The boy tossed and turned, moaning, as dreams ran through his mind. Dreams of power, position, wealth. A life of ease and luxury, with his father smiling joyously at his successful son. And at the beginning of his rise to power, a simple thing he'd love to do. And a promise that he'd be protected from the consequences...
Jeremy and Billy idled along, chatting lightly as they waited for lunch to start. "So, turd-head," Jer teased as he added a little dancing slide-step on top of the sly tone all boys use for certain subjects, "learned some 'moves' yet?"
"Shut up, snot-rag!" Billy snapped, annoyed. "I don't have Mary panting over me to work with," he shot back.
"Oh, a low blow!" Jer replied in mock anger, reflexively hiding the signs of a hit. Which, even as he did it, he knew was a mistake. Billy would see right through it in an instant, and know exactly where to hit him again, when he least wanted it. That's the problem with having known your best friend for the last twelve years -- literally from birth. He knows everything about you. Everything.
Of course the reverse was true, and sometimes the bad guys do you favors. "Jer," Billy growled, "Is that what I think it is?"
Jer looked where Billy was pointing and took off in a flash, Billy not two steps behind him. Bullies were something they all -- well, with Eddy missing, both -- hated. And Dommy over there was the local king bully, leaving no doubt in any sane mind as to what he was doing anytime he was near anyone smaller than himself. Much less pressing said someone up against the side of a slide.
Jer tackled him at a full sprint before Dommy even knew he was there, fists flying furiously as he beat him with exactly the same mercy that would have been shown were their positions reversed -- a situation both were familiar with. Of course, being all of twelve and lacking any martial arts training, neither of them could do all that much damage, again something both of them knew from experience.
It didn't change the satisfaction Jer felt at the snap he heard when he broke Dommy's nose, leading to a crimson flood coating the both of them. Or the rage when a wildly flailing limb from someone else split his lip.
"Fight, fight, fight," went up the age-old chant, summoning every adult in thirty miles. Or so it felt as the supervisory personnel piled in to break up the fight just as Jer and Billy started to be overwhelmed by Dommy's clique.
"Damn, I wish Eddy had been here," Billy whispered over to Jer as they sat in the office, waiting. The damage may have been superficial, but it was far from painless. Billy hissed as he probed a scrape on one of his knees.
"You and me both, turd-head!" Jer whispered back, probing a loose tooth with his tongue. "I hope I don't loose my tooth," he muttered to himself. "Wasn't he supposed to be back by now?"
"I duuno," Billy answered, "I thought they were just going for the weekend."
"Quiet!" Mrs. Hecklerson snapped from her desk.
Jer and Billy glared at her for a moment before turning away. Across the room, Dommy and his cronies snickered, earning themselves a "Quiet!" of their own.
"Alright, boys," Mr. Tompkins announced as he strode from his office. "Your parents are on their way. They should be here shortly, especially your father, Dominick. Mr. Collins sounded... most displeased with you when I called him."
Dommy paled in fear, mouth moving slightly as if to repeat a single word, over and over. Billy smiled at the idea of Dommy getting his comeuppance.
"Now, tell me exactly what happened out there!"
Everyone started gabbling at once, and Mr. Tompkins shouted them down, "One at a time..." looking for a moment before pointing at Dommy, "You first!"
"Well, err," Dommy hedged for a moment. "My friends and I were just hangin' out, enjoying our lunch period, when we saw Jeremy over there pounding on some little kid..."
"You lying rat bas-" Jeremy shouted, only to be interrupted by Mr. Tompkins.
"Sit down Mr. Young, you are in enough trouble as it is!" Mr Tompkins was loud enough to drown Jer's voice out, and Jer sat back sown sullenly. "I assure you, Mr. Young, you will have every opportunity to give a rebuttal, and Lady Justice is quite blind, but no one's fool."
Jer didn't understand the allusion, but he sure understood the wink that with it. The principal was nobodies fool... Not even Dominick Collins.
