Coach Mercer was, as most gym teachers are, a hardass. He wore a bright red baseball cap, a white polo shirt and black shorts. A whistle dangled around his neck on a string, which he would blow on regularly and quite liberally. He carried around a clipboard, though he never wrote anything down on the attached papers.
He spoke with all the alacrity of a Marine Corps drill instructor. “Dodgeball,” the coach said, “Is not just the art of dodging a ball. Although it is easy to see why one would think that dodge ball is just about dodging a ball, seeing as how the main goal is for one to dodge a ball that is being thrown in his general direction. However, make no mistake about it, ladies. Dodgeball is about more than dodging a ball. It is about teamwork. It is about responsibility and most importantly, it is about learning how to become a man. The ball is always coming for your face, maggots. 24/7, seven days a week, and twice on Sunday, the ball is lying in wait, ready to pound you right in the kisser and believe me, it’ll do it when you least expect it. Oh sure, you can sit on the sidelines and never get hit in the face with a ball, but that’s nothing to be proud of because you will have never played the game of life either. And you can cry like a baby when you get hit in the face by the ball, but that isn’t going to stop you from getting face pelted again and again. If you show weakness, then the ball will seek you out and pound your face forever. Understand me, you pitiful, sorry excuses for students of physical education, the only way you’ll get through life with some semblance of dignity is to always be on the lookout for that ball. Be ready to dodge it at a moment’s notice and if it does hit you, well, there’s no shame in that. It hits everyone eventually but the only time the shame comes is when you act like a little sissy about it instead of being a man, picking yourself up and walking yourself over to the wall where you’ll wait patiently until it’s your turn to catch the ball and come back to the game of life, where it will be your turn to throw the ball at someone else’s face. Have I made myself clear?”
The boys nodded. Teams were picked and naturally, scrawny Mitch was picked last. Out of a desire to get it over with, he walked to the center of the court, outstretched his arms like everyone’s favorite martyr and pow, he was belted in his upper torso and lower extremities with some twenty odd dodgeballs, which, in the abstract didn’t make sense, since the game was supposed to be played with only one. There were just that many kids who wanted to get a shot in at Mitch’s dodgeball throwable face.
As the game went on, the nerd walked over to the coach. “Permission to sit on the sidelines of life, sir?”
Coach Mercer looked down at the geek as if he were staring at a ripe dog poop he had just scaped off his shoe. “Permission granted. Might as well get used to it now, Lumpkiss.”
Mitch walked the walk of shame to the top of the indoor bleachers, the place where unathletic kids went when they had put in the minimal amount of physical effort required to pass PE but didn’t have anywhere else to go for the rest of the period. There was a kid on crutches, a kid with a congenital spine defect, a girl who was seven months pregnant and boy did it show and as it just so happened, Whitney.
“I thought volleyball was your game,” Mitch said as he sat down next to his sister. Down the court, the girls’ PE class had set up a volleyball net under the watchful eye of the girls’ PE teacher, Coach Dieterman who was, quite literally, more macho than Coach Mercer could have ever hoped to have been, and that was saying something.
“I hold my own,” Whitney said. “But I don’t want to be anywhere near Stacy Hubert right now.”
“A cat fight?” Mitch asked.
“I’m pretty sure she’s the one who keeps writing that I’m a slut on the bathroom wall,” Whitney said. “Though she says she isn’t.”
“What makes you think otherwise?”
“Process of elimination,” Whitney said. “She’s dating Shermy Melmer. Shermy Melmer and I were once a thing…”
“For five minutes,” Mitch said. “She’d hold that against you? When it happened before they got together?”
“The teenage mind is a place that makes no sense, little brother,” Whitney said.
“We’re the same age,” Mitch noted.
“You’re the one who held onto the walls of Mom’s uterus for five extra minutes, desperate to delay your entry into the big scary world for as long as you could,” Whitney said.
“I wasn’t scared,” Mitch said. “It was just nice in there. She had indoor plumbing and free cable.”
That was the type of nonsensical joke that only the Lumpkiss twins could appreciate.
Mitch and Whitney sat quietly for a while, watching the devastation unfold as Derrick pounded one kid in the head after another with his dodgeball of fury, screaming out joyous battle cries as he did so.
“How was your meeting with Mr. Nowicki?” Whitney asked.
“The usual,” Mitch said. “Just another supernatural adult who believes I should go through life as a loser just to placate an ancient piece of paper that no one is in charge of enforcing anymore.”
“You’re not a loser, Mitch,” Whitney said.
Mitch glared at his sister. She relented. “OK, at least not in the academic sense…or at least you weren’t until you caught the disco bug.”
One kid dared to throw a dodgeball Derrick’s way. It was instantly caught and thrown back with the brute force necessary to launch the kid to the ground.
