Castle Roland

Family Values

by Rilbur


Chapter 1

Published: 8 Apr 14

Family Values

Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Family Values LogoTim grinned over at Tom as they walked between classes. "She's checkin' us out," Tim sang softly, eyes flickering over at Kelly Peters, unarguably the single cutest girl in seventh grade. Certainly the only one who the biggest chest. Well, Justine Clarkson had a bigger one, but her acne was completely out of control, so she didn't really count. Who wanted to look at a face that was more pimple than face? Not to mention that the rumor was the acne was even worse below the neckline!

"Checking me out, you mean," Tom let himself slip sideways, shoving his twin over with his shoulder. "I'm the handsome one, you're just the smart one. Girls don't find brains sexy."

"Hey, I'm not the one who decided to dump a frog down her shirt last year!" Tim protested, shoving back.

"Oh, but you are," Tom grinned. "I told her it was all your idea when I talked to her yesterday."

"You didn't!" Tim groaned. "Oh, I am so going to get you. When the hell did you get a chance to do that to me?"

"Remember when you had to take a dump at lunch?" Tom reminded him gleefully. "She wanted to thank me for convincing you to stop stinking up the place."

"Liar!" Tim nudged his twin with with his shoulder.

"Fine, fine," Tom admitted. "She was making her way to the girls room with her friends, and I was able to chat them up while waiting for you."

"Only you would see a restroom break as a chance to chat with girls!" Tim laughed. "Well, think of it anyway. I'll have to remember this the next time you need to use the crapper."

"Sure you will," Tom agreed blandly. "And I'll just have to remember not to have three glasses of apple juice with breakfast."

"Hey, I was thirsty," Tim smiled. "And it tastes better than cola!"

Tom snorted in disagreement. "Oh joy," he added a moment later. "Look whose coming our way."

Tim groaned. "Great, Joel Grayson. Jock, school bully, and all around pain in the ass."

"What'd you call me?" Joel growled, brushing his black hair back, out of his eyes.

"Overdue for a haircut?" Tom suggested.

"You want to say that again?" Joel growled, trying to look menacing.

"You know, you think by now he'd know it doesn't work," Tom told Tim sadly.

"True, but then again you're making a completely invalid assumption," Tim replied.

"What would that be?" Tom asked, grinning.

"That his brain works properly," Tim answered, matching the grin. "He knows that all the other boys will roll over and play dead for him, so he assumes we will too. He's incapable of learning from past experience that, unlike everyone else, we aren't going to act the part of a rug in his personal drama."

"You two think you're so clever," Joel growled, "but just let me catch you outside of school."

"Oh please," Tim snorted. "Even if you could catch just one of us alone-"

"Fat chance," Tom interjected with a laugh.

"-Even if," Tim resumed, "either one of us could take you down with one hand tied behind our backs." Tim leaned forward, placing one hand next to his mouth as if to whisper a secret. "We know you don't have the balls to handle a fair fight, too," he continued, lowering his voice just enough to sound like he was only talking to Joel. The girls on the other side of the hall giggled, and the twins did a high five in celebration of a well-landed blow.

"Fags," Joel grumbled. "Just like your bitch mothers."

"What did you just say?" Tim's voice dropped into a growl.

"I thought we already had that issue sorted," Tom agreed, voice just as angry. "We wouldn't poke fun at your drunk bastard of a father-"

"Don't call my father a bastard!" Joel shouted, face growing red.

"Then don't insult our mothers," Tom told him coldly.

"That's enough!" Justine ordered, pushing her way between the twins to get in the middle of the conflict.

"We didn't start it!" the twins protested.

"I don't care who started it," she looked over her shoulder at them. "I'm ending it!"

"Out of the way, Justine," Joel ordered. "These fag-boys need to be taught a lesson."

"The only lesson you could teach would be bad hygiene," Tim snapped.

"Enough!" Justine's voice cracked like a whip. "And if you keep this up, Joel, I'm going to step out of the way," she added.

"What, like I should be afraid of these wimps?" Joel laughed.

Justine shook her head sadly. "They're right. You are a moron."

"Hey!" Joel snapped, taking a step forward.

