(A high school romance)
By Katie Leone
Lunch time couldn't arrive fast enough for Antonio. Having to leave home early to run the prayer group before school meant he ate breakfast earlier than usual and found himself quite hungry. He wished the line wasn't so long, but at least John Sharp was along with him so he could chat with someone.
“You're in the news again,” John said with a grin.
“Fact or fiction?” Sometimes stories went around about Tony that bordered on being mythical.
“I think this time it's fact,” John, who was sometimes the source of such myths, replied.
“What I do this time?”
“Took on a group of frightened Freshmen before school this morning.”
“As in a fight?”
“Yeah, five against one.”
“And you say this is a fact,” Antonio admonished. “You know better. Since you've known me, have I ever gotten into a fight with anyone.”
“There was that guy from Countryside High,” John pointed out.
“I didn't get into a fight with Dan Hughes,” Tony defended himself. “We had a physical match.”
“One that required both coaches, the ref and half the team to keep him from you.”
Antonio laughed. “I can't help it if he has anger issues.”
“Because you chose to get physical back, he wasn't used to that.”
“Still not a fight. Neither was this thing with the freshman this morning.”
“So there was a thing,” John pried.
“There was a small matter that needed to be corrected.”
“With force,” John was hopeful.
“Not with force.” Antonio knew John enjoyed playing these games where he tried to rile him up.
“With the threat of force at least?”
Antonio held up his thumb and forefinger. “Maybe a little bit.”
“I knew it,” John pumped his fist in victory. “You know, it's not very Christian to be a bad ass.”
“I was not being a,” Tony paused. Another game John played was trying to goad Tony into cursing. He got close on a few occasions and that gave him enough of a thrill to keep it up. “Good try.”
“Come on Tiny, let one out. It'll make you feel better.”
Tony shook his head. “You're too much.”
John put on a mock frown. “For me.”
“Not even for you.”
“So what did they do? Huh, Tiny? Did they say a bad word or something.”
“Not exactly. There's this new girl at the school. Not even as tall as you.”
“Hey!” John objected.
“It's the truth. About this tall,” Antonio brought his hand to John's eyebrows. “This freshman went out of his way to bump her. She already looked scared half to death.”
“You know her?”
“Not exactly.” John looked around as if he knew a secret. “But I've been told to stay away.”
“No one bothered to tell me that much. Just to stay away from her and not be friends with her so she drops out of school.”
Antonio was visibly upset. “These freshman, I swear.”
“Go on Tiny, swear, you know you want to.”
“Quit,” Tony said shortly.
“Sorry Tiny, gee don't be such a cry baby about it.”
“What could she have done for these kids to want her to drop out?”
“Maybe she's a whore?”
“Hear me out, without getting upset. Maybe she slept with a couple of people and it ticked everyone off. It happens, not everyone is like you.”
“She doesn't seem the type.”
“Does anyone,” John offered.
“I don't know. But they can't terrorize the poor girl all year.”
“Who knows, maybe it's best she drops out or goes to another school. I mean, if it's as bad as people say.”
“I would like to think this school wasn't that way. Something's got to be done.”
“And you're going to do it, aren't you?”
“You know me,” Tony said apologetically.
“Go on mister knight in Shining Armor, grab your tray.”
Antonio looked over and saw he was ready to be served.
As soon as Antonio and John exited the serving area of the cafeteria, they split up. John hung out with a more rambunctious crowd than Tony was comfortable with, but at least he was able to provide information on the new girl quandary.
Antonio made his way to the back table and sat down. He was the first person there, which wasn't that odd. He kept an eye on the line to see who else was about to join him and wondered if Courtney was going to bring up the rear again.
Why would anyone want to force another kid out of school, especially a freshman, Antonio thought to himself. It made even less sense that other freshmen would pick on someone small and defenseless. Sooner or later he would figure things out and set it straight. He had an idea what to do on his end, but didn't know what to do about the way the freshmen were behaving towards her.
At least it explained why the girl was so frightful. If people were looking to get rid of me, Tony thought, I'd be paranoid too.
“Yo, Tiny,” Shannon said as he sat at the table and threw a balled up napkin at Antonio.
