A/N: Well, here's the final chapter. Thanks, everyone, for reading and reviewing and sticking with me. You guys gave me the motivation to get this story finished. Thanks again! I love you all! I suppose now that I'm done with this story, I'll get back to work on a large project again. I still need to decide which one. Eh, I'll get it done eventually. :D
Anyway, this is kinda a short chapter to wrap everything up. I hope you enjoy the final chapter of 'Exception.'
"And then he said 'have a nice day' and gave Mr. Greene a parking ticket!" Logan laughed.
Kendall and James were in stitches as they listened to Logan and Carlos recount yesterday's events. Carlos allowed Logan to tell most of the story, since Logan was all giddy and giggling uncontrollably. Carlos liked it when Logan laughed. It made him forget about the times when Logan cried.
"Then what happened?" James asked excitedly. Both his lunch and Kendall's lunch remained untouched, as the two boys had been so absorbed in Logan's account of what had happened at Taylor's house to bother eating the corndogs on their trays.
Logan's face fell just a bit. "Well, then Mr. Garcia took me and Carlos back to my house. My dad was home from work by then, so we had to explain what happened. Then I had to show him all my bruises and stuff and Carlos went home."
Kendall's smile disappeared. "What'd your dad say?"
Logan shrugged his shoulders. "Pretty much what Carlos's dad said. That a bully is a bully, boy or girl." He looked down. "And that I should have told an adult right away."
Kendall nodded and narrowed his eyes, like he was pondering something.
Their mirth abruptly ended, and the four boys sat quietly in the school cafeteria for a minute or two. James finally picked up his corndog and took a bite, chewing slowly. Carlos's tray was already empty, because corndogs were the best food ever, and he had devoured his before he had even made it to the table.
Kendall finally looked back up. He was smirking this time. "You know what we need to do?" he said. "We need to promise that the next time one of us is hurt, we tell someone right away."
"Sounds good to me," James murmured through a mouthful of food.
Carlos, however, wasn't so sure. He had just discovered a few days ago that there were exceptions to promises. And if promises had exceptions, then that meant anyone could promise anything and then break the promise, only it wouldn't technically count as a broken promise because of the exception.
His head hurt, trying to make sense of the whole exception thing. And what if there were exceptions to the exceptions? Or exceptions to the exceptions of exceptions? It was a confusing paradox.
"No," Carlos muttered. "I don't want to promise that."
All heads turned to him, even Logan's. Carlos cast his eyes to the floor and shrunk back under his friends' gazes.
"Why not?" Kendall asked.
"Because," Carlos sighed. "It won't even matter. There's always going to be an exception."
Logan took a sip of his milk. "What do you mean?"
"I promised you I wouldn't tell that someone was hurting you," Carlos explained. Then he looked to Kendall. "Then you told me it was okay to break a promise if someone was getting hurt. You said there were exceptions. And apparently there's exceptions to all kinds of stuff. So if we all promise that the next time one of us is getting hurt we have to tell someone right away, it's not even going to matter, because there will always be a stupid exception somewhere. So promising something would just be pointless." His throat was getting tight again, so he coughed.
James looked confused, but Kendall nodded his head. "Okay."
Carlos raised an eyebrow. He hadn't expected Kendall to agree with him. He didn't want Kendall to agree with him. Carlos was hoping that Kendall would prove him wrong, or tell Carlos of a new rule that Carlos hadn't heard about.
But no. Kendall said nothing else and went back to eating his lunch.
Carlos frowned. Whatever. It didn't matter, anyway. He would know if Logan or anyone else was getting hurt. All he had to do was keep a sharp eye out for anything suspicious. Carlos examined Kendall. The blond abandoned his half-eaten corndog and started digging into his fruit cup. James had his milk carton up to his lips, and Logan was -
Carlos rocketed out of his seat, heart nearly leaping out of his chest. He stuck out a finger and pointed furiously to the boy sitting beside him. "LOGAN'S HURT!" he shrieked. "LOOK LOOK LOOK LOOK LOOK LOOK -"
Logan held his hands out at his sides, blushing from the stares other kids at the table cast his way. "What are you talking about?"
