BOZ: Chapters 15-17

BOZ CHAPTER 15: Day of Surprises

Grade Day was a unique tradition at Empire High. It was the last day of each term and all assignments and exams were to be completed the day before. Teachers were required to have grades ready to mark on report cards students carried from class to class. Official report cards were sent home later, but grade day carried a lot of weight.  It was a lot of pressure for both the students and the teachers, but it kept them focused, especially around Christmas and the end of the school year.  

October 26, 1973 was grade day for the first term of this school year. More than usual, it would be a momentous day because several people had picked it as a day to spring surprises. All intended for the same young man – Boz Burton.

Liz and Mary were not ready when Boz banged on their door that morning.  Liz had told him, through the door, to go on without them. He left the house shaking his head and smiling.

They stayed up too late and can’t get out of bed. ‘Probably think it’s no big deal being late on grade day.

What he didn’t understand was that Liz and Mary had been up for hours and that arriving at school late was a part of Liz’s plan. They would arrive just before lunch; the perfect time to make an entrance.

Liz appraised her handiwork and thought it a masterpiece. Like a great chef, she’d transformed raw ingredients into a “dish”. She couldn’t help but think how surprised everyone was going to be – especially Boz. This would silence those who had mocked Mary and they would all see that Liz was more than just Boz’s little sister. This was going to be fun.

Liz’s fun had really started the night before. She’d sent Mary out for food, but Mary had come back with something better – an attitude. At first Liz thought it was going to be bad. She came back looking as though she’d been crying. She sat on the bed, not saying anything for a long time. Then she took off her glasses and looked at Liz with the most determined look Liz had ever seen.  

“You know that makeover you’ve been trying to give me?  Let’s get at it,” Mary had almost ordered. 

“Right on,” Liz gushed, “but you’d better put your glasses back on, there are some things I want you to see before we get started.”

“It’s alright, I don’t need them.” 

Liz, thinking Mary had not heard her, repeated, “there are some things I want you to see.”

“I can see just fine without them!”

For a moment they just stared at each other – Mary refusing to say any more and Liz confused. Finally, Mary sighed and started her confession. 

“I don’t wear these glasses to see. They’re not even prescription. They’re costume glasses we’ve had in our Halloween box for years.”

Liz was shocked.  

Mary tossed the glasses to Liz and dug into the large, bag-like purse she always carried. She pulled out a photograph and shrugged as she handed it to Liz. Liz looked at the picture, then at Mary, then back at the picture. She didn’t understand what Mary was trying to show her.   

What Liz did know was that the girl in the picture was very pretty. She was leaning over a section of jack fence and sporting an enchanting smile. Her jeans, plaid shirt and cowboy boots shouted that she was a country girl and proud of it. She wore her pretty dark hair in a ponytail and Liz could almost imagine it bouncing as she walked. In one hand she held a straw cowboy hat and in the other a set of reins leading from a horse that was not in the picture. It was enough to make Liz jealous.   

Suddenly Liz realized what Mary was trying to show her. “Is this…?” She let her words trail off because Mary was nodding. Holding the picture in one hand and the ghastly glasses in the other, Liz felt like a human scale. How could such a beautiful swan turn into such an ugly duckling. Why would she?

Then it hit her.

Mary had wanted to run away from the world. She’d hidden in the one place no one would look, behind the face of an ugly girl. She had used the glasses, the dirty hair and ugly clothes as camouflage. Liz stared at Mary, asking herself what could have driven Mary to pay the price this disguise had cost.

There was one thing, however, that Liz knew for sure. Mary was ready to come out of hiding that night and Liz was going to make sure she never went back. Without another word about the picture or the glasses, she went to work.

Liz dragged Mary to the bathroom and ordered her into the shower. “Use these,” she snapped as she handed Mary a bottle of shampoo and a safety razor “And be careful with that razor – it can be dangerous.”          

“Is this yours?”

“It belongs to Boz, but I use it all the time.  He doesn’t care.” Liz knew she’d pay for that lie later.

She then loaded her arms with every hair care product she owned and headed back to her bedroom. “I’ll be waiting for you,” she sang, pulling the bathroom door closed with her foot.

 It was well after midnight when the two fell into bed exhausted. Liz had used every tool and talent at her disposal and she was very satisfied with the result. She set her alarm for five.  Tomorrow, I’ll finish my little surprise.

Floyd Carson was at school early on grade day, but his early arrival had nothing to do with his report card. He’d come to plead his case before the Underdogs and had rehearsed his arguments many times over before any of his friends arrived.

Crazy Ann was the first ‘Dog in the Run that morning. “Man, you look like you were run over on the way to school,” Craze’s concern showed through the obligatory veil of rudeness and Floyd wondered if he looked as bad as he felt. 

He hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Reeling from his confrontation with Boz, he’d locked himself in his room and turned up his music. The pounding beat, however, only served to agitate him as he replayed the episode on Boz’s porch over and over in his mind. He imagined that he’d fought back. He watched himself in the mirror as he told Boz off again and again.

