by: Chad D. Christy
“Mr. Carver,” the balding fat man said, his too-small eyes peering out from behind rimless glasses.
Mr. Carver—Mr. Bradley Carver, more accurately—sat in a poorly padded chair opposite his newest adversary; his school principal. Brad knew how the scolding would play out, as he’d already heard it three times this school year. He’d beat on another bully and he was about to get “the talk.”
Violence isn’t the answer.
Need to be more civilized.
Grow into your maturity.
Learn how to discuss your problems.
Bring your trouble to an authority figure.
The system is here to help you.
Folded open on top of the principal’s desk was a manila folder, the contents of which Brad assumed was his all-powerful, ever-mysterious permanent record. He was wrong. As archaic as the fat man seemed to be with his ink pens and tweed jackets, the principal made it a point to maintain proficiency in almost every technological advancement presented to the public. Especially the ones that drove many adults to panic.
No, the folder held some take-out menus and a couple letters printed out on the school’s letterhead, placed there just for show. The principal understood the value of proper theatrics.
“Mr. Carver,” the principal said.
Brad wished to remain silent, but the repetition of his name moved his to reply, “Yes, Mr. Davenport?”
“Mr. Carver, I think this is beginning to become a habit between us.”
“Yes, sir,” Brad agreed passively. Then he waited as his principal pretended to study the documents before him.
“I suppose” Mr. Davenport said, “I ought to allow you the opportunity to explain the occurrence from your unique perspective.”
It was not a question, nor a request, so Brad sat quietly. His patience was rewarded when the fat man continued.
“But allow me, Mr. Carver, to attempt to predict the story.” Mr. Davenport closed the folder and leaned back in his leather chair, which creaked softly at the shifted weight. He folded his hands across his rotund midsection and exhaled dramatically through his nose. “You were having lunch by yourself, minding your own business, reading—what is it this week?”
“Stranger in a Strange Land,” Brad answered.
“Rubbish, Mr. Carver. So, as you are wasting your time on such frivolities, you just happen to notice young Mr. Vargas having a conversation with Mr. Slaughter. In your approximation, Mr. Slaughter was picking on Mr. Vargas and you decided to take matters into your own hands. So far so good?”
With no reason to argue, Brad said, “It is as you say.”
“Very good. When you walk over, Mr. Vargas tells you that all is well, and that he and Mr. Slaughter were merely having a discussion.”
“Yeah, but Lenny—” Brad attempted to interject, to highlight the fact that Lenny Vargas was crying openly, clearly distraught. He further wanted to explain how he had seen Lenny passing over what was most assuredly his lunch money. Slaughter, as the bully was simply known, had shaken down enough kids for Brad to know what it looked like.
“You continued to press into the private affair and when Mr. Slaughter asked you to remove yourself from their exchange, you became violent, striking Mr. Slaughter repeatedly with a closed fist.”
Brad wondered how to make an open fist.
“And now here you are again. Do you remember what I told you last time, Mr. Carver?”
“Respectfully, sir, you said a lot of things last time.” Brad said the words as he’d prefaced.
“Do you think I am joking with you?” Mr. Davenport roared, suddenly sitting forward, slamming his palms down on his desk. “Do you not understand the severity of this situation?”
Brad kept his tongue.
“I have parents knocking down my door, literally begging me to expel you. We have a zero tolerance stance on both violence and bullying and yet you still sully my hallways with your barbarism. Help me to understand why I haven’t filed to have you removed from the public rosters.”
Mr. Davenport went on lecturing for some time, occasionally requesting input from Brad, then yelling at him for his lack of respect when he attempted to respond. For the most part, Brad kept quiet, but he allowed himself to be baited more than he liked. Brad knew that like most adults, his principal didn’t actually want answers to his questions. He certainly didn’t want them when the answers contradicted the paradigm already constructed.
Brad was eventually given the change to tell his story. Slaughter threatened Lenny. Lenny gave up his money. Brad beat on Slaughter, gave the money back. Lenny’s sworn statement contradicted him, though, and since Brad’s argument hinged on Lenny’s victimhood, he had only admitted to assaulting another classmate. In the end, it was Brad’s honesty and integrity that served up the means for his expulsion. Mr. Davenport had other options to rid himself of the troublemaker, but letting Brad admit to his crimes was much simpler.
