Chase Congrave felt differing emotions about high school. He liked some of it, neither liked or disliked some, and hated some. He guessed he was pretty much like most sophomores. He was a smart kid and didn’t have any problems understanding the material in any of his classes other than chemistry, and in chemistry his problems weren't his fault: his teacher was the problem.
Chase was looking for a tutor and had one lined up. He needed someone who could explain the chemistry assignments who spoke clear and precise English; in class he was suffering with a teacher who had a heavy German accent. Chase assumed his teacher was very intelligible in German, but he certainly wasn’t in English. That was why Chase didn’t like chemistry. The teacher’s speech not only challenged Chase’s mettle in class, it was winning the battle. The subject was hard enough without having to take the time to figure out what every other word the guy was saying meant. He tried taking notes, but doing so put him even further behind in the lecture. He was lost and knew it, making attendance in the class a miserable experience.
But other than that, the classes he had were fine, and some of them even better than fine. His two favorite subjects, ones he loved, were math and art. Go figure.
There were two other things he didn’t like besides chemistry. One was gym, and the other, well, we’ll get to that.
Gym was a problem because the gym teacher was one of those troglodytes who had been a drill instructor in the army before washing out for being too brutal and killing too many of the inductees by overworking them. At least that was the rumor around school. He hadn’t improved since then. He had standards for every boy in the school. The same exact standards. You had to climb a rope to the ceiling, twenty feet up, in ten seconds. You had to chin yourself ten times without stopping or letting your feet touch the ground. You had to run the mile in nine minutes. And you had to bench-press 80 pounds four times in less than forty seconds.
Those might have been reasonable goals for the senior jocks in school and a few fit juniors. They weren’t reasonable for overweight boys, for small kids, or for most freshmen. That argument held no water for Mr. Covner. If you didn’t meet those standards, the highest mark you could get was a C-, and most kids didn’t get that; a D in gym was normal. The only kids getting a C- who didn’t reach the Covner Standards were the ones who showed exemplary effort and improvement.
Few boys did.
Chase was a sophomore. Whereas most in his grade had experienced a growth spurt during the summer, Chase hadn’t. He still stood five-foot, three-and-a-half inches if he stood on his tiptoes, and weighed in at a less-than-robust 108 pounds. He wouldn’t be able to climb a rope to the top even if that were the only way to escape a burning building. He did well to chin himself twice and didn’t run well at all. He’d be lucky to break twelve minutes for the mile. And weightlifting? Forget it. Lifting the bar adorned with no weight plates at all three times in a row was a struggle for him.
Mr. Covner was sure the best way to motivate boys like Chase was to scream invective at them. For some odd reason, Chase didn’t find that at all helpful.
Mr. Covner also believed boys today were much too prudish, too uptight about their bodies. He’d been in the army. Men showered, dressed and undressed in the barracks. Nudity was normal. No one made any sort of deal about it. So should these namby-pamby, high-school kids!
Chase’s lack of a growth spurt was due to a slightly delayed puberty. He hadn’t grown in height, and he hadn’t grown downstairs, either. For a boy smaller than his peers to be considerably smaller elsewhere was traumatic.
So, he wasn’t doing well in chemistry or gym. But those were a small part of school overall, and he had never expected high school would be like a spring garden without bees. He was arranging to be tutored in chemistry and was sure he could get at least a B there. If he didn’t get a C- in gym, he was planning to get a petition signed by the other physically challenged kids in the class and present it to the principal. He felt it unfair to be downgraded for physical feats beyond his body’s capability, and if the principal allowed that, well then, maybe his granddad would help him fix that. His granddad could do anything he attempted.
So, while chem and gym were annoyances, they were endurable. It was the third problem that he was having a harder and harder time tolerating.
There was a boy in his gym class who was a bully. In traditional fashion, he picked on boys too small to fight back, those vulnerable boys that attend every high school. It was unfortunate that Mr. Covner yelled at Chase for not meeting the physical standards he demanded because, after that, Chase had to go into the showers and show himself to be very young and very immature. This made him too tempting a target for Gray Young, the bully, to resist.
So, Gray began making Chase’s life in school intolerable. He’d bump him in the halls, and because he was nearly twice Chase’s weight, Chase would go flying; often the books he was carrying would fly in an entirely different direction. Gray would sneer at him as Chase was getting up, saying things like, “Watch where you’re walking, little boy. Guys like you need to walk close to the walls. Men walk these halls; little boys do so at their own risk.”
This wasn’t an infrequent occurrence. Gray would bump and trip and push Chase whenever he had the chance. It was getting to Chase. He knew what to do about it; the school handbook had it written in clear and precise language. He was to go to the principal and let her know what was happening, just as any student witnessing it had to report it. So that’s what he did.
Mrs. Gonzales, the principal, listened and then told him there was no bullying at her school. It wasn’t permitted, and it didn’t exist. There was a teachers’ handbook as well as a students’ one, and if teachers witnessed bullying, they had to report it immediately to her. No teacher had witnessed him being bullied. No student had witnessed him being bullied. So, he hadn’t been bullied. If he’d tripped, if someone had accidentally bumped him in the crowded hallways, that only meant he needed to be more careful. But unless he had witnesses willing to come forward, unless she had something more than a single boy’s complaint, then he had to figure out on his own to deal with life in the school’s halls. She didn’t believe him. That’s what it came down to.
Chase steamed and stewed, but he couldn’t figure out what to do to fix this. It was affecting his mood. He knew he had to do something. He didn’t know what.
Jed, Chase’s granddad, was talking. Chase was listening—half-listening, really. Jed had a way of going on and on, and often what he said had nothing to do with Chase. Chase humored him because Chase was a nice boy and because he loved his granddad.
“1955 was a different era. You wouldn’t recognize the U.S. back then as the same country you live in now.”
Chase yawned. He knew what was happening. His granddad was at it again. Another of his boring old stories about when he was young and they didn’t have cellphones. How could they not have cellphones? That was unimaginable. How did they know what all their friends were doing, what was going on in the world? In his world? School? How could they live like that?
It always seemed these stories didn’t have anything to do with him. But Chase knew his granddad liked to reminisce, liked to remember way back when, and because he was older than the moon landing, he would probably be dead soon, Chase felt he should indulge him. Chase knew he’d miss him when he was gone and so felt a responsibility to make him happy now. If that meant listening to his stories, most of which Chase was sure were mostly made up because they were so implausible, well, that was okay with him. Granddad didn’t deserve anything less. He’d always been very good to Chase. He listened and wasn’t judgmental, nothing like his dad and mom were. In fact, he thought, Granddad doesn’t even give me a lot of advice. Just tells me stories. That was indeed a good trade-off.
‘I hope this is a short one,’ he thought as Jed was getting started. He was supposed to meet Dirk at the skatepark with his board in forty-five minutes.
