Learn With Me

an excerpt




New Orleans, Louisiana - a little over a year ago



"Listen, Russ? I'm just going to go." Josiah "Siah" Kent couldn't believe he'd gotten himself into this position. He knew he should have never accepted a second date with Russ. But after his repeated asking, Siah had given in. Big fucking mistake on his part.

"No fucking way. You're with me. Think I didn't notice you checking out the guys at the pool table." Russ wasn't a huge guy but Siah knew he'd have no chance against him if he didn't talk himself out of this situation.

"Guys at the pool table? Look, you're having fun with your friends. I'm just going to head home and work on a paper I have due next week." Siah started to ease away from Russ and his friends.

"Don't fucking lie to me. You can do that paper in a day and we both know it, Mister I-love-to-learn-everything," Russ sneered. "You're just trying to leave to hook up with someone else."

How the hell can I get out of this? Christ, for someone so smart, I'm really dumb.

"Russ? How about you escort me down to the corner and I can catch a cab? That way you know I left alone," Siah suggested, hoping Russ would go for it. Being with Russ and his friends, when they were all pushing being drunk at Lafitte's, wasn't Siah's idea of a good time.

Russ turned and said something to one of his friends that Siah didn't hear. Since he was distracted, Siah decided to try and walk away quietly. Moving slowly, Siah slid toward the open balcony door before Russ turned around and grabbed him by the arm.

"I said you weren't going anywhere," Russ commanded.

"I've had enough. I'm leaving." Siah turned around and before he knew it, Russ had spun him back around and smacked him upside the head. The hit didn't knock him to the ground but it sure made his head spin. Next thing Siah saw, stunned him. A military-looking guy moved up behind Russ and tapped him on the shoulder. When Russ turned, the guy knocked him out with one punch.

"I hate when guys pick on someone smaller than them. Are you okay?" the guy asked.

Before Siah could answer, Russ' friends were between Siah and the guy and one of them pushed him. The guy hit the railing and flipped, grabbing hold so he didn't fall. Everyone moved toward the guy. Siah looked over and saw a cell phone where the guy had been sitting. He grabbed it and ran.

As he was running down the stairs and out the door, Siah's inner dialogue started up. Oh my God. I can't believe that just happened. What am I going to do? I can't go home right now. Russ would be there looking for me. Maybe I should go to a hotel. Or maybe... Siah caught sight of a bus. I'll take a bus to...somewhere.

A little while later, Siah was on a bus to Texas. He'd bought a ticket on the first bus out of the Quarter. His savior's cell phone rang a few hours into the trip.

"Hello?"

Siah woke as his head hit the table in the library. When was he going to stop remembering that night? It'd been a few months and he still was looking over his shoulder for Russ to show up. Something had to change. He couldn't go on like this. He still had a few months before he graduated and could leave New Orleans.

"The library is closing in ten minutes. Please pack up and exit the building," a disembodied voice announced over the speakers.

After gathering his things, Siah started to leave the library tripping over something, scattering the books in his arms. Looking down, he didn't see anything in his path. Great, now not only am I scared of my own shadow, I'm tripping over air. Siah knelt to gather the books and papers. As he stood up, he noticed a flyer on the community bulletin board.



Are you afraid of your own shadow? Think that you'll always be a target? Want to learn how to defend yourself?

If you answered ‘yes' to any or all of those questions, then Defend might be for you. It's martial arts that focuses on real world self-defense and not just competition.



Maybe Karma was telling him something and he wasn't just being a klutz. Siah pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down the information. He wasn't going to be scared any more.



Chapter One

Washington DC - three years later



Siah was trying to set a good example for the kids in his class by sitting still while waiting for the Changing of the Guard ceremony to begin but it was hard. He really wished that now he was in his mid-twenties all the energy he'd always had was controllable. Training in jiu-jitsu for the past three years had helped but sometimes it still got away from him, showing up today as his leg bouncing.

As he sat there, he kept a close eye on a few of his students. He really didn't think they'd be disrespectful but there was always a chance--they were only eleven and twelve. His "terrible twosome" wouldn't be any problems at all today, he was sure of that; their dad was in the military so they had more respect than the normal sixth graders.

Today's trip to Arlington National Cemetery was the first big field trip he'd planned. After teaching sixth grade for two years, he'd finally gotten approval to add to the curriculum. The history surrounding the area was amazing; there wasn't a weekend that went by that didn't have him touring something and the continuing education he could do on summer vacation... yeah, he'd made the right decision moving away from his family when he was offered the job in Virginia.

Just as the kids started to wiggle, Siah saw the relief commander and the new guard approaching the mat. He'd spent almost a week teaching his students all about the whys and the whos of the cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They had a hard time understanding why the bodies weren't identified but they thought the ceremony "sounded cool". As the replacement guard started shadowing the current guard, the audience stood. Siah was very proud of his students, they were standing quietly, not shoving at each other, just watching.

