The Fight

by Alma J. Yates

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    Rock Broch was my rival, and I knew I’d come face to face with him. But this wasn’t the way I’d planned it.

    I sat uneasily in the soft chair, glancing about Mr. Blaine’s office. During four years at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson I had been in the vice principal’s office only once before—as a representative of the Honor Society, making a request for a benefit dance.

    As I waited for Mr. Blaine, I avoided casting even a cursory glance at “Rock” Broch, who sat in the chair next to me. I was still breathing heavily. Already my right eye was swelling with pain, my knuckles burned, and I suspected that there was still a little blood on my face even though I had tried to wipe it off with the back of my hand.

    “Well, well,” a deep baritone boomed behind me. I stiffened as Mr. Blaine entered the office from behind. For a moment he stood behind his desk with his hands in his pockets, studying the two of us. He was a squat, muscular man with a prominent flat nose which, according to rumors, he had received as a semi-professional boxer when he was younger.

    “Well, Mr. Williams, this is a surprise.” Sheepishly I returned his stare. “And you, Mr. Broch,” he added, turning from me. He rubbed his chin and then dropped into his chair. Hands behind his head, he studied us curiously. “It’s hard to tell who won,” he mused. “You both look a little worse for wear.”

    I shifted nervously in my chair and glanced down at the gold carpeted floor. “Well, before I have your folks pick you up …”

    “Pick us up?” I stammered, cutting in.

    Mr. Blaine nodded. He glanced over at a calendar hanging on the wall. “Let’s see. Today’s Tuesday. You’ll be able to come back to school—next Monday morning.”

    “Monday morning?” I rasped. “You mean we’re kicked out?” I leaned forward and wet my lips. “I have a wrestling tournament over at Flowing Wells this Friday and Saturday.”

    Mr. Blaine began to chuckle dryly. He raised his eyebrows, wrinkling his brow. “You had a wrestling tournament, Mr. Williams. You just withdrew.”

    His words hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t miss that tournament. Last season I had taken second out of 16 guys in my weight class, behind the same kid who later beat me for the state championship. This year the Flowing Wells Tournament was all mine. And it was to be my first step to the state championship.

    I coughed. “Uh, Mr. Blaine, I really can’t miss that tournament. I mean …”

    “You should have been thinking of that 15 minutes ago,” he cut me short. “Before you and Mr. Broch decided to break your knuckles on each other’s jaws.”

    Mr. Blaine reached for a pen and began filling out our suspension forms. I waited a moment, hoping he would change his mind, at least allow for a little discussion. He didn’t even look up.

    For years I’d had a goal of taking state in wrestling. But there had always been someone better just ahead of me. As a sophomore I was forced to wrestle junior varsity behind a kid who became state champion. As a junior, when I had the varsity spot at CDO, I made it all the way to the state championship round, only to lose by three points to a kid who took state for the second year in a row. But those kids were gone now. The championship was mine. I was sure of it. And then three weeks ago Rock Broch had moved in from Tucson High and challenged me at 145. Everybody called him “Rock” because he was hard and muscular. The year before he had taken state at 132.

    Broch was a quiet kid with blond hair, a beach tan, and blue eyes. Every girl at CDO thought he was Tucson’s answer to Tom Cruise. Broch really wasn’t set on himself. But he was definitely set on my spot at 145. Under other circumstances we could have been good friends. I could get along with most anyone. But my senior year I couldn’t afford to have anybody between me and the state championship.

    In order for anybody at CDO to nail down the varsity spot, he had to win two out of three matches against any challenger. The first time Broch and I wrestled in a challenge match I beat him seven to five. The next afternoon he beat me three to two. The following practice we wrestled to a two-two draw before Coach Rencher called us aside and made us a proposition.

    “You know, guys,” Coach Rencher started out, “this is crazy. We’ve got the two best kids in the state, wrestling for the same spot. We’re going to be the only school in Arizona with a state champion wrestling JV. One of you ought to go to 155. There’s nobody in the state that can beat either one of you in either weight class.

    “Broch can go to ’55 any time,” I said stubbornly.

    “Don’t bet on it, Williams,” Broch muttered.

