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Nothing Ordinary: Chapter Four

Updated: Oct 18


By E.M. Lindsey


© 2021


All Rights Reserved


This text is not to be duplicated, distributed, or shared without the author's permission. Violators will be prosecuted the fullest extent of the law.




Please note that this text is unedited, and EM Lindsey reserves the rights to make any plot or editing changes throughout the posting process.




Chapter Four




There were days when Gabriel knew things were just going to be off—and today was definitely one of them. His run-in with Ezra had been on his mind pretty much all through the week, into the weekend, and still on his fucking heels come Monday morning. It was irritating to say the least, because he’d never let anyone get to him the way Ezra could.


And it wasn’t like he was a stranger to conflict. Gabriel had antagonistic relationships with new teachers and subs constantly. He knew he’d never be head of the welcome committee, and he was perfectly okay with that. In fact, he wanted it that way. He was content being the grumpy asshole with exactly one real friend at the school.


But there was something wrong in Ezra’s eyes every time they faced each other. It was the same look he saw on kids’ faces who were being tormented by students and teachers alike, and he hated it.


He hated it, because he’d put that look on Ezra, and he didn’t know how the hell to fix it.


Kaila had tried to get it out of him over dinner on Friday, but he’d promptly ignored her until she went back to talking about her husband’s disaster attempts to finish the nursery. It wasn’t that he wanted to shut his friend out, but he was desperate for a return to normalcy—desperate to forget that Ezra had come along and thrown a wrench, fucking up all of Gabriel’s smoothly functioning cogs.


Luckily, Kaila was a good friend, and she let it slide. She talked, and he listened, and they had a nice meal, and no one was on the verge of crying.


It was exactly as it should have been.


But then Monday rolled around, and as he drove through the parking lot, he caught sight of Ezra fumbling with several bags. The man spilled his little travel cup of coffee that Gabriel knew he had bought because he was afraid of going back to the break room.


Guilt gnawed at him, and it made him feel hateful.


It made his temper short when his students got mouthy. It made him avoid everyone at lunch. And at the end of the day, when he got to the gym to find the team starting their warm-ups without him because he was late, he knew things were going only going to get worse.


“Callie!” he shouted as his most talented middle blocker fumbled.


She turned to him with a pink face and swiped sweat off her brow. “I know,” she said.


He narrowed his eyes. “Two laps.”


Her mouth dropped open, but she knew better than to argue. She took off at a run, sprinting around the court faster than she needed to, and he almost called himself out for it. There was no goddamn sense in taking his mood out on the kids for simple mistakes they always made this early in the season. They were fine. The whole team was better than fine. This wasn’t a sign they’d be on some losing streak.


Their first game was weeks away, and it was at home which meant they’d be in their comfort zones. Plus, he’d worked them hard over the summer during camp, and he knew they were in top shape.


He was just…being a dick.


“Don’t let him get to you,” came a voice from the doorway, and Gabriel almost groaned because he’d fucking told his brother not to show up. He’d told the asshole he’d just distract the kids if he swanned in for attention.


And the quiet squealing told him he had been right about that. The court was abandoned, and everyone rushed over to ask Pietro what he was doing there.


It got worse when he started handing out signed jerseys.


Gabriel stalked over and didn’t miss the guilty smile on his brother’s face. “We had a charity thing over the weekend, and I had a bunch of leftover stuff. I thought your kids might like it.”


Having been a major ass all day, Gabriel knew he had to let this one slide. “It’s fine. We were just wrapping up anyway.”


In reality, they had another fifteen minutes, but the look of hope on all their small faces was enough to crack him. Waving his hand, they shouted with joy, then hurried off to the locker rooms to change, and Gabriel followed Pietro to the lower bench which had been pulled out from the wall. He sat, rolling his shoulders back, ignoring the permanent cracking sound his body would always make, though he saw the way it made Pietro wince.


“How did your event go?” he asked.


