Chapter Description: Clark gets a win.
“What’s wrong, boss?”
“What’s bothering you? Something’s bothering you.”
“Nothing is bothering me.”
It was just after lunch. The kids were laying down on their mats and the lights were out. Tracy hadn’t taken her own break quite yet and was instead grilling me. “Clark…” she said. “What happened between you and Beouf today?”
I suppressed a growl. Tracy had a habit of addressing me by my first name only when she was worried. Of course she knew something happened. How couldn’t she? “Nothing is wrong with me and Beouf.” At least she’d been civil enough to wait till nap time to bring it up.
“Yeah. Beouf said the same thing,” Tracy whispered. “That’s how I know it’s bul…-” she stopped. “That’s how I know it’s a lie. Both you guys seem really off today, and you didn’t walk up to the front with us.”
Beouf was bothered too? Some part of me was happy about that. It felt...good...knowing I could upset a big strong Amazon. “How’s Beouf off?” I asked. I hadn't spoken to her since I’d walked out this morning. Yeah, I’d seen her up front out at the bus loop, but there was a distinct tension: The difference between ‘can’t talk’ and ‘won’t talk’.
“Same way as you,” Tracy told me. “You get this look when you’re deep in your own head.” Inwardly I laughed. Shows how much Tracy knew. I was always in my own head.
“Like your mouth and your eyes don’t match. Like you just bit into a nasty piece of fruit. Or like you’re constipated.” If anybody but Tracy would have said that last part…
“Constipated?” I said, trying my best to sound offended without waking the students.
“Last couple of days.”
“I’ve been constipated for the last couple of days…?” Don’t laugh...don’t laugh...don’t laugh…
“And now Beouf’s got it, too. She’s got it, too, Boss!”
I snickered. “I made Beouf all backed up?”
We both giggled and shushed each other when Elmer groaned and rolled over. Mickey yawned, too; not quite asleep “So what’s going on?” Tracy lowered her voice back down to a whisper. “Really?
“Mr. Gibson…” a new voice hissed itself into the fray. Tracy and I whipped our heads up and over to the back door. A most unwelcome sight was poking her head into my room. “May I please talk to you?” Mrs. Zoge asked. “In private?”
I threw a glance at Tracy. It was a glance that screamed ‘Please bail me out. Make an excuse. Go to lunch. Something!’
My assistant looked to me and then back over to Mrs. Zoge. She jerked her head toward the back door. “Go ahead,” she said. “I’ll watch the kids and go to lunch when you get back.” Well...fuck… A mind reader Tracy was not.
Standing up from my desk, I zig zagged past the bodies of sleeping children towards Beouf’s assistant. She opened the door and ushered me into the space between our two classrooms. Even there, I felt like she was eyeing me. I masked my discomfort by folding my hands behind my back, resting them on my waistband as if to catch or slap away prying fingers from my pants.
I pivoted around and looked up to the older, much much larger, woman. Inhaling through my nose, I steaded myself internally; making my voice as flat and businesslike as I could manage. “Yes, Mrs. Zoge? What can I do for-?”
“I’m sorry.” There. She just blurted it out. It wasn’t the automatic, scared apology I’d received the other day. This? This seemed on the verge of sincerity.
My eyes shifted over to the door leading to Mrs. Beouf’s room. “For what?” I asked, feigning ignorance. I’m not sure why. I should have just said I’d forgiven her and walked away, but some sado-masochistic part in me wanted to watch her squirm; wanted to give the woman a chance to fuck up again. Or maybe I just wanted a reason to stay mad.
After the past few days it felt good to be mad, even a little bit.
If there’s an opposite of a smirk, Zoge was doing it. “For...for...checking…accidentally...for checking...for...your...” Behind my back my hands were balling up into fists. I don’t know what I was thinking. If there was a way to hate and enjoy something simultaneously, I’d found it.
“Excuse me?” I said. “What are you trying to tell me?” Mentally I was urging her. Taunting her.
Say it. Say it. I know you want to. Do it. Do it. Admit what you were doing. Admit what you wanted to do. The honesty would be oh so refreshing!
Zoge stopped. She took a deep breath. Closed her eyes. Then she did something completely unexpected. She bowed. Completely bowed. She got down on her knees so that she was only a little taller than me and then folded down on herself, palms and forehead flat on the floor.
My yoga videos called this ‘The Child’s Pose.’
“I was wrong,” she said, her forehead still to the floor. “I violated your personal space and discounted your autonomy.” The words came out and I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She kept talking. “I don’t think it was a mistake, either,” Zoge sniffed. I could hear her voice starting to crack. “If you were one of our students, I could have easily skipped you. Mrs. Beouf would have checked your dia-...not that you...I mean. I don’t know that it was conscious...but...but…”
My mouth was dry. My pulse was racing. The room felt incredibly warm. Holy shit! She was saying it. She was actually saying it! I stumbled over to the wall for balance. “Mrs. Zoge...what are you...-?”
“I think maybe I’d hoped to catch you.” Her voice was quiet but I could tell she was crying. If this was a performance it was a damn good one.
And why would someone like Zoge admit this? Behind Forrest and Brollish, Zoge was easily a solid bronze in the all ‘All Littles Need Diapers’ olympics; and she was only that low because she wasn’t blatantly trying to loop me into that belief on a weekly basis. Now she was copping to it!
More importantly, why did I feel so bad about it? Is this what the mouse felt when he saw the crying lion with a thorn in its paw? How was this possible? How was I feeling sorry for her? “Mrs. Zoge,” I started, I-”
“I have disgraced myself.” she said. “If you were an Amazon you’d have every right to ask me to be disciplined.” My throat was actually starting to feel tight. “But I know that’s unlikely for you. Tell me what I must do to make things right.”
