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“He’s still a kid,” Ronnie said. “We just got off the salt and pepper shaker.”
“Weren’t you scared?” Lynda smiled at Ronnie.
“No, it was fun. I think my buddy there chipped his tooth.” He indicated me.
I ran my tongue along my teeth. There did seem to be a piece missing.
“You better go get a mirror,” Ronnie said.
“Yeah,” said Lynda. She smiled again. “For your information, I believe in the great God Jehovah.”
At home, I examined my mouth in the bathroom mirror and sure enough, my big front tooth had a chip. I took out two of my toy cars and crawled in the front yard, pushing the cars along the ground, one car for me, one car for Lynda. I pictured roads and cities and the two of us travelling to these cities and attending fairs in each one and spinning high in their salt and pepper shakers. “It’s not that scary, Lynda,” I said. “Just takes a bit of getting used to.”
“I have some work for you,” my mother stood on the porch. “I don’t like to see you scrabbling round like a child.” She paused. “You’re not at elementary school anymore.”
A week later, in fact, I started junior high. The school was a huge building and I got lost just trying to find the cafeteria. I dodged into an empty classroom and stood gazing out the window. Kids walked by outside, talking and laughing, everyone on their way somewhere. Then I saw Lynda, walking alone. She turned her head and looked closely into the window.
“Maybe she’s checking her reflection,” I thought.
She kept looking at the glass, not smiling, moving her hand once to brush back her hair. I took in what I could only comprehend as beauty, my fingers trembled at my sides. She stood unmoving staring ahead as if straight at me, until some other girls came along giggling, and she turned to join them, wherever they were going.
“How can I talk to her?” I asked myself. “I have to know.”
After classes I jogged out to the south side of the school, where Ronnie and Melvin leaned against the wall smoking cigarettes.
“Can I have a drag?” I asked Ronnie. “I want to try once, once only.”
“You better be careful, sonny,” Melvin laughed. “You’re breathing pretty hard.”
Ronnie passed me the cigarette. I puffed it in. “That’s good,” I coughed. “That’s enough.”
Then I said, “Ronnie, you punched me in the lip two weeks ago and you said I could punch you back.”
“You’ve got a lot of sass today, Jackson,” he replied.
“Well, now’s the time. I want to give that split lip back.”
“You try it, I’ll give you another split lip,” said Ronnie.
“I want to know what it’s like,” I said, “to hit you as hard as I can.”
“I’ll pulverize you,” Ronnie said. “I’ll put a chip in your other front tooth.”
He said this casually, almost friendly, at the same time his voice rose, like he asked a question. He was so much taller and long armed than me, yet if I could manage to spill a little of Ronnie’s blood, who knows what else I could accomplish?
“Hey, I’d like to see this fight,” said Melvin. “I’ll referee while you guys duke it out. Let’s set the time and place.”
“Here. Tomorrow morning,” said Ronnie. “I’m punchy in the mornings.”
“Let’s get some other guys together, have an audience,” I proposed.
I had it all set like a movie in my head. The more people that knew about the fight, the faster the news would come to Lynda. With her watching, I could not lose. I’d hold nothing back, all my need and longing would slam into Ronnie’s face. Afterwards, she’d let me lay my bruised head against her shoulders. That was my plan.