© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Against the Wall
When the alarm went off in the morning, Nolan could hardly believe he had even been asleep. He awoke with a headache. He rubbed his temples as he tiptoed across the hallway to get his sister out of bed.
"Molly," he called, as he stepped into the room.
She didnít stir a muscle.
Nolan ran his fingers through his sisterís tawny hair.
"What time is it?" she asked, barely moving her lips.
"Itís time to frost cupcakes."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot. Thanks."
Nolan watched the young girl for several seconds, and then asked, "Are you going to actually get out of bed?"
"Yes," she said. "Iím just having trouble moving this morning."
"Let me help," Nolan said, as he pulled back the covers.
"Kevin," she whined.
"Not so loud. Mom will hear you."
"Sorry," Molly said. "Iím getting up. Honest."
Nolan went to the kitchen and started breakfast, putting on coffee, starting bacon in the microwave, and getting eggs whisked for scrambling. He just finished setting the table when Molly came into the kitchen.
"Iím going to take my shower. Donít start the eggs until I get Mom up. You know how she hates the eggs to be dried out."
"Donít worry about the eggs. Iíve got to frost my cupcakes."
After showering and dressing, Nolan entered his motherís room.
"Mom, itís six thirty."
"Okay, Honey. Iíve been waiting for you to come in since I heard the alarm go off. Why did you get up so early?"
"Molly had to frost cupcakes this morning."
"Oh, I forgot all about those cupcakes. I told her Iíd help her."
"Iíll bet theyíre just about done by now. Sheís been in the kitchen working on them for about fifteen minutes. Iím going to check on breakfast. Coffeeís ready when you are. You want any help this morning?" he asked, looking at her wheelchair sitting by the edge of the bed.
"No thanks. I can manage. Iíll be out in a few minutes."
"Okay," Nolan replied, heading for the kitchen.
"Did you wake up Mommy?" Molly asked when Nolan entered the kitchen.
"Yeah. Just now," he replied. "Your cupcakes look great."
"Why didnít you do them last night?"
"I like them to dry out some first. Sometimes, when I frost them the night before, the cupcakes soak all the moisture out of the frosting. Theyíre soggy, and the frostingís dry. I hate that," she said, sticking out her tongue and shivering. "Itís disgusting."
"Okay. Okay," Nolan said, putting up his hands in self-defense. I was just asking. He went over to the cooktop and turned on a burner before pulling a frying pan out from the cupboard and spraying it.
"Donít put so much pepper on the eggs," Molly ordered.
"Thereís no such thing as too much pepper."
"There is, too. You should be able to see mostly yellow and white, not black specks, when the eggs are on the plate. The way you put on pepper is disgusting," she said, sticking her tongue out again and shivering one more time.
As Molly brought her frosting dishes to the sink, Nolan replied, "Well, I never. I slave over a hot stove for you, and all you can do is criticize."
"Oh, quit that," Molly ordered.
"Is that disgusting, too?" Nolan wanted to know.
"Well, donít make that face again. Iíll just put the peppershaker on the table.
"The bacon smells good," Carole Nolan told her son as she wheeled into the kitchen.
"I hope itís not too disgusting. Itís pepper bacon, you know," Nolan said, eyeing Molly.
The young girl wrinkled her nose and shook her head, but she didnít say anything.
"Whatís that all about," their mother wanted to know.
"Oh, heís just being a tease because I told him he put too much pepper in the eggs."
"She doesnít appreciate any of the hard work I do around here," Nolan said, feigning hurt.
"See," Molly said.
"Okay. I see," Mrs. Nolan replied. "And, although I do appreciate youíre making breakfast, Kevin, sheís right about the pepper in the eggs. Sometimes, there is a bit too much."
"See, I told you," Molly gloated.
"And I told you I just wouldnít put pepper on them any more, didnít I?" Nolan, asked, bringing the eggs and bacon to the table.
Molly didnít reply.
"Yes, thanks, Honey."
