Travis wasn't at school for the next two days. I could not even begin to fathom how someone could miss days on the very first week of the school year. Of course, none of us wanted to show up and listen to our teachers drone for hours about rules and expectations, but we did anyway. As far as I was aware, it was mandatory. And yet, just as I was beginning to believe that I had made up then entire event in my head and that the boy was nothing more than a figment of an overactive imagination, he showed up. Out of the blue, as though nothing was wrong, he strolled into the classroom. He seemed in all aspects to be perfectly fine, he didn't even have as much as a sniffle to explain his absence.
"Good morning, Abigail Patters, I assume that my seat is still available?"
I simply nodded in response, desperately trying to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor. This boy misses two days in the very first week of school, and doesn't even attempt to fake some illness as a show for his teachers? Maybe it was just how things went in my house, but I wasn't allowed to stay home from school, but I hoped my parents would change their rule if I was suffering from some disease or had been impregnated by a flesh eating alien race, but I wouldn't put it past them to send me to school anyway.
"Are you alright?"
I must have been staring.
"Oh! Yes, yes I'm fine."
"Do I have something on my face?" He put his hands up on his cheeks as if trying to hide a blemish the size of Mount Everest.
"No, no it's nothing like that."
"What is it then?"
"You weren't here." He grinned and I quickly covered by adding "No one ever misses days the first week of school."
"I suppose I'm special, then." I gave him a stare as if to vocalize how unattractive pure cockiness can be and he shook his head, mumbling something under his breath as though he was ashamed of it.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Travis, Abigail, is there something that you'd like to share with the class?" I immediately cringed. I hadn't realized that the teacher had wandered in, and she was currently standing at the front of the classroom with a scowl plastered on her face. The entire class was staring at the two of us as though we were a side show act that had messed up their performance. My throat dried up and I could do nothing but turn my red face down to look at my desk in shame. So much for having an ally in this teacher.
"Actually, I was just complimenting her on how wonderful she looks today. She does look amazing, doesn't she Mrs. Grace?"
I shot Travis a look as though he had just fucked us over even further, but it seemed that the teacher found his response to be just fine. She simply smiled at him as though he was the sweetest of all boys on the face of the Earth and then moved on to addressing the class with some kind of agenda that she had planned to go off of for the day. Teachers were never so quick to let something go, especially if they thought it would be their first chance to show the class the consequences of trouble makers. Talking during the first few weeks of class was almost a sure ticket to detention, I had seen it happen far too many times to doubt that. I wondered if she was so quick to accept his response just because he was charming, or because she felt that he was taking pity on me and that she should allow the fat girl to have her day.
Did Travis really think that I looked amazing? If so he surely needed to have his eyes checked. The idea of a boy complimenting me was so foreign that I struggled to accept what I had just heard. Obviously, it was more probable that he was simply trying to get us out of trouble, but someone complimenting 'Abby the Fatty' was a sure ticket to ridicule by the entirety of the school, and he hadn't just complimented me, he had done it out loud in front of the class. This news would have reached all ends of Piermont by the end of the day, more likely before even lunch time. Rumors and gossip spread fast, and it was likely that within a week the story would have warped from him complimenting me to us having a full on make out session in the middle of classroom. Whispers and snickers had already been floating around behind them, and it was unlikely that any of them would have anything more interesting to talk about than this.
"During this weekend, I want each of you to construct a well formed speech. This will be your first large grade in this class. Each speech should be unique and should discuss you, as a person. These will be similar to the introductions that you've most likely done in other classes, but much more formal. Each speech should range from three to five minutes spoken."
The room became a symphony of groans and whines. Everyone hated the ice breakers and introductions that teachers tried to make us do. We were sophomores in a small town, we already knew just about everyone, and yet each year we were required to talk about ourselves in front of the class. In the beginning we had just repeated the same thing each year. James liked soccer, and spent his weekends and evenings outside practicing. Kate was a ballet dancer. Ricky didn't do anything. Abigail ate. In the start of freshman year it became a challenge of who could create the most insane story that the teachers would believe. James still played soccer but had traveled to Europe over the summer and played forward for his favorite team. Kate had won awards for her flawless performance as the lead ballet dancer in some French opera. Ricky still didn't do anything.
"Now, I know that it's Friday and you're all ready for getting out of here, so I'll give you the last five minutes of class to talk." Points to Mrs. Grace.
Travis turned to me almost seconds after the words had left her mouth. I was used to spending days like these spending free time doodling pictures of cats inside my notebook. Apparently that was going to change.
