At 16, Piper was a cheerleader; a perky, blond girl full of jittery, giggling energy. She was so much in love with being young and popular. Her bed at home was covered with a collection of stuffed monkeys—Brownie, Bongo, Bingo, Chimpy, and Alexander. But her real love was John Travolta and the Bee Gees, who were always playing on her record player.
Gray couldn’t be bothered. He was different; a circumspect boy of seventeen. He played mid-field on the varsity soccer team and was the fastest sprinter on the track team. Yet despite his athletic achievements, Gray had few friends. His sister adored him, but mostly he ignored her.
The trouble started when Piper started dating Jimmy Yates, a star linebacker on the varsity football team. A man among boys; Jimmy was already shaving, surly in the way of popular jocks in high school. Jimmy stood six feet three inches tall and weighed 240 pounds.
Piper came home from a party one October Saturday with a bruise on her cheek. She joked about bumping into the car door and then went into her room sooner than she usually did. No Saturday Night Live. The wall dividing their bedrooms was thin and he heard one distinct sob before she buried her face in her stuffed monkeys.
The following weekend, she came home from the movies with a split lip. Silly me, she said, I’m so clumsy! All smiles. But Gray knew it then, and felt something stir loose within him.
The next day, Sunday, he rode his bike to the Yates house. Jimmy was raking leaves with his father. A pile was burning behind them, the brownish, white smoke swirling up through the naked tree branches. Father and son stopped working and leaned on their rakes when Gray dropped his bike at the curb.
He crossed the lawn, his sneakers crunching on the leaves, and walked right up to Jimmy Yates. Just looked at him; saw the guilt in Jimmy’s fidgety eyes. The shame of it twitching his eyeballs.
“Who’s this?” the father said, lighting a cigarette. He was big; bigger than Jimmy, but fat and soft.
“What’d you want?” Jimmy asked.
“Stay away from my sister,” Gray said.
The father snorted; laughed. “Look at this,” the father said to Jimmy. “Can you believe this shit?”
Jimmy nodded, feeling bold. “Yeah,” he said and then looked at Gray. “Fuck you.”
The father hooted.
Gray snatched the rake from Jimmy, spun it, and snapped it in half over his knee.
“Hey!” the father shouted.
Gray used the severed end on Jimmy. He lost count of the blows at four, maybe five. Jimmy’s wrist broke and then his jaw. Gray left him lying in a heap; not moving. The father never moved: cigarette hanging from his lower lip.
The police arrested Gray at his house an hour later. He kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to admit it to anyone—not even to himself—how much he enjoyed it.