Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chapter 4 - revised

Milo caught up to Amadeo in the hallway near the lockers and nudged him with his shoulder.  Amadeo arched his eyebrows and looked expectantly at his friend.

"Yeah, look, sorry about yesterday, OK?  I thought about what you said and you're right.  I'll lay off."  he said. 

"Why the change of heart?"  Amadeo asked.

Milo looked sheepish, leaned against the bank of lockers and scuffed the worn grey linoleum floor with the toe of his sneaker.  "It's like you said, you know? What if it was Mikey that was, you know, and how would I feel if people treated him like that.  So... sorry, you know?" 

Amadeo smiled.  "Yeah, I know.  Don't sweat it."

"Cool.  See you in a few at lunch then?"

"Well, if you want to join me, I was going to look for that kid and try to get to know him.  Interested?"

"Don't push it, dude."  Milo half-joked.

"Come on, it'll be your good deed for the day."  Amadeo encouraged.

"Ever hear the saying, 'No good deed goes unpunished.'?"

"Ever hear the saying 'I'm gonna kick your ass from here to Texas if you don't.'?"

"All right!  All right!  Don't flip your wig!"  Milo laughed.  "But how about if we tag team?  You know, approach him in turns.  I think if everyone suddenly starts talking to the kid out of the blue all at once he's likely to freak out."

"The two of us are hardly 'everyone' but I see your point.  OK then, I'll go talk to him at lunch, and if things look comfortable you join us, got it?"

"Gotcha Mad Man."

Amadeo gave his friend a pained look and said: "Don't call me that."  The nickname was a combination of the middle of his name and the fact that he became very intense while wrestling, but to 'Deo it sounded like he belonged in an asylum somewhere.

"Sorry... Mad Man.  It won't happen again."  Milo chuckled.

"Get outta here or I'm gonna pound you one."  Amadeo threatened, playfully punching Milo on the shoulder.

Amadeo walked casually into the cafeteria, taking his time so that he could scan the room and find the object of his interest.  The city had built this new school four years ago, which included a full cafeteria, something the older schools lacked.  As a result, the room was pretty well packed since many of the kids who would normally have walked home for lunch 'brown bagged' it, and stayed to eat and talk with their friends.

"Move it, dude!" came an irate voice from behind him.  "You're holding up the line!"

"Sorry about that," he replied with a charming smile.  He walked up to the stack of trays, took one and some silverware and headed toward the lunch ladies to inspect the day's endeavors.  Stew.  At least, it looked like stew.  Stuff that was called Italian bread but was really the stale white bread left over from the day before, and pats of rock hard butter.  Green beans. The usual peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwiches. Fruit that looked as though it had seen better days.  Nothing that couldn't be made to taste a lot better by adding a half pound or so of salt and pepper, he thought.  It was against the rules but he snatched up several more pats of butter and slid down the line to the next server who offered a bowl of wilted greens covered with croutons which were last week’s bread sacrifice.

The last woman smiled as she placed a pint of milk and an only slightly wizened apple on his tray.  He smiled back, paid his thirty cents, and turned to scan the room again, paying special attention to the corners. 

There, in a far corner, at a table by himself, sat the boy... Angelo, head bowed over a book so that his bangs obliterated any sign of his eyes.  Without looking up from his book, he picked up half of his sandwich, took a bite and laid it back down.  He wiped his hand on his napkin and turned the page.

Amadeo walking through the cafeteria was nothing unusual, and friends and acquaintances alike smiled or waved and shouted greetings to him.  Some of them even scooted over a little to make room for him at their table.  Eyebrows were raised in surprise as he walked past all of them to stand beside the table containing nothing and no one other than 'The Cootie'.

"Pst!  'Deo!" whispered one of the boys at a neighboring table, "Not there, man!  You might catch something!  Sit here!"

Amadeo never took his eyes off the solitary boy at the table.  Angelo never took his eyes off of the page he was reading but he stiffened slightly and his eyes stopped moving over the lines.  His expression never changed but he'd obviously heard the other boy's words.

"Not cool, Darren,"  Amadeo said over his shoulder, then he turned back to the boy in front of him.

"Hey, your name is Angelo, right?" he said with a friendly smile.

The boy was startled but covered his reaction quickly and gave a half shrug in response.  His eyes stayed on the book in front of him.

"I'm Amadeo," he said.  "Mind if I sit with you, Angelo?  It's a little crowded at the other tables today."

Angelo looked up from under the fringe of his bangs and glanced at the nearly empty table next to his but gave another half shrug.  He mumbled something that Amadeo interpreted as 'It's a free country.' and then he returned his attention to the book in his hand.  Once again, without looking, Angelo picked up his sandwich, took a bite, laid it down and wiped his hand on the napkin before turning the page again.

Amadeo noticed that while Angelo had turned the page, his eyes were not moving, indicating that he was not actually reading, and his shoulders were still tense as though waiting for an assault.

'Deo took a spoonful of stew and grimaced.  "Would you pass the salt and pepper, please?"  The cellars were directly in front of Angelo who pushed them the twelve inches across the table toward Amadeo, who could have reached them easily if he'd wanted to.

"Thanks," 'Deo smiled.

Angelo kept his eyes trained on his book and muttered something that sounded like 'Welcome.', pulled his book closer and continued reading.

"What are you having for lunch?" Amadeo asked conversationally.  "It looks good."

Angelo's shoulders, which had resumed their normal position, hunched once again.  He pulled his book protectively closer to his chest and pushed his flattened bag, which served as a tray and contained the rest of his lunch, across the table toward Amadeo.

"I don't have any money," he said in a barely audible voice.

"Whoa!  Hey!  I don't want your lunch!  Or your money."  'Deo said, gently pushing the bag toward Angelo.  "I was just saying that it looked good.  Come on, eat up. I didn't mean anything by it."

For the first time since he'd introduced himself, Angelo looked directly up at him from under the fringe of his bangs. The large brown eyes were distrustful and he tentatively reached for the bag as though he were afraid that Amadeo was going to snatch it back.  Instead, Amadeo withdrew his hand and smiled encouragingly.

Angelo pulled the bag and its contents back to where they'd been, nodded his thanks and trained his eyes on the page before him before picking up his sandwich and taking another bite.

"What're you reading?"  Amadeo asked.

Angelo sighed and raised the book so that the title was visible.

"Any good?"

Angelo shrugged but kept his eyes on his book, hoping that the other boy would get tired of his little game, whatever it was, give up and go sit with his friends.

"What's it about?"  Amadeo tried again.

Angelo closed the book on the table using his finger to hold his place.  He looked at Amadeo from beneath his bangs and asked in a slightly exasperated tone, "If I give you a book to read, will you please be quiet?"

It was the first time that Amadeo had heard the boy speak in anything like a normal voice or say more than a couple of words and he was startled by the sound.  What a wonderful accent!  He didn't have the words to describe it but knew that he wanted to hear it again.  Amadeo smiled.  "Sure, whatcha got?"

Angelo rummaged around in his bag and pulled out a book.  He handed it to Amadeo who thanked him, and the two boys read in companionable silence for the rest of the lunch period.

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