An Overheard Conversation

by Ivor Slipper

Chapter 7

Mr Reynolds escorted the three of us to Mr. Jackson's office, knocked on the door and without waiting for an answer, walked in telling the three of us to stay where we were. I was scared and trying hard not to show it; Wayne was showing no emotion, but I was sure there was a trace of a smile on Mather's face when I glanced at him. I was probably wrong as when he saw me looking at him he just sneered, "Think you're better than us don't you Berenson with your Californian airs. You'll wish you never moved here when Jackson's finished with you."

"Shut it, Mathers." said Wayne.

"Keep it to yourself, Parnell. I know where you live."

Just then the door opened and Mr Reynolds called us in. We lined up facing Mr Jackson who was standing behind his desk with Mr Reynolds to one side. There was a look on his face that made me think of a cat toying with a mouse before killing it.

"I'd really expect better of you Mathers than to get into a fight."

"Yes sir, sorry sir. But I was only defending myself from this one," he said pointing at me.

"What!" I exclaimed. "You shoved my head into my locker and I've got the bruise to prove it," as I touched my forehead. "Then you knocked my backpack and books on the ground and pushed..."

Mr Jackson cut across me, "I'm not interested in who started it or why. You were all caught fighting and are going to be punished accordingly. You two," pointing at Wayne and I, "can go and wait outside while I deal with Mathers. Charlie, you can stay and act as witness."

I looked at Mr Reynolds. While Mr Jackson had looked like a cat toying with a mouse, the look on his face made me think of the cat that had got the cream. Wayne and I went outside and closed the door behind us. He pushed me against the wall, stood in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders, "Ethan this is going to hurt. Don't be afraid to shout, yell or cry. I'm not going to think any less of you if you do any of those. You'll still be my paleface friend."

Somehow I managed a little giggle, "Not all of me will be after this."

We heard a crack from inside the room. I knew it was the paddle striking Mather's butt. There was a pause of a few seconds and the noise was repeated. Then after a few more seconds we heard it again. A long silence ensued. The door opened and Mathers emerged. I looked at his face. No tears, a little grimace was about all. "Your turn now," he said as he walked away down the corridor.

Mr Reynolds poked his head round the door, "You two can come in now."

I could now see the paddle lying on Mr Jacksons desk. I'd never seen one before. To me it was a lump of wood with a handle that was about to inflict pain on my butt. I hated it and the man who was about to use it.

"I've decided to give you three licks, Berenson, but you Parnell as a frequent offender will get five."

"That's not..." I couldn't say any more because Wayne cut in, "Shut it, Ethan."

"Wise advice Berenson. I should take it."

I couldn't see why Wayne's punishment should be any different to mine. I guessed the asshole was making up for missed opportunities. Wayne was trying to protect me.

"Parnell, as you know the procedure you can go first and show Berenson how it is done."

I felt I'd have preferred to go first and get the ordeal over with. Maybe this was Jackson's way of adding a little extra mental anguish to my punishment.

Wayne looked at me, gave a little smile and walked towards the desk. He took out his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans and laid it on the desk. Then he stretched forward across it. "Legs a bit further apart, Parnell." Wayne widened his stance. Jackson picked up his paddle and walked to stand behind and slightly to the side of Wayne. I watched as he lowered the paddle to lightly rest on his butt before pulling it back and cracking it down. I jumped at the noise and closed my eyes. I couldn't watch any more. I didn't want to listen either, but that wasn't possible so I had to hear the sound repeated four more times. It was only after the last one which had a different sound, that I heard Wayne groan.

"Now you know how it's done, Berenson. You can change places with Parnell."

Wayne pushed himself upright, turned and faced me. I thought I could see a tear on each of his cheeks, but he managed a little smile as he took the couple of steps in my direction. 'You'll survive', he mouthed to me as we passed. I wasn't sure of that. My legs felt like jelly and I thought I'd piss myself at any moment. I took my wallet from my back pocket, placed it on the desk and then bent forward. "Legs further apart, Berenson, not next to each other. Didn't you watch?" I duly moved my legs apart. A couple of seconds later I felt the touch and then a pain exploded in my butt. I thought I knew what pain was like when I fell off my skateboard about three years ago and broke my arm, but this was something else. I heard myself gasp. The pain came again and this time I cried out. The third lick was something else. I now knew what Willy had meant the other day when he said it felt like your body was being lifted off the floor. It came in hard and low and I couldn't stop myself from crying. I felt pathetic.

He told me to stand up. Automatically I picked up my wallet. I saw he was writing something and he handed me a small slip of paper. "Here's a note for you to give to your next teacher. I'm allowing you both ten minutes to compose yourselves."

We left his office and headed for the nearest toilets. Wayne walked, I sort of shuffled. I had no idea how he could walk. All I wanted was to find a corner, curl up in it and cry.

I felt an arm round my shoulder. "Ethan, you were brilliant for the first time. I've known kids howl the place down."

