Barrett moved towards me. Instinctively, I took a step away from him with my arm raised halfway up as if I was preparing to defend myself. He mistook it for a handshake and offered his hand, which for some reason I reached for while I quivered. Now that he was so close to me, I realized it wasn't fear that was making my heart race. I was such a passive-aggressive person that when my blood boiled with rage, it caught me by surprise. Even though the car door was open and in between us, it wasn't enough to put me at ease.
"I don't think I need to introduce myself to you."
"Y-yeah…" I muttered.
Barrett half-smiled. "Heard that a lot tonight. If it means anything to you, I'm not that person anymore," he said. "Anyway, do want me to jump start your car? I have a jumper cable in my trunk."
Did he recognize me? I narrowed my eyes a bit because everything started to spin. I held on to the door and the roof of my car to keep my balance. "Uh… Sure." Perspiration ran down my back. I didn't know why I agreed to let him help me. Maybe out of desperation? Part of me believed he wanted to help, but the rest of me was cautious in case there was an ulterior motive. It also took all my strength to stop myself from running towards him and tackling him to the ground.
He gave me an odd look while he walked to his car, which wasn't that far away from mine. Three cars down, Barrett got into his vehicle then moved it next to mine. He popped open his trunk for his cables. In about five minutes he was already linking our batteries together, but instead of heading over and turning on his car, and instructing me to do the same, he called me over. I ducked underneath the jumper cable as I made my way over to him despite my reluctance.
"How old is your car?"
The random question caught me off guard, but I answered him while I remained in control of myself. "Bought it used. Had it for a couple years now. Why?"
Barrett rubbed the back of his head. "Do you know anything about cars?"
"I only know how to change a tire and how to jump start one. Again, why?"
"Well, you technically don't need a mechanic for this, but I thought I'd let you know you've got a leaky radiator, your belts need to be replaced, your battery's pretty old, and your alternator's almost dead, too." He leaned over my engine with his nose wrinkled in disapproval.
I glanced at my engine as if I knew what he was pointing out to me.
"I can fix all of this for you. I own an auto repair shop with my brothers not too far from here." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He handed me a card with directions to "Barrett Brothers' Auto Repair." "We can order the parts for your car. Come in whenever you're available and we can take care of—"
"No, no, no, no, no. Nu-uh. No thanks. Not you." The words rushed out of me before I could stop them. I crumbled up the card and blindly threw it away.
He had the audacity to look offended. "The fuck's your problem?"
"Don't pretend like fixing my car will make up for everything you did to me, Barrett!"
His angry confusion looked genuine. "Do I know you?" It wasn't until he closed some distance between us that I realized I made a huge mistake, but it was too late for me to care.
I balled my hands into fists to stop them from trembling. Barrett spread his legs shoulder's width apart while he crossed his arms in front of him when he noticed my hostility. Never in a million years would I be able to take him on in a fist fight. It would be like throwing myself into a gorilla's habitat at the zoo just to have it drag me across the water.
The tension in the air lingered until I somehow found the strength to answer him.
"I was the fat kid you beat up several times for no reason, the fat kid you forced into the men's bathroom and shoved his head into the toilet until he passed out, the fat kid who had his clothes ripped off of him just so you could make him run naked in front of everyone in school." As I spoke I could see the recognition in his eyes. Years of frustration, hatred, and anger coming up all at once felt liberating. I never thought I'd have this moment; it was almost like shedding the last of my weight.
Barrett blinked several times before he recovered. "Gabriel? You're Gabriel?"
I sneered at him. "Who the fuck else am I supposed to be?!"
"Shit…" he hissed.
"Is that all you have to say, Barrett? Really?"
"Well, what do you want me to say? This is awkward as fuck for me!"
My heartbeat pounded inside my chest. It felt like my whole body was going to burst. "Awkward? Awkward? You have no right to feel awkward, asshole!"
He glared at me with his teeth bared. "What do you want? An apology?" he growled. "I'd be happy to give it to you and leave!"
