Just my luck; first time in months the weather’s good enough for outside football and I get subbed by old Caesar. So much for displaying my skills on the freshly cut field of dreams. He’s probably been looking out his window, coffee in hand, waiting for the perfect opportunity to ruin my day. Maybe he’s missing me. I’ve not done anything wrong since he warned me last week that I would be pulled from the school football team if I didn’t play the game as he sarcastically put it. I’d tried to be funny and told him that was all I ever wanted to do, which is why I rebounded that rubber ball via the ceiling tiles onto Mr. Andrews’ bald patch and into the bin. Good hand-eye co-ordination I boasted in a vain attempt to let him know my time here wasn’t completely wasted. It might not have amused or impressed old Caesar but my classmates elevated me to cult status, and for the first time since moving here I was one of them.
No time for a shower, just a quick council wash to freshen up and make me more presentable for my big date in the headmaster’s office. Don’t want to give him any more ammunition to expel me. He’s already made it clear students like me drag down the good name of the school.
Haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to have done this time. I’ve not even been late for registration once this week, and I’ve attended every class except when I was at my pre-arranged dentist appointment. Maybe he wants to admire my new smile. Or maybe he just wants to share a coffee and a few biscuits, and catch up for old times’ sake. After all, it’s been well over a week since we last had a good chat about the world, or at least my part in it.
What do I care anyway? It’s not as if he’s going to attack me and give me a kicking. I’d take him easily and he knows it. At least I think he knows it. He should know it. He’s about fifty and walks with a stick. I’ll take that stick off him and shove it up his arse. That’s not going to happen though. He’d probably buzz for that secretary of his: Mrs McKinley; and without a doubt she’d give me a kicking.
What is it with him though? The only times he ever bothers to take an interest are when someone else complains about me. It’s always a negative situation. I’m never there by choice. I don’t walk past his office door and think I’ll just pop in see how the old emperor’s getting on today.
I don’t hate him for punishing my wrongs. I hate him for looking down on me when he doesn’t even know me. If only he took some time to see the bigger picture. Who knows, maybe he’d even like me, or at least respect me for who I am and what I’ve achieved considering the obstacles in my path. He’s not interested in what goes on outside his school. That’s for the social workers.
He always sits there in his leather recliner, shaking his head and dipping his cookies into his coffee. Last week he took great pleasure in showing off his new all-singing all-dancing coffee machine. I must admit I was quite impressed. For a second I even thought he was going to offer me a latte, but maybe that’s because I’d had a joint before I went to see him and reality was left behind the sheds. I love the smell of his office though. Maybe he’ll offer me one of those coffees one day. And what a day that’ll be.
There she is; the gatekeeper from hell, Mrs McKinley. I’m sure there’s a creature in the Greek myths from which she’s a direct descendant. Her head’s definitely too small for that size of body.
“Hello Jonathan. Take a seat. I’ll let Mr. Glen know you’re here.”
Take a seat? That’s a new one. I must be going up in the world. This could be coffee and cookies day after all. Christ, there’s Mr. Andrews and his crow’s nest. What’s he doing here? I’ve not been near his class since I got transferred out last week. It’s a conspiracy; I know it. They just want to see the back of me because I’m a Catholic. I’m being thrown to the lions.
“Morning Jonathan, how are you today?”
What’s he playing at? Is this the calm before the storm? Before they gang up on me with a pack of lies so they can expel me. Or is he going to play the role of good cop today, leaving the role of villain to old Caesar.
“I’m fine. How are you?”
I can’t believe I’ve just asked him that. He’ll be thinking I’m trying to sook in with him in the hope they’ll go easy on me. I should’ve told him to make sure he wears a hat now the sun’s out in case he gets sunburn on his napper. Come on Jonathan; get a grip of yourself.
“I’m fine too, Jonathan. Thanks for asking. Ah, good morning Mr. Glen. I’m down to discuss those plans we talked about yesterday."
Plans. I knew it. Yesterday my arse. You’ve probably been cooking this up for weeks. Shit. How am I going to explain this to my dad? I’ve only just managed to convince him that last English essay I wrote about drugs was plagiarised from Readers Digest. Think Jonathan, think. Keep calm son. Whatever it is, you’ll deal with it. You’re smarter than these clowns.
“It’ll have to wait Mr. Andrews. Something’s come up. Visit me this afternoon at four and we’ll discuss it then. Okay? Sorry to keep you waiting, Jonathan. Please come in."
So much for my conspiracy theories; that definitely wasn’t planned. Andrews was brushed aside like the nonentity he is. Oh how I enjoyed swinging the door shut in his face. He’s probably still outside with his plans in his hand and his tail between his legs. I’ll burst out laughing if I don’t stop thinking about that look on his face.
“Take a seat please, Jonathan.”
