Though their ‘breakup’ was now official. Kato and Tricia walked next to each other down the school hall.
“He makes everything easy and light and fun,” Tricia’s nod held understanding. “That’s what everyone loves about Noah. But it’s what’s under all that bravado which makes you see him, right?”
He had to nod to acknowledge the truth to his closest friend.
“Do you know about his dad?”
Kato shook his head, “not much. Just what the others say.”
“His dad left when Noah was just a kid. He doesn’t talk about what happened. He pretends like it’s no big deal.”
“But, he still sees his dad, right?”
She shook her head, “yah, but every time his dad ditches him for work. There’s always something that comes up that keeps their time short. He buys expensive gifts for Noah, but he’s never there for him. Not really. Not when it counts. Who taught him how to shave? Who explained what was happening when the hormones started kicking in? Who was there to help him throw his first football? Or came to his first game? Or any game, for that matter.”
“I hadn’t really thought of that,” Kato admitted.
“But I’m sure he has. I think deep down, he’s lonely. He surrounds himself with friends, and he keeps himself busy with sports. But, after the party when everyone’s gone, who’s there for him?”
Kato stared off into the distance, “I don’t think he lets anyone be there.”
“What do you mean?” it was her turn to be surprised.
“Just a thought,” he murmured. ‘I don’t let anyone close because I can’t handle the thought of anyone knowing the truth and seeing me that vulnerable. When things get bad, you let me crash at your place. But even you haven’t seen how bad it really is. Because I don’t want you to. Because we all keep secrets.’
“Kato, a moment,” the voice of a male teacher reached out to them.
Kato flinched, a subtle movement noted only in the balled up fist he was hiding beneath long sleeves.
“I’ll see you after class. Let’s get lunch today?” Tricia asked him. When he nodded, she gave him a light kiss on the cheek. “Mr. P.”
“Good to see you Tricia,” the upkept teacher in his sweater-vest, loafers, and neatly brushed hair smiled kindly.
Kato waited with a held breath.
“You two seem close for having broken up,” there was a cool note that crept into the tone.
“Lots of high school couples don’t work out,” he shrugged. “But we’re still friends.”
“What about you and a certain male athlete? Something starting up there?”
Kato physically felt the color drain from his face! He shook his head mutely.
“Heard the two of you were in the first aid room together.”
There weren’t words that he could come up with to explain.
“I don’t think you’d want this kind of thing getting back, would you?” Mr. P. stood so tall over Kato, who always felt diminutive faced with the man.
“He was just…”
“Alone,” Mr. P. cut him off coldly. “In the first aid room. Someone like you, that doesn’t look good, does it?”
He shook his head because he understood what Mr. P. thought. And it was hard to deny that thought when doing so would be a lie.
“Do you want to destroy the reputation of a star player?” somehow, with each accusation, he was growing taller in Kato’s perspective.
He shook his head. He didn’t want to hurt Noah at all!
Mr. P. took a step back, “you’d better hurry to class. And mind your place before something does get back.”
He stared through a filter at the ground, making it look clouded. Fear caused a tremble to roll throughout his body. It was a miracle that his legs worked at all to carry him away. Arguing with Mr. P. was something he couldn’t do. The consequences for not submitting were too high.
Standing watch down the hall, Mr. P. glared. He had no use for that kid. He didn’t have any use for any of that ilk. But Kato could be dealt with in a way that didn’t get his hands dirty.