Boarding School Blues
The second solo competition was underway.
Arrows whizzed through the air before sinking into the target boards at the end of each lane, and soon the archers readied their next shots. From behind the safety of the hay bales, Cooper hung his head at a loss. None of his suitemates had any idea how to shoot a compound bow. How in the world were they supposed to earn points for Valentia?
Jordy’s floppy dreads bobbed over the heads of other students as he worked his way through the crowd of cheering students.
“So, good news and bad. Professor Bell said your team can participate today, but only if you remember his warning from yesterday.”
“Okay, so what’s the bad news?” Cooper asked.
Jordy sighed and shook his head. “Anakin isn’t allowed to do any of the challenges because of his head.”
“But that’s bullshit!” Anakin shouted.
Jordy raised his hands in self defense. “Listen, don’t tell anyone I told you, but the last two competitions are supposed to be pretty intense. Honestly, if you ask me, it’s not worth the risk.”
Despite Anakin’s grumbling, Cooper thought Jordy was right. The ugly welt he’d given Anakin the day before was already creeping from beneath the bandages wrapped around his head. If anything worse happened to his friend, Cooper wasn’t sure how he wound handle it. Sure, Naveen was the one who egged him on, but Cooper was the one who lost control.
“Whatever, I probably would have sucked anyway,” Anakin mumbled as he kicked a fluff of loose hay scattered on the ground.
The score board stood proud at the start of the archery range. Yesterday, Jordy had taken the swimming event by storm. Out of the whole school, only two other students beat his time. After his race, Cooper and Anakin ran to congratulate Jordy, and their cool friend flexed his toned muscles in a classic superhero pose as if he was surrounded by a dozen paparazzi.
“I’m really sorry,” Cooper said. “If not for me, you’d get to do these events too. I’d let you take my spot if I could.”
Anakin growled in frustration before shaking Cooper by the shoulders. “Coop, if you apologize to me one more time, I’m gonna give you a knot as big as mine.”
“Okay, okay, sorry, I just—”
“Hey, idiots,” Naveen muttered. “Try to keep it down. I don’t wanna get kicked out.”
As the upperclassmen launched their arrows, Cooper tried to pick up on the techniques the older students used when nailing the bullseye. Most of them kept their back arm flat, and the ones who did the best were the ones who were most patient, who took their time before each shot, who released their breath with their arrows.
Cooper hated to give him any props, but Xavier looked natural with a bow in his hands. The moment he picked up the compound bow, his face hardened as he fixated on the target over fifty feet away. Out of the 8th grade boys, his arrow was the only one to land anywhere close to the bullseye. He didn’t even celebrate when they awarded Fuerza the points—but Xavier’s eyes searched the crowd for someone Cooper couldn’t figure out.
Pretty soon it was time for the 6th grade boys, and a pit formed in Cooper’s stomach. This competition was going to give him an ulcer! He wasn’t exactly sure what an ulcer was, but it was something his dad always said whenever he got stressed out over something. This was definitely an ulcer kind of day, Cooper decided. Ulcer or not, he knew they didn’t have a shot in the world at winning this competition.
“I think Cooper should be the one to do it,” Naveen said. “It’s clearly the worst event, so why not?”
“We don’t know what any of the other events are! And why does it have to be me? I might be better at something else.”
“I can do event,” Julian said, quickly stepping in between them. “I do not want fight between us anymore.”
To his credit, Julian’s words silenced Naveen as their Polish roommate joined the other 6th grade boys competing. The compound bow was more than half of Julian’s height. If there was anything to be hopeful about, none of the other boys at the archery range seemed very sure of themselves either.
Cooper recognized Fielding from his classes, staring at the bow like it was from another planet before adjusting his glasses and trying to figure out the best way to hold it. In the end, everyone’s arrows fell short, landing nowhere near any of the targets. Fielding’s even managed to fling so far wide that several onlookers ducked before the arrow sunk into the nearby hay bales.
Naveen griped throughout, whining that it should have been Cooper out there. Cooper wanted to punch Naveen in the back of the head but settled for balling his fists instead as he tried to tune out Naveen’s comments. It wasn’t worth it, and the tension melted from Cooper when Anakin’s hand rested on his shoulder.
By the time Julian came back, no one blamed him, and their Polish friend only shrugged and laughed.
“Guess is not really for me. Was fun, though.”