"Don't even think it, lug-brains," Tom warned him, pushing himself in front of Justine. Looking up, he could just barely make out Joel's chin. For a moment, he considered backing up, but instead he reached up and wagged a finger in front of Joel's face. "You hit a girl, and we're going to have problems."

The girls across the hall broke out in laughter, and Tim could be heard turning his chuckles into a very fake cough.

"What's so funny?" Tom turned and demanded.

"You just looked hilarious," Tim giggled. "I know you were trying for that whole finger wagging thing, but it was never meant to be done by sticking your hand up over your head. It looked more like you were going to pick his nose or something."

"Pick his nose?" Tom shook his head, disgusted. "Bleh," he added, sticking a finger into his mouth as if to make himself retch.

"Oh, and now you're eating the booger," Tim added, voice slightly queasy.

"That's just sick," Tom told his twin. "You have a sick, sick mind!"

"Takes one to know one!" Tim quipped back.

"Boys," Justine complained, taking a few steps to the side to get out of the crush. "Joel, you're going to be late for class if you don't hurry."

Joel looked at her angrily. "Is it just me," Tim commented to Tom, "or does he do that whole 'scowling in anger' thing way too well for someone as small as he is?"

Tom cocked his head sideways, then smiled. "Yeah, way to well for someone that small."

"Who you calling small!?" Joel snarled, head snapping back to the twins. Well, back to Tim, anyway. Tom was still right up in his personal space. "Backup, shrimp," Joel added, placing a hand on Tom's shoulder and trying to enforce the order.

Tom just leaned into the hand, ignoring the silent pressure. Taking advantage of necessity, Tom turned to the shove, letting his body take the force along his width, and turned his head towards Tim. "Yup, definitely too small."

"I'm a foot taller than you two!" Joel complained angrily.

"Oh, physically you're larger," Tim offered, in the placating tones of one humoring a little child. "We're referring to your…" Tim hesitated for a moment before dredging up the phrase, "Your psychological footprint. Perhaps a better word than 'small' would be 'petty'. Or small-minded, if you want."

Joel's face grew darker, and his scowl even more menacing. Giving up on subtle physical persuasion, Joel used both arms to shove Tom back forcefully. Tim stumbled a little when Tom bumped into him, but was able to help absorb the worst of the force, while Joel was rocked back a step by his shove.

"I do believe he just shoved me," Tom commented.

"Right into me," Tim added.

"You know," Tom began to tell Joel, only to feel Tim's hand tighten on his shoulder.

"That really wasn't," Tim picked up the thread when Tom hesitated.

Tom glanced sideways at his twin, annoyed. "Very nice," he finished, taking his sentence back. From the outside, it really would sound like them simply weaving their sentences together. Which was cool, even if Tim was being an over controlling bitch.

"I'm going to show both of you fag-boys what nice is," Joel growled, taking a step forward. "Just like my dad was going to show your bitches!"

"Oh look, he thinks he's daddy," Tim snorted.

"Eh, he doesn't have a beer can to throw at us when he calls us worthless trash," Tom pointed out, digging the knife deeper. "I suppose his father had a point. After all, it's our report that got social services involved."

"You?" Joel hesitated. "It's your fault?!"

"Oh boy," Tim sighed. "Now you've done it."

Tom laid a hand on Tim's shoulder. "He should know, anyway," he disagreed. "We were out in the woods, two weeks ago. The whole reason our mothers showed up to talk to your father is because we told them about it."

"Mom wanted to call social services and let them handle it, but Mum insisted they should at least try to investigate themselves, first," Tim added. "Just to make certain we hadn't misunderstood something."

"Mind you, it's not exactly our fault the drunk bastard-" Tom began.

"Tom!" Tim cut him off sharply. "Ixnay on the unk-dray!"

"Oh fine," Tom grumbled. "It's not our fault, or our mothers, that your father decided to try and attack them when they asked about it. Or that the cops had to lock him up overnight to sober-"

Joel howled in sudden rage and stepped forward, shrugging off his backpack even as he raised his fists to begin pummeling the upstart shrimps who had poked and prodded at his pride until he could take it no more. This time, the voice that rang through the hall didn't just carry outrage, but an absolute, unthinking certainty of it's own authority and the inevitable obedience of those hearing it. "Stop right there!" Mr. Gray bellowed, stepping out of his classroom. "That is quite enough!"