Nolan poured his mother coffee, and then some for himself. "Coffee, Molly? You got up pretty early this morning. You might need it."
"You have to learn to talk to him yourself, Sweetheart."
"Well, you canít," Molly said.
Nolan stuck out his tongue and shivered for his sister. "Itís disgusting," he said.
"Well, it is," Molly agreed, sticking out her tongue, too.
"So, whoís this kid you saw last night, Honey?"
"Just a guy from school."
"Does he have a name?"
"He in any of your classes?"
"No. Heís a senior."
"A senior...?" his mother asked.
"Oh, Mom," Nolan said. "We all go to the same school. Weíve seen each other around. And he likes Uncle Jerryís car. Thatís mostly what we talked about last night. He invited me to a party Friday."
"Oh? Okay, Honey. I know Iím prying. Itís just that I like to know the names of the people you see. Oh," she continued, "you have a doctorís appointment on Saturday. So Iíll want you home at a decent hour."
"I mean it."
Nolan nodded, and finished wolfing down his breakfast.
"Donít eat so fast, Honey."
"Iím fine, Mom."
"Thatís disgusting, too," Molly whispered.
Nolan turned and stuck out his tongue, loaded with a mouthful of eggs.
"I told you I wasnít getting into it with you two. Iím just glad he didnít do that to me," Mrs. Nolan replied, giving her son a hard glance.
Nolan swallowed the last of his coffee, took his dishes to the sink, and returned to the table. He gave his mother a quick hug, grabbed a piece of toast and headed for the back door.
"Molly," he asked just before opening the door, "do you need a ride home from school today."
"No. Itís dance class day. Iíll go over to Lauraís, and her mom will take us to class and bring me home."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot. I guess Iím just used to your dancing on Fridays. Have a good day, Squirt. Love you, Mom," he said, then darted through the door.
A few minutes later, Nolan was in the blue Beetle and heading to school.
When he arrived, he saw Steve Hargrove just getting out of Butch Kramerís red Z. Hargrove waited while Nolan parked his car, checked his hair and used an acne pad.
By the time Nolan crossed the lot, Kramer had gone into the school. "You gonna come tomorrow night?" Hargrove asked when Nolan reached Kramer's red Z.
"My mom said it was okay. But I gotta get home early because I got a doctorís appointment on Saturday," Nolan replied, spitting his gum toward the bottom step.
"I donít know. Probably around eleven."
"Man, that bites. Maybe my old lady can ask your mom to let you sleep over?" Hargrove suggested, spitting into his ever-present coke can.
"Sure, most of the guys do," Hargrove said. My dad--not my step-dad--and I used to go camping all the time. We got lots of sleeping bags and stuff. We just bunk down in the garage when we get tired. Come on. Itíll be great. See if you can stay."
"Well...." Nolan replied. He did not know what to think. On the one hand, leaving early would make him seem like a baby. And it was reasonable just to sleep over. But he wondered about who was going to be there. He did not know Hargrove well, he didnít know Kramer at all, and he had no idea who else might show up. Something seemed strange. But he wasnít sure what it was. And he didnít want be seen as a baby, either. Besides, he had to protect Uncle Jerry's car.
"My mom will make sure you get to the doctorís."
"Iíll ask," Nolan replied.
"My mom will help convince your mom if you need her to," Hargrove said.
"Okay. Iíll ask," Nolan said again.
"Great," Hargrove replied, slapping Nolan on the back as the younger boy headed up the steps.
About the time he reached the top of the stairs, Nolan heard Hargrove laughing, and his face reddened. But he didnít dare turn around to see if Hargrove were looking at him. He didn't dare see who else was back there. Besides, he said to himself, whoever it was could be laughing about anything.
A few minutes later, Tim Welch joined him at a table in the cafeteria. "Any more problems with the math?"
"No," Nolan replied. "But thanks. I wouldnít have gotten any of the problems right with what I remembered from class yesterday."
