by Allen Coyle
The first day of the new semester was always a cause for excitement at Willow Tree High School. Students fresh from Christmas vacation funneled in through the front doors, most with sullen faces. The front foyer was a scene of havoc, as students sought to obtain their semester schedules at a mess of tables cluttered together by the library doors.
A young man named Randall Tenmin was able to snatch his schedule from the alphabetically categorized P-T table and worm his way to a corner of the foyer. He unfolded the paper and scanned it quickly, curious to discover if he had been assigned the classes he had signed up for.
“Oh no,” he mumbled, just as his pal Charles Wirsen sauntered forth, glasses slipping forward on his pronounced nose, his jeans hitched up tight with the shirt tucked in. Randall and Charles, though they cared little, were looked upon as nerds by the general school population. They didn’t dress, think or behave like normal teenagers. The concepts of school spirit and contemporary fashion standards were alien to them. For the two boys, graduation from the mediocrity and stupidity that ran rampant in this backward school couldn’t come soon enough.
“Oh no what?” Charles asked, removing his heavy backpack and letting it flop to the floor. He pushed his glasses back up his nose.
“This is all wrong,” Randall said, staring at the paper as though he were deciphering a cryptic code. He looked up at Charles. “Let me see yours.”
“I don’t have mine yet,” Charles said. He nodded toward the chaotic crowd. “I’m waiting until things cool down a bit. I’m in no hurry to get to class.”
“Look at this,” Randall said, holding the paper for his friend to see. His face was sour. “Look at the classes they gave me.”
Charles took the schedule. “PhysEd I, PhysEd II, Weight Lifting, Introduction to Aerobics, Advanced Track, Overview of Popular Sports.” He broke into laughter as he handed the paper back to its owner. “Those are all P.E. classes, man.”
“I know they’re all P.E. classes,” Randall growled, snatching the schedule out of Charles’ extended hand. “I didn’t sign up for any of them.”
“Don’t worry, man. It’s probably just a computer glitch.” Charles didn’t seem too concerned.
There was a hint of relief on Randall’s face. “You think so?”
Charles shrugged. “I would bet on it. I mean, why would they assign you classes you didn’t even sign up for? Not even the administration here is that cruel.”
“That’s what I was wondering,” Randall replied. “Why would they assign me classes I didn’t ask for?” He didn’t look thoroughly convinced, however.
Charles saw the doubt in his friend’s eyes.
“Look dude, if you’re that concerned about it, why don’t you talk to the guidance counselor? She’s the one you have to see to switch courses and stuff like that.”
Randall looked up and nodded. “You’re right. She’d probably take care of it if I asked her. I’ll have to make an appointment.”
“No way,” Charles said. “March right in there and demand her service this very instant! These so-called school officials are paid with tax money. There’s no reason for you to revolve around their whims and schedules.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re right!” Randall said, his voice inflamed with passion. “My parents have to work their butts off just so they can throw their money into this black hole of bureaucracy. Why shouldn’t I get immediate service?”
“Exactly,” Charles said. “If more students saw the situation from that perspective, perhaps they’d be a little more hesitant to behave so subserviently.”
“I’ll go talk to her right now,” Randall said, tightening his grip on the paper in his hand. “Thanks, bud.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Charles replied.
Randall twisted through the mass of students still without schedules and approached the door to the counselor’s office. He made his way inside to the very cramped quarters and marched to the receptionist’s counter. The elderly woman was busy typing something on her computer.
“I need to speak with the counselor,” he said, slapping his schedule on the counter.
“Just a minute,” she said, without looking at him. Randall waited as she pounded on her keyboard.
The receptionist was just finishing as a girl barged through the door and brushed past Randall. The older lady turned away from the screen and stood up.
“How may I help you?” she said.
Randall made to speak, but before he could even open his mouth, the girl beside him blurted: “I need to see the counselor right now. I just got a copy of my transcript and the grades are all wrong!”
“Oh, goodness,” the receptionist said. She motioned to the closed door behind the counter. “Go right ahead, dear. She’s free at the moment.”
“Thanks,” the girl said. She heaved her backpack onto her shoulders and made for the doorway.
