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Quinn gazed down at his shoes, feeling a growing sense of anger. Hawk Ridge was the most prestigious school a thirteen-year-old could dream of attending. It had a few peculiar quirks about it, though. For example, they didn't believe in lockers, instead preferring the cubby holes in the locker room. There was also a strict dress code. It wasn't just keeping your uniform presentable, but down to the types of knots you had in your shoes. It wasn't an especially complicated knot, just something special for dress shoes. A modification on the old bunny ears kids learn in kindergarten. Quinn never mastered that because of his condition.
Dyspraxia is a chronic neurological condition that affects the ability to both remember and plan small movements. Quinn had a rather severe case. He could ride a bike, but it always felt like he was on the verge of losing control, and he was. His handwriting was illegible. All these problems were manageable. Walking took a bit longer, especially in the countryside, riding a bike down the road wasn't always the fastest way to get somewhere. Tying a knot took many minutes. Thankfully, he had Velcro shoes for when he was at home. At school, he didn't tie his shoes as tightly as everyone else. He treated them more like slippers, something he could slide on and off, but it wasn't the best idea to have loose running shoes in gym class. It's not like sports were his thing.
One day, somebody untied his shoes. It was such a little thing, but so intimate. It was worse than being called a name or getting a rough shove in the hallway. He could ignore those. Having his shoes untied, that was a real problem.
If he were still at his old school, he would have turned to one of his friends and asked for help. James or Dean would have helped him for sure. They had been friends since they started going to school. They were tight. Together they had done everything, from getting in trouble together to exploring.
Together they had gone from showing off their erection at age seven and sword fighting to BJ at around eleven. It was never more than just a game, something they did for fun. Loser does this. The winner gets this. Then the last few months, puberty started to sink its claws into Quinn, it had brought forth a discovery. He liked being on the losing side. Well, maybe not so much losing, but he enjoyed sucking. It was something he wanted to explore, hoping it would lead to something more. He was pretty sure his fantasies were a bit different.
Of course, his friends weren't there. Since school had started a month ago, he had barely seen them. He was busy with schoolwork or simply just too tired. The schoolwork was undoubtedly more demanding. He was on the IEP (Independent Educational Program), but that was only to keep him on track with everyone else.
Not that that's how everyone else saw it. Quinn was permitted to have a laptop to take notes in class. His typing was still slower than everyone's writing, but that's not how people saw it. He had an advantage. He was different. Of course, his IEP addressed educational issues. It didn't address dress code issues.
Resisting the urge to throw a glance over his shoulder to see who might be enjoying his little problem, he got dressed as quickly as he could. They had enough time for that, but not for his shoes. He remembered the necessary steps needed, what he had to do. It was when he tried to transfer it to his fingers that they didn't listen. After his first two failures, he heard the warning bell ending class. Quinn's next class was nearby. He could spare another moment. That's what he told himself, but that mild sense of panic was growing. Soon his rights shoe had a knot in it. He wouldn't be able to get out without a fork now.
The locker room was emptying behind him. Quinn still had his left shoe to worry about. Absentmindedly, he wondered if you could ask the gym teacher for help. That would be very embarrassing and probably useless, though. In his experience, the physical education teachers tended not to be the most sympathetic. Being clumsy tended to make you not want to participate in sports.
When it came to his left shoe, he just tied it as best as he could and tucked the excess laces inside, hoping nobody would notice before grabbing his bag and heading to his classroom. Quinn made it less than two steps outside of the gymnasium when he heard it.
"Hold up there!" an older boy said, stepping in front of him.
Quinn recognized the older boy from reputation more than anything else. Peter Hanger was a Proctor who was enjoying the limited power he had to make other people miserable.
"What's your name?"
"Quinn Howard." he said, coming to a stop.
"Well, mister Howard, you're not appropriately dressed. It's a minor infringement, so if you fix it quickly, I will overlook it." The older boys said with a smile.
Mentally, Quinn was screaming. There was no way Peter Hanger could have seen his shoes that fast. What was he even doing hanging outside of the gymnasium anyway? There was no way this wasn't a set up.
"I'm sorry. Can you please give me a demerit so I can be on my way?" A demerit would be unfortunate, but if he avoided any other trouble for the semester, it would amount to nothing.
"What, you want a demerit? I'm trying to let you off with a warning here."
From the corner of his eye, Quinn could see two of his classmates lingering. They were paying far too much attention. One of them was Rick. Last week Quinn had beat him in a persuasive debate. He and the other boy started to walk up the hallway, not wanting to be late for class. They still looked back.
"I'll take the demerit. I don't want to be late for class."
The older boy smiled and said in a condescending tone. "Well, I'll give you your demerit, but you still need to fix the problem. You do know what it is?"
Quinn's mind was roaring with anger and frustration. He couldn't help but feel that all the students in the hall were looking at him, and a lot of them were. Being stopped by a hall monitor was a prime rubbernecking opportunity. Quinn felt like he was about to shout or cry. For better or for worse, he picked the former over the latter.
"Would you just give me the fucking demerit!"
Quinn had always thought the expression `you can hear a pin drop' was an exaggeration. Well, that's how things felt after his outburst. Every kid nearby looked over and stopped. All conversations that were being carried on ended abruptly. The kids that weren't the closest by were still moving down the hallway, but even then, he could sense something had happened. Peter Hanger, the Proctor, felt all of that too.
Quinn felt a sensation of relief as he was being pulled away from that terrible silence. That feeling lasted until he got to the office and sat down. Swearing, especially at a proctor, was a significant infraction. Quinn knew he was going to get detention for this. He had never had detention before.
