BY ROB POSTROZNY
I was ready to punch him.
"Rob, be the bigger man; don't do it," said one girl.
"What are you waiting for, Robert… scared? Yea, you're scared, aren't you? Come on, let's go, right now." Jeff kept taunting me. He wanted me to punch him, but he knew I wouldn't; I never did.
I hated Jeff. Everybody hated Jeff, even the teachers. He didn't have one friend. Jeff was five foot two, had thick black hair, and walked like a duck. He wore sports jerseys two sizes too big and umbro shorts. He'd wear those umbro shorts even in the winter. Sometimes he'd wear glasses, sometimes not. We didn't call Jeff a nerd; nerds in our high school had to be smart. Jeff wasn't smart. He wasn't a jock either; you had to be cool to be a jock. Jeff wasn't cool. Jeff liked to shoot spitballs at people. He was worse than a nerd.
I knew Jeff from history class; he sat next to me. Every day he'd come in with a big smile and start trouble.
"Robert, did you know I have two airplanes?"
Jeff lived in an apartment on the other side of town. His dad drove a limousine and his mom worked at McDonald's, unheard of in CEO-infested Hinsdale.
"Oh really, two airplanes? Where do you keep them?" I said.
"I store them on aircraft carriers at Twin Lakes."
"Jeff… shut up."
He'd pester me at home too.
"Hello, is Robert there?"
Nobody called me Robert. "Yes… Jeff… what do you want now? And why are you calling me?"
"I'm going to homecoming with Jenny. She asked me. Who are you going with? Or… are you not going?"
I wasn't going. He knew I wasn't going, and he knew it was a touchy subject, but that's why he brought it up.
"Is that it, Jeff?"
"No… you want to play basketball with me tomorrow?"
What? He can't ask me that. This is the same guy who wanted to fight me.
"Jeff, you bother the hell out of me. I don't like you, never did, never will. Stop bothering me. I mean it. " Click.
He got to me. He got to everyone. He even knew how to piss off our history teacher, Ms. Woods.
"Ms. Woods, Ms. Woods, Ms. Woods." Jeff was halfway out of his seat, with his hand way up in the air. This bothered Ms. Woods; she was in the middle of her lecture on George Washington.
"What do you want, Jeff?" she said in a snappy voice.
Jeff gleamed. He was on center stage now. In a methodical manner, he carefully sat up straight, cleared his throat and said, "Did you know that George Washington was elected president in 1789?"
Ms. Woods just told us that. What a jerk. Jeff was the only one laughing at the joke.
"Jeff, GROW UP," Ms. Woods screamed. She stared at Jeff for a few minutes. He stared back at her, with a smile. "I'm sick of the way you act in my class. Get out of here. I don't want you here. Get out. Go see the dean, NOW!"
I was ready to hit him… again. He knew I wouldn't though, so he kept chipping away.
"You're all talk, Robert, all talk. Not going to get very far in life, are you? Come on, let's go." He threw his pen at me; it hit me right in the eye.
That did it. I burst out of my chair and charged Jeff in a fit of rage.
"JEFF, YOU'RE DEAD!"
Before I reached him, a girl who never said a word stopped me.
"Why are you so mean to him?"
"What?" I said, caught off guard. "Are you nuts?" I couldn't believe she said that to me. "I'm not mean to him!"
She then gave me a look, such a disgusted look, and said, "Rob, you are mean to him, just like everybody else. Can you imagine how that feels?"
I wasn't like the others; I didn't call him Oreo cookie; I didn't beat him up in the locker room or spit on him in the halls. Dumbfounded, I stood still for a good minute before I walked back to my desk. That night I cried.
I saw Jeff the next morning on my way to Spanish; he tried to trip me. I stopped, looked at him, and gave him a relaxed smile. "Hey Jeff, how are you?" He stood there, wondered what was up my sleeve, and grinned back.
"I'm good, asshole. How are you?" he said.
"Good, good," I said. "Where you off to now?"
His grin melted away; he was confused. I could see him thinking. Why was I talking to him that way? Why wasn't I mad? It didn't matter though; he didn't care. His smile came back and he said, "I have to go to science."
"Oh, OK, well, I'll talk to you later then, all right?" I said.
"OK, bye Rob. Talk to you later then," he yelled to me as I walked away.
* * * *
History class was held in the library that week.
"Hey, Rob, how's your project coming along?" Jeff said, as he sat down at the computer next to me.
"I haven't started. I'm just looking at what movies are coming out tomorrow."
He laughed. "Sounds like a great idea. I think I'll do that too."
So we both sat there and quietly surfed the Internet. Five minutes later, a librarian came and interrupted me. She gave me a late slip.
"Shit," I said. "I keep getting these damn things."
I had the book in my backpack. Thank God. I was sick of paying forty dollars for lost books. I quickly walked to the reference desk to return the book before the bell rang.
"That will be fifty cents," said the librarian.
I searched in my pockets for some money. "I'll pay later. I don't have any money now," I told her. The bell rang and I hurried out of the library.
"Excuse me. Excuse me." The librarian yelled and waved for me to come back. I walked back to the counter.
"You have to pay now. School is out in two weeks, and this is the last day to pay fines."
"I can't believe this!" I said in disgust.
Jeff heard the conversation and walked up to the counter. "What's the problem, Rob?"
"Oh… hi, Jeff…" I said, while I looked for somebody who would lend me some money. "I just have to pay this fine."
"I'll take care of it," he said. He reached in his pockets and pulled out two quarters. "Here. It's all I have." He laid them on the counter and walked away.
I was stunned. I ran out of the library and caught up to Jeff. Maybe he'd want to come with me to the movies tomorrow.
"Jeff?" I said.
"What are you doing tomorr-"
"ROB! Why are you talking to that loser?" A group of my rowdy friends came and grabbed me. "Let's go; we're going over to Matt's house." They pulled my arm and dragged me with them.
"Jeff," I yelled across the hallway, "thanks again… I owe you one."
A week before school was out, I went to my friend's lake house. It was fun; we went water skiing, had a bonfire, had some good laughs. Jeff was at home that weekend, on his computer. Apparently he did that quite often - he went home after school, sat in his room, and played on his computer. That Saturday night, while I was drinking with my friends, Jeff killed himself. He used a garbage bag.
Three days later, I put on a suit and tie at four o'clock. I sat in the kitchen for twenty minutes, eating an apple, staring at the clock. I went up to my room, locked the door, and waited until it was time to go. I didn't leave until six, and I got to the funeral home around 7. When I walked in, Miss Woods was sitting in the back pew, sobbing. Most of the kids from the junior class showed up. The majority looked at his body, sat down for a few moments, and then left. I did the same. I saw his father; he was a short man just like Jeff. I introduced myself and told him the story about how Jeff paid for my library fine. It wasn't much of a story, but he cried, said Jeff was a good kid, and patted me on the back.