Continued from: Earworm: Part 1 — The Prodigal Son Returns
The clock clicked by another minute. Click. 10:26 am. Three hours. Three and a half. That’s how long William had been on that wooden bench. His ass falling asleep at least twice, his left foot once. Students, coming in and out of the office, kept looking at him as if he was part of a Victorian sideshow. The Elephant Man or something. At least now there was no one on the bench with him. About an hour ago, there was some kind of psychopath seated beside him, reeking of cigarettes and looking as if channeling Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club. But he was gone now, called into the principal’s office. Probably to buy himself a month of detentions.
“So, let’s see, now, William,” the secretary said in her nasally, omniscient tone. In the past three and a half hours, this secretary had answered every question posed within the office walls, even if—especially if—the question was not posed to her. “Just to be sure,” she said to William, “what is your new address again?”
He had to think a moment. “Um…” he said. Her gaze bore down on him. She already asked him this question three hours ago. Three and a half. She watched him squirm. “23 Highland Street,” he said with what passed as conviction.
“25,” he corrected.
“Oh, yes, of course. 25 Highland Street. Who could forget that address?” The secretary glanced at William over her glasses. When the woman said the address, the other four people in the office—an office worker, a person that William figured was a teacher, and two students—all turned and looked at him. John Merrick on display again.
“And it says here that your father is not allowed any contact with you?”
William glanced at the different people in the office looking at him. “My father’s dead,” he said.
The other four people in the office looked away from William, focusing their gazes on random artifacts about the office. It was obvious, however, that the other four people were still listening to this exchange between the secretary and the new student who was now living at 25 Highland Street.
“Oh, yes. Of course. Your stepfather, then.”
“Both my parents are dead,” William said.
The two students glanced at one another, raising their eyebrows, speculating about what the secretary already knew. Who William Knight could very well be.
“Oh, yes. Sorry. I misspoke. Your adoptive father.”
“He won’t be coming here. He’s locked up.”
“Yes. Of course,” the woman said with the contentment of one having just finished a large meal.
The other people in the office took a final glance at William and then moved on about their business.
William looked at the clock.
C’mon. Really? That exchange only knocked two minutes off this purgatory sentence? How much slower could this day go?
But then time stopped all together as William looked up and saw a vision standing at the counter separating the office staff from visitors. The girl was angelic. Goddess-like. One that knights battle over, ships launch for, one about which writers make ridiculous hyperbolized comparisons. She was petite, yet seemingly long and lithe, her hair pulled back in a black ponytail. Her skin was olive, eyes dark, warm, but it was her smile that conjured the longing in William.
“Hello, Hope, what can I do for you?” the know-it-all secretary said to the girl.
“Hi, Ms. Waltson,” the girl said. “Coach Nelson was hoping that you could mention during the end of the day announcements that cheerleading practice will be held inside the gym.”
“Okay, dear, will do,” said Ms. Waltson with a congenial tone that William would have never imagined possible for the woman.
“Thanks,” Hope said, turning and walking out the office door. Right past William. William gawking at her.
“Huh?” William broke from his daze, realizing that someone was talking to him.
“William?” Ms. Dover, William’s new guidance counselor, stood outside the office door. She waved him over to her. William stood from the bench and walked over to the woman. She was short with happy eyes and a friendly voice. A student stood beside her. He was thin and tan, not muscle-bound, but athletic looking—one perpetually relegated to J.V. teams. He wore meticulous, stylish clothing, had gelled hair, and his eyes were that of a shark. William,” Ms. Dover said, “this is Paul Drake.”
Before William thought any better of it, he held out his hand to be shaken. The kid took it with noticeable reservations. William’s fingers flopping into the kid’s grip like a dead fish. After a quick pump, the kid released from the handshake and wiped his hand on the thigh of his jeans.
“We finally have your schedule squared away,” Ms. Dover told William, “and Paul, here, is nice enough to show you to your next class. Let’s see…” Ms. Dover looked at the paper in her hand. “Looks like you’ll be heading to…” she looked at the clock, then back at the paper, “fourth period, which is Mr. Grey’s English class. Oh, you’ll like Mr. Grey. Isn’t Mr. Grey cool, Paul?”
“Oh, yes, Ms. Dover, he’s really cool,” Paul said. He smiled a grin that matched his eyes. “You’ll really like his class a lot,” he said to William.
“Well, I’ll leave you here in Paul’s capable hands,” Ms. Dover said, giving William his schedule. “Have a great first day here at Mystic High School.”
“Thanks,” William said.
William followed Paul down the hall. The kid’s shark grin was gone. They walked in silence, the only sound being their footfalls and the different lectures coming from classrooms. William inventoried the hallways and rooms, Paul not clarifying any of the labyrinth for him. Finally Paul said, looking down at William’s feet, “What kind of sneakers are those?”
William looked down at the sneakers on his feet. “Um, I don’t know. They’re called, In Actions,” William said. He then looked at his companion’s pristine white sneakers with the Jordan symbol. The kid said no more about the shoes. They walked in silence again. William tried to think of something to say. “Hey,” he said, “there was this girl in the office earlier. I think Hope was her name?”
“I guess. She was pretty hot,” William said.
The other kid glanced at William for a moment and chuckled. “I think she’s a little out of your league,” he said, not hiding the sarcastic disdain in his tone.
The kid glanced at him again. “Yeah.”
“What grade is she?”
“She’s a junior, too.”
“Is she going out with anyone?”
The kid chuckled again, shaking his head. “Um, not at the moment. She was dating Sean Hamill last year, but they broke up when he went to play ball at Brown.” Just then, the kids sarcastic, cruel tone rose to one more lively. “Yo, hey, Jimmy, what’s up?” he called to another student walking their way. “You wait here,” he told William, “I’ll be right back.” He trotted over to the other student.
This other student had the same stylized look as William’s escort, the same shark features. William recognized these types of kids from his last school. They were that breed of male never quite achieving jock status, but thirsting so much for acceptance into the top clique that they’d sacrifice their mothers if they had to. Generally, the sacrifices consisted of kids like William. Kids who never quite fit in. Collateral damage in the battle for these hallway scavengers’ quest for scraps of acceptance. Paul high-fived Jimmy, and the two of them huddled, discussing something in low tones. They glanced at William, sneering, sizing him up, their eyes going to his shoes. William heard the word, “Hope,” and the two boys laughed. They shared a couple of final thoughts in low tones, and then Paul’s voice rose again, “All right, Jimmy, I’ll talk to you later.” And after an over-exaggerated, almost flamboyant handshake, Paul returned to William. “That was my buddy, Jimmy Ringwald,” Paul said, as if presenting a badge. As if having a “buddy” somehow gave him substance.
William and Paul continued walking, again in silence, until Paul said, “Well, here we are. This is Mr. Grey’s room.”
“Uh, thanks,” William said. Again, without thinking, he extended his hand.
The kid looked at the hand, but didn’t shake it. “Uh, yeah,” he said, “I’ll see you around, um, what was your name again?”
“William. William Knight.”
Continued in: Earworm: Part 3 — The Earworm