"You were what?"

"They called me into the office," fifteen-year old Keiji Amano said, cradling the receiver against his shoulder. He sat on his bed in his room, which, in the fine tradition of school-aged males everywhere, looked as if a tornado had hit it. Posters of alternative and heavy metal groups were taped crookedly to the walls. Most of the clothing that lay in heaps and whorls on the floor was black. The boy himself had two piercings in one ear and three in the other, and his hair was a freshly-dyed dark blue that stood in spikes away from his head. "They asked me a bunch of weird questions and told me that they'd be keeping an eye on me, so I shouldn't do any funny stuff."

"What for?" asked the voice on the phone. It was the voice of Keiji's older sister, Alicia, who attended Cal Poly Pomona. "I mean, it's not like you've ever done anything wrong--"

"Yeah." Keiji fiddled with his spiked wristband. "I think it's probably, y'know."

There was a brief silence on the other end of the line. Then Alicia spoke again. "Because of Columbine? Yeah, sounds like it." Her voice grew a little bit angry. "That's shit, though. Those kids did what they did because they felt alienated. What your school is doing is exactly the same thing--they're just picking on the kids that look or dress different."

Keiji nodded, although he knew his sister couldn't see him. "A lot of my friends were called in, too. We're pretty pissed about it."

"You should do something, Keiji. They shouldn't be doing this. They're just making things worse."

"Yeah, but what can I do?" Keiji said, clearing some room on his bed so that he could lie down. This was accomplished mostly by broad sweeps of his free hand, dumping CDs, crumpled packages, and dirty clothing on the floor.

"Protest or something. Like they did in Vietnam."

Keiji snorted. "Yeah, right. The administration would haul us to the office so fast you'd think we were going at light speed. They're all a bunch of tightasses."

"That's the point--to get them to stop being tightasses over this," Alicia retorted. "They're sitting on a powder keg and they don't even know it."

"Yeah, that's their problem, not mine," Keiji said, staring at the ceiling. "It'll be their asses in the fire. It's not worth it."

"It's always worth it."

"You don't get it," Keiji sighed. "We had this assembly today. We all sat in the gym and listened to the principal talk about how they were making sure we were safe and crap, and then he said that if any of us saw someone doing something weird, then we should tell. And if they saw anyone doing something weird, they were gonna 'take action first and ask questions later'. They might put in cameras. And metal detectors."

Horrified silence on the line. "That's awful," Alicia said. " I mean, I'd see why they'd have metal detectors and cameras at Lincoln or something, but at Jefferson--you definitely need to do something, otherwise this is just going to get worse. You said your friends are mad too, right?"

"Yeah." Keiji stuffed his free hand in his pocket. "But there's nothing we can do, y'know? Matt's already been suspended."

"What? Matt? What for?"

"He was doing a countdown to his birthday. But he didn't say it was for his birthday, y'know, so they got all freaked out and sent him home. He can't come back until Monday."

More stunned silence. Keiji thought he could get to enjoy this. Then, finally, some sputtering. "I can't believe you're just going to sit there and take this! This is outrageous!"

Keiji shrugged. "Matt doesn't mind. He gets to sleep in now."

Alicia made some sort of derisive sound. "Look, Keiji, you live in the US. You've got rights, and one of them is free speech. You can't let them do this to you."

"Yeah? And what am I supposed to do about it?"

---

"Mr. Amano," Mr. Underwood said gruffly, "why are you wearing that?"

"What, this?" Keiji plucked at the black armband around his biceps. Then he shrugged in a nonchalant manner familiar to high school students everywhere. "We're protesting."

Mr. Underwood's thin face became, if possible, even more drawn, his lips pressed so tightly together that they became a thin white line. Keiji, at 5'8", was not short, but Mr. Underwood had a few inches on him, and right now the assistant principal seemed to absolutely tower.. But Keiji stood his ground, backpack slung carelessly over one shoulder, looking Mr. Underwood squarely in the eye.

"That, sir," Mr. Underwood said, "is not appropriate. I'll have to ask you to take it off."

"Why?" Keiji said. He felt compelled to take a step backwards, but he stood firm. "It's not against the rules or anything."

