Disclaimer: The M7 characters in this story belong
Thanks: To everyone who enjoys these stories, but most especially to Anna. She, who with her bugment and begment´, keeps us on track when we have seemingly gone astray. <g>
Notes: This is set in the Regents AU, established in the story Toy Soldiers.
Fish Tales and Fathers
A Mother's Worst Fear
What I'm Thankful For
Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Dates, Dares and Danger
Guys Gone Wild
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
With a vicious flick of his wrist, Chris turned the volume up on the Rap station he had found on the car´s radio. Even so, his passenger did not stir from where he sat half-turned, resting on his side in the reclined seat. The seat belt was fastened, but Chris had to wonder what damage would be done if he were to make a sudden and hard turn. Any bumps and bruises would serve Ezra right and might even give Chris a small measure of retribution for the southerner making them so late this morning.
Chris had reluctantly accepted the fact that he would be the one stuck driving Ezra to Vin´s track meet. Buck had somehow convinced J.D. into going on a double date with him, probably because of Chris´ success on his double date with Buck, Inez and her cousin Maria. Chris had managed to see Maria a couple of more times since that first date that had ended all too abruptly. Shooting a glare over at his passenger, Chris was reminded that he had Ezra to thank for that as well.
But while Chris and Maria had continued to date, Buck had no such luck with Inez. She was too suspicious of the quarterback´s motives. The junior had not give up his efforts to get another date with her, but at the same time he continued with his regular dating habits. Last night that included a girl with a younger sister who conveniently was J.D.´s age. Chris wondered how that had gone for both of them, but would have to wait to find out at the track meet, since J.D. had stayed the night over at Buck´s.
Nathan and Josiah had also chosen to take a separate vehicle because Nathan was going to help out at a fundraiser Josiah had organized for the drama department and they would both have to leave the track meet early.
Vin had gone with the track team on the school bus, leaving Chris alone to haul Ezra out there to support his roommate. Not that the Texan had not tried to help. Shortly before he left the room, Vin had done just about everything he could think to wake the southerner up, including trying to push him to the floor. But the tricky devil had reached out and grabbed the side of the bed frame holding himself firmly on the bed. Knowing that he could not miss the bus, Vin had no choice but to leave him for Chris to deal with, though he had at least ran up to the senior´s room and informed him of the situation.
Chris had stormed into the room, a cup of cold water from the water fountain in his hands and a predatory gleam in his eyes. Without any type of warning he had pulled the covers off Ezra and splashed the liquid on the younger boy´s face. With a howl of outrage the sophomore had become decidedly animated. Thinking at first that it was Vin who had dared to wake him up in that manner, Ezra had cursed and started forward threateningly. He had come to a dead stop when he recognized Chris standing in front of him, arms folded across his chest and a no-nonsense glare leveled directly at him.
As happened all too frequently, two pairs of green eyes met and locked, one demanding compliance and the other stubbornly refusing to back down. Want me to drag you to the shower and throw you in there? Chris had asked.
The southerner regarded him, gauging the true level of Chris´ threat and decided that the senior would have no problem doing exactly what he stated. Icily ignoring him, Ezra had moved to his closet and gathered his toiletries and clothing for the day. With a haughty air he then moved past a smirking Chris, out of the room and down the hallway toward the showers.
Chris glared back over at his passenger as he remembered how much the sophomore had dragged his feet in getting dressed making them late to the track meet. But his glare was lost on Ezra who had climbed into the car, fastened his seatbelt and then promptly made himself comfortable and closed his eyes. Chris knew he could not possibly be sleeping, but was feigning slumber just to further infuriate him. And the senior was not sure what made him madder, the fact that Ezra was doing that or the fact that it was working.
Lost in his thoughts Chris´ eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror idly. His eyes widened slightly at what he saw reflected there before dropping down to the speedometer. Cursing, Chris did not have to look back into the rearview mirror to see the flashing lights that were signaling him to pull over. Of all the people he could possibly be with when getting pulled over for speeding it had to be Ezra Standish. The senior almost hoped that the southerner was actually asleep and would remain that way during the duration of the traffic stop. That hope died in a blaze of glory as the patrol car behind him gave a short blast of its siren signaling the officer´s desire for him to pull over right away. Ezra sat up in his seat, his keen green eyes going immediately to the mirror on the passenger side.
The sophomore was extremely smug as he tsked, tsked, Why, Christopher, I just close my eyes for a few minutes and you go and break the law. Whatever am I going to tell your father?
Just shut up, Ezra, Chris growled as he pulled the car over onto the shoulder of the freeway and killed the engine. And who´s to say that I did anything wrong? Maybe the cops finally caught up with you and are gonna haul your ass to jail?
Ezra quickly calculated the possibility of Chris´ question before dismissing it. He was not currently doing anything that was illegal enough to involve police involvement. Still he could not help but respond to the senior´s question with some teasing of his own. Well wouldn´t that just make your father look foolish? I mean, if I were doing anything illegal, it´s a shame that it would take a cop who I have not meant to catch me when I´ve had the misfortune to be in your father´s presence several times in the last few months.
You better keep that mouth shut, Ezra. Like you just said, my dad´s a cop. So I´m sure he can get me some leniency if I have to perform some assault and battery on you!
Both boys shut up as the sheriff cautiously approached the driver´s side of the car. He motioned for Chris to roll down the window, but the grin on his face hinted that the sheriff had already run the license plate and knew to whom the car belonged. Chris did not recognize the sheriff though. He was a younger man, probably new to the force. The senior knew that would really make his father more upset since the junior officer would probably enjoy teasing Clint about stopping his son for a traffic violation.
Can I see your license and proof of insurance? the sheriff asked as he looked into the car at both Chris and Ezra.
Ezra winced as Chris elbowed him hard in the process of leaning over to get the insurance card out of the glovebox. But the southerner kept his mouth shut. He did not feel the need to draw any extra scrutiny from the law enforcement officer. It was bad enough that he had to have so many dealings with Clint Larabee.
You know you were speeding, Christopher Larabee? the sheriff asked as he looked over the senior´s license and insurance.
No, sir, Chris quickly answered. He was not sure if he imagined it or not, but he could have sworn that he heard Ezra snicker.
´Bout eight miles over the speed limit, the sheriff continued with a knowing smile. I don´t think your dad is going to be too happy to hear about this.
No, sir, I´m certain that he won´t be.
The sheriff now grinned widely. And that´s why I´m going to let you off with a warning. Being able to tease ol´ Cowboy Larabee with this is gonna be priceless. He returned Chris´ license and insurance information. Now you boys stick to the speed limit and stay out of trouble. With a tip of his hat, the sheriff walked back to his car, grinning all the way.
As he started the car back up, Chris groaned, Dad´s gonna kill me. He had not intended to say it out loud but it slipped out.
Ezra chuckled. He´s not going to be the only one. Vin´s going to kill you first. You´ve made us late to the track meet, Christopher. His chuckle grew into a full laugh as he heard Chris growl in response.
Chris was still giving Ezra the silent treatment as they arrived at their destination, parked the car and made their way to the stands. Vin noted their arrival from the field where he was warming up for his first event. He noted Chris´ scowl, immediately flicked a questioning glance to Ezra who shrugged innocently. Shaking his head, Vin returned his concentration to his first race, a qualifying heat for the 400 meters.
Chris´ face softened into a soft smirk as Vin easily won the heat prompting Ezra to offer some pleasantry. The glare he got, before he could speak, changed the pleasantry into an announcement to go and purchase something to eat.
Don´t leave the grounds, Chris told him.
Ezra gave him a half eye roll. I am well aware of the rules surrounding my attendance at today´s event, Christopher.
Good, the senior growled back. Don´t make me come find you.
