Chapter 14: The Old Waiting Game
I sat there in Oakshire Elementary’s clinic near the front desk, completely exhausted. Tracy, Mrs. Beouf and I had spent the entire previous night cleaning my room to beyond perfection. My room was already in very good condition. ‘Very good’ wasn’t going to cut it. Nothing short of perfection would be acceptable.
As soon as Janet reported the essay that little pissant wrote about me, there would be blood in the water we knew and Principal Brollish would look for any excuse that she could warp or exaggerate to her advantage. We weren’t going to give her anything to work with.
Mrs. Brollish disinfected and scrubbed every surface until it was shining. I organized my closet space, graded logged and sorted papers for return; even the ones that by contract didn’t need to be graded, yet. The play space for the kids went from ‘well used but tidy’ to ‘display model’. We found a stray Pull-Up hidden behind the cubbies. Bullet dodged; especially since it was a boy Pull-Up. Amazons would read into anything.
Tracy beat us both. She called in some favors and got a couple of Tweener custodians to come in and work over the entire floor with a carpet cleaner. I had to excuse myself to go cry. The tears were a mixture of complete fear and panic coupled up with absolute disbelief and gratitude.
The rest of the night was coaching on what to say and what not to say. “The games you play with Forrest and the others aren’t going to cut it here.” Mrs. Beouf told me. “Don’t give Brollish an opening. If you go for the cheese you’re going to get your hand snapped.” If I hadn’t been so terrified, I might have been surprised that Beouf knew what I’d been up to all these years.
I got home late that night. Cassie had been up and we had a fight. Even now, I can’t remember the exact wording, but it all came down to us being worried. Cassie wasn’t stupid. She knew what that hurried text about me staying late had really meant. She wanted to bug out and run that night. I wanted to stay and fight it. Not just because I was right but because I wanted to- needed to- prove the shitheads wrong. It was stupid and I shouldn’t have wanted to do it…
We compromised. I let her ride on the back of the scooter to work the next morning and she drove back home with it. If I didn’t contact her by dinner; she’d be gone.
There hadn’t been sleep the night before. With the cleaning, coaching, fighting and me staring down the bars of a cot, sleep wasn’t going to come. I’d ironed and pressed my best outfit. The slightest wrinkle might be cause for Brollish to invoke the bullshit maturity clause in my contract.
The first hour at work had been easy. Sleepwalking. Check in. Get the kids. Get breakfast. By hour two I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I was worried over nothing. Maybe Janet would turn in the essay and Brollish would see that it was a stupid story fabricated by a stupid kid.
It was not quite 9:30 when Brollish walked in with a strange Amazon and asked to speak with me in private. “Not to worry, we have a substitute,” she told me. Brollish was all quiet smiles. I don’t know that I’d ever seen her smile.
So it began…
“Is this going to be a while?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
Brollish held open the door and gestured for me to follow. “I think it’s best if we spoke in private.”
On my way out I spotted something poking out of the stranger’s purse, something white and rectangular. “Tracy!” I called out, hoping I didn’t sound as suspicious as I felt. I raised my hands into the air and clapped my pointer and middle fingers to my thumb twice, like I was playing invisible castanets. My assistant saw the signal and followed my gaze to the Amazon’s purse. “Got it, boss!”
I started walking alongside Mrs. Brollish, walking quietly in the open campus back towards her office. “What was that?” she asked. She’d tried to make it sound like she was making small talk. In reality, the interrogation was already under way.
“Crab clapping,” I said, and repeated the motion I’d made. “We’re working on manners and offering it up as an alternative to giving a presenter loud applause. My students don’t really have the dexterity yet for snapping their fingers.” This of course, was a complete fabrication. The motion I’d made was really a bastardization of the sign language motion for ‘diaper’.
The proper sign involved doing that motion over my beltline, like the tapes on a diaper, but Beouf and Tracy agreed that might be too obvious a warning. The coaching was paying off. And yes, Tracy was going to do a lesson teaching all of my small fries about crab clapping as a polite way to applaud a performer when it was time to still be quiet.
