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There is an art to a good sucker punch, and if I do say so myself, I am a third-grade macaroni sculpture in comparison to that art.
Tony Smith, however, isn’t. He’s a venerable Rembrandt of the sleazy move. One honed through his many years of repeated seventh grade and being the class asshat.
I walked out into the dark parking lot looking for Sarah and was too busy calling her name to hear the doors open and Tony step out to follow me.
The punch was preceded with a tap on my shoulder. I wasn’t expecting anyone behind me, so I spun around in the opposite direction, honestly thinking it might be Sarah. I was wrong. This only added speed to Tony’s fist hitting my gut and I doubled over from the sudden impact. My lungs emptying their breath and my knees buckling in concert, sending me to the ground.
Pure artistry to his credit.
“You know what I hate, new guy?” Tony said squaring up a few steps away from me. I couldn’t breathe or talk at this point so I’m not sure if he was waiting for an answer or being uncharacteristically rhetorical. “People sticking their nose in other people’s business.”
He wound up and kicked me in the side of the ribs. From the crawling position I was in I, didn’t see the kick coming and I swear I heard something crack in my side when his foot connected. Thank God he was wearing sneakers instead of real dress shoes to this semi-formal because it might have been the only thing that saved my ribs that night.
Tony wasn’t alone either. Two sets of hands grabbed my arms and pulled me up to face him. I wheezed out. “What are you talking about?”
“Fuck, you’re stupid for a kid who’s always studying with that nerd Sean.” He said. He began walking forward cocking his right hand back for a punch that was going to hit my face.
As he closed in, I lifted my leg up wincing with a tender set of ribs for the action but catching Tony in the face with the tip of my sneaker. He whipped his head back and grabbed his face as blood started flowing from his nose. Pro tip it doesn’t take much to make someone’s nosebleed in a fight. But then again it doesn’t really do much to them either. Just makes them mad and doesn’t help you win said fight.
His partners threw me back to the ground. I barely got my arms out to the sides of me to slow the fall and save the back of my head from the pavement. They didn’t wait though and began stomping on my chest and arms as I flailed trying to get away from their attacks. I twisted over during the barrage of shoe soles and tried to get into a fetal position to protect my head and face.
The kicks kept coming. I wondered how worrying about someone I barely knew, whom I had barely danced with, would set three guys off like this. And they weren’t stopping. Jeeze, they weren’t stopping! This was it. I was going to die, curb stomped at a crappy high school country music semi-formal dance? Of all the ways I had ever thought of going, this was not on the list and aiming for the bottom.
Then, the most satisfying sound in the universe rang out into the night and over the stomps and kicks to my rib cage and shoulders. Not a police siren or a principal’s voice from the school’s doors. It was a definitive crack of knuckles hitting a jaw and whoever was kicking me from the right-hand side collapsed like a sack of bricks clutching their face and groaning.
Jay had seen Tony and his buddies follow me out and extricated himself from the dance. He had caught the first curb stomper by surprise, the same way Tony had to me. He was laying on the ground a few feet from me clutching his face and understandably out of the fight. But Jay really didn’t need it with the second guy.
The bully swung wide as Jay dodged the punch and step too close trying to hit the farm kid, Jay then connected with an uppercut and sent the second bully to the ground as well. Tony was up now, his face a mixture of red and white from the light snow that was falling and my only contribution to the violence, his broken nose. He ran towards me hoping to get on top of me to finish his pummeling.
Jay caught him in a tackle, and they crashed into the snow beside me. I struggled to get up as they rolled around on the ground, both more acquainted to fighting than I was, frankly.
Jay being bigger managed to get on top of him, and crossed Tony’s face with a left hook further damaging his nose. Tony rolled over covering his now thoroughly bloodied face and Jay stood up and checked on the other two attackers, still writhing on the ground from his handiwork.
“I see you motherfuckers touch my Cousin one more time and you’ll be back on the ground with a set of broken noses before your lame ass posse can yell Worldstar!” Jay hollered to the writhing bodies on in the snow.
The door of the school opened, and a deep adult voice called out. “Hey!” and Jay grabbed my arm and ran me towards the parking lot.
We crossed the snowy pavement and hopped in his truck. Tearing out of the parking lot as we avoided getting properly seen or identified by Mr. Locksey and the school staff who were chaperoning.
My head was spinning from the action and Jay whooped into the cab of the truck. On an adrenaline high no doubt from successfully trashing three guys in one fight.
“What about Kylie?” I said.
“I’ll call her tonight and explain.” Jay smiled looking over his shoulder at me. “Let’s get you home and you can tell me what happened.”
We drove back to my house where the lonely light of the kitchen left on let me know that Mom was already asleep. On the way home, I told Jay the scattered facts that I knew, and we came to the stunning and rock-solid conclusion that Tony is just a jerk. With nothing better to do than pick fights at dances, I might add. I didn’t like it as a final solution to the problem but hey at least it was over.
“Good.” I thought as Jay dropped me off. The last thing I wanted to do was try to explain the fight that I honestly didn’t understand how I got into anyway to Mom.
I strained to get out of my clothes and inspected the large bruise beginning to form on my side from Tony’s kick and then crawled into bed.
As I drifted into a very painful and uncomfortable sleep, I couldn’t help but run through the scenarios of why Sarah would get scared, and why she would leave with who I assumed was Tony’s girlfriend. Also, why he would get mad at me for just asking Sarah where she was going. I didn’t hear anything or know anything. But that made me worth sucker punching with a posse of thugs for some reason. I began assembling a list I would later forget of things to ask Sarah about at school after the weekend. And drifted to sleep.