“Fight! Fight! Fight!” the kids shouted around Derek and Lucas.
Derek kept throwing punches and kept blocking the ones Lucas was throwing. Derek learned a lot about self-defense thanks to Grandpa, so Lucas hadn’t really landed any good hits. Derek punched the kid again.
“Come on, is that all you got?” Derek leered after Lucas went to hit him. It was almost pathetic, Derek thought. “Thought you were a tough guy. Guess you were just blowing smoke.”
“Screw you, Derek. You got nothing, punk.” Lucas spat at the ground and went to punch Derek yet again. Derek blocked him.
Derek smirked and punched his opponent. His friends continued to cheer him on while Lucas’ friends were yelling at him to kick Derek’s butt. Like that was going to happen.
Another punch and then Derek was pulled away from Lucas.
“Break it up! Come on you two, break it up!” Big arms pulled him back. Derek noticed Lucas was being pulled back too, and one glance up, and Derek knew he was in so much trouble. Two security officers were breaking up the fight.
Derek was furious he got sent to the principal’s office. Mr. Duncan had called his Mom, and when she couldn’t get off work, he had called Grandpa. Now, Derek was just fuming while he waited until Grandpa showed up. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Lucas was going to get it. He started the stupid fight anyway, Derek was only protecting himself. Self-defense, duh.
“Derek,” Grandpa’s voice was not the kind, warm welcoming voice Derek enjoyed. No, it was the same voice he used when Derek got into trouble. He hated that voice. Derek didn’t particularly like Grandpa when the older man was mad at him.
Derek’s eyes watered. He was not going to cry. He wasn’t going to cry in front of Grandpa.
Grandpa held out his hand, and Derek took it and followed Grandpa to the Principal’s door. Inside Mr. Duncan’s office, Derek learned his fate. Suspended. He balked at the idea of being suspended. He could not believe it.
Mr. Duncan had given a full account of Derek’s behavior that day, not just the fight. Derek had been on thin ice with Mrs. Hatch, his fifth-grade teacher all day. She had already given him detention, and emailed Mom.
Grandpa marched him out of the office even more furious now that Duncan told him everything.
Grandpa didn’t say a word until they got to the apartment. “I want you on your bed, right now, young man.”
He turned, and glowered over to his Grandpa. “It wasn’t—”
Derek headed to his room, slammed the door, and tossed his backpack on the floor. This was totally not fair! The door opened just as he sat on his bed. He seethed at his grandfather. How could Grandpa be so mean!
Grandpa followed. His eyes wondered around the room, and Derek followed his eyes. Uh oh. Derek had been in trouble with Mom loads of times over the last few years, and he knew that look all too well. Something was being taken away.
“I want all your Void Critter Cards,” Grandpa said.
“That’s not fair!” Derek yelled. Mom never took away his cards. They were his!
Derek fought off from saying a four-letter word he wanted to, but knew he wasn’t allowed to use that kind of language in front of adults. He dug through his nightstand and handed the cards over to his grandpa.
“Thank you. Now, you’re going to sit at your desk and finish the homework you didn’t finish yesterday. Then you are going to sit back on your bed until your mother gets home. No playing with your toys. No games. No leaving this room. Do I make myself clear?”
Derek nodded, and hopped off his bed and dug out his school books from his backpack. Grandpa left the room, and closed the door. Derek hated homework. Hated school. He struggled a lot with the work, and tried his best, but he wasn’t ever good and usually gave up. Mom tried helping him though. Still, he rather be playing his Void Critter cards. Grandpa didn’t get all of them…
Derek grinned. Nope, Grandpa didn’t know about Derek’s Mytheme card that Derek kept close to him. It was his best and most favorite void critter.
Outside his room, Derek heard the front door open. “Hey, Grant.”
Uncle Anthony! Derek’s heart soared. Yes! Maybe Uncle Anthony would save him from this torment. The two outside continued to talk, but Derek couldn’t make out what they were saying. Uncle Anthony must have gone toward the living room where Grandpa was probably at. Ugh, Grandpa was going to tell Uncle Anthony on him!
Derek’s door opened after a bit. Uncle Anthony didn’t knock. Rude. “You’re supposed to knock,” Derek said, thinking about how he was taught manners. He glowered at his uncle. Anthony was wearing a police-like uniform, only the name plate said “C.O. Ryder.”
