By the time the two week suspension was over, the legend of what Pete had done, had grown. It was all over school that the boy had demolished Tony Bradford single handed. But the rumors now said he had backed down half of the football team while doing it. The stories varied widely, some claiming that Pete had used some kind of weapon, which many believed had to be true, since Tony was now slated to miss the final four games of the season. Another story claimed that Pete was secretly a third degree black belt, and had used some sort of ancient martial arts secret. Everyone claimed to be on a first name basis with him, and every story was supposedly direct from the source. Whatever the case, Pete wanted nothing to do with it.
Walking into the school on his first day back, Pete noticed the looks right away. While he was used to people looking at him, the accusations in their eyes were something Pete had come to accept a long time ago. What he was not used to, and what he had no experience with were the appraising glances, and the stares of astonishment his fellow students were sending his way. He had no idea what had happened while he had been away, all he knew was he did not like the attention he was getting all of a sudden. Attention led to terrible things in his experience, and he already had one nightmare to live through at home, he didn’t want another one here at school.
He didn’t know how he did it, but Pete survived the unwanted looks, and glances, all of the whispered conversations that took place as he walked past, and silences that seemed to spring up whenever he came within ear shot. But at lunch things became much worse. As he sat, in his usual place, alone in the far corner of the cafeteria, he noticed the looks that the members of the football team were shooting his way. They were not the looks that the other students had been giving him all day. These were the looks of someone planning on hurting him. They were looks he had seen all of his life, but for the first time in his life, Pete was absolutely unafraid of them. Putting down his fork, and ignoring the lump that passed for meatloaf in school, Pete looked back at the athletes, staring them down in an unspoken challenge. The look of icy calm on his face had several of them averting their eyes in uncertainty as their attempt at intimidation failed miserably.
The lunch period was just about over, and Pete was bringing his empty lunch tray to the collection window, when a small touch on his arm brought him back to reality. He looked down at the pale, tiny hand, gently touching him on the wrist, and his heart nearly stopped. Ashley Waters stood next him, looking up at his scarred, battered face, those glorious eyes not seeing the road map of pain and misery etched deeply in his skin. Pete swallowed the lump in his throat as he looked down into that gorgeous face, for the first time, close enough to see the darker halo of deep gray around her iris. “A.. Ash… Ashley?” he stammered, his deep voice sounding breathless as he nearly got lost in her eyes.
“Pete…” Ashley began hesitantly, as she quickly drew her hand away from his wrist, “I, uh… I wanted to uh,” she said softly, as she tore her eyes away from Pete’s, crossing her arms in front of her chest, in a defensive posture. “I just… Thank you Pete!” she blurted out quickly, then turned and raced out of the cafeteria, leaving a stunned Pete staring after her in confusion.
His uncertain revery was broken suddenly by a rough shove at his back. Pete stumbled, but kept his feet, as he turned, and instinctively put his back to a wall. One of the football players, Pete couldn’t remember his name or which position he played, stood in front of him trying to look menacing as he stared at Pete. “Boy, you fucked us all!” he grated as he balled up his fists, “You put Tony in the hospital, you little faggot! You just cost us the rest of our season!”
Pete had suddenly had enough. For the first time in his life, he felt he had been pushed too far. He had wanted nothing but to be left alone, and no one, in all his life had ever done that. To them, he had been nothing but a target, a vessel through which they could slake their own needs. And now, all of that pain, all of that rage, that had been stomped down, smothered all of his life came boiling to the surface. Rearing to his full height, of nearly six foot four inches, he looked down on this new, would be tormentor, a fire nobody had ever seen blazed behind his eyes, as he let the feelings that had been bottled up inside him for so long finally come pouring out. “Yeah, that’s right asshole! I did fuck up your little friend. He had it fucking coming in a way you wouldn’t even understand,” Pete shouted, his voice roaring over the noise of the other students, as he took a step forward threateningly, “And if you wanna make something of it, I will fuck you up too!” And with that, he pushed the boy standing in front of him.
Everything that he had ever wanted to do to the men, and women, his foster parents, the social workers, the group home directors, even his own mother, was behind that push, he held nothing back from it. The impact on the boy’s chest sounded like a hollow boom, as he was driven all the way back to tables five feet behind him. A stunned silence filled the cafeteria, as the kids all stopped to stare, as their newest topic of gossip, again did something nobody would have believed possible. Stomping over to the boy, who was sitting on the floor, dazed, and shocked at what had just happened to him, and reached down with his huge, scar covered hand, and hauled the boy to his feet.