Actually, the stories the old man told did relate to Chase and the problems he confided to his granddad. Chase just hadn’t figured that out yet. Granddad made them about people and human reactions, but Chase tended to listen to the action involved and didn’t look for inner meanings or lessons to be taken. He never had realized how they were tuned to his life. He just wasn’t quite mature or perceptive enough yet to get that. However, the stories always had a purpose, and this one did, too. Granddad knew about Chase’s problems at school, knew he’d had more of the same yesterday; he had a large bruise on his hip to prove it.
Jed’s thinking was that the best way to address the problem started with talking about it, and maybe, just maybe . . . If he told about a time he was 15 and had a problem with a bully and how he’d resolved it, Chase would start thinking. That’s what was needed. And if he wanted help with that thinking, well, Jed would be there for that, too.
As usual, he began in a way that gave no clue where he was going. He didn’t want Chase to think this was about his problems at school. Not at first, at least. If he thought that, Chase would probably just pull into his shell. Teenage boys had thicker shells than tortoises.
“We didn’t have credit cards then. Many of us were just getting phone service on private landlines. Before that, we had party lines where several other families could listen to our phone conversations if they wanted to, and often, when we wanted to make a call, we couldn’t because one of them was on the line already. Did you know teenagers can talk on the phone for hours? Same back then. Even with two other families waiting to make calls. Can you imagine not having any privacy at all on your phone calls and having to wait your turn?”
Jed liked to ask questions while talking to Chase. It made the boy listen, knowing he’d be asked something. Chase was 15, and his mind wandered. Like all 15-year-old minds do. It was and still is a tricky age.
“I can never tell when you’re making stuff up, Granddad.”
Jed chuckled. Chase had no idea the progress the world had made in the last 65 years. Hell, in the ’50s when he was 15, there had still been a horse-drawn wagon that came down the street weekly delivering blocks of ice to go in some folks’ iceboxes, those who still didn’t have electric refrigerators. He decided to save that for another time. Didn’t want to blow Chase’s mind. Just like he hadn’t spoken about how most Americans didn’t have air conditioning for when it was hot back then.
“It sounds like I’m making this stuff up because of how different it was then compared to now. But what I’m going to tell you about now is a story with me, the very Jed Congrave you idolize—” Chase rolled his eyes as he was meant to “—as the main character. It happened for real when I was your age. Some things were different back then; even my name is old-fashioned today. How many Jeds do you know? It wasn’t uncommon then. But the fact we didn’t have video games or Amazon or drones or computers doesn’t make any difference. This is a story about people, and people are very much the same now as they were then.”
Chase was looking up at his granddad, sitting on the floor with his back up against the sofa in the old man’s living room. Jed felt very lucky; his grandson spent a lot of time at his house. Chase had never talked about why, and Jed had never asked. But he thought he knew why: he had time for the boy, and he loved him with all his heart. Chase’s parents both worked, of course, and both had careers. They spent a lot of time on their jobs and then brought work home with them. They were immersed in their adult world, and both were successful. If they gave any thought to it, which they didn’t, they would have figured Chase was old enough to tend to himself. That was the justification many adults used today with respect to the children they so often ignored.
But boys in their teens need adults. Chase might not have recognized why he liked to spend time with his granddad, but Jed thought it was just that: the boy needed an adult anchor who cared about him. If he was to be the designated anchor, he was gratified to be able to fill the role. Chase gave him purpose and helped keep him feeling young.
“So, I was 15, and I probably had the same feelings about myself and my place in the world that you do. As I say, people haven’t changed much. This is about that summer. My friends all were riding their bikes a lot, playing together in parks, going fishing, roughhousing, doing 15-year-old stuff, to use your word. That’s your word, isn’t it: stuff? We didn’t say ‘stuff’ back then as much as you do now! Anyway, we, like everyone I knew, were middle-class people living in a middle-class neighborhood. I, like you, was dreaming of the day I could drive. The thing was, I knew my parents didn’t have the money to buy me a car, even though, back then, you could buy a decent used car for much less than a thousand dollars. Of course, a thousand dollars was a lot of money back then.”
Chase sat up a little straighter. Talking about buying cars interested him. He was thinking about that himself these days and hadn’t known his granddad had done the same thing at his age. “A good used car? Like a Cadillac or a Lexus?”
Jed laughed. “We didn’t have Japanese cars here back then, at least not here in the Midwest. What we did have were cars you’ve never heard of: Studebakers, Hudsons, Packards, Nash Ramblers, DeSoto Firedomes, Kaisers, Plymouths, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs . . . I could name even more. They were all common back then, and all are gone now. But yes, Packards and Chryslers along with Caddys were top-end cars back then, and still you could buy a used one, one that was only five or six years old, for less than $500.
“But what was important here was that whatever they cost, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one. My mom, your great grandmother, didn’t work. My dad was the breadwinner. You know what that means, breadwinner?”
Chase shook his head, and Jed didn’t laugh. Boys his age are easily embarrassed, easily offended, and the highlight of Jed’s day was his dropping by and spending time, mostly talking. Jed wasn’t about to do anything to curtail that. Like most boys, Chase had a pretty low tolerance for being teased.
“It means the person who’s earning the money that supports the family. And back then, it was almost always the husband and only the husband. And, while Dad made a decent living, back then a decent living was usually less than $10,000 a year, and that wasn’t enough for him to be loose with his money. No, if I wanted a car, I had to be thinking of buying it myself.
“I didn’t have any money. I got an allowance, a dollar a week, which was more than a lot of my friends got. I spent it. I didn’t have a bank account. I didn’t have any savings. So, what to do? What would you have done?”
“Get a job?”
Chase was smart. It was one of the things Jed loved about him and one of the reasons he was telling him this story.
“Right on. And it was possible to get a job back then. Jobs were available for boys. Of course, I didn’t know how to do anything, and I’d only be able to work the summer months when I wasn’t in school. So, I looked for a job that was one a lot of boys had. One I could learn how to do pretty quickly and that would be kind of fun at the same time. Guess what it was.”
Chase frowned. “Dunno.”
“That’s not surprising because that job doesn’t exist any longer. There’s a variation of it in Oregon, but nowhere else. The job was gas-station attendant. Back then, some people called it a pump jockey. The job was to pump gasoline. I know, today the driver does it himself. Back then, gas stations hired someone to do that job. Along with filling the tank, the job required us to provide other services: checking the oil level and adding oil if needed, checking the tires and adding air when the pressure was low, and wiping the windshield. These things were done while the tank was being filled—or after that if the customer wasn’t in a hurry.
“That was the job I was given.
“I got hired at the third gas station where I applied. The first two said no. It kind of hurts when you’re young and get told no, they don’t want you. You have to suck up your guts and keep trying. Even though you’re discouraged, even though your confidence and self-esteem have taken a hit, you muddle on if you’ve got any moxie at all. I did. And I got hired.”
Chase could relate to what was being said, relating to Jed as a 15-year-old. Also with the insecurities Jed had mentioned. It was something he dealt with all the time. But he had to add his two cents. “Moxie? You like making up words, don’t you, Granddad?”
Jed laughed. But he could see that Chase was listening intently now.
