Note: I don't own Four Brothers, Rock N' Roll Singer by AC/DC, or Shooting Star by Bad Company. This was written for the "Back to School" September prompt on GHMB. This is a one shot for now but I may expand on it later.
Gonna Be A Rock N' Roll Star
I'm gonna hit the big time
Gonna be a big star someday
"I don't need to go to school anymore."
Evelyn stilled her hand on the spoon she was stirring the cookie dough with, startled for a moment at the declaration from her youngest. She started back up again, easily getting back into the rhythm, hoping Jack hadn't noticed her reaction. She still had to be careful around him.
"Is that so?" she asked casually, dusting some flour on a cutting board.
She opened a drawer and pulled out her rolling pin, handing it to Jack who decided to twirl it around his fingers like a baton, wincing as he fumbled it and it clattered on the floor. He bent to pick it up. "Yeah."
"And why is that?" She put a big chunk of the dough on the cutting board, dusting more flour on top of it. Jack was helping her make sugar cookies, a spur of the moment project she had thought of that afternoon. He'd looked nervous and distracted earlier in the day – of course he'd told her he was fine, but she hadn't believed him for a second.
She'd recently discovered he enjoyed helping her cook and it gave her a chance to have some one on one time with him. He seemed to open up much easier when he was distracted with tasks like measuring baking soda and mashing potatoes. Her youngest was a tough one to get talking, so she took every opportunity she could get.
Jack grabbed one of the kitchen stools and sat down. "Well, I've got my music now."
He said it so seriously and with so much conviction, that Evelyn had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. She didn't want to hurt his feelings.
"Your music, huh?" she asked, trying to keep her tone light. She had to give him credit, it was at least a little more realistic than when Bobby told her she never had to work a day in her life again because some guys had offered him a cut of some deal. He was sixteen at the time and she never did find out just what it was he was talking about. She always figured that was for the best.
"Did you guys get a big record deal I wasn't aware of?"
Jack looked down at the floor and started to swing his legs back and forth. "Nah, not yet," he admitted.
Jack was a member of a band, a term Evelyn used very loosely. They were a mishmash of kids from the neighborhood and one or two Jack knew from his classes at the middle school. There was a drummer, a keyboardist, a singer, and Jack on guitar. There were also some girls who were backup singers, but whenever Evelyn spied on them practicing in the neighbor's garage, they were just giggling in the corner. Last she saw, they had somehow acquired a clarinet player. She doubted they had yet to make it all the way through a single song.
"Well, you should stay in school until that record deal comes through, don't you think?" She started rolling out the dough, hoping to make it look like she wasn't completely focused on their conversation. If she pushed too much, he'd clam up and she'd never find out what was really bothering him.
He shifted in his seat and shrugged. "I don't see why. I don't need school if I'm famous."
"You don't get famous over night, honey. It takes time. And it helps to have a good head on your shoulders, to get your diploma." She opened a cabinet and pulled out a Tupperware container full of metal cookie cutters and handed it to him. "Pick out the ones you want to use."
Jack blindly grabbed one from the bucket and handed it to her. She raised an eyebrow at his choice, clearly one he wasn't aware he had made, and her mouth quirked into a grin.
She could tell he was fighting a smile. "Yeah," he said defensively as he squared his shoulders, "you got a problem with bunny rabbits?"
They both stared at each other for a few beats, almost daring the other to breakdown and laugh. Jack lost but Evelyn quickly followed.
Bobby walked in to find his little brother and mother laughing hysterically. He was favoring his left ankle and limping slightly. Obviously having just rolled out of bed, his hair was sticking up and his t-shirt and boxer shorts were a wrinkled mess.
"It is way too early to be so fucking happy," Bobby growled as he opened the refrigerator and pulled out the orange juice. He was about to drink from the carton when Evelyn loudly cleared her throat and held out a glass for him. "Just testing ya, Ma," he said with a wink.
"Bullshit. And it's not early," Evelyn informed him as he poured a glass of juice and returned the carton to the fridge. "It's after one."
"Which is damn early when you work until three," Bobby reasoned, grabbing the remaining stool and sitting down next to Jack. "I need to find a new gig. Being a bouncer is wearing me out." He moved his head from left to right, groaning as his neck cracked.
Bobby was going stir crazy, Evelyn could tell. He'd hurt his ankle during the pre-season and they were making him sit out a couple of weeks to give it time to heal. For once, he wasn't home because of a suspension, but that didn't make him any less antsy to get back out on the ice and find reasons to hit people. She glanced at his knuckles – they weren't bruised and swollen, which meant he'd had a quiet night at work. A fact she knew would piss him off.
"You go back soon, don't you?" Jack asked and Evelyn noticed the way his brow furrowed when he spoke. It took a while, but Bobby and Jack seemed to have formed a bond that the other boys hadn't been able to.