I didn't know if that was true or of he was just saying it to make me feel better. If the latter, it sorta worked as I tried to start walking rather than shuffling. We found the toilets and both washed our faces. After we'd dried them I turned to Wayne, "Does rubbing help?" He managed a grin. "That cream does. I hope you mom bought some more."

"Come on," I said, "that's for later. For now we'd better get to class. Can't afford to overstay our allowance."

When we entered the classroom it was evident word had spread of our fight. We were carefully scrutinised by all and sundry. I immediately found out why Willy had found a hard seat so uncomfortable the other day and spent most of the rest of the afternoon squirming in my seat trying to find a position that didn't hurt quite as much.

Eventually the bell rang to signal the end of the school day. We went back to our lockers and while I was taking some books from mine I felt a tap on my shoulder. I swung round, half expecting another attack but it was Willy Muller.

"Ethan, my mom's picking me up. Can I get her to give you a lift home? I don't think you or Wayne will want to be riding your bikes this afternoon."

I smiled at him. "I hadn't thought that far ahead Willy, but you're right – thanks. Let's go and find Wayne."

He was out by where the bikes were kept, but readily agreed to Willy's suggestion. It did cross my mind that Willy would now know we at least went home together, but I really didn't care after this afternoon.

Mom was surprised when we walked into the kitchen as she hadn't heard the usual sounds of us putting our bikes in the garage. She spoke without turning round from something she was doing on the worktop.

"You two going somewhere later? She asked. "I didn't hear you put your bikes away."

"No, mom. We got a lift home today from one of our friend's moms. Didn't feel like riding our bikes this afternoon."

"Why's that?" she said as she turned round. "Ethan!" she exclaimed, "what's happened to your forehead – there is a big lump in the middle of it?"

"It had an argument with the door of my locker and came off second best. That led to why we didn't ride our bikes home, we both got paddled this afternoon."

Her hand shot to her mouth at the same time as she gasped. "Why? What did you do? And I'm not going to wait until your father comes home to find out."

I managed a little laugh. "Okay, we'll tell you while we have our snacks."

"Do you want to sit down and eat them? Doh! How stupid can a mother be?"

"We could manage. We've been sat on the hard school chairs most of the afternoon, but I think we'd prefer to stand."

Before she allowed us to have our snacks she insisted on inspecting my forehead and asking if I'd fainted or had a headache. I reassured her it hurt a bit, especially while she was touching it, but not as much as my butt!

We recounted what had happened. When we'd finished she told us to go upstairs and change into something more comfortable, also saying that we should write everything down while it was still fresh in our minds as dad would want those details when we told him later.

When we'd got into my bedroom, and made sure the door was locked, Wayne suggested that it might be a good idea to have a shower so we stripped off. Mind you, apart from our socks, I was sure we were intending to do that anyway. It gave me a chance to inspect my butt in the mirror. It was very red still, but the bruises hadn't yet started to appear. Wayne informed me these usually took a few hours to show. His butt didn't look as bad as mine, but that was due to his dark skin. I could tell from the way he was moving that he was feeling pain, which didn't surprise me as I definitely was. The warm shower did seem to help and feeling Wayne's hands on my skin also helped take my mind off other things. I was glad to return the favor a few minutes later. We dried ourselves off, being very gentle around our butts, and then went back to the bedroom. Wayne got out the cream and insisted that he was going to apply it to my butt first. I wasn't going to argue and laid face down. He straddled me and set, very gently, to work.

He'd been doing so for a couple of minutes and I was not only enjoying it, but also trying to puzzle out something that had been bothering me. All of a sudden it became clear.

"Wayne, when was the last time you saw Mathers wearing jeans at school?"

Wayne's hands stopped in mid rub. He thought for a bit. "Never. He always wears shorts to show off his muscles and hairy legs to the cheerleaders in particular. Why?" He stopped. I didn't want to say what I was thinking and put an idea in his mind.

"Do you think we were set up?" he exclaimed.

"Something didn't feel right about the whole thing. Almost as if it was planned with Reynolds being there at just the right time. And Jackson sitting waiting in his office."

"Yeah, and we don't even know if he actually was paddled. They made sure we weren't there to see."

"I think he was, Wayne, by the sounds we heard. But it needn't have been that hard."

"I definitely wouldn't put it past that asshole Jackson to come up with the idea. Maybe he and Reynolds cooked it up when the swim trial scheme didn't work."

"I'd say it was very likely Wayne, but there's no way we can prove it unless Mathers admitted his part. And that ain't gonna happen."

"Ethan, you realize this means we're gonna have to be very careful. Jackson may not be satisfied with this. In fact thinking about it, you'd be better off to ditch me."

"Wayne, I've told you before, I'm not ditching you. We can tell my father our suspicions and see if he's got any ideas."

Once again we ended up having a family discussion after dinner. I was again sat on the settee and today quite openly holding Wayne's hand as we talked. Between the pair of us we related everything that had happened. When we'd finished my father asked if we would write everything down. He was pleasantly surprised when I told him I already had.