“It was a Gulf station. Gulf Oil is another company no longer in business; it merged with Standard Oil of California to become Chevron. There were a lot of Gulf stations when I was young. And the one in town hired me. They had a kid not much older than I was pumping gas, and his family was going on vacation and he had to go with them. The station needed a replacement. That would be me.
“His name was Jeffrey. Jeff was 17 but didn’t seem older than I was. He had the same sort of spirit, sense of humor and easy-going quality I did. He showed me how to find the oil dipstick and check oil levels; taught me how to show it to the driver and ask if they wanted him to add oil to the engine. Showed me how to pour the oil into the engine, too. Same with checking the air pressure and how to add air if needed. Gave me a pressure gauge of my own.
“Cleaning the windshield was an important part of the job. Do it really well and sometimes you’d get a tip. I learned how to do it very well and to look like I was working hard to get it done. I learned how to be polite and get the adults to like me. It was easy making it look hard, because I was short and cars were bigger then. Taller. I had to crawl up on my stomach over the fenders sometimes to reach the top of the front windshield. I was as short as you are that summer; I guess you should blame me that you’re getting a late start on growing. Hey, it’ll happen. Trust me.”
Chase gave Jed a look that was hard to decipher. He looked like he was offended by being told he was short and wishing that he could talk about it. Jed nodded, his nod as cryptic as Chase’s look was, and soldiered on.
“That’s something else that was different then. It was the early ’50s when cars began getting the sort of curved, one-piece windshields we have today. Before that, they were two flat pieces of glass with a vertical metal strip in the middle.”
Chase was starting to lose interest. Jed could see that and realized he was talking too much about things thatdidn’t matter to Chase, a 21st Century guy not all that interested in mid-20th Century life. Not getting a job when he’d asked for one—yeah, Chase could relate to that. But a metal strip between the halves of a windshield was something he couldn’t care less about. Jed knew he needed to keep this relevant.
As if reading Jed’s mind, Chase said, “So . . . ?” Kids can put a lot of sarcasm into one word. Jed smiled and picked up his game.
He laughed and made it sound a little self-conscious. “Okay, sorry. Like you never get distracted. But yeah, moving on.
“I really took to that job. I worked with Jeff one day, and then he was gone, but I knew how to do it by then. Just like you, Chase, I was pretty smart, and I had no problem learning all I needed to know while Jeff was still there.
“Once I was on my own, I got pretty good at it. The main problem any of us pump jockeys had was servicing two cars at once. We had two pumps, so two cars could pull up at the same time. You had to be quick; the drivers would get tired waiting and pull out again if you took too long getting to them, and any chance for a tip would be long gone. That would be lost money for the station, lost tips for me. I got so I could do two cars that drove in at the same time almost as fast as one. I’d have them done and leaving within seconds of each other. The owner told me I was doing a fine job, and I felt ten-feet tall. Nothing like your boss praising the work you’re doing to make you feel proud.”
Jed rushed on to preclude an eye roll; Chase didn’t have much patience with words of wisdom. “I wasn’t making a lot of money. I was making minimum wage, with a little more than that with tips. Those days the minimum wage was $1 an hour, and that was only because it had been raised that year from $0.75. I was working 8-hour days, six days a week. My mom thought that was too much, but I was proud to work that much. I liked the work and didn’t mind spending my summer that way. I had a goal: to have enough money to buy a car a year later when I got my license, and I thought with tips I could sock away something around $500 that summer. That would buy a great ride, though that was slang we didn’t use back then. You guys invented that.”
He nudged Chase with his leg, and Chase grinned up at him.
“Things were going well. I liked the work, I liked the people I was working with, the customers were almost always friendly, and I was making money. And then, well, even rose bushes have thorns. That’s how life is.”
Chase wrinkled his forehead. Jed had been right about his being smart. Jed was pretty sure Chase guessed that what would come next might be the important part of the story.
“One day, as sometimes happened, I was swamped. I had two cars coming in close together several times, and more than a few cars that needed oil. I was being rushed off my feet, but, you know, I kind of liked that. It was a chance to test myself and show the customers, my boss and myself what I was capable of. But by the time late afternoon had rolled around, I’d about had it. I was hot and sweaty, but whether I was tired or wasn’t, the cars kept coming. It was mid-August, the days were hotter than the sand in the Mojave, and I’d been working pretty much nonstop. I had an oil streak on my forehead from when somehow or other I’d swiped a dipstick I’d been reading across it. I’d needed a pee break for over a half-hour, but cars were still lined up waiting for a space at the pump. To say I loved my job right then would have been an egregious misuse of the word ‘love’.
“I squeezed my sphincter and moved to the next car. And that was where the trouble started.”
Jed stopped. Chase was paying full attention now, not a bit distracted or bored. “Hey,” Jed asked, “you want anything? Something to drink, maybe? I could finish this tomorrow. This is taking too long. You might want to do something else.”
Okay, so even grandfathers can be a bit sadistic, in a loving sort of way, of course.
“No, I’m okay. Go on.” He could miss skateboarding for this.
Jed didn’t crack a smile, just nodded and continued.
“The next car had kids in it. Kids I knew. The driver was only a year older than me, one year in school ahead of me. His name was Zach Richards, and he and I didn’t get along. He was a rich kid and big enough to be on the football team. He wasn’t very good and didn’t play a lot, but that didn’t stop him from liking to throw his weight around, thinking he was the king of the school and acting that way, and in the process managing to terrorize smaller kids. To put a word on it, he was a bully.
“I was a smaller kid. I didn’t have anything against rich kids, but Zach was an asshole. He had more than most of us and he loved to wave that in our faces and take advantage of kids he could physically dominate. He thought he was God’s gift to our town, and thought everyone else should acknowledge that; if they didn’t, he made sure they learned to do so hard and fast. He had a posse of two kids who hung with him because he had enough money to pay their way when he was out and about, two kids who liked to appear big themselves by association with him. Those were the two kids in his car with him that day.
Zach saw I was the one to pump his gas, perhaps saw I was dragging a bit, and decided this was the perfect time to show me how insignificant I was and how masterful he was and entertain his buddies at the same time.
“‘Hey, look at the grease monkey! It’s Baby Jeddy!’”
“I hated to be called Jeddy. My mom had called me that till I was old enough to stop it. It was belittling to be called a little kid’s name now that I was a teenager. Jeddy indeed. Baby Jeddy was even worse. I was Jed. Maybe not big, tough, stand-up-for-myself Jed, but still Jed. Definitely not Jeddy.
“But I was also smart enough not to react to the name, derogatory or not. I had a job to do, and I’d learned that summer that being friendly with the customers and ignoring anything that rankled me was the only way to fly. So, I smiled at Zach and asked, “Fill ’er up?” with a big, congenial smile on my face.
“‘Yeah, Jeddy, and don’t go spillin’ any gas on this beaut of mine. You do, you’ll be washing and waxing the whole thing for nothing. Got it? And ain’t you supposed to be callin’ your betters ‘sir’? Maybe I should have a word with your boss. You wan’ me to do that?’”
“‘Sure thing, Zach. No spillin’.’ He didn’t even notice I’d mocked his pronunciation. I in turn ignored his questions but smiled again and hurried back to the pump. There was another car pulling in by the second pump right then.
