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Four Times It Wasn't Bruno's Fault and One Time It Really Kind of Was

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The Time With the Mandatory Sexual Molestation Education Classes

This one was sort of Bruno's fault, but afterwards even Boots was willing to admit that Bruno hadn't done anything wrong and the real blame lay with Bruno's older brother Calvin who should have just kept his mouth shut especially in front of Bruno's mother (who, everyone knew, couldn't keep a secret even if the fate of the free world was depending on it).

It started with Bruno - who wasn't very good at keeping secrets himself, sometimes - and a phone call to his older brother. Bruno was having some conflicted feelings about his long time friend and roommate that he could no longer put off as a side effect of puberty and had found himself in need of some brotherly advice. That wouldn't have been so bad except that Bruno's brother was Calvin, who was something of a jerk and didn't always remember that Bruno wasn't ten years old anymore. Calvin, after completely failing to provide Bruno with any sort of guidance and absently telling him to "Just go for it, then, what's he going to do, slug you? He's kind of a wimp, isn't he?" had, in the tradition of elder brothers trying to embarrass their younger brothers throughout the centuries, mentioned the whole thing to Bruno's mother. Bruno's mother had brought it up a few days later during one of her monthly phone calls to Boots' mother. And Mrs. O'Neal had, as she got ready for bed that night, mentioned it to Mr. O'Neal, who promptly flipped his shit and took off in the car to MacDonald Hall.

Now, it might have ended there, if only things had gone a bit differently. If Mr. O'Neal had explained thing to Mr. Sturgeon as they had been explained to him, then there could have been a long, private conversation between father and son and the whole thing could have been straightened out. Unfortunately, Mr. O'Neal was in something of a state and Mr. Sturgeon - awakened in the dead of night by a man in his pajamas shouting that his son was being molested at the school - was in something of a state himself at that point and things just sort of escalated until Mr. O'Neal was barging into his son's room shouting about lawsuits and emotional trauma.

Most of Dormitory Three was awake before he even reached room 306 since he was loudly demanding that someone call the police. Boots, who had only been asleep for about ten minutes since he and Bruno had been on a midnight visit to Cathy and Diane, was fuzzily wondering what the commotion was and didn't realize it was about him until several minutes after his father stormed into the room and started demanding to know where Bruno was.

Bruno, who had an ability to snap instantly awake combined with a strong sense of self-preservation, was hiding in the bathroom.

Thereafter proceeded a great deal of shouting and very little listening as Mr. O'Neal continued to call for the police, lawsuits and Bruno's head, Mr. Sturgeon tried to convince Bruno to come out of the bathroom, and Boots, equal parts horrified and embarrassed begged his father too keep his voice down. Order was not restored until Mrs. Sturgeon came on the scene and informed them all that Boots' mother was on the phone and that if everyone didn't calm down immediately there would be hell to pay for it.

Mr. O'Neal and Boots both immediately subsided, well aware that neither of them was a match for her and Mr. Sturgeon sent them both off to talk the matter over. He let Mrs. Sturgeon deal with Bruno for a moment while he stood in the hall and glared the other boys back into their beds (it didn't do anything to stem the gossip since the Blabbermouth had been transcribing the entire conversation in an e-mail which he then sent to every person on campus).

Boots snuck back into the room a few hours later. His father had sheepishly apologized for the commotion, especially after being scolded by his wife and a mortally embarrassed Boots, before going to sleep. Boots, who was supposed to be staying in the Sturgeon's other guest room, threw rocks at his own window until Bruno let him in.

"For pity's sake," Boots said.

Bruno was blushing so hard Boots could see it by moonlight. "Sorry. I don't even know how he found out, Boots, I swear."

Boots flopped down on his bed and sighed through his teeth. "Well, that's a weight off. I was half convinced you had done something insanely stupid and called to ask for permission to court me."

"That sounds like something I might do," Bruno admitted with a crooked grin. "You're not mad?"

"I'm too embarrassed to be mad," Boots said. "Half the campus thinks we're in here getting it on every night thanks to my dad."

"Sorry," Bruno mumbled.

"Also, apparently my best friend wants to have sex with me and hasn't even told me so," Boots said. "I'm kind of aggravated about that."

"Sorry," Bruno said again, a little miserably.

"The worst part," Boots said to the ceiling, "is that now I finally do know you want to have sex with me and with my dad here we can't even do anything."

"Sor- What?" Bruno said.

Boots lifted his head to grin at him. "Oh, and The Fish says he isn't even going to punish us since the embarrassment of having your crush aired all over campus is more than punishment enough. Interestingly, he seems to think that being the object of your affections is also a punishment, because I'm not even going to have to wash dishes. Although he is going to talk to the two of us after breakfast today about appropriate behavior."

"Oh, God," Bruno said in a strangled voice.