Joel was too close to the twins, and managed to sock one right in Tim's eye before they could react. And then the unthinking obedience of authority figures kicked in and they hesitated, just long for Joel to give Tom what would no doubt form a matching black eye. Then Mr. Gray had Joel by the collar and pulled him off them. Tim and Tom picked themselves up off the ground where the force of Joel's rampage had dropped them, fight reflexes causing them to spread a little, just far enough that Joel would have to pick one of them to attack, leaving his back totally open to the other. They'd honestly thought he'd had more self control than that, or they'd have never remained so tightly grouped. Tom made note of that for the future. No matter how well they could normally judge people, it would probably be a good idea to assume they were going to push things just a bit further than planned, and be ready for the consequences. Just like with pranks.

"You two, in my classroom, now!" Mr. Gray bellowed, pointing at the room in question with one hand while he continued to hold Joel with the other. Seeing no choice but to obey, the twins turned and trudged in the indicated direction.

As they entered the empty classroom, Tim dropped into their twin language. "It's all Tom's fault," he hissed.

For a moment Tom just looked confused. At the advice of therapists, their moms had worked hard to keep them using English instead of 'Timtomese', and neither of them was very practiced at it anymore. They'd nearly forgotten it until a few months back, when they realized it made a great code. "Tim hurt Joel just as much as Tom did." At least, that's what Tim thought he said.

"Tim didn't keep throwing Joel's-" Tim frowned. They didn't have a word for father, and he wasn't certain what to use. "Joel's hurt in Joel's face," Tim retorted. "Tom know how Timtom hurt when others do that about Timtom moms."

Tom shrank a little. "Tim win," he admitted, even as Mr. Gray came back into the room. "Adult here."

"What was that?" Mr. Gray asked.

"Nothing," Tom reverted to English.

"No, it was very definitely something," Mr. Gray shook his head. "So speak up, say it again."

Tim and Tom shared a glance, then nodded together. Tom repeated himself, louder, very carefully enunciating the words. Unfortunately for Mr. Gray, their twin language may have been based on English, but it was English as pronounced by a pair of two and later three year olds who simply couldn't handle a lot of the harder sounds. And when they'd resurrected the language for use as a code, they'd deliberately exaggerated those changes, slowly changing the language even further. Even their names were changed, making 'Tim' closer to 'Dim' than anything else.

The result was, as Mr. Gray promptly pronounced it, gobbledygook. "Don't play games with me!" Mr. Gray snorted. "What did you really say?"

"That's exactly what I said," Tom replied. "Or do you want to know what it means?"

"Means? What, is that a foreign language of some kind?" Tim and Tom shrugged, smiling.

"You could call it that," Tim offered. "It's our private language."

"Your what?" Mr. Gray sneered. "I won't have it. I just won't have it. I've heard the stories. The two of you are bad enough without letting you put together some kind of… kind of…" Mr. Gray struggled, looking for the right word, "some kind of code!"

"I didn't know there was a school rule about using languages other than English," Tom told him.

"I imagine Alex and Mike Katyuk will be most shocked to learn they aren't allowed to speak Ukrainian to each other at lunch," Tim added instantly, seeing exactly where Tom was going.

"That's different!" Mr. Gray snarled.

"Oh, how?" Tom asked, cocking his head politely.

"Ukrainian is a real language!" Mr. Gray snapped angrily.

"How is ours any less 'real' than theirs?" Tim asked eagerly. "It has a vocabulary, a syntax, a grammar-"

"Because people actually speak it!" Mr. Gray yelled.

"But we speak Timtomese," Tom complained. "Are you saying we aren't people?"

Mr. Gray forced himself to use a calmer tone of voice. It took a visible toll on him, as an already enlarged vein in his forehead about doubled in size. "That is not what I said and you know it!" Unfortunately, the calmness only lasted the first half of the sentence.

"Then what are you trying to say?" Tim asked in the voice of sweet reason.

