Chapter 2 - THE ROACHES
The next day, everyone was beginning to enjoy a detention-free morning. They met up at the football field bleachers, pretending to observe the football players rough it up, while actually watching the cheerleaders practice.
“Hey guys,” Paul greeted his new friends, as the other kids in the bleacher were staring at him. Paul didn’t know he is now being watched by almost everyone in school since the news about the “kicking” incident with Tom Crawford spread around. Students were curious, waiting for his next bout with the bullies. Some were even betting on Tom to get even, imagining how he would finally smash the scrawny boy’s face.
“Hey, karate kid. Have you talked to your friend?” Scott kidded.
“Talk to my friend… Who…?” Paul asked, looking confused.
“That Korean friend of yours,” Scott replied.
“You mean Tony? I didn’t think you were serious about tae kwon do,” he replied.
“Of course not,” Peter cleared out, but the rest of the guys laughed and shifted their attention to the cheerleaders again.
“You are so gullible, karate kid. There’s no future in karate and no one idolizes kung fu guys,” Fox told him, and added. “We want to be popular, not become bodyguards or martial art dorks.”
Although somewhat irritated with Scott’s joke, Paul was surprised to feel relieved that the guys were still thinking about becoming popular—in music.
“Guys, we sucked yesterday. Actually, we’ve been bad for some time now. We’re going nowhere,” Fox lamented.
“Maybe we should really think a hundred times if we really want this?” Andy commented while still staring at the cheerleaders.
“Are you serious…? This is the only thing we do and talk about, and you’re saying we have to think about it?” Scott replied, seriously this time.
“I don’t know about you guys. But this is the only thing holding us. Even if we suck at it, have you ever thought of what we’ll do if we stopped playing?” Peter sadly shared his thoughts with the group.
“So what are we doing? We always say we’ll be famous someday, but how?” Joey asked, even more seriously now.
Fox stood in front of the group. “We have to stop playing.”
The whole group stared at Fox, completely ignoring the cheerleaders now. They could not believe what they just heard.
Peter was surprised to say the least. “What… stop playing?”
“I mean stop. Stop playing around. We have to take this music gig seriously. We need to have a goal. We cannot just keep playing at your basement,” he said looking at Peter. “Look at all the bands we listen to. What do you think they did when they were starting? Do you think they just play around in their garage or basement?” Fox did not blink throughout his speech.
All of them paused, looked at each other and said, “Yeah, you’re right. We should be thinking of playing some gig, like in front of a crowd, man,” Peter agreed with Fox.
“Where do you think we should play first? What are we going to perform?” Andy asked.
They all looked at each other, having no idea what to say.
“We like rock, so we’ll play rock music,” Fox thought aloud. They never really thought about what kind of band they are, until now.
“Well… we will be a ‘rock band’, then. Heh--that’s what we are going to be,” Fox declared.
“A ROCK band!” everyone cheered as if they won the lottery.
“So if we are a rock band, what are we called?” Paul asked.
“Good question, karate kid. We should think of a name,” Fox replied.
“Something similar to ‘Queen’ or ‘Beatles’,” Andy suggested.
Scott was playing with his fingers, making a crawling motion imitating bugs, when he called out, “Yeah. We should be…. ‘The Roaches,’ like the ‘Beatles’, heh—get it? Like the insects that we are!”
Fox caught Scott’s hand and held it tight. “Scott, smart as you think you are, I don’t think the Beatles’ are similar to insects.” He was looking at him, irate and frustrated, and then said, “Although the name is quite catchy, I think. It suits you, mainly,” Fox smirked. “Just like the insect you are. Pesky as hell,” he said as he let go of his friend’s hand.
“‘Roaches’ sounds pretty good, actually. But for sure, we will not go anywhere with that name. The Beatles, man, they can afford to have a self-deprecating name, but us? If what Scott said is true, about getting their names from an insect… they can get away with it ’cause they are geniuses!” He paused and went on, “Look at us, man. We are as far to being a genius as a—cockroach,” Peter ended up laughing before he finished making his point.
