AU - School Days
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Authors Note: In this AU, Josiah is an older teen, and the others are all aged between 14 and 8. An EXEAT is a term used in boarding schools for a weekend off, normally there is one either side of the half term break. There are some similarities to the Regent AU but this one is all mine. My thanks to Helen for proof reading this for me.
8 o'clock, that gives me 10 more minutes in bed, I'm an expert at staying in bed for as long as possible, since it's Saturday and an exeat, I will have a nice long bath - emphasise long - once the boys are no longer my responsibility. I've been on my own all night with them, if there are more than five I'm meant to have another adult sleeping in, and last night I had 6. Trouble was it was only meant to be 5. Mrs Standish didn't turn up again. By the time it was clear she wasn't coming it was too late to get someone to come in. I called the headmaster, he was at a dinner party, and we agreed these boys were no trouble, besides, Josiah is here. Damn, I must give his room a call, he asked me to make sure he didn't sleep in.
Josiah is our student teacher, well sort of. He can't decide between teaching or possibly counselling and the priesthood. So he's working here for a year to see if working with kids is really for him. Whatever he decides he should work with kids because he's a natural. You can still be a priest and a teacher - can't you? He's off early today, family commitments he says, he didn't look too keen if you ask me - but then family isn't all sweetness and light is it?
I don't mind doing the exeat duty really, just a few left in, it's kinda homely. I told Mr Shaw, who is on duty tomorrow that I'll have the young ones in my rooms for some cooking while the others go to town, they have to be 11 before they can go into town without a member of staff. He said he'd take them for a swim in the morning and let them shop in the afternoon, then he's gonna pick up a couple of videos - new releases - for tonight. We'll make refrigerator cake; they can all have some while they watch the videos.
I'll wake the oldest first, because they take the longest to get moving. I always wake Buck up first anyway. His is the first bed in the first dorm. He may only be 13 but he's tall! Too tall for the bed really, he sleeps on the top bunk by the window. I can't reach up there to shake him so I usually just run my hand through his hair, he has lovely dark, thick, wavy, hair - lucky boy, mine is like a mouse, all thin and straight and feeble.
"Hey Buck," I call gently nothing. "Come on, time to get up." I open the curtains. "Buck," I try a bit louder, "you awake?" Nothing but a grunt, that proves nothing. "Prove it," I challenge. One leg lifts the quilt up and then flops down.
You're not meant to have favourites but you can't help it and Buck is one of mine. Which in a way is a good thing because he is forever in trouble, most of the teachers despair of him and some are openly hostile, poor boy. I know he has done some stupid things, Buck hates to say no to people, and he tends to get in with the wrong crowd and then when whatever mischief they are up to goes wrong he gets left taking the blame - because he will never rat on them. I do try to tell him to think before he acts but that's just not how he's built. Buck's meant to be a ninth-grader, but he's still in the year below. When he arrived here they found that even thought his IQ score was well above average, there were huge holes in his education, things he just hadn't done, so he had to go back a year. There is no Mr Wilmington as far as we know. It seems Ms Wilmington's work - whatever that is - meant she and Buck were always on the move, he'd just get settled in a school and then they had to move again. That's why he's here, she came into some money and invested it in her son's education, boarding school means he won't have to move schools again and can finally catch up.
After Buck I go across the room to Chris, I don't touch Chris, he's not a touch kinda boy - after all he's been through I sometimes wonder how he stays as normal as he is. Chris is in 9th grade, he's tall as well, but he likes a bottom bunk. All I can ever see of him is that corn blond thatch sticking out past the black quilt cover, it has a Raiders logo on the other side but he always has it on the plain black side. Out of school uniform, he wears black jeans and black tee shirt and a black fleece top, even his shoes are black. You can't blame him. Chris' dad is in the Air Force - lots of the boys here have parents in the armed services. His parents are divorced, nothing unusual in that either. Major Larabee is stationed in South Korea right now; his mother lives about three hours drive from the school. Chris had a kid brother, Adam. He and Adam were visiting with their dad the summer before last, Chris flew home a week early to attend a summer football camp here at school. His brothers plane crashed a week later - there were no survivors.
Chris hasn't been the same since then, and his mother? Well she hit the bottle; Chris tries to cover up for her but we all know. She was drunk at last year's founder's day picnic. The headmaster made her stay the night at his house before she drove home. Poor Chris just about died of embarrassment. That's why he's here this weekend, if you ask me. I heard him on the phone telling her he wanted to stay - begging in fact. That means she's drunk. He changed overnight after Adam was killed. The carefree, fun loving, mischievous Chris was gone, he and Buck used to be a right handful together, but he withdrew from everyone. Buck wasn't about to lose his best friend, and he didn't give up on Chris. Chris was hateful to him to start with, quite cruel at times. I remember Buck coming up to me with some ache or spurious tummy ache, but what was really wrong was something Chris had done or said.