“Effective immediately,” Brad heard as he stepped into the hallway, staring down at the pale, beige tiles on the floor. His father would have already received notification, and he knew there’d be a message for him as soon as he stepped out of the campus dampening field. What would he say? How could he explain it? He had only done the right thing time and again, and this was his reward? Repeat the whole year at another school? No friends to hang out with. No friends to rely on.
Brad wiped a wet eye and noticed a sheepish figure coming toward him from a side hall.
“I’m really sorry,” the boy said. He was naturally small-framed and the way he hunched in on himself, eyes downcast, only exaggerated his frailty.
“Lenny,” Brad said, “it doesn’t matter.”
“It does,” the younger boy argued, red-rimmed eyes peeking out from underneath a yellow and green baseball cap. “I was scared.”
Brad put a hand on his shoulder and kept walking. “I know. Davenport would have found a way to boot me anyway.”
“Fatty Pork,” Lenny said, naming the student body’s nickname for the porcine administrator.
“What’ll I do?” Lenny asked. “I can’t deal with him every day.”
Brad knew that no one else in the school would look after Lenny. Or any of the other bullied kids, for that matter. The grown-ups might mean well, but they just wanted a quiet place to go to work. They wanted to dust these little infractions away and file them as resolved, all the while the victims drifted through these halls in a state of terror.
Brad stopped, gripping Lenny firmly.
“You’ll do what I did,” he said.
“Get myself thrown out?”
Brad smirked and shook his head.
“No, you’ll fight.”
“No.” Lenny looked horrified.
“Listen, when they tell you that violence doesn’t solve problems, they’re wrong. Their whole world teems with violence. Do you ever watch the news? Ever read a history book? There is one thing in this world that solves problems, and that’s violence.” Brad knew his idea was hard to accept, especially to someone as civilized and demure as Lenny. “Every rule ever made, every law ever written is only effective because violence sits behind it, slobbering and snarling, just waiting to be set loose.”
Lenny looked unconvinced, and said so. “They didn’t beat you up, they just kicked you out.”
“What if I show up tomorrow?” Brad asked.
“They’ll tell you to leave.”
“What if I don’t?”
“You’ll have to.”
“Cause you’ll get in trouble.”
“With whom? They can’t expel me again.”
“They’ll call the police.”
“Well, you’ll probably get thrown in jail!”
“Are you expecting me to go of my own free will?”
Lenny’s eyes lit up with sudden clarity. “They’d have to drag you away.”
Brad nodded. “It doesn’t matter how many layers of fluff you pack on top, every time someone tells you to do something, they’re punching you in the face. Guys like Slaughter understand that all that fluff makes it hard for people to see the truth, and they use it to push you around in a way that’s safe for them. Show them that you can see through it and he’ll leave you alone. You aren’t a safe target anymore.”
Lenny lowered his eyes. “But I can’t. How can I hurt him?”
“With bullies, it isn’t about pain, it’s about fear. Either you’re afraid of resisting them, or you make them afraid by resisting them. Simple as that. Listen,” Brad continued, “you don’t have to believe me now. Just start paying attention. Start walking down the halls picking out who’s gonna get bullied, then ask yourself why. You’re smart. You’ll figure it out. You’ll be fine, Lenny.”
“Yeah?” Lenny’s eyes were big and wet.
The bell rang through hall, signaling the end of the day. Before anything more could be said, the two boys were enveloped by the surging stampede of kids racing for the weekend. The cheerful whoops were a dirge for Brad and a sense of frustration rose close to the surface, threatening his appearance of stalwart resolve. Brad punched Lenny lightly on the shoulder and turned into the jostling crowd, letting it drag him along.
Sunlight kissed his face as he hit the sidewalk, but he couldn’t allow himself to enjoy the sensation. His mind was already drifting forward to the inevitable conversation with his father. He was in for it, and he knew it. Brad could see the disappointed countenance. No, it would be righteous anger. And the lecture would dwarf any that Mr. Davenport had ever given. He’d certainly heard enough of them; he considered himself the local authority.
