by Rachel Cline (Entering 9th grade Sept. 2009)
Matthew hurled his book bag down on the floor by the front door in rage. He ran his hand through his dark brown hair, as he stood in the front hall of his house, fuming. He was too angry to deal with his mom’s lectures, so he planned to head over to Jacob Zimmerman’s house before she got home.
Matthew had been friends with Jacob since the fourth grade. Jacob strongly believed that video games were the answer to all life’s problems. Matthew didn’t always agree with this philosophy, but today was different. Today he was furious. He wanted to blow off steam by beating virtual characters to a pulp. Then, he was sure he could talk some sense into Mrs. Lesser. After all, he did have Coach Morton on his side, as well as his own father, who would surely see things his way.
Matthew ran up the stairs and down the hallway to his room. He tore the room apart searching for his newest video games, and after finding them under a pile of papers, he ran back down the stairs, games in hand, to the kitchen.
Inside the small, familiar kitchen area, Matthew crossed from the doorway to the pantry in two steps, and retrieved a jumbo bag of chips. He smiled somewhat grimly, still mad about the day, as he thought about Jacob’s addiction to potato chips – an addiction that Jacob could rarely satisfy, due to his parents being health nuts.
As Matthew turned away from the pantry he studied the bag of chips absentmindedly. When he looked up from the bag he found that his mother was standing in the opened doorway that lead into the front hall. Her arms were crossed and she was glaring up at him. Mrs. Crow was a little more than half a foot shorter than Matthew, although this wasn’t abnormal, as he was about six feet and two inches tall.
Matthew rolled his grass green eyes, crossed his arms, and leaned against the closed pantry door, awaiting the lecture he knew was coming.
“The principal called,” Mrs. Crow said simply, sighing as she walked a few steps closer to him. Matthew sighed too, and rolled his eyes again.
Of course Mrs. Lesser had called. That woman had nothing better to do with her time but snitch on Mathew.
Matthew’s mother just stood in front of him, silent. Here it comes, he thought. He had been hoping to get to Jakes house one last time before he was grounded, So much for that idea. He stood, waiting for his sentence; as if I haven’t gotten enough grief from Lesser.
“I’m not going to ground you. In fact, I’m not going to punish you at all.” Alright! Matthew thought, Getting off easy! He refrained from grinning though, afraid that it might set Mrs. Crow off, which might land him with some kind of punishment.
“The result of that little prank you pulled is enough punishment,” Matthew’s mother went on, “And after all, you’re officially an adult in a few months and it’s time you start making your own decisions, and living with the consequences. That means I won’t help you escape the punishment Mrs. Lesser has dealt out to you, and neither will your father. I think losing football is a fine punishment, considering all that’s happened.” Matthew’s virtual grin faded.
Considering what exactly, Matthew thought. I didn’t do anything to deserve loosing football. Matthew grimaced; he had been counting on his dad to help get Mrs. Lesser to see reason.
His mother continued, although Matthew was barely listening now, “If you really think running off to play video games with Jacob will fix things, then fine, go ahead.”
“Fine,” Matthew said icily. “I’ll be at Jake’s.” He maneuvered skillfully around his mom in the small kitchen and walked towards the door. Matthew just couldn’t see what the big deal was. He had pulled a harmless prank, and it had bombed. He had been caught and he agreed maybe he should get a few days detention, but loosing football, just before the big game, that was just unfair treatment. Mrs. Lesser is just bitter… this is her way of getting back at me. Matthew thought, resentfully.
“Just one question Matt.” Matthew turned slowly, to glare at his mother again.
“What?” he said curtly.
“Where on earth did you get those pigs?”
“Zach’s Granddad owns a farm. It was a piece of cake.” Matthew answered. Even through his anger, he was proud of his idea. Mrs. Crow shook her head.
“And who came up with this scheme?”
“Well that was me obviously. That’s why none of the other guys got it as bad as me. That idiot, Carter, let it slip that I was the brain behind it all.” Matthew rolled his eyes, and shook his head at the thought of that snitch, a junior looking to get in with big guys. Carter had released the pigs and was caught red handed. Then he went and squealed on everyone who had been a part of the prank.
“I don’t know what to say Matt, but this one’s on your head, don’t go blaming anyone else for what happened,”
“Yeah, whatever. I’m leaving now.”
Matthew turned around and headed for the front door, not bothering to look at his mom’s expression, which was not one of anger at his insolence, but one of sorrow and disappointment.