Mr. Tompkins gave a small nod to Dommy, who quickly span a little tale of heroism for the principal. Picking each of Dommy's cronies in turn, Mr. Tompkins ran through their variations on "What he said," very quickly.
"Jeremy Derek Young, what do you have to say for yourself?" the principal 'scolded' Jer. Had Dommy and his cronies been paying attention, they wouldn't have been leering at Jer quite so hard, as the principal's tone had an almost amused air to it.
"They are a bunch of lying, rat-bast-"
"Watch your language!" the principal scolded Jeremy.
"Sorry, they are a bunch of liars, that better?" Jer asked.
"As a teacher, I'm prohibited from echoing that statement Jeremy, even if... Well, I trust that if the opportunity to introduce their parents to each other comes around, you'll take it."
Everyone looked around in non-comprehension for a moment before Mrs. Hecklerson started snickering at her desk. "Sorry sir, but that is just to... oh, I'll have to remember that one."
"It's quite alright Janice, I'll overlook it this once. Now, Jeremy, you still owe me your side of the story. But," Mr. Tompkins winked again as he gave a large, almost theatrical sigh. "It really doesn't matter, does it? There are six of them, and only two of you. Six voices for the one story, and only two voices to support yours. You are quite outnumbered..."
Mr. Tompkins turned and grinned at Dommy and his gang, who matched his grin with their own. "Which is why I sought out a third viewpoint," Mr. Tompkins smugly informed the suddenly frightened bullies. "Come on out, Alfred!"
The little boy Dommy had been bullying earlier poked his head out of the office, then slowly trundled out to stand in front of the principal. "So, Alfred," Mr. Tompkins asked jovially, "does Dominick's story bear any relation to the truth?"
Alfred cocked his head for a moment before whispering, "Yes," and hanging his head down.
"What?!" Mr. Tompkins snapped, eyes flashing. "But you just told me in my office..." Mr. Tompkins' mouth opened and closed a few times as he tried, and failed, to come up with appropriate words for this. "Did you just lie to me?"
"I told you the truth!" Alfred protested.
"But the two statements... they contradict each other!" Mr. Tompkins protested.
"Sir, if I might interject a comment," Mrs. Hecklerson interrupted, "you asked him if Dominick's statement bore a relation to the truth... your rather bombastic diction might have bewildered the child."
Jeremy didn't have a clue what that last statement was, but both he and Billy were laughing over the first part.
"Ack, alas, oh no, woe is me!" Mr. Tompkins hammed, "I am hoist upon my own petard!" More seriously he look back at Alfred and asked, "What is the relationship between his story and the truth?"
"His story was right, but he was the bully, and he," pointing at Jer, "rescued me!"
"Ah, at last, the truth shall out! The truth shall out and the truth shall set us free, and by golly I can handle the truth!" Mr. Tompkins shouted melodramatically. Naturally, the allusions went right over every single head in the room but for the two adults. "Now," he continued more seriously, "for punishment...."
"It is completely and utterly against school rules to fight on campus," he began, only to turn and shout at Dominick. "It is a disgrace, however, an utter, embarrassing, filthy, intolerable disgrace at that, to bully a child half your size, and with five of the biggest children on campus to back you!"
Mr. Tompkins paced back and forth, arms wildly gesticulating, "You 'gentlemen'," he sneered, "and I use that term very lightly and only for lack of a proper epithet that I might use in front of children, disgust me. You make me want to wretch, puke my guts out all over the ground. You are children, but you aren't acting childishly, you are acting as little monsters fit to grow up into thugs and murderers rather than sane, productive members of society."
The cold rage on Mr. Tompkins face scared Jer shitless, even if it wasn't directed at him.
Jer blinked, abruptly remembering the pills Billy was on, and more importantly their side effects, then glanced over at him. Billy was squeezing his legs shut in the age old bladder control efforts familiar to parents everywhere. His weakened bladder was threatening him with the most humiliating fate in the known universe.
"Mrs Hecklerson," Mr. Tompkins's changed tone signaled his shift in subject, "please escort these other three to the restroom. William's pills appear to be acting up again, and the other two don't need to hear this."
