Prompt: Calvin and Ethan go back to their old high school.
Calvin couldn’t believe they were back.
That morning, a call had come in. A student had called the THIRDS in tears, asking they send someone to stop the bullies who were picking on a Therian kid. It was a young girl, dispatch had said. Normally, it wasn’t the kind of thing the THIRDS handled. Not unless one of the kids went feral and started running around in their Therian form. When Kimmy from dispatch had been told which high school the student was calling from, she thought Calvin might like to know. The school had come up in conversation on more than one occasion, and Calvin made it no secret what he thought about it and its principal.
Four years of hell Calvin and Ethan had suffered in that place, with no one to turn to but each other. Calvin had spent the majority of his days in the principal’s office getting yelled at, fighting, or comforting Ethan for the relentless bullying. No one would listen. They couldn’t understand how a kid as big as Ethan couldn’t defend himself. Why he wouldn’t speak up. Didn’t matter that they knew he had Selective Mutism. He wasn’t a mute. He could talk. They just couldn’t seem to get it in their heads that he couldn’t pick and choose who he talked to. It didn’t work that way.
Some teachers had been understanding, even going out of their way to help, like walking him to his next class so he wouldn’t get caught in the halls by some asshole looking to shove him into a locker or take his backpack so they could throw it over the fence into the P.E. field. Which was why Calvin was surprised when Ethan said he wanted to go.
Ethan pulled the Suburban into the faculty parking lot, drawing a crowd of students hanging around, a couple of them smoking. They should have been in class.
“You sure you want to go in there?” Calvin asked.
Ethan eyed the small group of gawking Seniors hovering close to the car. He gave Calvin a nod.
“Okay.” Calvin climbed out of the Suburban. They were in full uniform with their Glock secured in their holsters. Everything else remained locked away in the truck. The kids gathered around the truck, their mouths hanging open. At least the ones that didn’t have cigarettes in them.
“Holy fuck, look at the size of this dude!” One of the Seniors came up to Ethan. He had to crane his neck up to look at Ethan’s face.
“You fucking nuts, man? He’s THIRDS,” another one hissed from a couple of feet away. He shuffled nervously from one foot to the other. His friend ignored him.
“Hey, you ever have to maul anyone to death on the job?” The Senior asked.
Ethan looked down at the kid and narrowed his eyes. The kid stiffened as Ethan reached out and plucked the cigarette from him mouth. He dropped it on the ground, and stomped on it with his boot, grinding it for emphasis.
Calvin grinned. “He doesn’t like you smoking in his face.”
Ethan arched an eyebrow at the other kid with the cigarette. It flopped from his gaping mouth and hit the ground. The kid quickly stomped on it.
“How much you weigh?” One kid asked, as Calvin and Ethan headed for the entrance.
“What kind of tiger Therian are you?”
The first Senior who’d approached Ethan ran in front of him. “Hey, it’s rude not answer!”
Ethan glowered at him, and shook his head. Like he hadn’t heard that a million times. They walked into the school, the kids trailing behind them. Calvin wrinkled his nose. It was like going back in time. There was still litter in the halls. Kids hanging around when they should be in class. Graffiti on the walls, bent lockers, and broken lightbulbs.
A young Human girl dressed all in black and sporting several piercings came running, her tears having caused her thick black eyeliner to smear down her cheeks.
“Please, you have to help Neil.”
Calvin opened his mouth when one of the Seniors butted in. “Get lost, emo girl. They’re not here for that loser.”
The girl’s big silver eyes filled with fresh tears. Ethan walked around their rude entourage, glaring at the kid and scaring the pants off him before turning a warm smile to the young girl. He held out his gloved hand so she wouldn’t be scared, and pointed to his name tag with the other. Her eyes widened and she shrank away, uncertain.
“It’s okay,” Calvin assured her gently. “My partner and I are here to help.”
