In SWIMMING SIDEWAYS, THE UGLY TRUTH and THE BONES OF WHO WE ARE (we should probably come up with a trilogy name. Got any ideas? Post in the comments!), the three stories are told from three different protagonist but swirl around similar events. Each book - while different - offers several common scenes that are pivotal in that protagonist’s journey. For example, the fight between Seth and Gabe shows up in all three, but each story explores the scene from a different viewpoint.
Gabe recognizes his anger makes him smaller, but he can’t help it. He wants justice for what Seth has done (which is explored fulling in Gabe’s story THE BONES OF WHO WE ARE). This scene is the fight between Gabe and Seth which doesn’t meet Gabe’s expectations of how he thought getting even would feel.
NOTE: There is strong language.
In the Stars
My blood boils as I watch Abby make her way across the art room to talk to Seth. It isn’t my anger at her. A part of me understands her kindness toward him; I understand the loss of him in my own life and know compassion for him lurks in my dark corners. I’m just not sympathetic enough in the moment with all of the jealousy and insecurity coursing through me to acknowledge it.
I kissed her. I’ve been kissing her. My blood moves in a different way thinking about her, filled with pulses of light and want. I’d put my feelings out there. It might make me an idiot, but there is no regret. If I hadn’t, I think I might have imploded with need.
Clear thinking might help me realize when she reached out to me, she changed my life, but when it comes to Seth, I’m not clear. There’s too much context weaved around the weeds which have enveloped who we’ve become. I could be a better person and help her, especially after what happened on her birthday, but I just can’t. There’s nothing but her and my anger at Seth. I think it’s progress I’m still here, waiting.
I can’t see Abby’s face, but I can see Seth’s. He looks at me and the hate in his gaze is tangible. My blood surges like a tide, filling my eyes with red. When he looks at Abby with that same look as though she’s the dirtiest thing he’s ever seen along with sneer of his mouth when he says whatever he says, my vision begins to receded toward blind rage.
Mr. Mike interrupts their conversation, and Abby turns away coming back across the room toward me. When she looks up, her eyes are filled with unshed tears, and the fire in my belly is fed more fuel.
After school, we leave the building, and I attempt to comfort her. “I’m sorry,” I say and put my arm around her shoulders. I draw her closer and kiss the top of her head. “He’s a dick.” He’s a lot more than that in my mind, but I don’t give it a voice.
“I just feel…” she starts but doesn’t finish her thought. Leaves it dangling there.
We cross the parking lot, walking through the misty air toward the car. It’s trying to rain.
I don’t have to turn around to know who’s yelled my name. When I do, I see Seth is stalking through the parking lot after us. He weaves his way between cars, his steps sure and focused but his countenance wild and crazed.
When he’s close enough, I patronize him by saying, “Peters. Is there something I can help you with?” My voice conceals the fire in my belly which is now raging. Adrenaline has already started moving through me, prepping my tense muscles. I know what’s coming. It was always written in the stars.
Seth steps up to me, close and confrontational.
I hold my ground but turn so Abby is behind me.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ve got a problem with you,” followed by tirade of profanity and finger pokes to my chest for emphasis.
Rage blinds me.
“Please,” I hear Abby say but it’s far away at the end of a tunnel in the periphery of my logical brain. I’m my animal brain now.
“Such language, Peters. You ever heard what they say about people who use profanity?”
“That they haven’t got much to work with up here.” I tap my head. I step away from him and remove my jacket.
Abby is suddenly between us. “Please stop. Gabe. Seth. Please.”
I take her by the arms and move her to the side where a crowd has collected. It’s starting to rain. “No.” I hand her my jacket, and then remove my hoodie giving that to her too. I see her, but I don’t really. I’m cognizant of only one purpose: Years of animal anger ready to be unleashed. I turn away from her to Seth, and step into the circle which is forming around us. “You don’t want to fight me, Peters,” I tell him, but it isn’t a warning; it’s a promise.
Seth, pacing around the circle like a caged animal himself, wipes the collecting moisture from his hair and face. “It’s all I’ve thought about since freshman year.”
“So, I have occupied your thoughts?” I taunt.
The crowd now a perfect circle around us has started the chant: “Freak. Freak. Freak.”
While I hear it, it doesn’t register. I’m focused on the challenge in front of me, the culmination of a wish, a dream, and I will throw that punch. Seth will win the challenge he started, and I will win by smashing his fucking face. Poetic justice.
Seth lunges at me. He’s too consumed with emotion, and I’m able to sidestep the charge. He slams into a car behind me, crunching against the metal and setting off the car alarm. He slips down the side of the wet car.
“This isn’t a fair fight, Peters,” I continue to taunt him as he stands up. He’s angry, just as I am. We are both consumed with it. Water drips through my hair onto my face and into my eyes.
The car alarm continues to bleat its wounded sound.
Seth stands up straight, rolls his shoulders and says, “I’m willing to find out.”
