Boarding School Blues
Cooper knew how to win his suitemates over.
The canoe competition and solo events were the perfect way to prove he belonged just as much as Naveen or any other Blue Ridge kid out there. Now all Cooper had to do was survive through the weekend.
After the assembly, the 6th graders were split into two groups. The Valentias and Fuerzas walked together with Professor Riviera, who introduced herself as their history teacher. Inside her classroom, maps of all types and sizes covered the wall. Some were faded and brown, protected from further damage by lamination, and others were freshly printed. The dates on the maps ranged back over a thousand years in some cases. When Professor Riviera spoke to them, her face glowed as she explained how one seemingly unimportant event could spark revolutions for entire nations. Back in elementary school, history was one of Cooper’s least favorite subjects, but the way Professor Riviera talked about it, he might actually start to enjoy it.
Even though they were made to sit with their Houses, Naveen and Julian still weren’t talking to him. Someone tapped his shoulder, and when Cooper turned around, a girl whose name he didn’t know yet from Valentia asked politely if he could crouch down so she could see better. Anakin shrugged like it was progress.
Their next class was science with Professor Bell, and right away Cooper could see why everyone seemed to like him so much. He let them sit wherever they wanted! Even then, Cooper wasn’t surprised only Anakin chose to sit beside him near the front.
Professor Bell’s classroom had all sorts of beakers, tools, and instruments they’d get to use throughout the year. They laughed as Professor Bell ended the class with a few funny videos of classroom experiments gone horribly wrong.
“Nobody died in the making of these videos,” he said, and then paused. “I think.”
After Professor Bell’s class came lunch, and Cooper was quick to scarf down his food. The less time he gave Naveen to tease him, the better. They had a whole hour to relax before their next class, so he and Anakin walked back to their dorm room together. Already they had plans for decorating the inside of their room.
“The walls are only one shade, and it’s burgundy, for crying out loud! They couldn’t have picked a better red than burgundy?”
Cooper thought it looked like plain old red to him, but maybe he didn’t get what the big deal was.
“Tell you what. I’ll sketch some ideas for us, so start brainstorming something cool!”
“Maybe we can find some spare art supplies somewhere around here.”
“What I really wish we could do,” Anakin said excitedly, “is paint the whole inside wall and make a kickass mural out of it.”
“We’d get in so much trouble!” Cooper said with a grin.
“Yeah, but it’d look cool!”
When they reached the top of the spire, a pang flared low in Cooper’s stomach as the urge to poop struck him. Running into the bathroom, Cooper closed the stall door and squatted just in time to do his business.
It wasn’t until he finished wiping and flushed that he heard the echo of footsteps in the bathroom. He expected to see Anakin when he was finished, but when he opened the stall door, Naveen was standing there, eyeing him down like a gunslinger from the wild west. He scowled and said nothing as Cooper went to wash his hands at the sink.
“So what’s your plan? You just gonna ignore me for the next seven years?” Cooper asked, flinging away the extra water dripping from his hands.
When Naveen said nothing, Cooper tried to walk past, but Naveen stomped his foot down and blocked his path with an outstretched arm.
“Dude, what’s your problem?” Cooper shouted. He tried to steady the quiver in his voice and resist the urge to punch Naveen in the jaw.
“My problem is you! And don’t worry, I won’t have to wait seven years for you to be gone. It won’t take nearly that long.”
Cooper couldn’t take it anymore.
“Why are you being such a jerk to me?” Cooper asked and shoved Naveen.
Before Naveen could push back harder, Anakin ran into the bathroom, immediately jumping between them. Not too far behind him was Julian, eyes wide with panic when he saw them.
“If you wanna fight me, go ahead and do it!” Naveen shouted. “I could take you on any day!”
“Guys, stop!” Anakin shouted. “We’re part of the same House. We shouldn’t be fighting like this.”
Naveen grit his teeth, his eyes full of hate as he stormed out of the bathroom. Julian hesitated again before running after Naveen. Good riddance to both of them, Cooper thought. He growled in frustration as he dug his fingernails into his palms. “This isn’t working, Anakin. They hate me, and I hate them too. It’s never going to work!”
“It will,” he promised. “Your idea was a good one. I’m sure by the time the canoe competition starts, he’ll see how awesome you are. Besides, I think Julian’s actually starting to come around. Notice it’s only Naveen who has the problem?”
