Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 5

Instead of going to class after being dismissed from the office, I dashed through the front doors of the school, chasing after Sheriff Gibbs.

“Sheriff! Wait!” I yelled at him.

He stopped, waiting for me with a perplexed look on his face.

“You saw what happened in there, right? Mr. Packer was obviously trying to frame me. He took that weed from the football players, didn’t punish them or call you about it, set up the locker search, and then put it in my locker. Just so he could have me arrested. He’s been trying to get me expelled since the beginning of the school year. That’s gotta be illegal, filing a false report, right?”

“If it could be proved, yes. Although it would be a misdemeanor at best. Except, it can’t be proved. His explanation is plausible, and we can’t arrest someone who just made a mistake. It’s only filing a false report if we can prove that he knowingly called us on false pretenses, and I can’t prove that.”

“But you don’t believe him, right? You saw through that bullshit in there.”

He sighed and said, “Even if I did think something didn’t seem right, I can’t take action based on what I think about a situation, only what I can prove. I know this is frustrating for you, but my job is to enforce the law using facts and evidence. He obviously dislikes you, but you’re one student in an entire school that he’s responsible for. It might feel like you’re being specifically targeted, but if you really think about it, you’ll realize that doesn’t seem likely.”

I wanted to tear my hair out. It felt like I was going in circles.

“Sheriff, you know he planted that in my locker. I know you know it.”

“Charlie, I don’t know how many ways I can say this. I only know what I can prove, and I can’t prove anything happened. Right now, the smart thing would be for you to just keep your head down. Try to stay off his radar and get through the school year. If he really is out to get you, and I’m not saying I agree that he is, then your best course of action is to not give him any ammunition he can use against you.”

“What if he makes up the ammunition?” I asked desperately. “I can’t avoid getting in trouble if he’s setting up things to punish me for when I’m not even there. What if I hadn’t recognized that bag? Would you have arrested me for possession on his word alone? How do I ‘keep my head down’ and ‘don’t give him ammunition’ when I’m getting in trouble for things I didn’t do? I can’t stay out of trouble if someone makes up stuff for me to get in trouble over.”

Having the decency to at least look sympathetic, he said, “Charlie, all I can say is do your best. It’s not easy, but sometimes that’s all we can do.”

He had to know I was right. Unfortunately, I also knew he couldn’t actually do anything. I appreciated that he had such a strong set of ethics around his job, since there’d been a few situations where he’d been pushed hard by people like Aaron’s father to ignore those ethics. He hadn’t, and it had saved me from a lot of trouble. Ethics needed to be checked by realism, though. There wasn’t proof for everything, especially when the people doing it actively tried to get rid of the proof. Sometimes, common sense needed to step in to keep a problem from getting worse.

“I know it’s frustrating, Charlie,” he continued. “If things are happening the way you described them, the best thing you can do is avoid being in situations where things can be turned against you. I heard about what happened with the school newspaper. You weren’t involved in writing the article, you weren’t on the school newspaper, and yet somehow you ended up in the middle of it, between the kid who wrote the article and the administration. Can you see how you put yourself in a situation you didn’t have to be in?”

“What should I have done? Am I just supposed to stand by while my friends are being singled out by corrupt school officials?”

“Charlie, I appreciate you want to help, but you have to think of this like defensive driving. If you believe you’re being targeted, be cautious, and avoid unnecessary risks. The other kids have parents who are responsible for them, and who are just as capable of helping their kids as you are. You don’t need to take the world on your shoulders.”

“I can’t just sit around while bad things happen,” I said.

“Then you have to accept the risk that comes with it. Doing things for the right reason doesn’t protect you from the consequences.”

“I guess,” I muttered, feeling sullen.

He wasn’t wrong. I knew Mr. Packer had it in for me, and I’d still gotten in his way several times, even when I hadn’t done anything. Since school started again, I’d done my best to follow the sheriff’s advice, but it hadn’t mattered.

The sheriff turned to leave then paused, looked back at me, and said, “Sydney’s mother wanted us to invite you over for a meal, now that you two are dating. I know you play at the Blue Ridge most weekend nights, but why don’t you come by this Saturday and have lunch with us?”

“Really?” I said, surprised.

Sheriff Gibbs had made it clear, time and time again, that he didn’t particularly like me and that he thought I was a magnet for trouble. He was the last person I expected to invite me for lunch.

“Yes. In spite of my advice, my daughter apparently sees something in you, and I guess I have to accept you’re going to be around, regardless of what I want. Come have lunch with us. We can pretend to at least be cordial. It’ll make Sydney and her mother happy.”

I bit off the sarcastic remark about not being able to turn down such a friendly offer. Although I could do without his constant reminders that he didn’t like me, he was at least trying. And he was right, if I was going to date Sydney, I needed to at least be civil with her family.

“Sure. That sounds great.”

“Fine. Now go back to class before you give Mr. Packer another reason to discipline you.”

