Title: When You Call My Name
Summary: Oneshot, Brian’s POV. After detention, Brian and Andy lean on one another for support and relief from their stifling family situations. As the months go on, they find that their bond is deeper than they realized.
Pairing: Andy/Brian friendship, slash.
Rating: PG-13 for language, underage drinking, and non-graphic physicality.
A/N: This was my first time writing slash for this fandom. I have always loved Andy and Brian’s relationship in the film, and I could always imagine them being good friends after detention. So, to me, the jump from friendship to something deeper isn’t totally unbelievable. I really enjoyed writing this, so I hope that you enjoy reading it. Thanks so unbelievably much to Lori, who beta-ed this for me and let me babble about it, even though she had more important things to do with her time, and Pam, who was my fresh pair of eyes. I really appreciate it.
Original Post Date: Sept. 2006
When You Call My Name
Brian thought about the Breakfast Club all weekend.
He tried to focus on other things--namely, homework--but then he would remember dancing with Andy and Bender on the railing or watching Allison make her cereal and pixie stick sandwich, and his mouth would curl into a smile without him even realizing it. His mom caught him doing it a few times, and it must have freaked her out, because she would always ask what was wrong, even though he was smiling. He told her that nothing was wrong, that he was just remembering something that he saw on television, but he’d always been a pretty bad liar and she didn’t look like she believed him. She watched him closely all weekend, probably searching for signs that he had gone crazy.
If she only knew.
On Monday morning, Brian didn’t really know what to expect. He wasn’t looking for a big reunion on the school steps or anything like that, but he did hope that something would happen. He hated to think that they had walked away from one another that day, only for it to be the end of everything they had started in detention. It seemed wrong somehow, that nothing would happen. He didn’t even want to think about it.
But when the first three periods passed and Brian still hadn’t seen any of the others, he started to panic a little bit. He didn’t have any classes with them, he knew, and the school was pretty big, so the chances of him running into any of them were pretty slim. How were you supposed to be friends with someone--no, four someones--if you never even saw them?
He went through the day in a fog, obsessing over what would happen if he never saw any of them again. Then finally, right before the last period of the day, he ran into Claire. She was standing at her locker, surrounded by girls that wouldn’t give him a second glance if he offered them a million dollars and a shoe shine, and she was completely oblivious to his presence. He watched her for a minute, knowing that he couldn’t walk up and say hello, but wondering if they were ever going to talk to one another again. He was just about to give up and continue on his way to class when she looked up and their eyes met.
She looked stunned at first, like she wasn’t sure what to do, but then she smiled. It wasn’t a wide, excited smile. In fact, it was kind of sad. To Brian, it said, “It’s good to see you, and I wish I could say hello…but I can’t.” Brian tried to understand. He tried not to feel like everything he’d hoped for had just been shoved back into his face, even though it had. He nodded briefly in her direction and continued down the hall.
And that, Brian realized, was the end of that.
It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that he ran into Andy.
He’d seen him, of course, in the halls between classes, in the cafeteria eating with his friends. Brian had seen all of them at some point during the week, except for Allison, who had remained elusive. He’d seen Claire talking with her friends, Bender getting a drink from the water fountain right next to the boys’ bathroom, Andy putting books away in his locker. None of them had noticed him, and he hadn’t had the guts to walk up to them and say hi, so nothing had happened.
On Friday afternoon, there wasn’t anyone else in the hall. Brian had just come out of a Physics Club meeting and was on his way outside to begin the long walk home. He was passing by the gymnasium, headed for the door leading to the school’s west entrance, when the locker room door burst open and Andy walked out.
The boys stood there for a moment, both of them surprised. Finally, Andy said, “Hey.”
Brian nodded. “Hey.”
Andy adjusted the strap of his gym bag, which was slung over one shoulder. “What are you doing here so late?” he asked.
“I just got out of a Physics Club meeting,” he answered. “We’ve been talking about the banquet, which is next month, and there’s still a bunch of stuff we have to do, so…” He trailed off, realizing that Andy probably wouldn’t care what a bunch of geeks like him talked about in their spare time. “I guess you just came from practice, huh?”
Andy nodded. “I’ve got a big meet tomorrow.”
“Oh, right.” Brian nodded. “I hope you, uh, I hope you win.”
Andy sighed. “Yeah, thanks.” He paused. “You need a ride?”