"Hi, guys," Mike Burns said as he slipped into a seat beside Welch. "Kev," he continued, "I wanted to tell you I thought it was pretty cool what you did in English. I expected Hanson to jump all over you when you said you didnít understand about the title."
"Me, too," Nolan admitted.
"What do you think heíll ask about the thing we read last night?"
"He likes to ask about how the title fits the poem," Nolan said. "He seems to think the title is just about the most important thing. So, I guess heíll ask about what not taking the other road means. Or, like the other day, something about how we might apply that idea in our own lives."
"I hate when he does that," Welch said. "He always gives me Cís on those kinds of questions. How can he grade my opinion that way?"
"I donít know what he expects, either," Burns admitted.
"What are you talking about?" Becky Fergusson asked, coming up to the edge of the table, but really only looking at her boyfriend.
"About English," Burns answered.
"Oh, didnít you just love that poem last night?" she asked.
"No," the three said in unison.
"It was just a poem," Burns said. "I donít know how anybody can get all fired up about them."
"At least it wasnít all about love and flowers and stuff," Welch said, giving Nolan a knowing look."
Nolan smiled. "And it wasnít as good as yesterdayís when that kid sawed off his hand. I could really see that. And that was cool."
"Yeah," Welch agreed. "I like stuff that happens better than someone just thinking about junk like that one last night. Hey, Becky," he continued, "what do you think our question will be for today, anyway? Thatís what we were talking about when you came up."
"Oh, I donít know. I never know what heís going to ask."
"Kev thought he might ask what taking one road over the other might mean to us," Burns said.
"That sounds like Hanson," Becky agreed. "But I donít like to anticipate what heís going to ask because, if Iím wrong, Iíve wasted all that time thinking about it. And I canít use it for anything."
Nolan was about to say something when the first bell sounded.
"Well, Beck," Burns said, "letís go get Goodyear."
"Goodyear?" the other two boys asked.
"Itís our frog," Becky said. "Mike named him."
"And I think itís a pretty good name, too," Burns said, standing to go, looking for a disagreement.
"See you," Nolan said. "Be sure you wash that frog smell off of you before you get to English class. I thought I was in biology right along with you the other day."
"You canít wash it off," Burns said. "And itís a whole lot worse when youíre in the lab, let me tell you. Iíd rather be trying to breathe in the locker room any day."
Welch made a face, as the two walked away.
Nolan laughed. "My little sister, Molly, usually sticks out her tongue when she does that."
"Makes the face you just did."
"I didnít make a face."
"Yes, you did," Nolan said. "Like this," he continued, demonstrating the squinted eyes and wrinkled nose.
"Just a reflex," Welch said.
"Well, we better get goiní, too," Nolan said, grabbing his backpack.
"Yeah, guess so. Wonder if Coach McAfee will say anything about the Mexican-American war today?" Welch asked, getting on his feet.
"With a game tonight? Are you kidding?"
"Well, you can only hope."
"I wonder if heís any different in the spring when heís not coaching?" Nolan said. "You know, when he doesnít have football so much on his mind."
"I donít know. Guess weíll have to ask someone whoís got him. Write that down," Welch said. "Iím putting you in charge."
Coach McAfee soon had Nolan doodling in his notebook. There was a test coming on Monday, but he would just have to read and study on his own, as usual, because Coach was rambling about discipline and attitude in battle, but it was really about football. And he had said it all before.
Hanson asked what not taking the road meant to the narrator of the poem. That's almost as bad as asking what it means to me, Nolan thought, because it's still pretty much my opinion. But at least I donít have to talk about myself. I hate that. Why would a teacher want to know anything about me, anyway? Why was it any of his business?
Nolan made an effort to concentrate in algebra. After working about a quarter of the homework problems and collecting the classís papers, Mr. Parrish started his lecture by saying that the next theorem they looked at was a bit trickier than those they had worked through before. And, although there was something about the manipulations they did in class that appealed to Nolanís sense of order, for the most part, he thought all of algebra was a bunch of magic tricks. It was kind of fun to work through the problems, but it wasnít like there was a purpose in knowing any of it. Of course, the same could be said for most everything in school. What was the point, except to get grades. And what good were the grades, except to get into college. And, they made his mother happy. The only class he thought was any good at all was his computer class. At least some of the stuff he learned in there he would probably be able to use.