“Wait, hey!” Randall sputtered.
The receptionist turned to him. “Do you need help, young man?”
“I need to see the counselor!” Randall exclaimed. “That’s what I was waiting here for.”
“She’s busy right now,” the lady said. “You’re going to have to make an appointment for later.”
“But that’s ludicrous!” Randall said. “That girl came in after me and got to see her first. The counselor wasn’t busy then!”
“Well, she is now,” the receptionist said. “I’m afraid you’re simply going to have to make an appointment and come back later.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Randall said.
“You can fill out an appointment request form and I’ll submit it to her as soon as possible. Just go to your first period class and we’ll call you over the intercom when she’s available.”
“But I can’t go to my first period class,” Randall said. “My schedule is all wrong and I need her to fix it.”
“You can wait until she’s free,” the lady told him. “However, the counselor has several appointments scheduled for today. The wait probably wouldn’t be worth all the class time you’d miss.”
“She wasn’t busy with appointments a moment ago!” Randall said.
“She’s busy now,” the woman replied. She looked as if her patience was running short. “Do you want to fill out a form or what?”
“I’ll just sit here and wait,” Randall said. “If she has the time to see that girl, then she can make time for me. This is ridiculous.”
“You need to watch your attitude,” the lady admonished him. “It can get you into trouble.”
Randall snatched his schedule from the counter and moved to the waiting bench. He sat next to a small kid with greased black hair and a baby-faced scowl.
“What a crock,” he muttered, thrusting the paper into his backpack. His parents were forking over the taxes that paid these people’s salaries. He felt he was entitled to better service.
Randall glanced over at the kid sitting next to him, wondering if he was also waiting for an appointment. The young man gave him a sharp look.
“What are you staring at?” he snapped.
“I, ah…” Randall stammered, jerking back. He shook his head. “I wasn’t staring at anything.”
“You got a problem?” the kid asked. His eyes were fierce. “You don’t like the way I look or something?”
“Dude, take it easy,” Randall said. “I wasn’t staring at you.”
“Now you’re lying. I just saw you staring at me with that stupid look on your face. You got the gall to give me dirty looks and then lie about it?”
Randall put his hands in the air. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t give me that crap. If you’ve got a problem with me, spell it out. I’m not going to be pushed around by the upperclassmen.”
The kid was so small he didn’t even look like he belonged in high school. He obviously had to be a tough-talking freshman trying to make up for his size.
“Look, why don’t you just lay off me?” Randall growled. He was already in too sour a mood from his schedule conflict to deal with this twerp. “I didn’t do anything to you, and I resent the accusation.”
“What the hell’s your problem?” the kid said, his eyes becoming even more fierce. They were almost glowing with rage. “I’m sitting here waiting for my appointment with the counselor and you waltz in, stare at me, lie about it and then accuse me of doing something wrong. Just who the hell do you think you are?”
“You know what my problem is?” Randall snapped. “When I was your age, I showed respect to those in the classes above me. Not out of some deep, heartfelt reverence. More out of the fear of getting my ass kicked.”
“Is that a threat?” the kid asked, dropping his backpack from his lap to the floor. “Are you saying you’re going to kick my ass?”
“You seem like somebody who needs a good ass kicking to put you in your place,” Randall told him. “And don’t be too shocked if you get just that in the future.”
“So, you’re threatening to kick my ass,” the kid said, more stating than asking. “Do you know that’s considered hazing? I got a right to receive a public education without being harassed by students in higher classes.”
“Then quit harassing me!” Randall hollered, exasperated. “I didn’t do anything to you!”
“What’s going on over there?” the receptionist called, craning her neck to look at them.
“This guy’s trying to haze me,” the little shrimp declared. “He specifically told me he was going to kick my ass.”
“That’s a lie!” Randall exclaimed. “You little punk.”
The receptionist was immediately standing over them. She glowered at Randall. “Are you aware that hazing the younger students is forbidden, young man?”
“I didn’t do anything to this sniveling little twerp!” Randall hollered, jumping to his feet. He pointed to the baby-faced freshman, now wearing a smug grin. “He started accusing me of staring at him when I didn’t do jack!”