He crawled into bed about midnight, but didn’t sleep.  Every time he was about to doze off, he would start back on that “bad trip” with Boz grabbing him and lecturing him about Mary. Either his mind is blown or mine is, it’s psycho!

The thing that had made Floyd most angry was that he knew Boz was lying to him. Man, if conning the others is his thing, I can dig it. Even jerking Cat Woman around is cool, but when he starts pullin’ my strings it reeks!

“Are you okay?” Craze’s anxious voice brought Floyd back to the Run. 

“No!” Floyd’s response was sharp.

“What’s wrong?” Craze had often seen Floyd moody and was used to it, but there was a different feeling to his mood this morning. 

“Like, I don’t want to talk about it,” Floyd lied. He did want to talk about it, but he wanted her to drag it out of him so he didn’t seem too much like a traitor. 

“Tell me!” Craze was taking the bait.

“What is it,” Floyd paused for dramatic emphasis, just the way he’d rehearsed it, “that makes the Underdogs so tight?”

“I don’t know,” Craze’s pause was truly thoughtful, “I guess it’s the fact that we can trust each other.” Floyd had known she would say that. 

What would you think if I told you that one of the Underdogs was trying to scam the rest of us? Make fools out of us?”

“That would reek.”

Before Floyd had fallen asleep for a short time that morning, he’d made up his mind that he was going to give Boz one last chance to come straight. And if not, he knew exactly what to he was going to do. 

“Do you know something?” Craze was whispering now because Tom and Clint were coming up the hall. Floyd pursed his lips and turned from Craze. His suspicious behavior drew the new arrivals into his trap.

“What’s going on? Are you two up to something?” Tom was being his usually loud self and Craze tried to quiet him with a look. “Come on, let us in on it!”

“Floyd thinks one of the Underdogs is playing with our minds.” Her admission drew a mock look of exasperation from Floyd. 

“Who? What’s going on?” Tom, now in on the secret, was whispering. 

Floyd was amazed how well he knew these Underdogs. Loyalty and trust were the glue that held them together. They would follow a leader that understood that. “I think,” Floyd paused again, acting pained, “Boz is pulling the biggest scam ever. He’s scoring on the Preps, the Establishment and…” Floyd looked up and down the hall before dropping the bombshell, “Us!”

“You’re trippin’!” Tom shot back in language he was sure Floyd would understand. 

“Never mind!” Floyd had said just enough to start the rumor mill. Tom and Craze were ready to share the news with any gang member that came up the Run.

 This left Floyd free to turn his attention to the youngest Underdog. “I’m, like, sorry you have to hear this, man. I mean, Boz has always been the coolest.”

Clint’s expression betrayed deep disappointment in someone he had quickly come to love and trust. It was an expression that Floyd would see on the faces of several other Underdogs that morning as they arrived and were let in on the gossip. Floyd left the Run and let his plan work itself.

The Run fell suddenly quiet as Boz bounded up from the stairwell. He was so excited about grade day that he didn’t notice the strange quiet or the questioning looks. He wore a broad smile and greeted each Underdog as he skipped down the hall to his locker.

Mr. Fisher had taught Physics for fifteen years and he loved it. The students who took his classes were the brightest and most motivated in the school. That made for fewer discipline problems and more rewarding teaching. To make things even easier, he’d developed a method for determining which students would succeed and which would fail. Usually he could tell about a student on the first day of class, but by the end of the first term he knew for sure.

He had three techniques he used, during the first term, to weed out those who would not make it. This, he reasoned, was really more merciful for both the bright and the dim. The bright would not have to tolerate the “drag coefficient” caused by the slower students and the dim could move on to subjects more suited to their aptitudes – like cosmetology or auto mechanics.  

So that students didn’t catch on to what he was doing, Fisher rotated between the three techniques each year. This was the year of the “Apocalypse Assignment”.  He’d given the students a problem, the solution to which would require them to know more physics than they’d learn from him in a year. He didn’t really expect them to solve the problem, but he could tell by their work the degree of self-initiative and determination each student possessed. He graded the assignments accordingly and the poor term grade convinced the less able students to drop. 

This year he was counting on the Apocalypse to help him figure out two students in his fourth period class. Scott Seager, who had impressed him as bright and capable, had turned out to be a disappointment. Fisher was very interested in seeing his project.  On the other hand, Fisher had the impression that Boz Burton was the least prepared student that had ever graced his classroom. Fisher almost didn’t let him in, but Boz begged and Fisher relented. Boz had a C- at mid-term, much better than Fisher had expected. The results of Boz’s project would definitely determine his future in this class. 

Fisher made a point of grading the assignments in the order in which he received them – giving extra consideration to those finished early. As Fisher graded the first submission, he came across a pleasant surprise. Scott Seager had turned in an effortful and insightful project. It was crude, but showed that he had poured over the text and had worked hard. He was a serious student. Scott would receive extra credit for turning it in almost a week early.