“On the bed. You and I are going to have a chat.” Anthony pointed to the bed. Ah man. Derek didn’t like the sound of that. In fact, he hated it. He strolled back over to his bed, and sat there and waited.“I just got off the phone with your mother. Care to take a guess why I am here?”
Derek shook his head. He was sure Mom told him too. “Why’d she call you?”
“She didn’t. I called her to check on things. I’m really disappointed in you, Derek.”
“So what.” Derek hated that everyone was gaining up on him. Ugh! Just leave him alone already!
“Do you know where your father currently is?”
Derek nodded and answered, “In prison.”
“Yes, but do you know exactly where in prison he’s located?”
Derek tilted his head. “Um, in his cell?”
“Nope. He’s in what’s called the Segregation Housing Unit. It’s a place much smaller than your bathroom. It has only three things inside: a bed, a sink, and a toilet. Nothing else. And worse, he’s locked in there twenty-three hours of the day, and the one hour he gets out, he’s in another, much bigger cell to work-out and walk around in.”
Anthony paused, and Derek tried to imagine what Dad was going through. He didn’t like the sound of it.
“Do you want to know why he’s in there?”
Derek ventured a guess. “Because he got into a fight?”
“Exactly. Now, do you want to know what will happen if you get into any more fights?”
Derek stared up at his uncle. What would Uncle Anthony do?
“I’ll be taking everything in this room minus your bed and your dresser if I hear there’s any more fighting going on.”
“You can’t do that!” Derek shouted. “That’s…That’s not fair! Grandpa!”
Grandpa entered just as Derek finished screaming for him. He stood next to Uncle Anthony. Derek pointed to his uncle. “He said…he’s going…he…” Words were at a loss to Derek.
“I know exactly what he said, and I’ll be helping him clear out this room.”
Derek’s mouth dropped open. This wasn’t fair!
That evening after Uncle Anthony left, Derek heard the door open once again. He could make out his sisters excitedly cheer to see Grandpa. Dakota babbled so loud too.
Derek’s bedroom door then opened. His gut clenched. Uh oh. Mom had the same furious expression as Grandpa.
“Derek Jeffrey Ryder, explain. Right now.”
Derek swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
“Explain to me what exactly possessed you to get into a fight at school?”
Derek slumped on the bed. “He was being mean to me, and…” a deep breath. Derek had been holding it in pretty much all day, and he was going to wait to cry after he was completely alone. No one was going to see him cry. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I just didn’t like him picking on me.”
“That’s no excuse to throw a punch. And I also got an email from your teacher. You aren’t turning in your homework? Acting out in class? Disrupting her in the middle of class? You want to explain that?”
Derek didn’t and shook his head no.
“You’re grounded. No TV, no computer, no toys, and definitely no void critters.”
“Grandpa took my Void Critters.”
“I know, and you aren’t getting them back until I see some improvement in your grades.”
“How long am I grounded for?” Derek was curious more than anything. He never really been grounded. His best friends, Brandt and Kody had a few times though, so Derek sort of knew what to expect.
“For as long as you are suspended, and as long as Dad thinks you deserve. When I get the chance to get us a visitation date, you and I will be going over there and you will tell your father about the fight.”
Derek hated that most of all. Dad was going to be so upset with him. It was one thing to get lectured by his mom, uncle, and grandpa, it was worse to get one from Dad.
Almost nine days passed, and Derek was now sitting in a chair with Mom standing behind him with her arms folded over her chest, glaring at him. Derek fidgeted in the chair and kept glancing at other inmates visiting their families.
Dad entered the room with a bright smile on his face, and for a fleeting moment, Derek was so happy to see him. Then Dad’s smile vanished, and he sat down. “What did you do, Derek?”
Derek stared up at Mom. He didn’t want to do this.
“Derek,” Dad’s voice was ice. “You might as well tell me.”
Derek pouted. His eyes downcast, and he fidgeted with his hands. “I got into a fight at school.”
“Why did you get into a fight?”
Derek slumped into his chair more. “Because Lucas was being mean and picking on me.” Even as he spoke, it sounded so stupid of a reason. Why did he go and do that?
“And what else, Derek,” Mom pushed.
