I had never been called to the principal’s office before. I was quite positive that our principal, Mr. Clark, didn’t even know my name. And I liked it that way. The best way to stay out of trouble, in my estimation, was to be invisible. At the moment, I was far from invisible.
Andrew was sitting in a chair in front of Mr. Clark’s desk. There was an open chair next to him that I assumed was for me, so I sat down.
“Mr. Beldon, is it? I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions, just so we’re all on the same page here. Good, okay. First, how active was Ms. Stuart? Nope, don’t look at him, you tell me; how much involvement did Ms. Stuart have in this?”
Maybe it was because I’d worked with Uncle Todd and the guys at the landscaping service, but I was better than most kids at talking to adults.
“Sir, I honestly have no idea. I’m just finding out now about this whole thing.” I pulled out the copy of Death Man that I had found in the caff. “I was just in the cafeteria and found this; then Mr. Keane found me.”
I held the pages out for him to review, but he didn’t make a move to take them. He looked at me and then back and forth a few times between Andrew and me. I stole a glance at Andrew and gave him a nod, hoping he would say something. Mr. Clark spoke up.
“Okay, so you corroborate his story; you and Ms. Stuart had nothing to do with this?”
I took one quick glance at Andrew, who was busy clamming up.
“I can’t technically say for sure, sir. All I can say for certainty is that I didn’t have anything to do with printing this story. I wrote it. Uh, I don’t, er, can’t say anything about Ms. Stuart’s part because. . .I don’t know anything?”
I hadn’t intended that last part to be a question, but it helped in that Mr. Clark found it humorous, and he seemed to soften a bit.
“Look, this is unacceptable, papering the cafeteria and hallways with this. You will both be expected to clean this up, immediately. Mr. Beldon, as I believe you had no prior knowledge of this event, you will not be disciplined. Mr. Owens, you will receive three days of after-school detention.”
Mr. Clark suddenly got really quiet and started talking directly to Andrew. I was sitting less than a foot from Andrew, so it was awkward pretending they were having a private conversation.
“Now, Andrew, we will have to talk to your father about this; he needs to be informed of your progress. And you do understand how this behavior is not in line with your program and that this is a hindrance to meeting your goals?”
The mention of Andrew’s dad made my arm hairs stand up. I’d met his dad once. He was a severe man. Military haircut, hard jaw, shirt always pressed and tucked in. Andrew introduced me, and the man honestly said, “Well, isn’t it nice that Andrew has a friend.” And not in a joking way, like the way my dad always said, “Gee, how much is he paying you,” every time he met one of my friends. Andrew’s dad was just hard to be around.
“Now. Mr. Owens. Your father tells me that you are not currently involved in the art department?”
Andrew was so tense at this point that his affirmation was almost non-existent; it was more of a general yes-vibe.
“Mr. Owens, Mr. Beldon. . .this is. . .you should work with Mrs. DiScala. I don’t know exactly what you can do, but this is good work. It shows promise. I can’t let you throw it around the hallways, but. . .look, I don’t want to discourage you either. We’ll see if Mrs. DiScala can’t work with you in some advisory capacity, and, well, maybe if the tone of the pieces was right, maybe we could put your work out in the art show. It would have to be. . .appropriate, of course, but. . .we can work out those details. I want you boys to know that I applaud your actual work here, just not the methods you went to put your work out there. Agreed?”
For a first meeting with the principle, I thought this was going quite well. I jumped up and shook Mr. Clark’s hand, told him thank you. Andrew just shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Now, tell me a little about this Death Man. How did you come up with him?”
Andrew gave every indication that he was not going to say anything, so I regaled Mr. Clark with a bit of Death Man’s history, the ideas we had so far, and where we thought the character might be headed.
“Okay, boys, really, I am. . .happy to see you’ve focused your energies in such a positive direction. I really think you can benefit from Mrs. DiScala’s involvement, and I think we’re good here. I trust we’ll have no more littering incidents, and I think we can move on from here. Thank you.”
Out in the hallway, I flapped my shirt a little to try to cool down.
“Jesus, Andrew, that was crazy! What made you put these out everywhere?”
Andrew said nothing as we walked the halls, pulling copies of Death Man off the walls. We got to the cafeteria and saw that all the copies had already been collected and stacked on one table, probably by Jenny. She was busy talking to the Lit. Society kids about Maya Angelou, and I didn’t want to butt in, so I turned to Andrew.
“Look, man, I’m excited you put us out there, and it looks cool that maybe we can work with the art department and stuff, but can you tell me before next time you decide to do anything?”
Andrew didn’t look up at me, just flipped his thumb through the stacked copies of Death Man. “Sure.”
“Look, don’t get all bummed out; I think this is good for us in the end. Know what? I think a couple people complimented me on it. When I was coming to the caff, a guy and a girl both said they liked my story; I thought they were talking about the poem I wrote. I think they were talking about this.”
