Chess Club Stories: An Awkward Position


I was on my way home one afternoon when a boy named Billy rode up beside me on his bike.

At fifteen years old, Billy was held back a year. A talented chess player, like most his age he was smarter than he gave himself credit for. He wore a light red sweater over a Stone Cold T-shirt, blue jeans and Nike sneakers.

"Hey, what was your name again?" He asked as he got off his bike to walk beside him.

"I'm Nate," I said, shaking his hand.

"Do you live here?" He asked.

"Yeah, during winter break. I'm staying with my mother right now.

His home was on the way to mine so we chatted for a while. I learned that Billy had actually transferred from another school, and he was held back because his grades at the previous school weren't up to snuff with Mount Anthony's standards.

"I don't know what it is." Billy said as we took a left turn at the end of Main Street. "I think I just have a hard time with homework. I miss my old school too."

"Changing schools is rough,” I agreed. β€œAnd I wasn't all that great with homework either. I still owe Miss Major a few assignments from when I was in seventh grade.”

He laughed at that. We talked about experiences in our different schools. I told him about some of the classes I was taking and what college life was like. As we neared his home his expression changed, almost like he was about to be caught doing something wrong.

"There's a thing I do after school...but...I don't think I should tell you."

This got my attention. Generally when a kid says something like that, he's almost begging you to tell him. Maybe he figures if he tells someone who can't do anything to punish him then it will be almost the same as telling his parents or someone at school. On the other hand, though I never considered it at the time, there are a million directions this conversation could go in that I didn't necessarily need to get involved in.

But I was young. At that moment I really wanted to do what I could to help, if it was something he needed help with.

"I don't mind." I said, very nonchalantly.

"You might tell someone though. And I would get in trouble."

"I promise, I'll take it to the grave." That was a tiny white lie of course. If it was something dangerous or life threatening I would have to say something to someone. I had been in Billy's position before and I knew the consequences of trusting adults. But as an adult myself, I could have easily wound up in a position I didn't want to be in depending on what it was Billy didn't want me telling someone else.

"Well, I kind of smoke." He answered, after a pause,

Mentally I let out a sigh of relief. Smoking wasn't the best answer, but not as bad as I thought. From his tone of voice and expression I could tell he was expecting a reprimand, but somehow I thought that a lecture was the last thing he needed.

"How come?" Was I did ask, very calmly.

"Well my entire family kind of smokes.” I could tell he wasn't trying to justify it. But it was clear to me that the reason he was addicted was because of the second hand smoke he picked up from his parents and other people who smoked in his house.

Great, I thought. Get the kid lung cancer as soon as possible. Peer pressure is hard enough without family adding to your problems.

But, I renewed my promise not to tell anyone. To some that may seem irresponsible, but what good would it have done if I said anything? The kid would be under even more stress and I would feel like a total prick for doing that to him. And it wouldn't have cured his smoking habit.

Don't get me wrong. I feel awful that a kid had to grow up in an environment that basically forced him to make a decision he shouldn't have had to make. But there are times in life when the better part of valor is to keep your mouth shut and let nature take it's course.

I said good-bye to Billy and wished him well before we split paths.

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