W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement

(2nd edition)

Chapter Twenty-Two - The Last Screw

by Jeff Wilson

It felt so right to wake up next to Brett on Sunday morning. It was a little awkward finding the best way to sleep with each other since he had the cast on his leg. Brett was used to it, but I wasn't. A couple of times I ended up with a cast to the shin, but it was worth the pain to have Brett next to me for the night.

I woke up first and managed to pull myself away from him without waking him so I could go to the bathroom. I slipped on a pair of boxer shorts and quietly crept out the door and across the hall. When I emerged from the bathroom, I found mom was already up and moving about in the kitchen. I joined her.

"You been to bed yet?" I asked.

"No, I'm just getting in," mom replied.

"Going to church this morning?"

"No," mom replied. "I think I'll stay home today. Maybe I'll catch Joel Osteen later."

"Yeah, so about last night..."

"Yes, what about last night? Did you have fun?"

"You could say that."

Mom began to laugh. "So I hear."

"What did you hear?" I asked.

"Oh, just that I may need to make myself available for a meeting with your principal on Monday."

"Wow! They already told you?"

"No, I heard from Emily's mom."

"Listen, it was a spur of the moment thing and..."

"Billy, it's your life. You're eighteen now. If you want to make a stand for what you think is right then that's your business."

"Okay," I said. "There's something else I need to tell you too."

"Are you going to tell me that Brett slept over last night and that he's in your room right now?"

"I was going to," I said. "Guess there's no point in telling you now."

"David let me know. And to think you told me you weren't going to have sex last night!"

"You're taking this better than I thought," I said.

"Billy, this hasn't been an easy year for either of us. Your father meant the world to me. I miss him every day. I still remember the thrill of going out with him when my parents didn't approve. I remember the challenges from this town. But I also remember that there was absolutely nothing that anyone could have done to make me love your father any less, and the more people tried to split us up the more determined I was to prove them wrong. I think you've got a little bit of that stubbornness from me. Now, I don't entirely understand how everything worked out, but I do know that I love you too much to let this get in the way. I also respect the fact that you're eighteen and you're going to do what you want whether I like it or not."

"So you don't mind that Brett slept over last night?"

"Am I happy that you boys had sex? Not really. Will that ever change? Probably not but it's none of my business. I can't ever see myself marching in the streets for gay rights, but I know I would fight for you. And if that means I have to fight for you to be treated with love and respect then that's what I'll do. And David feels the same way. We just want to support you. I'm tired of fighting. I want the war between us to be over. And Brett, you can quit hiding in that hallway because I know you're there."

Brett sheepishly emerged from the shadows of the hallway wearing a pair of boxers and one of my t-shirts.

"So how much of our little conversation did you hear?" mom asked.

"Enough," Brett replied.

"Brett, I owe you an apology..."

"No you don't," Brett replied. "Yes, I do," mom insisted. "I've treated you horribly, Brett, and I'm truly sorry. In my zeal for God, I forgot his greatest commandment is to treat others the way we'd like to be treated. I certainly didn't do that with you. I did what I thought was right. But now I know it was wrong. I know you love my son and I know he loves you. But I think you need to know something about me. I've always thought of you like a second son, Brett. I've always loved you and I've missed having you in my home. I think you're a good boy. What I did was wrong. I listened to the wrong people and I came up with the wrong answers. I should have been your biggest supporter. Instead, I became your enemy. I'm sorry."

Brett wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "That means a lot to me. You might not have known, but I was conscious when you rode with me in the ambulance. I don't remember everything, but I remember you holding my hand and telling me I was going to be okay. I remember you telling me you love me."

"I do love you. I've watched you grow from a wild, out-of-control little monster into a very kind, thoughtful, and wonderful young man. You're a good person. I would be proud to have you as my own son."

"How about son-in-law?" Brett asked.

Mom smiled. "You never give up, do you? Yes, I'd even be proud to have you as my son-in-law. And I have no doubt that the two of you will fight with everything you've got to make that happen."

