I was about to kick him when he recovered and slammed his fist into my eye. He punched me in the chest and slammed me to the ground, aiming a vicious kick at my side which I blocked with my left shin. A surge of pain coursed through my body as the tip of his shoe connected with my shin bone.
Before he could land another hit, sirens wailed in the distance. I saw the flashing red and blue lights reflecting in the windows of the two-story office building next to the lot.
“Shit,” Amir swore. He ran back to his car. His tires screeched against the crumbling pavement as he spun around out of the abandoned lot.
Kristy ran up to me and helped me get on my feet. We stumbled to an open alley behind the office complex and hid behind a cinder block wall where the dumpster for the grocery store used to be placed. The sirens thundered through my ears, making my head throb.
We waited long after the sirens ceased before Kristy felt it was safe to leave. She helped me to my feet and put my arm around her shoulder for support as I could barely put any weight on my left leg without sending a tsunami of pain throughout my body. I could barely see out of my left eye, but it was so dark in the alley it would have not made much of a difference if I could. My head was swininging back and forth like a metronome. Kristy led me through the alley into a neighborhood to avoid the street, ducking for cover when we saw lights of oncoming vehicles in the distance.
The whole time, we kept silent. I was too drained to say anything. Kristy hadn’t spoken except to ask how my leg was and to tell me how close we were to the gas station.
When we reached the 7-Eleven, she led me around to the back, next to the manual carwash. She didn’t look at me or even speak as she lowered me to the curb. She simply sat down next to me, leaning against me.
I closed my injured eye against the painful light. I tried to feel it for swelling but the moment the tip of my finger touched my eyelid, the burn was so intense I sat upright, startling Kristy.
“Oh, oh my God, oh shit,” she said. “Your eye.” She leaned forward. “I didn’t see your eye.” She inspected my face. “Oh, Wade. I’m going to get some ice. Don’t touch it.” She got up and disappeared around the building.
After a few minutes, Kristy came back with a small ziplock bag with some ice in it. I leaned forward and held out my hand to take the ice, but she placed it directly on my eye. The cold plastic against the swollen lid canceled any pain as I leaned back. Kristy patted me on my hand. I could barely feel her fingers against my bruised knuckles. I wanted to ask her not to touch me but I couldn’t get the words out.
“Wish we had something to eat. I’m out of cash,” she said as she moved her hand away from mine and rubbed her stomach. “I haven’t had anything since lunch.”
“Here,” I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the beef jerky, unopened, and handed it to her.
“Oh cool thanks,” she said, holding tightly to the jerky. I winced as she moved the bag of ice over my eye. “Oh shoot, hang on.”
Kristy got on her knees, keeping the ice on the bruise. Some of the condensation dripped from the plastic onto her jeans.
I looked up and studied her face. Her mascara was tear-streaked and her cheek was an angry blush of red from Amir’s heavy slap. She needed ice for the bruise. Kristy noticed I was watching her, and lifted the bag of ice over my eye. “What?” she asked.
“Are you all right?” I couldn’t help but smile.
“Oh.” She placed the ice in my hand. I put it back on my swollen eye, wincing against the pressure. Kristy sat back with her knees up to her chest, facing me. She picked at the wrapper of the beef jerky. “Yeah.” She smiled. “I’m… doing okay.”