Any man can be a father. It takes a special person to be a dad.
“I don’t believe you appreciate the seriousness of your situation, young man.” Principal Cutsforth sharpened his gaze and locked his hands beneath his chin. “Tardiness and disobedience are one thing, but we at Wellesley High do not tolerate drinking amongst our students.”
Nate rolled his eyes. This hadn’t been the first time he was called to the principal’s office - far from it - and frankly, the man’s act had grown tiresome. He had stopped being scared of teachers and their supervisors when he was eleven years old.
“So that’s where the line is drawn, huh?” He snorted. “It’s okay for me to show up late and curse at teachers so long as I’m throwing touchdowns and keeping your precious booster club happy - but you’ll be damned if I have a beer or two over the weekend.”
“One does not become legally drunk after a ?beer or two’, Mr. Jackson.” The principal countered, his tone rising. “When the police pulled you over your blood alcohol content was over the legal limit.”
“Yeah, by like a point. It wasn’t even like I was swerving or anything - the pigs musta just been bored or something.”
The principal sighed and rose from his desk, his fingers tapping at the dark stained wood as he stared wistfully out the window.
“I suppose it’d be unfair to blame you for your current disposition, Mr. Jackson.” The principal frowned. “God knows life had been hard on you before you fell under our influence. I can’t imagine what your childhood must have been like.”
The principal turned to Nate to see the student staring daggers at him.
“Then don’t try.”
“I’m not attempting to anger you, Mr. Jackson. I’m merely trying to put myself in your shoes.” The principal sat on his desk and met his student’s glare. “Had I gone through the same things you did - abandoned as a baby, shuttled from foster home to foster home in search of a family, never knowing the first thing about your parents - there’s no way to know what that does to a person.”
“Do you wanna find out?”
“Save your threats for someone who’s intimidated by them, Mr. Jackson.” The principal rose from his perch and returned to the seat behind his desk. “The fact of the matter is, we hold your future in our hands. I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve been lax in punishing you for your inappropriate behavior in the past, and that our negligence was influenced by the success you’ve brought to our football team. But all you did with our lenience was throw it back in our faces.”
“I never asked for your charity.” Nate muttered.
“Be that as it may, we gave it to you, and we can just as easily withdraw it. Trust me when I say that this is not an empty threat, Mr. Jackson - one more misstep and I will not hesitate to expel you from this institution.”
Though he perpetuated his mask of bored indifference Nate couldn’t deny that the scenario was a troubling one. If it weren’t for this school he wouldn’t have anything going for him at all - much as it pained him to admit it, he needed to finish out the year so he could take advantage of one of the bevy of scholarship offers he’d received from colleges and universities around the country. Not one of them seemed to care about his grades - but they all mentioned that their offer would be rendered null and void should he fail to graduate. He couldn’t care less about continuing his education - hell, he barely got into high school after having to re-take the eighth grade - but he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had the talent to play football professionally, and that the first step in achieving that goal was escaping high school.
“There’s also the matter of your grades from the first quarter, which are abysmal even by your standards.” The principal sighed as he rifled through his student’s file. “Your discipline issues aside, if your academic performance fails to improve you will not graduate from this institution.”
“So, what are you gonna do?” Nate asked in half-lidded boredom. “Call my mommy and daddy and tell them to take away my bike for a week?”
The principal regarded Nate with tired eyes.
“You are not that special, Mr. Jackson.” He said. “In my time here I have seen a hundred young men just like you come through these halls, barely able to contain the rage boiling within them, looking for something, anything to lash out at. You may feel that you’re ready to take on the world, that all we’re doing here is holding you back - but I assure you that is not the case.”
The principal leaned forward in his chair and pressed the button on his intercom.
“Mrs. Ellerman, would you please send in Mr. Hollings?”
“Right away, sir.”