“I stuck the nozzle in Gray’s fill pipe, set it running and moved to the next car. He wanted a fill-up, too, so I got his gas running, then went back to Zach’s car. He only needed another minute or so before the pump would kick off, so I quickly did his windshield while waiting. Then I pulled the hose out and hung it up, then hurried around to his window.
“‘That’ll be $3.49.’”
“‘Hey, you’re not nearly done, asswipe. You’ve just begun. Full service, right? Check the oil. Fill the tires. Clean off the headlights. Wash the back window. Do your damn job if you wanna get paid!’”
“Now, Chase, the thing was, when we’re working multiple cars, we didn’t do the extras, other than the windshield, unless asked. Then, you do them with a smile, but you wait on other cars as well so they’re not inconvenienced. So, no, I wasn’t slacking. I was following procedures. I knew what he was trying to do, but I knew what I was doing as well. So, I said, ‘Sure thing. It’ll take an extra moment. I’ve got to cash out the guy next to you.’ I’d heard his pump stop, so I had to finish him before doing the incidentals for Zach.
“Zach saw me headed for the other car and yelled at me. “‘Hey, fucker, I was here first. I go first!’”
“‘Be right back,’” I called out but didn’t slow down. The other car paid and was on its way, and I came back to Zach.
“‘Oil and air, coming right up,’” I said. “‘If you’ll just pop your hood?’” Then, with him sputtering all sorts of swear words at me, probably trying to impress his buddies, I walked to the front of his car. He stopped jabbering and stared at me through the windshield. His very clean windshield. Clean enough that I’d have sworn I could see his mind working.
“Back then, the hood release was inside the car. Still is on some. But back then, they all were, and I had to wait for him to use it. I could read his mind. He could leave me standing there as long as he wanted to.
“Actually, just standing there resting felt pretty good, but when standing, the urge to pee was much worse. I wasn’t about to do the pee dance for him. What I did do was wait about ten seconds, then say to him, ‘I’ll be back when you’ve made up your mind whether to pop the hood or not. In the meantime, busy, busy, busy, things to do, no time to waste standing here looking pretty.’ And I took off at a trot back into the station.
“He popped the hood as I was leaving. My ears must not have been working well because I paid no attention to that at all.
“He had to wait till I got back. Well, he could have left, but he hadn’t paid, and he’d have had to re-latch the hood himself, and that was, of course, beneath him, and I think he was pretty sure I’d tell the boss, and he’d call the cops if Zach left without having paid. So, he had to wait. If he was mad before, it had been sort of pretend mad. Now he was genuinely furious when I got back. If must have felt to him that I’d shown him up.
“It’s kind of scary, having a bully who outweighs you by as much as he did that angry with you. But, as you’ll find out, Chase, when you’re working, doing a job you’re being paid to do, things are different. You have rules and procedures to follow, and the chicken-shit rules of the playground no longer pertain. Like now, you’ve heard you can’t tell on someone who’s bullying you at school. It isn’t done, and kids lose respect for you if you do. But when you’re working, it’s different. Then it’s business, adult business. He could be a big man on campus. He could throw his weight and position around to other kids at school. But here, he was just another customer. He could complain to management, but as far as anything physical to me, he’d be in deep doo-doo, and he knew it. He felt fine intimidating kids, but would never try anything like that with adults.
“‘Ready for the oil check?’” I asked brightly when I returned.
“He changed his tone. ‘Sure thing,’ he said, trying to be jovial but too mad to pull it off. Then he smiled, which looked like more rictus than smile. I was immediately suspicious. I’d seen movies where the driver would beep their horn with the guys checking the oil sprawled over the engine, and they’d leap up and bump their heads when startled by the noise. I figured that was what he had in mind, so I was prepared. And that’s what he did. I didn’t jerk up at all, just smiled where he couldn’t see it.
“I walked back to the window with his dipstick. I showed it to him. ‘Good thing you had me check. You’re a quart and a half low. Want me to fill it? Oh, and your horn works fine. Smart of you to check that, too.’
“‘Yeah, add the oil and make it snappy. I can’t wait all day while you fuck around with this. We’ve got things to do. Don’t want to waste time watching you fiddle with oil cans and gas pumps.’
“‘One quart or two?’ I asked. ‘Probably best with just one.’”
“‘Two,’ he said, probably trying to show me money was no problem for him. That’s what I’d wanted him to say. If I recommended one, he was almost certain to say two.
“I just smiled at him. Drove him crazy, I could see. He wanted me to be playing the toad, the humble servant. Instead, inside I was glowing. I was about to do him dirty, and he’d never know I was planning it, probably never figure out what I did.
“What I’d done was, I’d only put the dipstick in partway to check his oil level. That was why it showed he needed oil. He didn’t. But I put in the two quarts he asked for. Then when I returned the dipstick, I didn’t seat it. And all I’d done is what he’d asked me to do.”
Jed grinned, and Chase looked at him funny. “Wouldn’t he know what you’d done? Wouldn’t he get you later?”
“No. If he tried to beat me up outside school for something I’d done on my job, my boss would see my bruises and all and call the cops. As I said, work is different from school. I had a boss who cared about me, and when he asked, I’d tell him who’d done this; you always tell your boss the truth when answering his questions. I’d tell him the customer had insisted on getting more oil than he needed; I’d suggested adding a quart, he’d said give him two. That was the truth. He’d probably been running a half quart low, maybe a quarter quart. Adding one quart most likely wouldn’t have caused what happened.
“What happened was what I thought would happen—he’d ended up driving around in a stink bomb. If he beat me up over that, he’d have the cops to deal with and an assault charge. He wasn’t smart but was smart enough to figure that out for himself. He didn’t do anything. I got away with it. As I’d been pretty sure I would. I didn’t think he’d be smart enough to know I did it, and even if he figured that out, he’d be stuck on how to respond.”
Chase just looked at him. Jed thought he wanted to ask why he’d told him this story. But he wasn’t sure how to do that.
“There’s just a little more to this story, Chase. The part where I rub it in a little and show him I’m not one he should be messing with, that he doesn’t scare me. When you show a bully you’re not intimidated at all, he’ll usually find easier prey. Scaring people is half the fun for them.
“The rest of what happened that day with Zach was, I added the two quarts of oil, replaced the dipstick but not all the way, and then closed the hood. When the engine heated up, oil would run out of the dipstick tube onto the hot engine and smell like, well, like burning oil. Then I returned to his window. ‘Zach,’ I said, in a voice devoid of any obsequiousness—uh, if you don’t know that word, obsequious means deferential, sycophantic, fawning—‘you said you’re in a hurry. You’ve been here a while now, and if you want, go ahead and take off, and I’ll see you in school Monday. You can pay me then. I’ll just ring it up now and bring you the bill. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait even longer, and I know you want to be on your way. Things to do, places to be, girls to molest. Just be sure you have some cash to settle up on Monday.’”
“He squealed his tires leaving. I guess he thought that would show me.