Nolan looked over at Welch, his best friend for almost his entire life. Welch was going to be a pharmacist. And he was taking a chemistry class, mostly with the juniors, that he thought was really useful. And Welch told Nolan that algebra and chemistry were a lot alike. Nolan didnít see how.
And, since he had no idea what he might do when he finally got out of school, almost everything he did seemed to be busywork.
Later, at the diner, Nolan sat with his cousin, Bob Trout, in the back corner of the kitchen. Gus told them their dinners wouldnít be ready for a while, there had been a water-line break, and getting things started for supper had been delayed. While they waited, Trout asked him how school was going.
"Okay, I guess," Nolan replied. "But I wish I had some idea what I wanted to do with myself after I get out of school. Everything I do sure seems to be a waste of time."
"You know," Trout said, "I felt that way, too. Sometimes, like with some of the stuff I get in my American history class or something, I still do. But Iíve been learning to appreciate some of those ideas the teachers made me think about back when I was in high school."
"Yeah?" Nolan asked. "Like what."
"Well, you know," Trout replied. "Like stuff about how certain things we read relate to us. You know, thinking about things in terms of how we might react to similar situations. Not just looking at stuff from the outside. What happened to so and so. But, if we were in the same situation, who knows what we might do? Would it be the same or different."
Nolan didnít say anything.
"Okay, think about this. Letís say you were in a house with a bunch of your friends. The power goes out. Are you going to stay in the house? Are you going to wander off by yourself to investigate? What are you going to do?"
"You mean, like the Friday the Thirteenth movies," Nolan said.
"Yeah. Itís pretty stupid the way, one by one, people start wandering off. I sure wouldnít do that one. Of course, I wouldnít stay in that house, either."
"Right," his cousin replied. "Anyway, why wouldnít you?"
"íCause I know whatís going to happen. Whoever wanders off ends up dead. Itís too predictable. Thatís why I canít believe people even go see those movies. You know whatís going to happen all the time."
"Okay," Trout said. "Now, think about something like the American Revolution. What would you have done if you were living back then? Would you have been willing to fight to overthrow the British? Would you have even thought that was a good idea?"
"But thatís just opinion," Nolan complained.
"Yeah. It is. But when you start thinking about the issues back then, repressive government, and all that, you can apply it to things we see today. What about living in some place like Iraq? What would you do if you were there?"
"So, whatíre you saying?" Nolan asked.
"Iím saying that you got to learn to think about things on your own for yourself. You wouldnít believe how many of the people I go to school with canít do that--and wonít. All they want to do is memorize things. What can you do with that?"
"You can win big money on Jeopardy!" Nolan replied.
"Yeah. Sure. But, what if, when you get to a certain situation that doesnít fit what youíve memorizedÖwhatíre you going to do?" Trout asked.
Nolan was quiet for a moment. "This is coming from your sociology teacher, ainít it?" Nolan asked.
"Would you think any of this stuff if you werenít in love with her?"
Trout stared at his younger cousin. "I canít believe you would ask that."
It was Troutís turn to be quiet. "Because I hadnít ever thought about that before. I wonder how much stuff I ignored because I didnít think much of the person saying it?"
"Man, this is getting way too deep for me," Nolan said, getting up and heading over to the stove. "Gus, is dinner getting ready?"
The ex-Navy cook lumbered toward him carrying two plates. "Just finished dishing it up. Pot roast tonight. And all the trimmings."
"Looks good. Thanks," Nolan said, taking the food.
"Better get that eaten in a hurry," Gus said. "Thereíll be a lot of orders ready to go in about ten minutes. The regulars are going to be wondering where their dinners are."
"Okay," Nolan replied. "Weíll eat it as fast as we can choke it down."
