Groggily, February prized open her heavy lids and surveyed her unfamiliar surroundings. She was lying fully clothed in a strange bed in someone else’s room….why? Then, with a sudden rush of agonizing clarity, February remembered: her mother was gone. She was in Hector’s house. Although merely hours ago, the recollection of Hector explaining apologetically that his home housed only one bed, which was normally shared by himself and his aging, senile mother, seemed a distant memory.
“I know it sounds utterly bizarre, but she would never allow us to spend the night in the same room, even though there’s nothing at all like that between us. I would take the couch myself, but Mother is nothing if not eccentric and it would really be best if you stayed in the living room.” February smiled thinly and assured Hector that she honestly didn’t mind, and she was so sorry for inconveniencing his family. However, after a long, uncomfortable night on the Cusack-Little’s lumpy, decrepit couch, February found herself still awake in the early hours of the morning as Hector’s mother left for work. Too exhausted to register any idea of pride, February had crept into bed with Hector and fallen deeply asleep. Now, in the lucidity brought on by a new day, February felt ashamed of herself. It was time for her to stop acting like an irresponsible teenager and grow up. It was time to stop disrespecting Cameron and end things with him, no matter the future she and Hector had — or didn’t have — together.
Dreading the inevitable, but relieved that a decision had finally been made, February left a note thanking Hector and his mother for their hospitality and traveled across town to Cameron’s house where, to her surprise, his dad informed her that Cameron was working over at the stadium. Curious, February made her way to the stadium to visit her estranged beau. Cameron’s eyes lit up at the sight of her.
“Febs! Oh my God, what are you doing here? You look amazing!” Cameron enthused, wrapping February in a giant bear hug.
“Uh, hi Cameron,” February replied, somewhat taken aback. “I came to talk…do you have a minute?”
“For you…I’ve got all the time in the world,” Cameron answered, smiling in the charming, rakish way February knew so well. February took a deep breath, sat in the chair Cameron offered, and began.
Tam couldn’t understand how it had happened. One minute he was plotting Martin Luther’s unpleasant demise, the next he was making out with him…what could possibly have gone wrong? It was as if he’d been bewitched. Since Prom, Martin Luther frequently asked if Tam would like to come over; every time, Tam would accept, convincing himself that the only reason he was visiting the Callender home was to increase his arsenal against Martin Luther….yet each and every time, he and Martin Luther would wind up spending hours playing Gnubb, or just talking. Tam told himself, and anyone else that would listen, that he hated every moment of time he was forced to spend with Martin Luther…but his claims never stopped him from continuing to see the young man.
Like most of his peers, Dwayne Langerak-Bunch was too afraid of Tam to bother trying to refute his allegations; however, Dwayne bore no fear at all towards Martin Luther. In some obscure way unbeknownst to him, Martin Luther had managed somehow to steal Tam’s heart, and everyone in school — with the exception of Tam — knew it. Dwayne felt hurt, angry, and humiliated, and, as Tam was out of his reach, Dwayne was determined to get back at Martin Luther, one way or another. Brief as his fling with Tam had been, Dwayne had managed to pick up a few tricks in the duration and slowly began an invasive campaign against Martin Luther’s emotions. Within Martin Luther’s hearing — though never while he was in Tam’s company — Dwayne casually began to bring Tam up to other students. When merely commenting on conversations that Dwayne pretended he and Tam had had on the phone the night before didn’t seem to affect Martin Luther, Dwayne decided it was time to up the ante a little bit and started having imaginary exchanges with Tam on his cell.
“Oh, hey, Tam,” Dwayne began at the end of one day while waiting outside the school for his ride home. Martin Luther was standing nearby, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. Dwayne watched him surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye as he continued with his inventive monologue. “Oh my God, I had the greatest time last night! How did you know how much I love the Bistro?” Dwayne paused a moment, allowing “Tam” time to reply, then tittered coquettishly and simpered, “Oh, I know what you mean…some people just can’t seem to take a hint. You’re just too sweet to say no to anyone! Anyway, I’m glad for any time you can get away from your little leech and spend time with moi.” Martin Luther frowned, and Dwayne smiled coyly to himself, pleased with the small crack in his rival’s demeanor.