Smell that fresh coffee, Jonathan. I’m going to buy myself one of those machines one day and fill it with the best Colombian money can buy. Wait a minute, that’s twice he’s said please. It must be serious. Look at him; he can’t stop fidgeting with that pen. And why’s he not looking straight through me in that condescending manner in which he excels? Is he finally going to apologize for all the shit he’s put me through? About time. Is this the day he makes an effort getting to know the real me and what I’m all about?
“I’m…I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ve some bad news for you, Jonathan.”
The old sod’s going to expel me. The conniving miserable old bugger is going to expel me. He’s going to have me sent to an approved school. An approved school? With my grades? I’m going to kill him.
“I’m afraid you’re dad’s had a cardiac arrest.”
“He’s had a heart attack.”
“A heart attack? Is it serious?”
“I’m afraid he passed away just over an hour ago.”
My guts tighten and I look at old Caesar the way his namesake would’ve looked up at Brutus in his last moments. This can’t be right. When I left my dad at home this morning he looked great. As always he was cracking jokes and had breakfast ready for me getting up. He can’t be dead. He’s only forty two and in great shape. Caesar has fucked up big time.
“Are you…are you…?”
I don’t want to finish the sentence because I don’t want to know the answer. My heart’s attacking me and my mind’s in a chariot race. I want to be dreaming. I want to be anywhere else but here. I want to think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I want to go to the game on Saturday with my dad. I want to be still out on the football field feeling the sun on my face and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass floating effortlessly in the gentle breeze. I want to…I want to do a million and one different things all in places other than this, but I open my eyes and here is where I am; I’m stuck to the chair and feel a creeping numbness devour me, a single tear tickling my cheek, and all I can smell is the coffee.
“I’m sorry, Jonathan. Can I get you a drink of water?”
For the first time in my life I’m speechless. No smart-ass answers. No quick one-liners. No nothing. I don’t know whether I’m lost for words, or just lost for the right words. It’s as if my brain’s refusing to accept the current situation exists. What about my mum in Lourdes? Who’s going to tell her? Will they be able to get in touch with her? How will she react? What if she has a heart attack when she’s told? Where will I live then? Why am I the only one to know? I don’t want to know. Maybe Caesar’s got it all wrong. What does he know?
“One of your dad’s friends is coming to pick you up and take you home. He’ll be here soon. If there’s anything I can do, let me know. I’ll be glad to help.”
I don’t want to go home. What is there for me now? I feel sick. What an irony? The only person in the world I feel any hate for is the one to inform me of the death of the person I love the most. Just my luck; Old Caesar’s guaranteed himself a place in my head for the rest of my life. Look at him shaking. It’s obvious he’s not very experienced in this sort of thing. I almost feel sorry for him.
“Both your parents are very proud of you, you know.”
I feel like correcting his tense. What does he know about my parents? Sure, he’s had plenty of contact with my dad over the phone but he’s never met my mum.
“I met both your parents at the Scottish School’s Annual Art Exhibition at the weekend. Did you know you had more pieces on show than anyone else?”
What’s he playing at now?
“Your Mona Lisa was the star of the show. My personal favourite was your view of Ben Lomond from Loch Ard.”
I couldn’t give a monkey’s what your favourite is. My dad’s dead.
“Sylvia, my wife, loved your interpretation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. She wanted to know how you achieved the swirling effect. Her own effort failed to capture half the dynamism of yours."
Well she must be rotten then.
“You’re an extremely talented artist, Jonathan.”
“I didn’t think you knew I could paint.”
“I know a lot more about you than you think I do, Jonathan. You’ve been such a regular visitor to my office in recent months, culminating in last week’s episode. I decided to do some research.”
How can my dad be dead?
“I know you’ve had problems settling into this school. It’s difficult moving school, I know. For my part, I wish I knew then what I know now. Perhaps things would’ve turned out different for you here.”
Surely my dad can’t be really dead.
“It was only last week that I discovered you were a straight A student at your previous school. Yet, this year you decided not to turn up for any of your exams including Art. I must admit that when I found this out I was angry, not with you, but with myself.”
My dad’s supposed to be chairing a meeting tonight. Someone will have to tell his friends at AA he won’t be coming.
“It’s my school, and I’m responsible for every single student. To see someone so talented throwing away everything they’ve spent years aiming for saddens me deeply. I have to try and understand what went wrong and how I can prevent it from happening again.”
Why is this happening to me?
“I hear voices outside. I think that’s your dad’s friend here now. Before you go, Jonathan, can I ask you a favour?”
Him asking me a favour? Has he lost the plot?
“Take as much time as you need. But when you come back I’d like you to come see me; spend an afternoon together, share a pot of coffee and discuss where to go from here. Will you do that?”
Well, well, well. Is this what it takes to be treated like a human being in this place? I should tell him to stick his coffee up his arse.
“I’ll have to think about that, sir.”