"Yes Mr. Tompkins," she replied demurely, then walked around her desk and, with a jerk of her head to order them to follow, left the room. Jeremy watched Billy closely as they left, something nagging him. He just couldn't place it, but had something to do with the way his friend was walking. That was it! The way he was walking looked right, but it wasn't. Jer knew Billy well enough to tell that his gait was off. Either he was... no, he was developing a limp.
As they neared the restroom, Billy moved on ahead of them, trying to reach it as quickly as possible. Jer and Alfred walked more slowly, keeping behind Mrs. Hecklerson as she walked them to their destination.
"School rules," she told them conversationally, "are often rather unfair. They are created by a school board filled with elderly ladies and gentlemen, incapable of remembering the fiery passions of youth."
"Mrs. Hecklerson?" Jer asked, confused by these revelations.
She leaned against the wall opposite the restroom door door and gestured for them to walk in. "Go, talk to your friend for a bit. And take care of your own... business... while you're at it."
"Oh... kay..." Jer answered, confused.
"And remember what I said... the rules may have just reasons for their existence, but they are often unfair. As is life."
Jer shook his head and ushered Alfred in ahead of him. Billy was zipping up in front of the urinal as Jer walked up beside him. "How much trouble do you think we're in?"
"Too much," Billy answered. "Mr. Tompkins really doesn't have a lot of options when it comes to dealing with fights, and this time we not only did it on campus, but we got caught 'red-handed'. He's going to throw the book at Dommy, but..."
"But even 'light' punishment for us is gonna be pretty bad," Jer agreed.
"But you were just helping me!" Alfred protested from the sinks.
"Don't matter," Billy sighed. "Dad promised a long time ago, if I ever got myself suspended... well, my ass is grass now!"
"Oh God... oh fucking hell, Da!" Jer went white as his eyes widened. His father was going to be really unhappy if he got suspended, and if memory served... "Fighting is an automatic suspension, that's what Mrs. Hecklerson was trying to point out!" Jer slumped against a nearby wall, not bothering to finish zipping up.
"Yeah, you took this long to remember that?" Billy asked.
"Normally, a certain someone isn't stupid enough to pick a fight on school grounds!" Jer complained. "
"Well, this time he did!" Billy snapped.
"Gee, ya think?" Jer shouted back. Billy snarled, and walked over to wash his hands.
Jer wasn't sure, but it sounded like Billy muttered "Worth it." He didn't ask, it wasn't worth it. After a moment to compose himself he went over to the sinks and washed his hands. Alfred, wisely, stayed silent and just waited for them to finish.
When they were done, Jer sarcastically ushered Billy ahead of him with a wave of his hands. Billy inclined his head in response and trooped out, head held high.
"I trust you had a good conversation, children?" Mrs. Hecklerson asked before leading them back towards the office. In the parking lot, Jer saw a car pull up to the parking space nearest the office and realized the parents had begun arriving. He didn't recognize the man who got out of the car and stormed into the office, but wished Mrs. Hecklerson would pick up the pace a little. From the looks of it, things were about to get... interesting inside. The man did not look happy, and given his sheer size and attitude, that implied things Jer was kinda worried about.
"Don't worry child, you'll get plenty of entertainment without running ahead to see," she commented. Jer paused for a moment before glancing up at her. Her slight smile confirmed his growing suspicions.
"You know, everyone thinks-" Jer began.
"That I'm a total witch? I know," Mrs. Hecklerson interrupted him. "It's part of the job." Jer's mouth clicked shut and he decided discretion was the better part of valor. It's not like she'd answer, anyway. "You did good today, Jer, and you don't deserve the shi- erm, the trouble that's about to descend upon you. We tried..." Mrs. Hecklerson broke off with a sigh. "We knew it was coming, but the school board has proven completely unresponsive to- Why am I telling you this?"
"Because you think he should know?" Billy prompted. "They knew about Dommy's activities, Jer, and have been trying to stop him, but they only have so much power. For some reason, the cops don't want to cross Dommy's father, and that's left the school with little room to act."