"It's not his fault," hed say, "he just feels angry, 'cause he's not dead." He was only 11 then. How many 11-year-olds understand survivors guilt?
But he didn't give up, and slowly Chris mellowed, but I don't think he will ever be the boy he was.
Before I even get to the bed Chris says. "I'm awake." He's always awake, no matter how early I come in.
So I walk past his bed and open the curtains, on his side of the room. Then I'll call over to Buck.
"Don't go back to sleep!" He'll grunt at me and wave a leg in reply.
Last in this room is Nathan, he's sleeping on the top bunk opposite the windows. He's in the same year as Buck, but a year younger. He's tall too, I reach up and locate that close cropped African American hair, and give his head a gentle shake.
"Come on Nate, up and at 'um, time to get up, you said you wanted a shower this morning." He always says that and then never gets up unless I make him. Buck likes a nice long bath - like me - in the evening, Chris showers in the evening, but Nathan professes to like a morning shower - if he can get out of bed. His parents work for UNICEF, they are working in Chad at the moment. Nathan's grandfather is his guardian in this country, but he is quite elderly and I heard Nathan tell him last week not to come and pick him up for the weekend. Nathan is so conscientious, he knows his grandfather doesnt like to drive at night.
"Wha ?" he mutters, raising his head a bit.
"Shower, morning, remember?" I prompt.
"Yeah." He slumps back down on to the pillow.
I go into the bathroom and start the shower, they have a pre-set heat, you have to press the button to start them, you get about 3 minuets then you have to press it again, it take one of these cycles to heat up.
"I started the shower so it will be warmed up, get up now." He doesn't move. "Nate?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm coming."
"BUCK!" I yell as I leave the room and get another leg wave, Chris is groping in the draw under the bed for his boxers without moving from under the quilt - I think thats why he stays on the bottom bunk.
I never make the boys sleep alone if I can help it, Nate doesnt normally sleep in with Chris and Buck, but he moved onto a spare bed for the weekend because all his roommates are way. Ezra is an exception; he likes to have the room to himself. Most of the boys wear very casual pyjamas; some - like Buck - just wear an old pair of boxers and a tee shirt. Not Ezra, oh no, Ezra has silk pyjamas, at least six sets of them! He has the best of everything, except for one thing - his mother. She is forever letting him down. He pretends not to mind, and indeed he is always half expecting her to not turn up, but he is hurt every time.
He says "I don't mind, I didn't really want to go anyway." But he does, he minds every time.
I didn't take to Ezra much at first. He was very aloof, very self-contained. He never joined in with any activities or games, well not unless it was a game of cards. He plays cards all right, and takes bets; he has been in front of the head for gambling. Then last summer, at the end of term, she didn't come, his mother. She didn't pick him up at the end of the summer term, no letter, no fax, e-mail, no phone call - nothing. We couldn't get hold of her anywhere. So I had him to stay with me for two days. I made him help me with the end of term tidy-up - which he complained about, and let him have his choice of my kid-safe video collection. His first choice was X-Men, so after that I chose one, A Matter of Life and Death. He loved it. After that he let me choose and we became friends over old movies.
I don't know if there is a Mr Standish, and I have never even seen Mrs. Standish. Even when we finally got hold of her and two days later when she turned up to get him, I never saw her. A limo pulled up, Ezra walked out to it, trundling his designer suitcase behind him, got in, a chauffeur put the case in the back and they drove off; that was that. No "Sorry I forgot," no "Sorry you were unconvinced," no "Thank you for looking after Ezra."
Poor Ezra, he thanked me and apologised for his mother repeatedly. Ezra is 11, but he speaks like he's 50 and has swallowed a dictionary. When he first got here some of the others made fun of him because of the way he speaks, but Josiah put a stop to it, and slowly some of the nicer boys, including Nate and Buck made an effort to include him. He resisted at first but now he quite enjoys being 'one of the guys', not that he will admit it.
"Ezra," I call. If getting Buck out of bed is hard; getting Ezra up is a struggle of truly epic proportions! I rest my hand on his head; his hair is a sort of an auburn chestnut colour. I give his head a gentle stroke. "Ezra, time to wake up," he won't respond, but I know he is awake. I let the sunlight into the room. "Up before I get back or else," I threaten.
The last two are the youngest, and are almost always up by now anyway. And indeed as I get to the room I can see the door open and the lights on. They are allowed to get up early on a Saturday, but they have to dress, make the bed and tidy the room before they play or go down to the TV room. But no, the beds are unmade, the room looks like domestic Armageddon and since there are no pyjamas on the floor I seriously doubt they are dressed. On my way to find them, I knock on Josiah's door and he calls out that he's up.
