by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 10: Karate Kit

"Chaaarlie… What are we doing here?" I asked for the nth time. We had front row seats on the stands of the Southmore gym, a few feet away from the matted section where the martial arts sports tournament was being held. I rarely ever sat in the stands (ironic how they named that really). Usually, I was out on the court being cheered by my many fans. However, that particular Wednesday did not have any interschool games for the Basketball team. The only sports having a tournament were mixed martial arts and badminton. If I had to pick between the two, the choice was really easy.

It was a simple question of boobs or balls. Hello?

Sadly, Charlie wanted to sit where the balls were. I know you're probably thinking it's a Wednesday, what are you doing out of class? We weren't cutting or anything like that. In Southmore, whenever an interschool or interdivision competition was held on campus, classes were pretty much called off for all involved year levels. In this case, the entire high school didn't have classes. It didn't mean we could leave the school. It just meant we had to support our teams (although, I was pretty sure it was more to intimidate the other team).

And don't think we're getting it easy with academics either. All our teachers for the day would give enough workload to do at home that you'd wish you went to class instead.

"I told you," Charlie said, a little impatiently, "if you want to go over there and watch the badminton team play, be my guest. But I want to stay here and watch this." I was actually surprised that Charlie had resisted all my attempts, almost to the point of being vehement, in dragging him over to the badminton side. He rarely ever did something like that and my curiosity got the better of me as to why he wanted to go to the mixed martial arts side instead. However, when it became apparent that he wouldn't tell me, I got bored and wanted to watch the female anatomy instead.

That's not to say that there weren't any women on that side of the gym. Sure there was maybe one for every three guys on the mat but there was just one problem with them…

"These girls are all butch," I complained which earned me a few dirty looks from nearby parents. I smiled sheepishly at them and they simply shook their head and chuckled.

So easy.

"Aren't you going out with Rebecca?" Charlie asked in an annoyed tone. He actually looked away from the mats long enough to give me that disappointed look of his.

"Another reason for us to go there," I pointed out. Rebecca was the team captain of Southmore's senior badminton varsity team (she was actually captain for each of the respective years since her middle school days). "And besides, we're not dating-dating yet. We're not even going out until this Saturday. I'm allowed to let my eyes wander till then."

"Her games aren't until later," Charlie said as he rolled his eyes and shook his head disapprovingly. "I checked. So until then, I'm sitting right here."

"Charlie," I said in a pouty voice. I grabbed onto his arm and shook him back and forth. I pouted my lips, something he used to do when we were little. He laughed at the silly expression I must have had. "Chaaarlieeeee."

"You better not let her see you like that," he said with a smirk.

I turned around following Charlie's eyes and saw Rebecca walking up the stands looking towards us. The pout on my lips instantly went away to be replaced by that cool, collected grin that just spoke volumes of my greatness. I leaned back on my chair and raised one arm behind the empty seat beside me. As she approached I gave her a casual tilt of my head to give her notice of the empty seat beside me. "This one's free."

She looked at me with a raised eyebrow. There was no smile to indicate she was amused. At least she wasn't scowling though. I figured that was an improvement.

She walked past me wordlessly and went to the seat on Charlie's other side.

"Hey Charlie," she said cheerfully as she latched onto his other arm. I frowned at that. Charlie gave her a pointed look and she just stared back at him. The two looked intently at each other until finally she sighed. Her face pinched like Charlie asked her to take out the trash. "Hello Derek."

"Hey," I said perhaps for too loudly than I normally would have. "How are you, Rebecca?"

"Fine, thank you," she said stonily. I could tell it was taking a lot of concentration for her not to scowl at me.

"So you're sticking around?" Charlie asked her.

"Yep. My games aren't till later," she said. "And I already gave my pep talk. My AC is taking care of the team while I'm taking a quick break." AC if you're wondering meant Assistant Captain.

"Cool," I said. "Being able to leave your team and knowing they are still in good hands is a mark of a good leader."

"I know, Derek," she said sarcastically. "I do go to the same school as you. They do teach the same things in our sport."