Brollish didn’t speak further until we’d gotten to her office. She went to her desk and sat down behind it. I went and climbed into the chair across from it. “Some serious accusations have come to my attention, this morning, Mr. Gibson.”
“If this is a matter of contract,” I said. “I’d like Union Representation, please.”
“Don’t you want to know what the accusations are, or who is making them?”
I didn’t smile. I didn’t frown. I took a breath. Every instinct I’d developed was both screaming at me that this was a trap and telling me that I had to find a way to wriggle out of the trap right now. That’s not how this was going to go down.
“I understand that you’re doing your job, ma’m,” I said. “However if these accusations are serious, I think it would be best if I had appropriate representation.”
“That would be Mrs. Beouf.”
“I can’t call her out of her classroom during school hours for this.” Yet Brollish could yank me out of mine. Typical Amazon. So typical, we figured it was exactly what would happen. By my own estimation Brollish, was more than twice as clever as Forrest, and not quite half as clever as me. That’s the thing about authority; you don’t have to be clever or even particularly good at your job to win.
I decided not to argue. “I understand, ma’am,” I said. “I’m willing to wait…” It took me everything not to say ‘…if you are.’ Don’t give the monster an opening.
Brollish leaned forward. “That might take a while. Are you willing to be outside your classroom for that long?” She was talking slowly. Choosing her words carefully. She was baiting me. “I know how important it is for children to keep to their routines.” Would that I were six feet taller so that I could reach across and slap her in the face just then.
“I think it would be best for all involved,” I said slowly, “in the long term, if I had Union Representation.”
“Are you sure?”
“I would like Union Representation.”
“You’ll have to wait all day.”
“I would like Union Representation.”
“We could end this very quickly…”
“I would like Union Representation.”
“You won’t be able to wait here. You’ll have to wait in the clinic with an ad-…with another staff member.”
“I would like Union Representation.”
Brollish’s mask slipped for a moment. Her face soured. Her nose wrinkled in contempt. In her eyes I was the bratty kid whose Mommy and Daddy were super important sponsors in the Parent-Teacher Organization. And there was nothing she could do about it.
She hadn’t been counting on me stonewalling her. She counted on me being clever or trying to twist her words against her, and give her an opportunity to do the same. The usual song and dance. The best dancers knew more than one routine. The best fighters knew when to dodge and risk tiring themselves out and when to block and let their opponents wear out.
Waiting meant more time for a case to be fabricated against me. It also meant more chances to catch a fabrication. Better odds in my favor.
Still sucked though. Royally
It sucked waiting in the school’s clinic. It sucked being babysat, watched like a hawk by the school’s nurse. It sucked being so damn tired and powerless. It sucked having to hope that somehow, some way, my friends would save me; or at least run out the clock. It sucked not feeling like the main character in my own life.
“You look tired, Mr. Gibson,” the nurse said. “Why don’t you lay down?” she gestured to a vinyl covered sick bed. Over the years I’d seen plenty of kids who’d thrown up or run a fever lay down on them in misery while parents were contacted to pick them up. Never an adult, though.
“No thank you,” I said.
“Are you sure?” I eyed the single diaper on the corner of her desk. I was sure it hadn’t been there when I’d passed by the clinic this morning, and it wasn’t big enough to fit on even an Amazonian Kindergartener.
“Would you like something to drink? I’ve got some milk in the fridge.”
Pants shitting poison. “No thank you,” I said. “I’m just waiting for the moment.”
“Do you need to go to the potty?” So much wrong there. The only non-Amazon sized toilets were in the kindergarten classrooms, mine, and Beouf.
“I”m fine. Thank you.” No way was I asking for a boost up.
Just had to stick to the plan. No matter how hard it was.
Throughout the morning kids trickled in and out of the clinic. Nothing major, just getting usual stuff. Diabetes checks. ADHD meds. Routine upkeep stuff that the bureaucracy of school mandated be kept locked up and overseen in the clinic.