“Don’t you ever touch me again,” he whispered viciously in the stunned boy’s ear, “If you, or your friends ever come at me again, I promise, I will hurt you so bad you will be afraid of your own shadows for the rest of your lives.” Without waiting for a reply, and without a backward glance at the boy’s friends, Pete stalked out of the cafeteria, leaving half of the school in stunned silence behind him.
Pete didn’t know where he was going, as he wandered the halls of the school. All he knew was he had to find somewhere he could go to avoid the stares for the rest of the day. He knew, after his show in the cafeteria, that he was going to get even more attention than ever. He didn’t want it. He had never wanted it. All he had ever wanted was Goliath, and the joy that his dog had brought him, but even that had been taken from him. Now all he wanted was solitude. A place where he could go unnoticed again. He didn’t know how he came to it, but he suddenly found himself standing in front of the old equipment room. An old oversized storage closet, that had been used to house the school’s athletic supplies before the gym had been renovated. It was now used as a catch all for anything the school never used, but refused to throw away.
Pete knew most of the school’s hiding places, having spent the majority of his time there avoiding people as much as possible. He knew the door was not locked, and silently let himself in. The room was stale, and smelled of old gym mats, and chalk dust, but it was dim, lit only through three small windows near the roof, and it was quiet. It was because Pete knew how quiet the room was supposed to be, that he knew he was not alone almost immediately. The quiet sound of sobbing, and the occasional sniffle, coming from the back of the room, behind a row of old roller chalk boards. Coming to a stop by the edge of the chalk boards, Pete peeked around the corner cautiously, and nearly swallowed his tongue in shock.
Sitting on a stack of wrestling mats, her back against the wall, with her knees drawn up to her chest, was Ashley. Her face was buried in her hands, as she cried softly, murmuring to herself as her shoulders shook, in time with her sobbing. “I’m so sorry Pete” she whispered, and she repeated those words over and over to herself. Pete stood, stunned, not believing someone could actually care about him, not even understanding that he was worth the effort. But here she was, and Pete had no idea what to do about it. Suddenly Ashley leaned her head back against the wall, looking up at the ceiling, misery, and self loathing written all over her beautiful face. Pete was stricken when he realized that the tears running down her cheeks, were because of him.
He knew he had to do something, Ashley was crying, those glorious eyes, the sunshine in his little world of misery, were now dim, and clouded. In an instant Pete was kneeling on the floor in front of Ashley, looking into her shocked, tear stained face, with a deep, hurting, question in his eyes. “Ashley,” he whispered hoarsely, “Why? Why are you crying? For me of all people?” Pete looked into her anguished eyes, searching for an answer to a question, he never thought he would have to ask “Why are you sorry Ashley? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
The look of anguish slowly slid off of Ashley’s, quickly replaced by a look of shock, as she fully grasped the depths of Pete’s pain. The boy didn’t even know why someone would bother to feel upset for him. She glanced down at Pete’s arms, the exposed skin sticking out from the ratty sleeves of his t-shirt was crisscrossed with scars. One in particular, on his right arm, was long, and narrow, but sunk deeply into the skin, and it drew her eyes to it. Ashley was not unfamiliar with pain, she knew that people could be absolutely horrible when you had something they wanted, but she could not fathom how deeply this quiet, shy, gentle boy had been hurt.
Without speaking, and looking Pete directly in the eyes, Ashley slowly pulled the long sleeves of her sweater up to her elbows, revealing pale, angry scars, that wrapped entirely around her forearms. Pete knew instantly what had caused them, they were scars from where rope had bitten deeply into her skin, someone had hurt Ashley, had hurt her badly, and the knowledge caused Pete’s brain to go blank. A rage began to build within him, threatening to consume him in a white hot conflagration so powerful he could barely contain it.
Ashley’s hand slowly made it’s way to Pete’s face, her small, fragile fingers made their way down his cheek, as she gently caressed his face. It was the first time in his life, that he had been touched in a gentle manner, not a cruel, or sickening touch, or a painful, menacing touch. It was a touch he had always dreamed of experiencing, and for the first time in his life, he closed his eyes, and allowed himself to enjoy being touched. “I’m sorry Pete, because I never wanted you to become a target for them. Not because of me,” she whispered softly, he heart breaking with every word. “I can see it in you Pete, I know someone has hurt you before. And I never wanted you to get hurt because of me.”