As Fisher waded through the rest of the projects, however, he became less and less impressed. As a matter of fact, he became depressed. They evidenced little effort and even less creativity. He was very discouraged by the time he got to the last project handed in on the last day and at the last minute.

He unrolled Boz Burton’s plans the afternoon before grade day and began to examine them, hoping that this young man would surprise him. Surprise, however, would be a weak word to describe what Mr. Fisher felt; shock would be better. The more he looked over the plans and read the explanations, the stronger his emotions ran. He laid the plans down, put his head back and sighed. He tried to think what he should say, how he should approach this young man. He’d never seen anything like this in all his years of teaching. 

Suddenly he knew what he had to do. He would see the boy in the morning, in class. He would take that opportunity to tell him how he felt. He would say it in front of the whole class. Would that be appropriate? Yes, it was the best way, the only way. Tomorrow it would be Boz Burton’s turn to be shocked.

Grade day was a foreshadowing of the Second Coming – great and dreadful. Students who did well would competitively compare grades in each class, seemingly having a wonderful time. Those who did poorly were likely to shove the report card in a pocket and not even look at it themselves until they were alone.

Boz had always been the shove-it-in-the pocket kind, but this report card day was very different. He didn’t feel comfortable comparing grades with the bright students, but he did look at them himself – over and over again.

And even though he had worked his heart out, he almost couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He expected his “A” in history because he loved both history and Mr. Garcia. He was surprised by his “A-” in second period english, because he had let one assignment slide. In algebra, Mr. Mack, also gave him an “A-”, indicating that it was a reward for his excellent effort. He knew he’d done well in his afternoon classes, so the only question remaining was his grade in fourth period physics. 

He’d worked hard in physics, especially on that monster assignment. He felt the Lord had answered his prayers and inspired him. He knew that many of the ideas that had flashed into his mind were not his own. And although he knew he’d done well on the assignment and that it would help his grade, Boz was really more excited to see what Mr. Fisher would think of his work. 

Mr. Fisher had a reputation for being tough and even arrogant. Rumor had it that he was independently wealthy, only taught high school science for fun and actually tried to drive all but the very smartest students from his classes.

Over the term, Boz had gained an appreciation for the man. Yes, he was tough, but he was also fair. He expected a lot from his students, but he worked harder at teaching than any of them ever worked at learning. If he seemed arrogant, Boz concluded, it was probably due to his frustration over the wasted potential. Mr. Fisher’s opinion meant a lot to Boz. He had given Boz a seat in his class and Boz didn’t intend to disappoint him.

Boz walked into Mr. Fisher’s classroom that morning feeling as if he were seeing it for the first time. It was like an amphitheater with the desks arranged in semi-circles and on risers. Mr. Fisher’s work area reminded Boz of the center ring of a circus. Rumor had it that when Mr. Fisher came to Empire, he’d spent an entire summer and thousands of his own dollars remodeling the room so that students could learn better.  

The only thing about the room that bothered Boz was that the windows were all painted black. Fisher had done this to be able to completely darken the room for demonstrations and film viewing. When the lights were off it was totally black. Boz liked the sunshine and an occasional daydreaming session and the blacked windows gave him an occasional bout of claustrophobia.  

Boz forsook his usual place in the front of the class for a desk in the back. He was nervous and wanted to be as alone as he could with his thoughts.

He watched the festive mood in the room. These were the brightest students in the school and they all seemed unconcerned. Most of them were Preps, but there were enough students from other cliques to give Boz hope that some common challenge – like this class – might be the key to breaking down that caste system. He smiled as he watched them.

As he watched, he became aware of someone watching him. He looked around the room, but couldn’t see anyone looking in his direction until he saw Liz gawking at him from the door. When she had his attention, she held up her index finger as if to say, “Wait just a minute.” Then she turned and disappeared from the doorway.  

Boz watched in anticipation, amazed at her timing. This was the kind of stress relieving distraction he needed. A moment later, Liz sauntered back into the room with a smug look on her face. She looked as if she had an announcement to make.  

Liz was followed by a girl that Boz had never seen and immediately all the eyes in the room shifted in their direction. They were a beautiful pair, but it was the new girl that was getting the attention. She had taken command of the room by simply walking into it.

There was a strange familiarity about her, yet Boz knew he’d never seen her before. He found himself unable to take his eyes from her. If he’d had the presence of mind to think, he’d have thought she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

This girl was shapely and it was obvious that she knew how to dress to accent her figure. The baggy peasant-blouses and bell-bottom styles of the day often made Boz wonder if girls knew how to dress. This girl however, just like his sister Liz, knew that her soft feminine curves were an asset to be emphasized.

She wore a soft, frilly dress that would have looked almost out of season for anyone else but this ray of sunshine. The skirt was a bright flowery print on a background of blue. It was fitted at the waist and seemed to flow down from there. A tat of lace graced the hem that fell far enough above her knees to show off her pretty legs.