“Oh.” Brian hesitated. “Yeah, that would be okay. I mean, that would be great, thanks.”
Andy’s Bronco was parked out in the senior parking lot along with a handful of other cars, most of them probably belonging to cheerleaders or athletes. The members of the Physics Club didn’t have cars, except for Jason Norris, who drove his grandmother’s old Volvo, with an AARP sticker on the bumper and a gilded cross dangling from the rearview mirror.
“Are you hungry?” Andy asked when they’d both climbed in.
Brian shrugged. “Um, sort of.”
Andy put the Bronco into gear and eased it out of the parking lot. “Do you want to go get something?”
It took Brian a minute to realize that Andy was asking if he wanted to go with him. “Oh…okay.”
“What do you like?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
Andy pulled into the parking lot at Burger King and cut the engine. They walked in together, and Andy ordered one of everything on the menu, or so it seemed. Brian ordered chicken nuggets and a small Coke.
They found a booth by the window, and Andy immediately dug into his cheeseburger. “So, how is shop going?” he asked, not even bothering to swallow his food first.
Brian glanced up, surprised. “Oh, it’s, uh…” He thought back to his conversation with Mr. Douglas, the shop teacher, earlier that week. “I can’t make up the assignment, but he’s going to let me turn in some extra credit to help boost my grade.”
Andy nodded. “What’d your parents say?”
Brian froze. “About what?”
Andy must have noticed the change in Brian’s demeanor, because he suddenly looked very serious. “About the grade,” he clarified.
“Oh.” Brian let out a deep breath. “I, uh, I haven’t told them yet.” He laughed, but it came out forced. “I guess there’s really not a good time to, you know, to say something like that.”
Andy nodded slowly, watching him. “Yeah.” Then he leaned forward and took another bite of his burger.
“What about your parents?” Brian asked. “How is everything with your dad?”
Andy shrugged. “Same. He’s been on my case about the meet tomorrow. He’s worried I’m going to blow it.”
Brian frowned. “Why?”
Andy rolled his eyes. “He’s always worried I’m going to blow it. He thinks they’re going to take away my scholarship.”
Andy nodded. “Ohio State. Full ride.”
Brian lifted his eyebrows in surprise. “Really? Wow, congratulations.”
“Thanks.” His voice was so flat that it sounded like he was accepting the comment on someone else’s behalf. Brian decided to change the subject.
“So, have you, uh, have you seen any of the others?”
Andy nodded. “I talked to Claire the other day. She’s on the Prom Committee, so she’s really busy.”
Brian nodded. “What about Bender?”
Andy shrugged. “Haven’t seen him.”
Brian hesitated. “Allison?”
Andy paused. “Yeah, I saw her.”
Brian watched him. “Yeah?”
Andy nodded. He started to say something, then stopped himself and reached into the pocket of his letter jacket. He pulled something out and handed it to Brian. It was a circular letter jacket patch with the words “State Champion” written in red and gold.
Brian frowned. “What is this?”
Andy looked up, surprised. “Oh. She, uh…” He smiled briefly, as if he was amused by something. “She took it from me on Saturday, just before we left.”
“Oh.” Brian turned it over in his hand. “How’d you get it back?”
“She gave it to me,” Andy said shortly, taking it back and stuffing it into his pocket. “I found it in my locker yesterday.”
Brian paused. “Oh…sorry.”
Andy shook his head. “Whatever,” he muttered.
But Brian could tell that it bothered him more than he was going to admit. If he was honest, it bothered him, too. Of all of the others, Brian had believed that Allison would be the one most likely to stay friends with them on Monday. “Us weirdos,” he’d called them. Apparently Allison didn’t see it that way. Apparently she’d decided that it wasn’t worth it. Brian didn’t know who he was more angry with, her for letting them down or him for believing her.
Andy finished eating relatively quickly, considering how much he’d ordered. While he finished the last of his fries, he told Brian all about the match he had the next day. Something about how if he won this one, he’d go on to the state quarter-finals or semi-finals or…something big. Brian didn’t understand most of it, despite Andy’s explanations, but he did gather that it was an important meet and that a lot was riding on his performance.
“Are you nervous?”
Andy looked up from his tiny pile of French fries, the last of his snack. “What?”
“Are you nervous?” Brian repeated. “About the meet.”