Pietro shrugged and sighed. “Not bad. It was for cancer kids. Garcia overdid it like usual, so we have boxes of signed balls and jerseys to hand out. I figured I could donate some shit to the office for their next charity auction.”


Gabriel wanted to tell him not to bother. The school was private—funded by rich parents and their absurd tuition, but they often did events to raise money for scholarships, and he couldn’t knock that. “I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”


Pietro raised a brow at him. “Why do you have your bitch face on?”


Gabriel bristled, but he knew there was no point in lying to his brother. The man had always been able to read him a little too closely. “Things are weird right now, and I had a bad day. Kind of took it out on the kids, and now I feel like shit about it.”


“You were always the worst at dealing with guilt,” Pietro pointed out needlessly. “You wanna to smash it out?”


Gabriel scoffed and eyed him a little more closely. “You’ve been doing that a lot lately. Don’t you have things to do? Considering you have World Series to win this year.”


Pietro laughed, shuddering a little like he was trying to shake off a curse. “Don’t start. And yeah, technically I should be at home watching tape right now, but…” He licked his lips, then shrugged. “Things are weird for me too, and being with you makes me feel better.”


The one thing Gabriel handled worse than guilt were compliments, and he had no idea what to say. “Uh. I don’t really think my arm can take another night at the cage, but we can talk it out if you want.”


Pietro looked too hopeful—like a lost puppy. “Yeah? Wanna go fuck around with nonna’s lasagne. I know you have sauce.”


Gabriel did have sauce. He always had sauce in the fridge. And frankly, throwing together a big, fat lasagne which always tasted like childhood and home sounded exactly the thing he needed. Even if it came with Pietro’s ego. “Yes, but I need caffeine before we go.”


They waited until all the kids had vacated the gym, then he led the way into the main hall, stopping in his office so he could grab his bag and keys before heading to the art hall. He could hear voices behind the door which meant people were still hanging around, and that gave him pause.


“Maybe we should,” he started, but Pietro was already reaching past him.


The door was propped open with a little stopper, and Gabriel’s words died on his tongue as Pietro sauntered in like he owned the place. The room went deadly quiet like it always did when his brother came around, then the nervous chatter started.


Kaila was there, giving him a sympathetic look as the entire room started to gravitate toward his brother, but it gave Gabriel a chance to sneak closer to the coffee maker and slip a pod of vanilla in. Kaila joined him a minute later with a small container of the over-sweet Italian cream which offended his heritage as much as it pleased his sweet tooth, and he couldn’t help but smile at her.


“Heard it was one of those days. Mr. Bassani was on a rampage.”


Gabriel flushed as he grabbed a paper cup so he could convince his brother to leave quicker. “Uh. Yeah. I wasn’t at my best.”


She gave his arm a pat. “We’ve all been there, babe. My little parasite was making me so hormonal on Friday, I made one of my kids throw away his Doritos because there wasn’t enough for him to share with me.”


Gabriel laughed softly as he pulled his mug from under the spout and added enough cream to make the coffee a very pale brown. “I just didn’t sleep well.”


“And it had nothing to do with all those repressed feelings you have about a certain new foods teacher?” she pressed.


He felt something hot and uncomfortable in his gut, and he breathed through it, taking a long sip of the coffee before answering her. “I already told you…”


“We’re not talking about it. Yeah, yeah,” she sighed. Turning around, she leaned against the counter and her gaze fell on Pietro who was saying something that most assuredly wasn’t funny, though everyone was laughing like he was a goddamn stand-up comedian. “Has it always been this way?”


“People kissing his ass just to get him to smile at them?” Gabriel asked over the rim of his cup.


She glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “I mean, it was different with you when you were playing, wasn’t it?”


He shrugged. It really wasn’t. Even in college, he had always been more stoic and serious, and Pietro had always been the one who got into drinking games and making an ass of himself because it made people smile. He’d always envied it—the easy way Pietro could just exist around other people.