Vin and JD are watching cartoons and playing Goldeneye on the N64 and holding a conversation all at the same time. Which is typical. And yes, they are in their PJ's. I stand there watching for some time before Vin notices me.
"Oops!" he exclaims, digging JD in the ribs with his elbow.
"Ouch! Vin you made me miss my ammo!" little JD exclaims, then he looks up and around at me. That 'oh no' look comes over his face.
"You two, upstairs and tidy up now," I command.
With deep, injured sighs they comply. Vin is 10, but he is in the same class as JD, since like Buck he has been put back a year, while JD who has just turned 8 is a year ahead. Vin is something of a rarity these days - a real orphan. His dad was a navy pilot sorry, aviator - he was lost on a mission before Vin was born. Lost being the operative word. As I understand it, he set out on a patrol someplace over a jungle and never came home, no mayday, no emergency beacon, no wreckage, no body - nothing, he just vanished. The Navy took good care of Mrs Tanner, but when he was 5 she collapsed and died, a blood clot on the brain I believe. Vin moved in with his grandfather, but the old man is quite frail now and is living in a special senior citizen community. The Navy pays for Vin to come here; it's what his father wanted, he was here too.
He's a strange child Vin, he doesn't say much but then he'll say something that takes your breath away. The other day, he told me he was frightened he would wake up one day and find his grandfather dead.
"What will I do?" he asked me.
I just didn't know what to say. In the end I gave him the practical answer. "Well " I started, "there is a red panic button in the house isn't there?"
Vin nodded solemnly.
"Well if something is wrong with your grandfather you press the button and make sure the door is open so they can come in and help you."
He seemed happy with that. At least he has a plan. He never goes there for weekends, its just too much effort for his grandfather. Vin was put back a year because he is very dyslexic and as his birthday is in August, it is better for him to be the oldest in a year than the youngest. He goes to the unit for special lessons, all his English and math lessons, and when the others do Spanish and French he has extra English. No one makes fun of the boys who go to the unit; lots of boys do, Buck for one, and if someone did they would have Buck or Nathan to deal with.
JD's on a scholarship too, because he is so bright. Sometimes it's amazing how bright he is. JD has jet-black hair and is small for his age, but full of energy and life. He never stops talking or moving. Getting him into bed and sleeping is a real battle, and he is always awake before I get to him in the morning. JD's dad is nowhere to be seen. His mom is normally very conscientious, but she hasn't been well recently and she was told by her doctor not to drive at the moment, becaues of the drugs she's taking. I get the feeling that it's quite serious, but she won't say anything. I don't think JD understands. I was worried he would be upset, not going home this weekend. He's never stayed at an exeat before. But he has been fine.
I follow the two youngsters back up to the dorms, noting that Vin's hair is too long again. That's another battle; he likes it long, his granddad is half Navaho and he thinks he has a right to wear it long - the headmaster thinks differently. Once they are back in the dorm and dressing I go back to Ezra. He hasn't moved.
"Ezra!" I growl, pulling the quilt off him. "Up."
"Oh, good Lord," Ezra mutters, trying to grab the quilt back.
"No, only me, and right now I'm God and I say get up, you've got," I check my watch. "fifteen minutes before breakfast."
Most boys can dress in less than 5 minutes but not Ezra, he takes forever to dress and do his hair; he even cleans his shoes.
I re-check the big boys, Chris is up and dressed; though he has no shoes or socks on and his hair is standing on end. Nathan is emerging from the bathroom with a towel around his waist. Buck hasn't moved. He's not normally here at exeats, but his mother had to take a business trip. She'll make it up to him, she always does. When you see the way she treats Buck compaired to how Mrs. Standish treats Ezra, well it makes you sick.
"BUCK!" I shout, pulling the quilt off him, "Up now."
He finally pushes himself off the mattress, and sits on the edge of the bed with his legs dangling over the edge. Then just as I think I've won he leans over to rest his head on the pillow again, legs still over the edge. Time for the secret weapon! I tickle his feet. That does it, he's up and on the floor; once you get him off the bed, Buck will dress quite efficiently. So I go back to Ezra. He's back in bed.
"Ezra P. Standish, out of bed now." I pick up his alarm clock set it so it goes off and put it on the far side of the room beeping its annoying little heart out.
In the little ones' room, Vin has got dressed, but his hair is unbrushed and his top bunk is unmade - mainly because he's sitting on it throwing paper aeroplanes at JD- who only has a tee-shirt on, no underwear - the boy has no shame - and is batting the paper darts away with a tennis racquet.
"A-hum," I announce my presence. "We are here to dress and tidy, not kill paper planes."