"We will," Brett said. "When Mr. Roberts took me and Billy camping, I told him that I thought of him like my own father. He said things to me that no one else ever did. He said I was a good boy. No one, not even my own mother, ever said that about me. It took me a while to believe what he said was true. Everyone always wrote me off as trouble. I always felt like you thought that way about me too, like you thought I was a bad kid corrupting your son, turning him gay. And so, to hear you say what you said today, that you think I'm a good person... That you think of me like your own son..." Brett couldn't continue, he started crying.

I was going to go to him to comfort him, but mom got there first. She embraced Brett and he just started sobbing, and then mom started crying as well, which made me cry too! Mom waved me over and we ended up in a three-way hug and cryfest, and I think we needed it. God, it felt like we'd been fighting for so long! We needed a moment to get it all out. After we got our emotions in check, we let each other go. Then mom put her hands on Brett's very slightly asymmetrical shoulders and looked him in the eye.

"You are a good boy, Brett Reilly. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise."

"Okay," Brett sobbed.

"And Billy..."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"Put some pants on for heaven's sake. There's no need to go walking around the house half-naked. That goes for you too Mr. Reilly."

"Sure, okay mom," I replied. My mother the Puritan...

It just felt right to have Brett stay with me at my house that Sunday afternoon. It was like something that had been wrong for too long had been made right. We didn't do much. We just watched tv and had lunch – a typical, uneventful day. And it was perfect. Brett didn't want to go home when the day ended, and I knew the time was coming when we would have a place we would both be able to call home.

Mom drove us to Brett's house where Amanda had left his car the night before. Brett gave me the keys to his car and asked me to pick him up in the morning for school. On the way home, I stopped by Dustin's house to see how things had gone after the prom.

"Everything went great," Dustin said as we sat in his living room. "After you and Brett went off to have sex my sister and Emily hung out here for a while and Amanda left this morning. After I got over the shock of it all, I actually enjoyed having my sister around. It wasn't all bad back in the day, you know."

"I know. She always scared me, but I know she always loved you even if she had some funny ways of showing it. So, did you call Kenny after she left?"

Dustin blushed. "Let's just say that if you'd come over here earlier I wouldn't have been available to answer the door."

I laughed. "Wow, did you guys have fun?"

"Oh yeah. He'll be walking funny for a while. A college guy is actually pretty young compared to what I used to deal with. He's nice, which is amazing considering his family. Totally in the closet, of course."

"You fucked him? Jesus, you just met!"

"Come on, it's just sex, Billy. It was fun. He enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. Not everybody is as weird about sex as you are."

"I don't think being faithful to one person is weird, Dustin. I think that's how it's supposed to be. It's how we grow closer together. I've never felt closer to Brett than I do now. I think if you just found someone..."

"Oh please! Why do you always have to throw your perfect sex life in my face?"

"I wasn't!"

"Yes you were! You always do! Let me tell you how the rest of the story goes. You have this perfect little relationship with the one guy who `completes you.' `Oh Dustin, Brett is so perfect and his perfect dick feels so good in my ass!'"

"I have never said that to you! I wouldn't!"

"I've got news for you, Billy. I've had plenty of dicks in my ass! And then I had a goddamn broomstick shoved up my ass! You know what that did to me? You think I would ever want anyone to put their dick, or anything else, in my ass again? You've never sat on a toilet and dumped a gallon of blood out of your ass! You've never had someone who's supposed to love you try to rip your guts out! You've never been raped! You've got this perfect little life with your perfect little boyfriend and all you do is bitch about everything! I'm so sick of you! I don't need your fucking advice on love or sex, and I don't need you fucking judging me because of how I choose to use my cock! Just shut your fucking mouth and leave me the fuck alone!"

I sat there for a moment, unsure of what to say or do. What I really wanted to do was stand up in his face and tell him to fuck off. But I knew that wouldn't solve anything. I just started counting in my head, hoping that by the time I got to ten I wouldn't want to punch my best friend in the face.