    “It would be better for the team,” Coach Rencher pointed out. We didn’t listen. “All right, tomorrow you wrestle until one of you wins. There won’t be a draw. And every week for the rest of the season we’re going to go through these same challenges. It’s a lousy waste!”

    I was convinced I could beat Broch. I might have done, but the next day right after my calculus class I saw Broch with Sandi Millet, a girl in my ward. We’d been friends for years. I had even dated her a few times. Nothing serious, but we were more than just good friends. During the last week or so I’d noticed Broch take an interest in Sandi. It had irritated me some, but I’d let it pass. Today had been different.

    As I came down the hall, I saw Sandi and Broch together. They were laughing and talking, and for a moment he held her hand. Instantly I was furious. It was like he was trying to push his way into everything I did. Something snapped inside of me, and I stomped over to Broch.

    “You don’t waste time, do you?” I growled, pushing myself into his face before he hardly knew I was there.

    “What’s your problem, Williams?” he answered, taking a small step backward.

    “I’m looking at him,” I retorted.

    “Michael,” Sandi burst out. “Stop it!”

    “You’re crowding me, Williams,” Broch muttered, his eyes locked onto mine.

    “Maybe you’d better find someplace else to stand then,” I replied.

    I don’t remember who pushed first. It all happened so quickly, the only thing I remember clearly was stumbling backward and bumping into two sophomore girls. From that point everything was a fast-moving blur. The fight didn’t last long, maybe 10 or 15 seconds. That’s when Mr. Raymond, the science teacher, stepped in between us and brought us to the office. When everything was over my nose and lip were bleeding, and my right eye was swelling shut. Rock had a small gash above his left eye, a raw bruise on his right cheekbone, and a puffy lower lip.

    “You’ve had a little trouble?” Mom gasped on the phone when I called her from Mr. Blaine’s office. “What kind of trouble?” she pressed.

    I could feel my cheeks color, and I wished that Mr. Blaine had at least allowed me a little privacy, but I had had to make the call right there with Mr. Blaine and Broch listening to me fumble for an explanation. “Just come down,” I asked.

    Mom arrived before Broch’s mother. As soon as she stepped into the office her mouth dropped open and she stared aghast at my face and my shirt with the top two buttons torn off. She spotted Broch and the angry glare on his face. “What—” She couldn’t even finish.

    “It wasn’t anything, Mom,” I tried to explain calmly.

    Mom looked toward Mr. Blaine for an explanation. “It seems that your son and Mr. Broch had a difference of opinion,” he said casually. “As a result both boys have chosen to take a short vacation from school. Until next Monday.”

    “Yes, I understand how fights start,” Dad nodded somberly that evening when I tried to explain what had happened between Rock Broch and me. “Over stupid little nothings that don’t make any difference at all the next morning when you have time to think about them. There are better ways of solving your differences than resorting to your fists.”

    “It was that Broch kid,” I argued, still not wanting to admit any blame. “He’s been trying to squeeze me out since he came.”

    “I thought you were going to settle that issue on the wrestling mat—where it meant something to both of you. Now neither one of you wrestles.”

    “There is one good thing,” I came back sullenly. “I can get caught up on some of my schoolwork.”

    But Dad had other plans. From five-thirty to eight in the morning I studied. From eight until five I was cleaning the yard, straightening the garage, painting, mopping floors, scrubbing toilets, dusting, polishing windows. There was no end to the chores heaped on me. Then from five till nine I was back with my books. By the end of the day the only thing I wanted to do was crash into bed.

    For four days, including Saturday, I maintained that rigorous routine. There was no time for diversion. It was all work and study. I did have a chance to do some thinking. The first day I insisted to myself that I would do the same thing again. The second day I admitted to myself that I might have been a little rash. By Saturday night I really felt stupid about the whole thing.

    I had never looked forward to Sunday with anything close to wild anticipation, but after four days of hard labor I was grateful that Mom and Dad believed firmly in Sunday being a day of rest. Sunday morning, while I was still enjoying the luxury of sleeping past five-thirty, Bishop Morris called and asked if I would go over to the Thurman’s in the afternoon and take them the sacrament. Sister Thurman had been bedridden for almost a year, and each month the priests were assigned to take her the sacrament.

