“I’m listening…” The principal of my new school in New Jersey was extremely difficult to read at first glance. On the one hand, he had a very warm hearted persona that made you feel safe, welcome, and a genuine part of the school grounds which he was responsible of overseeing, yet, on the other hand, he had this intimidating feel to his aura that just made you feel dangerously interrogated by the chief of police, himself. And, as he looked at me with that furrowed, thick-browed look on his dark chocolate complexion, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was being fully put on the spot as I sat across from him in front of his desk in his office, later on that school day after lunch period when he had called me into his school chambers. And, that was more likely than not because I WAS being put on the spot, something that someone as quiet as me didn’t hold too well one single bit.
“I’ve got all day…. How ‘bout you?” He said as he began finger tapping his desk as he sat back on his burgundy leather chair in a more relaxed and lounged position while gazing at the ceiling in cinematic thought. He was about 6’2, and seemed to weigh roughly 3-4 times my body weight. He seemed to have the build of a football player back in the day, only now in his 40s-50s he had retired that life and grew to become a more integral part of the scholastic academic team of supervision. At least, that’s what it seemed like to me, anyway.
“Ah’ alrready told yuu, sir. Ah’ fell on my bike coming home from school under the bridge, and… uhh there was this boy that helped me out some with gettin’ home l and theyy’an ah’ started headin’ to his folks place bah’ the …” I repeated the lie which I had told everyone about my marks on my face and arms that Jesse Bradford had placed onto my body from his outburst of physical abuse just the day prior.
“A boy? What boy?” He said raising a brow and glancing at me.
Feeling a little confused as to what I felt about the new kid who had helped me, I looked at the principal’s desk as my cheeks went numb. I couldn’t feel my hands or arms for a few moments from the nerves and foreign feelings that I felt towards the new, young stranger; and it felt as though the principal, himself, was reading my very own thoughts and glaring directly into my mind’s eye which caused a state of temporary panic. I remembered how that boy made me feel when he warmly took care of me and bandaged my wounds with care and attention. I remember his really sharp looking and boyish buzzcut, his smooth, warm chest, and delicately strong arms that were graced with that wonderfully rich tone of deep vanilla that he had all over his skin. Wow. He was ever so “handsome” to my young Southern eyes. He was the type of boy that you’d be proud to introduce to your family. He was someone your Mah and Pah would approve of, graciously, as a strong young man. It made me feel so confused. I was infatuated from the very start. I was hopelessly struck with some strange love arrow from the skies. I was smitten’ for him, secretly, whether I realized it or not.
“Nobody…” I said as I slumped in my chair about an inch.
A few moments passed as Principal Adams clicked his own pen, staring at the ceiling in deep thought, assembling in his mind what he should do with the situation and with my answer. As he did, I noticed a large, gold colored, square shaped ring with a large Ruby smack in the middle of it on his finger. It had slightly curved corners which gave the piece an almost royal look. He slightly giggled with a smirk and shook his head sitting back up slowly as he talked. “Well, that’s funny…” He began. “Because, another freshman of mine, Bradford fell on his behind in that exact same spot at the exact same time. He’s still in the hospital, right now as we speak and will be back tomorrow.” I widened my eyes at the information. I knew Jesse fell on his butt after Liam had defended me, but, I didn’t know it was THAT hard. He did fall on a large stone. I also didn’t like how the principal knew that. How could I possibly explain that!? And, what on Earth will Jesse and his friends do to me now that Jesse got actually HURT because of Liam defending me! Will they take it all out on me? Oh, God. I began to get extremely nervous as I sat on the chair bouncing my leg and twiddling anxiously with my fingers. What if they hurt me again. I don’t want to be hurt again!
“Funny right?” he said. “Two boys, falling at the same place at the exact same time, and, yet,… Neither one of them mentions to me that the other one was there….” This principal wasn’t stupid. He obviously was putting things together, meticulously in his mind. “And, I know Jesse’s friends were there, and now you mention ANOTHER boy into the mix…. Sounds like an awfully interesting scenario wouldn’t you say, Billy? What a coincidence!” He said with such fake sarcasm and a smile.
