I’ve always been Dane Blaise. Which means I’ve always been looked at with a mix of apprehension and awe by most people.
I was fourteen years old when I first made a mental note of this. And decided to embrace it. Capitalize on it.
Run all the way to hell with it.
“What the hell do you know, kid?” the older boy said.
Or I assumed he was older since he was standing out in front of the high school. I didn’t like him on sight. I’d just mentioned to him that classes were generally held inside the building. I’d been on my way home from a half day in eighth grade. It was another surfing day in Southern California.
I stopped walking. We were about the same height, but he probably had a few pounds on me. I was alone. The brainiac stood with three other boys: one shorter, one scrawnier, and one fat. None of them seemed anxious to improve their minds through a high school education.
The brains of the pack took a drag on his cigarette—another reason I didn’t like him—and after he puffed some smoke in my direction, he spat on the ground between us. About three and a half feet.
I almost wish he spat directly at me. It would have been my excuse to punch him. I stood perfectly still, but I was tense with a strong urge to mess this guy up. I have no idea what got to me or why. Or I had no idea at the time.
The short boy laughed. I kept my eyes on shit-for-brains, but I could see the short kid’s jeering grin in my periphery. The other two boys moved in closer. I didn’t move. Not even a muscle twitch. I concentrated on the hand with the cigarette and the mouth. And the teeth inside the mouth. I wanted to knock them out.
It’s not that I was a violent kid. I wasn’t. It’s not that I looked for trouble or that I didn’t realize they could gang up on me. My mother would have screamed in horror if she’d seen me. I didn’t worry about any of that. All I knew was something about this kid was bothering me—bothering me bad.
“You like getting beat up, kid? Or are you just plain stupid?” the brain said.
I assumed it was a rhetorical question and didn’t answer. Kept my eye on his face and his hand with the cigarette. Kept the others in sight. Kept my tension to myself.
“I don’t know about this kid, Dag. He’s something,” the skinny kid said.
I wanted to smile. But I didn’t. I knew they were up to no good. I didn’t know how I knew, and I didn’t know what they’d done, but I didn’t question my instinct.
The brain snorted. “He’s gonna be something broken in a minute. Soon as I finish this butt.”
The others snickered. I noticed the skinny kid shift back a step. My respect went up a notch. But it was still lower than the curb.
They expected me to run scared. I spread my legs and folded my arms across my chest. The brain laughed and shook his head. Then he threw his butt in the grass. The others tensed. He looked me in the eye.
That’s when I saw it. The hesitation. The flicker of a question in his eyes. That was all I needed. I lashed one hand out to block his fist, then whipped my left leg up and caught him squarely in the face with my foot. The brainiac went down, and his friends jumped back in stupid shock.
If I’d been wearing boots, there would have been teeth raining on the pavement. As it was, there was a lot of blood splattered on my sneakers. I spun to a stop and stood—hands across my chest again—and stared the others down.
I focused on the scrawny kid. He stared back. The other two helped lift their brainy leader to his feet. He was swearing, but he wasn’t coming after me. Probably had a broken nose.
“What the hell are you?” the scrawny kid said. “Some kind of ninja?”
I figured this was another rhetorical question.
The fat kid said, “Let’s get Dag out of here. Shit, he’s bleeding everywhere.”
The scrawny kid stood planted while the other two half-carried Dag to a nearby car illegally parked at the curb.
“Come on. Are you crazy? We can’t let anyone catch us; we need to get out of here.” The fat kid shouted.
That snapped the scrawny kid from his trance. He broke eye contact. As he walked away—in no hurry—he turned and said, “I’m going to find out about you, kid.”
I didn’t move, but I smiled. He stopped. And he smiled back. “I like you,” he said. “You are the spunkiest badass kid I ever met.”
I didn’t credit his observation at the time because who was he? I walked across the street.
“One thing, Ninja Boy.” The scrawny kid stood outside the car’s driver side door. I looked but I didn’t stop. He must have figured I was listening.
“You never saw us.” The car door slammed.
I stopped. I couldn’t help it. A cold chill I can still remember rushed through me. I turned around as they pulled away and zeroed in on the license plate. I barely caught it. The car didn’t leave rubber, but they didn’t waste time driving off.
A sense of foreboding came over me and never left. I knew they’d done something wrong—and I don’t mean like skipping class. I had to find out what it was, and I had to do something about it. The fact that I was a fourteen-year-old kid never registered as a problem. At least not to me.
I jogged home and made a call.
I reported the whole story.