"I wasn't implying anything," I defended. Of course, I didn't really expect the badminton coach to have taught the same thing Coach Henry taught me. I mean it was just badminton but I suppose that wasn't something I should say at the moment.

"Right," she said rolling her eyes. "You were just thinking we were…"

"Enough!" Charlie interrupted loudly. "You haven't been here two minutes and you're fighting with him already. Geez, Becca. Just stop it." She opened and closed her mouth a few times but with each attempt to speak, Charlie beat her to it. "Derek's my best friend for a reason. He's a good guy. I've known him for fourteen years. Fourteen long years we've been best friends. I'd like to think I know him better than you."

A sense of pride welled within me. I mean Charlie was defending me from a girl. Okay, wait. That didn't sound right. Charlie was defending me to a girl. He was speaking volumes of our friendship and that made me feel good inside.

She shook her head looking defeated. "You're right. I'm sorry."

"It's not me you should be apologizing to," Charlie said kindly. He took her hand in his own and I didn't even feel the slightest bit jealous. Not that I was jealous before. I mean I had no reason to be jealous. For one, this was me we were talking about and I was the hottest man in existence. For another, it was just Charlie.

"I'm sorry," she said looking right at me. "I know I haven't been very nice." I wanted to snort right there but I suppressed it. She took a deep breath and I could tell it was really difficult for her. I admired her for that even if I had absolutely no idea why it was difficult for her to talk to me. It wasn't like I was difficult to talk to. "Start over?"

I nodded. "That would be nice." I could have sworn there was a ghost of a smile on her lips.

"It's starting," Charlie interrupted which cut off all other conversation. We must have been so pre-occupied that we missed the commentator calling out the names of the participants. Martial arts competitions did not have the same rowdy environment in the crowd that other better sports (like basketball) had. It was more a controlled discipline which reflected not only on the mats but also on the audience. No one celebrated loudly at least until somebody won the final match.

I recognized the first guy on our team though even if he was wearing head gear. It was Travis Brody. He's been on the taekwondo team since middle school. I didn't really know much about him. He was an okay guy as far as I heard. People said he was really nice though we rarely had any reason to interact so I couldn't be sure for myself. I did know he was good in his field, though not good enough to become captain or whatever the equivalent was in his sport. He was wearing a blue trunk protector that distinguished him from his opponent.

His opponent, wearing a red trunk protector, was from Westfield. That alone was enough reason to hate the guy. On principle, everyone from Southmore hated everyone from Westfield. The feelings were mutual though so it was fine. The old school rivalry was accepted, nurtured, and passed on with every generation.

The two of them were wearing the typical white uniform associated with the sport. I think they called it do-bok or some other kind of fancy name but it was that typical white V-neck style jacket that stretched slightly below the waist. Both were wearing black belts.

Charlie seemed exceptionally nervous when the fight stared. He was grasping Rebecca's hand tightly. I figured I was over thinking things since she looked equally nervous. That or perhaps I was just indifferent. I decided to just pay more attention to the fight since I was already getting bored again.

I'm not sure if they had "weight classes" in that sport but if they did, they clearly made a mistake with the matching. Travis had a lean body. You could tell that he didn't spend too much time in the gym lifting weights to get buffed out. However, the hours he probably spent kicking or punching those paddle practice things gave him an athletic appearance that although was impressive was nowhere close to being as good as mine. I guess he looked good for an ordinary teenager.

His opponent on the other hand clearly went to the gym. Despite his uniform being loose, you could still see the muscles ripple across it as the fabric stretched with each punch or each kick. He probably packed more strength with each kick and punch than Travis. However, that also came at a price in speed. While his hits were stronger, he was also slower than his opponent whose body was agile enough to dodge or parry most of the blows.

I honestly thought the match would last longer but the superior training of Southmore won out in the end. Dodging a kick to his head, Travis ducked and twisted on one foot sending an upward flying kick right at the side of his opponents head. The head gear absorbed most of the blow but his opponent was still dazed for a second giving Travis the opening he needed to kick him right on the vest sending him flat on his back on the floor. The refereeing official called the match done just like that and judges awarded points while a nurse checked on the student from Westfield. He was fine though and once he was back on his feet, he and Travis bowed to each other and went their separate ways as the next combatants stepped onto the mats.