Swearing under his breath, Matthew climbed into his car and pulled out of the driveway. On the short drive to Jacob’s house, he thought about the day, and began cursing again. He was trying to understand why he had been punished the way he had. It was senior year; everyone he knew was pulling pranks, making marks on the school and on the minds of fellow classmates so as to not be forgotten. Matthew’s prank could have been one of the best. As it was, it had been hilarious! Watching a pig chase Principal Lesser was something no one could forget. But it would have been much sweeter to see all the chaos if he hadn’t gotten caught, and punished the way he had been.
Matthew pulled into the Zimmerman’s’ driveway. He got out of his car, slammed the door and entered the Zimmerman household, without knocking, slamming the door behind him.
Jacob got home two hours before the rest of his family on school days. He spent this time avoiding homework and playing video games. It wasn’t that Jacob was a slacker; it was just that his parents were so strict with him that he grabbed any chance to enjoy his free time doing the pointless, mind-numbing things his parents hated, such as playing video games and eating junk food.
Matthew made his way down to the den, which was located in the Zimmerman’s half finished basement. He walked through the finished area, which was used by Jacob’s ten-year-old sister as a playroom. This part of the basement was blindingly pink, the floor strewn with Barbie dolls and ponies; Mrs. Zimmerman’s doing. The woman adored and spoiled her only daughter. Matthew kept walking through the pink nightmare, kicking aside stray toys, until he got to a door on the right, at the end of the long rectangular room. He opened the door, and walked through, going from pink fuzzy carpeting, to smooth nondescript concrete flooring.
This room was the complete opposite of the one Matthew had just been in. It was a small, dark, square room. The splintering wooden support beams creaked above Matthew’s head, as he observed the familiar movie posters that plastered every inch of the brick walls. The lighting was dim, as the only light sources were coming from a lamp in one corner, and a TV screen in another. The room smelled faintly of mildew and Jacob’s favorite cheesy potato chips Jacob was sitting on an old couch, which was situated in the left hand corner of the small room, in front of the large TV. Although the couch had originally been an olive green with a floral pattern, after spending many years in the den, it was now closer to puce than any other color. To the left of the two-person couch there was a small, beat up, wooden table, piled high with empty potato chip bags, and soda cans. On the other side, there was a very large blue beanbag, given to Jacob by his younger sister, when she had decided she’d rather have a pink beanbag. Directly in front of the couch, placed against the wall, and on top of an old, two shelved bookshelf, was Jacob’s pride a glory. It was a very high tech 48” flat screen TV given to Jacob two years ago by his father. Jacob’s dad had bought it to replace an older TV, but just over a year after Mr. Zimmerman had purchased this masterpiece, a newer more improved model came out and he decided to discard this “outdated” machine, in favor of the newest version. When Matthew had told his parent’s of Jacob’s good luck they had just shook their heads in disbelief, not even being able to fathom such waste.
Matthew made his way to the messy corner in a few strides. Jacob was sitting on the very edge of the small couch, leaning so close to the TV that Matthew couldn’t understand how the pictures on the screen could look like anything more than blurs to Jacob. Matthew kicked a few stray video game cases out of the way, and flopped down on the beanbag.
“Yo.” Jacob said, too enthralled in his game to acknowledge Matthew any further.
“Hey Jake,” Matthew said, gruffly, still upset about the day. “I brought chips.” At that Jacob paused his game, giving Matthew his full attention.
“What kind?” Jacob asked. As if he really cares, Matthew thought riley, he’ll take anything he can get.
“Your favorite,” Matthew answered simply.
“Yes,” Jacob said reverently. “Hand over the cheesy goodness.” Matthew tossed the bag to Jacob. He snatched the bag out of the air, ripped it open, and began munching.
“So I heard all about what happened today,” Jacob stated in between the hand full of chips he was shoving into his mouth.
“Of course you did,” Matthew sighed. Even though Jacob went to the more expensive high school in the town this year, he still had many friends, and informants, in his old high school who kept him in the know.
“Well, I didn’t hear everything,” Jacob corrected. “I just heard you pulled a prank, and it didn’t go so well.”
“That’s the biggest understatement of the year,” Matthew said harshly. Jacob stopped shoveling chips into his mouth, and settled into the couch again. He knew when one of Matthew’s rants was coming. He un-paused his game, and began playing, with every intention of blocking Matthew out while he blew off some steam.