These were a relief because for a few precious minutes at a time I wasn’t the center of an Amazon’s attention. I still had to be on my toes, however.”
“Hey, Mr. Gibson.”
“What are you doing here?”
I caught the eye of the nurse. It might be considered ‘bad-form’ or ‘immature’ to tell a fifth grader that I was under investigation for something.
“Just waiting,” I said.
“Are you sick?”
I made a show of feeling my own face and forehead, like I was checking for a fever. Nothing too animated, just token effort. “I don’t think so.”
“Why are you in the clinic?”
“Mrs. Brollish needs to talk to me later and the nurse agreed to keep me company while I waited.” All technically correct and nothing implying guilt on my part.
“Okay. Have a good day.”
“You too, Tyler.”
Lather, rinse, and repeat for about half a dozen kids.
A few hours in my stomach started growling loud enough to hear. “Would you like something to eat, Mr. Gibson?”
“No thank you.”
“I don’t mind getting something from the cafeteria for you,” the nurse insisted. “I’ve got a tiny box of chocolates if you’d like a snack.”
“No thank you. I appreciate the thought, however.” That was a lie. Fuck the thought.
Next through the door, carrying a lunch tray was Tracy. “Hey boss. Gossip is you were waiting for a meeting, so I brought you some lunch.” I sat up a little straighter and felt my heart practically jump up and tickle my uvula. I looked at the time. It was already past lunch and Tracy was on her break. That meant it was nap time for the kids…but if Tracy wasn’t watching the room, then…
She must have read my thoughts. “Don’t worry,” she told me. “Beouf is watching the kids. All of them. We’re still working on stuff and following the lesson plan…with a few modifications.”
I was confused. There weren’t supposed to be modifications. The fuck was happening? “What about the substitute?” I asked.
“Got called away for some kind of emergency,” Tracy said. “Beouf volunteered to bring her class into our room and merge for the day.” My Tweener friend leaned in close and added in a whisper, “Good thing, too. She was up to something. Kept looking around the room like she was trying to find something.”
I remembered the diaper poking out of the stranger’s purse. “Or looking to hide something so it can be found later.” Tracy nodded, and crab clapped her fingers together. If it weren’t for the Amazon in the room I might have been able to give her further instructions.
Speaking of which, the nurse cleared her throat. “Shouldn’t you be on break?”
Tracy stood back up and left the tray on a chair beside me. “Yes ma’am. I was just dropping off lunch for Mr. Gibson.”
“I already offered him lunch and he refused. Can he not make up his mind?” Typical. By most any other metric, both Tracy and I should have at least as much if not more clout than this pill dispensing pencil pusher. She wasn’t even a real nurse as far as I knew. Her only real responsibilities were keeping track of meds and calling parents when their kids puked. Legally she couldn’t even give an aspirin. But she was an Amazon…
I raised my hand. “Actually,” I said, “I was waiting for my assistant to bring me lunch.”
Suspicious eyes stared back at us. She was connecting dots and we couldn’t look like we knew about this accusation ahead of time. “Yeah,” Tracy bluffed. “That’s our go-to. Like whenever Mr. Gibson has an I.E.P. meeting that overlaps with his lunch.” It was the best kind of lie: One that was based in confirmed truth. “Byyyyyye!”
Without waiting for Tracy to be completely out the door. I tore into the pre-wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich and gulped down the pre-packaged milk. They were straight from the cafeteria line, meant for Amazon students. They were safe.
I saw the nurse staring at me from across her desk. The sandwich was pre cut. I offered up half to her. “Would you like some?”
“No. Thank you.” Honestly, the food sucked. It was cafeteria food meant for kids, but it was in Amazon proportions so it was filling. It quieted my stomach and made me feel a bit more alert, at least.