“At lunch on Monday, I walked up to Zach where he was sitting with all his jock buddies. That table was full of kids who were much bigger than I was, kids I avoided like the plague. They stopped talking when I put a hand on Gray’s shoulder. I spoke to Zach like the equal I was, asking for the money he owed me, and handing him a copy of the bill. ‘I took care of this as a favor for you, but you need to pay up now, as agreed.’
“Everyone at the table watched as Zach reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet and then his side pocket for some change and paid me. ‘Nice doing business with you,’ I said cheerfully, and walked away.
“I was stifling a grin all the way back to my table. That was the last time I ever spoke with Zach. I might have cost my boss Zach’s business after that because he never got gas there again, but I’d won an important battle with my self-esteem and proved to myself that in a battle between brawn and brains, I had the upper hand. I’d showed him that I wasn’t in awe of him at all, that walking up and talking to him with no deference at all while he was with his gargantuan buddies was no problem for me. Not only did I show him that, but doing it in front of those buddies brought him down to my size. I’d thought that would be enough to satisfy me, and it was. I felt better about myself right then than ever before. I’d stood up for myself and cut the bully down to size. Not with violence, but using the best weapon I had: my head.”
Jed smiled at Chase and waited while he hoped that thought had a chance to sink in. Then he spoke again. “Now, let’s talk about your problem.”
The talk between the two took some time. Jed was obstinate; Chase was reluctant. Jed insisted that Chase had to help figure out want needed to be done. Chase wanted his granddad to figure it out, thinking it was beyond his own abilities. Jed avowed that Chase was the one who’d carry out The Plan when it was in place. Chase thought it would be much better if his granddad carried the ball over the goal line. There was no way for him to do anything against this bully; he was neither brave nor powerful enough.
Jed could easily have done it. He struck an imposing figure: white hair, tanned skin, noble bearing, keen eyes, straight posture, determined brow. He had a no-nonsense voice and when he spoke, everyone listened. Only a few years prior, he’d been the CEO of a large organization, and he still carried the command presence and charismatic intelligence needed in that position.
But he knew that if Chase was to get anything out of this at all, it had to be his own doing, not Jed’s. Jed had already fought his own battles at fifteen and won. He’d won a lot after that, too, but it was the first one that gave him the confidence to fight the others, and none of them involved physical violence. Chase needed to do that now: fight a battle he saw as unwinnable and prevail, and do it using his head. Chase hadn’t been able to stand up for himself anytime in his life; there hadn’t been much need for that before this. Now there was. And Jed knew that for this to work, he’d have to mentally prepare Chase for it.
Together they decided what had to be done. That started with determining what wrongs needed to be addressed, what Chase wanted to accomplish as restitution, and how to smooth the road moving forward. Those decisions came first. Hard to develop a plan unless there is an objective. Also, not that easy to really understand what Chase wanted to accomplish. They talked about that, and Jed listened, pulling thoughts from Chase. Hearing emotions. Encouraging ideas. Guiding the discussion. Chase got more feedback and support than he ever got from his parents. He received all the time and attention he needed from Jed, and all the support.
They decided what Chase’s objectives were, and, with some cajoling and a shove or two, Chase bought into them as his goals, impossible as he knew them to be.
Then they talked about how to achieve them. There was much discussion and many arguments. A tentative plan was built, with Chase fighting it all the way. He knew he was incapable of pulling it off. This was the stuff for confident, capable heroes, not a meek and mild uncertain kid like he was.
Eventually, Chase flat out refused to do what The Plan called for him to do. It was just too much for him, and he was tired of talking about it. He didn’t have the personality or courage to stand up to do what was needed. He was physically 15 but psychologically more like 12. Jed understood and talked and talked. He was an excellent speaker and had made a career of persuading reluctant board members to back his ideas. Eventually, Chase began to waver. Jed praised him and told him, again and again, he could do much more than he thought he was capable of, that it was time to come out of his shell, that he’d be amazed at what would happen when he did and how he would be shedding so many of the pejorative feelings he had about himself. Then he explained what pejorative meant.
The Plan called for an accomplice. It would only work if he had help. It simply wasn’t a one-man plan. Getting help, though—that meant more discussion. Discussing things Chase was scared to discuss. But Jed was a master of both leading a horse to water and getting it to drink. He’d made a career out of it.
So, it was resolved. The first part, which for Chase might be the hardest, was set in motion the day after the decision had been made to move forward, and Chase had finally agreed to try, a decision that made his knees weak and sent his stomach roiling. It had taken a week to reach that point. After that, according to Jed, there was no reason to sit on The Plan. Strike while the iron was hot and all that. Jed convinced him it would be easier than he thought, and his rewards would be higher than he could imagine.
Chase, feeling much younger than 15 and knowing he didn’t have the confidence to pull off what he’d agreed to do, set out to make the first part of The Plan happen regardless of his doubts.
Chase ate lunch every day with five other boys, all now high-school sophomores he’d known since elementary school. They were all friendly acquaintances, but not close or best friends. Just guys who’d been together long enough to eat lunch together: lunch-table pals. One of the boys was named Aaron. Chase had had a crush on Aaron since eighth grade. Aaron had the largest, deepest, dark, brownish-gray eyes that showed both his emotions and intelligence, black hair that curled sexily over his forehead, a slightly turned-up nose and very white teeth; Chase couldn’t get enough of his looks but, not wanting to give away his attraction, rarely stared at him long. Aaron’s smile, though, was infectious and frequent. Part of his attraction was that Aaron was the same size as Chase. As they had gym together, Chase was also aware that puberty could be making a few visits to Aaron’s house but wasn’t taking up residence there any more than it was at his own.
For Chase, there was more to the attraction than just Aaron’s looks. Aaron was smart and funny. And too, Chase had seen him looking in his direction more than at the others at the table. When they happened to sit across from each other at lunch, neither was able to meet the other’s eyes. But the fact that Aaron looked away every time their eyes happened to connect made Chase wonder: could Aaron find Chase as attractive as Chase found Aaron and also be as shy as he was? And could Aaron possibly be gay, as Chase was pretty sure he himself was?
Chase hadn’t told anyone what he’d realized about his own sexuality for three years now. He’d been 12 when he’d seen he wasn’t sharing the interest the other boys he knew were showing for the girls in the school. All the crushes he was getting—and there were many of those—were for boys. This was the biggest secret he had, something he was terrified someone might find out. So, he’d been shocked when, during all the time he’d spent with his granddad discussing and arguing The Plan, Jed had casually mentioned that what they needed to make The Plan work would be for Chase to find a partner to work with who had the same sexuality as Chase.
That was what Jed said, just very matter-of-factly, and Chase had frozen when he heard it. They’d been in the kitchen, fixing a snack. They were making nachos, the kind that had everything but the kitchen sink included. Chips, cheese, black olives, taco meat, more cheese, more chips, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeño chilis and more cheese. They were both standing at the kitchen bar working, and when Chase froze, Jed quietly put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “It’s okay, Chase,” he said softly, warmly. “Better than okay. I thought it was time for you to know that I know, and that my love for you wasn’t diminished in the slightest when I figured it out. You’re the best one in this family. You’re outstanding. But it’s time to stop hiding who you are and move on past that. I know you don’t think you’re ready to come out. You don’t think you’re brave enough. But you are.”
