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He spends lunch in the locker room – doesn't feel like eating anything – and debates whether or not to cut his afternoon classes. It turns out to be a moot point. When he goes to put his books away in his locker, Principal Sylvester is standing there waiting for him.  
 

She gives a quick once over, looking unimpressed. "Dave Karofsky,” she says flatly.
 

It takes Dave a moment to realize it’s a question. Fortunately, Ms. Sylvester seems to accept his confused blinking as confirmation.
 

Her voice is deceptively pleasant. “You are hereby suspended pending the results of a disciplinary trial to examine certain charges that have been leveled against you.” She leans in with a unsettlingly sympathetic expression and Dave struggles immediately not to lean back as she explains softly, “That means you’ll be leaving my campus immediately. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, do not slushie one last fattie – now. I've already contacted your father and he has agreed to meet with us in person in order to discuss your future at my school. I will see you both in my office at nine o'clock." She levels him a long look. "Is that clear?"
 

Dave nods around the thick lump of dread in his throat.
 

"Good. Now get off my campus."  

It's weird coming home in the middle of the day. His mom's off at her women's club thing and his dad works afternoon and evening hours on Wednesdays, so the house is empty when he arrives. If this were a normal day, he'd waste no time in stockpiling junk food in the living room in anticipation of a hours-long TV and gaming marathon. Today, though, he just climbs the stairs to his room, empties his pockets on the floor, and passes out face-first on his bed.
 

He wakes up a couple hours later to the buzz of an incoming call on his phone. He checks the display. Azimio.
 

"What's up?" he says.
 

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Azimio replies. "Man, word around school is you got your ass suspended."
 

"Hummel's dad caught me picking on him. Wrong place, wrong time."
 

"Seriously?" Azimio laughs. "You got suspended because the fairy's father went and cried to Coach Sylvester?"
 

"More like he bellowed, dude," Dave says. "Don't ask me how, but Hummel's dad is built like a freaking tree. Pinned me right up against the wall."
 

"Damn. I would have paid to see that." There's a shuffling noise on the other end, something that sounds like Azimio dropping his backpack, and an additional moment of pure awkward silence before Azimio’s voice says, hesitantly, "So you think you're going to beat the suspension?"
 

Dave swallows. "Absolutely, man," he says, trying to inject a confidence he doesn't feel. "They'll keep me out two days, tops. It'll be like a two day vacation for me. Only part that will suck is missing the game Friday."
 

"Yeah, man, we'll miss you," Azimio says loyally, and Dave wants to thank him for pretending that anything that has gone down these past four weeks has been normal.
 

That would be mushy, though, so instead he says, "I think I hear my mom coming in, bro. Time to face the music."
 

"Good luck," says Azimio and hangs up. He's never seen the point in saying goodbye.
 

Dave's mom isn't home yet, but of course when she does arrive she's already heard the story from her friends in the women's club. She asks first if it's true that Mr. Hummel choked him against a wall and after Dave waffles for a bit over whether to qualify an arm against his throat as choking, she falls uncharacteristically silent for the rest of the night.
 

Dave's father shuffles in around nine o'clock, hanging up his coat and accepting a reheated plate of dinner quietly. Dave watches him carefully, still keyed up thanks to sleeping all afternoon, but his dad doesn't appear especially angry or disappointed in him. To Dave’s eyes, he just looks tired. When he finishes his plate, he tells Dave that he rescheduled his morning appointments for the afternoon and that he expects Dave to be ready to leave at eight-thirty. He nods when Dave does and then without ceremony goes to bed.
 

The morning dawns weird and tense. Dave carefully selects a shirt that his mom says brings out his eyes and combs his hair even though he doesn't really think Ms. Sylvester will come down less hard on him just because he looks neat. He heads downstairs, finds his dad sitting at the breakfast table with the newspaper already spread out before him. His mom hovers over his left shoulder, reading the same article. She's made them both bacon, eggs, and toast, but Dave finds he can only swallow a couple bites of each before he loses his appetite. His mother seems to understand and clears the dishes away early.
 

