“Think I’m a liar?” Andy said, real drama school. I rose. Though Andy stood ten feet away, he clearly had inches on me. I had that square, short Mexican body. But my knuckles stuck out. I’d never been in a fight but it hurt when I punched my hand. I liked to punch my hand.
“Kick his ass,” said one of the white boys. They leaned away from Andy.
“Kick my ass, Andy,” I said.
“You’d like it if I touched you,” said Andy. “Faggot.”
“Oh please kick my faggot ass,” I said.
They left. I sat, touching my cheeks.
What if Andy and his friends attacked me at night? Even if they didn’t, my cysts would return. My face would get knobby, my blisters would blister. Could I hide in the woods? Late at night, I would slip into the cafeteria for peanut-butter sandwiches. When Mom arrived to pick me up, I would emerge, angry and mud-covered, earthworms dripping from my hair, teeth unbrushed, toes speared through my shoes, and the zits, oh the zits. “Here is what I have become,” I’d tell her.
I ran to the phone booth. Luckily, today I had fifty cents, which I’d swiped, just in case, from Counselor P.J.’s nightstand. As the phone rang, I imagined Mom in her home office, small behind her desk.
“Tell me you sent those pills,” I said.
“Mijito, yesterday I mailed you the package, with some brownies.”
“Overnight?” I said.
“Did you send it so it would come the next day?”
“Mijito, I did not do that.”
“So it won’t arrive for a while.”
“I will call the doctor and then leave you a message there. Do not do this, cariño. You worry too much.”
We said goodbye and hung up.
She was right. Before the Accutane, while Dad was in South America for six months teaching Brazilian businessmen about computer networking, three huge zits grew on my left cheek overnight. I stared in the mirror for thirty minutes. No way I could go to school. After telling Mom that I’d thrown up four times, a lie, I stayed in bed all day listening to Thrust, remembering childhood haunts: the hamper full of warm, freshly dried shirts; the craft table in my first-grade classroom, where we built sculptures with string and pegs; the squeak of my shoes on endless gym floors.
The next day my pimples had looked bigger, but Mom pulled me to the car by my wrist. For two weeks, I sat in class with my hand over my cheek, like deep thinking. When I showed him, Jim whistled but never said anything.
Jim and I left each other messages in Homer’s voice, sometimes Bart’s, but rarely Marge’s. We gobbled chocolate-covered espresso beans at two o’ clock AM and then sprinted down the street shirtless, wind on our nipples. We microwaved burritos.
* * *
I couldn’t get “Jubilee” right, my snare sounded like a cardboard box full of pennies, and my afternoon percussion counselor had dyed black hair, plus a nose piercing. We drummed side by side on the baseball field.
“La-ca-dack-la-ca-dack-a-dack-a-dack-a-dack,” she said, leaning over me so I could see the tops of her breasts. “It’s cut time; you put the first accent on the two of the first measure and the second accent on the one of the fourth. Get it?”
I squinted harder at the music. This part was simple. What was my problem? Her deodorant smelled oddly like Dad’s Acura Legend. His car stayed parked in our garage while he traveled. Sometimes, while Mom was out, I’d sneak the spare key from the kitchen and settle in the car’s leather passenger seat with Headhunters on the Pioneer, Mike Clark’s kick drum jarring my groin.
“Try again,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. I hacked away. Something in my wrist twanged. I stopped. Joint and muscle pains.
“Don’t quit! You’re still not accenting the right note. La-ca-dack. La-ca-dack. You’re playing La-ca-dack. Loosen your elbows.” She tapped it out quickly. “See?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. My wrist.
* * *
“Eddie the wonder drummer,” Pearl said, extending her hand. I nearly leaped into the next kid in line outside the dining hall.
“Oh, hello,” I said, brushing her hand with mine. “Pearl, right?” Sure I remembered, but I didn’t want to seem creepy. I put my hand over my mouth. In the sunlight, the white tops on my pimples must have glistened like snowcaps.
“So you are going to eat dinner?” I said. “I mean, what instrument do you play?”
“I can’t hear you,” she said.
“Which instrument do you play? ” I moved my hand, but shrugged to shield my face.
“Trumpet. I’m awful. How long have you drummed?”
“My dad drums.”