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Future Tense

Danny spends a lot of time daydreaming about "what if," and occasionally writing those thoughts down.

Mom starts haranguing me about the fight before I even start breakfast.
"How is your first day of high school, John?" she says as she pushes a glass of water and some aspirin in my direction.
I take the pills and rub bleary eyes. Breakfast complete. "Fine."
"Nothing exciting or unusual?"
I slam the cup down on the table. "It was only a broken arm! Not even a real break, just a fracture."
"Will be, not was," Mom corrected. "The fight hasn't happened yet. If it happens at all."
A sliver of hope. "I can stay home?"
"Nice try, kiddo." Mom grabs her purse, the umbrella she will need at 3:30, and a spare for the friend at work who forgot hers. Who will forget hers.
"You can't improve your gift if you spend all your time hiding," she says. She kisses my too-big forehead. "The fight hasn't happened yet."
I tick off on my fingers. "He found--will find--me before school, or in the bathroom after third period. I'll try and hold it, but my choices are fight or piss my pants. The fight will end when his two buddies hold me and he pummels me--will pummel--me into a trip to the nurse's office and a borrowed pink pony t-shirt because my shirt was--will be--ruined."
Mom pauses her work preparations and raises a skeptical eyebrow.
"Or," I continue, "I will grab his wrist while he's still throwing insults, throw my body weight on his arm and break it. He'll go to the hospital for a cast, I'll be sent to the principal's office, and nobody will spend the rest of the day being called Ponyboy."
Mom holds the door for me and drives me to school. Will drive me. Prepares to drive me.
"There are always more than two options, John. Find option C."
"I did." I grab the backpack next to the door by the little loop on top. "I stay home and homeschool myself while you're at work."
At school, I make a point of not staring at the SUV in the drop-off line ahead of me. The stress headache arrives, but the aspirin helps. I get out of the car, stare at the sidewalk, and sling my backpack over one shoulder.
"John, honey," Mom says, "long-term, it will all work out."
I used to believe her, back when I didn't know any better. But I still stop staring at my shoes and give her an encouraging smile. "Thanks, Mom. I love you."
Turning toward school, I almost bump into Katie Wilson before I see her. She had gotten closer than I expected. I mutter an apology and steal a glance to my left. Katie's dad's SUV is too far away to see us. He doesn't like me. I step to the side and Katie side-steps with me.
"I wanted to thank you properly for finding my dog," she says, as she leans forward to kiss my face. "But you've been dodging me."
I glance to the right and Katie's boyfriend is rushing toward me, his two friends close behind. Run now, or wait till after third period?
Just then, the strap on my backpack comes loose. Surprised, I bend to catch it before it hits the pavement. This wasn't how it had happened. My forehead collides with Katie's face.
She staggers back, hand clutching her busted lip. In addition, blood begins to run out her nose. Her boyfriend shoves me aside. "Watch where you're going, klutz."
The boyfriend pulls off his shirt and holds it to Katie's nose. "C'mon, let's get you to the nurse's office. Tilt your head back."
"It was an accident." Nobody is listening.
With his shirt still clamped over her nose, Katie looks up into her boyfriend's eyes. "You always take such good care of me."
Teachers rush in and try to be helpful. Mainly they tell gawkers to go to class, me included.
I bend down and reattach the loose strap on my backpack. A note is pinned next to the clasp: You're welcome. I love you, too.
When I stand up, I realize I don't have a clue what will happen next. And that is okay. Long-term, it will all work out.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Author Comments

While things are rarely as good as we hope, they are also rarely as bad as we fear. I need to remind myself of that sometimes.

- Danny Macks
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