Nate threw his head back and released a theatric groan. God damn it. Anybody but him. Mr. Hollings was Nate’s teacher for European History, a course he held more contempt for than every other class he was taking this semester combined. As if the content itself wasn’t bad enough - it’s nothing but a bunch of dead guys from a different continent, who gives a fuck - Mr. Hollings was the one teacher who actually stood up to him when he caused trouble in class. Everybody else had long been resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to learn anything in their class and let him do basically whatever he wanted during the period. Not Mr. Hollings. This was his first year with the school and he seemed determined to prove that he could take whatever his students could dish out. Whenever Nate acted up in class or drew laughs with a sarcastic remark, all Mr. Hollings would do is turn towards Nate, smile warmly, and strike back with a retort that was ten times wittier than what he had put out.
More than once Nate had felt like striding right up to his teacher so he could knock that stupid grin right off his face - but there was no getting around the fact that Mr. Hollings was a solidly built dude. As far as Nate could tell the teacher was still in his twenties and still had the frame of a young man - it almost seemed as though he had bought the Oxford shirts he wore on a daily basis a size small to show off the lean muscle that rippled underneath. That, combined with his shaved head and dark chestnut eyes, gave Mr. Hollings a huge advantage over every other male teacher in the school as far as connecting to the female students went. It seemed as though a week couldn’t go by without Nate realizing - with considerable disgust - that a girl was swooning over that asshole in the middle of his worthless class. The young man made no attempt to hide that feeling when the teacher opened the door to the principal’s office and stepped inside, shooting Nate that aggravating smile as he passed.
“Thank you for coming, Will.” The principal said as he rose to his feet and shook Mr. Hollings’ hand.
“Oh, it’s my pleasure.” The teacher assured him. He stood by the principal’s side and cast his gaze on Nate. Suddenly the young man felt distinctly uncomfortable. It wasn’t as though this was the first time the two of them had locked eyes but it had never been from this short a distance - and with his steely, unblinking stare, he felt as though the teacher were examining him from the inside out. Nate squirmed and looked away but still felt the man’s eyes on him, as though in judgment of his every move.
“Mr. Hollings has generously agreed to act as your personal tutor for the remainder of the school year.” The principal explained. “Your sessions will take place after school every day until you’ve improved to his satisfaction - I understand that European History is currently your last class of the day so that’ll work out perfectly.”
Nate wanted to lash out at his decision, wanted to use the fear and intimidation that had gotten him his way so many times in the past - but that desire was far outweighed by his growing need to get out of that room, to be anywhere that wasn’t under his teacher’s unwavering stare.
“I have practice after school.” He mumbled, staring at his feet. “And games on Fridays.”
“Oh, no need to worry about that.” Will chimed in. “They’re going to be fairly brief sessions - at worst, you’ll be a little late for your football-related commitments. We’ve already run it by the coach and he’s perfectly fine with it.”
“Fine. Whatever.” Nate muttered as he pulled himself to his feet. “Can I go now?”
Without saying a word Will stepped forward and put a hand on his student’s forearm. Nate bristled. Nobody - teachers included - touched him without his permission, a fact that he had made very clear throughout his time at the school. But when he looked up the rage that burned in his eyes was quickly chased away by the pools of amber serenity he found himself staring into. All of a sudden, the young man felt...shy. Timid. It was such an unfamiliar sensation to Nate that it took him a moment to recognize it.
“Listen, Nate...” The teacher spoke in a kind, warm voice. “I know that, right now, the only thing on your mind must be how badly this whole thing sucks. If I was in your situation I’d be feeling the same way. But I want you to remember - no matter how difficult things may get - that I’m always looking out for you. Sound good?”
Nate managed a small nod. Will grinned and slapped his student on the shoulder.
“Alright. See you later, champ.”
With that, Nate turned and hurried out of the room, all too eager to escape the strangeness of the moment. Once he had left the principal turned to his colleague and frowned.
“You’ve got your work cut out for you.” He said. “Do you think you’re up for it?”
“Wouldn’t have volunteered otherwise.” The teacher said.
“Speaking of which...far be it from me to question your motives, Will, but why did you step forward when I was looking for someone to accept this assignment? The rest of the staff practically cower at the mere sight of the boy but you didn’t hesitate for an instant.”
The teacher sighed and stared at the doorway as though Nate were still there.
“He’s not an idiot, Gordon.” He said. “Far from it. Somewhere beneath all that spite and anger is a bright kid, one that could do anything he set his mind to. It’d be a damn shame if we let him walk through those doors without at least trying to coax him out.”