“That’s gotta hurt,” Mitch said. “Anyway, if God wanted me to not live my life in werewolf form, then he should have given me something to work with in my human form. He didn’t so, that’s on him.”
“It’s going around that you lost your scholarship,” Whitney said. “Is that true?”
“Mitch!” Whitney said. “Mom and Dad are going to be pissed.”
“Oh well,” Mitch said.
“What are you going to do with your life?” Whitney asked. “You can’t be Disco Werewolf forever.”
“Why not?” Mitch asked.
“All that drinking and partying and senseless fornication with women you hardly know and OK, as I say it I realize I’m making your case for you, but it will eventually take a toll on your health.”
“It’ll take a toll on my human health,” Mitch said. “My werewolf form handles it all just fine.”
“Yeah, well,” Whitney said. “We all have to be human once in a while.”
“Why?” Mitch asked. “So, I can come back to a dump like this and be ridiculed by a bully who…”
At that precise moment, Derrick noticed Mitch sitting up in the stands. He pelted a volleyball right in the dweeb’s direction. Luckily, Mitch and Whitney were able to duck out of the way just in time.
Thhhhweeeeet! Coach Mercer blew his whistle. “Barnes! Stop throwing dodgeballs at the nerds on the sidelines!”
Mitch finished his thought. “…by a bully who shits on me just to make himself feel better about how his drunk, abusive father shits on him.”
“It’s a vicious cycle of shit,” Whitney said.
“Yeah, well, I never did anything to him,” Mitch said.
Mitch and Whitney watched as Derrick took a water bubbler break. After the bully quenched his thirst, Wendy walked up to him. The couple talked for a minute and then Derrick made a face as though he were about to cry.
“OK maybe Disco Werewolf did,” Mitch said.
Whitney appeared shocked. “What in the…did they just…are you telling me…”
Big sister performed some mental gymnastics in her head. Upon reaching a conclusion, she punched Mitch in the arm.
“Ow!” Mitch said as he rubbed the spot that would inevitably become bruised.
“Mitch,” Whitney said. “Tell me that Disco Werewolf did not pork Wendy Johnson.”
Mitch shrugged his shoulders.
“What?” Mitch asked. “Would it have been so bad if he did? Obviously, the poor girl is not satisfied.”
“It’s one thing to sew your oats and another to use your werewolf powers to extract revenge on your enemy,” Whitney said. “And it’s yet another thing to use one of our classmates to do it, even if she is a stuck-up little Miss Perfect.”
“Derrick is not my enemy,” Mitch said. “He’s just an asshole who’s too stupid to figure out the psychological ramifications behind his use of me as a punching bag to stand in for his old man. Maybe if Derrick would just sock his father back for once, or if society would allow me to wolf out and sock Derrick for once, the vicious cycle of shit could end. ”
Whitney sat there, looking disgusted by her brother.
“OK, fine,” Mitch said. “Disco Werewolf didn’t pork her.”
“Thank God,” Whitney said.
“But she’s totally head over heels for Disco Werewolf,” Mitch said. “She’s warm for his furry form.”
“And you know this how?”
Mitch smirked. “Because Disco Werewolf may have let her through the rope line because he wanted the joy of seeing Derrick left to go home alone.”
Whitney chuckled. “OK, I suppose that’s just karma.”
Derrick returned to court with a vengeance, taking his frustrations on every kid who was unlucky enough to get in his way. Pow, pow, pow – oh, how the dodgeballs flew.
The twins were too lost in their own problems to focus on the gym court chaos.
“Mitch,” Whitney said. “Please tell me you have a plan.”
“Stop being a spazatron, Whit. How many times do I have to tell you it’s all under control?”
Whitney punched her brother in the arm again. Coach Mercer happened to see that and blew on his whistle. “Young lady, please stop beating up your pathetic weakling of a brother!”
The kids, who weren’t currently getting wailed on by Derrick’s dodgeballs, laughed and pointed. Derrick took a brief break from the action to shout, “Ha! Bitch Bumkiss gets beaten up by girls!”
“Thanks,” Mitch said. “That’ll help.”
“I’m sorry,” Whitney said, and the sentiment seemed genuine. “But you don’t have it under control. Your teachers are talking about you. Mom and Dad are talking about you. This will blow up in your face and when it does…”
“I’ll be in California,” Mitch said.
“But you lost your scholarship,” Whitney said.
“But I’ll still be in California,” Mitch said. “OK, fine. I didn’t want to jinx it by saying anything but if it makes you feel better, I have a plan. One way or the other, I’m going to be three-thousands miles away from this jerkwater burg and Disco Werewolf is going to get me there.”
“And that plan is?”
Mitch looked around, realized in his human form, he was too unpopular to be noticed and therefore it was silly to think that anyone was paying attention to what he was saying. “It’ll be easier if I just show you. Tomorrow morning. Before school.”
Whitney pondered her brother’s words before she spoke again. “What about my plan?”
