Chapter 5 – Antics and Two Cents
“STOP!” The voice echoed loudly in the hallway as the crowd gathered in a circle around us, “What is going on here?!”
I crawled to the wall and leant against it, my hand trying helplessly to nurse the contusion on my stomach.
Before Max had time to react, Nathan pushed him off to the ground. He stood up and took a few steps back. “Sir, look at him! He wanted to kiss me and when I refused, he pinned me down and straddled me!” he exclaimed innocently.
The students burst out in laughter, but the teacher wasn’t taken in by the lie.
“That’s what happened, really? Can you explain your bruises to me? Please tell me how he ended up with those… stains?”
“He… he doesn’t seem to have a gift at kissing, sir,” he continued, flashing me a complicit gaze.
He wasn’t buying it any more than the crowd was, but it must have been an entertaining show for they kept laughing and snickering at the poor horrible boy.
At that point, Max’s cheeks were tinged with such a dark-red blood-like colour that it was hard to tell them apart from the fluid dripping from his nose. His head was down, lowered by the humiliation.
He stood up in a fury and pointed at Nathan with a threatening finger. “That’s it! You don’t know who you’re dealing with, you fucking poof! I’m going to make your life a living hell,” he yelled. He looked so enraged that I was almost expecting foam to escape his lips.
“Oh nooooo, pleaseee,” said Nathan with extreme sarcasm. He waited for the laughter to dim and continued, “No, really. I don’t think my knuckles can handle your face’s assaults anymore.”
This was his show. Every time he said something, people would laugh, or at least snicker, and a barely visible smile would brighten his face. His sweet little revenge, all in all, that he was delighting in.
“Mister Rol—” started the teacher, but Max was on the edge of blowing a fuse.
“Fuck you too!” He turned to the students, some of whom stepped back. “I’m not done with him!” He looked like a madman, hopping back and forth, pointing his finger at every single person in the crowd with the same fury that overwhelmed him. “We’ll see how tough he is once I put this fucker in a boot; and if any of you spread what happened, I’ll kick your sissy asses!”
He yanked the door open, letting it hit the wall and slam shut behind him. The gate outside moaned, rattled and thundered as he struggled through its wrought iron embrace, the air clearing of the storm that had just passed.
“Boy oh boy, what a busy week he’s going to have,” Nathan jested. The faint wry smile on his face disappeared in a blink under the dark glare of the official.
“You, you and you. To Monsieur Paget’s office. Now.” he commanded, pointing the both of us and Tommy, who was standing awkwardly behind. He was trying to melt into the crowd, probably afraid to get the same sort of glory that Max had just received.
“So, Lucas, now that we’re alone, can you tell me what really happened?” asked the head-teacher. The salt-and-pepper old man was obviously pulling the friendly card, going as far as offering me some candies. I never liked the reputation I had for being a preppy, good boy; but it had its perks.
I politely picked a chocolate in the basket that he was holding out to me and assured him, “I can’t remember much, to be honest. It all happened so fast.”
He shook his head and put the candies away before sitting down again. The old man put his hands together and locked his eyes into mine with a suspicious gaze that he held in heavy silence for the next couple minutes. He, for one, really knew his job. My palms were getting sweaty and I started fidgeting by the first thirty seconds; my mouth was slowly drying and soon, I couldn’t withstand his inquisitive look anymore.
“Geez! You perfectly know I can’t tell you anything,” I said with a hint of irritation.
“If you’re afraid of reprisals, I can take meas—“ he started, but I didn’t let him finish.
“Right, measures like the ones that kept me safe from bullying. Oh, wait… they didn’t.” I rolled my eyes as I said that.
How can he be so naive? Has he never been a student, or what?
Suddenly, the intercom on the desk crackled and a feminine voice was heard. “Sir, Monsieur Lacroix is here. Should I let him in?”
My mouth dropped at this mention.
Monsieur Lacroix? No fucking way! What is he doing here?!
His finger hovered over the intercom’s button. “Lucas, this is your last chance. It seems like your father himself decided to come. What I’ll report to him entirely depends on your cooperation.”
I twirled my finger around the string of my hoodie and sank as deep as I could into my chair. “I just can’t. I’m sorry,” I muttered.
“Not as much as I am,” he answered with dismay before turning the intercom on. “Let him in, please.”