Tony snapped out of his quiet contemplation. “Oh, hey. How was practice yesterday?”
Shannon rolled his eyes.
“Sorry I asked. Now you know why I didn't go out for the team again.”
“Going to be a long season, I'll tell you that.”
Tony smirked. There wasn't much else to say.
Tracy was the next to join, along with Carl.
“They're starting to look like a couple,” Shannon said as he took a big handful of fries.
Carl shot Shannon a look that spoke volumes.
It was known that Carl had an interest in Tracy, but the girl had a self imposed no dating until college rule that he was trying to get around.
“Tracy, you know that girl I've been talking about?” Tony quickly changed the subject.
“That's the one.” Antonio didn't like labeling people but knew sometimes it was impossible not to. “Think you could make friends with her?”
Tracy shrugged. “I could try. I don't have any classes with her and I'm still trying to put all the pieces together.”
“Me too,” Tony replied as he reassembled his hamburger. “I heard the Freshmen are trying to drive her out of school.”
“I heard that too,” Carl said. “One of them came up to me and told me to make her feel unwanted.”
Antonio, Tracy, and Shannon each looked at him to go further with his story.
“I'm not going to do it. They didn't even explain why I should.”
“There's got to be something there,” Tony said.
“I still think she's trouble,” Tracy said. “But I'll find out for you, and I'll even be friendly. But if she is real trouble, I'm out of there.”
“How much trouble could a little girl be?” Shannon said. “If she misbehaves, carry her in one of those huge purses you have.”
Dave and Ted finally joined with them and the conversation turned towards getting ready for Wednesday night youth group at the church.
Ten minutes later Stephanie came into the cafeteria and joined the group.
“Look who it is,” Carl said casually. “Mrs. Johnny Come Lately.”
“Wouldn't it be Mrs Julie come lately,” Dave asked.
“Actually it would be miss in this case,” Ted countered. “Last I checked, Stephanie isn't married.”
Dave shot his friend a look, their disagreement from that morning hadn't waned. It wasn't unusual, they had tiffs often, but usually after a short period of time they forgot about it until the next argument.
“It wasn't my fault this time,” Stephanie said as she put her tray on the table. “Honest.”
“It was the aliens,” Shannon said with a mouthful of food. “They abducted her for makeup tips.”
The group laughed.
“Not funny.” Stephanie laughed.
“So what kept you today?” Tracy asked, showing her friend support, but she was used to hearing far fetched stories coming from her friend.
Stephanie picked at her food, unsure if she wanted to eat it. “You guys haven't heard?”
Carl looked up from his tray, it sounded like a juicy bit of gossip was about to be shared. “Heard what?”
“Oh my gosh!” Stephanie straightened up. “There was a big to do in d-wing.”
Tony leaned in, it sounded like something big happened that he missed out on. “I just came from there before lunch. You mean in the English classes? Or in the pods?”
“By the English classes. There were a bunch of freshmen involved. They were making a lot of noise and making fun of someone. It may have turned into a fight. All I know is in the end five teachers got involved, including Mr. Fenton.”
“The vice principal?” David said.
“The one and only,” Stephanie replied.
“Major trouble then,” Ted said, “Especially if he headed all the way from the front office.”
“Yeah. About a dozen kids were taken to the office.”
“What is it with this year's freshmen class?” Tony said. “Looks like we got a bunch of boneheads coming into the school. Don't they realize that this is high school and it's time to grow up.”
“If Mr. Fenton is involved, they're going to learn soon,” Carl said.
Tony rolled his eyes. “We have our work cut out for us this year. Fights, pranks, trying to get someone to drop out, not what I want to see going around my school.”
“We can only have so much influence, Tiny,” Shannon said. “I can work on the guys that come out for football, usually they count for half of the messes anyway, but there are always going to be a handful that refuse to be reached.”
“I know. But we got to do our best. Its only the second day and we got our quota of moronic behavior for the month. If this keeps up, we might have to give up on the senior prank.”
“Ooh,” David said as he found something more interesting than freshmen drama. “The senior prank,” he rubbed his hands together. “Have you figured out what it's going to be.”
“Haven't decided yet,” Tony said, “but we have to top last years class.”
