"Wake up, you stupid old so-and-so! Why don't you fix up this piece of junk you call a store!" The voice didn't sound mature enough to be a man's. Must have been a teen's.
I had no intention of responding. Or revealing that I was already awake.
"They say you're irritable. Have a nasty temper. Let's see what you do when you're riled up enough."
Although I was more awake than I wanted to be, I kept my eyes closed. I was more skilled at playing possum than at defending myself.
At the age of eighty, I would probably break too many bones—mine, not this dumb kid's—if I even attempted to use any of the few self-defense moves I used to know. Maybe continuing to pretend I was unwakeably asleep would tire this fellow out and make him quit trying to get a rise out of me.
He hadn't actually hit me—not yet—but he'd shaken me by the shoulders pretty severely several times. And he'd done it more vigorously each time. As if he resented my refusal to wake up and accept his pointless challenge.
He stopped momentarily—I could almost picture him wiping the sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve—but then he shook me again. Harder still.
He probably wouldn't stop unless I could fool him into thinking he'd killed me. Although I couldn't will my heart rate to drop that low, I was counting on that kid's being too naive to know how to check my pulse.
If I didn't fool him, the alternative might prove to be just as real. He could keep shaking and maybe start beating me, too, until I really died. He probably didn't realize that would create more problems for him than for me.
The prospect of going to Heaven within the next few minutes was far more pleasant than the thought of suffering yet another day of cloudy—no, stormy—verbal disrespect from the citizenry of Sunnydale.
But it had never gotten physical until today.
"Ronnie! Stop it!" A teen girl's voice. Frantic. Urgent. Worried. "He's an old man. You might really hurt him. What would you do then?"
I slitted my eyes just enough to peek at this Ronnie without his noticing. Big guy, but not nearly as tall as I was. No advantage on my part since I wasn't nimble enough to scramble to my feet from the ground where I'd been sitting.
I couldn't remember why I hadn't brought a chair outside. Maybe I wouldn't have fallen asleep if I had. That would've been a major plus right now.
He still hadn't noticed I was watching him.
When he shrugged nonchalantly at the girl's warning, she tried repeatedly to pull him away from me. "What kind of coward are you, Ronnie? I hope this poor old man survives and presses charges. I'll testify against you. How uncool would that be?"
Did he ever draw back quickly then—as if he'd just heard a rattlesnake that was about to strike. If the look in his eyes was any indication, his anger was more intense than his fear of possible repercussions for his abusive actions.
I wondered if I should officially wake up and do whatever I could to defend my defender—regardless of what might happen to me. He would undoubtedly overwhelm me while I was just trying to get up off the ground.
For now, remaining seated and waiting patiently seemed the more prudent choice.
"Why'd you come along anyhow, Angel?" Ronnie's tone was harsh. Hostile. "I didn't invite you to come here with me."
She shrugged and shook her head. "Since you're Mutt's friend, I thought maybe I could keep you out of trouble." She sighed quietly. Although I'd heard it, he probably hadn't. "As if I could."
He snorted. "Mutt's friend? Ha! You really think I'd be friends with that girl? I let you come because I thought you wanted to have some adult fun. We could've gotten beer from the old man and then..." He made an unmistakably vulgar motion.
I could tolerate his disrespect for me. Most of the adults in Sunnydale had set that kind of example for their kids. But I was seething at his lack of respect for that poor girl who'd done nothing more than try to prevent him from hurting or killing me.
She glanced at me and then back at him before responding. Her resemblance to a brown mama bear protecting her cub was uncanny. "I don't want any beer, and I don't need that kind of 'fun.' This walk has been a disaster."
I opened my eyes fully, ready to get up as fast as I could if I needed to. Lord, please protect both this girl and me if it's Your will. I could almost hear God's voice whispering, Stand up, Claude. I AM with both of you.
While I was struggling to my feet—she reached down with both arms to help me—the boy turned his back and began scuffing across the unpaved parking lot, kicking up loose gravel along the way. As soon as he reached the street leading back into town, he stopped, did a half-turn, and glared at her.
He must not have noticed I was not only "awake" but standing up.
"See if I ever ask you out and show you the best time of your life. I can do it better than any of those blasted...boys."
The word he inserted between blasted and boys made me cringe and shake with anger. I hadn't heard anyone use the N-word in years and I'd never expected to hear it again.
When he resumed his resentful trek towards town, I wanted to assure—what'd he call her?— Angel that not all of us whites were like that piece of trash.
Nothing came out of my mouth, though. I could barely stand up. My head was foggy. Spinning crazily. Something was terribly wrong. I was barely conscious of who I was, and I had no idea where I was or what was happening.
The last thing I was conscious of was Angel taking my hands and lowering me to the ground as gently and carefully as she could. And then screaming in her most frantic voice, "Ronnie Duncan! See what you've done? I think he's having a heart attack."