Andrew smiled. “A guy from the basketball team brought it up to me and said it was ‘badass.'”
I looked over at Jenny, and she was way in deep with the Lit. kids.
“Hey, let’s get out of here; let’s just walk around.”
The last couple of weeks, Andrew and I had taken to walking around town together. At first, it was just walks from school to the library; then it turned to walking each other halfway home from the library. One day, we just skipped the library all together. It was good talking to Andrew. I could talk to Steve and Chris, but there was always an element of bravado to it. We could only partially admit anything we were feeling, and when we did, those feelings had to be pointed and laughed at to some degree or another. I found myself saying things to Andrew that I never would have thought to tell anyone, just because I knew he was too serious to make jokes.
“I wish my dad would quit smoking. He never runs. You know I’ve never seen my dad run? I just feel like he’s going to die young and never get to see my kids and all that.”
“My dad doesn’t smoke, but he doesn’t run either.”
“Oh shit, I forgot about your dad. What’s he going to say about the detention?” Andrew didn’t say. Andrew didn’t need to say. Andrew had never said anything about being hit or anything, but you just knew his dad was not the kind who would laugh something like this off and let the detention be the only punishment. Andrew was in for it.
After that we walked in silence for a while. It made me uncomfortable, so I tried to bring up music, or TV, or anything. Andrew just mumbled a response, and we went back to silence. After a few tries, I just gave up, put my head down, and walked. Maybe that’s all Andrew needed, just someone to be there with him and walk. By the time I picked up my head, I saw that we were on Steve’s street.
“Hey, Steve lives like, ten houses down on the other side.”
“Want to drop in and see if he’s home?”
I looked to my left, but Andrew wasn’t there. I spun around, and he had his feet on a little set of concrete steps that led up to a white house with yellow shutters.
“Where are you going?”
“To see Mrs. Kotnic. This was Jeremy’s house.”
“What? We can’t go see her. She hates us. Steve says she’s super mean.”
“Of course she hates Steve; he hit Jeremy with a hockey stick.”
I wanted to ask Andrew what the hell that meant, but he had already rung the doorbell. A woman answered. She looked to be in her fifties. She had short, unruly, salt-and-pepper hair and big glasses. She was wearing a housedress.
“Andrew,” she said through a thick accent, “why you no come around? I miss feed you dinner. Come in. Who this?”
“This is Casey. He was friends with Jeremy.”
“Casey(t)?” There was this inaudible ‘t’ she would put at the end of my name. It’s not like she verbalized the ‘t’; it’s just that every time she said my name, you waited for a ‘t’ that never fully materialized. “You the Casey(t) who help my Jeremy?”
Was I? Andrew said, “Yes,” and she waved us both in.
Jeremy’s house was unbelievably clean, like a gramma’s house. All the furniture and carpeting were about fifteen years out of date, but it all looked brand new at the same time. The house smelled like onions and vinegar but in the best way possible. Jeremy’s mom shuffled us into the living room and flitted into the kitchen and back out again with a tray of puffed pastries. They had a honey coating and crushed-up nuts on them.
“Eat, eat. You never come visit, and now you bring a friend. S’okay. How you boys do in school?”
I heard Andrew start to answer her, but at the same time, I noticed a three-tiered corner shelf filled with pictures of Jeremy. He was four in a green yard holding a golf club. He was eleven sitting next to a girl with thick glasses and a baseball cap. He was a baby. He was all the years of his life, right up to the picture I recognized from out of the eighth grade yearbook.
“. . .and now Casey and I are working on a comic book together, look.”
“Oh, myAndrew, you love the drawing. You and myJeremy make so beautiful, he love it. So happy.”
Her glasses were so thick I couldn’t tell if she was tearing up behind them, but I imagined she was. Andrew handed her a copy of Death Man.
“Ack! Andrew, this is dirty! Oh, you boy!” She folded it up and gave Andrew a playful swat with it.
“It’s a little more mature than our old comics, Mrs. Kotnic. But it’s good work; it might get into the art show.”
“Uff, you boys. You make nice pictures for once, eh?” She smiled at us. “You help him, eh, Casey(t)? You help him, too, a’right?”
I just nodded my head. Mrs. Kotnic made us eat more pastries, and she asked me about my family, how we were doing in our classes, normal parent stuff. After about half an hour, Andrew stood up and said we had to go. Mrs. Kotnic gave us both hugs and told us to zip up our jackets.
Back on the street, I could barely believe what had just happened.
“Andrew, how come you never told me she was nice? And what did I do to help Jeremy?”
“I don’t know; what did you do?”
“You don’t even know? But you said, ‘Yes,’ when she asked!”
“Well, come on. How many Caseys did Jeremy know?”
I was starting to wonder that myself.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.