“So I came up with this awesome idea for a prank, right?” Matthew started. “I made it up, I figured out how to make it work. Zach Anderson and his cousin would pick three pigs up from Zach’s Granddad’s farm, we would cover them in mud, and label them ‘pig 1’ ‘pig 2’ and ‘pig 4’. Carter would let ‘em loose, they would make a mess in the school. They would cause complete chaos, and no one would be able to find ‘pig 3’. We might have even gotten time off while they searched. And nobody would ever have suspected me as the mastermind behind it all…”
Matthew trailed off, dreaming of the glory he had been so close to. Then he snapped out of his reverie, and went on with his story, “But no, that moron Allen Carter had to get caught. That wouldn’t have been so bad, him getting caught, if he had kept his mouth shut. But he had to go and squeal. He spills the entire plan, and that I’m behind it all. So I get the blame. I have to clean up the mess the pigs left behind. I get three weeks of detention. That’s not even so bad though, the other guys that were part of the prank got all that too, but I’m the only one who gets sports revoked until the end of the year. Just because I was the one who thought the thing up! I mean, sure the pigs made a mess, and Lesser got humiliated but –”
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Jacob interrupted. “Did she really get chased around the whole school by all three of the pigs?”
“Yeah man,” Matthew answered, obviously proud. Jacob whistled.
“Dude, I wish I coulda’ seen that.”
“Man, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. She must have slipped, like, twelve times in all the mud.” Matthew beamed for a minute, but then his grin faded as he remembered his punishment once again. “But see Jake? That’s exactly my point, it was hilarious, but, Lesser was humiliated. Which is why that has to be the only reason I’m getting a bigger punishment than any of the other guys, there’s no other explanation.”
“What do you mean ‘there’s no other explanation’?” Jacob asked, obviously confused.
“I mean, the only reason I’m getting all this crap, is because it was my joke, and Lesser was personally offended by it.”
“Wait, so you don’t know about Alec?” Jacob asked.
“Alec?” Matthew asked, surprised to here that name brought into the conversation. “What does Alec have to do with any of this?”
“He’s in the hospital man, ‘causa your joke.”
“What are you talking about?” Matthew said his voice rising slightly. “What happened? What’s wrong with him?”
“Chill Matt, he’s not dead or anything.”
“Chill yourself Jake,” Matthew said acerbically, too upset now to bother about not offending Jacob. “Tell me what happened right now.”
“Well don’t blame me if what I heard isn’t right, this is second hand information I’m giving you here.”
Matthew shot up, off the beanbag chair and practically screamed, “Just tell me what happened Jacob.”
Now Jacob realized how serious this was: Matthew never called Jacob “Jacob” it was always “Jake”.
“Alright, alright. Sit down Matt.” Matthew sat back down on the beanbag, but he was too worked up now to relax, so he stood back up again, and started pacing.
“Ok,” Jacob began, “So, from what I hear, Alec was one of the people helping to capture the pigs. My informants tell me, that he had chased one down to that one hallway on the first floor, you know, the one that has the huge staircase that leads to the basement? Well, Alec chased this pig, I think it was number four… anyways, he chased it to the top of the stair case, and well…”
Jacob trailed off, unwilling to anger Matthew further.
“Well Jake? What happened?” Matthew asked impatient.
“No one’s really sure what happened, since no one was around when he actually fell – except the pig, and he ain’t talkin’” Jacob smirked at his joke, then looked at Matthew’s face and realized that this wasn’t the time.
Anyways, somehow Alec tripped or something, ‘cause someone found him in the basement, at the bottom of the stairs. From what I hear, it seems like it happened about the time you got called into the principle’s office with all the other guys, so that’s probably why Mrs. Lesser took away sports for you. See, Alec broke a leg, and an arm, fractured and sprained, like, every other bone in his body, and he cut himself up pretty bad. I hear he’s all black and blue, and there was a bunch of blood when they found him. But the doctors say he was lucky; because he didn’t snap his neck, or land on something really sharp at the end of the stairs and impale himself or something. Plus, someone found him real quick after he fell, so he didn’t loose as much blood as he could have. So from what I hear, he’s not in danger of dying or anything. But the last person I talked to said, that the doctors are thinking that he might never be able to play soccer again, because of something he did to his legs. Even if he does recover, he’s definitely going to miss the tournament this weekend. I guess that’s why you lost football. Mrs. Lesser thought it’d be fair, since Alec might loose soccer forever. Of course, I heard that Lesser was ready to just kick you out of school, but I guess somehow you got out of that.”
“Alec…” Matthew said in a strangled tone. He fell into the beanbag chair and sat there for what seemed like forever, in a shocked stupor.
“It’s OK, Matt. He’s probably not gonna die or anything,” Jacob said, trying to reassure Matthew. He was worried at the color Matthew’s face was turning, a sort of purplish-green.
Matthew finally regained consciousness a minute later. He shot up off of the beanbag chair, and bolted for the door, shouting over his shoulder, “I have to go.”