When the second of the three competitions was announced as wrestling, Cooper thought he might have stood a chance. With all the tree climbing he’d done, he knew he had decent balance and grip. Either way the options were getting limited. Cooper would either have to volunteer now or gamble with whatever came up next.
Cooper had barely begun to say how he was willing to go next when Naveen cut him off.
“I’ll take this one,” Naveen insisted. “It’s about time someone got us a win around here.”
As Naveen walked away to submit his name, Anakin leaned over to Julian and said, “That wasn’t very nice.”
“He is…I don’t know what word is in English,” Julian said and sighed. “I am sorry, Cooper.”
“It’s alright,” Cooper said. “It’s not your fault.”
There were a number of words Cooper could have suggested for Julian to use: jerk, asshole, dickhead, but in the end, what was the use? If he held on to his resentment for Naveen too long, it was only going to eat Cooper up inside. So even though Naveen was the biggest pain in the rear Cooper had ever met in his life, he still went to go cheer his teammate on as the wrestling matches began.
Professor O’Malley paired off a bunch of boys from different grades before sending them to change into their singlets and headgear. A few minutes later, Naveen stepped out from the changing room wearing a red spandex singlet that was clearly too small as it constricted his body. Anakin snickered at the lump near Naveen’s crotch. He wasn’t hard or anything, but the outline of his penis was obvious. Maybe Cooper was glad he wasn’t the one wearing the singlet. If something happened and he popped a boner by accident, that might have been the last straw for his social life at Blue Ridge.
As Naveen waited at the center of the mat, he reached down to pinch at a wedgie. Finally the changing room doors opened, and Cooper paled as Ivan joined Naveen on the mat. Of course they’d get paired against Ivan!
“Cooper, I think you lucked out,” Anakin whispered beside him, and Cooper could only nod. Naveen didn’t stand a chance. Over on the mat, Ivan looked bored as he dug his finger inside his ear to clean out any loose wax before wiping it on his singlet.
“Maybe he can outlast him, you know? Tire him out?” Cooper suggested hopefully.
“Don’t give up, Naveen!” Julian shouted.
The other boys from Fuerza cheered equally loud for Ivan. When the whistle blew, Naveen crouched low, widening his arms as he crab walked in a slow circle. There was a fire in his eyes, and Cooper hoped Naveen could use that to his advantage.
Sensing an opening, Naveen lunged forward to wrap his arms around Ivan’s thigh and wrench him off his feet, but as he did, Ivan palmed the back of Naveen’s singlet and dragged him to the mat with him. With a quick burst of speed, Ivan rolled his body over and pinned Naveen like he was a helpless baby. It was over.
When the whistle blew, Naveen coughed and hacked on the mat as he struggled to catch his breath. As he sulked back, they tried to encourage him, but Naveen didn’t want to talk, even smacking away Julian’s hand.
Fine then. Serves him right, Cooper thought.
His heart pounded as the mats cleared and everyone gathered for the final event. This was it. There was no other choice. He was the last of his suitemates to go and was stuck with whatever he ended up with.
“You got this, Cooper,” Anakin said in his ear.
Professor Bell marched forward, fist clutched around the final ping pong ball as he raised it in the air. A hush fell over the students as Professor Bell cleared his throat and lowered his hand to his chest.
“The final event of the fall House competition will be…”
Cooper could almost hear the drum roll rattling in the back of his mind.
Professor Bell took a deep breath before declaring, “Rock climbing!”
Cooper could hardly believe it. Of all the clubs and activities that could have been chosen, he knew rock climbing was a possibility, but he didn’t want to let himself believe. Even Naveen taking his place for the wrestling match turned out to be a wild blessing of good fortune.
Anakin shook his shoulders. “Cooper! This is it! This is your chance!”
The crowd of students swelled around Professor Bell as he led the way toward the school’s rock climbing wall across campus. They followed the grassy hills until coming upon the horse stables where the rock climbing tower was stationed. The pictures he remembered seeing in the gymnasium couldn’t do the tower justice. It was like the time he and his parents visited New York City, and half the trip he spent staring straight up at the unbelievably tall skyscrapers.
Per usual, the seniors started first. On the wall, multiple colored pathways led the way to the top. Using only the blue handholds, each group raced upward until they managed to ring the bell at the top. Cooper knew the secret was in staying two moves ahead. You couldn’t afford to backtrack and start again. You’d burn out too fast. Lose your grip and fall. There were no second chances.
