Ralph sighed as he pulled into the school car park. Looking in the rear view mirror as he reversed into a space, he ran a hand through his not so fair hair and turned off the engine. Locking his car he began to head to the main building, lost in thought.
It was the same thought that often came to him late at night, when sleep was hard to find. Or on the train to work, surrounded by noise but hearing nothing. Those times when you're left with only your mind for company, no matter how much you'd rather not be. And to be perfectly honest, Ralph hated those times. He frequently found himself wanting to walk out on his brains endless ramblings of what where and why, but being unable to do so, had had to suffer hours of ongoing questions he couldn't answer and regrets he couldn't forget.
He was pulled from his thoughts by something hitting his leg. He looked down to see a small boy, perhaps only six or seven, recover from the collision before muttering an apology and running on.
Ralph sighed again looking at the boy. He appeared to be playing war, or something of the sort. Then further on from him and his friends were the senior boys playing basketball on the courts. "Always against each other." He muttered to himself. Almost immediately, he mentally berated himself. That was what he had been trying to avoid for years, forever, even. His mind seemed to do it on purpose though. Stick it in there, just when he might forget. It was against him, he was convinced.
He stood and watched the boys for a few more minutes. Both puzzling over the what's and why's of his previous thought, while trying to avoid it all together. Needless to say it wasn't working too well. Then, after a final glance, he continued into the school.
"Mr. Morgan's office please?" Ralph inquired at the office.
"Ah yes, Mr. Johns?" Ralph nodded at the question. "He's waiting for you inside, and your sons waiting outside. First door on the left." The secretary told him. Ralph nodded and followed her instructions.
Ralph looked up to see his seventeen-year-old son stand up to greet him, holding an ice pack to the side of his head.
"What on earth happened Josh?" Ralph asked somewhat irritated.
"I can explain everything." Josh replied.
"You bloomin' well better be able to. I get a call in the middle of a conference telling me you've been in a fight. What were you thinking? Or is that just it? You weren't thinking."
"Dad. Chill out. I--"
"Chill out? Chill out?" Ralph asked his voice rising. "Look at you, you're bleeding. I thought I bought you up better than this!"
"Dad, would you keep your voice down and let me explain?"
"Explain? What is there to explain? You got in a fight! You attacked another boy."
Josh's expression turned from patience to anger. "I didn't attack anyone. He attacked me. All I did was fight him off me." He seethed
"For goodness sake Josh, people don't randomly attack other people."
Josh scowled at his father. "You know that's a lie."
"Don't take that tone with me young man."
"Why not? That's the only tone you ever take with me."
"You watch your mouth. When I was your age I would never have spoken to my father like that."
"That's because your father was dead." Josh hissed. Almost immediately realising he'd over stepped the mark, he hung his head and braced for the impact of his father smacking him.
"Uh, excuse me." Josh and Ralph turned to face Mr. Morgan, the headmaster, watching them from the door of his office. "Perhaps you two would like to save this for a more appropriate time." He advised in a firm tone. Both Ralph and Josh nodded. Mr. Morgan was well known throughout the community for his strictness and firmness of all matters concerning his school and pupils. Regardless of who was involved. "If you'd like to join us inside."
Ralph and Josh followed him to a large office, with a grand style desk, and two people already sitting next to it.
"Please take a seat." Mr. Morgan told them. Both sat down next to the two people already seated - the young boy also involved in the fight, and presumably his father.
"Right, so where do we begin? Perhaps, Harvey, you'd like to start."
Harvey made the face only teenagers are capable of that, they use when they clearly don't appreciate what you're doing, and nodded once at his headmaster.
Mr. Morgan raised an eyebrow at his expression but said nothing.
"There's nothing to say." Harvey grunted, the way teenage boys do. "He was being a smart mouth so I gave him what he deserved."
"Mr. Merridew, violence is not acceptable in any circumstances--"
Ralph's eyes widened. Merridew?
"What if someone's killing your family?" Harvey asked smugly.
"Mr. Merridew, do not stray from the subject. Besides those of us with enough brain power would be able to talk someone out of killing our family."
"Only those of us with big mouths." Harvey replied, the same smug expression still on his face.
Mr. Morgan raised his eyebrow again and stared intently and Harvey. "You'll do well to remember your place young man. Brute strength isn't always enough to save your family from murder."
Harvey was clearly confused by this comment. Brains obviously not his speciality.
Ralph turned slowly towards the man sitting next to Harvey and stared.
"Mr. Johns? Mr. Johns?" Mr. Morgan inquired.
"Dad!" Josh hissed nudging him.
Ralph shook his head and looked at the floor for a moment, confused before looking up at Mr. Morgan. "Yes?"
"Is there something you'd like to say?"
"Uh… no. I'm… uh… fine. Sorry." Ralph replied trying to recover.
"Okay. Perhaps Mr. Johns you'd like to give your side of the story."
Josh looked from his father to his headmaster. "Yeah. Jug-head over there--"
"Mr. Johns. Please try to remember we're in secondary school now. Name calling is highly year 5, as is fighting, so please just tell us the story." Mr. Morgan interrupted.