I lift my hands. “Let’s go.”
The crowd yells with a frenzied excitement while the car alarm screeches in agreement.
Seth yells and rushes me, his arms wrapping around my waist. The momentum carries us to the asphalt. We slide across the pavement, and I feel my skin tear. Seth gains the upper hand crouches over me, my back on the road. I lift my hands protecting my head while Seth unleashes punch after punch at my ribs, but I’m able to bend my body, tightening his target and deflecting him until I see an opportunity. Seth drops his defensive hand, and I throw a hook. It connects with the side of his face. His head snaps to the left, and his body follows it to the blacktop.
His loss is my gain and I scramble up to slam him with a knee against his exposed ribs. I hear a crack. Seth grunts. I unload a torrent of rage against him. Years of pent up anger and bitterness unleashed. Seth curls in on himself, rolling to keep me from hitting the rib I know is broken. Then, taking a risk, Seth opens up, and wraps me with his arms, squeezing me like a python, and yells with what I assume is pain because of his broken rib.
Someone from the crowd screams: “Teacher!” and the crowd disperses.
Strong hands grab me. I’m peeled away from Seth and hauled up to my feet.
We stare at each other consumed with hate.
Seth, holding his ribs, spits blood and says, “This isn’t over.”
“Yes, it is,” a security guard holding Seth by the back of the neck says.
Someone has me in the same position. We are ushered into the school building and dropped into chairs at opposite sides of the office. One security guard stands between us while the other disappears into the offices.
“What’s your fucking problem with me, Peters?” I ask. I spit blood from my mouth into a nearby container. The security guard snaps at me for spitting and tells me to get a napkin. I do but my focus is on Seth across the room, the guard between us. “What did I ever fucking do to you, Seth?”
“You know,” he says like a petulant child, but I see doubt war with the arrogance of his features.
My anger is waning, the adrenalin dissipating like steam from a boiling pot. “You’re such a shit,” I say and spit again, but this time into a tissue. I glance at the guard and salute him with the napkin. Then to Seth, “A selfish shit who doesn’t think. You just take your damn anger out on everyone else.”
“Shut up,” he says.
“Sound like anyone else you know, dumb shit? You said you never wanted to be like him but look at you now.”
“Shut up!” Seth jumps from his seat and tries to rush through the guard between us.
The mountain of a man manhandles Seth into a different room. I hear one of the guards say, “Sit down.” The mountain returns to sit with me and wait.
The silence of the room is a burden. I shiver, cold not because I’m soaked through my t-shirt, but from the adrenaline which is dripping into a puddle at my feet. The shock of what has happened begins to ice over with passing time. I replay it over and over in my mind looking for justification, looking for the sweet taste of vengeance. It isn’t there. Instead I feel shadows moving, dark thoughts of recrimination and inadequacy. I don’t feel good.
For the first time I remember Abby: Please stop. Please.
I drop my head into my hands, miserable. I shiver.
The Vice Principal sweeps in and takes our statements. “Gabe? You’ve never fought. Ever. What happened?” Mrs. Sandford asks. I wish it was Mrs. A.
I don’t answer her.
I refuse to say anything. In the aftermath, I feel the shadows of what has transpired pull at my edges, thinning me out toward nothingness. Tears spring to my eyes, and my physical ache is less acute than the emotional one. When Dale finally appears, I can’t hold the tears back any longer. Ashamed for having failed him. Ashamed for having been drawn into the fight with Seth. Ashamed of who I am.
Dale - the lighthouse he is - wraps me up in his arms. “Gabe? What’s happened?”
Seth’s father walks into the office like a whirlwind. “Where is he?” The ice of his voice sends a shiver down my spine.
“What happened?” Dale asks me again.
“I don’t know. I got mad,” I say.
“About what?” he asks. “I’ve never seen you get mad, Gabe. Not enough to fight.”
I look up and see Seth’s dad watching us. His eyes are bloodshot, and he’s puffed up. I can smell he’s been drinking. A security guard ushers Seth into the room; he’s been crying too.
Dale looks away from me for a moment. “Well, hello, Seth. This is a surprise.” He looks at me, eyebrows raised.
Mrs. Sandford announces that we’re free to go home and get medical attention, but that there will be a meeting to determine behavioral consequences.
When she’s done, Dale turns to me and says. “I don’t understand, Gabe. Does this have anything to do with Abby? This just isn’t like you.”
“Excuse me?” Seth’s father interrupts. “Did I just hear you say Abby was a part of this?” His voice is so sharp and hard, I feel cut open.
Seth hangs his head and shrinks.
“Afternoon, Mr. Peters,” Dale’s voice is polite, but his eyes are wary. “Let’s go.” He leads me from the room. I look back at Seth who glances up at me. His look is resigned and it’s terrifying. Abby’s fears for Seth’s safety all those weeks ago are suddenly my fears too.