There was no one at Kyle's house Saturday, so I spent a few hours at the basketball court. I had much the same reception as last weekend, but I still got to play and that kept my mind occupied and my body busy. I swung by the Winters' on my way back, but the house was still empty. With no way to reach out to Kyle I headed back to the group home.
The staff was definitely frosty toward me, but I kept my tongue in check and stuck to my books. Sunday came and the Winters' house was still empty, and I started to worry something had happened. By noon the sky had darkened and rain began to pour in earnest. I was trapped at the group home the rest of the day with my books to stave off insanity.
I was awoken at five on Monday morning, took a quick shower and ate what passed for breakfast. I looked through my things to ensure I had everything possible for school. I'd taped my schedule inside the front of a binder to ensure I could find it anytime. I was told I'd get an agenda at school, kind of like a planner, that I could write assignments and notes in. At last we were loaded into a mini-van and dropped off at school.
Wadsworth High School was a classic 60s single story construct with gray metal frames on the windows and hard floors that appeared to be slabs of rock - something with a white background, like quartz, but with specks of yellow, black and brown. There was a lot of painted cinder block on the inside, and posters welcoming students back to school dotted the walls.
"Yo, Drake! Where you been?"
I turned toward the voice and realized I was hearing from Jeremy, one of Drake's former friends. He, unfortunately, looked remarkably like his image in the phone. He'd also enjoyed the cruel prank played on that unfortunate girl. He held out his fist and I frowned lightly.
"I guess if you were important to me, you'd know where I've been. Right?" I asked in a tone that was meant to be more curious than damning.
"Seriously?" he said while dropping his fist. "What did you expect, flowers?"
"D!" Any reply was cut short by the exclamation of that single letter and the pair of arms that were wrapped around my neck and dragging me down and forward a bit. "You missed my party!"
I placed steadying hands on the flanks of this girl, probably Stacy. It was hard to be sure with her clothes on.
"Accident. It's kind of my excuse for everything right now." I looked away from her and was irritated when she wrapped her arm around one of my own.
"You can make it up to me," she purred in an off-putting way.
I raised an eyebrow at the gall. "I have an accident and I'm supposed to make something up to you?"
"Drake," she whined and I gritted my teeth. I glanced around, hoping to see Kyle, but it wasn't to be.
"Hey, yo," Jeremy said. "I heard something went bad with your memory? You all feeble minded now?"
"I can remind you of things," Stacy said and giggled. Jesus, she was like the slut out of a bad teen movie!
"You know, I'm going to class now," I told them and turned.
"Yeah, right!" Jeremy chortled.
"You got someone else?" Stacy asked as she fell in beside me. "You could have at least said if you did."
"Ugh. You know, Stacy, I just think this isn't working out between us." I pulled out my schedule and double checked the room number.
"Why not? You get laid whenever you want. What room are you looking for? Jesus, at least look at me when you break up with me!" She placed a hand on one hip and pushed it out to one side.
"235. I was in an accident. My parents died, and all you and old Jeremy care about is that I missed your party. I think I need a little more in my life," I said in frustration and, frankly, shock that I had to say such a thing.
"You never cared before, as long as your dick got wet," she said and frowned. "235 is upstairs, in that corner." She pointed about forty feet ahead to the stairwell whose railing was just visible.
"Okay, thanks. Um, I think, after that, I've just got different priorities. Take care, Stacy," I said and left her in the hallway.
Classes were the standard first day stuff. Teachers explained class rules, expectations, that sort of thing. A few handed out worksheets, and one assigned homework. Jeremy was in one of my classes, but I picked a seat away from him. He threw out his arms in challenge, likely trying to ask what I thought I was doing, but I ignored him. I knew that would likely only work so long before a confrontation would be necessary.
All that was expected and I actually felt okay knowing the day hadn't had any major loops. People weren't openly hostile, but no-one was trying to ask how I was either. The day held together until lunch, and I was appalled to find the school lunch was on par with group home food; there was just a wider selection. I picked out the best things I could and avoided the rest.
Upon exiting the line I scanned the room, looking for either Kyle or a quiet place. I spotted Jeremy and a table with a few clones of his type and kept looking. Finally I spotted Kyle's tousled mop of brown hair and made my way to his table.