"But it's fun," JD announces, he ducks his head and grins at me from under all that black hair. He looks adorable like that but I am immune to his charms. Buck is a sucker for them. While we have been talking, Vin has made his bed.
"Is Chris up?" he asks me, and I nod, "Can I go see him?" I say yes, once he has brushed his hair and with the proviso he doesnt distract the other two from their dressing.
Vin hit it off with Chris instantly. He's only been here a year, so he never knew Chris before, before Adam died. I don't know why, but Vin can get a smile out of Chris when nothing and no one else can. It all started when they were both on the track team together. Mostly they don't talk, but being close seems to give both of them something, I don't know what, comfort, understanding, it's like they don't need to talk to communicate.
"I wanna go see Buck!" JD is off and moving, I have to move fast to stop him. He loves Buck, and to be honest I think Buck enjoys the little guy's attention, he never seems to tire of playing with him.
"Oh no you don't, dress first." I hold out his little boxers for him to step into. He doesn't need me to dress him of course, but it keeps him focused and gets the job done faster. I make his bed while he pulls his shoes on.
"Can I go now?" he asks.
"Not until you tidy up," I remind him. The most efficient way - short of doing it myself which would set a dangerous precedent - is to tell him what to do, one job at a time. "Pick up that orange towel and put it in the laundry hamper." He does this, slam dunking the unfortunate thing in from as high as he can manage. "Now pick up the blue one and hang it on your hook." This he does but doesnt use the loop on the towel so it falls off. "Pick it up." He was about to leave it there. "Now pick up your pencil case and that math book and put them on your desk." He does this, walking over to the desk with his legs totally straight, like some toy robot. He returns the same way, you can't help but laugh. "Nearly there, we are going to pick up our spare shoes and put them together by the bed."
"Are we?" he asked.
That leaves Spot. Spot is a toy tiger - I know, I know, but he's called Spot - who is about the same size as JD, he usually lives on JD's bed but right now he's upside down behind Vin's bed. He has sorted out the shoes. "Last thing before we brush your hair, go and get Spot."
He pouts. "Vin put him there," he declares.
"Very likely, but you are going to get him out, go on." Once Spot is rescued and I have run a comb through his hair he rushes off to find his hero.
I go back to Ezra. He is up - miracle of miracles - but he only has on a pair of Calvin Kline under-shorts.
"Is that how far you have got in nearly eight minutes?" I ask, though why I bother to ask I don't know.
"I am unable to locate my blue silk shirt," he announced.
"Well wear something else, or at least put on something else while you look."
"I can't choose other clothes until I know what shirt I am to wear," he explains, as if I'm a child.
"Then don't wear the blue silk. It's hardly practical anyway. Just put something on, anything." I get a look of pure horror for that comment; Ezra never just puts just 'anything' on. Every choice is carefully planned to achieve the request level of sartorial elegance.
"Whatever," I respond to the 'look'. "but do it quickly because you have less than ten minutes left. It's pancakes " he likes pancakes, " so if you won't some you better hurry."
Between them, Buck, Vin and JD can eat enough pancakes to feed a whole football team! Just then the most God-awful row erupts from the next room. On investigation I find Buck on the floor with JD and Vin tickling him and... OH MY GOD! Chris is joining in! That is the first time he has done that since the crash. This is brilliant, I knew there was still boy inside that black ghost. You never know, you just never know when something is going to happen. Still time is ticking, and I have to break it up, before I go back to Ezra. Then I realise someone is missing.
"What have you done with Nate?" I ask.
"We killed him!" JD announced. "'Cause he wouldn't tickle Buck."
"Fair enough, hope you didn't make a mess on the carpet," I reply.
"No, we did it in the bathroom," JD explained.
"Good, very thoughtful of you." I glance at Chris, whose face is flushed with laughing. I didn't think I'd ever see that again. He mouths, 'papers' to me. That makes sense, Nathan likes to read the papers, he must have gone down early.
Ezra has managed to choose a shirt and socks to accompany the Calvin Klines; well it's better than nothing I guess. Just then the bell for breakfast goes off. I look out of Ezra's room to see the other four coming down the corridor. Not a good sight.
"Stop! Chris - hair." He glares, but relents. "Buck, hair, shoes, now." He was about to argue but he knows the rules, no shoes, no food and I expect them to be presentable, so some attempt to get all that hair under control is required. Vin and JD carry on, happy to be first, after the 'dead' Nathan, to get to the pancakes. Two minutes later the two friends, and after all that has happened, even with the Vin and JD around, those two are still friends, race down the corridor.
"Ezra, don't be late. Well, don't be too late."
With that I'm off to see if there are any pancakes left. By the time I'm picking up my own breakfast Ezra is sauntering in, I don't think the headmaster even noticed he was late, and tomorrow we will do it all over again.
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