Part I: Chapter Two

October 8, 2013 by Randy Steinberg

Chad drove for a minute without saying anything. He flew through yellow lights, stopped short at reds, and gunned the motor at greens. Matt paid little attention to Chad’s driving. He stared blankly out the window, holding the coffee cups in a death grip. “Can I get one of those?” Chad finally asked. Matt said nothing. “Yo, B!” Chad barked.

Chad the Safety

Chad the Safety

Matt turned to him. “Huh?”

“The coffee. If it’s still hot,” Chad said. Matt passed a coffee to Chad who sipped it. “Icicles.” He lowered his window and threw the cup onto the street.

“That’s littering,” Matt chided.

“Are you fucking kidding?” Chad spat. Matt rolled his eyes and turned back to the window. “Are you gonna tell me what that was all about? Who was that kid?”

“You don’t remember him? Billy Cantu,” Matt mumbled.

“No clue,” Chad said. “Should I?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Matt said.

“Bullshit!” Chad wanted more out of Matt.

“You don’t know my neighborhood, dude,” Matt said. And it was true. Chad lived in the North of Revere where anyone who had money in the city resided. The North of Revere was a peculiar piece of geography, a peninsula of territory that jutted into Melrose and Lynn. Only a narrow strip of road provided access. Some said this area should be its own city or merge with one of the others. Either way, it was a small world unto its own, where the wealthy in Revere lived, knowing little of their fellow citizens in the southern part of the city.

What’s more, Chad had never been to Matt’s house. Matt’s neighborhood embarrassed him, and he seldom invited friends over. Even Kitty had only visited his house once.

Matt and Chad were friends, but in many ways they came from different worlds. When Chad got his driver’s license, his father gave him the Cherokee and only one rule: don’t do anything that will screw up your chances to attend Dartmouth College. Dartmouth was Mr. Harrison’s alma mater, and Chad would never have to pay a penny for his education. Matt had to work after school to have any pocket change, and he was pinning his collegiate hopes on a scholarship.  Chad didn’t know how hard things were for Matt, and he didn’t know anything about Billy Cantu or his father Carmine. “You’ve got to give me more, dude,” Chad came back.

Matt put his now undrinkable coffee in a cup holder, annoyed with Chad’s tone not to mention his ignorance. “Billy’s dad is like the Tony Soprano of Revere, at least where I live. Billy is a big fuck up, but everyone is afraid of his father. He knows that. He uses that. Yeah, I could have beaten the crap out of him, but then I’d have to look over my shoulder. I may still have to after what just happened. It was a mistake, but maybe he’ll forget about it.” Matt stopped, and Chad was silent. “But something else is worrying me more,” Matt added.

“Jason,” Chad said.

Matt weighed his choices. Should he tell Chad what Billy had revealed? Someone on the team willing to throw games in college. Someone in deep with Billy and possibly Carmine. “Yeah… Jason,” Matt lied. Chad didn’t need to know. “We were supposed to talk about him.”

“So what are we going to do?” Chad asked. A State title would increase Matt’s chances for the UConn scholarship, but Revere could have finished in last place for all Dartmouth cared. But Chad didn’t want the win for his collegiate application; he wanted it for himself. They needed Jason.

The Cherokee was within sight of Revere High now, and they hadn’t made any decisions. Matt suddenly felt like Jason’s problems were small compared to his. “Let’s see what Mr. M. has to say. It’s his class, his test,” Matt said.

Chad nodded, accepting Matt’s plan. The car pulled to a stop in the student parking lot, one of the nicer vehicles at Revere High. Chad’s pimped out Cherokee stood in stark contrast to used Hondas, hand me down Ford pickups, and an assortment of other beaters the kids (and teachers) of Revere drove—if they were lucky enough to have a car at all. Matt was not one of the lucky ones. When he couldn’t bum a ride with anyone, it was the o-so-classy city bus.

“Time to get our game faces on,” Matt said. He and Chad smoothed their uniforms and grabbed their back packs. Whatever problems they had would have to wait for the moment. They were the captains of a football team that had just won the biggest game in school history. They had fans to greet.

#######################

In the student parking lot, the swarm began. Chad and Matt exited the Cherokee and started toward the school. They were soon joined by Jason and other players; all wore their game shirts. The size of the group swelled, as girls and friends glommed on. Kitty waited for Matt by the entrance. Matt recalled his dream and their night at Salem State. He had to push those thoughts aside. Can’t walk the halls with a woody.