"How do you know so much?" Jer snapped.
"I..." Billy started.
"You've already said more than you should, boy!" Mrs. Hecklerson interrupted. "That's for the principal to explain, when the time comes."
"Like he's not gonna figure it out!" Billy shouted.
"True; neither of you is dumb. But..." Mrs. Hecklerson stopped mid-stride, glancing over her shoulder. "Where's Alfred?"
"Alfred is... right..." Jer trailed off. "He was right behind us when we left the restroom..."
"Go get him. Now!" she snapped. "What the hell is that boy..."
"There he is!" Billy shouted, pointing ahead. Alfred had gone around the building in the opposite direction, running to make up the extra time, and was already at the office.
"Move!" Mrs. Hecklerson snapped, and came as close to a run as she could manage in high heels and a skirt. Jer and Billy darted ahead and slipped in the door just in time to catch the end of Alfred's diatribe.
"...me! You can't do it, you won't! It's wrong!"
"Shut up!" the man they'd seen get out of his car sneered angrily, shoving the little boy aside. "I didn't come here to listen to some pipsqueak complain! Now, what the hell is going on here, and why the fuck did you call me in from work?"
Mr. Tompkins took a deep breath, and then addressed Alfred, who had managed to keep on his feet thanks to the support of the counter he'd been thrown into. "Alfred, I'll explain matters to you later, for now please just-"
"Hey, idiot, I'm the one you should be talking to!" the other man blustered, pulling up to his full height and leaning forward, one fist down on the counter to support his weight.
"Mr. Collins, you will kindly wait until I have finished with my pupil here!" Mr. Tompkins ordered harshly, as Mrs. Hecklerson caught up. "Your son has violated a number of school rules, and dealing with it will take long enough that I don't think-"
"I know you don't think! My son ain't broke no rules, what are you accusing him of?" Mr. Collins blustered.
Billy gulped. He'd never met Dommy's dad, and now he was quite glad about it. The man stood a good ten feet tall, and the scars on his face suggested he'd seen more than a few fights. Add in the bulging muscles and nasty attitude, and he couldn't imagine why Mr. Tompkins was pushing the matter.
"Your son's history of bullying-" Mr. Tompkins began again.
"Bah! Fighten' nothing to worry 'bout!" Mr. Collins shouted angrily.
"Mr. Collins, he attacked Alfred here, physically threatening him in an effort to extort his-" Mr. Tompkins tried to explain.
"So what? If the shrimp can't protect himself, he needs to toughen up! Life ain't fair, and you ain't gonna do him no good by coddling him!" Mr. Collins punctuated his comments by poking Mr. Tompkins several times.
"Mr. Collins," Mr. Tompkins finally shouted, using a level of volume designed to be heard across the playground, "your son's constant bullying is no longer tolerable at this school! I am, on my own authority, immediately suspending him for ten days, the maximum time allowed to me. I am also recommending both expulsion, and forwarding of todays events to police and social services, with recommendation that he be immediately removed from your care and placed into a specialized care facility."
Jer rubbed his ears, a little deafened by the volume of the shouting. Mr. Collins went pale with rage, and his mouth opened and closed in a small, repeated convulsion as he tried to speak. "Remove..." he finally muttered. "My son..." he continued, slightly louder before working into a full up roar. "You ain't taking my son nowheres!"
"I'm afraid that's not my call, or he would have already been removed from your care!" Mr. Tompkins shot back angrily. "His behavior has been reprehensible for years, and has long since moved into the realm of intolerable. How you have convinced the police to avoid taking action I don't know, but you don't have the same leverage on me! If Mr. Young here-"
"Young?!" Mr. Collins shouted and spun around. Jer took a step back, cowed by the sheer rage on the mans face. "Young," he growled, holding the word out. Jer shrank against the wall as the gaze passed him over. "Dominick," he ground out slowly. "What is the name of that Jeremy kid you keep talkin' bout?"
