Ordinarily, Zacky would not have heard his phone ringing over the sound of the band practicing. It was only since he had learned that he was a father that he had become super-attuned to his ringtone, a stereophonic version of This Is Halloween. He was forever conscious of the fact that Maria could call with news of Dakota or that Lysander could call if there was an emergency. And so when he heard it start to ring just before midday, he dropped everything and left the garage to answer it - leaving behind him a disgruntled bassist and a chuckling guitarist.
"Mr Baker? James Randall here. Do you have a moment?"
Zacky pulled the door shut behind him, dulling down the sound of the still-drumming Arin. He retreated further into the empty house after this, ensuring he was in a place where he wouldn't miss a word of whatever conversation was about to transpire. James Randall. The name struck a chord within him, but he couldn't place where he knew the name from.
"Sure," he replied without hesitation, his mind still reeling. "How can I help you, Mr Randall?"
"I'm afraid it's about your son, Lysander."
James Randall, Zacky suddenly recalled with startling clarity, was the principal of the high school. He was kicking himself internally for not having picked up on it straight away - these were the sorts of things he should have committed to memory - but there was no time for beating himself up when he didn't yet know the reason behind the call.
"Is he all right?" was the first thing that came out. "He's not hurt, is he?"
"A little bruised, I'm sure, but it's nothing fatal." Before Zacky had a chance to enquire further about the nature of his son's condition, James Randall added, "He got himself into a fight."
Zacky's heart sank.
"A fight?" he repeated, hoping against all odds that he had somehow misheard the man. "Are you sure?"
"Quite sure, Mr Baker. And I'm sorry to say that this isn't the first time."
Of all the things that his son could have inherited from him, Zacky had hoped that a knack for getting into fights wouldn't be one of them. But it seemed that he was out of luck. He ran a hand through his hair, unsure of what his next words should be. Was he supposed to apologise on behalf of his son? Promise that the boy would be disciplined appropriately? James Randall seemed to sense his unease at the situation, for he went on talking.
"You understand, I'm sure, that Lysander's actions cannot be ignored. He and the other boys involved have been suspended for the rest of the week. And should this happen again, further punishments will be required."
Suspended. Well, it could have been worse. Zacky nodded wordlessly before remembering that the high school's principal couldn't see him.
"Thank you," he said when he found his voice. "I'm sorry about this, Mr Randall. I'll be sure to have words with him."
"I'm sure you will." There was a moment in which the principal was silent, but then he pressed on with, "The last time this happened I expressed my concerns to Mr Maverick that he was, perhaps, acting out because of his mother's death. I offered him the services of our school counsellor, but he declined. Obviously you would know him better than most. I was wondering if you felt it would be necessary."
The question threw him off. Lysander very rarely mentioned his mother and as much as he was ashamed to admit it to himself, Zacky never gave much thought to the woman either. Besides the one time that Lysander had broken down in front of him, Zacky never got the impression that her death was affecting his son anymore than it would have affected any other child. Sure, the boy missed her, kept her photograph on his bedroom nightstand and more than likely thought about her all the time. But he had never acted out over it. Zacky had to wonder at whether or not these fights really were a result of this pent up emotion.
"I'll talk to him about it," he said, "and I'll get back to you if I think he needs counselling."
"Thank you, Mr Baker."
"Not a problem. Is he still with you?"
"Could you tell him I'll be there to pick him up in ten minutes?"
"I can. You have a good day, Mr Baker."
"You too, sir."
Zacky disconnected the call and returned his cell phone to the pocket of his shorts. His mind buzzed with everything that he'd just been told, but he didn't have time to stand around and think about it just yet. With this thought in mind, he returned to the rest of his band to briefly tell them that he was stepping out for a little while before hopping into his car and heading back towards the high school.
He found Lysander sitting on the front steps of the school, conversing easily with a bleach blonde-haired boy who was no doubt one of his classmates. Both boys quickly shut their mouths and looked up at Zacky with identical guilty expressions as he approached, telling him a few things with those two simple gestures - they were friends, and they were in this together.