“Lennon actually liked Buddy Holly’s band name, ‘The Crickets’, that’s why he came up with the name ‘Beatles’, which was originally spelled ‘Beatles’, then ‘Beetles’, then... ya know. The rest is history,” Fox stopped himself, sensing he was sounding like a complete geek.
“But still, man, I love the sound of it—Roaches!” Scott said, trying to picture in his mind the poster and record covers with the band’s name.
“Maybe we should keep it—as our secret name. Then let’s just announce it when we become better at playing. That is, if we ever become good?” Joey laughed, a tad nervously.
“Agreed, then! ‘Roaches’ is our secret name,” Fox announced, as everybody made the crawling gesture with their hands. They all laughed together.
“But seriously, Fox. We should have a name. We cannot play anywhere or become famous without a name,” Peter said.
“Maybe we should go the other way, like ‘Queen’… Yeah, like the Queen, like the kings, the prince, the dukes…” Andy was grappling, trying to give more examples to back up his suggestion.
“That’s all the members of the royal family, Andy,” Fox interrupted.
“That’s it. We should be ‘The Royals’… Hmmm—‘The ROYALS’,” Peter said proudly.
“The Royals!” the group shouted in agreement and instantly after, they posed like royalty of sorts, mocking themselves.
It was when the cheerleading group passed by in front of them that they realized they were fooling around in public, for everyone to see.
“Hi Paul,” Cindy Cummings, the cheerleading captain yelled out. The group was quiet. Surprised—no, shocked as hell. No one has ever paid attention to them, much less said ‘Hi’ to any one of them ever before. They were practically non-existent, until now. The most popular girl in school just said ‘Hi’ to one of them. She called him by his first name. The rest of the group said “Hi” back.
“Hi guys,” Kim Chiu, a pretty Asian cheerleader waved back, with her eyes fixed on Paul.
Not far from the bleachers where all of this was happening, unknown to the group, Tom Crawford’s gang was watching Paul and his friends.
“We saw your karate practice yesterday. Maybe you can also teach us the moves,” Cindy suggested, in the sweetest voice any teenage boy would melt over.
“It’s tae…” Paul was about to correct her, but was immediately interrupted by Fox.
Pulling Paul by the shoulder, he said, “Yeah, we could teach you that move.” He turned to Paul and whispered, “Nobody gives a crap what it’s actually called. It’s our chance to mingle with cheerleaders, so just say yes. Go with the flow.”
“That’s good! Let’s go to the field,” Kim and Cindy grabbed Paul by his elbows, tugging on him and walking him down to the field. Joey, Scott and Andy followed, and started chatting with the rest of the cheerleaders. Peter was behind all of them, quiet and uncomfortable.
Paul wasn’t as excited as the rest of his friends. He noticed Peter just looks on, too, not enjoying any bit of this. Scott and Andy were showing off their kick to the other girls, and Fox, sensing reluctance on Paul, initiated the ‘lesson’.
“Here, let me show you the proper way to kick,” Fox said.
From out of nowhere, Tom and his friends, Jim Bader and Frank Trigg, emerged in the middle of the group, facing Paul.
“So you’re showing off?” Tom was looking down on Paul, breathing on him like a wolf to a turtle. “You just got lucky,” he said, poking him in the chest, “and now you think you’re a master of some sort? Why don’t you show me your move… and then, I’ll smash your face this time.”
Tom gave Paul a final shove, making him fall over. Peter caught him from behind, as Scott kicked Tom in the abdomen. Andy kicked Tom, too, and all hell broke loose. A rumble ensued, sending the girls out screaming.
The football team and their coach came running to break the commotion. In the middle of the ruckus, Jim was aiming at Paul. He gave a hard blow and hit Peter on the face. Peter fell to the ground in his attempt to protect Paul. Fox saw this, and immediately kicked Jim from behind. He dropped face down, too. Tom, recovering from the fall, fought his might back and aimed at Scott and Andy. He tackled Scott and all three of them fell down. Paul saw Tom as he was about to pound Scott’s face, so he kicked Tom in the side of his face. His foot landed on Tom’s jaw. He was knocked out unconscious.
