Friday, March 30, 2012
BULLY by Nancy Pogue LaTurner
Zack stood alone in the hallway next to the door marked Homeroom – Grade 8, Section C. He stared at the note clutched in his hand. His fingers made damp prints on the paper.
“Zachary Jarvis: Report to Principal Gordon’s office immediately.”
The school secretary’s neat handwriting expressed no emotion. The command ended with a somber black dot. An exclamation point might have revealed the level of trouble Zack had to face, but a plain period gave nothing away. The word “immediately” suggested it was something he shouldn't ignore. Zack crumpled the note, then smoothed it out for another look.
This was not his first summons to the principal’s office, but he hadn’t been called there for at least six weeks. His last trip down the long hall to Administration happened just before the New Deal. That’s what they called the school’s new zero-tolerance policy.
On that day six weeks ago, Principal Gordon placed his large, fleshy hands flat on the big wooden desk and gave Zack “The Look.”
“Well, Zack, this is the situation: the School Board has ratified a new program. I will make a general announcement at Assembly later this morning, but I called you in early because there are a few details that pertain to you specifically due to the fact that you have been disciplined more than ten times this year for bullying.
Principal Gordon glared at Zack as he continued his rant, pausing at the end of each statement as if he were reading from a bulleted list. "As of today, you are placed on probation. One more offense and you will be expelled. I have sent a letter to your parents stating the terms of your probation. Your activities at school will be closely monitored. The North Wing, where Curtis Taylor’s locker is located, is absolutely off limits. You are forbidden to have any contact whatsoever with Curtis."
Zack rolled his eyes and waited for the principal to finish. "Do you understand? Do you have any questions?”
Zack had plenty of questions, but none he could ask the principal. First off, he wondered what he would do at the video arcade without the cash he boosted from Curtis and the other wimps every week. And what were he and his buddies going to do for laughs if they couldn’t push the nerds around between classes?
It was hilarious, the way the wimps and nerds just begged for Zack and the guys to have their way with them. Curtis was Zack’s personal fave. God, that kid was a basket case. Zack took his lunch money, like, all the time, easy pickings. He lost count of the number of times he tripped Curtis in the hall, making him fall flat with his books and stuff skidding across the slick waxed floor. Curtis cringed if Zack even looked at him. The funniest was the day he snagged Curtis’ chocolate milk and poured it all down the front of his yellow sweatshirt. Curtis actually cried that time. Thirteen years old and crying over spilled milk. What a dweeb.
Shoot, that was the old deal. The New Deal sucked, if you asked him. Deal or no deal, he was stuck with the big question: How could he stay out of Dad’s way for a few days? If he faked a stomachache and made himself throw up, he’d have Mom on his side, and he could hide out in his room until Dad’s rage blew over. Hey, if he was lucky, maybe the whole New Deal would blow over.
In the here and now though, six weeks later, in spite of the ominous office summons, he felt super lucky; even though nothing had blown over at all, and actually things had gotten damned intense for a while. It turned out that one of the terms of his probation was family therapy. It was weird at first. The therapist came to their house once a week and the whole family had to be there, Zack, Mom, Dad, eleven-year-old Matthew and five-year-old Hannah. That wasn’t all. Once a week he and Dad went to Anger Management Class. They had never done anything together before, just the two of them. It felt good. Zack enjoyed the drive over and back. He and Dad didn’t talk much, but they listened to some music and it just felt solid to be quiet together.
They didn’t miss a single therapy session or anger management class for six weeks. Zack liked the therapist. For one thing she was a hottie. Long, black wavy hair. Big boobs. Nice smile full of white shiny teeth. She talked directly to him, looked him in the eye. She listened to what he said, treated him like a serious person, made him feel in charge of himself. His parents followed her lead. They started treating him like he was worth something; they noticed when he did stuff right for a change.
Those six weeks glided by. Zack didn’t have time to miss the guys; maybe he was tempted a couple of times to text 'em, but didn’t want to pay the price if he got busted. He kind of missed messing with Curtis, but he didn’t cross that line either. His schoolwork even improved; that was, like, a miracle, you know?
With everything going so good, what could today's note from the principal’s office be about? Always before, Zack knew what was up. Some wimp or nerd, probably Curtis, had dropped the dime on him. But this time, Zack didn’t have a clue. Shit, could it be something else? Like Dad and Mom in a car wreck, or Grandpa dead of a heart attack? Zack winced with a sudden cramping surge in his gut. Already standing in front of the school secretary’s desk, he willed the urge away.
“Hello, Zachary. Mr. Gordon asked me to take you to his office. He’ll be with you in a few minutes. Just have a seat over there by the window. You won’t have to wait long.”
The secretary closed the door as she left the room. Zack sat in the visitor’s chair. His shoes shuffled on the carpet as his hands banged an impatient beat on the chair arm.
Hurry up. Hurry up. Hurry up. Let’s get this over with.
A tap on the window got his attention.
Jeez, Curtis, of all people.
Zack waved his arms criss-cross, then jabbed both forefingers in Curtis’ direction. Curtis ignored the signals and knocked on the window again, louder.
Crap. This can only mean trouble.
Curtis tapped once more and motioned for Zack to open the window.
Zack sighed and opened the window. Curtis smiled.
“Hey, Zack. Listen, we don’t have much time and there’s something important I need to tell you.”
“Nah, Curtis, get out of here. I can’t get caught talking to you, I just can’t! Go go go. Get gone. Beat it.”
“Zack, please. Give me a second here, okay? Sit down and listen.”
Zack looked back and forth between Curtis and the door to the office. He shrugged and sat down.
Curtis still smiled.
“Good, thanks, that’s good. Zack, I came to tell you that everything is going to be all right. You don’t have to worry. I will always be your friend. I will be by your side and everything will turn out fine. That’s all. I’m going now. ‘Bye…See you later.”
“Yeah, whatever…see ya.”
That was weird. Curtis comes right up and says he’ll be you’re friend. He’s not scared or cringing. He’s smiling? Totally weird.
Zack shivered and closed the window.
Because of the hedge, he couldn’t see where Curtis went, but at least Curtis was gone. Get caught talking to Curtis – in Principal Gordon’s office – that would be the end of Zack for sure.
The office door opened. Mr. Gordon came in first, holding the door for Zack’s parents and the therapist. Mom hung on Dad’s arm, her eyes all red and teary. Dad crushed his cap in both hands and looked at his feet as if he couldn’t believe they had carried him here to the Principal’s Office. The therapist laid her hand gently on Zack’s shoulder.
“Zack, there is no easy way to say this.”
Zack tilted his head and looked into her eyes.
“Zack, I am so sorry. Your classmate Curtis shot himself this morning. He died instantly.”
“No. No. No. It’s some kind of mistake. Curtis was here. Just now. Really, he talked to me. He stood right there outside the window. He said we'd be friends. He told me everything would be fine. That’s the truth, isn’t it? Everything is going to be okay, right?”
No one spoke.
Zack searched for answers in the four faces surrounding him: stern... solemn and worried... sad and loving... compassionate and encouraging. He reached out for the hands extended toward him.