by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 15: Taking Sides

"Derek!" Mikee exclaimed like I had shouted out some profanity about her mother involving a pretzel and two slices of cucumber. That if anything confirmed my worst fears.

"Come with me," Luke's voice slithered into my consciousness. He left his untouched food on the desk while he crawled away from the table like some wretched beast. Yet, my mind was focused on finding out one thing.

The truth.

Loud talk resounded in the cafeteria before the door behind me closed. It was muffled by the sudden snapping shut of the door but I knew well enough that they were all talking excitedly about what just happened.

"Mikee will attempt to warn them," Luke's voice echoed on the empty hallway as though he was pondering the secrets of life and was very close to figuring them out. "But we will see them before he can run all the way around."

"Where are you taking me?" I asked him as we turned up the stairs.

"The roof," Luke said simply.

"They're at the roof?"

"No," he said as we reached another level. "But we can see them from there."

"That door is locked," I said when we finally reached the rooftop access. The only people with access to the roof were the maintenance folks who needed to clean it every now and then.

Luke took out a rather large key from his pocket. Inserted it into the key slot with ease and opened the door. It made me sure that he'd been there many times before. "Not anymore."

"Where did you get that key?" I asked. I wasn't worried so much about being caught on the roof as being associated with whatever crimes Luke had obviously committed up there.

"You don't need to know," he said in an amused voice as he opened the door outwards and a blast of hot air entered from the outside.

The roof was mostly barren except for air-con vents humming with sound and heat. It was torturously hot with the sun beating straight down at us. Luke ignored the noise and warmth, walking purposefully towards the edge.

For a brief moment, I contemplated pushing him over.

"Over there," he said pointing to a spot hidden behind the school. He pulled out a very small and very cheap pair of plastic binoculars from his pocket. It was almost like he knew this moment was coming and was prepared for it.

I looked through the sights to the spot he pointed to. It was beyond the grounds used as pathways and more into the dense canopy of trees that surrounded the school. At first, I couldn't see what he was trying to point out. But my eyes had always been perfect just like everything else about me. Narrowing them, I finally found what he wanted me to see.

The wall of the school prevented anyone down below from seeing what I saw. The trees were also tall enough to obscure the view of anyone looking from the highest window. However, there a floor higher where elevation had a slightly better advantage, they could be seen.

My heart thumped as I saw Charlie sitting there in the shade among trees and rocks. He was holding what looked like a cupcake with a single candle inserted into it. The candlelight was flickering dangerously as he swayed it back and forth in front of Travis. Travis seemed to be enjoying the action and was half-heartedly trying to blow out the candle. I could see a third person clapping and heaving like she was dancing to music. I couldn't see her face but I somehow knew it was Rebecca.

The grip I had on the binoculars tightened. Okay, they were gathered for what looked like s small celebration of Travis' birthday. It was an innocent gathering. Sure, it sucked that they didn't invite me but I guess they had a reason not to. I mean, they must have had a reason right? Who wouldn't want to invite meto a party? Maybe I just wasn't close enough to Travis. Maybe he asked for me not to come. I figured that was probably it. Travis didn't want me there. Charlie would invite me to something like that if he had a choice.

And then a coldness swept over me at what I saw next. Travis had managed to put out the candle despite Charlie's efforts. He broke out laughing and grinned triumphantly. Charlie kissed him on the cheek and Travis got this pained look on his face like he was trying to keep sand from entering his eyes. He looked at Charlie and said something. Charlie smiled at him and the two of them kissed on the lips. It was sensual in the way they each ran their lips over each other. Their heads swaying back and forth in tandem. Rebecca was waving her hands quickly in front of her like she didn't want to see.

The world shattered as cracks formed along the lenses of the binoculars. Under my grip, the cheap plastic gave way and with a sickening crunch crumpled in my hand. I swayed slightly as the world turned around me. No…






I turned angrily towards Luke. My rage flared when I saw he was no longer standing there. I looked around and found myself alone on the roof as though he had never existed. A part of me was furious that he left – that I didn't have anyone nearby to take my anger out on.

But another part of me was glad. Glad that he had left before I could get my hands on him because I wasn't sure if I could have stopped myself from hurling him off the roof like I wanted to do.

