Chapter Description: Clark tries to comfort Janet after work, but a slip up makes things very tense.
The fight had all been forgiven by the next morning. It’s how me and Cassie’s fights usually went. I’d hit the snooze button just the once, gone to the bathroom, shaved, and gotten dressed. Cassie had gotten herself up in the meantime and handed me one of my breakfast shakes. I never called those things ‘breakfast of champions’ because I never felt like much of a champion when drinking one.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “About last night.”
I tore the plastic seal off, unscrewed the lid and tossed the junk back. “Me too.” I agreed. “I got angry and defensive and said stuff that I didn’t mean because my feelings were hurt and I wanted to hurt you back.”
Cassie asked me for a hug, and I gave her a quick one, before going off to work. “We’ll get through this,” I promised. “We’ll survive this new round of assholes like every other round.”
“Yeah,” Cassie whispered. “I know…”
That day at work went about as I’d expected. Taught lessons, chatted with Tracy, dealt with a bunch of toddlers that were bigger than me. Dodged and avoided Amazons that had the mental and emotional stability of a toddler.
Yada yada yada.
I can’t even remember if that day was the one where I discovered that Raine Forrest had a certain crinkle whenever she walked- apparently she’d given far too many false flags for Mrs. Brollish’s patience and was being punished- or whether that happened a day or two before. What I do remember was that I HAD to gossip to someone about it, and Beouf and Zoge seemed like poor choices.
Tracy and I had a good laugh about it, but when you’ve got really good gossip, it’s just begging to be spread amongst as many friends as possible.
“Janet!” I said walking into her room that afternoon. “Janet you gotta hear this!” “I’m almost a hundred percent sure that Raine is wea-?” I stopped. Janet was at her desk, face buried in her hands. The pile of crumpled tissues showed that she’d been crying.
Immediately, I wanted to run. I was used to seeing people cry. I’m a bit of a crier myself (as I’m sure you’ve deduced). So are most of my Little friends. And of course, I’d lost count of how many captured Littles I’d seen bawling. When the world is against you every day, sometimes crying is the only thing you feel like you can do. When you’re imprisoned and you’ve had your autonomy stripped away for what will likely be the rest of your life, crying is the only freedom left to you.
But until that moment, watching Janet try to get her body under control even as it was wracked by sobs; I’d never seen an Amazon cry. Amazon crying was strictly hypothetical, even when I’d heard about Zoge breaking into tears it had been largely a thought experiment. I couldn’t even picture it.
Here was an Amazon, a friend no less, that was visibly crying at her desk. “Janet?” I asked. “What’s wrong.” Sometimes Littles are too curious, too empathetic, for our own good. Before she even picked her head up to look at me, I was grabbing a student chair and pushing it towards her desk.
Janet looked up and sniffled. “Oh. Hey, Clark.” Her mascara was running. Her cheeks were red. Her eyes were puffy. This was no case of Spring allergies. Even as I pushed, I felt a certain sense of dread. I considered Janet a friend, but she was also an Amazon. All Amazons are crazy. What if her particular crazy meant adopting a Little to make herself feel better. I’ve heard weirder excuses.
I pushed the chair up next to her and climbed in. “What’s wrong?”
She was wiping her nose with one hand and dabbing at her eyes with the other. “I’ve just had a shit day.”
I looked up at her. “Kids sucked?”
Janet looked away. Something told me that I shouldn’t have said ‘Kids’. Students? Sure. Kids? No.
“They were fine,” she said. “I wish they were still here.” The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Yellow Alert. “It could keep me from thinking about life right now.” A perfectly reasonable response…
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why does today suck?”
Janet turned her head towards me. “I just finalized my divorce.” Her tone was that of the numb widow grieving at a funeral. She’d just reached the point where her mind had turned off her emotions and gone as clinical as it could in order to keep functioning.
“I’m so sorry!” I wasn’t. Not really. I’d never even met Mr. Grange. Didn’t know his first name. Didn’t even get to hear that knee slapper Janet had told Tracy months ago. I didn’t know the jagoff. All I knew is that my friend was hurting and when someone is hurting the best knee jerk reaction is to say that you’re sorry.
“Don’t be,” Janet said. “It was my idea.”
“Oh,” is all I said.
“I wanted kids,” Janet looked away. “Turns out he didn’t. He had a vasectomy he didn’t tell me about.” An Amazon bemoaning children she wasn’t going to have. That should have raised my threat level to code red. It didn’t. “He also had chlamydia…”
“Fuck…!” My fists clenched. There was nothing I could do about it, even if I wanted to, but I felt my biceps tense up just imagining punching a sonofabitch in the nose.