Lysander sounded uncertain, more uncertain even than the day the two of them had first met. The thought that Lysander had found it easier to talk to him when he was a stranger than now when he was in trouble was unsettling to Zacky, but it also made him stop and wonder at whether his reaction to the situation was the right one. He thought back to his own upbringing, to what his mother had done in these situations - at first she had yelled and grounded him, but in the end she had given up and come to accept that he would be getting into fights no matter what. But that wasn't the way that Zacky wanted to handle this.
"Lysander," he replied as he slipped his sunglasses off. "You wanna tell me what happened?"
"Got into a fight," the boy replied shortly. "Didn't Randall tell you?"
"Yes. But I was hoping to hear your version of things."
Lysander looked up at him, as if assessing his mood. He had to shade his eyes from the afternoon sun to stop from squinting, and Zacky made a mental note to give the boy a pair of sunglasses when they returned home. He may not have needed them in Wisconsin, but California was a whole different story.
"Some guys were being dicks," Lysander said eventually, adding a shrug for good measure. "One of them tripped Jack, so I shoved him. And things kind of...escalated from there."
"It's my fault, sir," the friend spoke up unexpectedly. "It's me those idiots have an issue with. Lysander only got dragged into this because he was defending me."
"Jack." Lysander rolled his eyes at his friend. "It's not your fault."
"It is. None of this ever would have happened if not for me."
"I'm sure I would have hit Hallon eventually for one reason or another."
Jack snorted, the doubt written all over his face.
"Does somebody want to tell me what's going on?" Zacky asked, looking between the pair of them. His eyes settled on Lysander. "Hallon?"
"He's a guy in our History class," Lysander explained. Then, after a moment of silence, he added, "I punched him in the face last week."
Zacky took his time processing these words. He had gone from thinking of his son as a peaceful entity who didn't get into fights to discovering that he did after all. And more than that, had even perhaps been the start of one.
"You just...went up and punched him in the face? For no reason?"
"No." The boy actually looked offended at the thought, and a flicker of guilt surged through Zacky. "He called Jack a faggot. And he and his idiot friends have been bullying him since high school started. I'd say that's a good enough reason."
At the word 'faggot', Jack looked down at his hands. That was about the time that everything clicked into place in Zacky's mind. Lysander stared right back at him defiantly, as if challenging him to disagree. It was another proud moment for Zacky as he observed his son.
"You're right," he said. "It is a good reason."
Both boys visibly relaxed and a small smile crept back onto Jack's face. Zacky sent him one that he hoped was reassuring.
"Are your parents coming to pick you up?"
"No, sir," Jack replied with a shake of his head. "My mom's at work. She won't be home until after six."
"You wanna come with us for a while? I can drop you home later." Zacky nodded at his son before adding, "Lysander here's gonna need somebody to keep him company while I finish up with my band."
He didn't have a worry in the world about inviting Jack along - he hadn't shown any sign of being a crazed fan or even any sign that he knew who Zacky was outside of being Lysander's father. And he could tell that Lysander trusted the boy - that was good enough for him.
"Sure," Jack agreed after a reassuring nod from Lysander. "Sounds like fun."
"And," he added, "you can call me Zacky. 'Sir' makes me feel old."
Ten minutes later, he was parking his car right where he had taken it from - a few houses down from Matt's parents' place. Even from this distance, with the windows closed and his own stereo filling the car with background noise, he could hear the rest of his band still hard at work. Lysander and Jack shared a look.
"And adults think teenagers are bad," Lysander mused.
Chuckling, Zacky beckoned for the two boys to follow him. All three climbed out of the car and, after double-checking that the doors were locked, Zacky led them down to Matt's parents' garage. He didn't bother knocking before he pulled the rolling door up, knowing that his friends wouldn't hear him no matter how much he banged on the metal. The sudden invasion of sunlight was enough to make them stop, though.