"Well? Don't you have something to say?" Dustin asked. I was only at six. I kept counting. Seven... Eight... Nine... Ten...

"I'm sorry my stupid life offends you," I said. "I never meant to hurt your feelings. I'm just going to leave."

"Yeah. That's a good idea," Dustin said. "You should go."

"I'm not mad at you. I just think you need some time to..."

"Why are you still talking and not leaving?" Dustin interrupted. "Just go!"

"Fine," I said. So I left. I didn't understand what his problem was, but I thought it best to get out of his way before he really got mad.

The next morning at school no one was surprised to hear an announcement during homeroom for William Roberts and Brett Reilly to report to the principal's office.

"Time to go get yelled at," Brett said cheerfully as we walked down the hall. He was almost to the point that he didn't even need the crutches, but he still used them.

"Maybe not?" I said hopefully. "Maybe it's just a warning."

We walked into the office and were led to the conference room, where not only were both of our moms waiting, but also the principal, the superintendent, Mr. Taylor, and Jack McKenzie.

"I don't think this is just for a warning," I whispered to Brett.

The principal invited us to sit with our mothers. My mom looked about as calm as I'd ever seen her. Dr. Reilly just looked pissed off.

"You boys know why you're here of course," the principal said.

"No, I don't know why we're here actually. We didn't do anything wrong. Your rule is full of shit," Brett said.

"Brett this is no time for you to be a smart ass," Dr. Reilly warned him.

"Shut up, mom," Brett replied. "You guys wrote a dumbass rule and we didn't even break it. We attended the prom separately just like your rule said. You didn't say anything about dancing with someone of the same sex."

Mr. Taylor spoke up. "The intent of the rule was very clear!"

"The intent of the rule was to get my son out of the way so that your daughter could be valedictorian," mom replied. My jaw dropped. "Frankly, my son has been grossly mistreated by this school for entirely too long. You've ignored many sections of his IEP, allowed him to be abused by other students and even some teachers in this school, and you've completely mismanaged his Asperger's condition."

"You have Asperger's?" Brett asked.

"Uhh... Surprise?" I replied.

"Mrs. Roberts, if you have had complaints about the treatment of your son there has been plenty of time to..." Mr. Taylor sputtered, but mom wasn't hearing of it.

"Cut the crap, John," mom replied. "I only bring all of that up to show you that you're not the only one who knows how the game is played. If you try to use this pathetic excuse for a rule, which by the way is completely unconstitutional and violates my son's civil rights, then you better be ready for all the skeletons to come out of the closet. I haven't even scratched the surface of the charges I could bring against this school district."

The superintendent spoke up. "Jack, you're the solicitor of the school board. We could use your counsel now. Is the rule legal?"

"You could have used my counsel before you posted that nonsense," Jack replied. "The first time I even heard about it was when my son told me about it."

"Which son?" Mr. Taylor snapped. "The one you claim or this one?"

"Now wait just a minute!" Dr. Reilly exclaimed.

"I won't be preached to by someone whose moral judgment is so warped that he would have an affair with his wife's best friend and hide his lovechild for eighteen years!" Mr. Taylor shouted. "You are both a disgrace to your professions and an embarrassment to this community! I will make sure this scandalous behavior is not tolerated in my town!"

"John, contain yourself!" The superintendent said sternly.

"Regardless of whatever questions there may be about my moral judgment, I can assure you that my legal judgment is quite clear, and this rule you had Carl Stevens write up for you is as worthless as your daughter's biology grade!" Jack said.

The room exploded into a shouting match, and I even heard a few good swear words thrown in. It was incredible. I looked at Brett, who had a smirk on his face that couldn't be wiped away as he watched the adults in the room turn into a bunch of bickering children.