The blouse of the dress was sleeveless – after all it was suddenly summer in October – with a deep v-neck. It was off white with an accent of pale blue running up her round bodice and over her soft shoulders. A bauble bracelet on her right wrist and feminine heeled shoes on her feet completed the blue theme. 

Boz found himself looking her over from head to foot several times in the seconds she stood in the door way. She’d carried herself confidently and gracefully into the room and held her head high as she surveyed the occupants. Boz thought she looked much like a princess surveying her subjects and he found himself wishing she would get around to looking at him. 

She finally graced him with a glance, but just before she did, she flipped her dark brown hair. It fell gracefully over her shoulders as her gaze fell upon him. It was shinny and silky and Boz found himself wishing he could see it in the sunlight. It was a cascade of soft curls which was a treat in a day when most girls wore their hair straight. Boz was so absorbed in the beauty of her hair that he almost forgot to look at her face. 

When his eyes fell upon her face, he was dazzled. It was slender and her soft curls framed it perfectly. Her skin was pale, as if she hadn’t seen the sun for a long while, but her makeup added just enough color to make her look like a delicate porcelain doll. In fact, her makeup was perfect, shaping her face and eyes to accent her best features and yet Boz really had to look twice to see if she were wearing any at all. 

To say she was pretty was an understatement; to say she was beautiful was missing the point. This girl was enchanting. In the few short moments, she had been in the room she had bewitched every boy and threatened every girl there. Suddenly Boz realized that he had been gawking at her since she’d appeared and hoped she wasn’t offended. He looked into her eyes to gauge her expression and what he saw stunned him.

Boz hadn’t recognized the shape, the hair or the face, but he knew those summer blue eyes. This was Mary Olson. His mouth dropped open and he stood speechless. Where were the glasses? Where were the frumpy clothes? Where was the timidity? Despite all the questions, one look into her eyes proved it was Mary.

And that look proved something else; this exquisite thing that stood before him was there for a reason. She had that same determined look he’d seen before; only it was more intense. Hypnotized, Boz arose – feeling compelled to go to her.  

It was then that she winked and Boz began to melt. His legs turned to jelly and he spoke her name out loud. Everyone in the room heard him and might have laughed at the tremble in his voice, but they were all under her spell too. He spoke her name again and reached out his hand, expecting her do the same, but she just smiled, turned on her heels and walked out of the classroom.

Boz turned to Liz for an answer. She just smiled triumphantly and taunted, “Suffer baby!”

“You’re not going to get away with that,” Boz thought out loud. He moved toward her, determined to find out what she was up to, but before he could get to her, the bell rang and Mr. Fisher walked into the room, slamming the door behind him. 

“Everyone, take a seat quickly,” he commanded in a sharp, authoritative voice. Liz was trapped in the room, with Mr. Fisher between her and the door, and she knew that her best bet was to do as the man said. 

Boz, who had already obeyed the command, waited for his sister to sit and then he pulled his desk next to hers, preventing any escape. He would deal with her in a moment, but for now he gave his full attention to the man holding the box of graded projects.

BOZ CHAPTER 16: Stabs in the Back

Mr. Fisher sighed heavily as he looked the class over. Even with all its chaos, he usually enjoyed grade day. It was a time to hand out rewards and clean out the dead wood. But his grade day was different. 

He had been greatly disappointed in most of the projects and felt he had a great struggle ahead of him, teaching a group of largely lazy and unmotivated students, but he was going to feel better soon. He would make his announcement and give the speech he had brooded over all night.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began loudly so that there would be no question that he was serious, “and I use those terms loosely,” his jab was intended as salt for their soon-to-be-opened wounds. “For the most part this class turned in work that was substandard to say the least. And believe me, I want to say the least. You can and will do better work if you expect to pass this class. Now, hand me those report cards and let’s get this massacre over with.” 

It was almost all the students could do to pass their cards in. Mr. Fisher took them sharply as they were passed to the end of each row. As he reached the back row, he noticed a strange young lady. She was pretty and blonde, just the type he expected to see sitting next to Boz Burton. He forced a smile as he snatched the report cards from her hand.

It will be good for her to hear what I have to say today.

Mr. Fisher marched to the front of the room and made a spectacle out of marking the grades – writing “Ds” with a flourish. The few “Cs” he handed out were recorded with less flair. The cards were also handed back in similar theatrical form; with the teacher pacing the floor and grunting as he practically threw them at their owners.  There were a few moans and a lot of pocket stuffing going on.

As he waited nervously for his card, Boz noticed two still lying on Mr. Fisher’s desk and was just about to say something when Mr. Fisher, now standing behind his desk, cleared his throat.

“Now that’s over, I have two students that deserve special attention.” He turned, picked up the remaining report cards and pulled two projects from the box. “Mr. Seager and Mr. Burton. will you please come up?”

