“Why does that guy have it out for you so much?” Bobby asked.
I shrugged. “Doesn't he have it out for everybody, when you think about it?”
“I guess,” Bobby said. The truth, though, was that Bobby had never directly incurred Matt Stefano’s wrath. Matt might have been able to whip Bobby easily, if it came to that; but Matt’s favorite targets were the boys who lived in the newly built neighborhoods in Withamsville, the sons of attorneys, engineers, and corporate middle managers. It was a form of classism in reverse, though back then I wouldn’t have expressed the situation in those terms.
We made it to the front area of the school grounds just as the other teachers were summoning the seventh and eighth grade kids back into the building for the afternoon’s classes. It was one of those golden October days that hover just on the edge of summertime warmth. (That brief period from mid-September through late October is the only truly beautiful season in Ohio.) There was a small breeze, and the big trees that ringed the school grounds were an explosion of red, bronze, and burnt yellow. Neither of us was anxious to go back inside, where we would sweat inside the basement classrooms.
“I guess we should enjoy our recesses while we still can,” Bobby said, as if reading my mind. At St. Patrick’s all students from grades one through eight were given twenty minutes of outdoor time in the morning, followed by approximately half an hour after lunch. “There’s no recess in high school. Not at Bishop Stallings. Not at Youngman, either.”
Although Bobby was referring to the weather, his mention of the two high schools raised an uncomfortable truth: After next year, we would be parting ways, as I headed off to Bishop Stallings High School, and Bobby headed off to Youngman High School, the high school equivalent of Youngman Elementary.
Bobby—like many of the lower income kids at St. Patrick’s—received defrayed tuition from a parish grant. But Bishop Stallings was a consolidated Cincinnati archdiocese high school, and it cost serious money to attend. While the tuition was not an insurmountable burden for my parents, it was hopelessly beyond the reach of Bobby Nagel’s mother. And as for his father contributing—well, that notion was so unlikely that it was never even broached. According to my mother, Joyce Nagel was lucky to collect two or three child support payments per year from Bobby’s errant father.
“You might wonder why I did that,” Bobby said, clapping me on the shoulder. “I mean—sticking up for you like that.”
“Of course I know what you mean,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Well, I didn't do it for you,” Bobby said. “I did it for me. I figure that Matt Stefano and I are bound to mix it up sooner or later.”
“Bobby. You can’t whip Matt Stefano.”
“Exactly.” Bobby clapped me on the shoulder again. “I figure I’ll show him that I’m not afraid of him now, while we’re both here at St. Patrick’s. Then when we’re at Youngman together, he’ll leave me alone.”
That logic didn't make sense to me. Matt Stefano wasn't the type to forget a grudge. On the contrary, he would spend the next two years calculating the interest on his vendetta against Bobby.
Moreover, while Matt’s “gang” at St. Patrick’s was limited to a handful of hoodlumish eighth grade boys, at Youngman he would be among his own element. By the time Bobby faced him there, Matt would be part of a regular gang of like-minded delinquents; and boys of that ilk had no qualms about fighting with unequal numbers.
It occurred to me that this might be Bobby’s way of making me feel less awkward than I already did about him functioning as my unofficial bodyguard.
I merely nodded. “Well, thanks anyway. I was in a jam back there.”
Serial be continued....
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