2 - Wednesday
I’ve never really seen my parents argue. In fact, my entire life growing up, they were practically Ward and June Cleaver. Yet, the past few days, I’ve begun to hear them bickering through the walls. I can’t hear what’s being said, just their muffled words, sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher. They whisper a lot about something when they don’t think I’m around, and when they see me, they seem somewhat distant.
When I woke up, I came downstairs, walked into the kitchen, and there they were. They’d been talking about something, but stopped as soon as they heard me coming. As I entered, they both went rigid. Dad said he had to go mow the lawn and walked outside. Mom was doing dishes or something.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
She didn’t look at me, just stared out of the window. “Nothing.”
Reluctantly, she looked over.
She shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong, dear.”
“Don’t give me that crap. I’m not stupid. You guys have been doing this for a few days now: arguing when you think I’m not around. What are you hiding from me?”
She picked up her coffee cup, but just cradled it as if to warm her hands. She just shrugged. “It’s nothing for you to worry about right now, Connor.” I gave her a look that suggested I didn’t believe her. Because I didn’t. “I’ll tell you when it’s time, okay? I promise.” Her eyes began searching the room, as if looking for a place to hide, before they settled on the clock. “Aren’t you running late again?”
A sudden realization, followed by a rush of panic, threw me into a whirlwind, alternating between the kitchen and the living room. I threw my shoes on and grabbed a jacket.
“You really ought to start going to bed earlier, honey.” She turned back to the sink, but didn’t resume her dish work.
I stopped for a moment to consider her words, give the appearance I was actually listening. I watched her. She wasn’t a particularly old woman, just approaching fifty, but her face looked worn and aged. Probably had to do with whatever they’d been talking about. “I know, Mom. I ought to start doing my homework, too.”
“That’s not funny,” she said, her mouth hidden behind her coffee mug.
“It wasn’t supposed to be.”
I made it out the door with a cold poptart and a can of coke. The morning was chilled, but not very cold, and my car started right away. It was a ten minute drive to the school. Another two minutes to find a parking spot.
From my car, it was five minutes to my locker. Two minutes to class, leaving another two minutes to spare. I collapsed into my seat, opened my pop, and took a long drag of caffeine.
“I thought you’d be late for the test,” Jake whispered over. He sat to my right. We were midway back. The teacher wasn’t in the classroom yet.
“Who puts a test on Monday anyway?” I groaned. I took a drag from the can, yawned, rubbed my eyes.
“You look rough.”
“Woke up late.”
I could feel Jake’s eyes studying me. I looked over at him. “What?”
“What’s going on with you this morning?”
“It’s not nothing. I’ve known you too long for it to be nothing.”
“I’m tired. That’s all.”
“Whatever.” He turned back to his drawing, scribbled a beard onto a stick figure.
“It’s just my parents,” I said. “They’ve been talking quietly when they think I’m not listening, arguing actually. It’s probably nothing, you know, but . . .”
“Yeah right, it’s nothing. They’re probably gonna tell you ’bout your twin brother that they sold to some merchants for a loaf of bread.”
“Take it easy. I’m just talkin’.”
I sighed. “You’re such a retard.” I thought for a minute. “You think they’re getting a divorce?”
“Craig and Patty Woodson? Divorce?” He looked up at me. “Yeah, right. Conman, your folks are the only people I know that are still together. Been like twenty years or something. Who does that anymore?”
“Then what could it be?”
“It’s nothing, that’s what. Don’t worry about it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Probably. But there was just something in her voice. A quiet desperation, I guess.”
“You’re reading too much into it, okay. Forget about it.”
I did, for the most part, and the day went like normal…until third hour.
We were in the library, using the computers for research. I was sitting there, minding my own business, doing my work. Some kid came up to me, handed me a piece of paper that said I was supposed to meet Mr. Davidson in his office. I went, of course. You pretty much had to go. Besides, it got me out of class for a little, though I was rather confused as to why. What did he want with me? I had a sick feeling even as I walked the halls to the counseling center.
Two students I didn’t know were sitting there in the plastic chairs like plastic people, unmoving, like mannequins that were deep in thought or wracked by grief. Their heads were down, both of them, staring at the floor. The girl had a box of tissues beside her, holding one tightly like a rag in a white-knuckled grip. I thought she was watching her hand – it kind of shook a little – but she wasn’t really looking at anything. She sat up a little more, so I could see her face. Her bangs were matted to her forehead, her mascara bled down her cheeks. Her face was blank, as plastic and lifeless as the chair she sat in.