"Jeremy Young," Dommy supplied.
"Jeremy. Young." Mr. Collins whispered.
Mr. Tompkins shook his head in confusion. "Is there something wrong with the name?"
Mr. Collins spun around and face Mr. Tompkins again. "Is Mr. Young going to be showing up? The boy's father, I mean?"
"Well, yes, I called him... he said he'd have to drive back to town from a meeting, but he expected to be here in another, oh," Mr. Tompkins checked the clock, "Yeah, another five minutes or so."
"I'll wait," Mr. Collins growled, and then sat down next to his son with a thud.
"Okay..." Mr. Tompkins shook his head, clearly confused by the sudden change, and turned back around to find Alfred. "Alfred?" he asked.
Alfred poked his head out of the principal's office. "You done?" he asked tremulously.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Mr. Tompkins reassured him. "You can come out now," he added with a bit of humor in his voice.
"He gonna hurt ya?" Alfred asked.
"No, kid, now get your ass out here!" Mr. Collins growled.
Alfred quickly vanished back into the office, as Mr. Thompson turned and glared at Mr. Collins. "He's an eight year old child, and I would appreciate it if you remembered that!"
"Fine, fine, whatever," Mr. Collins muttered. "Kid," he bellowed, "get yourself in here right fu-" Mr. Collins frowned at Mr. Thompson before retrying, "Get yourself in here right now, kid!"
"Is it just me," Jer whispered to Billy, "or is Dommy's dad even stupider than Dommy?"
Billy snickered and nodded his head in agreement as he whispered back, "Here I was thinking that was against the laws of physics... guess we have a lot to learn!"
They couldn't stifle their snickers, and Mr. Collins growled over at them, "What do you two think is so funny?"
Billy and Jer grinned for a few moments before Jer trusted his voice enough to say, "Oh, nothing important."
"Well why don't you share it, I could use a joke," Mr. Collins said in what Jer was rapidly coming to believe was his normal tone of voice, a growl.
"Just that it's clear where Dommy gets his brains and award-wining personality from, Sir," Jer dead-panned, sending Billy into a nearly hysterical giggling fit.
Mr. Collins stood up and marched across the office, back ram-rod straight and mouth bared in what generously might be called a grin. For a moment, Jer regretted his his momentary urge to flippancy as Mr. Collins snarled, "And what does that mean, you snot nosed little punk?"
"Woh!" Jer exclaimed, waving his hand in front of his face. "Get a tic-tac man!" Billy didn't giggle at this sally, edging away in a desperate attempt to not be noticed. After all, he didn't have his Dad here to take Mr. Collins on if he tried anything. Like reaching down, grabbing him by the shoulders, and lifting him effortlessly, like he was doing to Jer.
Though when you get down to it, he didn't really need his own Dad there at that particular moment.
"While my son may be less than tactful, that gives you no right to man-handle him," Da stated flatly from the door.
"That voice...." Mr. Collins whispered as he lowered Jer back into his chair. "Lieutenant Young," he said more loudly. "You no good god-damned son of a-"
"I retired as Captain Young," Da interrupted. "And have we met?"
"You don't remember me?" Mr. Collins asked, stunned.
"Should I?" Da asked. "Now, let my son go."
"Of course you should!" Mr. Collins snapped as he spun away from Jer's chair. "You ruined my life, and now you don't even know who I am? You... I..." Mr. Collins stopped talking, mouth opening and closing in a rage.
"Dominick, we're leaving. Now!" Mr. Collins walked out the door, shoving Da aside to do so. Dommy followed in a quick scuttling motion, trying to get past Da before he could react. Da frowned at the retreating figures before turning to face the principal. "What was that about?"
"I have no clue, Mr. Young," Mr. Thompson answered. "But it leaves me in a difficult situation..." He turned and faced Mrs. Hecklerson and asked politely, "My dear, I have no right to ask, but would you please try and catch them and make sure they know the rules about suspensions?"
"Certainly Mr. Thompson," she replied stiffly and walked out, grabbing a form off the desk as she went.
