Pete’s a dog person. So when he says that his first meeting with the new music teacher reminds him of a angry, territorial Pomeranian, he mostly means it as a compliment.
“Tell your team,” Mr. Stump says the word with a sneer, “that I will not allow anyone to bully my kids. You get that? I will go to the principal, I will go to the press if I have to, but I will not tolerate this school giving preferential treatment to kids because they can kick a ball real good!”
At the words ‘kick a ball’, Pete flinches slightly. Stump’s knee is too close to his sensitive bits for his peace of mind.
“And another thing,” Stump says, his finger poking Pete in the chest. Before he can continue the sentence, though, the bell rings. He gives Pete a parting glare before jogging off.
“Jesus,” Pete mutters. Way to start the day on the right foot.
“I miss Ray,” Joe says, when Pete tells him of his woes. “Ray was a good dude.”
“True.” Their previous music teacher never threatened Pete’s life, for one thing. He gives Joe’s spliff an envious look. He’s not going to smoke at school - Joe does, but Joe lives a magical life. If Pete were to try and light up, the principal and the PTA chair would probably come running around the corner before Pete even got to inhale. “Have I mentioned my life is terrible?”
Joe nods. “What got him all worked up, anyway?”
That one word is enough to get Joe wincing in sympathy. “Aw man. What did Cash do now?”
“Piss Janelle off.” Pete shakes his head. “He’s got a black eye, and I’m pretty sure he got off light.”
Joe puffs out a smoke ring. “Janelle’s a good kid,” he says, looking up. “And Cash is a little shit. Probably had it coming.”
“I know,” Pete says, morose. “That just makes this worse.”
Pete doesn’t like making enemies. He’s got his hands full battling his arch nemesis, Morris, the coach of their rival school’s team. Armstrong High teachers need to show solidarity against the likes of Morris.
Before Pete can work on achieving domestic harmony, though, he’s waylaid by a brewing fight.
“You say that again!” Brendon yells. He’s got his fists clenched and his hair flopping in his face.
Jack glares right back at him. “My. Little. Pony. Sucks.”
With an incoherent cry of rage, Brendon jumps on Jack. Pete hurries over to break up the fight.
He’s just pulled Brendon off when he feels a set of eyes boring into his neck. Pete sighs and turns around to see Stump, mouth a thin tight line, with Principal Way standing right behind him.
“Jack, Brendon,” the principal says, “please come to my office.”
Stump’s triumphant look follows Pete all the way to class.
Teaching Civics and coaching soccer makes a nice balance for Pete: he likes engaging his students in class, but he also likes getting to run around in shorts with them on the lawn. Win-win.
Of course, normally he doesn’t find himself in the teachers’ lounge still wearing said shorts with a certain music teacher staring at his legs.
“Staff,” Principal Way says, “I’m very glad you all turned up for this meeting, despite the short notice. I think there’s too much inter-person conflict in this school. We have to worry about what we’re telegraphing to the kids, y'know?”
Next to Principal Way, Frankie nods his head seriously. He’s such a little kiss ass. Pete resolves to hate Frank until the next time he wants to bum a cigarette off him.
Pete’s a little distracted, with the chill of the air-conditioned lounge making the hairs on his legs stand up, which is why he doesn’t run away in time.
“Everybody pair up,” Principal Way says. He beams at Frank. “You can be my partner, Mr. Iero.”
Pete glances around the room desperately, but Joe’s already holding hands with Andy, Mikey’s nowhere to be seen, and Gabe is sitting to the side, openly daring Principal Way to say something.
Everyone, in fact, is paired up, except Stump.
Pete’s eyeing escape routes when Stump comes stomping up to him. “Is that it?” Stump’s eyes are narrowed. “You can’t even partner with me on a staff exercise?”
“You don’t get it,” Pete starts, frantic.
Principal Way says, “Now everybody hold their partner’s hands and look deeply into their eyes.”
Stump looks at Pete and blinks.
“I was trying to spare you.” Pete sighs. He takes Stump’s hands in his own before Principal Way notices their disobedience. Or, worse, before Frank does. Frankie’s a vicious little fucker when he’s protecting his boyfriend’s honor.
“That’s okay,” Stump says faintly.
“Look into your partner’s eyes,” Principal Way repeats. “Say their full name.”
What was Stump’s first name–? Shit, wait, Pete remembers. It starts with M. Or was it….
He’s torn away from his tiny freakout when he notices the lost expression on Stump’s face. “Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz,” he prompts. “The third.”
A dark look crosses Stump’s eyes. “You better not be shitting me.” He shakes his head. “Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz.”
“The third,” Pete says.
“Fine, the third. I’m Patrick Martin Stump.” By the set of his mouth, he’s just waiting for Pete to make a pun about his initials.
Pete’s above such easy bait. “Patrick Martin Stump,” he says, making sure to caress the words as they come out of his mouth.
“Now cradle your partner’s face,” Principal Way says, demonstrating on Frankie, who looks like he’s about to cream his pants with adoring joy. “And tell them three things you like about them.”