Andy paused, then shrugged. “I don’t know. Not really.”
But there was something forced about his nonchalance, and Brian realized, with a start, that Andrew Clark was nervous. Nervous about losing. Nervous about letting people down. Nervous about failing. It shouldn’t have come as such a shock after his confession in detention, but for some reason, Brian was still surprised.
“I’m sure you’ll do great,” he reassured him.
Andy nodded stiffly. “Thanks.”
Brian nodded. “Sure.”
There was an awkward pause, and then Andy glanced over at Brian’s tray. “You going to eat that?”
Brian frowned and looked down. There was a chicken nugget wedged down in the bottom of the box. He hadn’t even noticed it was there. He shook his head and pushed the tray closer.
Andy tossed the nugget into his mouth. “Thanks.”
The next week passed rather quickly. Brian was too busy with schoolwork to think about much else, which was probably for the best since most likely he would have just ended up thinking of the Breakfast Club, or what was left of it. He took a couple of quizzes and finished his extra credit assignment for shop, a paper on different wood-working techniques. The grade didn’t quite boost his average up to an A, but at least he wasn’t failing anymore. His mother wouldn’t be satisfied with that, but there wasn’t much that she was satisfied with anyway, so he tried not to let it bother him.
He saw Claire in the hallway again, and she gave him a warm smile, but didn’t say anything. She was holding a bunch of posters advertising prom tickets, and she was surrounded by a group of girls who were all clamoring for her attention. Brian tried not to be too disappointed, though he couldn’t be sure that he succeeded.
It was harder to maintain that attitude with Bender. Brian passed him in the hall on Wednesday, and Bender looked right at him, right at him, but didn’t say anything. He could see the glimmer of recognition in his eyes, but there was something else, too. Something fiercer. Anger maybe, or contempt. Brian wondered if he was trying to maintain his tough guy attitude, or if he really just didn’t give a shit in the first place.
Allison was the hardest. He hadn’t seen her at all since detention, and everything he knew about her he’d learned from Andy. So, he wasn’t prepared when he bumped into her, literally, on the staircase during lunch on Thursday. He was running an errand for Mr. Grey, the Physics Club sponsor, and thinking of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that he still hadn’t eaten. He didn’t even notice Allison until he was right in front of her, tripping over her knapsack.
“Oh, I’m s--” When he realized that it was her, he stopped, staring at her.
She was sitting on the ledge in the middle of the staircase, holding a can of Coke. Her drawing folder was balanced on her knees, and she had a charcoal pencil in one hand. She was staring up at him with her mouth hanging open, her eyes wide with surprise and maybe a little bit of fear.
“Hey,” he said quietly.
Allison kept staring at him for a few more seconds, then suddenly stood up, spilling a couple of her papers on the steps. She grabbed her Coke and her knapsack and started running up the staircase.
Brian watched her run, too surprised to call after her. When she was gone, he reached down and picked up the papers she’d dropped. They were drawings, of farm houses and mountains and riverbeds. Brian remembered sitting on the couch with her in detention, listening to her rattle off all of the places she would go when she finally got away from her life, and he hated himself for being angry with her. Carefully, he stacked the papers together and slid them into his backpack for safe keeping.
On Friday afternoon, he ran into Andy again. Brian was coming out of a Physics Club meeting, and Andy was standing at his locker, his hair wet and his face flushed with exertion. When he noticed Brian walking down the hall towards him, he nodded. “You hungry?”
They went to Burger King again and sat at the same table as they had the previous Friday. This time, Brian ordered a large Coke and two packs of chicken nuggets. Andy ordered his usual smorgasbord.
Andy looked up, frowning as he chewed. “Huh?”
“Your meet,” said Brian. “I heard you won.”
Andy nodded. “Oh, yeah…thanks.” He leaned forward and took another bite of his cheeseburger, and a piece of tomato fell out. He frowned and picked it up, stuffing it back into the burger.
As he ate, Brian took a mental inventory of Andy’s overflowing tray. Three orders of chicken nuggets, an extra-large order of fries, a matching order of onion rings, a small milkshake, a cheeseburger (half-eaten), and a large Coke. Brian looked down at his own tray, with his two orders of nuggets, and he wondered if maybe he shouldn’t take a page from Andy’s book when it came to his eating habits. Of course, if it was going to do him any good, he’d probably have to start working out, too. And he didn’t really see that happening.
