“Mr. Wilcox, I can see you now.” Jakes’ father waved and smiled at the boys before entering the Principal’s office. The door closed with a snap.
Jerry and Austin rounded on Jake. Austin poked Jake’s shoulder. “You’re okay! What happened? How did you escape?”
Jake’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about?”
“Stop playing!” Jerry grabbed Jake by the shoulders shaking him. “How did you get away?”
“Hey! Let me go! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Jerry’s voice rose as he shook Jake harder. “I heard what happened! I saw it! Stop messing around!” Jake stared wide eyed at Jerry.
“Are you that mad I didn’t meet with you guys last night?”
Jerry’s face reddened. “YOU WERE THERE! DON’T LIE TO US!”
“Jerry! Lower your voice!” The secretary spoke firmly, eyeing them over her gold rimmed glasses.
“Jerry, calm down man.” Austin tugged on Jerry’s arm.
Jake’s face hardened. “Let go of me Jerry and stop being a jerk just because I didn’t go and you were probably too chicken to go in.”
A furious cry rose from Jerry as he wrapped his arms around Jake’s neck. Austin lunged forward prying at his arms to let Jake loose.
The secretary stood yanking the phone to her ear. “Jerry! Let him go or I am calling Principal Edgar out again!” Her threat was unheard as it was drowned out by Jerry’s shouts. His face turned bright red, his eyes bulged and his nose began to bleed again.
“Stop messing around! You’re a liar! You’re nothing but a wuss!” Principal Edgar and Mr. Wilcox emerged from the office rushing over to the struggling boys. They were finally able to push them apart. Jake sputtered and coughed as Mr. Wilcox placed a protective arm around his son. Principal Edgar attempted to calm Jerry but he and Austin struggled to keep Jerry from trying to attack Jake. Jake looked on with disgust. In a raspy voice he breathed “You coward.” Jerry roared in anger.
“Call the police!” Principal Edgar bellowed to the secretary.
Within 20 minutes the police arrived to detain Jerry. Austin could still hear him screaming inaudibly as they forced him into the squad car.
Austin collapsed into one of the chairs in the front office, his head buried in his hands. He replayed the night’s events over and over. He couldn’t make sense of what happened. Did he just dream it all up? Were he and Jerry going crazy? What really happened?
He jumped when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. Principal Edgar’s face hovered above him. Through pursed lips he said “Austin your father is here. He is waiting outside.” Austin slung his backpack over his shoulder and slumped down the hall. He reached for the door when Jake appeared next to him, his face void of emotion.
Austin tried to read Jake’s facial expression but couldn’t figure out what he was thinking.
“Hey.” Austin grumbled.
They stood staring at the ground shifting from foot to foot. Austin broke the silence.
“Yea, just confused and freaked out. My dad’s pissed though. He’s taking me home.”
“Yea my dad’s here too.” Austin took a deep breath, leveling his eyes with Jake. “So…what happened to you last night?”
Jake chuckled, rubbing a hand behind his head. “Man it’s embarrassing. I just laid around studying and reading, then fell asleep watching TV around like, 9 pm.” His hand dropped limply to his side. “How lame is that right?”
Austin snorted. “So you knew we were meeting last night to go to Old Winterview’s and…you didn’t go?”
Jake nodded his head sheepishly. “Sorry man, I know I should’ve called instead of bailing on you guys like that. I just couldn’t take you guys giving me a hard time. I didn’t know Jerry would freak like that.” He glanced out the window as if Jerry would reappear.
“Right.” Austin smirked turning his back on Jake. “So when did your dad get a security job at the Old Winterview place? That’s a sweet gig.”
“Yea it is, he likes it a lot. We can actually buy food now while still keeping the lights on.” Jake’s broad smile was covered by his hand that he clapped over his mouth.
Austin spun around grinning. “I knew you were there!”
Jake’s blush deepened a dark red.
Austin’s smile faded. “Why did you play us like that? We-I was really worried. I thought something horrible happened to you.”
Jake shoved his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “You guys were making fun of me, calling my dad a loser because he was laid off.” He blurted.
“I didn’t make fun of you.”
Jake’s eyes levelled with Austin. “No but you sure didn’t stick up for me either. You’re supposed to be my friend and you let Jerry and Steve talk like that about my family and me. I was so mad I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I tried to get my parents to move. Then my dad finally got this job and I couldn’t even be happy for him. I knew once everyone found out they would make fun of me even more, or worse, they would go to his job to mess with me and get him fired. I had to teach Jerry a lesson.”
“And your dad helped you. That was him in the maintenance jumpsuit.”
Jake lowered his gaze. “Yea. He didn’t want me to get bullied anymore.”
Austin dropped his head. “I’m sorry man. I never wanted to make you feel bad.” He lifted his head to see Jake watching him carefully. “You’re my friend. I should have stood up for you. That’s my bad and I deserve everything that happened to me.”
Jake’s face broke into a big smile. “You didn’t let me go when my dad was pulling me back. That kinda made up for it. You are a good friend. I guess I can forgive you ‘cause of that. I didn’t think you’d do that.” He punched Austin in the arm. Austin shoved him back. The bell rang and a flood of students broke their comraderie.
“Awww, look at the lovers!” Steve called across the hall. Austin rolled his eyes. Steve swaggered up to Jake bumping into him roughly. “Where were you little Jakey? Did you get too scared to go to the haunted park last night? Or did you have to go cash in your piggy bank so your family could eat? I’m sure daddy appreciated it.” Steve howled in laughter.
Austin clenched his fists.
“Shut up Steve! I bet you wouldn’t set your ugly face in that place!”
Steve grinned maliciously, stepping up to Austin.
“You’re on pretty boy!”
“I hope you don’t go insane like Jerry did.” Jake replied smugly.
Steve’s grin broadened. “That wussy, his whole family’s crazy.” He walked backward pointing two fingers at Austin. “Bet’s on man. Be prepared to eat your words punk.” He spun around sauntering down the hall. Austin shook his head.
“Moron. Don’t let him get to you Jake. I gotta go, my dad’s going to kill me as it is. I better not keep him waiting.”
Jake caught Austin’s arm as he turned to leave.
“Hey. Want to help me get Steve, like I got Jerry?” His eyes gleamed.
Austin’s face broke into a wide grin.
“Tell me when and where and I’m there.”