From Life at St. Mary’s
I rubbed my bruising knuckles and grimaced, the constant throbbing in my left eye making me cringe even more. I leaned my head against the cool, white tile behind me and sighed audibly. Thank God the hallway was empty – nothing but gleaming lockers and closed classrooms to witness my walk of shame. The cheap, polyester chair crinkled beneath me as I shifted in my seat, trying to get comfortable. It felt like I’d been waiting outside Father Bob’s office for hours, and I was starting to get antsy. With my good hand, I fumbled to loosen my collar and school tie, sighing again with relief.
To my right, I sensed Sister Martha’s beady eyes peering at me over her bifocals. I was surprised she could hear me at all, the hag. Her hunched form looked at least a hundred and five, and that was being generous. “Shhhhhhhh,” she hissed, like I was a toddler. The moment I heard Sister’s withered hands begin to click clack against her typewriter, I stuck my tongue in her direction, then winced because every move made my eye pulse with pain.
Stiffly curling and uncurling my fingers, I mentally assessed the damage. One black eye (better than two), slightly purple right hand (the perfect homework excuse), gaping hole in the knee of my last good school pants (Ma would have a hissy fit). All in all, I’d had worse.
I saw a blur of movement out of the corner of my good eye and gingerly lifted my head from the wall. Little Billy Washington was frozen in front of me, oblivious to the stream of snot that endlessly trickled from his nose. His ridiculously big blue eyes stared me down. Billy glanced over to the office, making sure Sister Martha was out of earshot. “You look like shit,” he sniffled, then continued to waddle back to the 1st-grade.
“Oh yeah? You should see the other g–”
Billy was gone. I wanted to go kick the twerp’s tiny butt all the way down the hall, but the ethics of the situation, not to mention Sister Martha’s eagle eyes, forced me to clench my jaw instead. I leaned my head back again, just a little too hard. Thunk. “Ow,” I yelped involuntarily, adding a goose egg to my list of injuries. Sister shushed me again with vigor.
I’d been lying to Billy, of course. Golden-boy Matt Paduka was just fine, his only battle-scar some saliva residue on his cheek. Hands pinned behind my back, cheek smashed against the gravel – that’s when I’d known I was a goner. Hocking a loogie at Paduka’s sneering face had been my last move. It had also cost me a punch to the face.
I could already feel the black patch blooming nicely over my left eyelid and knew Mike would be calling me “Captain Blackeye” for the next week and a half. It made me cringe, just thinking about it. Without moving my aching head, I glanced at the pearly white clock above Father Bob’s office. SHIT. The last bell of the day was about to ring, letting St. Mary’s entire student body waltz right past me in the hot seat. Stupid Matt Paduka with his stupid face. I bet he timed this on purpose. Before I could conjure a better insult, the halls filled with a metallic ring and the classroom doors burst open, releasing the herds of my peers. I hunched my shoulders and scowled, displaying my injured fist like a trophy on my lap and avoiding all eye-contact.
“That face doesn’t make you look tough,” a familiar voice said softly. My eyes shot up. Mike was paused in front of me, leather knapsack slung over one shoulder. “It just makes you look stupid.” I scowled even deeper. Mike slowly shook his head, instinctively reaching up to fix the dark hairs that had fallen out of place. “Come on, Ger,” he said quietly, without really looking at me. His fingers nervously stroked the strap of his bag. “You said you weren’t gonna get in any more fights.”
The disappointment in his voice and the pity in his eyes made me want to smash my busted fist through the wall. I scoffed, searching for a comeback. “Yeah? I thought you were on my side,” I spat, voice rising in spite of myself. Mike shifted his knapsack to the other arm, still not looking me in the eye.
“There’s no sides, Ger,” he muttered, his voice getting softer as mine grew louder, making me even madder. I could feel my gut clench, hard, and my breathing get faster. I barely even noticed my throbbing eye. Mike swallowed, his brow furrowing. “But there’s ‘expelled’ and ‘not expelled,’ and Sister Elizabeth said-”
“I don’t care what she said!” I exploded, shoving my chair aside. “What does that old bird know about me? Huh? What the hell does she know?” I was yelling. I knew if I turned around, I’d see Sister Martha waving her sagging arms like a lunatic. “Listen, Mike, I’m done with school. I’m done with this place.” Mike looked at me with pained eyes. “I mean it.”
“It’s all a bunch of shit.”
“Maybe if you just-”
“Just what, Mikie? Tried a little harder?” I laughed bitterly, remembering every one of Sister Elizabeth’s scathing remarks and my papers drip- ping with red pen. “When I try, it doesn’t make any difference. I still get F’s, so why the hell bother?”
“Ger, I’ve told you a thousand times, you’re not stupid.”
“Oh yeah?” I scoffed. “Tell that to Sister Elizabeth.”
“You’re not!” Mike’s voice started to rise. “You just think you are, so you give up, and you act like you don’t care when I know you do.”
I sucked in a gust of cold air. “Well, sorry, Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes, but not all of us are geniuses like you. Not all of us can have perfect grades, and the perfect life, and the perfect family-”
The words stuck in my throat. My mind finally caught up with what I’d said, and I watched Mike’s brown eyes harden before his face shut down completely. “Yeah, you’re right, Ger,” he said in a cold voice that I’d never heard before. “My life is pretty damn perfect.”
“Mike,” I stammered. “Your mom- you know I didn’t-”
“Forget it.” Mike threw his knapsack over both shoulders and gripped the leather straps so tightly his knuckles turned white. He walked away without turning back.
The hallway sat empty and still. I hadn’t even noticed everyone leave. Idiot, idiot, idiot.
How could I have forgotten about Mike’s mom? I’d danced around the subject for months, and of course, I’d blown it all because of my stupid temper. Totally drained, I sank back into my chair, feeling like a complete and utter worm. I heard a door creak open behind me and felt, rather than saw, Matt Paduka’s tall form saunter past. I didn’t even have to look up to know he was smirking.
“Mr. Conckey?” Sister Martha intoned in a reedy voice. “Father Bob will see you now.”