“Ok.” Jordan’s comment caused Paul to spin and look at him as he grabbed his game card and started to walk off.
“No it isn’t!” Paul stepped in front of the game. The timer was down to three seconds. Was Jordan really just going to give up?
The timer reached zero. They’d have to start all the way over. They’d hardly made it five seconds further into the game than they did the last time, and now they had to start all the way over. Anger boiled inside Paul. He wanted to pound someone, and those boys were standing there smug and satisfied.
Jordan walked up to Paul. “I know you can take them. I know you can beat them.” Jordan spoke low and soft. With all the noise from the games and other kids playing, it was hard for even Paul to hear. “But you said you didn’t want to be that person. It’s a game, our favorite game, but still a game. Is it really worth it?”
Yes! It was his game. It was time for him to relax. He just wanted something to go his way for one minute! Those boys wanted to just bully people and get away with it.
“Don’t do this,” Jordan whispered. “You’re angry. Even I’m angry.”
Paul glared at his friend. In the time they’ve been best friends, Paul had never seen Jordan so much as raise his voice. He didn’t have the first clue what it was to be angry.
The squat boy stepped up closer. He and his lackey hadn’t even tried to play the game. They never cared about it. They just wanted to boss someone around. “You got something to say?”
Jordan put his hand on Paul’s shoulder even before Paul could process the other boy’s challenge.
“You’re making a choice,” Jordan said. “Everything you do is a choice you make. Choose to do the thing the person you want to be would do.”
Paul looked at Jordan again. Paul supposed if he could be like anyone, he’d be like Jordan. Kind, smart, patient, and gentle. Paul wasn’t any of those things. There wasn’t a hint of those traits in him anywhere. Paul didn’t have a hope in Hell of ending up like Nobody. Nobody was wise and loving. Nobody seemed to think about everything, and he always found some way to sway a conversation back to the Bible. Paul wasn’t really interested in the Bible, but Nobody had helped him.
Neither Nobody nor Jordan would be thinking about how easy it would be to punch the boy in front of Paul.
Paul glared at him. “We have the top five scores.” Even as he spoke, Paul hoped the boy would try to shove him or punch him. Then he’d have an excuse. “I guess it’s only fair to let you play since we’re clearly better, and you clearly need the practice.”
Paul turned and walked away. It was the second time that day he’d walked away when all he wanted to do was fight. Paul didn’t want to be a bully. He didn’t want to hit people, but it seemed like the more Paul worked to avoid getting into fights, the more people seemed to want to aggravate him. Jordan kept pace with him. Paul wasn’t sure where he was going. He stormed out of the store and started walking down the street.
Paul tried to slow his breathing, but he was just so angry. He glanced at Jordan, who looked back at him with a worried expression.
“How do you do it? Where do you come up with some of the things you say?” Paul shouted at him. Jordan hadn’t done anything wrong, but Paul couldn’t help himself.
Jordan shrugged. “My dad’s always telling me that stuff.” He used his fingers to count off phrases. “Everything you do is a choice you make. Choose to do the right thing. Nobody makes you do anything. Control your body. Honor God. Love your neighbor.”
Paul jabbed a finger in the direction of the arcade. “Those boys may not even go to our school!”
Jordan let out a chuckle. “That’s not what it means.”
Paul threw up his hands. “So I’m supposed to just let everyone walk all over me!”
“Are you shouting at me because you just want to be mad at someone?” Jordan’s question took some of the air out of Paul’s anger. “Dude it’s one thing if you’re, like a police man defending his partner or a father protecting his kid, but what are you really losing by giving up a turn in a video game?”
“It’s my game!” Paul said.
“Dude, it belongs to the arcade.”
“Why do you never yell!?” Paul was probably shouting loud enough for the world to hear.
Jordan waited, looking at Paul. Finally, he spoke in that same calm tone. “Does it work for you?”
Paul thought about it. Somehow, his anger just fell away. A burst of laughter erupted from Paul. It was ridiculous. Paul yelled and shouted. A part of him wanted Jordan to start an argument, or even a fight, less than a second ago. Now Paul had trouble breathing.
“I hate that about you,” Paul said.
“Um, sorry?” Jordan said.
Paul laughed even harder. He managed to calm down. With nothing better to do, he started walking toward his house. “I still don’t know how you do it. I’m the person you have the most reason to hate, and you’re my best friend. Sometimes I don’t even know why you hang out with me.”
“Because you keep wanting to hang out with me,” Jordan replied.
They walked together for a moment. Paul didn’t now what to say. He would have been happy to walk in silence, but Jordan spoke again. “It’s hard sometimes.”
“I’m sorry,” Paul muttered.
“Not being your friend.” Jordan chucked as he said it. “Well, ok, sometimes your temper frustrates me, but that’s not what I was talking about. I do get angry.”
“I’ve never once seen you angry.” Paul rolled his eyes at his friend.
“I’m angry now,” Jordan said. “I’m trying to tell you that I do get angry. I get mad when people bully other people. I get mad when people make fun of me.” He paused. “I get mad when people make you mad. They do it because they want to see you hit someone. They think it’s funny when you lash out or fight. It’s manipulative.”
“But you never do anything about it,” Paul said.
Paul managed to walk another ten seconds before he realized Jordan had stopped. He looked like Paul had hit him.
“What?” Paul asked.
“I did do something,” Jordan said. “I stopped you. I help you avoid being manipulated. I kept you from doing something I knew you’d regret. Did you want me to hit them or push them?”
Paul didn’t know what to say. For some reason, he felt more ashamed than he had in the arcade. A part of him did want Jordan to lash out or shout once in a while. But another part of Paul wouldn’t ever want to see Jordan that angry. What would have to happen to make him that mad?
“I get angry when you don’t get angry, or look angry, I guess,” Paul admitted. “When you do that thing where you’re calm and you don’t shout, it makes me feel even more out of control. I don’t even know what I’m trying to say.”
“I get it,” Jordan said. “I feel the same way sometimes. It’s hard. I get so mad, but it takes a sort of practice. When I was eight or nine, my dad started talking to me about controlling myself. He made me start martial arts. I thought he wanted me to be able to defend myself, but then he told me he did it to help me focus. My dad doesn’t play around.”
Paul scowled. Jordan noticed and put up his hands. “Not like that! I mean, yeah, he’s grounded me. Once he took at least half of my favorite toys.But he doesn’t … “
“He never beat you.” The sound hardly made it past Paul’s lips.
… to be continued …