The first day back at Bullworth it rained.
It was a day that signified new beginnings after the long and hopeful summer had drawn to a close – but of course, it had to be fucking raining.
Galloway would've called it pathetic fallacy. In a fit of didactic inspiration, brought on by the thrill of being several months sober and madly in love, the man might've waxed poetic about the ways in which the world turns on an axis of emotion and nature follows suit.
Pete just chalked it up to shitty New England weather and his own bad luck.
Summer had been, in a word, enjoyable.
As per usual, Pete didn't go many places or see many people. He third-wheeled Jimmy and Zoe every now and again, but mostly he spent time on his own reading books and watching cartoons.
Thing is, that was enough. He'd been getting used to the creature comforts of home – the little luxuries like hot water for the shower; food he didn't have to choke down; privacy, and the absence of feeling like he could be shoved in a locker at any moment.
(It’s a long way to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy when you’re boarding at Bullworth.)
If he thought too hard about it then sure, fine. Maybe he was a loser. He spent more time on his own than any summer prior, and there wasn't all that much excitement in his life – but it was comfortable and that's all he cared about.
Pete trudged through the gate – a swollen backpack full of belongings that would end up mostly stolen, broken or defaced by the end of the year was slung over his shoulders and had been fucking up his posture since he'd stepped out of the car.
He was a junior now, and was far beyond cursing his parents for enrolling him in the only boarding school in the state that took in students who considered prison to be a viable post-graduation ambition.
He'd accepted his fate after his first year at Bullworth. His parents were unfortunately "busy people" and they'd been to Bullworth too – so as much as he begged to stay living at home, there was no reasoning with them. They told him this was the best thing for him, that it would be character-building and he'd thank them when he was older.
Unfortunately, anyone who had "character" tended to have it swiftly pummeled out of them. If you wanted to dress it up you'd call it hazing but Pete knew it was something more akin to prison law – order created by the juvenile masses. Bullworth really did feel like a prison – the fact you were actually allowed out didn't really factor into the comparison. It's not like Pete would ever have to experience a real prison anyway.
On the outside, it looked important; stoic, a grand institution. But behind the emerald curtain the mold on the shower walls told the story of more of a chicken-run administration.
These were just the cards Pete had been dealt. Another year in limbo. It was fine, he'd be fine – he'd make it anywhere. Maybe. Probably.
Pete wondered if this could be a new start for him, what with his biggest source of misery...elsewhere.
He didn't think about it much. He didn't really let himself think about it.
It wasn't entirely fair, he knew deep down that Gary had been his best friend once – though, Pete had never really had many friends so he wasn't sure if that said much – but things had changed.
Gary was someone else, so he was somewhere different now. Pete never visited because he was still feeling the conflicting cocktail of betrayed and guilty all at once and hell, how do you start that conversation anyway? It made him feel tense just thinking about it, so he decided that maybe this was just meant to be a clean break for him. What were the chances they'd ever see each other again?
A naïve part of him hoped this might change everything. Perhaps without Gary around to humiliate him, with new friends that he was 85% certain still liked him, and his new status as head boy – maybe this would finally be the year he'd forget what the bowl of a toilet looked like up real close.
He'd even grown a little taller over the summer. What if the extra couple of inches made him irresistible to girls?
He doubted it, but it was nice to dream, right?
Pete stayed lost in thought until the moment he remembered that Bullworth was not safe ground – it was a minefield. You had to watch where you were going at all times.
Unfortunately, he remembered too late.
Just before the steps to the dorm he felt a hard thump at the back of his knees which made his legs lose balance under the weight of everything he was carrying and ultimately give way. He toppled over and scraped his teeth on wet pavement. Clearly the breakfast of kings.
Pete pushed himself up and turned, red in the face, to identify his attacker. He saw Casey Harris and Wade Martin practically doubled over pointing and laughing, because nothing brings the different breeds of bonehead together like random and meaningless acts of violence. That was all he needed to know – he wasn’t interested in getting the specifics of which one of them tripped him up.
He bit his tongue to hold back the maniacal laughter of his own he could feel bubbling up in his chest. It wouldn’t have helped his reputation at all to be the weird kid that laughs when you kick him, but only seconds prior he was imagining a life without being picked on and the irony was just too funny.
He only glanced down at the glint of a badge at his chest and then back up to stare at his bullies, dumbfounded and looking like a deer in headlights, never having figured out how exactly he was supposed to react.
