The Wrong Side of the River
These sudden joys have sudden endings

Three doctors visits, two sets of x-rays, and a “surgery” that consisted of doctor number three shooting numbing stuff into my nose and then pushing it back into place, and I was home.
My face looked like a misshapen eggplant—all purple and shiny with bumps in odd places—so when Dad came in and looked straight at me, he really should have realized there was something wrong. But he didn’t. He just asked Mom what was for dinner and stretched out on the couch to check his email.
We had eggplant parmesan for dinner, which was more than a little ironic, and Dad talked about the park and how construction would begin any day now.
“Were the kids talking about the park today?” Dad asked, taking another bite of cheesy eggplant.
I shrugged. “I didn’t notice anyone talking about it.”
Dad set down his fork, exasperated. “Julian, you’ve got to be more perceptive. You’re so lost in your tiny little world you never even realize what’s going on around you. Successful people pay attention to others.”
I nodded, pushing my uneaten bites to the corners of the plate so it would look like I ate more. I actually liked eggplant when chewing it didn’t make darts of pain shoot through my cheeks.
Dad’s fork clanged on his plate. “What’s wrong with your face?”
“He had a little accident today at school.” Mom said, pushing out her chair. “You boys ready for dessert? I made chocolate pudding.”
Dad scowled. “What kind of an accident does that?”
“I ran into a door.”
“Sure you did,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Someone hit you because of the park decision, didn’t they? I knew something like this would happen. Those Northsiders are bullies.”
“No Dad, I really…”
He put up his hand to silence me. “You should have hit the kid back, son. You can’t let them get away with things like this.”
“But Dad…”
“I’ll have a talk with your principal. Make sure the kids involved get punished appropriately. Who was it?”
“Well, Parry Hendricks, but it was an accident…”
“I just bet it was,” Dad said chucking his napkin on the table. “You expect me to believe it’s a coincidence that his dad told me today he’d do ‘anything in his power’ to get the decision appealed. Well, if he thinks he can intimidate me by having his son go after you he’s got another thing coming.”
Mom came out smiling with three cups of pudding covered in whipped cream.
“None for me, Carolyn. I need to make some phone calls.” Dad said, getting up from the table and disappearing into his office.
Mom’s smile fell. She bit her lip and handed me two of the cups. Then she sat down across from me and forced her smile to reappear.
We ate dessert in silence.
I tried to get Mom to let me go to school the next morning, but after talking to Dad she was convinced there were park-hating bullies at school who would be out to break something else as soon as I showed myself. Plus, my face still looked a little like the blueberry girl’s in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, all swollen and puffy and purple.
I was a little nervous about Dad ratting out Parry, but he didn’t say anything else about it, so I kind of hoped he’d forgotten.
I spent three full days sitting in my room teaching Solo to do a back flip and playing games on the iPad until my eyes went blurry. Mom brought up snacks and took my temperature every ten minutes.
It wasn’t as a fun as it sounds. All I could think about was how Romy touched my face and how she actually was really nice and really pretty and how maybe I actually had a chance with her.
I read Romeo and Juliet three times, which was kind of a big deal since I wasn’t usually a great reader or anything. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what half of it meant until I asked my mom to rent a movie version. After I’d watched it a few times the words started to make a little more sense. I went over some of Romeo’s parts until I thought I could do a decent job at both reciting and acting.
Now I just needed to get back to school so I could try out.
It took some serious convincing to get Mom to believe I could defend myself against the non-existent park bullies. I tried to show her I was in good enough shape to fight back if necessary by doing my very best jump kick/Jackie Chan impersonation. She was skeptical until I told her that Marshall was taking jujitsu and I promised to stay right by him all day long. That softened her a little, but she didn’t cave until I agreed to take her cell phone with me to school and call 911 immediately if anyone started picking on me. I wouldn’t actually call 911 if people started picking on me, obviously, but I told Mom I would and that was good enough for her.
My face was the only problem. My nose was still twice its normal size and though the black and purple had faded to yellow and green, it didn’t exactly look normal. Mom tried to dab something called concealer all over it , but it just looked like I had make up on, which would probably be worse than having a green nose.
Mom thought it would be good if I missed the first couple classes, just to throw the bullies off so they wouldn’t realize I was at school. She dropped me off right after lunch and I proceeded immediately to the drama room, going over Romeo’s balcony scene lines as I walked. I knew I could do the part. I’d get to act with Romy and kiss her and my whole life would change.
At least that’s what I thought before I stepped into the drama room.
“Oh, Mr…? What’s your name again, dear?” The drama teacher, who was wearing a pink and green mu mu and dangling jewelry, asked.
A dozen students stared back from the stage where it seemed they were already rehearsing. “Um, Griffin. Julian Griffin.”
“Of course, Mr. Griffin. After Monday, I don’t know how I could forget.”
A few people on stage giggled.
I ignored them and stepped forward, bravely. “I’m ready to try out for the play, if that’s okay.”
Her expression fell. “We did all the tryouts Wednesday. I’m afraid everything has been cast.”
“Oh,” I said, taking a step back.
“But I still need a stage manager.”
“A stage manager,” I repeated, feeling like a balloon that had just been stuck with a pin.
“Yes. You know, to run things backstage, pass people props, that sort of thing.”
My stomach sunk into my toes as all my plans for the year evaporated.

Keep Reading

Chapter 8

Two blushing pilgrims, ready stand Romy

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