Ted was equally as interested in the topic. “Last years class was lame. Spray painting 'Seniors Rule' all over the place wasn't a prank, it was vandalism.”
“It'll be something epic,” Carl said. “After all, Tiny is involved.”
“I have some ideas. But we have time. Senior prank isn't until the spring anyway.”
“We could move it to homecoming?” Shannon said. “That would take them off guard.”
Tony paused for a second to give the suggestion some thought. “We could, but homecoming is only in a few weeks and to do something worthwhile takes major planning,”
“I say we steal Mrs. Reed's car,” Carl offered.
“The principal's car,” Shannon said with eagerness. “Classic.”
“We want to pull a prank,” Tony said, “not become felons.”
Carl shrugged. “We got to do something huge, something legendary, something they will talk about for years to come.”
“We'll do something,” Antonio said. He had a good idea what, and would need a couple of strong guys to pull it off. What the group didn't know wa the administration always knew about the senior prank in advanced, and often approved of it. Of course, there were a few times that certain students freelanced on their own, but usually the pranks were minor and sophomoric.
The table continued to discuss possible pranks, but Antonio found his attention diverted. Like the day before, Courtney was the last person to enter the cafeteria and go in line. He watched her closely.
'What could she have done for the other freshmen to want her to drop out of school?' Tony asked himself as the table continued their conversation without him.
He eyed the girl intently. She had that worried look on her face as she shuffled her feet. Her eyes scanned the cafeteria as she kept her back against the wall while making her was through the line.
“She looks more worried than yesterday,” Tony said out loud, inadvertently talking over someone.
“Who?” Tracy asked.
Tony motioned with a nod of his head towards the end of the line.
“Oh, the wallflower,” Tracy said. “You're starting to sound obsessed.”
“I'm not obsessed, just worried.”
Shannon took a swig of milk. “You know Tiny, he ain't happy if he isn't saving the world.”
“I'm not out to save the world,” Tony said as his eyes followed the girl. Her jumper was a little askew, but that was probably from sliding in and out of the desk during morning classes. “Besides, didn't we decide we were going to make a difference this year?”
“I don't know Tiny,” Carl said sympathetically, “some things may be beyond our power.”
Dave turned towards the girl. “Yeah, Tiny. I don't know about this one. Looks like she has mental problems. Maybe she needs a psychiatrist.”
“Maybe she's Schizophrenic,” Ted added.
Antonio shook his head at the idea. “Maybe she has a group of idiot freshmen trying to make her life miserable and force her to drop out. That would make me nervous too.”
Shannon let out a loud snort. “Ha! You wouldn't be nervous,” his rambunctious voice carried through the dining hall. “You would take on the entire freshmen class, maybe even the whole school, until they caved under your pressure. You approach life like you do your wrestling matches, you press and press until you wear your opponents out.”
Tony smiled. “Maybe so, but not everyone has that ability.”
“Tiny is part super hero,” Carl said, “you should know that.”
“Superman,” Dave offered.
“Iron man,” Ted countered.
Antonio knew another debate was about to begin if he didn't say anything. “Guys, relax. I'm not a superhero.”
“Right,” Dave said with dripping sarcasm.
“Face it Tiny,” Shannon said. “Your the closest thing we have.”
“Yeah Tiny,” Ted added. “Think about it. In a lot of ways you are like a superhero.”
Antonio shook his head and let out a heavy breath. He knew there was no way to stop this debate now that it started. His eyes continually followed Courtney as she made her way towards the front of the line, but he kept engaged in the conversation. “Okay, in what ways am I like a superhero?”
Dave and Ted both smiled. Shannon sat back, hoping he wouldn't get cast in the role as a sidekick. Carl silently chuckled to himself, he knew this conversation would make Antonio uncomfortable, but sometimes he couldn't resist the opportunity to put his friend on the spot.
“Okay,” Dave said as he took out a piece of paper and a pen. “How is Tiny like a superhero,” he said as he wrote on a blank piece of paper.
“Oh,” Ted said eagerly. “I got the first one.”
Tony didn't want this to continue, but it was in good fun. “Okay, what's number one?”
Courtney disappeared through a door and Tony shifted his gaze to the exit.
