"Why do you think he wears a mask?"
"Maybe he's just weird like he runs the school store for fun? Who does that?"
"I heard that he has really creepy scars under it. Like his dad used to really fuck him up. I'm talking Joker-status like legit cuts up the sides of his mouth."
"Yeah! Wasn't his father arrested over break?"
"What do you think, Batter?"
"Yo, Batter, you there, man?"
He had only been half listening to what his friends around him were saying. All anyone wanted to talk about was Zacharie. He had been a pretty normal kid, flew under the radar mostly, until summer break ended. He came back to school wearing masks. It was strange and no one understood. The only thing people noticed was that he was quieter than before and teachers never told him to take it off. He didn't tell anyone the real reason he wore a mask, so all the students had to work with was their imagination; not that the truth played much into rumors regardless.
"I dunno, he's probably just a psycho or something." Batter added his comment, sending his friends back into a flurry of speculation. It didn't matter much what Batter said, as long as it went with the topic, all he needed was a quick negative assertion, then the others would take over from there.
It didn't matter what Batter had to say because he never had much of an opinion to assert. He was captain of the renowned Purity High School baseball team and his personality wasn't exceptional. That didn't stop him from being one of the most popular students. He was cool. People referring to him by his surname, which ironically suited his abilities as well, only made him seem more mysterious and likeable. He seemed bored most of the time, but that just made people try harder to impress him. He was good at baseball, not deep conversation.
As far as Zacharie went, anyone who knew anything about the two could say they were something of opposites. Zacharie didn't have an athletic bone in his body and certainly didn't partake in organized sports. To those he talked to, he was quite the conversationalist. He made his few close friends laugh on a daily basis. He had a bit of a temper, which typically comes with strong opinions, but he was good at keeping his mouth shut when he thought it best.
He was different and seemed introverted, so nobody, including Batter, had much of an opinion of him. That was true, until senior year.
The bell rang, rushing the students towards the door, but not stopping their gossip. Batter slung his backpack over his shoulder and began making his way out, sandwiched between his friends and their gossip.
"Mr. Batter, I need to speak to you before you leave." The teacher's voice cut through the din and Batter froze in his steps. His friends chuckled and elbowed him before leaving the room, tossing 'good-luck' and 'you're screwed' grins over their shoulders.
Batter turned on his heel, walking up to Elsen's desk with a familiar dread, "Something you need, Ms. E?" He questioned, clutching the strap of his backpack. He waited for the all too frequent lecture about his horrible math grades.
"Take a seat." She said coolly and he quickly obeyed. He figured this was going to be lengthy if he had to sit for it, "Mr. Batter, you understand that you've failed every math class since your freshman year, correct?" He nodded, as if that was something he wouldn't know, "Well, i'll tell you a few things I know in turn. I know you're head of the baseball team. I know that if you were to get kicked off because of your grades, the entire school, not just you, would pay for it."
"I also know that a student from Advanced Placement calculus would be more than happy to tutor you. So, I'm willing to make a deal. If you agree to meet with your tutor everyday after baseball practice, and manage to get above failing for this year, I'll see to the rest. I need to see a real effort out of you Mr. Batter. Does this sound fair?"
Batter knew he had no choice. The only thing he had going for him was his baseball. He knew how close he was to being booted from the team last year. No matter how hard he tried to get his grades in order, they just seemed to slip away from him. Nothing made sense. Math was just too concrete for him.
He obediently nodded once more and stood up from his seat. The teacher extended her hand and when he shook it, he felt as though he was sealing a deal with hell itself; signing away all of his freedom and happiness to a math book of riddles he could never solve.
"Your tutor will meet you after practice today. I hope you didn't have plans."
"Of course not, Miss. Thank you for helping me out." He smiled, his words burning like vomit, clawing up his throat.
The day went by agonizingly fast; different from how it would typically drag. It was like the entire universe stopped just to concentrate every force on getting Batter to his tutor. Or at least that's how it seemed to him.
"Dude, the bell's already rung. Get your ass in gear, we got practice." Tim gripped his arm, tugging him forward as Sam pushed him in the back. "Do you know how pissed coach would be if you even thought of being late? On the first day?"
Batter knew perfectly well how much trouble he would be in. He also knew that he had never been late to practice before, so those worries were irrelevant. It wasn't practice he was dreading; it was the tutor afterwards.
"So what did Elsen chew you out for this time? Fail another test?" Batter shrugged as though the question or the answer meant nothing to him.
"I have to get tutored after practice now." He responded briefly and shrugged again, though this was more to cover a shutter than emotion.
Both of his friends loudly voiced their dissatisfaction, shouting and groaning for Batter, "How the hell could she do that to you, man? What a bitch!" One would growl and another would chip in, "I'd kill myself if I had to study extra math with some fucking AP dork!" This was their way of showing sympathy, but all it did was increase the horror with which Batter anticipated his tutoring session.
Practice was a breeze, outside of the anxiety Batter felt welling up inside of him. Of course, he wasn't late and the coach was excited to see him. They ran their laps, they went through the motions that Batter knew in his heart of hearts. If he didn't have the stress of extra math to worry about, he could have lost himself in the sport he loved as he always did. This was where he thrived, not a classroom.
Though that meant little, as the world expected perfection and Batter tried to deliver. Throughout practice, all he could think of was that pressure:
Mr. Batter, you understand that you've failed every math class...
Get your ass in gear!
Fail another test?
I'd kill myself!
"Holy shit." Someone whispered, as he hurried through the locker room door. Batter looked over, toweling his hair dry and slipping his baseball cap back onto his head. The same guy gestured to another person on the team, "You'll never guess who's outside."
"Who?" Another boy shimmied over to the door, holding his towel up with one hand and pushing his friend with the other as he tried to get a look.
"Do you need me to tell you? Like, who else dresses like that?" The first boy rolled his eyes and turned to Batter, "Battman, there's someone out there for you. They said they're your tutor or something. Mad creepy, dude..."
Batter got up slowly, being sure not to rush and risk looking interested. The boys at the door parted to let him through and he stopped in the doorway upon seeing his tutor. He was shocked, but knew this had to be a mistake. It absolutely had to be a mistake.