"I won't accept your apology! It's not going to change anything."
"Then what the fuck's your problem?" He pointed at himself. "I've changed, Gabriel. I'm not the same troubled kid I was ten years ago— no, longer than that."
"Yeah, right." I let out a breathless, humorless laugh. "You know what? I'm glad we had this reunion. I almost didn't want to come because of you. But I'm glad I did. Nothing you do will ever make things better between us, no matter what you say," I said.
"Good. The world doesn't revolve around you. How do you know I wasn't going through something, too? So I bullied you. What makes you so special? Lots of people get bullied," Barrett argued. "It was hard for me to come here, too, dumb ass. You think I don't know what people thought of me inside that gym? The way everyone in there looked at me? They only saw what I used to be over a decade ago."
His eyes widened with rage. The jumper cable disconnected, and almost made me lose my balance, when Barrett pushed me away. "Fine. Instead of an apology, I'll tell you this: thank you," he said through clenched teeth. "Thank you for letting me take my frustration out on you." He pushed me again. "Thank you for being so easy to pick on." He shoved me against his car. "Thank you for making high school bearable for me."
He had me pinned against his car, but I didn't back down. "Did you ever stop to think about how that made me feel? Ten years later, do you feel any remorse at all?"
Barrett scoffed. "I completely forgot about you until you brought this up on yourself," he murmured. "You haven't changed one bit, Gabriel."
And there I was jumping into the gorilla's habitat.
One second Barrett stood in front of me, then my fist sent him staggering backwards. He held the left side of his face with an amused, surprised gasp that turned into a breathless, aggravated laugh. I breathed out through my mouth while I shook my hand. It hurt a lot more than I thought it would. It was also the first time I ever hit someone. He glowered up at me and grabbed fistfuls of my dress shirt, yanking me to the floor. He landed on top and hit me twice in the face before I punched him in the balls. The sound he made was between a grunt and a whimper. While he howled in pain and covered his groin, I slid away enough so I could kick him off of me. His back hit the side of his car when he fell while clutching at his abdomen.
We somehow managed to stand up at the same time.
"That was a cheap shot…" Barrett groaned.
Both my eyes were beginning to swell. "I think I earned it after… everything you did to me," I said, the taste of blood in my mouth.
We stayed upright with our hands leaning on our knees as we tried to catch our breaths. Two cars passed by, but because we were fighting between our own, there was no way anyone would interrupt us.
"I'll let it slide," Barrett finally responded. "But no more balls."
"No more balls."
He rushed at me, but I reacted in time by shifting my weight so that we'd hit the asphalt side by side. Both of us tried to overpower one another: our hands teared at our clothes, clawed at our faces, or gripped at each other's wrists as we struggled. Barrett found an opening when he elbowed my temple. It left me in a daze, which allowed him to turn me over and pin my arms behind my back. He used the weight of his knee to crush my chest, the wind getting knocked out of me. With his other hand, Barrett continued to shove my head to the ground.
"How does that feel, huh?" he shouted. "Bring back any memories?"
"I hate you Barrett!" I yelled when he grabbed me by the hair. "I'll always hate you and what you did to me!"
Barrett responded by pressing my face to the ground again, but when he pulled me back up, I used the momentum to snap my head backwards. His nose and mouth collided with the back of my head, his grip loosened as well. I turned around and saw him sitting a few feet away from me. Blood seeped out between his fingers as he covered his face with his hand.
"Fuck!" he growled.
I pounced on him before he could recover. I could feel his blood smear across my cheek when he tried to hold me back. Unfazed, I tried to hit him in the face one more time, but he moved his head out of the way, causing me to punch the asphalt instead. While I held my hand in pain, he gained control over me again, ending up on top of me for the third time.
"I didn't even recognize you, fucker!" Barrett shouted. "Why couldn't you just let it go?" He pinned both of my wrists to the floor.