"You watch your mouth," Gus bellowed. "Or Iíll cut your nuts off and serve Ďem to someone who appreciates such delicacies."
"Right," Nolan said, returning to the back corner of the kitchen.
"Going to the game?" Trout asked after Nolan reached the table.
"Yeah. Guess so. I should be able to get there by half time. You want to go?"
"Sure. Why not. All I have is government and history tomorrow. No tests in either of them. I think weíre going to see a videotape on some senate hearing in government, so I donít have but a little history to read before class."
"Want to go over to the stadium together," Nolan asked.
"Sure. Why not. No sense both of us driving. Letís hope there arenít too many last minute orders tonight," Trout said.
"Quit yappiní and start eatiní," Gus yelled over his shoulder from the other side of the kitchen. "I got most of the early orders ready to go."
"Weíre eating," Trout replied. "Trying to. Just wish we could get a decent meal before we went off to work."
"Yeah. Yeah. You little roaches."
"You boys about ready to go?" their uncle asked, coming into the kitchen. "I hate to rush you through your dinners, but I donít want our regulars to have to wait too long, either."
"Yeah," Trout answered. "Weíre almost ready to go."
A few moments later, stuffing the last of a roll into his mouth, Nolan stood to go. "See you about eight," he told his cousin, spitting bread crumbs all over the table.
"Watch it, would you?" Trout said. "Didnít anyone ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?"
"Sorry," Nolan replied. "Iím ready, Gus," he said, heading to the other side of the kitchen.
Nolan left the restaurant with five orders. He returned nearly a half-hour later for more.
"What took you so long?" Gus asked when he entered the kitchen.
"Mrs. Gunderson," Nolan said. "I had to help her fold some sheets."
"I guess I forgot it was laundry day," Gus said, handing him another box of orders. Two new people in there. Be sure you get driverís licenses if they use checks."
"I will," Nolan promised.
"Getting any good tips?" Trout asked, when Nolan returned from his second run.
"Only from Mrs. Gunderson. She gave me a couple extra bucks for helpiní with her sheets."
"Nobody's tipping me, either. The regulars hardly ever tip very much after you been there a few times," Trout said.
"I had two new people on this last run, and they only gave me a buck each."
"Well a buckís better than nothiní, I guess," Trout said.
"Kevin?" Gus called through the open kitchen door.
"Iím coming, Gus."
"You and Bob can jabber all you want after the deliveries are done," Gus said, swinging a carving knife.
"Yeah. Yeah. Just give me my orders, will yaí?"
"Got them all over here. One of themís way up there by the new mall in Lewisville. You know your way around there?"
"Yeah, I been there before."
The order went to Larry Hargrove of Larryís Beer and Wine. The owner met him at the door, and set the food on a display of California wines. "How much?" he asked, pulling out a cigarette.
Nolan reached over and pulled the sales slip off the bag. "Eight fifty-eight," the young man replied, showing the slip to the older man through a cloud of smoke. "That includes the dollar for delivery."
As Henderson walked over toward the cash register, Nolan followed. "Hereís ten," the older man said. "Keep the change."
"Great. Thanks," Nolan replied.
"My son, Steve, wanted you to pick up some more beer," Hargrove said as Nolan turned to leave.
"Beer," he repeated.
"But I canít take any beer now," Nolan protested. "Iím working."
"Look, kid," Hargrove said, putting a hand around Nolanís shoulders. "I canít tell you what to do. But I do know my son, and he ainít gonna be happy with you if you donít pick up the beer. And whatís the big deal. I put it in your trunk, and then Steve takes it out. Itís not like you even have to touch it."
"But what if I get caught?"
"Why would you? You gonna break any laws while youíre driviní? And, even if you did, you would be sober when you got stopped. No cop would have any reason to search your car. So, do yourself a favor and take the beer. Itís no big deal."
Nolan sat in front of the liquor store for several minutes. I shouldnít be doiní this, he thought. But he was afraid of what might happen if he didnít. Hargrove did threaten his car yesterday. And, just now, Hargrove's dad threatened him with his sonís temper. I'm stuck, he thought, then sighed, as he gunned the engine.
