East Ridge Academy: Zeke Hallaway

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March - 2

Pax had a game before dinner the next night, but Gray and Amoni had plans for Zeke and Kelsey.

“Remember on the five-mile run when we messed with Bryan Sanchez?” Gray asked.

Zeke nodded, but Kelsey looked confused.

“Well, he found us the next day, and we only got out of getting pounded because we offered to do his laundry.”

“Is that what’s in there?” Kelsey asked, pointing to the pillowcase Amoni was carrying.

“Yep,” Gray said, his eyes shining. “Guess what exactly’s in there.”

Zeke rolled his eyes. “Dirty clothes.”

“Chuck Thurman and Bryan Sanchez’s white Pirates jerseys… and Amoni’s brand new red East Ridge Academy shirt.”

Zeke laughed, and Kelsey’s forehead wrinkled. “You can’t wash those together.”

“That’s the point!” Amoni said, cackling.

“We’re gonna turn their jerseys pink,” Zeke said, laughing. “You guys are geniuses.”

Gray furrowed his eyebrows and pursed his lips. “I just don’t know how we’ll get out of getting beat up this time.” Then he snapped out of it, grinning. “It’s totally worth it!”

Amoni handed Zeke the pillowcase and sent him and Kelsey off to the visitation center. “Congrats, you’re about to pass the first part of your Snickerdudels initiation.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The shirt did its job beautifully, and Zeke dropped the clean laundry off at the cabin before dinner. Israel and Ember were there, so they headed to the mess hall together.

Pax and the baseball fans showed up a little late with smiles on their faces. “We had such a great game,” Pax said.

For some reason, Zeke felt exhausted and couldn’t share everyone else’s enthusiasm. He slumped against the table, leaning his head on his hand. All he wanted to do was lie down and forget about baseball or school or workouts and initiation. He thought that he might feel better if the meal actually tasted good and filled him up, but it did neither. The baseball crowd talked about the game happily and Ember added his thoughts, but Zeke barely heard any of it. He was nearly asleep when Gray asked, “Zeke, are you going to try out for baseball?”

Zeke rubbed his face and shrugged away Gray’s question. He picked up the remains of the cold grilled cheese sandwich in front of him and began to eat mechanically.

“Hey Zeke,” Pax said, “just so you know, the rest of initiation will happen when Kelsey is actually in the cabin with us so you guys can do everything together.”

“Why can’t we just get it over with now?” Zeke asked. “Why does there have to be initiation anyway?” Even to himself he sounded whiny, but the whole initiation thing was bringing him back to the troublemakers. Zeke really missed Brendan, Jed, and Kaleb right then. He could still barely believe that when he finally went back home, Brendan and Kaleb wouldn’t be there to greet him.

“The title of a Snickerdudel is something earned,” Amoni said.

“Besides,” Ember said, “all you have left is my test, Israel’s test, and Pax and Deven’s test.”

“Yeah,” Zeke said, holding back tears, “because that’s nothing.”

“Stop whining or there won’t be any more tests,” Pax said angrily. “Be cool, like I thought you were, and deal with it.”

Zeke climbed out of the bench. Israel tried to stop him, but he stormed away. He didn’t know where he was going, but he ended up at the baseball diamonds with tears streaming from his eyes. There were a handful of boys of all ages out on the diamonds practicing pitching and hitting. Zeke watched them, his heart aching. He missed his friends from home. He missed Leo and Isaiah’s Mexican jokes. He missed rolling his eyes at Kaleb when he was being dumb. He missed not hating his family, not hating himself, and most of all he missed not missing anyone. He wished he could go back to the simpler times where Jed was still around and Brendan and Kaleb were still alive.

After a few minutes, Zeke took a deep breath and told himself to pull it together. It was okay to miss his friends and his old life, but he needed to enjoy East Ridge while he was here. After all, he really did enjoy his bunkmates’ company. They were funny and nice, and Zeke was blowing his chance to be friends with them by acting like some sort of loser. He wiped the tears off his face and made up his mind: he was going to embrace being a Snickerdudel while he could. After all, he only had a year here at East Ridge. Who knew if he’d see his bunkmates again after he left?

◊ ◊ ◊

When Zeke got back to the cabin, all six of his bunkmates were there. They turned and looked at him when he walked in.

Pax stood up. “Hey Zeke, about what happened—”

“I’m sorry. I was just overwhelmed, and I didn’t mean to whine about initiation—”

“Look man, I’m the one who should be sorry,” Pax said. “The first couple weeks here can be rough, even without going through any sort of initiation. We all know that you’re going through some tough shit right now.”

Everyone laughed uncomfortably.

“And maybe it is dumb,” Pax said, “but you can’t just slip into a club without doing something special, right?”