“Who is this?”
“Dane Blaise,” I said.
“Oh yeah—Derek’s son. Just a minute.”
I wanted to shout at the phone that I didn’t have a minute, but what was I in such a rush for? I felt urgency humming through me like a vibration. But I had no idea where it came from. Some kind of gut feeling I couldn’t get rid of. It seemed like more than a minute before the police chief came on the line. I recognized his voice.
“Hello, Dane. How are you? How’s your mom?” Chief Paulson asked.
“We’re good, but I’m calling to report a problem over at the high school.”
I expected him to ask me to explain, but instead the line went silent for a beat and then another. The vibration escalated to fear and a chill, but I didn’t let on. I waited. It was his turn to talk. I needed to keep my cool—no matter what—even if I felt like puking right then and there. I squeezed the phone in my hand.
“What did you hear?”
“Hear?” Shit. “I’m calling to report some kids I ran into out front of the high school. Threatened to rough me up—”
“How many were there?”
The police chief’s voice was all business, deeper and darker. I took a breath, struggling with the nausea in my gut, and deepened my voice.
“Dane, I’m sending a car over there to bring you into the station.”
“I didn’t do anything—” I blurted, and then shut my eyes, swearing in my head for losing my cool.
“No, don’t worry. We want to talk to you. Have you look at some photos and identify the boys you saw. Did you get any names?”
“Dag. The leader’s name was Dag—that’s what the others called him.”
“The car is on the way. Don’t talk to anyone else about this.”
“What about my mother?” I didn’t care how lame I sounded; she’d be worried. She worried all the time. When she wasn’t sad, she was worried about me.
“I’ll call your mother.”
The call ended, but I felt edgy and paced around. I couldn’t stand still. Forget about sitting. Something bad was going on. I felt it inside. I felt tight, like I was being squeezed, and I needed to do something about it.
I couldn’t stand looking at the walls of our kitchen. Couldn’t stand listening to the clock tick, waiting. I stomped down the hallway to my parent’s—my mom’s room.
I had to look at him. I needed to see my dad’s picture, see his things where he left them. Mom hadn’t touched them: his shoes on the floor near the bed, his aftershave on the dresser, his baseball cap. I turned to his guitar on the stand in the corner. I stood in the middle of the room and closed my eyes until I swear I could feel him, and I breathed easier.
“I’m doing good, Dad. Just like you told me.” I said the words. I wanted to hear myself say them out loud. I wanted him to hear me.
The doorbell rang. I opened my eyes and took off for the front door.
At the station, two uniforms walked me to the chief’s office. He’d been a friend of my dad. I guess a good friend, but I didn’t know him much. They left me at the open door, and I stood there. Chief Paulson stood behind his desk and looked me over. I let him. I didn’t blink.
I don’t know what he was looking for, but I wasn’t going to give him anything—nothing from inside, nothing that counted. Dad said I should keep it that way—not let people see inside. Except Mom. And someday if I met someone for myself like Mom. But that was bullshit. Never gonna happen.
“Come in; sit down. Sorry I’m staring, but you’re the spitting image—”
“Don’t say it.”
I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stand it when people compared me to my dad. I was nothing compared to him. He was everything. He was a war hero. He was my dad. I felt the sting and my chest tightened, but this time it wasn’t about the trouble. Shit. What the hell was wrong with me? What the hell was wrong with the chief? I glared at him.
He sat down. He took that sad look off his face and looked professional and waved me forward. I didn’t like this office. I didn’t like him. I couldn’t say why.
I’d called the police, hadn’t I? Now I wished I hadn’t; I wished I’d done something about those boys myself. What the hell was I going to do? I didn’t know—but something.
I stood in front of the desk and stared him down. He sighed.
“Do you want to help us, Dane, or did you change your mind?”
I thought about it. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do.
“Show me your pictures.”
I don’t know why I felt angry. Chief Paulson didn’t seem like a bad guy—not really. He had no business talking to me about my dad, comparing me to him. But so what? I needed to be cool. I had to box up all the emotion and put it away. That’s what my dad used to say—what he used to do. He had a lot to put away from Vietnam, he used to say.
“We’re bringing the photos in now. Have a seat.”
I breathed in and out. I was fine. I was under control. I sat in the chair. I concentrated on every movement I made, on every breath I took, on everything I saw and heard.
“What’s this all about?” I sounded like I was asking about the weather. Chief Paulson smiled.
“You tell me. What happened?”
I told him. I didn’t bother leaving anything out. He could arrest me for kicking the kid if he wanted. I knew I was right.