Ezra turned around and walked away without replying. As if Chris could find him if he chose not to be found he mused to himself. By the time he had found the concession stand, bought something totally unhealthy and began to look around, all remaining hostilities regarding Chris had left him. Instead he surveyed the crowd of students from all the different regional schools competing and supporting and taking note where the teachers were situated. Using his practiced eye he wandered around looking for suitable marks to initiate any number of scams, bets and cons he was adept at.
Buck took the steps two at a time as he made his way to Chris, J.D. following close behind him.
Hey, Stud, he greeted as he slid lazily into the seat beside Chris. We miss anything?
Chris returned the greeting and the one from J.D. before he answered. Vin won his first heat.
Great! Buck enthused. When´s he running next?
The final is the race after this one, Chris replied.
Where´s Ezra? J.D. asked.
You did bring him right? Buck interjected with a snort.
He´s here, Chris replied gruffly and he saw Buck flash him a questioning look at his tone. Not wanting to get into his speeding transgression, he changed the subject.
How was the date? Chris asked with a soft smile. Sorry, double date, he added breaking into a grin when J.D. blushed.
Buck´s eyebrows waggled. Oh it was fine. Just fine, he answered in a smooth voice. Showed the kid all my best moves, he boasted with a wink.
So what happened after the first ten seconds? Chris teased, enjoying Buck´s mock indignation and J.D´s laughter at his expense.
You know I don´t kiss and tell, Chris, Buck eventually replied good-naturedly.
He laughed when Chris and J.D. reacted with matched expressions of disbelief.
You´re so full of crap, Buck, J.D. told him.
Chris let out a short laugh as he clapped J.D. on the shoulder. I think J.D. learnt all there is to know, Chris teased.
Buck stretched back and threw his legs up on the seat in front of him as he dismissed Chris´ words with a confident look.
You have a good time? Chris asked J.D. as he turned sideways to look at the freshman. J.D. nodded shyly and Chris didn´t press further. Instead he looked up and saw Ezra returning. The sophomore looked and walked smugly and Chris immediately became suspicious.
Ezra! J.D. called as he stood and waved.
The southerner slid smoothly into the seat beside J.D. and Chris observed in silence as the two younger boys easily dropped into a conversation about the date with added and frequent comments and teases from Buck to his right. Ezra engaged his friends with a convincing laid back demeanor yet he still had an underlying energy to him and Chris knew he was up to something. The question was what and was it too late to stop it?
The next hour passed enjoyably Chris had to admit. Josiah and Nathan had arrived shortly after Ezra´s return and the six friends talked, joked, ate and drank as they watched Vin win the 400 meters then qualify for the 800 metre final. It was shortly before that final that Ezra left stating he wanted another drink.
The 800 meter final had an exciting and tight finish and they all whooped when Vin added anther win to his successful day. Amidst all the yells of encouragement and excited talk in the stands, Chris still noted Ezra had not returned. His concern was noted by Josiah.
Nathan and I will go see if we can find him, Josiah said responding to Chris´ unspoken unease.
He´ll be fine, Buck dismissed. Not like there is any trouble he can get into here, he added.
What? the tall junior continued in confusion as all four of his friends gave him serious looks.
Ok ok, Buck chuckled as he acquiesced to the overwhelming consensus that if any one could find trouble at a track meet, Ezra could. But while you guys are checking on him, I´m going to check out those cheerleaders, he added as he stood and walked cockily down to the front of the stand.
Vin felt his breathing return to normal as his name and number were registered for the win by the official. He turned and left the field. It was an hour before the next qualifying heat and he intended to rest up and hang with his friends until then. The entrance to the field for competitors offered an unimpeded view to a parking lot. So as Vin exited, he paused as his attention was instantly drawn to the sight of Ezra surrounded by a group of older boys near the carpark. Frowning, he began to walk towards them. Ezra appeared to be doing most of the talking and before he even got close enough to hear, he began to guess what his roommate was up to.
His suspicions proved correct when as he approached stealthily he saw Ezra with a handful of cash, attempting to skillfully manipulate his new acquaintances into further bets.
Naturally the odds will be reduced on the next race, affording you a greater chance to double your money, Ezra was saying.
You got our money this time, the biggest boy was saying and his expression was not a happy one. How can we double our money? he continued, emphasizing the fact that clearly Ezra held their money in his hands. Immediately the others mumbled their assent.
Vin saw a flicker of unease pass through Ezra´s eyes and used the slight hesitation in his answer to speak up.
What´s going on Ezra?
Instantly all eyes turned to him, some with intimidating glares. The Texan didn´t flinch in his return gaze as he flicked his glance over all of them before resting fully on Ezra.
We´re engaging in some friendly bets, Ezra replied and only Vin saw the flash of relief that filled the pale green eyes.
Vin moved closer, quietly assessing the group of five large boys dressed in one of the other regional school´s colors. The tallest and bulkiest one was almost the size of Josiah and judging by the way the other four all looked to him for their cues, was without a doubt the leader. Vin guessed they were all of similar age, most probably seniors, only he doubted they contributed anything positive to their school. He sensed they were used to applying their size and group friendship to manipulating and intimidating others.
You were betting on me? Vin asked, letting the surprise show in his voice as he gave a crooked smile to try and lighten the growing tense atmosphere.
Wagering at the track is an age old tradition, Vincent, Ezra replied with a mischievous glint.
I´m not a horse, Ezra! Vin chided, folding his arms.
Of course not, Ezra replied quickly. However the principle is the same, he continued smiling reassuringly at the largest boy.
Hey, Seth, one of the boys addressed their leader. Isn´t he the guy who just won? he asked, nodding towards Vin.
Seth narrowed his eyes as his gaze dropped to the number and color emblazoned on Vin´s shirt. Yeah it is, he stated menacingly as he stepped up and gave Ezra a prod in the chest. You two obviously know each other, he continued. And we just lost our money betting against him.
He cheated us, Seth! the same boy who spoke earlier, growled.
I did not! Ezra protested hotly. How could I know he´d win? he challenged.
Maybe you should just give them back their money, Ezra. No hard feelings, Vin offered. Ezra´s jaw dropped as he looked at Vin in horror. Possessively he palmed the cash into his fist.
Seth nodded agreeably. Sounds good to me, he said. And that way I may not pound your head into pavement, he added as he glared at Ezra.
The Texan´s eyes filled with anger. No one is pounding him, he drawled steadfastly.
Near the concession stand, Nathan hit Josiah´s arm to get his attention. Looks like Chris was right, he smiled grimly.
Josiah followed Nathan´s gaze and both grew determined looks as they jogged over to the huddle of boys near the carpark. As they got closer they were noticed, therefore Josiah slowed and then stopped as he recognized one of the boys from the other school. His expression grew darker, more ominous as the recognition worked both ways and the teen tapped the largest boy to get his attention. Josiah let out a soft growl as he recognized him as well. Hannah was dating the shorter fair-haired boy much to his objections and repeated advice not to. He had seen enough of how he treated and spoke to Hannah, most times at the instigation of the larger boy, to be enraged. Josiah had threatened them both once after he had discovered a suspicious bruise on Hannah´s arm but his intervention only served to have Hannah crying and shrieking at him and resulting in her being more determined to see the boy.
Vin caught the exchange between Josiah, Seth and the fair-haired boy and immediately sensed the change in the nature of the confrontation. Josiah´s size and now fierce expression unsettled Seth´s group and more importantly to Vin, Nathan and Josiah´s appearance evened the odds immensely. Vin used that to his advantage.
Ezra, give them their money back and let´s leave, Vin said aloud.
No, Ezra replied, clutching the money to his chest. I won this money in a fair bet. Why should I have to give it back?
Vin groaned with dismay as he pulled Ezra aside and whispered intently. Ezra, we´re still knee deep in crap from Parker because of the last time you led us into trouble.
I did not lead you into trouble. You both came willingly . Ezra replied in hushed tones.
