John Dawson drove his old Chevy pick up into the school parking lot at a much too high rate of speed. He arrived in a boiling cloud of dust kicked up from the unpaved student parking area. He fishtailed slightly when he turned toward a parking spot near the gym door players used. He was cursing under his breath because he was late again. This time he was afraid the coach would make good on his threat to bench him for being late. John just couldn't seem to make it to practice or the games on time consistently. He was the starting quarterback or he wouldn't have any confidence he could talk his way out of it once again. If he didn't really hustle the team would be on the field before he got there and it would be too late for sure.
John's heart sank when he saw Coach Samuels standing in the door to the locker room when he jerked the gym door open to come inside. He appeared out of the still billowing dust cloud like a wandering desert nomad. With his teammates surrounding him Coach Rawlins said, "John, you had your last warning. Get dressed and onto the field right now. I'm starting Howard. I told you last time if you were late again you would lose your place on the team. I need someone I can depend on son and I am beginning to think that person isn't you. Now hustle."
John felt his stomach clench and his heart sank when the coach said that. He just stood and stared as the coach led the team past him, out the door toward the football field. John heard the crowd roar when they sighted the team.
John had just turned 18 and was old for a senior in high school. He felt privileged to be the starting quarterback but unlike most of his peers sports wasn't the most important thing in his life. Sure he enjoyed the game and basketball as well but he would really rather be fishing or reading. He didn't even know why he had taken up the game for sure. Oh, sure his father had played in college and he wanted John to follow in his footsteps but so what?
Thinking of his father was probably not a wise thing for him to do. Now he wondered how he was doing and if he was OK. Like most of the men in his family, especially on his mother's side, his father was in the military. He was currently stationed in Iraq. He had been in one of the first local reserve units to be called and was now on his second tour over there. His mother Jessica was still working in and managing their real estate office and the title insurance office while he was gone. She worked long hours and John spent a lot of time with his grandparents John and Melody Stevens on the family farm.
That was why John was late once again. He and his grandfather had been fishing out of season and enjoying the Indian summer day. Like most of their trips to the stream or woods they had not taken a watch and time had gotten away from them. John sighed and pushed the door to the locker room open. He was almost completely dressed out when he thought he heard a female scream then some crying. He listened and didn't hear it again. He finally decided he had been mistaken.
John was walking dejectedly toward the field when he saw a girl about his age being pushed toward the open door of Charles Stillwell's van. Like usual Charlie had his two asshole friends with him. The girl was making enough noise that some of the people still outside the stadium were watching. John saw Charles reach out and grab her breast. From where he stood he could see her push his hand aside. He also heard her shout, "NO! Stop it please. Let me go!"
John began walking faster toward the three boys and the girl while he tried to decide what to do. He remembered seeing her a couple of days ago. She had just transferred into the school and was in a couple of his classes. When he was about ten feet from the group he heard Charles say, "Oh, shut up. We all know where you live and what goes on there. Now come on. We just want a little of what you're selling. Hell, if you're good enough we might even pay for it." He laughed loudly and his friends joined in.
The girl—her name was Carrie he now remembered—twisted her arm and managed to break free of Charles. As she darted between the two other boys one of them grabbed her and tore her blouse. John saw the swell of her breast and the stark white of her bra when she ran past him. The three boys were laughing and started after her.
John stepped in their path and said, "OK, that's enough guys. Leave her alone." He could smell the beer on their breath already and hoped his intervention would be enough. Even with the personal combat tactics his father and uncles had taught him it would be tough to take all three down.
Charles stopped and looked at John in shock. He was a senior also and thought of himself as cock of the walk. At least to himself and his friends he was the Big Man on Campus. He reached toward John and tried to push him out of the way as he said, "Out of our way asshole. We're going to try that little slut on tonight and we don't need you fucking with us. Go on and play your damn game."