“When the kid said I never saw them—like they didn’t want any witnesses—I knew they were up to no good.”
“You got the license plate?”
I nodded and gave him the plate number. I’d already given it to the officer on the phone when I called. But I knew they were testing me. I wasn’t worried about passing their damn test for reliability. I knew all about paying attention and being reliable. My dad taught me. Nothing he ever said. Just by being my dad.
“Impressive. How old are you?”
My mom always says I have an old soul, but I didn’t tell him that. No need for him to know what my mom thinks. He can think for himself.
He nodded, and a man came in with a folder, handed it to the chief, and left. Neither of us said anything until after the man closed the door. Chief Paulson sat, not saying anything and looking at me like he was thinking a whole lot of things. I let him think all he wanted. I wasn’t gonna give him anything. Then he sighed.
“Okay, here they are.”
He opened the folder and slid some photos across his desk for me to look at.
“A girl was beaten and raped behind the school. She was found by the gym teacher. They locked down the school immediately, and these boys were missing.”
Halfway through the chief’s statement, I stopped breathing. Right after the word raped. By the time he said she was found—as if she were unconscious or . . . dead—I started seeing red dots at the edges of my eyes and things were fuzzy. I couldn’t breath and I wanted to. I wanted to get up and run out that door and find those boys and pummel them and see their blood spatter. I wanted to smash their heads against a brick wall until they stopped breathing.
My chest hurt. My hands hurt, and I looked down at them. They were in fists, white and tightly balled. I forced a breath.
“I’m fine.” I was fine.
I wanted to hurt those boys. Bad. But I was fine. I took more breaths. I vowed I’d find them. I forced myself to calm down on the inside. I tried like hell to show nothing on the outside, but I knew he saw. Chief Paulson looked concerned. He had that same expression my mother usually had when she watched me.
He nodded. “With the plate number, if you tell me these are the boys you saw, we’ll pick them up.”
“Yes. It’s them.”
“What time was it?”
I told him.
“I was on my way home from school.”
I tried not to blow my cool again, but I wanted to leave. I needed to get outside. I needed to find those boys. I had no idea where to look, but I wanted to find a way.
“She’ll recover, I’m told.”
He didn’t sound convincing. A flash of heat so powerful went through me, I thought I’d been struck by lightening or something. My heart beat really fast—too fast. I fought the urge to stand up and run for the door.
“Who is she?” I wanted to know. I knew he wouldn’t tell me.
“We’re keeping her identity quiet for now. But we’ll let her and her family know that you helped.”
I didn’t mean to shout. I had to calm down again. It was hard not to express my inner emotions. I don’t know how Dad did it all those years, all those feelings.
“All right—we won’t mention you. It’s okay, son.”
“Can I go now?”
“Your mother said she’d stop by and pick you up. She should be here in a few minutes. You can wait in the lobby if you want.”
Shit. I didn’t want my mom to see me all agitated. I needed to calm down. I needed to make a plan to find those boys. It would have to be later at night, without my mother knowing about it.
I only knew two boys in high school enough to ask them about Dag and his gang. Tom Daniels lived a few doors down, but he played football, took honors Algebra, and probably sang for the church choir. I doubted he knew anything about Dag. The other boy was a surfer, and I knew him from the beach. He was the kind of kid who might know all about Dag.
The only problem would be getting him to talk. Not that he was suspicious of me—but I’d bet my left nut that he wouldn’t be too keen on giving away information about the likes of Dag if he thought it would get him in trouble. Unless I was cool about it.
After dark, I made my move. It was only 10 p.m. Mom was still up watching TV, so I climbed out my window. No big feat in a California ranch. I’d done it a million times. I think she knew. But as long as I was there in the morning, she didn’t say anything.
Surfer Boy would still be at the beach. I eyed the garage. My bike was in there, but I couldn’t get to it without risking noise. I could get to the beach in ten minutes if I ran, so I did. I circled around south of where the kids hung out and slowed down to a walk along the water until I reached them.
Surfer Boy saw me and called out, “That you, Blaise?”
I was wearing a white button-down shirt like I always did—no one else did. I knew he’d recognize me. I strolled up to join them. I knew them all. There were three guys and two girls, and they were mostly losers—or lost like my mom would say. The stench of pot was heavy in the air. One of the girls eyed me and smiled. “Hey Dane.”
I nodded. I didn’t have time to waste. I turned to Surfer Boy “I need to talk to you.”
“Me? What about? You need surfing lessons?”
