Principal Lesley was displeased.
While she always kept her air of cool impartiality, her expressions calculated and her judgements void of emotions as expected from a figurehead of an elite high school, Max could tell from the stiffness of her upper lip.
“Explain. Yourselves,” she said, emphasising both words. “Why are two of Ackerley’s top athletes fighting like animals at a regional wrestling tournament?”
Technically, Max wanted to say, the whole point of that tournament had been to fight like animals. You give us perks and special privileges to be beasts on the mat, and we fetch your school esteem and shiny new trophies to display in the hallway.
If only the fighting had stayed contained to the mat. Max wisely held his mouth shut, not only because talking still hurt due to that sucker punch in the jaw he’d had the pleasure of receiving.
Principal Lesley’s hands folded in front of her chest, waiting for a reply. The silence lingered, until the boy next to Max shifted and cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry Principal Lesley. I don’t know what came over me,” the boy apologised. “I think it was the competitive environment and the stress. It won’t happen again.”
Max resisted the urge to roll his eyes, as Principal Lesley was watching them like a hawk. He did shoot the boy next to him a glare. Typical Axel Cortés response. He looked like the epitome of an innocent school Golden Boy, with his big brown eyes wide, and his brows furrowed with genuine regret™. Even his skin was an almost golden tinge of brown.
Max knew better. Just like there were green and blue bruises on Axel’s skin, souvenirs from their tournament fight hidden below his shirt, his Golden Boy act was rotten below the surface. He was a fake, always putting up a goodie-goodie show for Principal Lesley. Axel had seemed quite happy to fight him, not at all like it was a slip up caused by environment or stress.
Principal Lesley expelled a deep sigh. “What am I going to do with you two?” she asked. A rhetorical question. Max knew she was going to do nothing in the end. Nothing to take both himself and Axel out of the running at least, because they wouldn’t be able to bring in the sparkling prizes.
Besides, their biggest offence was showing a lack of group cohesion. Even though Max and Axel were the captain of two different wrestling teams, they were still both from Ackerley high school, and were expected to show some semblance of sportsmanship and support to the other. Support that wasn’t really there, and their Principal knew it.
Max’ eyes snapped to Axel when the latter suddenly extended a hand to him. “I’m sorry for overreacting.”
Axel’s acting was on point, with a regretful smile and eyebrows now raised so high they wrinkled his forehead. It made Max want to barf. But, if Max didn’t shake his hand, he’d end up looking like the bad guy in this situation. Touché. Max gritted his teeth, grudgingly taking Axel’s hand and giving it a firm shake. They needed to trick their Principal at least a little. Max was convinced there’d be no consequences, but if they pushed too far, she would be forced to do something.
“I’m sorry too,” Max murmured, eyes trained on Axel’s hand. The words physically hurt to spit out.
Principal Lesley sighed again, opening her cabinet and pulling out some sort of form. Clicking her pen open, she rapidly started jotting down words. “I’m sending you off with a warning. But if this happens again, I’ll be forced to take action.”
“I understand,” Axel said.
“Okay,” Max added.
Principal Lesley looked up from her paper. “Off you go then, gentlemen.”
She didn’t need to say that twice. Both young men quickly stood and exited the stuffy office.
Once they were out, Axel made his Beauty and the Beast transformation. Except, his was inverted. He went from a Prince to a Beast, his slanted eyebrows dropping into a glare, his face contorting into a grimace.
“This is not going to our parents,” he told Max, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I want to have a nice winter break.”
Max rolled his eyes. “Obviously it’s not going to my mom.”
At least Lesley didn’t mention calling their parents either. Too terrified they’d be pulled from their respective wrestling team, and there would be a blemish on the school’s name. Max knew his mom wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to gossip, so he didn’t blame Lesley. Hell, he didn’t want to give her any more gossip material either. A shudder ran down Max’ back at the memory of what happened last time he gave her gossip ammunition. Nope, far as his parents knew, this thing between himself and Axel was just a heated, if not mostly friendly rivalry.
Axel snorted. “Obviously? I thought you and your mom would be dying for another PR stunt right about now. The attention for your latest ‘scandal’ is waning, you know.”
“You jelly Golden Boy, that people actually pay attention to my life?” Max shot back, though his stomach shrank.
“Pay attention to you? Hah!” Axel sniggered. “Even with your mom producing a tabloid headline like: ‘My Son, the Brave Bisexual Wrestler!’ literally nobody in the school cares about you. Not even your wrestling team. All they care about is your mom’s money, which is funding their fancy equipment. They’ll even tolerate stuff like,” Axel put on a high voice, imitating Max’ mom, “oh my son Max is so brave, coming and and being openly queer in such a hostile athletic environment and being the captain of his wrestling team.”
“That’s rich coming from you, Golden Boy,” Max spat, “while you’re pretending to be pure and waiting until marriage for your fake goodie-goodie image. Oh! He’s so dreamy and mature and helpful! They should see how you act when nobody’s watching. All you care about is yourself. Your own scholarship and career. Nobody and nothing else.” Max raised his chin, defiantly. “And for your information: we went to a nice, fancy dinner with food you could never afford in your life with the money earned from that tabloid headline. In fact, the only reason you can ever afford nice food is when your parents are mooching off of my parents during their monthly dinners.”
Axel’s eyes narrowed. “That’s right. I care about my scholarship and my career, Desera. And you’re not taking it away from me.”
Max matched Axel’s glare. “And I didn’t force you to fight me, Golden Boy- shouldn’t let yourself get so easily provoked in your position.”
Axel crossed his arms, and Max sniffed disdainfully. They stared each other down, both knowing fully well they couldn’t start a fight right outside the the Principal’s office in the hallway, nor could they raise their voice or cuss, lest someone hear them and get them in real trouble. While nobody wanted them expelled, they were on thin ice. They both could never afford getting their parents involved. Max, because he didn’t want the punishment from his mom. Axel, because he had his Golden Boy image to protect.
This was pointless. Max rolled his shoulders. “I’m through wasting my time. See you at dinner Friday, Cortés.”
Axel’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “See you at dinner.”
Max swung his bag over his shoulder, turned, and started walking. He already dreaded dinner, and having to act relatively decent in front of all the parents, including Axel’s.
If only his and Axel’s mom weren’t college friends.