Jam Night — a short story

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about bullying, and decided to share a fictional story that is very autobiographical in many respects. I haven’t posted fiction here before, but I thought you guys might enjoy this short story. 

Standing at the top of the three-point line, Scott kicked his right foot just a bit. It was just eight inches out in front of the left foot, but it was enough. The thought of what he was doing – what might actually happen, thrilled and scared him at the same time.

Scott waited in the middle of the junior high basketball court, holding one of the burnt orange leather balls, which bounced all around him. He wasn’t dressed to play – no one was, really. It was a Friday night and Scott had begrudgingly decided to attend Jackson Junior High Jam Night – a dance and activity night rolled into one event held once every couple months.

The last time – the only time – Scott had attended Jam Night, he’d stood against the wall in the cafeteria, too awkward and shy to find his way onto the dance floor. Definitely too uncoordinated to show off the dance moves he’d left in his basement at home.

Some friends of his – at least he hoped they were his friends – had encouraged Scott to come to the Jam Night. With his older sister hosting a slumber party, Scott ultimately chose the least awkward choice and had his mom drop him off at the school’s entrance just before 7 p.m.

As his mother drove away, Scott had the sudden urge to run after the family minivan, get back in, and take his lumps from the high school aged girls back at home. But Scott resisted, putting one foot in front of the other as the front doors of the junior high loomed in front of him.

The bass of the music was already thrumming through Scott even with the doors closed to the school’s cafeteria. Jump by Kriss Kross came blaring through the cracks between the doors and as if to emphasize the tune, Scott saw two classmates emerge from the cafeteria into the hallway with their jeans on backwards.

To calm his nerves, Scott found the snack table, picking up a few cookies and a cup of red punch.

“Hey Scott!”

Quickly turning around, Scott spilled some of the red fruit punch on his jeans. Great. Here five minutes and I’m already embarrassing myself. He looked up from the red splotches on the front of his jeans and sees Garrett walking in the front door. Sitting next to Garrett every day in band led to a natural friendship, but Scott was still a little wary of almost everyone in the school. He’d only been here four months so far after years in a previous state.

“Hi Garrett,” Scott muttered before turning his attention back to his pants.

Garrett sees the damage, realizing his greeting caused the spill. “Oh boy…sorry! I bet dabbing that with some warm water might help.”

The two boys headed to the nearest bathroom and did their best to clean the red spots off Scott’s jeans. Not only did Garrett’s solution not work, it only made the stains worse, giving Scott the appearance of wetting himself.

“Great. I didn’t even want to come – now I’m going to look stupid,” Scott said with resignation.

Scott slid down the tile wall opposite the sinks, more than willing to stay in the bathroom the rest of the evening. Garrett stood back, leaning against the edge of the porcelain sink. The look on his face is blank at first, but soon he has a quizzical look before he heads to the bathroom door.

“Hold on, Scott. I’ll be right back,” Garrett said, bursting out of the restroom. Less than a minute later, Garrett was back, but his jeans were now spotted with red splotches of their own – matching the red fruit punch Scott had initially spilled on his own jeans. Without a word, Garrett went back to the sink, and splashed a handful of water on the stained jeans.

“There. If you were planning on being the best dressed here tonight, you’ve got another thing coming,” Garrett said to Scott with a mischievous smile.

That was all it took to get Scott up off the bathroom floor and out among his peers. The school, normally quiet as lessons and lectures went on behind the closed classroom doors, was buzzing with the electricity of young teens uninhibited with a weekend ahead of them. It was a chance to show off for your friends and classmates and to possibly make some new friends in the process.

Scott and Garrett went around the edges of the cafeteria, eventually ditching out on the dance floor and the girls who primarily inhabited it. They found the game room with a few dozen adolescents playing Chess, Checkers, Clue, Sorry! and Monopoly among others. All the tables were filled with other classmates waiting to play, so Scott and Garrett kept wandering.