Brian looked up to see that Andy was watching him. “Oh, nothing.” He nodded at Andy’s tray. “That’s just, that’s just a lot of food, you know?”
Andy nodded. “I have to have fuel. For wrestling and working out.”
Brian nodded thoughtfully. “How often do you work out?”
Andy shrugged. “Every day. Sometimes two or three times.”
Brian’s eyes widened with surprise. “Three times a day?” he echoed.
Andy nodded and picked up a chicken nugget.
“Wow, that’s…” Brian shook his head. “That’s a lot of working out.”
Andy nodded again. “Yeah.”
“So, do you, like, do you get tired and stuff? Do you sleep a lot?”
Andy laughed. “I don’t know. Sometimes.”
Brian shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t imagine doing that.”
Andy paused thoughtfully, chewing on a nugget. When he swallowed, he said, “How long do you study every day?”
“Oh, uh…” Brian did a quick calculation. “I don’t know, maybe four or five hours?”
Andy’s eyebrows went up. “Seriously?”
Brian nodded hesitantly. “Yeah. How long do you study?”
“Not that much.”
Brian frowned. “Oh.” For some reason, he assumed that most people spent hours on homework. He didn’t know how they managed to pass all of their courses if they didn’t.
Andy shook his head. “I think I would go crazy if I spent that much time on homework. Hell, it already drives me crazy.”
“What are you taking?” Brian asked.
Andy sighed and swallowed a mouthful of his burger. “Trigonometry, English, History…” He trailed off thoughtfully. “…German.”
Brian couldn’t keep himself from smiling. “Really? I love German!” He cleared his throat and prepared his best German accent. “Ich bin Brian!”
Andy just stared at him blankly. “What?”
Brian could feel his face heating up. God, he was such a nerd. “Oh, I just…I just said that my name is Brian. That’s all.”
Andy nodded slowly. “Right.”
Brian busied himself with his chicken nuggets, trying to ignore the fact that his cheeks were probably the color of his little sister’s Barbie bedspread. And his ears.
“So, you really love that stuff, huh?”
Brian looked up to see that Andy was still watching him. “Oh, uh…”
“Like, science and foreign languages and reading and stuff,” Andy said. “You really like it, huh?”
Brian paused, then shrugged. “Yeah, sometimes.”
“Why just sometimes?”
Brian thought about it for a moment. “It’s fun, you know, when I’m learning something because I want to. Like, when I read magazines about all of the new stuff they’re discovering about the solar system and stuff like that.” He glanced up to see if Andy looked bored, but he was just sitting really still, watching him talk. Brian cleared his throat. “That stuff, you know, that’s really interesting. To me, at least.”
Andy nodded slowly. “And when is it not interesting?”
Brian took a deep breath and let it out again. “I don’t know. When my mom starts pressuring me to study and read things that I don’t want to. It’s not as fun.”
Andy narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, and Brian wondered if he’d said something wrong. “What?” he asked.
Andy shook his head. “Nothing. It’s just…” He paused. “That’s just how it is with me and wrestling. It used to be fun, and sometimes it still is, but when my dad starts yelling at me, it’s not fun anymore.”
Brian nodded. “Yeah,” he said quietly.
The two of them lapsed into a thoughtful silence, and Brian finished up his chicken nuggets. He took small sips of Coke as Andy started in on his onion rings.
“So, what did you get for your birthday?” Andy asked a few minutes later.
Brian looked up. “My birthday?”
Andy nodded. “It was last month, right?”
Brian nodded, surprised he had remembered. “Yeah, it’s, um, March twelfth.”
“So, what did you get?” asked Andy, stuffing another onion ring into his mouth.
“Well, I got, uh…” Brian held out his hand, counting off the items on his fingers. “…a new watch--it’s, uh, digital…some socks…and, uh, Hover Force.”
Andy frowned. “What’s Hover Force?”
“It’s a video game. For my Intellivision console.”
“No way! I’ve always wanted one of those!” Andy said, swallowing the last of his onion rings. “My dad said it was a waste of time and that it would make me lazy.”
“You can come over sometime and play mine,” Brian said, not even realizing what he was saying until the words were already out of his mouth. “I mean, you don’t have to or anything. I’m sure that you--”
“Yeah, that would be cool,” said Andy, wadding his napkin into a tight ball and tossing it onto his tray. “Do you have Pacman, like they have down at the arcade?”
