Okay, I know I said I wouldn't (repeatedly) but I couldn't help myself.
Life has been nuts and I am stuck on ... well, everything. One-shots are really the only thing that actually work for me right now. (Not that I am giving up on my other stories, but a distraction now and then seems to help my creative process.)
So, I hope you enjoy my latest (26 part) side project and a huge thanks to my beta, Starfishyeti, for helping make it possible.
A is for Apprehension
April 11, 1984
Charlie sat in one of the office chairs nervously wringing his hands. Last week he had been an average third grader … well, maybe average was the wrong word, but still a third grader. Now, he was waiting to get his eighth grade class schedule. It was all so unreal.
He looked up to give his mom and Principle Rush a small smile. No need for them to know how completely terrified he was. Sure he had been looking forward to the day he would be on the same intellectual level as his classmates since he'd discovered kindergarteners don't know what a cube is, but that didn't make him any less apprehensive.
"You all ready, sport?" Principle Rush asked as he held out a piece of paper.
Not trusting his voice, Charlie nodded and took his schedule, praying he had at least one class with Don or one of his friends. Being around familiar faces should make it easier … and whatever else the guidance counselor said.
"Would you like me to help you find your first class?" Margret offered.
"No thanks," he replied quickly, and with a surprisingly steady voice. "I can get it."
If he couldn't figure out the basic number system for the classrooms he had no business skipping so many grades. On top of that, he wasn't in elementary school anymore; having your mother walk you to class lost its cool by grade two. So, Charlie thanked the principle, said goodbye to his mom and headed down the hallway.
"Okay," he murmured to himself. "I need room 213, so that should be the second floor-"
His train of though derailed as the young prodigy smashed face first into the back of a fellow classmate. Though, based on size and shape alone, it may have been a brick wall … and one that was now towering over him with an angry glare.
"Watch where you're going, shrimp."
"S-Sorry," Charlie stammered, looking down to avoid staring at the jr high giant.
He tried to back up so he could go around him, but only succeeded in bumping into another one. If this kept up, he was never going to make it to class.
"Hey!" the other kid growled, shoving him back into the first.
The living wall gave him a look so dark that it sent the eight-year-old's mind racing. Based on his calculations, he would not only miss class but there was now the increasing possibility of physical harm. Maybe he should have had his mom walk him to homeroom after all …
"Well, this is just brilliant," he muttered to himself, kicking the thin door. "Highest IQ in the building and I'm stuck in a locker. Some genius I turned out to be."
He hit the locker door again, hearing the frustrating sound of the lock rattle, before something else made the prodigy pause. A voice in the hallway sounded very familiar. Adam? No … Andy! One of Don's friends was right outside his metal prison. But was it worth the humiliation to have someone he knew bail him out of a jam or should he just wait for the janitor … if and when he ever showed up? Swallowing his pride, he banged on the door as hard as he could.
"Andy! In here!"
"Dude, who is that?" an unfamiliar voice said.
"I don't know," came Andy's muffled reply. "Sounds kinda like Don's kid brother."
"Here? Isn't he five, or something?"
"I'm eight!" Charlie shouted angrily.
"Yup, that's Brain Boy all right," Andy stated. "Let's go."
Go? Go where? Were they just going to leave him stuck in there until who knows when? In a panic, Charlie began pounding on the door in a frantic attempt to get the older boys to stay.
"Come on, Andy! Open the door! Let me out! … Please."
The last part came out as more of a whimper when the young eighth grader realized he was once again alone in the hallway. He sunk down as much as he could in the cramped locker, trying and failing to keep the tears out of his eyes. If one of Don's friends wouldn't help him out, who would?
"I think it was this one."
The return of Andy's voice jolted him back to reality, but it was the second thing he heard that sent him scrambling to his feet.
"Don!" he called, once again banging on the door. "I'm in here!"
"Just sit tight, Buddy. We'll have you out in a second."
He could hear hushed voices on the other side of the metal as Charlie held his breath in anticipation of a rescue. He should have known that none of Don's friends would ever leave him in a spot like this. The guy may not always be the best of big brothers, but he never tolerated anyone bullying the young genius. If Andy had not gone for help, Don probably would have considered him as guilty as the ones who'd put him in the locker to begin with. Still, that was just a theory, but one he should have thought of before. Stupid panic always messed with his thought process.
"Shazam," a new voice announced. "One lock popped."
"Thanks, Mike," Don replied. "Here's three. I'll give you the rest tomorrow."
"Always a pleasure dong business with you," the voice replied, followed by footsteps echoing down the empty hallway.
"See ya in history," Andy piped up before following the other kid.
A moment later the door opened and Charlie practically tumbled into his brother's arms. As much as he would love to stay there clinging to his childhood protector, he was in eighth grade now and couldn't be seen as weak. Of course, having Don free him from a locker on day one didn't really help that in any way.
"Easy Buddy," Don muttered, setting him back on his feet. "You okay?"
"Fine," Charlie huffed, trying to sound as normal as possible. "I think this school must have been built over lava flows, or something. Gravity seems to fluctuate here, throws you off balance."
"Uh-huh," Don smirked, but his face changed to one of concern. "Did they hurt you?"
"Who? Oh- no. Just … pushed me in the locker. Why?"
"No reason," he answered gently. "But you might want to wash your face before going to your next class."
What was he- oh! Nodding in understanding, he hurried to the nearest bathroom and looked in the mirror. Sure enough, his eyes were red and there were distinctive track marks from the tears. He must look like nothing but a big baby for crying over something as stupid as getting stuck in a locker. Grabbing some paper towels and turning on the cold water, Charlie quickly erased all evidence of his humiliation just before the bell signaled the end of first period. He had just enough time to find his next class before the bell and even managed to make it through the rest of the day without problems.
"Mr. Eppes, a word."
Or at least until he was halfway out the door of his last class before his teacher called him over. Taking a deep breath, he calmly approched Mr. White's desk. The man looked to be about as old as his father, with gray just starting to color his otherwise black hair, but it was the look that got to Charlie; same one Alan got when he knew something he and his brother didn't want him to know. This couldn't be good.
"I was just wondering why you missed first period."
"Oh, that … I, um, got lost."
"Yeah. I, uh, couldn't find the room."
"I see. And neither Mitchell Hartley or Paul Cooper had anything to do with that?"
"No sir," Charlie blinked, honestly confused. "I don't even know them."
The man nodded, but didn't look convinced, as he waved him away. Stepping into the hall, Charlie wondered if those were the two boys that had shoved him in the locker. But how would Mr. White know that? Suddenly, the kid nearly jumped out of his skin as a pair of hands dropped down on his shoulders.
"Mark!" Charlie growled, pulling away to glare at his brother's best friend.
"Sorry," he chuckled. "I couldn't resist. Don asked if I could walk you home today."
"Why? Where is he?"
"Got detention again," Mark shrugged. "It's nothing. Come on."
As the two headed down the hall, Charlie was once again trying to see if the pieces of information he had fit together or if he was just trying to find connections where there were none. Don had detention at least every other week, so it could have nothing to do with him. However, Mr. White connected two names with Charlie's absence in homeroom, so he had to have gotten his information from somewhere. But where? Would Don have-
"Mark," he mumbled, as the older boy pushed him to the side. "What are you-"
But he stopped when he saw what his brother's friend was helping him avoid. It was the two guys from before, possibly named Mitchell Hartley and Paul Cooper, and each were sporting a fresh black eye. Suddenly the pieces fit and Charlie had his answers. After all, Don never tolerated anyone bullying the young genius.
What do you think?
As with last time, challenge words are always accepted. (This time each word needs to be something you feel.)