25. Chased

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25. Chased
Senior Year, March

KHS was a busy place, so I didn’t see Kent every day. Half of the time, he was out for baseball and I managed to avoid him for a few weeks.

But, when Kent did corner me, the torment was relentless. What’s worse, as a star slugger on the baseball team, he had a network of supporters who’d hate whomever he encouraged them to hate—because high school students, it seemed, were eager to find reasons to be angry.

In between Pre-Cal and Speech, Kent slapped my books out of my hands, sending them sliding across the hallway. While everyone laughed, another athletic-looking kid kicked my math book like a hockey puck over the floor, where a group of them began a makeshift game with it.

Some enterprising minion of Kent’s filled my lock with Super Glue, so I walked around the school with a backpack weighed down by seven enormous books. I looked like some sort of Sherpa climbing Mt. Everest, which elicited further giggles from everyone.

I happened across Kent as he was digging through his locker after school. He didn’t look like a grown man. Rather, a version of his chubby adolescent self but enlarged somehow, as though in a science experiment gone awry. Big, round head, towering body so thick some of it must’ve been muscle.

“Don’t you wish you could do this?” Kent asked.

“What, rummage?”

“Open your locker.”

I shrugged. “I keep ‘em all on me. It simplifies things.”

“Yeah, and it makes you look like a fag,” he said.

“Do gay people have big backpacks? I wasn’t aware. Besides, I’m not concerned with what other people think of me, Kent. Maybe if you played Eureka, you’d know that.”

Kent slammed his locker shut. “I would play the game if you would tag me.” He clenched his fist and the heat from his anger was palpable; I leaned back as the jock flexed his shoulder, staring into the locker door. He took deep breaths and seemed to be undergoing some mental exercise. After a few moments, he regained control of himself.

It looked like Kent was waging some internal war to keep himself from punching me. I almost pitied him for it; the instincts the landlord beat into him were clearly powerful. “Talk to me. We used to be friends, we can work this out,” I pleaded.

Kent looked back at the abandoned hall then leaned in uncomfortably close, face inches from mine. “You don’t understand what it’s like living with him. What happened to Cameron, all that.”

“Wait, what? Your dad is out of prison?”

“Since a week ago, out on parole. Between his plea bargain and his good behavior…” Kent turned away from me, swallowing hard, grinding teeth evident from the taut skin of his jaw.

“I’m sorry,” I stuttered. I remembered Kent seeking the pellet gun from his childhood home; was this why? Something to make him feel safer around his father? Poor guy.

“I need Eureka,” Kent said. “It’s the only thing that can change this for me.” He took a step back and relaxed his shoulders. “Things are…not good…at home. I just, I need a change, Jacob. And Cameron…” He looked at his shoes for a moment, then at me. “She likes him because he’s so deep. I need to show her I’m the same way.”

“I’m pretty sure she wants to be with David!” I exclaimed. And could you blame her?

“That’ll pass,” the pale, sweaty boy said dismissively. “You think David would really stay with her? C’mon. David could have a different girl every day. If she gets with me, she’ll know she made the right choice. She only has to give me a chance.”

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