This chapter features a more sensitive side of Jackson. A side his teammates haven't seen. Or rather, didn't know existed.
"How far are we from the cemetery now?" Flinch asked
"About a block" Duncan said "I wish we weren't moving so slowly"
Matilda coughed "Well excuse me for not breathing" she said popping her inhaler into her mouth
"That's not what I meant" Duncan said "I just want to get back home before everyone leaves"
The four nerds had been walking at an even pace for about half an hour. They'd have reached their destination faster with their upgrades, but they couldn't use them in public. They turned a corner to see a large plot of land covered with grave markers, surrounded by metal fencing.
"Look" Duncan said pointing "There he is"
They saw Jackson positioned in front of a large headstone. He appeared to be talking to it.
"Let's go" Duncan said
They got to the gate but Ruby hesitated.
"Maybe you should....go without me" she suggested
"What's wrong" Flinch asked "Are you.....I dunno.....allergic to dead things?"
"Yes" Ruby said
"But that's not why you don't want to go, is it?" Matilda asked "This graveyard creeps you out, doesn't it"
Ruby nodded "C'mon" Matilda said grabbing her arm and leading her in
"I wonder why he's here" Flinch asked
The four kids walked in synch down the stony path. Slowly as not to be heard by Jackson. The closer they got, the clearer Jackson's words became.
"I've made some new friends" he said "But I really don't think they like me much""Not really surprising considering that I used to bully them"
"Wait" Matilda said stopping the team "Let's listen"
They ducked behind a large granite statue, listening to their classmate.
"Duncan was the first one to start being nice to me" he said "It's kinda weird that he always seems so happy all the time""How he manages to be so positive is something I can't understand""That and how he manages to choke down so much paste"
Duncan held back a small chuckle.
"I wish I could be more like him" Jackson said "He's smart, focused, honest...."
He stopped to laugh a bit "I never thought I'd see the day where'd I'd actually be jealous of a nerd" he said
Duncan couldn't believe it. The former king of the school was jealous of him. His face moved into a proud smile.
"Then there's Matilda" he continued "She's got asthma, so she sort of sounds like that squeaky toy that Butch loves to play with"
Matilda frowned as her teammates struggled to contain their laughter.
"But man that girl can fight" Jackson said "I should know because I've fought her before""Without her asthma, she'd probably make a good addition to the football team"
Matilda grinned at the compliment she was given.
"But I could probably take her if she stayed on the ground" Jackson said
"Oh, really?" Matilda thought "That's what you think"
"I'd like to.....grab her by her monobrow and swing her around like a ragdoll" he added
Matilda's jaw lowered a little while Ruby, Flinch and Duncan were shaking with suppressed giggles.
"Next is Flinch" Jackson said "Out of the four of them I'd say he's the coolest""He's really wild and over the top""But I guess that's why I think he's so cool"
Flinch looked a little surprised at what Jackson was saying.
"He thinks I'm cool?" he thought "Wow"
"He has....a weird taste in pants though" Jackson said "And he eats way to much sugar""I'd bet you could power everything in an entire city from the sugar energy he builds up in a day"
Flinch looked down "I always thought my pants were pretty stylish" he thought
"And with all that sugar he eats, I can't imagine how many cavities he must have" Jackson said
Flinch gave a quiet snort "I'd think you'd be the last person to talk about someone's teeth" he thought
"But I guess I'm the last person who should talk about someone's teeth" Jackson said smiling and looking at his reflection in the polished stone. The metal of his braces clearly visible.
"Ruby was a tough nut to crack" Jackson said "Tougher still because I don't think I've really gotten anywhere with her"
Ruby crept out from behind the statue so she could hear Jackson more clearly
"I honestly think she still hates me" Jackson said "Not that I blame her""All those wet willies, kick me signs, and times that I pulled her pigtails couldn't have helped any"
Ruby shuddered a bit as she remembered Jackson's former ways as a bully. But she didn't hate him anymore. Truth be told, she felt a bit hurt at Jackson's words.
"She's stubborn as a mule" Jackson said "And her head is harder than concrete"
Ruby frowned angrily as the others just smiled at her.
"She's basically me" Jackson said "If I were a girl with allergies"
Ruby shook her head while Flinch, Duncan And Matilda's smiles got wider.