Matthew sped through the house, nearly knocking over several of Mrs. Zimmerman’s expensive vases.
“Alec,” Matthew said again as he scrambled to get into his car, and sped down the neighborhood road. Matthew wondered why couldn’t Alec have just, not helped for once in his life? Because he’s just not that kind of person, he thought, answering his own question. Alec was always helping. Many kids in the school called him a teacher’s pet, saying that he only helped around the school to get on Mrs. Lesser’s good side. The truth was, that Alec was genuinely just a nice kid, who liked to help people however he could. But why couldn’t he have just walked away this one time?
Matthew's heart was pounding. He knew that Jacob had said Alec was not in danger of death, but who knew with second hand information. Alec could be much worse, or much better than Jacob had described. The only way to find out was to get to local hospital as soon as Matthew’s old hand-me-down car would allow.
The thought of Alec’s small body covered in blood, as Jacob had described it, made Matthew sick. But the thought of Alec dead – kind hearted, happy-go-lucky Alec – was just unfathomable. And the idea of Alec not being able to play soccer, the thing he loved the most in the world, was just cruel.
Matthew’s foot pressed on the gas peddle harder. Kat’s gonna be so mad at me, he thought as he sped down the road that lead to the small hospital. Katherine Summers, Matthew’s steady girlfriend for the past three years, and Alec’s older sister, had temper as fiery as the red hair on her head. Matthew was of the opinion that she was the most overprotective older sister in the world and, whether Alec was dead or in perfect health after his accident, the fact that it had been Matthew’s prank that had caused the whole ordeal would mean trouble for him.
Matthew pulled into the hospital parking lot, and parked in the closest spot he could find. He nearly fell out of the car in his haste, and ran into the three-story hospital. This particular hospital was as familiar to Matthew as his own home. It was quite possible that he had spent more time in this hospital than anywhere else in the small town. He had been in every examination room, for various ailments and injuries over the course of his life, and spent at least on night in each and every bed in the entire hospital. Matthew’s frantic sprint ended as he nearly crashed into the front desk on the first floor of the hospital. As he came to a stop, he nearly screamed, “Bridget!”
“Keep your voice down boy,” Bridget’s harsh voice answered, as she walked out of a small room behind the desk, carrying a piece of paper.
“Bridget I –”
“Keep quiet for minute,” the portly, African American woman said to Matthew. She was garbed in nurse’s scrubs. Her shoulder length, thick brown hair was braided, and her hazel eyes glared at Matthew before she turned her back to him to face a woman carrying a small child. She spoke to the woman for what seemed like a decade to Matthew. Finally, Bridget handed the woman the piece of paper. Then, she wheeled around to face Matthew; slapping the hand he had been tapping the counter with.
“It’s about time you showed up,” Bridget scolded.
“I had no idea, Bridget, honestly. I just found out about ten minutes ago from Jake.”
Bridget, still glaring at Matthew, looked for deceit in his eyes. When she found none, she sighed.
“Well, I better warn you. Katherine’s in there, she has been since Alec got here. He looked terrible when got here, but it turned out he wasn’t hurt as bad as we thought he might have been. Still, you know Katherine. Alec came-to a while back, when your principal came by to check on him, but then he conked out again. As far as I know, he’s still out cold, so she’s had plenty of time to stew. I’d get up there quick, before she gets anymore time to plot her revenge.”
Matthew nearly smiled, despite himself.
“Which room is he in?”
“Summer of 04,” Bridget said simply. Matthew was already moving as the words left her mouth, flying down the halls to the stairs, shouting his thanks over his shoulder as he went. ‘Summer of 04’ was referring to the room Matthew stayed in after he had been in a boating accident in the Summer of 2004.
Matthew sped by the elevators, which were much to slow for his liking, straight to the staircase. He reached the second floor in record time, and made his way through the halls, avoiding patients, nurses, and doctors, until he reached the room Alec was staying in. He stopped abruptly in the doorway, when he saw Katherine sitting in a chair that she had pulled up beside Alec’s bed. Her back was turned to him, her long, flaming red hair was braided, and hung over the back of the chair she was resting in. She was obviously asleep, but Matthew could picture the glare she would give him when she woke up. The color of her eyes changed, depending on what she was wearing but, as Matthew walked slowly and quietly into the room, and saw that she was wearing, a plain fitted light blue t-shirt, he knew that her eyes would be a piercing blue grey today. Matthew decided to let her sleep, and turned his attention to Alec.