Cooper rubbed the sweat from his palms. He had to believe he could do this. How many long summer hours had he spent climbing trees with Sawyer over the years?
Spending the rest of his time memorizing the route he planned to take, Cooper felt as ready as he could be as the 6th grade boys were called to the wall. One of the professors helped him step into the loops of the harness. The straps were secured around his waist and thighs, tight enough that the front of his shorts bulged, but he didn’t care about that. He refused to let himself lose focus.
The other 6th graders were preparing beside him, standing on their mark after their harnesses were fastened. The only boy Cooper recognized was Roman, since he shared classes with the Fuerzas. Ivan had already helped them dominate the canoe race, and then the wrestling match. Out of everyone, Cooper knew he had to beat Roman at all costs.
Cooper took a quick breath. This was it. Now or never.
A whistle blared, and Cooper sprinted towards the base of the wall. Moving with the harness around his hips was strange at first, but he was grateful it didn’t impede his range of motion any. Wedging his foot between the first blue handhold and the wall, Cooper stretched his arm out high. The handholds curved enough to grip, and Cooper pushed up, using the momentum to get his foot to the next hold.
The cheers from below fueled him as he climbed. He didn’t care if they were for him or not. He had to believe winning could help make a difference. He belonged here, just like them!
One more hold. Another. It didn’t matter how many were left. All that mattered was getting to the next one. And then the next. With each step, Cooper’s legs grew more shaky. When he was climbing trees, he could rest whenever he wanted. There was always plenty of space and plenty of branches. Here, there was only one path, and each narrow foothold didn’t allow much room to catch his breath. He worried if he stopped too long to see how far he still had to climb, he would lose too many precious seconds.
One of the kids to his left slipped on his way to the next handhold. His flaming red hair flopped around as he tumbled headfirst into a spinning free fall. The farther he fell, the more the harness slowed him until his body safely landed on the ground. The kid punched the ground in frustration before craning his head towards the rest of the climbers.
Anakin’s voice cut through a chorus of disappointed groans. “Coop, hurry!”
On the other side, Roman was passing him, grunting with each effort made as he climbed higher and higher. Gritting his teeth, Cooper sought out the next handhold and used both hands to launch himself upward. He nearly slipped as his sweaty palm twisted around the hard plastic jug. His hands stung as a blister formed, but he couldn’t worry about that now. Couldn’t let go. Had to keep climbing! In desperation, Cooper kicked out with his foot and managed to hook the bottom of his shoe around the hold without slipping.
The cheers below were swelling now. His legs were burning, his arms were cramping, and any moment he knew his body would quit on him. What good was it to get so close to where he wanted but fail just before the end?
Beside him, Roman was only a half step behind as they reached the last few holds.
Three to go.
Roman cried out as he made a last ditch effort to lunge for the bell at the top. His body torqued as he stretched his arm as high as he could, but in the end, his hand swiped only empty air. All at once, Roman’s body thunked against the wall and tumbled down, slowing to a stop like the others who had fallen throughout the day.
Cooper’s heart soared, and suddenly his whole body was like helium as he made the final climb and finished the race to the top. He’d done it! He’d actually won! The cheers from below couldn’t match his own joy as he gripped the bell pull and rang it with all his might.
As Cooper kicked away from the wall, the harness controlled his descent until his trembling legs touched the ground again. The moment he was free, Anakin tackled him to the ground in a hug.
“Cooper, you did it! That was so badass!”
Others swarmed him in congratulations, patting his shoulder, ruffling his hair. Many of them were Valentias, some even as old as the seniors. Cooper had just enough time to pound fists with Jordy before getting swallowed back up in the chaos. Even winners from the other Houses came to give their kudos.
Cooper turned to see Julian standing and grinning with Anakin.
“That was so awesome, Cooper!” Julian shouted, his words thick with his accent.
“Julian cheered with me the whole time,” Anakin explained.
Cooper couldn’t help but look around. Even with all the people who had congratulated him on his win, the one person he had really been trying to impress was nowhere to be seen.
As if sensing who Cooper was looking for, Julian said, “Naveen saw the race, too. He’s not bad guy, Cooper. Just needs time.”
Julian extended a fist and apologized for not standing up for Cooper sooner.
“I’m not good friend,” Julian tried to say, “but I’ll do better.”
“It’s okay,” Cooper said, “I forgive you.”