“Right,” Zeke said. Pax clapped him on the back and pulled him into a hug. The other Snickerdudels got up and joined.

“I’ve never been part of a group hug before.” Ember said. “I’m not sure I like it.”

“Well you’ll have to get used to it,” Israel said.

◊ ◊ ◊

The next day, a Wednesday, Zeke and his friends left their cabin and made their way to block as normal. Before they reached the blacktop, someone yelled from behind them.

“Hey losers! The ones who did our laundry!”

They froze.

“We dropped it off outside their cabin last night,” Amoni whispered. Zeke and the Snickerdudels turned around to face Chuck and Bryan Sanchez.

“What the hell did you do to our jerseys?” Chuck asked, stepping forward and grabbing Gray and Amoni by the front of their shirts.

“Back off,” Zeke said, stepping forward. “You’re the idiots who let them wash your precious jerseys in the first place.”

Chuck dropped Gray and Amoni and turned towards Zeke. Bryan cracked his knuckles behind Chuck. “The wimp had part in this, huh?” Chuck sneered. “Remember when we used to make you cry? We can do that again. Right here, in front of all your loser friends.”

Zeke set his jaw. He knew that no matter how shaky he felt, he couldn’t step down.

“What’s going on here?” someone demanded from behind them. Zeke turned around to see a security guard staring at them. “Fights are not allowed at East Ridge. If there’s a conflict, you can go work it out with a counselor.”

“No conflict here, sir,” Chuck said politely. “Just a staring contest.”

The guard narrowed his eyes, but he walked away.

“Staring contest?” Bryan asked.

“Shuddup.” Chuck snarled. “Watch your backs,” he threatened Zeke, Amoni, and Gray before going to his own spot in block.

“Really dodged a bullet on that one,” Deven mumbled.

“Not for long I bet,” Zeke said.

♢ ♢ ♢

That day, Kelsey officially moved into the Snickerdudels’ cabin after seventh period.

“You’re doing Em’s part of the initiation today after workouts,” Pax told Zeke and Kelsey on their way to the cabin.

“It’s gonna be really hard, I just know it,” Kelsey said, scrunching up his face.

“Calm down, Kels. All you have to do is come up with an idea for a prank we can use. We gotta know if you have the brains to operate with us.” Pax winked at Zeke.

“Don’t worry about it Kelsey, I’ve got us on this one.” Zeke assured him. But did he? The only pranks he could think of were troublemaker pranks, like rigging trip wires and vandalizing the baseball fields.

◊ ◊ ◊

When workouts were over, the Snickerdudels left the cabin to watch and practice baseball so that Zeke and Kelsey were left alone to brainstorm.

Kelsey sat at one of the desks, trying to do his homework. “Zeke, I don’t know any good pranks.”

“I told you Kels, I got this one. Just be quiet so I can think.”

Zeke gave up on sitting still and paced the cabin. He went to the bathroom and splashed his face with cold water. He even hung upside down from Israel’s bed so all the blood would rush to his head. Still, nothing.

Kelsey either finished or gave up on his homework and started making his bed, whistling absentmindedly. He was halfway through ‘Happy Birthday’ when Zeke had an idea.

“Kelsey, that’s it,” he exclaimed.

“What’s ‘it?’”

“The prank. We’re gonna trick everyone into thinking it’s Headmaster Dawson’s birthday.”

◊ ◊ ◊

After breakfast the next day, Pax and Amoni pulled Zeke aside. Amoni bounced on his toes, looking around to make sure no one else was listening.

“Our class goes to the library today, to type our papers, you know?” Pax asked, smiling.

Zeke nodded.

“I’m gonna tack on some pages at the end that just repeat ‘Don’t forget to wish Headmaster Dawson a happy birthday tomorrow!’”

“Sounds great. But how do you know—”

“How many cabins?” Amoni finished. “Sixty four. Found that out for a different prank.”

“At lunch you’ll take the papers from me, and you can cut them apart in art class,” Pax said. “Sound like a plan?”

“Definitely.”

“Proud of you for this one.”

◊ ◊ ◊

At the end of seventh period, Zeke met up with Kelsey and the Snickerdudels outside of the school.

“Here’s how we’re gonna do it,” Pax said. “We’re each gonna take a slip of paper and put one in the mailbox of every cabin.”

Zeke reached into his school bag and pulled out the papers. The Snickerdudels each took some.

“Workouts start soon though,” Kelsey protested. “I need to get changed.”

“We all do, Kelsey. That’s why we have to be fast,” Ember said.

Zeke loosened his tie and squeezed the papers in his hand. “Let’s go.”

They ran towards the cabins. Gray and Ember went for the front row, but Pax and Amoni ran straight past it. “Zeke, come with us!” Pax called.