Cooper forced himself to take deep breaths as he stared hard in the bathroom mirror. He was like a rabid dog on the loose, the way his eyes danced wildly back at him. As he struggled to count to ten and calm himself, he shook his head. He was stupid to think changing things would be easy, even if Anakin was by his side.
“I don’t know, Anakin. I don’t think I can do this.”
“Come on,” Anakin said, and patted Cooper on the back. “You just need some time to calm down. Let’s just chill before our next class.”
They did, and to Cooper’s surprise, he did actually feel a little better as he and Anakin talked about their lives back at home. Anakin got to hear all about Sawyer and some of the adventures they got up to, and Cooper learned how Anakin’s desire to be a fashion designer began.
“And my parents are both super chill about the whole thing. I don’t know. Sometimes I worry it won’t work out. I mean, I think I have good ideas, but,” Anakin paused, gesturing to himself, “I know I don’t always wear the best matching things. I guess I’m still trying to find my style.”
“I believe in you,” Cooper said. He gave Anakin a light tap on the shoulder with his fist. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
By the time their third class started, Naveen made it a point to squeeze into one of the few open seats in the back corner of their reading class. Cooper and Anakin sat near the front.
Professor Gray was a lot like himself, Cooper realized. The students were respectful because he was their professor, but there was a clear tension in the room. Professor Gray was another person who didn’t belong at Blue Ridge. No, that wasn’t true. Professor Gray belonged, just like Cooper. It was everyone else who had the problem.
“Reading and writing are the foundation of humanity—they are what separate us from the primates. The pen is the sword which lets language bleed onto the page. You would be wise to learn both well.”
Okay, so maybe they were pretty different, too.
“I don’t know about that guy,” Anakin said after they were dismissed to their next class. “I mean, who talks like that? He makes life sound like some depressing Batman story. ‘The pen is the sword that blah blah blah.’”
“I think even Batman was happier,” Cooper said, and Anakin laughed as they walked to their next class.
Next up was math with Professor Lee. Before she got started, there were tons of whispered comments from the girls in the class about how pretty she was and from the boys about how hot she was. Cooper agreed she was nice to look at, but he wouldn’t ever want to date her or anything like that. What was so exciting about that?
One thing that was exciting to him were the STEM projects they would get to do throughout the year. The idea of working with robots and programming sounded awesome to him! Then, Professor Lee told them how the spring competition was always about solving an engineering problem in the most creative way possible. That was an event Cooper rubbed his hands in anticipation over. Hopefully by then he would have changed everyone’s minds about him.
“Uggh, one more to go,” Anakin said as he shoved his schedule inside his pants pocket. “And then, we’ll be free for the day. Sweet freedom!”
Their last class wasn’t even a class at all. At least, not in the traditional sense. As they followed Professor Lee back inside the gymnasium, she explained how all new students were required to join one of the school’s clubs.
“They’re a wonderful chance for you to try something new or make new friends,” she said.
Right away, Cooper spotted Professor Bell standing by a poster for the student council, the Blue Ridge Buddies. Maybe one day he’d be able to pull off what Jordy had and make people love him, but for now it felt impossible. All around, the gymnasium was crawling with professors standing near their club posters. Cooper couldn’t wait to find one for himself.
Anakin leaned over and whispered, “I hope I can get into the art club.”
“You will,” Cooper said. If anyone deserved to be in the art club, it was Anakin. One look through his drawings would convince anybody who saw them.
As Professor Lee let them roam the gymnasium and explore, Cooper searched for the one club that might speak to him more than any other. What were his interests? He loved Detective Dackery and reading, but there was no book club, at least, not that he could find. Maybe he could help out in the school library. Cooper made a mental note to check it out when he had some free time.
Many of the clubs were either some form of athletics or a specialized activity like music, choir, or art. As Cooper passed the Blue Ridge Buddies table, Jordy waved at him as he smooth-talked a group of 6th grade girls who looked way more interested in staring at Jordy than hearing about the club.
“Hey, Coop, come check this out!” Anakin called.
When he turned the corner, Anakin stood in front of a sprawling poster for the rock climbing club. Cooper’s jaw dropped. Several action shots showed off kids climbing the fifty-foot wall somewhere on campus. Even though it had only been a few days, homesickness rocked Cooper like a wave. If he closed his eyes, Cooper could nearly sense the sun kissing his neck, the humidity clinging to his sweaty skin, the sweet smell of dirt and pine in his nostrils.