We breathed out of our mouths while he waited for me to make my next move. His blood trickled down his chin and dripped on to my dress shirt as we remained where we were.
My phone rang. Both of us looked down in the direction of my front pocket. A few awkward seconds passed until he hesitantly let go of one of my hands. I dug out my phone and glanced at the caller ID. For a moment, I considered ignoring Val, but I knew she'd end up calling me again.
I answered her despite my predicament. "Now's not a good time…"
"Hey! I just wanted to know if— Wait… You sound out of breath… Are you getting laid? Because I can hang up if you want."
"Oh, God, hell no," I said. She was pretty close since Barrett was still on top of me, his face inches away. "Why did you call?"
"I wanted to know how the reunion went," she said. "Was it fun?"
I breathed out through my nostrils with my eyes closed. "I caught up with a few old friends. Got their numbers. We even talked shit about some people, too. But, Val, can we—"
"A-ha! So you did end up having a good time, huh?"
Barrett furrowed his eyebrows together while he wiped his nose with his free hand. He continued to aim the intensity of his eyes at me. I could feel his irritation piercing through me.
Val was beginning to gloat about how right she was for forcing me go to the reunion alone, so I had to stop her before I'd lose an opportunity to speak.
"Look, can we talk later? I'm kind of busy," I said.
"What are you up to?"
The swelling around my eyes was worse than when we first started. More damage to my face would make it impossible for me to drive home. Now that I had fought with Barrett, as well as Val interrupting the mood, my frustration had calmed down. Although I wanted to finish this fight and go down like a man— because Barrett obviously was going to win— I also wanted to live another day. "Someone's helping me jump start my car. They're waiting for me."
For a second, it seemed like Barrett was disappointed, but he let go of my other hand before he stood up without a noise of complaint.
"You could've called me you know," Val said. "Whatever. I'll talk to you tomorrow then." She hung up without pushing it any further.
I breathed a sigh of relief and stood up with a loud groan.
"Don't have the courage to settle this once in for all?" Barrett asked with an impish grin. "Not surprised."
"To be honest, I knew I was doomed the moment I sucker punched you…" I examined my shirt with disgust as I wiped away at my cheek. There was blood all over it, as well as my tie, some buttons had been torn off, and there was a hole on the side. "Great. This was a new shirt."
Barrett was in a similar situation, except he had more tears on his shirt than me. "Why don't we call it even? We didn't finish—"
"We are far from even, asshole," I said.
"I'll fix your car up for free," he offered.
"In your dreams."
"Whatever, loser." He rubbed the small of his back. "Let's jump start your car so we don't have to see each other again. How about that?"
I rubbed my head when it started to throb. "That's something we can both agree on."
Barrett limped to my car, reconnecting our batteries before turning on his vehicle. He honked and waited for me to do the same. I turned the ignition, the lights flickered, and my car roared back to life. We stepped out at the same time so Barrett could gather his jumper cable. I closed the hood of my car when he started to walk away. We didn't acknowledge each other as we prepared to go our separate ways.
"Hey, Barrett," I called out to my surprise, just as he stepped into his car. "Thanks."
He responded with a single, stoic nod. "And I was serious about the problems with your car. You should take care of that as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be my auto repair shop either," he said.
"I'll look into it. Promise."
There was a ghost of a smile playing on his lips; the gesture made me do a double take because of the horrible street lighting. "Good bye, Gabriel," he said. "And I'm sorry about what I did. I also lied to you earlier… I never actually forgot about you." He got into his car, speeding away before I was able to respond.
I watched him leave and disappear into the intersection down the street. Maybe it was the adrenaline wearing off, the pain and aching around my face, or the fact that I managed to defend myself for once, but when I sat inside my car again, my eyes burned with tears. Whether they were made of disbelief, reassurance, frustration, or exhaustion, I was too preoccupied to make my way home to care.
I actually had this chapter done for a while, but I had to let the first chapter breathe for a bit, you know? Haha.
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my second chapter. I appreciate all the support! :)