Authors: Geoff Herbach
Pig Boy Needs Help
My body moved slowly. I pulled on my “I'm with Stupid” shirt for only the second time because I wanted to show Abby how serious I was about sticking it to the people who should be stuck. (I wanted to be on her team.) I planned to sit on the right side of Karpinski at lunch.
When I went upstairs for a bagel, Jerri materialized out of my haze and grabbed my arm.
“You unplugged the phones.”
She squinted at me. “Good. I got into a screaming match with a man from Milwaukee on Saturday.”
She sniffed the air. “What time did you get home last night?” she asked.
“I don't know,” I mumbled. “Midnight.”
“That's too late on a school night, Felton. You're not an adult yet. Don't think I'm not watching.”
“Okay, I won't think you're not watching.” The room felt tilted toward the stairs. I worried I'd stumble a couple of steps and fall down them.
“You leaving this early?” she asked.
“Meeting. Freshman mentee.”
“I won't be home for dinner. I've got class tonight and then I'm meeting with Terry.”
“What's your definition of meeting?” I asked.
“Ha, ha,” Jerri said.
“Terry's a bad person,” I said.
Jerri paused. She shook her head. “You don't know anything, Felton. Divorces aren't pretty. Whatever that Abby is telling you isn't the whole truth.”
“That Abby isn't telling me anything. I just don't like Terry.”
“Mind your own business, Felton.”
“You mind your own business,” I said. “You're not watching me anyway.”
Jerri stared at me.
“I have to go,” I said.
When I got to school (after a frozen-face and gut-roasting bike ride), Pig Boy was already sitting in his homeroom. He had his notebook out and he was drawing. He looked up when I walked in.
“Nice shirt,” he said.
“I'm with Stupid,” I said.
“Did you wear that so I'd feel stupid?” he asked.
“No,” I said. My guts bubbled and I had to reach out and steady myself on the dry-erase board, which erased something Mrs. Callahan had written on it. “Shit.”
Tommy turned the page and began drawing another picture.
I sat down next to him. “You doing okay?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “You smell like booze.”
“I do? I showered. How do I smell likeâ¦” My heart began thumping.
“You drank it so it comes out your skin all day,” Tommy said.
“You need to shower your insides,” Tommy said.
“I don't know how.”
“What's wrong?” I mumbled.
Tommy thought I was asking him instead of asking myself. He answered. “My mom keeps showing up at my house and screaming at my dad that he killed Curtis, and Dad had to go to jail this weekend because he punched her arm.”
I blinked. “What the hell, Tommy?”
“Good question,” he said. “My grandma can't even cook toast anymore. She sits on the couch or shakes like she needs to sit on the couch. My brother's bed is just there in my room. I can't get it out by myself. I don't want to see that bed.”
Then I thought of Dad hanging, twitching in the garage. “I'm so sorry, man.”
“You're not. You won't email me back. I emailed you nine times and you won't talk to me.”
“I wasn't in school becauseâ¦becauseâ¦and I can't check all my email,” I said.
“There's too much for me to read becauseâ¦Wisconsin people want to beat me up.”
“Oh yeah, I heard about that,” Tommy said.
I took a deep breath. Tried to steady myself. “Okayâ¦Okayâ¦Who killed your brother?” I asked. “I saw that email before the shit storm.”
“Confession!” Tommy said.
“What? No.” I didn't want to hear that Tommy killed his brother.
“I did. I killed Curtis.”
“No.” I shook my head. It wasn't possible. The intercom called for Tommy when Curtis shot himself. “No, you didn't. You were at school.”
“Yeah. But before school, I told him he should karate-chop Ryan Bennettâ¦”
“Ryan Bennett!” I spat.
“Yeah. I told Curtis if he didn't fight Ryan, he didn't deserve to walk among the proud, didn't deserve life. Then he came home and died.”
Tommy put down his pencil and put his face down on the notebook.
He looked up. “My counselor lady that the school gave me says that's not my fault. She says kids just talk. She's wrong. I wanted Curtis to stand up like I stand up. They can hit me all they want. But I won't cry.”
“Did Curtis cry at school?”
“I don't know. Probably,” Tommy said.
“We have to fix this,” I said.
“We can't. Curtis is six feet under.”
I saw Dad in the ground. “You know my dad killed himself?” I said.
Tommy's mouth dropped open. “Really? What did you do with his bed?”
I paused. Stared at him. “I don't know. My mom might've burned it. She might still sleep in it though.”
“I want to burn Curtis's bed,” Tommy said. “I really, really don't like it being in my room.” He blinked at me. Then Tommy started crying, then he started coughing, then he sneezed on the desk.
“That's what you want? To burn Curtis's bed?”
