Debriefings 22

Anam Chara

Along life’s journey we each encounter those events where all that we know, all that we do, and all that we are may change. But even as we approach such events, we don’t always notice their markers until we look behind and see them for what they were.

One boy is about to learn that he has already passed such an event, and nothing will ever be quite the same…


Brandon and Mark followed the vice-principal into his office. He gestured that they should sit down across from him at his desk.

“You boys are likely wondering why I’ve called you into my office, aren’t you?” Dr. Cooper asked them.

“That had crossed my mind,” retorted Brandon. “Usually an invitation to the vice-principal’s office indicates an act of discipline to follow.”

“Not this time, Mister MacDonald,” Dr. Cooper dismissed Brandon’s answer. “Instead, I’ve asked you and Mister Albertson here to warn you that you’ve both been threatened with physical violence, along with your friend Jeff Padgett. Mister Padgett raised the alarm with me earlier today.”

“Who made the threat?” Mark asked.

“Barry Kingman,” answered the vice-principal. “Do you know him?”

“No,” said Mark.

“I do,” Brandon injected. “He’s in my homeroom. Mister Danvers called him out Friday for making insulting and bigoted remarks.”

“But why would he threaten us?” Mark wondered.

“Most likely, from what I can tell,” explained Dr. Cooper, “because Mister MacDonald here has agreed to help our cheerleaders out by joining them as a substitute for Miss Abernathy who was badly injured at the Homecoming Game. Since you, Mister Albertson and Mister Padgett are Mister MacDonald’s friends, Kingman’s singled you both out to attack.”

“But that doesn’t seem to me like a reason for violence,” objected Mark.

“Bullies don’t need a reason to harass anyone, buddy,” replied Brandon. “Any excuse will do.”

“That’s quite true, Mister MacDonald,” confirmed Dr. Cooper. “So boys, I want you both to be on your guard. I know that Kingman has a gang. He keeps his own hands clean while sending his underlings out to do his bidding.”

“We can take care of ourselves, Doctor Cooper,” Mark assured the vice-principal. “Mac and me trained in the martial arts together.”

“Yes, we both studied t’ai-chi chuan,” added Brandon, “then I continued in pa-kua while Mark did aikido.”

“But I don’t want you boys beating anyone up either!” Dr. Cooper objected.

“I promise not to get physical unless I have to,” pledged Brandon, “and no more than necessary if at all. I’ll walk away from any confrontation if I can. After all, that’s what Huang Szŭ-Fu has taught us.”

“How ’bout you, Mark?” Dr. Cooper asked. “Will you promise the same?”

“Yes, but I want to be clear that I will defend myself and my friends. I won’t just take a beating or stand by and let anyone else take one. Master Huang would be very disappointed if I did that. Like, I know Jeff couldn’t stop it. But I won’t start a fight either. That would also disappoint Master Huang even more. We both learned that the best defense is to avoid a fight altogether. Master Huang had us read about it, too. What was that book called, Mac?”

The Art of War by Sun-Tzŭ,” recalled Brandon. “The Superior General defeats his opponent without doing battle.”

Relaxing, Dr. Cooper leaned back in his chair. Sun-Tzŭ was certainly deep reading for high school freshmen. “Alright, then. I guess that I can trust you boys not to start anything and only to use your ‘superpowers’ for good?”

Brandon and Mark snickered at the vice-principal’s remark about their “superpowers.”

“We wouldn’t wanna disappoint Master Huang,” reiterated Mark, “or you. We just want the bullies to leave us alone.”

“Okay, then,” the vice-principal concluded, handing each boy a hall pass. “You two go to your classes, now.”

James Cooper, Ed.D., again leaned back in his ergonomic office chair, sighing with a slight grin on his face. That went well, much better than I’d hoped, he reflected. I think I can really trust those boys.

☆ ☆ ☆

“Thanks, Holly!” Kelly offered. “I appreciate you taking notes for me.” The injured cheerleader cradled her left arm protectively.

“I’m glad to help,” replied Holly. “You’ve been, like, so helpful to me in this class that I’m more than happy to return the favor. But all this time and I’d never really noticed, like, you’re left-handed!” She giggled after making the observation.

“Well, it’s just something else to make me different. Besides, until now that wasn’t really an important fact for you. But if you’d ever sat on my left at lunch you’d definitely had noticed.”


“Because we’d’ve, like, bumped elbows while eating!”

Holly giggled and snorted at that. “Oh, Kelly! You must think I’m such an airhead!”

No, girl! You’re not an airhead, thought Kelly. You’re just not quite aware of where your smarts lie. You’re empathetic and kind. You have so much insight into how your friends behave. You know just what to say to end a discussion that threatens to get out of hand and just when to say it. You manage to hold our group back from doing unkind things. You might have difficulty in algebra, but nobody can balance the human equation like you do, matching up classmates who are too timid to find their own relationships. And between how caring and how pretty you are, I’m just so turned on by you.

“Not at all!” Kelly sought to reassure her friend. “You just don’t always know how much better the world is because you’re in it.”

“Aw! That’s so sweet!”