As expected, no one cheered loudly but gave polite applause, even those on our sides. Charlie released the breath he'd been holding.

I suppose I could appreciate why Charlie wanted to watch. There was some excitement to be had from watching two guys fight with strength and agility in hand to hand (or in this case hand/foot to hand/foot) combat. It was a competition of skill where all you had to work with was your body. There was no super expensive and specialized racket you could buy that would make your shots just a little bit faster. Nor were there any specially designed shoes that could make you run faster or jump higher (not that I needed such things to be good). It was just you, your body, and the exact same padding that your opponent had.

I was surprised when Travis suddenly looked in our direction. He smiled and walked over. Something about the smile was unsettling and it wasn't until he was close enough that I recognized it. It wasn't a friendly smile or even a fake one. It was the kind of smile that was somewhere between a smirk and an all out grin like he knew something you didn't. It was also the kind of smile a guy had when he liked what he saw. To be exact, it was the kind of smile a guy had when he liked the person he saw.

"Hey Becca," he said with that goddamn, lopsided gawk of his. Then turning slightly to Charlie, his grin grew to a full out smile of pearly white teeth that looked totally fake like he'd been bleaching it his whole life. "Hey Charlie. You guys came."

"Of course we did, sweetie," Rebecca said as she reached out and hugged him. THE MOTHER FUCKING BASTARD HUGGED HER BACK.

"Did you like the match, Charlie?" he asked as he released Rebecca.

"Oh yeah," Charlie quickly agreed. "I couldn't take my eyes off you." Travis' overgrown and crooked eyebrows shot up half an inch. "The match," Charlie corrected quickly with a blush. "I couldn't take my eyes off the match."

Travis smirked sideways and I felt like wiping the floor with that face. Actually, that close, he didn't look so lean or fit. It was more along the lines of sickly, like someone who ate only once a day. He was probably anorexic. An idiot too in all likelihood.

"How many more matches do you have?" Rebecca asked. Why the hell was she even talking to him?

"Depends how many matches our team wins," he shook his head like he wanted to get his medium length paisley brown hair out of his super ugly and sunken eyes. I had no idea why I even remotely considered him as good looking. "If it's a clear streak, then we'd be declared the winner at the first round. Otherwise, we'll have several more matches as each opponent gets eliminated."

"I'm sure you'll do great," Charlie said. The hell?

I cleared my throat loudly and the three of them looked at me.

Charlie's eyes widened a bit. "Oh, I can't believe I forgot. Sorry! Travis, this is Derek my best friend I told you about. Derek this is my… this is Travis."

Charlie was talking about me to Travis? What the hell about? The dickwad actually smirked at me and I was almost sure his face was mutating right before me. It was slowly taking the color and appearance of a giant turd. He reached out with a hand and I stared at it for a few seconds before taking it and grasping a little harder than I would normally have. That apparently was a mistake to do against a martial arts kid. He smirked and tightened his own grip. I suppressed a whimper as the blood left my hand completely.

"Nice to meet you Derek," he said cheekily as I retracted my hand willing life to return to my fingers before they turned blue. The fucking bastard then had the nerve to wink at me before turning back to Rebecca. "Well, I have to get going. I told Master Gyeong I won't be gone for too long."

"That's okay. I have to get going too anyway," Rebecca said as she stood up. "I just wanted to pass by for your first match." She reached down and hugged Travis again patting him in the back. She then whispered something to his ear to which he laughed.


"I'll see you later," Charlie told her as she gave him a kiss on the cheek.

For a moment, I thought she would ignore me but then actually surprised me with a smile. "I'll see you later, Derek," she said as she passed me. I was hoping for a hug or a kiss too but I suppose a goodbye was a step up to what I normally would have gotten. I was almost lost in the moment but Travis had to ruin it by talking.