“Somebody’s gotta get the back,” Amoni said gleefully.

Zeke caught up to them, and they were at the back of the cabins before he knew it. Putting all the papers in the mailboxes didn’t take near as long as he thought it would, and all of the Snickerdudels were changed and ready for workouts with minutes to spare.

“I hope people actually believe it,” Deven said with a yawn. “I mean, I’m not sure I would. If it came from the adults it’d be a full sheet of paper like our chore assignments.”

“If we get ten people to go for it, I’ll be happy,” Zeke said. His friends nodded in agreement.

“We should get to workouts,” Israel said, glancing at the clock. They got up and filed out of the cabin. As they walked to the blacktop, Deven pulled Zeke to the back of the group. “Kanton is about to turn seventeen, so the Wolves are going to have an open spot. You should try out.”

Before Zeke could say anything about the Tigers and Meric’s offer, which he would much rather take, Deven continued. “Me and Pax agreed it could be your initiation.”

Zeke nodded. He wanted to be on Meric’s team much more than he wanted to be on Kanton’s former team, but he doubted he could make the Tigers. Even if he did make the Wolves, Alan and Orlando weren’t the type of people he wanted on his team. However, Zeke really wanted to be a Snickerdudel. “When are tryouts?”

“Next week, Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday is like a normal practice. Wednesday we booked the West Diamond for a scrimmage before dinner.”

“Who’s the scrimmage against?”

Deven grinned. “The Tigers. Rumor is, Cervantes is turning seventeen.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The next day, it seemed as if Zeke’s first Snickerdudel prank was a flop.

“I haven’t heard so much as a whisper about Headmaster Dawson all day,” Deven said as the boys walked to the gym for the weekly lecture.

“Headmaster Dawson doesn’t usually show his head until lunch. Maybe that’s why,” Ember reasoned.

“But don’t you think you would hear something about the notes?” Zeke asked.

“Maybe no one cares,” Deven said. “He’s not exactly the most liked guy in East Ridge.”

“I know I’d be talking about the notes,” Gray said. “It’s more interesting than school.”

“Let’s get seats in the back,” Pax said. The Snickerdudels filed into the gym and claimed a strip of open floor against the wall. They all knew that, once everyone was settled in for the lecture, teachers would be standing behind them to make sure that no one was leaning on the wall, but there was no reason not to use it while they could.

Zeke sat down criss-cross and stared at the ground while his friends talked. The whole birthday thing had been a terrible idea. Zeke didn’t know what he had been thinking. Maybe this was some sort of omen, telling him that he didn’t belong in another pranking group. The Snickerdudels were going to end just as badly as the troublemakers.

The microphone came to life, and Zeke looked up. “Everyone say hello to Headmaster Dawson,” the activities coordinator said, beckoning Headmaster Dawson to his side. Some boys said hi.

“A little birdie told me it was his birthday today—”

Zeke grinned, not able to believe his luck.

“—so we’re gonna sing to him!” The activities coordinator started singing, and most boys laughed or ignored him, but Zeke and his friends belted the song loud and proud, grinning the whole time.

When the singing was over and the laughter died down, Headmaster Dawson took the microphone. “Just for the record, it is not my birthday. But for those of you who laughed or smirked instead of singing for me, imagine if it was my birthday and how that would make me feel. Would you like it if your friends didn’t sing for you?”

“We ain’t your friends,” somebody called to the left of Zeke.

Zeke heard the boy being reprimanded by a teacher while Headmaster Dawson went on and on about building people up instead of knocking them down, but Zeke barely heard him. This was better than the usual lecture any day.

◊ ◊ ◊

Once Zeke told Pax that he was definitely going out for baseball, Pax filled Zeke in on what to expect at Tigers tryouts and even helped him practice batting and fielding on Saturday and Sunday in the grass between the diamonds while the 17-18s played. Somehow, Zeke felt like he had improved in his break from baseball. His swing felt natural and he felt like he was hitting the ball better than ever.

“Keep in mind I’m no pitcher,” Pax told him, “But I got high hopes for you, Zeke. And if for some reason you didn’t make the Tigers, you always have the Wolves to fall back on.”

Zeke shrugged. “I really don’t want to play for them.”

“It won’t be long before Alan and Orlando are moving on. It wouldn’t be too bad.”

“I’m mostly just worried I won’t make it through the week,” Zeke admitted. In addition to the normal, exhausting workouts, he had Tigers tryouts Monday, Wolves tryouts Tuesday, and the scrimmage Wednesday.

“You’ll be fine. Just no whining, okay?” Pax said, cracking a smile.

Zeke grinned and nodded.

◊ ◊ ◊

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