With his win and the rock climbing event finished, the first House competition was brought to a close. Cooper couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the day as he headed back to the castle with Anakin and Julian.
As the day wound to a close, Naveen was nowhere to be seen, and it wasn’t until dinner when they found him already sitting at their table with Jordy. Whatever they were talking about, Naveen was nodding intently as Jordy explained something. By the time Cooper grabbed his food, Jordy was already back at his table with Kai.
It was like the past week hadn’t happened at all. The moment Cooper sat down at the table, everyone was talking to him and including him in their conversations. Cooper wondered if he was in some kind of multiverse. Only Naveen was silent, barely eating his food or looking up from his plate.
In the end, Valentia lost the House competition. Actually, lost was too generous of a word. They got thrashed. The only reason they didn’t wind up in 4th place was because of Cooper’s win at the rock climbing wall. The extra points he earned for winning was just enough to snag 3rd place overall. It wasn’t pretty, but it was night and day from the canoeing accident the day before. As expected, Fuerza crushed most of the events, and nobody was surprised when Headmaster Robinson declared their House the winner.
Near the end of dinner, Nadia and Naveen were huddled together as they whispered. Whatever his twin was saying, Nadia looked pissed. She talked a lot with her hands, waving them around whenever Naveen tried to say something back. When she was done, she grabbed her dinner tray and left with her roommate back towards the girls’ dorms.
Cooper was on his way out of the dining area when Naveen called out to him.
“Cooper, wait,” he said. “Can I talk with you for a minute? In private?”
“Anything you have to say to Coop, you can say around me,” Anakin said and crossed his arms.
“It’s okay, Anakin,” Cooper said. For some reason, he didn’t think Naveen was trying to corner him or insult him this time.
As he followed Naveen to the cobblestone courtyard outside the banquet hall, the cool night air breezed across Cooper’s arms. He rubbed them as the flickering lamplight cast shadows over Naveen’s coppery skin. For the first time since meeting him, Naveen looked unsure of what he wanted to say next.
“Cooper, I don’t even know where to begin apologizing.”
“You could always start with, I’m sorry,” Cooper suggested.
“No, of course. I am. Cooper, I’ve been such a dickhead to you. And I could come up with a million different excuses why, but it doesn’t change any of that. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I hope you can give me a second chance to show you I’m not a terrible person.”
Cooper bit his tongue to try and avoid saying something he’d regret. Did Naveen think after a week of being cruel that a simple apology was enough to forgive him? He wanted to blame Naveen for all the hurt he’d caused him—to tell Naveen the only reason he was even saying sorry was because Cooper made him and the other Valentias look good.
“Cooper, I was too dumb to see the type of friend you kept trying to be. I know words don’t mean much, but please let me make it up to you.”
Cooper shook his head. Words don’t mean much, except Naveen’s words had hurt him plenty. From the corner of his eye, Cooper spotted Anakin waiting in the shadows, quiet as the two boys worked out their problems. A week ago, Anakin had asked him for forgiveness as well, and now Cooper couldn’t imagine life at the academy without him. Cooper took a deep breath through his nostrils.
Everyone deserved a second chance.
Maybe everything would turn south between them, and by tomorrow, he and Naveen would be at each other’s throats again. It was a risk, but one Cooper prayed would pay off as he stuck out his hand in a peace offering.
Naveen’s face seemed genuine as he rattled Cooper’s hand and thanked him.
“Finally! Have you two made up yet?” Anakin called from the awning. Julian stood by his side, having snuck up at some point during their conversation.
“Haven’t you ever heard of a little privacy?” Naveen asked.
“Like I said earlier, whatever you say to Coop, you can say around me.”
“Come on,” Cooper said, rubbing his arms for warmth. “Let’s get out of here.”
And for the first time since starting at Blue Ridge, Cooper made the walk back through to Valentia’s tower with all of his suitemates. The day had been a rush of emotions, and his body was ready to collapse by the time they all finished the long climb to their bedrooms.
The cheers deafened Roman’s ears as he stared at the final few handholds above him. There was no way he would let Cooper Morrow win, not when Roman was so close to the top.
Still, Cooper kept his lead, and Roman was running out of time. Roman dug his toes into the holds and crouched, knees wobbling as he prepared to spring up and snag the bell that would claim his victory. But his foot slipped, and the jump that should have made him a hero wound up being his downfall as he uselessly pawed the climbing wall on his way to the bottom.