“Sure—you know anyone who knows how to surf?”
They all laughed. I clapped my hand on his back and led him away from the group.
“On the QT?”
“Can I trust you?”
I knew I couldn’t trust him, but I needed him to get serious. I didn’t care who he told as long as he gave me what I needed.
“Sure. I’m cool.”
“You know a guy named Dag?”
“Dagmar Hunt? Everyone knows who he is. Mean-ass trouble. I don’t bother with him. No more than a nod here and there.”
“Where’s here and there? I need to know where to find him.”
I nodded. He laughed. I held my patience, but it was hard.
“You crazy? You’re just a kid. What business you got with Dag?”
“Never mind. Tell me where I can find him.”
He squinted at me and thought for a second. “Sounds serious, man. You in trouble? You need help?”
I started to tell him no, but I wasn’t a fool. Not a total fool anyway.
“I’m not in trouble, but Dag is going to be.”
“You’re handing him this trouble?”
I nodded. “You’re welcome to back me up.”
He put his hands up and said, “I’m not crazy; I didn’t think you were crazy. What’s this all about?”
I stared back at him.
“Let me guess—the rape?”
“How did you know about that?”
“There’s rumors. I pick things up. I wasn’t sure who—”
“Tell me where Dag is.”
I stared him down and he stared back, calculating how crazy I was and what he could get from me if he told me or if he helped me. I didn’t care. It was something I had to do. No matter what.
“I’ll show you where he is. Not far from here.”
“What about the others?” I nodded to his friends. They were mostly wasted.
He shrugged. “What about them? They’re hanging out. They’ll still be here when I get back. We’ll take my car.”
I know my surprise showed because he laughed. “Don’t worry—it’s not stolen or anything. It’s my old man’s car. He’s out of town. What he don’t know won’t hurt him.”
Surfer Boy wasn’t old enough to drive, and I hoped to hell he knew how, but I followed him back to the street and we took off. I didn’t bother asking where we were going. He didn’t bother asking me any questions—like what the hell was I doing?
Maybe I was asking myself that, but I pushed the question aside when I pictured the girl—when I pictured Dag smoking a butt with a smug look, and his friend telling me I didn’t see anything.
I didn’t see anything, but I knew wrong when I felt it. And I had a burning need to right it. To punish Dag for raping that girl.
I wasn’t surprised when Surfer Boy pulled into an alley next to Joe’s Pool & Pizza. I’d never been inside, but I’d been by it. I’d heard some kids hung out there. No one I knew. We pulled around back, and I saw Dag’s car. I knew the plates.
“He’s usually here—”
“He’s here. Thanks for the ride. You can go.”
“You think I’m gonna drive off and leave you here? And miss all the action?”
I looked at him. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to see the action or if maybe he wanted to help, to back me up. I nodded, and we got out of the car.
That’s when I started knotting up. My muscles, my stomach, my chest tightened—but especially my shoulders and back—right through the middle. My muscles were strung as tight as they could go like someone tightening the tuner knobs on a guitar too far. Maybe I should be worried I’d snap something if I threw a punch. I slammed the car door and walked toward the back of the building.
“Where we going?”
“The back way. We can check out the crowd.”
I rolled my shoulders as I walked and un-fisted my hands. I felt better. Had to. This was go-time.
I opened the back door and stepped inside like I was stepping onto a stage. I felt jittery; I felt anger. I let it take hold. It was backed up by a sense of right, of justice. I forced myself to remember the girl.
But there was too much anger about my father mixed in. I pushed it aside. I walked down the short hall, not worried about noise—the place was noisy enough. Bar noises. Not that I’d ever been inside a bar before. I felt Surfer Boy behind me.
“What are you gonna do, man?”
He sounded scared now. I didn’t answer him. I was gonna kick butt and he knew it.
Or I was going to try.
I reached the end of the hall and looked at the room full of patrons. Dag was surrounded by his gang. It was obvious he had a busted nose, but he looked okay. The three boys I’d seen earlier in the day were there and a few others. There were plenty of older guys around, but they weren’t necessarily paying any attention to Dag.
He was bragging. The dirtbag was talking about the girl. I didn’t want to hear it. I felt rage well up, and I knew that was a bad thing. I needed to keep cool. Like my father said, I needed to keep my head; never stop acting like a man with a brain, with a thinking mind.
But then I heard Dag say, “She sobbed, the bitch, but I could see she was excited when I took it out of my pants—” I saw red. Literally. I felt the heat of enraged bloodlust rise up and fill me until the room looked like it was on fire.