After a few minutes of scuffle, all three bullies had fallen down.
“Stop it! Break it!” Coach Aaron Bradley yelled out, trying to break the fight. One football player each pulled out one boy by the arm and neck. They were like children being carried by huge, grown men.
“You are feisty little scumbags,” Brad Armstrong, team captain of the football team, was looking at them like kittens he had picked up from the dumpster. Admittedly, the players were a little bit impressed with the band of small bandits, and how they had the guts to take down those bullies who were far bigger than they were.
“Mr. Handler, here are your hooligans. This gang of…. one, two…” Coach Bradley handed them over like trash bags. “... gang of six. And these three fallen goons,” pointing at Tom’s gang.
“Well, well, well… here you are again. What did I tell you? You’d be kicked in the ass in no time,” Mr. Handler deliberated as he arrived on the scene.
As he caught sight of the teacher, Tom, who was still groggy from being knocked down, cringed and yelled out in exaggerated pain. He was acting as the victim now. Mr. Handler was red in anger as he looked at the boys.
“Your gang is living up to your new reputation? Morons! You enjoy kicking? What are you trying to prove? Are you really trying to get kicked out of school?” Mr. Handler barked in disdain without even pausing to breathe.
“You scoundrels are the reason my reputation is being tarnished. I have a perfect record in school ground fights. Zero fights! Now you are raising hell in my watch, and you will all pay for this,” his voice was echoing all over the school. “You are all lucky today. It’s already dismissal time, and I cannot exact my punishment on you. If I have my way, I will lock you all up here tonight.” He turned his back, as if trying to save them from his fiery gaze.
“Go home! I’ll hand you my special bonus tomorrow. To honor your impeccable conduct,” he said, hiding a vindictive grin. With a last disgusted look, he sent them off.
Both groups of boys were sent straight to their respective places of detention the following day. Today, they were not sent to the dingy detention room. Tom’s group was sent to the library.
“Good morning,” Miss Lisa Minefield, the librarian looked at them through her thick spectacles. “Are you Tom, Jim and Frank? The three stooges?”
“Yes, Miss Minefield. Good morning,” the three answered, trying to appear well-mannered.
“Are you new students? It’s the first time I saw your group here in the library.”
“No, ma’am,” Tom responded meekly. Somehow, they were all relieved to have been sent here. This would be a walk in the park. Sent to clean the library... how hard could that be? It’s easy. To play a trick on unsuspecting Miss Minefield, that is.
“Well, you’ll love it here guys. Be seated there.”
Miss Minefield showed the boys to three big tables with one chair each. The big tables, each had tall piles of thick books. The three looked confused—and afraid. If there was one thing they fear, it was books. They hate reading. They will gladly carry heavy loads or do any physical activity for punishment any time of the day. But books?
“Be seated now. Why do you look so scared? These. Are. Books. They’re not alive. It won’t bite you,” she giggled quietly.
“The hell I’m reading any of this shit,” Tom muttered.
“This is wonderful, boys. You will finally have the opportunity to nourish your little brains. It’s about time,” the librarian announced. Sweat was starting to trickle down each boy’s forehead.
“Here are some papers. Bring out your pen. All the books on top of the table are history books. It could be U.S. history books, world history, or history books on Europe, Japan, Germany, and the Philippines... any country you can think of that are connected with our history as a nation. I want you to jot down the pages, the chapters and title, names of U.S. Presidents on every page that they are mentioned, in each book.”
They scratched their heads, at a loss and dumbstruck. What the hell? They have never, ever read a book cover to cover. Ever.
“This is a nightmare,” Jim commented exasperatingly.
Tom’s eyes were red in fury now. “I will get those stupid scumbags and smash their faces with these books,” he whispered to Jim and Frank, gritting his teeth really hard.
“What are you whispering about, young man? You think you can cheat on this? Well, I am very sorry to tell you,” she paused and smiled, “but the Index of these books has been torn off. Tsk-tsk. Torn out by smart boys like you.”
