THE COLD INSIDE
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday November 10, 1994
Sitting in his mother’s office Tristam stared at the same page in his history textbook that he had been staring at for almost half an hour. He still couldn’t believe that Rich and Yusuf had talked to him like that. It had been at his locker, after the assembly he’d used as a nap period.
A nerd shakedown, that’s what it was- a fucking nerd shakedown.
Rich had said, “We don’t want you to get Drew involved in your little feud with Evan.”
“Things are bad enough for her.” Yusuf had nodded in agreement, “You don’t need to make them worse.”
“Because if you do you won’t be welcome at our table, I don’t give a damn what Greg says.”
“We may not be the friends you want,” Yusuf had concluded, “but we are better than no friends at all.”
“Assholes,” Tristam whispered under his breath, his eyes returning to the top of the page of the thick ageworn book. He didn't feel like reading about the Industrial Revolution, he was in a Dark Ages kind of mood, “Stupid assholes.”
They didn’t understand that this wasn’t just about high school. If they didn’t stand up for themselves now they’d never stand up for themselves later. In the real world you couldn’t go running to the Headmaster or to Adelphos for protection.
Adelphos. Tristam thought, Now he understands the rules, he fights back regardless of the cost. He’s got some balls.
It wasn’t worth stressing himself out over, Drew probably didn’t know anything. She probably had a crush on Evan. No accounting for taste there.
But then again who am I to judge? My Mom made some bad choices when it came to the men in her life. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.
His mother had confessed that to him in a drunken stupor. It had been almost three years ago and she had been eager to share her maudlin state with him. Carol had kept her son awake till almost Four A.M. with story after story from her hard luck youth to the death of her first husband Joseph Rawson. The grand finale was her story about the night of his conception.
“... was drunker than I am now. The FBI agent investigating Joe’s murder saw me at the bar, brought me home... Your Grandma was taking care of Pam... I blacked out on the drive back... when I woke up it was hours later and you father was lying naked in the bed next to me... I didn’t even remember what happened... I didn’t feel a thing...” She’d laughed then, a strange, bitter laugh that still haunted him, “...just like a shot from the doctors’- didn’t feel a thing.”
A coughing sound made Tristam look up from his history textbook. It was Phil Dowd, there was a grin on his face “How many smokes your Mom got in her desk there?”
“I- I don’t know.”
The old man drew closer, his eyes positively glittered, “Well check. If there’s more than ten give me five, if there is less then five give me two.”
“I-don’t think I should-”
“Didn’t bother you before.”
“No, you look. I’m on my way to see your Mom, should I tell her that she needs to start investing in an iron lung for her baby boy?”
Tristam opened the upper drawer of his mother’s desk and retrieved the pack of cigarettes from her purse. There were ten exactly, he gave five to the old man. “I’m not a baby,” he spoke through gritted teeth.
“Then you should have called my bluff.” He pocketed the cigarettes and turned to go, “Another valuable lesson. Having pubes does not make you a man.”