The following is Chapter 7 of frequent Counter-Currents writer Spencer J. Quinn‘s new young adult novel from The White People’s Press, The No College Club. Spencer recently discussed the novel with Nick Jeelvy and Daily Zoomer on The Writers’ Bloc here, he has been interviewed about it in print here, and Anthony Bavaria reviewed it for Counter-Currents here.
* * *
“That is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, Derek,” Caroline said. “We’re not gonna do it.”
Derek shifted his weight as he was about to argue. It was dark in the rumbling bus, but Caroline noticed that his right eye was bruised and swollen—she hoped she would remember to ask him about it later. He wore the same boots, shorts, and T-shirt as before, but now sported a burgundy zip-up vest which probably cost more than all his other clothes combined. His hair was still slick from the shower after wrestling practice, and his backpack lay at his feet. Pimples clustered on his forehead and amid the stubble on his jaw. His mouth may have been a bit too wide, she thought, and his nose too small. But he had sweet, deep eyes and a hard, masculine face. She felt relieved he had a masculine face.
“Nogimbe said this project was about slavery,” he said. “She didn’t say we couldn’t present the white side to it.”
“There is no white side to it.”
“Yes, there is a white side to—”
“Keep it down!”
Derek rolled his eyes and bit his lip to keep from shouting. “There is a white side to it!” he whispered.
“No, there isn’t, Derek. Slavery was an evil institution. You can’t justify it.”
Derek smirked. “You talk like slavery is a thing of the past.”
Caroline said nothing, not knowing exactly what he meant by that.
“There are still millions of slaves in Africa today. Black on black. What do you say to that?”
Caroline stubbornly said nothing.
Derek leaned his head back before continuing. “My dad used to say that slavery is not an evil institution. It’s a cruel institution, but not necessarily evil. And we should judge it against how slaves lived before becoming slaves. We should also judge it compared to how other people treated their slaves back in the day, like the blacks themselves. And when we do that, whites come out pretty good. We basically treated blacks better than they treated themselves. It’s probably still that way today.”
Caroline shook her head. These were just arguments. Words. She knew they would be powerless against the people who controlled their fate. If all of her friends—people who knew her and supposedly liked her—could dump her on social media, then people who didn’t know her and didn’t like her could keep her out of college and prevent her from having a career. Having lived through her parents’ divorce, she knew how mean people could be to each other.
“What’s wrong with finding accounts of slave owners in America, black and white, or maybe even white slaves, and learn their perspective?” he reasoned.
Caroline shook her head again. “We’re not doing it,” she said. “Everyone is going to hate us if we do. And I don’t want this going on my record. I want to graduate high school. I want to go to college.” Derek tried to argue again, but she cut him off. “Rose and Brock agree. They both told me so.”
Derek sighed peevishly. “Fine. You come up with an idea, then.”
The pair was silent while the bus wheezed to its next stop. Caroline peered out the window and viewed the suburban neighborhood they were in. The colonial, two-story homes seemed sturdy and inviting. The trees were well spaced and attractive. The street was wide, the sidewalks clean. “Such a nice place to live,” she thought. She felt people trudging up the aisle, and then the bus grumbling on its way. Her stop would be next. She felt a twinge of remorse. She did not want to stop talking to Derek.
“What happened to your eye?” she asked.
“Nothing. A guy accidentally headbutted me during takedown drills. Happens all the time.” He looked at her, but not like how other boys looked at her. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but somehow this was different. It was nice but not so nice at the same time.
“I really wanted to do this project,” he said.
“Don’t you want to graduate?”
He gave her a slow-motion shrug. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Why? So you can go to college.”
It was Caroline’s turn to shrug. “What kind of silly question is that?” Derek’s silence told her that he didn’t think it was silly at all. “Isn’t that why you’re wrestling? So you can get a scholarship?”
He turned away from her with a dismissive laugh.
“What about being educated?” she continued. “Don’t you want a career? You have the grades and scores for it. Maybe you can do something great, like be a scientist or an engineer or something.”
“Why can’t you do something great without going to college?”
“You mean teaching yourself?”
“You would have no degree. No one would hire you. How would you make money?”
“Money? Is that what it’s all about to you?” he asked. “Isn’t there something more?”
It was an automatic question. From Derek’s reaction, however, she instantly regretted asking it. His face seemed to relax as he suddenly lost patience with her. “Like what,” he scoffed as he pulled his knees up against the seatback in front of him and hunkered down. He seemed completely done talking with her.