At that point, I wasn’t sure, whether, or not I should just confess to him that I had been beaten and was being bullied and someone had rescued me. Because, he probably knew something to the affect happened, but, on the OTHER hand, if I told him anything, my family would know! They’d know I was a bullied kid, they’d know I lied, and it’d completely ruin my reputation with my baby brother and those who I cared about in this world the most! I couldn’t say anything. I had no choice; I stayed quiet.
The principal leaned forward, placing his elbows onto his desk and seriously looked at me. “Now, I can’t do anything about any of that as it happened outside of my school grounds. None of my business. Know what I mean? But, know this, Mr. Irving… I know something’s going on. And, regardless of whether you tell me. I’ll get the truth one way or another…” I gulped. “Billy, there are things in this school that happen and if you ever need somebody, don’t knock on my door… you, walk right in.” he said giving me a serious and slight nod as he offered me his opened door whenever I needed it. It DID make me feel good to have him say that.
I looked down with flushed cheeks. “Okay.”
“Heyy! Wait up!” I heard a raspy, young & foreign male voice call from about half a block away from me as I was walking home from school, later on that day on a semi-busy road with houses lining each side. I turned around to see a black hoodied figure with the hood up wearing some blue jeans, and high top green boots. I couldn’t get a good look at the person being that they were still slightly far away from me as they continued to run towards me; for a moment, I got scared and almost ran, but, I, then, noticed the boy’s cheeks as he got closer. It was him. It was the very same boy who had helped me. It was the boy who fought for me and I felt my throat tighten up into a knot as I saw him get closer and closer and I froze, immediately. My heart was pumping and thumping so hard in my chest that it actually HURT.
He caught up to me as he huffed and puffed a bit and, then, said as he turned to me with a slight grin. “Heyy. What’s up?” Uhhh. What should I say? We began to walk together and my legs felt like they were made of actually melting jelly as I walked on the street to head over to my house. I actually thought that I was going to fall from the odd sensations that my legs were giving me.
Just, looking at his hands, alone, made me feel completely clumsy and awkward. “Uh, haa’.’” I said to him.
He asked me, “What’s so funny?”
I didn’t understand why he’d ask me that until I realized and remembered just how much of a BARRIER my home life was and how it separated me from everyone else, here. I tried saying “Hi” to him as best as I could, but, he couldn’t quite understand me. Many people misunderstood me, especially, some of the kids at my new school, causing me to have to repeat myself a few times over and over on a daily basis just so that people knew what I was trying to say. IIII was the ‘Farm Boy’. I was the ‘Jungle Boy’. I was the “HillBilly”.
“Nothing. I said Haa.” and waved at him so that he could correctly correlate my vocal greeting with me waving ‘hello’.
He looked at my hand for a moment and sort of giggled to himself and said. “Oh. ‘HII.” He smiled for a moment thinking to himself. “THAT’S what you said. Sorry.”
“Yeah, S’okay.” I said. We awkwardly walked for about two whole blocks passing a bunch of the suburban homes which I was still getting used to seeing so close to one another. I wasn’t used to it. It all seemed so…. CRAMPED. To me, it was like we were all living inside of one, great, giant honey comb. And, the extra noise and buzzing of cars and people was getting to me. It really was. It was so loud and obnoxious. The ‘Busy Bee’ suburban lifestyle was definitely not one that I was used to. And, it was definitely not one that I had ever seen or experienced before.
I didn’t know what to say to Liam. I was just this silent mute puppet walking along next to him like some uneducated country boy. I…. LIKED him. But, I was too shy to say anything to him because I didn’t want him hearing me speak, misunderstanding me, or worse, making fun of me in his mind. I didn’t want to sound funny. I didn’t want to look or seem stupid, especially to him. He was ‘special’ to me for some reason. I wanted to be ‘normal’; so, I was hiding myself. I was hiding my voice. I stayed quiet. I tried to face the fear, but, I couldn’t. I remained painfully silent for a while. And, he was in complete control, whether, he knew it or not. He was the dominant one, and I stayed submissive. He lead the way. I followed. And secretly, I sort of liked it that way….. I wanted it.
He beat me to saying anything and I heard him say, “So, uhm. Watcha doin’, today? Are you feelin’ any better?” he, then, turned my head a bit to peak at my wounds which were beginning to heal, thanks to him.
