Chapter 1.6

Jonah sat there wishing to be anywhere else right about now. Actually, there were probably plenty of other places he’d also rather not be, but his head hurt and he was thirsty and didn’t feel like dealing with such B.S. at the moment. He wanted to be napping in his bed. Sadly, instead he was sitting across from the school principal who was about to lecture him about how horrible he was. 

“Your mother will be here soon,” Principal Johnson began, not an ounce of pleasantry in her voice, “but I wanted to talk to you first.” She was a tough woman, which was pretty much a prerequisite of her job title. She took everything seriously and seemed particularly alarmed to be having such a meeting with Jonah so soon after the semester started.

She continued, “I want to make clear we will not tolerate this kind of continuing behavior. I will not have you starting fights in my school.”

“I didn’t start it,” Jonah interjected. His arms were crossed and he was leaning back against the wall.

“Several witnesses say you threw the first punch.”

“As if that’s all that starts a fight. That guy came looking to mess with me.” It was true. At least to him. If that dumbass hadn’t come up to him, Jonah would have minded his own business and gone to lunch like the hundreds of other students. The principal, however, didn’t seem satisfied with his defense.

“You must exercise restraint. Someone egging you on doesn’t give you a free pass to throw punches. And even if you didn’t start it, you definitely didn’t end it.”

The knocking at the door came as a sort of savior to spare Jonah from yet another stern verbal lashing. He would’ve been grateful if it wasn’t for who was going to be joining them. The elderly secretary poked her head in the room to announce that Darla Mathias had arrived. When she came in, Darla shook the principal’s hand from across the desk, her wavy brown hair falling over her shoulder as she reached out. The two had no need to introduce themselves since they had been acquainted over the summer after conducting the school transfer to Brooksburg.

“Sorry I’m late,” Darla offered.

“No worries. Thanks for coming in to meet with me.”

Jonah slid over as Darla joined him on the bench opposite the mahogany desk where Principal Johnson sat.

“Of course, it’s nice to see you again.” Darla replied. “Though I wish it was under different circumstances.” She glanced over and gave Jonah a very dirty look. Jonah had been avoiding eye contact with his mother from the second she walked in. He already knew the exact look she wore on her face. One that gave him extreme guilt. 

He’d have a harder time talking back now that she was there, but he had little to say regardless. Save for the fact he didn’t start the fight, he had nothing else to argue about. He rarely did in these scenarios. He always owned up to his actions and the punishments that came with them. His impulses often led him to do stupid things; he never cried innocence though. He didn’t lie much either; no real reason too. He may have been casted the part of the pariah and he was fine with not pretending to be anything else.

“Yes, well, I will cut to the chase.” Johnson’s stern eyes indicated she meant business. “Jonah, with your record, you’re already on thin ice here. As a public school, I must admit everyone—despite everything. But if this becomes a trend, I will not hesitate to expel you from here as well. For now, it’s a two-day in-school suspension and one week detention.”

Jonah barely bat an eyelash. The area between his temples was still on fire and the bruising along his jawline was starting to ache. This meeting screamed déjà vu and he was ready for it to be over. He somehow mustered up some sort of mumble in acknowledgement.

“Now I’d like to speak with your mother alone. Please wait out in the office lobby.”

Music to his ears. Not as good as actual music, of course, but he wasted no time to get the hell out of there. He carefully closed the door behind him and let out a soft sigh. His body was tired and his movements were slow as he made the few strides over to a seat across from the secretary’s counter. While doing so he accidentally exchanged glances with the tiny, old lady, who stared back at him like a deer in headlights. She was either going senile or was ready to shit her pants at the sight of him, Jonah thought. He sheepishly took a seat and leaned on his knees, letting his head hang. He breathed while trying to calm the buzzing in his head, for once feeling like he could momentarily unwind.

Some minutes later he heard a door open and close, and for a moment he assumed his mom was done talking to the principal. But when he looked up, instead he saw the back of a small girl talking to the decrepit old woman. He thought nothing of her until she slowly turned around and stared directly at him.

She maybe looked familiar, but then again, he barely paid attention and knew absolutely no one at this school. Why was she looking at him so intensely? Duh, he thought. He answered his own question. The entire school was talking about him behind his back. Judging from the look on her face, he assumed she probably was scared shitless too. Jonah wouldn’t have been surprised if she was. The stare lingered for a while until the girl turned around to the secretary again. 

“Here you go, sweetie.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hanowitz.” Annie spat out, her voice a pitch higher than normal. She had gotten a bit of whiplash when she turned around so quickly to face the counter again. The splatter of freckles across her nose turned pink as she felt a flush of warmth run to her cheeks like she had been caught doing something inappropriate. Annie grabbed the papers and quickly turned to head out, trying her hardest to not make eye contact with Jonah again. Jonah quietly watched as she left.

The door off to the other side opened and Jonah could hear his mother swapping polite goodbyes as she left the principal’s room. She then ushered him to leave with a quiet yet commanding “Let’s go” and they both exited the office. 

It was all but two seconds after shutting the door behind them that Darla let out, “Great job, Jonah. You made it a whole seven days without getting in a fight.” Her voice echoed in the empty lobby; school had ended a while ago so few people were left in the hallways.

Jonah followed behind his mother in silence. The steps from the office through the lobby to the front doors was a mix of a walk of shame and a walk on the plank. He let his mother vent at him without offering any lame excuses or apology. He just accepted the words of frustration and disappointment he knew he deserved.

Annie had been standing silently off to the side, pretending to fiddle with the papers in her hands. She hadn’t known exactly why Jonah was sent to the principal’s office, but the scuffs on his face were telling enough. She watched and listened as Jonah submissively followed his mother, hands in pants pockets and head hanging like a puppy dog who had just been scolded. The dynamic was interesting to watch and she made a mental note in a long list of observations of Jonah that she had collected in a mere week’s worth of school. She was as curious about Jonah as ever, and at this moment, her heart sank a little bit for him.

“I don’t know if I should be upset or just grateful you made it this long.” Darla continued. She sounded aspirated. She looked back as she pushed open the double glass doors that led outside to the school parking lot, a plea of desperation in her brown eyes. “You know, this place is your last chance. You got off easy, really easy, back home. We have to make this work.”

Jonah finally looked her in the eyes. He felt pathetic and his pitiful and evasive expression conveyed unspoken words of remorse. His stubbornness kept him from verbalizing the feelings he had though. He was able to keep his emotions more or less under wraps; that is, all except for one—anger. He let that emotion have free reign, after all, he had so much to be angry about. Bad memories traversed his mind so often that the anger sat just below the surface at all times. As his life plummeted from bad to worse, Jonah didn’t want to admit that the anger had complete control over him. He was bound and cursed and resigned to the idea that this was all his life would be. He knew that this was all life would be for him.

What he didn’t know, however, was that his stubbornness was matched by the likes of one other person—Annie.

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