He felt numb sitting there as the Proctor went in and explained the situation. When the door opened again, Peter Hanger emerged with a grin. It wasn't something the principal could see. The anger he felt at that moment towards Peter Hanger was a new level of hate for him.
The principal's office was a little nicer than that found in public schools. The desk was real wood, and the chairs were more comfortable even for a student who was in trouble. Quinn sat there and listened to the man explained how inappropriate his behavior was. He was waiting patiently to at least attempt is defense. That was until the conversation took an unexpected turn.
"Mister Howard, you managed two infractions of the rules today. Combine that with the complaint I received from Mr. Stands, and that makes three demerits worthy occasions."
"Mr. Stands?" Quinn interrupted, not understanding where that one was coming from. "What is his complaint?" even as he said the words, he realized it was the wrong thing to say. The principal was in lecture mode, not debit mode.
"He says you have been very confrontational in class."
Mr. Stands was the Civics teacher. He was also one of those teachers who like to inject their opinion as fact. Quinn had called him on it a few times, once he had even gotten the class to laugh at him though that hadn't been his intention. The man has started stammering and tripping over his own words. "That man is a parrot. If he is going to inject his opinion as fact, shouldn't he be challenged? Isn't that what this whole school is about? Challenge yourself to challenge the world?" that was one of the school mottos at least.
The principal glared down at him. "There may be something to what you're saying. I have yet to investigate the matter. However, given the severity of your outburst, I think you've earned some corporal punishment." The principal said as he walked to the corner of the room where a large paddle was kept. "You'll be the first of the year."
Quinn stared at the paddle. No, this wasn't happening. He never got into severe trouble. He simply didn't get into trouble, not big trouble, not like this.
An epiphany is not something everybody experiences in their life, when you have a moment where everything makes sense, when little disconnected things come together, and you understand. Something more profound than you can ever understand anything else. Quinn Howard experienced one at that very moment.
Quinn had made very few decisions in his life. Hawk Ridge was not a school his father could have ever afforded. When he had received the letter that he could receive a scholarship to go, he hadn't wanted to. It was expected of him, though. He went along with it. He had never wanted his IEP; it had just been given to him and assumed he would use it. The fact that he had gone from a public school to a private school had not been something he thought of. He didn't think how much more extreme the students' reactions might be to perceive advantages. He had just gone along with it.
The untying of his shoes been had been a very intimate way of bullying. He wondered how much they had thought it out. Certainly, they had intended for further humiliation, but there was no way they could have seen it going this way.
He reflected briefly on how the principal had acted. He had talked to the Proctor first, and during his whole lecture, he had not sat down. Using a height difference to intimidate was a pretty easy tactic to see. If Rick had been the one who untied his shoes, then he'd only been the first bully in this chain of events. Peter Hanger was certainly involved somehow too. They were kids and, on some level, he could understand that. Mr. Stands and the principal though? They were bullies too. Mr. Stands in several ways, using his position of power to assert his agenda. The principal wasn't looking for an explanation. He just wanted to remind the student body of corporal punishment. It was a pre-emptive measure and he was expected to go along with it.
"No." the single word stopped the principal in his tracks and Quinn looked up at him feeling rather disconnected.
"This is not a debate young man. Your behavior has been abominable."
"Maybe, but I'm not taking a paddling for this." He was surprised at how his voice sounded calm, but nobody was supposed to like a bully.
The principal was taken aback, and he drew himself up even taller it seemed. "Your parents agreed to the rules of the school when they signed you up. I am fully within my rights."
"My father agreed." He cut the man off before the principal could say anything more. "I didn't. If you attempt to use that on me, I will treat it like the assault it is and fight back with tooth and nails. Then when it is over, I will call the cops, or you will call the cops I'm sure they'll be called at some point. I bet it will make the 6 O'clock News." He slowly started to stand up and rolled his shoulders. "Do you want to make the news, or should I get to class?"
Sometimes, bullies are ready to be stood up to and other times they're completely blindsided. that was something Quinn didn't understand now, it was something he would reflect on later as he walked down the hallway to his classroom.
He knew that wouldn't be the end of it. A couple of the kids asked him between classes what he got in trouble for and he told them everything. It all felt rather distant at the time almost as if he had watched it on TV. By the time he finally got home he was more himself.
His father's job wasn't the type that you could easily get off early from. It was still warm enough that he sat out on the porch and waited for him to come home. Quinn could tell just by the look in his father's eyes that he had been called though. Not that that was a surprise.
However, his father wasn't a bully. He simply walked up onto the porch and sat down on a chair a little further away. There was a long moment of silence before he spoke. "Your principal called me today. Care to explain?"
Quinn did. He described everything from his point of view. How one small thing had rolled into something much larger. Maybe he could have mitigated it, but the situation with the Proctor would have played out just slightly differently. He was too frustrated to be able to do it right, it would have just been further humiliation.
His father listened and nodded when he was done. "You're not exactly innocent, but you're not exactly guilty either. I reminded the principal about your disability. You never untie your shoes."
"Yeah." Quinn agreed.
"He thinks detention for two weeks will be sufficient. You'll be informed tomorrow." His father continued.
His father was silent for a long time. "Do you have anything else you want to say?"
Quinn considered. "I'm going back to my old school in two weeks."
His father raised an eyebrow with that. It wasn't a question, it wasn't a request, just a simple statement. He sat back for a long moment then looking at his son realizing somehow, he had changed. "Why two weeks?""Because I'm not going to let the bullies win." he answered.
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