Those were two questions that needed two answers. So I gulped the knot that was choking me from my first real crush touching me, bit down the fear of me speaking in front of him and said, “Well, I’m alraaht for now. Mah head was hurtin’ some real bad last naght but I had some Tylenol and I was all good. Mah folks believed err’ry word I told ’em about me fallin’ But….. the Principle ain’t no mountain folk. He gave me somethin’ awful to worry about. He know what happened I think. But, I ain’t tellin NO one nothin, yah hear? I ain’t tellin’ NObody” I said.
He kind of just stared at me and turned his head and giggled to himself. He… he was LAUGHING at me! At least I think he was. Oh, God. It was AWFUL. I couldn’t understand why it hurt me so bad. But, my little heart felt like someone had just grabbed it, pinched it violently, and TWISTED it clockwise while it was still attached to my body, ripping out a few of my very own arteries in the process. I felt like I was going to cry from my throat if that makes any sort of sense. I wanted to honestly just stop walking with him and walk the other way, which I actually almost did.
“Oh… okay.” He said with a grin and looked at me. I looked down, disappointed about how badly things were going between me and this boy. A few minutes passed and he eventually said to me in a nonchalant manor, “Welp I’m hungry. I’m gonna go get a snack at the BK. Wana come?”
I wanted to ask him what a BK was, but, I was reluctant at first. “What’s a BK?” I asked him.
“BK? You know, Burger King?” he said with a look as if he expected me to instantly connect the two.
Looking down I shrugged my shoulders and, then, looked up at him. “You, …you never been to a Burger King?” He asked me.
“No. Ain’t non around maah old house. Never heard o’ none.” I was being honest that I knew little about the things that he was so accustomed to. I really wished that I could have impressed him. I really wanted nothing else at that moment. But, I felt that I had actually achieved the exact opposite.
He thought for a moment. “Oh… Weeellllll. Why, don’t you drop off your stuff at your house. And, then you can come with me.” He said.
“NO!!!” I think I scared him as my outburst caused his eyes to widen and he jumped a bit as some people around us who were walking in the opposite direction as us stared at me. “I mean. Uhm THAT’S allraght. I can carry mah stuff. Sure… I’ll go.” The thought of having Liam meet my family was absolutely horrifying. Why? Because I couldn’t help, but, stare at him for some strange reason. What would my family say?! Even though my family would have no idea. I felt in my own young mind like… they’d FEEL it. You know? I almost declined his request. But, I wasn’t thinking, clearly. So, I agreed in a desperate attempt to avoid him from meeting my folks.
Finally, walking inside of the “Burger King’s” entrance after me and Liam’s walk, he explained to me what it was, what the typical cuisine they served was like, and how popular it was in the United States and around the globe; I took a good look around at the scenery around us. It was fairly busy with some kids our age around in small groups. Some people had ordered ice cream, others burgers, I saw some fries, and I took a glance at the soft drinks.
“Well?” Liam asked me after giving me some time and space to let me accustom myself to the new place and culture. “What would you like?” He questioned me as he pointed to the menu and taught me how the ordering system worked.
After a while, I had established that I’d rather come back there, some other time, for a larger amount of food as I knew I’d have food waiting for me back home and my mother would be upset if she found out I bought something to eat and replace dinner without asking permission. So I settled for my favorite soft drink and some fries.
Walking up to the ordering counter when it was finally me and Liam’s turn to order, I spoke to the brunette register girl who wore a Burger King hat and had her hair back in a nice ponytail, underneath, after she had asked me, “Hello. May I take your order?”
I looked around at all of the people around us and spoke, “Uhm. Yeas. Can I get me a medium friees? …OH and, I’d like a daa’t co’ please.” Being as polite as I could be as I gave her a sweet smile.
In front of everyone, the girl responded , “Medium fries and…Wait… What was that?”
I repeated and said to her, “Co’… A DA’At co’, please.”
She looked at me for a second and, then, said “I’m sorry. I don’t know what that is.”
I began to get extremely flustered and felt my cheeks and neck turn red. She was saying this in front of everyone! Even in front of Liam. I looked at him and just saw him giving me a blank look as he waited for me to respond to her.
I, then, turned back at her direction and blurted a little louder, “You know the one without da sugar in it? A DAA’At co’oke.” I said, embarrassed about the whole scene. I couldn’t even believe what was happening to me.