“First one is real easy. Every super hero that doesn't fly always has a cool vehicle. Batman has the Batmobile, Iron man has the suit.
“Wonder-woman has the invisible jet,” Tracy added, trying to get one female hero into the mix.
“Right,” Ted said. “And Tiny has the beast.”
The beast was the nickname people gave to his car, even though Antonio wondered why both he and his vehicle both needed nicknames. “I'll give you that one.”
Dave started writing. “Number one, cool car.”
“I know, I know,” Stephanie perked up.
Tony took his eyes off the doorway where Courtney would come out after getting her food and looked at the girl. “You too?”
Stephanie smiled. “All super heroes wear tights.”
The entire group laughed except Carl and Tony.
“I do not wear tights,” Tony countered.
“You do when you wrestle,” Stephanie said with a smirk.
“Those are not tights. It's called a singlet.”
Stephanie giggled. “Tights, singlet, same thing. You can make out your butt cheeks in them.”
“Sorry, couldn't resist.”
Dave went back to writing. “Number two, wears tights.”
“Carl wears the same thing when he wrestles,” Tony offered.
“Number three,” Dave added without missing a beat. “Has a sidekick.”
“Hey,” Carl objected. “How did I get put into this?”
“Serves you right,” Tony said.
“You're missing the most important thing,” Shannon finally spoke up. “Tiny lives for saving people.”
Antonio scrunched his face, athletes were supposed to stick together. “Only in the Biblical sense.”
The conversation resumed around him, but as soon as Courtney exited with her tray, his attention was diverted. If anything, the girl looked more concerned than the first time he had saw her. She walked to the empty front table and sat down by herself. She looked around to see if anyone was near her and then began to pick at her food.
Antonio felt a tap on his shoulder, he turned to see Tracy had moved next to him. He gave an apologetic grin. “Sorry.”
“What is it with you Tiny?” She asked in a whisper as the others continued to list the ways they thought Tony was like a superhero. “Do you have a thing for her?”
“It's not like that,” Tony whispered back. “I mean, she's a freshman and I'm a senior.”
“It's happened before.”
“Trust me, it's not that.”
“Then what is it? You're obsessed.”
Antonio frowned. “Look at her, she's scared and alone.”
“Sometimes people are like that, Tiny. For whatever reason. It's not always your place to fix everything. It's only the second day of school, I'm sure she'll adapt. With or without your help.”
“You know me.”
“Yeah,” Tracy put her hand on his shoulder. “I do know you. You want to make everything right all at once, but that's not going to happen. The freshmen are trying to get her to leave, but you know that's not going to happen. She must have done something to tick people off, maybe during the last day of middle school. But they'll get bored and find someone else to bother, it happens every year.”
“I still don't like it.”
“Of course you don't, Tiny. You want everyone to be happy all the time and to be there for them when they aren't. That's why everyone loves you.”
Tony shrugged. “I thought it was because I was a good wrestler.”
Tracy giggled. “No, being a good wrestler makes everyone aware you exist. But it's your heart that won them over.”
Tony appreciated the compliment. He would've asked Tracy to go over and make friends right then, but the bell signaling the end of lunch sounded. All at once, the students rose and made there way to empty their trays in the garbage and leave.
The rest of his group got up to do the same, but Antonio stayed in his seat while he watched the girl across the dining hall eat part of her lunch as people filed out of the cafeteria. He saw Peter, one of the bulldozers he dealt with the day before make his way towards the girl. Tony looked to see if Peter's cohort Jason was around trying to accomplish some sort of pincher maneuver, but the other bulldozer was nowhere to be seen.
Tony abruptly stood up from the bench and left his tray behind, he would get it afterward. He maneuvered his way through the tide of students, all the while keeping his eyes on both Courtney and a potential assailant.
“Not on my watch,” Antonio said to himself and wondered if making cliche comments made it onto Dave's list.
Peter closed in on Courtney, Tony knew he wouldn't make it in time if the boy did something sudden. He watched as Peter grabbed the girl by the shoulders. He didn't grab her roughly, but at the same time he wasn't being gentle either.
Courtney about jumped out of her skin, straightened up and stayed frozen in space.