Caroline suddenly wanted anything but.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?” she asked. “Don’t you care about your future?” As she listened to herself, she realized how desperate she was sounding. Was it his future she was worried about? Or hers?
“Whatever, Caroline,” he said as he got comfortable, preparing to ignore her for the rest of the route. “You’re just like all the others. I hope you and all your snooty friends graduate college and marry millionaires.”
Caroline blinked several times, as if this could shake away the unreality of what was happening. Was Derek going to cut her off her as well? After all that she had sacrificed on his behalf? And who was he to dump her, anyway? He was a pariah at school now, too. He was lucky to have anyone take his side for anything! It was as if she suddenly faced an emotional fork in the road. Either she would allow herself to be swallowed up by sadness and self-pity or she would take a new, righteous path. Caroline felt her anger at Derek begin to boil.
As the bus slowed for its next stop, her stop, she turned and gave him the witheringest glare she could possibly muster.
It took him a moment to notice. “What?” he asked petulantly, as if she owed him an explanation.
She narrowed her eyes to make her glare even more withering. He finally realized that she meant it. “All right, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry!”
As the bus squeaked to a halt, she decided she would forgive him, but not right away. He was going to feel it the way she had been feeling it all day.
“This is my stop,” she said. “Move, please.”
“Look, I didn’t mean to—”
“I said move, please,” she said, now enjoying the uneasy look on his face. Students were filing past him in the aisle, and he didn’t want to make a bigger scene than he already had. Caroline could hear people giggling and whispering. “Let them giggle,” she thought. “Let them whisper.”
Derek sighed and moved his legs aside to let her pass.
Caroline was the last person to leave the bus, and hopped off with both feet. Her stop was at an intersection in her leafy-green neighborhood. In the area they had just passed, the homes were newer and fancier, with archways, color schemes, stone facades, and three-car garages. But deeper in the neighborhood, the homes became older and less uniform. Still nice, but more basic and wooden, and less suitable for Internet realtor pages. Caroline’s house was a grungy, white, two-story colonial at the end of a nearby cul-de-sac. It had been built over 40 years ago. She lived there with her mother Joan and younger sister Beth. With many of the original fixtures still in place, she felt its age in nearly every room and was secretly embarrassed to call the place her home.
The night air gave her an invigorating lift. It also gave her something to think about other than the recent events that had just capsized her life. It lasted a few moments, after which she knew she would have to face her mother. Should she tell her? They were not as close as they had once been, before the divorce. Although they were still quite civil to each other, things had recently gotten somewhat awkward between them—and Caroline couldn’t explain why. This worried her, of course, but with so many new worries now jumbling her thoughts, she had no choice but to force her less pressing issues with her mother into the back of her mind.
Brake squeaks from the bus two blocks away caused her to turn. Someone leaped out, but through the haze she couldn’t see who it was. It was a tall, masculine figure. He was running towards her. It was Derek. She took a deep, exhilarating breath and told herself not to smile. Not yet. She had to resist the urge to hop on her toes as well.
He practically skidded to a halt in front of her. After such an exertion, she expected him to be out of breath, but he wasn’t. There were no streetlights in her neighborhood, but she could grasp his quicksilver outline from nearby garage floodlights. What she couldn’t see in his face, she imagined she could see.
“I just want to say that I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said. “You’re not like everybody else. I shouldn’t have said that.”
She stepped towards him, pointing a finger and hoping not to pour it on too thick. She was grateful that he didn’t step back. “You have no idea what I went through because of you!” she said. “I defended you! In public! And then—”
“And then that black girl you were friends with got mad and told everyone in school to unfollow you on social media.” He had interrupted her, but there was nothing smug about it. He actually seemed sympathetic.
Caroline felt her body sink in shock. “You knew?”
“Actually, I didn’t,” he explained. “I’m not on social media. I just overheard a couple girls talking about it as soon as you got off the bus. That’s when I realized . . .” He let his hand fall, leaving the rest unsaid.
She felt herself beginning to relax. Surprisingly, she found herself becoming more annoyed than hurt that people were already gossiping about her. “I’m sure everyone will be talking about it tomorrow,” she said. She then chuckled at a joke before telling it. “Just not to me.”
Derek chuckled along with her. “Wanna hear something else that will cheer you up?”