She finally responded, “Oh! A Diet Coke. Sorry. Aw, sure thing.” She gave me a smile, and from the corner of my eye, I noticed Liam smile at her after he looked at me as though they were mentally communicating about something just before he ordered his food.
After about 4 minutes of us sitting at a table in the middle of the fast food restaurant which could easily fit four people, we looked across the table at one another. Liam swallowed a bite he had just taken from his Whopper and spoke. “What’s wrong?” he said with a curious furrowed browed look and, then, leaned down to take another bite.
I think he obviously saw some sort of slightly disturbed look on my face which I must have had on in between me eating my fries and sipping my Diet Coke. I just felt so… so… awkward. I shouldn’t have, but, I felt like a ‘Wana Be’. That’s it. I felt like everyone around me was a normal human while I was trying to be one. I was a ‘Wana Be.’ I was “HillBilly” as Sascha and Jesse would say. I didn’t belong there. I felt like a mut who was rescued from a dog shelter and, then, was returned due to the owner not wanting me because he had found a dog that was much better.
I shrugged. “Nothin.”
He gulped, “You look like you’re going to someone’s funeral or somethin’. What’s up?” Why was he so concerned about me, anyway? We barely knew each other. Why would a boy like THIS even WANT to talk to me, much less sit and eat with me?? What’s he even up to? What’s going on? I thought.
“Why are yuu’ doin’ this?” I asked him.
This caught his attention, immediately. He sort of looked at me like I was a weirdo and said, “What are you talkin’ about? Doing what?”
I thought for a moment, then, spilled all the beans on that Burger King table. “Ahh’ don’t know, why you helped me out before. Why’d you take care of Mah cuts and errthing? Why you Wana be with me, here? Why’d you want me to sit with you? Sorry, Ah’ just don’t get what’s goin on, here. I don’t know what’s happening.” I said sadly. I started to get a little panicky about everything in my life as I looked down to stare at the table. I didn’t know, why. But, after I said that, I felt completely overwhelmed and it felt like the entire room was spinning.
He kind of hesitated for a moment and seemed to give me a more compassionate look. “I helped you because that’s what Bradford needed. You serious? He coulda’ knocked you right out. Actually, he basically did. I was walking there by chance. I’m never around there, anyway. Also….. what’s wrong with you? I wanted to get to know you. I thought you were cool. Like, hang out…. You know? Haaaaanng out?” he emphasized that last sentence like I should know what ‘hanging out’ is.
I paused for a moment, then, said “Well, thank yuuu. And, sorry ’bout before.” I couldn’t help it. It bothered me so much. I felt like I let him down.
“Sorry? Sorry about what?” he asked me sipping his Mountain Dew.
“That girl don’t understand me. Errbodyy here askin’ me to repeat myself. It probably embarrassed yuu’ a good amount some.” I said feeling bad about the scene it had all created. I really wanted to impress him. I wanted him to like me. But, I let him down.
He looked at the table for a moment and a smile slowly creeped onto his mouth as he said, “I-I…well, I like the way you sound… It’s nice.” He said.
Everything around us seemed to stop moving for a few moments. As an actual grin appeared on my face from his genuine and nice complement. “What?” I said. The inevitable crimson blush on my cheeks must have been visible to him no matter what I possibly did to try and avoid it.
“I like the way you talk…. it sounds really nice.” He said a bit softer than he did before. He looked at the table, gave a little grin to himself, & took another bite of his fries to distract & redirect the entire situation.
I blurted out, “But, Jesse and them always tellin’ me how errrbody hates the way I sound. They said kids told ’em they ain’t never wana hear me talk agaynnn’. They say a ‘HillBilly’ like me don’t….”
Liam laughed a little. “You actually believe all that crap? Jeez…”
“What?” I asked him.
“Dude… They’re obviously lying. They’re just messing with you. How gullible are you?” He said.
“Oh, yaaah? Well, how do you know that?” I asked him. “You don’t know that. How could you even know them? You don’t even know Jesse. How you even know him at all?” I asked him.
He paused for a moment and gave me a look. He, then, said, “Well, you see…” he began, but, took a side glance as he stared into nothing. “He was my best friend…”