The sound of a heavy and exasperated pair of boots stomps across the living room, followed by a seemingly timid clicking of heels on the hardwood flooring.
“Leave the door open!” Dad’s voice booms.
Some soft pleading followed by loud grumbles and dismissals reaches my ear.
Sometimes the key to surviving in this household is to follow the signs and the only signs that exist undetected for most are the sounds.
I have always found them very reliable.
“Look, Nancy, I have had to stoop down to levels lower than my limit to get your son -”
That’s right. Your son.
“-into school after school as he goes about throwing his temper tantrums and getting himself rusticated!”
Mom opens her mouth to say something but Dad isn’t finished yet.
“Six schools, Nancy. Six schools in four years. There aren’t any left in the neighborhood and I can’t ship him out!”
Yes, because of damage control.
The people here know John Baxter and respect him. Sometimes it seems like he has done every resident of the town one favor or another. They all worship him.
“John, he’s young and troubled and -”
Mom isn’t able to finish, as usual.
“Let me put in a very subtle way, Nancy. If he gets kicked out of this school, he gets nothing. I won’t sweep whatever I have so painstakingly built for thirty years right into his arms.”
“John, we really need to sit down and talk about this.”
Inside, I feel an awkward victory. Finally, my mother was able to get an entire sentence out.
“I have a business to run!” Dad says sternly, a cue for Mom that it was enough conversation between them for a day.
Silence sets in for a minute or two, like always.
I hear Dad pull his chair back, like always. Its screech against the floor has always reminded me of screaming convicts awaiting the guillotine.
But I don’t see the well-rehearsed part play out where my mother immediately walks out of the room, holding back all her tears and residual self-respect, goes straight to her room on the second floor and shuts herself in, persuading herself that John Baxter, one of New York’s biggest corporate giants is still the John Baxter she met in college and fell hopelessly and irrevocably in love with.
Truth be told, it bugged me for a while.
Then she says, “John. He’s our son.”
Till then I was fiddling with a lone thread that juts out of Ted. Ted, my backpack for four years.
But now my undivided attention is on what slips out of my mother’s lips.
With time you learn to control the things you say, then the things you feel, and eventually you stop feeling at all. Given the kind of hailstorms my mother has had to endure, it makes me more than a little uncomfortable that she never mastered this. But I wait patiently for a reply.
I hear a sigh.
“He won’t be so if he does not get his life together.”
A pang passes through my chest.
My melancholy is interrupted by the familiar clicking of heels and I immediately break into a hurry to leave as soon as possible. The well-known feeling of being choked comes over me and I grab the car keys from the counter before Mom can drift into the room and wrap me in her embrace and say, “Good luck, Brook.”
When you have gotten so accustomed to people admonishing you, one damned kind word is all it takes to undo years of hard work of sweeping unresolved issues under the rug. That’s the last thing I want now.
“Brook” was the last thing I heard before I broke into a dash.
“I’m late, Mom,” I say, picking up my sneakers at the doorstep and leaving the slippers behind. Mom’s rule.
I do not allow myself the time to at least sit and wear my shoes, lest that means any physical or eye contact or conversation with her. Maybe she understands because as I go on to shut the door I accidentally allow myself to sneak a glance at her.
I see her.
Beautiful in her white shirt and grey skirt, a little Sterling silver locket hanging from her neck and riding the ascent and plunge of her collarbones, gleaming as it catches the light and her dark eyebrows knotted in worry.
I look away when I feel her dark, tired eyes sear through me as she says, “Good luck, Brook.”
Eastwood Oaks Senior High School read the entry as I pull into the parking lot.
To my surprise and relief, it does not seem to be as herded as the previous institutions I had been in.
I tie my shoelaces and get out of the car. A misty new smell hits me. Different high schools come with different smells.
I walk into the office, on the first right from the entrance, and wait at the reception for the grim fat lady with thinning red hair to acknowledge me.
Without sparing a moment to look up at me, she asks, “Name?”
“Brooklyn Baxter,” I say.
She points to an important-looking door. “Wait there.”
As she hands me my time table, she says, “Mr. Baxter, the Principal will presently see you. Please go in.”
I push the door open.
The Principal, a woman easily in her early forties scopes me up and down. Another lady was sat beside her, a lot younger, with striking blue eyes and blonde hair.
“Take a seat, Mr. Baxter.” She gestures to the chair in front of her.
I nonchalantly settle down, trying my best to hide my anxiety as the women look at each other.
“Hello, Brooklyn. I am Principal Davies. Welcome to Eastwood Oaks Senior High. We are very pleased to have you. This is my colleague, Counselor Samuelson.”
“Hello, Brooklyn, nice to meet you.”
The Counselor extends her hand. I leave her hanging. She gingerly draws back.
“You must be wondering why we are here. It is very important actually.” Principal Davies looks at the Counselor.
“Yes, Principal. Brooklyn, we have your record here. It says you have been to six schools in the last four years. Is that correct?”
I nod in agreement. A bubble rises in my stomach.
They’ll refuse admission. Oh fuck.
“And you have been expelled from all of them, the latest one for having a bad record throughout the year and indulging in unforgivable non-disciplinary actions-”
“I punched a girl and broke her nose. She had it coming.”
A silence falls over the room. The Principal nods and the Counselor looks down at her hands.
Yep, not getting admission.
“So Brooklyn, we had a talk with your father the other day. Mr. Baxter.” The Counselor continues. “He told us that you have some difficulties adjusting to life and you have had a terrible reputation back in the schools you have been expelled from.”
No shit, Sherlock.
“So we suggested to sign you up for something we believe will help you overcome your... emotional obstacles.” She tries her best to articulate with her hands to fill up the lack of a better or forbidden term maybe.
Principal Davies says, “We have signed you up for this counseling class that we hold in our school every Monday and if you check your schedule, you’ll see you have Behavioral Modification in the second period. That’s it. Your father and I have decided it’ll be in your best interest.”
What the fuck?
“But my office is open to everyone at all times.” Samuelson’s smile makes me sick to my stomach. “So feel free to drop in whenever to feel the need.”
“You are kidding, right?”
Principal Davies smiles. “I am afraid we are are not, Mr. Baxter.”
The Counselor steps in. “It is a class with kids just like you, who have encountered trouble fitting in, have had frequent violent fits and been a social recluse almost half their life. We sit in the hall, talk about our feelings, our troubles, or just talk! Most of these people haven’t had a listening ear before they joined in and they have all made brilliant progress. It is wonderful and on the upside, it has no homework!” She flashes her million dollars blonde baby smile.
“No offense, lady, but are you always this happy?” I cross my arms across my chest and slump back into my chair.
The Principal’s eyes harden in a blinking instant.
“Counselor, would you give us a moment please?” She finally breaks the searing silence.
She waits for the Counselor to leave, and leans across the table so close that I can smell her morning coffee and cigarette.
The door shuts us inside in a final reverberating ‘click’.
“Mr. Baxter, we are a reputed institution open only to the brightest minds of the country -”
“You are going a little too far with that,” I laugh and immediately witness her jaw stiffen.
“We are open to the brightest minds in the country, Mr. Baxter. Even under the wildest circumstances, we would not be granting you admission but for your father’s reputation and his generosity. Your admission was never gotten, it was given. There are certain rules our fellows here follow. We do not smart talk, we do not interrupt, we do not bully nor hit any fellow student, we attend our classes, do our homework, listen to the teachers and thank the Almighty for blessing us with the excess that we get. Your father and I expect you to abide by these examples. Now, leave.”