I threw the broken binoculars far into the trees. I looked down and saw a panting and sweaty Mikee running around the building towards where Charlie, Travis and Rebecca were hidden. I didn't bother watching what happened when he reach them. I walked slowly back towards the rooftop entrance letting my feet carry me where it wanted at the pace it would allow.

I was torn. I was furious and angry enough to feel like I could beat up ten people before I'd calm down. I knew and understood that much. What I didn't understand were the tears coming down my eyes. I was crying and I couldn't understand why. I never cried except for that one time at The Spot with Charlie. It wasn't in me to cry but I couldn't stop myself as I headed down. I don't know if I even closed the door as I left the roof but I knew enough that the hallways were no longer as empty as when I walked up there. There were a few students done with their lunches and were milling about between the lockers. All of them turned to look at me as I passed. Their faces were a mixture of curiosity, anxiety, and concern. I ignored them all.

I don't know how long it took but eventually I found myself at the ground floor. The hallway was dense with students preparing for their next class. I turned my eyes down the hallway and saw Travis and Charlie hurrying in from one of the doors that led to the outside. Mikee and Rebecca weren't with them. The two were looking around frantically as though they were searching for me.

Charlie saw me first. His eyes landed on mine and his filled quickly with concern. My cheeks were still wet with tears so I knew I must have looked like a mess but somehow I didn't care. He tugged at Travis's sleeve and the two of them made their way towards me. My eyes met Travis' and a steely resolve filled me. I felt my jaws tighten as a glared at him.

Travis probably felt the change in me as he quickened his pace to make sure he was ahead of Charlie, as though he was trying to put himself between Charlie and me.

The two of them stopped a few steps in front of me. By then, the entire hallway was quiet. It was as though the world had decided to stand still and everyone was holding their breath for that moment when the bomb would land and obliterate everything. Not even the slightest whisper could be heard as everyone watched what was happening.

"Derek?" Travis asked uncertainly, his voice carrying itself down the packed but unmoving hall. I met his eyes and I felt my muscle tensing as more anger surged through me.

"Derek," Charlie said worriedly. "Are you okay?"

He reached out with a hand but I swatted it away before it could even come close. "Don't touch me, you fag."

Everyone gasped as Charlie recoiled looking hurt from more than just the pain I inflicted on his hand.

"Derek," Charlie started again. His voice was shaking. "What are you saying? I'm not…"

"I saw you," I said loudly. "I saw the two of you kissing. You two are fucking fags."

"Hampton," Travis said severely reverting to my last name. His body was as tense as mine. "That's enough. You're obviously distressed. Maybe you should go to the clinic to calm down for a bit."

"I don't need a faggot telling me what to do. Stay the fuck away from me," I added as Charlie took a step forward like he wanted to calm me down. "You're just like him. God, I can't believe we shared rooms all these years. Were you just perving on me all that time?"

"Derek," Charlie looked like he was close to tears. "I wouldn't…"

"This is your fault isn't it," I said angrily at Travis. "He was fine before he met you. You probably did your sick, perverted things on him and now he's like you."

"The only one doing anything sick and perverted here is you," Travis said with a hint of anger in his voice. "What the hell gives you the right to say all these things now and in front of all these people? Who the hell do you think you are?"

I couldn't hold myself back any longer. I lunged towards Travis intending to beat the crap out of him. He must have expected it though because he parried my blow and sidestepped me. He latched onto my other arm and twisted it painfully behind my back before slamming me against the lockers with a loud bang. He pinned me against it with his weight.

"Travis, stop!" Charlie shouted.

"Get your fucking hands off me you fucking fag," I said between clenched teeth. Travis raised my arm further in a more painful angle and I struggled to keep myself from whimpering.

"Mr. Brody," a voice boomed from down the hall. "Release Mr. Hampton this instant."

"Sir," Travis said calmly. "I'm afraid Hampton might resort to violence if I release him."

"If he tries anything of that nature in front of me Mr. Brody," Principle Walker said as his face swam into my view. "I will have him expel immediately. The same holds true for you if you don't release him this instant."

Travis held my arm a little longer as though he was making sure I'd remember the pain. Eventually, he relented and released me. My arm was painful from the pressure and I wouldn't have been surprised if it was sore for a day or two.

