Mr. Durlo, the calculus teacher, used his extended pointer and pointed to the screen. “Any questions on how we arrived at this answer? Nick, you look like you’re someplace else. Do you understand the thinking we used to get this answer?”
Nick knew Mr. Durlo was right. His mind was on his dad. It was on Johnny Balboni. It was on the SATs that he’d take on Thursday. It was on everything but this class.
“I understand, Mr. Durlo,” said Nick.
Nick knew he didn’t understand, but didn’t want to embarrass himself. In one more minute the bell would ring to end class. It would be time for lunch. He was going to sit with Cara and ask her to go over the calculus problem with him. He glanced at her, but she didn’t glance back.
The bell rang, Nick stood up and walked to the front of the class and waited for Clara. The class slowly emptied. Clara remained at her desk. When Mr. Durlo and all the students were out of the room except for she and Nick, Clara said, “We need to talk, Nick.”
Clara pointed to a desk next to her. Nick’s stomach hurt. He knew Clara and knew her voice. Her voice this time was filled with seriousness. Nick had a feeling if this were a movie it was not going to have a happy ending. Nick sat at the desk in row next to Clara. He moved his desk so he faced her. He said, “Want to go to lunch? I could use some help on my calculus.”
“Yes, I want to go to lunch. But I am not going with you, Nick. I like you. I really like you. But I am going to end our relationship.”
“Why? What did I do?” Asked Nick.
“It’s not what you did. You didn’t do anything to hurt me. It’s just that with you working on the weekends we’ll never have time to see each other. I want more of a life and it’s not going to happen with you.”
“It’ll only be for a short time. As soon as my dad gets a job, I’ll be able to quit. We can see each other at lunch. We can get together on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Want to give it a chance?” Nick didn’t want to get upset. Each time he felt his anger rising, he fought to control it.
“There’s more Nick. You don’t know it, but everyone is laughing and you and your father for helping the town bum out. He’s disgusting. You’re so much better than him. If you promise not to go near him, I’ll give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it goes with us. Is it a deal?” Asked Cara.
Nick turned his head and stared at the Calculus problem on the screen. He thought, that is how my life looks, it’s one big problem after another. He made a deep sigh and looked at Cara, and said, “Johnny Balboni is no bum. He’s a human like the rest of us. If you talk to him, you’ll find out what a decent guy he is. I won’t stop talking to him or helping him out where I can.”
Cara took hold of her purse, she stood up and said, “Have a nice life, Nick. I’m not part of it and don’t try to sit with me at lunch.”
Nick watched Cara leave. He sat and thought about it. Everything happening to me is because of Johnny Balboni. And, Johnny doesn’t even know anything about it. Nick stayed in the empty classroom staring at the calculus problem. Twice he walked up to the screen and studied the problem more closely. He was missing something, he couldn’t figure out what it was. He snapped a photo of the problem with his iPhone to study later.
Nick went through his advanced chemistry class and his Spanish IV class in a daze. He couldn’t concentrate. In the space of a couple of days he lost his best friend, Buttons, his girlfriend Clara and any hope he had for scoring well on the SATs. After his last class, he left school and began walking home. He couldn’t remember walking home without Buttons. A first time for everything he thought.
When he got to the center of town, he decided to take a short cut through the alley behind the row of stores. He wouldn’t meet anyone in the alley, he didn’t feel like talking. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt. He was angry. He was sad. He was scared. And, he wasn’t going to tell anyone.
Nick was nearing the end of the alley when he saw an empty bottle. He bent over, picked it up and threw it against the back wall of a building. The glass bottle exploded against the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.
Breaking the bottle didn’t help Nick. He still felt lousy. He kicked at the ground and started walking.
“Hey, Nick. Hey, Nick. What you do that for, break a bottle worth a five cents?” Said Johnny Balboni.
Nick stopped and looked for Johnny. It took him a minute before he found him. Johnny was sitting next to a large empty box, eating a sandwich and sipping from a bottle of water.
Before Nick could say anything, Johnny said, “Come over here and keep me company while I eat.”
Why does Johnny want Nick to sit with him? Will Nick’s string of bad luck stop? What else can go wrong for Nick