Mr. Fisher’s voice was compelling and Boz jumped to it. As he headed for the aisle, he stumbled over Liz’s feet and nearly fell against the wall. Between his clumsiness and the embarrassment of being singled out, Boz was blushing a bright red by the time he reached the front of the classroom.

“Mr. Burton, stand over here, Mr. Seager over there.” Mr. Fisher pointed to opposite sides of his desk. They obeyed.  Mr. Fisher then turned to Scott. “Yours was an excellent project. This is the kind of effort and creativity I was looking for. Thank you, Mr. Seager. Keep up this kind of work and you will do very well in my class.” With that he took Scott’s report card and purposefully marked an “A”. 

What Boz saw on Scotts face intrigued him. Scott actually looked humble.

“Mr. Burton,” Fisher’s commanding voice made him forget all about Scott. “I want you, and everyone in this class, to know that in all my years of teaching I have never seen anything like this.” He was now holding Boz’s project up for all to see.

Boz was embarrassed. He had worked hard on the project, even felt inspired, but he didn’t think it was this good. He blushed again, feeling the same flush as when Mr. Garcia announced his perfect score on the first history test of the year. He looked up at his sister and suddenly felt very proud.

“Mr. Burton, how stupid do you think I am?” Boz snapped around to see Mr. Fisher’s face flushed with anger. He seemed to be waiting for an answer, so Boz tried to give one.

“Sir, I, d, d, don’t think…”

“Don’t Sir me! How in the world did you think you were going to get away with stealing this from another student and submitting it as your own? Don’t you think I really read these?”

“No, I mean yes.  I…” Boz was flustered, not knowing which of Mr. Fisher’s questions to answer. He felt everyone looking at him and felt terrible shame. Then, in an instant, his shame turned to anger and he shot back. “I don’t know what you are talking about. Whose project did I steal?”

Suddenly, Mr. Fisher realized that confronting this boy in front of the class was a bad idea. He was not cowing or admitting guilt. A lesson in the evils of cheating had turned into a major confrontation. He had to cut it off now. “That’s enough. Don’t you dare raise your voice to me.” Mr. Fisher brought his fist down on his desk in an effort to intimidate.

But Boz was too full of righteous indignation to be intimidated. “No, you tell me. Whose project did I…”

“I very carefully note the order in which these assignments come in and Mr. Seager’s assignment was first. He brought it to me on,” he was checking his roll book, “Monday. I remember that when Mr. Seager brought it, he apologized for turning his in early. He wanted to spend more time on it, but thought someone had gotten into his locker and tampered with it.”  

Mr. Fisher went on, but Boz had quit listening. Seager had robbed him. He looked over at Scott and what he saw was the most counterfeit look of shock. The phony look flustered Boz. His mind raced, thinking of a way out, but for the first time since he’d stood before Judge Merrian, he was stumped. Only this time he was innocent.

Boz had wondered many times about the phrase “struck dumb” from the Book of Mormon. He knew it had to be something more than not being able to speak. He now understood completely. He couldn’t speak; he couldn’t think; he couldn’t move.

Mr. Fisher took Boz’s report card and marked it with a huge F. “You fail this class Mr. Burton, for cheating. You will be reported to the administration and for a prank like this, you will almost surely be expelled.” Boz had been so angry at the injustice, he hadn’t even thought about the consequences. Mr. Fisher’s threat knocked the wind out of him.

“Now the rest of you are dismissed. If you want these sorry excuses for projects you may pick them up on your way out the door. I suggest, however, that you just let me throw them away.” Without another word, Mr. Fisher picked up his roll, the two controversial projects and marched out the door.  

Mr. Fisher’s departure left the classroom in intense silence. Scott Seager had suddenly disappeared and Boz was left with the distinct impression that he had preceded Fisher out the door. The other students rose slowly and shuffled out. None of them bothered to pick up their projects or look directly at Boz, but all of them glanced over their shoulders at him as they whispered or shook their heads. Boz closed his eyes and hung his head until he was sure everyone had left.

Boz heard his last classmates shuffle out and the door click shut. He opened his eyes and started for the door, but caught a glimpse of someone still in the room. He looked up to see Liz, still setting at the back of the room, tears streaming down both cheeks.  

This scene broke his heart. It was bad enough that he had been humiliated, but even worse that this kid sister had to share it. He wanted to get to Scott and beat a confession out of him, but that could wait. Liz needed him now.

“Lizzard.” He spoke lovingly as he ascended the risers. She sat staring past him with the tears rolling off her cheeks. Boz approached and she seemed to stiffen. He put out his hand to wipe the tears form her cheek, but she jerked her head back and glared at him.

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed and Boz reeled from his second emotional slap of the day. “I loved you and trusted you. I thought the world of you. I thought you were trying so hard. You were my hero.” She stopped to sniffle and catch her breath. “I know you are no Einstein, but I never thought you were a liar or a thief.” She’d rose to her feet, pushed her way past and headed for the door.