Something about Bobby made Jack feel safe and she knew it bothered him to have Bobby come and go from their lives so frequently. She was afraid how of Jack would react when Bobby stopped coming home altogether. She had a feeling Detroit was loosening its grip on her oldest and he would soon leave the nest for good. Part of her ached at the thought of not having him around, but another feared for the future he'd have if he did stay. He was only going to be able to get a couple more years out of hockey – even without his record number of suspensions, time was catching up with him and the younger players were stealing his spotlight. He'd have to find something new; around here there wasn't much to choose from and she had a feeling his career path had already been chosen for him.
"Yeah, Jackie. Another week here and then I'm back on the ice." Bobby yawned, stretching his arms out and using it as an opportunity to reach over and mess up his brother's hair. "I'll be out of your hair in no time, sweetheart."
Jack pushed Bobby's hand away and said, "Good," but Evelyn could tell he really didn't mean it.
"So what were you guys talking about before I stumbled in here?" Bobby asked. He grabbed the container of cookie cutters and started rifling through them.
"Nothin'. Just making cookies," Jack explained.
Evelyn turned her attention back to the dough she had rolled out and she started cutting out bunny shaped cookies, placing them carefully on a cookie sheet. Evelyn debated what to say next, whether to involve Bobby in what they were discussing, but she knew Jack would listen to his older brother. "And don't forget your big announcement, Jack."
"Big announcement?" Bobby echoed, sitting up a little straighter.
Evelyn turned around and motioned for another cookie cutter, which Bobby handed over. "Jack is dropping out of school."
"Ma …" Jack started to protest, turning several shades of pink as he blushed.
"How can you be through with school at thirteen? At least I made it to sixteen." Bobby was shaking his head in disbelief and chuckling to himself.
Jack pointed to Bobby and looked at Evelyn. "See, told you so. He didn't get his diploma and I don't gotta get mine."
"Yes, sweetie, but he's beating people up in a bar for a living."
Bobby suddenly stopped laughing. "Hey! That ain't all I do. I play hockey."
"Which you can't do forever," Evelyn countered.
Bobby opened and shut his mouth, obviously deciding what to say next. He turned to Jack. "So what are you going to do if you don't go to school?" Evelyn was impressed, his tone was remarkably reasonable and calm.
"I've got my band."
Bobby snorted a laugh and Evelyn realized she had jumped the gun on thinking her oldest was going to handle things in a mature manner. "What, like The New Kids on the Block or some gay shit like that?" Bobby asked, shaking his head in amusement. "Pretty sure you've got the right stuff for that, princess."
"I don't even know what a New Kid on the Block is," Jack said, a confused look on his face.
"Whatever." Bobby dismissed the topic with a wave of his hand. "The point is, your band is a dumbass reason to drop out of school."
"As good a reason as any," Jack argued.
Bobby looked at him steadily; his mind was working and he narrowed his eyes. "There's somethin' else, ain't there? Somethin' that's bugging ya?"
Jack nervously ran his fingers through his hair, answering the question without using any words. "Nothin', man," he lied.
"Bullshit," Bobby exclaimed and then his expression grew cold and serious. "That Tony kid ain't after you again, is he?"
Jack shook his head. "Nah, his parents pulled him outta school after you busted his arm. Nobody's botherin' me, I swear. Besides, I can hold my own."
Bobby looked to Evelyn for confirmation and she nodded. She'd had more than one visit to the principal's office to discuss Jack and the fights he got into. Not nearly as many as Bobby, but he was fast approaching Jerry's record for days spent in detention.
"Good for you, kid," Bobby said, nodding appreciatively and Evelyn rolled her eyes. Leave it to Bobby to be impressed with violence.
"Okay, so it ain't someone beating the crap out of you for your milk money." Bobby started ticking off possible scenarios. "Teachers giving you a hard time 'cause you're a Mercer? You don't have the right sneakers on or some dumb shit like that? Some dickhead stole your girl? Or guy? Whichever."
"What?" Jack asked, a confused look on his face. "No, man. It ain't any of those. Just drop it, okay?" He pushed against the counter and hopped down from the stool.
"Hey, I'm only trying to help; you're the one running away from his problems like a little girl."
Jack turned around on his way out of the kitchen. "Why you always gotta do that, Bobby?"
"Be an asshole?"
Bobby clutched his hands over his chest, a hurt look on his face. "Jackie, I only pick on you because I care."
"I think I liked it better when you didn't," Jack muttered under his breath as he left the room. Evelyn could hear him trudging up the stairs, followed by the familiar sound of his door slamming.
"Bobby, that's not how I intended that to go," Evelyn scolded, feeling guilty at how things had turned out.
Bobby stood up and patted her on the arm. "Sorry, Ma. Give me a sec and I'll fix it, I swear." He left the kitchen and went to the bottom of the stairs. Jack hadn't turned his radio on yet and Bobby had a small window of opportunity before Jack put on his favorite heavy metal band and drowned out the whole house.
"Hey, Jackiepoo," Bobby yelled up the stairs. "I'll give you a ride to school tomorrow. How's that sound?"
"Fuck you, Bobby," Jack answered back.
