Jeremy was almost shivering as he waited on the play mat with Michael. His dad was coming late, which meant Jeremy was going to be able to meet Michael’s moms: Mama and Ina. He was really nervous.
At this point, Jeremy had known Michael for a while. It was...April and they met in January. That was a really long time, but Jeremy hadn’t met Michael’s family before. They always came later.
“M-Mikey, are you sure this is okay?” Jeremy whispered, fiddling with the sleeve of his cardigan. “What if they don’t like me?”
Michael looked at Jeremy with wide eyes. "Wh- They like you! They'll love you when they meet you." He seemed sure of that as he nodded.
Jeremy hugged himself. “I really hope so...”
"I know so," Michael said before offering his arms open for a hug.
Jeremy blinked before scooting closer and hugging Michael. He still wasn’t used to being able to get hugs whenever he wanted. He really liked that Michael was a very cuddly person.
"They're gonna love you, Remy," Michael promised as he hugged Jeremy.
Jeremy went floppy in Michael’s arms. He felt safe here, even safe enough to ignore the teasing calls from some of the other kids who were waiting. After that really bad day, some of the kids stayed mean to him. He didn’t understand why, he was always quiet and tried to be nice, but they just hated him. It was still way better than his other schools.
Michael just held Jeremy closer when people tried to tease them, even going as far as sticking his tongue out at the kids. "They're butt heads."
Jeremy couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks Mikey. You’ve made everything good. Everything in my whole entire life has been good since we became friends.”
"You've made everything good too. You're so nice and cool and... yeah." Michael squeezed Jeremy in the hug as he smiled.
Jeremy grinned at Michael and relaxed. Things would be okay. Michael was with him, things would be just fine.
It took him a minute to hear Miss Carlson calling for Michael. Michael only looked over when Jeremy poked him. "Michael, your moms are here to pick you up."
Michael grinned and quickly let go of Jeremy to help them both stand up. "C'mon, Remy!"
Jeremy wobbled to his feet (his legs had dot thingies inside them from sitting still for so long) and followed after Michael. He felt his voice get sticky in his neck, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to talk much. He tugged on Michael’s sleeve to let him know.
Michael looked at Jeremy and smiled before squeezing his hand. "It's okay." He then ran the rest of the way, going over and hugging the legs of two women. "Mama! Ina! Hi! Meet Remy, my best friend."
Jeremy waved shyly at the two pretty ladies who Michael was hugging. One was very tall and she looked a lot like Michael. The other lady had yellow hair and blue eyes, and she was shorter. Jeremy liked how they looked, but he couldn’t decide if he liked them yet because he was scared they would be mean. He really hoped they wouldn’t be.
The one that didn't look like Michael walked over after the one that looked like Michael picked Michael up. She was smiling and looked... happy to see him. "Hi there, Jeremy. Michael's told us so much about you. It's so good to meet you. I'm his mama." She squatted down and held her arms out for a hug.
Jeremy stared at her for a second. She wanted to hug him? But they just met! Still... she looked like she might be soft, like Michael. Michael gave really good hugs.
Slowly, Jeremy scooted closer to the lady, Michael’s mama, and held out his own arms, hugging her. It was very gentle, because he was worried if he hugged her properly, she would pull away and be angry with him. Mommy did that sometimes, and it always made Jeremy really sad.
Michael's mama didn't pull away though. Instead of doing that, she pulled Jeremy closer. She was very squishy and comfortable to hug, like Michael. "Is this alright? Michael told us that you love hugs."
Jeremy nodded and started hugging her properly. She was soft and squishy and warm, just like Michael. This must be why he was so great to hug, his mama was too!
Jeremy’s heart was beating louder than normal. Normally, his heart was quiet but now he felt very happy but also like he might cry. He didn’t understand why, though. Crying was for sadness, right? But then Michael had been so happy he cried when Jeremy met him. Was he happy crying?
He felt himself moved in Michael's mama's arms, still being hugged while his face was carefully wiped. "Are you alright, Jeremy? What's wrong?" Oh, and she sounded like she cared a lot.
Even if his voice was sticky, Jeremy tried his best to speak. “Never had a mama hug before... s’really nice,” he managed to say as he sniffled and cuddled closer to Michael’s mama.
