by Rollin Jewett
The machine made a loud “bing-bong” noise when Ted put his quarters in. Pinball was his favorite game and he liked to play as often as he could. He was considered the ‘pinball wizard’ of Pine Hills Academy. Whenever he was spotted at Boxcar Arcade putting quarters into one of his favorite machines, guys would challenge him, and people would gather around to watch.
This time the challenger was a punk kid from Orange Blossom High. He put his quarters in the machine right after Ted’s. Ted wasn’t worried in the least. He’d beaten this guy before.
Ted pulled back the plunger and let his ball sail. It darted and crashed into the bumpers; it veered into the five-thousand-point drop target and knocked it down. Not bad, he thought. The ball headed back toward his flippers and he popped it into a two-thousand point marker. He was doing all right. He looked up just for a second to gauge the crowd’s approval – critical mistake. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Angie Decker talking to some guy in the corner booth of the arcade. He watched them for a moment too long and when he looked down, the ball was already speeding toward his flippers. He banged the flipper as fast as he could but it was too late. The ball bounced for a moment and then rolled down the middle.
The crowd sighed in disappointment.
“What a bad break,” someone said. Ted walked to the side of the machine to let the kid from Orange Blossom shoot. He looked at the corner booth where Angie Decker and that guy were sitting, holding hands, and whispering. Apparently, she didn’t see Ted because if she did, boy would she be embarrassed. Ted had asked her out for that night and she had said no because she had a lot of homework to do. Some work, Ted thought. He looked back at the pinball machine. The little punk was beating him! He racked up another twelve thousand points before the shiny steel ball finally slid down the side lane and it was Ted’s turn again. Not good, thought Ted, as he took position in front of the machine.
He pulled back the plunger and let his second ball fly. He still couldn’t believe that Angie had lied to him about tonight and was going out with some other guy. They weren’t going steady or anything but Christ, the nerve! His hands felt sweaty on the flipper buttons. He didn’t have time to wipe them; the ball was sailing toward the flippers. His fingers slipped, and he hit the ball too soon, the angle was all wrong. It hit a bumper and bounced lazily down the side lane.
The crowd looked at Ted in amazement. He had never played like this before. He shrugged his shoulders and let the challenger take over. He looked over at the booth where Angie was sitting and thought about walking over there and telling her off. What good would that do? She wasn’t really worth getting upset over, was she? Anyway, the guy she was with looked like a real douche, probably some rich jerk that she’d end up using for his money. I’ve got better things to do than waste my time on girls like that, he thought to himself. Besides, I’m right in the middle of an important game and I blew the first two balls! He looked at the score. This guy was killing him! Well, he thought, it’s time to get on the ball.
His turn came again and he pulled back the plunger and let it go with a resounding “smack”! The ball sailed up and landed in the five-thousand point hole and started clicking away his points.
I would have liked to have gone out with her, he thought, as the ball popped out and headed again toward his flippers. This time he flipped it into a three-thou marker but his thoughts were running away from him, focused on a booth in the corner of the arcade. I know she likes me. She’s always looking at me in geometry and whenever I look back at her, she smiles. She’s got such a nice ass, too! The ball headed toward his flippers and then got side-tracked and went straight down the middle. Goddamn magnets!
He had accumulated fifty-seven thousand points altogether. That was lousy! He had never done that bad before and here he was in front of a bunch of Pine Hills Academy blabbermouths! Not to mention this Orange Blossom kid who’d definitely be bragging to everyone at his second-rate school. He looked at Angie’s booth and saw her and that guy kissing. He had his hand on her leg, the son of a bitch!
Ted looked back at the pinball machine and watched as his challenger started racking up more and more points. Ted was worried. This didn’t look good at all. The challenger had fifty-one thousand points. All he needed was seven thousand more points and he would have Ted beat! Ted looked back at the booth where the two “lovebirds” had been sitting. They were gone! He glanced toward the door and saw them walking out. That guy had his hand on her ass.
“Shit!” said Ted out loud.
“Yeah, that’s what you played like,” said a wise guy in the crowd. Everyone laughed except Ted. The challenger was up to sixty-two thousand when Ted looked back at the machine. He felt a little sick. He had let a punk kid from Orange Blossom High beat him. That wasn’t so bad really, but when he saw Angie walk out the door with that guy, that made him feel about two feet tall.
That fickle silver pinball had also made its choice and the game belonged to the challenger, who fist-bumped everyone around him and whooped it up loudly. And annoyingly, thought Ted. Christ, it was just a game!
Just then Ted saw Susie Johnson walk in — all by herself. He smiled briefly at her and she strolled over and stood by him.
“Hi, Ted,” she said smiling, as her shoulder brushed against his. He suddenly felt much better. He looked over at the punk kid from Orange Blossom High.
“Best two out of three?” he inquired confidently.