I then went on to tell him of our suspicions we had fallen into a preplanned trap. He thought about that, but agreed while it was very possibly true it was, as Wayne and I had decided earlier, something impossible to prove. At that point he shocked me by saying that he wanted to take some pictures of my butt! Wayne could hardly hide his giggle when he heard that as my father left the room to get his instant camera. I decided that today was just one of those days, so when he came back into the room carrying it and asked me if I was ready to go upstairs so he could take some photos, I stood up, said "Look the other way, mom," lowered my shorts and bent over. I'd intentionally put on just a pair of old loose shorts and had no underwear beneath them. I heard mom gasp which obviously meant she hadn't looked away and Wayne say, "Yep, the bruises are coming out now." Dad snapped away getting several photos before telling me I could pull my shorts up again.

He sat down waiting for the pictures to develop, when suddenly something occurred to him. "You said when Jackson paddled you, Wayne was in the room?"

"Yes. The same as I was there when he paddled Wayne."

"Go and fetch me the school rule book will you?" he asked my mother.

She went and fetched it. I had no idea why he wanted it, so sat there patiently while he leafed through it. Finally he stopped at one page, read it over a couple of times and then said gleefully, "We've got them. He made a mistake and broke the rules."

"How come Dad? What did he do wrong?"

"Very simple, son. It clearly says that any paddling must be administered in private, apart from the necessary presence of another teacher as a witness. Neither of you should have been forced to watch the other being paddled."

"Wow! That's good to hear, but what can you do about it."

"Excuse me for butting in sir," Wayne cut in, "but did you say another teacher has to be present when anyone is getting licks?"

"I've told you before Wayne, you don't need to call me sir," said my father with a laugh, "yes, that's what it says. Why?"

" 'Cos there's never been a teacher there when I've been paddled. Wasn't a teacher there when he had several of us lined up outside his office when he was doing his campaign against long hair. He did deal with us one at a time though."

A smile appeared on my father's face. "Just so you know boys, I'm calling the school tomorrow and demanding an immediate meeting with your Principal. When I see him I'm also going to insist on attending the next meeting of the school Governors. Something has to be done about this."

Wayne and I went upstairs a lot happier. Both of us were even happier after we'd each attended to each others butts. The bruises on mine had become really painful and I knew he must be feeling worse than me. Giving attention to each others fronts did cheer us both up before we got into bed and tried cuddling face to face for a change. I decided I preferred spooning, but it did make an interesting variation.

Mom took us to school the next morning because we'd left our bikes there the previous afternoon.

We were walking down the corridor to our lockers. We reached Wayne's first and I carried on walking to mine which was about twenty yards further on when I spotted Derrin Mathers coming towards me. I immediately noticed that today he was wearing shorts as usual. He veered towards me and I tried to step aside, but could only go so far because of the wall. "How's your butt today, Berenson? Still sore?" He laughed in my face and walked on.

I realized I was shaking. Stupid really as he wasn't likely to provoke another fight, surely? I'd managed to stop shaking by the time Wayne appeared.

"Did Mathers give you any trouble?" he asked.

"No. Just expressing his pleasure at me having a sore butt. Did you notice he was back to wearing shorts today?"

"Yep. Makes our theory even more likely, doesn't it. But I still don't see we could prove it."

I got the books I needed from my locker and we went off to home-room.

Lunch break conversation was at first dominated by talk about what had happened to us yesterday. We didn't let on to the others that we suspected we'd been set up. However, Wayne did ask Willy if only Jackson had been in the room when he'd been paddled the other day. He confirmed that had been the case.

Just before the lunch break ended Jerry said that he wanted to talk to the two of us privately. Willy looked a bit upset when he said that. They did seem very good friends and I guess he was disappointed Jerry didn't want him to hear what he had to say.

We followed Jerry outside the cafeteria and found a spot where there was nobody else around.

"So what's so secret that you need to bring us out here?" I asked.

Jerry looked around to make doubly sure nobody else was near, "I'm trusting you two to keep this secret. If my bro ever found out I'd told you, he'll kill me. But I thought you ought to know."

"Okay, Jerry. Whatever it is you tell us, goes no further."

He hesitated again before speaking. "He was boasting last night that Derrin Mathers had got your butts busted."

"We'd sort of worked it out that Derrin was involved, but thanks for the confirmation."

"Yeah, well then he went on to say the swim team would need to come up with a new plan."

"Fucking assholes!" Wayne exclaimed, "Will they never be satisfied."

"Yeah, sound like we're gonna become a new inter team game. We'll just have to be extra careful. Thanks for telling us Jerry – we appreciate you sticking your neck out."

He started to laugh.

"What's funny Jerry?" I asked.

"I...can' It's not nice," he sorta spluttered.

"Yes, you can. We're friends aren't we?"

He nodded. "Okay I will and I hope we're still friends after. I was going to say it was better I stick my neck out than you stick your butts out."

"Jerry!" I exclaimed laughing, "that's not nice."

"No it isn't," said Wayne, "You wait 'till I find my grandpaw's tomahawk!"

That caused more laughter. Wayne and I wrapped an arm round each of Jerry's shoulders and we walked back into the cafeteria just as the bell sounded.

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