Janet started smoothing out her hair. There were only a few strands out of place, this was more nervous reaction than any need for grooming. “For months he was convincing me that I wasn’t fertile. Let me go to specialists and get all these needless tests that were finding nothing...except chlamydia...”
My heart was aching for the woman. “Sounds like you dodged a bullet.”
Another sniffle accompanied a shallow nodding of her head. “Damn right I did. I’m keeping the house. He’s going to be reimbursing me for those tests and doctor’s visits. But it still hurts. Y’know?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. I get it.” Briefly, I thought about Cassie, and our fights. We were never going to divorce. We loved each other too much and needed each other besides. But if it were to happen, we’d both be bawling in private. You don’t spend so many years with a person and have it not hurt when they’re out of your life. Even when they hurt you. Even when they deserved to be cut out. I shivered at the thought of losing her.
“That’s not all,” Janet said, reaching into her desk. She opened the drawer and handed me a piece of paper. “This is my yearly teacher evaluation. Just got it today...”
Normally I’d say that I took a long look at the paper, but that’d be a lie. It didn’t take me that long to react. “Oh, that’s bullshit!” I said. “Needs improvement?! That’s a ton of hot garbage! No way do you need improvement!”
“Tell that to Brollish…”
I stood up in my chair so I was close to eye level with the sitting giant. “Go to Beouf! Go to Union! Appeal this shit!”
Janet slumped down in her seat and dropped her chin. “Already have. Nothing Union can do for me. I can appeal and ask to be observed and evaluated again, but that doesn’t mean she has to change anything.”
She was right. Here’s the part where I COULD tell you exactly how teacher evaluations in Oakshire (and likely the rest of the country) work.
Here’s the part where I could get into the intricacies of rubrics, categories of teaching and their weight and importance, but I’d probably just end up going into so much professional jargon that I’d lose you or bore you to tears with the minutiae.
In short, it goes like this: Imagine you’re driving down the road and a few times a year a police officer pulls you over and decides how good of a driver you are based on their gut. It doesn’t really matter if you were going the speed limit or using your turn signals or whether you were buckled in. You don’t even necessarily have to be breaking any laws, but the cop can still decide that you weren’t driving well enough.
This police officer has no recording equipment other than a notepad of what they say they’re seeing and what they say they’re not seeing, and legally doesn’t need one. This police officer doesn’t always have to tell you that they’re watching you drive, and even if they do they don’t have to spend the full amount of time observing how good you are on the road that the law says they must to determine your eligibility.
You can appeal their rating of you, but it’s your word against theirs, and unless you’re on alert 24/7 every time you’re on the road obsessively monitoring and recording how you’ve met. Also, they’re the judge, too.
Come to think of it, maybe I was going gray early because of this stuff.
If it had been almost any other Amazon, I would have been okay with a negative review. When I heard coworkers gabbing near the front sign-in or in the mail room about evaluation stress, I’d just quietly roll my eyes. “Yes, please tell me how horrible it is to have your fate arbitrarily decided based on a single incident and whether or not the person in power likes you enough….” I imagined myself saying.
But this was Janet. Crazy as they were, good Amazons like Beouf and Janet didn’t deserve this kind of horseshit.
“Needs improvement,” I said. “What does that even mean? Can you be fired?”
The ends of Janet’s lips were still sinking to the floor. “No. Not unless I get it several years in a row. And I’d still have to go to trainings and remedial teaching courses and tank those too.”
I nodded sympathetically. Explains why I’d never gotten a needs improvement. Even if my paranoid ass didn’t dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, it’d take too long to fire me that way. It literally would have been easier to just plant a diaper in my desk and say it was mine.
This? This was a warning to Janet. A clapback for her taking anything beyond a twistedly maternal interest in me. Beouf didn’t talk to me about stuff like professional reviews, but I’d be willing to bet she’d taken a hit, too.
“Still hurts, I bet,” I said. What can I say, commiseration was the only comfort I could offer.
“It means I won’t be eligible for a raise,” Janet said. “That hurts too.”
“Divorce is that expensive?”
“Not really. Doesn’t mean I want to live on alimony the rest of my life.”
I shrugged, softly. “Fair enough.” I gathered up enough courage to address what might’ve been the elephant in the room. “It’s because of me, isn’t it? You stuck your neck out for me and…”
“Oh Clark, honey, no.” she said. “This has nothing to do with you. Or if it does, it’s because Brollish is an idiot who wants to see a mature Little punished for daring to stand out.”