She gave them a big wobbly smile, her voice shaky when she spoke. “Neil’s in the gym. They beat him up and shoved him in the showers. He’s hiding behind the bleachers. I’m afraid he might shift and get hurt.”
“What’s your name?” Calvin asked, as they followed her through the school. Not that they didn’t know where the gym was. Poor kid. God only knew what kind of skanky stuff was behind those bleachers. Principal Meyers had a habit of spring cleaning only when Parent/Teacher conference time came around, or on the rare occasion members of the school board showed up. No one had high hopes for this place, or the students.
“I’m Melanie Harris, but everyone calls me Mel.”
“Okay, Mel. Can you tell us what happened?”
“We were on our way to Algebra when that jerk Doug and his friends grabbed Neil. They took him into the boys’ locker room and beat him up, then shoved him into one of the shower stall, running cold water on him. I tried to help but they just held me back.” Fresh tears streamed down her cheeks. He was so scared!”
“How long has this been going on?” Calvin asked as they ran into the gym. It still had the same foul stench it did when he’d been a student here.
“Months. Neil’s super shy. They pick on him for it. They call him the Cowardly Lion because he’s a lion Therian and he’s not fierce. He loves art. He’s really good at it.” Mel came to a stop by one of the bleachers and grabbed onto Calvin’s arm. “Please, you have to help him. He’s my best friend. He’s the sweetest, nicest guy in the world. I’m scared of what he might do to himself.”
“It’s okay, Mel. We won’t let anything happen to him.” Calvin turned to one of the kid from their little entourage that was watching them like they were some MTV reality TV show. “What’s your name?”
“Pete, bring us some dry towels, and tell the P.E. teacher we need some clean sweatpants and a sweatshirt?”
Pete’s eyes went wide. “Mr. Henley hates them. Says they’re what’s wrong with this country.”
Calvin’s brows shot up. “Henley? As in Teddy Henley?”
Pete stared at him. “Um, yeah. You know him?”
Oh, the irony. “Yeah, I know him. Ask him for that stuff, and if he has a problem, just tell him he can come out here and tell Calvin Summers himself.”
Pete ran off, and Calvin turned to Ethan. He stepped up close to him to talk quietly. “I think you should go in there. You’re a Therian, and you’re good with kids. See if you can draw him out.”
Ethan nodded, and within seconds had disappeared behind the rickety wooden bleachers. The thought of suggesting his partner where a hazmat suit to go in there had crossed Calvin’s mind.
“Calvin Summers? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I owe you a knuckle sandwich you little twerp. Where is he?” He noticed Calvin standing there and gave a start. “Shit, sorry, agent. I was looking for someone else.”
Calvin smiled pleasantly. “Hi, Teddy.”
Teddy’s reaction would have had Calvin in stitches if he didn’t feel so bad for the guy. Not that being a P.E. teacher was anything to laugh at, but Teddy wasn’t a P.E. teacher because he wanted to be. Hell, the guy rarely attended class when he’d been a student here, and certainly not P.E. He’d loathed it. Said it was for fat kids and losers. By the state of the gym and the equipment Calvin could see, Teddy clearly just didn’t give a shit.
“Summers?” Teddy looked Calvin over, his jaw slack. “You’re a THIRDS agent?” Just as he said the words, Ethan emerged from behind the bleachers, Neil cradled against him, his face buried against Ethan’s uniform. Mel ran over to comfort him.
Teddy looked over at Ethan and Neil. “What’s going on? That little punk up to no good again?”
Calvin gave Teddy a warning look. “Where’s the clothing I asked for?”
Teddy snapped his fingers at Pete. “Well, go get it.”
Pete gave Teddy a dirty look before running off. Not wasting another second, Calvin approached Ethan who was down on one knee smiling warmly at poor Neil who was on the floor shivering, drenched from head to toe. Mel was hugging him, and running her hand through his soaked hair. Neil’s lips were purple, his skin pale. There were dark circles under his puffy red eyes. This kid was in a living hell here. Calvin’s heart squeezed in his chest. He knelt down beside Ethan.