"And starting next week, everyone on campus has to take some kind of mandatory class on how to deal with sexual predators." Boots giggled to himself. "I asked if I could be excused because I had years of experience handling you, but that just got my father started all over again."

"Wait," Bruno said. "So- when your dad leaves are we having sex?"

The Time With the Zombies

This one was all Cathy's fault with a little bit of blame set aside for Miss Scrimmage and Diane. Bruno and Boots could both be held slightly accountable if only because they both should have known that doing Cathy a favor could only end in trouble.

It was worth pointing out that they weren't real zombies, just a bunch of students from both schools made up to look like zombies. The boys even had permission to be there, in writing, from Miss Scrimmage and Mr. Sturgeon, to help Cathy with her student film. Miss Scrimmage was all about artistic expression that semester and when Cathy had passionately declared that she wanted to be the next George Romero Miss Scrimmage had supported her whole-heartedly without ever once asking who exactly George Romero was or what he was famous for, exactly.

So about fifty students in gory Halloween make-up and torn clothing were staggering around Miss Scrimmage's apple orchard, chasing Boots (the emotionally traumatized young man whose entire family had been eaten alive in front of him) and Diane (the elite zombie-killing commando who had parachuted into the infected area to kick undead ass and drag Boots to safety). Boots had just 'sprained' his ankle and was lying on his back, screaming bloody murder as an especially gory Bruno tried to eat his brains. Diane was a few feet away, playing out an elaborate fight scene with a half-dozen zombies and calling desperately for Boots to "Fight, damn you! Stay alive!" This is when Miss Scrimmage appeared on the back porch of the school and began screaming.

And that is when Sidney Rampulsky, also dressed up as a zombie extra, tripped over the porch steps and fell on Miss Scrimmage.

The Headmistress, now thoroughly convinced she was under attack by plague victims, kicked Sidney in the head and ran inside for her shotgun.

Mr. Sturgeon glared at Bruno and Boots as the story came out later, but didn't actually punish either one of them, though he did suggest that perhaps they should avoid any more of Cathy's special projects in the future.

Sidney spent the night in the hospital with a concussion. Miss Scrimmage was given a stern talking to by the police about filing false reports. They then confiscated her shotgun and Cathy's video camera.

Cathy eventually got the camera back and a secret screening was arranged for Halloween night. It was generally agreed that Bruno made an excellent zombie and that Diane should do high kicks in leather pants more often.

The Time With the Hair Dye and the Electric Boogaloo

"It would seem." Mr. Sturgeon said through gritted teeth, "that Elmer Drimsdale, one of the most promising young minds in this or any other country, a young man who may be called a genius with absolutely no hesitation, an individual who will undoubtedly contribute greatly to the future of science as we know it, is dropping out of school."

Bruno and Boots stared at him, turned to stare at each other, then stared at him some more.

"Would you like to know why he is leaving school?" Mr. Sturgeon asked pleasantly.

"Sir?" Bruno asked in a strangled voice.

"He has been offered a contract."

They looked at one another again. "Like, a military contract?" Boots asked. "He's building weapons or something?"

"No," Mr. Sturgeon said. "A recording contract. It seems Elmer will be getting his own band."

Boots made a gurgling sound. Bruno dug his fingernails into the heel of his hand to keep from laughing out loud. "Seriously?"

"As we speak," Mr. Sturgeon said, "a pink-haired Elmer Drimsdale is packing to leave for Ottowa. Meanwhile, I must explain to his parents why their son - their pink haired son - is abandoning his education and changing his name."

"His name, sir?" Bruno asked. Boots looked like he was hyperventilating.

"Elmer Dynamicdale," Mr. Sturgeon said. "Ring any bells?"

"Cathy," Boots wheezed before he finally lost any semblance of control.

The Time in the York Academy Locker Room

York Academy and MacDonald Hall had never exactly been friendly rivals, even before Bruno and Boots showed up and started single-handedly humiliating the York turkeys at every opportunity. It was Boots they mostly hated, since he was always involved in Bruno's plots to discredit them and he was the guy who usually kicked their butts on the field. As the star of the swim team and co-captain of the hockey, football and basketball teams, if York Academy was going to lose to Mac Hall, it was probably Boots' fault. Also, they had never really forgiven him for the disappearance of Myrtle, the hockey team's mascot, back in his freshman year, even if the cat had reappeared before their bus left.