“Stupid dork.” Wade sneered and threw a rock, which Pete barely dodged, before getting suddenly bored and turning around to go and join his like-minded friends. That is, to say, mindless. Pete was almost surprised he didn’t drag his knuckles when he walked. He felt Gary probably would’ve thought the same thing, the only difference is he would’ve said it out loud.
Casey shoved past into the dorms, wide shoulders bumping into the much smaller boy and nearly throwing him off balance again.
Pete wondered if the blue shield pinned into his shirt was less of a piece of armor and more of a shiny kick-me sign.
Who was he kidding? His whole existence was a kick-me sign.
He allowed himself a brief sigh before braving the dorms.
Love it or loathe it entirely, some things just refused to change.
After everyone had settled in, and had to sit through a brief and less-than-inspiring assembly – where Galloway implored them all to please get through the first week back without any vandalism, violence, theft, drugs, or arson – they all met up with their friends to compare class schedules.
“Sorry Zo’, I ain’t gonna be there to help you out in English.” Jimmy regretfully informed his girlfriend. Zoe hated English class, because reading and writing did not come easy to her. Luckily, Mr. Galloway was pretty understanding and was unlikely to bitch her out for unfinished work, so she at least turned up.
“Aw, shit. I’ve got it first period, too.” She groaned.
“Uh, me too. We must be in the same class, Zoe.” Pete spoke up, and she gave him a warm smile.
Pete liked Zoe, and though they weren’t all that close he supposed they were friends. She was a lot like Jimmy – pretty much the female version of him, except less serious and even more fun.
“Then what the hell do I need your dumbass for, Jim?” Zoe threw her hands up in the air in fake exasperation, affectionately chiding her boyfriend.
“Now I’ve got a study buddy who actually knows his shit.” She winked at Pete, and Jimmy just grinned at her like a lovesick idiot.
“C’mon, Kowalski.” She urged when the bell rang.
“Up and at ‘em.”
Pete was grateful that Zoe was so nice, and obviously took some pity on him. It meant he had someone to sit by in class, at least – and if she got caught in the crossfire of spit-balls, she was likely to turn around and make the perpetrator regret they were ever born – so she made him feel that little bit safer.
That security didn’t last long, because on their way to the stairs they walked past the office and Pete caught a glimpse of something that sent a chill down his spine.
He could swear he saw a familiar figure sat waiting outside Crabblesnitch’s office. He didn’t get a long look – he didn’t even get the chance to do a double take before eager freshmen came barrelling behind him, forcing him to continue his journey down the stairs. He gulped, his mouth suddenly feeling very dry as he was unable to shake what he’d just seen, or what he’d just thought he’d seen.
A lean figure slumped impatiently, head back and arms crossed, sharp knees spread apart. The sort of uncomfortable and ungraceful position that implied high levels of boredom. The sort of boredom Pete recognized all too well.
He couldn’t make out much of the face from such a short glance, but he knew his ex best friend’s face pretty well, and there were details he couldn’t quite place but still managed to set off alarm bells in his head.
The only thing that reassured him was that he couldn’t make out the tell-tale scar. If he’d have seen that he may have actually run for the hills.
Zoe didn’t say anything to him about the fact all the color had drained from his face, because she was too distracted by a conversation she’d suddenly started in the crowded foyer with Lola Lombardi.
It was impossible, right? They wouldn’t take him back after everything, would they?
Pete scrambled for reasons why Gary’s return should be impossible.
Surely, it could have been anyone.
It must have been anyone else.
By the time he got into class, Pete was scrambling to convince himself his eyes were just playing tricks on him. If Gary was back, surely he would’ve heard it through the grape vine. Gossip traveled quick at Bullworth, after all.
Still, it left him uneasy. He felt as if he’d caught some kind of cryptid, all blurry and indeterminable on a shitty polaroid camera. There one second, gone the next. They lived in Lovecraftian state after all. Stranger things had happened.
He tried to forget about it and occupy himself with settling back into the painful predictability of school life. Nothing like the drudgery of classic literature to take your mind off of things.
“Looking good, sir.” Zoe joshed as she followed Pete into the classroom.
Mr. Galloway was looking a lot better. Over the summer he’d managed to pick up a healthy tan, and was starting to look more his age than like someone ten years his senior. The little novelty Hawaiian dancing girl acting as a mascot for his desk suggested he’d been on vacation – most likely with Ms. Phillips. In a rare feat of good-heartedness, probably because they were the two most easy-going teachers, all the kids had been really rooting for them.
