“This is such a fucking waste of time.”
This was perhaps not the best way to open a conversation with the school social worker. I’d put her on the offensive; she leaned forward in her high-back swivel chair. The gold-embossed name plate on her desk read Emily S. Peterson, LSW.
I hadn’t met the woman before, but I had seen her in the hallways. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing a high-necked maroon-colored dress and a hammered gold necklace that looked like it might double as body-armor, if it were only slightly more substantial.
“Oliver, I called you to my office today because one of your friends is worried about you.” Her voice was deliberately pitched to be calming. It really pissed me off.
And I could guess exactly who my “worried friend” was—that timid snip of a sophomore in my art class. When I was getting rid of all my shit, I surprised her with practically my entire manga collection, since I knew she was into that sort of thing. She’d been shocked, thanking me profusely and asking me if I really meant it. I guess it was kind of shocking. We weren’t even friends.
“If this is about the books I gave her? Look it was either that or throw them away, which seemed like a total waste. They aren’t complete sets so it’s not like I could get any money for them.” I picked at my chipped fingernail polish. Navy blue. My favorite.
She went right on with her prepared remarks. “...Because some of your behaviors fit actions that people take when they are thinking about hurting themselves.”
I had succeeded in removing the polish entirely from my left thumbnail. “Yeah. Let me clear this up for you: I’m fine. Not depressed. Not interested in self-harm or anything more drastic.”
I leaned forward, putting an elbow on her desk. “Look, are we talking about skipping classes? I can clear up that issue for you right now: I don’t care about classes or grades at this point. I mean, what are they going to do? Expel me? Kick me out of school for not attending school? How does that even make sense? Besides, I’m not going to finish the year here so I can’t imagine whatever you have in your file matters all that much.”
“What makes you say that?” She was on the edge of her seat, like I’d left another mouthwatering clue to a mystery she was on the verge of solving.
“Jesus. I am not suicidal. Get it through your skull. Honestly, is that all you people ever think about? I mean, I get that teens are messed up but, for fuck’s sake…Look, the reason I won’t finish the year here is because I will be elsewhere. As in halfway across the globe. My dad’s being transferred.”
She started to say something, but I’d had enough of her crap. “You figure out what paperwork you need to do on our little meet and greet here. I’m out.”
I stood up, slung my backpack over one shoulder, and walked out the door. I could hear Ms. Peterson saying something, but she didn’t follow me.
My friend Maddie was waiting for me in the hallway. She had offered to come in with me, but I didn’t think I needed help to tell Ms. Peterson that her services would not be needed.
“Things go okay in there or do I need to crack some skulls?” Maddie pounded her one fist into her other hand. She was quite capable of cracking skulls.
Maddie was a half a head taller than me, and built like a swimmer—with arms anyone would envy. She kept her blond hair past her shoulders and wore dresses and skirts most of the time, but that couldn’t disguise the fact that she was not a dainty person. If she hadn’t been one of my closer friends she would probably have scared the crap out of me. I had scrawny chicken arms and bruised easily.
“Whose skull do you plan on cracking, exactly?” I asked.
Maddie shrugged. “Point me in the general direction. I’m always happy to oblige.” Her smile was disturbingly bloodthirsty.
“At ease, soldier. Peterson was only doing her due diligence.”
As frightening as she looked, I couldn’t imagine Maddie doing actual violence to anyone. She was remarkably even-tempered. But the mere threat of violence would be enough to scare anyone off.
Maddie nodded. “Alright then. Are you headed back to class?”
I looked up at the clock. There were still several hours to go. Several interminable hours of classes I wouldn’t even be completing. I couldn’t possibly interest myself in staying another minute. “Nah. I think I’m done for the day. Care to join me?” Maddie shook her head, her ponytail swinging from side to side. That wasn’t a surprise. In addition to being mildly intimidating physically, she was smart as hell and in line to be top ten of our graduating class. She never skipped school.
To be honest, I had never skipped classes before my dad announced we’d be moving. But once he told me I would not be completing my junior year at Westhaven High, staying for the entire day lost its appeal. And my manila folder with the counseling office had grown a lot thicker.
After Maddie left for class I walked down the long hallway lined with narrow, turquoise-colored lockers. I made my way to one of the side doors marked clearly in bright red lettering: “Do not open. Alarm will sound.” I had discovered early on in my recent delinquency that the alarm never sounded.
Pausing on the threshold I stared down at the poured concrete criss-crossed with dangerous-looking cracks. The overhead lighting was harsh, old-fashioned fluorescents. When they’d renovated the school they hadn’t touched the cramped corridors. Which leant a real prison-like feel to the school.
And I was making my escape.