MY body fell off!
The big day finally arrived! I was in High School! Tenth Grade!
Life was finally getting fun. I was only weeks away from turning sixteen—our family’s officially sanctioned dating age. In no time at all, I could finally start dating all those gorgeous females who graced the school hallways and classrooms. I got all tingly just thinking about it—the dances, the parties, the concerts, the movies! Yeah, life was definitely getting fun.
And since I would turn sixteen so early in the school year, I had been taking Driver’s Ed all summer. I was only inches away from becoming an official licensed driver.
Technically, we lived in Payson—at least that’s what our address said. But we actually lived three miles from town, clear out on West Mountain Road. We were supposed to ride a bus to school, but Mom had this thing about driving us on the first day and taking pictures of us walking in the front doors. It was a mother-scrapbooking thing. Kinda weird.
I was dropped off first, since the high school started earlier. My younger brother of two years, Darin “the dweeb,” was in junior high, so he would be next. Then Mom would drop off my two little sisters, Charlene and Cynthia, at the elementary school. Sitting there in the car, they all looked like they were about to face a firing squad.
I exited the car and adamantly ignored Mom’s pleas to “turn around and say cheese” as I walked past the flagpole and the sign that declared to the world that this was Payson High School.
As I pushed through the front doors, I heard someone call my name.
“Hey, Bart. Over here.”
It was Paul Bishop, my best friend since before we could even remember.
“So, what do you think of high school so far?” he asked.
“Very funny,” I answered. “I’ve been here exactly one minute.”
Paul laughed. “Good. Then that makes me the expert. I’ve been here at least three. So, where’s your first class?”
I pulled out a folder from my backpack and found the class schedule that had been mailed to me a few weeks earlier. “My first module is geometry.”
“Rotten luck,” Paul said. “I’m in science first.”
Imagine that, I thought. Paul would take science classes all day long, if he could get away with it. “So, what do you think of this ‘module’ stuff?” I asked. “You understand it?”
“Yeah, it’s confusing,” he said. “It’s kind of like college. Diane was a junior last year, so we’ve had two years of her telling us all about it at the dinner table.”
My older brother Chris was also a junior the previous year, but he never talked about his schedule. In fact he rarely talked to the rest of us about much of anything. He was somewhat strange. He should have been a senior this year, but he dropped out of school halfway through eleventh grade and moved out to live with some friends in Provo. Fortunately for me, we didn’t see him very often anymore. And, even more fortunate for me, I now had my own bedroom, instead of sharing with my pesky little brother.
“A module is a forty-minute block of time, like from eight to eight-forty,” Paul said, launching in on one of his typical fact-filled explanations. “There’s a ten-minute break after each module. Most classes are going to be one module, five days a week, just like we had in junior high. But some are only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or on Tuesday and Thursday. And, of course, there’s a module of study time each day.” He flipped through his papers. “According to the map, there are a bunch of study halls where we can go, like the library or the cafeteria. But we can’t just wander the halls. Hey, look,” he said, leaning over to read my schedule. “We have study hall at the same time.”
By that time we had arrived at Paul’s locker, and he busied himself working the lock and stashing his things. “Where’s your locker?” he asked.
I shuffled through my papers. “Umm . . . two thirty-three. You know where that is?”
“Right down this same hall, I think.”
We found my locker at the end of the hall—the very last locker in the farthest corner of the whole school.
“Hey, at least you don’t have to bump shoulders with anyone on the left side,” he said, trying to cheer me up.
The lock was stubborn, and when I finally got the door opened, I accidentally backed into someone on my right. I turned to find myself looking down into the clearest, crystal-blue eyes I had ever seen in my life. I stepped back a foot and stood there speechless, staring shamelessly.This gorgeous creature is definitely going on the top of my date list, I thought.
Her face was so perfect, she looked like she could easily have been a model for Seventeenmagazine. She had incredibly long, wavy blonde hair that went clear down to her waist—what little waist there was. She could have been straight off a California beach . . . except without a suntan.
“Aren’t you even going to say ‘excuse me’?” she asked, pretending to be upset. Her voice was soft and sensuous.
“Uh . . . oh . . . excuse me,” I stammered, clearing my throat.
She smiled and winked.
I just about died. My adrenaline went to red alert status. What a stupid first impression THAT was, I thought. I turned back to face Paul, totally embarrassed. He raised his eyebrows at me a couple of times and made a little hourglass gesture with his hands.
Paul, my self-appointed private investigator, found out later that her name was Tiffany Short, and that she was a junior varsity cheerleader. She’d only lived in Payson for a year, having moved up from Los Angeles. That explained why I’d never seen her before.
“I did some checking around,” Paul said. “Her friends call her Tiff—or Shorty. But I wouldn’t, if I were you. Definitely one hot babe. You don’t stand a chance with her, though. She’s Tom Zeller’s girlfriend, our quarterback this year—the big number fourteen. You better keep your distance.”
The rest of the day was a pretty typical first day of school. It turned out that, besides study hall, Paul and I also had two classes together—English and history. My homeroom class was geometry. The rest of my classes included tech crew, P.E., and biology. The tech crew was in charge of the auditorium for all assemblies and productions, and the class was two modules long, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Payson High had a strange demographic. There were basically three kinds of guys: the jocks, the rednecks, and the rest of us. It seemed like Payson was the Future Farmers of America capital of the west. They had more sheep shearing classes than they had reading, writing, and arithmetic all put together. At least it seemed like it.
* * *
On Wednesday, I had a run-in with some rednecks. I had inadvertently stepped in front of them in the hall as I left my locker. There were four of them, all decked out in hats and boots and big shiny belt buckles. I half expected to see spurs and six-shooters.
One of them stuck his thumbs in his belt and said, “Well, lookie here. We got ourselves another new little runt in the pen. What do we do with runts, boys?”
The other three cowboys laughed and mumbled some things I didn’t catch.
The big shot took a step forward and poked me hard in the chest with his finger. His eyes narrowed. “You even know what a runt is, kid?” Before I could begin to answer, he enlightened me. “Runts are little itty-bitty squealy pigs that never grow up. All the rest get big and fat, but the runt just stays little.” He paused, pushing his hat back a little on his head. “You know what happens to the runts?” he asked.
“No. What?” I knew it couldn’t be anything good, whatever it was.
“The big pigs kill ’em!” he roared, stomping the floor with the heel of his boot. “They tromp ’em to death!” They all laughed and slapped each other on their backs and shoulders. “That’s what we’re going to do to you, runt, if you ever get in our way again. You can just think of us as the Big Pigs. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it,” I muttered.
With that, he shoved me against the lockers and out of the way. Then they paraded on down the hall in their exaggerated bow-legged strut.
“Big Pigs is right,” I said under my breath.
On the way home, on the bus, I told Paul about my run-in.
“Don’t you remember those guys from junior high?” he asked. “They terrorized the whole school when we were in seventh grade.”
“I guess I managed to stay out of their way,” I answered. “Lucky for me.”
“Well, if I were you, I’d stay out of their way now, too,” he warned. “Diane told me last year that they beat up a long-haired freaky-looking kid that moved in from Illinois. Sent him to the hospital all broken to pieces.”
The rest of the ride home passed in silence.