"ENOUGH!!!" the principal shouted. The room became silent. "This is still my school and my decision! I haven't retired yet! The rule banning same-sex couples is declared invalid, and if same-sex couples could have attended the prom, then they most certainly could dance at the prom. Billy, Brett, your records are clear and you may return to class. Mrs. Roberts, if you have questions regarding your son's treatment here and Mon Valley High, I'll invite you to schedule a conversation with me soon. Dr. Reilly, I apologize for the slanderous accusations made against you here today. You're all free to go."

"This is outrageous!" Mr. Taylor exploded. "You're supposed to work for me, Dan!"

"I don't work for the school board, I work for the students and teachers of this building, and for the parents who trust us with their children's learning!" the principal replied.

"Bullshit like this is why I'm glad you'll be retiring after this term, Dan!" Mr. Taylor sneered. Then he turned to me and Brett. "This isn't over you stupid brats! Didn't we tell you to get out of here?"

Brett and I quickly vacated the room, though you could hear the argument raging again even after the door was closed.

"That was fun," Brett said. But then his mom grabbed him by the shirt and spun him around.

"What the hell is your problem?" she shouted at him.

"My problem? What the fuck is your problem?" Brett snapped.

"I told you what would happen if you went public with your father's name! I told you not to go around making a spectacle of yourself! I don't know what you boys were thinking!"

"They were thinking that they love each other and they were tired of the adults in this town treating them like monsters for loving each other!" my mom replied.

"Oh, that's rich, coming from the woman who told my son he wasn't welcome in her home for a year!"

"Mom!" Brett protested.

"You're right Jen. I made a mistake. But I can admit when I am wrong. I'm proud of my son."

"At least it took her less than eighteen years to admit she was wrong!" Brett snapped.

"Brett, I don't need your attitude right now! You don't know the trouble you've caused me! If John Taylor knows that means the whole town is going to know! I'll be ruined!"

"Gee, I guess it would have been better for you if I had never been born! Maybe then you would have your precious career and your perfect life without worrying about your stupid bastard son embarrassing you! You don't care about me! All you care about is your stupid career and publishing your next stupid book! Well maybe your next book can be all about how to have an affair with your best friend's husband! Maybe then you'd finally have a best seller worth reading!"

"You ungrateful little bastard!" Dr. Reilly snapped. And then she violently slapped Brett in the face, almost knocking him off his feet. The sound echoed through the instantly silent office.

"Jennifer!" mom gasped.

Brett stood there leaning on his crutches, processing what had just happened to him. Then he stopped slouching and stood up to his full height and faced his mom. I thought for sure he was going to slap his mother, and that would have been a disaster! He glared viciously at his mother, who seemed to shrink as he towered over her. It was so quiet you could hear Brett's breathing increasing in pace, and you could almost hear his heart beating more rapidly. I'd never seen him more furious in my life.

"Brett I'm sorry..." Dr. Reilly began.

Brett didn't say anything. He didn't need to. He just turned and walked out the door.

Dr. Reilly turned on me. "This is all your fault!" she snapped. "If you hadn't stuck your nose where it didn't belong then none of this mess would have happened!"

"Don't you dare try to blame this on Billy. You would have kept your son's father's identity from him for his entire life just so you could sell more books!" mom said.

"I don't need parenting advice from you, of all people," Dr. Reilly sneered.

"Oh, I think you'd be surprised by the kind of advice I could give you, lady," mom replied. "For one, you might want to reconsider slapping your child in the middle of a public school."

"He's not a child! He's eighteen. If he hates living with me so much he can live on his own and see how much he likes it."

"No, he will never have to be alone. He'll always be welcome in my family," mom replied.

"If you want him, you can have him," Dr. Reilly replied. "I'm done with him. I've put up with his shit long enough." Then she walked out.

Mom looked at me. "What just happened?" she asked.

"I think you just adopted Brett," I replied.

Mom sighed. "That poor boy! I can't have her hitting him like that. If she'd do that in public, what might she do when no one's watching?"

"It's not like you've never slapped me before," I said.