York Turkeys were idiots, though and generally not to be worried about, which is why Boots usually ignored the trash talk and snide insults. He could afford to, since he could rest assured that Bruno was somewhere spray-painting the York Academy bus, kidnapping the York Academy mascot, or running the captain of the hockey team's boxer shorts up a flagpole. Boots always felt that was much better payback than he ever would have gotten from punching one of them in the face and since he was always on the field or in the pool at the time Bruno and his band of merry marauders (Pete Anderson and Wilbur Hackenschleimer, both of them mad sports fans who didn't think winning was any reason not to prank the opposing team) he was almost never punished for any of it. Almost never. There was still the thing with the antacid in the pool. And Myrtle the pregnant mascot. And the time they had a hundred pizzas delivered to a swim meet. And the time when Bruno and Mark Davies rigged the York scoreboard to announce that the York coach was placing bets on his own team (he had been, too, which didn't get them in any less trouble with the Fish). Anyway, it was hard to get worked up over someone being rude to him when he knew Bruno would do something to make him laugh himself sick after the game. And if they occasionally tried to break his nose on the ice or the football field, well, MacDonald Hall brought the Scrimmettes to every game, home or away. They had a reputation for having excellent aim with eggs, water ballons and - no one could prove it was Cathy - paint gun pellets. After the time a York player had 'accidentally' checked Boots against the boards hard enough to scare the hell out of Bruno and infuriate both coaches, fifteen well-bred young ladies in cheerleading uniforms had stormed the rink and dragged the guy off the ice by his legs. Boots had to be pulled off the ice too, but not because he was hurt. He'd been laughing too hard to play.

Boots never really gave any thought to the fact that York Academy might take the rivalry more seriously than he and Bruno did until the day he was changing after a swim meet and someone slammed his head into a locker.

He was the last one out because he'd had to pose for pictures with the judges and hadn't started showering until everyone else was dressed and filing back toward the buses. He'd finished changing and was about to head out himself when he heard someone walk up behind him. Thinking it was just one of his teammates, or Bruno, he hadn't looked up as he said "Almost ready. Give me a second to-" He didn't get any further than that because whoever it was grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed him face-first against the row of lockers.

He staggered a little and caught himself before he tripped over his duffel bag. He turned around just in time to see Fred Moesby, captain of the York Academy hockey team, punch him in the face.

He hit the ground that time and blinked at the ceiling in surprise for a second. He hadn't been expecting anything like that and some part of him was wondering what the correct response was. The rest of him - the part that controlled his arms and legs, fortunately - had decided that getting the hell out of dodge was the right idea and he was already getting back to his feet. "Is this about the underwear?" he asked. He knew it was a stupid thing to say even before Moesby shouted "You little fag!" and lunged at him.

Boots had a younger brother he didn't particularly like, so he'd fought before. He'd brawled with Bruno a few times, too, and Wilbur had put him in a headlock once or twice when he caught Boots stealing desserts off his tray. But he'd never been in a fistfight before. Which was probably why Moesby was able to deck him a second time and wrestle him to the floor.

Boots might have been in trouble if Bruno hadn't chosen that moment to appear with half a dozen Scrimmettes and one extremely pissed off Wilbur Hackenschleimer. Bruno and Wilbur hauled Moesby off of him and if they were a little rougher about it than they strictly needed to be, well, Boots wasn't going to object. Bruno shoved Moesby toward the girls who, led by a fuming Cathy, dragged him into the showers. Boots heard a startled shout and a fair amount of cursing a minute later but the girls seemed to have things in hand, so he focused on keeping his head attached to his body.

"Are you okay?" Bruno demanded. He was trying to make Boots stay still, but Boots mostly wanted up off the floor. "He hit you." He sounded so shocked by the idea that it almost made Boots laugh

"I noticed after the first time," Boots said, cupping his jaw with one hand. His cheek hurt, and his jaw, and pretty much his entire face from when he'd hit the locker.

Bruno's face darkened. "Diane was waiting outside the locker room to give you flowers from the Scrimmettes. She heard that jerkwad yelling and came to get me."

Boots gripped Bruno's hand and let his roommate pull him to his feet. "Well, I'm glad she did. Apparently I'm not street fighter material."

Bruno caught his other hand and pulled it away from Boots' jaw, examining the damage for himself. "Well, you'll be all kinds of pretty colors tomorrow," he finally said. He skimmed his fingers over Boots' cheek and jaw for a minute and Boots caught himself leaning into the touch.

"I'll live," Boots said finally. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

Diane was still waiting for them outside, her arms full of garishly colored paper flowers hand-made by the Scrimmettes. She solemnly handed them over and Boots had to laugh at the whole thing.

There were coaches and teachers to explain themselves to when they got outside, because Boots face was already turning all kinds of colors and Bruno was loudly demanding he be checked for fractured bones and a concussion - neither of which Boots thought was necessary but Coach Flynn was on Bruno's side and in between all of that and the rest of the Scrimmettes chasing the York Academy swim team around the pool while waving lacrosse sticks in a threatening manner someone called The Fish and suddenly Headmaster Hartley was involved.