That had never been him and it never would be. As a kid, he’d always felt a bit like an old man trapped in a younger one’s body.


“I was married,” he said after a beat. “It didn’t really seem like there was any point to all that flirting.”


“Hmm.” Her hum had a tone like she didn’t believe him, but it didn’t really matter. “Does he make an ass of himself on purpose?”


Gabriel choked on a laugh as he tried to swallow his drink down. “Sometimes? Usually when he’s having a rough time. Attention has always made him feel better. It just…” He trailed off, then sighed when Kaila elbowed him. “It sucks that he’s so likable. I mean, even before he says anything, people like him better than me.”


“I don’t,” she said like the dutiful friend she was.


He smiled at her, but it didn’t really make him feel much better. It didn’t erase the years of standing in his little brother’s shadow—or how much he didn’t want it to hurt that he’d lost that small chance in his life where he might have been able to shine just a bit brighter than Pietro always did.


With a sigh, Gabriel turned to set his cup down, then froze when he heard the break room door open, and a familiar voice speak.


“Oh, a party? Did I miss the email?”


Ezra.


Gabriel said nothing, but his emotions must have been all over his face because Kaila gently gave his arm a pat. “Don’t start with him.”


“I didn’t say a word,” Gabriel muttered, but he couldn’t help the irritation rising in him, crawling up his spine. He really did wish he understood why Ezra got to him that way. There was nothing wrong with the man. He was green, sure. He was untested in the face of high school kids who would use that naivety against him.


But it was hardly critical, and it certainly wouldn’t affect Gabriel’s life, so what did it fucking matter if Ezra had a miserable first year?


He took a breath, determined to be polite, but when he turned, his heart twisted. Pietro had zeroed in on him and had already started up a conversation. Gabriel was too far away to hear the exact words, but it was impossible to miss the way Ezra was blushing under Pietro’s flirting stare. He couldn’t stop himself from walking a bit closer.


“…just started,” Ezra was saying.


“Oh. My brother told me about you,” Pietro said loudly, then jerked his head to the side, trying to beckon Gabriel over. “Come on, don’t be such an ass and introduce me to your friend.”


“He’s not my friend,” Gabriel barked, not really meaning to, but both Ezra and Pietro seemed to bring out the worst in him.


The room went oddly quiet, then one-by-one, the other teachers excused themselves. The only one left was Kaila, and even she looked torn. “Um…”


“Go,” Gabriel muttered to her. “I’ll apologize.”


She gave him a scathing nod before approaching Ezra and giving his shoulder a squeeze. “Call me later, okay? Pietro, good to see you again.”


“You too,” Pietro said, his voice oddly quiet.


Gabriel knew he couldn’t avoid either of them now, so he crossed the room as the door shut behind his only real friend, and he folded his arms over his chest. “Pietro, this is…”


“Ezra, I know,” Pietro said. The tension only rose higher as he turned his gaze back to the younger man. “How do you like it here so far?”


Ezra glanced at Gabriel, almost like he was waiting for permission to speak, which was…odd. To say the least. After a beat, though, he shook himself out of it and let out a small laugh. “Um, it’s good? Well, it kind of sucks because I still look like a sixteen-year-old, and the kids are struggling to respect my authority.”


“That’s because you don’t have any authority,” Gabriel said, and when Ezra’s eyes went wide, he felt a small curl of shame in his gut because he didn’t really mean that. “You let them talk to you like a peer, which…”


“Yeah, you said that already,” Ezra interrupted.


Pietro laughed and leaned in toward the younger man, brushing his arm with his elbow. “Don’t let Gabe get to you. He’s always been a goddamn stick in the mud. I’m the fun one.” He winked and Ezra…reacted.


Gabriel bristled as Ezra flushed and…fuck. He didn’t know why it was bothering him, but he knew he couldn’t watch this any longer because he knew what was coming next. Pietro would make him laugh and feel good, then they’d exchange numbers. Ezra would be suitably impressed by Pietro’s life and celebrity because every fucking person who met him was. And they’d meet for drinks, and talk about poor, sad Gabriel’s life and how badly it went off the rails and how good he was doing now…


…if only he knew how to unwind and be happy.


