When Lightning Strikes
About the Author
C H A P T E R
They want me to write it down. All of it. They're calling it my statement.
Right. My statement. About how it happened. From the beginning.
On TV, when people have to give a statement, there's usually someone sitting there who writes it down for them while they talk, and then all they have to do is just sign it after it's read back to them. Plus they get coffee and doughnuts and stuff. All I've got is a bunch of paper and this leaky pen. Not even so much as a diet Coke.
This is just further proof that everything you see on TV is a lie.
You want my statement? Okay, here's my statement:
It's all Ruth's fault.
Really. It is. It all started that afternoon in the burger line in the cafeteria, when Jeff Day told Ruth that she was so fat, they were going to have to bury her in a piano case, just like Elvis.
Which is totally stupid, since—to the best of my knowledge—Elvis was not buried in a piano case. I don't care how fat he was when he died. I'm sure Priscilla Presley could have afforded a better casket for the King than a piano case.
And secondly, where does Jeff Day get off, saying this kind of thing to somebody, especially to my best friend?
So I did what any best friend would do under the same circumstances. I hauled off and slugged him.
It isn't like Jeff Day doesn't deserve to get slugged, and on a daily basis. The guy is an asshole.
And it's not even like I really hurt him. Okay, yeah, he staggered back and fell into the condiments. Big deal. There wasn't any blood. I didn't even get him in the face. He saw my fist coming, and at the last minute he ducked, so instead of punching him in the nose, like I intended, I ended up punching him in the neck.
I highly doubt it even left a bruise.
But don't you know, a second later this big, meaty paw lands on my shoulder, and Coach Albright swings me around to face him. It turned out he was behind me and Ruth in the burger line, buying a plate of curly fries. He'd seen the whole thing …
Only not the part about Jeff telling Ruth she was going to have to be buried in a piano case. Oh, no. Just the part where I punched his star tackle in the neck.
"Let's go, little lady," Coach Albright said. And he steered me out of the cafeteria and upstairs, to the counselors' offices.
My guidance counselor, Mr. Goodhart, was at his desk, eating out of a brown paper bag. Before you get to feeling sorry for him, though, that brown paper bag had golden arches on it. You could smell the fries all the way down the hall. Mr. Goodhart, in the two years that I've been coming to his office, has never seemed to worry a bit about his saturated-fat intake. He says he is fortunate in that his metabolism is naturally very high.
He looked up and smiled when Coach Albright said, "Goodhart," in this scary voice.
"Why, Frank," he said. "And Jessica! What a pleasant surprise. Fry?"
He held out a little bucket of fries. Mr. Goodhart had mega-sized his meal.
"Thanks," I said, and took a few.
Coach Albright didn't take any. He went, "Girl here punched my star tackle in the neck just now."
Mr. Goodhart looked at me disapprovingly "Jessica," he said. "Is that true?"
I said, "I meant to get him in the face, but he ducked."
Mr. Goodhart shook his head. "Jessica," he said, "we've talked about this."
"I know," I said with a sigh. I have, according to Mr. Goodhart, some anger-management issues. "But I couldn't help it. The guy's an asshole."
This apparently wasn't what either Coach Albright or Mr. Goodhart wanted to hear. Mr. Goodhart rolled his eyes, but Coach Albright actually looked as if he might drop dead of a coronary right there in the guidance office.
"Okay," Mr. Goodhart said, real fast, I guess in an effort to stop the coach's heart from infarction. "Okay, then. Come in and sit down, Jessica. Thank you, Frank. I'll take care of it."
But Coach Albright just kept standing there with his face getting redder and redder, even after I'd sat down—in my favorite chair, the orange vinyl one by the window. The coach's fingers, thick as sausages, were all balled up into fists, like a little kid who was about to have a tantrum, and you could see this one vein throbbing in the middle of his forehead.
"She hurt his neck," Coach Albright said.
Mr. Goodhart blinked at Coach Albright. He said, carefully, as if Coach Albright were a bomb that needed defusing, "I'm sure his neck must hurt very much. I'm quite certain that a five-foot-two young woman could do a lot of damage to a six-foot-three, two-hundred-pound tackle."
"Yeah," Coach Albright said. Coach Albright is immune to sarcasm. "He's gonna hafta ice it."
"I'm certain it was very traumatic for him," Mr. Goodhart said. "And please don't worry about Jessica. She will be adequately chastened."
Coach Albright apparently didn't know what either adequately or chastened meant, since he went, "I don't want her touchin' no more of my boys! Keep 'er away from them!"
Mr. Goodhart put down his Quarter Pounder, stood up, and walked to the door. He laid a hand on the coach's arm and said, "I'll take care of it, Frank." Then he gently pushed Coach Albright out into the reception area, and shut the door.
"Whew," he said when we were alone, and sat back down to tackle his burger again.
"So," Mr. Goodhart said, chewing. There was ketchup at the corner of his mouth. "What happened to our decision not to pick fights with people who are bigger than we are?"
I stared at the ketchup. "I didn't pick this one," I said. "Jeff did."
"What was it this time?" Mr. Goodhart passed me the fries again. "Your brother?"
"No," I said. I took two fries and put them in my mouth. "Ruth."
"Ruth?" Mr. Goodhart took another bite of his burger. The splotch of ketchup got bigger. "What about Ruth?"
"Jeff said Ruth was so fat, they were going to have to bury her in a piano case, like Elvis."
Mr. Goodhart swallowed. "That's ridiculous. Elvis wasn't buried in a piano case."
"I know." I shrugged. "You see why I had no choice but to hit him."
"Well, to be honest with you, Jess, no, I can't say that I do. The problem, you see, with you going around hitting these boys is that, one of these days, they're going to hit you back, and then you're going to be very sorry."
I said, "They try to hit me back all the time. But I'm too fast for them."
"Yeah," Mr. Goodhart said. There was still ketchup at the corner of his mouth. "But one day, you're going to trip, or something, and then you're going to get pounded on."
"I don't think so," I said. "You see, lately, I've taken up kickboxing."
"Kickboxing," Mr. Goodhart said.
"Yes," I said. "I have a video."
"A video," Mr. Goodhart said. His telephone rang. He said, "Excuse me a minute, Jessica," and answered it.
While Mr. Goodhart talked on the phone to his wife, who was apparently having a problem with their new baby, Russell, I looked out the window. There wasn't a whole lot to see out of Mr. Goodhart's window. Just the teachers' parking lot, mostly, and a lot of sky. The town I live in is pretty flat, so you can always see a lot of sky. Right then, the sky was kind of gray and overcast. Over behind the car wash across the street from the high school, you could see this layer of dark gray clouds. It was probably raining in the next county over. You couldn't tell by looking at those clouds, though, whether or not the rain would come toward us. I was thinking it probably would.