I lunged forward, shoved two guys aside and grabbed Dag by the shirt so fast, no one stopped me. I had him before anyone knew I was in the room.
“What the hell—” Dag looked at me as his entourage stumbled back, giving me some space. The place went quiet, and I noticed in my periphery that some of the older guys stopped playing pool and looked my way. I kept everything in my sight. I was outnumbered, and I’d need to be smart. I felt the pulsing of energy pressing me on and my mind revving and keeping me in place.
Dag growled the words once he recognized me, pushing me away. I let go and backed off a couple of steps. His boys regrouped around him. Surfer Boy was back in the hall, watching from a distance. I knew this without looking.
It was time to talk. And plan. I was going to take a beating, but I was going to make damn sure Dag took one at least as bad. I needed to plan how to get in as much damage as I could before they ganged up on me.
“If it isn’t Ninja Boy, Dag. Back for a rematch.”
The scrawny kid winked at me. Then he turned to his friend and said, “I bet you can take him this time—teach him a lesson.”
The others all thought that was a grand idea. Dag didn’t look away from me. He put on a good show for the others, nodding and laughing, but I could see in his eyes the last thing he wanted was a fair fight between us. I wouldn’t have if I were him.
I held steady, tense but poised to jump if I needed to.
I said, “I’ll take a rematch. At least it’ll be a fair fight. I’m not a helpless girl.”
The scrawny kid laughed. The others moved restlessly, uncertain.
Dag said, “What’s that supposed to mean, huh, kid? You got something to say?” He took a step toward me. I stayed where I was.
“I think I’m being pretty plain, but I’ll put it to you bluntly. I think you’re a sniveling coward who has to pick on helpless girls, and I want to beat your brains out.”
Dag pulled back and swung his fist—going for a left hook to my face—but I saw it coming. I’d have to be blind not to see it. I ducked sideways and jabbed him in the jaw with my left, knocking him back. I had to watch the others. I knew, at some point, they’d jump in. I kept my back to the exit. I needed to be able to escape in a hurry—if I could still walk when it was all over.
“Whoa there, big man. You got balls, don’t ya?”
Scrawny kid was turning out to be the mouthpiece of the group. He held onto Dag after Dag stumbled into him, rubbing his chin.
“You think you want to beat me up? For what? What’s up your ass?” Dag sounded like he really wanted to know, so I repeated myself.
“I don’t like rapists.”
The dark-sounding oohs and aahs filled the room, and Dag smiled at me.
“Who the hell are you? The white knight? She your girl?”
I said nothing. I was done talking. I could see he was done talking, too. He moved closer, not a step, but a leaning forward. Enough to give him away. So I was ready when he came up with an undercut from the left.
He was fast, but I blocked most of the punch as it glanced off my jaw and I countered. But I didn’t land this time; he’d spun away. I followed with a kick and caught him in the gut. He grabbed at my leg, but I pulled it away.
We were in a full-fledged fight now, and the crowd backed away and gave us some space. The room got loud again with jeering and hollering and whooping. He ran at me, but I couldn’t move aside fast enough. He caught me, and we crashed to the floor. Things happened quickly, in a blur. We both landed punches and rolled around.
I scrambled back to my feet as fast as I could, but he was fast, too. He had a bloody lip to go with his broken nose now and we squared off again, but I saw his move. This time, he wasn’t taking chances. He motioned, very subtly with one hand, for his boys. Three of them came at me—not the scrawny kid. I got in a punch and a kick before they had me. They didn’t bother punching: they held my arms, yanked them tight behind my back, and then shoved me forward to play punching bag for Dag.
I was breathing heavy. My heart hammered, and I felt the sweat trailing down my temples. I didn’t say a word. This is what I knew would happen, wasn’t it? I asked for it. I knew what I was walking into. Now I had to take it like a man. The crowd closed in and got quiet again. Uneasy. I saw Dag make his move.
I tried twisting away, but the two guys had a tight hold and Dag came at me. I clenched my gut, even though he’d be crazy to hit me anywhere but in the face. It looked like that’s what he planned to do, and I kept my eyes on his. Gave him a stare like I didn’t care; like I was made of rock.
I relaxed in the hold of the guys, thinking they’d relax their hold, too—and they did. I figured I’d move at the last split-second to avoid a knockout, but then I heard it. Dag hesitated with his left arm raised and his fist poised. He’d heard it, too.
The sound of police sirens. Getting louder.
It made sense. If I could find Dag, so could they.