Ezra! Vin growled. Just do it. I am sick of detention.
Ezra sighed dramatically then acquiesced. Very well, Vincent, but I shall consider this sum of money as a debt you owe me.
Whatever, Vin replied, rolling his eyes.
With great reluctance Ezra handed over the cash to Seth, who counted the money slowly and suspiciously. Ezra sighed and looked completely unimpressed. Then Seth indicated his approval and signaled for his friends to leave.
Run along now, children, Josiah taunted.
The fair-haired teen glared angrily and Josiah winked at him.
Awww Hell, Vin exhaled as the fair-haired boy attacked Josiah setting off the brawl. Vin threw a punch quickly sending the nearest boy crashing into his friend behind him. That in turn had Seth grabbing him and punching him in the chest. Vin pivoted, lessening the blow and putting Seth off balance. They both fell to the ground and wrestled for the advantage.
Ezra´s survival instincts kicked in as the brawl broke out in earnest. Stepping backwards he began to cautiously step away when Nathan and the boy he began fighting both careened towards him. He turned to run but never made it. He let out a large oofff´ as the breath was forced from his body as he hit the ground with Nathan and the other boy landing on top of him. He bit back a yell of pain as another boy jumped onto all of them and Ezra bore the brunt of their combined weight. Desperately he wiggled and crawled and as Nathan and his assailant rolled together to one side wrestling and punching, Ezra clawed for freedom.
Suddenly a hand clutched at one of his ankles. No you don´t, you little the third boy swore. Ezra turned to look over his shoulders and saw a dark haired boy with a bloodthirsty expression determined to grab him and hit him. Anger welled within Ezra and he tried to pull his leg free to no avail. He half turned, freeing his other leg and began to kick out at his attacker´s head. The swearing intensified but still the boy held fast to his ankle. With a yell, Ezra kicked out with great force and the other boy screamed with pain as he relinquished his hold. Quickly Ezra got to his feet and assessed the scene.
Josiah was easily fending off two of the boys with such enraged force that Ezra made a mental note never to get him that upset with him. Nathan, similarly, looked particularly infuriated as he fought a similar sized boy. They wrestled and writhed on the ground each trying to gain the advantage. As with Josiah, Ezra was amazed by the ferocity of Nathan´s fighting. The boy Ezra had kicked in the head sat on the ground, looking stunned and nursing his head. Ezra winced as he turned to look at Vin. Despite the size and weight difference Vin was valiantly holding his own, however, the Texan was slowly succumbing to the larger foe. Ezra felt guilty enough to go over and try to offer some assistance. That was until he saw the money blowing across the grass under the influences of the breezes. For a split second he was torn, then he chased off after the money.
Chris sat back, sprawled over two seats. He checked his watch. How long did the officials need Vin? His eyes squinted as he saw J.D. running up to Buck, say something animatedly, and then the two ran out of the stands towards the parking lot. He sat up becoming instantly grumpy. What now? Can´t we even go to a simple track meet without a problem? He let out a long sigh before he adjusted his cap. Well, whatever it was they could sort it out amongst themselves. He was sitting right here. He´d hear about it later anyway. No doubt many times over. They had to get used to him not being around after all. After graduation he was enlisting. They would all have to learn to get themselves out of trouble. He leant forward resting his elbows on his knees only his fingers began to tap restlessly.
Dammit! he swore as he got up and began striding in the direction Buck and J.D. went.
J.D. Wait! Buck called as J.D. ran ahead. He put in more effort and caught up to the freshman as they reached the parking lot and the ensuing brawl. Quickly Buck took stock of the situation. Vin needed the help first but before he could stride over, one of Josiah´s assailants broke off and warned his friends that they had more company. To Buck´s shock J.D´s hand fisted and he punched out, taking the other boy by surprise. His punch landed near perfect to other boy´s jaw sending him staggering. Unfortunately for J.D., the other boy´s response was immediate. He punched back, sending the smaller boy sprawling backward.
Hey! Buck bellowed before he attacked with a vengeance.
Chris couldn´t believe his eyes as he reached the parking lot. What the hell was going on? All his friends were involved in intense brawling. Josiah, Nathan and Buck were all engaged one on one with boys roughly their own size while J.D. and Vin fought with some oversized gorilla of a boy. Another boy sat dazed holding a bloody hand to his face. None of it made sense until he saw Ezra running around a large grassed area trying to pick up pieces of paper blowing in different directions. He squinted. No, not pieces of paper. Why else would Ezra be running with such concerted effort? Money!
He growled with frustration as he approached behind Josiah. Putting his fingers to his lips he blew a loud whistle. He was stunned when Josiah reacted blindly, turning and punching in one fluid movement. Chris´ head snapped back as he overbalanced and went crashing on his butt. Chris reacted with a roar of outrage. Amazingly, everyone froze and looked at him.
Sorry, Chris, Josiah said sheepishly.
Chris glared lethally, then looked beyond Josiah to where the largest boy had Vin pinned to the ground.
Get off him! Chris snarled viciously.
Seth complied, deciding very quickly he didn´t want to experience the new arrival´s wrath. With Seth capitulating, his friends did likewise. Chris got to his feet, dusting off his clothes. He strode over to Vin and hauled him to his feet.
What the hell happened? he demanded.
I´ll tell ya later, Vin rasped as he saw two teachers and a ground marshall making their way towards them.
Chris bit back his anger as he shook his head with dismay. And the day keeps getting better, he muttered.
The seven teenagers had been fairly silent when they had first crowded into the small waiting room outside Dean Parker´s office. Fresh from the fight, they were still all sporting various bruises and scrapes, except Ezra who had managed to come away with nothing more than dirt on his clothing. That had not gone unnoticed by Chris whose eye had already started to swell and blacken from the blow he had taken from Josiah.
Chris sat behind the desk of Parker´s Administrative Assistant and looked his friends over. Vin sat perched on the desk itself, a bruise beginning to form along his jaw and cheek and nursing his hands that had to be hurting from the pummeling he had given the other boy. J.D. and Buck sat off to one side beneath the large window that still poured in the sunshine from the beautiful Saturday afternoon. The sun only emphasized the black eye that J.D. had earned. The freshman continuously moved his lower jaw back and forth as if testing to make sure it still worked. Buck did not look too bad off, with a scrape across his cheek from where he had tussled with another boy on the cement surface of the parking lot. The quarterback would probably use his injury´ to garner as much sympathy as possible from the girls.
What had Chris the most surprised was that out of all of them, Josiah and Nathan looked the worst. Disheveled and bruised, these two did not look like the ones he always thought of as the least likely to get into trouble. They sat sullen and silent in the chairs usually reserved for students about to be punished by the dean. Chairs usually reserved for the likes of Ezra Standish and not two of Regent´s most awarded and lauded students.
Chris looked over to where Ezra leaned up against the door leading back out into the hallway. The sophomore had not said much after they had all been rounded up and sent back to Regents where they were to meet with Dean Parker even on this Saturday. Vin had been told that he would just have to miss the rest of his events and while the Texan had already competed in his major events, it still pained him to know that he would miss the others. Ezra had not missed the look on Vin´s face and that was when the southerner had lapsed into uncharacteristic silence.
Dean Parker opened the door to his office and surveyed the group of boys that were the bane of his existence here at Regents. They each had so much potential and yet they wasted it away with self- destructive behavior. Bring in those chairs, boys. We might as well do this all at once.
Silently Buck, J.D., Josiah, and Nathan dragged in the chairs from the other room as Chris and Vin took the two chairs already in the office. They struggled to make room for each other as Parker returned to his desk and sat down. When the six of them had settled in, Ezra stood in the doorway, leaving the door open.
Shut the door, Mr. Standish, Parker instructed.
There isn´t anyone else here today Ezra started.