"Christ, Zee!" Johnny cried, his hands flying up to shield his eyes from the light. "How 'bout a little warning next time?!"
Beside Zacky, the two boys chuckled.
"Well, well." Brian smirked when he caught sight of them, his eyes lingering on Lysander. "Aren't you supposed to be in school, kid?"
"Yeah." Lysander absently rubbed at the back of his neck. He looked both uncomfortable and embarrassed when he added, "I kinda got suspended."
"Suspended?" Brian repeated, eyebrows raising. "For what?"
"Well, you're definitely Zack's kid. Who's your friend?"
"Jack Avery," Lysander replied, shooting his friend a quick look. "Jack, these are...my uncles."
"It's nice to meet you all."
Jack sounded confident, but his hands told an entirely different story. Zacky couldn't help feeling a little sorry for the kid. If what Lysander had said was true (and Zacky didn't doubt him for a second) then Jack had been dealing with bullies for quite some time. Probably for even longer than he was willing to admit. And here he was now, standing in a garage filled with a group of buff, intimidating me, all of whom were no doubt strangers to him. Zacky wanted to kick himself for not realising that this would make the kid uncomfortable.
"They won't bite," he said instead, hoping that his words could help even a little. When Jack turned to him he added, "They're good guys. You have my word."
Being the closest, Brian was the first to offer his hand to the teenager. There was only a brief moment of hesitation before Jack shook it.
"Brian Haner," the guitarist introduced himself. "That's Arin, Matt and short shit."
"Johnny," the bassist amended automatically as he gave Brian the finger. "It's nice to meet you, too."
"You boys make yourselves at home," Matt said from his place by the computer. "The kitchen's right through there. Fridge is fully stocked, so help yourselves."
"Thanks." Lysander hitched his bag up higher onto his shoulder. "We'll let you guys get back to work."
"Sorry for any trouble we've caused," Jack added, the apology mostly directed Zacky's way.
"No trouble," he assured the boy. "But try not to get into anymore fights, huh?" To Lysander he added, "Even if it is for a good cause."
"No promises, Dad."
And with those parting words Lysander and Jack made their way into the kitchen, leaving Zacky with his four chuckling friends.
"No promises," Brian repeated with a chuckle. "You're gonna have your hands full with that one, man."
"You just wait until Harmony's a teenager."
"Girl's an angel. There won't be any fighting from her."
Matt shook his head, but there was a knowing smile on his lips as he turned his attention back to the computer. Zacky returned to his seat and reclaimed his guitar, knowing that Matt would be eager to catch him up on what he'd missed. He himself was eager to get on with the rest of their practice session.
"We were going to try recording the demo," the older man said when he realised he had the guitarist's full attention. "We've practiced it enough, and the others agreed that it sounds ready. What'd'ya think?"
"Let's get this baby recorded."
They played well into the afternoon, tracking for hours until each of them was completely satisfied with how the composition was sounding. Hearing the completed demo played back, Zacky felt the now familiar spark of excitement that he was coming to associate with the release of their new album. The fans were going to love this song. He knew it; they all knew it. He could see his own excitement reflected in his band mates' eyes, and it only thrilled him more.
They packed away their gear with smiles on their faces.
Leaving Matt to finish up saving and backing up all their work on the computer, Zacky followed the rest of his band into the kitchen. He found Johnny and Arin exactly where he knew he would - at the fridge and the pantry respectively, one looking for alcohol and the other looking for some sort of sugary treat. Brian had sat himself down at the table, across from Lysander and Jack who were poured over what could only be...
"Homework?" Zacky asked, raising an eyebrow. His son glanced up at him. "You realise you're suspended, right? You have all week to do that!"
"But if we do it now," Lysander pointed out, "we don't have to spend the rest of the week worrying about it."