"I'll see you later, Charlie," Travis said with that lopsided grin. "And it was nice to finally meet you, Derek."

I harrumphed in response and crossed my arms together. Travis shook his head before sparing a glance at Charlie. He smiled one last time and left.

"You know, you could have been a little nicer," Charlie frowned at me.

"At whom? That jerk off karate kid?" I asked with a scowl.

"Taekwondo, Derek," Charlie corrected which only made me glower more. He took a deep breath. "Okay. What did he do to you? As I recall, he was very nice."

"Did you see what he was doing? Did you see the damn smirk he had on his face? And the way he kept looking at Rebecca? It was nasty."

The exasperation left Charlie's face as a grin slowly camped on his lips. "Do I detect jealousy, Mr. Hampton? Are you actually worried that someone has a better shot with a girl than you?"

"Of course not," I said waving my hand dismissively. "Geez, he's not even in the same league as me. I'm just saying he shouldn't be making googley eyes and flirting at a girl that is clearly taken."

"She's not your girlfriend," Charlie pointed out as he continued to watch the mat. "You even said you weren't dating-dating."

"Whose side are you on?" I asked aghast.

"Well if you let Rebecca hear you say that, you're going to get a lot of flak from her. You don't own her or anything, you know?"

"What? We're going to go out aren't we? That practically means we're together."

"Well," Charlie intoned as he thought about it. I could see that mischievous smile of his which meant he was up to no good. "First, you and Becca never actually agreed to dating exclusively. Second, you and Becca haven't actually gone on a date so I'm not sure your relationship, whatever it is, counts as anything really."

"We have plans for a date!" I said a little louder than I intended.

"Third," Charlie interrupted with a louder voice. "I don't think you have to worry about him going for her." He then chuckled.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Suddenly, Charlie paused and seemed nervous. It was suddenly like he just realized what he said and had made a mistake. He looked nervously at me for a moment before suddenly smiling, albeit anxiously. "Just a feeling I have."

"A feeling?" I pressed. "You know something, don't you?"

"Of course I know something. I always know something." Talk about trying to dodge the bullet.

"Come on, Charlie. Tell me. We're best buds. We're brothers. I share everything with you. I thought you did the same with me."

Charlie then said something so softly I almost didn't hear it. Come to think of it, I don't think he meant to say it out loud at all. It sounded remarkably like I wish I could.

"What was that?" I asked with a confused frown.

"I said you should ask him about it," Charlie said in a normal voice. I gave him a dubious look without saying anything. Taking my silence as out of the ordinary, he took his eyes off the mats and looked at me. "What?"

I looked at him for awhile longer before finally shrugging. "I think I will." I then stood up.

"I didn't mean now," Charlie panicked.

"Relax, Charlie. I'm going to get us some food. Save my seat," I hastily instructed as I left before he could protest.

In truth, I didn't really want to get food. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Travis heading towards one of the halls that lead to a lavatory and the outside parking area. I didn't know why but I wanted to confront him. Maybe, just maybe, I was a little worried about his relationship with Rebecca. In that short amount of time, I could tell there was something different there. It wasn't just an ordinary friendship. It was like they shared some deep dark secret which made their rapport special. Well, I figured I should at least set him straight. That way he won't waste his time just to get turned down.

I made my way towards the refreshment area in case Charlie was watching me. The cafeteria aide who was manning the table knew me so she told me to get whatever I wanted even if I wasn't participating in the events that day. I politely declined before turning to check if Charlie was looking in my direction but he wasn't. Quickly, I slipped past the all the food and drinks and headed down the same hall Travis did. As I suspected, he went to the lavatory. He was standing by one of the urinals.

I took a spot next to him despite the many empty urinals around.

"Hey," I said as casually as I could manage.

Travis looked at me with surprise. "Derek," he said as a question. I could tell he said it a little defensively. Ha! I knew that pussy was scared of me.

"Travis," I said with a nod as I began to pee into the porcelain.

"Not, stalking me now, are you?" he chuckled. If he was even remotely nervous or defensive moments earlier, it was gone just like that. I couldn't tell if it was a façade or what. "We just spoke awhile ago and now you're making secret rendezvous with me in such private, intimate places."