"Oh. Well, you can have as many as you want now," Michael's mama said as she held him close again. "Is that alright with you, Jeremy?"
Jeremy nodded and snuggled as close as he could. He didn’t think he could say much more.
Michael’s mama kept him close then, and she helped Jeremy to feel very safe and happy.
“Hey there, Private. Who’s that you’re hugging?” Jeremy didn’t even realize his dad was here. In an instant, he started smiling and stepped back from Michael’s mama and ran over to his dad.
“Dad! You’re here!” he cheered, his voice getting less sticky already. “This is Michael’s mama. And his Ina,” he explained, giggling happily as his dad picked him up and cuddled him close.
“Really? Well I’d better introduce myself then, shouldn’t I? If they’re your best friend’s parents then I’ve got to know them!”
Michael’s mama stood up and held out her hand, and Michael’s Ina stood next to her. “Hi there. I’m Abigail, and this is my wife, Dalisay. It’s nice to meet you. We’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about you and your son.”
“Jason. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Dad was so strong because he shifted Jeremy into just one arm and shook Michael’s mama’s hand while still carrying him. His dad was so cool and strong. “Your son has made a world of difference for Jeremy, so thank you.”
Oh, they were doing the grown up version of making friends, where you talk weird until you’re actually friends. That’s when people could relax.
“Well, we’re glad to hear that they’re both helping each other out,” Michael’s Ina said as she shifted Michael so she could shake his dad’s hand. “Michael has one wall filled with Jeremy’s pictures that he drew him.”
“Jeremy has one as well.” Dad chuckled. He sounded happy and proud, which just made Jeremy relax more. If dad was happy and proud, then that meant Jeremy had to be doing the right thing before.
“I do. I keep every one of them and dad helps me put them up.” Even if his voice was still a little sticky, Jeremy found talking much easier than before.
“You know, I’m pretty sure Jeremy might like to see Michael’s collection of pictures... Would the two of you be free for a coffee this weekend? I’m sure the boys would love to have some time away from school together.” Wait, that was allowed? Jeremy could maybe see Michael when they weren’t at school?!
Jeremy whined a little and nodded quickly. He really wanted to do that.
Michael stared with wide eyes between his moms, Jeremy, and his dad. “Please, Mama? Ina?”
Michael’s mama seemed to think it over, looking at his ina before nodding. “If it’s alright with everyone, we would love to have you all over. We can make lunch too and have a fun play date.”
Jeremy nodded so quickly that his whole body wiggled and dad almost dropped him!
“Woah there, Private. Careful.” Dad was laughing a little as he straightened up Jeremy in his arms before smiling at Michael’s mama and Ina. “That sounds like a wonderful idea. I’ll bring over some food too, we can make it a fun afternoon. Is there anything you particularly like? Any allergies or the like?”
“We are fine with anything. Michael might not eat it though, but don’t take offense to it. He’s a super duper picky eater, and there is nothing wrong with it.” Michael smiled before he rested his head against his ina’s shoulder.
Dad shrugged. “I guess we can trial and error it until we get a proper menu for Michael, then.” Wait, that meant that dad wanted to do this more than once, which was exactly what Jeremy wanted too! “Here, if you give me your number we can sort out the address and everything later.” He gave his phone to Michael’s mama.
Michael’s mama quickly tapped on his dad’s phone screen. “Yeah, for sure. It’ll be so nice to chat while they play.” She then gave back his dad’s phone. “We need to get going though.”
“Same here. My wife is cooking tonight and she’s frustrated enough that I was running late.” Dad made a sort of worried face that looked like an upset version of a smile. Oh no, that meant mommy would be angry at Jeremy again.
Jeremy curled up small and hid his face against his dad’s neck. He felt safer here. He also felt safe earlier when Michael’s mama hugged him. Why couldn’t she be his mama too? She was nice and actually liked Jeremy maybe.
“Well, sorry for making you later.” Michael’s Ina waved at Jeremy before grabbing Michael’s backpack, lunchbox, and jacket. “See you soon, Jeremy!”
Jeremy waved before leaning over and making grabby hands at Michael. He needed his goodbye hug.