Kelly flashed a smile at Holly then input the parameters for an Internet search with her right hand. “Fortunately, we can get most of what we need by printouts and won’t hafta do too much writing.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for when you need it.”

More than anything else at that moment, Kelly dreamt of giving Holly a very passionate kiss.

☆ ☆ ☆

“Kelly, how’s the wrist feeling now?” asked Coach Brenda.

“Pretty much the same,” answered the injured cheerleader. “Holly did all my note-taking for me in computer science today.”

“That was nice of her.”

“Yes, it was,” Kelly affirmed. “Astrid and I are going to Saint Luke’s after school to help out Double Abby with her homework.”

“Now that’s the kind of teamwork I like to see,” approved Coach Brenda. “And speaking of teamwork, you are so right about Brandon. I never expected a boy to take to cheerleading like he has. He sees a dance routine once and he’s got it!”

“Yes, he does seem to be good at it, doesn’t he?” Kelly agreed. “But still, I’m wondering if he’ll actually show up, like, in a dress for Fashion Day or a cheer uniform Friday?”

“Well, I asked Sheila and she said he’s already tried on her old uniform, and it mostly fits.”


“Her sweater’s kinda baggy on him since he has no chest development,” remarked the coach. “And the skirt is a little long on him because her legs are longer.”

Kelly just giggled. “But seriously, we offered to take Brandon—I mean Brandi—shopping Wednesday evening to get him something to wear, like, for Fashion Day, but he said he’s going to dinner with his new girlfriend Jenny and her family. Besides, he said he, like, already has something to wear.”

“I’m not at all worried about what he wears for Fashion Day. You girls do it as a team-building exercise, but I think it’s a bit much to expect from a boy who’s just signed on and is helping us out in a pinch.”

“Oh! I didn’t think of it like that,” admitted Kelly. “Somehow he seems to be fitting in as one of the girls. Even I’m having trouble remembering he’s a boy!”


“Just like you said, he takes to cheerleading so easily. He even sounds like a girl, most of the time, except—well—he can’t giggle!”

“Well, I never noticed him giggling.”

“That’s just my point, Coach,” Kelly emphasized. “He can’t giggle—he just snickers!”

☆ ☆ ☆

Brandon and Jenny waited until they had passed the campus gate before linking hands.

“I can’t wait for dinner tonight,” admitted Jenny as they continued walking along.

“Nor I,” agreed Brandon. “But I’m still anxious about getting your parents’ approval.”

“Don’t be! Mom’s already convinced and she’ll vouch for you with the rest of the family.”

“How many are in your family?”

“Besides Mom and Dad I have an older brother, an older sister, and a younger brother. We’re going to my uncle’s restaurant for dinner. Your friends came with me for lunch there Saturday while you were still in the hospital.”

“I do look forward to meeting your family.”

“Well, I can tell you’re still a little anxious about it.”

“Meeting new people, especially in groups, has never been easy for me.”

“But you already know Mom and me,” Jenny reminded him. “So, not everyone there will be new to you.”

“I guess that’s true,” conceded Brandon. “But still, we have a lot riding on dinner tonight.”

“Just don’t worry so much about it,” she tried to reassure him. “Mom wouldn’t have suggested inviting you to dinner unless she expected a positive outcome.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“Of course it does!”

“Still, I need to know one more thing: have you mentioned that now I’m a cheerleader?”

Jenny stopped their forward progress. “No, I haven’t said anything about it to Mom,” she said. “I didn’t think that I should bring it up first, and you might not even want to bring it up at all. So, I’ll wait for you to mention it before I say anything.”

“I wish that I knew how to bring it up, though,” mused Brandon. “And I still don’t know if cheerleading will work out for me. After lunch, Doctor Cooper called Mark and me into his office to tell us that Jeff warned him that Barry Kingman had threatened us with violence.”

“Because you’re a cheerleader?”

“Doctor Cooper said that was the most likely reason,” confirmed Brandon, nudging his girlfriend to resume walking. “But I won’t let it stop me. Besides, as I said in our meeting, a bully doesn’t really need a reason, just an excuse. Kingman would be just as likely to attack me because I’m on the chess team.”

“You’re on the chess team?”

“Of course!” Brandon affirmed with a grin. “And I hope you can come to our opening tournament this weekend.”

“You’re having a busy weekend, aren’t you? Cheerleading Friday night and chess Saturday?”

“But surely you remember how ‘all work and no play make Brandon a dull boy?’”

“And make Brandi an even duller girl!” Jenny exclaimed with a giggle.

“Well, there is that, too,” he conceded with a snicker.

“I don’t know, Brandon,” his girlfriend began a mock-complaint. “I guess that snickering is okay for you, but Brandi needs to giggle! We’ll have to work on that.”

“I’m not at all certain that I can pull it off.”

“Oh, I think you’ll manage. Besides, you’re going to be wearing a girl’s uniform and have your hair in a girl’s style. I don’t think you’ll want to sound like a boy while dressed like that, will you?”

“Guess not,” he agreed. They paused again for a kiss.


©2017 by Anam Chara

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