“Hi, Neil. My name is Calvin Summers, and this is my partner Ethan Hobbs. You know, we used to come to this school.”
Neil’s head shot up. He looked from Ethan to Calvin and back, his eyes widening.
“That’s right. Ethan here, he used to get bullied too because of his Selective Mutism.”
“What’s that?” Mel asked curiously, her arms around Neil protectively.
“It means he can only talk to certain people or under certain situations. He doesn’t have a choice who he can talk to. He’s shy too. Everyone thought because he was a big tiger Therian that he could, and should, stand up for himself.”
Neil looked up at Ethan. “You couldn’t fight back either?”
Ethan shook his head. He placed his hand on Calvin’s shoulder, then moved it back to himself. Mel smiled.
“You two were best friends then?”
Calvin nodded. “Yep. We’ve been best friends since we were kids. We’ve always looked out for each other. In high school, I looked out for Ethan.”
“What’s going on here? Who called the THIRDS?”
Mel stood, her hands balled into fists at her sides. Her bottom lip trembled but she held her head up high. “I did, Principal Meyer.”
“They were hurting Neil.”
“You don’t call THIRDS agents for that, Mel!” Meyers hissed. “You don’t think these agents have better things to do?”
“You saying a student continuously getting bullied in your school isn’t important?” Calvin stood and turned to face Principal Meyers. Aside the thinning gray hair, the man hadn’t changed at all in twenty-three years.
“I just meant—” Meyers peered at him, as if he were trying to figure something out. “Neil’s always stirring up trouble.” He removed a pair of glasses from his front breast pocket and proceeded to clean the lenses.
“He’s not! They’re always picking on him and no one listens!”
“Neil can stand up for himself. He just chooses not to. There’s no hope for that kid. He’s a lost cause.”
Calvin’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow. Still singing the same tune.”
Meyers put on his glasses, a deep frown coming onto his face before it turned to surprise. “Summers? Is that you?”
“That’s agent Summers, Mr. Meyers. I’m here on official THIRDS business.”
It took Meyers a second to get his jaw up off the floor, before he lifted his chin defiantly. “Come on, Summers. You’re an adult now. Look how far you’ve come. You never would have made it to where you are with that Ethan kid dragging you down. He was dead weight.”
Calvin couldn’t help his laugh. “You’re such an asshole.”
“You heard me. What, you’re going to give me detention? Oh, by the way. You haven’t met my partner. He’s a demolitions expert and Safety Bomb Technician for the THIRDS.” Calvin stepped aside and Ethan got up, rounding his shoulders and straightening to his full height before he turned and stepped up to Meyers.
“Nice to meet you—” Meyers stared at Ethan’s name tag. “Hobbs? Wait, you can’t be….”
Ethan smiled and waved at Meyers.
“You… you work for the THIRDS?” Meyers took a step back. He couldn’t seem to stop staring at Ethan. “You talk now?”
Ethan rolled his eyes and turned back to Neil and Mel. He was obviously so done with Meyers.
“No, he doesn’t talk now. Well, he talks to me, and a couple of other people, so his condition’s improved. No thanks to people like you.”
Meyers chose to ignore that comment. “Then how can he work for the THIRDS? How can they have a mute agent?”
“Because he’s a damn good agent, Mr. Meyers. The THIRDS doesn’t discriminate. In fact, they encourage both Humans and Therians of all genders, races, religions, nationalities, and disabilities to work with them.” Calvin crouched down beside Neil who was looking up at Ethan like he was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. He spoke so everyone else would here. “You’re better than this place Neil. Don’t let them define you. You define you. These people wrote off Ethan here as a lost cause too. They wanted me to stop being friends with him. Wasn’t going to happen. No matter what they said, or did, Ethan rose above that.”
Pete handed Calvin the dry clothes, and Calvin handed it to Pete. “Here. Why don’t you get dressed. You know, I draw too.”