"Not like that!" mom replied. "That was cruel. You go tell him that if he wants to stay with us he's welcome. He is eighteen. If he wants to live with us, we'll make it work."

"Okay. I guess I should go find him. I've never seen him so pissed, and I've seen him get pretty pissed! Oh hey... Thanks for sticking up for me in there."

"I told you I would always fight for you," mom replied.

"Yeah, but you didn't just say it, you did it!"

"You better go find Brett," mom said.

I knew where I'd find Brett. He was sitting alone in the balcony of the school auditorium. He had his leg propped up on the railing. When he noticed me he quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, as if I wouldn't know why he had hidden in that abandoned place. And it didn't matter as fresh tears replaced the ones he'd wiped away anyway. I didn't say anything, I just sat next to him and stared out over the balcony with him for a while. Brett sniffled a bit, but he didn't ask me to leave him alone.

"My dad smacked me once," I said. "Told me to pack my shit and get out. I never told you that. It was the night I called him an asshole."


"I'm just saying that just because things look bad right now it doesn't mean they'll stay that way."

"Did your dad lie to you for eighteen years?" Brett asked.

"No. He robbed a gas station once, though."

Brett laughed. "What, with a gun or something?"

"No, he broke in at night and robbed the place. He went to jail for a few months."

"Wow, you think you know somebody! Like, what's up with your mom saying you have Asperger's?"

"She doesn't really think I have it. She thinks it's just a stupid label doctors use to try to explain what they don't understand."

"Well there's a lot that doctors don't understand, that's for sure. Especially the supposed best child psychiatrist in the country. God, I can't believe she fucking hit me like that! She's a fucking psychopath."

"No. Dude, she's just in a bad place right now. She just sees everything she's worked for blowing up in her face right now. You know she's going to feel terrible about it once she's had time to think. She'll probably buy you a fucking house."

"That's her solution to everything. Shit... I don't know. Maybe I am an ungrateful bastard."

"No. That's not true. Don't let something that she said in her worst moment be the thing that defines you. When my dad hit me, he called me `a fucking disrespectful, smart-assed, whiny, arrogant little jerk.' And then he called me a stupid little shithead. I remember that like it was yesterday. I could start bawling right now just thinking about it. It really hurts when your parent says stuff like that. I know how humiliated and violated you feel right now. Parents can hurt us like no one else can. But you know what? I don't think we should be surprised. They're just like us, except they're old. They were young and dumb like us once. Your mom and Jack, they're not so different from us. They were only about five years older than we are now when everything happened. They fucked up and they got scared. They saw something traumatic and they did something stupid. My dad robbed a store, your parents had an affair. I'm not saying you forgive her right away. But I think you would regret it if you never forgave her."

Brett smiled. "You're not allowed to be the one who makes sense with this shit."

"Hey, I'm not a complete moron when it comes to people! Just mostly a moron."

Brett chuckled, but then as his laughter subsided tears began to glisten in his eyes again. "I almost hit her back, you know."

"I know," I said. "I'm glad you didn't."

"Yeah..." Brett sighed. "I really wanted to do it. But I couldn't. I pussied out."

"I think you did the right thing," I replied.

We stayed in that balcony together until the next bell rang, and then we went to our classes. In all the excitement, I'd almost forgotten that Mr. Hartley had scheduled our advanced history final for that afternoon, because he was a dick. Dustin hadn't been very talkative that day after the argument we'd had the day before, but he did let me know that he was planning to see Kenny Taylor later that night after the baseball playoff game that was scheduled for after school. The team had won their first playoff game, so after the history final Dustin and I would be excused for the rest of the day as the team prepared to travel across the river to Belle Vernon to play their next game. I didn't give the team much of a chance to win that one, but I was looking forward to the game anyway.

"Just how much of Kenny do you plan to see?" I asked Dustin quietly as we walked to history class.

"Pretty much all of him," Dustin replied. "And no, I'm not going to get into a relationship with him. It's just sex."

"He's pretty close to the age Mike was when you got together with him. Maybe guys like that are just your type?"