Brian nodded. Pacman was his little sister’s game, but he didn’t tell Andy that. “Yeah, I do.”
“Cool,” said Andy. “Next time, we’ll go over to your house and play that one.”
Brian paused. “Next time?” he echoed. And then he realized that Andy meant next time they hung out. Which meant that he wanted to hang out again. Which meant that they were friends. Brian shrugged, doing his best to appear nonchalant. “Sure…next time.”
Andy nodded and took a long sip from his Coke.
And so it began.
They didn’t hang out much at school. It wasn’t a matter of embarrassment, but rather of practicality. Brian was a junior, and Andy was a senior, which meant that they didn’t have any classes together. They rarely saw one another, even in the halls between classes. Besides, both boys had friends that they spent most of their time with, and it was just easier to hang out after school than during.
It was strange to think of the two of them as friends. Andy was so popular at school that he was practically a celebrity, and Brian was just a nobody. The whole thing felt like some kind of unlikely fantasy, which was pretty much what detention had been in the first place. Brian kept waiting for the whole thing with Andy to fall apart, and it surprised him that it didn’t. The weeks went on, and Andy continued to call him and talk to him and drive him places. It occurred to Brian that, for all of his high hopes that the Breakfast Club would stick together, he didn’t have much faith in the long run that the others would really want to hang out with him. And they hadn’t, except for Andy, who was arguably the unlikeliest of all to keep true to his word. Brian had expected Andy to stay in touch with Claire and possibly even Allison, and he didn’t understand why, out of all the others, he was the only one that Andy spoke with on a regular basis. Sometimes, Andy would call out of the blue or stop by Brian’s house to watch a movie, and it was all Brian could do not to open his mouth and say something stupid like, “Why are you here? Why do you want to hang out with me? Out of all the others, why did you pick me?”
He never said any of that, of course. He was a geek, and he lacked several of the social skills that would help label him otherwise, but he did have enough sense to keep quiet about that.
Friday afternoons became a ritual. Andy took Brian to Burger King and taught him the joys of eating more than he should, and Brian invited Andy over to his house and showed him how to play video games on his Intellivision console. Andy’s favorite was Burgertime, which Brian found highly ironic and infinitely amusing. The purpose of the game was to create rows of gigantic hamburgers while fighting off a host of evil villains with corny names like Mr. Hot Dog and Mr. Pickle. Brian wasn’t sure if it was the fighting or the hamburgers that had Andy so entranced, but it sure was fun to watch.
One afternoon, in late April, the two of them were sitting in Brian’s bedroom playing Mario Bros. Andy had managed to get to the fourth level, where he was dodging red fireballs and battling the shell creepers. He was doing well, but he was down to his last life, and the shell creepers were gaining on him.
“Come on!” he shouted, pulling so hard on the joystick that Brian worried he was going to break it off.
“Watch out, here comes the--” Brian started.
“Shit!” Andy muttered, tossing his controller onto the floor. “I hate those guys.”
Brian nodded glumly. “You got really far that time, though.”
“Yeah.” He reached forward to reset the game. “You wanna play?”
Brian shrugged. “No, that’s okay.”
Andy sighed and leaned back until he was lying on the floor, flat on his back. He reached under the desk to grab Brian’s little league baseball mitt, which Brian had found in his closet the week before and had, for some reason, forgotten to put it away. Andy put his hand partway inside and stared at the web of leather. Brian, who was sitting on the bed, just sat there and watched him.
“I don’t want to go home,” Andy said finally.
Brian paused. “Why not?”
Andy sighed. “My brother’s home.”
“Oh.” Todd was Andy’s oldest brother, the one that taught high school basketball in Boston. From what he’d gathered, Todd was their father’s favorite, the one he used as bait whenever Andy looked like he was ready to throw in the towel. “None of my other boys acted like that! You think Todd thought about giving up? You think he was willing to throw away his scholarship because he just didn’t think it was worth the effort? No, he hung in there, and look where he is now…”
Brian had never even met Mr. Clark, but he hated him anyway.
“You can stay over here, if you want,” he offered.
Andy shook his head. “I have to eat dinner with them.”