Michael reached out, and Michael’s mama closed the distance so they could hug each other. Michael gave him such a warm and happy hug that Jeremy wasn’t sad when they had to stop hugging. “Bye, Remy.”
“Bye Mikey.” Jeremy smiled and waved before hugging his dad again. Time to go home. Oh no.
He was so worried about his mom that he didn’t realize they were home. Wait, how did they get here so quickly?
His dad got him out of his car seat and smiled. “You can go to your room for now. I’ll talk with your mom for a bit, alright, Private?”
Jeremy nodded, ducking his head and curling up a little as he picked up his bag. If he was quiet, mommy wouldn’t know he was there and get upset.
Once dad opened the door, Jeremy slipped in silently. He felt his voice get sticky in his neck as he made his way past the kitchen, where he could smell mommy cooking already, but he didn’t stop until he was in his room.
After putting his bag on the peg, Jeremy got changed out of his school clothes into his clothes he wore when mommy was around: a light blue top which looked like a dress and a pair of leggings. Dad said the top was a tunic and it’s what princes in fairy tales wore, so Jeremy didn’t mind too much, but it still felt a little girly for him. He folded and put away his school clothes carefully, then checked the rest of his room to make sure it was clean. If it was clean, mommy might not get so angry.
There were a few stuffed animals on the floor and a shirt, so Jeremy quickly grabbed them and put them away. While he did that, he could hear mommy talking loudly to dad. Was he taking mommy’s anger for him?
Jeremy wanted to curl up into a ball but he kept cleaning. Better to be clean than not clean if mommy was around. Once everything was cleaned up, Jeremy sat down with his mouse stuffie Cheese and cuddled her close. She would protect him from mommy. She was like Jeremy, except she had a deep voice and used to be a boy.
When there was a knock on the door, Jeremy jumped in bed. “Hey, can I come in?” Oh, it was dad, thank god.
“Yeah. Come in dad,” Jeremy called, relaxing and sliding back onto the floor.
He came in, giving Jeremy a tired smile (he always had them after mommy was angry at him). “Hi Private, how are you?” As he asked, he closed Jeremy’s door.
Jeremy wiggled a little where he was standing. “Not very comfy... this looks like an Annabelle outfit instead of a Jeremy outfit... but I cleaned up my room! And look! Cheese is happy to see you!” He held up Cheese and made her squeak a few times, wiggling the stuffie to try and get his dad to laugh a little. His dad loved Cheese.
His dad laughed and smiled as he pet Cheese’s head. “Hi Cheese, it’s good to see you.” After clearing his throat, his dad looked at him. “Your room is so clean and nice too. Mommy’ll be happy.”
Jeremy’s eyes went wide. “Really? Do... do you think she might give me a hug even?” he asked softly. He really wished his mommy would hug him properly. He bet it felt even better than Michael’s mama’s hugs.
“She seems to be getting into a better mood, and she’s having a drink after she finishes cooking,” his dad said, very softly. Was Jeremy supposed to hear that? “I think you might, but I’m not sure yet.”
“Wow. I hope so. I’d really love mommy to hug me. I love her lots...” She was scary and angry but she was his mommy and he knew that she must love him too. All the mommys on TV loved their kids, and all the people at school who had mommys loved their mommys and their mommys loved them.
“She loves you lots too, she’s just in a bad mood a lot of the time.” It seemed like dad knew it, and Jeremy trusted him. He just wished mommy was in a good mood a lot.
Jeremy nodded. “Is other people also just in bad moods too? Is that why they’re mean or angry all the time?” he asked, looking up at his dad hopefully. Maybe, if he could figure this part out, he could make more friends. Either that or figure out a way to cheer up mommy.
“I don’t know, Private. Some people are just mean,” dad said before giving Jeremy a kiss on the head. “But just because people are in bad moods doesn’t mean you’re bad. You’re my special man.”
Jeremy smiled up at his dad and hugged him tightly. “I love you dad. You’re also special and nice and good.”
His dad smiled and hugged Jeremy back. “Thank you, Jeremy. That means the world coming from you.”
“You’re the best dad in the whole world.”