And then at some point someone went looking for Moesby and found him tied to a shower head in the locker room, gagged with a dirty gym sock and soaking wet. Cathy planted her hands on her hips and glared at him as he was led over by the York Academy coach and it made Boots head feel a hundred times better to see the way Moesby flinched when Cathy took a step toward him.

"I love Cathy," he told Bruno as he and Wilbur escorted him to the bus. "She's terrifying. Thank God she isn't allowed to carry a gun."

"Thank you for that horrible thought," Bruno said. "I know I'll sleep better at night thinking of Cathy Burton going around armed."

"How much trouble do you think we're going to be in when the Fish gets his hands on us?" Boots asked as he sprawled across the back seat of the bus and closed his eyes. They'd given him an ice back for his jaw and Tylenol for his head, but he didn't think it was helping.

Bruno perched on the very edge of the seat next to Boots' head and held the icepack in place for him. "I'm pretty sure you're off the hook as an innocent victim."

"I'm innocent at least fifty percent of the time," Boots said. "That never stops me from getting in trouble right along with you."

Bruno made a humming sound that might have been agreement, but it mostly just made Boots sleepy. "I don't think I'm in trouble this time, either," he said. "So don't worry about it. We'll deal with it all back at the Hall."

The Time Bruno Had Help and it Wasn't Boots

Walton and O'Neal seated themselves on the hard wooden bench with no direction from him and waited with varying degrees of apprehension. O'Neal seemed slightly uncertain as to what they were doing there, which could mean they had been causing so much trouble the boy had quite lost track of it all. William Sturgeon had seen that look more than once. But this was a little different. This looked more like the boy honestly did not know what he could have done to warrant a talking-to. Sturgeon had seen that look before, many times over the years. To his credit, the boy never dumped the blame on his roommate's shoulders, where it frequently belonged.

Walton was quite a different matter. His expression said that he knew exactly why he was in trouble and that he had no regrets about it at all. And the truth of it is, Mr. Sturgeon would have been just slightly disappointed if it had been any other way.

"I understand," he began after letting them stew for a minute, "that there was an unpleasant situation with Fred Moesby at York Academy a week ago." O'Neal, he saw, went slightly pale at the mention of his attacker, and Walton's expression only hardened. "We discussed the situation and I feel I made my opinion known to you at the time regarding your handling of the situation. Am I incorrect?"

"No sir," Walton said. O'Neal, who had been in the infirmary for that conversation, looked back and forth between his roommate and the headmaster, but did not speak up.

"I was under the impression that we had reached an agreement on how to deal with Mr. Moesby from here on out. Was I incorrect?"

Walton only pressed his lips together and shook his head. Mr. Sturgeon didn't have it in him to push the boy further. In truth, he was quite aggravated with York Academy's handling of the situation.

"Very well then," he said, folding his hands on top of his desk. "Then would you please kindly answer two questions for me?"

"If I can, sir," Walton said. O'Neal was still looking back and forth between them.

"The first issue is one that I believe I already know the answer to, but in my position as Headmaster, and in light of the conversation we have already had, I must ask. Why, for heaven's sake did you feel the need to taint every pair of Mr. Moesby's underwear with poison ivy extract?"

O'Neal's eyes went wide, then he turned a look of such undisguised gratitude and amusement on his roommate that Sturgeon knew he already had the answer. Walton held his roommate's gaze for a second, then shrugged at the floor. "I guess I was mad, sir."

That was all the answer he was going to get. If it was anyone else in here being scolded for revenging themselves on Moesby, Bruno Walton would be leading hunger strikes in their defense, leading protest marches and shouting inflammatory slogans into a microphone. But in his own defense, that was all he would say.

Mr. Sturgeon had little use for revenge, pranks or grudges. But there was something to be said for standing up for your friends and doing it in a non-violent manner. And if it got O'Neal out of the frame of mind he'd been in since the incident, well.

"You realize this will only make him dislike you even more," he said finally. They both seemed well aware of that, but O'Neal didn't seem fazed and Walton had the same mulishly stubborn look on his face he'd had while writing lines for Wizzle. "All right. The second question then." He leaned back in his chair and graced Walton with a puzzled glance. "How on earth did you get into that boy's underwear drawer?"

O'Neal clapped both hands over his mouth as he started to laugh. Walton smirked. "Let's just say there was an agent on the inside who did the actual deed."

"I don't want to know," Mr. Sturgeon said. "Since you were not the one who placed the chemical on the, ah, clothing in question, I suppose you cannot be held accountable for the end result. Get out of here before I come to my senses."

"I can't believe you kissed him," AnneMarie said.

"Well, how else was I supposed to convince him I wanted to go back to his room?" Diane asked practically. "Anyway, it was for a good cause."

"What did you do with the rest of the poison ivy extract?" Ruth asked in a hushed voice.

Cathy snickered. Diane smirked. "I went back the next day and emptied it into his calamine lotion."

The End