The dweeb’s heart sunk. It dawned on him that while he was so busy working on his scheme, he hadn’t thought to ask what his sister planned to do after graduation.
“I don’t know,” Mitch said. “You tell me.”
“Mom wants me to go to college,” Whitney said. “Dad wants me to find a man.”
At least Mitch was able to be the first family member to ask the question no one else had asked her. “And what do you want?”
Whitney looked around until she too came to the stark realization that she wasn’t cool enough to be watched either. “I’m going to move to the city and make a go of it with my band.”
“What?” Mitch asked. “Sex Barf?”
“Sexual Vomit,” Whitney said.
“I don’t know anything about punk rock,” Mitch said.
“No, you don’t,” Whitney said. “No one else in our family does either but that they stop them from shitting on my dream so go ahead, you can too.”
“I’m not shitting on it,” Mitch said. “It’s just, you know…”
“What?” Whitney asked.
Mitch squirmed in his seat. He felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to offend his sister and yet, they’d always been straight with one another, even when that meant saying something the other didn’t want to hear. “One loud, obnoxious, barely coherent, song with obscene lyrics about how Shermy Melmer probably knew he was going to dump you but asked to feel your boobs over your shirt anyway does not make a career.”
“Shermy Melmer?” Whitney said. “That song isn’t about Shermy Melmer, it’s about, uh…you know…”
Mitch stared at his sibling. She relented. “OK, fine. It’s about Shermy Melmer. But it’s also about how sex…”
Mitch interrupted. “Boob touching doesn’t count.”
“It counts,” Whitney said. “Emotions were involved, Mitch. And by the way, if you think all those groupies you’re screwing are just mindless sex machines who don’t have feeling for Disco Werewolf…”
“They don’t,” Mitch said. “They all know Disco Werewolf is a panty dropping party hound who needs to run wild and free.”
“That’s gross,” Whitney said. “I always thought we should share everything but maybe keep stuff like that to yourself, buddy. And I’m telling you. Every bimbo you bedded woke up the next day thinking that one day she’ll be Mrs. Disco Werewolf.”
“Ha!” Mitch said. “As if.”
“They thought you were giving them love but instead you gave them sex, which is about as worthless as vomit,” Whitney said. “Hence, you gave them sexual vomit. Get it?”
“If you have to explain it, it isn’t clever.”
“Whatever,” Whitney said. “It’s just another way this will backfire on you.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Mitch said. “I worry about you if Sexual Vomit is your plan but I hope it works out.”
“It will,” Whitney said. “Because you’ll be paying me.”
“Excuse me?” Mitch said.
“I deserve a cut,” Whitney said. “This began as me helping a brother in need but now you’ve plunged me down the rabbit hole and once King Mom and Queen Dad find out I ran interference for you, it’s going to be off with my head.”
“Hmm,” Mitch said. “I guess I never thought about that.”
“Typical,” Whitney said. “I need to start saving. Stevie, Pete and I are going to pull our resources and get a place. A nice one. Big so we can spread out and practice, maybe install some soundproofing over the walls.”
“Ha. The neighbors will appreciate that.”
The twins went quiet. Whitney piped up. “Or I can just tell Mom and Dad tonight.”
“Maybe I should,” Whitney said. “Get ahead of the shit before it hits the fan.”
“I know you,” Mitch said. “You’re not a narc.”
“Mommy, Daddy,” Whitney said, faking a naïve little girl’s voice. “I only lied for Mitch because I thought he was just going out dancing but as soon as I found out he wolfing out, I came to you straight away. I’m not in any trouble, am I?”
“Crap,” Mitch said. “They would buy that.”
“They totally would buy that,” Whitney said. “This is the point of no return for me. I can get out now relatively unscathed or stick with you on the road to ruin. Which will it be?”
Mitch sighed. “Fine. You get a cut.”
“I thought so,” Whitney said. “Thirty-percent.”
“What?” Mitch asked. “No. Ten.”
“Are you kidding me?” Whitney asked. “Thirty is more than fair. I should get fifty.”
“Fifty!” Mitch said. “I’m the one wolfing out.”
“And I’m the one delaying the inevitable feeling of disgust our parents will feel in us when they realize they can’t trust us anymore,” Whitney said.
“It was my idea,” Mitch said.
“And it’s a dumb idea,” Whitney said.
“I’m a star.”
“Please. You’re a freakshow.”
“I’m a celebrity.”
“You’re the elephant in the circus, balancing on the rolling ball, about to call off and collapse at any moment. Everyone knows they should look away, but they watch anyway.”
“Ugh,” Mitch said. “Fine. Thirty percent.”
Whitney held out her hand. Mitch looked at it, unsure of what to do at first, but then he figured it out. He shook it.
“Deal,” Mitch said. “Feel better?”
“Honestly,” Whitney said. “Somehow I feel dirtier than before.”