Peter leaned in and whispered something into the girls ear.
Whatever he said had to have been something severe. Courtney became as white as a sheet and physically trembled as Peter calmly walked away.
By the time Tony made his way to the front table, Peter already mixed in with the crowd and was about to leave the building. Since he couldn't deal with the boy, he figured he could find out what in the world was going on.
“Are you okay?” Tony said as he stood off to the side of the girl.
Courtney turned her head and stared at him. Her mouth fell open, but she didn't say a word.
“I asked if you were okay?” Tony said calmly.
“Yeah,” Courtney answered even though tears welled up in her eyes.
Tony pursed his lips. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Um, I got to go,” she said and quickly made her way to the exit.
Tony stood alone in front of the dining hall wondering if it was the world that had turned all screwy or if it was him. He wasn't comfortable with what was going on, he wasn't comfortable at all.
Tony made a beeline out of the cafeteria, forgetting to clean up his tray. He felt guilty about that, but felt that there was something more important to deal with. He had a few minutes before he needed to report to class, and it shouldn't take too long to deal with what he wanted to.
Tony walked to the back of building. There was a group of five students out back smoking cigarettes. One of them was Peter.
“Hey Peter,” Antonio said, keeping his temper under control. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Peter let out a long stream of smoke and then flicked his cigarette onto the ground. “Sure, Tiny. What's up? Going to tell me smoking is bad for my health?”
Peter's group of friends laughed.
“Nothing like that.” Tony motioned the junior over to him.”Just want to talk for a few seconds.”
“Sure.” Peter said as he sauntered over to Tony, making a show out of it to the delight of his friends. “What's up Tiny?”
“What did you say to her?” Tony asked flatly.
“Say to who?”
“The girl in the cafeteria, that's who.”
Peter laughed. “That's none of your business.”
“I'm making it my business,” Tony said.
“Look. It's cool the way you stick up for all the dweebs and the losers. I respect you for that. But you have no idea what's going on.”
“Trust me, we don't need people like that at our school, in our town, or even in our country.”
Tony was even more confused. Normally Peter would back down whenever he was confronted about his bullying, but it appeared he had a serious beef with the girl. “Just back off, will you.”
“For your own good, Tiny, stay out of this one.”
Tony shook his head. “Are you threatening me?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Peter put up his hands, showing he had no intentions of getting into a fight. “I didn't mean it like that. Trust me on this, I'm doing the right thing. You would probably appreciate it, but its not your style. It's not the way you would handle things, but it's a result you would agree with. That thing is bad news and we don't need it at our school. You'll be doing yourself a favor by not getting involved.”
The second bell rang, alerting the students to report to class immediately.
“I got to get to geometry,” Peter said as he turned away. “Trust me on this, Tiny, we're on the same side when it comes to that.”
Tony stood still for a moment. There were a few pieces missing somewhere, but he had no clue what the issue with the girl was. 'Maybe she got someone in some serious trouble by telling a lie?' that was the only thing that immediately came to Antonio's mind.
School ended quickly enough for Antonio, but he was no closer to finding out about what Courtney could have done to get the entire freshmen class angry at her. It had to be something major, but for the hatred to last over an entire summer and be in full swing so early in the school year was unfathomable. It must have been something the girl expected , that would explain her fear the first day of school. Unless, of course, something happened at the school before Tony laid eyes on her.
The issue was distracting Tony as he wondered how to respond. He had an idea to alleviate some of the pressure on the poor girl, but the question was, should he? 'If this was something she brought upon herself,' Antonio stopped his thinking before he could finish the thought. Despite what she had done, no matter how bad, no one should be run out of school. 'Perhaps she could make amends if people let her.'
Tony waited at his locker, greeting people and making small conversation while he waited. Since he saw the girl leave so late the day before, he assumed she waited until the school was empty before leaving herself.
Fifteen minutes passed. There was no one else in the hall, even the teachers left their classrooms and made their way up to the administration building or the teacher's lounge.
Antonio walked to the north end of the building, opened the door and peeked out. A few students lingered, but not many. He walked back down the corridor and out the south door, and had the funny feeling he was waiting for nothing.