“I think you need to see the vice principal,” the receptionist told him quietly. “Your behavior in here is unacceptable.”
“This entire system is unacceptable!” Randall shouted. “First you let that girl go in ahead of me to see the counselor when I was here first. Now this little jerk is accusing me of harassing him. What’s next?”
“You need to leave right now,” the woman said, taking a hold of his arm. “I won’t tolerate hazing or cursing under my watch. If you refuse to go I’ll call the vice principal to escort you out.”
Randall shook her arm off. “Keep your hands off me. I’ll go myself.” He narrowed his eyes at the kid on the bench. “You little punk. I deserve some respect.”
“Get to the office!” the lady screamed.
Randall turned and kicked open the door with his foot and slammed it shut behind him, shaking the entire wall. He stomped to the main administrative office, which was just down the hall. The crowd waiting for schedules had simmered down to a mere trickle of students. Most had already gone to their first period class.
He barged into the office and plopped down on a seat in the waiting area. The woman behind the counter looked at him over the top of her glasses.
“Do you need help?” she asked.
“I need to see the vice principal,” he said. “The bitch across the hall sent me here.”
“Oh, okay. She’ll be with you in a moment.” The woman pushed her glasses up her nose and turned back to her work.
Moments later, Mrs. Conrad, a bulky, impressive woman with an air of dignity, sauntered into the waiting area. She had a notorious reputation for being one of the most hardcore vice principals in the history of Willow Tree High. Randall shivered when she entered.
“I got a call that a hazer and a curser was sent here,” she said, looking directly at Randall.
“I’m not sure about a hazer, but we definitely have a curser,” the receptionist spoke out. “My ears were appalled by his mouth. He just referred to the woman across the hall as an F-word bitch.”
“I did not!” Randall exclaimed. “Where did that come from?”
“Are you trying to lie about it?” the receptionist asked. “I just heard you say it not two seconds ago.”
“It is decidedly inappropriate to utter the F-word in any circumstance, especially in school,” Mrs. Conrad said. “Students who curse in school under my watch are risking suspension.”
“I was misquoted!” Randall cried. “I didn’t say the F-word!”
“I heard you with my own ears,” the receptionist said, looking adamant. “Don’t you dare lie and try to say different!”
“Enough! You’re both behaving like children.” Mrs. Conrad looked miffed.
“He started it,” the receptionist said, pointing.
“I said to knock it off.” The vice principal waddled over to the seating area and settled down in a chair next to the troublemaker. She seemed to be carrying that typical why-don’t-we-just-have-ourselves-a-little-chat attitude that most disciplinarians had when they were about to slam you for even the most minor infraction. The receptionist huffed and turned back to her work.
“Are you the boy who just came from the guidance counselor’s office?” Mrs. Conrad asked.
“Yes,” he snarled.
“It was reported to me that you attempted to haze a freshman student,” Mrs. Conrad said, her tone not necessarily accusatory, but more conversational. “I was also told there was quite a bit of swearing involved as well.”
“My swearing was minimal,” Randall said. “The hazing charge, however, is bullshit. I never did anything to that kid. He started in on me.”
“It seems you have a definite proclivity to express yourself coarsely. I’m only going to remind you once to watch your language.”
“Sorry,” Randall said. He looked around at the various office personnel who were milling about. “You know, wouldn’t this discussion be more appropriately held in your office, ma’am?”
“My office is currently under renovation,” Mrs. Conrad explained. “In addition to enlarging the quarters to accommodate a lounge, I’m also having a fireplace installed for ambiance.”
“Wow,” remarked Randall. “Is that all coming out of your paycheck?”
The vice principal let out a jolly laugh. “Oh, heavens no! The annual budget will cover all expenditures.”
“You know, my political history class last year could have used new textbooks,” Randall said. “The ones we were issued were battered and worn. I remember the copyright date was way back in the sixties.”
“Yes, well, all textbooks are evaluated prior to each academic year,” Mrs. Conrad explained. “Many can still serve their function even years after their publication. Besides, topics such as political history don’t tend to alter much with passing time.”