    “I’d like you to go with a new boy in the ward,” the bishop told me over the phone. “The Pankratz family moved into the Stromeyer’s place two or three weeks back. They have a boy who’s a senior. Maurice is his name. He’s been going to his old ward, but I’d like to get him involved in things over here. Brother Pankratz isn’t a member. Sister Pankratz is partially active. But Maurice has been a real stalwart according to his old bishop. I’d like to keep him that way. I talked to Maurice this morning and told him you’d pick him up and take him with you to the Thurman’s. It will give you a chance to get him involved in the ward.”

    That afternoon I drove over to where the Stromeyers had lived. The woman who answered the door looked too old to be Maurice’s sister and too young to be his mother. For a moment I wasn’t sure I had the right place. “Mrs. Pankratz? Is—is Maurice here?” I finally managed to stammer. “I was supposed to pick him up.”

    “Oh,” she said, smiling warmly, “so you’re the one the bishop called about. Come in. I’ll call Maurice.”

    We started in, and then she stopped and studied my eye. Instinctively my hand shot to my face. I grinned sheepishly and shrugged.

    “That’s a nasty bump,” she said.

    I coughed to hide my embarrassment. “Oh, it’s nothing,” I muttered.

    She led me into the living room and I sank into a large, cream-colored sofa. I spotted a news magazine on the coffee table in front of me and reached or it. Just then someone came down the hall and entered the room. Rock Broch!

    The magazine dropped from my hands, and immediately I was on my feet. His shock was as sudden and as unexpected as mine. I noticed the dark slash just above his right eye, and I could see he had had stitches. For a short moment the two of us stared at each other, and then I blurted out, “What are you doing here?” Rock stared at me a moment and then answered coolly, “I live here. What’s your excuse?”

    I swallowed and fidgeted anxiously. “I came to pick up Maurice,” I explained hoarsely.

    “For what?” Rock demanded.

    “Bishop Morris sent me over to pick him up.”

    “Oh, you made it,” Mrs. Pankratz said cheerily as she came up behind Rock. “Have you two introduced yourselves?”

    “We’ve run into each other at school,” Rock answered, still glaring at me.

    Mrs. Pankratz studied Rock’s cut. She glanced at me and remarked lightly, “You and Maurice look like twins.” She smiled and patted Rock’s shoulder.

    I hesitated. Maurice! When the bishop had said Maurice I had expected some myopic, mousy kid in thick-lensed glasses. Not Rock Broch! Immediately I began groping for an escape. There was none. I stammered, “We won’t be long. Just a few minutes.”

    Stiffly the two of us walked to the car. I could feel my cheeks grow warm with color as I dug into my pocket for the keys. I jammed them into the ignition, started the engine, and pulled onto the street. For the first two blocks neither one of us spoke.

    “I had no idea you were—Maurice,” I remarked. “You don’t look like Maurice.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    I shook my head. “How was I supposed to know that you were Maurice Pankratz?”

    “I’m Maurice Broch.”

    I glanced over at him. “Who was that back there?”

    “My mom. She and my dad were divorced when I was a kid. She married again.”

    There was another spell of silence. “I didn’t know you were Mormon,” I said.

    “It wasn’t exactly written all over you either. And you’re the first assistant in the priests quorum?” It was definitely an accusation of hypocrisy. Apparently the bishop had told him.

    “I’m not perfect,” I answered. “But at least I go to church. I haven’t seen you lately.”

    “I’ve been going to my old ward.” There was a pause and then a mumbled addition, “I was the first assistant in my old ward, and we were finishing up some …”

    “You were the first assistant?” I cut in incredulously.

    We drove the last nine blocks in baffled silence. When we did reach the Thurman’s place, I drove right past it with a quick comment, “That’s the Thurman’s place.”

    “Why didn’t you stop?”

    I continued down the street for half a block and then pulled over to the curb. “We really ought to get someone else to do this,” I muttered, angry and frustrated with Rock and myself. “But I don’t even know who we could get now. Brother Reynolds is already back there waiting with his wife. He’s the priests adviser. And I’ve got the sacrament things.”

    Rock didn’t respond immediately. Finally he did ask, “Well, are we going to just sit here and make them wait longer?”

