by Hamen Cheese
Chapter 25: Spiral
I looked terrible.
As handsome and as sexy as I was, even I couldn't deny that I was looking like shit. Sleep had evaded me ever since I saw my old Chicago Bulls jacket. Something about it was definitely wrong. There was a terrible, painful past linked to that jacket which was probably the reason I had forgotten what I did with it. I don't know why but I just knew that my jacket was somehow linked to something dreadful.
I couldn't remember and it was driving me insane. I would lie in my bed at night staring at the ceiling trying to find that missing piece of the puzzle, those memories that would help me understand why my jacket had somehow been covered in blood. I didn't know whose blood but there was no denying that it was blood. My mom hadn't noticed but I knew. I just somehow knew.
But all my musings at night would yield nothing – nothing except a door and recurring headaches. In the place between thought and exhaustion, I could sometimes see something that resembled a door. It was an ordinary door, plain white with a brass knob. I wasn't even sure if it was a real image, as it seemed to just float there in my head. I tried to imagine what I would find if I opened it but I had a feeling that my imagination was bringing me only to places that I made up rather than the truth. I knew something was behind that door but it was kept from me for whatever reason. The more I tried to think about it, the more my head hurt until I couldn't focus.
My eyes had grown sunken and dark in a matter of hours. My mom dropped a whole pan of oatmeal when I walked into her kitchen the day after I spoke to my dad's secretary. She literally rushed to me, touching every part of me as though to make sure I was all there. She wanted me to see a doctor but I refused. Something told me that a doctor wouldn't help me in this, except perhaps to relieve the headaches.
My mom asked me if I wanted to stay at home when school came around the following Monday. I told her that I couldn't afford not to go to school. I could still remember Coach Henry's warnings about people wanting me out of my captainship and possibly removed as student body president. I couldn't afford to let my grades slip or allow the preparations for the dance and the match against Westfield to go asunder. I had to go to school even if my headache seemed to grow worse the longer I stayed awake.
A few of my teachers asked me if I was ill. Even the asshole Mr. Sloan had the courtesy of laying off me in his class. Principal Walker actually offered to take me to the nurse's station but I didn't want to go. Maybe I was worried the nurse would find that I really was sick with something. I didn't want that. I couldn't afford to be sick if I wanted to remain the captain of the varsity team.
The irony of it all was that Charlie was actually looking at me when I didn't want him to. Whenever my eyes would unintentionally drift to where he was, he would be staring intently at me. His lips would hang slightly open as though he was at the edge of speech. I could clearly see concern in his eyes and his body was jerky as if he was itching to do something. But it was my turn to look away. I didn't want him to see me. I didn't want anyone to see me. I just wanted to get the day done so I could go home and maybe get some sleep.
I felt tired. I felt drained. I felt like I was going through the motions without actually participating. That was probably why my after school basketball trainings were abysmal at best. Despite desiring the ball to go in, it was like the ring had become repellant to the ball whenever I would be the one throwing it. Not a single shot would go in. My rebounds were stolen back whenever I would pass them away. Everyone else seemed to move faster than I was. I couldn't understand what was happening to me…
I couldn't understand why. I didn't know why.
Why? Why would he do something like that?
Someone was shaking me. I looked up to see Mrs. Corpus with a concerned, almost pained look on her face. Mikee was standing a short distance behind her, looking very uncertain.
"Derek, are you alright?" Mrs. Corpus asked. "You're sweating profusely, dear."
"What?" I asked. I looked around and the classroom was empty except for the three of us. It must have been lunchtime already. "No. I mean, yes, I'm alright."
"Derek, I think you really need to see the nurse. I don't think you're well at all. You're a little warm and you might be coming down with a fever."
"No," I said. "I'm alright, really, I am."
She looked like she didn't believe me. "Well, I think you should anyway. You definitely look like you're coming down with something. It might be best if you went home for the rest of the day."
"I can't," I said, shaking me head. "I have too much to do. I still have to meet the suppliers for the dance for their payment and the final details."
Mrs. Corpus frowned. "Derek, you already met the suppliers. I went with you, remember?"