“The Soviet Union no longer exists,” Randall pointed out.
“That’s not relevant to the discussion,” Mrs. Conrad said. “I want to talk about this hazing incident that occurred earlier.”
“I didn’t haze anybody,” Randall told her. “I’m dead set against hazing. I think it’s wrong.”
“The receptionist told me she witnessed the incident,” Mrs. Conrad said.
“No, she didn’t,” Randall said. “The kid told the lady I was hazing him. She never actually saw it.”
“So you’re implying that you hazed him?”
“No!” Randall cried. “I didn’t do anything! The kid started going off on me! I was just trying to ward him off. He wouldn’t stop.”
“So you resorted to hazing him.”
“Jesus, no!” Randall exclaimed.
“I already warned you about cursing, young man. I’m going to have to write you up a detention for that.”
“Oh, c’mon!” Randall said. “That wasn’t a curse word. I said ‘gee-whiz.’”
“I’m a devoutly religious person and cringe each time the Lord’s name is used in vain. I also certainly don’t appreciate being lied to.” She took out a pad and pen and started scribbling furiously on it. “That’s two now.”
“I seriously didn’t do anything wrong!” Randall declared. He unzipped his backpack and dug for his schedule. “All I wanted to do was to get my classes fixed. I just picked up my schedule this morning and everything’s all wrong.”
“Well, that’s a matter for the guidance counselor, not me,” Mrs. Conrad said. She tore the two detention slips from her pad and handed them to him. “You’ll have to make an appointment with her.”
Randall felt like he was going to explode. “I tried to make an appointment! This girl cut in ahead of me—”
“What I suggest,” Mrs. Conrad said, interrupting him, “is that you go to your first period class and attempt to make an appointment with the counselor during lunch.”
“I don’t want to go to my first period class!” Randall hollered. “It’s a P.E. class! They’re all P.E.! I hate P.E.!”
“Don’t you dare raise your voice to me! Do you want another detention?”
“You can’t make me go to class!” Randall said. He was pleading like a little kid, and it made him sick. However, it was his last resort.
“I will not allow you to stay here in the office. If you don’t go to class this very instant, I’ll mark you as truant.”
“Mrs. Conrad, please, you have to understand—”
“My understanding is that in one morning you have hazed a fellow student, lied about it, cursed and raised your voice to me. Now you’re threatening to ditch class. The way I see it, young man, this meeting is over.”
“I can’t go to that class,” Randall said, his voice soft now. He looked at her with a beggar’s mournful eyes. “I’ve been in P.E. before. It’s torture. They make you dress out in a little suit and change with the other guys. It’s… demeaning.”
Mrs. Conrad raised her pen and held it above her detention pad, ready. “I’m waiting.”
“Jesus,” Randall sighed, getting up from the seat and shoving his crumpled schedule into his backpack. “I can’t believe this.”
“That now makes three detentions.” The vice principal quickly scrawled again and handed him another slip. Randall snatched it and shoved it into his pocket.
“Thank you,” he snarled. He jerked his bag onto his shoulders and took his leave.
* * *
Randall timidly opened the gymnasium door and peeked inside. The class was standing in neat rows performing calisthenics. He shuddered as the haunting memories percolated through his layers of mental barriers.
Not left with much choice, he quietly slipped inside. Darting like a mouse, he rushed for the bleachers and took a seat, hoping that he wouldn’t be noticed.
Noticed he was. The gym teacher, a gruff and buff man named Mr. Roberts, halted the morning exercises and stopped to look at him. The rest of the class did the same.
“Who are you, young man?” he asked. It sounded more like a military command than a simple question.
“I, ah…” Randall looked at the faces of the students. They were mostly athletes in supreme physical condition. Their mere presence was harrowing. “I’m… Randall Tenmin.”
“Are you supposed to be in this class?”
“Well, technically yes,” he said. His voice echoed across the expanse of the room. “But, I have a slight glitch with my—”
“If you’re in this class, you need to immediately dress out and join us for morning stretches. There’s uniforms in the locker room. We’ll expect you in two minutes.”