“What is an Index? What is she saying?” Frank asked his friends in a whisper.
“And don’t think about doodling nonsense, too. I will check each entry you will make… for those books have copies that have Indexes intact in it” the librarian warned them.
“Here we are again with that Index thing. What is she saying?”
“Get started now, young men,” Miss Minefield winked at them and walked back to her desk. None of them knew where to start.
“I will kill those… argh!” Tom started turning the pages, but can only think of crushing Paul’s bones.
“By the way,” interrupted the librarian, “Mr. Handler’s instructions were to confine you young men here after your class every day, until you finish recording all those books.” She cheerfully pointed to all the piles of books in front of the boys. “I told him, no worries. You’ll probably finish that… next school year? So I guess this library will be your ‘home away from home’ for the rest of the semester,” Miss Minefield said in her happy, sing-song voice.
At this point, Tom can hardly contain his rage.
“Well, well. You are now officially my new favorite scoundrels in this school,” Mr. Handler welcomed the boys. “I used to like Tom and his friends, but you’ve easily taken over their place, now haven’t you? Detention for three consecutive days? How progressive. I guarantee you will be full-pledged felons in no time at all.”
The teacher led them in the gym lockers. It was already littered with soiled wrestling uniforms and dirty towels damp with sweat. “I don’t have to tell you what to do now, do I? Move your asses now!”
The five boys scurried about and picked up every dirty thing in sight. They assumed their task was to wash all these uniforms and towels, so Andy and Scott headed to the gym laundry room.
“Hey, hey, hey… where do you think you’re going?”
“To wash the uniforms, sir,” answered Scott.
“No,” he said firmly. “You are not here to wash uniforms. Not just yet.”
The group waited for his instructions anxiously.
“Don’t you boys enjoy violence? Action? I will give you action, then. This time, your agility for kicking won’t do you any good. Coach Randy Lawler has obliged to help me out in disciplining you.” The coach came in, as if on cue.
“Okay, now. Pick a uniform that fits you well enough. I’m sure you understand that I can’t give you newly washed uniforms, right? My guys need it for the game,” Coach Randy explained to the group teasingly.
“We’ll give you some privacy, ladies. Dress up now and proceed to the gym the moment you’re ready,” Mr. Handler ordered them, not giving up any chance to insult them.
They all could not believe the “luck” they have just struck. This could not be happening to them. Are they serious? Are we really expected to wear these stinky uniforms? They were all asking themselves in their minds.
Scott was keeping himself from hurling. “Man, this uniform stinks like hell!” None of them could bring themselves to put on those hell-worn rugs. The sweat, the dirt marks, the mere thought of it having been previously worn by some jock for hours on end, as they practice under the sun, on the dirt-ridden fields.
Paul has the worst feeling in the group. He quietly went into the shower room and struggled to put on that rubbish of a uniform. He was the smallest boy in the group, and apart from the fact that it looked and smelled like someone literally crapped on it. His eyes were red, both in anger and humiliation. The stench was repulsive. He tried to hold back the tears, and fought hard to keep his knees from trembling. But he gathered all the courage in his whole being, and stood unfazed.
When all of them then had the uniforms on, they all dreaded the next act of this circus.
“Look at us, guys. Athletic, eh?” Scott cracked, trying to make light of the dreadful stench they are in.
“Let’s go. I already have a black eye. I guess a broken bone will complete the drama,” Peter said.
“Yeah, man. This is the price of popularity. Cheer up, and let’s try to kick some more ass,” Fox jeered-on.
“That’s the spirit Fox. You think you can use a ‘kick’ where you’re going now?” They were all startled by the teacher’s voice. Mr. Handler laughed and continued, “You are all mistaken. Let’s go you ‘kickers’. Let’s see if you can still kick after this.”
The gym was especially gloomy that afternoon. It was empty and the quiet space was deafening and foreboding, as if foretelling the doom that was about to befall the boys. They all felt their knees shaking as they saw six students standing in the middle of the wooden floor, waiting for them. They were huge, burly, muscled young men... no, giants.