“Oh.” Brian didn’t know what else to say, or if he was even supposed to say anything. Maybe he was just supposed to sit there and be quiet, and that’s all Andy wanted from him. But Brian had never been very good at sitting still, and he didn’t like feeling so helpless where his friends were concerned. Especially with Andy. He didn’t know why it was different with him, just that it was. Maybe their time in detention, with all of their confessions and emotionally-charged conversations, had established a connection that he couldn’t duplicate with the guys from the Physics Club.
Andy sighed and wedged his hand further into the mitt. “Did you play?”
Brian nodded. “For two years, until I was seven.”
Andy was still staring at the mitt. “I used to play.”
“Really?” Andy had only ever talked about wrestling, and Brian assumed that he had never played any other sports. “When?”
“Middle school,” Andy answered. “When I got to high school, I quit so I could focus on wrestling.”
Brian knew that what Andy meant to say was that his father made him quit. He felt the anger building in his chest. It just wasn’t fair.
“I was really good, too,” Andy continued, hitting his fist softly into the tiny mitt. “I played first base, sometimes second. They had me batting cleanup.”
“Cleanup?” Brian echoed. He wasn’t familiar with the terminology. All he remembered about baseball was trying not to get hit by the ball and trying not to trip over his shoelaces when he ran towards first base.
Andy nodded. “That’s the fourth position in the batting order. It’s for the best batter. The first three guys get on base, and then the fourth guy comes up and hits a homer, so everybody scores.”
“Does that happened every time?” Brian asked, bewildered.
Andy shook his head. “No, it’s just what they hope happens.”
Andy hit the glove again, gently so as not to damage it. His eyes were kind of soft and tired, like he was thinking about something. Brian just watched him, wishing he knew what he was supposed to say. Wishing he was good at stuff like that.
Finally, Andy sat up and took the glove off. “I should go.”
Brian nodded. “Yeah.”
Andy stood up, and they walked out into the hallway, then outside to Andy’s Bronco, which was parked along the curb outside of Brian’s house.
“See you later,” said Brian hesitantly.
Andy nodded and climbed into the driver’s seat. He started the engine, but didn’t put it into ‘Drive’. After a few seconds, he looked up at Brian. “Thanks.”
Brian frowned. “For what?”
Andy shrugged. “Nothing, just…nothing.”
Brian nodded, confused. “Okay.”
Andy reached up to put the vehicle into gear. “See you later.”
“Yeah, later.” Brian watched him pull away from the curb, feeling strangely disappointed. He didn’t know if it was for Andy’s sake because he had to go eat dinner with his brother, or if it was for his own sake because Andy was gone.
When the Bronco disappeared around the corner, Brian let out a deep sigh and went back into the house.
Two days later, Brian’s mom found out about the F.
He’d known that he was going to have to tell her about it sooner or later, and he had every intention of doing so, but every time he approached her about it, something in her face or the tone of her voice suggested that he should hold out for a better time. Once, it was because she was having a bad week at work, dealing with lazy and irresponsible co-workers, whom he’d heard all about at dinner that night. Then he approached her right as his little sister, Morgan, ran into the kitchen and announce to both of them that she’d spilled grape juice on the beige carpet in the living room. Then there was the time that he’d started talking to her while she was chopping vegetables for dinner. One glimpse of that knife and he was mumbling something about having “lots of homework to do” and escaping back to his bedroom.
But she did find out about it eventually, despite his cowardice. He came home from school one afternoon to find her sitting at the kitchen table with Morgan, who was eating her snack. Their mother was going through the mail, opening up envelopes and skimming the contents, then separating them into piles. Brian grabbed a glass of milk from the kitchen and sat down across the table from his sister.
“You look tired,” Morgan told him, almost accusingly.
“I just got home from school,” he said.
Morgan shoved a cracker into her mouth. “I gah tepee a ine eater a cool toray.”
Brian frowned. “What?”
Morgan finished chewing and swallowed her cracker. “I said I got to be the line leader at school today.”
“Oh.” Brian took a sip of milk. “Did you have fun?”
Morgan nodded. “It was supposed to be my turn tomorrow, but Jamie was sick, so I got to be line leader instead.” She took a sip of her juice and put the glass back on the table next to her plate. “Miss Williams says I’m one of the best line leaders in the class.”
Brian tried to keep a straight face. “Really?”
Morgan nodded very seriously. “She said I always do a good job not to walk too fast or too slow.”