I blinked at her trying to understand what she meant. And then I remembered. "Oh yes, of course. I'm sorry. We've already done that, haven't we? What day is it?"
Mrs. Corpus stood up straight and turned to Mikee as though trying to get the answer from him. Mikee merely shrugged but I didn't know if it was because he didn't know the day or because of something else.
"Derek," Mrs. Corpus said sternly as she looked at me again. "I really think you should go and see the nurse."
"No, I can't," I repeated as though it was my mantra. I started gathering up my things and putting them back in my bag. "I have to go."
"Derek!" Mrs. Corpus called after me as I rushed out of the classroom.
I looked back and saw her talking to Mikee as though she was giving him instructions. I ignored them and rushed towards the cafeteria.
Food. That was what I needed, some good old food to replenish the body. I tried to remember what day it was. If I just had a class with Mrs. Corpus then that meant it was either a Tuesday or a Thursday. If I had already paid the suppliers, then that must mean it was a Thursday since I was supposed to meet them on Wednesday after class. If it was Thursday then that meant I had just two more days before the dance and the game!
The cafeteria noise seemed exceptionally loud when I entered. It wasn't helping my headache at all which seemed to be a round-the-clock occurrence already. I glanced over at Charlie's table and again saw him looking at me with concern as though he had sensed me enter or perhaps was even waiting for me the whole time. Travis put a gentle hand in his arm and whispered something to him but Charlie just scowled at him. It was strange because it was the first time I'd ever seen him scowl at anyone.
I ordered my food, grabbing everything within reach. I must have gotten too much because the cashier asked if I was sure I could eat all of it. I said yes, paid for my food, and made my way to my table.
I took my usual seat at the captain's chair and started to unwrap the first sandwich I could get my hands on.
"Man, Derek, you're hungry," Brian said with a laugh as he studied my food. "You sure you can eat all of that?"
"Yeah," I said around a particularly large chunk of tuna sandwich in my mouth.
"Geez, slow down, man," Brian said as he lifted a piece of lettuce that fell from my sandwich and placed it back onto the tray. "You're going to choke on that if you're not careful."
"I can't," I said taking another bite, "we have to go."
"Go?" Brian asked. "Go where?"
I paused to look at him as I thought about the question. "I don't know."
"Derek, are you okay?" Brian asked. "You're acting a little cuckoo."
"I'm not crazy!" I said vehemently as I turned again to him.
"Woah," Brian said, raising his hands in surrender. "I was only joking, man. Chill."
"Sorry," I said as I sighed and looked back at my food. It really was a lot. "I'm just a little stressed right now."
"I can see that," Brian said warily.
"Margaret," I said to the girl seated next to Brian.
"Yes?" Margaret Elizabeth C. O'Connor replied in a terrified squeal.
"You're going ahead before the game finishes to oversee the decorations for the dance, right?"
"Yeah," Margaret said sounding very much like she'd rather be anywhere else that very moment than be there.
"Good," I said. "Just making sure. I want everything to be ready."
"We've been preparing for this dance for months, Derek," Brian said. "Everything's going to be perfect."
"Perfect," I repeated as though the word was strange to me. "Yeah, everything's going to be perfect."
"Who are you going with, Derek?" Lily asked. Lily, in case you forgot, was Andrew Young's petite, long time girlfriend since middle school. She hadn't changed much even in high school.
"Going with?" I asked perplexed.
"Yeah," she said. "Who's your date?"
"My date," I repeated.
"You're going with someone right?" Lily asked, suddenly sounding uncomfortable.
"Yeah," I said in a soft whisper then realized the truth. "No."
"No?" Brian asked shocked. "Dude, you're not going with anyone to the dance?"
"No," I said shaking my head. "I didn't have time to look for a date."
"Duuude," Brian said. "You CANNOT show up to the dance as a stag. That would just scream loser."
I shrugged indifferently. "Doesn't really matter to me."
Everyone in our table gawped at me as though I had just said something unbelievable… like say, me being secretly gay.
"What?" I asked everyone tiredly. I was getting annoyed at all the questions. Why couldn't they just mind their own business and let me finish my meal?
"Derek, seriously, are you feeling alright?" Brian asked.