Mr. Gray took a long, deep breath. "We've fallen far astray of what I intended to discuss here," he said after a long moment. "I shall simply order you to discontinue use of your code language while at school. You will obey. Understood?"

Tim looked at Tom and saw a truly malicious look cross his face before he uttered, in broken and mangled Ukranian, "Think we should follow?"

"I told you to stop speaking that gibberish!" Mr. Gray bellowed angrily.

"We should ask the Moms," Tim told his brother, then switched back to English to reply to Mr. Gray. "We weren't talking in Timtomese. We were speaking Ukrainian."

"When did you learn Ukrainian?" Mr. Gray snorted derisively, translating his statement into something else entirely. Something like 'do you really expect me to believe you speak Ukrainian.'

"This year," Tim replied, offering no further explanation than what was asked.

"Don't play games with me," Mr. Gray snarled.

"He's right," Tom warned in Ukranian. "The Moms won't like us splitting hairs."

"Oh fine," Tim complained. "We're friend with the Katyuks. Even been over to their house for dinner a few times."

"We picked the language up for fun," Tom added. "But their parents really appreciate it. Even if they say our accents are 'funny'."

"Well, you did manage to swear at them when-" Tim began.

"That was an accident and they forgave me," Tom cut him off. "It's not my fault the two words are so similar."

"Yeah, well-" Tim began.

"Enough!" Mr. Gray cut them off. "Just talk English!" Looking at them suspiciously, he added, "Plain, everyday English, to be precise. Modern, American English. No Middle or Early English, or some other dialect chosen for it's impenetrability."

"Well I reck'n we c'n manage that," Tom drawled in the thickest, most hick hill-billy accent he could manage. Mr. Gray's stare made him apologize promptly. "Sorry Mr. Gray," he added quickly. "I couldn't resist the opportunity."

"Try next time," Mr. Gray ordered firmly. "Now that we've handled this matter, lets move onto that disgraceful showing in the hallway. For your blatant provocation of the boy, I'm giving both of you detention."

"He provoked us first!" Tom protested.

"From what I saw when I was watching, he did nothing more than tell you the unvarnished truth about the-" Mr. Gray hesitated, then changed his mind. "About the unusual nature of your parentage. And in return, you dredged up the most hurtful things you could against him, deliberately provoking him with references to a still-fresh emotional wound."

Tom had to give the man a degree of credit. Going after Joel's father, fresh after the man had been tossed in jail, really was a low blow. Not, perhaps, as low as Mr. Gray was making it out to be — it was well known that Tim and Tom were both quite defensive about having two mothers — but not exactly on the right side of the line that he and Tim enjoyed dancing on.

"He's the one who attacked us!" Tim protested.

"Only after you offered him continuous, and intolerable, provocation over the course of several minutes," Mr. Gray pointed out. "No, this fight was all your fault. Accordingly, you'll have a week's worth of detentions." Tom winced. The Moms would not be happy with that. "Furthermore, given your… reputations…" Mr. Gray's voice almost dripped as he stretched that word out, "I think they'll be separate detentions."

"Separate?!" Tom screeched.

"Indeed. I imagine they'll be much more… salubrious that way," Mr. Gray smiled nastily. "Now, since I happen to have a spare period, I think it's time I marched the two of you over to the office, so your parents can be properly informed."

Tim and Tom found themselves promptly marched to the office, the halls rapidly emptying in anticipation of the bell ringing. "Hello Mr. Gray," the secretary smiled. "And who are these two?"

"The ones who provoked the fight outside my classroom," Mr. Gray told her, pointing the two boys at a pair of chairs by the door.

"A fight, huh?" she tisked as Mr. Gray walked up to the counter. "They're the ones who provoked Joel?"

"The very same," Mr. Gray nodded.

"He's in the nurses office," the secretary pitched her voice lower. "Once the fight was over, he broke down and couldn't stop crying." She probably thought she'd spoken quietly enough for Tim and Tom to miss it, but when Tom looked over at Tim, he found his twin matching his gaze guiltily.

"Vice Principle Walters will be along shortly," she added more normally. "He wanted to check in on Joel before he dealt with these two."

"I'll be talking to him first," Mr. Gray told her. "I have some very specific ideas as to how to keep them from doing this again."