Brian smiled. “I’m sure you’re really--”
“Morgan, go to your room.”
Surprised, Brian glanced over at his mother, who was looking down at a piece of paper in her hand. She didn’t even look up at either of her children, just kept staring at it intently, clenching her jaw like she always did when she was either focusing intently or really angry. Brian shifted forward slightly and caught a glance of the Shermer High School’s mascot in the upper left hand corner of the page. His report card. Brian’s stomach lurched, and he looked down at the table.
“I haven’t finished with my snack,” said Morgan.
“Then take it with you.”
Morgan sighed and stood from the table. A few seconds later, Brian and his mother were alone in the room.
“I was going to tell you,” he said quietly, after a long moment of silence.
“Oh, really?” Her voice was tight with anger. “When, at your graduation?”
Brian took a deep breath. “No, I…I just--”
“You just what?” she demanded. “Two weeks ago, you told me you were making all A’s in your classes. Did you know that you were making a C in shop?”
Brian swallowed. Actually, two weeks ago, he’d thought that he was failing, so technically the answer was no, but she definitely didn’t need to know that. “Yes,” he answered. “I knew.”
“So, you lied to me?” she asked him. “Look at me!”
Brian looked up.
“Did you lie to me?” she repeated.
Brian’s mouth was dry, and his voice cracked when he answered. “Yes,” he said quietly.
His mother’s eyes flashed with anger, and Brian forced himself not to look away. “I’ll have to talk it over with your father, but you’re probably grounded,” she told him. “For at least two weeks.”
Brian nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
Mrs. Johnson didn’t look away, just kept watching him. After a moment, she sighed and dropped her eyes to the piece of paper in front of her. “Go to your room,” she said tiredly.
Brian nodded obediently and stood from the table.
When his father got home that evening, Brian could hear the two of them talking in the kitchen, presumably about what an idiot he was if he was making a C in shop, of all classes. Brian stayed in his room working on his homework until his father came in to tell him that dinner was ready.
That night, dinner was a little more uncomfortable than usual. Mrs. Johnson, while she didn’t ignore Brian, didn’t go out of her way to make conversation with him either. Mr. Johnson kept the ball rolling by asking his daughter about school and his son about anything but school.
About halfway through the meal, the phone rang, and Brian got up to answer it. “Hello?”
“Brian, it’s Andy.”
For some reason, Brian was really glad that it was him. “Hey, man.”
“What are you doing? I was going to see if you wanted to come over and play basketball.”
“Oh, uh…” Brian glanced over his shoulder to see into the dining room, where his family was still eating dinner. His parents were within earshot, but just barely, and his father was deep into a story about one of the guys at his office. “I can’t,” he told him.
“Well, I’m eating dinner, but--”
“Oh, sorry. What about after?”
“Well, uh…” Brian glanced back into the dining room. “I’m grounded,” he whispered. As if it was some kind of secret.
“Grounded?” Andy echoed. “Why?” There was a pause, then, “Oh.”
Brian sighed. “Yeah.”
Andy was quiet for a minute, and Brian could hear him rustling around on the other line. Finally, he asked, “What time do they go to sleep?”
Brian frowned. “I don’t know. About nine or so. Why?”
“I’ll be over at ten. Keep the back gate unlocked.” Then he hung up.
Brian stared at the phone for a few seconds, then slowly reached up to replace it on its cradle. When he returned to the dining room, his mother looked up from her plate. “Who was that?” she asked.
“Um, my friend Andy.”
Mrs. Johnson furrowed her brow in concentration. “Is he the one that ate all of my blueberry muffins last week?”
Brian paused. “Uh, yeah.”
Mrs. Johnson frowned, considering this piece of information. “He seemed nice,” she said hesitantly.
Brian let out a deep breath and took a bite of his mashed potatoes.
Even though he was expecting him, Brian was still surprised when Andy knocked on his bedroom window at exactly ten o’clock that night.
“What are we doing?” Brian hissed. He was sitting on his bed, leaning out the window, and Andy was standing a few feet away, right in the middle of Mr. Johnson’s vegetable garden.
“We’re going to my house to play basketball,” Andy answered.
“But I’m grounded!”
Andy rolled his eyes. “You told me that already.”
Brian paused. “I can’t get in trouble. If my parents find out, I--” He stopped, unwilling to think about that possibility.