Shut the door, Parker repeated a bit more firmly. He knew about Ezra´s claustrophobia but he had a point to make and if everyone else could be uncomfortable, so could he.
Ezra considered his options in a split second and finally conceded and shut the door, leaning up against it, crossing his arms sullenly. He knew it probably was not a good idea to continue to remind Parker that they were here on what should have been one of the man´s days off.
The dean took another moment to look the boys over again. J.D. and Vin looked the most contrite as they sat staring down at their shoes. Buck sat touching his bloody cheek idly, probably wondering if the girls would prefer him with or without a scar. Josiah and Nathan looked the most guilty which confused Parker. Chris sat directly across from him. When he noticed that the dean´s eyes had come to rest on him, the senior gave him a slight nod as if telling Parker to go ahead and punish his friends in whatever way he saw fit because Chris would then take care of their further chastisement.
Parker opened his mouth to speak but was surprised to hear not his voice but that of Ezra´s. Before you begin, Dean Parker, may I bring up a couple of pertinent facts that may assist you in your quest to dole out proper punishment?
No, you may not, Mr. Standish.
I believe that you need to hear these items before you can make a sound judgment against everyone in this room.
Shut up, Ezra, a couple of the boys hissed at their friend.
The facts are simple, Parker stated. The seven of you were caught fighting at a school function. I want to know who started it.
Silence met his question. The dean looked around at the seven boys, searching their faces for any hint of who the culprit was. He was surprised when Josiah stated, I started it.
Parker blinked at the young man that he had least suspected even as the one he had most suspected spoke up. Actually Josiah´s confession, while admirable, is not quite accurate. Before anyone can answer who started the fight we have to determine if there was indeed even a fight.
Aside from your lack of injuries, Mr. Standish, I believe the bruised and battered state of your friends is evidence enough that there was a fight. I have been informed that five students from other schools were seen leaving the premises. So I believe there is enough evidence to show that you seven were fighting with those other boys. And given the choice of believing you or Mr. Sanchez here, I will always believe him.
With that Parker turned back to Josiah, but Ezra was not quite done. Very well. If you are going to insist that there was a fight, I still assert that Mr. Sanchez did not, in fact, start the fight.
Ezra, just be quiet, Josiah warned the younger boy. I started the fight and that´s that.
But it is not, Josiah, Ezra continued undeterred. He pushed himself away from the door and walked around the line of his six friends to stand directly in front of Dean Parker. I believe that generally the person who starts a fight is the person who throws the first punch. Would you not agree with that, Dean Parker?
Harold Parker began to feel the vein in his temple throb in time to the pounding in his head. He clenched and unclenched his jaw as he found himself slowly but surely being outmaneuvered by a fifteen-year- old. Hesitantly he nodded his agreement. However, I am also aware that there are mitigating circumstances sometimes. And that while someone might not have thrown the first punch he is still the person responsible for starting the fight.
Ezra nodded and began pacing in front of the dean´s desk as if he were a lawyer pleading his case before a judge. And I concur on that point. However, in this instance there were no mitigating circumstances. The gentleman, and I do use that term loosely, who threw the first punch had already received that which he and the other four with him wanted. I do not see how that can be construed as mitigating circumstances. As for any comment that Josiah may have made to instigate the alleged fight, Parker raised his eyebrows at that comment but let it pass, I can hardly see how run along now,´ can be considered an incendiary comment.
Mr. Sanchez, is that what you said before the other boys attacked you? Parker winced ever so slightly at his language as he realized that it suggested Ezra swayed him into believing that the other boys had started the actual fight.
Josiah was not sure how to respond to that question and took a moment to consider how to answer it. The senior was not sure what Ezra was angling for exactly but the southerner was certainly making an argument that could lessen their punishment. And if it had just been him that was involved in this entire deal, Josiah wanted to believe that he would have cleared things up with the dean, that he would have told him everything he said and how he said it and how he wanted the fight to happen because he wanted to pummel the boys that were taking Hannah away from him. But it wasn´t just him that he had to think about so he nodded his head slowly, forcing himself to meet Parker´s eyes. Yes, sir, that was all that I said. The next thing I knew, one of the other boys threw himself at me and I had to defend myself.
The dean´s jaw tightened as he ground his teeth. He cursed himself for stating earlier that he would always believe Josiah, since he now felt his dream of suspending all seven boys was slipping out of his grasp. He had no idea if Ezra had planned that or had simply lucked into it. There was nothing he could do about it now. He might not be able to make a suspension stick if the boys were only defending themselves but he could still punish them for fighting at a school function.
With that comforting thought Parker nodded his acceptance of Josiah´s words and then turned to one of the young men who still hung his head in shame. Mr. Tanner, I can not sufficiently express my disappointment in your involvement. You were there representing Regents and were doing a fantastic job on the track. But you threw it all away by brawling with your friends. Do you have anything to say for yourself?
I couldn´t turn my back on my friends, Vin said simply, raising his head to meet the dean´s gaze and show a set jaw that spoke volumes about his steadfast loyalty to those friends.
Parker had to admire the boy´s noble intentions even as he knew he would have to punish him for them. He was amazed at how the seven always were a united front against whatever challenge they faced. Right now there was a small chink in their united line as Ezra was somewhat excluded but Parker did not doubt that it was his own doing that kept him apart while the other six were trying to pull him into line with them.
Don´t let your friends have a negative affect on your life, Mr. Tanner. Your foster family´s financial situation makes your options extremely limited. You have been given the opportunity to attend this institution because of your abilities in track. If you are fortunate that may also lead to your attending a university of some renown. Don´t let your friends throw away what you can not afford to lose.
Chris kept his eyes locked on Dean Parker as he spoke. Part of him wanted to tell the man to shut up because he had no idea what he was talking about. But the other part of Chris had to agree with the dean. Vin could not waste the opportunity his track scholarship gave him. So while Chris hated seeing Vin get a verbal lashing from Parker, he also hoped that it might make Vin begin to see that eventually he would have to start looking out just for himself and what was best for his future. Chris still had not heard the entire story about what had started the fight and was surprised to hear Josiah take responsibility. He was sure Ezra was at the heart of it, but if that did not come to light right now, Chris would get to the bottom of things as soon as they were all free from Parker.
And you, Mr. Dunne, Parker switched his gaze over to the youngest in the room, what will your aunt think about the caliber of your friends when she hears about this?
J.D. had no response as he tried to disappear into his seat.
Buck could not help himself, he had to come to J.D.´s defense. Aw come on, Dean Parker. Are you saying that you never got into any fights when you were a boy? J.D. didn´t do nothing but try to help his friends who were outnumbered.
What I did or did not do when younger is immaterial to the case at hand. You seven have broken school rules and will have to be punished. Fighting at a school function simply can not be tolerated
We were not fighting at a school function, Ezra interrupted again. When Parker had begun berating Vin, the other sophomore had slunk back to his position by the door.
You were at a track meet, Mr. Standish, that does indeed qualify as a school function.
Yes, sir. We were at a track meet. However when the alleged fisticuffs began we were off school property. I believe it you ask the teachers who discovered us, they will inform you that we were on a parking lot that was adjacent to the track meet, not one that was being used for the event itself and therefore could not be considered part of the school function area. Since we were not on school property does that not mean that no crime has been committed that the school must deal with? Does it not become a matter for the authorities? In fact, since we have already established that Josiah and the rest of us were attacked by these other boys, are you suggesting that we should press charges against them?
Parker blinked as he tried to digest this new information that, if true, would mean that he basically had nothing that he could punish the boys for. But even as dismay filled him at that thought, Parker found new hope. A sinister smile found its way first in his eyes and then over his lips as realized that while being off the grounds of the track meet might technically save the others it would certainly damn the young man making the argument for his friends. No, Mr. Standish, I don´t believe that you should press charges against those other boys. But I just want to be clear on the fact that you are saying that you were off the track meet grounds when this happened.