“Hah.” The principal grinned and rose from his desk. “It’s been far too long since I heard a teacher speak like that. With this being your first year at the chalkboard I suppose that sense of bright-eyed idealism we all came here with hasn’t been sucked out of you just yet.”
“Not quite.” The teacher chuckled as he took the principal’s hand.
“Best of luck, Will. You let me know the second he gets out of line, all right?”
“I appreciate it, Gordon.” The teacher smiled. “But I don’t expect any problems.”
Nate rumbled down the hall, cutting a swath through the river of terrified underclassmen that clogged the floor. They knew better than to get within five feet of the senior when he was angry - and a cursory glance revealed that he was downright furious, his nostrils flaring and his fists clenched as he stormed his way to his next class.
“Son of a BITCH!” he shouted, putting emphasis on the final word by slamming his fist into a nearby locker, which dented its face and widened the eyes of the petrified freshman whose head stood mere inches away from the impact. Truth be told, Nate couldn’t fully explain what had incensed him so - though it frustrated him to no end to have that hypocritical bastard of a principal sit in judgment of him it certainly wasn’t the first time that had happened. And it’s not as though the tutoring itself was that big a deal - he could suffer through a couple hours a week of being lectured to if his degree was on the line. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed as though his anger was stemming from what had happened between him and Mr. Hollings. Since entering middle school Nate had never - not once - allowed himself to be intimidated by a teacher. But a mere look from Mr. Hollings was enough to not only strip him of any thought of resistance but also of the confidence that fueled his sheer impudence and seemingly limitless swagger.
Truly, Nate had plenty to be confident about - as though being captain and quarterback of the school’s state championship football team wasn’t proof enough of his manhood there was also the chiseled body he possessed that had fueled his team’s run to the top. At 6’4 he was easily tall enough to peer over the fray and find an open receiver - and, when things went bad, the iron-clad musculature he had spent the better part of his life developing was usually more than enough to absorb the impact of even the most violent blows. He took no small pride in his form - since he was eight years old each of his foster homes had contained workout equipment of some sort and the countless hours he poured into the machinery provided a suitable channel for the inexplicable anger that he had felt even at a young age.
The side effect of his physique was that it had made him seemingly irresistible to the opposite sex - when combined with his strong facial features, short dark hair and piercing cobalt eyes it became pretty obvious why he was never wanting for a girlfriend. Not that it really mattered to him - though Nate liked having someone he could fuck whenever he wanted it’s not like the commitment prevented him from screwing around. Most of them found out - but even becoming known as a shameless philanderer wasn’t enough to slow the steady stream of young women anxious to take the big strong quarterback as their own. It was by choice that he didn’t have a girl on his arm right now - he didn’t need some dumb bitch distracting him with her stupid problems during football season.
As the day wore on Nate managed to mostly shake off what had happened, and by the time final period approached he had a hard time remembering what had made him so upset in the first place. When he reached Mr. Hollings’ class the teacher was preoccupied with the task of writing the day’s lesson the chalkboard. Nate looked at him, snorted, and made his way to his seat in the back of the class just as the bell rung to signal its commencement. The teacher put down the chalk and turned to his class with a warm smile on his face.
“Good afternoon, everyone.” He greeted his class as he opened the course’s textbook. “We’re going to continue where we left off yesterday, discussing the life of Charlemagne and the impact his empire had on the shaping of the continent. Though the great ruler is known mostly for the might of his great armies one can’t discount the internal reforms conducted during his reign...”
Normally when Mr. Hollings droned on like this Nate would either zone out or strike up a conversation with a neighboring student about how worthless all this shit was. But for some reason, today he was oddly compelled by what the teacher had to say. It wasn’t as though Nate had suddenly taken an interest in the subject matter - rather, it was almost as though the words were important only because they were coming from his teacher’s lips. He found himself wanting to make sure he took in every single thing Mr. Hollings had to say, struck by a sort of reverence that he had never felt before. It was almost like -
The young man snapped to attention and realized that Mr. Hollings - along with half the class - was looking at him.
“Did you have a question?” He asked.
Nate fidgeted in his seat.
“Oh.” The teacher shrugged. “I was just curious because you had been staring at me since class began.”