“Yeah,” he wheezed.
That's what Jerri wanted to do. Burn Dad's stuff. She did too, out in the backyard of our house, while I cried and Andrew stared.
Snot poured down Tommy's face. I ran up to the teacher's desk and grabbed a bunch of Kleenex. “We better get cleaned up. School's going to start in a couple of minutes.”
He tried to clean up. Didn't work that great.
“I'll help you get his bed out of your room,” I said. “We can do that. No problem,” I said.
Then the bell rang.
I'm With Stupid
I didn't think about my dad or Badger fans the rest of the morning. I thought about poor Pig Boy lying awake at night staring at Curtis's empty bed.
I did sit next to Karpinski at lunch. I did make Abby laugh with my “I'm with Stupid” T-shirt, but I didn't care so much. Karpinski said, “Oh yeah, that's a really funny joke, Rein Stone” when I put my arm around him. “You're full of funny jokes. Wish I would've thought of grabbing the Wisconsin hat.”
“You weren't recruited by Wisconsin though.” I didn't actually say that to be mean, but it might've come across as mean.
Cody stared at me. “That's a dickhead shirt,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
“Whatever, Ken,” Abby said. She walked over and hugged my head. Her chest pressed into my face and I could smell her skin and I thought I might love her for a moment.
“What do you mean, Ken?” Cody asked.
“Yeah?” Jess asked. “Ken?”
“Nothing. I have to go to the college for class,” Abby said. “See you tonight, Felton.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Good.” I imagined her sliding off that robe.
“What's up with you two?” Karpinski asked.
I got up and left for my locker.
Boy. Have sex with Abby. That's all.
Except it wasn't all. Mr. Linder was losing patience with me.
I'd failed to do any of the reading for AP English, and Mr. Linder called on me again and again because I didn't know crap about
and Linder was tired of my weeks of nonresponse.
“Nothing, Felton? Ever hear of James Joyce?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, my face glowing red like a Chinese lantern.
“Who's with Stupid, Mr. Reinstein?”
“I am?” I asked.
“No,” Linder said, shaking his head. “I am. Get it?”
The class sort of oohed. Gus stared at the side of my head, his mouth hanging open.
“I'm sorry,” I said.
Abby. Fuzzy navels.
That's what I thought.
It's true. Abby is funny. She's really quick brained. She can be really mean. If you want someone to be mean to mean people, Abby's a good choice. She stung me so bad when I was a squirrel kid.
Abby got a funny idea when I put my arm around Karpinski in my “I'm with Stupid” shirt.
We sat next to each other on her bed. She drank a fuzzy navel. I drank a fake fuzzy navelâpretended to pour schnapps in my glassâbecause after school, I'd lifted weights but could only get through about half my reps because my muscles burned and fatigued and I worried that alcohol might be the problem. (I'm a genius!)
Abby talked fast. “The Karpinskis are hilarious, right? You know what would be hilarious? What if we made like a Karpinski family video? Or maybe just a video about Karpinski's dad? He's crazy. He horn-dogs on me all the time, like I'm some hot forty-year-old he might have a chance with.”
“I've seen it,” I nodded.
And, yeah, I'd seen it. Old Man Karpinski in action. Honestly, the Karpinskis are comedy gold.
The mom is sort of funny in that she dresses like a drunk, sexy country singer (short shorts and cowboy boots and really tight, sleeveless cowboy shirts all summer long), and she squawks like a chicken when she talks.
But the dad is the real prize.
Dave Karpinski looks like a 1980s porn star. He has a little mustache, and he clearly dyes his hair black and he wears it sort of long and combed straight back, so it always looks like he's walking into the wind, and he wears these giant wraparound sunglasses and too-tight polo shirts that totally hug his big gut, and he wears his own version of short shorts all summer long (just like his wife, except her legs are little super-tan chicken sticks and his legs are giant ham sandwiches), and he rides around on this tiny Honda scooter thing, sort of swooping around town for no apparent reason, just like he's a dumb high school kid with nothing better to do than drive circles, and he does tae kwon do and he speaks like he's a mixture of a movie karate sensei and a movie stoner.
During the football season, he'd see me running off steam on the weekends and swoop over and stop me and say, “Dude, you destroyed Lancaster Friday. Correct?”
“Yeah?” I'd say.
“Do you know why?”
“We scored more points?” I'd say.
“No, dude, no. You used both heart and talent. With great effort and great talent, championships are made. Am I right?”
“Yeah?” I'd say.
Then maybe some girl would walk by, and no matter what her state of dress or her size or her age or her hair color or anything, Mr. Karpinski would lose his mind. “My lord, my lord,” he'd say, shaking his head, his mouth hanging open. “Look at that pretty little lady. Legs up to here.” He'd karate-chop himself right under his nipple.