"The two of you in my office now," our principal said strictly. He then turned to everyone else watching. "The rest of you, to your classes." The bell rang as though it was influenced by the unseen powers of our principal.

Charlie looked like he wanted to say something but a stern look from Travis dissuaded him.

"My office please," Principal Walker said sternly when we didn't move. He gestured with his hand for us to lead the way.

Travis and I walked side by side towards the principal's office. His lips were held tightly and his eyes staring ahead but alert as though prepared to react if I did anything. I wouldn't of course, not with Principal Walker watching us like a hawk over our heads. I wasn't stupid enough to get myself expelled.

When we entered the Principal's office, the first thing I noticed was the very distinct smell of a lemon freshener. His office itself was still in another room and we were standing in an ante-room where the principal's secretary sat (though her seat was empty at that moment) and where guests could wait in posh, comfortable chairs. The walls were impeccably clean and all the various shelves filled with yearbooks and publications looked like something out of an Interior Design Magazine. Various large photos were framed across the walls. Most of them had random students (or perhaps models) posing each with varying slogans or texts like "Education is the one investment you won't regret" or "In Southmore, we teach to excel." Nobody could say they were stingy in making that room.

"Sit down Mr. Brody," he gestured to Travis. "Mr. Hampton, in my office if you please."

I glared daggers at Travis which unfortunately had no effect on him before I entered the office itself. Principal Walker's office was similarly designed in elegance as his ante-room with the exception of more personal touches as he had photos of himself in various events or among famous people. The room had just enough vanity in it to impress without overwhelming anyone who entered.

"Sit, if you please, Mr. Hampton," he gestured to the chair closest to the front of his desk while he took the seat behind it. As we both sat, he pulled out several sheets of facial tissue from a nearby dispenser on his desk. He extended them to me silently.

"What?" I asked staring at the tissue.

He shook the tissue in his hand and raised an eyebrow as though it should have been obvious. Reluctantly, I took the tissue and wiped it on my face. I was surprised to find it immediately soften with moisture as though it was absorbing fresh tears. It was as if I had continued crying the whole time even if the last time I recalled doing it was while I was walking down from the roof.

"Correct me if my impression is wrong Mr. Hampton," his voice though softer was no less controlled, "but did I just see you start a fight?"

"Sir, I didn't…"

"Don't bother lying to me, Mr. Hampton," he said with an edge to his voice. "I personally witnessed you taking the first swing. And I assure you that I have no trouble seeing things even from a substantial distance. That act alone already warranted you a three day suspension effective immediately. What I want to know… is why?" His voice became softer at that point. "You have always been a good student. From what I've heard among your peers, most of them look up to you and have never had any trouble with you. The only times you've ever been reported to coming close to inappropriate school behavior was against bullying to your friend Mr…"

"Charlie's not my friend," I interrupted quickly. The scene I had seen from the rooftop was still fresh in my mind and each time it played out, it felt like a part of me was being stabbed and ripped apart. I knew I was close to lashing out at Principal Walker. That troubling thought was perhaps what helped me control myself some more. It wasn't my fault that I wanted to hit Travis. He deserved it. And then I'm being punished with a three day suspension? Where was the justice in that?

For his part, Principal Walker just sat there watching me fume. It seemed like he was thinking of things carefully. It felt like several minutes passed before he spoke again. "I see… Could you perhaps enlighten me on why you felt the need to hit Mr. Brody?"

"Well it's simple, isn't it?" I said irritably as the obvious reason in my mind played out. "He's a fag."

Principal Walker just sat there as though my words had no effect on him.

"A fag," I repeated, "you know, a faggot."

"I am perfectly aware of those terminologies, Mr. Hampton," he said and there was no longer anything soft by his voice. "What led you to such conclusions?"

I then proceeded to heatedly explain what I saw at the back of the school. I had almost told him that I saw it from the roof but caught myself just in time. Technically, no student was supposed to have access to the roof, even someone as special as me. I explained it in such a way that it would seem just as likely that I saw them from the ground floor without outright saying it. Principal Walker seemed to have assumed that was the case.

"I hope you realize, Mr. Hampton, that this school has a strict anti-discrimination rule."