And Gabriel was seconds away from choking on his own bile.


“I need to go,” he said.


Pietro’s gaze snapped over to him. “Oh. Yeah, uh…let me just get my…”


“No.” Gabriel swallowed thickly. “No, I have to go. Without you.”


“But you said,” Pietro began, but Gabriel cut him off with a harsh shake of his head.


“Just because you can slack off in your responsibilities and still manage to get everyone to let you slide doesn’t mean I have the same opportunities,” Gabriel said, hating the words as they fell from his lips. “The world doesn’t revolve around you.”


Pietro was quiet a long time, then he smiled, and the thread snapped. “You’re a fucking dick.”


Gabriel reared back because Pietro called him that a lot, but almost never in front of witnesses. It would ruin his reputation. “Excuse me…” Gabriel started, but Pietro didn’t let him go on.


“No. Excuse me. You’re such a selfish prick, Gabe. I’m…I just wanted to spend time with my brother, and you always ruin it. You act like I just disrupted some peace summit because you’re jealous no one wants to spend time with a guy who literally can’t remove the massive bat from his ass.”


Gabriel’s face went hot with the accusation. “I didn’t ruin anything, Pietro, and you know it. I never asked you to show up here,” he snapped back. “My day was fine, and you chose to interrupt my practice after I told you not to.” He was about to say something he regretted, and he couldn’t do that now. Not in front of Ezra. “I’ll talk to you later,” he bit out, then turned on his heel and walked as fast as he could without considering it running.


Like a coward.


Which, he wasn’t one. He was just tired, and frustrated, and confused by the way his emotions were betraying him. He shouldn’t give a single shit what Ezra thought of him, but the very idea that he’d just shown his entire ass—that he’d just embarrassed himself with petty sibling rivalry—was almost unbearable.


Gabriel came to a stop near the back exit, pressing his hand to the wall and letting his forehead come to rest on the cool painted brick. His heart was racing in his chest from the adrenaline and the caffeine, and he took several breaths to try and calm down.


It took him a second too long, but he heard the soft noise of someone clearing their throat and he knew it wasn’t Pietro. Which could only mean…


“Sorry,” Ezra said, his voice very quiet.


Gabriel couldn’t stop a groan from bursting free. Shaking his head, feeling the skin ache from where it was still pressed against the wall, he squeezed his eyes shut as tight as he could. “What do you want, Ezra? Wasn’t that enough entertainment for the afternoon?”


The younger man made another soft noise, then Gabriel heard him take a few shuffling steps closer. “I just wanted to say sorry.”


The fact that Ezra sounded genuinely apologetic was enough to force Gabriel away from the wall, and he turned to look at him. “Sorry for what? I was the one who behaved like a total ass.”


Ezra let out the smallest, breathy laugh and shrugged. “Maybe. I, uh, I’m an only child so I don’t have direct experience with brothers, but my best friend growing up had four of them, so I know they can make you irrational sometimes.”


Gabriel couldn’t help the way his mouth twitched, just a bit. For whatever reason, that was exactly what he needed to hear, even if he didn’t feel better about the whole thing. “It’s not something I really want to talk about.”


Ezra threw up his hands in surrender. “No, I know. I um…well. Your brother’s charming and…”


All the warmth he’d been feeling right then drained from Gabriel’s body and he took a step back. The last thing in the world he could stand to hear was Ezra singing Pietro’s praises—even if his brother was, ultimately, a decent person.


“I didn’t ask you to come here and try to defend him.”


“I’m not—”


Gabriel took a step forward as Ezra took one back. “I know perfectly well he’s the better brother. Better looking, more charming,” he echoed, putting venom into Ezra’s description. “Generous. Hell, he’s got a car full of signed shit from the Vikings and I bet if you ask him nicely, he’ll be happy to give you whatever you want.”