"Mr. Amano," Mr. Underwood said warningly, extending a hand for the armband. "Now. Or I'll be forced to take disciplinary action."

"Go ahead," Keiji said, with more confidence than he felt. "Give me detention or whatever."

Mr. Underwood said nothing. Then his jaw tightened and he spun around quickly. Keiji was left with a sense of foreboding.

Sure enough, about half an hour later, Keiji found himself pulled from Chemistry and sitting in an assistant principal's office. Not Mr. Underwood's, thankfully, but Mr. Richter's. Keiji sat up somewhat straight for once, instead of slouching. He knew what he must look like to Mr. Richter, with his pierced ears and colored hair and baggy clothing. Mr. Richter, like all the other administrators, always looked as if he were going to or coming from church.

Mr. Richter cleared his throat, as if Keiji hadn't already been paying attention. "Mr. Amano," he said, "what seems to be the problem here?" He gestured to the black armband around Keiji's arm, almost swallowed up in his black t-shirt. "Mr. Underwood and Ms. Stewart have already confiscated a few from your classmates--do you care to explain what's going on?"

Keiji felt slightly betrayed. His friends had promised that they wouldn't let the administration take their armbands away from them, but it looked like a few of them had caved. "It's like a protest," he muttered.

"Like a protest?" Mr. Richter repeated, as if he didn't think he'd heard correctly.

"It's about Columbine," Keiji said defensively. "We're sick of being treated like we've done something wrong, even though we haven't. So I talked to my sister and she said we could wear armbands. To protest. Like during the Vietnam War. And we wanted to show that we're--y'know. We're sad, too. About all those kids who died. You're not the only ones who're scared."

Mr. Richter had his hands folded on his desk and gave Keiji what was probably supposed to be a kind, understanding look. Keiji loathed that look. He hated it when adults were condescending. "So you think this is as serious as a war, Mr. Amano?"

"N--no," Keiji said. "But we're just--we're sick of it, y'know? Being treated like criminals. Me and my friends, we're being looked down on, just 'cause we dress different."

"If you're referring to how certain individuals were called in earlier this week, you must understand that--"

"Yeah, I know," Keiji interrupted him, aware he was being rude but not caring. "You called Jeremy in first because he always wears trench coats. But he didn't even wear his trench that week because of what happened--he told us he wasn't gonna wear his trench for a whole month--"

"We're just trying to make sure that everyone is safe," Mr. Richter said calmly. "We're not trying to single anyone out. It's just that, well, we think that the kids more likely to show signs of--"

"That's bullshit!" Keiji exploded.

"Mr. Amano!" Mr. Richter thundered. Keiji fell silent; he'd never heard Mr. Richter raise his voice like that before. "That will be enough, Mr. Amano. Trust the administration to know what it's doing. You may wear the armband for the rest of the day, but if I see you--or anyone else--wearing them tomorrow, you will be suspended without delay. Go back to class." He thrust out an arm with a yellow hall pass at the end of it. Keiji took it dumbly and passed through the rest of the day in a state of dreaming.

---

"You're at findlaw.com?" said Alicia's voice.

"Yeah." Keiji sat in front of his computer, the now-familiar receiver cradled against his shoulder.

"Type in 'Tinker vs Des Moines.'"

"vs what?"

"Des Moines. D-E-S--"

"I can spell it," Keiji said, annoyed.

"Found it?"

"Yeah. It's loading. Yeah, okay, here, I got it."

"Good. Now, in Tinker vs. Des Moines, some kids wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. They were suspended, and one of the dads sued the school district because they suspended his kid for reasons that violated the First Amendment."

"Uh huh." Keiji's eyes flickered back and forth as he skimmed the text on the screen. It was really long, and he didn't understand a lot of it--but he thought he understood most of it.

"They took it to court, and at first the court ruled in favor of the school. So they took it to the Supreme Court, and they decided that the school district was wrong."

"Cool."

"So this means that it's totally within your rights to wear armbands at school. Your administrators should know that. But I think you should print that out, just in case."

"Are you kidding?" Keiji protested. "It's like a million pages long."

"Well, see if you can find a summary and print that out, anyway," Alicia said. "Did you make more armbands?"