Three knocks were heard and the door opened, unveiling a tall man dressed in a black tailored suit. His light blue shirt cuffs, peeking out of his jacket sleeves, were secured by silver cufflinks that threw an interesting contrast with his light-skin. He had this sort of aura that made people drawn into him the moment he entered a room; he radiated self-assurance and calm.
Before he could say anything, I lost my self-restraint. “What are you doing here?” I asked bluntly with a deep frown.
His face dropped for a split-second, but his smile was back in a heartbeat. “Shouldn’t I be the one to ask this question? I have an important meeting in Paris in a couple hours, so when Rosa told me you created havoc at school, I freed up some time to come here,” he said calmly. “Are you ok? What happened to your forearm?”
“I got bitten by a dog, but that’s another story.”
“Why didn’t Rosa tell me about this?” he asked, slightly irritated.
“She didn’t know,” I answered innocently.
“Quit it. We’ll talk about this later.” He took a place next to me and held his hand out to the principal. “Hello, I am Lucas’s father.”
“Nice to meet you, Monsieur Lacroix. I was expecting to see Madame Dos Santos as she’s usually the one to attend school meetings, but I’m glad you could make it.”
I tried to escape the arm he threw over my shoulder, but he wouldn’t let go. “Why have you summoned me? What is the matter with Lucas? I don’t want to be rude, but my time is precious.”
Oh geez, we got it dad, you’re an important man. Stop rubbing it all over people’s face!
The head-teacher raised an eyebrow, but didn’t react to the pompous remark. “Well, your son was involved in a fight that took place in a school hallway. I don’t think he played a major role, and I was willing to let him go without any sanctions if he told me what happened exactly – which he’s reluctant to do.”
My dad turned to face me. “Is it true? Did you get into a fight?”
I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms on my chest. “Why? Do you even care? I thought all that mattered for you were bonuses and dividends.”
I was expecting him to give me a dark glare, to lecture me, to slap me, anything that would give me an excuse to grow even more upset and to release some steam on him. The principal’s glare became evasive as his hands suddenly busied themselves fidgeting with a pencil. Yet, he responded by softly tightening his grip on my shoulder. “Lucas, that is not true, and I hope that deep down, you know it. I’ve always wanted you to be happy.” He landed a kiss on my forehead and continued, “Maybe the way I have chosen isn’t the best one, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you.”
I was still upset, still angry at him for being so distant, for being so rarely at home, for being so… him; but his words struck me right in the heart. The last thing I wanted was to cry at school, so when I felt tears well in my eyes, I gave up. “Yes it’s true, I got in a fight. But it wasn’t my fault.”
“We know, Lucas. What I want to know is what happened and above all, who started it.” The principal questioned me in a soft and unsettlingly charming voice.
I started wiggling on my chair. What the?! Not this again!
“I can’t tell you, can’t you just get that and leave me alone?!” I pleaded.
He threw me a dark glare. “No, I can’t. And please watch your language when you’re talking to me, young man. Listen. If you don’t want to talk, you will spend the next couple weeks in detention. What do you prefer?”
“I…” I started but my father interrupted me.
“Lucas, why don’t you want to tell your principal what happened?” He was obviously irritated, sighing and looking at his phone every couple minutes. I knew him well enough to know that he was considering the moment being as a pure waste of time and that he wouldn’t let it go on for very long.
“Don’t you know what happens to snitches?” I turned to the principal, “I won’t tell you anything, sorry.”
“Detention it is, then. We’ll…”
“Wait. Let me make sure I understood well. My son, who apparently was assaulted within the school’s walls, will get detention because he doesn’t want to risk a beat up – that is likely to happen if he tells on his schoolmates. Is that right?”
The head-teacher, visibly embarrassed, was looking for words. “Ehm… Basically, yes. But as I told him, I would take measures to ensure his safety.”
“Are you referring to the sort of measures that you should already have taken to prevent today’s fight?”
“Well…” he mumbled.
“Then, the discussion is over,” he said as he stood up. “Lucas, we are leaving.”
I muttered a goodbye as he pushed me softly toward the door.
“Oh…” started my dad as he turned to face him, “If my son gets the tiniest detention because of what happened today, I’ll make sure to spread the word that the school deals with bullying by punishing the victims. Have I made myself clear?”
“Clear as day, sir” answered the old man through gritted teeth.
As we left the office, I caught a glimpse of Nathan and Tommy in the waiting room. They were looking daggers at each other and if it wasn’t for the supervisor’s watch, chairs would probably be flying all over the room.
