by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 19: Return of "The King"

The days moved quickly like a comet across the skies, like a child eager to enter the playpen with his friends, like a hand on the brink of orgasm… It was like one moment, I was talking to Luke in my living room, and then suddenly my return to school was coming up.

I woke up that Tuesday morning at the usual time I did to see and watch Charlie leave his house. But that time, I knew I would be joining him again at school. We'd be seeing each other again and to be honest, I didn't know what I would do. My ten days isolation gave me a lot of things to think about. I knew I was still angry though it was nowhere close to what I had felt when I saw them from that rooftop view. I found myself oddly not angry at Charlie but the situation itself, as though the circumstances were set against him, against us. I knew enough to know that Charlie wasn't gay by choice. That didn't change the fact that I wished he wasn't.

And of course, there was Travis – Travis and the whole lot of other gay people. Them, I was angry at. They had no business being involved at all with my life. They should have just stayed in their little island homes and fucked like rabbits or something. Why'd they have to come out and get themselves involved with the world? It wasn't like they'll ever amount to anything anyway. People like them, people like him, just ruined things for everyone else.

So I watched the world outside my window waiting for Charlie to make his exit. I saw Travis walking down the street towards Charlie's house. For a moment, I entertained the idea of setting him straight (so to speak), roughing him up a bit like Luke suggested, but then felt appalled that I even considered anything Luke would suggest. Then again, the idea of a broken and bruised Travis was quite entertaining at the time.

Like clockwork, Charlie's door opened at the same time it always did. He stepped out into the morning light and looked around as though trying to find something, anything, out of the ordinary. He stood there in the lawn in a patchwork style polo shirt, no doubt influenced by Travis, looking oddly like an urban farmer contemplating his harvest.

And then he looked at me. Or at least he looked at my window. Somehow though I felt his eyes piercing mine through the heavyset curtains. In the darkness of the shadows, I waved to him and then felt silly knowing he couldn't see me. But I waved to him nonetheless, in the hope that perhaps, just maybe, he would wave back.

Then Travis reached him. After a moment longer, Charlie tore his eyes away from my window. Travis said something to him to which Charlie nodded. Then they both walked side by side down the street to where the nearest bus stop was. I watched them go until they were too far to see. Then I watched even longer.

"Honey," my mom's soft voice came from my door startling me. I actually jumped in surprise not having heard her come in. My jumping seemed to have caused her to jump too. And for a moment, we smiled at each other for the mutual reaction. And then she became more somber. "Are you alright?"

I looked out the window again to which there was nothing more to see. Instead of answering her question, I asked my own. "When can I get my car again?"

She sighed probably recalling our conversation a few nights before. It wasn't exactly one of my shining moments as I let myself get angry at my own mother. I knew she had nothing to do with what happened to my car but I felt like I had to be angry and there was no one else at home to get angry at. It only ended when she finally started yelling and told me to go to my room. I felt like shit afterwards because I could hear her crying in the kitchen. "I'm not trying to keep you from your car, Derek," she said tiredly.

"I know that," I said hurriedly. I knew I was making things difficult for her and I didn't want her to think I was being demanding or anything. "I was just wondering when."

She looked at me as though trying to see if my words were sincere. And then she gave the faintest of smiles. "The mechanic says he'll have it ready in a few more days, maybe by this weekend. The tires have been fixed but he's applying some chemical to the scratch so that some of the paint from the surrounding area would cover it up. The scratch will still be there but at least it won't be as visible. He says we'll have to bring it into a specialty track shop if we want it fixed. His shop just can't service Camaros that way."

I nodded. "I guess I'll wait. It's not like I can do anything about it."

"It's not gonna be too bad," my mom said as she leaned against the frame of my door, "riding with me to school like you used to when you were little."

"As long as I don't go to school with Mrs. C," I said with a pinched nose.

"About that," my mom said carefully, "she told me what happened during your talk."

"Oh?" I asked with a raised eyebrow. My mom hasn't or wouldn't ask me what I discussed with Mrs. C though I knew the two had been talking wondering what they should do with me. "Did she tell you she gave me the two bumps on my head?"

"Yes," my mom said with a frown. "I've told her never to do it again."