John felt the other two boys move up behind him and start to push on him also. Without thinking he swung his right hand up and toward Charles head. He watched Charles eyes open wider in shock as he stared at the football helmet heading right for his left cheekbone. All he managed to do when he raised his left arm to block John was slow down the hit. The helmet hit with a crack and Charles dropped like a pole axed steer. A sledgehammer wouldn't have dropped him any faster. He didn't move after he hit the ground.
Jeremy and Josh didn't say anything. They took one shocked look at Charles then swung their fists at John. They both connected and John staggered. He dropped the helmet and backed up. The two boys began advancing on him while he watched them warily. He could hear adult voices raised in alarm in the background. He couldn't hear what they were saying. From the corner of his eye he saw some men running toward the scuffle.
Jeremy was a little in the lead and he made a lunge at John. John slipped inside the poorly thrown punch and hit Jeremy three times almost faster than you could see. Jeremy grunted and sank toward the ground. Out of the corner of his eye John saw movement and he dropped. The large stick Josh had picked up to use on him just grazed his head as it passed by.
John lunged toward Josh and hit him in the stomach while he was unbalanced. His breath left him with a whoosh and his face turned white. He was gasping like a banked fish. John stepped in toward him and brought his knee up under his chin. This straightened Josh up. John knocked him back by a hard driven left to the jaw.
John was stepping toward Josh for another blow when he felt hands grab his arms and hold him. He saw that Josh was being similarly held while the coach knelt beside Charlie. After he had checked him out he knelt similarly beside the woozy Jeremy. After he had checked both the down boys he stood and looked at John. He glared at him and while the ambulance attendants worked on the two down boys he asked, "What's this all about? Late again, fighting on school property. Don't you ever want to play football again John?"
John stood looking at the coach then remembered the girl. He saw her standing to the side crying and trying to hold her blouse closed. He pointed to her and said, "It's about her. They..."
The coach looked at John in disbelief and snorted then broke into his sentence. He said, "You mean you were fighting over a girl? Damn it John I expected more of you than that. You're off the team."
John pulled himself from the grasp of the two men holding him and walked toward the girl. On the way he bent and picked up the sweater she had dropped. He saw the fear in her eyes while she watched him approach. He said, "Are you OK? Can I help you?" She was trembling slightly and she tensed up a lot when he gently placed her sweater around her shoulders.
Finally the girl whose name he now remembered was Carrie whispered, "I'm ok. I just need to get home. I want to go home please." She was crying and started to walk off while covering her exposed chest with the sweater. John reached out and took her arm. She jumped when he did that and let out a little yelp.
"Carrie wait a minute. Please come and tell the Coach what happened. After that I'll take you home since they kicked me off the team." Carrie pulled against John's grasp then he felt her relax. She walked with him toward the group of adults surrounding the now revived assailants.
When they walked up Charles glared at them and continued with his story. " ...so you see sir, I was talking to John's girl there and we were getting friendly when he came up. He was just a yelling at me about leaving her alone and he'd take care of me for trying to steal his girl. Before I knew it he had hit me with his helmet. "
Jason then began talking, "Yeah, it's like Charles said. Then we tried to keep John from hurting Charlie any more and he began hitting us." Jeremy was looking at Carrie and John with a sadistic smile while his two friends spun out their damage control."
John had opened his mouth to deny the allegations when he felt Carrie pull from his grasp. She walked up to the coach and said, "NO. That's not how it was. They were trying to get me into their van. They...they wanted me to do..." she was crying and she showed the coach her torn blouse as she continued, "I was trying to get away and when this boy came up he asked what was going on."
The coach looked at John and asked, "You mean they were bothering you and John here came up and tried to stop it?"
Carrie nodded her head and continued, "Charles looked at him and I managed to break free then he pushed John and almost knocked him down. He was chasing me. I saw John hit Charles with his helmet then the other two hit him from behind. John hit Jeremy and he fell. Then he and Josh began fighting until you all came and stopped it. It wasn't John's fault. He helped me!"