He looked over the boys' shoulders. Spread out in front of them were their individual notebooks and a textbook they were sharing, filled with some form of mathematics. Geometry? Trigonometry? Zacky couldn't be sure. It had been so long since he'd had to study the subject - since he'd even thought about the subject - that he found he could no longer differentiate between them. He looked down on it with distaste.
Jack looked as confused as he felt, but Lysander breezed through the problems as if he had done them a million times before. Zacky watched his son work. He knew he should have been feeling some sense of pride over the boy's ability to move through these problems as if they were nothing, but all he really felt in that moment was amazement. He had never been able to do that. Nor had any of his friends.
"Dude." Brian grinned. "Your kid's a nerd."
"Best lookin' nerd I've ever seen," Johnny spoke up as he closed the refrigerator. He had a new beer in his hand. He winked at Lysander. "If you were a girl, I'd date you in a flash. So, ah...when's your sister getting here?"
Before Zacky had a chance to say anything, Lysander was grinning and saying, "Sorry, Uncle Johnny. She's a Brian fan girl."
Brian and Arin both laughed, the former sounding somewhat victorious. Johnny looked disappointed, and Zacky was thankful that he knew it was for the fan girl comment rather than the fact that he wouldn't have a chance at dating Dakota. As much as he loved Johnny, that was something he would have had to put his foot down about.
Johnny shot him a half apologetic look, as if he could tell what the guitarist was thinking.
"We're done for the day," Zacky told the two boys, "so whenever you're ready, we'll head off."
Five minutes and several farewells later, they were back in the car and on their way to the Avery residence. Conveniently, Jack didn't live too far from where Zacky himself did. It was a good part of Huntington Beach, he was pleased to see, with quaint little houses and a welcoming atmosphere. They found Jack's place in the middle of it all, two storeys of red brick and a garden that looked like it could have used a little more tending to. A car not dissimilar to Zacky's was parked in the driveway. A light-haired woman was already climbing out of it, handbag slung over one shoulder and a handful of files clutched tightly under the opposite arm. She looked up when they pulled up outside of her house.
"My mom," Jack said fondly. "She's a lawyer."
He waved at her through the window.
"You won't be in trouble for getting suspended, will you?" Lysander asked.
"Not at all," Jack assured him. "She knows what it's like for me at school. ...she's probably thank you for it, actually." He shrugged as he scooped up his schoolbag. "Thanks for the ride, Mr Baker."
"Not a problem," Zacky replied. "It was nice meeting you, Jack."
"And you. Call ya later, Columbus."
Lysander waved. Together, he and Zacky watched Jack greet his mother with a hug and a kiss on the cheek - both of which she returned without a moment of hesitation - before taking her files from her and following her into the house. He didn't pull away until they were both safely inside.
"So you're not mad?"
Zacky almost didn't believe that he'd heard the question correctly, but a glance at his son showed that he had. Now that they were alone, Lysander looked uneasy. His hands gripped his knees tightly as he waited for an answer.
"I'm not mad," Zacky told him. "So you got into a fight - big deal. I used to do it all the time. I was suspended more times than I can even remember. And as you said, it was for a good reason." He reached out to give the boy's shoulder a squeeze. "If you'd called me, I would have shown up at the school to back you up."
He pulled into his own driveway and cut off the car's engine. In front of them, the lower half of their house was lit up - warm and welcoming.
"Well, I'm glad you're okay with it," Lysander said as he grabbed his bag. "If I'd been suspended back home, no matter what the reason, Mom would have been furious."
He climbed out of the car for the last time, leaving Zacky momentarily alone so he could sit and wonder, for what must have been the hundredth time that week alone, whether or not he was doing this parenting thing right.
NotesA/N: holy hell, I didn't realise that I'd never finished posting this story on here! Four years since my last update. I finished this story three years ago, but since it's still the best thing I've ever written and I love it to pieces, I think I might start updating it again.
Hopefully I'll remember to keep posting it now!