New flash fiction, and this one draws from something that actually did happen to me, back in high school. Names and specific details have changed, but if you happened to attend Sweeny High School at some point, you may recognize the gym. Go play there again. I had a nice time.

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We were in the hole. It's what we called the stairwell on the far side of the gym, on the visitor's side. 

The gym hadn't originally been a gym, but was supposed to be a swimming pool. When the funding for the school's swimming program was cut, there were last minute changes to the design. The result was a basketball court with high walls on either side, and seating high up. It made for a funny looking gym, and it created four stairwells that were essentially little rooms without ceilings. The hole was one of these. 

It's where kids went to smoke.

I didn't smoke, but Aaron did. And when he told me he needed to go to the hole and get his lighter, I went because I never got to hang out in the hole. It was sort of a smokers-only kind of place, and they didn't like someone hanging around, watching, maybe waiting to narc on them. 

Aaron got his lighter, paused, fished a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket and offered me the pack. 

I shook my head, and he flipped the pack open with his thumb. It was empty, and he cursed then tossed it on the ground as he put the lighter in his pocket.

All I had in my pocket was a Swiss Army knife that my grandpa had given me when I was eight. It was scratched, and had a crack near where the plastic toothpick was stored, and one of the short knife blades had been snapped off at some point. It was the last thing my grandpa gave me, before he died. I carried it all the time, even though it was against the rules.

We went up the stairs and out of the hole, and started to make our way across the walkway that separated the bleachers from the high rail. I had my hands shoved into the pockets of my jean jacket, which was a forever part of me. Aaron, wearing a dirty looking Army coat with frayed edges, was half a step ahead of me.

I never hung out with Aaron, but I thought he was interesting. He was an atheist, which to my young Southern Baptist brain made him almost forbidden, like just knowing him meant I was doing something wrong. He was also into a different scene, heavy metal and smoking and drinking, sneaking out late at night and doing the sort of stuff that I never really had the guts to do. I was still making up my mind about Aaron, whether he was someone I'd want to know better. When he asked if I wanted to go to the hole, I went because I was curious. I wanted to see him in his element.

"Hey!" we heard someone say from below.

We both froze and looked down. One of the coaches was down there, looking up at us, hands on his hips. He pointed to the doors at the other end of the gym, "Meet me down there, right now."

We were busted.

Aaron cursed again, and as we walked he slid the lighter out of his pocket, cupping it in his hand. I did the same with my pocket knife. I knew what was coming, that we'd be searched, and I didn't want to lose it. I couldn't.

The coach walked toward the door, and as soon as he was out of our line of sight Aaron threw the lighter across the dimly lit gym, toward the stand on the other side. It landed with a small clatter that was more or less masked by the sounds of footsteps and the gym door opening down below. The coach didn't notice.

That was it? That was the plan? I had to throw the knife away, losing it anyway? 

I couldn't. I just couldn't. I kept it in my palm as we walked down the stairs to where the coach was waiting for us, and then followed him to the Principle's office.

We waited for a while, and I could feel the pocket knife digging into my palm as I wondered and worried about what I should do. There was a buzz at the secretary's desk, and a few seconds later she told us to go in.

Inside, the coach and the Principle were standing and glaring at us. They said a few words, and then the coach left, leaving us to face the Principle's wrath. 

Aaron didn't seem worried. But then, he didn't have much reason to be.

"You know the drill," the Principle said, and Aaron rolled his eyes and spread his feet apart, then held his arms out to his side. 

I did the same.

The Principle patted Aaron down, running his hands along the sleeves of Aaron's Army coat, dipping into the pockets where he found small items like a wallet and a wad of cash, a little metal figure that looked like maybe a Buddha or something, and a pack of gum. "For your breath, I take it," the Principle said.

Then it was my turn. The same pat down, the same dip into my pockets. 

I had the knife, right there in my hand, cupped by my fingers, which I tried to keep loose and casual. All it would take was one glance. All he'd have to do is ask me to hold up my hands, show him my palms. The knife would be gone. It'd be over. 

But he missed it.

Finding nothing, the Principle scowled and told us to sit. As we did, I slipped the knife into my jacket pocket. Aaron and I sat and nodded and yesirred and nosirred as the Principle berated us for being in the gym, unattended, when we should be in ...

"What class are you supposed to be in right now?" he asked me.

"Study," I said. 

"You don't need to study, is that it? You know everything?'

"Nossir."

"What about you?" he asked Aaron.

"Study," he said.

"Two geniuses," the Principle said. "Why crack a book? Well, geniuses, you can ask yourself that question and more for the next week in SAC."

SAC — or Student Alternative Center — was the school's name for all-day detention. It was a musty old building on the far edge of campus, with its own roundabout for drop-offs, and its own mini-cafeteria for feeding the "inmates." 

Up to this point, I'd never really been in much trouble. I'd never even been to detention. So  a week in SAC for skipping one class was like sending me to Shawshank for a parking ticket, in my mind. I protested, as did Aaron.

"Want it to be two weeks?"

"Nossir," we said together, heads down.

The rest was just cleanup — berating and chastising, signing papers, having our parents called, telling us where to be in the morning. And then it was back to class.

As we left, and Aaron and I were suddenly alone in the halls, he asked, "How'd you keep him from finding the knife?"

I tried not to smile. "What knife?" I asked.

"I thought you were going to toss it, when I tossed the lighter, but you kept it. Man, that was slick. He breezed right past it. You're some kind of magician, man."

I said nothing.

Magician. That was cool. I could live with that, for a week in SAC. 

 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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