On Tuesday, David intercepted me on my way to practice at the end of the day, flushed and looking excited.

“They posted it!” he said excitedly, trying to catch his breath.

“Posted what?” I asked, raising an eyebrow unconsciously.

“The team rosters.”

“Did you look at them? What team are we on?” I asked, equally as excited now.

In spite of my run-in with Marco overshadowing tryouts, I’d spent the weekend thinking about it. I hadn’t realized it until getting out on the field, but I really wanted to play baseball again, and I wanted to redeem myself for not being there for the team during the playoffs last year.

“No, there was a crowd, and I wanted to find you. I thought we could go check together.”

“Alright, then,” I said, clapping him on the back. “Let’s go look.”

The locker room buzzed with life, filled with kids getting ready for practice. Excited chatter mingled with the clanking of metal lockers and I paused for a moment, taking in the familiar scent of sweat, worn leather, and cleaning products. There was something comforting about it. David tugged at my arm, eager to get to the roster.

We weaved our way through the crowd and found the rosters posted outside Coach Dean’s office, which sat at the far end of the locker room, right before the exit that led to the field.

I knew I’d had a great performance and shouldn’t worry, but my heart pounded in my chest, and my muscles tingled with anxiety as I scanned the list for my name. A wave of relief washed over me when I finally saw my name.

“There,” David said, his finger stabbing at our names. “See, what did I tell you? No sweat. You were worried for nothing.”

I shook my head, half-smiling. “Not for nothing. I did okay, but other guys did too. Plus, you all practiced a lot more since last season. I was feeling rusty.”

“Rusty?” David laughed, playfully punching me in the arm. “You’re the only guy who hit one over the fence during tryouts!”

I allowed myself a moment to enjoy my success. Between this and the shows Warren had lined up for the band, things were finally starting to look up. Now, I just needed to deal with my dad and Mr. Packer.

My moment of bliss was interrupted by the locker room doors swinging open with a loud bang as they slammed into the white-painted brick walls. I knew who it was by the look on David’s face. Turning to peer over my shoulder, I saw Harry and Paul strutting in like they owned the place, alternating between fist bumps with friends and hurling insults at others they didn’t like or thought they could get away with bullying. Their arrogance practically oozed from them. I wasn’t the only one annoyed with their grand entry. I could feel the energy in the room dampen as they waltzed in.

“What assholes,” David muttered beside me.

They made their way to the posted rosters, and Harry’s eyes locked with mine, a stupid grin spreading across his stupid face.

“Well, look who it is. Charlie and his little sidekick,” he sneered. “They put you on the freshman squad, rockstar?”

Harry brushed past me, deliberately slamming his shoulder into mine as he moved to stand directly in front of the rosters, blocking anyone else from seeing them, his finger tracing down the list.

“Knew it,” he declared triumphantly, his finger stopping on a name. Turning, he practically pressed his back against the roster, blocking it even more, and announced loudly, “Looks like you ladies might win something after all this year. Had Coach not dropped us last year, we probably would have won playoffs. I guess we all know now what happens if you let a fag lead the team.”

I gritted my teeth, trying to calm down. It wasn’t that I took anything he said to heart. Harry was an idiot, and I couldn’t care less about his opinions. It’s just that his every action, his voice, and most importantly, his stupid face, made me irrationally angry. I knew that was my father in me, the inability to control my temper, and I tried to push it down.

David must have seen me struggling because he grabbed my shoulder and said, “Come on. He’s not worth it.”

I growled and let him pull me away, which only made Harry’s stupid grin widen even more. Honestly, I was shocked Coach had put them on varsity at all. He’d made a big deal about how important sportsmanship was, and these two had the lowest sense of teamwork I’d ever seen, except maybe for Aaron, who had thought he was the entire team. I hoped this wouldn’t sour my entire season, but considering my luck lately, it seemed very likely.

Wednesday, the temperatures dropped while I was at school. It hadn’t started snowing yet, but it was bitterly cold during baseball practice and then at band practice, too. At least in the garage, we had the space heaters. Even with my heavy coat, I was practically a popsicle by the time I got home. Thankfully, the house was nice and warm. For a moment I just leaned against the front door, thawing out.

The house itself was quiet. That wasn’t unexpected since I knew Mrs. Philips had a late showing, so I almost missed the faint sounds of someone crying, which was barely audible over the hum of the heater. Throwing my jacket on the back of a chair, I traced the sound to the living room where I found Kat curled up on the couch with her face buried in her hands. Her shoulders shaking slightly with each wracking sob.

“Kat?” I asked gently, staying back a bit, so I didn’t startle her.

She lifted her face out of her hands and looked over at me. I hadn’t seen her like this in a while. The bright, fierce demeanor she’d had since early in the summer was gone, replaced by a fragile, anxious girl gripped by her own emotions. Her eyeliner was smudged, leaving dark tracks running down her cheeks. Seeing her like this, my heart ached for her.

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