Only this time, the harness didn’t slow him, and when his body thwacked onto the ground, the breath was kicked from his lungs. There were no more cheers. There was no ringing bell.
There was nothing.
Roman groaned as he struggled for air. His ribs felt crunched as he struggled to flip on his back. Above him, the sun blinded him as it beamed down, but soon something blocked its path, and when Roman opened his eyes, Xavier was looming over him.
Roman could do nothing to crawl away from his brother who had the same look in his eyes like whenever they were in his bedroom.
Xavier dropped to his knees. Roman tried to protect himself, but Xavier pinned his arms beside his head before straddling Roman’s waist. Even though his brother was clothed, Roman had no trouble feeling Xavier’s erection through his sweatpants as his brother ground against him.
Roman grit his teeth as his own dick tingled. Why did this always happen? He didn’t want this. He hated it. Hated the way his body was reacting, responding, enjoying what Xavier was doing.
“Stop it,” he muttered, not sure if he was talking to Xavier or his aching boner.
Xavier wasn’t even looking at Roman, only through him as he continued rocking his hips forward. With every thrust, Roman drew closer and closer toward that pleasurable cliff he’d gotten to so close before. He didn’t want it. He did, though. Just not from Xavier. Not like this.
A hand shook Roman’s shoulder as he sprang up in bed. Like the other nightmares over the last week, it had left him breathless and sweaty, and worse yet, as painfully hard as he was in his dreams.
Roman couldn’t make out Fielding’s body in the dark, but the stress of the nightmare and Xavier was overwhelming, and Roman began to cry. His tears burned his cheeks as they fell, and he punched his arm to try and distract himself from the pain in his heart.
Fielding crawled in bed beside him, saying nothing as he scooted the comforter back and pulled Roman to his chest to let him cry.
It had been so long. He needed the release. Laying his head against Fielding’s bare chest, Roman breathed out a sigh as his friend’s fingernails scratched lightly through his damp hair.
“Is this okay?” he asked, and Roman nodded. “My moms do this for me when I’m upset.”
The touch was electric, sending goosebumps over Roman’s body as he relaxed into it. Feeling cramped as he curled against Fielding’s body, Roman tried to stretch his legs out, but as he did, the boner in his underwear brushed against Fielding’s thigh.
They both froze.
Roman thought back to their shower from yesterday, when both of them had gotten hard in front of each other. Thinking about the soapy hand gliding over Fielding’s slick erection made Roman shiver. He should repay Fielding for comforting him. That’s what a good friend would do.
As Roman placed a hand on Fielding’s stomach, his friend’s undefined abs tensed beneath his touch. Smooth skin led the way down to the waistband of Fielding’s briefs, and after a small hesitation, Roman brushed his fingers across the front of Fielding’s underwear, pleased to feel the hardness there and Fielding’s gasp at his ear.
“Roman, what’re you…”
Roman snaked a hand inside Fielding’s underwear, past his silky, bare pubic region, until his fingers wrapped around the thin, straining erection. Fielding shuddered as Roman worked his fingers steadily like he had for Xavier so many times. Hands squeezed and latched on to Roman, not in a painful way, but like they had nowhere else to go as they palmed and pressed urgently against him.
Using his friend’s breathy moans as a guide, Roman knew Fielding must have been close to the same good feelings Xavier had.
“Roman, stop,” Fielding said in a strained voice. “Wait.”
It wasn’t until Fielding’s hands left his hair and went to halt his gliding wrist that Roman felt a sting in his chest. What was he doing wrong?
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Fielding said, “but you don’t have to do this.”
“Didn’t it feel good, though?” Roman whispered. Why wouldn’t Fielding let him do this?
There was a long stretch of silence before Fielding said, “It’s okay to just lay here together. Let’s do that instead, okay?”
Roman wasn’t sure what to think of that. Touching his dick was how Xavier liked him to show affection, so why wouldn’t Fielding want the same thing? Already Fielding’s fingers dragged teasingly along his scalp as Roman tried to settle his mind. The ever-chirping cicadas outside helped as he listened to their cries.
Under Fielding’s touch, Roman’s dick strained and he desperately wanted to reach down and squeeze himself, to keep chasing those good feelings and see where they led. But he also wanted to lay there and enjoy the soothing touch from his friend. Sinking into Fielding’s chest, Roman yawned deeply as his eyes grew itchy and he finally fell back asleep.
End Chapter 8
Copyright 2023 – Levi Holland
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