Ezra nodded from where he still stood behind the other boys, but Parker was not so much interested in his reaction as he was the other boys´. Vin and Chris exchanged looks as they both quickly understood what was happening, that Ezra was basically getting the rest of them out of trouble by giving himself up for leaving school grounds during his probation. The dean decided that watching the other six save themselves while hanging Ezra out to dry might even be more rewarding than suspending them all.
Mr. Dunne, Mr. Wilmington, is it as Mr. Standish has stated? Were you indeed off the track meet grounds when the fight occurred? Parker asked struggling to mask his glee.
Yes, sir, J.D. quickly affirmed. He had not heard the dean´s slight emphasis on the words off track meet grounds´ and so was not even aware of the implication.
Buck was also unaware that he was letting Ezra take the fall for the rest of them when he added, Yeah, we sure were.
Thank you, Dean Parker responded as his eyes shot over to where Ezra was attempting to maintain an unconcerned posture as he leaned against the doorframe. And you, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sanchez, are you certain that you were all off the grounds at the time of the altercation?
The two in question exchanged a curious look. They could sense that Parker was up to something, that he was setting something up, but they just were not sure what it was. It was as Josiah was nodding his assent that it came to Nathan that Ezra risked suspension for going off school grounds. The junior could not help but look over his shoulder at the sophomore, but Ezra would not meet his questioning look. Nathan sighed and could see that Dean Parker was enjoying letting each of them dig Ezra´s grave a little deeper. Guilt washed over him, but he could not lie either, so he nodded as well.
Parker allowed himself a smile as he focused his attention on the last two of the group. And you, Mr. Tanner, Mr. Larabee? Are you both willing to say that you were off grounds when this happened?
Like Nathan, Vin turned to look at Ezra and again his roommate would not meet the other boy´s gaze. Ezra knew that this would probably be hardest on Vin because the Texan would not want to betray him. But he felt he owed it to his roommate since the whole thing had been his fault after all. Although if Vin had not walked up when he had, Ezra probably could have gotten away clean and clear with the money. He took a second to console himself that he did at least still have the money. But now he would have to face punishment. And even then Ezra was hedging his bets that his mother would come to his rescue in some manner or other. He was sure Maude would come up with her own punishments for him, but she would not let him embarrass her by being suspended from the school.
Getting nothing out of Ezra, Vin turned to Chris for a glimpse of what they should do. For his part the senior also hated letting Ezra take the fall for all of them. Not that he did not think that the southerner deserved some type of punishment, but because he did not want to feel like he owed him anything. Chris was suspicious of Ezra´s motives and wondered if the sophomore was planning to hold this over the rest of them whenever he needed a favor out of them. But as Chris nodded over to Dean Parker he reminded himself that it was simply the truth. They might not have realized it if Ezra had not of brought it up, but since he had, they could not deny it to save him.
Vin watched Chris nod to Parker and followed suit. More than any of the others, except Ezra, he knew the whole circumstances of the fight. And while the situation would not have even existed if Ezra had not of been wagering with those boys, it had also been defused when Josiah and Nathan got involved. So his roommate did not really deserve to have all the punishment go to him. Vin decided that he would have to talk to Josiah about it all and then talk to Ezra as well.
The dean smiled once he had received confirmation from each of the boys. Very well, boys. As much as it pains me I will have to let you go with just a warning. Still, don´t expect to be able to leave campus this weekend unless accompanied by your parents. Eagerly the six boys who had been sitting all rose to their feet, but Parker was not quite finished. I realize that you think you have won this round today, but I can assure you that I will find another way to punish you and I will enjoy watching you squirm.
Dean Parker enjoyed the look of dismay on the boys´ faces until he noticed the stare he was receiving from Chris. Gone was the understanding he had received from the blond senior at the beginning of their meeting. In its place was a cold look that silently expressed Chris´ assertion that he would not allow any undo punishment to befall his friends. The dean said nothing but he could not deny to himself the feeling of disquiet the Chris´ gaze filled in him. He had lost the teenager´s respect. Parker shrugged the feeling off, telling himself that it did not matter if Chris respected him as long as he continued to yield to his authority. Determined to demonstrate that he did still have the upper hand, he turned a dismissive gaze from Larabee and stated, Mr. Standish, do not leave just yet. You and I still have a great deal to discuss. I believe you have just admitted to me, and all of your friends have verified, that you were off school premises and that is in violation of your probation. What makes that even worse is that I had allowed you off campus for the sole purpose of watching your roommate´s track meet. Not only do you take advantage of that benevolence on my part, but you somehow manage to see to it that Mr. Tanner is unable to compete in all his scheduled events.
J.D., Buck, and Josiah turned to look at the southerner in shock as they suddenly realized what they had done. Ezra simply waited beside the door, outwardly appearing unconcerned about the turn of events. He felt the eyes of the other boys on him but he refused to meet their gaze. He cursed the fact that his position by the door now meant that each of the others would now walk by him on their way out. The sophomore slid an impassive mask over his features and kept his eyes fixed on a spot on the floor by his feet.
He was saved somewhat by Josiah as the senior stopped in the doorway and turned back to look at Dean Parker. This movement allowed Ezra to step into the office and away from the door and avoiding more contact with the others. Dean Parker, Josiah began, Nathan and I were supposed to help with a fundraiser this afternoon
Well then it appears that you will have to hope that the drama department will be able to handle that on their own. You will all remain in the dorms, do I make myself clear? Parker asked with an air of finality that had them all nodding their heads and murmuring their acceptance.
The dean watched the six boys file out of his office. He did not let their posture of defeat fool him for one moment. They knew as well as he did that he had not been able to punish them the way that he wanted to. They were only being magnanimous in their victory because they knew he still held one of their own in his clutches. It was a ceasefire of hostilities until an accord could be reached.
Ezra, keeping a subdued mien and a downcast gaze, sat down in the chair directly opposite the dean. He heard the door shut behind his friends and knew that he was finally alone with Dean Parker which mean that he now only had to worry about getting himself out of trouble. He was not as confident about being able to do that as he had been about getting the others off the hook. He knew there was nothing that he could say that would extricate himself, so he was going to have to rely on someone else. But first he would have to maneuver Parker into involving the other person. If he could not do that, then he knew he was sunk.
Parker did not waste a second. I have to admit to you, Mr. Standish that I have been waiting for the opportunity to suspend you since the moment you stepped foot on this campus, his self- satisfied tone could not be disguised.
A hundred insolent retorts filled Ezra´s mind, but with a concentrated effort he was able to keep them away from his lips. He reminded himself that as much fun as it would be to infuriate Dean Parker, he could not afford to do that at this time. Now he needed finesse and quick wits. My stepfather will be most displeased, he stated simply, hoping resignation and dismay covered the smirk his lips kept attempting to curve into. It was for that reason that he continued to keep his head bowed.
It is a little late to consider the consequences of your actions now, Mr. Standish. You should have been considering that before you stepped off school grounds without a proper chaperone when still on probation.
While he listened to Parker´s words, Ezra had finally managed to coax his facial features into expressing regret and even a little fear. He looked up and met the dean´s eyes only for an instant before dropping them once more as if in shame, Yes, sir. I only wish that I had better foresight than hindsight. I also hope that my actions do not adversely affect you as well.
Harold Parker studied the teenager who sat in front of him as he tried to ascertain the meaning of that last statement. The dean suspected a trick, but could not find the angle that the wily southerner was attempting to play. He thought at first to ignore Ezra´s words but curiosity pricked at him until he gave in. How do you mean?
