We finally reached the big double doors. Haberman opened the one on the right, and he was like, “After you, gentlemen.”
He always called us gentlemen. Any group of guys in the hallway or rolling into class a little late got one of those. He called the girls ladies. I wondered what he called the principal, Your Majesty? Anyway, it was like, Yeah, screw you very much, and we were through the doors and out into the sunlight and open air.
“I’ve got to put ’er down for a sec,” said Mixer, and that was fine with me. We dropped the barrel at the top of the wide stone steps that led down into the front parking lot. Just three steps, real short and wide, so they wouldn’t be a problem getting down. I straightened up, and for a second it was actually kind of cool. Being outside on a nice day was one thing, but being outside on a nice day when you were supposed to be in the god-awful gloomy hallways of the Tits was another thing entirely. Pretty nice.
“All right, then,” said Haberman, like he was our boss and not our teacher. Totally ruined it. We leaned back down, wedged our fingers between the heavy plastic and the hard granite. We lifted with our legs and not our backs, like we learned when we helped Tommy’s dad move into his apartment in the city. Gary, who told us that, was Tommy’s stepdad now. It was kind of a bad scene, that move, but it was good advice.
“Not for nothing,” said Bones, “but what the hell’s in this thing?”
“Are you recanting your guess, then, Mr. Bonouil?” said Haberman.
“Yep. I’m recanting all of those guesses, everybody’s.”
“Everyone was wrong? Not one of your classmates hit the jackpot?”
“Nope,” said Bones. He was grinding his teeth and spitting out his words between huffs and puffs. He wasn’t looking at Haberman, but he was talking right at him, if that makes any sense. He was talking to Haberman like he was a freshman and not a teacher. It’s not a real offense, not like shoving him or something, but it was close to one, especially the way Bones was going about it.
Bones was just not good at this, at provoking people, picking arguments. He had no volume control, and everything he said just sounded like a threat. This was more Mixer’s game, and as long as Bones had hung out with Mixer, he never could pick it up. Bones lacked the mental tools for it, I guess, and the patience.
Mixer was excellent at this kind of thing, at needling people without giving them any real good excuse to smack him. Since fourth or fifth grade, he’d been able to get the other guy to start it, roomful of witnesses, and then pound the poor kid into the ground “in self-defense.” With teachers, he could just piss them off without giving them any good cause for punishing him. You couldn’t do it all the time, otherwise people would catch on. Mixer knew that. He saved it for special occasions, and he was smart about it.
Bones was always the other guy, the one it was easy to get going. If you wanted a fight, it’d take all of about three words to get Bones to go. And early on, that happened a lot. Back in elementary school, when he was just this skinny, aggressive kid, he used to get into a lot of fights. But at some point, I guess around sixth grade, he just stopped following the rules.
Kid fights don’t usually have clear winners. Sometimes, like if somebody slips or takes one clean on the nose, yeah, it’ll be pretty obvious. More often, kids just grab and paw and swing wide at each other until they get it out of their system. Then they stop when the one who’s getting the worst of it decides to quit while he can still pretend he won, or at least call it a draw. The way to quit is to sort of pull back and stall until the teachers get there. Everyone knew the deal, but Bones got to the point where he wouldn’t stop until he was pulled off. Sometimes it took three of us.
That’s when people stopped wanting to fight him. That’s how he got the nickname, too. You might think it’s because he’s skinny, skin and bones, but that’s not it. It’s because pulling him off a kid in a fight was like pulling a dog away from a bone. And it might seem like it’d be hard to be friends with someone like that, but that’s only half the story, because it was cool, too. It’s like rappers have pit bulls, you know? And when kids stopped wanting to mess with him, they stopped wanting to mess with us. There wasn’t much of a difference back then. We were tight. If Bones saw someone giving me trouble, he’d give it right back to them.
Haberman didn’t know any of this, of course. He thought he was talking to a student, but really, it was like he was poking a dog with a stick. He was a teacher and that’d probably always been enough to keep him safe, just the name, the word. But Bones didn’t put a lot of value in words. He could understand being in the school, just that there are different rules in there and walls and doors to hold him in place, but we were out of the school now. Just a few yards out, but those must’ve seemed like some long yards to Bones. His voice, his body language, it’d all changed from the hallway to here. He was coiling up, giving all the warning signs that anyone who’d gone to school with us would’ve recognized. But Haberman had never seen them before.