Still Waters by Ash Parsons
Here’s what you need to know when you get in a fight: You are going to get hit. It’s going to happen. No matter how good you are, no matter how fast you punch or how well you block. Sometimes you just have to get hit.
What’s important is how you take it.
I used to get in a lot of fights. Now the only hits I can get in are when the spontaneous fights break out in the boys’ bathroom. Some bright spark came up with this lame idea: Go to the bathroom, turn out the lights, and start hitting the first body you find. You can always tell when the fights are happening because guys will come back into class breathing heavily, smiling, and sometimes with red splotches on their cheeks or favoring their stomachs a little. I swear this one guy came back with a handprint on his face.
The teacher didn’t notice.
I always ask for a bathroom pass when there’s a dark-fight going on. Although I sort of think they know it’s me when I get in. I land a few hits, and all of a sudden there’s the flash of hall light as the door opens and the other guys go back to class.
I still get a few hits in, though. A few really hard hits can be enough.
I like school, and not just because of the bathroom fights. It’s quiet. I can sleep, and people usually leave me alone. Every now and then a jock’ll bump me in the hall, but I can handle that. And they all know I can fight—something I learned from my dad.
That sounds stupid, like some gauzy film shot in black and white and there’s this father teaching little junior how to make a fist.
My dad taught me how to take a punch.
That’s pretty important in a fight because, like I said, you’re going to get hit and what’s important is how you take it.
If my dad lands one and you take it right, showing impact but not crumpling, he’ll maybe leave off, even if you take a swing back. He might shove you away. Stop at one.
With him there’s no getting out of it, anyway. No putting it off or talking your way out. No running—it’ll just be there for you later. He holds a grudge like a knife, blade out, pale fist bowing around the handle, ready to mark you.
It happened last month. I got home and my dad was already there, which was the first sign of trouble. The second sign? Empty bottles clustered on the battered table, an arsenal of tiny missiles.
So when he started in, how he was tired of waiting for me to make some real money, tired of me wasting my time with school, I already knew what was coming. And that there was no way out but through.
Instead of handing over the twenty I keep for emergencies like a good little boy, I told him what a crock it was. That Uncle Sam, not my dad’s sorry ass, kept Janie and me fed.
He lunged, shoving me back, fist cocked at his side. I planted my feet and leaned forward while twisting and tensing my abdomen for the strike when it came. Which it did.
It always does.
A lot of guys don’t have a clue how to get hit. They aren’t prepared, haven’t tensed their bodies, aren’t ready for the pain. And no kid I’ve ever fought can throw a good punch anyway—not a real one.
One time I fought this martial arts puke. He thought he was Billy Badass and was talking trash everywhere. I was fine until he brought my sister into it, and since all the other idiots thought we should fight, we did. He fought to prove himself, and I fought so everyone would leave me and Janie alone.
It only took a few hits.
This puke was blocking my test punches, and he looked good doing it. My blocks are short and tight to my body, but his arced in these graceful curves, leaving his body open. It was easy to spot when and where to hit him.
I let it play out. Even though I knew how to get him. Because I kind of wanted him to hit me. It was just one of those days—I knew it would help.
I relaxed. I dropped my arms.
He pressed his entire body forward. His fist drove at my stomach, turning as he punched. I thought, Here’s something, because it looked good. I tensed my stomach.
But when it landed I started laughing.
That’s probably why everyone except Clay still thinks I’m psycho, because I let him hit me two more times while I just stood there laughing. Because his punches were nothing. They looked great but stopped short—a little thump, like getting hit by a paperback book.
At first I wondered why such a strong-looking punch whiffed. Then I realized that he’d never really hit anything. He was one of those guys you see in strip-mall karate places, punching at the air and pulling their punches when they face each other. His punch was like that. Robbed of its own force. I laughed and hit him so hard he doubled over. I thought about my sister, what he’d said about her, and broke his nose.
Janie wasn’t happy with me, so I felt like an idiot, but it was almost worth it because everyone pretty much leaves her alone now.
It would have been totally worth it, except I was suspended for two days. The suspension was nothing, but I ended up staying out the rest of the week because of broken ribs.
They didn’t come from the fight.
That was my second year in high school, and no one’s fought me since. I kind of miss it. I’m not a bully or anything, but it can feel good to take care of yourself. It can feel good to have some power for a change. But I don’t pick fights or mess with people. If they leave me alone, I leave them alone.
There’s nothing worse than a bully.
That’s what most everyone thinks I am. A lazy bully. A should-be dropout who somehow hasn’t gotten a clue. Teachers are afraid of me—ever since eighth grade. Which makes sense. Or they see me sleeping in their classes and act surprised when I actually turn in some homework or do okay on the tests. Although Clay gets most of the credit for the me-doing-homework part.