It had taken a few days, but Jed had a way of convincing most anyone about most anything, and he’d gone to work on Chase. So now Chase was about to talk to Aaron. Actually talk to him. Scary a little? Yes! Other than occasionally saying a few words to each other in general discussions with others about something over lunch, they hadn’t really talked to each other. Looked at each other? Yes, but only when the other wasn’t looking. Spoken? No. Such is life in school for shy boys who might or might not be gay.
Chase hadn’t known how to break the ice, and Jed had suggested some ways. Hadn’t told him what to do, just given him some ideas and told him it was his job to figure out how best to do it and then actually do it. But Jed and been emphatic that Chase could do this, he really could, and he must work up the courage to take that first frightening step.
And now it was time to do it. Chase had decided that he would, as much not to let his granddad down as to help himself. That made it easier; doing it just for himself, he could well have chickened out. As he always had before. But he didn’t want to look his granddad in the eye when he was asked if he’d spoken to Aaron and admit he hadn’t. He didn’t want to see the disappointment the man was sure to show.
Chase felt shaky and unsure as he waited for Aaron to enter the cafeteria and get in line with his tray. When he did, Chase grabbed a tray of his own and got in line right behind him.
“Mac and cheese today,” he said, breaking the silence between the two, starting what he hoped would be a conversation and not just a word or two.
“My favorite,” said Aaron, and accompanied the words with the smile that made Chase swallow before speaking again. And then he forced himself to say the words that would hopefully set the tone for what he wanted to come next.
“Yeah. I know.”
Aaron’s smile broadened, and his eyes seemed to grow larger and darker. “You know?”
Chase smiled now, too. “Of course. I’ve been watching you since seventh grade and eating lunch with you since our freshman year here. I’m pretty sure you know what my favorites are, too.”
Aaron didn’t miss a beat. “Meatloaf in eighth grade, tacos here in high school. And the shirt you’re wearing today.” Then he blushed and looked down. He was no more ready for this than Chase was, but was also just as eager for it to happen.
Chase laughed. He’d thought this was going to be so hard. And all he’d had to do was speak up.
“Thought so,” he said. “I’ve been watching you since then and been way too shy to say anything.”
Aaron’s expressive eyes were wide open in wonder. “Me, too! Where’d you suddenly get the courage?”
“I’m much older now,” Chase said, rolling his eyes to show how absurd that was, and then they both laughed.
Over lunch, sitting across from each other and paying very little attention to the others at the table, they arranged to hang out after school. Chase told him he spent a lot of time at his granddad’s house, and he invited Aaron to come over after school; told him they had things to talk about, lots of things to talk about. Aaron was happy to be invited.
Jed liked Aaron immediately. The two boys didn’t look to be 15; 13 was more like it. They were cute together, and it seemed neither ever took his eyes off the other. They were in the initial stages of finding a first love, and their emotions were running high.
Jed decided this wouldn’t be a good time to talk about The Plan, one that would certainly include Aaron. Much better to let them have their time of discovery together now. They needed that; the stronger their bond grew, the better off they’d be.
After Aaron had left for dinner that first afternoon, Chase asked if he could have Aaron over for a sleepover on the weekend, and for it to be at Jed’s house. Jed agreed. Chase had no problem telling his parents he’d be at his granddad’s house over the weekend. Aaron had no problem getting permission as well. His parents were happy he was finally finding a good friend, a very good friend the way he was acting. They’d thought that he might be gay for months; perhaps this sleepover might help him decide that for himself. And if he already knew that about himself, it might help him gain the courage to talk to them about it.
Friday night, both boys were so nervous they just picked at their dinners. They really hadn’t talked about what they’d do together upstairs. But both had certainly thought about it.
After helping clear the table, it was only half-past seven, too early to go to bed, though they were both thinking about it. Jed had been repressing his smiles all evening. Now, watching them fidget and only shyly look at each other, both their insecurities having come back big-time, Jed asked Chase to show Aaron the basement. Then he caught Chase’s arm as Aaron had already started down the stairs.
“Be honest with him! Tell him what you’re feeling. He’s feeling the same things, and it’ll help you both to speak about it,” he said softly.
Chase nodded nervously, then followed Aaron down the stairs.
Jed’s basement had two finished rooms, one a game room with a pool table, a ping-pong table, a darts board and card tables. There were shelves loaded with board games. The other room was equipped with a large TV set and sound system. There were chairs and couches set up for groups to watch the screen or listen to music.
Jed had been showing Chase how to play pool for years, and he’d become pretty skilled at it. Aaron had never played but did play ping pong, so the two boys did that and had some competitive games working off their nervous energy. After that, Chase suggested they talk in the other room. He turned on the stereo, tuned to an FM station popular with teens, then sat on a couch. Aaron sat down, too, twisting so they were facing each other.
“Are you as nervous as I am?” Chase asked Aaron.
“Nervous and excited. I’ve never even held hands with a boy before. I guess we’ll do a lot more than that tonight?”
Chase laughed. “I sure hope so. But I’m nervous and excited, too. I’ve dreamed about this. I’ve dreamed about you, too.”
“Me, too. Daydreams, too. So I’m not asleep and know what I’m doing!” Then he blushed.
Chase nodded. “Me, too. So we both know what we want. I guess that means we don’t have to be nervous. We just have to do what feels right and enjoy it. Us being together. I really like that.”
“That sounds good. Are you ready? Now?”
“More than ready. Let’s go up.”
They climbed the stairs, said goodnight to Jed, who was reading the paper in the living room, and went up to the bedroom Chase used when he slept over. He did that quite a bit. Jed paid attention to him. His parents rarely did.
Chase closed the door. “Let’s get undressed,” he said, his voice now breathy.
Aaron didn’t reply, just started pulling his tee shirt up and off.
When they were both naked, they stopped and looked at each other.
“I always liked looking at you in the showers after gym,” Aaron said. His voice sounded much like Chase’s.
Chase replied. “I never looked at you more than just a glance and never down below. Just knowing you were there, naked, made me fight not to get hard. I couldn’t let myself even think of you.”
“I was the same,” Aaron agreed. “Although, I did glance at you, down there, but very quickly and then away. I did start to get hard, but I’m small enough that no one really noticed.”
“You’re perfect,” said Chase, looking now. Both boys were as hard as they’d ever been. They looked at each other’s rigidity for a moment, and then Chase said, “Let’s get in bed.”
It was a queen-sized bed, plenty big enough for two small boys. When they were in, Chase reached out and hugged Aaron the best he could, and within moments Aaron was lying on top of him with Chase’s arms around him, pulling them tighter together. Aaron, feeling very daring, gave Chase a quick kiss, a peck, really, and smiled. Chase couldn’t grow harder, but he felt like he was doing so. He reached his head up so his lips could meet Aaron’s, and this time the kiss was longer and more intense.
