[Note to readers — As I mentioned in an earlier post, Graduation, I have been writing biographies of my characters who will be appearing in the novel series. In the process, I’ve written some short pieces that provide a bit of their back story — back story that probably won’t appear in the books, but may pop up in flashbacks or memories. Who knows? This is another blast from the past. Enjoy!]
Bored. Man, he was SO bored. Kicking his heels against the chair legs, he hated to admit that he was also a little scared. Chuck, his boon companion, stood on his hind legs to put his front paws on Mike’s knees. The little head cocked to the left as the dog shared his sympathies with his boy. Mike gave Chuck’s ears a commiserating scratch.
His mom glanced over from where she was chopping stuff for dinner to make sure he was doing the multiplication tables. For the last half hour, he’d been doing them over and over and over. She was keeping a close eye on him to make sure he kept his head down until his dad got home.
“When you finish there, you can start on your vocabulary words.”
“Yes, Mom,” he nearly groaned. Surreptitiously, he tugged the sides of his torn shirt together. His mom wouldn’t let him change clothes until his dad saw the damage. While he wished this ordeal were over, he wasn’t looking forward to his dad’s reaction and had a pretty good idea what would happen.
Smells that normally would have made his mouth water started to fill the kitchen. Wouldn’t be long now, he knew, and his stomach started to ache. He finished copying his vocabulary words for the third time.
“Mom, I’ve finished my homework, can I take Chuck out in the backyard?”
“If you’ve finished your homework, then you can just sit quietly and think about the right and wrong way to settle an argument.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He stared at his bruised knuckles and thought about how great it felt to punch that shithead Jeffrey in the nose. He couldn’t help the little smile that twitched his lips as he thought about the bloody nose that Jeffrey had to explain to his dad tonight.
Mike and his mother both jumped when the door from the garage opened and Major George Chapman came in with a rush of chilled air.
“George! You’re home early!” Elizabeth rushed across the room and helped her husband take off his uniform jacket. “Dinner’s almost ready. Another few minutes.”
“That’s fine,” George noticed the boy sitting at the table strewn with homework and staring at his hands. “Better clean that stuff up, son, and help your mother set the table.”
“Michael has something to tell you, first, George. I was called to the school principal’s office this afternoon to pick him up.” She turned to her son, “Michael?”
Mike rose from his chair, trying to hold his shirt together with stiff arms. He stood straight, like his father expected, but couldn’t make himself meet his stern gaze.
“Jeffrey Harper was picking on a fat kid at recess today and, when I told him to cut it out, he just laughed and said, ‘Make me’, so I punched him,” the torrent of words burst out of him.
“What happened to your shirt?” Mike couldn’t see the twitch at the corner of his father’s mouth because he was staring at his shoes.
“Umm. It got torn when Jeffrey’s friends pulled me off ‘im.” The bruised fingers toyed with the ragged edges.
“The principal called me because this is the second time in the past couple of weeks that Michael has gotten into a fight with that boy on the school grounds. He mentioned suspension if it happened again.”
“Mike? What’s going on with you?”
Mike finally looked up at his dad and said defiantly, “Jeffrey Harper is a bully and a shithead and he’s always picking on the littler or the fat kids and no one else will stop him!”
Elizabeth inhaled sharply at the cursing, “Michael! Language!”
The two males ignored her in their staring contest.
“Clean up your homework and go to your room, son. I’ll be up in a minute,” his father said.
Mike hung his head. “Yessir.”
When the dog started to follow the shuffling steps from the kitchen, George snapped, “Chuck! Stay.” The little dog tucked his tail and sidled off to the laundry room where his food and water bowls were.
“George, we can’t let him get suspended from school for fighting!”
“It won’t come to that. Call that principal tomorrow and tell him we’ve handled it, but that he’s got a bully on the playground.” He followed his son out of the kitchen.
Mike unconsciously covered his bottom with both hands when his father came into his bedroom.
“Mike, you know I’ve got to do this,” George started unbuckling his belt. “You need to learn to follow orders from your superiors, and the principal isn’t going to tolerate any more fights at school. His rules, you follow them. No exceptions.” He gestured for Mike to turn and bend over his bed. “But, you stood up for other kids who are too weak to defend themselves, and that’s honorable.”
He delivered five licks to the young bottom before threading the heavy belt back through his pant loops. Enough to make his point, not enough to prevent the boy from sitting down.
“Pick your fights, son, and pick the place. No more at school, though, got that?”
Mike’s face was red, his tears held stubbornly back, but he understood his father’s message. “No sir. I mean yessir, I got it.”
“Good. Wash up and change your shirt, I’ll see you downstairs.”
Over dinner, the nightly catechism began.
“Besides cooling your heels in the principal’s office, what did you learn at school today?” George took a bite of his meatloaf, but never took his eyes off the eight-year-old sitting to his left.
“Math and words and stuff. The usual, I guess.”
“I recall your report card a few weeks ago didn’t look very good in math and words and stuff. What are you covering in math?”
“George, why don’t we enjoy our dinner before we talk about school?”
George waved his hand dismissively at his wife, watching his son’s gaze fall to his barely touched plate. “A boy who has time to get into fights and sit in the principal’s office half the day can take a few minutes to report on what, if anything, he’s learning the rest of the time. Math.”
“We’re on the multiplication tables,” seeing the brows raising, Mike quickly added, “Sir.”
“Michael spent an hour memorizing his multiplication tables and his vocabulary words this evening while we were waiting for you to come home, dear.”
“I’m talking to Mike, Liz. So, good. You worked on your math and vocabulary homework. After dinner, we’ll review those and see if you’re ready for tomorrow. Now, eat up.”
His appetite well and truly dead, Mike just pushed his food around on his plate, tucking some of the meatloaf under the lettuce leaf that framed the canned pear with the Miracle Whip and grated cheese filling.
“Eat all your dinner, Mike, or you’ll sit here until you do,” George said. “And we’ll still be going over that homework, no matter how late it gets. So don’t play with your food.”
“Michael,” Elizabeth cajoled, “I baked chocolate chip cookies this afternoon. If you finish your dinner…”
“No dessert tonight. Mike’s still thinking over his decisions and actions at school today.”
Chewing a bite of meatloaf until all taste was gone, Mike had to swallow hard to get it down, but he knew from experience that he wasn’t leaving the table until his plate was clean. And he still had the homework drills to look forward to before bath and bed.
Chuck crept up next to the chair and bumped his head against Mike’s leg. When his dad finally turned his attention to his mom to quiz her about how much money she’d spent at the grocery today, he was able to slip some of the meatloaf off his plate and into Chuck’s willing mouth. Maybe he’d get through this meal okay after all.
Later, when Elizabeth was tucking Mike into bed, she leaned down to kiss his cheek – he didn’t mind this time, he was feeling pretty worn out.
She gently ran her fingers through the silky, dark brown curls. “I’ll put an extra cookie in your lunch tomorrow, sweetie. You’re a good boy. My good boy. Sleep tight.”
When the light was turned off and his parents’ bedroom door was finally closed, Mike crawled out of bed to crack his door and let Chuck come in. They both jumped up on the bed and huddled under the covers.
The rough lick he got almost made up for the rotten day.