“You’re the best son in the whole worl-“
They were interrupted by a knock. Mommy came in, holding a glass in her hand that always made her a lot nicer. “Dinner is ready, you two. Be sure to wash your hands before coming down.”
Jeremy blinked in surprise before nodding at Mommy and smiling. “Yes mommy! I need to wash my hands anyway because look! I cleaned my whole room!” he said hopefully, waving one of his arms to try and show her. Everything was neatly folded and put away, and all his toys were put in their tubs and boxes. He even made his bed, just like how mommy liked it.
She looked around before humming and drinking some more of her drink. “It looks really good, Annie. Good job.”
Jeremy was so happy he was almost wiggling, even if mommy called him Annie. He didn’t mind since she was being nice and she even said he did good! He was being a good boy! Maybe she’d even give him a kiss goodnight tonight if Jeremy was extra good and careful when he was eating. If he didn’t spill anything, then mommy might be happy enough for that.
“We’ll be down in a minute,” dad promised before mommy nodded and left, going downstairs. “Let’s get your little hands clean, Private, and go eat. Your mommy made chicken, pasta, and potato wedges.”
Jeremy cheered and ran off towards the bathroom. “Can I have juice with dinner tonight?” he asked excitedly
“Of course. Just be careful with it. We don’t want it to stain anything.”
Going to school was really great in Jeremy’s opinion. At least, when Michael was there. The other kids left him mostly alone, they generally just ignored him, when Michael was at school with Jeremy. When Michael wasn’t there, well... Those were bad days but they didn’t happen often, and Jeremy could cope pretty well.
At least, he did until second grade when Michael and him got put in different classes. Suddenly, Jeremy was faced with hours of no Michael and without Michael, people just started picking on him even more than normal. He even got kept in at lunch most days because even the teacher didn’t like him.
Once that started happening, Jeremy almost never got to see Michael. And he was feeling so sad all the time, so sad that he couldn’t focus in class no matter how hard he tried. It didn’t help that people kept throwing things at him, even things like drawing pins when they could find them. He was lucky his glasses protected his eyes or they might have gotten really hurt from today’s ones.
Jeremy sat outside by the car cue, far enough away that the kids couldn’t push him into the road again, but close enough that he could run into the car when his dad pulled up.
When he saw his dad’s car, Jeremy booked it for the back seat. He got in, tossed his backpack to the floor, and shut the door before sitting in the booster seat and buckling in. “Hey there, Private. How was school today? Learn anything cool today?”
Jeremy shrugged and made a small noise. He didn’t learn a thing, not that he could remember anyways. He was too busy trying to duck out of the way of what the other kids were throwing at him. He was only half successful, the big scratch on the left eye of his glasses was proof. It was giving him a headache.
His dad didn’t drive on. Instead, he looked back at Jeremy. “What does that m- Jeremy, what happened to your glasses?”
Oh no, his dad sounded upset. His dad was never upset at Jeremy, so he must have done something really wrong!
“I- I couldn’t dodge them today. M’sorry dad. I’ll... I’ll do it better next time,” Jeremy whimpered out in a small voice. “It was Leon. He kept throwing thumb tacks and some hit my glasses because I couldn’t dodge it in time.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, Jeremy.” He seemed to really be thinking before he drove... into a parking spot. “Jeremy, come with me. I need to talk to the people at your school.”
Jeremy undid his belt and went to open his door. Then he paused when he realized something. “Should I bring my bag too?”
“No, just push it under one of the seats. It’ll be fine,” his dad promised as he opened the door and got out, the car parked and off.
Jeremy scurried to follow after his dad, closing the door behind him. His stomach rumbled loudly as he reached out to take his dad’s hand he was holding out. It was a big enough rumble to make him stop for a second. It hurt . He was so hungry. He was hoping to eat when he got home, like he had been for this whole week when Mr. Lukas had been keeping him in at lunch times. He wasn’t allowed to eat in the classroom, but he wasn’t allowed to leave either,
His dad looked down at him with kind eyes as they walked into the school. “You’re hungry, Private? Did I not pack you enough for lunch?”
“Didn’t get to eat it yet,” Jeremy mumbled. “M’not allowed to eat in the classroom but I have to stay in at lunch times now. Mr. Lukas says I’ve been bad...”