“Thank you, Miss Taylor. It’s worth pointing out to the rest of you that flattery will indeed get you everywhere.” He joked to all the students that were then flooding into the room.
Zoe settled in the back with Lola, and Pete picked the desk next to them. Sure, it meant he had to strain his eyes a little bit to make out what was written on the chalkboard, but it meant he didn’t have to watch his back, which was always a plus.
Galloway’s overenthusiastic scribbling on the board left a coating of chalk fallout on his hands, and the heavy box of books he dropped on his desk left a cloud and a loud thump that brought all eyes to the front.
“That’s right ladies and gentlemen! I do hope you’re all familiar with Shakespeare already.” The class collectively groaned as they read the board, whilst the man up-front looked positively ecstatic. Pete wasn’t sure if it was because he was genuinely passionate about teaching this, or if it was because he was a happy executioner – a sadist taking pleasure in destroying kids’ will to live.
Either way, they were starting the year on Romeo & Juliet. Great.
“Oh, boo yourselves. You’re high-school kids, you’re supposed to be all about drama and romance!” Galloway preached to them all of the wonderful things about the classic tragedy, about how it's a text that everyone should get to know in their lifetime.
Pete couldn’t see the appeal of poring over pages and pages of Ye Olde English just to get to the end where the star-crossed lovers just die anyway. To him, it seemed pretty bleak, but Galloway was a hopeless romantic even at the worst of times.
“Sir, I love drama and romance, but I worry that reading this is gonna take the fun out of all that. This just might ruin my life.” Lola piped up, comic relief to the class. Whether they were laughing with her or at her, Pete was unsure, since he’d seen a lot of things written about her on the doors of the toilet stalls that seemed too oddly specific and far too vulgar to not have at least some truth to them (no-one at Bullworth was creative enough for that) but he admired that she was able to find humor in her reputation anyway.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that Miss Lombardi, but unfortunately if that’s the case then it’s my job to ruin your life – I’m just sticking to the syllabus.”
While the class stalled for time and pleaded for literally any other topic, Pete allowed himself to drift into thought. Even with all the explanations he could come up with, he couldn’t shake the feeling he got when he saw that familiar figure earlier. What would he do if it was Gary? What would Gary do to him? Even though it was for the greater good, he had betrayed his friend, and even if Gary deserved it for being an asshole, he wouldn’t see it that way. Pete knew only two things for sure; the first, that Gary would be pissed at him, and the second, that he had Hell to pay.
Maybe he could just go into hiding. He felt he was small and invisible enough that that might work, right?
“Mr. Kowalski, I never like to interrupt someone so deep in thought but I have been trying to speak to you.” The sound of his own name being addressed made Pete nearly jump out of his skin. Fortunately, it was only Mr. Galloway.
“He was probably thinking about his boyfriend!” Jeered Kirby Olsen, earning himself a high-five from fellow jock Casey, one of Pete’s assailants from earlier that morning.
So much for invisibility.
"Can we please stop projecting our own crises onto our classmates, Mr. Olsen?" Galloway scolded. He definitely had a way with words, and Pete found himself envious of the brevity of his wit. Not that it would help his case all that much if he started smart-mouthing everyone that picked on him.
Kirby mouthed something along the lines of “what the fuck does that mean?” to his similarly confused friends, only vaguely aware that he was supposed to be insulted.
Pete cleared his throat, ever anxious about being the center of attention.
“I uh- I’m sorry, sir, can you repeat the question?”
“Well, I was going to ask if you wanted to read the part of Romeo for the class-” Galloway gestured to the book on Pete’s desk. When the hell did that get there? He must have been spaced out for some time.
“-But since Mr. Olsen here is so eager to contribute, I think he can do the honors.”
Pete was certain he dodged a bullet there. Especially since Trent Northwick was reading the part of Juliet.
“This is why Galloway’s the best.” Lola muttered to Zoe, who nodded in agreement, the two of them joking among themselves. As much of a third-wheel friend as he so commonly felt, Pete was glad of people that didn’t want to kick his ass merely for existing.
He absentmindedly picked away at the chipped wood on his desk while he watched the entertainment that was Trent, the theater enthusiast, trying desperately to perform with a partner who was getting more and more flushed with embarrassment by the minute.