“Damn! The wrestling team,” whispered Fox.
Coach Lawler greeted them. “As promised Mr. Handler. My six biggest and heaviest wrestlers are here. I hope your team is ready.”
“Oh, Mr. Lawler. Please. My team is more than ready. They love action, and are very good kickers.”
The guys looked at each other. Fox tried, for the last time, to give his friends a pep talk. “Guys, it’s our honor that’s at stake here. No matter what, no one will cry for mercy. Let them break every bone in our bodies, but not our spirit… Fight on!”
“Okay, now. Let’s have some fun. The first match, Mr. Handler?” Coach Lawler motioned to one of the wrestlers to step up.
“Mr. Silver, you first. You seem to be the leader of the group,” Mr. Handler ordered Fox.
Fox slowly walked to the middle of the wrestling mat, trying to show no signs of fear. He looked tough and ready. He did not have an athlete’s physique, but he wasn’t skinny either. The referee puts them in position. Fox stood there, pretending he knew what he was doing.
“Are you ready?” the referee asked both players. Fox and the other wrestler nodded. “Go!”
The wrestler grabbed Fox’s right arm and threw him onto the ground. Fox fell down on his back, grunting in pain. The wrestler gave him time to stand up, knowing he’ll be able to throw him down again easily. And that he did. Fox landed on his side this time. Although he was already in pain, he tried not to show it. He stood back up, only to be pinned to the ground once again. It wasn’t until he was groaning in pain that Mr. Handler looked satisfied. That was what he wanted to see; the boy’s broken spirit. But through it all, Fox did not show any sign of defeat. His body could no longer take the beating, however. He was already limping and could hardly stand up. The referee blew the whistle and called in the next pair.
By the end of the hour, Fox, Scott, Joey, Andy and Peter were wrenching in pain, every muscle in their bodies aching. But it wasn’t over yet.
“Now, may I ask Mr. Andrews to step up? This will be exciting, don’t you think? The one who broke my record of zero fights in school. Let’s see if you are really tough.” Mr. Handler was oozing with contempt. His hate for this boy seemed to have grown taller than a willow tree. This skinny little rat should not be allowed to reign over other boys.
“As promised, Mr. Handler. I reserved the best wrestler for your toughest kid. Zardo, show this kid, what being tough really means,” the Coach announced.
Paul was unfazed. After all that he’s been through this week, nothing scares him anymore. His friends were still alive, though barely standing, but what the hell? If they can take it, I can, too. Paul stood before his opponents, while everyone in the gym looked on, and could not ignore the extreme physical different characteristics of the two players. Zardo stood tall, muscular, and obviously well trained in this sport.
“Are you ready?” the referee asked the two wrestlers. They both nodded and the match began. Zardo was sure as hell he can break every bone in this little guy’s body if he wanted to. But for some reason, he actually did not want to lay a finger on Paul.
“Hey, what is this Coach? Is your wrestler afraid of my kid?” Mr. Handler shouted in frustration. He was growing impatient and could not wait to see Paul sprawled on the ground, bloodied and grimacing in sheer pain.
“Zardo, take him down! What’s the drama about?” Coach Randy shouted at his wrestler. He was also beginning to feel embarrassed at the inaction.
That was precisely the point, thought Zardo. This boy is just a rug compared to him. He was looking into Paul’s eyes, and he saw something. He was seriously creep-out, so he moved back. He completely backed out and walked out of the gym without saying a word.
“W-what?! Is this for real? Your boy chickened out? Is he afraid of the kicker king, Coach Randy?” Mr. Handler teased the coach, not sure if he will be glad or furious at what happened.
“Maxie, take that kid down. Don’t embarrass me like Zardo, you hear me?” Coach Randy was grinding his teeth as he spoke to his wrestler. He could not contain his anger brought by embarrassment.
When the referee signaled “Go”, Maxie wasted no time throwing Paul down, several feet from the mat. Paul quickly stood up, wincing. He cannot stay on the ground. That was the worst thing that could happen to him, he thought. His friends stood up all at the same time and began to cheer for him. “Don’t give up,” he can hear them say.