Andy was watching him closely, and Brian could see him soften a bit. “You’re not going to get in trouble,” he assured him. “We won’t even be gone that long.”
Brian regarded him carefully. “You promise?”
Andy nodded, his eyes never leaving Brian’s. “Promise.”
Brian sighed. “Fine, let’s go.”
He didn’t get caught.
They stayed over at Andy’s house for the better part of two hours, playing basketball. Andy taught him the basics, like dribbling and shooting and guarding, and both of them were pleasantly surprised to find that Brian didn’t completely suck at the sport. In fact, his height was a definite advantage, and he had pretty good aim once he got used to the weight and feel of the ball. They played a one-on-one for a while, not keeping score, just goofing off. As they played, they talked about movies and music and which TV detectives they liked best. Gradually, the pressure in Brian’s chest loosened. After a while, he forgot about the F and his grades and his parents, and he gave in and let himself have fun.
It was kind of nice.
Two weeks later, Andy came in second place at the State Finals.
His father, of course, wasn’t entirely happy about it. He was hoping Andy would repeat the previous year’s performance and win the whole thing. The only thing that saved Andy from a full-blown lecture about giving up and working harder was the fact that he had already been offered a full scholarship to a major university, and they weren’t about to jerk it out from under him for second place. Mr. Clark gave him a half-hearted clap on the back and said something about training harder for the next one, and that was that.
Brian wasn’t there to see any of this, but he heard about it from Andy on the night he got back from Chicago, where he’d spent the weekend while the tournament was going on. He called Brian on Sunday night, just after dinner.
“I came in second.”
Brian’s eyebrows went up. “Really? Wow, that’s great.”
Andy paused. “You think so?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“I got first last year.”
“Yeah, I know, but…” Brian smiled. “You’re the second best wrestler in Illinois!” The idea of being the second best in the state at anything seemed huge to Brian, who hadn’t even placed at the regional science fair, despite the hours of work he’d poured into his project.
Andy sighed. “Yeah.”
Brian waited for Andy to say something else, and when he didn’t, Brian cleared his throat. “So, what are you doing right now?”
Brian paused. “Want to come over and play Burgertime?”
There was a moment of silence, and then he thought he heard Andy laugh. “Yeah…that sounds good.”
The rest of the semester went by in a blur. Brian spent most of his free time at the library or in his bedroom studying. His mother spent most of her time looking over his shoulder, making sure he didn’t screw anything else up.
Claire won prom queen. Brian wasn’t there, of course, since he was a junior, but he saw her in the hallway on Monday morning after the dance. She was surrounded by her usual group, and she was smiling widely, laughing at some joke that he probably wouldn’t understand since he wasn’t popular or a girl. They chatted for a few seconds until the group disbanded, leaving Claire alone at her locker. She put her books away, then stopped and turned, glancing over her shoulder. At first, Brian worried that she’d noticed him watching her, and he was prepared to be very embarrassed, but then he realized that she wasn’t looking at him at all. In fact, she wasn’t looking at anything. She was just standing there, staring blankly out over the hallway as dozens of students walked past her on their way to class. For the first time since detention, Brian noticed the circles under her eyes, and he wondered if her active social life wasn’t starting to take its toll.
He never ran into Bender again, but he did see him fairly often, smoking cigarettes with his friends on the bleachers between--and probably during--classes. He also saw Allison a couple of times, in the hallways mostly. She walked quickly, with her shoulders hunched over and her textbooks pressed against her chest like a shield. He always wanted to say something to her, but she disappeared so quickly that he never had a chance to talk to her. He did keep her drawings, though. The ones she’d dropped on the staircase during lunch that second week after detention. He pinned them on the wall above his desk, right next to his poster of FDR.
Meanwhile, he and Andy were hanging out two or three times a week, playing video games or basketball, sometimes studying. Andy was fighting his way through trigonometry, which Brian was also taking since he was an honor student. He helped him out as best as he could, and it must have been good enough, because in late May Andy graduated from Shermer High School. Brian wasn’t there for the ceremony, but late that night, when he was getting ready to go to bed, he heard a knock on his window, and he opened it to find Andy standing in his backyard, wearing his graduation cap.
“What’s going on?” Brian asked, confused.
Andy grinned and held up his right hand, which was clutching a six-pack of Budweisers. “Thirsty?”