Fiction: Walk Tall

August 28, 2017 Fiction , Literature , POETRY / FICTION

Scott Webb photo

 

By

Donise Sheppard

 

 

Each step brings a sharp click, click, click, ringing in Karlie’s ears as her heels hit the pavement. She steps up the concrete stairs and into John Glade High School, letting the double doors thump closed behind her.

The halls are barren, which only makes the clicking of her heels sound louder.  She marches the twenty feet to the principal’s office, finally slowing her pace and softening her features.

Karlie smiles at the stout secretary, just barely visible sitting at her desk over the large island, blocking entrance to the back. Mrs. Maynard has been a secretary here since Karlie herself had been a student, nearly twenty years ago.

Mrs. Maynard smiles politely as she pushes herself into a hunched standing position and limps her way over to Karlie.

“Marcus has been here since breakfast,” she says.

Karlie sighs as her mouth drops open, jaw immediately locking.  Her narrow eyes brim with angry tears.  “Then why did they just call me a half hour ago?  It’s nearly lunch time!”

Mrs. Maynard’s eyes widen.  “I made them, dear!  No way I was going to have this boy sit in the office all day for self-defense.”

Karlie’s face softens at the kindness of the elderly woman.  She has been the only one here sensitive to Karlie and Marcus.

Karlie looks around the office, wondering if she overlooked her child, but only sees a boy a little older than her Marcus.

“He’s in with Principal Newman.”

“Again?”

Karlie shakes her head as she walks past the counter and towards the back of the office.

“You can’t go back there, Karlie.  I have to announce you first!”

Ignoring her, Karlie continues down the hall before making a sharp right, opening a closed door to see her son, sitting across from his principal, who is holding a steaming cup of something hot, about to take a sip.

“Ah!  Ms. Hunt.  It’s so nice of you to join us.  Won’t you have a seat?”

Karlie narrows her eyes at the man.  Every detail about him makes her sick, with his fake smile, tweed jacket, balding head, beady eyes, and pale skin.

“It’s Misses, and I’d like to take my son home, please,” Karlie tells him.

He chuckles, sitting his cup on the desk with a small thud.

“Of course, but first, I think we need to talk.”

Karlie’s jaw locks as she squints at him.

“Fine.”

She walks into the room and sits next to her son, grabbing and squeezing his hand.

“I’ve been thinking long and hard about Marcus and I know that things need to change.  I’m hoping we can work together to fix the problem here.”

Karlie sits up straighter, heart pounding.  She’s been begging for months for him to acknowledge that there is a problem in this school.

“I’ve tried talking to the other parents, believe me, but nobody wants to believe that their kid is a bully.”

“I understand, that.  I do.  Sometimes, however, the kids we think are the ones causing the problems, turn out to be the victims, though, Ms. Hunt.  You understand?”

Whatever temporary elation she had been feeling is now gone as she stares at Principal Newman.

“What are you insinuating?”

Newman sighs, propping his elbows up on the table before responding to her question.

“I’m only saying that your son is an easy target, and if we can address that, the other kids wouldn’t feel so inclined as to pick on him.  Then he wouldn’t feel as if he had to fight them.”

Karlie’s mouth drops open.  “An easy target?  It’s not like he wears a shirt to school every day telling them to mock him.  It’s not like he doesn’t shower or wear deodorant.  My son is gay, Principal Newman, not dirty or lazy or mean.  He wanted to go out for football, but couldn’t because the other boys pretended to feel threatened in the locker room, humiliating him.  He wanted to run cross country, but couldn’t because people picked on him for wearing short shorts.  He can’t go out for sports or theater or clubs because people find a reason to complain and pick on him.  I don’t see how you can say that my son is the one starting this.”

“Being a homosexual isn’t something to go around advertising at a high school, Ms. Hunt, especially not this one.”

Karlie feels her heart beating out of her chest as she rises to her feet.

“Being gay is not a crime!  He shouldn’t have to hide who he is any more than the boy who goes out with girls every weekend!”

“I don’t deny that.  I’m just saying that kids are cruel.”

“Then punish them!  Make it school policy that bullying of any kind will not be tolerated.  Punish the boys who are picking on him, and let him go out for baseball without being terrified of being tormented by the other boys!”

“We have an anti-bullying policy, Ms. Hunt, but it doesn’t matter to them.  Kids will always bully other kids.  That’s why we need to work with the kids who are the targets and see what we can do to make them less of such.”

“Or maybe we can weed out all the other little bas…”

“Mom!”

Both Karlie and Principal Newman look at Marcus’s, red, tear stricken face.

Karlie swallows and clears her throat.

“I’m sorry, Marcus”

Her son just shakes his head as he stands and wipes away his tears.  “Can we just go home?”

Karlie slowly nods, anger and sadness at her son’s grief searing through her.

“Oh, three-day suspension this time, Marcus.”

Karlie glares at Principal Newman’s smile.  A flood of loathing warms her body as she aches to smack the joy off his face.

“You probably feel really proud of yourself, right?  Suspending my son for hitting a boy who calls him fagot on an hourly basis?”

Marcus exits the office first, and Karlie slams the door behind herself, just as the bell rings, signaling a change of classes.

They make their way down the hall, this time filled with students and teachers, making their way to lockers, classes, or bathrooms. A group of boys near the exit, glare at Marcus as he walks by. Karlie’s jaw clenches as she stares them down, eyes for slits, pleading with herself not to punch one.

 

 

Karlie doesn’t realize she’s making things worse for him when she goes to the school to berate the principle. He takes great pleasure, knowing how upset she gets at his negligence. Besides, Marcus learned at an early age that it’s much easier to take care of your problems yourself, than to have your mother fight your battles, especially when kids won’t leave you alone.