"Okay if I sit with you?" I asked him. He looked up and seemed surprised to see me. As always, though, he was polite.
"Sure." He obligingly moved down a bit and made a space next to him. I sat and talk around the table resumed. I wasn't addressed so I just listened and ate my lunch. I still wanted to ask Kyle what he'd meant about not needing him to have fun at the pool, but I was a little afraid of the answer. Jesus! I needed to make a few friends.
"Is this where we're sitting this year?"
Talk at the table stopped and heads turned toward the voice. I turned as well and was unsurprised to find Jeremy, along with another boy and Stacy.
"I'm sitting here with a friend. You stay over there," I told him though I knew in my heart it'd do no good.
"You don't like the pizza?" he asked the boy across from me, a weedy little blond with glasses who appeared quite short while seated. "Eat some," Jeremy said without waiting for an answer. The weedy boy didn't move fast enough and Jeremy lifted the slice up.
"Leave him be," I said. Jeremy looked at me and grinned. It was an evil grin, one that more or less said 'Watch this. Your words mean nothing.' Then he slapped the kid in the face with the slice and dropped it, letting the yellowy-orange grease stain the kid's shirt. The boy with Jeremy burst out in cruel laughter, and Jeremy looked smugly at me before walking away and saying in a falsetto, "Enjoy eating with your friends, Drake!"
I boiled. One thing I knew and that I'd taught my own kids was when you have a run in with a bully, you stand up to him. I glanced at the weedy boy and it was clear he was embarrassed beyond words and about to cry. A glance at Kyle informed me of his anger, but he made no move to stand. Okay, I was fine with it being up to me.
"Hey. Hey, you going to eat that applesauce? And you, going to finish the mashed potatoes and gravy?" I went around the table collecting leftovers and mashing them onto my tray.
"What are you doing?" Kyle asked with an edge of irritation. I expect he felt as if I were to blame for the pizza. Right or wrong, I had brought those idiots to the table, so I'd take a stand against them just for that.
"Jeremy is a bully. You stand up to bullies," I said to him and picked up the tray. I picked my way across the room, knowing that every set of eyes at that table was glued to my back. Butterflies jumped and wheeled in my stomach as I drew closer. I walked up to Jeremy and his friends. Stacy's eyes widened and Jeremy took note, turning to see who was behind him. I smiled.
"Whoops," I said deliberately and dumped the tray on his head. His eyes opened wide and his mouth twisted in outrage. Laughter exploded in the cafeteria. He stood up, pushing mashed food from his hair and clothes before giving up, growling angrily, and shoving me with both hands back into the person seated behind me.
I'd been in a few schoolyard fights as a boy. I hadn't known much, then, but this was now. He'd expect me to push him back, and then he'd push again. Eventually the lunch monitors would arrive and separate us. Then it would be veiled threats and a promise to meet up later at a place of his choosing. A spectacle. Well, fuck that.
Rather than pushing him back I just let loose with a punch to the side of his face. He roared and swung back. The flaw in my plan was revealed; he was stronger than I was. His next punch was off balance, he may have slipped on some of the smashed food. I brought both my hands down together on his shoulder which made him wince and bellow again. He bull rushed me and knocked me back onto a table and I swung my hands, beating a tattoo on his back as he landed on me.
Then, like that, it was over. A lunch monitor pulled him back, and we were separated, Jeremy to the office and I to the nurse. Apparently, somewhere in the confusion, my nose had sprung a leak.
My clothes were in some disarray; my shirt had a slight tear and a drop or two of blood. Otherwise I'd come through it all right. I didn't for one minute think this was the end of it, but Jeremy now knew I'd not stand by and let him do as he pleased. After I'd arrived at the health office and been sat down on a cot with an ice pack, Jeremy was brought in perhaps ten minutes later and placed on the opposite end of the room with a pack for his face. Apparently he was playing up the shot I'd given him. Jeremy glared daggers at me and I ignored him. Nothing pisses off a bully like Jeremy more than being ignored.