If he waits for Stump - no, Patrick - to do it, Pete’s got a passing suspicion he’ll end with a broken neck. Bitten off hands aren’t a huge improvement, but Pete’ll take it. He’s too pretty to literally lose his head before he’s thirty.
“I like that you’re protective of your students,” Pete says. “I mean it, it’s a pretty great quality to have as a teacher. Uh. I heard you’re really good at your job, so I guess I like that.” He pauses, fishing for something else to say.
Now that Patrick’s standing still, Pete can see they’re nearly the same height, Patrick maybe a little shorter. His eyes are light, blue with a little ring of gold around the iris. He has a splotch of ink next to his bottom lip, like he chewed a pen a little too hard.
At a loss, Pete blurts, “You’ve got really soft skin,” and then the fire alarm sounds.
“Everybody come outside,” Mikey’s voice blares over the PA system, hovering above the alarm. “This is a fire drill.”
Pete knows a miracle when he’s granted one. He runs away very, very fast.
Pete’s trying to decide between moving to Australia and aggressively pretending nothing happened when Darren comes to him and says, “Coach, I need your help.”
Putting his own crises aside, Pete turns to him. “Yeah, buddy?”
“It’s Amanda,” Darren says, low voice, and that tells Pete everything he needs to know.
Desperate time require desperate measures. Pete tells himself that when he breaks into the music room.
The music pages are in the back, pieces contained in three-ring binders. Pete grabs a nice, thick one, pries the ring open, and leaves one page on the teacher’s desk.
He gets out of the room as fast as he can, leaving pages like breadcrumbs behind him. He’s very careful not to step on them or wrinkle them. He’s desperate, not suicidal.
Just as Pete reaches the bleachers, he hears an angry bellow of “Wentz!”
“I can explain,” Pete says, arms spread, as Patrick reaches him.
Patrick’s face is red and his hair is sticking up. It would be kind of cute if Pete weren’t afraid for his life. “Wentz, so help me–”
A little way away, Pete hears Darren’s plaintive, “But I couldn’t find any!”
That’s the signal. He grabs Patrick’s hands, puts his finger over Patrick’s lips, and dives under the cover of the bleachers. Patrick looks like his eyes are going to pop outside of his skull, but he doesn’t yell or do anything else to give away their location.
“Couldn’t or didn’t want to?” Amanda says. She’s got Darren’s arm twisted behind his back and is frog-marching him towards the field. “I thought I explained this to you. You pay tribute or you become tribute.”
“There are no more Peeps this year,” Darren says, desperate. “I swear I looked! Even on EBay!”
“Swearing’s not good enough,” Amanda says sweetly. “Sorry.” She moves so fast she blurs, and Darren’s lying facedown on the ground with her sitting on his back.
Darren’s not a small dude. He’s not fighting her, though, and Pete doesn’t blame him. Amanda scares him, too.
Pete risks a glance at Patrick, who’s biting his lip, eyebrows scrunched up. “We should go help him,” Patrick says.
“No need.” Pete jerks his chin at the other side of the field, where Principal Way is hurrying up, scowling.
“This is no way to behave!” the principal says. “Darren, I expect better from you and the team! Ten points from Griffindor!”
Patrick’s mouth hangs open. “Did he just–?”
“He does that,” Pete mutters. “We try to pretend it’s not happening.”
Amanda has let Darren up, and is standing with her head bowed, nodding meekly as Principal Way expounded on how important it is to resist toxic masculinity.
“We better get out of here before he notices us,” Pete says.
It’s only then that he realizes Patrick hasn’t let go of his hand.
“Look,” Patrick says as soon as they’re out of range, “I thought–”
Pete puts a hand up. “Let me guess: your last school let the football team get away with murder?”
Patrick nods. His eyes are dark, mouth thinning as he remembers something unpleasant.
Pete is starting to realize he hates that expression on him. “This isn’t your last school,” he says. “Our band wins state competitions, not to mention that some of your students are really scary. Our soccer team is basically terrible.”
“You’re coaching the soccer team,” Patrick says. He’s frowning a little. It’s still an improvement.
“Yeah, so I should know, right?” Pete shrugs. “Whatever, we have fun. But the point is, you don’t need to worry about bullying.”
“You mean, I don’t need to worry about my kids being bullied.” Patrick’s mouth twists up in a wry smile. “Doing the bullying, though…” He shakes his head decisively. “Let me buy you a cup of coffee.”
Pete blinks. “Really?” It might be just his imagination, but he thinks he sees the faintest trace of pink on Patrick’s ears. Maybe it’s just leftover exertion from his earlier rage. “I mean, sure. We could discuss conflict resolution.”
“Or it could be an apology.” As Pete watches, fascinated, the pinkness moves from Patrick’s ears to his cheeks. It’s unmistakable now. “Or, I don’t know. I never got around to telling you things I like about you.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to have any,” Pete says honestly.
Patrick ducks his head. It would be impossible not to be charmed. “I was going to tell you I liked your tattoos,” Patrick confesses. “So I was pretty glad about that fire alarm.”
Pete grins. “Really. You should see the ones I keep covered up.”
They left toward the parking lot hand in hand, the dulcet tone of the school’s official cheer rising behind them.