Godzilla roared near her elbow and Topaz Meridian said, "Fuck. What now?" before she took a calming breath and answered her cell phone. Calls from the school were never good. Within 20 minutes, she walked into the main office of Climax High School, home of the Cougars.
The principal ushered her into his office. "Mrs. Meridian," he said.
"Miss Meridian. What's going on? Why is Rhys suspended?"
"My hands are tied. When there is a fight, we suspend. That's in the handbook."
"My son has been attacked twice in 48 hours and you want to suspend him?"
Mr. Burns gave her his benign look. "It's in the handbook."
"Let's review. Yesterday, two boys threw my son into the shower with his clothes on, and wouldn't let him out until after the next bell. He received a tardy, and a detention for disrupting class because his clothes were wet."
"He said he had a hoodie, he could have worn that."
"Last week a boy dumped chocolate milk on his head and bounced his head off the cafeteria table."
"Mrs., I mean Miss Meridian, Mr. Press said Rhys kept sighing when other kids in the class were reading aloud. He gave him a detention for disrupting the class."
"So, because this other boy can't read aloud well, and Rhys was rude, it's ok that the other boy poured milk on him."
"No, I didn't say that."
"And what happened today?"
"Another student said Rhys looked at him funny and made milk come out his nose, so he knocked Rhys' books down and hit him and —"
"So why are you suspending Rhys?"
"He could have walked away."
"Oh? This other boy attacked him and hit him until the janitor separated them."
Mr. Gibson, dean of students, entered the room, carrying a folder. "Rhys made a statement," he said, "that he hit back. That makes it a fight."
"So in order not to be suspended following an attack from which he cannot physically walk away, he must lie there until the attack is over in the hopes of being rescued? And let's address this milk out the nose. How on earth would Rhys have caused that?"
"You know, Rhys has been in my office or has been written up..." Mr. Gibson leafed through the file, "eight times this past semester. He was accepting money for finishing other kids' homework assignments; he skipped study hall to go outside, he said, so he could put a baby bird back in its nest; he refused to recite his poem in language because he said it was in Latin and it was too dangerous; he drew a dinosaur attacking the school on his algebra test."
"Dragon. It was a dragon," Topaz said, interrupting the litany. Her kid was a smart ass, there was no getting around that.
"He argued with the teacher when she told him not to draw on his test."
Let me guess, Topaz thought, he told her it was a dragon, not a dinosaur.
She could see her son, sitting with his purpling eye, swollen lip and knuckle–bruised forehead, through the door Mr. Gibson had left slightly ajar. She saw Mr. Press look through the door at her son and laugh, miming sucking from a baby bottle. This really is the very last straw, she decided.
Mr. Press walked around to the front of his desk so he could lean-sit on it in a way he thought made him appear casual and approachable. It was important to be approachable, he thought. He'd gotten his coffee at Beans. He'd finished half of it while the students handed in and collected papers. Mr. Press didn't notice the steam begin to rise through the drinking slot in the to-go cup. "Any questions, are you guys getting this stuff?" he said, picked up his Beans cup and took a large gulp.
And immediately spit it out, his tongue and throat feeling like he'd sucked a hellfire coal. Dionne, sitting up front, shrieked. Mr. Press looked wildly around for something to stifle the burn in his mouth, he could feel the blisters already. "My eyes!" Dionne shrieked. She held her hands over her face, crying, and Mr. Press realized he'd spit the coffee full into her face.
That morning was busy for Mr. Gibson. Two boys got into a fight, someone dropped a baggie of marijuana by the art room, and two girls screamed at each other during enrichment period. So much paperwork. He picked up his pen, and felt a spider crawl up his thigh and into the open leg of his boxers. He shifted in his seat, then stood up and wiggled his hips. He was about to reach into his pants when the door opened. The last of his discipline cases from the morning slunk in and dropped into a seat in front of him. Tomas. Of course it was Tomas.
Mr. Gibson sat down and squirmed in his chair. There must have been two spiders. He made a funny little high-pitched noise as he felt a pinch. And then the itching. Good god, the itching. Squirming made it worse; not–squirming was impossible.
"So, Tomas, another fight," he said, getting up and wiggling a little, thinking to drop the spider (spiders?) out of his pants. He turned away as if looking out the window. He jammed his hands into his pockets and moved them, trying to itch.