A smattering of giggles broke out from the corners of the classroom. Nate’s face flushed with humiliation as he sank in his seat and looked at the ground, avoiding the sly grin the teacher shot his way. What the fuck was that? Nate thought as Mr. Hollings returned to his lesson. Not only had Nate been caught staring at his teacher - for reasons he didn’t fully understand - but when he was called on it he didn’t even as much as scowl in retaliation. Not only did I let the teacher make fun of me but I didn’t even do anything when those fucking jerk-offs laughed. What the hell is going on here? It was a question the young man dealt with for the rest of the period, stewing in thought as the lecture went on unimpeded around him. His trance was broken only when the bell rang to signal the end of the period and, in turn, the school day. Nate blinked, frowned, and gathered his things while the rest of the class headed for the door. When the young man rose to his feet he looked up and nearly jumped when he saw Mr. Hollings standing directly in front of him, his hands on his hips and a smile on his face.
“What, did you forget already?” The teacher chuckled. “It’s time for our first session. Grab a desk up front and we’ll get started.”
Nate grit his teeth but didn’t say a word - though he made his displeasure known by slamming his book onto the desk Mr. Hollings has pointed out and tossing his backpack aside as though the situation was their doing. As he sat down the young man noticed that the teacher was watching him with a distinct look of bemusement on his face, as though he saw the young man’s defiance as nothing more than misplaced petulance. Nate clicked his teeth and opened his textbook. Let’s just get this over with.
“We should probably go over what we covered in class today.” The teacher grinned. “You seemed to zone out a bit after I caught you staring.”
That’s it. Nate slammed his hands on the desk and jumped out of his seat with every intention of cursing out his teacher - but as he met Mr. Hollings’ eyes he felt that same wave of sheepishness and uncertainty crash over him once more, making him feel as though his indignation was not only misplaced but downright silly. The young man blinked and shook his head. What the fuck is wrong with you? Just tell this son of a bitch to get off your case!
“Did you have something to say, Nate?” The teacher asked in a calm, even tone. Nate felt his face grow warm as he cast his eyes towards the ground.
“I don’t...” He swallowed. “I don’t appreciate being made fun of.”
Though he had felt the words come out of his mouth Nate could hardly believe that he was the one who had spoken them. A moment ago he had been ready to let loose a string of curses that would make a longshoreman blush but what came out was nothing more than a timid little declaration of his sensitivity. If that weren’t enough, when the teacher came around the desk Nate felt himself tense up, struck by a strange combination of fear and guilt as though he blamed himself for bringing about whatever it was Mr. Hollings intended to do. The young man was an instant from bolting out the door...when the teacher gently put his hands on his shoulders. The blushing quarterback slowly raised his eyes to see his teacher regarding him with kind eyes and a sad little smile.
“It wasn’t my intention to mock you, Nate.” The teacher spoke in a soft, understanding voice. “I was just trying to keep things lighthearted - I’m not so engrossed by my subject that I don’t realize how boring it can be sometimes. But I realize now that I did so at your expense, and for that I apologize.”
If Nate had been confused before he was downright baffled now. Without as much as raising his voice he had gotten Mr. Hollings to apologize - every other teacher he had ever met would have seemingly preferred death over admitting fault to a student. Though in any other situation he would have crowed over such a victory, all Nate did was offer his teacher a small nod and return to his seat. Maybe he isn’t such an asshole after all, Nate thought. Mr. Hollings smiled and sat on the edge of his desk.
“Glad we got that cleared up.” He said. “Now, if you’ll turn to page two eighty-four in your textbook...”
As it was at the beginning of the class Nate became engaged in the teacher’s lesson, giving Mr. Hollings his rapt attention as he delved into the finer details of Charlemagne’s conquest of Western Europe. When the teacher stopped to ask questions Nate knew the answer to each and every one - and smiled broadly when Mr. Hollings praised him for his diligence. Before he knew it almost half an hour had gone by, which he only realized when the teacher looked at his watch and whistled at the time.
“Looks like our session’s almost up.” He announced. “There’s just one more thing I want to ask before I let you go.”
“Shoot.” Nate offered as he began gathering his things.
“What was your childhood like?”