Neil’s face lit up. “You do?”
“Yeah.” Calvin reached into his breast pocket and pulled out one of his THIRDS business cards with all his contact info on it. He handed one to Neil and one to Mel. “If either of you need anything, you just contact me okay?” He turned his attention back to Neil. “If you ever need help with your art and want me to stop by, just call me.”
Neil nodded, a big smile on his boyish face. He got up with Ethan’s help. Neil’s anxious gaze at the other students, as well as Meyers and Teddy wasn’t lost on Calvin. He put a hand to Neil’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Neil. We’ll take care of it. Go on now.” Neil nodded, tears in his eye, but a smile on his face. He gave Ethan a hug before scurrying off with Mel in tow.
Calvin and Ethan turned to their little entourage. “What have we learned here today kids?”
One of the bigger boys looked around at everyone. “Don’t pick on the nerds because one day they might grow up to be huge ass THIRDS agents who can kick your ass and you’ll end up the loser gym teacher?”
Ethan coughed into his hand so he wouldn’t laugh. Teddy looked about ready to spit nails.
“The moral of this story is, respect your fellow Humans and Therians. Or I will come down here and arrest your ass. Now get your butts back to class, study hard, be good, and if I hear of you boys stirring up trouble we’ll be back, and you’ll get to meet our lion Therian teammate, and believe me, you don’t want him down here because he will put the fear of God in you.”
The kids’ eyes were round as saucers before they bolted from the place like it was one fire.
“Well,” Meyers cleared his throat, “crisis averted. Thank you for coming down here agents.”
Calvin chuckled. “Oh, I’m not finished here, Mr. Meyers. You have a serious bullying problem in your school, and with attitudes like yours and Mr. Henley’s here, it’s not going to improve. All these kids have potential. I expect you to do a damn better job than you’ve been doing. You have six months to get this school into shape. When I come back here, if I don’t see an improvement, we’re going to have problems.”
“Are you crazy, Summers? We don’t—”
Calvin held a hand up. “Agent Summers.”
“Agent Summers,” Meyers replied through his teeth. “We don’t have that kind of funding!”
Calvin pursed his lips in thought. Some of it was true. The school’s funds had never been good, but then neither had its performance. It was a vicious circle. The THIRDS however did support several fundraisers and grants to help schools.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to send a team of agents down here along with some members of the school board. They’re going to do an assessment of the school, and how much funding is needed to at least get it off life support. Clean it out, paint it, fix it up, get some new classroom furniture, some equipment, and work out a budget. We’ll see what we can do to help.”
Meyers narrowed his gaze at Calvin. “Why would you do that? You hate me, and this school. I thought you’d be happy to see me fail.”
Calvin sighed. “No. I’m not above rubbing your face in the fact that we accomplished something for ourselves much greater than you believed, but I don’t hate you. You have the power to make a difference in these kids’ lives. To give them a chance at a better future, and to stop incidents like today from happening. Take a look at your policies, set down some firm rules, expect change.” Calvin headed for the exit with Ethan at his side. “The next time we come back here, I expect results, Principal Meyers.” He waved goodbye, calling out over his shoulder before walking out the door. “Nice seeing you again, Teddy. Same goes for you.”
As they drove back to HQ, Calvin felt good. Not because Meyers and Teddy got to see the good men two troublemaking kids had turned into, but because coming back here gave him the chance to do something about the rest of the kids. He wished he’d done something sooner. Shamefully he’d let his anger and resentment cloud his judgement. The kids who attended the school shouldn’t suffer for the complacency of the adults around them.
“You up for fixing up that shithole?”
Ethan smiled at him, forming little wrinkles at the corners of his green eyes. He nodded, and took hold of Calvin’s hand, giving it a squeeze.
Looked like even now all these years after having left school, they were still learning a thing or two.
Copyright © 2015 Charlie Cochet. All Rights Reserved. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.