Just as I finished downing the sandwich and was beginning to feel bloated from the milk, a new element entered into the equation to make me feel sick to my stomach. “Right in here!” an all too familiar voice said.
Raine Forrest entered the room. Behind her, an Amazon man with a gut that hung out well over his belt was wheeling something in on a dolly. It was something like a big glass tube that was almost as big as a Tweener and framed with steel. Near the top end was a latch and a panel with different knobs. The inside of the glass had wired bulbs, like heat lamps at a fast food joint all up and down it. All told, it looked like something of a cross between a bug zapper, a tanning bed, and a cheap air conditioner.
“Right here,” Raine Forrest said. “Right by the socket.”
The guy with the dolly slid the monstrosity off and grabbed a clipboard from off the top. “Sign here, please.”
“Gladly.” I watched as the school receptionist signed for it, and handed the clipboard back. The big man tipped his hat, and turned around, leaving with his dolly.
The nurse asked my question for me. “What in the world is that?”
“It’s an instant body hair remover,” she said. “For people who need a Little help keeping clean.” I felt my lunch threaten to come back up. Even when she wasn’t looking directly at me, I felt Raine’s mental gaze. She was sizing me up. Window shopping. Ready to get herself a new doll.
The nurse got up from her desk and walked up to it. “I’ve never seen one like that, before.” Neither had I.
“It’s old,” Forrest explained. “This one came from the high school. Used for Littles who proved they were too immature to graduate. Haven’t had any in a while, so they weren’t using this.”
“Lots of mature Littles?” the nurse asked.
Forrest laughed at that. “Goodness, no. They’re just not enrolling over there. You know how it is.” We all did. “Mrs. Brollish requisitioned it this morning. Just in case.” My entire body felt a sting of shock at that last comment. The room was filling up with elephants fast and no one was talking about them. I felt like the weight of those elephants might crush my skull then and there.
“How does it work?” the so-called medical expert asked.
Raine looked back to me sitting quietly. “It’s easy,” she said. “I can talk you through it.” Of course Raine Forrest knew how it worked. She likely researched it and recommended it to Brollish.
On the side of the contraption was a panel that Raine opened up. It was hollow on the inside except for a pair of black goggles, a silvery bathing cap and a plastic jar filled with white salve “You just strip down the Little darling,” she said, “and put the cap and goggles on to protect them.”
Raine smiled; a witch explaining her spell. “Cap first. Then Goggles. This latch on the back makes it so they can’t take it off.” She flipped open the top of the tube. “Then you just plug it in, feed them through the top, close the lid and press this button.” She pointed to a big red circle. “Voila. All adult hair…everything not under the cap or protected by the goggles goes bye bye.”
The nurse grabbed the jar and started looking for a label. “What’s this? Petroleum Jelly? I know how to take a Little’s temperature.” They weren’t barely pretending this wasn’t meant for me. Typical.
“That’s for after,” Raine said. “This is an old model, so the process stings a little bit. This stuff soothes the skin. Helps them get to sleep, too.”
“Yeah. The process takes a lot out of them, poor Little things.” Another glance at me. “Don’t worry. The tube is sound proof.” Raine walked over to me and bent over to make eye contact. “Hello, Clark. It’s very nice to see you. I’m super glad you came to school today.”
I said nothing.
She stood back up and picked the lone diaper up off the desk. She held it out from her, like she was farsighted and couldn’t quite make out the multi colored monkeys on the landing zone. I knew what she really was doing. She was sizing me up, putting angling it so that from her view it was between my legs. A tiger sizing up its wounded goat. Damn it all, I prayed she was wrong.
“See you later, Clark.”
She walked out, leaving me alone with the lesser of two Amazons. I sat there in the chair, silently trying to figure out where I went wrong with my life. The nurse finally let me be and pretended to do work on her computer; likely looking up extra instructions on how to use the giant bug zapper torture device I was to be put in.
The final bell rang. The students loaded up on the buses and the buses pulled out for the weekend. I didn’t move. The clicking of heels signaled Mrs. Brollish’s approach. I looked up as she entered and stared into the wrinkled hag’s face.