“Why’d you do it?”
Brad turned to see a very pretty blonde girl walking up to him. He kept moving, not particularly interested in the conversation. The girl, well, of course he was interested in the girl. Everyone was interested in her. Maggie Hollister was—Brad couldn’t say for sure what she was, but he knew that his insides turned to jelly just being close to her. She was the type of girl who was way too pretty to be as nice as she was. She was unattainable, he knew for certain, especially since he’d probably never see her again.
“Brad,” she called, hurrying up to him as he turned to keep walking. “Brad, wait!”
He paused long enough for her to catch up, then continued walking.
“Why’d you do it?” she repeated.
“Do what?” His aggravation slipped into his voice.
“They’re saying you put Slaughter in a coma.”
“Over Lenny Vargas?”
“Yeah. What about him?”
Brad glanced over at her, but had to turn away immediately, afraid he’d get stuck in her green eyes and she’d read his mind.
“He needed help,” he finally answered.
“I know it’s common practice to keep your head down when there’s a problem that ain’t yours, but you can’t just let the wolves have free reign.”
“He’s in a coma!” Maggie cried.
“He’s not. He’s fine,” Brad told her. “I maybe broke his nose a little.”
“Is that his blood on your shirt?”
Brad looked down at the spatter. He nodded.
“What’d he say?”
“What’d who say?”
“He swore a lot.”
“Not as much.”
“What’d he do after you hit him?”
Brad smiled at the picture in his head. “He looked scared.”
“With good reason. Where’d you learn to fight?”
Brad did look at her then, genuinely confused by the question.
“I mean,” she continued, “you aren’t the jock type. You’re kind of a geek yourself.”
“So I should just let Slaughter and every other jerk with an ego problem beat up anyone they want? The teachers don’t do anything about it, so I have to stand by and let it happen?”
“No, that’s not it.” She suddenly looked unsure of herself. “I just meant, he’s so much bigger than you.”
“That’s how I’ve been able to stick around as long as I have. Luck’s run out.”
“Fatty Pork’s an idiot.”
“You’re not surprised?”
Maggie shook her head. “How many fights now? You didn’t leave him much choice. He’s an idiot, but he kind of had to.”
They walked quietly for a minute before Maggie said, “Well, I guess I should get home.”
Brad nodded. “Yeah, me too. Dad’s probably gonna ship me off to the military.”
“You’re gonna get in trouble?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“I mean, if you’re already in trouble and all. If you wanted to, you know, it would probably be all right if you wanted to take me home. That is, you don’t have to, I just thought it would be nice to talk some more.”
Brad glanced at the time. “I’ve got a couple hours before Dad gets home, and Mom’s at work tonight, so…” He looked at Maggie and noticed she was watching him closely. “Is this just because I got kicked out of school?”
“Maybe,” she smiled.
“I’m not a bad guy,” he told her.
“No, you’re not. That’s not why I like you.” She slapped a hand over her mouth and her cheeks flushed bright red. “I mean, I don’t, like, you know, like you like you. Just, oh my God, that’s not…”
Brad smiled widely, unable to help it.
“I like you, too,” he admitted, his own face growing warmer.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“You’ve got your friends, I’ve got mine. Plus, you seemed so quiet.”
“I am quiet.”
“You beat up bullies!”
“Not because I like to.”
Maggie smiled. “Yes, you do. But that’s not the only reason why you do it. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Brad nodded. “Yeah.”
“You can’t let those other kids get picked on like you used to.”
“I just want to show them how to stand up for themselves. How to keep themselves safe. It’s a tough lesson to learn by yourself.”
“That’s why I like you.”
Maggie leaned toward him, intending to kiss Brad on the cheek, but he turned his face to respond to her statement and she connected his moving mouth.
Both of them laughed, a little embarrassed and a little exhilarated.
Brad thought over his whole day. While his Dad might send him to a private academy on the moon, he couldn’t be too worried about it. All in all, it had been a pretty good day.
Copyright © 2014 Chad D. Christy
All rights reserved.