While Dwayne cooed senseless endearments into his powered-off phone, Martin Luther mulled the apparent situation over in his mind. Tam had been hanging out with him a lot lately, which was nice; he didn’t seem to mind most of the things Martin Luther said anymore, and he appeared to like kissing, which was VERY nice. But Tam had never said that Martin Luther was his boyfriend, and, from the sound of things, was actually more interested in Dwayne. Understandably, Martin Luther was a little hurt by this revelation, but, since Tam had been kind to him and willing to accept him for who he was, Martin Luther was determined that he would pay Tam the same consideration. After all, Marie had always taught him that if something didn’t belong to him, he needed to leave it alone…or did she say he needed to steal it…? Martin Luther only wished that Tam had been honest with him from the start. However, now that Martin Luther knew the truth, he was determined to set things right. Grimly, he approached Dwayne.
“Dwayne. I hear you like the Bistro. Would you want to come with me and have…some Bistro food, or whatever it is they do over there?” he asked his astonished schoolmate. Too nonplussed to respond otherwise, Dwayne nodded dumbly and the two boys made their way to the little greasy spoon in the center of town. Once seated, Martin Luther, never one to mince words, folded his arms and surveyed Dwayne seriously from across the table. “So,” he began, “you and Tam are a ‘thing.'” Surprised, Dwayne hesitated. Lying would be easy, and probably effective; however, should Martin Luther talk with Tam about Dwayne’s behavior, everything up to this point could be explained away as merely a misunderstanding on Martin Luther’s part. Dwayne wasn’t afraid of Martin Luther, but Tam was known to be unpredictable and violent. Stalling, Dwayne shifted his eyes askance and asked, “What would give you that idea?”
“Don’t play games with me, Langerak,” Martin Luther growled, leaning over the table to fix narrowed eyes upon the other boy. “I know you two have been talking; you’ve practically drawn it all over a newspaper and rubbed my face in it.”
“I…don’t know what that means,” Dwayne began, but was abruptly cut off when Martin Luther banged his hand loudly on the table. “Can it, Langerak. I’m not an idiot, and Tam knows that. If he didn’t tell me about you, it was because he didn’t want to hurt me.” Martin Luther sank down in his seat, suddenly defeated. “If he wants you, then I want that for him. That’s what people do when they love someone, not tie them up and throw them in a trash can full of fire.”
“….what are you even talking about?” Dwayne sputtered. “Are you saying that Tam is going to set me on fire?!” Martin Luther gave Dwayne a long, searching look.
“No…” he said slowly, “I’m saying that love is a battlefield, and that sometimes it lasts, but sometimes it hurts instead.” Rather than calming his schoolmate, however, Martin Luther’s words seemed only to panic Dwayne further. Wracking his brain in one last attempt to find words to convey his meaning, Martin Luther raised his voice and began gesticulating frantically, hoping his hand motions would make his words clearer. “People you love are like boomerangs,” he practically shouted. “You throw them, and they come back and hit you in the head, really, really hard, if they’re supposed to be with you.” Dwayne’s eyes grew larger and larger with every word that Martin Luther spoke, inadvertently causing Martin Luther to increase both his volume and the intensity of his gestures until finally Dwayne jumped from his seat and began backing towards the door.
“O–okay,” he stammered, “I get it. If I don’t leave you and Tam alone, you will set me on fire and beat me in the head. I won’t bother you anymore, I swear, just…just don’t hurt me, okay?” Without waiting for an answer, the terrified boy threw himself through the door of the Bistro and took off towards home, convinced he had underestimated Martin Luther and resolved to avoid both him and Tam as much as possible in the future.
Back at the Bistro, Martin Luther remained seated for a long while, pondering the odd behavior of Dwayne Langerak-Bunch. It appeared that he’d never managed to get the kid to understand what he’d been trying to convey, no matter how intelligible Martin Luther had been. Clearly, Dwayne was either outrageously stupid or highly unstable. Either way, Martin Luther decided as he got ready to return home, it was probably best if he just avoided Dwayne as much as possible in the future.