It was almost like Cassie was there in my head with me: ‘Mature Little’. Red flag! Red flag!
“You’ve been doing the right thing, buddy. Don’t worry about that.”
Overly familiar and kiddish nicknames! RED FLAG! It was Cassie’s words, but I heard them in my own voice. We might have made up, but our argument wasn’t over...
“So please, don’t be upset. Don’t blame yourself.”
I slid down and hopped off the too big chair and back onto the floor. “Okay. I just wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings. You’ve done a lot for me.”
FUCK! BAD CHOICE OF WORDS! Change the subject...change the subject. Redirect the crazy…Play it cool, Clark. Play it cool.
“So did you hear about Forrest?”
Janet tilted her head to the side. “Hear what?” At least she wasn’t frowning now.
Just in case, I started casually walking back to the entrance. I was leaning on the door, all cool and cocky like. “Notice how she’s not wearing pants lately? And how her skirts are very...roomy...very flowing...”
Still at her desk, Janet scraped away the last of her eye makeup. She twisted her lips a bit in thought. “Yeah. I guess. Why?”
“Next time you’re around her, listen closely when she moves. You might hear a tiiiiiny crinkle.” I grinned mischievously.
My friend made an “O” with her mouth. “Seriously?!”
“Pretty sure!” My smile was all teeth now. Janet was muffling her laughter with both hands. “Pretty sure the Silly Sock Day thing was the last straw and she’s being given a lesson in humility. Tracy says the Tweeners and the other office staff are all talking about it, too!”
Janet was bouncing in her seat. “Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod! I can’t believe that happened!” She snatched up her purse and keys and stood up. “We should do something! We should do something!”
All that was left of the sobbing woman was a few traces of poorly erased mascara. “We should celebrate! We should plan another! If we can pull one more before the end of the year, Brollish might make her leave the skirt off! She might have to wear them in the Fall!”
My Amazon friend looked almost manic. She’d gone from sobbing over divorce and a bad review to a little kid winning a prize at a carnival game, all because she’d played a part in getting a coworker diapered.
“Okay…” I said, feeling weary “What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It was your idea, last time. Maybe we can think of something. And if not, we can at least celebrate! Let me buy you a drink.”
The color was draining from my face. “Um...I shouldn’t. I don’t drink out. I just have my scooter.”
Janet waved it off. She was closing the distance between us. “Don’t worry about it. One drink won’t hurt me. That tiny thing you ride into work will fit in my hatchback. I’ll be the D.D.”
My throat was suddenly dry. I jumped up and grabbed the handle, opening the door and nudging my foot out. “Amazon seatbelts don’t fit so good on me…”
“No biggie,” Janet said. “I’ve got a car seat.”
ABORT! ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!
I ran away in a blind panic. Objectively, I was in more danger just then of getting picked up and carted off than I’d been five seconds prior. I ran through grass, all but screaming as I cut through campus back to my own room. I was the very stereotypical picture of the scared and lost Little who needed an Amazon adult.
Locking my door behind me, I didn’t even check to see if I was being followed. I rolled my scooter out of the closet, strapped my helmet on, and snuck out through Beouf’s door without so much as a word to anyone.
I didn’t tell Cassie what had happened that afternoon…
There would have been a fight. I would have lost my temper. I would have hurt her. She would have told me to quit my job, again. I was scared I might have had to agree with her. Things were weighing down on me.
I didn’t sleep well that night. I couldn’t rest easy, knowing I’d broken my promise.
The next morning, just as my morning breakfast shake was settling in my stomach, I came and found a letter slid under my door.
When you left my room so abruptly, I thought something was very wrong. I won’t put what I thought in writing, because I’d never want to cause you harm or undue stress. We’ve both been through enough of that, but I noticed you were acting strangely.
At first I was both hurt and concerned. Upon reflection, however, and reviewing the words I said, I understand why you reacted the way you did.
I am so sorry, Clark. I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable or threatened, but I can understand that that’s how my words may have been interpreted by you. I should have been more careful and chosen my words more wisely.
With all the things going on in my life, I forgot to take into account what you must face on a daily basis. You are a mature, eloquent, sophisticated, and insightful Little and do not deserve any of the threats and mockeries dangling over your head on a regular basis. I honestly don’t know how you manage to do it, and I respect you so much for it.
Please accept this apology and call me after school when you’re ready to talk about it.
Your friend (if you’ll still have me),
I did not call Janet that afternoon. Or the next. Or the next. I tore the letter into dozens of tiny pieces and flushed them all down my classroom’s toilet.