“If they do see thee they will murder thee!” Trent read with dramatic flourish, arms gesturing wildly.
“Alas there lies more peril in the..thine eye than twenty of their swords look thou but sweet and I am proof against their emm...nuh...en-mi-ty?” Kirby responded in slow, run-on sentences in the most monotone voice he could muster, constantly unsure of pronunciations and all the while looking like he hoped everyone in the room would just drop dead. Trent’s attempts to engage him failed as he refused to look the other boy in the eye.
Pete was enjoying this particular pantomime, when the shrill voice of Mrs. Danvers came over the PA.
“Can Peter Kowalski please report to the principal’s office? Thank you.”
Some of the class oooh’d at him, as if he were in trouble, and he felt like turning around and saying “I’m head-boy, you idiots!” but thought better of it. Instead he left the class wordlessly, taking his bag since he wasn’t sure what Dr. Crabblesnitch wanted with him or how long it would take.
He hoped he wouldn’t have to give a potential new student a tour or anything – seeing clueless parents reacting shocked and appalled to the realities of what lay beyond the front gate tended to remind him how dire his situation really was. Otherwise he could just pretend this was normal; everyone lives like this, of course!
When he got to the office, the figure was no longer waiting outside, which might have lured him into a sense of security if it wasn’t for the sternness that darkened the principal’s face.
Whatever was in store for him he certainly wasn’t going to enjoy.
“Ahh, Percy, just the young man I was waiting for.” Crabblesnitch jolted out of thought and abruptly changed expression to something much more reassuring when Pete entered the room, but it came across as a little too forced.
“...It’s Peter. Pete.”
“Oh. Of course, I knew that. My mind was on another student – my apologies.” The man smiled the kind of shallow smile you get from the people at the coffee place, even though you’re certain they couldn’t give a shit about you or your name which they only ask so they can misspell it on your cup as per procedure. It only made Pete uncomfortable. They both knew full well there wasn’t even anyone at Bullworth called Percy.
“What did you need me for, sir?” For the love of God stop with the formalities and ruin my day already. Get it over with.
“Here at Bullworth, we have values, you see -”
Crabblesnitch had a tendency to turn every possible situation into an opportunity for lecture.
“-Of course, hard-work and perseverance – as I’m sure you’ve noticed in yourself and your peers – but also fairness; mercy…forgiveness.”
“So, I’m a firm believer in second chances; of course, only for those who deserve it-”
Or people who’s grandparents can fund a new gym.
“-So I’m exercising that value and setting an example by allowing Gary Smith to continue his studies here.”
Welp. There it is.
Pete didn’t often faint but his legs felt particularly jelly-like in that moment. He could feel his stomach turning over, like the feeling he’d get as a kid when he went too high on the swing-set. He was losing it on the inside, but remained as composed on the outside as someone possibly could when you’d just handed them a death sentence.
“Sir,” he interrupted “What’s this got to do with me?”
“Gary is a...” Crabblesnitch thought hard to find a word to describe him. Pete had that problem sometimes too.
“...Highly intelligent but dynamic young man-”
Dynamic. Synonym for ‘so far off the rails he can’t even see them anymore.’
“-and for his own well-being, I thought he ought to have someone looking out for him. A buddy, if you like.”
No. I don’t like. Nothing about this do I like.
“But sir, why me? Gary hates me! Can’t you get someone else to do it?” Pete blurted out, unable to hide the panic that was welling up inside him.
“Gary...” He sighed. Time for the brutal honesty.
“Gary seems to hate everyone. I picked you because of all the students at Bullworth, you’re the least likely to be antagonized. You’re the only student with a clean record, and I don’t need any more fighting this year.”
There’s an irony in being picked out for being zen when you’ve been on edge since kindergarten.
“Remember, Peter, this is all in the spirit of forgiveness. I’m giving this young man a second chance, I urge you to do the same.” Crabblesnitch concluded. No negotiations, no more questions. This is your life, to do with as you’re told.
He was feeling a lot less teacher’s pet and a lot more farmer’s cattle.
But if he was to take it, he’d have to take it like a man.
Else he wouldn’t hear the end of it.
