Hands Off

Riley is usually a level-headed guy.
But if you hurt someone he cares about, watch out.
You could end up like Aaron. Enjoy!

“Morning, Riles.”

“Rachel, you look like hell!” Riley said, rushing to take her backpack out of her hand. “What’s wrong with your arm? And where have you been? I called and called yesterday when you didn’t show up for school. Coach said you were sick.”

“Yeah, my dad would say that,” she said, twisting her locker combination in. She shrugged with one shoulder. “I just…tripped on the stairs. Sprained my elbow.”

When Riley placed a sympathetic hand on her good arm, she winced. He looked into her face sharply.

“Bullshit. I know you too well. You could run up and down those stairs blindfolded and never have a problem. What really happened?”

The girl looked around them at the crowded hallway, full of students and passing teachers. “Let me get my stuff for my first class, then we can go outside and talk privately. Okay?”

The pleading look in her hazel eyes softened Riley’s growing anger. He nodded. “Sure. Whatever you want.”

Riley found them an out of the way bench and waited until she’d stowed her backpack before he spoke.

“You know that Aaron and I have been having…problems lately.”

Riley raised an eyebrow. “You mean like the other day after football practice when he threatened to kick my scrawny ass for talking to his girl?”

“Yeah, like that. After we left, he accused me of wanting to sleep with you.”

Riley made a face. “Us sleeping together? Ewwww. We’ve been best friends since kindergarten. You’re like a sister to me. Besides, what’s that got to do with your arm being in a sling?” He could feel his tension rising.

“Aaron grabbed me and shoved me against his car. I accidentally hit my elbow on the mirror. “ She waved a hand between them. “He wasn’t trying to hurt me, he just doesn’t realize how strong he is. It was my fault, really. I know how jealous he gets and he’s super stressed with the championships coming up.”

Acid dripped from Riley’s voice. “And what did your father do about it?”

“Oh, you know. He shrugged it off. He said it was just a lover’s spat. Then he drove me to the hospital.”

“Hospital?” Riley’s eyes widened. “You should have called me!” He jumped up from the bench, clenching his fists at his sides.

She tilted her head back and gave him a withering look. “Oh, right. Invite you over when my dad’s already on a rampage? He blames this on you, after all.” She made air quotes with her one good hand. “He said, ‘If you’d stop antagonizing my star quarterback by hanging out with that geeky MacPherson kid, things like this wouldn’t happen.’ I didn’t think you needed any more of his abuse.” Rachel reached out and grabbed Riley’s hand. “It was okay, only a sprained elbow and a bunch of bruises. I’m fine, really.”

“Well, you don’t look fine to me. What did your mom say?” Riley grumped.

Rachel sighed. “You know my Mom. She just looked at me with those sad eyes of hers, but she didn’t say anything.”

Riley threw himself back down onto the bench. He covered his face with his hands for a moment, then he turned to look at Rachel.

“What are you going to do? Maybe you could tell the guidance counselor or something. I don’t want to see you get hurt anymore.”

She shook her head. “It wouldn’t do any good to to tell Mrs. Henderson, she’d only side with my dad. I’ve been thinking about what to do. I had plenty of time sitting home alone yesterday.” Rachel sucked in her bottom lip. “I…I think we should stop hanging around together. For a while, anyway. At least till after the playoffs are over.”

When she stood and picked up her pack, Riley couldn’t help but notice that her eyes were full of unshed tears.

“Goodbye, Riles.”

* * *

Riley threw his bag into his gym locker and slammed it shut. “I can’t believe that Coach let Aaron get by with that. She’s his daughter. You’d think he’d want to protect her, not make excuses for the guy who beat her up.”

Corey shook his head. “Dude, you should know by now that her dad would give his right nut to win a state championship. He sees Aaron as his golden ticket to get that and he isn’t going to let anything stand in his way. I heard Aaron was flunking algebra. If he does, he’s off the team, so Coach came into Mrs. Bloomfield’s class and threatened her if she didn’t pass him.”

“No way! In front of the whole class?”

“Yeah, he said that if she didn’t pass him, she might want to find someone to walk her home after school. He told her the streets aren’t safe for a woman walking home alone. She turned white and dropped her textbook.” The boy let out a strained laugh. “The whole class jumped!”

Riley plopped down on the bench beside his friend.

“I just don’t know what to do. I mean, it was her choice to stop hanging out with me.” He looked at Corey. “I think she includes you in this, too, even though Aaron doesn’t seem to have a problem with you hanging around her.”

“Duh, doofus. I’m gay. I’m not a threat to him like you are.”

“Well, there is that.” Riley smiled. “You’re just Corey. I don’t think of you as gay, just one of my best friends.”

“Now don’t get all mushy on me. You’re going to give me impure thoughts that you might be interested in me. You did say that the thought of sleeping with Rachel made you go ‘ewwww,’ didn’t you?”

Riley mock-slugged him in the shoulder. “Don’t start on that again. I like girls…what happened between us was just that one time at camp.”

