Friday, December 14th

Last night:

I dreamed I was King for a night. Of school, of town, of everything. It all made sense. It was a dream that left me with feelings more than it did physical images. But it felt good.

:::

I've been marked down as having an Unexplained Absence for showing up a minute late on Tuesday after rushing from work. I think if you get too many UAs that you aren't allowed to graduate that year. My dad's angry, and already called the school. "It was explained, he was working!"

"That's not a valid excuse."

"Sure it is!"

"The note wasn't from a parent."

"I'm the parent, you can hear it from me!"

Basically, working and being a minute late because of it isn't a valid excuse for – how I've been marked down – missing school for the day. There's no marker for lateness or borderline lateness, it's all or nothing. The teachers all had me down as absent for the day.

My dad finally gave in and wrote a very descriptive and deliberate note to the school explaining where I was (and probably who he is) for me to take in this morning.

"I've got this absence note."

The secretary turns her nose up. "Take it to guidance and have them make a copy."

Ah, shit. The guidance office. I slowly walk around the counter and begin the trek through the administration offices – the same route I use to get out of lunch. And my favorite guidance secretary is waiting for me on the other end, in the room almost identical to the main office, only shrunken. I pull out the legal pad note again.

"Um, the office said for me to take this and have you make a copy."

The crabby woman – the usual behind this desk – looks past the glasses on her nose. "No, the office told you to make a copy."

"…What?"

"Do you…not know how to use the machine?"

Lady, are you seriously sassing me at 7:30 in the morning? "Um-"

"Fine," she huffs before I can squeak out an answer, and stomps over to the copying machine. "Put it in, press this green button, then enter how many copies. Now you know for next time, too."

"Um-kay."

Chalk up another crappy trip to guidance. And another instance of a situation – like Dyson and the milk – where I was fuming at myself later for not standing up for myself a little more. I was too tired to fight back, I don't have to take their shit just because they're having a bad day.

But the absence is gone, and I'm back on the track to Graduation.

:::

It's the Winter Carnival. Amazing that it's here already, when I was a kid it was something we looked forward to all week, and the week before. When we'd all meet up at school with our parents and families, and then later, by ourselves.

Doesn't it feel weird roaming the halls of your school after hours? At night? We're not supposed to be in school at night. I mean, sometimes the gym, but not the hallways and cafeteria. Only on nights like this. And when I was in elementary and middle school, I felt special being allowed into the high school, like some scary, important place that I'd never actually set foot in, or couldn't imagine myself going to classes in.

Now that I'm growing up and already sick of this building, it's not as interesting to me. We don't run around and go home at night with arms full of super balls and lollipops and two dollar bills anymore, now it's just an event that you're obligated to go to, either for volunteering or support.

Joe's working a stand this year. I edge my way through the crowd in the lobby and into the cafeteria, where my gaze immediately meets Joe. He's wearing a giant bee costume, a bumblebee. Well, if it wasn't a bumblebee, it was now. Working a bee-themed game stand that involves casting a little fishing rod out and hoping that Velcro bait meets Velcro prizes in big fake flowers.

"Hey," I say, approaching the wooden stall. "Blind Melon?"

"Huh?" Joe turns around. "No, I'm a Bee."

"Yeah. Never mind. How's it going?"

"No one's winning," he shrugs. At least, I think he shrugged, the whole suit moved up and down.

"Did you rig it?"

"No, they just keep missing. Can you get me some food?"

"Like what, nectar?"

"Come on Kurt, I'm serious."

"So give me money."

"Okay, well," he puts his hands down as if to reach into his pockets. "Uh." The pockets of his pants that are inside the costume.

"Come on man, I only brought five bucks."

"How much are nachos or pizza?" he asks.

"I have no idea." A group of kids hovering from station to station are moving towards us. "Hey, I'll be back okay? I'll get something."

Should have done the usual basketball game style of bringing in a paper back full of junk. I drift over to the lunch line, open special for the carnival.

Smells. Mmm. It doesn't smell like the cafeteria. Wafts of…I'm not sure what. It's a familiar smell, it's the smell that I only smell once a year, here. Maybe it's cotton candy. Something sugary and sweet being baked or fried up, sticky and lingering up in my nostrils. A much better imprint than the developing chemicals down in the basement.

I grab a paper plate of nachos and a little paper hot dog basket, two dollars each, leaving me a dollar to clean up for Joe.

"Here," I say, tossing him the snack bag. "I bought ya' bag of popcorn." He lets it land behind the stall's wooden counter and gives me a thumbs-up.

I stroll through the cafeteria, taking a look at all the old games and raffle wheels that haven't changed a bit since I first came here. I whine about things never changing, but sometimes it's a good thing. This needs to be preserved, dipped in amber or wax and put in a museum for all time. And so many kids. We're a mill that just keeps reproducing, every year a new batch will fill in where we left off. Hopefully they don't screw it up too much.

Crafts line the hallway from the cafeteria to the gym, and I track down the rolling board blocking a dark corridor that's plastered with the photos our class worked on. Adrian and Becky stand proudly next to it.

"Where's yours?" chipper Adrian asks me.

"Oh, uh, I don't have one. None of mine were that great."

"Aw, don't say that," she says, only half-serious.

"I'm not that creative," I shrug, and pop a nacho chip into my mouth.

"How's mine?" the normally loud Becky asks meekly. Of course I know that hers is good, it's the same as the only good one I snapped.

"Oh, yeah, that's pretty cool. From when we went?"

"Uh huh." She's slurping down a smoothie, and leaves a big pause between words.

"You should come down to the darkroom, we're still working!" Adrian says with glee.

"Ahm…that's okay." I let out a forced chuckle. "Finally got the smell of that place out of me, you know?" Spending more time in there – I mean, as much better as it is than regular class – is the last thing I want to do. And I'm not that into photos and developing and everything.

But if the halls down to that wing of the building are open, then it's a good excuse for me to go down and grab some more money for food out of my locker. I have a problem with that, never bringing enough cash when I go places. I'll never learn.

"Um…I'm gonna go to the bake sale, do you want anything?" I ask sheepishly.

Adrian cocks an eye at me. "Uh, cake," she says, joking but as if it should have been obvious.

"Yeah, more cake," Becky adds, with a mouthful of strawberry slush. More cake, got it.

Wait, why am I buying them cake? Was I just suckered? Doesn't matter, it's a nice thing to do. I speed down a tucked-away staircase to my locker, pull out my folded up roll of ones, and get back up to the gym to take a look at the bake sale. Need to hurry before all the good stuff is gone, you know?

There's a cakewalk too, but I'd feel silly doing that, especially if I'm not winning.

Could be the last year of a big bake sale. My dad said some suit came down from the capital and isn't comfortable with kids buying unregulated food through a school, so the government might make us end it. Fucking stupid. What, are people going to bake nails and needles into the pies? You can get sick from eating anything, total crapshoot.

I pace around the big table for a minute and decide on a package of plastic-wrapped brownies that look like melting hunks of fudge. And…a fat slice of vanilla cake for the girls.