The sophomore looked out the window as if trying to find a way to put his thoughts into words. The truth was that his carefully arranged speech sat ready to use at the tip of his tongue. The words were ready, but the performance still had to be sold so that Parker would have no reason to doubt him. Briefly Ezra wondered if maybe he should join the drama department, but quickly quashed that idea. It would not be a good idea to show so openly what a great actor he truly was. Well, sir, I know that my stepfather entrusted you with my discipline when he enrolled me into this institution. He told me so himself the day before I was to be brought here. He told me of your reputation as a strict disciplinarian and expressed his glee over the fact that he would no longer have to deal with me while I was at school under your firm guidance. The sophomore finally turned his apprehensive gaze back to Parker´s face. Robert Carlisle III will be most displeased that you are sending me back home under a suspension. He will see that as a failure on your part after he had such high expectations of your abilities.
Parker remembered quite suddenly and with a great deal of clarity the very words that Robert Carlisle had expressed to him the day that Ezra had arrived at Regents. The suave businessman had made it clear that the funding he provided the school in return for their accepting his stepson as a student would be cut off if Ezra continued to be a problem. The dean knew that the sophomore had a valid point about Carlisle being upset if Ezra was suspended from the school for any length of time. Again Harold Parker felt himself being thwarted in his desire to punish the bane of his existence here at Regents.
Mr. Standish, I want you to take these chairs back to my outer office and then I want you to wait there until I call you back in. You will not move from that room for any reason
How long do you think that might be? Ezra interrupted, unable to restrain himself from having a little fun by irritating Parker a bit further.
However long it takes, Mr. Standish, the dean snapped.
I only ask, sir, because I was wondering if your restrictions on my movements included my being unable to walk down the hall to the restroom if the need became necessary, the sophomore stated in his most reasonable tone.
Parker released a long, drawn out sigh as he mentally counted to ten. You may go to the restroom. But if I don´t find you either in my outer office or in the restroom then you can expect a rather lengthy suspension if not an outright expulsion from this school. Do I make myself clear?
Yes, sir, Ezra answered again fighting with lips that wanted to quirk into a smile. He stood up and began dragging the chairs out of the room one at a time. He took a bit of pleasure in banging them against the doorframe on his way out or knocking them over so that it took him quite some time in completing the task. Finally after dragging the last one out, he shut the door behind him and settled down in the outer office to wait.
He felt reasonably sure that he knew what was transpiring inside Parker´s office at this moment. The dean was calling the Carlisle household in the hopes of discussing with Robert the best form of punishment to give his troublemaking stepson. This way Parker believed he could still maintain his air of authority over Ezra without angering Carlisle. Finally the smirk that the southerner had been fighting for so long found its place on his lips. What Parker did not know was that Robert Carlisle III was away on a month long overseas business trip and that if ever there had been a good time to suspend him it was now. But the phone call would be made and the house staff would follow Carlisle´s directive about letting Maude handle anything that had to do with her son at Regents. It was here that Ezra was uncertain about his fate because it rested solely in the hands of his mother.
As he sat and waited, Ezra counted the money that he had recovered in the parking lot. Maude would want to know the full story and while he could easily come up with a cover story that she would believe, Ezra felt that if she saved him from a suspension then he owed her at least a cut. He quickly decided how much of the money he was willing to part with and separated it from the rest. That would be the amount that he would tell Maude he had won since he knew she would demand all of it. The rest of it he would hide away for future purposes. The small part of him that he allowed to feel guilt considered finding a way to put the money towards Vin´s purchase of a computer. After all he had ruined Vin´s day at the track meet and had not gone to his roommate´s aid in the fight. The sophomore shook his head away from those thoughts. He would deal with those issues a little bit later.
Now he reviewed the possible outcomes of Maude´s conversation with Dean Parker. The one he hoped for was also the one that he saw with the highest probability of occurring. He knew his mother and how she operated. She would rally to his defense, not only because she was his mother and that was her natural instinct but also because it would save her from having to deal with Robert´s anger when he learned Ezra had been suspended. By getting her involved, Ezra was forcing her to save them both. Perhaps years later, if he ever decided to visit a psychiatrist in an attempt to untangle the multiple layers of his relationship with his mother, he might see that this was truly the beginning of his and his mother´s lifelong using one another for the advantage of the other. It would frustrate them both for the rest of their lives; they would blame one another, hold grudges, and claim complete and utter bewilderment about the motivation of the other. And that would completely blind them to the fact that underneath all their conniving and one- upmanship was the undeniable fact that they trusted each other to be there whenever the other needed them. Yes, it would be a profoundly fortunate psychiatrist that ever landed the very lucrative task of untangling the mother/son relationship between Maude and Ezra.
Sitting in the outer office Ezra was relatively certain that his mother would talk Parker out of suspending him. She would probably, albeit unknowingly, take up her son´s line of reasoning that Robert would be infuriated with the dean´s inability to take care of the problem at the school. Knowing Maude she would point out that if Parker had not allowed Ezra off campus in the first place there would not have been a problem at all. She might even go so far as to threaten a lawsuit against the school since her son had been allowed off campus without proper supervision and had landed in a situation that had been potentially hazardous to his health. The sophomore grinned to himself, biting back laughter that might be overheard by Parker in the main office, as he imagined all the self- righteous indignation that Maude would bring to bear upon the hapless dean when he told her how Ezra had been involved in a fight. If things went as he planned, Parker would probably end the conversation apologizing profusely to Maude and imploring her not to seek legal action against the school.
He concentrated on that being the outcome of the phone call and not the possibility that Maude would be unavailable to take the call or that she was in a mood to tell the dean to do whatever he thought best and hang up. As much as he did not want to think about those possibilities, once they crept into his consciousness he could not ignore them. He fidgeted in his seat as various other unappealing outcomes crossed his mind. Finally getting to his feet he stood near the door between the inner and outer office and attempted to eavesdrop. But Dean Parker was speaking too quietly for him to overhear and Ezra was not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Wandering around the room he looked down at the phone on the dean´s assistant´s desk. It was a multi-line phone and he could see the red light lit up to show that Parker was on a call. He was tempted to try and connect into Parker´s conversation but feared that the dean would be able to see that his assistant´s phone was also in use. Feeling suddenly helpless he sat down at the desk and put his head down over crossed arms and found himself wondering what his friends were doing and even more importantly what they were thinking and saying about him.
It was a subdued group of friends that gathered in Buck and Nathan´s room once they had made their way back to the dormitory in relative silence. J.D. gave Buck a further worried look when instead of entering the room, Chris gestured to Vin that he wanted to talk him outside. Slowly, the Texan complied, but not before glancing around to the other boys in the room with a grim yet determined countenance.
With the four remaining, J.D. slouched into one of Buck´s chairs with an exaggerated moan of despair. He began rehearsing in his mind how he would explain his misdemeanor to his aunt. He hoped it would only be his aunt. She would be far more understanding than his father. For once, J.D. hoped his father was not contactable for Dean Parker. Guilt pricked at him as he realized the most he would have to face was one or two difficult conversations. Unlike Ezra who was facing possible suspension. The younger boy sat up quickly.
What do you think will happen to Ezra? he asked worriedly.
Let´s not go there, Buck replied quickly. If anyone can get out of mess like this it´s Ezra. We´ll wait and see.
I dunno, Buck, J.D. persisted. Thanks to us he´s in a lot deeper crap than the rest of us and he didn´t even start the brawl, he continued as he raised a critical look towards Josiah. The large senior frowned defensively before remorse filled his gentle features.
Ezra was involved, J.D.,´ Nathan replied, defending Josiah. One way or another he always finds trouble.
That may be true on occasion, Nathan but I think the same can be said for all of us, Josiah said softly. What we should remember here is that Ezra set aside his own strong instincts for self survival in order to ensure his friends received far lesser penalties.
Nathan conceded the point with a nod. Whilst he was not looking forward to facing his parents, there was no doubt the punishment could have been far worse without Ezra´s intervening on their behalf. Nathan´s head ached along with his scrapes and bruises as he began to ponder why Ezra would do that. It only added another bewildering complexity to the already complicated enigma of the southerner.