"Be ready by seven-thirty."
"Go to hell."
"I love you too, little bro." Bobby turned around and winked at Evelyn. "See, Ma, all better."
He would never admit it to anyone, not in a million years, but Bobby had been right. Quitting school for his band was a bullshit excuse. He was kind of surprised Evelyn had fallen for it, but the more he thought about it the more certain he was that she was just humoring him. Adults had a habit of doing that and he always felt stupid when he realized later on what they were trying to do. At least Bobby came right out and said what he was thinking.
He had a reason, it just wasn't a very good one.
Walking down that crowded hallway, kids talking and shouting and shoving and laughing, he always felt a little out of place. It was stupid. He shouldn't feel that way. He had friends now and his band. He actually belonged and didn't have to feel like he should lean up against the wall, trying to disappear as life passed by him.
And the band was really his life; it was like something had woken up inside of him when Evelyn handed him her guitar. He finally felt like he had a purpose in life, that he wasn't a complete fuck up.
Speaking of the band, he had to remember to talk to Steve about his brother. The guy really sucked at the clarinet and was really throwing off their sound. He wasn't sure how his suggestion for a saxophonist had turned into Steve's kid brother playing the clarinet with them in the first place. He knew the other guys didn't take their music nearly as seriously as he did, but he still had to try and have some control and not let every jam session turn into the guys just sitting around talking about video games and comic books as the back-up singers did each other's nails. He didn't even want to get into it with the guys over the girls. They added nothing but a headache.
All in all, though, life was better than he could ever remember it being before. He knew he should just go with the flow and stop waiting for something to go wrong.
He made it to his locker with about ten minutes to spare – a new record, if he wasn't mistaken. Usually, he'd sneak out behind the school with his friends and smoke a couple of cigarettes before the bell for homeroom rang. But he knew Bobby had parked around the corner, waiting to catch him if decided to ditch. Bobby may be a giant pain in the ass, but he wasn't stupid.
Bobby had surprised Jack on the ride to school that morning. The man had been silent the whole way, a feat Jack would have sworn he'd never be a witness to. Bobby and quiet didn't exactly go hand in hand. And the silence had made him nervous as he waited for Bobby to finally say something, for him to start ragging on him about wanting to drop out, to say something obnoxious. But he didn't and the waiting was like torture, like waiting for an axe to fall that never came. It left Jack's stomach all twisted up in knots. And when Bobby had dropped him at the curb, he'd just left him with the typical, "Don't do anything stupid, fairy." It could have been much worse, but the worrying had worn him out.
He was rummaging through the mess in his locker, sorting through loose papers, trying to find his homework for English, when he felt her walk up behind him. He didn't even have to turn around to know it was her.
He fought the urge to lean his head inside his locker and slam the door closed. An urge he'd had to fight every day for the past two weeks. If he'd known this was what would happen when he punched Matt Wilcox in the face for making fun of her, he would have just kept on walking.
No good deed goes unpunished. He remembered hearing that somewhere, but he wasn't sure where. Whoever said it was a smart guy because it was true, that was for damn sure.
"Jack," she said brightly and he sighed, stuffing random papers and books into his backpack before finally turning around.
"Kathy," he said steadily, his eyes searching the crowd behind her, hoping he'd see one of his friends so he could call them over to rescue him.
Kathy cleared her throat and he gave up his search and looked down at her and her crooked glasses and big smile. He'd honestly never even noticed her before that day at the buses and now he couldn't forget her, seeing as how she'd made it her mission in life to permanently attach herself to his hip.
"I was wondering if you'd like to sit at my table for lunch today?"
"Huh?" he asked stupidly, hoping the floor would open and swallow him whole before he had to go and hurt her feelings. His plan had been to stay home for a few days and hope that her crush on him would go away and he could get on with his life.
"Lunch? We have it together on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays." She pushed her glasses back up her nose and continued to smile. Her braces made her mouth look huge and he'd almost tripped over his own feet the first time she'd flashed that metal smile at him.
She nodded enthusiastically and pulled out a laminated piece of paper that he recognized as her schedule. She pointed to fourth period. "See. And we've also got Art and Math together. So if you ever need help with –"
"Hey, Mercer, didn't know it was bring your dog to school day," some asshole yelled across the hall, cutting her off.
Jack took a step forward, scanning the corridor for the culprit. He found him easily – Matt Wilcox, standing by the bathrooms, laughing with his friends. "You're a fucking idiot, Wilcox. One black eye not enough for you?" he shouted back, about to fight his way through the crowd and put his fist in his other eye, and maybe his nose if he was lucky. Someone was tugging on his jacket, trying to hold him back. It was Kathy, and her eyes were round as saucers when he looked back at her.
"Jack, it's okay," she whispered.
"No it's not."
She shrugged and he noticed how red her eyes looked. God, he hoped she wasn't going to cry. He had no idea what to do if a girl started crying. Wracking his brain helplessly for a solution, he said the only thing he could think of.
"So … lunch, huh?"