The mob was one hundred kids strong as it burst through the school doors. Even kids who didn’t like sports couldn’t resist joining the crowd. Jock and nerd alike were taking pride in Revere’s win and the trip to the big dance the following weekend. The A/V geeks had put together a video about the football team’s season, and footage of the championship game at Gillette Stadium would be pure gold. The social media club was blitzing the net. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were just a few websites where Revere High football content could be seen and downloaded. Everyone was on the bandwagon.

And it wasn’t just students. Teachers lined up outside their classrooms to applaud the players. Someone had hung a banner in the main hall that read “Revere High: Going All the Way.” The principal had frowned upon reading it; too sexual he thought. But he didn’t want to be a kill joy, so he allowed it to remain up for the rest of the day. Let them have Monday to rejoice. Soon, the bell for first period rang and the school day got underway.

Most of the seniors on the team –including the captains—had United States history with Mr. Martinelli for first period. As the last bell rang, Timberlands, Skechers, Crocs, and Doc Martins shuffled into Mr. M’s classroom. Those who were not wearing team jerseys dressed in a mix of consignment, hand-me-down and Dollar Store fashions. If you had more money –like Chad—you could get clothes from The Gap or Ann Taylor, but most Revere kids dressed on the cheap and did laundry no more than twice per month.

Mr. Martinelli always joked and chatted with the football players before getting things underway. On this Monday morning, there was a lot to talk about. “You guys have a good weekend?” Mr. M. “Anything important happen?” he joked.

Chad took the bait. “We only won the biggest game in school history!” Chad said, thumping his chest in pride. The rest of the team made noises like gorillas. Some of the girls rolled their eyes, but secretly they loved it.

“You ready for Gillette?” Mr. Martinelli asked. “What do you think the odds on this game are in Vegas?”

One of the team’s tight ends, a big, burly, sweaty kid called out, “We’ve gotta be seven point favorites.”

“Wow, seven,” Mr. M responded. “Nah, you guys shouldn’t think that highly of yourselves. I say three points, maybe two.” Some boos and hisses. “What do you think, Matt?” Mr. M asked.

“What do you mean?” he asked back distantly.

“The point spread for our game this weekend,” Mr. M said.

Matt’s mind was still on his run in with Billy Cantu and the last thing he wanted to discuss was betting on sporting events. “Uhh…I don’t think they do that for high school games,” he said.

Mr. Martinelli stared at Matt for a moment, sensing the boy’s pensiveness. He assumed it was Jason and the test occupying Matt’s thoughts. Best to move on. “Odds are high this will be a tough test, so it’s time to get to work,” Mr. M said. ”That means cell phones off and away.”

The class hustled to power down and put away their phones. Everyone except Jason Albany. He shifted his phone below his desk and started to tap out a text message. Mr. Martinelli stood at the pea-soup green chalk board (underfunded Revere High had not yet upgraded to whiteboards and erasable markers) to write down some dates. Any good teacher –and Mr. M was one of the finest—had eyes in the back of his or her head. Mr. M. could tell something was amiss. He turned around to see Jason texting on his phone and took a step toward him. “What can you tell us about Paul Revere, Jason?”

Jason blushed with embarrassment and slipped his phone into his pocket. It felt strange to publicly humiliate Jason, the best football player in school history, but Mr. Martinelli’s first duty was to educate, not pat the backs of jocks. “What?” Jason asked, missing the question.

Matt and Chad exchanged nervous looks. Mr. M’s gaze traveled to Matt and they read one another’s mind: this problem needs to be dealt with. “Paul Revere. What do you know about him?” Mr. Martinelli asked again.

“The city is named after him,” Jason answered quietly. Everyone in the class knew that. Everyone in the high school did. Duh.

“What else?” Mr. M pressed him. Jason could make the plays in front of thousands of people, no amount of heckling or self-doubt ever affecting him, but in academic situations he barely ever contributed. Around girls he was shy and tongue-tied.

“He did the midnight ride,” Jason said. His eyes pleaded with Mr. M: why are you doing this?

 Mr. M’s eyes pleaded right back at him. I’m trying to help you learn something, God damn it. Don’t you see that?  “What about after all that, when he was older?” Jason didn’t have a clue.

“He started a foundry and sold a lot of products to the government,” Matt interjected, coming to Jason’s rescue.