That wandering eventually led them to the school’s basketball court, which was a chaotic mess of gangly teens trying to make moves like Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson. Scott wasn’t gifted athletically, but Garrett liked to play, so the two grabbed a ball and took to a smaller half-court towards the back of the gym. Finally, Scott was enjoying himself as he made a few baskets with Garrett gathering rebounds.

As the two continued to play, others filtered over and eventually more than 10 were on the court, which meant substitutions, putting Scott on the sidelines. He couldn’t blame Garrett. After all, Scott just couldn’t compete in sports like his new-found friend could. With no end in sight to the game, Scott grabbed a nearby ball and went to another half-court on the other side of the large gym.

Scott went in for a few lay-ups, working up a little bit of a sweat in the process and then the ball was knocked out of his hands.

“Ha! Way to go fatty!”

Randy Weber. The one kid in the school that wouldn’t let up on Scott even though Scott was far from a new kid after four months. He was easy pickings in the first few weeks of school after transferring from the western part of the United States, but had hoped that after four months kids like Randy would let up. He remembered the first time he met Randy in English class. Scott saw the kid’s nameplate on his desk and introduced himself.

“My name is Scott and you are Randy Weber?” Scott asked, pronouncing the boy’s last name like Wee-ber.

“What a moron. What kind of kids are they letting in to this school these days? The name’s Weber – like Webb-er. Doofus.”

Ever since that day, Scott tried to keep his distance from Randy, but they had four classes together. Keeping your distance was difficult when you had to sit near your tormentor every day. At Jam Night in the gymnasium, Scott didn’t know what to do, so he simply gathered up the basketball and went back for a few three-pointers as Randy kept walking. But, after a few three-point attempts, it was clear Randy wasn’t going to leave Scott alone when he swatted the ball out of Scott’s hands after a miss and chucked it across the gym with a maniacal laugh.

Once again, Scott took a loose ball nearby and went back to the top of the key. Out of the corner of his eye, he found Randy Weber running towards him as he prepared to shoot. Instead of shooting, he stuck out his foot and purposefully tripped the bully.

Down Randy went, face first on the slick gym floor, skidding for a bit. The entire gymnasium seemed to stop; all the action on the courts froze as Randy slowly stood back up and turned around. His nose was bleeding, a small trickle which had already reached his upper lip.

He closed the ground between himself and Scott quickly, or so it seemed to Scott who was incapable of movement during the entire process. He couldn’t believe what he’d done, even if it was just a few inches of his foot.

“You’re gonna be sorry you did that, fatty,” Randy said, his mouth just inches from Scott’s. Without waiting for a response, Randy balled up his right hand and sucker-punched Scott in the gut.

Immediately, Scott crumpled on the ground, never before hit with the force he’d suffered at Randy’s hand or hit with the humiliation Randy had hit him with, all at the same time. He closed his eyes, just hoping that Randy would go away – that the single punch would be enough to sate the beast within. Before he knew it, however, another voice came through.

“Leave him alone.”

Garrett.

Scott opened his left eye to see what was going on above him. Garrett had abandoned the pick-up game on the other court and was now between him and Randy. The sweat Garrett had accumulated over the past 20 minutes on the basketball court, shone on his brow like a helmet on a medieval knight. Randy reached over with both hands and shoved Garrett, hoping Scott’s prone figure behind him would trip him up. Scott scrambled out of the way, allowing Garrett to stumble without interference.

Scott got back on his feet and Garrett joins him as they stand against Randy.

“Just go away…find someone else to pick on, Randy,” Garrett said, putting his arm around Scott’s shoulders.

Randy looked around and found no allies. Backing up, he picked up a loose ball and threw it overhand. As it flew over the head of the two friends, the bully turned and walked out of the gym.

Garrett turned back to Scott. Somehow he knew Scott didn’t want to talk about it, but instead did the best thing he could.

“Come on – let’s go play ball,” Garrett said, leading Scott back to the court and starting a new game with Scott as his first choice. 

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