“You don’t have it nearly as bad as I do. You’re in trouble with your friends. I’m in trouble with the school.”
Caroline nodded in sympathy. “I heard about your meeting with Mitwidder.”
“It’s worse than that, actually.”
“Yeah. Wanna hear what really happened to my eye?”
“Oh, no!” Caroline had to resist the urge to put her hands on him like a nurse. She peered through the dark, but could barely make out the swelling and discoloration around his right eye.
“So there’s this Muslim kid from Iraq in my weight class,” he began. “Abdul Hassan.”
“I know him. Isn’t he a sophomore?”
“Yeah. He’s decent. But today during wrestle-offs to see who’ll go to the Westland preseason tournament, he starts digging his fist into my ribs. It was second period and he had top position, and he kept doing it, practically punching me. I complained to the coaches, and they kept saying, ‘Keep wrestling! Keep wrestling!’ Then, next period when I had him in a front headlock, he starts throwing punches, claiming that I was trying to choke him. I was beating him ten to two with, like, 30 seconds on the clock. Why would I try to choke him? And then, after everyone broke us apart, he cold cocks me in the face. That’s how I got this shiner.”
“What a jerk.”
“That’s nothing,” Derek went on, now getting angry. “He claimed that I said racial slurs against him during the match. In front of the whole team! Nobody heard me say anything! The room was silent, and yet he lies to everyone, calling me a racist and a redneck and whatever.”
“Calling someone a redneck is racist, too.”
Derek smiled sarcastically. “Yeah! You’d think someone would have figured that out by now.” Caroline nodded in sympathy, assuming his story was over. It wasn’t. “And then, after practice, coach calls me in to his office and tells me I’m not going to Westland.”
Caroline gasped. “No!”
“Yeah. He said he could not justify having a ‘racist’ representing the school. And so now Hassan will be going in my place. My assistant coach told me later, in secret, that Mitwidder had pressured coach into not just pulling me from Westland, but cutting me from the team altogether.”
“Oh, my God.”
“And you know what? He didn’t have to. I quit.”
“I went back into coach’s office and told him to eff off. I’m not on the team anymore.”
Caroline clamped her jaw shut in indignation. She felt herself becoming hard. Hard in anger. Her right hand had been clenched in a fist for several moments before she realized it.
Derek jammed his thumb into his chest. “I took third place at states last year! As a sophomore. I lost to the runner-up in the semis by one point in overtime. I walk around at 220 pounds and have to cut to 190. You know how difficult that is?”
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Derek,” Caroline said.
“My father dies in Iraq, fighting the Muslims who murdered Americans on 9/11. And who do I get replaced with? A Muslim from Iraq who punches me and calls me a redneck. And I’m the racist. I’m the one who gets in trouble!”
Derek hung his head, more exhausted from his tirade than from his sprint towards Caroline moments ago. A vibration in Caroline’s back pocket made her jump. Her phone. Someone had just texted her. She pulled the phone from her pocket and saw it was from her mother. She could track her location and wanted to know why she was standing at the bus stop instead of coming home.
Caroline looked up to Derek. “I have to go.”
“This isn’t your stop. How are you getting home?”
He shrugged. “I live a couple miles away. Not far.”
“My mom can give you a ride.”
“I’ll jog it. It’ll help clear my head.”
“See you,” she said with a little wave. She took a step back, still facing him.
“Okay, see you.”
“We’ll come up with a new idea for the project,” she said, taking another step back.
Caroline smiled with another wave, and watched Derek turn away and start jogging down the street with his backpack slung over one shoulder.
She shook her head. She could not let it end like this. What if he were to run away? What if she never saw him again? What would her adult self think of that? She felt the grit of defiance returning. If Derek could defy the entire school, she could defy a few more social conventions, couldn’t she?
“Derek!” she shouted. She was sprinting hard after him. She would catch up to him in a moment. He stopped. He turned towards her. She rushed at him like she was about to tackle him and then stopped. She was out of breath, and her hair was falling in her face, and she probably looked like a childish mess, but she didn’t care. It was dark, and she didn’t care.
She grabbed the front of Derek’s vest and pulled him in close for a sweet, soft, agonizingly short kiss on the lips. She stood on her tiptoes and put all the love she had into it. Nothing had ever felt so right in her life.
Before Derek could kiss her back or put his arms around her, she turned and fled towards home, smiling as wide as she could and spilling tears into the night.
* * *
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