She gives him a hug before they leave, whispering in his ear, "I've already taken the day off with the gym. Don't worry, okay? We'll get this straightened out." She pulls back and fixes his collar. "Call me as soon as you get the news."
 

Dave's stomach churns the whole drive over. Being hauled in front of the principal is different than being hauled in front of your coach. This could have consequences – beyond suspension from the team kind of consequences – and Ms. Sylvester's not exactly known for her fair and balanced judgment. Dave’s heard the horror stories from the Cheerios. This could very well be a show trial, just Ms. Sylvester's decision to enjoy watching Dave squirm before handing out whatever punishment she sees fit.
 

He glances over at his father, but he hasn't said a word to Dave since last night. Dave has no idea what Ms. Sylvester told him about this meeting. He'd kind of like to know, craves a glimpse of what's going through his dad's head, but Dave doesn't really feel like breaking the silence to find out. He’s already struggling with keeping down breakfast. So instead of finding out which details his dad has in his possession, Dave just focuses on summoning the calm, collected persona he assumes he’ll need for the meeting ahead.
 

He realizes his mistake the moment he walks in the room and Hummel and his dad are there already sitting on the couch. Dave has to take a quick step to keep from shuddering to a full stop in the doorway. He glances back at his dad, but his father doesn't look remotely surprised to see the two of them there, like he expected them.
 

Mr. Hummel looks at Dave as though he'd like nothing more than to toss Dave in a dumpster and then stand guard to make sure he stayed there. He's dressed in a uniform shirt – his name is Burt, apparently – like he's just come from work and sitting like he only intends to take his twenty minutes here to kick Dave's ass.
 

"Mr. Karofsky, thank you for coming," Ms. Sylvester calls graciously from her desk. She motions for both of them to sit down, and the sharp look with which she pins Dave has him sitting in the chair across from Hummel's dad rather than Hummel. Dave folds his suddenly sweaty hands on top of his letterman's jacket and tries to look anywhere but at the man sitting across from him.
 

Ms. Sylvester takes off her glasses, folds them, then strides around to the front of her desk and sits on the edge. There's a brief pause before her voice cuts through the thick silence. "So it seems this situation has reached a boiling point."
 

"You're damn right it has," Mr. Hummel bursts out. His eyes haven't left Dave once since he entered the room, and Dave shrinks a little under the intensity of that glare. 

"Nothing happened," Dave points out weakly, like it matters, like it should count for something. 

Not in Burt Hummel's book, it doesn't. "I'll tell you what really happened. Mr. Karofsky—"
 

"My name's Paul," his dad interrupts smoothly, years of practice in psychology showing through.
 

"Paul," Mr. Hummel allows. "Your kid? Threatened the life of my son."
 

Dave's dad looks at him for the first time since they entered the room at that. Dave stares back, unsure what to say. He'd figured Hummel had told his dad about the death threat the moment he realized they were part of this meeting too, but he hasn't exactly had time to come up with anything to counter it. The only defense he has is that nothing ever happened and that he never intended for anything to.
 

"Porcelain," Ms. Sylvester asks gently, "is that true?"
 

Hummel nods shortly without looking at anyone.
 

"It's not true," Dave protests, because denial is all he has at this point. "I didn't say anything."
 

"That's what he said," Hummel cuts in sharply, meeting Dave's eyes baldly for a moment before turning to Ms. Sylvester. "He said he'd kill me if I told anyone."
 

"If you told anyone what?" she asks.
 

Hummel's eyes flicker to Dave and Dave's heart stops. Hummel can't tell, not here, not in front of Dave's dad. That would be the worst possible thing, worse even than if Hummel had chosen to do a tell-all interview for Israel's blog that very first day. In here Dave's entirely without protection, unable to write the whole thing off as wistful thinking on Hummel's part, and he's pretty sure Mr. Hummel will deck Dave if the words he finds threatening to burst from him (I kissed your son) actually cross his lips.
 

"Just—" Hummel hesitates, licks his lips. His eyes don't leave Dave's. "That he was picking on me," he says.
 

Dave lets out a huge sigh of relief, makes a mental note to thank Hummel later, and goes back to his denial defense. "He's making all this stuff up," he claims.
 