Ezra’s face went faintly pink, and Gabriel felt that shame in his gut again, but he couldn’t seem to stop.


“Now, if I want your advice on how to deal with my brother, I’ll ask for it. But until then, kindly fuck off.” He didn’t give Ezra a chance to answer as he spun on his heel and marched out of the side doors. It was a long walk to the athletics staff parking lot, but he didn’t care.


He knew at this point, his day couldn’t get any goddamn worse.




***




Monday night was filled with pacing and cursing his brother, ignoring his phone, and trying not to replay the look of shock and hurt on Ezra’s face.


That led directly to Tuesday morning where Gabriel was holding on to anger and resentment, because behind that was regret, and he wasn’t ready to deal with how heavy that emotion was. So, he got up early, went for a run, took an extra-long shower where he studiously ignored his dick, then choked down a protein shake before heading off to the school.


He was glad there was no chance Ezra would park by the athletics building, and he quickly slipped inside, skipping the staff room and going right to his office. The athletics lobby was always open since the Hayes worked his team at six, but he was a little annoyed when he saw that his office door was ajar and his lights were on.


Of course, that was also common since he kept a small stash of candy in his drawer and Hayes was not only a bully and an asshole, but a thief. He started considering his revenge as he pushed his door all the way open, then came to a halt when his gaze fell on a wrapped package in the middle of his desk.


It was simple—a small paper bag kind of like the ones he used to take his lunches in when he was a kid. And next to that was a very tall coffee with steam still rising from the little hole in the top.


He wasn’t sure if suspicion was the right way to greet something that had to be a gift, and the only person he could think of who would be that bold was Kaila.


Reaching into his pocket, he pulled up her number and fired off a text.




Gabriel: Where are you?




Kaila: Sick day, can’t stop puking. Be nice to the sub.




He blinked at the screen for a long second, debating whether or not she was fucking with him. And then…he saw it. A small bit of yellow paper from a Post-It. It was attached to the backside of the cup, so he crept forward and pulled it off, staring at the neat gel-ink lettering.




I wanted to say sorry about yesterday.




Pietro might have been behind it. It was very much something he would do—except he wouldn’t send some brown paper bag treat. He’d send some elaborate gift basket filled with booze and chocolate—mostly so he could steal most of it the next time he visited Gabriel. And for it to be Pietro, his brother would also have to believe he was wrong, and hell would freeze over before that happened.


Which left only one person.


Sinking into his chair, Gabriel gently pried open the bag and peered inside. There were two cinnamon rolls that were hot and smelled impossibly fresh. They were also a little misshapen which told him that they were homemade.


Something new flickered to life in his gut as he pulled out the small paper tray and stared at them. His fingers lifted—just a tiny shake betraying his shoulder which wasn’t handling his tension very well—and he pulled off a long strip of warm dough.


It melted on his tongue, so good he wanted to cry, and he squeezed his eyes shut, hating that he could feel himself softening. He had no time for this. No time to indulge, no time to waste thinking about Ezra.


He picked up the coffee and took a long sip. It was rich and creamy and sweet, just the way he liked it, and there was also a hint of something in the flavor—like maple or caramel. It was definitely expensive, and definitely hadn’t come from the breakroom.


By the time he’d devoured half the first roll, Gabriel could see the full morning light coming from the window and he knew most of the staff would be on campus by now, and at least half the students. He checked the time and saw there was still thirty minutes before the first bell, and if he hurried, he’d have time to get to the foods room before Ezra’s students started showing up.


He wasn’t sure what the hell he was going to say, but he couldn’t just let this go like it meant nothing.


The walk up the stairs was enough to get Gabriel’s blood pumping, and he managed a terse smile at a couple of the seniors who had tried to take his class as an easy A the year before. He supposed they’d developed some sort of grudging respect for them after he forced them to actually learn, but really it had only increased his bitterness toward the other coaches who treated their classes like they were just stop-gaps between practices and games.