Tina Jackson was behind the counter, and she called me over to her. She’d known me for a while; she was a friend of Jake’s mom, who used to sit behind that desk and sign people up for appointments. Tina kind of took over for her.
“You got a note, too?” she asked me. I nodded, gave her a weird look. I was worried, a little scared, maybe, at that point. “Let me see it,” she said. I gave it to her. “Davidson,” she said. “Go in, Honey. Third on the left.”
Most of the doors in the hallway were closed, but I could still hear muffled noises behind them. I felt almost like I was violating something. It was really awkward, and I wanted to leap out of the window and run away. I didn’t. I kept walking, probably just out of morbid curiosity to find why everything felt so heavy.
When I walked into the room, Mr. Davidson nodded to me. He had a reverent look in his eyes. He motioned for me to sit down. He didn’t speak at first. He just kind of…held…the silence. It was creepy, but there was still something in his mood, in his manner, that was friendly, warm and inviting. Like looking at Mr. Rogers sitting there with his “be my neighbor” grin that I figured must have been born out of his background and training.
“Connor,” he said. “Do you know why you are here?”
I didn’t cheat. I didn’t steal. I didn’t vandalize school property.
Did I write something in a paper I don’t remember that they took out of context?
I tried to say something. I fought for words to break the awkwardness.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Connor,” he explained.
“Last night, son,” he said slowly, trying to remain calm. I had the feeling this was a speech he had given more than once already. “Kenneth Darter attempted to take his own life.”
“Ken? How?” The room started to spin. “I don’t…I mean, it doesn’t make sense. What do you mean? What happened? Why?”
“I don’t know all of the details, son. He’s in intensive care at St. Jude’s. He is expected to pull through.” He looked down at his desk, wrote something down on a pad, then tore the top sheet off and handed it to me. I took it, stared at it, but it was just words that didn’t make sense. “I understand you were close. You and he were childhood friends. This must be hard on you. I’m sorry.”
He said he understood, somehow.
“There must be many things going through your head right now. I want to assure you that this isn’t your fault in any way.”
I looked at him, a bit puzzled. “Of course it’s not my fault,” I said.
“When was the last time you saw Ken?”
I shrugged. “I see him around all the time. I guess we haven’t really spoken since…I don’t know. Freshman year, I think.”
He nodded. “Do you want to talk about him?”
I looked down at the note in my hand. “Not particularly. What does this note do?”
“It excuses you from any and all classes through the week,” he said. “Should you need the time for grieving.”
“But he’s going to be okay?”
“That is my understanding.” Mr. Davidson was in his late sixties, had the air about him of a kindly grandfather. The note seemed a bit much to me, but maybe his generation handled things differently. Maybe he just thought he was being kind.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, but you should express yourself somehow. It’s not good to keep your emotions bottled up. Maybe you could write about your feelings?”
I thanked him and excused myself.
Ken’s condition wasn’t announced all over school. He didn’t have a lot of friends. Not any more. At least, that’s what he thought. It’s what he told me the last time we talked. He said he didn’t have any friends, but he did. We were all still friends…since the fourth grade. We just didn’t talk so much anymore. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We were just all busy doing other things. Except Scott, who moved.
Anyway, they didn’t make an announcement. The PA only played the standard during the end of sixth hour. Parking passes can still be purchased. Friday’s game against Wakefield was a home game. Tickets were on sale now. There was no talk of death. Still, people did talk. Word spread anyway, without the help of a speakerbox. Word got around somehow and most of the student body – despite grade, clique or disposition – walked the halls like zombies in some late night made-for-cable movie. There was such a hollow feeling of unrealness. It was almost tangible. It seemed to creep down the throats of all living creatures and choke out the life and the voice. Most everyone knew Ken, had been going to school with him for so long, but most people didn’t like him or were indifferent to him. He’d changed, really. He wasn’t the same as he used to be. Not too many guys I knew wore makeup. Still, I considered him my friend. It’s not that I pushed him away like everyone else. At least if I had, it wasn’t on purpose. It just seemed like he kept his distance. I really did miss his friendship.