"Preppy young hipsters are kind of fun," Dustin grinned. "Of course, Mike wasn't all worried about his parents finding out he likes dick. Oh hey, sorry about yesterday."

"I know," I replied.

As we found our seats to get ready to take the final, Bobby Rush leaned over to talk to me.

"Hey, that was cool what you and Reilly did at the prom," he said.

"Thanks, Rush," I replied. I'd been hearing that a lot that day.

Mr. Hartley walked into the room and commanded us to be silent. "I've taken the liberty of preparing your current grade in this class on your test. Some of you are in good shape. Others, well, it won't matter what you do on this test. You're doomed either way."

He handed me my test with my current grade on it. I was shocked to find I had a C in the class. I raised my hand.

"What is it Mr. Roberts?" he asked.

"I think there's been a mistake. There's no way I've got a C in this class."

"You can see me after class to discuss your grade," he said. "We need to start the final."

"No. I..."

"Mr. Roberts, see me after class!" Mr. Hartley insisted.

I breezed through the final, even though I spent the whole time wondering what in the fuck Mr. Hartley was trying to pull. When the bell rang the class cleared out except for me, Dustin, and Mr. Hartley.

"This doesn't concern you, Mr. Smith. You have a playoff game to prepare for. Close the door on the way out."

Dustin reluctantly left us. Mr. Hartley sat at his desk. He pulled out his grade book and let me look at it myself.

"Why is there a zero here?" I asked.

"Because you didn't do the assignment."

"What assignment?" I asked.

"There was a test on April 15th. You had an unexcused absence that day and you've made no effort to make it up."

"April 15th? That was the day we..."

"Yes?" Mr. Hartley asked.

"Nevermind. Well, can't you let me make it up? You let Sarah make up a test she missed, and I know she bombed it."

"Well now, you see, that's where we have a problem. It's been a month. By now you could have gotten the answers from anybody. It wouldn't be fair to the rest of the class if I let you take it now."

"Bull shit! You're just trying to screw me!"

"No Mr. Roberts. You have screwed yourself."

"What about extra credit? You let Sarah..."

"What I let Miss Taylor do has nothing to do with you."

"I'm going to fight this. You've been a dick to me ever since you found out I'm gay! You're a homophobe!"

"Oh please! Enough with the victim mentality! Let me give you the advice that your dear Pat Winston never did, Mr. Roberts. Life is hard. Life is cruel. And life will kick you in the balls every chance it gets. You can either piss and moan about it, or you can screw whoever you need to get back at the people who make life miserable. You think Pat was this great teacher who loved all of the gay kids, but all she did was set you kids up to fail. There is no such thing as a gay alliance with straight people. You can't make friends with the breeders. They'll smile to your face and claim they accept you, and the first chance they get they'll call you a faggot behind your back and do everything they can to cut you off at the knees. You can't get along with those people, you have to screw them first before they can screw you. Never trust a breeder."

"Holy shit! You're the gay teacher they were talking about!"


"But why screw me then? You're supposed to be on our side!"

"So much liberal bullshit in such a young mind. Mr. Roberts, you're nothing but a pawn in the game of life. You need to be sacrificed for the greater good – the greater good being me becoming this school's principal. There's going to be an opening at the end of term, and I intend to be the one who has the support of John Taylor, whether he likes it or not. And then, on to the superintendency. Think about it, Billy. In this conservative, bigoted, homophobic little town, they will voluntarily put a strong, proud gay man in charge of their little kingdom and they'll think it was their idea! All I have to do is offer your head on a silver platter to that moron Taylor, give his idiotic daughter valedictorian, because she sure as hell couldn't have gotten there without me, and then, that dumb bastard will give me exactly what I want."

"No. I won't go along with this! You're not the principal yet! I'll fight this with everything I've got!"

"I don't think so, Mr. Roberts. You'll do as you're told or you will screw your buddy Mr. Smith out of everything he ever hoped for in his life."