“Mr. Gibson,” she said. “If you’ll follow me, please.” I hopped off the chair and followed along behind her back to her office. No words were spoken. Brollish looked quietly pissed. That was a plus. But if Beouf or some other Union representative wasn’t present - no…just Beouf…only Beouf…
If Beouf wasn’t present, the only words out of my mouth would be ‘Union Representation’.
There were three chairs, pulled up in front of the Principal’s desk. The center one was obviously for me. There was a step stool and everything this time. Sitting in the chair to my right was Mrs. Beouf. To the left, face red and snot dripping from his nose with Janet looming over him was Jeremy; former student and current accuser. No one looked happy.
So this was the trial…
“Mr. Gibson,” Brollish started. “Thank you for being so patient. Are you aware of why I asked you out of your classroom today?”
I said nothing. I just looked over to Beouf and she nodded. “I don’t think you told me, ma’am.”
“One of your former students,” she gestured to sullen looking Jeremy, “wrote an essay accusing you of…” she paused. In a sane world; in a fair world, they could have just said I was accused of wearing diapers and laughed it out of the room. I reminded myself that the world wasn’t fair every morning I woke up for a reason.
“Symptoms of an acute and chronic maturosis flare up,” Beouf said, filling in the silence with more clinical sounding pseudoscience bullshit.
“Yes, that,” Mrs. Brollish agreed. “May I read it to you?” Beouf nodded to me. I nodded back to Brollish. She read the whole damn thing word for word and I did my best to keep a blank face, I had to act as though I didn’t know what she was going to say and was seriously considering the accusations leveled against me. But I couldn’t act as though it had any other effect on me or I might seem guilty. “Is any of this true?” she said when she’d finished reading.
I chewed on the sides of my tongue. Had to choose my next words like each one was a footstep in a minefield. The trap hadn’t snapped yet but I hadn’t gotten the cheese, either. “I’ve never worn diapers during my time here at Oakshire Elementary.” Such a stupid way to phrase it, but anything more absolute would be nitpicked and used to try and justify shoving me in a bug zapper.
“Why would he write that?”
Beouf held her hand out to shut me up before I responded. “That’s not important,” she said.
Janet spoke up. “We did a special lesson today, Mr. Gibson,” she said. “It was about the difference between fiction and lying” She was talking to me, but looking directly at Mrs. Brollish. “About how fiction doesn’t hurt people because it admits that the story isn’t true up front.”
“Yes ma’am…” Jeremy muttered, even though he wasn’t being addressed. He looked at me and his face hardened. Who knew such hate could come off an eight year old.
“I had my class do a special writing prompt to see if they absorbed the lesson. The prompt was to talk about a time when you or someone else you knew lied and what happened because of it.” Janet looked towards me. “May I read some of them to you, Mr. Gibson?”
I dared to hope. “Yes…?”
Janet reached over Jeremy’s head and took a handful of papers from Mrs. Brollish. Brollish looked absolutely disgusted with herself as she released the evidence.
“Lies are when you say things that aren’t true to either hurt people or to help only yourself,” Janet read. “My friend Jeremy was telling me at lunch last week about how he made up a story that Mr. Gibson wore diapers and acted like a Little baby at school. That is a lie though and it could hurt Mr. Gibson and if another adult heard it and believed it Mr. Gibson could get in trouble and end up in the baby Little class with the Little babies and that is not where Mr. Gibson should be. Mr. Gibson is a good teacher and should be teaching the pre-k kids.”
Janet finished and looked at me. “Needs some help on sentence length, but I think it communicates the idea. That one was by Hyacinth. Another former student of yours.”