I snorted. "Like that's gonna stop her."

"I'm serious, Derek," my mom said fiercely. "If she or anyone ever hurts you like that again, tell me, okay?"

I looked at her, saw the conviction in her eyes then found I could not match the power behind her pupils. I looked away. "Okay."

"Look at me when you say that," she said not angrily but kindly. "If anyone ever hurts or even touches you in the wrong way, you will tell me right?"

I looked into her eyes despite the fact that they were overwhelming me. "Of course."

We stared at each other for the longest time before my mom finally released the breath she was holding. "I've scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist for you this weekend."

"Oh, mom," I said in an annoyed tone while shaking my head. "A shrink? I don't need to see a shrink. I'm not crazy."

"Psychiatrists aren't just for crazy people, Derek. It's clear you have issues you have to deal with and there are professionals that can help you sort them out."

"Mom, I have no issues to deal with," I said stubbornly.

"Derek," my mom said sternly. "Blanking out and finding yourself miles and hours away from where you last remembered things is just not normal."

"I am normal," I said just a little bitterly.

"I didn't mean it that way and you know it."

"What did you mean then? Isn't that what you're thinking? That I'm somehow screwed up?"

"No," my mom said severely. "Never. I just want you to be happy and this will help."


"Derek, please," my mom said pleadingly. "Do it for me. Just give it two or three sessions. If it doesn't help, tell me and we'll think of something else."

"Two or three sessions?" I asked.

"Two or three sessions," my mom repeated with a nod.

"So, if after three sessions and I feel like it's not helping I won't have to see a shrink anymore? Not just see someone else but no one at all?"

My mom hesitated but after awhile agreed. "Yes. If after three sessions, you don't want to continue then you won't have to see another psychiatrist if you don't want to."

I looked at her dubiously but then had the feeling she was being honest. I didn't think she would lie to me like that yet I couldn't shake the feeling that I was getting out of it too easily. "Okay," I said and I offered her a smile, which she returned.

And then her smile faltered and I knew we had more to discuss. "We also have to talk about Charlie."

"Mom, not again," I rubbed my head. The bump I got from Mrs. C was long gone but somehow any mention of Charlie brought back the pain like the injury was still there.

"Honey," she said in that calming tone that once in a lifetime long ago soothed me. "You're going to be seeing each other today. I wanted to know what you were planning to do."

"Nothing," I said. She looked at me dubiously. "Seriously, I'm not planning to do anything. I'm not going to beat him up if that's what you're worried about."

"And what of his friends?" she asked, though I had a feeling she only meant one friend, the very reason I was suspended in the first place.

"Well, he better get out of my way at school," I said without the slightest hint of remorse.

"Honey, if you get into another fight with him at school, you will get expelled. Principal Walker has already warned me."

"Then I'll make sure it's not at school."

"Derek," my mom said sternly in that same way she spoke when I was speaking ill of her brother. "I am serious. You're not to get into any fights with him or anyone else in or outside school, do you hear me?"

"Mom, I didn't start it," I said.

"It doesn't matter who started it. What matters is you're fighting over something not worth fighting over. Imagine if he was Charlie, wait, don't interrupt. Imagine if someone out there hated Charlie because he was gay as much as you seem to hate Travis. Imagine if someone wanted to hurt him. How would you feel if for example I came home one day and told you that Charlie was in the hospital hanging onto life because someone felt they needed to teach him a lesson?"

"Mom," I said suddenly not feeling good about what we were discussing.

"Exactly, honey, you would feel bad. You would feel terrible that someone out there wanted to hurt Charlie. So don't put yourself in that situation where you may be tempted to hurt someone like him."

"But they're not Charlie."

"Derek," she said sounding very exasperated. "Why can't you see that it doesn't matter if it was or wasn't Charlie."

"Of course it matters," I said looking out the window just so I wouldn't have to meet her eyes. I was anxious, like there was something I was supposed to be worrying about but couldn't understand what. It was like there was something there in the back of my head that I was supposed to know yet didn't. It was frustrating and I knew it was somehow affecting my interaction with my mother.