Someone from behind Siah starting talking and the guards immediately froze in place. Siah stood there and his eyes closed in a silent prayer of thanks it wasn't his kids that had caused the interruption.

"It is requested that everyone maintains a level of silence and respect," the commander called out. The audience returned to silence and the ceremony continued. Once the guard had changed and there was only one guard pacing before the Tomb, the audience started to clear out.

"Students, stay where you are. Let the others leave the area first," Siah said, quietly. Siah watched as the other chaperones helped keep the students in place. Once a majority of the people had left, he motioned to the tour guide and the chaperones to have everyone move.

"Next on the tour, we're going to visit some of the more well-known graves in the cemetery," the tour guide said as they left the Tomb area.

Siah was walking at the back of the group to catch any stragglers; Lord knows that boys at this age could find trouble sitting in a cathedral. Just as he was about satisfied everyone was where they were supposed to be, he realized that his twosome wasn't here. He wasn't going to panic. His principal was going to kill him, if there was anything left of him when the twins' father got done with him. And the way the boys talked they had some protective uncles too. He was so dead and then--

He cut off his mental rant and started to search the surrounding crowd. Just as he was about to really panic, he saw the boys about a hundred feet away looking at a paper in their hands. Siah motioned to the tour guide to stop and moved swiftly toward the boys. When he got to them, before he could say anything, they started talking.

"We're sorry..." Siah thought it was Cal that started.

"Mister Kent. But we heard..." Yup, he was right he figured out as Cam continued.

"our parents talking the other night..."

"and one of the soldiers that..." As Siah listened back and forth as the twins finished each other's sentence; he realized he really needed to send his mother flowers if he'd been anything like these two when he was a boy.

"used to come eat at our house..."

"in Texas died..."

"and he's here..."

"and we need to pay our..."

"respects," they finished together and held out their hands. When Siah looked down, lying on each of their palms was a penny.

"Boys, I understand you want to honor the soldier, but you can't just walk off. How were you even going to find his grave?"

"We know his name..."

"his name is like yours..."

"Peter Parker. He's a super hero," Cal announced.

"'cuz he died serving our country." Cam nodded his head as he said this.

Siah was choked up at the statement. How was he going to say no at this point? He motioned the tour guide over to the side and asked, "Is it possible to make a stop at a grave that's not on your normal tour? These two..." He nodded at the twins, "know a soldier that's been interned here and they would like to pay their respects." The twins held out their hands to him, showing him their pennies.

The guide stood there for a minute before nodding. "I think it would be good for the other students and chaperones to learn the military tradition. Boys, do you know the soldier's name and where he is?"

"His name is Peter Parker..."

"and he hasn't been here..."

"long."

Siah took pity on the guide and interrupted. "The soldier would be buried in one of the newer graves as the boys just heard their parents talking about it. Their father is in the Army if that helps."

"Okay, give me a minute to see if I can locate his grave and we'll walk over there." The guide moved over and pulled out his cell.

"Students? Parents? Why don't we move over into the shade for a minute? Cal and Cam know someone buried here recently and we're going to try and go pay respects to the fallen soldier."

"He's a hero," Cal said, and was then surrounded by kids wanting to hear about the hero.

It took a few minutes but soon they were off to the section of new graves to pay respect. The guide was walking at the front and started explaining why the twins had pennies.

"It is a military tradition to leave coins on headstones when visiting the graves of those who gave their life while serving in America's military. These coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones and these meanings vary depending on the denomination. Any coin left on a headstone or at the gravesite is meant as a message to the deceased soldier's family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited. A nickel indicates you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with them in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family you were with the soldier when they were killed."

"Cal and Cam have pennies, so what does it mean?" Siah asked the class. He watched as some hands went up and he pointed at Carmen, a quiet girl who didn't volunteer much.

"It means they visited and knew the soldier," she said quietly.

"Correct. The boys said that the soldier had dinner at their house when they lived in Texas." Siah filled in. He saw the guide point to a newer headstone and nod. "Okay, everyone wait here while I take Cal and Cam over. Let's go, guys."

The twins walked on either side of Siah as they approached the row of headstones. They stepped gently on the grass and finally stopped in front of one of the stones. The boys moved closer to the grave and each knelt down in front of it. They lowered their heads and Siah could tell they were talking to it but he couldn't hear what they said then he watched as they kissed the pennies and placed them on top before standing.

Siah was blinking quickly as his eyes filled with tears. He'd always figured the life of a military child wasn't the easiest and this just proved he really didn't understand it all. Maybe this was something he needed some training on if he was going to-- he cut himself off. A thought for another time.

"Are you two okay?" he asked the boys as they got back to him. For once, neither of them had anything to say. They just nodded and started back to the group. Siah was going to need to talk to their parents before the weekend and let them know about the side visit.

****