She shuffled the papers and read another one. “This one is by Mason,” she said. “Fiction is a fun story that teaches a good lesson, like The Wizard of Auz. It teaches you to make friends and go on adventures but that there is no place like home. A lie is like a story, but it teaches a bad lesson and pretends to be real. Like when Jeremy Merriwhether wrote in an essay that Mr. Gibson wore diapers. He was telling us about it on the playground yesterday. If people believe the lie, they’ll think Mr. Gibson is just a baby. Jeremy will believe he can say anything he wants about people he doesn’t like and it doesn’t have to be true. Neither of those are good lessons.”
Janet riffled through a few more papers “And this one-”
“I think we get the point,” Mrs. Brollish said. She adjusted her glasses and looked straight at me. “It was Mrs. Grange-”
“It’s Ms. Grange, actually,” Janet interrupted.
Brollish looked even more annoyed. “It was Ms. Grange who brought the original essay to my attention first thing this morning.” I still don’t know how Brollish did it, but she emitted a silent growl; something I could sense instead of hear. I could almost see the little flaps on her neck vibrating. “It was also Ms. Grange that conveniently discovered this pattern among many of her students’ essays today.”
Janet jumped in. “Due to the serious nature of the allegations, Jeremy, Mrs. Brollish, and I have been talking and we discovered a lot of inconsistencies with his story.” Jeremy sank a little lower in his chair. “A lot of things that just weren’t adding up. Like why neither he, nor his parents, nor any other student or their parents have ever reported such brazen babyish behavior from you and why he waited so long to tell anyone.”
Thank you! Thank you Janet! Someone was finally talking sense in this room! I wanted to hug her right then.
The Principal stood up and walked over the eight year old Amazon. “Jeremy. Your parents are waiting for you up front.” The kid stood up. “But first,” she said. “I think you owe Ms. Grange an apology for lying and putting her in an awkward position.” Yeah, that tracked. Even acquitting me, Brollish was gonna throw shade.
Head bowed, Jeremy muttered out the barest of apology. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“Look at me,” Grange commanded. She was using her teacher voice, that tone that only the truest asskickers; rarely recorded and impossible to put into words. Jeremy lifted his head. “You owe Mr. Gibson an apology, too.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes.” It was Beouf who spoke up. “Because of your story, Mr. Gibson had to wait in the clinic all day and Mrs. Brollish had to pay for a sub.” I caught the twinkle in Mrs. Beouf’s eye.
The kid pivoted and gave more of the same half-assed apology. “I’m sorry Mr. Gibson. I’m sorry Mrs. Brollish.”
Mrs. Brollish reached out and took his hand. “Come along, Jeremy. Your parents are waiting for you out front.”
“Do I have to hold your hand?” the little asshole whined.
“After what you did, be glad that’s all you have to do.” Mrs. Brollish said, sternly. “Your parents may decide that you have to visit the clinic for a few days.” The look of dread in Jeremy’s eyes was palpable and sweet. I hoped his parents wouldn’t give him that most ironic and Amazonian of punishments…but I wasn’t going to shed any tears if they did
The Principal turned around and addressed us. “Ladies and sir,” she said. “I’ll be right back. Please wait for me and we’ll finish this right up.”
Beouf, Janet, myself. The three of us all smiled and flashed thumbs up at each other. I was. Almost done. Almost free. We were grinning like idiots up until the moment the office door reopened and Mrs. Brollish took her seat.
“Just a few more things and we can put this behind us.” It was back to business. “Mrs. Beouf, thank you for stepping up like you did.”
“Happy to do my part,” Mrs. Beouf said. She looked at me and explained. “The substitute that was hired to watch your room switched to watching Ms. Grange’s class after she read the essays and brought Jeremy here. Mrs. Zoge and I merged our class with yours and gave Tracy a hand.”
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cackle with drunken glee. Not only had Janet rounded up witnesses to my defense, she’d gotten the mole out of my classroom in one masterstroke.
“Yes. About that,” Brollish narrowed her eyes towards Beouf. “Why was that? Why did you empty your class into his room instead of the other way around? Mr. Gibson doesn’t have any developmentally appropriate supplies for your students. No baby toys. No diapers. No bottles.”