Carlos was frantic. This was bad. Really bad. Logan wasn't supposed to be hurt anymore. Carlos had saved him from Taylor, and Mr. Garcia had threatened to put her in jail. She wasn't supposed to be bothering Logan. Everything was supposed to be fine again. "RIGHT THERE! RIGHT THERE! LOOK! KENDALL KENDALL KENDALL LOOK! JAMES! AHHH!"
Kendall and James tried to shush Carlos as Logan yanked on the sleeve of his sweatshirt to get him to sit. But Carlos didn't want to sit. His eyes were wide in horror, hands shaking in fear. Logan held him down by keeping his hands firmly on Carlos's shoulders.
"What?" James asked. "What's wrong?"
"Logan's hand!" Carlos cried, lowering his voice just a bit. "Look at it!"
Logan's brow furrowed together in confusion. He looked down at both his palms. When he did, his expression softened. "Oh, this?" He held up his index finger, showing off a Band-aid. "I got a paper cut this morning."
Carlos let out a breath of relief. "Phew," he said. That was a close call. He closed his eyes and exhaled again, aiming to soothe his jittery nerves. When he opened them, Kendall, James and Logan were staring at him. "What?"
"…Nothing," they said.
Carlos shrugged. He glanced up at the clock and noticed that it was about time to get going to his next class. "Ready to go?" he asked Logan.
Logan shook his head, like he was clearing away his thoughts. Then he nodded. "Yeah, let's go."
"See you on the bus," Kendall said as the boys picked up their trays and prepared to leave.
"Bye," James said.
Carlos and Logan both said their farewells. They went through the normal routine of disposing of their trash and returning their trays. The two exited the lunchroom and took a left, starting off down the hall to the locker room.
Carlos reached the door first and held it open for Logan. He stopped. Logan wasn't there. Carlos peered down the hall, thankful when he saw his friend bent over at the drinking fountain. But his relief quickly turned to irritation when he realized that Logan took forever getting a drink. And Carlos was eager to run off some energy in gym class.
"Lo-gan," he whined, shuffling over to the fountain. "You're not even thirsty."
Logan briefly looked up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Yes I am." He leaned back down and continued to drink.
"Dude, no you're not. You're just getting a drink because you know I hate waiting and -" Carlos stopped. "And it's dodge ball day today!" He gasped and grabbed hold of Logan's arm, forcibly tugging him away from the fountain. "Yay! I love dodge ball! Let's go, let's go!"
Logan laughed as Carlos dragged him all the way down the hall. Carlos didn't see what was so funny, really. He did his best to ignore Logan's giggling as he shoved his friend into the locker room.
Carlos hopped up to his locker feeling happy, happy, happy. It had been a pretty good day. Firstly, they were going to play dodge ball in gym class. Secondly, it was corndog day at lunch, and corndogs were his favorite food in the entire world. Thirdly, Logan had been all smiling and cheery at lunchtime, which probably meant he wasn't afraid of Taylor anymore and everything was getting better. Which was fantastic.
The only bad thing that had happened in the past twenty four hours was Mr. Garcia having to go to sensitivity training again. When Carlos's father had brought him home after the confrontation with Mr. Greene and Taylor, Mr. Garcia got a phone call from his boss. Apparently Mr. Greene had called the station where Mr. Garcia worked and complained or something, so Mr. Garcia had to learn to be 'less aggressive' before he could continue to be an officer.
Carlos speedily removed his street clothes and exchanged them for his gym clothes, not forgetting to slap on a helmet. He closed his locker door, then paused when he remembered Logan. Carlos whipped around, where Logan was just slipping on a shirt.
It may have been too early to tell, but Carlos was fairly certain that Logan's bruises were a little less red. He smiled. "Logan, let's go!"
Logan yelped as Carlos seized hold of his arm yet again. "Hey, wait!" he cried, struggling to pull up his shorts.
Carlos barely heard him. When the two were out of the locker room, Carlos pressed forward to the gym, letting go of Logan's arm and sprinting to the large doors. He yanked them open and skipped in, ready to play.