Gabriel was tired of being the only one of them who gave a shit. And he was tired of the school sticking the coaches into classes they felt were worthless because the students deserved a full education. Not fucking play-time.


But that was an old irritation, and it wasn’t enough to eclipse his nerves as he approached Ezra’s room and hesitated by the door. It was closed, which meant he’d have to knock and wait to be let in, and he did, stepping to the side so he didn’t have to watch Ezra’s face go through the debate of answering.


His foot tapped on the ground, his palms started to sweat a little, and his heart jumped when he heard the lock click.


Ezra’s face appeared a moment later, first confused, then surprised when he realized who was standing there. “Oh. Uh…”


“I got the coffee,” Gabriel barked, then cleared his throat and shook his head. “I…thanks.”


Ezra’s shoulders sagged a bit, and he held the door wider. “I’m right in the middle of prep. Do you want to come in for a second?”


He didn’t…but he also did, and that last part won out after a second of debate. He followed Ezra into the room, and he didn’t say anything when Ezra wedged the door stopper in instead of letting it close. Was he afraid to be alone with Gabriel?


He supposed if that was the case, he deserved it.


Unsure what to do with himself—hell, unsure why he was even really there—Gabriel followed Ezra to the front of the classroom where he had a sink full of water and a bushel of apples floating along the top. To the side was a massive hunk of metal that could have easily been a Spanish Inquisition era torture device, and he shuddered.


“What is that?”


Ezra glanced up from where he’d started fishing out apples, then he burst into a laugh. The sound was oddly sweet—light and contagious, and Gabriel had the damndest time making sure he didn’t join in. “It’s an apple corer and peeler. Here, let me…” He broke off in another fit of giggles as he lifted the handle to reveal a small spike with two prongs at the end. “You look like it’s about to come alive.”


Gabriel shrugged, saying nothing as a bit of heat crawled into his face. “You have to admit it looks a little dangerous for the students.”


Ezra sobered immediately. “So are carrot peelers in the wrong hands. So’s a fucking spoon. Could cut your heart out.”


Gabriel jolted not only because he recognized the movie reference—which was rare—but the fact that Ezra thought he was criticizing him. “No, I—” he began, but then Ezra slammed one of the apples on the prongs, set the handle down, then began to turn a crank which whipped the fruit in a circle and quickly removed all the peel.


When Ezra pulled it off, the core was neatly removed.


“My mom would love one of these,” he mused softly.


Ezra made a quiet noise as he set the apple aside and went back to drying off the others. “It’s weird to think of you with a mom.”


Gabriel wanted to argue back with him, but it was fair. He hadn’t exactly given off the impression of a fully functional human being in Ezra’s presence. But he had also never been around someone like Ezra before, and at times, it felt like his brain was short circuiting.


“She wasn’t much of a mom by today’s standards,” Gabriel finally said. He leaned a little harder on the counter and found himself almost mesmerized by the delicate dance of Ezra’s long fingers. “I mean, she was great. I love her more than anyone, but Pietro and I were the youngest of many, so there wasn’t much of her attention left to go around.”


Ezra looked up, his expression passive. “Is she super into your brother’s whole…” he waved one hand dismissively, “baseball thingie?”


Something erupted hard in Gabriel’s chest, because no one had ever—ever—referred to Pietro’s shining MLB career as a thingie. He felt his face ache a little, and he realized it was because he was smiling.


It was an honest, genuine smile, and Ezra looked both delighted and a little petrified.


“Sorry, was that, like, super rude?”


“No,” Gabriel said on a half-wheeze from trying to keep back a laugh. “I just wish he’d been here to hear it.”


Ezra did giggle again as he toweled off the final apple and set them all in a row. “Remind me the next time he decides to crash your volleyball practice.”