Another trap. An attempt to get my friend to implicate me where Brollish had failed. “I felt it would be best if Mr. Gibson’s students remained in a familiar educational environment to minimize disruption in their routine. No reason to uproot them further.” (Translation: “There was no way we were leaving Clark’s room unguarded so you could plant something.) “It was easy enough for them to bring their bottles and a few toys.” (Translation: “Suck hosewater you old bat.”)
“Did you clean up after your students?”
“Of course,” Beouf confirmed. “Mrs. Zoge and her daughter got the last of it packed up before it was time to take the kids to the buses.”
“So there are no baby toys left in Mr. Gibson’s?” Uh oh. I didn’t like where this was going.
Brollish leaned back in her seat. “What about hygiene? Changes? None of your students are potty trained. Did you bring their diapers over to Mr. Gibson’s room?” Oh crap….
Beouf shook her head nonchalantly. “No ma’am. My classroom isn’t far from Mr. Gibson’s. Mrs. Zoge or myself just took turns walking our Little darlings back to our room if they needed a change.” The hell was Beouf doing? Plausible deniability much? !
“So what you’re telling me,” Brollish said, “as Mr. Gibson’s local Union Representative, is that there are no developmentally inappropriate toys, bottles, or diapers from your room in his?”
“And that if I went in and inspected his classroom, if I found something, it couldn’t possibly be from your classroom.”
“And therefore, logically, anything remotely immature would have to belong to Mr. Gibson…”
Please Beouf. Please Melony Beouf. Please develop telepathy right now! This is a trap! If you’re my friend, if you’re REALLY my friend, don’t walk me into it! No! No! No!
“I would have to agree.”
Brollish didn’t smile. She didn’t laugh. But something changed in her posture. Something quiet, but dangerous. If the woman had mastered a soundless growl like I thought she had, she’d made an artform out of a subsonic laughter. She didn’t laugh. She didn’t smile. But she did stand up.
“Then out of due diligence,” Mrs. Brollish said. “To completely clear Mr. Gibson of these obviously false allegations, allow me to inspect his classroom.”
Beouf stood up, too. “Yes ma’am,” I said. I had no choice.
On the way out walking to my classroom, Janet shot me a look. ‘What the hell?’ it said. All I could do is shrug. Beouf was walking side by side with Brollish. A dark part of me wondered if this was part of some elaborate triple cross. I immediately even felt guilty about that, but feeling guilty was better than feeling afraid.
Brollish took out her set of master keys and opened the door to my classroom for me. I went inside first. “Well…” I said. My throat felt extremely scratchy and my one word came out as barely a whisper.
“This shouldn’t take long, Mr. Gibson.” Brollish said. “I’ll only be a moment and then we can put this whole thing behind us.” Like everything she did, her tone was calm. Cold. Calculated. There was more going on here.
I felt Janet’s hand squeeze mine back and only then did it register that I was holding her hand to begin with. I looked up just as Beouf kneeled down so she could put her hand on my shoulder.
The Principal went over to the supply cabinets, cabinets that were so high up I couldn’t possibly reach them without assistance. It’s where I had Tracy store arts and crafts supplies, and even she needed a chair to reach them. Even if what Amazons believed about Littles were true, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to hide any baby stuff in something so hard for me to reach. An Amazon, however; a tall stranger with a purse looking for things to plant…
I tried to step back. Time to bolt. Beouf shifted her hand down my back and blocked my path. She pressed a finger to her lips and quietly shushed me.
“Everything seems to be in order here,” Brollish said, shutting the cabinets. “Tracy does a very good job organizing the cabinets for you.”
I stayed silent. Nothing to confirm or deny. No falling into last minute word traps. Next, Brollish went over to my student’s cubbies, looking carefully into each one, moving aside blankets as if she expected to find something.
Because she did expect to find something…
Someone had planted something for her to find and told her where to look.
She’d gone straight from the tall cabinets to my kids’ cubbies and they weren’t anywhere near each other.