Today's game of dodge ball was the most fun Carlos had had all week. He was on a team with Logan again, and the two ganged up on opponents and knocked them all out practically by themselves. Logan was hit once, and Carlos was concerned. But Logan showed no signs of pain at all. He picked himself up, told Carlos good luck, and shuffled over to the sidelines. Throughout the remainder of the game, Carlos sneaked glances over to his friend. Logan just stood cheering Carlos and the rest of the team on, not even rubbing his injuries or anything.
Carlos was the last one standing. He ended up winning the game.
He was disappointed when class had to end. When he made it to history, he flopped down into his desk and pulled out his crusty textbook. Usually, history was a boring class. Carlos didn't really see the point of learning about dead people. But today, he paid careful attention to his teacher's lecture and even took notes.
It was a great day. But as Carlos left the school building on his way to the bus, he remembered there was still one more trial to get through: walking home from the bus stop.
"My mom offered to pick me up today," Logan informed as the school bus began to move.
"And you told her no?" Kendall asked.
Logan nodded. "I don't want to be scared of Taylor anymore. And if Taylor sees me walking home, then she'll know that I'm not."
Carlos grinned. He liked that answer.
"What do you think is going to happen?" said James. "Think she'll be there?"
No one replied. The four boys sat in silence for a few moments. Carlos wondered if Taylor really would be waiting outside. She shouldn't be, because what girl would continue to try to mess with boys who covered her in Silly String and soup? And what girl would continue to hurt Logan after a police officer told her she would go to a juvenile detention center if she did?
Maybe a stupid girl would. And Taylor was pretty stupid.
"Oh," Kendall suddenly said, reaching around in his backpack. "That reminds me. I made something in science class today." He opened up a yellow folder and removed a piece of notebook paper. He handed it back to Carlos, who accepted it.
"What is this?" Carlos said, squinting at Kendall's messy handwriting.
"Just read it," Kendall told him.
Carlos's eyes skimmed over the paper. They widened with delight.
Kendall Knight, James Diamond, Carlos Garcia and Logan Mitchell hereby swear never to break a promise. The only exception to this rule being if the promise is causing someone to be hurt in any way, or something equally bad, in which case an adult must be notified.
Carlos laughed. It was perfect. At the bottom of the paper were four lines, one for each of them to sign their names. Kendall and James had already scribbled a signature.
Carlos looked up, and Kendall handed him a pen. He quickly scrawled out his name, oblivious to the broadness of the terms. Then he passed the pen and paper up to Logan, who also laughed before he signed it.
"Thanks, Kendall," Logan said. Kendall patted his back.
"Hey, I helped," James said. "I wrote the last part where it says 'or something equally bad.'"
Carlos squeezed James's shoulder. "That's the best part!" he assured.
"See, Carlos?" Kendall said. "Now there's only one exception to the never break a promise rule. And since we all signed it, that means it's official."
Carlos nodded. He liked that reasoning.
As Kendall tucked the paper safely away, the bus came to a halt. The boys each exchanged glances, preparing to leave. Carlos had to admit he was a tiny bit nervous. What if he had this all wrong? What if Taylor was even more angry at them? What if she had ignored Mr. Garcia's threats?
He shuddered as he followed James, Logan and Kendall off the bus. It was such a beautiful day outside; the sun was shining bright, and a gentle breeze blew softly. Carlos immediately stepped closer to Logan as he peered down both ends of the sidewalk, searching for any sign of Taylor. He didn't see her.
"Let's go," said Kendall, starting forward.
Much like Monday, Kendall led the way, with Carlos and James sticking close to Logan's side. The boys walked cautiously, keeping a sharp eye out for anything suspicious.
Carlos could see Taylor's house standing in the near distance. Luckily, she wasn't anywhere in sight. Logan took a deep breath, and Carlos asked if he was okay. Logan said he was, and even offered a small smile to prove it.
Kendall came to an abrupt stop. Carlos nearly ran into his back, as he had been looking in the other direction.
James gasped and took hold of Logan's arm. Confused, Carlos followed his friends' eyes. His heart jumped to his throat.
Taylor sat on the front step of her house. She was dressed in her normal dark attire, hands resting in her lap, looking bored. She glared at the four.
Carlos gulped. He was too stunned to run away or straighten up for a confrontation. All he could do was stand there and stare with his mouth hanging open.