The miniature basketball hits the rim of the basket, hanging off the back of my door, before bouncing to the ground, dribbling before finally rolling to a stop, between his legs, under the desk. Marcus jumps from his chair, grabbing his wallet and keys from his desk before walking out the door.

Karlie is on the phone again, talking to work about crunching numbers. Marcus doesn’t pay her any attention as she paces the kitchen, drinking a glass of red wine as she yells at her assistant.

He rolls his eyes as he leaves the house.

 

 

This time they had gone too far. This time, someone would pay for what happened to her son. Karlie heels click on the tile as she makes her way to room one oh three, the sharp smell of rubbing alcohol pierces her nose. She walks through the open doorway, but stops abruptly when she sees Marcus lying on the bed, both eyes purple and swollen, lips busted and bloodied, yellow bruises on his cheeks, and scratches from head to toe. Red and yellow bruises line his arms and legs. The hospital gown does a poor job at covering the extent of his injuries.

Karlie’s hand goes to her mouth as she sobs, crying at the sight of the only person in her life she cares about. She takes a step closer to him as the machine beeps, clicks, and purrs, sending another shot of fluid through the IV, connected to the bend in his purple left arm.

Karlie steps closer and grabs his hand. Marcus doesn’t wake up.

“Sweetie?” Karlie asks, trying to ease into her son’s sub-conscious. “Marcus, sweetie, can you hear me?”

A knock on the door makes Karlie jump. She wipes her eyes before turning to the doctor, who stands at the door, chart in hand. He gives her a sympathetic smile before entering the room.

“Mrs. Hunt?” he asks. Karlie nods and he takes another step into the room, closing the door behind himself. “The ambulance pulled in twenty minutes ago with your son. Your son was in a fight with three other boys. He was lucky not to have sustained any internal bleeding or broken any bones, but he will be sore when he wakes up.”

Karlie swallow down a sob before it could escape her throat. “So he’s fine?”

The doctor nods. “Every test we ran came back normal. He should be just fine.”

Karlie laughs as fresh tears fill her eyes. She walks to the doctor and hugs him around the neck.

“The police are wanting a word with you, when you get a moment,” he says as she pulls away.

Karlie nods, takes one last look at her son, then exits the room to speak to the cops, who would hopefully let her know what happened. She finds the police standing in the ER waiting room. She follows them outside where one starts talking, and the other paces.

“Your son was at the mall, when we found him,” the female cop begins. “He had been jumped. Witnesses say there were three other boys, who were seen antagonizing your son before the attack. Apparently one pushed him, so he hit him. Then the other two joined in. They ran from the scene, but the boy your son was with gave names. As soon as we get addresses, we plan on arresting the other boys. I assume you’d like to press charges?”

Karlie nods furiously. “Yes.”

The cop gives a curt nod. “I’m sorry this happened. We’ll let you know when we’ve caught the boys responsible.”

Karlie reaches out as the cop goes to walk away. “You said the boy my son was with? Who was that, exactly?”

The woman looks to the left of the waiting room, through the glass at a boy no older than sixteen, sitting in the corner, leg bouncing, hands fidgeting.

“The boy right there. His name’s Gavin. He was the one to call nine one one as soon as it happened. He said he wanted to stop the fight, but there was a crowd and he couldn’t get to them.”

“Thank you!” Karlie tells her before rushing inside.

She walks slowly to the boy with the bouncing leg, sitting carefully beside him. He looks up, sees her, then looks away.

“I’m sorry,” Gavin says, tears in his eyes. “Is he alright?”

Karlie nods. “He’s going to be fine. Thank you, for calling for help.”

The boy just shakes his head. “It’s my fault. I should go.”

He stands, ready to walk away, but Karlie grabs his hand. “Why would you blame yourself?” she asks.

He shakes his head, refusing to look her way as more tears escape his eyes. Karlie stands next to him, trying to make him look at her.

“I kissed him, okay?” Gavin says, looking at the ground. Karlie’s heart broke. “We were sitting on a bench talking and I kissed him. I didn’t know they were walking by. Josh grabbed him, called him a faggot, and shoved him. You know Marcus. He doesn’t let anyone hurt him, so he pushed Josh back. By that time, there were a dozen teenagers between us. I couldn’t get to him. When Josh punched him, I called the cops.”

Tears flowed freely now, and Karlie hugged him. “You did great, Gavin. Marcus is going to be fine, because you did what you were supposed to do.” Gavin nods, but goes to sit back down. “Would you like to go see him?”

Gavin wipes his face and clears his throat before nodding.

They make it back to Marcus’s hospital room. Gavin breaks down in tears again as soon as he sees him. Karlie ignores her own tears, biting through her. She walks to Marcus’s side as his eyes flutter open.

 

 

The three boys who attacked Marcus were arrested the next day. Principal Newman was horror stricken when he got the call. Gavin makes sure to tell Marcus about how they didn’t have class first period because the school was too busy gossiping about Josh and his followers finally getting what they deserve. Principal Newman was questioned by the police about the school bullying policy.

Marcus smiles at the news, grateful he’ll be able to go to school without people harassing him. Maybe he’ll be able to go out for basketball, now that Josh isn’t there to antagonize him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donise Sheppard

Donise Sheppard is a fiction writer born in Ohio, but residing in Southern West Virginia with her husband and four children. She has six self-published novels on Amazon and a short story published in an anthology. Even though she is deathly afraid of heights, her house is planted halfway up a mountain. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, baking, or chasing her rambunctious children. Follow her on twitter @donise_sheppard, facebook.com/authordonisesheppard, or amazon.com/author/donisesheppard.

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