The coach looked at the boys and started to say more. Before he could say anything else the Superintendent and Principle of the school walked up and took charge. They all went into a huddle for a while. The superintendent walked up to the group of young people and said, "I want all of you to come to my office right now."
He turned to walk toward the school and asked, "Will some of you men make sure all five of them come with us? The rest of you go on back to the game please. If anyone else saw what happened would you also please come with us?"
All five young people and the three alleged witnesses were taken to the Superintendents office and separated so they could not talk. One by one they were taken into the office and made to give a statement. There were always people outside the office to see they didn't talk to each other and there were other observers inside the office.
After the statements were given and signed the Superintendent came back into the outer office. He said, "John you are suspended from playing football until further notice. All of you are suspended for three days from school for fighting. We will decide what, if anything else we are going to do after we have had time to review the statements we took tonight and investigate this incident. Now all of you go back home. I don't want you on school property five minutes from now."
Carrie was crying again as she walked from the room. Charles and his two friends glared at John and Carrie then walked rapidly out the door. When John and Carrie walked out of the building he saw Charles pull onto the road and heard him chirp his tires as he took off.
Carrie started walking toward the street still crying. John turned toward his truck wondering what he would tell his mother and grandparents. He sat in his truck a few moments then started it to drive home. When he stopped at the street he saw Carrie walking toward town. He hadn't thought of her again until then. Since the school was on the very edge of town she had a long walk ahead of her probably.
John turned his truck toward Carrie. When he pulled even with her he rolled down the window and said, "Carrie. Please get in. I can take you home."
Carrie looked at John and he could dimly see her tear streaked face in the dusk light. She shook her head no and began walking again. John kept the truck even with her and he said, "Come on Carrie. Hell, I fought those guys to make them leave you alone. Are you scared I'll hurt you now?"
Carrie stopped walking once again and looked in the window at John. She said, "Yes. Well maybe. No one likes me here. Why should you be any different? Don't you know who I am or do you just think now that you have protected me you can fuck me?"
John felt his face get red and hot. He opened his mouth to yell at Carrie then closed it. Who was she anyway he wondered. He said, "No I don't know you but what does that matter. You needed help and I helped. My parents taught me to help people who need it and to never hurt women. Why would I start now? Now come on. Let me take you home so you can get cleaned up."
Carrie looked in the truck once more then sighed and opened the door. She sat as close to the door as she could while John drove into town. She tensed up when he pulled into the lot at the dairyette. She was just starting to ask what he thought he was doing when he asked, "Carrie. You still haven't told me where you live so I can take you home. Could you maybe do that or am I supposed to read your mind?"
Carrie looked at John in shock and saw his little smirk. She felt her muscles loosen a little and she smiled back at him. "I'm sorry John. I really did think you knew where I lived. You mean you really don't?"
John frowned and said, "No Carrie. I really don't know where you live or why you feel like I should."
Carrie's eyes teared up a little more then she said in a whisper, "I live with my mother at the old hotel."
John watched her pull back closer to the door after she answered him. Now he realized what most of the problem of the night was all about. He didn't say anything for a short time then he said, "OK. Would you mind if I got a malt before I took you home. I didn't get any supper because I was so late and I'm really hungry."
Carrie was watching John's face when she told him where she lived. He did look surprised but he covered it well. She couldn't see anything else he might be feeling and thinking. Finally she said, "OK. Can I wait here please? Or I can walk from here. It's probably not more than a half-mile or so? I mean if you want to eat something?"
John said, "No, that's ok. In fact, why don't you let me get you something? Do you want a coke or malt? Are you hungry too?"
"NO," Carrie said. "No. I don't want..."
John said, "OK Carrie. No problem. Are you sure?" She nodded her head yes and he got out of the truck. She watched him walk into the building then she locked the doors. Carrie was starting to worry when she saw John walking back toward the truck carrying a sack and two drink cups.
