Disclaimer:This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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The mad Christmas countdown was in full swing. It seemed everyone was talking about what they wanted, what their plans were for the holidays, a myriad of things that Will felt detached from. It all seemed suddenly pointless to him as he sat in Mister Taylor's math class watching the man try to explain quadratic equations for the hundredth time.
It just would not sink in, no matter what way Will looked at the damn problem his mind wandered away from it. He kept drifting back to the sudden burst of passion on the banks of the canal, and the heat on his cheeks threatened to give him away. He shifted in his chair and tried to get back to work.
Lisa, sitting in the next row over from him smirked into her textbook. She was just itching to find out what had happened on the date but so far he had managed to elude her not so subtle attempt to pry information out of him with a crowbar. When Jared had joined them as usual for breakfast, Will had been spared.
"Mister Carter, are you paying attention?" Mister Taylor asked from across the room, "because you have an exam at the end of this week."
Will winced; he hadn't forgotten about the end of semester exam, it was going to sink him neatly. He wasn't ready for it, and the results of the mess of tests over the last few months showed a decided decline in his mathematical ability. Mister Taylor assumed it was because Will wasn't paying attention, but for Will the equations made little to no sense.
Taylor was one of those bitter, balding math teachers who seemed to resent anyone questioning his assessment of the facts. He was relentlessly insistent that there was only one-way to look at the world: that it all boiled down to a series of equations. To Will that was abhorrent. He was not a series of calculations on a black board he was a human being. He wasn't another statistic was he?
English immigrant aged 16, a slight aversion to mathematics, added to Canadian farm boy aged 17, slightly jockish in nature equalled... he snorted with laughter.
"Mister Carter, would you care to share what you find so funny about a quadratic equations?" Mister Taylor was growing annoyed with him.
Will grinned at him, "I was just contemplating how useful these equations will be in my future endeavours."
"Really Mister Carter?" Taylor seemed cautiously impressed, "you see a practical application of this formula? Would you care to share it?"
Will nodded trying desperately not to look like he was simply making stuff up off the top of his head. "Well sir, a practical application would be any type of engineering requiring a variable factor to be applied..."
"I see your point Mister Carter, you may sit down."
Will crumpled into his seat as Lisa leaned over to him, "Will, you're so full of it."
Will shrugged, "Quick thinking, came from being raised by a military dictator."
Once they were released from class Lisa was already up with him, juggling her books to keep up with his rapid pace. She knew he was holding out on her, and she was determined to get all the juicy details she could.
"So?" she pressed a bit too loudly as a couple of students cast aggravated stares back at her which softened when they realized it was one of the popular girls. Lisa was now a full time member of Charlene's inner circle. A diamond surrounded by rhinestones in Will's opinion, though he never vocalized that thought.
He stopped and looked at her, reaching out to embrace her warmly. That shocked her; Will had never voluntarily hugged her before. He went out of his way to avoid physical contact. Her mother, the first one to notice this odd behaviour, had reasoned to her that Will was just unused to physical affection. To have him suddenly squeezing her was a surprise.
He stepped back and shrugged, brushing off the creases in his smart blue short-sleeved shirt, as he turned to continue his way to the cafeteria. She stood there dumbfounded a second, then realizing exactly what he had done, jogged after him.
"That was so unfair!" she said accusingly, "You thought that if you hugged me I'd forget all about your..." she caught herself before she yelled out "date" across a busy school corridor.
Will sighed, "It was a good plan too," he stuck his hands into his pockets, a gesture Lisa recognized as one of Andrew's trademarks, and she smiled.
"Did it go well?" She whispered.
Will gave up trying to avoid it, "Okay, let me get my lunch and I'll tell you all about it..."
"Yes!" she said enthusiastically, perhaps too much so for Will's liking, as she scampered off, no doubt to get her own lunch. Will watched her go, wondering why his life was so interesting. There really wasn't that much to tell about the date.
He walked back across the cafeteria and got into the line, picking up a tray and rubbing a tired hand over his face. He lowered the hand when he realized someone was staring at him in front of him. He looked up at her.