My mom remained silent. I knew she was still there by the door but I didn't want to look at her. I was afraid of what might happen if I did.

"Come to the kitchen," she said after awhile, "when you're ready to go to school." And she left me in my room.

I didn't know what was awaiting me at school. All I knew was that the school needed me back. After all, what was a kingdom without its king? Headless, decapitated, dead… that's what. And I knew people missed me in my absence. The thing was I didn't miss them, not the classes, not the varsity games, not the teachers, or all the girls. In truth, no matter how much I wanted to deny it, ten days isolation made me realize that I only missed one thing, one person.

I stared at the wide open doors of my school. My mom had parked the car in the lot some distance away from the entrance. It was much farther away than she normally parked it so I knew she was doing it for me. She didn't speak as I sat there apprehensively watching the students trickle into the school laughing, pushing each other around as though the world didn't end ten days before.

I sighed, knowing that no matter how long I sat there, things wouldn't change. Charlie was still gay. I wanted to see him but I didn't know what I would say. Would things just go back to normal? Probably not. But then what? I wondered idly if I could have had a few days more to stay at home.

"No," my mom said like she had read my mind. I looked over at her and she had a soft, empathic smile on her lips, which was a big improvement from what her expression had been when we left the house. "You'll have to face them eventually. Perhaps it's better here where there are adults who can watch over you. And just so you know, they will be watching you two for quite awhile."

"It's not them I'm worried about," I sighed.

"Honey," she said softly, "I know you don't want to hear it…"

"Yet, you're going to say it anyway," I chuckled.

She smiled and for a moment it seemed like nothing was wrong at all. "Charlie is a good boy. I haven't met someone with as kind a heart as he has. And having been to so many schools, having taught a few classes myself, that's saying a lot. If he cares about you as much as I think he does, he might still want to be your friend."

"I didn't say I wanted to be his friend." I didn't say it angrily or haughtily. Surprisingly, it was more like I sounded thoroughly depressed.

"Maybe that's the first step," she said. "Maybe you have to say it."

I looked out again at the school doors where the crowds were thinning and people were still going about oblivious to the important issues of the world – like my problems.

"Now," she said, "I'm giving you the chance to go in there by yourself. I'll give you a few minutes head start. I don't need to be in the office for awhile anyway. Unless of course… you want me to hold your hand while we walk in…"

"OH, MOOOOM…" I exclaimed allowing my tone to show my revulsion at the very idea. She grinned at me.

"Then you should go," she said smiling completely the first time that day. "I will not be held responsible for your tardiness."

I sighed. "What's the use of having your mom work at your school if you couldn't even get hall passes for free?"

"It's to make sure she can keep you out of trouble," she said in a babyish voice and she reached over as though to pinch my cheeks.

"Oh no," I said quickly as I opened the door and vacated the passenger seat. I could hear her laughing behind the door. It felt surprisingly good to hear her laugh especially after the mood she had earlier in the morning for which I was partially responsible for. Okay fine, maybe entirely responsible for. Maybe.

Every step felt heavy. It did not feel like what a movie star would feel as he walked down the red carpet. But rather I imagined it was much like what an inmate would experience as he walked through the halls one last time on his way to the executioner. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was looking at me either with half-glances or shameless stares. There were no congratulatory pats on the back or welcoming shouts of glee. Instead, they whispered with their friends about who knows what. It certainly wasn't the grand, celebratory welcome I had expected.

I walked past everyone towards my locker. My heart was pounding against my chest with great difficulty as though it was trying to escape yet was restricted by the perfectly muscular, slim and sexy chest I had. I gripped the straps of my backpack a little tighter making my bag rise with each tug. I kept my eye out for Charlie for I knew his locker was near mine.

I turned down another hallway with the many eyes following me and then I froze. There he was – Charlie. He was pulling out books from his open locker. His hands stopped in midair as though he had sensed someone watching him, had sensed me looking. And slowly, very slowly as though time itself approached its death, he turned towards me. His eyes landed immediately on mine as though he knew exactly where I was the moment I had entered the hall – two blue eyes that seemed to give nothing and everything away at the same time.

Students passed, students stopped, students whispered… but I didn't care. I didn't care at all.