“That’s right,” Mr. M said with a flash of annoyance. Jason didn’t need rescuing but to man up. “Revere lived until 1818, a full twenty five years after the Revolution ended. He was a businessman and stayed active in politics. Every one of you should know this. He wasn’t just some crazy guy who rode through the night shouting about the British. He was industrious and hard working and did great things every day as a solid citizen in a young country.  When you think of your city, you should think about his example and try to be like him.”

Mr. M was on a soap box, but it didn’t get through to most of the students. Jason fingered his phone through his pocket, thinking more about the text he would send when class let out. The others either didn’t see or care about the connection to the past. Bored faces stared back at him.

Only Matt seemed to have absorbed it. Football was like Revere’s ride, a big moment in a man’s life, but there was more to life than just big moments. There were millions and billions of moments that were just as consequential. How could he be a solid citizen? By helping Jason, or an unknown teammate mixed up with the wrong person?

Mr. Martinelli looked up at the ancient wheel clock on the wall. No digital clocks yet. He’d gotten behind on what was really important, prepping the class for their upcoming test. “Speaking of things you should know, we’ve got a big test in three days. A lot of you are hovering on the edge, but if you get this material down you’ll be fine.” He waved his hand toward the board where dates and names were listed. Notebooks rustled and pens began to scrawl.

Jason sketched some video-game figures on a piece of paper, clearly not thinking about what Mr. Martinelli had said. Chad elbowed Matt. This was not what they wanted to see.

#############################

Matt and Chad hung back after class, shifting their cracked and crumpled school books from hand to hand uncomfortably. Mr. Martinelli spoke to a student about some work, and when they were done and the kid had gone he shut the door. “I know, I know,” he said to the two captains.

“What happens if he fails?” Chad asked.

“Even if he gets a C, that’s still not enough to bump him up,” Mr. M replied. “Jason needs a B on this test to lift him out of academic probation territory. I’ve told him this myself, but he doesn’t seemed concerned.”

“Mr. M…” Chad started, “what if it’s close? You know, like in the B minus range. Maybe you could…” his voice trailed off. He didn’t want to say it and waited for Mr. Martinelli’s reaction.

Mr. Martinelli would have appreciated it more if Chad had come out directly and asked him to fudge the numbers. It felt like Chad was leaving the decision up to him instead of owning it and asking him to cheat. “Chad, I don’t like what you are insinuating,” Mr. M said. He chose to be offended and firm but not off the wall with anger. Chad was immediately ashamed and sank to a seated position.

“I’m sorry,” Chad said. “This thing is just so whacked.”

“Guys, he’s just going to have to step up. It’s out of my hands,” Mr. M said. There was nothing left to say.

Chad rose to leave, pissed that it was going to end this way. He stopped in front of Mr. Martinelli. Mr. M. was the teacher and had all the power in the relationship, but physically Charles Martinelli was a wisp. Nearing fifty years of age, he was graying and balding with poor vision and a non-athletic physique. He was married but childless, and he was drawn to the power and the youth of the players on the team. The sons he never had, this year’s squad being one of his favorites. His position as a teacher and a long time coach earned him respect, but as Chad stood in front of him, for just a moment, that relationship was non-existent. This was man staring at man, attempting to intimidate, Chad letting Mr. M know that in a world without rules he’d own the teacher. Mr. M. looked away, pretending not to notice or fear Chad’s message.

Matt put a hand on Chad’s shoulder and pushed him toward the door. Mr. Martinelli turned away from the boys and grabbed some papers, feigning interest in them even though they were blank. But then he called to Matt and Chad, who were at the door. “The next three nights!”

They stopped. “What?” Matt asked.

“After school for the next three nights,” Mr. M continued. “Get Jason here. I’ll tutor him. I won’t do anything to give him an advantage over any other student, and he still has to take the test like the rest of you, but if he doesn’t make that B it won’t be for lack of anything we did.” Matt and Chad didn’t know what to say. Was Mr. M being serious? “Can you get him to come?” he asked them.

“We’ll get him here,” Chad said. Matt nodded in agreement.

“Thanks, Mr. M,” Matt added.

Mr. Martinelli held up a hand. “Don’t thank me guys,” he said. “I want to win this as much as you do, and we need Jason. You get him here tonight at five o’clock sharp, and I’ll do my part for the team.”

The bell rang to begin second period. Matt and Chad would be late for their next classes, but so what. On a day that had begun bleakly, suddenly there was a bright spot.