Take me back

Chet Chester?!12-2020, 1300 words

High school

Chet Chester had crazy eyes.

That was the first thing Sol Fitzroy thought when he saw him. There he was on the field, making what was supposed to be a soccer game into pure chaos. The ball was his—it had been his the entire time, and anyone who dared to approach was promptly kicked in the shins. His teammates had long given up and most of them had retreated to the corner, where they watched him play a one-man game unhappily. The other team was equally miserable, not the least because some were already sporting bruises from where he’d elbowed and kicked them. Some looked pleadingly at the referee for help, but even he was averting his eyes from the scene.

It was an absolute farce of a game. It was also the first game Sol found interesting in his life.

He was there not by choice, but because it was good to keep up appearances. When your parents owned the fourth largest food conglomerate in the nation, you had to have a public face. It was showing school spirit, supporting the community, and most importantly, made for a great public image. The Fitzroy heir, watching a soccer game like all the other kids his age. His parents would like that. It would be good for business, less so for Sol—heavens knew he wasn’t the participative sort. Things stopped being fun a long time ago, even if this game was proving to be different.

The other spectators were beginning to leave, but Sol leaned forward and kept his eyes on Chet. As horrible as he was being, there was something magnetic about his every move. From his footwork, Sol could tell he was an undeniably good player, even if there were no limits to how he terrorized the field.

He probably read the rulebook then threw it out, Sol thought. It was a funny mental image.

At this point, everyone had given up trying to approach Chet. This seemed to suit him perfectly, and there was a savage, unbridled glee on his face as he kicked the ball. Effortlessly, or perhaps because of his ruthless efforts, he scored again and again. No one was even tracking his goals anymore, but he kept going until time ran out. As the referee announced his victory, the glint in his eye was chilling.

In the post-game rush, Chet stood alone on the field. His teammates kept their distance from him, some already leaving, but he seemed not to care. After all, it had been a one-man game.

As Chet wiped the sweat on his face with his shirt, Sol found himself looking for a very different reason. His face felt warm but what could he say? It must’ve been the sun.

Chet looked over, saw him staring, and smiled.

Chet Chester was a cheating bastard.

Sol should’ve known the soccer game wasn’t a one-time thing. It was almost laughable to expect someone who played so underhandedly to be docile in everything else.

Sometimes the school had a bad habit of posting rankings after an exam, mostly to shame the low scorers. It was an unfortunate side effect of being in a private school that was as ruthless as it was exclusive. Sol always scored last, or at least in the bottom, but he was unpopular enough that it was fine. No one expected him to get good grades so it wasn’t a surprise when he didn’t. Besides, with how much money his parents threw at the school, he always passed in the end. And as long as did, he didn’t care where he was on a list.

This time though, he couldn’t help but check the rankings, not for his name but Chet’s. It was near the top.

“Nice, huh?"

Next to him, Chet was speaking to a friend of his. He sounded smug, like he was talking about a victory he didn’t deserve.

His friend laughed. "I have no idea how you do it, man. You’re always sleeping in class, it’s crazy.”

Chet looped one arm around his shoulders, said something about being a sleeping genius, and dragged his friend away.

At first, Sol thought he was simply smart. Then he saw the slip of paper in his pocket. It dawned on him, and he wondered how much the cheat sheet had cost. Did he buy it from another student, maybe an upper-year looking for a quick buck? Or was it a teacher that let him take it? Some teachers were more lenient than others, if you knew who to ask. There were tricks to this trade and it wasn’t like Sol hadn’t tried himself. But no matter what he did, he always got caught and those were terrible conversations to have with his parents. Sol swallowed and grimaced—there was something to be said about the irony of paying your way through school and still failing.

There was smart enough to study and there was smart enough not to get caught. If Chet was the latter, then Sol was neither.

Chet Chester was also observant.

“You’ve been watching me,” he said one day from behind Sol.

It caught Sol by surprise. He didn’t realize Chet had noticed and besides, right now he wasn’t watching him at all. Instead, he’d been looking at the sunset through the chain-link fence that bordered their school. It was a good way to pass the time, and Sol had been there for a while, not wanting to go home just yet. His parents always worked late anyway. He looked at Chet, with his face illuminated in orange, and decided he’d rather watch him.

Still, what was he supposed to say now? He didn’t want to say the wrong thing.

There was one thing Sol always said that worked no matter the situation. With his parents, his teachers, his so-called friends who were only there for his wallet—it was the fastest way to get them to give up on you.

“I don’t know what you're talking about.”

After all, it wasn’t like being a blockhead got you anywhere in life.

Chet smiled. “Sure you don’t,” he said, a pleasant lilt to his voice. He cocked his head. “I’m smarter than I look, you know. And it seems you are too.”

Well, that was new. Sol had never heard anyone say that before. Chet was gambling on him, placing his bets on Sol—or at least, on his estimation of him. It was the stupidest thing anyone could do. Except for his parents, Sol didn’t think he had anything going for him. He’d always felt empty, like a hollow shell of a person, lacking something important that everyone else had. Even Chet had it, the spark of life that made his eyes shine. And yet, Chet wanted to know him. Sol was oddly touched.

But he still didn’t know what to say. So rather than saying anything, he looked down at his feet. Silence had become the best option.

Chet’s smile only grew. There was a feral edge to it, one that Sol couldn’t take his eyes away from. Chet stepped forward and they were close now, close enough for Sol to feel warm.

The air was still cold, and the heat of Sol’s face felt like rebellion. He swallowed, watching Chet carefully. He was speaking again.

“Why don’t we be friends?"

With that, Chet extended a hand, all smiles and friendliness, but all Sol could see was the calculating look in his eye. He was judging him, Sol realized. Waiting for a response, to see if Sol measured up to whatever ideal he had of him. Sol was used to this and he was even more used to letting people down afterwards. But somehow, Sol didn’t want to let Chet down.

This was a terrible decision but Sol didn’t care. Wrinkling the sleeve of his perfectly ironed uniform, he took Chet’s hand and shook. Just once but that was enough.