"Will people stop asking me that?" I said slamming my fist onto the table.
"WHAT?" I asked turning to the speaker. I looked up and audibly swallowed. "Coach?"
"Meet me after practice today," he bellowed. "No questions. Just do it."
"Yes, coach," I sighed as he walked away without even waiting for me to respond. It wasn't like reasoning with him would have worked anyway. I rubbed my head hoping to alleviate the headache being incited by the incessant questions.
Barely ten seconds had passed before another authority figure came up to me. "Mr. Hampton?"
I sighed again and struggled to form the most convincing smile I could manage. "Yes, Principal Walker?"
"Are you alright?" he asked sounding quite concerned. "You're not looking well. Have you seen the nurse yet?"
"Yes, sir, I have," I lied, completely fed up with people asking me if I was okay. What do they care anyway if I'm fine or not? It wasn't any of their business. "I just have a headache. It should go away when the medicine kicks in."
Principal Walker looked dubious but nonetheless nodded. "Okay. Don't strain yourself too much," he said and went to join the other teachers in their lounge.
"You sure you're alright, Derek?" Andrew lumbered from the end of the table.
"Yes, Andrew," I said in exasperation. "Where's Mikee?" I asked trying to direct the conversation elsewhere.
"He's seated over there," Brian said with a lazy wave of his hand. I looked where he was indicating and wasn't completely surprised to find Mikee seated at the table where Travis and Charlie were seated. The three were whispering furiously while the others were trying to hear what they were saying. Even emo-boy Jared Anderson looked mildly interested.
"Great," I said, imagining the many terrible things he would be telling them about what happened in the classroom. "Just fucking great. I'll see you in class." I lifted my bag and left my food, mostly untouched, with the rest of my team.
The door hung suspended in the deep darkness. It was like it was glowing softly with an aura of mystery about it that suggested just a tinge of divine touch. It floated in and out of my mind as though trying constantly to be just out of my reach. Every time I would try extending my hand towards it, it would pull back like a wounded animal, knowing somehow that its time was coming to an end.
And then something very ugly sighed dramatically and plopped itself nearby. "Sucks doesn't it?" it said.
I opened my eyes and unburied my face out of my hands where I had tried once more to remember what was so important about that jacket. I looked to my side and saw Luke peering across the basketball court with a bemused expression. "What sucks?" I asked him as I rubbed my forehead. I received yet another worse headache from trying to remember.
"Sitting in the sidelines," he said as he watched the ball bounce to and from one end of the court to the other. "I don't think you've ever been benched this long."
I watched the players on the court. That afternoon was to be our last practice before we faced Westfield and I wasn't sure if we were ready to face them. Scratch that. I wasn't sure if I was ready to face them.
I had spent about fifteen minutes on the court before Coach Henry substituted someone else in my place. I was… shocked to say the least but I couldn't do anything without making a scene. Admittedly, I didn't perform to my usual, best standard. Okay, fine, not a single shot went through but so what?
I had spent the majority of training sitting at the benches instead of starring on the court. After awhile, I felt like drifting off, trying to remember what I had forgotten and still failing to do so. That was how Luke found me.
"I'm just a little… tired. I'll be fine by Saturday," I said more to myself than Luke.
"Mmhmm," he said, tapping his foot annoyingly onto the leg of the bench. "Funny how much things can change in a few weeks, huh?"
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
"Well, just a few weeks ago you had everything any student would want in this school? You were popular. You were student body present. You were captain of the basketball team."
"I still am," I said, narrowing my eyes at him.
"Yes, of course you are," he said consolingly. "I was just saying you could have had anything you want, any girl you desired at a simple whim. And now, NOW, you're here sitting on the bench with me."
"What's your point, Luke?" I asked dangerously.
He smiled like I asked something funny. "I'm surprised at you really. I mean if it was me I would have wanted revenge on the person responsible for the mess you're in."
"And who's that supposed to be?"
"Well, Travis obviously," he said. "He has both your best friend and your girl hanging by his fingertips. What was it you called her? Becca, wasn't it?"
"Rebecca," I replied somehow offended that he was using Charlie's name for her.