"Excuse me," he said, and sidled past the boy out of his office toward the faculty bathroom. Every step chafed and opened up new areas of itch. Someone was in the bathroom. There was a boys' bathroom around the corner in the hall. Mr. Gibson pushed the door open, his hands still in his pockets. He was halfway there when he saw the tape across the entrance. "Problems," he heard the janitor say, "Can't go in there. New guy used bleach and ammonia together, it'll turn your lungs liquid."
Mr. Gibson's eyes watered. He burst back into the office lobby. The bathroom door was closed. He tried the handle. It was locked. He rattled it.
"I think someone is in there," Donna, the office manager, said. "Are you all right? Your face is red."
Mr. Gibson could barely breathe. "Fine, I'm fine."
He went into his office. Walking was painful. "Tomas, go out to the desk and call your mother," he said, forgetting that Tomas' mother had died during the summer.
He heard the door click. Alone, thank God, alone. Mr. Gibson reached into his boxers and scratched. He couldn't reach all the spots. He unbuckled his belt, yanked so hard at his fly he nearly ripped it, and with both hands, scratched and moaned, panicky, as the scratching seemed to make the itching worse.
"Mr. Gibson, my goodness!"
Mr. Gibson turned. He held his penis in one hand, the other cupped his testicles. Donna stood in the doorway. Tomas sat frozen in his chair. For no reason he could imagine, Mr. Gibson felt his hand grow warm with something liquid just as the itching became unbearable and suddenly stopped. As he wiped his hand on his trousers, all he felt was relief.
If Mr. Gibson's morning was busy, Mr. Burns' was insane. First there was the matter of Dionne Bartlett and her spit–out–coffee–face. She might have to wear a patch, her irate mother told Mr. Burns over the phone when she called from the hospital — an eye patch as she represents Climax High School in the vocal solo section at regionals. I hope your school has good insurance, she said. We could press assault charges, she said.
Mr. Press had no burns on his mouth or in his throat, and the coffee on his desk was quite cold. And the doctor had already told Mr. Burns the girl was not, in fact, burned.
So there was that.
Then there was Mr. Gibson. "Dean of Students at Climax High climaxes in front of student," Mr. Burns could hear the TV news reporters now.
And there was a new teacher today. Barbara Silwak. Just graduated. Oh goody.
"This is Miss Silwak," Donna said, and introduced a young — too young, surely! — redhead in a black dress and polka dot pumps.
"Barbara Silwak," the redhead said, extending her manicured hand. "Everyone calls me Babs."
"Ok, good, Boobs, great to have you on top."
Both women stared at him. Babs Silwak withdrew her hand.
"Miss Slutwalk, I'm so sorry, I mean, to have you in bed. On board! Boobs. Babs. Babs, I'm sorry."
"'Miss Silwak' will do," the redhead said with so much frost you could see her breath.
Donna looked like she might faint. Mr. Burns felt like he might faint. A student worker stared and tried not to.
"Penis, please take Miss Sultry to her room, I mean classroom of course, not bedroom. Uh, Peter Whoreson is one of our top students."
"Peter Rollison," the boy said, pronouncing his name carefully.
"Right, Penis Rollison," Mr. Burns said. He heard the words coming from his mouth, but seemed to have no control over them.
Miss Silwak looked angrier than Mr. Burns had ever seen a woman, and he'd seen some angry women. She left with the student, with Peter Rollison, God, why would he call him anything but Peter Rollison, he golfed with the boy's father!
"Ms. Simon is waiting in the conference room." Donna managed a pretty good frosty tone too.
Ms. Simon. Superintendent of Schools Simon. Right.
Mr. Burns walked into the conference room. "Ms. Semen, hello."
"Police escorted Dean of Students at Climax High School, Mr. Avery Gibson, to the police station in handcuffs. We're hearing that Mr. Gibson exposed himself to a student in his office. Charges are pending. Principal Ronald Burns has taken a leave of absence following allegations of sexual harassment today from new teacher Barbara Silwak. What's happening at Climax High?" the reporter on Channel 6 asked, her eyes gleaming. "Details at 11."
Sitting home on her couch, Topaz Meridian hid her smile behind her coffee cup as her son looked at his mother and asked her, "Mom, what did you do?"