“Well, wait, see sir, I’m not really in this—”
“Two minutes. That’s a hundred and twenty seconds.” Mr. Roberts looked at his watch. “Now it’s nineteen… eighteen…”
“Sir,” Randall stood from the bleachers, “you’re not listening, see—”
“You exceed two minutes and you’ll be doing ten laps around the gym. Seventeen! Sixteen!”
* * *
The class found themselves on the track outside. It was the middle of winter and all they had for clothing were extra short shorts and thinly lined shirts. Everyone huddled together and shivered.
“You wussies!” Mr. Roberts screamed, though he himself was dressed in a full sweat suit. “Line up at the starting line! I’ll warm you up!”
Everyone reluctantly obliged. Randall took the rear.
“You’re going to be running two miles!” Mr. Roberts screamed. “That’s eight laps! Anyone who slows their pace will get my tennis shoe up their ass! Got it?”
The class mumbled.
Mr. Roberts blew his whistle. “I can’t hear you, maggots!”
“GOT IT!” everyone screamed.
“Go!” Mr. Roberts hollered. The class took off in a sprint. Randall lagged behind. He wasn’t in shape for this. He was a sedentary scholar, not a track star.
The teacher took a seat on a lawn chair at the side of the track. He popped open a beer, settling back to watch his pupils. He noticed Randall sluggishly jogging and blew his whistle. “Tinman! Quit dragging your ass! Move!”
“Dammit!” Randall cursed. He tried to run faster. Everyone else was way ahead of him now. His sides were already aching, his stilt legs burning with exhaustion. What was this, a torture session? He wasn’t designed for this crap.
Mr. Roberts took another large gulp of beer. “Move it, shit-sniffers!”
Everyone else took on an extra burst of speed and raced. The class as a group had already completed one lap. Randall had yet to complete half of one.
“C’mon!” the teacher screamed. He shook his fist from his lawn chair. “You’re all pathetic!”
Randall’s lungs were burning with the sting of the icy winter air. His body felt like it was deteriorating and coming apart. He reached the halfway point. There was no way he could do eight of these things. The man couldn’t be serious.
He eventually made it to the three-quarter mark. The mass of students overtook him and left him in a cloud of dust. They easily finished their second lap.
“Tinman, you’re going to be doing push-ups if you don’t get going! Move it!”
“Shut up, dumbass,” Randall muttered. He knew he had to look stupid doing this. Here he was, in the middle of one of the coldest months of the year, dressed in ripped shorts and a mangy shirt, running around a track. If anyone halfway intelligent saw him, they’d cry their eyes out laughing.
Randall made it to the starting line. Lap two. He passed Mr. Roberts, his pace growing slower and slower.
The teacher crumpled up his empty beer can and hurled it at Randall like a football. It struck his back with brute force and stung.
“God!” Randall screamed, curving into a “C” shape. His arms flung behind him.
“It’ll be a rock next time if you don’t move your sorry ass!” Mr. Roberts screamed. It was amazing how his voice never seemed to get sore. It was also amazing that he was in such supreme physical condition when all he did was sit there. For the millionth time, he hollered: “Move!”
Screw this! Randall had had enough. He felt a renewed surge of energy move through him. His limbs and strength were suddenly restored. His breath came back and the exhausted fog in his mind cleared. He broke out in a mad dash, running faster than he had ever run before.
Right in the direction of the school building.
“Tinman!” Mr. Roberts flung his chair, but it didn’t even come close to its fleeing target. “Get back here!”
But by the time the teacher had screamed the last word, Randall was already in the school.
* * *
Randall barged out of the gymnasium before Mr. Roberts had a chance to catch up with him. He didn’t want to risk certain death. Scampering down the hallway, he plunged into the counselor’s small office, avoiding Mrs. Conrad and any other administrators who might be prowling about.
The receptionist was mysteriously gone and the waiting quarters unoccupied. The door to the counselor’s actual office was closed. Randall rapped his knuckles on it, knocking loudly.
“Come in,” a voice called.
Randall shot in and took a seat in front of the woman’s desk.
The counselor looked up from some papers and gave him a funny look. “May I help you?”
“I have a major problem,” Randall told her. He was still out of breath from escaping P.E.