“Dad, can you give me thirty seconds? I’ll be right back!”
He looked at his watch and with a sigh, nodded. “Alright, but hurry up, I’m—”
“…in a hurry, I know, I know. I’ll be quick!”
I hopped to the next room and sat next to Nathan. He welcomed me with a bright smile and a loving gaze.
“Hey! How did it go?” he asked with a genuine concerned look.
“Hm… alright, I think. I got lucky.”
I heard Tommy snicker. “Lucky? Don’t make me laugh, daddy’s boy. Your dad saved your sorry ass, that’s all,” he said with contempt.
“Oh shut the fuck up, you’d be glad to get away thanks to your dad too, if only he wasn’t such a loser,” snapped Nathan.
“What is it, faggot?”
Nathan rose an eyebrow. “The faggot is wondering whether he should tell everyone about our former school. You know, the ‘old you’.”
Former school? ‘Old you’? What?
He stopped for a second, as if he was recollecting his memories, and continued with a feigned nostalgic look. “Do you remember when they used to put your head in the—”
Tommy stood up in a fury. His fists were clenched and the vein on his temple throbbing alarmingly. “Don’t you fucking dare!” he burst, “If you ever talk about this, I’ll—”
“You will what? Deny? I wonder how Max will react once he learns about that…” he answered with a smirk.
Tommy was still visibly infuriated, but he stayed still and didn’t say a word. He was so febrile that you could tell he was dying to answer, but at the same time perfectly aware of what was at stake. I could almost see the word “FUCK” written in a speech bubble above his head.
“That’s what I thought. Now be a good boy, sit the fuck down and let the grownups talk,” he added.
This demand made me uncomfortable. “Ugh, leave him alone, buddy. Don’t push it too far, please.” I could understand that Nathan was taking his revenge, but no matter how much of an ass Tommy was, I never liked to see someone getting humiliated.
“As you wish, m’lady,” he answered with a theatrical bow.
Tommy sat down and started mumbling to himself. I couldn’t hear exactly what he said but some fragments reached my ears. “Who… think you are… need your help… fucking faggot… daddy’s boy… fuck…”
“Lucas!” My dad appeared in the doorway. “You told me thirty seconds and it has already been 2 minutes. Say goodbye, we’re leaving.”
Ah God damn it!
I discreetly brushed my fingers over Nathan’s hand. “I think our plans for today have fallen through, Rosa will probably ground me once I get home. Do you think you’ll be able to come over? I will tell her we have homework to do and I’ll try to negotiate.”
He snickered. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it. My dad is gonna kill me once he hears about today.”
“Wait, isn’t he c—“
“Lucas!” my father called. He was impatiently tapping his watch.
“Ah shit dude, I have to run. Call me once you’re home, ok?” As I leant to pick up my bag, I whispered softly in his ear “I really miss you, you know?”
I hopped to my father and followed him in the hallway. Once Tommy was out of sight, I blew a kiss in my lover’s direction. A bright smile lightened his face and he raised his hand, his thumb held near the ear and the little finger pointed at the mouth, in an “I’ll call you” sign. I couldn’t suppress the dreamy sigh that escaped my lips, and when my father noticed it, he gave me a suspicious look.
When we reached the school’s gates, he stopped me and placed his hands on my shoulders. “Lucas, we are not done yet. You didn’t want to talk to your head-teacher, but you owe me some explanations.”
“If you want, but I think that by next Christmas we both will have forgotten about this.” I answered with an involuntary hint of sadness.
“Next Christmas? Don’t be silly, we still have…” he checked his watch, “…a solid hour ahead.”
“Isn’t that what it takes to reach Paris at this time at the day?”
“It is. That’s why you’re coming with me.” He waved his hand toward the black limo parked a few meters away. “Make yourself comfortable, we have a long talk ahead.”
I sat down in the car, near the window, with my hands locked between my thighs. I really didn’t know what to expect from him. He’s never really been there for my education, and the few times he was, he didn’t really care. He’s never been violent with me, except maybe for that one time when I was 10 where he totally lost his self-control and Rosa had to stop him. Since then, he’s done his best to make up for it and never raised his hand to me again. Yet, I learnt to expect the worse from him.
“Relax, Lucas. I just want to hear you out. Go ahead, tell me what happened.” He placed his hand on my thigh to reassure me, but it wasn’t really effective.