The hospital blanket covered him up to his chest, but his left leg, wrapped in a cast, was protruding, as it was elevated on a sling handing from the ceiling. His right upper arm was bandaged. His right wrist, which was wrapped in a brace, lay on his stomach. His left arm was in a huge cast, and rested at his side. His head was wrapped in bandages, and he had a neck brace on. There were various bandages of all sizes on the rest of Alec’s body, and every inch of skin that was still visible was bruised. Matthew walked around the hospital bed as he surveyed the damage he had unintentionally done to a boy who was like a brother to him. As he came to the side of the bed opposite to Katherine, he shot a glance in her direction.
“Crap,” he muttered. She was awake, still sitting in the chair, arms cross. She was glowering at him.
“I can’t believe you Matthew Crow,” Katherine said, murder in her eyes.
“Kat, I’m so sorry, you have no idea.”
“You better be sorry. Look at my baby brother.”
“Kat, he’s not a baby anymore…” Matthew trailed off, realizing that he wasn’t helping his case. “Anyways, it wasn’t my fault that he was the one who fell down the stairs,” he said, now defensive. “It could have been anyone.”
“You’re right, it could have been anyone, but it wasn’t. And as much as I hate to say it, you’re lucky it was Alec who fell down those stairs Matthew, you really are,” Katherine said, grudgingly, still angry.
“W-what?” Matthew stuttered. He had been expected Katherine to be beyond furious. It had even crossed his mind that she might actually break up with him for this. So what did she mean now? How could her baby brother falling down two flights of stairs be a good thing?
“Honestly, Matthew, what were you thinking? With a month to go until graduation? You could have gotten yourself expelled. And then where would you be? Gosh, you should have seen what Mrs. Lesser looked like when she came to check on Alec. She just kept going on and on about how you would never get your high school diploma if she had anything to do with it. If Alec hadn’t convinced her to let you off easy, your future would be so messed up right now. That’s why, as completely ticked as I am, I’m almost glad it was Alec who fell – Almost.”
Matthew sank into a chair next to Alec’s bed and put his head in his hands. It was all sinking in now. He had acted like a jerk to his friends, and his mom, and he had badmouthed more people than he could count. He had jeopardized his entire future, his chances of becoming a doctor, his relationship with the girl of his dreams, and the life of a boy who was more like his little brother than his actual brother. With one prank, that he had been so proud of just that morning, he had caused more damage than he ever could have imagined.
“Jake told me that Alec won’t be able to play soccer ever again, is that true?” Matthew asked, his head still in his hands.
“No, it’s not. After he heals up, he’ll be able to play again. But he’s going to miss a lot of games, including the biggest one of the Season on Sunday. They have enough players, so they won’t be forced to forfeit, but they’ve still lost their best player.” Matthew knew Katherine wasn’t being bias, Alec was truly a gifted soccer player, and the star on his team. Without Alec, that team’s chances were slim.
“Wow…” Matthew trailed off, realizing everything he had done, and everything he was going to have to do to make up for it.
“Yeah, wow,” Katherine agreed. They sat in silence for a minute, while Katherine let Matthew think. “So what are you gonna do Matt?” Matthew knew what he was going to do. What he had to do. He slowly stood up.
“I have to go,” Matthew said, as he walked to the door. Katherine just followed. He turned to her and they hugged. “I’m so sorry,” Matthew said again.
“I know,” Katherine answered, looking up at him, forgiveness in her eyes. Then she smiled and impish grin and said, “You better dig in Matty, you’ve got a lot of crow to eat.”
Matthew smiled back, glad that she wasn’t so mad that she couldn’t joke. Katherine had informed Matthew early on in their relationship that “To eat crow” basically meant to admit you were wrong. It was Katherine’s own personal “I told you so” specially tailored for Matthew. It sometimes got on Matthew’s nerves, but today he knew she was right, and he didn’t mind. He knew had a lot of wrongs to right.
“Call me the second he opens his eyes.”
“I’ll see you later then,” Matthew said. Katherine kissed him lightly, and then simply said,
Matthew smiled at her, turned, and walked down the hospital hallway. He had a lot to make up for, and he wanted to do it before Alec woke up. First and foremost, he had to talk to his Mom, then Jacob, then Mrs. Lesser, and many others. He had seriously goofed, but he was going to make up for it. As Matthew made his way past the front desk, he passed Bridget.
“And where are you going?” she asked. Matthew kept walking, but turned to face Bridget. As he walked backwards towards the hospital door he smiled and said, “Home. I have a lot of eating to do.”
Writing From Other Cultural Perspectives Encourages Empathy and Understanding - In order to help readers imagine life in a different era or from different cultural perspectives, writers of historical fiction must do in-depth research...