Lastly, she went over to my desk. My teacher’s desk. My big thick desk that was too big for me and could have doubled as a small tree-house. She slid open the top drawer and looked inside. All I kept in there were staples and paperclips.
That’s all she found, too.
Quietly, Mrs. Brollish walked back up to us. “Everything seems to be in order. Mrs. Beouf. Ms. Grange. Mr. Gibson. Have a good weekend.”
And she was gone.
I let go of Janet’s hand and looked at my old colleague resentfully. “Mrs. Beouf?! What just happened?”
“Seriously,” Janet echoed my tone. “What the hell?”
Beouf stood up and walked towards the back of my classroom; back towards hers. “Come on. Let me show ya.” Her grin was the very definition of ‘shit-eating’.
As the three of us crossed the short divide between my room and Beoufs, I heard voices singing. “Chō, chō ha ni tomaru.” Was that Mrs. Zoge? “Happa ni akitara sakura to asobu.” And who was singing with her? “Sakura no hana no ue de.” Ivy? “Teishi shite saisei shite saisei shite teishi”
Amazon mother and adopted daughter waited for us; the two of them giggling happily as Ivy bounced on her mommy’s knee; playing some kind of hand game. It would have been sweet if it was an actual mother and child. Mrs. Zoge saw us come in and gently slid Ivy off of her.
“Mommy…” Ivy whined a bit.
Zoge looked down at her Little doll. “Grown-ups are talking, my love.” She handed her a rattle. “Play with this.” Ivy looked at me and waved a bit before going to shake the rattle. “I assume things went well and that we missed nothing,” Zoge said.
“Looks like we got ‘em all,” Beouf said.
“Beouf, I’m not following you,” Janet said.
I pointed to Grange. “Same.”
It was Zoge who replied. “The substitute,” she said. “I’ve never seen her here before.” She spoke slowly and quietly. When others chose their words carefully it sounded forced or sneaky. Now that Zoge was doing it, there was an almost musical quality to her voice. Maybe it was the Yamatoan accent.
“Me neither,” I agreed. “Subs come and go, but she wasn’t what I’d call one of the regulars.”
“New substitutes,” Zoge said, “they get lost. They find things and put them back in the wrong places because they do not know any better.” Her face was straight and plain, a mask of tranquility. Beouf was already starting to crack up and covering her mouth with the palm of her hand.
Ah. So that’s what happened. “And what did this new substitute misplace?” I didn’t put any extra emphasis for sarcasm. There was no need here. Not now. I’d won. We’d won. Me and my friends. Old and new.
The foreign Amazon bent over and picked up an empty bottle. “She put a bottle of my daughter’s apple juice in the tall cabinet.”
Ivy looked up from her rattle. “It was yummy!”
“Also, she misplaced my daughter’s new rattle and put it in one of your students’ cubbies. All the way in the back behind their blankets. Very odd.” Ivy gave it another shake and giggled. I wasn’t entirely certain that she was giggling at the rattle, now.
Now Janet got it and started laughing. Beouf was having to hold herself up by leaning against her desk. I remembered what was sticking out of the intruder’s purse. “And her diaper?” I asked.
“Most peculiar,” Zoge said. “She put it inside your desk. Such an unusual place to put a diaper.”
Ivy lifted up the hem of her dress and gave the front of her diaper a pat. “It’s a big one, Mommy!” It’s true. It fit but it was big on her. The tapes on either side of the diaper almost touched in the middle. Ivy and I were both Littles but I was thicker in the middle than her. If Ivy had been any slimmer the two tapes might have overlapped one another.
Zoge bent over and picked Ivy up. “A mistake on my part. I accidentally bought her a size too large. My Ivy is not yet big enough for these, but it would be a waste and I did not wish for them to go to waste.” She patted Ivy’s padded backside. “A little wet,” she said. “But I think we’ll wait till we get home to change. Just in case.”
(End of Part 1)