“So you wanted to die?”
“Not wanted... just wan... had enough. I’d had enough.”
“Stop mumbling. When I ask you a question, think before you speak. Is that clear?”
“Better. Had enough of what, exactly?”
He let the boy gather his thoughts, watching them spill out of clumsy hands, hit the floor and shatter. His mouth was open, working helplessly but nothing intelligible was coming out.
“Breathe. In, out. Right. Enough breathing. Talk to me. You’re an added complication to my day; there’s no need for you to be the reason I’m late home for dinner, too.”
“Enough of being ignored!”
The words were spat out with a conviction that made the air quiver slightly, as though the boy had power. Interesting. He watched him for a while, letting his gaze wander over the tousled hair and rounded face, noting the strain and fear, glossed over with anger.
“Cry me a river, you baby.”
“What?” Outrage and surprise mingled. Oh; he thought this would make a difference, did he?
“Listen up. You’re out of my hands now. They’ll have you in therapy, counseling; all that touchy-feely crap that passes for worthwhile in this place. They’ll dissect you and forget how to put you back together. Doubt they’ll expel you though. Oh, no. Don’t know what you’d have to do for me to actually be able to get rid of you.”
The boy looked at him and he could swear there was wetness gathering in his eyes.
“Cry, and I’ll alter every grade you’ve got to a ‘D’.”
The eyes went hard and mercifully dry. “You can’t do that! I’ve never got worse than a ‘B+’!”
“Academically bright, are we? Just stupid about other things. Seen it before. Sad. No, make that pathetic. Ignored, overlooked, invisible... why is that, do you think?”
The eyes shifted and he said quietly, “Look at me. Answer my question.”
“Because I’m short!”
“Of course. See; not so hard, after all. Nothing we can do about that, is there? Lucky you; got an excuse to cling to for the rest of your life and you’re only seventeen. Takes some people much longer to figure out why they’re incompetent, lonely losers with drink problems, no job and – what? You don’t like that future?” He waited and got no answer, the boy’s lips trembling into a sulky, sullen pout. “Tell me; off the record, no punishment for being honest, won’t go out of this room – how would you describe me?”
The pause was long enough for him to have to frown and narrow his eyes with pretend anger to get him to answer. The resulting flood of words contained nothing surprising, though he had to smother a smile at one or two of the adjectives; a love of alliteration obviously taking precedence over applicability.
He held up his hand. “Enough. Thank you.” A slow smile, whose only purpose was to expose teeth, curled his lips. “Think you covered most of it. I’m scary and I’m powerful and you hate me. Just how I like it. You just left out one thing.”
He stood, walked around his desk and gestured the boy up. He lifted his hand, laying it flat against his head and moving it slowly across. The edge of his palm came to rest against the uneven fringe of hair falling over the boy’s brown, round eyes.
“I’m shorter than you but you’re looking up at me.”
The boy’s eyes widened and he nodded as he saw understanding grow.
“Now get out. Your parents should be waiting for you. Oh, and one more thing –” The boy turned, apprehension dragging his shoulders down. “You ever, ever pull a stunt like that on school property again, and I’ll drag you to the gates and shove you into traffic. Kill yourself in the holidays.”
He giggled, the tension leaving him so suddenly it took caution with it. “That’s funny, sir. I won’t –”
His voice broke and died away. There was no humour in the face of his principal, none at all.
“I’ll... bear that in mind.”
“You do that.”
The door closed and he shook his head in disgust. Students. He picked up the next file on his desk; the personnel records of the cook and his lips tightened. He could sympathise with her motivations but – no. The students were his and she’d attacked them. He picked up his pen and began to write. The Mayor’s office would take it from here. He pursed his lips. Would a collection for a funeral wreath be appropriate? He decided, with rare magnanimity, to pay for it himself.
After all...she’d had the guts to do more than moan. Had to admire that in a person.
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