“You mean, that one time at band camp?” Corey said slyly, referencing a movie sequel the three of them had seen a few months before.

Riley laughed in spite of himself, some of his tension easing. “No comment.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I just wish Aaron….”

“Just wish I’d what, geek?” came a menacing voice from the entrance to the boys locker room. Both boys froze, identical looks of panic racing across their faces.

Aaron stepped around the end of the lockers, a look of pure fury written across his face.

“Hey, Aaron….” Corey started, but a sharp look from Aaron shut him up.

“So a little bird tells me that you didn’t get my message the other day. Says they saw you holding hands with my girl outside where you didn’t think anyone would notice you.”

Riley stood, his face hot and his fists clenched at his sides. “We weren’t holding hands. She was upset about the bruises and sprained elbow that you gave her. She was trying to calm me down so I wouldn’t come after you for hurting her.”

Aaron laughed. “You come after me? Better bring backup.” He pointed at Corey. “Better make sure it’s a real man, not your pet homo there.”

Through clenched teeth, Riley said, “He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be, you neanderthal.” Smart move, MacPherson, get the jock even more pissed off at you. I’ve got to get out of here before this goes any further. He’s a big jock, he’d probably wipe the floor with me!

“C’mon, Corey, let’s get out of here. I don’t have anything to prove to this jerk.”

Grabbing his backpack from the floor, Riley moved toward the exit.

As he passed Aaron, the larger boy shoved him, sending him flying into the barrel of sports equipment sitting by the door.

Aaron snickered. “Go ahead, run away, geek. Rachel said she told you to stay away from her. She needs a real man in her life, not some scrawny nerd like you.” With that he turned and still laughing, headed for his locker.

Riley’s world went red. Feeling behind him, he grabbed the first thing his hand closed on, a hockey stick. He came off the floor in one long lunge.

Riley aimed for the locker next to Aaron’s head, but the other boy opened his locker just as Riley swung. The stick slammed into Aaron’s thumb and crushed the rest of his hand between the door and the next locker.

Aaron screamed.

Oh, crap, what have I done?

Dropping the hockey stick, Riley fled.

* * *

“So I ended up breaking Aaron’s hand. Without their star quarterback, they lost the playoffs. Now, everyone in town hates me.”

Dr. Wittbro made a note on his pad. “I’m sure not everyone hates you. Some people could care less about high school sports.”

Riley shrugged. “Everyone I know anyway. That’s all that matters. No one will speak to me at school. Hell, even half the teachers ignore me. Thankfully, they haven’t taken out their frustrations on my grades. Yet. I need to get good grades so I can get out of this damned town. I’m hoping to go pre-med. I’ve applied to Stanford and Berkeley. My folks are upset that I’m not going to UW-Madison like I originally planned.”

The therapist nodded. “I went to Berkeley myself. It’s a great school. There’s lots to do in the Bay Area.” The man laughed. “But it doesn’t snow there. I loved snow too much, so I came back here to start my practice.”

“Rachel’s father has forbidden us to ever speak to each other again. He says I’m dangerous. All because I lost my temper one time and his precious quarterback got hurt. I wish he’d cared that much when it was his daughter getting beaten up by Aaron.”

The therapist tapped his pen on notepad a few times. “So what do you hope to get out of these sessions?”

“Well, the school said I have to see you for anger management or they won’t let me go to graduation. So here I am. I don’t have anger management issues. I lost my temper once!” Riley shoved himself back into the chair, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I want you to think back. Have you felt tense or aggravated at things or people lately?”

Riley thought about the past few weeks, then he grimaced. “Well, I’ve sure been on edge since then. I mean, it seems like everyone is out to get me.”

The man nodded. “And how have you been sleeping?”

“Sleep?” Riley laughed. “I think I remember what that is.”

“Aha. Unable to focus, headaches, fatigue?”

“Yeah, all of those things.” He furrowed his brow. “Huh. Let me guess. Anger issues?”

The man smiled. “Right.”

“So what do I do about them?”

“Well, first I’d like to teach you a few calming techniques you can use when you feel the those symptoms coming on. Maybe self-hypnosis, too.”

“Hypnosis? Like, making me cluck like a chicken? I saw that at the state fair once.”

Laughing, Dr. Wittbro waved a hand at Riley. “No, not like that. It’s just a way to access your subconscious and suggest a more positive response to your repressed anger.”

“Really? Cool. I could do that. Sounds like a plan.”

“Let me warn you, though, this isn’t an overnight fix. It’s going to take time and effort on your part. You will need to practice the new methods until they become a part of you.”

Riley tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. Sounds like a lot of work. And for what? He winced inwardly. So I don’t kill the next jock that gets in my face, that’s why. I can’t let my anger take over like that again. Ever!

He sat up, looking the doctor in the eye. “Yeah. That’s what I want and I don’t care how long it takes or how hard it is.” Riley chuckled. “Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to go into psychology instead of pre-med.”

“Good, Riley. Then let’s get down to business.”

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