Boz grabbed her wrist as she went by and held it tight. She turned around to face him, her eyes ablaze. He looked right back at her and, in the firmest voice that a whipped man can muster, spoke. “I didn’t do it!”

They stood there staring at each other for a moment and Boz thought he saw her eyes soften just a little; but before anything else could be said the door to the classroom flew open. 

“Yea, he’s still here,” Tom screeched.

Liz broke free, rushed past Tom and was out the door just as a horde of Underdogs entered. 

“We came to lend moral support,” Craze said as she peeked around the corner, “is the coast clear?” Boz’s heart and mind had followed Liz out the door, but he was so happy to see friendly faces, he couldn’t help breaking into a big smile.

“You really buffed this one, didn’t ya’ Boz,” Tom drawled.

“We, like, heard The Man was on your case, so, like we brought the cavalry,” Floyd said dryly and he entered the room. Boz felt an aloofness from him and realized he wasn’t quite over their argument of the night before. He suddenly felt very sorry for mistreating his friend.  

One by one they came until almost all the original Underdogs and a few of the new were in the Physics room. Boz knew they couldn’t solve his problem, but he was happy to just have someone on his side.

“So, like, what came down here man?” The gang fell silent at this question and Boz suddenly felt like he was the subject of an inquisition. 

“I was framed! I worked my guts out on this project and somehow Seager got a hold of my plans and…” Boz’s words hung in the air and he even found them hard to believe.

“You’re doing Physics?” Craze wanted to believe and Boz wanted to convince her, but what could he say? I prayed and God had helped me? I spent hours pouring over a Physics text?  

“Boz, my man,” Floyd sounded like he was talking to a child, “don’t mess with our minds. It’s like crystal. You pulled off all the other stuff because you had Cat Woman helping, but this smack was way over both your heads and so you like…”

“I didn’t do it!” Boz was mad.

“That is so uncool, it reeks.” Floyd was now mad. “You’re just messing with our minds! We trusted you!  You don’t do this to your friends!”

“Boz,” Craze started with a nervous laugh, “let us in on it. Maybe we can figure out a way to make it go away.” 

Floyd’s cynicism was contagious and they’d all been infected. Boz stood speechless as Floyd railed on. “You were like our leader, man, and now you’re jerking us around. The thrill of scoring the big scam is more important to you than your friends.”

Floyd whirled to face the other Underdogs. “I told you he’d changed, man. He went down to that stupid retard camp and changed. I told you he’d lie. You can all dig the scam, but he stands here and lies to our faces. I’m splitting.”

With that Floyd was gone and the others with him. Clint hung back for a moment, acting as if he had something important to say, but then he too was gone, leaving Boz alone to suffer the sting of betrayal. His trusted lieutenant had turned the Underdogs against him and in an instant. Boz wanted to cry, but all he could muster was an ironic laugh. The Underdogs, dedicated to tolerance and acceptance, had just made their former leader, their first rejection. 

And at that moment Boz felt like a reject. He hung his head and pushed back the tears. He was alone, betrayed and embarrassed. But then, with a sudden and powerful flash, his whole being was filled with anger. He would punish Scott and Floyd and anyone that stood in his way. He hated everything and everybody. His heart wanted revenge and plenty of it. 

He stormed towards the door and, more out of habit than anything else, he reached up and switched off the light. The room went totally dark except for the light streaming thought the door. He jerked on the door and let it fall shut.

Standing in the darkness, Boz felt the anger and frustration give way to fear. He felt like a lost little boy. He was more frightened than he’d ever been. He became weak, dropped to his knees and began to cry. Suddenly, almost automatically, he began to pray out loud. 

“Dear Heavenly Father, please help me!” Of all the prayers Boz Burton had uttered, this was the most heartfelt. Suddenly his life had gone terribly wrong and he turned to the only source he knew was still there. “No one else believes me, but I know you have…” Boz took a deep breath and tried to remember the more reverent language the Elders had been encouraging him to use, “that thou… hast seen me study and work on this project! Somehow Scott got a hold of my plans and copied them! Please help me to prove that I didn’t cheat.” 

Boz felt safe in the darkness and kept praying out loud as he realized the most serious consequence of all, “Oh dear Lord, I love what the elders have taught me and know it is true. I want to join the Church. I haven’t told my parents about the meeting with them at Bishop Wilson’s and I know they will be upset about that, but if they think I cheated, they’ll think the Mormons have been a bad influence on me. They’ll never let me be baptized.” 

“Please,” he paused to remember the phrase Elder Whitehead has used in his prayer, “soften their hearts. I have hurt them enough already.” The tears and regret were both flowing freely now.

“I’ve hurt so many people. I really didn’t mean to.” He told God that his carelessness had broken Liz’s heart and he was worried about her. He begged for forgiveness for losing his temper with Floyd, explaining that was just trying to defend Mary.  