Without much thought, as they kissed their hips began moving and then were moving steadily, and the rubbing together that caused was more exciting than anything they’d ever felt.
The excitement was too much, the physical sensation over the top, and much sooner than either expected, they both reached orgasm together.
It was the first of the night; it wasn’t the last.
Both boys slept very soundly that night, their bodies still touching.
Aaron started spending a lot of time at Jed’s house. The Plan was avoided for a few days, and then Aaron was brought into the fold and told about it. He joined in enthusiastically. He, being small like Chase, had been bullied, and also by Gray. The chance to do something about that was an opportunity not to be missed. He was nowhere as reluctant as Chase. Of course, his part of The Plan wasn’t nearly as challenging.
Soon after that, the boys went to work. The first steps were research and undercover surveillance. The results of that came much sooner than expected. They’d thought it would take several weeks. It took four days.
And then they were ready.
The boys went to school with hearts full of excitement and just a tinge of fear. They’d never engaged in such a risky undertaking before, but the fact they were in it together gave them more courage than either would have had as an individual.
They waited till lunch to act. The entire school had the same lunch hour, and everyone congregated in the cafeteria. Everyone except Chase and Aaron. Chase went instead to Gray’s locker. He learned where that was during the four-day info-gathering period. Simultaneously, Aaron went to the boys’ gym locker room. He now knew the location of Gray’s gym locker and the combination of his lock; sneaky use of the video feature on his cellphone during those four days had allowed him to capture Gray opening the lock. Later, with Chase at Jed’s house, they’d enlarged the video and learned the combination.
It took only moments for Chase to spray paint three words on Gray’s locker in pink paint: Gray is gay!!! It took a bit more time but not all that much for Aaron to open Gray’s locker and spray pink paint on Gray’s gym clothes and jock.
They then both removed the latex gloves they’d worn, threw the paint canisters in the trash, and showed up just a little late in the cafeteria for lunch. Their hearts had slowed by then.
They waited till the next day for their second act. This was the delicate part of The Plan. They needed just a bit of luck, but their work during the four days and success the day before led them to believe everything would work out.
Lunch hour was approaching. When the bell rang ending the last class before lunch, Aaron and Chase were both the first ones out the doors of their classrooms. They had to get in place quickly, and they did that. They were ready. Now it was a matter of waiting and hoping their surveillance would pay off.
Their waiting was short. They were happy to see things happening just as they were supposed to. Gray was walking down the hall with his cohorts, nearing where Chase was standing. At the same time, Mr. Covner was coming down a side hall and approaching the cafeteria door. Right on time. Just like the four days they’d watched. You could set your clock on him.
Chase stepped up, moving so he was in Gray’s path. “Hey, Gray, I hear you’re gay. No wonder you keep messing with me. You like me! Well, I don’t like you, and even if I were gay, you’d be the last person in the world I’d get with. You’re an asshole.”
“Fuck you,” Gray replied, and he didn’t say it softly. He yelled it. Then he shoved Chase, shoved him hard, and Chase, expecting it, stumbled several steps backward, then managed to fall down.
Mr. Covner turned when he heard Gray yelling. He saw the push, and he saw Chase fall, then roll into a fetal position. As Gray walked past him, he turned to kick Chase before walking on.
Gray entered the cafeteria right after Mr. Covner. Aaron helped Chase to his feet. Then they both went in and had lunch.
The next day was another day testing the boys’ courage. Chase wanted Jed to come with them. He’d pleaded with him. Jed just smiled compassionately and declined.
“That wouldn’t allow you to feel the satisfaction you’re going to feel when you accomplish this on your own. Yeah, it’s scary facing off against an authoritarian adult. But you hold four aces in your hand, and she has a small pair. You can’t lose. Just maintain your cool. Don’t raise your voice. The person who does that shows weakness and defeat. She’ll try to intimidate you, but you’re in the right and she’s not. You can do this, Chase. And you’ll have Aaron there with you. This is your moment to shine, and I’m not going to take that away from you. You’re ready for this.”
So, the two boys were standing at the counter in the office, asking for an audience with Mrs. Gonzales. They were asked why, and Chase told the receptionist it was a private matter, but they needed to see her, and the school handbook said that students could meet with the principal anytime they should find it necessary to do so.
They were made to wait fifteen minutes before being allowed to enter her office. They didn’t mind; they were missing their scheduled class. It was their gym class. They both were able to grin about that, even through their nervousness.
Mrs. Gonzales didn’t rise when they entered, nor did she smile. “What is it?” she asked, sounding impatient.
Chase was the designated speaker. Aaron was there for moral support more than anything else. Chase hesitated before speaking, meeting her eyes while doing so—he’d been coached to do that—then said, “May we sit? This will take some time, and it would be easier if we were sitting.”
Jed had told him it would be churlish of her to refuse this request and make her look sillier if the meeting went the way it was expected to.
She studied the boys for a moment, thought, and decided it was in her best interest to grant the request. She nodded, and both boys sat down in the chairs in front of her desk. Chase then had the floor.
“Mrs. Gonzales,” he said, trying his best to keep his voice even and unaffected by his nervousness; Jed had told him the absolute best way to impress anyone was to speak with confidence; if he wasn’t able to do that, he must still try to the best of his ability; even some confidence was better than none. “I’m here to follow up on the meeting we had before. I told you I was being bullied. You told me you didn’t believe me. I’m here to discuss this again.”
He paused but kept his eyes focused on hers. Again, Jed’s advice.
When she opened her mouth to speak, he beat her to the punch, precluding anything she had to say. “You spoke about conforming to the school’s handbook to defend why you didn’t do anything about it then. Before I go any further, I’d like to know if that’s still your position: do you still adhere to the policy statements in the book?”
Mrs. Gonzales frowned. “Are you interrogating me? Students don’t talk to me this
way. What are you suggesting?”
“It’s a very simple question. You based your decision when we last talked on the school’s rules and procedures as outlined in the handbook. I just want to know if what’s in the book is what we’re supposed to follow. If that’s how the school will continue to be run.”
Mrs. Gonzales thought it sounded like she was being put on the spot, perhaps even being tricked, but she knew the handbook was well-written, and she couldn’t get in trouble by accepting it as a treatise on school policy. So, she smiled, nodded, and said, “Of course.”
Chase nodded, too. “All right then, this will go very easily. The student handbook is clear on how bullying will be handled. Bullying is also mentioned in the teachers’ handbook—what the teachers’ responsibilities are in addressing it. You agreed that the rules will be followed without specifying which handbook, so it’s quite obvious both books have equally valid rules.”
Mrs. Gonzales opened her mouth again, but Chase rushed on. He was close to making his point and didn’t want her interrupting that or stealing his steam.
“I’m still being bullied. So are other smaller students here. Aaron here is one of them. But you wanted proof of that, and I now have it. We have a video showing what happened to me yesterday at lunchtime. It’s happened before, but I didn’t have proof then; I do now.
“Mrs. Gonzales, how you handle the bully is very clear in the book. I will expect him to be suspended for two weeks and not given the right to make up any missed assignments. He will be kicked off the football team. And he will not be allowed to mess with me when he returns. If he does that, and/or bullies anyone else, he will be expelled.