Jennifer was looking at him with a look of unrepentant hate. He hadn't realized it was her until it was too late, and she must have thought he had slipped in behind her deliberately. She turned her head, causing her tightly-braided blonde hair to whip around as she turned her back on him, her body language stiffening as she kept her back to him.
He felt his own anger rising. Here was the girl who had turned his entire life upside down. The stares and whispers he still got in the halls was her doing. The hostility that Todd Gadreau and some of the other Condor's showed him on a daily basis because of her... And she had the audacity to treat him like that?
He stopped cold, realizing that Andrew was standing off to the side of the cafeteria having a conversation with some of his friends looking relaxed, confidently in control. He looked up and flashed Will a smile that was warm and expectant. And suddenly Jennifer wasn't important. He flushed and turned back to the line...
Jennifer was watching him as she collected her plate of food, her eyes narrowing again as she looked up towards where Andrew was standing, but there was no recognition in her eyes. Blessedly Will was spared any more of her cold looks, as it was his turn to select from the limited school menu.
He ordered a rather unappetizing-looking salad, and made his way across to one of the tables that sat beneath the tall windows that looked over the woods behind the school. It looked so cold and desolate, but he liked the view and it gave him a chance to think...
The tray flew first, the plate shattering as it hit the edge of a table, and moments later he crashed to the floor hard enough to see stars.
Andrew had turned just in time to see Will passing a group of his Condors sitting around their own table. He seemed completely oblivious to them, easy prey. Todd was never one to pass up a chance to humiliate anyone he disliked; his foot had caught Will's legs sending the young man flying.
Andrew crossed the floor in a flash, already down beside Will checking to make sure he was all right. Todd was still laughing, his `boys' around him laughing as well. A quick check showed him that Will was ok, just a bit disorientated, and he was on his feet again.
"Do that to him again..." Andrew's voice was laced with menace.
Todd stopped laughing and stared at the team captain in shock. His jaw working emptily as he frowned in concern. He wasn't apologetic about what he had done, but sorry that he had upset Andrew. That was how a team worked, especially in that school. "It was only a joke man..."
Jared was down now, checking on Will, helping him to his feet. Will still seemed to have no idea what had happened, and was trying to brush a large stain of Caesar salad dressing off of his shirt.
"I don't care," Andrew said, his eyes cold blue, an edge about him that said he would drop Todd if he so much as questioned that determination again.
Todd muttered under his breath as he pushed past Andrew, his other players hesitating as if torn between following him or staying, but Andrew flashed them a disgusted look and they scattered.
"Well at least I know I bounce..." Will said as he shook his head to clear it.
Andrew stared at him in concern, "You hit your head pretty hard, are you sure you're ok?"
Will snorted, "My dad used to..." he stopped as he realized what he was saying and he fell awkwardly silent. Jared and Andrew exchanged looks. Will shrugged, "I've had worse," he summarized, "I'll be fine."
Lisa joined them, she was wielding a couple of mugs of coffee liberated from the deserted teachers lounge, but she looked suddenly concerned at Will's new war wound. "Is he ok?" she demanded of Jared.
"I'm fine," Will said as he collapsed into the chair he had been heading for, surrounded by what had once been his salad. He held up a wilted leaf of romaine lettuce that had landed on the tabletop and he shook his head.
"Todd Gadreau tripped him." Jared said as he pushed his hat back from his eyes and rubbed his forehead, "I'm gonna kill the bastard..."
Andrew's arms were folded as he spoke, "I'll deal with Todd, you guys just take care of Will." And he turned to set off after Gadreau.
People ducked out of his way; it was as if they knew he was angry and tried to give him as much space as they could. He rarely got angry, there was no point, and he could let most things slide and just move on. But there were limits to that, and hurting Will was... it was just wrong.
Will shook his head to clear the ringing sound in his ears. It wasn't so much ringing as a loud buzzing. It would pass; he knew it wasn't anything serious. He'd had worse and survived it just fine. And he sipped the coffee gratefully.
"I'm gonna go after Andrew," Jared said, looking to Lisa for confirmation before he ran off after the furious team captain.
Once they were alone Lisa gave him a serious look, "You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," Will reassured her, giving her one of his patented `don't worry' smiles.