"I am not…" I said then realized what he was implying.

"Not what?" he smiled knowing what he had done. "Hitting on me?"

Now that cheeky brat just sparked something in me. "You think I'm here for you?"

"Well you did follow me in here," he pointed out then raised his eyebrows up and down suggestively.

"Now look here you fag," I sneered. "I'm not remotely interested in the kind of shit you're clearly into."

Whatever friendliness was in his face was instantly wiped out. That gave me satisfaction until a serious frown replaced his mischievous. He adjusted himself back into his pants and crossed his arms across his chest making years worth of martial arts muscles on his arms bulge bigger. Apparently, he wasn't as skinny as I thought. "Okay, what do you want, Hampton."

The sudden change in his attitude caught me off guard and for a moment I was at a loss for words.

"What is it, Hampton?" he said, his voice dripping with hostility. "You came in here after me after I tried being friendly. Then, you insult me. What do you want?"

I blinked at him. Then I remembered why I was there so I puffed out my chest, not that it wasn't big without me making any effort. "Stay away from Rebecca."

He looked confused for a moment. "What?"

His moment of weakness gave me strength again. "I saw how you were looking at her. Well, guess what, she's taken. So, don't even think about going after her."

He looked at me like he couldn't believe what he was hearing and for a moment I thought he was going to do some of his taekwondo moves on me. But then, he suddenly started laughing hysterically that he had to grab onto the sink just to stay balanced.

"What the fuck are you laughing about?" I asked angrily.

"You think I… that we…" he managed to say in between laughs.

"Stop laughing, you fag!"

That stopped him immediately. He looked intently at me and in the same serious voice as earlier said, "you really should reconsider your values, Hampton. That is if you want to keep the things you hold important in your life." He turned to wash his hands in the sink.

"What's that supposed to mean?" My eyes narrowed at him. "Are you threatening me?"

"I'm giving you advice that could make your life better if you take it," he said as he stared at me through the reflection on the mirror as he dried his hands with a paper towel. "I would have thought you of all people would understand."

My fists tightened at that. "Are you insinuating that I'm gay, you faggot?"

"No, Hampton, you're certainly painting an entirely different picture for me." He ripped a few more paper towels from the dispenser and crushed them almost angrily in his fists as he dried his hands. "What I'm saying is you seem to have developed some form of hatred for people who are gay – a hatred that is not only unbecoming of you but also potentially destructive to the relationships you form with other people. What if you met someone who turned out to be gay? Would you hate them based on that principle alone? What if you had a long time friend or even family member that you found out was gay? Would you stop liking them or treating them in a friendly manner because they were gay?"

"My mom's brother is a faggot," I interrupted. I dunno what prompted me to blurt that out but I guess I never really cared much for gay uncle. We never even met. My father made sure of it. "He's sick like all the other queers. You're probably one of them too."

He stared at me and for a moment again I thought he was going to start a fight. But after a moment, his posture relaxed. "I really hope that someday soon you can change that perspective of yours. Having spoken to you in such a short time, I can honestly say that you are a bigoted, self-centered jerk who thinks he knows everything and has the right to whatever he wants. I would want nothing to do with you. However, I have heard differently from your best friend so I am willing to give you another chance. Charlie has said almost nothing but good things about you. The way he describes you, you'd think that underneath all that gruff, arrogant, and clearly vain exterior I'm seeing now is a good man – a man worthy enough to be a brother. I hope for his and all our sakes, he was right."

He crumpled the tissue in his hands and threw it to the trash can behind him without looking. Of course it missed. He moved past me without another word and left me alone with my thoughts in the toilet.

I stared at the mistreated paper towels on the floor. After a moment's hesitation, I moved to it and picked it up. I gazed at its moist and battered state a moment longer before throwing it into the trash with the rest of its brethren. I looked at the mirror and wondered if I had once again missed something important like I did in Casey's the weekend before.

Something that, from the sound of it, should have been pretty obvious, yet wasn't.

At least not to me.

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