by Jason Sullivan
Bam! He hit the lockers hard. A junior, a member of the football team, smiled back at him. The football player then disappeared into the crowd of high schoolers rushing to get to their next class. John was a freshman. His strategy of slinking next to the lockers to avoid the tough kids had the one fatal flaw of making him an easy target for a locker smash. He would adjust his tactics and walk a little bit further out in the flow of chaotic adolescents—but not too far out. His friend, Alan, another freshman and the drummer in his band, came by.
“Going to see your guidance counselor? She’s kind of cute!” he said, with a silly smile on his face.
John did not have time to reply, the bell had rung and all the kids disappeared into classrooms. He stood outside the office. The smell of ammonia floated up from the scrubbed floors and the low murmuring of adult speech was now audible in the empty hall. The sign on the door read “Guidance.” John did not know what to expect, this guidance counselor thing was big kid stuff. He had never sat in a room before, alone with a strange adult, just to talk about himself. He imagined it might be like the wise man on TV who held out a pebble in the palm of his hand. The young novitiate had to grab it before the old man’s hand closed around it. If he was faster and could grab it, he was ready to go out into the world. Or maybe seeing a counselor was like what happened on his favorite UFO show. A special room would turn into an elevator and then descend deep into the earth where he would receive orders to go on an undercover mission.
John had noticed that the new guidance counselor at school was rather young, she had long brown hair and wore jeans. She did not seem at all like the football coach, who doubled as a guidance counselor, whom most of his friends seemed to have.
He walked in. She smiled at him. So far so good. His heart was pounding. She stood up and shut the door to her small office. OK, a little scary. There was a file on her desk. Aha, his undercover mission!
When she sat down, her smile was gone. She enquired about how he was feeling. John thought he was feeling OK, so he was not sure what to say. He nervously fidgeted in his chair.
She picked up the file from her desk, leafed through it, and then with a serious tone asked, “Is there anything you want to talk about?”
John responded awkwardly, “No…not really.” He was starting to realize the file did not contain his secret orders.
“Your honors English teacher is disappointed with your performance. She thinks you might be having problems at home?”
John did not see that coming. He wanted to open the door to the little office so that he could breathe, and possibly escape. He was thinking about answering but perhaps never quite said, “No, everything is OK.” He wished he was not in that dumb honors class, anyway. It was mostly girls, and the regular English classes were reading cool stuff, like science fiction. He knew the teacher did not like him. There was that day he had fallen off his bike on the way to school and had a big bloody scab on his arm that he did not have time to clean up before first period. She had looked at him as if he was some sort of freak.
The counselor continued, “Well, we might have to call your parents in so that we can all sit down and talk about this—if you won’t tell me now how you are feeling?”
John was actually starting to feel rather unhappy, as if he had been somehow tricked into thinking guidance was a cool thing. He said nothing; he just stared at the file that was now back on the counselor’s desk.
“OK then, I’ll let you know what we are going to do. You can leave.”
John was out of there in an instant. He quietly opened the door to his French class. His French teacher rather liked him even if John had once mistakenly said, “The Count of Monte Crisco” instead of ‘Cristo.’ She smiled at him as he slid into his chair. It felt good to be back in a normal place. Nevertheless, the feeling of unease from his guidance session lingered. His stomach clenched and he thought he might be sick. He wondered what he had done wrong; why he didn’t get that special undercover assignment.
© 2012 Jason Sullivan
*This story was originally posted at #amwriting as a May 2012 Friday Flash.