Chapter 17: Push

As soon as he professor dismissed us from our last class before lunch, most students were on their feet and stampeding toward the door.

Olivia hung back to wait for me.

“Are you eating in the cafeteria today?” Olivia asked, hugging her books to her chest.

“I think so. I’m supposed to meet Thomas. I usually eat with him.”

“Do you mind if I join you?” She asked. “Gabby is on one of her health kicks, trying to loose weight before the formal. Apparently that means you have to cut out major meals like breakfast and lunch.” She rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, sure no problem.” I agreed quickly.

“Will Thomas mind?”

“I doubt it.” I agreed quickly.

We stopped at Olivia’s locker for a brief moment while she put her books inside and closed the locker behind her, fastening the lock.

She turned back to me, ready to join my pace. I walked along side her to the cafeteria, making no move to take her hand or make physical contact in any way. I wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted the entire school to know about us.”

Olivia tucked her hair behind her ear, pursing her lips.

“So, this town… what’s it like? Is it anything exciting?”

“No, not really.” She answered. “I mean, most homes around here are cottages, so it’s kind of like touristy? I don’t know how to describe it. Lots of small shops and grocery stores. There are a couple of cute little restaurants and a movie theatre. It’s very cute and quaint.”

“Great. So maybe we can grab dinner, right?”

Olivia grinned. “That would be great.”

We reached the cafeteria and joined the queue of students waiting to get their lunches.

She grabbed a tray and added a Caesar salad onto it. She pushed it along the counter, studying the items offered for lunch.

I leaned over the glass sneeze guard to place my order for a burger and fries. While I waited, I glanced toward Olivia. She was happily talking to two other girls, both of whom were giggling.

I was still waiting for my lunch when Olivia paid for hers. “I’ll meet you at the table.”

“Yeah, go on ahead.” I shrugged.

I finally got my lunch, and grabbed myself a can of coke. I swiped my student card and began crossing the cafeteria.

The air in the cafeteria seemed to be different. Something was going on. There was electricity in the air, and it wasn’t good.

I glanced anxiously from side to side. I had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I placed my tray down on our usual table, dropping my messenger bag to the floor. My eyes darted around the room. The table was empty; Thomas and Olivia were nowhere to be seen. But Olivia’s tray was sitting across from mine and Thomas’ books were stacked neatly on the table.

It was then I noticed the crowd of football players. They were cheering on something.

I frowned and advanced slowly.

I couldn’t see much over the group of students gathered in a circle. I noticed that two guys held either side of Thomas. One of the guys had both of his arms, keeping him completely immobile and unable to flee or defend himself. The other was standing with his arms over his chest and taunting him.

“Hey! Knock it off!” I heard Olivia shout, pushing her tiny frame between the bodies of the football players. “Leave him alone!” As hard as she could, she tried to push away one of the larger guys who had converged around Thomas.

What was with these guys? I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was about him that these guys wanted to pray on.

I narrowed my eyes and watched the scene for a moment. I was trying to decide whether kicking these guys’ asses was going to be worth returning to academic probation.

This group of guys all snickered bitterly. “What is he your boyfriend now?”

“No, I am.” I said loudly.

Everyone seemed to stop and gape at me. I noticed Olivia’s face turned slightly pink.

I shoved my way through the bodies gathered around. I immediately found myself in the center of the ring of students.

“I thought I made myself clear the other day, that you were going to leave Thomas alone. If you have a problem with him, you’ve got to get through me first.”

The one guy sneered.

“Isaac, don’t.” Olivia grasped my arm tightly. “You’re out numbered…” She whispered.

“Go sit down,” I urged her. “Eat your lunch. I’ll take care of this.”

Olivia looked caught between worry and hurt, but she nodded, stepping aside. She didn’t leave the circle completely; she simply waited like everyone else to see how it turned out. But something told me she was the only person in the small audience actually rooting for me and Thomas and not the two guys from the football team.

I narrowed my eyes. “Well? Are you going to let him go or am I going to have to kick both of your asses in front of all these people?” I asked.

The one guy lunged toward me and I moved out of the way. I caught the back of his shirt, raising one knee so that it connected with his stomach.

“Ugh!” He cried out, the wind rushing from him.

I shoved him hard to the floor, sending him sprawling on his hands and knees.
I wasn’t the strongest person in the world, I was well aware of that. But I was a decent fighter, I didn’t care and I was sick of this bullshit.

The other guy advanced toward me, throwing Thomas to the ground like some discarded laundry.

My blood boiled. The guy raised his fists toward me like he was about to box. I rolled my eyes at how pathetic he was, and instead threw my fist as hard as I could into his lower abdomen. He hadn’t been expecting that, and with his hands now lowered, I threw another punch into his mouth. I felt his lip connect against his teeth beneath my knuckles.

I saw him stumble back, blood spilling from his split lip.

“What the fuck is your problem, man?” The other guy demanded, having scrambled to his feet.

“You’re my problem. How many times do I have to kick your ass before you leave my roommate alone?” I demanded.

This guy took a swing at me, which I expertly ducked. I came back swinging, and my fist connected with this guy’s eye socket. I heard and felt a crunch. He fell back to the floor, clutching his eye.

My hand was killing me, but I was fairly pleased with myself.

I glanced around looking for Thomas and Olivia. Thomas was on the floor, and Olivia had dropped to her knees next to him, helping him loosen his tie around his throat. “Don’t move, you might have a concussion.” She told him.

“My glasses…” Thomas mumbled miserably. I saw that he had a piece of his glasses in each hand. They had been snapped at the nosepiece.