“You’re supposed to have an appointment to see me, you know,” the woman told him. “I’m afraid you’ve interrupted me at a very busy time.”
“I have a problem with my schedule and I was hoping you could fix it,” Randall said, ignoring her remark. He removed the battered piece of paper from his backpack and slid it across to her. She took it from him, still wearing the funny look. “They gave me all P.E. classes. I didn’t sign up for any of them.”
“Really?” She scrutinized the document, appearing interested.
“Really. If you could just find the glitch in the computer and fix it, you’d save my life.”
The counselor—whose name was Miss Mollion, as indicated by the plaque on her desk—pursed her lips as she studied the schedule.
“These are all P.E. classes,” she remarked.
“Yes, I noticed that,” Randall said dryly. “Is there any way you can fix them?”
She looked up at him. “Fix them? How do you mean?”
Randall closed his eyes. “I don’t want any of the P.E. classes. What I want are the courses I signed up and registered for over a month ago.”
“Did you fill out a course request form prior to Christmas break?” Miss Mollion asked, shuffling through loose papers on her desk.
“Yes, I did,” Randall said. “And I’m always very punctual about getting things in on time.”
“Well, if you failed to submit a form, the error would be explained,” Miss Mollion said. “The computer randomly assigns classes for students who haven’t submitted forms.”
“I submitted the form,” Randall growled.
“Well, this situation would suggest otherwise,” the counselor said. “In any event, however, let me just see if I can erase your current schedule and slip you into some new classes.” She turned toward her computer and started clicking buttons.
“I’d appreciate that,” Randall said. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. This day was just too much.
Miss Mollion brought up Randall’s file and started typing. She seemed to know what she was doing, which was unusual for a school employee.
“I think we may have it,” she said, after a few moments had passed. She clicked a button and her printer churned out a single piece of paper, which she handed to Randall. “Are those classes a little better?”
Randall took the schedule and studied it. He didn’t need to look at it for long.
“This isn’t going to work,” he said, holding the paper out for her to take.
The counselor looked confused. “Why not? I got rid of all the P.E. classes.”
“Let me read the new list,” Randall said. He held up the paper. “Biology I, Chemistry, Oceanography, Intro to Physics, Earth Science, Geology.”
“So?” the woman asked.
“So? These are all science classes!”
“Well, what about it?” Miss Million wanted to know. “They’re the only classes available.”
“But I hate science!” Randall exclaimed. “These can’t be the only open classes!”
The counselor looked slightly affronted. “Let me get something straight. You come in here complaining about P.E. classes, and then when I try to help you, you complain you don’t like science. May I ask you a question? Are there any classes that you do like?”
“Any classes that I do like?” Randall repeated, his voice rising. “Sure, there’s several: I like English, history, geography, computer programming, structural engineering, recess, lunch, even some math, but nothing having to do with P.E. or science! On the whole, I don’t really think I’m that picky.”
Miss Mollion shook her head and placed an elbow on her desk. “Well, I’m not sure what we can do. All the other classes are full, and there’s no way I can squeeze you in. P.E. and science are the only courses available.”
“Well, I’m flexible,” Randall said. “I’m sure I can work something out. How about me taking adult ed for a semester?”
Miss Mollion shook her head. “Not an option. That’s for adults.”
“Well, what do you call me?” Randall asked. “I’m eighteen. That’s the legal adult age the last time I heard.”
“You’re what we call a young adult,” Miss Mollion said. “You’d be ineligible for adult ed.”
“I can enlist in the army, for God’s sake!” Randall exclaimed. “I can be picked to serve and possibly die for my country. Doesn’t that entitle me to enlist in adult ed?”
“You can’t drink alcohol,” the counselor pointed out.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Randall said, looking confused. “You’re saying you have to drink alcohol to be an adult ed student?”
“Most of them do,” the counselor explained. “That’s how they ended up there in the first place.”
Randall let out a heavy sigh. His head was throbbing.
“Look,” he said. “I seem to be running out of options here. You can’t tell me there’s no way to squeeze one extra student into these other classes. One person isn’t going to devastate the fire codes.”