Slowly, Charlie gave a weak smile and everything else just faded into the background. I tried to smile but somehow it felt painful, almost unnatural, as though I had forgotten how to do it.

I willed my legs to move forward but before I could even take a step, Charlie's blue eyes disappeared to be replaced by another, much darker set that were narrowed threateningly at me. My eyes focused on the newcomer that had decided to plant itself right in front of Charlie blocking him completely from my view. His arms were folded across his chest, making the muscles in his arms seem bigger. His mere presence made anger flare within.

It was Travis Brody.

The smile that had taken so much effort on my part settled into a frown. I glared at the bastard who had obscured my view from Charlie as though he was anything good to look at. Charlie came out from behind him and placed a hand on his arm as though consoling him. It took a few seconds but Travis turned his glare away from me towards Charlie. His face immediately melted into a soft expression of concern as he looked at my former best friend. They said something to each other I couldn't hear for it was too soft and they were too far away.

I looked around at the hallway wondering what others thought about the blatant display of affection that Charlie and Travis were obviously showing in the middle of the hallway. But most seemed unconcerned, passing them as if they weren't seeing two fags before them. The few that did seem to notice were looking as if they saw this every day. One was even smiling. He was probably a fag too.

An arm rested itself across my shoulder and hung loosely over the other side. I looked momentarily at the hand before turning the other way to its owner, who had a nasty sneer on his face expressing complete and total disgust. "Look at those fags," he said in low voice, loud enough only to be heard by me.

I turned back to Travis and Charlie. Travis was once again glaring, his eyes going back and forth between me and Luke Crawford as though he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Charlie was frowning at us. Without a word, Travis shut Charlie's locker and placed an arm around Charlie's shoulder and turned my former best friend away from us. They walked down the hall without glancing back.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I said in a furious whisper as I shook Luke's arm off me.

"Trying to keep you out of trouble man," Luke said with a casual shrug. "I know you want to beat the hell out of them but you can't do it here, not with Principal Walker watching."

He nudged his head and I followed the direction he indicated. True enough, Principal Walker was standing there, his hands in his pockets frowning at us as though he didn't like what he was seeing.

"If you're going to teach those two a lesson," he said as he once again put his hand over my shoulder and started nudging me towards our next class. "You have to do it where there aren't any witnesses."

"I'm not…" I said as I shrugged off his arm again. "I wasn't going to do anything to them."

"That's it," Luke said with a satisfied smile. "It sounds very convincing when you say it that way. People wouldn't even suspect you of having done anything wrong if you can keep that up."

"But I really wasn't," I said as Luke turned towards another classroom as though he couldn't hear my protests.

"See you at lunch," he said with a backward wave of his hand without even looking at me.

I stared at him disbelievingly. I shook my head, intending to go to my classroom and realized that I couldn't because someone was standing in my way. I almost took a step back in fright. Almost.

"I don't know what you're up to, Hampton," Travis said darkly, "but if you ever do anything to hurt Charlie, I swear I will make you feel so much pain you'd wish you were dead."

I composed myself and glared at him. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"Mr. Hampton. Mr. Brody," came the stern voice of Principal Walker. We turned to him walking down the hall towards us as though he had been following us the whole time. "Is there a problem here?"

"No, Principal Walker," Travis said in a very neutral voice. "We were just having a friendly chat."

"Of course you were," Principal Walker said in a way that clearly said he didn't believe a word of it. "Off to class now, the bell's about to ring."

Travis nodded at him then with a final steely look at me turned into the same classroom that Luke had gone into.

I turned to go into my classroom but before I could even take a step, Principal Walker spoke. "A moment please, Mr. Hampton."

I stopped and turned to him with a confused expression.

"Mr. Hampton," he said in a strict, disciplinary voice. "It's your first day back and you're already causing trouble. Do you really want to get expelled?"

"Expelled?" What the hell was he talking about? Causing trouble? I didn't do anything!

"You haven't even had your first class yet and here you are already confronting another student as though you wanted to start another fight."

"But, I didn't. He was the one who came up to me, threatening me and all."

"Of course, he was," he said in that same voice that clearly said he didn't believe what I was saying. "I will be watching you Mr. Hampton. If I see you put another toe out of line, I will make you regret having returned to this school."