"Oh, is that right?" Mr. Hummel demands, sounding like he's ready to tear Dave a new one.
 

"Hold on a second." His father's quiet, measured voice silences the room as effectively as a shout. "You have been acting differently lately, David."
 

He's using his psychologist voice again, and to Dave's horror he starts listing off examples of Dave's changed behavior, like Dave's a patient in some textbook case instead of his son. "And now we're sitting here," his father concludes bleakly. "So let me ask you." He points to Hummel. "Why would Kurt make that up?"
 

"Maybe he likes me," Dave says helplessly, and his father gives him a sudden, piercing look.
 

"I think that we are wasting our time here," Mr. Hummel bites off in short, angry bursts. "It's your job to protect people," he accuses, facing Ms. Sylvester.
 

"I couldn't agree more," Ms. Sylvester replies. She fixes narrowed eyes on Dave. "After hearing both sides of the story, you are hereby expelled. I will not have one student threatening the life of another."
 

Hummel lets out a sigh of relief and Dave barely hears Ms. Sylvester as she talks about the possibility of appealing her decision to the school board. "And you'll leave campus immediately," she finishes.
 

Dave's father doesn't miss a beat. "I appreciate your time," he murmurs and stands to leave. Dave follows him, giving Hummel a look as goes that he hopes conveys just how sorry Dave is about the past two weeks – and how grateful he is for Hummel's silence. Hummel's porcelain blank face gives away nothing.
 

His dad doesn't speak until they get in the car. "What's going on with you, David?" he asks bluntly, not even bothering to put the keys in the ignition.
 

Dave shrinks back in his seat. "What do you mean?"
 

"I mean everyone in that room was scared," he says. "Kurt was scared, his father was scared though he was doing a heck of a job covering it, and you were practically ready to pass out in your chair. So what's going on?"
 

Dave thinks of a thousand different things he could tell his father. He's under a lot of pressure for football. His classes are harder this quarter. He's anxious about looking at college in the spring. But none of these things touch on the heart of the matter, which is that right now Dave feels like who he is doesn't fit at McKinley. A little addiction to a certain fashionista's put paid to that. He doesn't fit, and what's worse – he doesn't think he can fit back into the person he used to be, the guy who could joke about the Cheerios' skirts and push around Hummel without it meaning anything. The guy who could make his parents, any set of parents, proud if he just put forth the effort and tried a little harder. That guy? He’s now irrevocably beyond Dave’s reach.
 

Dave doesn't know how to say all that to his father, though, how he could make him understand. So instead he says nothing and shifts in his seat.
 

After a few moments, his father sighs and turns the key in the ignition. "Did you know," he asks lightly, "that before every answer he gave, Kurt's eyes flickered to you?" He looks at Dave. "That's the mark of a bully, David. Whatever's been bothering you, I want you to promise me that you won't take it out on Kurt when you get back."
 

"I've been expelled," Dave replies slowly.
 

"The school board meets the first and third Thursday of every month. Your mom's already making the calls to get your expulsion appeal on the agenda tonight. It's better if we make the challenge early so it doesn't look as though we needed time beforehand to get your story straight." He pauses. "I know you're a good kid, Dave, and back at the beginning of the school year it really looked like you were starting to get your act together. I hope you can push past whatever's bothering you and get back to that."
 

He drops Dave off at the house, doesn't follow him inside in order to make some late morning appointments that couldn't be moved. His mom is on the phone when he gets in. Whatever she's hearing has her frowning at the person on the other end and she waves distractedly for Dave to sit down at the kitchen table and wait. 

It's another two minutes before she hangs up with a chirped, "Thanks, Sheila!" She closes the phone with a sigh and sits down across from him. "Well, I managed to get your appeal on tonight's agenda," she informs him. "So that's at seven tonight. Mrs. Adams says a button-down will give the best impression to the members of the board, so I want you to wear the green one your aunt got you for your birthday. Is there anything you want for lunch?"
 

"Mom, it's ten-thirty," Dave tries carefully. She just looks at him and Dave gives up. "A sandwich would be great," he says.

His mom gets up and starts pulling cold-cuts out of the fridge. As she rummages around for the special French mustard that Dave likes, an odd thought occurs to him.
 