“Oh well,” Tony said as he walked through the open air passageways towards his car.
As Antonio walked through the parking lot towards his car, he noticed a group of kids hanging around Peter's green Ford F150 pickup truck. Several were in the bed, he could make out Roger, Jason, and the freshman he dealt with earlier, Henry, sitting on the side wall. The deep rumble from the engine, caught Tony's attention.
“There up to no good,” Antonio said as he walked to the driver's side of the green pickup.
The group in the bed stared at Tony as he made his way. Their faces were taut and red with rage.
“Hey Peter,” Tony said as he leaned against the side of the truck.
“Yo, Tiny,” Peter replied as he kept his eye trained on the school. “Sorry about mouthing off earlier and the stupid smoking comment.”
Antonio gave a thin smile. “Nah, I didn't take no mind. What are you guys up to?”
“Waiting on somebody.”
“Heck no,” Peter said. “I only got three other people with me, you got us outnumbered.”
Tony laughed. “Interesting comment. You waiting for someone to pound?”
Peter leaned over and kept his voice low. “Tiny, listen, you're a good guy and though people can find that annoying, no one holds it against you. But, sometimes, extreme circumstances require extreme action.”
“Like beating someone up? Four against one?”
“Oh, we ain't gonna beat them, just scare them.”
“Somehow I think we're talking about someone we already had a conversation about.”
“Perhaps,” Peter replied cryptically. “Maybe not.”
“Why are you picking on a girl? That's not your style.”
“I ain't picking nothing.”
“What did she do?”
Roger stood up in the bed of the truck and pounded on the roof. “There it is, one o'clock, coming down from the gym.”
Peter grimaced. “Got to go.” He floored the accelerator, spun his tires in a cloud of white smoke as Tony jumped back, and peeled away.
Tony looked in the direction Roger pointed out and took off to intervene. Sure enough, Courtney had been walking down the ramp that led to the parking lot. She must have heard the tires squeal, because by the time Tony spotted her she was in a full sprint. Tony knew he could out run the girl,but there was no way he was going to out run the pickup. There were several things the girl could do to buy them both some time.
By the time the truck was close to her, she already made her way past the first fence that led down a small stairway that brought everyone to the weight room and kept her stride.
The guys in the bed of the truck were making a commotion. Smokers normally weren't in the best of condition and the girl had a big enough lead on them that it would be impossible for them to catch her on foot. Instead, Peter swung the truck around and gunned it towards the exit.
Tony had a moment of confusion as to what to do next. Should he continue after the girl, or jump in his car and take off after the pickup. He slammed his foot into the pavement, pivoted, and made his way to his Firebird.
Courtney was freaked out. Peter accomplished his objective if his goal was only to scare her. Somehow, Tony doubted that. It would do him no good to take after her, if she thought the school was out to get her, that would include him and he would only add to her terror.
Tony made his way to his car, jumped in, and fired it up. He looked through the window. Courtney made it to the far fence and was about to leave school grounds. He turned his head, Peter parked his truck in the grass by the southwest side of the school that was closest to the main road.
“She doesn't go that way, morons,” Tony said out loud, thankful that Peter didn't know the girl's pattern and take his truck into the ditch to catch her when she left the school.
Antonio turned his attention back to Courtney, she had run out the small opening on the far side of the school and down the ditch, a second later she was up on the other side and heading north, away from Peter and his goons.
Tony looked back towards Peter. The group was yelling something, but he couldn't make out what it was. The way Peter parked his truck, he was unable to get up the ditch and continue the chase. Instead, the teen peeled out once again and took off down the road. A second later a cop car zipped down the street after him with his lights on.
“Serves you right,” Tony said to himself, and then put his car in reverse so he could leave.
Author's note: I like to think of this story like making chili in a crock pot, it's a slow burn and there's a lot going on. I know it takes time to flesh out, but I do hope you'll stick around for the duration. I like the intrigue in the beginning of the book and the way we are building up to things. What did Courtney do anyway that has people so mad at her? Even I'm curious as I reread my work, are you?
Again, I ask if anyone sees any typos or things that don't make sense, please bring it to my attention. I tried to catch it all, but am only one girl. I appreciate the ones people caught already.
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