“Mrs. Zoge,” I said, finding my voice. “Did Mrs. Beouf ask you to do this?”
Mrs. Zoge looked up. Tears were gently, gracefully sliding down her face. I’d never seen an Amazon cry before that moment. Not an adult one. It was unsettling. “No, sir,” she said. “I just need to make this right.”
“Why?” Why was I asking why?! The hell was wrong with me?
She blinked back her tears. “Because not all Littles are children,” she said. “And I’m setting a bad example for my daughter and the others who are.”
“Why do you care about setting examples if your Littles will never grow up?” I asked. Immediately I hated myself. I sounded like a typical Amazon just then.
“Because children still learn about their world, Mr. Gibson.” Mrs. Zoge said. She wiped her face on her sleeve. She stood up. A soft, demure smile came to her. “And I want my children to learn that the world is fair.”
I was standing straighter, too. “It’s not, though.”
“No,” she agreed. “It’s not. But it’s my responsibility as an adult to try.” She looked at me. “How do I make this right, Mr. Gibson? Shall I wear diapers for a day? A week? Till Spring Break? Summer Vacation?” There was resignation in her voice. Weary but determined. It felt like she was asking me to flog her in the public square.
Wild. Just wild. I couldn’t believe it. This was a trap. It had to be a trap. From the back of my head, my survival instinct was screaming behind a carefully constructed cage of etiquette. It was a trap. But it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t. Amazons were crazy, and if you managed to trigger their crazy in the right way, they still had to play by their own asinine rules. That’s why Zoge had been crying.
In her eyes, she’d trespassed on an actual adult, and the penalty for most Amazon trespasses was, of course, diapers. Her own crazy brain couldn’t accept less.
This was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Hey,” I said as I walked into Mrs. Beouf’s class. It was later that same afternoon. The buses had just left and every teacher at Oakshire Elementary had done the weak and weary shuffle back to their classrooms to either grade papers or blow off steam; sometimes a little bit of both.
Mrs. Grange was in Beouf’s room, too. “Oh hey, Clark.” she said. She gave me a friendly little wave. Ever since she’d pitched in for that I.E.P. meeting, she was spending more and more time with our tiny clique. At this rate she’d be dashing across campus just to join us for our morning walk up to the front office.
“Hey Janet,” I said back. “Mrs. Beouf, can I speak to you for a second?”
Beouf adjusted her glasses and swiveled around in her seat to look at me. “Of course, Mr. Gibson.” She didn’t seem angry, but it wasn’t the same relaxed routine that we’d developed over the years, either.
Janet caught a look from both of us and politely excused herself. “I’ve got papers to grade. See you both later!” Maybe Janet could teach Tracy how to better read a room, I mused.
All the doors were closed: Both the door leading to my room and outside Beouf’s were shut. Even the side room with all the cribs, the Nap Room, was shut. We were alone. “Mrs. Zoge apologized to me today.”
“I know,” Beouf said. “I didn’t tell her to.” No anger. Just matter-of-fact.
“Did she tell you she offered to punish herself for me?”
From behind Beouf’s glasses I saw eyes open wide in surprise. “That I did not know.” she said. “She didn’t mention it.”
“Probably didn’t get the chance,” I offered. In truth, Zoge might have been too embarrassed to bring it up.
Beouf exhaled. “Am I going to have to be checking my assistant’s diapers starting tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “Nope. She made the offer, but I let her off the hook. I just made her promise to never do it again.”
“Really?” Beouf sounded pleasantly surprised. “I wouldn’t have guessed. No offense.”
“None taken,” I said. “It was tempting.”
She stood up and walked around her desk. “I’ll bet. It’s not exact a secret that you’re uncomfortable around her.”
“You’re not really a hard read, Clark.” Beouf rolled her eyes. She was smiling at least. “I see that look you get when Forrest gets up to her schtick.” She let out a disgusted sigh.
“Oh,” I piped up. “I’d have her pantsless and padded up in a second. No questions asked. She’d deserve it.”
Beouf was relaxing by the minute. “Do tell, Mr. Gibson.”
“There’s karma and there’s revenge,” I said. I thumbed to myself. “Me? I’m a karma guy.”
“That’s very mat…” Beouf stopped herself, catching her typical Amazon crazy before it spilled out. “That’s why I think we’re such good friends, Clark.”
I smiled, but it didn’t reach my eyes. Now for the hard part. “Yeah. About that.” I said. Deep breath. “I’m sorry about this morning. I’m in the middle of...processing things, and I got angry.”
She shrugged. “I understand. I was in your room. Your space. You got angry. You walked away. It was the best thing you could do in the moment.”
“So you’re not mad?”
Beouf scoffed. “You bet I was mad!” her voice went up almost an octave. She laughed. “But I can be upset and still be your friend. And I’m over it if you are.”
“Still friends?” I asked.
“Always. Can I give you a hug?” She got down on one knee and opened her arms wide.
I huffed. Fine. “Sure.” I walked up and allowed her to hug me, only slightly afraid that when she stood up she’d snatch me up with her.
When she released me she said. “Thanks. I really needed that.”
Surprising myself, I said, “Yeah. Me too.”
In retrospect, I sometimes remind myself of moments like this one. I don’t think I’ve ever seriously expected to change the entire world. I’ve really just wanted small things. Meaningful things. Little things:
Like a hug from a trusted friend and confidant.
Or a sincere apology.
Or even an Amazon’s tears.