"Whatever," he shrugged like he didn't care either way. "It's just ironic that Travis is now where you were a few weeks back. And all he had to do was turn Charlie against you."
"Travis didn't turn Charlie against me," I replied.
"Oh yeah?" he sneered. "Would the Charlie you knew just turn his back on you like he has the last few weeks? Would the Charlie you knew have kissed a fag if it wasn't Travis? Think about it. Charlie was fine before he met Travis and afterwards, well, you can see what he's become. Things were perfect before."
"No," I said, "things were fake."
A whistle blew across the court before Coach Henry's voice boomed across the gym. "Okay, everyone hit the showers. Hampton, in my office."
Luke grinned like he found the whole thing amusing. "Well, see you later." He then jogged off to follow the rest of the team.
I made my way with Coach Henry to his office. To be honest, I hardly needed a shower as I didn't even sweat in the short time I was in the game. When we reached Coach Henry's office, I was surprised to find people waiting for us. "Mom?"
"Hi, honey," she smiled sadly, "how was practice?"
I didn't answer her because my attention was more focused on the two people with her, Principal Walker and a man I recognized as Travis' father. "Mom, what's going on?"
"Why don't we all take a seat?" Principal Walker said as he indicated we should join them in the room. I had been to Coach Henry's office several times before of course but it seemed a lot smaller then with so many of us inside. Perhaps it was Principal Walker's presence that made me feel that way. After all, the principal's office was probably twice as big as Coach Henry's office (not even including the ante-room). It almost felt like the small sports room couldn't contain Principal Walker's aura.
Once we were all inside, Principal Walker took Coach Henry's seat while my coach leaned against the wall as though being outranked in his own office and kicked out of his own chair didn't bother him at all. Travis' father took a chair in front of Coach Henry's desk while my mom led me to the only couch that was squeezed into the relatively small room.
"Let me make it perfectly clear," Coach Henry started, "that I feel this action to be premature. Everyone has good and bad days. It seems to me that this decision was made rather hastily."
"That is noted, of course, coach," Principal Walker began, "but I feel this is a far greater issue than just maintaining your roster."
"I never said it was about that," Coach Henry replied heatedly and I could have sworn he was glaring at the principal.
"What's this about?" I asked no one in particular.
Principal Walker cleared his throat. "It's come to our attention, that you've been having some difficulty balancing the many tasks you have at hand, Derek. We're here to discuss helping you reduce some of those tasks to healthier levels."
I felt like I had swallowed a toad and it was desperately trying to worm its way back up my throat. "Coach?" I said looking at my basketball mentor.
"It's out of my hands now, Derek," he said, again surprising me by his use of my first name.
"We're temporarily suspending you from the varsity team," Principal Walker continued heavily. "This is just to give you the chance to better prioritize things in your schedule. I realize that we might have placed quite a bit too much responsibility on your shoulders and it would be unfair of us to expect you to meet them all. You've done an admirable job so far but we cannot deny that it's showing its strain on you."
"John," my mom said addressing my principal by his first name. I would have smiled if I wasn't so shocked by what was happening. I've always found my principal's complete name sort of funny especially when I found out his middle name started with an E. "Surely there must be some other way."
"I'm afraid not, Mrs. Hampton," Travis' father said, speaking for the first time. "I'm afraid we must do first what is best for the school and its students."
"Forgive me," Principal Walker said, "Derek, this is Mr. Scott Brody, Travis' father. He's here today to represent the Board of Directors."
"The Board of Directors?" I asked. "What does the Board of Director have to do with this?"
"Why, everything," Mr. Brody said cheerfully. "We look out for the wellbeing of each of our students and like Principal Walker said, we're concerned with the strain you're being put on. We feel it is unhealthy to put so many burdens on one so young."
"Bullshit," I replied.
"Derek," my mom said, sounding scandalized. The three men in the room looked at me in surprise.
"Travis put you up to this, didn't he?" I snarled.
"Derek," Principal Walker said emphatically, "Travis has nothing to do with this. This is about us being concerned for you."
"Liar!" I said turning to my principal, "I thought you wanted to help me. I thought you were on my side!"