"I don't understand," I said.

"Of course you don't, because you're a stupid pawn." Mr. Hartley pulled out his cell phone and turned on a video. There, clear as day, was an overhead view of Dustin getting a blowjob from Kenny Taylor in a bathroom stall at the prom.

"Oh my god! How did you get this?"

"Opportunity only comes around every once in a while, Mr. Roberts. And when it does, you have to seize it by the balls. You have to be ruthless. You have to be willing to cut a few throats along the way if you want to get anything in life. You think this country is just going to let you get married to your little boyfriend? No way. They will fight you with everything they have and claim the moral high ground. They'll smile in your face while they call you a sick perverted freak and claim that their God wants you to die from AIDS. You can't win those people over, you have to victimize and conquer them. It's the only way they'll understand. The best bully is someone who has been bullied. That's a lesson your dear Miss Winston never told you. She hid behind her roommate bullshit like a coward. But I'm perfectly willing to bully the bullies. I'll do it with a fucking smile on my face. You need people like me, Mr. Roberts, if you ever want to get what you want. This is a war, not a picnic."

"I don't understand. What do you want from me?"

"I want you to shut your mouth and take your B+ like a man, and watch as someone else takes the glory that is deservedly yours. I want you to watch the rich get richer at your expense. I want you to see what those people are capable of. I want you to remember the pain and the anger. And then I want you to use that anger to drive yourself and throw it in their fucking faces when that stupid bitch flunks out of Stanford and you push yourself like never before to make something out of your otherwise pointless life. You see, I'm a much better mentor than Pat Winston ever was. You don't have to do anything but shut up and take it, something you're probably used to. If you don't, my little amateur video will somehow become public, and your buddy Dustin can kiss any chance he had at getting drafted by a professional baseball team goodbye. But look at it this way, you can take pride in knowing that all of his accomplishments will only be possible because of your cooperation."

"Jesus, you're sick!"

"No, Mr. Roberts, I'm smart, something that you should learn to be as well. You can protest my decision if you wish. You can tell the principal how mean I am to you. You can probably even get your grade changed, and earn just as hollow of a victory as Miss Taylor. But if you do, this video will haunt your best friend for the rest of his life, and you'll have to live with the fact that you could have prevented it."

"That's got Mr. Taylor's son on it. If you publish it, he'll fire you."

"That's the best part. You see, just giving John Taylor what he wants should assure me the principal job. But if it doesn't, then my little video will make sure of it. I would think that would make you happy, Mr. Roberts. I'll be bullying the man who has made your life miserable for a year. Isn't that what you want?"

"Not like this. This sucks."

Mr. Hartley laughed. "Yep. It sucks. It's not my fault, you know. I was once like you, you know– young and hopeful. But after life has kicked you in the balls enough, you'll eventually be like me. When you've had enough of their bullshit, when they do everything they can to take everything they can from you, you'll see. If I'm a monster, it's because they made me this way. So do we have a deal or not?"

"What choice do I have?" I replied.

"Good boy. Learn from this, boy. Don't ever let someone get leverage on you like this again. Pay attention, or the world out there is going to eat you alive."

"Just so you know, I hate your fucking guts," I told him.

"I can live with that," he replied.

Boy, did I want to slap Dustin when I saw him. He was talking so excitedly on the trip to the game about the possibility of professional scouts being at the game. We got crushed. Their pitcher threw a no-hitter and walked Dustin every time he was up to bat, but he did make some great plays with his glove in the field. And the whole time I kept thinking what an idiot he was for getting me into the mess I was in. But I would never tell him. I didn't want to put that kind of burden on him.

His life had been hard enough already. If I could help him succeed just a little bit by protecting him from yet another adult who was looking to victimize him, then it was worth forfeiting valedictorian.

I never wanted the stupid title anyway...

Thanks for reading. I hope you liked it! If you have comments you can reach me at jkwsquirrel@yahoo.com

Next time: Graduation! (Two chapters left!)