Gabriel’s smile only widened, and he realized he’d give anything to extend this moment. Ezra was sweet, and he was beautiful, and things would be so different if Gabriel wasn’t a walking disaster of human interaction.


He rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged. “He doesn’t show up much, luckily.” A tension settled again, though lighter than before, and he cleared his throat. “So, what uh…what are you making?”


Ezra blinked like he was startled, then stared down at the fruit. “Oh. Apple turnovers. I actually hate them, but my neighbor’s family owns the orchard up on Hill Street, so he keeps bringing me all these bags of them. Like, how much fiber does he think I need?”


Gabriel choked a bit at how readily Ezra just…said things like that. “I’m. I, uh…I like apples.”


Ezra’s grin widened. “Yeah? Well, feel free to stop by this afternoon when the kids leave, and I can hook you up. I promise to throw all the really fucked up ones out before you do.”


Gabriel opened his mouth to reply—though he had no idea what the hell he was going to say—but the door to the classroom opened and a kid poked his head in. Gabriel recognized him as one from the football team, though he’d never had him in any of his classes.


The guy had eyes only for Ezra though, and he sauntered up to the desk and pressed his hip against it like he was flirting. “Yo, E.”


Gabriel cleared his throat and the kid spared him a glance before doing a double take and recognizing him.


His cheeks went pink. “I mean, Mr. Mandel,” he corrected. Ezra looked uncomfortable, but he nodded for him to go on. “So, Anthony and I are gonna be late today. We have to run a quick errand for coach. Cool?”


“Um,” Ezra said.


The kid gave the counter a pat. “Cool. I’ll let him know you’re all good.”


The only thing missing on the kid’s retreat was a finger-gun and wink, which set Gabriel’s nerves on edge because this kid had no fucking right to just waltz in there and tell Ezra how to run his goddamn class. And Ezra needed to figure out how to grow a spine.


Gabriel remembered his first year—how he was too afraid to say no. How he was afraid to piss off parents, so when he finally did start setting boundaries, he had a goddamn line outside of his office door filled with angry moms who wanted special treatment.


And then he’d gone from most loved to most hated and wanted to quit before Kaila talked him into staying. The reputation hadn’t totally left him, but he realized the only kids who still thought he was a monster were the ones being favored by dickheads like Hayes. They were the ones torturing other kids in the hallways when they thought no one was looking—and they couldn’t bring themselves to give a shit if someone was, because admin always gave them a pass.


Gabriel rounded on Ezra, exasperated. “You’re seriously going to let him just go?’


Ezra’s shoulders sagged. “What else can I do? Hayes…”


“Hayes is a goddamn bully, and the only way to deal with him is to stop letting him use his students to walk all over you,” Gabriel said.


Ezra took a shuffling half-step backward. “I haven’t even met him.”


“Of course not,” Gabriel said with a scoff. “You’re not worth his time. Not when he can get some sixteen-year-old to manage your classroom to his needs.”


Ezra’s face went pink. “I’m not…”


“Yes, you are,” Gabriel said, aware he was losing his temper. “You’re on the verge of pathetic.”


Something snapped. Gabriel swore he could hear it in the air just before Ezra’s hand came slamming down onto the counter. “You know what,” he said, his voice deep and different, “you have a lot of fucking nerve calling someone pathetic when you’re nothing more than a sad little has-been. You stroll into my class telling me how to run it while berating me for letting some guy in an office somewhere take up my students’ time? You’re a fucking hypocrite, and if anything’s pathetic, it’s that.”


Gabriel stared, struck momentarily mute.


Ezra met his gaze for a while, his hands trembling, then he crossed his arms. “You can show yourself out. I know you know where the door is.”


With nothing left to do, no words to fire back, Gabriel did just that. His heart was thrashing in his chest as he hurried for the stairs to get back to his office. And as he headed down, he couldn’t help the feeling like he’d fucked up something that had been on the verge of big and important.


Like always.



TBC


Chapter Five


Start At The Beginning...

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