Miss Mollion shook her head. “There’s no way. If the computer says the class is full, then it’s full. End of story.”
Randall muttered some words under his breath.
Miss Mollion looked at the new schedule. “As far as I can see, you’re either going to have to take the science or the P.E. classes.” Her face suddenly brightened. “Or, if you want, I can create a mixture of both so you don’t have all of one or the other.”
Randall squirmed, his face pained. He shook his head.
“I can’t do that,” he said. He appeared sad all of a sudden. A realization had suddenly struck him, one so powerful and so strong, it was almost an epiphany.
“I’m not sure if you understand the scope of the situation,” Miss Mollion said. “If you don’t take these classes, you won’t graduate on time. They’ll hold you back another year.”
Randall sighed and shook his head once more. “I can’t do it.”
The counselor gave him a sharp look. “You must!”
“Ma’am, I’m tired,” Randall said, his voice weak. “I’ve been slaving away here trying to maintain a good GPA and to get into a respectable college. This last semester was supposed to be my best. None of this was supposed to happen.”
“What are you saying?” the counselor asked.
Randall peered up at her with gloomy eyes. “I want out. Now. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Out?” she said. “You don’t mean—”
“Yes,” he said. “I want to withdraw, dropout, whatever you call it. I just can’t deal with this kind of thing anymore. The bureaucracy is too much. I had big plans for this final semester of mine, and now they’re crushed. When it comes down to either P.E. or science, I have to take the third option of simply calling it quits. I’m not angry at you. I’m just disappointed with the system.”
Miss Mollion stared at him with an open mouth for the longest time. She didn’t know what to say. Randall’s lips quivered, but his eyes looked like stone. He was a defeated man.
“If that’s your choice,” the woman said slowly, her arm creeping toward a drawer. She halted abruptly. “But, are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Randall said. “Just give me the forms and I’ll fill them out.”
“Okay then,” she relented, opening a drawer and extracting some loose papers from it. She placed them on the desk in front of Randall. “After all, you are a legal adult.”
“That I am,” Randall said. He extracted a pen from his pocket and got to work filling out the forms. It was the last bureaucratic obstacle he would have to go through as a student in this school. He finished and slid the papers to the counselor.
“Okay,” she said, after a quick review. “Your signature declares you are no longer a student in this school. You’re a free man.”
“It’s actually a good feeling,” Randall said. He stood to leave.
“You’re sure you don’t want that diploma?” she asked, stopping him in his tracks. He turned toward her. “It’s just a good thing to have… these days.”
“Ma’am,” he said, giving her a little grin, “when a man escapes from prison, he doesn’t ask for a certificate. The joy of freedom is all he needs.”
He took his leave. Miss Mollion was speechless.
* * *
It was almost sad emptying out his locker and removing the few items it contained. Sad, but not tear-jerking. It felt like the end of an era. Well, that’s exactly what it was, really. Just without the cap and gown, the relatives and the sacred diploma rolled up and tied with ribbon.
Randall trudged to the front doors, his spirits crestfallen. He stopped abruptly when he saw the bulky mass of Mrs. Conrad blocking the exit.
“Miss Mollion just told me what you did,” she said. “I won’t have any of it.”
“Huh?” Randall said.
She handed him a piece of paper. “Your new schedule. We decided to overrule the computer and put you in the courses you want. I won’t tolerate quitters in my school.”
Amazed, Randall studied the schedule that had been handed to him. It contained the classes he had wanted.
Speechless, he looked up at the vice principal. She put a hand on his shoulder.
“Staying in school is the only option, Mr. Tenmin. It’s a vicious world out there.”
“Does this mean I’m still a student?” Randall croaked.
Mrs. Conrad smiled. She actually smiled. “Yes. We figured one extra student per class couldn’t violate fire codes.”
She guided him down the hall to the locker he had just emptied out.
“However,” she said, “I will still be expecting you for detention at three o’clock sharp this afternoon.”
Randall gaped. “I still have the detentions?”
“What a crock,” he muttered.
“And that makes a fourth.” She took out her pad and started scribbling on it. “Welcome back, Randall.”