“And now, somehow, I’ve hurt Mary. Today she looked so beautiful, but her real beauty is inside her and has always been there. She’s been so good to me. Help me to fix whatever it is I’ve done to her. Help me to be as good as she is.” 

Boz felt purged, as if he couldn’t feel or say any more. He closed the prayer and fell back on his haunches. He had laid his burden at the Lord’s feet and now expected an answer. He sat there in the darkness waiting for it.  

Boz heard quiet sounds coming from behind him and the first thought was that the school had rats. It spooked him a bit so he jumped up and turned toward the sounds. There was a rustle, followed by a click, then a rattle.  

Suddenly there was a burst of light in the back of the room and Boz saw an angelic face illuminated. The face spoke. “Boz Burton, I love you!” Boz couldn’t believe it. God had sent an angel to help him.

BOZ CHAPTER 17: Wrestling With an Angel

Mary was in her fourth period class when the news of Boz’s trouble swept through. He’d been caught cheating and was going to be expelled. She’d walked out of the class, over the objections of the teacher, and met the tearful Liz in the hall.

Liz confirmed it all.

He’s getting just what he deserves! Mary turned away from Liz to keep her expression from betraying her. He used me, lied to me, and even kissed me just to make it all work and now it’s all backfired on him.  

Mary was overcome with an overwhelmingly urge to see Boz’s face. Feeling that her revenge would be complete if she could just see him at that instant, she ran for the Physics room.  She stopped a few feet from the open door and listened to the voices coming from inside.

The Underdogs had come to his rescue. Disappointed that Boz would be drawing solace from his cohorts, she was just about to turn and walk away when she heard Floyd start in on Boz. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The Underdogs had turned on Boz.

This was going to be more satisfying than she had imagined. 

She crept to the door and peeked carefully around the jam. The Underdogs had Boz surrounded and were listening as Floyd railed on him. Mary, realizing that they were all too busy too notice, stole quietly into the room and up the risers.

She was hoping to get a better look at Boz’s face, but what she saw surprised her. Boz held his head high and stared down his accusers defiantly. For a brief moment Mary thought she might be able to love him again, but she quickly berated herself for the thought and went back to her hate. 

She wanted to look into his eyes and tell him what she thought, but was actually glad that he had not even seen her. She wasn’t sure if she would ever have the courage to confront him. No, she would be content to just stand in the back of the room and take sadistic pleasure in watching the Underdogs desert him. One by one they turned their backs on him and walked out the door.

Suddenly Mary realized she was alone in the room with Boz and that he stood between her and the door. She knew that any moment he would turn, see her and want an explanation. She braced herself for a confrontation. There was, however, no confrontation.

Boz did not turn. He just stood looking toward the open door as if he expected his friends to come bounding back and announce that it had all been a gag. Mary watched silently. At first, he gave out with a defiant chuckle, but then his shoulders fell and his head drooped.

Boz moved suddenly and Mary again feared that he would turn, but he just headed toward the door. When he reached up to switch off the light, she felt a rush of relief. She could wait a minute in the darkness and then slip out the door. 

The light went out, but Boz didn’t. He stood backlit in the doorway for almost a minute, with his hand on the knob; then he, suddenly and purposefully, pulled the door closed. With the room plunged into darkness, all Mary had to go by was sound. She stood frozen, trying not to breathe. She heard Boz move, but couldn’t make out what he was doing. Then he began to speak. 

Listening to him pray taught Mary more about Boz Burton than she could ever have imagined. She awakened that morning hating him. Hearing half of his conversation with Floyd the night before had led her to believe he was wicked. She wanted to punish him. Yet, as he prayed in the darkness, thinking he was alone, she knew she had misjudged him. 

By the time he finished, her heart had melted. She knew that he had neither cheated, nor used her; that he was not a pompous jerk, but a humble and loving son, brother and friend; and that he’d heard the gospel from the elders and wanted to join the Church. And all she could think of was how much she loved him. 

When Mary and her mother had first moved to the city, Mrs. Olson had felt prompted to give Mary a flashlight. Mary thought the gift silly, tossed it into the bottom of her bag and promptly forgot about it. That is, until she stood in the dark, listening to a boy close his prayer. As quietly as she could, she opened her purse and began to search for it. 

Mary fished through the clutter until she felt the flashlight. She pulled it carefully from the bag and turned it over in her hand. She stood, for a moment, with her thumb on the switch, wondering whether she should switch the light on or not; but then, in a sudden burst of bravery, flipped it with her thumb. The light did not go on. The batteries are dead! Without thinking, she turned the lamp-end of the flashlight toward her face and shook it. The light came to life.    

In the pitch-black room, the beam from the flashlight blazed bright, right into Mary’s face. She couldn’t see a thing, but knew Boz could see her. She smiled in his general direction and said the only thing she could think to say – that she loved him.