She wasn't buying it, she pulled up a chair and placed a hand on his knee, "That Gadreau, I hope Andrew..." she stopped realizing that Will wasn't listening, he was staring in concern at the doors Andrew and Jared had rushed through. She sighed, "They'll be ok."
"Yeah," Will said as he blew out a frustrated breath, "Just wish they didn't have to..."
"Yeah," Lisa agreed, "I thought we lived in Canada, land of tolerance..."
Will chuckled "I didn't mean that, I was talking about the having-to-be-rescued thing." He scrubbed, "I'm not some damsel in distress that bold knights have to defend..." he shook his head, "Fuck this is so messed up..."
She gave him a look of sympathy, wrapping her hands around her coffee cup, and smelling the noxious brew that imitated the black gold. She sighed, "They're being guys, they do shit like this... You should see Brody go when someone upsets me."
Will looked down at the stain on his new shirt and he scrubbed it again futilely, "That's my point, I'm not exactly a girl." He set his jaw resolutely; he was not going to be treated like an invalid or a woman. He had fought his own battles just fine up until that point. He had played cricket, sworn and fought other boys. His father had taught him how to fight, how to be punched and get back up again. He wasn't about to be turned into some china doll by the likes of Todd Gadreau.
"You've got that look in your eye," Lisa warned, "I think you should just let the guys handle it..." She winced at the look he shot her when she said it and she held up her hands in surrender, "I only meant..."
He slumped into his chair, "Yeah I know what you meant, and look, let's just change the subject..."
"How was the date?" she asked excitedly, "Did you have fun?"
Will shook his head, she was relentless, "Yeah, we went for Lebanese food, did a lot of talking and then we went for a walk along the canal and we kissed." Will stared at the stubborn stain as he talked, wondering if he had time to run home and change.
"He kissed you...and?" Lisa was leaning forward, a hungry look in her eyes.
Will blinked, "Why this sudden interest in my love life?"
She rolled her eyes, "What happened?"
Will smiled, "He kissed me and then I kissed him. We decided to relax; we were both getting a bit...intense and neither of us...well you know: body wants one thing, brain wants something else..."
"Yeah." She said leaning forward a bit more, "And?"
"And we walked back to the car and he drove me home." Will shrugged, "It's not like I was going to strip down right there in the middle of downtown Ottawa..."
"Yeah," she said glumly falling back into her seat, "That might have been exciting..."
He gave her a `well you asked' kind of shrug, "Sorry I'm not more interesting."
"Oh it's okay, I forgave you for that months ago," she drained her mug of coffee, "You think Andrew will win?"
Todd staggered back a few paces, blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth. He came up in a tight boxing stance, hands curled at the elbows close to his face. He looked fearful as Andrew loomed over him.
Andrew in comparison relaxed his shoulders, hands hanging down at his sides as he waited for Todd to come at him again, "You want to try that swing again?" he asked, his voice sounding almost hopeful that Todd would.
Jared jumped between them, the flats of his hands pushing the two of them back, "Come on guys, you don't need to do this..."
Andrew took a step back, brushing his hair back out of his eyes, "Touch Carter again Todd, and I won't wait for you to take a swing at me before I drop you."
Todd lowered his arms and wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, "Why the hell are you protecting him Highmore? What's he to you?"
Andrew hesitated a moment and shrugged, "He's a friend of mine. And like Jared here, I protect my friends."
"What's going on here?" Coach Thorburn burst into the hallway, pushing his way through the ring of people trying to get to the fight. Kids scattered, leaving just the three teammates standing there staring each other down.
Todd stood upright and shook his head, "Nothing Coach, everything's cool."
Thorburn eyed him suspiciously as he turned to Andrew, "That true Highmore?"
"Yes sir," Andrew said, "everything's been sorted out."
Thorburn gave them a look that said he knew better, but he couldn't argue as he had seen nothing. He snorted angrily and turned to leave, calling back over his shoulder, "Make sure whatever this is, it's sorted out before the next game." And with that he was gone.
Andrew gave Todd one final cold stare before he stalked off, Jared in tow, heading for the gym. He needed to blow off some steam and there would be a basketball scrimmage going on.
Todd watched him leave, rubbing his jaw, a weighing look in his eyes as he stared at the Condors Captain's back, "Alright so that's the way we play..." he murmured.