After his last delivery of the run, he went looking for the older boy.
"Steveís at the ballgame," his mother said. "I thought all you kids were."
"Okay. Thanks," Nolan said. "Iíll probably see him over there after a while."
Man, Nolan thought. Now what am I supposed to do? I donít want to be driving around with all that beer under the hood. What have I gotten myself into?
"You okay?" Gus asked, as Nolan took his next few deliveries.
"Yeah. Why?" he asked the cook.
"You look a little tense. And your colorís kind of pale."
"Itís just this hot kitchen after being outside," Nolan said. "Iím fine."
When Nolan returned from his fourth round of deliveries, it was seven thirty.
"Just sent Bob out with a couple of orders," Gus said. "Ainít no more. Probably wonít be any others tonight."
"Great," Nolan said. "Iím going to get some ice cream.
Nolan made himself a banana split and sat down at the table in the back to eat it. He was about halfway through when his cousin returned.
"That looks good," Trout said. "No more orders?"
Nolan shook his head.
"Iím gonna make one of those, too."
When Trout returned with his ice cream, he asked his cousin, "Did I see you out in front of Steve Hargroveís talking to him last night?"
"Yeah. You know him?"
"Sure I do. We were on the football team together in junior high. He and I were in the same class until ninth grade."
"Oh," Nolan said. "I didnít know that."
"Yeah. His dad convinced him to stay behind in ninth grade. Said it would help him get a football scholarship to go to college."
"But he can't even play football anymore," Nolan said.
"Yeah. Funny how stuff works out," Trout replied. "Anyway, I was just going to warn you to keep away from him. Heís about the meanest person I ever met."
"He doesnít seem so bad to me."
"Okay. But you better hope you stay on his good side. Thereís nothiní he wonít do to get back at somebody whoís crossed him."
"Iíll be careful."
The two boys were just finishing their ice cream when Gus walked over with on order. "This oneís by the field," Gus said. "So, I knew you wouldnít mind takiní it."
"Okay," Trout said. "Weíre outta here."
"Night, Gus," Nolan said. "See you tomorrow."
"Yeah. Thanks for the warniní," he laughed, then added, "have a good time."
After making their last delivery, Trout pulled his yellow Beetle into the lot by Coppell Stadium. They could see the scoreboard without getting out. Central led Parkview by thirty-five just into the third quarter.
"Do you even want to go in?" Trout asked without killing the engine.
"Only if you do. I get in free," Nolan replied.
Trout hesitated for a moment, shrugged, and put the car into reverse.
After Trout dropped him off behind the diner, Nolan got into the blue Beetle and headed over to Hargroveís place. He parked on the opposite side of the street to wait for the upper classman.
Nolan unwrapped another stick of cinnamon gum and added it to the piece he was already chewing. The lights of the traffic on the cross street distracted him from his surveillance of Hargrove's house, so he was surprised to hear the door of Kramer's red Z slamming inches away from him a few minutes later.
"See you, butt wipe," Hargrove said, slamming his fist into the hood of the car.
Kramer honked as he pulled away.
"I see you made it with the beer," Hargrove said, coming over to Nolanís open window. "I was expectin' ya' to show up at the stadium. Ya' didn't miss nothin', though. 'Cept an ass kicking by Central. Our boys don't know how bad they need me to play if they are goin' to have any chance of makin' the playoffs this year. Three losses already. But if they don't lose any more, they could still go." The older boy stepped to the front of the Beetle and knocked on the hood. "Go ahead and pop it. Iíll get my beer."
"Great," Nolan said, spitting his gum out the window. Then, after taking a deep breath, he continued, "I donít want to be hauliní beer around like this."
"I shouldnít have done it this way. I know. Iím sorry," Hargrove said. "Itís just that I needed to get the beer in the fridge tonight if it was going to be drinkable tomorrow. Nothiní worse than warm beer."
"I wouldnít know."