"I am on your side, Derek," he said gently, "That is why we're trying to give you more time to…"
"This is about revenge isn't it?" I asked Mr. Brody. "You're trying to get back at me because I called your son a faggot."
"Now see here, young man," Mr. Brody said, his cheerfulness diminishing. "I don't know what kind of language you tolerate at home but I will not be addressed in such a demeaning tone and I will certainly not stand having my son called such a foul name."
"Mr. Brody, that is uncalled for," my mom said sounding appalled.
"Everybody needs to calm down," Principal Walker intoned as he tried to re-establish control.
"I wasn't even planning to do anything to Travis but now I think I will," I snarled at the older man.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Mr. Brody said, his eyes glaring at me.
"Okay, that's enough," my mom said while everyone was speaking at the same time. "I knew this was a bad idea. We're going to go."
"You're not going anywhere," Mr. Brody declared pointedly. "I want to know what he meant by that statement. He just made a threat against my son."
"Scott," Principal Walker said, "surely that was just something said at the heat of the moment. Derek is not a bad student. He's an A student. He's had plenty of opportunities to seek revenge against Travis the past week and hasn't done anything at all."
"You said he confronted my son in the hallway the day he returned to school," Mr. Brody accused.
"I was mistaken," Principal Walker nodded apologetically. "It seems Travis was the one to confront Derek. I've had a chance to speak to your son."
"Be that as it may, will you deny now that he made a threat of doing something to my son?"
"They were just words," my mom said. "Derek won't do anything to Travis, right honey?"
For a moment, I was tempted to say I was planning to do something just to see the look on Mr. Brody's face. But of course, that would have been a stupid thing to say. "No, of course not."
"See," my mom said as though my words were all the proof needed in the world.
"I demand you take action on this, John," Mr. Brody demanded again and again from Principal Walker as my mom raised various protests.
"ENOUGH!" Coach Henry bellowed loudly, which in the small room sounded like it came from a bullhorn. Under his glare, everyone fell silent. "With all due respect, Mr. Brody, this is getting us nowhere. I understand you are upset but there really is nothing anyone here can do about it. We cannot act on just words. So the only recourse you have if you really want to take this further is to press charges with the police in the hope that perhaps they will do something." He paused as though trying to let his words sink in.
Mr. Brody crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back on his chair scowling. However, he didn't say anything.
"Okay, then," Principal Walker said shuffling the paper around in front of him as though they were his own. "Derek will temporarily be off the team until the time comes that he can fit all the rigorous requirements of his position back into his schedule. Are we all settled?"
Before anyone could answer, Coach Henry spoke up. "If you don't mind, I have other things to do." He opened the door as if telling everyone to get out. He paused as he caught sight of the figure standing on the other side. "CRAWFORD! How long have you been standing there?!"
"Just got here, coach," Luke said smiling widely, a mad glint in his eyes. "I just wanted to inform you that everything is ready logistically for our trip to Westfield on Saturday."
"Fine," Coach Henry waved, "now get out of here."
Luke's eyes roamed the room as though he was trying to remember everyone faces. He smirked as his eyes met mine. "Of course, coach," he said and made his way down to hell… I mean down the hall.
Mr. Brody stood to leave but stopped in front of my mom. "You have a very difficult, possibly violent son, Mrs. Hampton. I suggest you have him checked. After all, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
"Are you telling me you're gay also, Mr. Brody?" my mom retorted.
Mr. Brody harrumphed and I got the impression that he wanted to say something else but changed his mind. He made his way out without another word or glance.
"That was unwise, Mrs. Hampton," Principal Walker said carefully after he was sure Mr. Brody was out of earshot. "You do not want the Chairman of the Board of Directors against you, especially if you intend to build a career here."
"Well this is my son we're talking about," she replied with conviction. "I am not going to just stand by and have him ridiculed for things beyond his control."
Principal Walker sighed heavily and I got the impression that he just wanted this whole thing put behind him (that or he was thinking longingly of what he was going to eat for dinner). He stood up and addressed us all, "we should go. I'm certain we have taken enough of Coach Henry's time. He has enough on his plate with the coming game against Westfield."
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