It’s like the chill has come from outside and into the school hallway itself as well. I can’t help but pull my hoodie over my head to cover my ears. Not just against the cold bite in the air, but also against the voices whispering behind hands to one another around me in the hall. I know they are talking to me. I can feel it actually. It makes me sick to know that they all know as well.
“Cory Anderson to the principal’s office please. Cory Anderson.”
The intercom is louder than it usually is. I swear they have pushed up the volume just in order to get my name over the intercom.
“I’m coming,” I mumble to no one in particular as I make my way down the hall toward the offices.
“Cory,” I hear my name from right beside me, but I keep on walking, not daring to look at Patrick who seems to be walking right next to me. The last thing I want is to talk to him.
“Cory, please just stop for a second,” he says again, and this time I do. I stop and I turn to look at him, aware that every single eye in the hallways is on us.
“Yes?” I ask not trusting myself to say anything more. The weight on my chest is already almost too heavy for me to handle, and anything out of my mouth might be enough to make me cry at this point. I have been humiliated enough already. If I start crying in front of everybody at school I might as well leave the school and the city. Fuck… I might as well die on the spot.
“Can you meet me at Bookstairs after school please?” Patrick says and I almost want to smile because of how stupid he can be.
“Sure. You might have to wait there a while, since obviously I will be walking. Might even work in a basin bath in the public bathroom before I meet up with you,” I say sarcastically. I know the people standing closest to us can hear every single word, but I don’t care. Jaycee already made sure that I have nothing to hide anymore.
“Gosh Cory… Was that necessary? You can drive with me,” Patrick says shaking his head at me in pity. I know its pity because I can see it in his eyes. It’s that look that’s almost laced with tears, but not quite. It doesn’t truly say ‘poor you’ although that’s what they are trying their best to say. What it does actually means is; ‘I am so glad I am not in your shoes’, which doesn’t make it pity at all. It is actually them just feeling sorry that you can’t have the perfect life they have.
“I will meet you there,” I say as I turn around to walk away, but then I turn back and add; “I don’t need a lift and I do not need your pity.”
I walk away as fast as I can before Patrick has the chance to even say something in response. I don’t want to hear another lie. He has already shown his true colors to me. Those hours on his bed or his kitchen, making out and talking about mostly his life has all been for nothing. It meant nothing, because at the end of the day when he found out my biggest secret, that may I add had nothing to do with him in the first place, his rich-ass privileged self showed up and drove away leaving me on a parking lot in tears.
“Miss Hallow?” I ask when I reach the secretary desk.
She immediately looks up from her paperwork, and like always she smiles at me.
“Hi there Cory. I’m so sorry I had to call you over the intercom. It’s just that it’s one of those crazy days and I can’t seem to locate a roster for you so that I could come and call you in class time,” she says sticking out her hand to mine and brushing it.
Although Miss Hallow always smiles and always shows a little bit of affection to each and every student it has changed. She has the same look in her eyes that I just left Patrick with in the hallway.
“So you also know?” I ask ignoring her little fib about a roster and the intercom.
“What do you mean?” she asks, her smile disappearing and a slight look of fake shock going over her face. Well, maybe it’s not fake. Maybe it’s just because she didn’t expect me to confront her.
“That I’m homeless,” I say keeping my face as blank from emotion as possible. “That’s why Mr. Watson wants to see me right?”
Miss Hallow looks like she might burst out in tears any moment.
“Oh Cory… I am so very sorry about all of this. If only I had known… I have been feeling so guilty for giving you the look after you were here at the office just the other day. You looked so tired and hungry and I didn’t do a single thing about it at all. I hardly slept a wink last night,” she says grabbing onto my hand from her side of the desk and holding on to it tightly. “You should please know that I am here and I will do anything to help you in your situation.”
“Do you have an extra room for my mom, me and my little sister?” I ask not even expecting her to answer as her mouth falls open. She surely didn’t expect me to answer at all. Just like when Mr. Graham asked and my instincts was not to say anything to him or accept his offer, this time I did, and I was right all along. People don’t truly want to help. They just offer to make themselves feel better. And the ones who do actually help will only do so if it does not affect their lifestyle at all.
“I… Well… See… I live in an apartment… and…” she begins. I can see her trying to find some story in her mind, trying to make up some plausible excuse somehow.
“It’s okay Miss Hallow. It doesn’t matter,” I answer just as Mr. Watson’s door opens and I have to keep myself from smiling at myself for what I have just done.
“Cory,” he says. “I’m so glad you’re here. Why don’t you come in? I have a little something to discuss with you.”
I turn my head back to Miss Hallow and smile my brightest smile at her. The one that makes me look like a real little trooper, and maybe make her feel just a little guilty inside.
“Hi Mr. Watson,” I say as I follow him through the door and into the office, taking the same seat as last time without being offered it, leaving him to close the door and take his seat next to me like he always does when he talks to students.