Pete didn’t tell Zoe about it when he returned to class. She was too wrapped up in chatting with Lola – and besides, it was a lot to explain. She probably wouldn’t give any helpful advice anyway, since her solutions to everything always involved destruction. Jimmy would know what to do, but Jimmy was all the way in shop class and Pete didn’t have the time to go and see him to figure this shit out – he was supposed to meet Gary before second period started.
So, like a noble warrior heading straight into battle without even so much as a helmet, that’s what he did.
He’d gotten to the meeting place early. Not that he was in any way eager to meet his doom, just that he couldn’t control the speed at which his legs moved, and when he was anxious they seemed to work overtime.
He squinted to make out the clock at the far end of the corridor, it’s hands moving torturously slow. He felt as if he could hear them scraping by, rusty and screeching across the face, seconds slowed down to lifetimes, amplified by the acoustics of his skull. The amazing psychological effects of fear, brought to you by a Lifetime Of Anxiety™.
Five minutes of staring down the corridor went by, when someone shoved from behind to get to the water fountain.
It didn’t even take him a second to recognize who it was. That shove of shoulders against his that he’d become all too familiar with. That bouncy, confident step and that haircut like something straight out of Hitler youth. The only way he’d forget who these features belonged to would be if he was lucky enough to suffer a concussion and end up with retrograde amnesia.
He went rigid, paralyzed with fear and eyes practically bulging out of his head as he watched Gary Smith, in all his terror-inducing glory, taking a sip of water like it was no big fucking deal.
His heart kicked against his rib-cage like a pissed off rabbit when the other boy looked up and cut across his gaze with piercing green eyes of his own. He smiled, and it was all teeth; a predatory display, a warning saying I’ll tear you to pieces if you cross me.
But Pete had already betrayed him once.
“No need to stare, femme-boy. They did tell you I was coming, didn’t they?”
Gary didn’t even give him time to think of a response before carrying on. It’s not much in the way of banter when the quips are one-sided, but Gary was a one-man comedy act for an audience of only himself.
“What, don’t you and Crabblesnitch have pillow talk? Or does he just blow his load and go?”
He was insulting, vulgar, demeaning – but not surprising in the least.
“Shut up Gary.” Pete mumbled, on the off-chance Gary wouldn’t hone in on the sound like a dog to a snap in the woods, so that he might have the second chance to bite his tongue and not say anything at all.
No such luck – the boy was constantly alert. He may as well have been born a bloodhound. Pete had always wondered if he was able to smell fear, too.
“Shut up Gary.” He mimicked, the same campy, girly voice he used for most impressions.
“New year, same old loser.” He shook his head in mock disappointment.
“If I had it my way, I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now.” Pete raised his voice a little this time, feeling frustrated.
“In fact, if I had it my way, you wouldn’t even be here.”
“If I had it my way I wouldn’t be under 24/7 surveillance having to report back to someone every time I take a dump but hey, we don’t all get to live the dream.” Gary shrugged.
“That was your fault.”
“And now I’m a living legend, so I’d say it was worth it.” He nodded towards Mandy Wiles and Christy Martin who were stood by the lockers staring at him and exchanging cupped whispers.
“No, they’re just creeped out by you. Do you actually think people respect you for that shit you pulled?” Pete was growing exasperated, he didn’t understand how someone could be so arrogant.
“Tell me, what exactly do you know about getting respect?” Gary went to prod him in the chest, and he was ashamed by how readily he flinched. Still, he’d managed to get this far without wetting himself or backing down. In for a penny, in for a pound.
“Whatever.” He muttered.
“Everyone hates you now, Gary. I hate you.”
Hearing the words come out of his own mouth made Pete feel a lot of things. Guilt, fear, but mostly relief. To get that off his chest was cathartic, and you rarely get the chance to be that honest with someone. Least of all someone like Gary.
To Pete’s disappointment, though, since he realized he actually wanted to at least needle into the boy’s indomitable resolve a little bit, Gary wasn’t fazed in the slightest.
“Well, friend, it’s your lucky day! You can stop writing in your diary about unrequited feelings, you can ring your mom and tell her you’ve finally found someone who feels the same way about you – because I assure you, I hate you too.” Gary smiled, batting eyelashes. Pete especially hated his stupid face. Crabblesnitch was wrong, it was perfectly possibly for Gary to antagonize Pete – just that Pete couldn’t for the life of him antagonize Gary, and that’s what pissed him off most.
“Now come on, I’ve gotta go take a leak before chemistry. God, I hope Dr. Watts is still having acid flashbacks.”