The quarterback froze in with a book in his hand, turning to his teacher with narrow, suspicious eyes. Mr. Hollings held his hands up in defense.
“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” He said. “It’s just that I’ve heard so many rumors from the staff and other students in my time here that I’m not sure what the truth is. It’d be a lot easier moving forward if I know exactly what it is we’re dealing with.”
“Mr. Hollings - ”
His frown deepened. He wasn’t at all comfortable with this new level of familiarity his teacher was introducing.
“That’s not something I enjoy talking about.” He mumbled. “It...it wasn’t fun. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Mr. Hollings leaned forward, clasped his hands together, and gazed deep into Nate’s eyes. The young man squirmed and felt his cheeks grow warm.
“Please?” He said as his lips curled into a smile. “It’d mean a lot to me.”
His defenses crumbled. The information gushed forth as though from a sawed off faucet, and before he knew it he had told Mr. Hollings everything he could remember. From his earliest memory of being four years old and realizing for the first time that the man and woman he lived with weren’t his parents - to the utter shame and helplessness he felt when he was nine and he was taken over his foster father’s knee for accidently breaking his brand new digital camera - right up to the bittersweet sensation of throwing the touchdown pass that won the state championship and then looking up to the stands to realize that not a single member of his foster family had come to watch him do so. Memories that he hadn’t ever shared with anybody...memories that were downright embarrassing. When Nate finished baring his soul the young man realized that his heart was racing and his mouth was sucking in air, as though he had just burst through the water’s surface after being held under. He looked up at Mr. Hollings to see the teacher looking him over with his head cocked, his arms crossed, and an odd little frown on his face.
“How do you feel?” He asked, softly.
“...great.” Nate heard himself say, surprised not only to hear the word come out of his mouth but that it was the God’s honest truth. “I feel great.”
Mr. Hollings grinned, rose to his feet, and held out his hand. Nate stared at it for a moment before accepting it, a sheepish smile on his face as he gave the teacher a hearty handshake.
“If nothing else, I think we’re on the right track.” Mr. Hollings said. “See you in class tomorrow.”
“Okay. Okay.” The young man exhaled. “Thanks...Will.”
The teacher smiled from ear-to-ear and Nate couldn’t help but mirror the expression as he rose from his desk and strode out of the classroom. He couldn’t explain why - but just knowing that he had made Mr. Hollings happy filled the young man with a sense of unflappable joy that he couldn’t ever remember having before. It stayed with him all through practice, giving the quarterback a seemingly limitless supply of energy that he used to power through the rigorous training regiment. While his teammates were hunched over and gasping for breath Nate was jogging in place and poking fun at their sagging stamina. Still, there was no cruelty in his teasing - as opposed to every other day when he roared at those that were unable to keep up with him, deriding them in front of team and staff. Even as he arrived home he had a spring in his step and a whistle on his lips, drawing glances from the other residents of his building who had only seen the young man as a surly malcontent.
As Nate entered his apartment he tossed his backpack in its normal spot, stripped off his varsity jacket, and plopped on the couch, releasing a contented sigh as he flipped the TV to a baseball game and zoned out. The apartment was small, bare, and messy - not that Nate was a particularly neat person but he had made no effort to keep anything in order, figuring that he’d only be there for a year anyway. After turning eighteen over the summer between his junior and senior years the young man wanted desperately to get his own apartment - but his foster parents wouldn’t spring for the cost. Luckily, during his time at Wellesley he had developed deep connections with the school’s booster club...and though they couldn’t legally cover his lease some generous soul had paid it in full three days after he had brought the issue to the club’s president. As he did on most nights Nate spent the evening in front of the television, absently executing sets of bicep curls as he watched, taking a break only to microwave and devour a frozen dinner. The hour grew late and the quarterback decided to turn in, stripping down to his boxers before he turned out the lights and climbed into bed. Most nights it was quite a while before sleep was able to take him - he usually tossed and turned beneath the covers, his body still churning with whatever aggression he hadn’t managed to work out during the day’s practice. But on this evening it was a matter as simple as laying his head on the pillow, closing his eyes, and allowing sleep to take him, his mind drifting away as his lips curled into a satisfied little smile.