When they stood face to face again, Paul did not know what to do. Maxie tackled Paul and onto the mat and fell again. He almost couldn’t breathe now, as he was pinned down on the ground, his head locked in his opponent’s muscled arm. He closed his eyes, and searched for whatever strength, his body still has. But as soon as he closed his eyes, a sickening vision emerged once again. It was the girl, crying in bed, being crushed by a big naked man on top. No! He shook his head and fought hard to break free from the lock in. He opened his eyes in disgust and anger, his eyes red, tears streaming down his face.
“What is this?” Mrs. Kristine Marquez shouted from the gym entrance. The School Principal was in apparent outrage at what she had just witnessed. Zardo stood behind her. He was the one who reported the incident to her.
“Good afternoon, Principal Marquez,” the students greeted her. The two teachers looked away, disappointed that the fun is over.
“Stop this immediately. Coach Lawler and Mr. Handler, please report to my office now. The two men dismissed the boys, who all proceeded to the lockers limping in pain. As Paul slowly stood from the mat, he looked at Mr. Handler in the eyes. You’ll never win… no matter what.
Mr. Handler feigned a smile directed at Paul. Deep inside, he was frustrated. He wanted to see this boy mangled and defeated. He wanted to hear him beg for mercy.
Just when they thought the whole thing was over, they were blocked by the wrestlers on the way to the shower room.
“You don’t belong here, rats. You can’t use our shower.”
Peter pleaded, but the wrestlers won’t take heed. They laughed at them and called out, “Don’t forget to wash the uniforms you borrowed from us!”
The team walked out of the gym, still wearing the uniforms. They headed to the detention room, and were welcomed by Tom’s gang. The three pissed boys were about to pounce on the losers, but they, too, were turned off by the stench.
Mr. Handler arrived, unmoved and even more repelled by the group.
“What a disappointment. I was expecting you’ll all be kicking each other’s butts by the time I arrive. You have to be fast, seize the moment,” he said in jest. “You scoundrels have smeared my name and reputation once again. You have managed to put me in a bad light with our Principal, no less,” Mr. Handler was obviously furious, but keeping his temper in control. “I promise you I’ll make it easy for all of you. The next time you instigate a brawl in my school grounds,” he paused and gave each of them a piercing look, “I will personally make sure you are kicked out of this institution! Especially you.” His voice was low and commanding. He was looking at Paul and his friends.
“I am sure people will enjoy talking about Mr. Handler kicking the ‘kickers’ OUT... the losers.”
No one spoke until they were a good distance away from the school. Paul was still grimacing in pain, but somehow he felt happy. He remembered how the group stood bravely against Tom’s group, and how Peter took a blow to the face to protect him. He also remembered how the team rallied behind him as he was about to be crushed by Maxie. They all felt physical pain, but they stuck together, like true friends are.
“Hey, kickers, why are you limping? That’s the new move now?” some random kids passed by, laughing at them.
“Kickers?” Scott and Andy chorused.
“Isn’t that what Mr. Handler called us?” Joey tried to recall.
“Yep. Mr. Handler kept calling us the kickers, as if he thinks it’s so cool,” Fox said in sarcasm. They were all ready to laugh, but felt the same throbbing pain all over their bodies.
“Maybe that’s what the kids in school call us,” Peter joined in.
“Well, thanks to karate kid, we are now known as a bunch of kickers,” Fox reminded everyone, still in sarcasm.
“Well, what do you know? I don’t think the name ‘Royals’ suits us any better now. Don’t you get it? We are famous now, and for that name... The Kickers!” Peter was almost shouting at the top of his voice.
“D’ Kickers, yeah,” Fox agreed.
“D’ Kickers,” they all yelled, attempting to pull some high-fives, but failed.
“So does it mean we’ll train for tai... taikwonfoo?” Scott asked.
“Here we go again…” Peter managed to lift his leg to kick Scott, while everybody laughed and cheered on.
“D’ Kickers,” they all chanted over and over, followed by cries of pain. “Ouch… ouch… ouch!”