"Yeah. I'm gonna take a whole bunch to school in case they get taken away again."

"Good job."

"You'd better buy me a new shirt," Keiji muttered.

#

At school the next day, however, Keiji saw a lot more black armbands than he expected. Not just his friends were wearing them, but acquaintances, too. He thought he saw around fifteen people wearing armbands as opposed to the handful the day before. Keiji sat in second period in a vaguely pleased daze. He hadn't expected this to go over so well. Accompanying that proud feeling, though, was a sensation of dread. This wasn't going to last.

Sure enough, during second period, he received another call slip.

Mr. Richter looked very stern as Keiji entered his office and sat not-so-meekly in a chair. "Mr. Amano," he said, "I'm severely disappointed in you. Not only have you flouted the rules--"

"There's nothing in the rules about armbands," Keiji interjected. And it was true. He'd checked, at Alicia's behest.

"--you've encouraged other students to flout them as well," Mr. Richter went on. He gestured to a pile of something on his desk. Armbands, Keiji realized. Some of them had been made of black socks, and there was one in there that looked like a strip of construction paper, safety-pinned together.
"I didn't do that," Keiji said. "Yeah, my friends and I did yesterday, but I didn't tell anyone else to do it."

Mr. Richter sighed. "Mr. Amano--Keiji--you have an excellent record. You get good grades. I hardly hear anything bad about you from the teachers or the administration. You've never even been given detention. Do you really want a suspension on your record?"

"No," Keiji said truthfully. "But before you suspend me, take a look at this."

Keiji thought he saw Mr. Richter's knuckles turn white with tension on his desktop. He probably thought Keiji was going to pull a gun on him. But instead, all that came out of Keiji's backpack was a thick packet with "Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District" in big fat letters across the top. He watched Mr. Richter's brow furrow.

"It's a Supreme Court case," Keiji said helpfully. "From--"

"I know what it is," Mr. Richter said, waving a hand. "Two-day suspension, Mr. Amano. I'll call someone to pick you up." He was still frowning as he picked up the phone and dialed one of the secretaries outside. "Hello? Mrs. Reible? Call someone to pick up Keiji Amano, will you? Thank you."

---

"He suspended you?"

Keiji didn't think Alicia's voice could possibly get any more shocked. "Yeah."

"Even after you showed him the Tinker case?"

"Well, he didn't read it right there," Keiji said, sprawled on the couch. Thank God for cordless phones. "It's pretty long, y'know. But it looked like he knew what it was."

"He knew what it was, and he still suspended you?"

"Yeah."

"Do you know if anyone else was suspended?"

"Dunno. I don't think so."

"What about Mom and Dad?"

"Mom's pretty pissed. Dad's okay. I think he's mad at the school. He might call and yell at them."

"Good," Alicia said approvingly. "Maybe I should do some yelling myself."

Keiji groaned. "Don't make this any worse, okay? I'm lucky I only got suspended for two days."

"You shouldn't have been suspended at all!"

"Yeah, whatever," Keiji said. The doorbell rang. He glanced at the clock. "Hey, someone's at the door. S'probably Jeremy."

Jeremy was a big, stocky guy, with a round, cheerful face and curly brown hair. Though he and Keiji were close friends, Jeremy's only concession to Keiji's "punk" style was his trademark black trench coat, which he wasn't wearing today. He did, however, have a strip of black cloth wound around his right arm. "Dude, you missed it!" he said gleefully.

"What, what'd I miss?" Keiji queried, stepping out of the way so that Jeremy could get in. He closed and locked the door as Jeremy dropped his backpack on the floor.

"It was great," Jeremy snickered. "See, Myra Boyle was in the office and she heard you got suspended, and she told everyone--"

"No way. Myra doesn't even like me."

"Well, she's on your side now," Jeremy crowed. "And everyone started putting on armbands. Didn't even care if they were black or not. People used fuckin' notebook paper."

"No way." Keiji found that he suddenly possessed a complete inability to say anything else. "No way!"

"Keiji!" called a voice from the kitchen that could only have belonged to an annoyed mother. "Are you and your friend going to stand in the doorway and talk all day?"