“That is all cut and dried, and the suspension should happen today, right after this meeting is concluded. But that’s only half of what must be done. In the teachers’ handbook, bullying is also discussed. As you know, it says any teacher witnessing or hearing of bullying has to report it to the principal immediately. One of your teachers witnessed me being bullied yesterday. We know that he didn’t report it to you immediately. In fact, we believe he hasn’t reported it at all. The book says failure to do the required reporting will result in termination. Therefore, we expect Mr. Covner to be fired, and expect it also to happen today.”
Chase stopped, took a deep breath, and sat back in his chair. It was Mrs. Gonzales’ turn.
Mrs. Gonzales didn’t enjoy being a high-school principal. She’d come up through the ranks: substitute teacher, full-time teacher, vice-principal, now principal, but her long-term goal was always to be in school administration, working for the school board and working nowhere near a school building. Admin was where the money was, where the headaches of managing students and teachers and parents weren’t part of her job. Accordingly, her main goal, each and every day, was to obviate any and all problems that had to be handled at her level without any fuss. Without any disruption that would cause ripples above her. With a spotless record that would cushion her way upwards.
What she was looking at here was the opposite of that. Bullying in her school? Bullying was a hot topic. No administrator lasted long if they didn’t eliminate bullying at their school. Here, bullying was being shown to be existent in her school. What was worse was, bullying had been brought to her attention earlier, and she had failed to stop it.
At the time, she hadn’t thought she needed to do anything about it. The boy complaining had seemed insignificant, and if she lowered the boom on him and dismissed him out of hand, she’d never expected he’d be brave enough to complain again. So, problem solved, and no one above her would ever hear about it.
And firing a teacher mid-term? No, that would make more of a fuss than she could tolerate.
It seemed to her that quashing the complaint and sending these two whiners home with their tails between their legs was the way to handle this. And with these two now looking at her, practically quivering in their chairs, she could certainly do that. She had a good idea of how to do it, too.
She sat back in her chair just as Chase was doing in his, showing that she was relaxed and not concerned with what she’d heard. When she spoke, however, her voice was cold as ice.
“You say you have proof, but you haven’t shown me any. You say you have a video. Let’s discuss that.”
Now she paused, letting the suspense build. “How is it you happen to have a video?”
Chase was the spokesman of the two, and he replied. “The bullying occurred in the hallway outside the cafeteria. Aaron had his phone out, checking for calls he may have missed during class. He heard the bully, Gray, yell out a dirty word and took the video of what happened next.”
Mrs. Gonzales struck. “And you know there’s a rule about phones in the school. It’s in the handbook. No phones turned on during classes and no videos taken anywhere in the school. It’s there for student protection and privacy issues. But what that means here is, as you took this video inside the school, it’s illegitimate. A violation of policy. Because of that, I don’t even want to see it. It has no place in this discussion. So, other than that, what proof do you have?”
Chase dropped his eyes, and Mrs. Gonzales smiled. “What I should do is suspend Aaron for breaking that rule. That’s in the book, too.”
Chase slowly raised his head, met Mrs. Gonzales’ eyes, and spoke softly but clearly. “I’ve read that book, Mrs. Gonzales. I have it at home. I also saw the teachers’ book and made a copy of the relevant part. But the student book, I’ve practically memorized that. You’re neglecting four words that are important concerning videos. Do you remember them? Or are you forgetting them on purpose? You probably do remember them. It’s the part that says no videos will be taken inside the school. And then it adds: unless it’s an emergency. Aaron felt a student being bullied was an emergency, as he would need proof it happened.
“You can argue that if you want, but that argument will be in front of the school board. That’s where I’ll take this if you want to insist that the video does not show an emergency situation. You may never have been bullied, Mrs. Gonzales, but I have, and believe me when I say to any kid being bullied, it is an emergency.”
Mrs. Gonzales told them she’d think about it. No rush decisions.
Chase told her he wanted something done with both Gray and Mr. Covner, and as the circumstances were clear and unarguable, her acts had to be immediate. He said if Gray remained, he’d continue to bully both of them, and it had to stop now. It was all right with him if she didn’t fire Mr. Covner till the end of the week; Gray had to be suspended today.
Mrs. Gonzales said she would not be rushed. She’d make her decision and act when she was ready, and they should go back to their scheduled classes.
Chase shook his head. “You still don’t understand what it’s like to not feel safe in the halls or the locker room. It has to be today. If you won’t do that, I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. You will not like it, but I feel I must. If not to protect me, to protect Aaron. He’s been bullied as long as I have. So, tell me Gray will be suspended today, or I’ll have to go to my alternate plan.”
Mrs. Gonzales’ face was now red. “What plan?” she said, and her voice was very loud and pitched much higher than it had been.
Chase stood up, and so did Aaron right with him. Chase reached in his pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. He laid it on her desk. “That’s Lucy Mendor’s phone number and her work address. You probably have read her columns. I’ve already spoken with her. She’ll print my story in tomorrow’s Sun Times. I called her and told her I had a story for her. She listened, then wrote a great piece. She’s really good. It’s an amazing human-interest story. Anyone reading it will end up quite emotionally moved. You must know how she writes. Her sob-story stuff affects everyone. Moves mountains, too. Public opinion sways even the biggest of big shots in this town. Maybe you can call her and talk her out of printing what she’s written. She will put it in the paper unless I call her before 3 PM today. And because of what I’m hearing from you, I’m not planning to call her.”
He turned and started for the door, Aaron on his heels.
“You can’t threaten me!” Mrs. Gonzales screamed at his back.
Chase turned around to face her. “I didn’t threaten you. I told you what I wasn’t going to do. I’m not going to call her. But I did give you the opportunity to call her yourself to see if you can get her to back off. But be careful. If you decide to go that route, she might quote you.”
Then, instead of walking out, Chase walked back to her desk. “Here,” he said. “A memory stick with the video of Gray bullying me on it. Just so you have it.”
Then they both walked out.
Chase and Aaron were lying in bed in what Jed called his guest room and what they were calling their room. They were both breathing hard, something that wasn’t uncommon in that room, in that bed. All four of their hands were below the covers. All four were moving. That had a lot to do with the hard breathing.
“Gray’s gone,” Chase said. Well, gasped.
“I know,” grimaced Aaron, “and you know I know. Why are you talking?”
Chase gulped some air. “Mrs. Gonzales caved. She suspended Gray and fired Mr. Covner, too. She even apologized to me.”
“Stop talking,” Aaron pleaded.
Chase had just enough breath left for one more statement. “I never before felt what I felt when we walked out of that office. Granddad was right. I felt a whole foot taller.”
And then he did stop talking. He had to. He was out of breath, and with Aaron continuing what he’d been doing, Chase soon began grunting incoherently.
The photos are free usage from Pexels: Chase’s picture is by Max Fisher, Aaron’s by Jc Laurio.
Many thanks to Colin, Dan, Rob and Linc for their editing prowess.
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