"I'm sure you do," the secretary smiled. "Why don't you wait for him in his office?"

"Certainly," Mr. Gray smiled, then turned and walked down the hallway.

The secretary sighed. "I still remember when he was my teacher," she said softly. "Sharp, but nowhere near as bitter as he's gotten these days. I respected him then." Her eyes glanced at the boys as if to communicate something, then she turned back to her paperwork.

There was a long wait, then Mr. Gray came back down the hall, Mr. Walters in tow. "These two?" Mr. Walters asked, getting a sharp nod from Mr. Gray in return. "I'll take it from here." Mr. Gray walked out without a single word. Mr. Walters sighed, shaking his head in clear exasperation, then turned to look at the boys. "Follow me."

"Sit," he ordered them once they were in his office. After everyone was in place, he leaned back in his chair and looked at them long and hard. "What am I supposed to do with you two," he sighed. "The principle is calling Joel's foster family now. The state will probably want him interviewed by a psychologist. And everyone involved is going to want to know what I did with you."

"You could-" Tom began.

"I'm not finished," Mr. Walters cut him off. "That was, in case you didn't understand it, a rhetorical question. Not one meant to be answered."

"Sorry, Mr. Walters," Tom apologized.

"Yes, I know you're sorry," Mr. Walters replied angrily. "But that doesn't change what you did. So. How about explaining why you did it?"

Tim and Tom shared a glance. "Joel was being a bully again," Tim said simply.

"So you just decided to provoke him into a breakdown," Mr. Walters snorted derisively.

"We weren't trying to do anything like that," Tom protested. "Things just got… a little out of hand."

"A little out of hand?" Mr. Walters asked. "Like things got 'a little out of hand' when the band discovered a nest of ants in their uniform closet? Or Mrs. Zimmerman's room having a sudden infestation of garter snakes in the middle of class? Or maybe like having the door to the library sealed shut with superglue, with half a class still inside?"

"With all due respect, Mr. Walters," Tim pointed out carefully, "I'd call them very different. No one was actually hurt during any of those. Surprised, annoyed, embarrassed, but not hurt."

"So you admit you did them?" Mr. Walters asked, surprised.

"I didn't say any such thing," Tim protested. "Did I Tom? Did I accidentally imply something I didn't mean?"

"I don't think so, Tim," Tom agreed. "You're simply pointing out that it's unfair to compare those events with what happened today simply from a standpoint of what happened. When you add in the fact that no one knows who did those, admittedly hilarious and brilliant, pranks, well…" Tom shrugged.

"The ants I figured out how you managed. The air vents are now quite well sealed," Mr. Walters said thoughtfully. "And the snakes… someone was very clever, refrigerating a shoe box full of snakes before putting it right beside a heating vent in a supply closet. Once the heat came on, the snakes woke up quite quickly… long after the culprits had moved on to a different course. I never did figure out the superglue one, though."

"Speaking theoretically, Mr. Walters, I've given a lot of thought to the matter myself," Tim said thoughtfully. "Pulling it off would be quite the trick. Even assuming you could superglue the door closed while it's in the shut position, it'd be far to easy for a teacher to show up in the middle of the process."

"Indeed, and the door wasn't opened after the class went in, the librarian was quite certain of that. As were the cameras that keep a watch on the door," Mr. Walters nodded.

"Speaking theoretically," Tim posited, "those doors were left wide open during lunch, and the cameras are placed to watch people coming in through them. Not people fiddling with the doors. And no one, at least no student, is going anywhere near those doors for the first few minutes of lunch."

"A time-frame," Tom pointed out, "when the teachers are quite busy shooing students out of the classes and then locking up so they can get their own lunches. And any teacher who isn't doing that is almost certainly assigned to keep order in the lunch line, and is too busy to wander over there themselves."

"A clever pair of students might sneak a binary glue in, and then stash a pair of cloths soaked in the compounds somewhere on their person. Make straight for the library, and then each take a door and run the glue up and down it's sides, right where they meet when closed," Tim continued. "Completely invisible to the camera and librarian, and no one would be near enough to see."

