“Me? What the fuck you?”
“You just going to sit there and watch your best friend get the everliving shit kicked out of him?”
“Fuck off, man. You wanted me to see that.”
“No, I wanted you to jump over the table and get involved. Either fuck shit up or get yours fucked up. Be a fucking hero.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. What the hell is heroic about hitting a child?”
Scooter crossed the room, grabbed his backpack, and took it into the bathroom. He threw his toothbrush in and zipped up, then he turned on the sink and washed the blood from his face. Jake heard all these things from the other room.
“Damnit,” Scooter called, “this cut is dead center of my face. Symmetrical scars look so stupid.”
He came back a moment later with some toilet tissue held to his forehead and his backpack on.
“Where are you going?” Jake asked. He had been cut off on the way to a good boiling anger, and he kind of wanted a shouting match about now.
“Think about it. A parent does one of two things. They blame the kid or blame anybody but. And if they decide their son’s been victimized, then what?”
“Right. And any jury in this town will think more about who has the most tackles and the best shot at a scholarship than who punched first.”
Jake sighed. “So pack my things.”
“Pack your things.”
. . .
They left town while they were still anonymous. Jake was all worked up, expecting a phalanx of pickup trucks to appear in the rearview mirror at any second, bristling with gun racks. It didn’t, and the familiar tape hiss calmed him down. Scooter drove. In the darkness the roads were bordered by a thin line of brush and then nothing behind it. There may have been cars or fields or houses or anything, really, but it didn’t matter. Jake had nothing to look at.
“You know,” he said finally, “you can’t expect me to stand up for you in that kind of situation.”
“Good friends drink together and fight together.”
“Christ, that’s not all friends are.”
“You sound like a grown up.”
“We are technically grown ups.”
They both watched the darkness for awhile, and the stars and the empty world made Jake think he’d been shot into space.
“I guess I can’t blame you,” Scooter said.
“Everything you’ve ever done, everything that’s happened, it all adds up to little computer programs in your head. You’re just a bunch of unbreakable code. You’re just the sum of your experience.”
“I’m not trying to knock you. At every turn you see defeat.”
“Fuck you, Scooter.”
“Look at that kid. He hit me because he had to, because his manhood was challenged and that’s the only response he knows. He was afraid and had to mitigate. And we look down on him while—“
“I didn’t look down on him. I thought what you did there was real shitty.”
“Don’t lie to me. You didn’t say it but you did. We look down on him while he looks down on us, and both sides are blue in the face over who’s better at being human. Being oppressed or being oppressors. It’s all the same. Stimulus. Response.”
“If you really believe that, you’re an asshole.”
“You’re only saying that because Americans have been told to fight for independence. Stimulus response. Your dad would drive you all down to the big fireworks show and you would wave your cheap plastic flags, ignoring the fact that fireworks and flags were made in Communist China, and—”
“Just shut up. You shut your mouth about it right now.”
And he did.