“Cory… Is there anything that you would like to talk about?” Mr. Watson says, crossing his legs and putting each arm on a separate armrest. I know what he’s trying to do. I read once that psychologists never cross their arms in front of a client. They keep their body language open into tricking you to be open to them. They think it makes them accessible. I don’t think it does. It makes them look a little uncomfortable actually.
“No,” I say clearly, trying to keep my voice under control.
“Are you sure Cory? There’s been some rumors going around the school and a teacher as well as two students came to me expressing their worries about you,” Mr. Watson says. He tries his usually, I’m-here-for-you look, but I try my best to ignore it.
“Rumors are always going around this school,” I answer. “It’s not like it’s the first time. Some girls are called sluts in the hallways even though they are probably still virgins. Fat kids get called horrible names and everyone stands and watches, not knowing the real problems they might truly have at home. Kids whisper behind their hands that I might be homeless. It’s just rumors. I don’t care about things like that,” I say trying to keep eye contact. I also read somewhere that keeping eye contact makes you seem more in control of your emotions and that you can be trusted.
“So you are saying that you being homeless is just a rumor? That there’s no truth in it?” he asks, leaning back a little bit in his chair almost like he has accomplished something of note just because I spoke to him. “I would like to remind you that if this is only a rumor we have a no tolerance policy at this school. I will personally find out who started it and punish them.”
“What do you want from me Mr. Watson?” I ask. I know he’s not believing me and I would rather walk out of this office with some form of dignity still intact than sit here and be treated like some victim. “I know about lots of rumors about lots of students in this school and I have never heard you call them into your office. For instance, there’s a kid called Andy who hides in the drama class during breaks because rumor has it that he took naked photos of the jocks and now they want to beat him up. Alicia in my grade is pregnant and her mom doesn’t know yet, although the entire school is certain she will go for an abortion and that her boyfriend is actually not the father of the baby. Apparently Sandra allows boys to touch her breasts behind the bleachers if they give her five dollars. Those are also all rumors and I don’t see any of them sitting here beside me.”
I know I am getting cocky and that I may pay for it, but I can’t help it. I am upset. I am upset and mad at Jaycee, and I am hurt and sad over Patrick. Above all, I am mad at the world for the position that I am in and that there is an adult sitting an arm’s length away from me trying to extract information that could land me and my little sister in something worse than a car. Someone who has the power to call in the welfare and have us end up in the foster system, leaving my mom all alone in a car to fend for herself with nobody to take over a few hours from her to keep look out that nobody breaks into the car.
“Cory. I am just trying to help,” Mr. Watson says. He hasn’t moved. I am hoping that I have shocked him with all the true rumors going on in the school as well. Maybe it would take his attention away from me. I am sure I will feel guilty for ratting out all those kids later, but I don’t think they really give a damn about me at all and they are probably gossiping just as hard as the others. So this is just survival of the fittest.
“No Mr. Watson. You’re not. Does it even matter where I live? Whether it’s a house, or a motel, or even a car. Does it even matter? Have you had a look at my grades lately? My marks have gone up in maths, English, and science. I am really fine. Some kid has just started a rumor to break up me and the boy I told you about last time and it worked,” I say trying to choose every single word carefully to make sure I can walk out of this office without some welfare lady trailing after me when I leave the school grounds this afternoon. And Mr. Watson should be glad. My nights staying up late have made me study more out of pure boredom.
“So you know who started the rumor?” Mr. Watson says sitting forward and crossing his hands over his lap, doing what I am sure he is not supposed to do. Maybe it’s because he didn’t get the juicy details he wanted.
“Yeah…” I answer, looking away, fearing that he might see the name in my eyes even though I know it’s impossible.
“Would you mind telling me who it is?” Mr. Watson asks. “We do have that no tolerance policy.”
“No Sir. I’d like to have this one just ride itself out. If I tell you and you take action it would just call even more attention to myself,” I answer, and I really mean it. I have no idea how much information Jaycee actually does have. He might have enough information to sink me completely.
“Okay Cory. We can leave it at that, but please… Promise me that if there is ever anything wrong, here or at home you will come and tell me? I will do anything I can to help. You can trust me on that.”
He gives one of his award winning smiles and even though I might have found him a little bit hot in the past I look at him and I can’t believe he was dumb enough to buy my story. Maybe he knows, maybe he doesn’t, but he has sure accepted the fact that he won’t be getting much out of me at all.
“I promise. May I go now?” I ask, knowing that I am already late for my first period class that I have no intention of going to anymore.
“Sure Cory. Get Miss Willow to write you a hall pass,” he says standing up and dismissing me from his office.
When I get to Miss Willow she stands up from her seat and holds out a plastic lunch box to me.
“I know it’s not much but I would like to help where I can,” she says with a smile that shows her guilt for earlier.
“It’s fine Miss Willow. I’m not really homeless. It’s all just a rumor,” I say and walk away without the hall pass or the lunch which my body is craving so much after my mom revealed last week that we can’t afford more than one meal a day anymore.