Pete opened his eyes, the soft brown, now wreathed in long unshed tears, and stared into Ashley’s glorious gray orbs. She understands, he thought slowly, at least some of it. And to his shock, she wasn’t revolted, she didn’t hate him, she accepted him in spite of it. Pete suddenly couldn’t stop himself, wrapping his arms around Ashley’s slender waist, Pete buried his face in her lap and wept. All of his years of isolation, and pain, all of his rage, and suffering, came pouring out of him, as tears he had kept repressed for his entire life, were finally given release,
Ashley was stunned, to say the least. She had been watching Pete for nearly a year now, had seen how he reacted to the world, flinching at raised voices, avoiding all contact with other people, refusing to speak unless forced. She knew what it all meant, she had lived with much the same conditions for almost five years before her aunt had rescued her from her stepfather, she still experienced some of those debilitating reactions, and had an instinctive distrust of men in general, but she knew Pete was different. He was just like she used to be. And now, he knelt there, his arms wrapped around her in a gesture of complete surrender, and cried his heart out. She gently wrapped her arms around his head, slowly running her delicate fingers through his tangled hair, and whispered soothing sounds to him as he wept. This boy had saved her from a fate she had dreaded for more than six years, and here he was, in so much pain that he was beyond words. Now, she thought angrily, now it was her turn to save him.
It took Pete almost an hour to finally cry himself dry, the whole time, Ashley sat holding him close to her, until the wracking sobs had finally died down. Gently she pulled Pete’s head back and looked down into his eyes. “You good now Pete?” she whispered as she smiled into his battered, world weary face.
“Peter,”he answered hoarsely, his voice dry and brittle from his extended crying, “Nobody ever uses my real name, but I want you to.” His puffy eyes were shining for the first time Ashley could ever remember, “Please, call me Peter, It…”
Whatever else Pete was going to say, was suddenly cut off, as Ashley, the one person who had ever looked at him as a human being in his entire life, ignored every physical instinct in her body, and gently pressed her lips to his own. Warning flares went off inside of Pete’s head with concussive force, his muscles screamed at him to pull away, and without even realizing what had happened, Pete had wrenched himself away from Ashley’s grasp, panic and unreasoning fear written deeply in his eyes. He scuttled backward on his hands and feet, colliding with, but hardly noticing, the chalk boards, hitting them hard enough to topple them with a crash. The clatter of the falling boards bombarded Pete’s already panicked mind, as it sought to isolate him from all perceived threats.
Suddenly Pete found himself in the far corner of the supply room, huddled behind a line of dilapidated file cabinets, trying in vain to make his six foot four inch frame as tiny as possible, shaking uncontrollably. And just as suddenly Ashley was there, kneeling beside him, fear, and confusion, and concern shining in her eyes. But even as she tried to touch him, to comfort, and reassure him, he kept flinching away from the contact violently. Not knowing what else to do, but refusing to leave this poor boy alone with his demons, she sat as close to him as he would allow, and tried to whisper support to him.
“It’s O.K. Peter,” she said softly, “You’re ok. Nothing’s gonna hurt you. I won’t let it. Just come back to me Peter.” Her hoarse, begging whispers showed how close to tears she was again, and the realization that she was going to cry because of him, snapped Pete back to reality.
“Why?” he asked quietly, as he turned his pale face toward hers. He could tell the question had caught her off guard slightly, as her beautiful face screwed up quizzically. “Why are you crying for me? You barely know me, but you care. Why?”
Ashley could tell that the question had cost him dearly to ask, and she also knew that if she couldn’t explain her emotions properly to him, it would cost them both even more. She sat in silence for a moment, gathering her thoughts, and slowly began to speak. She spoke for nearly an hour, softly, and emotionless, telling him about how her stepfather had begun coming into her room when she was six, she told him about the beatings, and sexual torture that she had to endure, being tied to her bed, whipped, and beaten for his sick pleasure. She explained how this had endured for five years, and how her life became infinitely better. “My Aunt Em saved me Peter. I know I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t. That’s why I care. Because someone has to save you too.”
Pete was both stunned, and shocked, but overlaying both of those emotions was a sense of awe. She cared about him, she had shared something nobody else knew, because she knew he would understand. The very idea of it was like the sun, at last, breaking through the gray sky he had lived under all of his life. For the first time in his life, Pete understood how much it meant to have someone willing to shoulder part of his burden. The final bell of the day tore them both out of each others eyes with a start. “Peter,” Ashley whispered as she slowly got to her feet. “Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
Pete thought quickly, and realized that tomorrow was Saturday, and that meant Miss Sarah would usually work until six pm and then go drink up enough courage to force him into bed with her, Pete thought, as he and Ashley slowly made there way down the hall to the school’s front doors. She wouldn’t be home until after nine pm. He had the entire day to himself, a short reprieve to his waking nightmare. “No. I usually spend Saturdays out by the bluffs. It’s… Quiet I guess.” he answered hesitantly.
“Peter, I’d like it if you would come to my house tomorrow…” Ashley left the request hanging there, as Pete looked down into her eyes. He could see that it had taken an incredible amount of courage for her to ask, and seeing the fear of rejection in her eyes, made Pete’s answer almost automatic. “I… I think I’d like that too Ashley. I’ve…” he was suddenly interrupted by a fist that came crashing into the side of his head.