Josh rolled his eyes and nodded. "Fine." He continued.
Ralph failed to hear it though. Merridew? No. It couldn't be. There had to be at least a million Merridew's in the world, if not more, and for that Merridew to be in the same place as him? It was highly unlikely. Besides surely if it was Jack, he would have recognised his surname… Or not. Jack was the only one who ever gave his surname. Ralph shifted uncomfortably in his seat. No. It couldn't be.
"That is still no excuse for hitting someone Mr. Johns." Mr. Morgan's voice interrupted Ralph's tense thoughts.
"What was I supposed to do? He had a knife! He was trying to kill me." Josh replied.
"A what?" Ralph asked alarmed.
"Mr. Merridew, you do realise that having a knife on school grounds is an offence punishable by expulsion?" Mr. Morgan inquired.
Ralph was unsure as to which Merridew Morgan was talking to, but was surprised when Mr. Merridew, the father, supported his son in possessing the weapon.
"Mr. Morgan, it was a birthday gift. He merely bought it in to show his friends."
"May I remind you Mr. Merridew, boasting is extremely frowned upon within schools."
"He only bought it in to show his friends his favourite birthday gift."
"You should seriously reconsider your parenting skills Mr. Merridew if you feel that a knife is an appropriate gift for a child, and then think that it is suitable that child brings it in school."
"They're hardly children."
"They are teenagers. Therefore they are children. May I please see the knife?"
Ralph tensed up.
"I don't appreciate you talking to me as a child, Mr. Morgan, and I doubt Mr. Johns does either."
"Just show him the knife." Ralph almost growled in anticipation.
Merridew looked taken aback, but quickly regained his composure. "Harvey show them the knife. Gentleman you'll see it is harmless."
"I have no doubt the knife itself is harmless, it's the person using it I worry about."
Merridew faked a smile of agreement and watched as his son take out the knife.
Ralph watched as though the scene was unfolding in slow motion. Harvey slowly pulled out the knife. The blade came first then the handle and finally he removed his hand so the weapon was entirely visible.
"You!" Ralph screamed standing up and pointing at Merridew.
Merridew looked taken aback, before he himself looked at the knife and then to Ralph. A smirk played across his lips for a split second before he looked at Ralph "confused".
"Uh… yes?" He asked slowly.
"It's you. You filthy, disgusting--"
"Mr. Johns, please calm down. We all have our opinions on those who still support the weapon laws, but that is no need to over react."
Ralph ignored him. "It's you. Jack. You make me sick. Sitting there as though you never did anything. You arrogant stuck up fool!" he hissed.
"Mr. Johns. I'm going to have to ask you to calm down or get out. This is no place for such behaviour. Especially when you're supposed to be setting an example to your son." Mr. Morgan informed him.
Ralph looked at Morgan and then to Josh, who was looking away, presumably for a hole he could crawl into.
"Now perhaps you owe Mr. Merridew an apology."
Ralph nearly choked. An apology?
"No need." Merridew interrupted cheerfully. "Obviously just a case of mistaken identity. My fault really, I never introduced myself. I'm Jonathon Merridew." He said holding out his hand.
Ralph looked at it as though it was some sort of vermin, but reluctantly shook it. "Ralph Johns."
Merridew raised and lowered his eyebrows in acknowledgement. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Yes. You too." Ralph replied forcing a smile.
The rest of the meeting was uneventful. Ralph sat there uncomfortably trying hard not to fume. He knew perfectly well it was Jack sitting a chair away from him, and Jack had played it off as though nothing had ever happened. He'd made Ralph looked the fool for a second time in front of people.
"What on earth was that?" Jonathon heard Josh hiss to Ralph as they left the office.
Ralph didn't reply, or if he did Jonathon didn't hear him.
"Come on Harvey, how do you feel about Golding's for dinner?" He asked his son.
Harvey looked at his father confused. "Dad? I just got suspended and you want to go out for dinner?"
"Well we can always go home and I can ground you if you'd prefer." Jonathon replied a touch annoyed. "I'm in a good mood. Don't ruin it. Now how about Golding's?"
"Dad that's the most expensive restaurant in town."
"So? Like I said I'm in a good mood. Now do you want to go or not?"
"Yeah sure why not?"
"Good. And I'll tell you the story of that knife I gave you." Jonathon said
"It'd better not be boring." Harvey warned.
"It's not. Long, but not boring."
"Good." Jonathon smiled, climbing into his car. Reversing out of his space and driving out of the car park the smile was still on his face. In fact, it remained there for the rest of the month. But he had reason to be happy. For he, Jack Merridew, had, in his eyes, just gotten one over his life long enemy. Ralph Johns.
Morgan sighed as he watched from his office window Ralph and Jack leave the school from his office window. Turning around he sat down in his chair and pressed the intercom button on his phone. A moment later a man about his own age entered the room.
"So how'd it go?" the man asked.
"I told you they'd never learn Eric. I guess you owe me that fiver." Sam replied.