"If they used the right compounds, the door would become very sticky, and hard to open, but wouldn't, in theory, become so stuck as to require a welder to cut them open," Tom finished. "Unless, of course, they overlooked something. Something they'd love to find out, so they can… adjust similar pranks in the future appropriately."

"But we are, of course, speaking theoretically here," Mr. Walters nodded. "Still, it makes sense. And I'll have to make arrangements to make certain no one manages that trick again."

"Which, hypothetically speaking, might have been the prankster's goal," Tom smiled.

"Just a few days before it happened, we overheard the janitor complaining about graffiti on campus," Tim offered. "Did you know that the security system on campus is more concerned with the insides of classrooms than the outsides? Only a few cameras in the halls, the rest are inside the classes, and usually don't cover things like exterior windows?"

"The janitor was grumbling quite angrily over that," Tom agreed. "I imagine half the students in the school heard him complain. And I'm quite sure that the gossip network carried it further."

"Alright, so if this hypothetical prankster is so civic-minded, what was the point of the snake incidents? Or those damned ants?" Mr. Walters asked.

"Well," Tim and Tom shared a look. "There was a rumor going around school that some of the kids were hiding their stash in the uniform room. Really dangerous that; those air vents would be tight even for someone our size. A single wrong move, and, well, I imagine Tim or I could get stuck halfway through."

"And Tom and I happen to be among the smaller students on campus," Tim added. "In order to get in and out reliably, well, I wonder why Jimmy Underwood used to bring his younger brother Brian to school some afternoons. And why Brian seemed to vanish for a while once he got here."

Mr Walters' eyes widened as he began to understand. "I didn't find any trace of a stash when I investigated!" he protested. "In fact, the only drug incident the campus has had all year was when I caught-" Mr. Walters' mouth snapped shut. "Was when I caught Jimmy Underwood red handed, trying to hide his stash in some of the bushes on the edge of campus. And I only caught him because I was headed back to my office after investigating the snake incident."

"Hypothetically, Mrs. Zimmerman never locked up her storage room like she was supposed to," Tim agreed. "A clever, or stupid, student could easily decide it was a good place to keep a stash of drugs."

"Alright, alright!" Mr. Walters laughed, throwing up his hands. "I get the point. Still, not all your pranks have been so innocent. Excuse me, not all the pranks executed by this hypothetical civic-minded prankster. Why the hell, theoretically speaking, would making a toilet seat explode under someone be helpful?"

Tim and Tom shook their heads mournfully. "Sir, please, why on earth would our hypothetical prankster sink so low? Rigging a men's toilet to explode when someone lowers the seat might be fun, but to explode it under a girl?"

"Why, our moms would tan our hide if they ever thought we did such a think," Tim added. "I doubt our hypothetical prankster would ever do such a thing."

"If you try to attribute all practical jokes on campus to one person," Tom agreed, "he'd need to have a split personality. Why, the skill level on his jokes would be all over the place, too."

"A better idea would be to consider why you're attributing them to one person," Tim pointed out. "Police have to consider the possibility of copycats all the time when they investigate."

"I imagine the hypothetical prankster would be quite insulted to have his work lumped in with the idiots who couldn't wipe their bums on their own," Tom agreed. "Not that he could really do anything about it without admitting what was his work."

"And given the way certain previous administrations have reacted to various pranks, that wouldn't be a smart move," Tim shrugged.

"Fine," Mr. Walters snorted. "So, our pranksters are civic minded as you are. I'll go ahead and file today's incident under 'youthful exuberance' as a situation that just got out of hand. Mr. Gray strongly suggested that, in addition to the detentions he's already handed out for your behavior, I should hand out a weeks suspension for provoking the fight. He has a point. This was definitely a fight, and you definitely provoked it. That said, Joel clearly threw the first, and only, blows, and at this point I believe that you didn't intend to provoke a fight."

"So, I'm going to leave it at the detentions he's already assigned. I'd probably reconsider even those, but you baited him and I will not have that," Mr. Walters' voice was flat. "You may not have technically crossed any lines with your actual words. Mr. Gray didn't think so, but reading between the lines the worst you did was deliberately misunderstand his statements. That said, there is no doubt in my mind you deliberately aggravated him. Repeatedly. You challenged his authority. Repeatedly."