The blow was heavy, and gave Pete a jarring impact that would have put other people to sleep. But Pete was all too used to being hit, and hit much harder than that, if truth were known. Taking a few stuttering steps to the left, as he found his balance again, Pete turned and saw Kyle, Greg, and the football player that had come at him in the lunch room. They stood there, trying to intimidate him, trying to be menacing, and it almost worked. Pete’s gut instinct was to cover up and try to go unnoticed, to become as unobtrusive as possible, and hope that they overlooked him. That all became meaningless of course, as Ashley stepped between them, and tried to stop what was obviously inevitable.
“Get lost Greg!” she said, as loudly as Pete had ever heard her, “He’s not go…” she was cut off, as the large boy, a senior defensive end, who was being heavily recruited by division one schools to play football, shoved her out of the way. Ashley stumbled, back peddling, until she collided with the wall with enough force for her head to bounce off the cinder blocks. And she slowly sank down the wall, a look of pain and shock on her face, as tears welled up in her eyes.
A white fire exploded inside of Pete’s head. This motherfucker had just hurt Ashley! He had been so casual about it, just tossing her aside, like the trash both he and she had been treated like all of their lives. Suddenly Pete was invincible. A red haze descended on Pete’s mind, and suddenly his world was narrowed down to his three mortal enemies, and the insignificant space separating him and them. With a quick two steps, Pete closed the gap between himself and Greg, and calling on everything he had ever learned on inflicting pain, he began to unload hell. Pete was intimately familiar with which body parts could be injured quickly, and efficiently, and using that knowledge, Pete stomped his heel into Greg’s left knee.
The snapping sound coming from the joint told Pete more than the howl of agony that was torn from Greg’s throat. Pete had just hyper-extended the joint, the delicate tendons and ligaments being wrenched far beyond their limits, as Greg tumbled to the floor. An arm wrapped around Pete’s neck, trying to squeeze the air out of him, but he knew how to avoid that. Dropping a massive hand to his new attacker’s groin, Pete latched onto the boy’s balls, and closed his fingers into a vice-like fist, squeezing and twisting until he heard the scream of pain he had been waiting for. Turning to his left, Pete saw the boy from the lunch room, his red face locked in a grimace of pain, it was not enough for Pete. These boys had hurt Ashley, the only person who had ever looked at him like he meant something, just plain pain was enough. Wrapping his arms around the boy’s waist, Pete wrenched with every ounce of strength he had. Pete hoisted the boy off the floor, and drove him back down, his chest and face colliding with the floor like a train hitting a barrier.
The scream that echoed off of the walls was strangled, and muted, as a gout of blood spouted out of the boy’s mouth, splashing across the floor. A kick to the ribs sent Pete rolling off of the boy now bleeding below him, as Kyle rushed to his friend’s aid. The kick should have been debilitating, and Pete knew he was going to have a bruise from his armpit to his hip soon. It should have kept him from breathing, but Pete was beyond pain. Nothing these boys could do to him, had not been done, hundreds of times already. Coming out of his roll, Pete shot to his feet, and rushed Kyle, colliding with him shoulder to chest, bringing them both to the floor. Pete knelt over the other boy, a huge fist locked onto his jaw and forced the struggling football player to look him in the eyes.
“Where do you think I got my fucking scars?” he growled as he watched true fear creep across Kyle’s face. “Did you think you could hurt me any worse than I’ve already been hurt?” The punch collided with Kyle’s ribs, drawing a squeal of pain from deep within his throat. “You could have killed me, and it would have made no difference to me!” again Pete drove his point home with a punch, this time to Kyle’s face, with enough force to knock his head off the floor. “But you decided to hurt her!” his voice getting louder as the rage continued to build inside of him. To emphasize the point Pete twisted Kyle’s face to the right, so that he could see Ashley sitting on the floor, her hands around her head, crying in pain. “You’re defending a boy who wanted to hurt her! Who wanted to RAPE HER!” Pete stood up slowly, dragging the struggling Kyle to his feet with him, “NOT while I’m alive. No one will EVER hurt her again! Never. Fucking. Again!” Pete slammed the back of Kyle’s head into the wall and his eyes glazed over, as he slid to the floor.
Pete had very little time to gloat over his victory. As soon as he had released Kyle, he was tackled to the floor, and wrapped into a bear hug, as school security, and vice principal Robertson came running up the hallway. Pete didn’t even bother fighting this time, it simply took a look at Ashley, and her silent plea for him to calm down, and Pete went limp, and waited for whatever was going to happen next.