When he opened his eyes, it was him in those pictures, reaching up for the next rock on the wall. He didn’t know much about rock climbing, but he loved climbing trees. That’s where he felt at home. That’s where he belonged. As he walked over to the lady standing in front of the poster, Cooper knew without a doubt that this was the club for him.
Roman found Fielding inspecting a handout for the horseback riding club.
“You like riding horses?” Roman asked.
“Well, I mean, I’ve never done it before or anything,” Fielding said, “but how hard can it be? What’re you choosing?”
Roman wasn’t sure. He spent the last half hour roaming the gymnasium, hoping some light from the universe would shine down and catch his eye. The only thing he knew for certain was that he didn’t want to choose the archery club. Back home, an archery medal hung from Xavier’s bedroom wall. The first time Xavier brought the medal home was at the end of 6th grade. He’d earned it for being the most-improved that year, and Roman would have given anything to join the same club as his brother, but now…
“Come help me look?” Roman asked.
“You got it, partner,” Fielding said, pretending to adjust a fake cowboy hat as he galloped beside Roman.
They breezed past the music clubs pretty quickly. Who would want to spend hours outside of class having to practice a new instrument? No thanks. Art wasn’t really his thing either. He was terrible at it, and he wasn’t really interested in learning how to be less terrible. When they turned the corner, Fielding slapped him in the arm and pointed.
“Look, it’s the scholarship kid.”
Near the rock climbing poster, Cooper chatted with the professor in charge of the club. Waiting behind him was the scrawny, weird-dressed boy he remembered seeing with Cooper the night before. Probably his roommate.
It didn’t matter to Roman where Cooper came from, and he had nothing against the kid. Clearly others did, though. Even Fielding, who was nice to everyone, couldn’t keep the criticism from his voice.
“You’re not thinking about doing rock climbing with him, are you?” Fielding asked and lifted his hands in defense. “I mean, if you want to, that’s your call. But me personally, I wouldn’t do it. Social suicide.”
Fielding was studying Roman for his response, and before he could change his mind, Roman turned away.
“Nah, you’re right,” Roman said. “Who would want to be in a club with that kid?”
Professor Lee told them they didn’t need to choose right away. They even had the chance to rotate around to a few different clubs if they wanted. Maybe that’s what Roman would do. At least then he’d have a better idea of what might interest him. Who knows? Maybe he’d even give horseback riding a shot with Fielding.
There was a tightness in Roman’s bladder, and he promised Fielding he’d be right back before slipping away from the noisy gymnasium. Scratching his head about where to go, he exited the double doors and turned a corner, hoping to ask someone for directions, but the outside corridor was empty. It wasn’t until the end of the next hall that he spotted the restrooms, but as he drew closer, a familiar voice made his ears perk. Roman crept closer to the edge of the hallway and peeked around the corner.
Xavier was deep into an argument with Roy Rochester, the dark-skinned head of security. From this far away, their words were little more than heated mumbles. Whatever they were talking about, Xavier wasn’t a fan. His brother scowled and shrugged off whatever the guard had to say before storming back down the long hallway. Not long after, Roy cleared his throat, adjusted the front of his suit, and headed Roman’s way.
Roman wasn’t sure if looks could kill, but Roy’s face looked murderous as it twisted with anger. Praying he wouldn’t be seen, Roman hunkered down and tried to make himself as small as possible as he squeezed his eyes shut. If he didn’t find a toilet soon, his bladder was going to burst. Why did hiding always make him have to go even more? With held breath, Roman waited until the man’s footsteps faded away before dashing across the corridor into the bathroom.
There was barely enough time to unsnap the button on his shorts and fish out his dick before his bladder gave way. His grateful sigh echoed in the bathroom as his stream sprayed the inside of the toilet bowl. As he shook the last remaining drops, Roman wondered what Xavier might have done to draw so much attention to himself with Roy. Whatever it was, there was no point in asking Xavier. Roman would have better luck talking to a rock.
Back in the gymnasium, Fielding and Wyatt were craning their heads to see over Ivan’s shoulder. They were all huddled together near the wrestling posters, where a barrel-chested man was handing Ivan details about the club. His name tag read Professor O’Malley on the front, and as he leaned over to point out information, the man’s biceps threatened to rip the seams of his Blue Ridge suit apart.
“Anyone dumb enough to wrestle Ivan is asking for it,” Roman said as he walked up to them.
While Wyatt only smirked, Fielding said, “He’s a walking bulldozer!”
“He’s perfect,” Professor O’Malley agreed, echoing their thoughts.