I looked at him disbelievingly. I didn't do a single thing wrong that day and yet was being blamed for things already. The bell rang overhead.

"Do I make myself clear Mr. Hampton?" he said.

"Yes, sir," I said softly.

"Now, you better get into class," he said then turned without waiting for me to say anything. I stood there watching him walk away still unable to believe he accused me of being the bad guy when I hadn't even done anything.

I turned into my classroom. Everyone was seated except for our accounting teacher, Mr. Sloan.

"You're late," he said as his attention went to me standing there in the doorway.

"Principal Walker was just talking to me out here for a moment, sir."

"Of course he was," he said in a way that remarkably sounded like Principal Walker. "Take a seat so we can get started."

I turned to my usual seat but had to stop halfway there when I saw who was seated next to my chair. We had those long well polished wooden tables that allowed for two people to sit behind them. I had always shared my desk with Charlie in every class we had together. But, Charlie's seat was occupied by Mikee, whose eyes seemed slightly larger than normal. I looked around and found Charlie sitting in a distant corner of the room sitting with a short, pimply girl who was Mikee's typical seatmate. He was looking forward intently as though he was trying to count the number of pins stuck on the bulletin board in front of class.

"Is there a problem, Derek?" Mr. Sloan said.

I shifted my eyes from Charlie to Mr. Sloan. "Sir, my seatmate."

"Aah," Mr. Sloan said as though he'd been waiting for that moment, "yes, I felt it was necessary to change the seating arrangements a bit for our class. I hope that won't be a problem."

I looked around the class and noticed that only two people had actually moved – Charlie and Mikee. I looked towards Charlie but his pin counting task must have been intense because he wouldn't look in my direction.

"Of course, sir," I said, surprised at how heavily my voice expressed how not okay it was. I walked over to my desk next to my new seatmate.

Mikee smiled tentatively at me and the owlish look he was giving me gave away a little more of what he was feeling upon closer inspection. He looked terrified. I had no idea what he was terrified about. Frankly, I was glad to finally see a face that wasn't whispering openly in front me. But then I remembered that he was the one who ran to Charlie after Luke had threatened to expose where Travis and Charlie were hiding. Without really meaning to, I glared at him.

Mikee released a strangled whimper which was made more comical by his diminutive size. He quickly faced forward and pretended to be reading from his notes.

I was still ticked off by how the day had started. It certainly didn't feel like what I imagined it to be. It was almost like no one was particularly glad I returned, except perhaps for that one brief moment that Charlie smiled and acknowledged me. When I thought about it, no one else said hi or welcome back along the hallways. Maybe all my real friends weren't there at the time. That was probably it, I thought. After all, I hadn't spoken to anyone from the varsity team, unless I counted Luke and Mikee. Technically, nobody ever counted Luke and I didn't really talk to Mikee. The idea, that only Luke and what's-his-face-karate-boy had spoken to me so far, was making me quite sulky.

It wasn't like I wanted to talk to anyone. I didn't need anyone to talk to me. Yet, I figured it would have been nicer than their quiet conversations.

I glanced at Mikee tentatively from the corner of my eyes, wondering if perhaps I was just a little too rude. But before I could do anything, our teacher asked us to bring out our textbooks.

I took out my accounting book from my bag. It was the thickest book we had for the year. I hated that book from the moment I saw it. It had on its cover, instead of spreadsheets or journal entries, the giant face of a shaggy, brown haired, large nosed man in a dark brown business suit smiling back. He had a beige hat you'd expect county sheriffs to wear. He looked very much like the inspiration for the character Smokey the Bear. The text on the front page announced itself to be (in large font) E.T. SCHWELLING's (in a much smaller font) Basic Accounting Principles (and in even smaller font) for the High School Student. As if that wasn't enough, E.T. Schwelling's full name was written at the bottom as though it was likely for people to miss the large glaring text above. I mean accounting was supposed to be about numbers, not about who wrote the book or what. Putting your face on an accounting book was just a bit too egotistical in my opinion and like I told you, I absolutely hated people like that.