"Now I'm stuck doing the same thing for you, Mr. Young," Mr. Thompson sighed. Grabbing another prepared form from the desk, he handed it to Da. "Your son is suspended for fighting in school, an offense with a mandatory punishment of not less than three days suspension and a review by the school board for additional punishments, up to and including expulsion. I doubt any of these will take place, but I'm required to both inform you and provide you with written this written notice. For today, Jer is dismissed from classes to face any additional punishments you care to level, but he'll be expected report to the office tomorrow when classes start. From there, he'll be walked through the in-school suspension process."
"Jeremy Derick Young Jr," Da growled. "Would you care to explain yourself?"
"Da," Jer said levelly as he stood up. "I haven't... I mean, I... well..."
"Son," Da said softly, "take a nice, deep breath, organize your thoughts, then speak."
"Da, Billy and I were just enjoying our break when we saw Dommy beating up on a little kid and decided to help out. I know we aren't supposed to fight, but..." Jer trailed off.
"You 'helped out'. You attacked a 'little kid'?" Da asked gently.
"No!" Alfred interjected. "He helped me!"
Da turned to face Alfred and squatted down, "Hey there little one. Are you the one who this... Dommy... was hurting?"
"Yeah, and Jer helped me! Don't hurt him, please?" Alfred begged.
"Hurt him? Hurt him!?" Da exclaimed in a shocked tone of voice, and then stood up and faced Jer squarely. "Jeremy Derick Young, you fought on school grounds?"
"Yes Da," Jer admitted.
"You attacked a fellow student?"
"Yes Da," Jer agreed.
"You did this knowing the consequences of your actions?"
"Yes, Da," Jer agreed mournfully.
"You helped this little guy out?" Da asked, hitching a thumb over his shoulder. Jer noticed the slight frown on Mr. Thompson's face, and hoped it didn't mean trouble.
"Yes, D- Da," Jer agreed, surprise freezing him in the middle of the statement.
"You kept someone smaller and weaker than yourself from harm?" Da didn't bother to hide a forming grin.
"Yes Da," Jer agreed, understanding where this was going. The confusion on Mrs. Hecklerson' and Mr. Thompson' faces indicated they didn't understand, yet.
"You put your own welfare on the line to help someone else, someone weaker, and in so doing upheld the best traditions of our family?" Da asked.
"Yes, Da," Jer answered as the sudden grins on the principal and school secretary's faces told him they understood.
"Jeremy Derek Young, I am sincerely disappointed in you!" Da growled out in a joyous tone. "How could you act in such a manner as to get you suspended! It's a disgrace on our family name! It's totally unsat for you to to get yourself suspended! As such, I am going to have to punish you severely once we get home!"
"Yes, Da," Jer said meekly.
"That said, and I fear I may undo some of the good I've done here, but I think that saving this little guy deserves a bit of a reward, so what do you say we go grab lunch at Charlie's, and I'll give you ten dollars in tokens?"
Jer grinned, "That sounds great Da!" Charlie's was one of Jer's favorite places to go: pizza being any pre-teens favorite food, an all you can eat buffet plus an arcade made for a perfect night out. Or, in this case, a late lunch out.
"Charlie's?" Mr. Thompson's asked with a grin. "Sounds like fun -- enjoy yourselves!"
"Lucky snot-rag!" Billy muttered, too low for anyone else to hear. Jer just grinned back.
"Now, Principal, I'm afraid our business here isn't done," Da added off-hand.
"Oh, yes, I nearly forgot!" The principal grinned. "Here you go," he handed over another of the prepared forms. "All that I said earlier goes double for him, of course, and please make sure the family knows it when you drop him off. After lunch, of course! Wouldn't want them wasting away before our eyes!"
"Any idea what's going on, turd-head?" Jer asked Billy in a whisper.
"No clue, snot-rag," Billy replied just as quietly.
"Alright, time to go you two," Da said as he turned and walked for the door. Jer and Billy glanced at each other and then scrambled to follow.