"Mom," he asks slowly, "When did you call to schedule my appeal? I didn't think Dad called you."
 

She turns around to face him. "I called as soon as you left, sweetie. The Hummels have a history of going to the school board with their complaints. At this point, I think the school rules in their favor just to get rid of them."
 

"You never thought I had a chance," says Dave, stunned.
 

"It's not your fault, honey," she hastens to assure him, sitting down again. "Mr. Hummel can be rabid when it comes to getting what he wants and clearly he doesn't care who gets in the way." The twist of her mouth is patently disdainful.
 

Dave is suddenly, irrationally indignant on Mr. Hummel's behalf. "You ever think he might be justified in that?" he retorts. It's not like Dave's about to volunteer to go singing the guy's praises, but the man Dave saw in that office was firmly in his kid's corner, which is more than Dave can say for his own dad.
 

His mom just looks bemused. "Dave," she asks, "does he have physical evidence on you?"
 

"What? No." Dave's threats have always been of the verbal or physical kind. He isn't the type of idiot who writes that stuff down.
 

"Then his case rests on the other kid's word against yours," she explains patiently. "In legal circles, that's known as hearsay. Unless he produces some witnesses, no school board in the state will reject your appeal." 
   

Dave's head buzzes. "So my expulsion's going to be reversed?"
 

"Almost certainly." She smiles. "Now about that sandwich?"
 

A sandwich is the last thing Dave wants. "Not hungry," he grunts, scraping the legs of his chair on the floor as he pushes away from the table. "Think I'm going to take a nap."
 

Dave struggles to place how he feels as he climbs the stairs. It's not that he wants to stay expelled from McKinley. He knows what happens to high school dropouts in this town. Yet at the same time, he can't deny that the very first thing he felt following the announcement of his expulsion – after he got over the initial shock, of course – was anything other than an immense sense of relief. Finally, the endless nightmare of trying to square things with Hummel while also being careful to keep everything involved in the mess under wraps was over. Dave could lead a normal freaking life again. Returning to that, being thrown back in that situation again, just isn't all that appealing, even if it does appear inevitable.
 

Dave sleeps until mid-afternoon. He wakes feeling vaguely disgruntled, but gets up anyway to eat some sandwiches with his mom. He's sweaty after his nap, so he opts to take a second shower, letting the hot water erase any lingering traces of doubt or apprehension. He combs his hair afterward to look presentable, and dutifully puts on the shirt his mother has laid out. When she calls for them to leave, he even manages to give her a smile as he comes down the stairs.
 

The appeal goes pretty much as his mom predicted. She lays into the school board about the lack of physical evidence involved in his expulsion, citing additionally the ineligibility of the actual evidence used. Dave doesn't say a word, just sits there and tries not to look too suspicious or guilty while his mom proceeds to systematically outline each of the problems in his case. Initially some of the board members look dubious, but one by one they fold under the sheer force of his mother's argument. Dave's expulsion is summarily reversed and he's let off with a verbal warning combined with a two-day suspension.
 

The whole process takes fifteen minutes.
 

His mom's expression as they leave the board meeting is bright and proud. Dave knows there was a time a long time ago that she dreamed of being a lawyer, and arguing his expulsion is probably the closest taste of the real thing she's ever had. He feels sort of bad for her that he can't actually share in her happy mood right now.
 

"The expulsion was reversed," she tells his dad as soon as they walk in the door. "Two-day suspension, but that's to be expected. They're informing Principal Sylvester officially tomorrow, and—" she notes with satisfaction, "they'll be conducting an inquiry into just how that woman runs her office." His mom grins, teeth like a shark. "That should teach her a lesson."
 

His dad nods mildly, turns his attention to Dave. "You'll still be held accountable for the three days of class you'll miss, including today,” he says. “I'll pick up the class work from your teachers quietly tomorrow."
 

He pauses. "It's probably best if you don't go talking about the expulsion to all your friends, David. With any luck, we can convince everyone it was just a three-day suspension. Scholarship committees don't look too kindly on expulsions."
 