I sighed and instead of opening the book, I let my eyes wander towards where Charlie was seated. He absolutely loved it when I called E. T. Schwelling as Smokey the Bear. He once kept snickering in class when I kept drawing pictures of Smokey the Bear in my book complete with speech bubbles saying things like "Assets + Fire = Liabilities." Mr. Sloan told us off for disrupting his class. He asked us to explain what we found so funny and that of course just caused us to laugh harder.

Unfortunately, I wasn't sneaky enough to hide away my drawings. Mr. Sloan's nostrils flared when he saw the vandalisms in my book. I think he thought we were making fun of him. That led to one of the few detentions Charlie and I shared for his class.

"Derek," came a voice to my left. I blinked a few times and realized I was still staring at Charlie. He still wasn't looking at me despite the fact that every other head was turned towards my direction. I looked to my left and found myself staring up at the slightly obese figure of a balding Mr. Sloan. "Are you even listening to a word I've been saying?"

"Huh?" I asked which caused several people to laugh.

"I was asking you what you found so funny, I do not appreciate…" he paused as his eyes darted to my desk. Suddenly, he stiffened before me. "What did you do to your paper?"

"My paper?" I asked befuddled. From the corner of my eye, I could see Mikee stretching his neck slightly as though trying to discretely peer down at my desk.

I looked down on my desk and found myself staring at what look like an exam sheet. But before I could look at it close enough, Mr. Sloan swept it off my desk almost slapping my arm off in the process. I had no idea how that paper got there or how my book had somehow managed to get placed on the floor. I was certain I had just taken it out and that we were just about to start class. Yet, the blackboard which was somehow empty moments ago now had several notes written on it. Everyone else seemed to have a sheet in front of them as though we really were taking an exam.

"Do you think this is funny, Mr. Hampton?" Mr. Sloan said. He was not a particularly nasty teacher. He was generally kind though often short tempered, a trait I found odd in an accountant. He sounded furious at that moment. Several students looked away as though they were the ones being yelled at. Some of the bolder ones though went so far as to let their butts off their chairs to try and see what was written on my paper. Charlie was resolutely looking at his desk.

"Find what funny, sir?"

"This," Mr. Sloan said and with a flourish held out my paper to show what I had written. It was an identification type of test where you were asked a question and you'd need to write down the correct answer. There were about twenty questions and I had apparently answered all of them since there written in my writing twenty times were the words "I'm sorry." Instead of my name, I had written E. T. the Bear at the top. I had also, to my horror, drawn several Smokey the Bear caricatures, some of them looking remarkably like Mr. Sloan. "Well?" he asked sounding aggravated.

"Sir, I… I didn't," I stuttered.

"Didn't?" Mr. Sloan said, his nostrils flaring. "Are you going to deny that you did this? Go to the principal's office right now. Show this to Principal Walker and see if he finds it funny."

"Sir," I said pleadingly. "Please, I didn't…"

"I will know if you don't show this to him or have made any effort to alter what's written on this paper," he said, apparently deaf to my pleas. "I knew it was a mistake that we only suspended you. You should have been expelled! That would have really taught you a lesson. Such shameful behavior. I expected better of you after everything you mother vouched on your behalf. What would she think the moment she finds out about this?" He wasn't bothering to keep his voice down. I almost had the impression that he wanted everyone including those in the other rooms to hear.

I looked around at the other students. They were no longer paying attention to their own papers and were whispering openly to each other. Some were craning their necks to try and see what was written on my exam sheet. Mr. Sloan seemed blind to all of them. Weakly, I took the spoiled paper.

"Into the principal's office," he said with a pointed finger as though I didn't know where the exit was. "And bring your things. I expect you'll be sent home immediately."

I stuffed my book back into my bag before shouldered it. Again, I looked upon my teacher to say that I didn't write what was written on my paper. Yet, the lines on his face were so taut, I had a feeling I'd just make it worse by saying anything.

Besides, I pretty much knew and understood what had happened. Although I couldn't remember it, I knew that I had written those words. I knew that I had drawn those pictures. It was like what happened when I found myself stranded in the middle of a road, except this time I had somehow lost the entirety of an hour in a room full of people.

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