"All right, Mom!" Keiji yelled. "I'm taking him to my room!" He lowered his voice as they climbed the stairs. "She's mad 'cause I got suspended."

"Why?"

"Oh, y'know. She's just mad that I got kicked out. So what else?"

"Nothin', really," Jeremy said, following Keiji as he led them down the hallway to his room. "No one else got suspended. I guess the big guys figured they couldn't suspend everyone, since like half the school was wearing 'em."

"That's so dope." Keiji grinned madly as he picked his way across his room to his computer chair. "Hey man, sit wherever you want."

Jeremy took the bed. "So what're you gonna do?"

"I dunno. I'm suspended; not like I can go to school."

"I bet they're gonna take it back," Jeremy predicted.

Keiji rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right."

"Hey, you never know."

---

The next morning, Keiji found himself rudely shaken awake by his mother. "Wh--whu?"

"Get up," she said. "You're going to be late."

"Late--wha? I'm not going to school."

"Yes, you are. The school called and said you're no longer suspended. Now get up."

Keiji sat up, blinking sleepily. It was way too early in the morning for this. "I'm not--wha?"

"You're no longer suspended. What are you waiting for, get up!"

Keiji managed to get himself out of bed and dressed, although he had no idea what was going on. He hardly had time to make sure he had extra armbands in his backpack before he was whisked into the car and shuttled off to school. His mother, who disliked driving, offered no conversation.

"Have a good day!" she called as Keiji tumbled out of the car. "Don't get in trouble!"

Ha, Keiji thought as he watched the car pull out of the parking lot. That's funny.

He turned around and gaped.

It was passing period, and he realized that Jeremy hadn't been exaggerating; it really did look like half the school was wearing armbands. There were armbands of every shape, size, and color; he saw them made out of rags, socks, and construction paper. For a moment, Keiji completely forgot that he was at school, and that he was supposed to be on his way to third period. This was insane. There was no way this could be happening.

"Hey!" someone said, and he recognized Myra Boyle, the girl who'd supposedly been in the office and overheard his suspension. She wasn't really pretty or anything, but she was good-looking, with wavy brown hair and hazel eyes. He didn't know her very well. "I thought you were suspended!"

"Yeah, me too," he said. "I guess they changed their minds."

"That's cool!" She flashed him a smile. "That was really brave of you. I don't think anyone liked what they were doing, but everyone was just too scared to do anything about it."

"I--I dunno. I didn't really think about it."

"Well, it was brave of you, anyway," she said, patting him on the shoulder.
"Okay, I gotta run, or I'm gonna be late to class. Bye!"

"Bye." Keiji raised a hand in a vague gesture of farewell, but Myra's back was already to him. Then he remembered that he was supposed to be in World History, and he made his way to class.

Throughout the day, a few more kids came up to him with varying forms of congratulations and thank you's, as if he'd accomplished something great. It was embarrassing, and Keiji was almost relieved to be sitting in class, where he wasn't being pelted with compliments. At least the teachers still treated him the same.

During sixth period, though--the last class of the day--Keiji received another one of the dreaded call slips. He picked up his backpack and left the classroom with dread settling in a cold lump in his stomach. He knew it; this had to be a mistake of some sort. They hadn't actually "won" anything; the administration was just planning its next move.

When he got into Mr. Richter's room, though, the man actually smiled at him. Keiji sat warily. This had to be a trap.

"Welcome, Mr. Amano." Keiji realized that Mr. Richter was holding the copy of Tinker vs. Des Moines in his hands. "I have to say, you really did your homework."

"Y-yeah," Keiji stammered.

Mr. Richter set the paper down and sat back in his chair. "Well, it looks as if it is certainly within your rights to express your feelings. But simply because you disagree with our policies does not mean that we will change them."

"Right." Keiji felt as if he'd been hit over the head.

"However, we were wrong to suspend you. It's been taken off your record."

"Oh."

"And we have decided that you may all go on wearing armbands if you wish, although don't you think this is getting a bit outrageous?" Mr. Richter gave Keiji a look, as if to say, call off the dogs now, will you? As if Keiji had any sort of power over them.

"Yeah," Keiji agreed, and now he felt a little bit of the warm glow of triumph. "A little."



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