For a split second Boz thought he was having a vision, but then he recognized her voice. He didn’t know how long Mary had been there, but knew it had been long enough to hear him pray. Instead of being angry at her eavesdropping, he was relieved to see a friendly face and hear it say something nice. 

All he could think to do was head for the light. He moved like a crazy man, stumbling over desks and tripping over risers. By the time he got to Mary his shins were bruised, he was out of breath and all the conversation he could manage was her name.

Mary had never been so happy to hear her name. He felt for her hand, pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. Smelling his manly smell and feeling the warmth of his body, she switched off the light and buried her face in his shirt and cried.    

For a few minutes they just stood together in the dark – in their own little world. Boz didn’t feel a need to speak. He knew Mary had heard his prayer, that she understood and whatever had been bothering her was forgotten.

Boz would have been content to stand in the dark and hold Mary for the rest of the day, but Mary felt the need to explain. Each time she started to speak, Boz would hug her tighter and squeeze the breath from her. Finally, she couldn’t hold it in any longer. 

“I have something to confess.”

 “You mean you want to tell me that I am a wonderful guy?”

“That’s part of it,” she found herself a little miffed that he would joke at a time like this, “but there are other things.”

“I know, you’re really a beautiful princess that had an ugly spell cast on you by a wicked witch and now it’s broken.”

“You don’t know how close you are on that one,” she said, trying not to laugh, “but there’s more.” His teasing was making things easier.

“No! You don’t mean to tell me that you are madly in love with me and want me to kiss you here in the dark.” With that Mary lost her composure and began to giggle. “What’s so funny? You don’t think I’ll do it do you?” The only response was another giggle which Boz took as license. 

In a move that even surprised him, Boz tightened his hold on Mary, threw her back in his arms and kissed her. Mary held on tightly, mostly for fear of falling.

Boz had expected her to hold on, but what he wasn’t ready for the rest of Mary’s response. She kissed him back. Up to that moment, standing in the dark with nothing to go by but her voice, he’d visualized himself kissing the mousy Mary Olson, horn-rimmed glasses and all, but when she returned his kiss, the picture that popped into his mind was the beautiful Mary he’d seen for the first time that morning. That thought jolted him. He broke off the kiss but continued to cradle her in his arms.

“Well, Mary Olson, what do you have to say for yourself.

“It’s was so nice of you to read my mind,” Boz could feel her smiling in the dark. “But there is one more secret. Do you know what that is Mr. Mind Reader?” His silence was evidence that he didn’t.

“I am a …” Mary didn’t get the chance to finish, for at that moment there was another burst of light.  Someone had suddenly come through the door and turned on the light. Blinded, Boz and Mary were at the mercy of the figure standing in the room.

“Well, well, well!” It was tough to tell if she was upset, shocked or both, but the voice unmistakably belonged to Liz Burton. “I knew this would happen sooner or later, but not when the world is collapsing around you Boz Burton.”

Boz lifted Mary to her feet. They untwined and stood – squinting and embarrassed.

 “I don’t know which of you drives me craziest,” Liz spat as she stomped into the room and slumped down in a desk.

As her eyes adjusted to the light, Mary crossed the room to sit by Liz. Seeing the tears tracking down Liz’s cheeks, Mary realized that her friend had spent the last half-hour alone and in emotional turmoil. She suddenly felt very guilty for abandoning her friend in time of need.

Boz chanced approaching his sister, not knowing if she was now friend or foe. Mary motioned for him to sit on the other side, which he did without hesitation.

“Lizzard,” his voice begged forgiveness as he reached out and touched her arm, “look at me.” Liz did and their converging gazes said all that needed to be said. He knew she believed him; she knew that all was forgiven. Boz took his sister’s hand and they sat quietly for a long time.  

Finally, Liz broke the silence. “What are you going to tell Mom and Dad?” Her voice made the situation sound hopeless. It was as if Scott Seager had won the fight with one, well placed sucker punch. Mary started to say something, but thought better of it.  They sat in silence again, not knowing what to say.

Boz broke the silence with a heartfelt suggestion. “I think we’ve spent enough time here for one day. Bertha can take us away.” And with that, they three headed out the door, down the empty hall and out the nearest exit.

As they reached the parking lot, Liz, now in a more playful mood, turned to Mary and smiled sinisterly.

“What?” Mary asked, reading her friends mind. 

“What were you two doing in the dark anyway?”

“Getting to know each other better,” Boz quipped. His sense of humor had returned the moment they left the school. “Except there was one thing you didn’t get to tell me Mary. What was that?”

The three of them stopped in the middle of the parking lot as Mary looked at Liz and then at Boz. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer, pleading for help. “Well Boz, I’m afraid what I have to tell you will make Liz mad and you a little disgusted with me. Let’s go somewhere quiet where we can talk about it.”

Without waiting for a response, Mary bolted for Bertha. A little shocked and very curious, Mary’s two best friends exchanged confused looks, shrugged their shoulders and followed her to the car. 

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