John swore when he tried to open the door and couldn't. Carrie blushed when she realized she had locked him out. She leaned to the drivers' side and opened the door for him. While he was getting in she said, "John, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lock you out of your truck. I just...I "
John set the bag down and handed her a cup of coke. He said, "That's OK. I think I understand. Look, I got you a burger too." He handed her a wrapped hamburger then turned back to his meal. He had taken two large bites when he once again turned to look at Carrie. She was still holding the burger in one hand and the coke in the other. Her face was once again streaked with tears.
John said, "Hey, I'm sorry. If you don't want that stuff I'll probably be able to eat it but I couldn't just sit here and eat in front of you. Would you please stop crying?"
Carrie smiled and watched John eat. She took a sip of the coke, then the wonderful smell of the hamburgers got to her. She felt and they both heard her stomach growl. She looked at John and saw him grin at her. With a sigh she unwrapped the burger and took a bite. OMG. It was great. This might be the best burger she had ever eaten. She managed to finish her meal the same time as John even if he had started before her.
John heard the quiver in her voice as she said, "Thank you John. That was truly good. I haven't been out for a burger since Daddy..." Carrie began crying once more and John sat looking at her for a moment. Without thinking he slid toward her and wrapped her in his arms. He felt her shaking against his chest while her tears made his shirt wet. Finally she stopped crying and sat back up. She smiled and rummaged in her purse until she found a hanky to wipe her face.
"Thank you again John. Now could you please just take me home?"
When they got to the old hotel John pulled to the curb and stopped. He now remembered it had been converted into apartments by the woman that owned it. He had heard some vicious rumors and gossip about her and wondered if she was Carrie's mother or if one of the other women that lived there was. Carrie was out of the truck and partway across the porch by the time John quit thinking and caught up with her. As his steps were echoing under the roof the door was thrown open by an older version of Carrie. She saw John almost running after Carrie and then her eyes took in the damage to Carrie's blouse and the red marks on her face and arms. Her eyes blazed and she grabbed Carrie, pushing her into the building.
The woman moved to meet John and snarled, "Why don't you try me on for size punk? Or do you just pick on young girls?"
She pushed John back and was going for him again when he heard Carrie scream, "NO! Mom don't. It wasn't him. He helped me. Please leave him alone!"
Carrie had a hold on her mother's arm and was pulling her toward the open door. Her mother glared at John and snarled, "Get your ass off my porch punk before I forget I'm a lady and knock you into next week."
John looked up at the woman in surprise and saw Carrie mouthing, "Please?" Without another word he turned and walked away. He heard the door close with a resounding crash while he was getting into his truck.
John and his parents lived next door to his grandparents on the old family farm. When he got home he left his truck in its usual place and glanced toward his grandparent's house. The lights were off so he knew they were already in bed. He really wanted to talk to his grandfather but it could wait. He trudged into his own home and to bed. He had a lot of trouble getting to sleep but he didn't wake all night. Like normal, at 0630 he woke and dressed. His mother was still sleeping so he walked over to his grandparent's.
John found Grandpa Stevens where he expected him this time of day. He was sitting on his patio listening to the stream bubble into the old swimming hole and watching the mist rise and obscure the pasture across the water. He was sipping his coffee when he caught sight of John.
"You're up and around awfully early after a game Johnnie boy. You hurt too much to sleep?"
John looked at his grandfather and said, "No Grandpa. I didn't even get to play. I got suspended for being late, then I got in a fight and I'm suspended from school too now. I "
John's Grandfather broke in and yelled, "What were you doing fighting John. I thought I knew you better than that."
"Grandpa. If you'll just let me talk. Please?" John said. "I was late again because we got back from fishing too late. Remember? Coach had warned me a lot before and this time he benched me. I dressed out and was walking toward the field when I heard a girl yelling and screaming. I walked into the parking lot..." John continued the tale, telling his grandfather all that had gone on then he asked, "Grandpa, What should I do? I know I have to tell mother but, I mean it wasn't really my fault. What can I do to fix it?"