“Tell me everything, Derek,” Dad ordered when Derek didn’t add to his confession.
“I’m…I’m not doing so well in school.”
“He’s not doing his homework, and he’s being disruptive in class, Eli.” Dang it! Why did Mom have to tell him that?
“I see. Do you want to explain why you aren’t doing your homework or paying attention in class?”
“Then I expect to see those grades up, Derek, and you better start paying attention in class. I don’t care if it’s boring or what, either. If I find out you aren’t being a model student in class, you won’t like me very much. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.” Derek mumbled and dropped his head.
“Derek, look at me, please. I’m not done.” Derek raised his head. “I’m not too happy you’re fighting either. In fact, I’m pretty pissed off hearing that. You cannot let your fists do the talking. Not ever. That’s how I ended up in here. Do you want to end up like me?”
Derek shook his head. “No.”
“Good. Then I really hope I never hear that you’ve been in a fight again. Fighting is for chumps and losers, and you aren’t a loser.”
“But you get into fights,” Derek protested.
“Yeah, and I’m also in prison because of it. I also got out of the hole because of the same shit. Why would you even want to be anything like me? I’m not a good role model, son. I don’t want you to end up like me, and if I have to, I will find a way for you to not go down the same path as me. Okay? ”
“I guess…but, why do you fight?” Derek asked.
“In here, I fight to stay alive. Now, I am sure Mom’s already punished you? Am I right?”
Derek nodded. “And Grandpa too. Uncle Tony told me if I get into a fight again he was going to take away all my stuff. Uncle Tony’s mean!”
Dad laughed. His head fell back and he laughed. He shook his head after a bit and grinned at Derek. He leaned in on the table toward Derek. “Want to know a secret?”
Of course he did! Derek nodded.
“Your uncle has a stick up his ass.”
“Eli,” Mom gasped.
“Well, it’s true.” Dad grinned over to Derek. “Don’t take it personally, son. He does a lot worse to me when I fight. Just don’t get on his bad side, and you’ll be okay.”
Derek smiled back at Dad.
“Now, as for your punishment, I want you to do something for me.”
Punishment? Again? Derek groaned. “Why?”
“Because life isn’t fair. Now, I want you to write some letters and apologize to your Mother, the Principal, the kid you hit, your teacher, and Grandpa.”
“But Daddy!” He really didn’t want to do that. Yuck. He wasn’t sorry for hitting a bully. Why should he apologize?
“Derek, stop. You are going to do this for me. Look at me,” he said when Derek turned his head in disgust. Ugh. He hated this! “You need to know how to admit what you did was wrong. And Derek, punching anyone is wrong, even if you think they deserved it. Unless you are protecting yourself, you keep your fists to yourself. You get me? And I want those grades up.”
“I don’t like this. This isn’t fair.”
“Good, means I’m doing my job. Now, after you apologize, I want you to write another letter.” Dad grinned, and Derek leaned in. What was Daddy going to want him to do now? “I want you to write Uncle Anthony and tell him to stop being mean to your Daddy. Better yet, if you tell him to take the stick up out of his butt, I’ll be happy.”
“Eli,” Mom gasped again, and both Derek and Dad laughed at her reaction. “Derek, you are not to say that to your Uncle.”
“Ah come on babe.” Dad continued to laugh and even winked at Derek. “He might actually listen to the kid.”
Derek chuckled and watched his parents bicker, though both Dad and Mom both had smiles as they did. It wasn’t really arguing, it was what Derek knew as their way of joking around in this horrible place.
They went on and on until Dad’s name was called, and Dad bent down and gave Derek a hug. “Behave for me. No more fights.”
“Okay, and you too.”
Dad kissed his cheek. “I won’t promise that, but I will try. Love you kiddo.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Dad stood and hugged Mom. “Love you, babe. I miss you and the kids. Tell Bailee and Dakota I miss them.”
Mom backed away and nodded. “I will. Shave.”
He snorted without answering Mom. Dad did look funny with the beard thing he was growing. Derek and Bailee had teased him the last time they visited. Mom kept hounding him to shave too. It was funny.
Mom took Derek’s hand and they watched Dad be led out and patted down by a guard that wasn’t Uncle Anthony. Derek couldn’t wait to tell his uncle he needed to remove the stick out of his butt for Dad.