    I glanced over my shoulder toward the modest home of the Thurmans. Taking a deep breath I slumped down in the seat. “You don’t know the Thurmans.” I shook my head. “They’re good people. It kills Sister Thurman not to be able to go to church. A lot of people look for excuses not to go. Not her. The highlight of her whole month is when we take her the sacrament. Can you imagine that? She’s back there getting excited because we’re coming. She cries every time. She fasts ahead of time.” I smiled weakly. “She’s not even supposed to fast. She eats at three instead of noon. That’s as long as she can fast. Even then it makes her sick sometimes, but she does it anyway. And so what does she get today? Us,” I muttered bitterly.

    For a couple of minutes the two of us just sat there. I can’t speak for Broch, but I was on one terrible guilt trip. I kept thinking about a scripture. It was something about going before the Lord and having bad feelings toward your neighbor. The challenge was to patch things up first with your neighbor and then go to the Lord.

    I kept thinking of Brother and Sister Thurman waiting. She would be propped up and wrapped in blankets on their worn brown couch. He would be dressed in his gray suit and sitting on a kitchen chair next to her. There would be a small table to their right draped with a white cloth. That was for the sacrament. Two of the Laurels and their adviser, Sister Benson, would be there, along with Brother Reynolds and his wife. All of them would be waiting for Broch and me. I knew there was no way I could go into that humble home and administer the sacrament feeling the way I had toward Broch. The Thurmans deserved more than a display of hypocrisy.

    I cleared my throat and sat up, gripping the steering wheel. “I’m sorry about Tuesday,” I muttered, still looking straight ahead over the hood of the car. Rock didn’t reply. “It was—” I swallowed. “It was a dumb thing to do.” I pressed my lips together. “I guess it was—well, it was probably my fault.” For the longest time I debated and then slowly I held my hand out to Rock. “I’m sorry,” I repeated.

    He looked down at my outstretched hand and then reluctantly took it briefly. “But,” he added quickly, “this doesn’t change anything where wrestling is concerned.”

    “I’ll be ready.”

    We were inside the Thurman’s place for almost an hour. It was a simple service with Brother and Sister Thurman holding hands the whole while. Rock blessed the bread. I blessed the water. We had a short testimony meeting. Even Rock and I bore ours. Rock spoke of his plans of going on a mission. He confided in us his desire to get his mother and stepfather active in the Church. He talked about his real dad and how he hoped that someday he’d see the importance of the gospel in his life. He mentioned a commitment that he had made to read the scriptures every day, even if it was for just a few minutes. He expressed his appreciation for the opportunity of coming into the Thurmans’ home and feeling of their spirit.

    Everyone there shed a tear or two; the Spirit was so strong.

    It’s strange how an experience like that can change a person. I saw a side of Rock that I’d never even suspected. At one point during our meeting I glanced over at him and saw a mist in his eyes. At the same time I noticed the dark cut above his eye. I wondered how I could have ever been that angry with him.

    After the closing prayer we shook hands with Brother and Sister Thurman. They thanked us over and over.

    Rock and I didn’t speak all the way to his place. When I pulled into his driveway, we sat for a few seconds and then I remarked, “You know, I’ve been doing a little thinking. There are some things I could help you with in wrestling. But the way things are right now, I never will. I’d just be beating myself if I helped you out any. You could probably help me too. You have a mean fireman’s carry. I’ve never been much good with a fireman’s carry. But you wouldn’t want to help me if I was just going to turn around and use it on you.”

    “I’ll go ’55,” Broch said quietly. “It’s really no big deal to me. You had the spot last year. I guess I’ve been pretty stubborn about the whole thing.”

    “No,” I came back. “I wasn’t suggesting that. I’ll take ’55. That’s what I was building up to. At the start of the season I was probably a few pounds heavier than you.”

    “No, I’ll take ’55. I want to.”

    I looked over at him. “Shall we fight over who goes ’55?”

    We both laughed.

    “I guess we’ll never know who really was—” I didn’t finish. I shrugged. “And then maybe that never was important.”

    Broch grinned. “Probably not. But don’t think just because we’re not in the same weight class that I’m going to let you slide.” He shook his head. “I’m going to be pushing you all the way. The first time you start dogging it and letting up, I’m going to hammer you.”

    I laughed, feeling good. And here I’d thought Rock stood between me and the championship. Now I could see he might be the one who would help me reach it.

    Illustrated by Richard Hull