I extended my hand down to him and jerked him up to his feet. “Come on, man. I’ll help you fix your glasses.”

“Thanks, man.” Thomas replied.

I turned back to see where the two football players had gone, but neither were in sight.

I extended my hand down to Olivia, gently pulling her up to her feet. “Are you okay?” I asked gently.

Olivia smiled. “I’m okay. Are you?”

“Not a scratch.” I grinned.

“Good.” She breathed, her hands falling on my upper arms. “Your hand?”

“Fine.” I said quickly. I held it out between us and opened and closed my fist. It was killing me. I was sure I had broken a knuckle or at least sprained something.

Suddenly someone grabbed me from behind.

“Hey! What the hell?!” I demanded, attempting to wrench free. I realized suddenly that the person holding me was older, probably a professor. A second professor grabbed my other arm, immobilizing me.

My eyes darted around and I noticed that two more professors held the other two guys.

“Where are you taking him?” Olivia demanded. “He didn’t do anything!”

“Olivia, don’t worry about it.” I replied, being ushered out of the cafeteria.

I was taken immediately to Firestones office and forced to sit with two of the guys I had been fighting with. It was an uncomfortable, angry silence.

My hand was turning blue and purple. Two full knuckles were already bruising. It was killing me.

The two guys I had been fighting with went in first. I sat uncomfortably stewing.

The two guys were both escorted out by one of the other professors.

It seemed like ages before Firestone came out of his office and called me in.

I stood and followed him into his office.

I plopped down in the chair that I had been in way too many times since I’d been here.

I waited for him to say something, but he simply stared at me.

I spoke first, unable to stand the silence. “I take it my academic probation is back in effect?”

Professor Firestone drew in a deep breath. “I must admit that I am tempted to instate your probation again. In fact, this school has a zero tolerance policy on violence, and for something like this, given your history and your promise to keep your nose clean, you could be looking at expulsion here.”

I gulped.

“However, I spoke to both Miss James and Mr. Hardwicke who told me what happened and gave you a perfectly commendable review. I also spoke to some other students who were there. I got the account of events from the professors who pulled you apart. I was extremely dismayed that this type of bullying toward Mr. Hardwicke had been going on for some time now. If I had known, I would have disciplined Mr. Morris and Mr. Brenan sooner. They are both getting two months of detention, and a spot on their permanent record.”

“And what about me? Are you going to kick me out?” I tried to seem impartial, like it didn’t really matter to me what he did with me. But it did. I was starting to get used to it here. I was starting to make friends, and to be completely honest, I was totally crazy about Olivia.

Firestone hesitated. He paused to consider my question. At last he answered. “No. You were defending Mr. Hardwicke; you were sticking up for your friend. And albeit in a completely wrong and inappropriate manner, you were trying to do the right thing here. I cannot overlook your ties to your roommate; to be perfectly honest, you seem to be good influences on each other. He is an intelligent individual with great expectations attached to him, and you seem to have a good report with him. Hopefully some of his study ethics and ambitions rub off on you.”

I wanted to roll my eyes. He was making it seem too mushy and wrong.

“Miss James thinks very highly of you. She too could be a good influence on you. She seems to think you were doing the right thing by acting out against the aggressors here.”

I nodded. “I thought it was justified. Who knew what those guys were going to do to Thomas? I mean, the guy can’t defend himself against too huge football players… what was I supposed to do? Toddle off and find a teacher? I did the only thing I knew to do.” I admitted.

“And that’s commendable. You may consider today a free pass. You will not receive any disciplinary action for your behavior, but I want to make this perfectly clear. If this happens again, that will be your last. You will be asked to leave Pine Crest Academy, and never return. There will be no detention or academic probation for your next violent offense. It will be an expulsion. Am I making myself clear?”

I blinked. “Crystal.”

“Good. You may go. And please see the nurse about that hand.”

I nodded, still entirely dumbfounded. I stood and walked from the office. I was dazed an disoriented as I walked from the building, trying to figure out what had just happened.

I pushed through the door and was outside on the stone courtyard.

“Isaac!” My chin jerked up and suddenly Olivia came running to me, she crashed into my arms. “Are you okay? What’s happening? Did you get in trouble?”

I held her tightly to me. Our embrace was like a sweet drink of wine after a particularly stressful day.

“No. No.” I said, burying my wounded hand in her hair. “I’m on my last legs though in this place.”

She sighed unhappily, pulling away. “I tried to talk to Firestone…”

I kept one arm around her, and she looped her arms around my waist, resting her cheek against my shoulder.

“You did well, you’re one of the reasons I’m still here.” I noticed Thomas standing against one of the stone pillars. His glasses were on his face, held together by a thick band of duct tape. He advanced toward me and stuck out his hand. “Thank you, so much. Man. I don’t know how to repay you. Without you, I’d probably be buried in the woods somewhere by now.”

I clapped his hand, one arm still around Olivia. “Don’t mention it, dude. But I am going to teach you to throw a punch, so you can defend yourself the next time.”

“Deal!” Thomas agreed eagerly.

“Your glasses are fixed, looks like.” I observed.

“Hardly. But they’ll hold until tomorrow. I’m having a new pair shipped from home. Olivia helped me fix them. I could have done it myself, but when you can’t see…”

I turned to her.

“It was nothing.” She smiled.

I sighed. “You guys should get to class. I’ve got to get to the nurse.” I held up my wounded hand.

“I’ll go with you.” Thomas offered. “Do you know where to find the nurse?”

“I’ll be fine. Don’t miss class. The world will need brainy geniuses like you some day… do you think the nurse will write me a note for class?”

“Definitely.” Olivia agreed.