A woman in slacks and a frilled white blouse entered the room. She sat down next to me and introduced herself as Mrs. Barker, assistant principal. Mrs. Barker had hair that must be colored to be the honey gold it was and for her to also have the crow's feet she did. Her lips pursed as she looked me over.
"I suppose you'll tell me he swung first?" she asked with a tired tone. Clearly she was prepared for a song and dance.
"No, ma'am. He started it, but I threw the first punch," I told her.
Her eyes widened slightly. "Go on."
I explained how he'd hit the other boy with his lunch and my reasoning for retaliating. I then explained that he shoved me and I knew he'd try to get me afterward unless I stood up to him, to show him I wasn't an easy target.
"So yes, ma'am. I swung first. I'll take my medicine but, ma'am, if he pulls that again you and I are going to be at this again."
Her lips pursed and shook slightly as if she found my words amusing. "That isn't an answer I'd have expected from Drake Mathews," she said instead.
I tapped my head. "Lost my memory, bad personality and, I guess, my worse friends."
"I see," she said. She paused for a moment to consider me. "Come to the office once the nurse releases you."
She walked over and spoke to the nurse, Mrs. Benoit, and moments later Jeremy left the room with Mrs. Barker. Mrs. Benoit made her way over to me.
"Let me have a look, sweetie," she said uncertainly. I dutifully pulled the pack from my face and held still for her. As she looked me over she said, "I heard what you told Mrs. Barker. I also, of course, heard about your accident. I'm sorry you went through that."
"Thank you. I have no memory so...." I shrugged.
She looked me in the eye, then took in my face and looked down at the rest of me. Returning to my face she said, "You don't have the same posture. The look in your eye is different. You're different."
"I think that's widely regarded as a good thing," I told her with a smile.
"Well, not my place to say," she said with a knowing smile. "Are you staying with family, then?"
My mood darkened. "No. I don't have any, apparently. I'm living in Forest House, a group home."
"Oh, I see," she replied, her voice and face downcast. "That's a shame." She looked up at me, once more studying my face. I assumed it was checking on my injury, but something about the look was off.
"Do you really not know that weedy boy, as you called him, whom Jeremy Burke attacked?" Her voice was soft, her tone inquisitive, but her eyes were like those of a hawk.
"No. I've never met him that I know of."
"Then why did you stand up for him?"
I looked away from her face and out the window. "A few reasons. One is that Jeremy is a bully, and he was attacking that boy, in part, to mess with me." I looked back toward her, lifted an eyebrow and drolly said, "He was upset I wasn't at his lunch table."
Her lips tugged up in a smile. "What other reasons did you have?"
I frowned. "I don't like Jeremy. I think he probably represents the things people didn't like about me."
She tilted her head from side to side and smiled a little.
"But mainly," I admitted, "I have a single friend in the world right now. It's important to me that he see I'm not the person I was. I'm pretty sure the old Drake would have thrown another slice of pizza rather than stand up to Jeremy."
"Oh, no. He'd have probably thrown the first slice," Mrs. Benoit said and then chuckled. "Well, Mr. Mathews, I think you're ready to go back to class."
"Do you think I'll get suspended?" I asked as I stood up and followed her back to her desk, where she filled out a hall pass for me.
"The first day of school? I'd expect not." She paused. "Besides, Mrs. Barker places a high value on truth. You can be sure she'll seek out this weedy blond as you called him."
I reported to the office as instructed, but Mrs. Barker was busy and sent me on to class.
My next to last class I finally had Kyle in the room. I made a beeline and sat beside him. He looked at me with a curious smile.
"What?" I asked.
"I...just...you surprised me. That's all."
"Uh huh," I said and pulled out my agenda and a notebook. "Does that mean you'll go back to the pool with me?"
He tilted his head and gave me a puzzled smile. "What about the pool?"
I gave him a patient look. "You told me I didn't need you to have fun at the pool. I had fun because of you." I paused, a little disappointed that I'd said that. Oh well, in for a pound.... "You're my only friend."
"Oh, I think you're on your way to a few more," he said with a small chuckle. "Giles has always been too small to stand up to anyone. Last year, he hated you. This year, you might be his hero."