That was my cue, and I wasted no time yanking my arms free while I stomped on someone’s foot in time to avoid Dag’s fist. I headed in the direction of the back door where Surfer Boy stood.
I didn’t see the next move coming.
Dag had a knife. He lunged after me. I barely got my arm up in time to protect my face. Or maybe he was going for my throat. Either way, I took a good slice in the meat of my forearm.
Damn. It felt like a burn, but I had no time to dwell as I spun around. A couple of the older men intervened then, pulling Dag back.
Everyone shouted some variation of “Let’s get out of here.”
Surfer Boy grabbed me as I felt myself going down. One of the local men got hold of me, too. He had gray hair. The bartender tossed him a wet towel, and they wrapped my arm as they dragged me to the back door. He tied it tight, and I bit my lip when I felt myself ready to cry out. I felt sweat popping out on my forehead and my stomach convulsing with nausea. I’d lost some blood, but not too much. I’d hold out.
My right eye was swelling almost shut, and by the time we got to the car, I could barely see out of it. Surfer Boy opened my door and shoved me inside. Then he jumped over the hood and got into the driver’s side and started it up.
“You are so lucky man. You have no idea. I thought you were a damn goner when Dag took out that knife.”
He looked at me, but he didn’t look scared. He looked excited and awed.
“Thanks, man, for getting me out of there.” I knew I owed him.
I felt drained. My face ached and my arm hurt like a bitch, throbbing and stinging, but I noticed he took a right when he should have taken a left.
“Where are you going?”
“The hospital. You need—”
“Hell no—no way. Take me home. I’ll be fine.”
He looked at me like the punch in my eye knocked my brains loose. Probably had. But that wasn’t it.
“What about your arm—you need stitches.”
“My mother is a nurse,” I told him. It was true.
But no way was I going to let her see that knife wound. Ever. I’d figure something out. Hell, I could stitch my own arm if I had to. There were books in the house on that crap. We had all kinds of books about all kinds of acute care. My mom worked in the emergency room. It paid the best. And she liked it. Because she was an adrenaline junkie.
Surfer Boy nodded his head and made a U-turn and sped up. He did a monologue on the way home, giving me the blow-by-blow, literally, of the fight—as if I hadn’t been there—as if I hadn’t been the one on the giving and receiving end of every damn punch and kick.
I’d figured out for myself that my mom liked the action, the life and death stakes, but she admitted it. Same as my dad.
Same as me. Something I needed to control. Something they’d both figured out how to control. It had worked. Until my father left and never came back. He didn’t have to go that last time. He’d wanted to go. He’d volunteered. I turned my head to the window and turned myself into a rock. Shut down the emotions, shut down all the feelings roiling inside and spilling out.
When we got near my neighborhood, I got myself ready for action again.
“We’re a block away—”
“Exactly. Stop.” He did. He looked at me, skeptical.
He knew I wasn’t going to let my mother see that knife wound, let alone treat it.
“Man, you’re in no shape—”
“I’m in fine shape. Don’t give me crap.”
I opened the car door and stepped out to prove my point. It cost me, but I didn’t let on. It would be a bitch walking home. It would be a double bitch trying to stitch my own arm, but I would do it. I had no choice. No way was I letting my mother see me hurt. It would kill her. It would undo the fragile peace she’d come to know since my father. . . .
“Thanks for everything, Surfer Boy. Goes without saying, but I’m saying it—I owe you.”
I looked him in the eye. He looked back serious at first, and then he smiled.
He waved a hand. I slammed the door shut with my boot, and he took off with a screech of tires.
By the time I got to bed, my arm was on fire and throbbed like a kettledrum in a marching band. I’d sewn up the cut with five sloppy stitches using fishing line and a sterile needle, following the instructions in a battered field manual that had been my father’s.
I’d seen the book before, and I decided to keep it in my bed stand drawer from now on. I’d used a lot of rubbing alcohol and bandages and figured I’d have to buy replacements tomorrow so my mom wouldn’t get suspicious.
I lay in bed flat on my back and forced myself to relax. My mind still buzzed. I’d have to tell my mom something in the morning. There was no way to hide the black eye.
I wondered what Dag would tell the police after they got him to the station. I knew they arrested him by now; that those sirens were for him. He was banged up, but he wouldn’t say anything to the police about me. Dag would be spending the first of many nights in jail starting tonight.
I smiled. The right side of my face hurt when I smiled, but the rest of me relaxed.
I knew it wasn’t over between Dag and me. Not by a long shot.