I couldn’t reasonably tell him about our little “gatherings”, so I made up a story about a football game and wandering eyes. Hesitant at first, I grew more confident with the lie and started opening my heart – although in a disguised way. I told him about the beat-up, about the dog, about the bite, and about today. I told him how Nathan fought for me after I stood up for him. He listened attentively and never interrupted me. Though, I could decipher some surprise and suspicion in his looks and I wondered if maybe I had said too much.
“So… This boy – Nathan, right? – that you don’t know from Adam gets beaten up by friends of yours; his dog bites you the day after; and today, you stand up for him against one of your best friend? I knew I raised a good boy, but I wouldn’t have guessed that you were so…”
Before he could answer, his phone rang. He raised his finger to keep me quiet and answered. “Hi, Monsieur Lacroix speaking.” I could hear a feminine voice that sounded rather upset. “Yes, he’s with—“ The voice wouldn’t stop. “Yes. Yes, I’m sorry. Yes, I know I should have told you, but I was in a hurry.” He rested his head against the headrest and sighed out loud. “Rosa, I see your point, but is that language really necessary? Yes! I’m sorry, ok? I’ll send him home as soon as we reach the office.” He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Yes, I promise not to do this again. Will you leave me alone already?!”
It was rather funny to witness. This charismatic, important, and wealthy international businessman was acting as a young kid being lectured by his parents. I couldn’t help but let out a snicker as he hung up.
So much for the tough guy who met with the head-teacher!
He threw me an amused glare and shook his head. “Listen son; never ever hire a maid with such a strong personality. Sometimes, I’m genuinely wondering who the boss is. I swear, she’s driving me crazy.” He opened the mini-bar and poured himself a whisky. “So, I heard you out, now it’s your turn.” He took a sip and cleared his throat. “In my opinion, you haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, you’ve done more than anyone could expect, given that you met this boy a few days ago.” He stopped and stared right into my eyes, as if he was giving me the “go” to drop what would have the effect of a bomb in the car.
I started wiggling in my seat and did my best to avoid his gaze; the stain on the window suddenly becoming the most interesting thing ever.
He waited a few seconds, but when he realized I wouldn’t say a word, he continued. “You know what I find more surprising than you standing up for a stranger? This very same stranger defending you tooth and nails. By the way, when you were talking with your friend in the waiting room, something reached my ears.”
My heart froze when he said that.
Oh shit, oh shit! Did he hear me…? No, no way he could have heard that whisper! What is he talking about?
He threw me a surprised glare when he noticed my embarrassment. “What? Did you really think you were discreet? I would bet half of the school heard your little argument, daddy’s boy.” I lowered my head and sank even deeper in the seat. “Lucas, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think this boy is just…” he stopped for a second. “When your friend mentioned his former school, what did you think?”
My eyes were busy, focused on my finger playing with the zip of my hoodie. “I don’t know… It sounded like he was bullied on a daily basis…”
“Touché. That’s what I understood too. Now, why do you think he’s acting the way he is?”
“Maybe… maybe he’s taking his revenge?” I asked genuinely as I looked up at him.
“That’s one possible explanation, indeed. Though, I have something different in mind. In my opinion, this boy was forced to change schools and once he got there, only two options were possible in his mind: get bullied again, or become a bully. Do you see what I mean?”
“Ehm… not really…”
“What I want you to understand is that he’s not necessarily a bad person. He was probably convinced, as too many people are, that being a bully or being bullied were the only two options that he had, and he made his choice. He did what he thought was the best for him. You can see him as a despicable person, and ruin his new life as your friend suggested. I, as your dad, really hope that you will see him as a victim that did the only thing he could to end his torments.”
As much as it annoyed me, he had a point. “I guess you’re right…” But still! I grunted and continued, “He’s still an asshole! He ganged up on Nate for nothing!”
The car stopped in the middle of a large boulevard in the heart of La Defense and rushed into an underground parking. My father knocked on the glass separating us from the driver, which slowly rolled down.
“Eric, I need you to take Lucas home and come back to pick me up once the meeting is over. Let’s say in…” He peeked at his watch, “…3 hours.”
He then turned to face me. “Listen. Whatever will be your decision about that guy – Tommy, right? I want you to think about it during the ride back home.” He picked up his files and got out of the car. Before closing the door, he leant inside the car. “And be careful with that boy, Nathan. There’s something about him that worries me.”