"This is a school," Mr. Walters' voice was cold enough to freeze glaciers, and sharp enough to shave with. "We don't require you to yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir. This is not, after all, the military. We do, however, require a degree of mutual respect and understanding to function properly. A teacher's authority must not be challenged. They are here to teach you not just science, or math, or English, but how to function in society. They are your teachers, and you are the students."

Tom squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. It was bad enough when the Moms chewed them out, but Mr. Walters wasn't even raising his voice. "You are expected and required to treat your teachers with respect and a degree of deference appropriate to their authority. Your failure to do so, however entertaining to yourselves, is a failing that will not be tolerated. I do not care what you think of Mr. Gray. I don't particularly care what you think of me. But when we are acting in our roles as teacher and vice principal, you will respect our positions."

"I won't ask what you were thinking. I think I already have a pretty good idea," Mr. Walters continued. "I will, however, point out that your actions are hardly befitting a pair of advanced track students such as yourselves. Doubly so because it displays an incredible degree of stupidity. By now, you must be aware of who teaches the eighth grade advanced track sciences. Deliberately provoking Mr. Gray has set you up for failure next year. He could even decide not to accept you into his class, and I leave it to yourselves to decide how your parents will react to that decision, when and if he makes it."

Tom winced, and out of the corner of his eye saw Tim outright shudder. The Moms would not be amused. "Your habit of needling others, including Joel and Mr. Gray, may not actually violate rules. However, it would behoove the two of you too consider long and hard the effect your behavior will have on others and yourselves. You have simply solidified and deepened Joel's already sharp distaste for the two of you, and given his past history there is no doubt in my mind he will attempt to return the favor physically. He'll pay a price of his own for that, but consider the possible ramifications to yourselves. Simply throwing a man in jail will not undo the harm he's done in the mean time. At his current age, he's more likely to come at you with a baseball bat than a knife, but you're still likely to wind up in the hospital. And for all that you believe yourselves tough enough to handle things, all it takes is a little bad luck and one of you could skip the hospital, as well as checking out of the hotel of life."

"In short, however entertaining you and others find it, you must begin to consider the consequences of your actions. Both the short term, legal consequences, and the frequently longer-term, practical consequences." Mr. Walters steepled his fingers in front of himself. "However, the school cannot punish you for stupidity. We can only point the way out of it. So your current punishments stand. A week's after-school detention. Separate detentions. Mr. Gray has in fact suggested a pair of appropriate activities."

Mr. Walters mouth didn't so much as twitch upwards, but Tom thought he saw a smile there. "Both Joel Grayson and Antonio Hayes are having trouble with their grades, and require tutors. We were going to pair them with faculty for one-on-one tutoring, but instead those faculty will oversee your detentions."

Mr. Walters let the moment hang there, while Tim and Tom shared another look. He could not possibly mean what it sounded like he meant. "You don't mean we're going to tutor them?" Tim asked after a minute had passed.

Mr. Walters' mouth definitely twitched. "Yes, I believe that's what I said. And instead of giving you a flat deadline, we're going to… motivate you. Detentions last until their grades come up. Both of their grades. If one of them achieves acceptable test scores and not the other, we'll just find another trouble student to pair the more successful twin with."

"Now," Mr. Walters leaned forward and spoke more briskly, without even a trace of the arctic ice he'd used a minute ago. "We need to get back to today. School policy is quite clear that parents must be informed when their children get into fights, and I've made it a policy that the student in question makes the call. From my office, where I am available to answer any questions."

"I happened to pull your files before we met, and here are the numbers you need to call," Mr. Walters pulled a sheet of paper out from under his blotter and slid it across the desk. "Since there are two students involved, I propose that we call both parents. One for each of you."

"I'll let the two of you decide who calls who, and in what order," Mr. Walters didn't bother hiding the smile. "But I will require that you explain what happened today, your punishments, and that your twin is responsible for calling the other parent."

The twins shared another look, then gulped. "I'll take Mom," Tim said quickly.

Tom made a face, but sighed. "Fine, I'll take Mum."

Mr. Walters picked up the phone on his desk and turned it so the boys could use it.

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