"Yes and I don't understand that," I interrupted again. "Why do you treat fags like they deserve the same things as everyone else?"

"And why shouldn't they?" he asked as though he had found my words fascinating.

"Well, they're fags," I argued knowing that should have been enough reason. I wanted to add duh but was pretty sure that would have earned me a slap.

Principal Walker didn't seem to think my reason was enough. "For an A student, that is a very poor argument, Mr. Hampton."

"But it's true."

"Unfortunately, it is not," Principal Walker said. "And for making such statements about your peers, I'm extending your three day suspension to five."

"What?" I asked in outrage.

"You're lucky I don't make it ten, Mr. Hampton." He pulled out what looked like an address book from within his desk drawer. "Know that your mother will hear immediately of this. She is unfortunately out attending to a career orientation in another school but I am certain she would want to hear of this immediately. She will have many words to express how disappointed she is in your poor behavior."

"Whatever," I said before slumping into the chair.

He gave me a hard look, almost as if he was trying to figure out who I was, as though he suddenly didn't recognize me – ME, the star athlete, the basketball captain, the student body president, and the most promising student in the whole damn school. "I want you to get your things from your locker and then proceed immediately back to this office. You are to wait in the seats by my secretary's desk until your mother comes to pick you up. No side trips, Mr. Hampton. I know exactly how far your locker is from here so make no mistake that I will know if you took a detour anywhere. Now, go."

"Whatever," I said again as I made my way to the door. Underneath my breath I added, "fag lover."

"Say that ever again in my presence, Mr. Hampton and I will have you expelled," Principal Walker said sharply. "I assure you my hearing is just as good as my eyesight. If it weren't for your mother's position in this school, I might have expelled you already."

I opened the door wanting to get as far away from that faggot. Unfortunately, the first thing that came into my sight was Travis and it made me bristle.

"Not one word, Mr. Hampton," Principal Walker's voice came from behind me as though he expected me to lash out at Travis, which strictly speaking I was about to do.

I looked at Travis with a promise of retribution. He simply glared back at me almost impassively. It honestly seemed like he was more disappointed than angry. I made my way out of the ante-room into the nearly deserted hallway. I was surprised to see someone standing there as though trying to see or hear what was happening inside.

For a moment, I thought it was Charlie but that emo hair was unmistakable under any circumstance.

Jared Anderson was standing there seething. He was glaring at me with his one eye not hidden behind his thick long hair. It was obvious he was angry at me and was probably there to find out what happened to Travis.

We stood there staring at each other until the door behind me closed on its own. "Do you have something to say to me?" I asked.

He continued glaring at me with his posture rigid. It almost seemed like something out of an old western movie except there was no such thing as emo cowboys or cowboys as hot as me. After what seemed like forever, he averted his eyes and looked away.

"I didn't think so," I said walking past him making sure my shoulders bumped his. Being much smaller than me, he staggered but didn't fall.

End of Part Two

My no-nonsense and mostly weird Philosophy teacher once had a very interesting discussion on existence. Not existentialism, just his plain ole cousin existence. He said that every living thing had something intangible that made every being… be.

From every person to the tiniest little animal, there was that intangible essence which defined that living creature as the creature we've come to know it to be. If you take a way that essence, you leave nothing but the husk, a shell that once contained that being.

To illustrate this, he brought a cockroach into class. A big, fat, and juicy cockroach. He had it in a small, transparent Tupperware that looked suspiciously like the one he used daily for his lunch. "Ladies," he said addressing the very perky girls that often sat in front of each of our classes. "Is this a cockroach?"

"Yes,"the girls answered a little squeamish.

He took off his leather shoes and released the cockroach onto his desk amidst cries of pure and utter fear among the feminine kind. Before the little insect could even admire the beauty it was suddenly graced with, it was introduced to my teacher's eager and unfriendly shoe with a very audible squelch.

Our teacher waited for the hysteria to die down. "Now, ladies. Is this a cockroach?"

The little insect was lying flat on his desk, unmoving except for the ooze that slowly dripped out of its sides. "Yes," the girls said, their faces as pale as the roach's guts.

"No, my dears," he replied. "It was."

Indeed, it was.

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