"Da, both of us?" Jer asked.
"Oh, did I forget to tell you?" Da asked, clearly knowing the answer.
"Tell us what, Da?" Jer asked politely. Getting his Dad to answer questions could be like pulling teeth sometimes!
"Jack and Elly are both hung up at work, so they asked if I'd come in for them, so Billy is going to be coming home with us until they show up and get him," Da answered, grinning over his shoulder as he led them to the car.
"Billy, Jeremy," Mr. Thompson hollered from the office, "you forgot something!"
Billy and Jer turned around and ran back to grab the backpacks he was holding out for them, while Da laughed at them. "In a bit of a hurry, boys?" he asked.
"Shotgun!" Jer called when he saw the car, just a heartbeat ahead of Billy.
"Hey, it's my turn for shotgun!" Billy complained, running forward to claim 'his' seat.
"No, it's my turn, and I called it first anyway!" Jer shot back with a grin.
Da just ignored the squabbling and got into the drivers seat. After a moment, he turned the key in the ignition, put the car in reverse, and started pulling out. "Hey!" Jer and Billy exclaimed in unison. Da rolled down the windows and grinned at them.
"Make up your minds already, or I'll do it for you!" he told them.
Snickering, Jer opened the door, only to have Billy slip past him and claim the seat. "Fine, I guess it's your turn," he accepted defeat gracefully as he opened the rear door.
"Buckle up already!" Da ordered as he waited, patiently, half out of the parking spot. The second he heard the clicks of seat belts meeting buckles, he put the car back in gear and finished pulling out, just in time for another car to grab the spot. From the angry look of the man getting out, clearly another of Dommy's clique was about to get his comeuppance.
"Time for Charlie's!" Jer shouted as Da pulled out into the street.
"Actually, no," Da countered "first we drop by the house for a shower and clean clothes."
Jer looked down at his bloody shirt and blinked. "Oh, good idea."
"Man, I think I ate too much!" Jer complained as he staggered into the living room.
"Me too!" Billy said around a burp.
"So, what do you say to a game?" Jer asked, digging through his stash of PS5 games.
"After all the-" another burp interrupted Billy's rebuttal. "Excuse me! After all the ass-whooping I just gave you, you want some more? Bring it on snot-rag!"
"Puh-lease, turd-head, I let you win!" Jer shot back with a grin, picking out a game and tossing it to Billy for approval.
Billy grinned and slipped the game into the machine, "You're on, baby!"
They were deeply engrossed in their game when, hours later, Da poked his head into the room. "Gentlemen, if I may have your attention for a moment?" he asked wryly.
"Sure, Mr. Young!" Billy answered gleefully, pausing the game.
"Ah, da-" Jer paused and assessed the situation before continuing a heartbeat later, "er, dang it! I almost had you!"
"As entertaining as this may be, does either of you need anything from the grocery store? We're low on milk, so I'm going to have to get some if I'm going to finish making dinner," Da asked , carefully ignoring Jer's near slip.
"I'm good," Billy answered, "but I think Jer is gonna need some crow to go with his dinner!"
"In your dreams, turd-head!" Jer snapped back. "You're the one whose gonna be eating it!"
"If you two could get back on track for a moment?" Da asked testily. "Do you need anything from the grocery store?"
"As long as you're there, could you get me some apple juice?" Jer asked hopefully.
"I'll think about it... anything else?"
"Nah, can't think of anything..." Jer admitted.
"Billy, you sure you can't think of anything? You're probably going to be eating here tonight, your parents..." Da paused and shook his head. "You're parents weren't sure, but they thought they'd like the time alone to discuss matters."
Billy flinched, then shook his head. "No, I can't think of anything."
"Alright, I'll be back in half an hour," Da told them. Turning back to their game, they didn't pay any attention as he left the house, being too busy trying to kill each other -- digitally, that is. Jer quickly managed to regain the position Da had almost cost him, winning game four, and leaving them tied.
Round five ended quickly, however. "No, nononono... No!" Jer shouted as he lost.