It wasn’t long until Professor Lee summoned everyone together. After a few words about curfew and classes the next day, they were dismissed for the afternoon.
Ivan and Wyatt wanted to explore where the cobblestone path down by the lake led, but Fielding wanted to take all their stuff back to their rooms and rest. Promising to meet up with everyone later on, Roman and Fielding made their return to Fuerza’s spire.
Along the way they passed a group of 6th grade girls from different classes who kept staring at them and giggling before they peeled away towards the girls’ dorms.
Roman sneered at them, but Fielding leaned in and whispered, “Do you think anyone’s ever tried to sneak up to their rooms?”
Roman blushed, knowing what Fielding was hinting at. “Maybe. Why, are you thinking about it?”
Fielding stuck out his tongue and made a blech sound. “Me? Yuck, why would I ever want to hang around some smelly girls?”
“Please,” Roman said, “if you had the chance, you’d hang out and make friends with an old broom.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m a social butterfly, I know. Doesn’t mean I wanna see them…you know,” he leaned in again, “naked.”
Roman agreed as they reached the bottom of the stairs and began their climb. They passed the senior’s floor, where rock music blared from a speaker while a few older guys squeezed shoulder to shoulder on the couch and played Madden together. Some of the other high school suites had people inside as well, but no one paid them attention as they climbed past.
It wasn’t until they reached the 8th grade suite that they had any trouble. Just as they were about to pass, a rubber ball whizzed from deep inside before it thwacked hard against the wall.
Fielding yelped in surprise as the ball bounced back, and a sinking pit formed in Roman’s stomach. He didn’t need to turn his head to know Xavier was inside, but he did anyway.
They locked eyes at the same time. Xavier rested with his legs spread out on the floor as he leaned back against the couch, arm cocked for another throw. His eyes were like a coiled rattlesnake’s, ready to strike with the slightest movement. Whatever had happened between him and Roy, Xavier was in a foul mood.
Fielding tried to go across the opening again, but the rubber ball was quick to launch from Xavier’s hand. It struck inches from Fielding’s head as he flinched, and Roman stepped in between them.
“Stop being such an asshole!” Roman shouted. “If you want me to leave you alone, then fine. But leave us alone, too!”
Xavier sprang to his feet and rushed him. The last time Roman had seen Xavier move that fast was when he’d spied on his brother touching himself. Xavier grabbed him by the front of his shirt and stretched it out as he hoisted Roman to the tips of his toes. The breath whooshed from his body as Xavier slammed his back against the wall.
“Hey!” Fielding shouted, but Xavier palmed his face and forced him away. Fielding’s glasses flung from his face as he stumbled to his hands and knees.
Xavier’s breath washed over Roman’s face, his eyes darting back and forth like a feral lion’s. Roman tried to keep the tears from welling in his eyes.
Don’t do it, he told himself. Don’t let him win. Roman’s hands trembled as he tried to pry Xavier’s from his shirt.
Something clicked in Xavier’s eyes. His brother looked down at Fielding and back at him before shaking his head and dropping Roman in a heap. Without another word, Xavier spun on his heels and walked back inside his suite.
“Just go away,” he said before swiping the rubber ball from the ground and retreating to his bedroom. The door slammed shut, and they both flinched.
Roman drew the back of his arm across his eyes, trying to hide the tears that he’d failed to stop.
“Are you alright?” he asked Fielding, who was making sure his glasses weren’t bent before testing them on his face.
“Are you?” he asked.
Roman shrugged and shakily stood back to his feet. Physically, he was fine, just shaken. But otherwise?
“Let’s just go upstairs,” he said, brushing past Fielding, knowing there was too much he wasn’t saying.
Fielding snatched his wrist and stopped him from climbing any higher.
“That was Xavier, wasn’t it?” Fielding asked. “He’s your brother.”
Roman nodded, not trusting himself to say anymore without getting choked up. There was little point in denying it now. He’d spent his whole life hearing how similar he and Xavier looked. Sure, Xavier had changed some with puberty, but the resemblances were unmistakable—their thin frames, their pale blonde hair, their clear blue eyes.
Fielding dropped his hand and pulled Roman into a hug. Maybe it was because of everything Xavier put him through over the past couple months, but Roman had to fight the urge to push Fielding away, instead keeping his arms pinned to his side. How messed up was he that even a hug felt foreign to his body?
When Fielding finally let go, he patted Roman softly on the back before the two of them finished their climb to the top floor.
End Chapter 6
Copyright 2023 – Levi Holland
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