This asshole is tougher than I thought. Behind the screaming and cursing of our classmates, the teacher’s voice shouts at me to let go. I didn’t start this fight but I’m sure as hell gonna finish it. Only a defected moron would let someone still struggling out of a choke hold, which I’m not. The more he struggles the tighter my arms get around his neck. As soon as I see Principal Abrams rush in with the security guards, I lose the tension in my arms and roll to my back. Strong hands grab the front of my white t-shirt, jerking me to my feet.
“Torrez,” Principal Abrams’ hands shake with pent up frustration. I meet his eyes with my own, they seem to reflect everything but see nothing. Behind his eyes was something more intense than the usual disappointment. I had been hoping for, perhaps not outright forgiveness, but a slap on the wrist. Now I just hope to get through this without getting suspended. God knows he’s given me enough chances to get my shit together.
“My office now!” He shouts, shoving me back a few steps. I grab my backpack off my desk and leave the classroom without a word. My body aches as I walk the familiar path down to the office, the adrenaline is wearing off. I nod at the secretary and drop on to the bench outside the Principal’s office. My knuckles are cracked and bloody, and by the taste of familiar cooper tang in my mouth, I know my lip is busted. There is no way I can hide this fight from my brother. Another wave of disappointment washes over me. It hasn’t even been a week since the last time my ass warmed this bench.
I glared at the five-point crown tattoo on my forearm. A reminder that I’m a King. As if I could forget who owns me. Our gang ran like a pack of dogs. Some of us were fueled with fear and others with hatred. There was no honor. With a single look or nod from the head we took action. I hated it, but it was better to be a dog in a big group than a loner. Loners get killed in this neighborhood.
A firm hand comes down on my shoulder pulling me out of thoughts. Mr. Abrams’ dark brown eyes meet mine. He goes for a soft smile, but it does nothing to mask his frustration.
“Come one.” His voice is heavy with exhaustion. I sling my backpack over my shoulder and follow him into his office.
“I didn’t start it.” I say quickly, dropping into the familiar seat.
“I left you out on that bench for fifteen minutes and the best you have for me is I didn’t start it?”
My shoulders come up in a shrug. He knows. He knows about the gang I run with. He knows I have no choice.
“Alright, two weeks suspension. Give me your school ID.”
Dread fills my stomach, locking it up tight. The tremor in my hands begin.
He arches his eyebrows when I don’t move . “Your school badge, Torrez.”
Burning rage hisses through my body like poison. I swallow it down and quickly, pull off the lanyard from around my neck and toss it onto the desk between us. Profanity slips from Mr. Abrams’ guarded lips as both his fits slam onto the desk. A picture frame near the corner of the desk falls to the floor.
“Honor roll student by day and a damn thug by night. Is that the life you want, Torrez?”
My eyes sting with emotion as I struggle to keep my temper in check. “Give me detention. Give me in school suspension. Don’t take me out of school, sir.”
“Why?” The tension builds between us. ” We’ve been down this road so many times before, Jayden. Nothings changing for you, son.”
I want to tell him to go to hell but swallow my retort and let the silence stretch between us.
“I buried another student this morning, Jayden.” Mr. Abrams says slowly, as if his brain still needs time to process his words. “He was stabbed a few blocks from this school. Just sixteen years old. As they carried his body body out of the church all I could think about is you.”
My anger leaves me the moment I realize I’m the reason for the look in his eyes. I try to say something but my mind is blank and my lips won’t move.
“I’m so tired.” Mr. Abrams continues slowly. “I’m tired of seeing your face in my office, Jayden. Especially when you come in here with your face all busted. I’m tired of you making me promises that you’ll stay out of trouble only for them to be broken.”
“I’m trying.” My throat feels constricted and it comes out in a whisper.
“Try harder. Damn it, Jayden! Try harder! Next time a fight breaks out, leave the classroom. Come to my office!”
“Sir, I respect you because you don’t bullshit me. Don’t start now.” My eyes are glued to the crown, chaining me down to something I have no desire to be a part of.
“Can’t you see I’m trying to help you, kid? I’ve been in these run down schools for fourteen years. I’ve never wanted to see someone succeed like I want to see you succeed. I need to see you succeed, Jayden.”
“Then don’t take me out of school.” I say attempting a smile and quickly abandoning it as the pain radiates from my swollen lip. The piety is clear in Mr. Abrams eyes as they meet mine.
“Take your badge, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He breaths out. With a sigh, his shoulders fall in defeat.
“Can I get another book, too?” I ask quickly, taking the badge off his desk and placing it around my neck afraid he’ll change his mind. “I finished the last one and left it with your secretary.”
Before he has a chance to answer, I’m already walking over to the bookcase. My eyes scan over the familiar titles, looking for something I haven’t read yet.
“Top shelf. Right side.” Mr Abram says over his shoulder. “It’s new. I think you’ll like it.”
I quickly shove the book into my worn backpack and sling it over my shoulder.
“Have a good weekend, Mr. Abrams.” I call over my shoulder not waiting for a reply.