After a long moment of silence, where all four tried to reconcile their own perplexing feelings for the boy who was Ezra Standish, J.D. spoke again. What could be taking so long?
Out in the hallway and out of earshot of the others, Chris leaned against the wall with his arms folded as he looked at Vin, his facial expression demanding answers.
The look immediately rankled Vin and he stubbornly remained silent, forcing Chris to sigh deeply and relax his stance somewhat.
Tell me what happened, Vin Chris insisted.
The younger boy shrugged as he leant back against the opposite wall. Don´t know exactly, was the surly response.
Why are you covering for Ezra? Chris demanded. What was he into this time?
Vin´s blue eyes erupted in vivid anger as he glared at Chris. I ain´t covering for Ezra, he retorted. But I ain´t gotta tell you anything either. Ask him yourself.
Chris exhaled and bit back his own anger. He eyed the riled Texan warily.
Vin, Chris began, dropping his tone. You have much more to lose than Ezra. You need to remember that.
I can take care of myself, Chris, Vin replied hotly.
I´m not saying you can´t, Chris placated.
Vin began shaking his head, the anger still visible as he glared at his friend. Pushing himself off the wall and stepping up in front of Chris, he growled. You want to know what happened today? Ask Josiah! Me and Ezra had everything under control until he butted in all spoiling for a fight. You ask him, he finished and began to walk away.
Vin! Chris called down the hallway.
Later! the younger boy replied forcefully as he reached the stairs and began swiftly ascending two steps at a time.
Chris frowned then winced as the scowl aggravated his newly swollen eye. Gingerly he touched the tender flesh. Vin had a good point. Josiah had some explaining to do.
Chris returned to his own room. This had certainly not been one of his better days. When Josiah finally returned to their room he was not surprised to find Chris waiting impatiently for him. I want to know how that fight started and I want to know everything, the blond greeted him.
Deciding that he at least owed Chris an explanation Josiah launched into just that. When Nathan and I found them, Ezra and Vin were talking to the five other boys. I recognized one of them as a boy that Hannah has been seeing.
Chris could plainly hear the scorn in his roommate´s voice and shot him a questioning look, wanting more information on this. He´s not a good kid, Chris. Not someone that I want Hannah dating, but she has her own ideas.
Has he hurt her?
Josiah shook his head in despair. If he has I couldn´t get her to admit it to me. But there are signs. So you can understand that when I saw him there, I wanted to hurt him.
Vin said you were spoiling for a fight, Chris commented wanting to see the other senior´s reaction.
Josiah was not really surprised to learn that Vin had noticed his reaction to Hannah´s friend. The sophomore often saw a lot of things that other people missed. I wasn´t really until the opportunity was there. Look, Chris, I really don´t know what Ezra and Vin had gotten into. All I know is that a bet was involved and Vin was making Ezra pay back some money. He was reluctant, of course, but he did it. The other boys were leaving when I instigated the fight. It never would have happened if I hadn´t pushed for it. Everyone else just got involved because they were there and I guess they felt they had to.
Chris took a moment to consider Josiah´s words. He could understand now why Vin had told him to talk to Josiah instead of blaming things on Ezra. The southerner still had a lot of responsibility for the events that led up to the fight but not for the fight itself. Feeling the unusual sensation of guilt at his treatment of Ezra pricking at him, Chris turned it toward his roommate. So, even knowing that you were responsible for the fight you let Ezra get you off the hook.
I thought he was getting us all off the hook. I didn´t realize until it was too late that he would get in trouble for being off school grounds. My admitting that I started the fight won´t change that now. Josiah could not begin to explain to Chris the amount of remorse he was feeling at the moment. He felt like a coward for not admitting the truth to Dean Parker. He had been feeling miserable the entire time he had spent with the other boys and had considered going back to the dean´s office and confessing. The only thing that stopped him was the knowledge that Parker held enough of a grudge against Ezra that he would probably punish him even more for lying when he told the dean how the others started the fight. Still, an overpowering sense of guilt was pressing down on Josiah and he felt that it would smother him.
He knew Dean Parker had told them that they were to remain on campus for the remainder of the weekend but he hoped that did not mean that he would be kept from going to church in the morning. He had not been going regularly, but now felt the call of its soothing presence. Maybe there he could find some peace or at least some answers for his actions.
Chris could actually see the struggle going on within Josiah. He and his roommate had not really talked in a while, but Chris knew that Josiah was having a very difficult time with his father and sister. Chris wished there was more that he and their friends could do, but knew from his own experience with his father that it was just going to have to be something that Josiah worked out on his own. In the meantime he and the others could just be here for Josiah.
Don´t worry about it too much, Siah. I have a feeling that Ezra always has an escape route planned out. If anyone can wiggle out of a suspension, it´s him.
The other senior managed a weak smile. I certainly hope so.
Yeah, Ezra will get off the hook, Chris repeated drawing Josiah´s gaze over to him. But you will still owe me for this. He pointed to his black eye and the older senior winced. He had almost hoped that Chris had forgotten that he was the one who had given it to him.
Ezra made his way back to his room slowly, hoping to find it empty. It had really been a long day and he felt worn out and he did not want to deal with his six friends right now. After finally being dismissed from Dean Parker´s office he had gone to the library for a little while, just to hide out and have some time alone. But now he was just tired and wanted to go to his room, clean up, and go to bed with the hope of sleeping well into tomorrow afternoon.
He stopped just outside his room as he noticed the light shining from beneath the door. He listened for a few seconds and when he did not hear anything from within decided that it had to mean that only Vin was inside. If any of the others had been with him, he would have been able to hear them. Before he opened the door, Ezra took a moment to evaluate the fact that he did not mind that Vin was there. He decided that it was because Vin, out of all the others, was the one who had no problem with accepting Ezra for just who he was and so was the one least likely to judge him.
When he entered he found Vin sitting at his desk thumbing through his textbook without really reading it. The Texan´s blue eyes scanned his roommate and despite Ezra´s best efforts seemed to read him clearly as relief crossed his face. So you didn´t get suspended.
The southerner´s lips twitched in irritation at the way Vin was able to do that. But he quickly consoled himself by deciding that it had to be because he was so tired and not at his best. No, I did not get suspended, he replied brusquely, walking into the room. He quickly gathered up a change of clothes and his toiletries. Now if you´ll excuse me, I´m going to get cleaned up.
Vin nodded but felt the need to remind Ezra, I´ll be here when you get back.
The other boy froze in the doorway at those words but did not reply as he slipped out and closed the door behind him. Vin smiled to himself before returning to his textbook, having no problem with waiting patiently.
When he returned, Ezra did look a bit more refreshed. He frowned at seeing that Vin was indeed still waiting up for him. As he was putting his things away, Ezra heaved a put upon sigh and demanded, Just what do you want to know?
How´d ya get out of it? Vin smirked as he put up his books to give his roommate his full attention.
Rolling his eyes, Ezra turned down his bed and crawled into it, flopping on his belly and burying his face into his pillow. He allowed himself a moment to enjoy the comfort of his bed before turning on his side and replying, I had help.
From who? Vin asked as he slipped into his own bed and turned out the lights. Ezra always talked better in the dark and Vin had to admit that he was tired as well.
My mother, Ezra answered with a chuckle that grew into a laugh when he heard Vin´s own laughter of disbelief.
Your mom? Really?
Mother can be a most formidable force, as Dean Parker has just had cause to learn. I was not privy to the conversation that she had with our esteemed dean, but he did seem a bit pale and shaken when he called me back into his office. He told me that after discussing matters over with my mother that he had decided to give me one more chance. I don´t think Mother gave him much of an option there. She probably threatened him with a lawsuit for allowing me to be accosted by thugs while attending a school function. He again chuckled with admiration at his mother´s abilities. But the chuckle ended in a sigh before he added with a touch of despair in his drawl, However I will have to spend tomorrow with my mother. She insisted. That means I will know a type of punishment that Dean Parker could never imagine.