Because of course the first thing going through Dave's mind during this whole mess was how a reversed expulsion might look on his college scholarship application. "Yeah. Sure, Dad," he mutters and shuts himself in his room. He's not at all tired, but he lies down anyway and stares at the ceiling until his eyes fall shut.
 

Friday at home is boring without the numb terror of the previous day to fill it. His mom goes to work her job at the gym so Dave has the house to himself. He plays some Halo half-heartedly, trying to distract himself from the slow creeping of the clock, but shortly gives up and throws the controller away in frustration. As far as he knows there's nothing that says he can't leave the house, so Dave changes into a hoodie and a pair of shorts and goes running through the neighborhood. The pounding of his feet on the pavement and bite of the chill November air center him somewhat, and when he gets back to the house he doesn't feel like punching a hole in the wall anymore. He makes himself a plate of pizza rolls for lunch and settles in with the television remote to wait for the end of the school day.
 

His dad comes home around four, carrying a pile of books with a neatly typed list of assignments on top. It's the first time Dave's ever been grateful to have homework to do on a Friday night. The work keeps his mind off the game he's currently missing and he manages to burn through all his homework problems in pre-calc before he realizes it's kind of late and goes to bed.
 

The whole weekend passes like that. Dave applies himself fiercely to his make-up work and ignores his phone whenever it buzzes with an incoming text. It's only on Sunday night when he finds himself reading ahead in his history textbook because he's run out of real homework to do that Dave stops and admits he has a problem.
 

Monday he spends worrying about returning to McKinley the next day. He's back to square one on the whole Hummel situation and he's not having any better luck coming up with solutions now than he was before the whole expulsion thing. It doesn't help that his phone keeps distracting him, buzzing furiously starting around one o'clock and only stopping when Dave eventually shuts it off just to be able to concentrate.
 

It's around one in the morning, sleep-deprived and delirious, when Dave finally hits upon an absurdly simple idea. He scrambles out of bed and yanks his dresser drawer open in a flash. The wedding topper stares back at him, still resting on top of the ones in his slushie moneybox, and he seizes it eagerly. Dave sits down at his desk, pulls out a scrap of paper, and writes "I'M SORRY" on it in clear block letters that give nothing away about the identity of the writer. He tapes the paper to the bride's dress and then leaves the topper on his dresser while he sleeps.
 

He carries the topper in the pocket of his letterman jacket when he returns to McKinley the next day. He makes sure to get there early, before any of the other kids get there, and heads directly to Hummel's locker. Dave breaks in quickly, intent on leaving the wedding topper there for Hummel to find when he arrives. Surely, this message was unambiguous enough that not even Hummel could misinterpret it, while at the same time not conveying anything to anyone not in the know.
 

He's pulling the thing out of his pocket when the locker door swings open and Dave’s hand freezes at the sight of the conspicuously empty space which gapes back at him. Nothing. There's literally nothing inside. Even the stupid picture of Twinkerbell is gone. Dave stares, uncomprehending.
 

"There you are, man!" Azimio calls from the far end of the hallway. He ambles over to where Dave's still standing, feet rooted to the floor, and punches him on the arm. "Where you been all weekend? I've been trying to text you since Sunday."
 

"My parents confiscated my phone," Dave lies.
 

"Well, you missed the finest entertainment this school has ever seen," says Azimio. "The minute the fairy's father found out that you were coming back to school? He pulled Hummel out so fast the kid left a pile of glitter where he was standing." He claps Dave on the shoulder. "You finally accomplished what we've working for since the year we started at McKinley – the complete degayification of the building. Give it up, bro!"
 

Dave meets his high five dazedly, still staring at the bare space that used to strain with the effort of containing Hummel. Azimio takes notice.
 

"Sorry whatever prank you had planned got ruined, man," he says in commiseration. "Save it for lunch. I hear Jewfro has another exclusive he plans to shoot. Whataya say that you and I spice it up with a little slushie action?"
 

"Yeah," Dave mumbles. "Sounds great."
 

He drops his hand out of his pocket and walks off with Azimio, already laughing and joking like they haven't just spent five days apart.
 

He feels the weight of the empty locker's gaze like an accusation on his back.   


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February 2011

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