I’d returned to VA after visiting a crazy lady’s house and was heading up to my room to sleep off all the beer I’d drunk. Unfortunately, Meg and Terry had heard the Vespa and they came rushing through the kitchen calling my name. My heart sank.

“Thank God you’re back!” Meg shouted. “Earl and Eddie are fighting and we can’t break them up – Earl’s going to kill Eddie!”

I rolled my eyes and leaned my head against the stairwell wall. All this had happened before, Eddie taunting and baiting Earl until Earl cracked and attacked Eddie. My job was to break up the fight, which wasn’t a lot of fun because Earl was the size of Godzilla.

“Why are you just standing there?” Meg shrieked. “Hurry, hurry!”

I was way too drunk to hurry, but I did stumble down the stairs and make my way to the side door. Terry was standing just outside it looking helpless, and I could hear the girls crying in the yard.

It was just as I’d expected. Earl had Eddie in a headlock and was roaring like some sort of beast. I stepped into the yard and called out, “Knock it off, Earl! Let him go!”

Earl either didn’t hear me or didn’t care because he just kept jerking Eddie around in circles, growling like a wild animal. I moved toward the two boys and as I got closer I got a shock: Earl didn’t have Eddie in a headlock, he had him in a neck-lock. Eddie’s face was purple verging on black and he seemed to be only semi-conscious.

If I’d been sober I might have found a sensible way to break up the fight, but I wasn’t sober and now I was alarmed and angry. The next thing I knew I’d thrown myself across the yard, imagining that I was out on the football field back at college. I tackled Earl hard, driving my shoulder into his shins just below the knee, flipping him over. He let go of Eddie and landed hard on his back.

I was also on my back, but I could see that Earl was getting rapidly to his feet and was going to charge at me. I managed to get part-way to my feet and then dove away from Earl. He tripped over my legs and fell hard on his face.

I stood up slowly, leaning on the oak tree for support. Earl drew himself to his hands and knees, blood dripping from his face onto the grass. When he got completely to his feet he looked terrifying – a huge mountain of a kid with blood all over his face and all over the front of his shirt.

“It’s over, Earl!” I called out, but it wasn’t over for Earl. He was coming at me slowly, his big hands balled into fists.

When Earl was a couple of feet from me he threw a wild punch at my head. He threw it too soon, though, he was still too far away and I was sure the punch would fall short. But Earl’s arms were longer than I thought and his fist just caught the side of my jaw.

The punch didn’t hurt much, but it startled and enraged me and I threw a hard, open-handed punch at Earl, catching him solidly under his chin. Earl’s head jerked back, his eyes rolled up in their sockets, and he collapsed to the ground like a rag doll. For two terrible seconds I was sure I’d killed him.

I dropped to my knees shouting, “Earl! Wake up!” I was vaguely aware that the girls were crying loudly as I turned Earl over. Fortunately, he began to groan, so he wasn’t dead.

I got Earl slowly to his feet and we leaned on each other as I steered him towards the side door. In the kitchen I sat Earl down in Teddy’s chair – if he was concerned about that he didn’t show it. Probably, he had no idea where he was.

I was standing above Earl looking worried, but the kitchen began to spin around so I grabbed a kitchen chair, turned it around backwards, and sat down on it. I rested my forearms on top of the seatback and rested my head on my arms until the room stopped spinning.

When I looked over at Earl he was coming around. He gradually realized I was sitting right in front of him but he couldn’t meet my eyes and his dropped. “Are you proud of yourself?” I said. Earl’s chin dropped further.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am, Earl. I thought we had an understanding about this.”

I told Earl, as I’d told him before, that the world was full of Eddies, guys who were afraid of Earl but a lot smarter and who would bait him mercilessly. “If you can’t find a way to deal with that,” I told him, “you’ll be in constant trouble. You won’t be able to keep a job and someday you’ll hurt somebody bad and end up in jail.”

I sighed. “Well,” I said, “I’m not going to waste any more breath on this, Earl, you know it all as well as I do. Go up to your room and wash up and change your shirt. Then you’re in time-out until bedtime. Go into the front room and stay there until I come and get you.”

But Earl didn’t move, he just sat there looking puzzled. Then he said, “But you ain’t … you ain’t sendin’ me back to juvy?”

“Juvy?” I said. “Why would I do that?”

“Well, b’cause … b’cause I done jus’ hit a supe-a-visor! Tha’s the worse, it’s jus’ the worse!”

“Yeah, well, I hit you back, so we’re even. Now get going.”

Earl stood up and trudged slowly across the kitchen. I put my head back down on my arms and listened to his heavy tread, but then the tread stopped. I looked around at him. Earl was standing at the entrance to the front hall, looking back at me.

He said, “Mr. C, I mean … I mean … well, thankee Mr. C, thankee.”

I nodded and Earl clomped off. Time to deal with Eddie.

Next up: VA, Part 16

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