"Three out of five and I win!" Billy cheered.
"Turd-head! That was a cheap move!" Jer complained.
"Cheap or not, I won!" Billy gloated. "You owe me, now pay up!"
"Ah, come-on, Billy, that's childish. You wouldn't really ask me to do that, would you?" Jer weaseled.
"You promised!" Billy grinned.
"But please, I'm twelve years old, I can't be singing that song!" Jer complained.
"Come'on, sing it!" Billy ordered.
Jer sighed and dropped his head into his hands. Of all the miserable, intolerable, unacceptable... "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family! With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won't you say you love me too."
Billy giggled hysterically as Jer sang, falling backwards on the couch as he writhed. "Oh, the look on your face Jer! The look on your face!"
"I'll get you for that, turd-head!" Jer threatened.
"In your dreams, snot-rag!" Billy shot back.
Jer quickly pounced on his unsuspecting foe and started wrestling him into submission. Billy fought back tooth and nail, but was quickly left pinned and helpless before the sudden onslaught. Jer panted, face inches from his friend's as they grinned at each other. Then a panicked look crossed Billy's face and he suddenly bucked upwards in a surprise turnaround, throwing Jer off him.
"What the hell?!" Jer complained, rubbing his head where he'd hit some furniture. "What was that for, dumb-ass?"
Billy swallowed as he carefully shifted himself. "I just... your knee was too close my family jewels, man!"
"Oh bullshit, Billy! I know you, now what's really going on?" Jer demanded.
Billy looked away and shook his head. "No way, your knee was too close and I got nervous, okay? Just leave it at that! Please!"
"Billy!" Jer commanded.
Billy looked down and started crying. "Jer, we need... we nuh-nuh-need to talk."
Jer crawled over and threw his arm around Billy's shoulders, worried over his sudden reversion to stuttering, an affliction he'd conquered years ago. "What is it turd-head?"
"Jer... It's k-k-killing me to keep this inside... Oh God, I'm doing this all w-wrong." Billy started crying, and Jer hugged him closer. "I love you Jer," Billy cried out.
"And I love you too, Billy," Jer told him honestly. Billy just laughed between his sobs at the response.
"You don't understand how wrong th-that is Jer," Billy choked out. "You won't love me once I tell you..."
"Shh, whatever it is it can't be that bad," Jer told his friend. "You're twelve years old, dude, get a grip on yourself!"
"Thirteen!" Billy snapped back reflexively, "You were there last week, remember?". Jer grinned and accepted the correction.
"Thirteen, fine. I love you dude, you're my best fucking friend, and nothing is going to change that!" Jer let the fire in his heart show a little in a desperate bid to burn off the darkness pressing in on his friend's heart.
"My parents are going to kill me when I..." Billy broke down again.
"They may be mad, Billy, but they love you even more than I do!" Jer spoke with a sagacity far beyond his years. "It doesn't matter what you did, they're going to love you forever and ever. Da talked about it with me once," Jer sang his next sentence, a line from a George Straight song his dad loved, "Daddies don't just love their kids every now and then, it's a love without end, amen." Jer looked right into Billy's eyes as he continued more normally, "Permanent as the rock beneath your feet and as sure as the sun in the sky. Its called unconditional love." Jer let the wisdom his father had passed onto him years ago soak in a little before adding the killing blow. "That is what your parents feel for you, love without end. Now, what is it that's so horrible?"
"I... I can't tell you Jer," Billy chocked out. "Maybe someday, but not here, not now..."
"I understand," Jer lied. "I'll be waiting, whenever you're ready."
"I j-just gotta tell my 'rents first. Then... then y-y-you, my f-friend," Billy looked up at Jer with a strange expression in his eyes that made Jer shiver.
"That'll be fine, Billy, that'll be fine..." Jer reassured him. Billy reached out and touched Jer's face tenderly, blinking tears out of his eyes with a strange smile.
"I love you man," Billy told Jer. "Now, what do you say we go for another game?"
"Sounds good to me!" Jer agreed.