Vin smiled in the darkness. Ezra and his mother had such a complicated relationship but his friend did have a respect for her. At least it´s just for the one day. If you had been suspended it would have been for a lot longer.
I knew I could count on you to point out the bright side of this entire fiasco, Ezra´s sarcasm was softened by his own smile hidden in the darkness.
Neither boy said anything for several minutes and Ezra had begun to think that Vin had fallen asleep when the Texan finally spoke. You know, Ezra, you didn´t have to risk taking all the blame for the rest of us.
I think you misunderstood, Ezra corrected quickly. That was not my intent at all.
Vin cut him off before he could continue. You can fool the others, Ez, and I won´t say anything. But I was there. I know that Josiah started that fight on purpose.
The southerner shrugged even though he knew Vin could not see it. I was not trying to take blame upon myself. I merely saw an opportunity to save Josiah from trouble and I took it.
And we rewarded you by telling Dean Parker that you were off school grounds, disappointment in himself filled Vin´s voice.
No, I told Dean Parker that we were off school grounds.
But you didn´t have to! Parker would have punished us all. But you ratted on yourself to save the rest of us. You´re a good friend, Ezra, and I´m real grateful to be able to say that you are my friend.
Silence greeted him for a very long time. I would never have taken the risk, Ezra finally responded, if I had not had a plan to extricate myself from any punishment that Dean Parker might attempt to level against me. So don´t think that I was sacrificing myself to save the rest of you. There was no profit in doing that so I would not have wasted my time or risked the consequences. In fact, in order to save myself I had to make sure that the rest of you were not a hindrance to my plan. Therefore it was really in my best interest to take all the blame.
You know what, Ez? It´s a free country. So you can keep on talking all that bullshit for the rest of the night if ya want. Me, I can keep on believing that you saved the rest of us because that´s what friends do for each other.
Ezra considered Vin´s words for a very long time. The part of him that hated to concede an argument wanted to continue arguing until Vin had to agree with him. But a new part of him, a part he only discovered after becoming friends with these six, very different teenagers, was just too happy to leave things as they were and accept the gratitude of a true friend. So finally, and very quietly, he said, I am sorry that you did not get to finish competing at the track meet, Vin.
Don´t worry about it, Ez. There will be others. The Texan was just glad that Ezra was not arguing with him any further. Maybe he really was making progress in making the hardheaded southerner see that he could truly be himself around him and the others.
Before settling in to sleep, Ezra grinned and mused out loud, I wonder if Dean Parker will allow me to attend the rest of those?
Vin laughed loudly. I really doubt it.
Wanna bet? the other sophomore could not help but tease. Vin´s answer was the throwing of his pillow. He laughed even harder when it was immediately tossed back at him. He placed it under his head and rolled on his side. Tomorrow he and Ezra would talk to the others and settle everything about the days events and then the seven of them would be able to get on with their friendship still as a united whole.
Sunday evening found Chris and Josiah in their dorm room finishing up the school work that they would need for the following Monday. Chris sat at his desk working on a paper while Josiah lay on his bed studying a textbook. And while each boy was concentrating on his own work, they were also grateful for the excuse to not have to talk to the other. They had learned with the others that Ezra had not been suspended and had been extremely grateful. And while they had talked things out the night before and there were no hard feelings between them, it would still take a day or two before their friendship settled back into its regular pattern. That would be true for all seven of them, but none of them had any doubt that they would be just fine.
Their studying was interrupted by harsh, incessant knocking on the door. Josiah looked over to his roommate wondering if he was expecting anyone. Chris shrugged but as Josiah stood to open the door suddenly realized just who it probably was and winced slightly. With everything else that had gone on during the weekend he had forgotten about his speeding ticket.
Hello, Mr. Larabee, Josiah greeted as he opened the door.
Josiah, Clint acknowledged him as he walked into the room. The officer´s eyes immediately locked on his son who sat at his desk, papers spread before him. I´d like to speak to Chris, he said simply though his tone made it clear that he wanted to do so alone.
Okay, Josiah answered with a look of sympathy towards his roommate. When he got no response from Chris, the older teenager walked out of the room and shut the door behind him.
Father and son did not move from their positions as they continued to hold the other´s gaze. Well I was about to ask you if you had any idea about the terrible weekend I´ve just had at work. But I can see from that shiner that you´ve had an interesting weekend yourself.
Chris took in the fact that his father was still in his uniform and said, You must not have gotten your message yet.
The elder Larabee walked closer to his son and sat down on the end of his bed. What else did you boys get into this weekend that I´d have to be told about?
We got into a fight at Vin´s track meet.
Who started it?
I wasn´t there when it started, Chris answered truthfully.
Josiah, Nathan, Vin, and Ezra.
Shaking his head, Clint said, I knew that boy had to be part of it.
Chris knew immediately what boy his father was talking about. I´m not saying that Ezra doesn´t have his share of the blame, but I can honestly say that he didn´t really start it.
Again Clint regarded his son. So who did?
Does it matter? Chris snapped out a bit defensively.
No, I guess it doesn´t. As Chris´ father, Clint wanted to know the whole truth and had to restrain himself from pushing for it, because as a man he could appreciate the loyalty that bound Chris and his six friends. How much trouble are you and the others in then?
Chris chuckled. You know how Ezra can drive us crazy with his constant yammering? Well for once it came in handy. He just kept on talking until Dean Parker didn´t have any more cause to punish us. So we got off with having our parents called and having to stay on campus this weekend.
Clint shook his head, allowing a bit of amazement to fill his green eyes. Good to know that he´s good for something. But tell me, did you at least give as good as you got in the fight? Clint could not help it. It was a matter of pride, so while he would preach against the use of violence in any form, he still had to know that Chris and the others had won the fight.
His son took a moment to answer and Clint began to feel a growing sense of concern what his answer would be. I got there a little late, but the others were holding their own. He actually laughed as he added, And I got this, he pointed to his black eye, from Josiah.
Confusion covered Clint´s face until he, too, started to laugh. Josiah?
Yeah. Like I said, I walked into it a little late and was trying to break it up. I got a little too close to Josiah in battle mode.
Clint continued laughing for several moments at the image of the larger senior punching his surprised roommate. That almost makes up for my being teased by a rookie deputy all weekend about how he could have given my son a speeding ticket.
Chris dropped his head. I knew he was gonna be a jerk about that. Sorry about that, Dad.
His father looked him over and found his anger for what Chris had done draining away from him now that he could see genuine remorse in his eyes. Don´t worry. Me and the boys will see to it that he gets the worst assignments for the next month or so. Can´t let him get too big of a head. But, Chris, you know this doesn´t let you off the hook.
I know, Dad. It´s not an excuse, but I was running late because of Ezra and he was just irritating the hell out of me.
No, that´s not an excuse, Clint agreed soberly. But I can understand. Inspiration flashed for the cop as a twinkle touched his eyes. In fact, you just gave me an idea about how else you´re going to make this up to me.
Suspiciously Chris searched his father´s face but Clint stood up and headed for the door. I´ll let you get back to your studies while I work out the details.
Details for what? Chris asked, standing from the desk, a touch of concern on his face.
Clint grinned. Oh you´ll find out soon enough. He opened the door, but paused before walking out. He grabbed something from the shelf next to him and said, In the meantime, here´s a hint, and tossed an object at his son.
Chris caught it easily and stared at the baseball in his hand. Confusion and wonder warred on his features as he looked back up to his father, but Clint was already gone, his laughter echoing down the hallway. Heaving a sigh, Chris sat back down at his desk and mumbled, I´ve got a really bad feeling about this.
Continues in Making the Team
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