On Monday morning, I was summoned to the guidance counselor's office. This was the first time I'd been there, and I immediately hated it. The lack of windows made me feel claustrophobic and the room smelled too strongly of citrus air-freshener. Across a desk littered with knickknacks including a snow globe and a Koosh ball, I tried not to glare at Mr. Bodoni as he informed me I was not a bad kid.
"You're not a bad kid, Dillon," he said, my file spread open on his desk. "The vice principal asked me to look at your transcript and it's quite impressive. You've made honor roll every semester and your teachers think very highly of you."
"Huh," I said, because there was not much else you could say to that. I figured I should have expected this. Even after what happened at Community Service Club, I should have known they wouldn't dump me in detention with the rest of the slackers.
Mr. Bodoni closed my file and looked at me over his glasses. "Do you know why you're here, Dillon?"
"Because I'm in trouble?" I guessed, letting my voice go high on the end like I couldn't fathom why.
"You're not in trouble, Dillon," he told me, "Not yet anyway."
I hated the way he appended my name to every sentence, like some kind of verbal tic. I wondered if that was something they teach you in guidance counselor school, if it had some hidden effect I was only aware of subconsciously. Maybe it was supposed to make me trust him, make Mr. Bodoni appear to be my friend while he picked my brain.
"It's because of Community Service Club, right?" I said. Then I thought, I shouldn't have said that. Like how you're never supposed to talk to the police, even if you're innocent. Not that I was innocent.
"Can you explain to me what happened there?" Mr. Bodoni asked.
"Well," I said. I picked up a toy from his desk to stall, a bright red Mexican armadillo that bobbed its head on a little wire. Its painted body felt papery, flimsy. "It wasn't what it looked like, really."
"And what did it look like?"
"We weren't skipping out on the project," I said. "I'd just been working so long. I got caught up in things and I missed our first break. I hadn't eaten anything since lunch and I was starving." I could do this. I could throw together a story that wouldn't completely push the blame on Adam, even if Adam probably deserved it. "And we'd been out in the sun all day. And so I... I asked Adam if he could take me to get something to eat."
"But you didn't check out. You didn't check out, and you left with a non-registered student driver."
"I know," I said. "It was my fault. I asked him to take me. I wasn't thinking clearly. I was really hungry."
Mr. Bodoni was frowning now, his hands folded atop my file.. He knew I was bullshitting him, he must have. "Are you sure you’re not protecting your friend?" he asked.
Of course I was protecting Adam; that had been my plan from the moment I got the note from the office calling me in. It was a stretch to call Adam my friend now, but I wanted the chance to get to know him. And if he discovered I'd sold him out—to the damn guidance counselor of all people—well, that would be the end of things. I was not being altruistic. This was for me.
"It was my fault," I said again. I couldn't take credit for Adam calling Mrs. Harold a bitch, but I could at least try to shoulder part of the blame. "You believe me right?"
Mr. Bodoni said nothing for a moment, then he gave me this tight little nod. "I believe you."
"Good." I bobbed my head like the armadillo in my hand. "Can I take my detention and go, then?"
Mr. Bodoni removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Dillon...are you have any problems right now? Anything you want to talk about?"
I tried not to roll my eyes. Of course, If an upstanding student like myself was acting out, there had to be some kind of reason.
"Nope," I said. "No problems."
"Then could you tell me why you've been cutting class?"
That was a slap to the face. My head jerked up and the armadillo fell from my grip and tumbled to the carpet.
"Dillon?" Mr. Bodoni said.
I reached down to scoop up the armadillo so I wouldn't have to look at him. I tried to form my mouth around an awesome lie, something that would stop him in his tracks, but my mind had gone blank. Up until that moment, I was sure I'd been getting away with that. I'd worked out a system and everything, figuring out who took attendance and who didn't. When I could come in late and when I could leave early.
Mr. Bodoni sighed and leaned back in his chair. He laced his fingers over his stomach where his cardigan gaped between the buttons. "Dillon, I'm not here to be the bad guy. I'm not trying to get you in a trouble. You're a bright young man and... I just thought we could talk."
"I'd rather not," I told him, as politely as I could. Was there anything worse than the phrase bright young man?
"Are you sure there's nothing you want to talk to me about? Problems with your friends, something going on at home?"
"Everything's great," I said. I set the armadillo back on the desk. Then I folded my hands in my lap. I had to squeeze my fingers together hard if I was going to withstand the silence. I could hear the clock on the wall now, every tick. I clenched my jaw.
Finally, he gave in. With another sigh, he rose from his squeaky chair, pressing his fingertips to the top of his desk. "All right, Dillon. If you really just want to go back to class, you may go."
Guess that meant I wasn't in trouble.
"Thanks," I said, jumping to my feet. I grabbed my book bag off the floor and swung it over my shoulder. I tried not to look at Mr. Bodoni.
But then, as the door was closing behind me, he said, "Stop skipping school, okay, Dillon?"
It was like he was saying, You're not as slick as you think, Dillon.
My name right there again, taunting me.
Up next Thursday, Chapter Five: Not Spying