“You- Oh, that’s not alright. I’m so sorry, Jeremy.” His dad walked over to the principal's office, but he paused before knocking. “Michael is in the class that has Ms. Canon teaching, right?”
Jeremy nodded. “I think so... that’s the other class I think... I haven’t seen Michael since school started ‘Cause Mr. Lukas has been keeping me in every lunch...” He looked up at his dad with worry in his eyes. “Have I been bad? S’that why we’re gonna see the principal?” People only went to see the principal when they had been naughty, like when Bobby shoved Marie.
“No, you haven’t been bad,” he told Jeremy as he gave him a smile. “Your teacher and classmates have been bad.”
“Oh... really?” He didn’t quite understand what they were doing there if that was the case, but Jeremy trusted his dad to know what was best.
“Yup, and I’m going to tell your principal that and get some things fixed.” With that, he knocked and opened the door, standing by the nice lady’s desk (Jeremy was told she was nice by Michael) that was before the actual principals office. “Hi, I’m here to talk with the principal right now. This is urgent.”
She gave Jeremy a look, which meant maybe she wasn’t so nice after all, before looking up at his dad. “I’m sorry but Mr. Carter is very busy at the moment. Can it wait until tomorrow?” Her voice sounded sweet but it made Jeremy feel bad for some reason.
“No, I need to talk to him as soon as possible. This is urgent and if it isn’t taken care of soon, I will have to talk with someone in my law firm to get this sorted out.”
The lady’s eyes widened. “Please take a seat, I’ll let you know when he’s ready to see you.” With that, she stood and ran into the office. Her shoes made a nice click-clack sound as she left.
His dad nodded before going and sitting with Jeremy in one of the weird seats. “Now, I want you to come with me. You’re gonna see me get mad, but I’m not mad at you, alright?”
Jeremy nodded slowly. “So I haven’t been bad?” he asked, his voice feeling sticky again. He stared at his feet as he spoke, not wanting to look up in case his dad really did get mad at him. “I’ve been trying really hard to be good, but everyone seems to think I’m really bad.”
“You’ve been good, I promise. Everyone else is just being bad to you,” his dad said. “You’re gonna be in Michael’s class with him starting tomorrow if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Mr. Carter is ready to see you now.” The not-so-nice lady came back in before his dad could respond, and the door to the principal’s office was open now.
“Really. Now c’mon, Jeremy.” His dad took Jeremy’s hand, walking with him into the office. Jeremy sat down in the chair his dad gestured to and watched as he shook Mr. Carter’s hand.
The principal sat back down behind his desk, looking nervous. “So, Mr... Heere, was it? What can I do for you today?” He sounded kinda scared. Jeremy could almost smell him with how scared he was. But that was wrong, wasn’t it? Dad wasn’t scary, he was nice.
“I’m here to talk about the awful treatment my son has been getting in his class. No one should be treated how he has by his peers and his teacher. He has not been able to eat at all this past week to start, and he has been bullied and tormented by his peers! This is unacceptable!”
Jeremy couldn’t help but curl up a little. His dad did sound a little scary when he yelled. Jeremy didn’t like it, except his dad wasn’t yelling at him, he was yelling at Mr. Carter for Jeremy. No one had ever gotten so angry for Jeremy before, only at him.
“I- I assure you, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Heere. I’ve had no reports of any children being kept in, or any reports of bullying.”
Jeremy suddenly got a very sick feeling in his stomach, which he knew meant that Mr. Carter was lying. He didn’t know how he knew that, he just did. His voice was feeling sticky so Jeremy just tugged on his dad’s sleeve and tried to tell him some other way, so Mr. Carter wouldn’t hear and maybe Jeremy could unstick his voice.
His dad looked down at Jeremy then with caring eyes before he squatted down to be at eye level with him. “What is it, Private?”
Jeremy leaned up and tried whispering in his dad’s ear. “He just told a lie. He knows all about it,” he managed to get out, barely loud enough to hear. His dad seemed to get the message, though, which was good.
“I have a good mind to say that you’re lying to me. My son knows it’s been reported. You just haven’t done anything about it, which is unacceptable!”
