Drew slipped through the door, scanning the list as fast as possible. In this situation it was always essential to find the easiest topic and claim it before someone else had the chance. Decisive action was key. His eyes landed on the perfect topic. Analyzing the themes of Clint Eastwood’s two World War II films, Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers. Drew had loved those movies. He couldn’t believe his luck. He turned around to talk to Ms. Lasky.
“What the hell’s your problem, man?” Lance Crowe shouted, shoving Clay away from a water fountain.
“I was here first,” Clay said with a shrug, leaning over the fountain again.
“Get your grubby lips away from my water,” Lance retorted, shoving him again. This time, Clay stepped on Jenna Warner’s foot, and she shouted out in pain.
“Look what you made me do!” Clay shouted, shoving Lance with both hands.
“Gentlemen!” Mrs. Lasky shouted.
“You guys! Come on!” Drew shouted, frustrated. Were they really going to tear each other apart because of a water fountain? Tamara was right. This crap really was getting out of hand. “Cut it out!”
The girls in the class screeched and moved off down the hall. Drew saw that the guys had no intention of stopping this fight themselves, and scrawny Mrs. Lasky certainly wasn’t going to get in the middle of it. But if it went on for two seconds longer, they were going to get caught and suspended, which the team couldn’t very well afford right now. It wasn’t much of a conundrum, really. He had to do something.
“Dammit.” Drew dropped his books and flung himself at Clay, tearing him off of Lance. He used every ounce of his strength to shove his much bigger friend backward and hold him there. Meanwhile, a couple of Lance’s friends stood in front of him, preventing him from taking another swipe at Clay, which he looked more than ready to do.
“What the hell, man?” Clay said to Drew, struggling to catch his breath.
“Bag it, Clay,” Drew said, holding a hand up. “You can’t get kicked off the team right now.”
“Screw him,” Drew said. “It’s over. Let’s just go to the library.”
Clay shook his head. “Whatever,” he said, grabbing his backpack off the floor. He straightened his jacket and stormed off.
“Well. That was invigorating,” Ms. Lasky said nervously. “Mr. Crowe, kindly sit on the opposite side of the library from Mr. Carradine.”
“Fine,” Crowe said under his breath.
Drew bent to pick up his books and topic list, feeling more frustrated than ever. Last night he had really thought that fighting Samson and those guys would make him feel better, that it would help him expel some of his negative energy—just get it out of his system. But instead, it had only made things worse. Being beaten down and challenged only pissed people off more. How could he not have realized that? He lived it with his father every day of his life.
“Thank you for that, Drew,” Ms. Lasky said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “For your peacekeeping efforts, you can have your pick of projects.”
“You’re not going to report them?” Drew asked.
Mrs. Lasky sighed. “The vice principal is having a hard enough time clamping down on the situation today. He doesn’t need another headache,” she said kindly. “But I do hope he finds a way to counteract all the violence and negativity around here soon. Otherwise this school is going to be effectively demolished by its own students.”
Drew nodded, his heart heavy with guilt, and followed her down the hall toward the library. He wished he could believe what Samson and Tamara had both said to him—that he could somehow make a difference, but he just couldn’t. He wasn’t Trey Benson. He was Drew. Second-string, screw-up, worthless Drew. And as much as he hated feeling the way he did at that very moment, he also felt powerless to change it.