I frowned. "Giles? Is that the little blond?"
"Yep. I don't call him little, if I'm teasing him. I tell him he's petite. Makes him growl. It's cute, sort of like a puppy trying to intimidate you," Kyle said and laughed.
The bell rang and the class came to order. I thought about what we'd just said and realized Kyle hadn't really said anything about the whole going to the pool thing. I felt no need to repeat myself, though - he'd heard me loud and clear.
My last class was gym, and Giles was in it. The gym teacher told us we should just call him coach and then he went on to detail how his rules worked and how our grades would be tallied. He had the unfortunate last name of Krutchner, which led to the mispronunciation and shortening so that the kids called him crotch. Behind his back, of course. We had most of the period to ourselves and I sought out Giles, who had been standing with another boy. Giles was perhaps five foot two with messy hair, dark rimmed glasses and a baby face that, coupled with his height, made him seem far younger.
"Hey, Giles, right?" I asked.
He turned and the other boy melted away. "Yeah. I mean, I'm Giles."
"Cool name. I'm Drake," I said and held my hand out. Much like Kyle had, Giles looked at me oddly.
"I know who you are."
I went through the dog and pony show of the accident, memory loss and continued to hold my hand out. Finally, tentatively, he shook my hand. "Giles Martin."
"Glad to meet you," I told him as I released his hand. "Look, can I ask you something?"
He looked around, perhaps looking for help or wondering if anyone else could hear. He nodded toward me and I plunged in.
"Listen. I can't remember squat, like I said. Kyle - Kyle Winters? - he told me you probably hated me last year."
Giles frowned and looked uncomfortable.
I held up a placating hand. "Not trying to be a dick, honest. I just want to ask...what I did to make you hate me?"
He sniffed and looked around again. "Just going to kick my ass if I say no?"
I frowned. "No. I won't touch you. You don't have to say anything. I just...I'm kind of lost. Lots of people don't like me and I have no point of reference. Kyle seems to think you're a good guy so I'm making an effort to fix what I can with you."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Because Kyle said so?"
I blew out a breath. "He's my friend." Giles other eyebrow went up. "At least, I'm working on that. He's good people. He likes you, ergo you're probably good people, too. Worth the effort, you know? Think about it," I said reasonably. "There are a few hundred people in this school, right? I can't fix things with everyone. I'll work on people worth the effort. Let's face it - even if I did apologize to everyone, I have no idea what for and most of them wouldn't believe me. I'll work where I can make a difference."
His eyebrows had moved back to their normal state and he took on a pensive gaze. "You did sit down next to Kyle," he said, as if speaking his thoughts aloud. I waited as his gaze slowly resolved on me. He blew out a breath and put his hands in his pockets, if anything making himself appear smaller.
"You really don't remember anything?"
"Not a thing," I promised.
He pursed his lips. "Last year we had gym together. Like now. Um. We were changing and you carried me to the girls' locker room and threw me in." His voice dropped and his face went red. "I only had my underwear on."
I looked down. Shit. "I'm sorry, Giles."
He snuffled. "I pounded on the door and the girls laughed at me." He paused and let out a small breath. "Everyone laughed at me."
I gritted my teeth and looked away. I could easily imagine him, with his underdeveloped frame, crying and hating what had been done to him. How powerless he must have felt. "That was a shitty thing to do. I can't tell you how sorry I am. You didn't deserve that."
Looking downcast he murmured, "It was evil. There's a reason people call you Draco." I looked at him and the beaten look on his face. He shook his head. "You know, I thought I'd feel better if you'd just say you were sorry. But I don't."
I pursed my lips. "Let me try and make it up to you."
He turned his head in suspicious confusion and frowned. "How?"
I shrugged. "I have no idea. Right now, maybe we both could use a friend. Don't feel like you have to, but I'm here for you. If Jeremy tries shit, make sure I know. I promise I'll stick up for you."
A thoughtful look crossed his face. "Yeah. You did do that today."
"I can't take away what happened before, but I'll do my best to make it up to you," I told him.
He smiled tentatively, and Kyle was right - it did make him look cute. "Okay. I could use a bodyguard."Next Chapter Previous Chapter