Mr. Carter spluttered. “Nothing has been reported!” he cried. That was the truth, Jeremy didn’t get the sick feeling in his tummy. He nodded a little when his dad looked down at him. “I can show you the system, there have been no reports of bullying or mistreatment of your son!”
“But have you known?”
“No!” That was a lie. Jeremy felt like he might throw up. It was so strong. If he had anything in his tummy, he probably would.
“I find that hard to believe since Jeremy says this has been happening since the first day of school. Maybe I’ll have to work with my firm on a case here-“
“There’s no need for that.” Mr. Carter sounded... something. Jeremy wasn’t sure what. “I’m sure we can arrange something to sort this out?”
“Yes, you will arrange something to sort this out,” his dad said. “You need to switch my son out of that god awful class he is in now to the other one, and he needs to sit next to Michael Mell, who will surely agree to sitting with Jeremy. They need to be in classes together.”
Wait what? Jeremy knew that he wanted to be near Michael, but needed too as well? That... Well, he was very happy about that. He got to sit next to his best friend.
“I’ll get right on that. I... is there anything else you need, Mr. Heere? Any other... complaints that your son has?” The principal stared at Jeremy with one of those looks. Jeremy knew that it meant if he said anything, he’d get in trouble. He shrunk down under the feeling, his voice going so sticky he might throw up if he tried to speak.
“Do not look at my son like that,” his dad said with such an angry and... something voice. “How dare you look at him like that.”
Jeremy scooted close to his dad and his against him, feeling almost dizzy with how scared and upset and hungry he was.
“Considering that your son is a disruptive influence in his class, I’d say that he’s gotten much more than he deserves.” Mr. Carter sounded angry too, and even if Jeremy felt the lie, he also could feel something else. It was almost like Mr. Carter was getting bigger, like he was inflating like a balloon. He wasn’t really, but it felt like that.
“It is everyone else who is being a disruptive influence! No child deserves to get anything done to them! You should know that as a principal and educator!” His dad held Jeremy close as he gave an angry look to Mr. Carter. “If Jeremy is not arranged to be in the other class and seated next to Michael by tomorrow, I will take legal action and bring what you just said into court. I’m sure the judge will be very happy to hear what you just said, Mr. Carter.”
“You’d have no proof.” Mr. Carter scoffed before turning back to his computer. “I’ll get it all sorted to avoid the headache of a legal battle, Mr. Heere, but that’s all. Your son doesn’t belong in my school or anywhere else for civilized people.”
His dad’s eyes got angry and... something Jeremy couldn’t describe as he took out his phone and waved it. “I’m sure this voice memo I’m recording will say otherwise, Mr. Carter .”
Mr. Carter went very still, almost like he turned into a statue, and his face went white. “I-I’ll get it sorted, Mr. Heere,” he repeated quietly after a moment. “Your son will be transferred to the other second grade class and he’ll be allowed to sit next to Mr. Mell.” The principal sounded a bit like Jeremy did when he got in trouble and he was saying sorry.
“ And you will put in Jeremy’s records that he needs to be with Michael for the rest of his classes and seated next to him as well.”
“I will.” Mr. Carter nodded. “I can only control that for as long as he’s in elementary school, but I’ll make sure the note is made.”
Jeremy was still feeling dizzy so he just kept clinging to his dad and closed his eyes. He wanted to go home and eat something and curl up with Cheese and his dad for a bit.
“Good. We are going to get going now. Hopefully I won’t see you again soon, and neither will Jeremy.” Jeremy felt his dad pick him up before they left the office and eventually left the school.
“Hey Private, you can eat your lunch in the car. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it in for you to eat during all of that.”
Jeremy shook his head. “Feelin’ sick anyways... ‘nd my head hurts.” He thought it might be because of the scratch on his glasses.
“Good thing we have a spare pair of glasses for you at home. I’ll let you lie down for a bit and I’ll make you a big dinner. You mom left for her trip this morning so we can even have dinner in bed tonight. How does that sound?”
“Good.” His voice was still sticky so he wasn’t very loud, but Jeremy tried to show his dad just how grateful he was and how much he loved him by cuddling as close as he could. “Love you, dad.”