I'd nod and he'd swoop off on his scooter and circle around her and chat her up, and the girl, whoever she might be, would totally laugh because I'm sure he made weird jokes and Dave Karpinski is funny, except he's not trying to be as funny as he actually is because he doesn't seem to know he's a cartoon character.
“We could make a video of you acting like him, right?” Abby said. “You could put on a fake mustache and sunglasses and ride around on Jess's scooter saying crazy things to girls.”
“That's pretty funny,” I nodded.
“I could be totally gross and in sweats, and you could circle around me and talk about how hot I am,” Abby said. “Oh, sweet potato pie in a steaming dish of cream soupâ¦stuff like that.”
“Uh-huh. Yeah. Let's call Gus.”
“He has a nice camera and he's funny as hell.”
“He is?” Abby asked. “I thought he was just a nerd boy.”
“Do you know Gus?”
“Not really,” Abby said. “I've never hung out with him before last weekend.”
I thought everyone knew how hilarious Gus was. I called him immediately. His response to the whole deal was a little weird.
“Tonight?” he asked.
“No, not tonight. This weekend if the weather isn't crappy.”
“You want to make fun of Karpinski's dad?”
“Just have fun. Not make fun of. You know, just joke around.”
“Seems kind of mean,” Gus said.
Abby could hear him. She said, “Karpinski mooned you and gave you the finger, man. This is not a big deal.”
“Okay,” he said. “I guess. It's sort of funny. Email me some notes and I'll write up a script.”
After I hung up, Abby said, “I don't think he has a sense of humor at all.”
“No,” I said. “He does. Just wait until Saturday. He'll totally crack you up.”
“You want to email him the notes?” Abby asked.
“Yeah. Okay. Unless you do?”
“I'll write up the notes,” Abby said.
She's funny. And mean.
Here's something weird, though, given that we'd decided massive amounts of sex were going to part of our antiâKen and Barbie identities. I got up the guts to try to kiss her, and she fell straight back onto her bed and crossed her arms over her chest like she needed to protect herself and then said she had bed spins and might get sick and that we should have lots of sex another time.
“Okay,” I said. I was a little embarrassed. Here's the truth though: Aleah and I were together for almost two years and we never did the whole thing. I was pure as the virgin snow. Real sex kind of scared me. (Not that I wasn't interested in giving it a shot.)
A few minutes later, Abby lolled out, drunk.
So I left.
On the way out of Abby's house, I ran into Nolan on the couch in the living room. He was shocked to see me. He stood up. “Why are you here?”
“I'm with Abby. Get used to it.”
“Your mom is with my dad,” he said.
“I guess,” I said.
“You threatened my best friend.”
“I did?” I didn't remember actually threatening him, even though I'd thought about it.
“Maddie O'Neill told me that you're going to beat Ryan up and that he better watch his back.”
“I never said that.”
“Maddie said you did.”
“Well, I'm sorry Ryan's such an idiot that he deserves to have his ass kicked. Maybe I will kick his ass.”
I turned and headed toward the door. Nolan was right behind me. He followed me out to the front stoop.
“You stay away from my sister.”
I spun around and faced him, stared down at him. He's a big kid, but I'm probably forty pounds heavier and a couple inches taller.
He tried to inflate himself, stood tall, widened his shoulders. “Jesus,” I said shaking my head, “I know who you are. I know what you do. Don't you talk to me. Don't you ever say a word to me. Do you understand?”
He took a couple seconds trying to hold still, then nodded. I turned and walked down the step toward my bike.
“Felton,” he said quietly. “What do you mean you know who I am?”
“You're a black hole who beats on weak kids to feel like you're something more. But you know you're nothing. Just empty space.”
“Oh,” he said. He put his head down and went back inside.
I shivered. I felt sick. I felt so off and terrible. This didn't feel like me. Not the me I'd write about in a college essay to justify my existence for sure. I turned around and walked up to the door. I wanted to apologize to Nolan.
Then I thought of Ryan punching Andrew. I thought of Nolan kicking Pig Boy.
, I thought.
Biking, I felt like shit. Nolan and leftover alcohol, I guess.
When I got home, I buried myself in blankets and shivered and felt the bubbles of poison in my legs and arms. I sort of cried. Around 2 a.m., I woke up because my phone buzzed. I was in the middle of a horror dream about my dad kicking at me while he hung. He was trying to kick my face. Andrew had sent several texts.
You won't call me?
Please call. Aleah's worried too. She called me.
I probably would've called him if it weren't for the last text. What right did Aleah have acting like she was part of my family? Why wouldn't Andrew tell her to mind her own business?
Okay. Dudes use any excuse not to deal.