Chapter Description: Tommy goes back to school that morning; but not to his regular class.
Chapter 18: School Daze
I’m not that smart
My siblings have been telling me that for years
That I’m not smart
We’re schooled at home
They see who’s bright
It breaks my heart
I’m not that smart
The rest of the morning was no less confusing for Tommy. On the bus ride to school, almost everyone was at least passingly friendly to him.
“How you doin’, dude?”
When one has grown used to what can be generously referred to as ‘casual indifference’ at best and ‘near socialized hostility’ at worst; friendly faces, kind words and a generally positive reception start to sound like a foreign language. Tommy’s peers, he had found, were a generally brooding, cynical, and mean spirited lot otherwise known as teenagers.
Was this more of Malacus’s magic?
“Why’s everybody being so nice to me?” Tommy asked his sister. “What’s going on?”
Katlynn looked confused. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Most people are nice to you. Are you feeling okay?” She reached across the aisle and felt his forehead and cheeks like an amateur nurse checking for a fever. “You’re the one who seems off today.”
Before Tommy could question any further, a familiar face turned around wearing a most unfamiliar expression. Tommy and seen Cameron smile before; but it had been ages since that smile had been directed towards him.
“Hey Tommy,” she said.
Tommy looked to Katlynn for advice. They talked sometimes, or so Tommy had figured. Katlynn was already looking at her phone. When had she gotten a phone? He looked back up at the popular girl “Hey...Cameron,” he said.
“I saw on T.V. that C.B.S. is doing one of those live musicals next week. ‘Rent’ I think it’s called?” There was something odd about her tone; how her voice squeaked up a bit when she was talking to him.
“Yeah,” Tommy said. “I’ve seen internet ads in the library. The original cast is too old for the parts and they couldn’t afford Idina Menzel, but Anthony Rapp will be hosting and there’s rumors that Jesse L. Martin will co-host.” This was the strangest feeling, yet. Tommy was talking about something he liked and someone was...listening…?
“Um...who?” So much for that.
“Um…” Tommy tried to break his geekdom down into manageable chunks. “The play is about people in their twenties…” Tommy said. “The first people to play the parts are middle-aged. The lady from the Frozen movies played a character, but she’s too expensive now.”
Something was clicking. Cameron nodded. “Okay.”
“But one guy who was in the play is in that new Star Trek show. So he’s kind of famous. And he’s hosting.”
“And the guy who plays Flash’s cop buddy-”
The girl’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Joe? The dad? Adopted flash?”
“Yeah, him.” Tom nodded. “He was in Rent, too. They might get him to co-host. Talk to the live audience. Introduce the show. Announce commercials and stuff.”
Cameron seemed impressed for some reason. “Wow!” she said. “You know a lot about it!” It wasn’t quite the same as being truly impressed, more like when a dog can do an amusing , or when a child is surprisingly well versed in a bit of adult trivia.
Still looking at her phone, Katlynn said, “He knows a lot about this kind of stuff. He’s obsessed. That and Spider-Man. I think if he spent more time practicing his division facts instead of obsessing over this stuff...” She let the sentence drop off a bit. Her mouth was closed but her eyes were already apologizing?
“Division facts?” Tom said. The heck was that about? “I know my-”
“So are you gonna watch it?” Cameron asked, politely.
Tommy clenched his jaw. “Can’t.”
“Awwwww,” Cameron said. “Why not? Grounded?”
“Past your bedtime?”
“Bedtime?” Tom blanched. “No! I don’t have a T.V.”
Cameron looked bewildered, as if the concept of someone her age not having access to a television were. Did she really not understand how poor he was? She’d made fun of him for it enough times. She looked over Katlynn for confirmation.
Katlynn looked up from her phone to Cameron. “He’s a little off today,” she said. “Don’t know why. Just one of those things. Happens sometimes.”
That was weird. Tommy had been used to people talking about him like he wasn’t there. It was a trademark social bullying tactic. But talking about him with concern? That was new. Tommy began to suspect that more than just his physical self had changed overnight.
His suspicions were confirmed in first period Biology.
“Bye,” Katlynn said as they approached Ms. Wheeler’s class. Tommy didn’t think anything of it and followed her in. They didn’t sit next to each other or talk in class.
“Good morning Katlynn,” their Biology teacher said. “Good morning…” she paused as if searching for his name. “...Tommy. Is there something I can help you with?”
Tommy went to his desk and sat down. “Not at the moment, Ms. Wheeler.” Bits of giggles tittered at the edge of Tommy’s hearing. Tommy looked around. Confused. Why would they be laughing? Was his fly down? Could they see his new training pants? (Impossible, they looked like regular underwear, the part that might be poking out above his shorts, at least.)
“Sorry Ms. Wheeler,” Katlynn said. For some reason she looked really embarrassed. “My brother is just very...confused this morning.”
A finger tapped Tommy’s shoulder and he looked up. “Sup Lil dude?” Trevor Macintosh looked even taller now that Tommy had lost a few inches.
“Leadshoulder!” Damnit! Tommy had not meant to say that. More laughter filled morning air.
Katlynn was between them. “Trevor, I’m so sorry!”
“Naw it’s cool,” Trevor said. He smiled and ruffled Tommy’s hair, but never took his eyes off Katelyn. “It’s kind of his nickname for me. He saw me slam into a guy at football practice one time and it kind of stuck.”
That wasn’t true. None of that was true. Nevertheless, it kept Tommy out of trouble so he nodded anyway.
“Ahem.” Ms. Wheeler interrupted. “Do you mind? I have a lesson to teach.” She didn’t look to Tommy, but to Katlynn. It was an expectant look as if she’d done something wrong and needed to fix it, pronto.
“Sorry Ma’am,” Katlynn said. She grabbed Tommy by the arm. “Come on, Tommy.”
Tommy found himself yanked out of his desk and to his feet. “Where are we going?”
“Out,” Katlynn said. Katlynn didn’t look pleased. Tommy hadn’t felt this disoriented since he’d started vomiting up mana pool water onto the hooves of a certain centaur. What had he done? Where were they going? Why was he in trouble?
He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was a good a boy! A good boy! Emotions spiraling out of control, Tommy felt his breathing hasten to the point of hyperventilation. A knot was forming in his throat. He couldn’t breathe!
It was Trevor that de-escalated things. He put his hand on Katlynn’s arm. “I got this,” he told Katlynn. “Mrs. Gee, right?”
Katlynn nodded “Yeah. Thanks.” She let go of Tommy.
“Come on Little dude,” he said. “I’ll take you to class.” Disoriented and confused, Tommy followed the bigger kid out of first period Biology and into the hallway.
“What’s going on?” Tommy asked, when out of the Hallways.
“Nothing much,” Trevor said. He walked just ahead of Tommy, and while he didn’t hold Tommy’s hand, he kept looking back every couple of steps as if he was afraid the shorter man would fall behind or wander off. “You just got a little lost. No big deal. It happens. This is a big school.”
Not that big. Not big enough for anyone who’d been there more than a week to get lost in. But everyone seemed to think that Tommy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe with his new room and new clothes, Tommy had gotten himself a new schedule
All Tommy could say was say “Oh...okay.”
After they turned the second corner, Trevor stopped looking back. That’s when Tommy started sucking on his thumb for comfort. He’d take it out when they got there, even though he had no idea where there was.