"I wonder how she eats when she's allergic to everything?" Jackson said "With all the swelling, scratching, sweating and sniffing, I don't know how she can stand it""I don't think I've ever seen her without some kind of rash"
Ruby bit her lip, trying to say silent.
"That...and I've never seen her without her hair in pigtails" Jackson said "You know, I bet she'd look pretty cute if she let her hair down"
Ruby's face exploded into a blush, which turned into a series of angry red blotches. She wasn't expecting the compliment. Now she was embarrassed, and she was allergic to embarrassment. She scratched at the blemishes vigorously, while her teammates kept each other from bursting into laughter.
A dreamy sort of look passed Jackson's face "And then...there's Mindy" he said "I guess you could call her my girlfriend...sort of""I never thought I'd fall for a girl who tried to kill me twice""I don't really get to see her much""But she emails me every now and again"
Ruby motioned to her teammates. They got out from behind the statue and began walking toward Jackson.
"So that's it" he said "A lot's happened to me since you died""I like to think I've changed""So has Chaz, and we're a lot closer to dad now""Thanks to my braces, and Chaz getting cut from the football team, we can connect to him outside of sports"
Jackson throat tightened as he spoke "But it's not the same without you""I really miss you mom"
"That's your mom?" asked a surprised sounding voice
Jackson looked up to see his four teammates, all of which had shocked expressions on their faces. They were obviously disturbed by this bit of information
"What are you guys doing here?" Jackson asked
"We came to get you" Duncan said eying the bouquet of flowers at the grave "You said...that was....your mom?"
"Yeah" he said "She...died last year"
All four of them had grim looks on their faces.
"I..." Duncan began "We didn't....know that"
Jackson shrugged "It's OK" he said " I really don't like to talk about it anyway""And besides, no one's really interested"
They couldn't deny that. Even though they were much closer, the nerds were still wary of him. Even Duncan, who was the first to open up and forgive him, knew next to nothing about him aside from his days as a bully. It was astounding really, to think that the guy who looked like he had everything was missing something so important. Before his braces, they just saw him as a self absorbed jerk who liked making people feel small. But right now, all they saw was a sensitive, insecure boy with braces who had lost his mother.
"What's with the shades, bro?" Flinch asked
"I always wear them when I come visit my mom's grave" Jackson said hanging them on them front of his shirt again"She always said...that she thought I looked cool when I wore them"
Jackson looked around at his teammates as he stood up "What do you mean "You came to get me?" he asked
Clearing her throat, Ruby spoke "We need your help with something?"
"Like what" he asked
"Remember how you and those jerks you used to call friends would gang up on us when school starts" Ruby began
Jackson didn't like to remember his days as a bully, but he nodded firmly at Ruby's question.
"We know you used to be a part of it" Matilda said "And we were wondering if you'd help us fight back"
"I thought you guys were against retaliation?" Jackson said "You know, blowing our cover""You guys are destined for better lives than they are, and all that jazz"
"This is different" Duncan said "We don't actually want to fight""We just want to avoid it all"
"And we figured you'd be the perfect person to ask for help" Flinch said
Matilda coughed a few times and took a hit of her inhaler "We've gathered a bunch of classmates at Duncan's house" she said "And they're waiting for us to come back"
Jackson thought for a moment. He didn't think it was possible to avoid the bullies without having to confront them somehow. But they were asking for his help. And considering his past as a bully, and his current situation as a nerd, he was in no position to refuse. He dusted off the front of his jeans
"Alright" he said "I'll help" "But could you let me finish up here"
Ruby turned around "We'll wait for you outside the gates" Ruby said "You probably want to be alone for this"
Jackson gave a quick nod and the nerds headed back down the path. They stood at the gate talking amongst themselves.
"Just imagine" Duncan said "Losing your mom"
"You can't really blame him for not telling us" Flinch said "It doesn't sound like something you'd actually want to talk about"
"He must really be hurting" Matilda said with a small gasp "And he doesn't even show it"
"He's stronger than we give him credit for" Ruby said
After about five minutes, Jackson jogged down the path. He was wearing his sunglasses again
"OK" he said "Let's go"
Sorry for the wait. This chapter went through several re-writes. Part of the original chapter, ended up becoming part of the next chapter. I don't know where the descriptions of his friends came from. I don't even remember writing that part. But all in all, I think this chapter turned out pretty well. Next chapter is the walk back to Duncan's house and the planning stage.