Taylor stood. Kendall held out his arms, moving in front of Carlos, Logan and James. Carlos could hear Logan breathe a little faster. The girl on the step continued to stare daggers at the boys on the sidewalk until, finally, she turned and wordlessly stepped into her house. The door closed.
Carlos prayed that it stayed shut, watching carefully for any sign of movement from the house. Everything was still.
Then, Logan started laughing. He laughed and laughed, holding his sides and hanging onto James's shoulder to keep himself steady. For some reason, that made James laugh, too. And soon Kendall was joining in . Carlos didn't understand what was so hilarious, but he laughed with them.
Still giggling, the friends continued down the sidewalk on their way to Logan's house. Carlos trailed behind, ceasing his laughter, unlike the other three. He stared at Logan's back as they kept on. Carlos pursed his lips, thinking.
Carlos never figured he knew too much about anything. After all, he had report cards that would agree with him. But over the past few days, he realized that he was the best at figuring out when his friends lied to him. He knew Logan wasn't telling the truth the moment Logan had opened his mouth after Carlos had inquired about the bruise on Logan's face.
He also knew that lying to friends was a very bad thing to do. Best friends were supposed to be honest with each other. They told each other everything, and they needed to protect each other.
Carlos rubbed the back of his neck, thinking. He had realized that seeing his friends upset was his least favorite thing in the world, next to Taylor and the name Paul. And he also deduced that crying was in fact pointless, and, like Kendall had told him, didn't help any situation. But, sometimes Carlos did it on accident, and he figured that was okay, because accidents happened. Just like it was an accident that Logan lied about Taylor, because he was under the misconception that he needed to keep that bit of information to himself. And Logan accidentally made the mistake of thinking his friends couldn't help him with his situation, and he had accidentally thought his parents would think he was weak.
Carlos wondered if Logan realized the same things Carlos had discovered over the week. Did Logan know that he could tell the guys anything? Did Logan know that he had nothing to be embarrassed about?
Carlos jogged forward with a slight bounce to his steps like always, and hopped right up to Logan. Catching the smaller boy by surprise, Carlos latched his arms around Logan's waist. Logan stopped walking and tottered to the side, nearly losing his balance. Carlos ignored it and kept holding on, grinning lopsidedly. "You're my best friend," he said, pressing his face to Logan's back.
Logan's shoulders quivered as he chuckled. He patted Carlos's arm. "You're mine, too."
Carlos pulled away, and Logan turned around to face him. They smiled at each other for a few moments, before Carlos realized Kendall and James were staring at them.
"Oh," Carlos said. "Don't worry, I love you guys too. We're just supposed to be focusing on Logan here."
"Uh… Thanks?" Kendall drawled.
Carlos nodded to both Kendall and James. He gave Logan a brotherly pat to the back, then, feeling an all too familiar sense of excitement, he began to run ahead. "Race you to Logan's house! Ready, set, go!"
He could hear footsteps hurry behind him. "Hey, that's not fair!" laughed James. "You got a head start!"
"Slowpoke!" Carlos called over his shoulder. He also was well aware that he was the fastest one of the group. Shrieking in laughter, the boys sprinted to Logan's house. Carlos reached the lawn first, flinging his backpack off his shoulders and sprawling out into the grass. "Winner!" he cried victoriously.
James was next, followed by Kendall, and then Logan. James fell down next to Carlos, breathing hard, and Kendall flopped beside James. Logan was the only one who remained standing. Though he had come in last place, he was smiling.
"Hey, guys," he said. Carlos lifted his head off the ground. "Thanks. For everything."
"Sure," said Kendall. "You know you can tell us if anyone is bothering you again, right?"
Carlos expectantly awaited an answer. He let his shoulders relax when Logan nodded his head.
"Good," Kendall said. "Because we're here anytime you need us."
Logan smirked and raised an eyebrow. "Promise?"
"Promise," Kendall confirmed.
"Promise," James agreed.
"Promise!" Carlos cried. He decided he liked promising things now. Besides, this promise would be easy to keep. Logan was one of Carlos's best friends, and Carlos was one of Logan's.
Carlos didn't know too much about anything, but he did know that best friends were there for each other, always. And there were no exceptions to that rule.