"I wasn't here because I'm in a program." He blurted out in a hurry, as though he had been holding his breath until he could finally share this vague sentence with me.
"I'm in a program."
"Yeah, I got that."
"Oh. I mean, it's a program for kids who work part time."
"Yeah, midnights. They let me miss a class or two in the morning on workdays so that I can still manage to get a little sleep."
"Exactly how old are you, Travis Green?"
"You used my full name." He smiled, "I'm seventeen."
"Did you fail a grade?"
"Not my finest hour."
Falling a grade a Piermont became a public event. It was rare, and the last person to fail was Rebecca Andrews in the second grade. Within hours of her mother finding out the word had spread across town and my mother had been telling me how proud she was that I was a good kid, unlike Rebecca, apparently. Being held back didn't really seem like a punishment to me, but maybe that was only because I would have loved to be with a different group of students, possibly a group that wouldn't have bullied me as much. After Rebecca went back to second grade when we moved on to third, kids had tagged her as stupid, and it followed her around. Bullying started early, I guess. Rebecca and her family moved two years later. I was jealous.
"Is that a problem?" He sounded wary, like he was afraid that I would suddenly want nothing to do with him after I realized he was a year older than me.
"No, it's not. Why would it be?"
"Well, I'm older than you."
"And I'm younger than you. Is that a problem?"
The bell rang out as though marking the ending of our talk on age and it startled the teacher who jumped a little before waving the class out the door. I stood up more slowly than usual, desperate to stay in this class which allowed to converse with a human being that didn't find me hideous. Travis stood slowly too, but I highly doubted that it had anything at all to do with me. Knowing that he worked nights made me all too aware of how lucky I was to get a full night of sleep before coming to school. I couldn't imagine trying to get myself together on anything less. It was a struggle as it was.
"Well, I'll see you next week?" I said nervously. Was I sounding like a freak? I didn't want to come off as clingy or too interested. I should have been more casual. He laughed lightly.
"Well do you have a cell phone? Can I text you?"
I blushed brightly. Yes, I had a phone. It hadn't been used for anything but emergency calls for years, and I was slow at typing with the tiny keyboard because my fingers were too big. I put my notebook on his desk and flipped it to and open page, neatly printing my name and the number of the phone and tearing off the corner that I chose.
"Here you go." I handed it to him like it was some kind of personal diary. I didn't know why I was so opposed to him knowing it. Maybe I was afraid that I was going to grow attached to him and just get hurt. That was always possible. He took it anyway and put it in his pocket with a nod as though acknowledging that he was going to text me and I was going to reply and that was how that was going to go.
"Abby the Fatty has a boyfriend!"
Oh, god, please don't let this happen. I closed my eyes and scrunched my face a little and when I opened them Travis had turned toward the girl that had spoken.
"And you have a fake nose."
I tried to make a sound but it caught in my throat. The girl's mouth dropped open and she clasped her hand over her nose, hurrying out of the class with her little group of girls in a huddle. She hadn't been expected a retort.
"Travis, how do you know that?"
I laughed, but the teacher cleared her throat and called us up to her desk. That was never a good sign, and the look that he gave me made it clear that he didn't quite know how he was going to get us out of this one. I just smiled at him. It didn't matter if he got us out of it. I would gladly go to detention if I knew it was because someone had spoken up for me, even if it was in the way of a derogatory comment, which I didn't exactly approve of. I hated the idea of fighting bullies with bullying. And yet, his retort still brought a smile to my face. Strange.
"Travis, what you said is unacceptable. I understand that Zoey was in the wrong too, and I plan on bringing that up with her when I see her next, but you can't just stoop down to their level. Don't fight fire with fire." Mrs. Grace gave us a disappointed look, the one that I swear they have in some kind of book that only school teachers are allowed to read.
"I understand. It won't happen again."
Travis was so good at playing the charming, respectful gentleman that I wondered whether it was an act or whether he really did act like that on a regular basis. He was casual with me, so which was he playing up? Mrs. Grace waved him off as though a cue that he was free to go, but gave me a look that made it clear I was not leaving so quickly. Travis shuffled off but hung his head like he felt bad for leaving me there.
"Abigail, how long has this been going on?"
"Well I only met Travis this week."
"No, you know what I mean."
"Since the beginning of freshman year."
"Have you seen anyone?"
"Have you seen somebody? Like, the school counselor, or have you talked to your parents."
"No, and my parents don't care."
She frowned, swirling a pencil around in circles atop her desk. Teachers were always awkward in situations where parents couldn't be involved. They relied on having a parental figure to tell them what was appropriate to help the child in question. Teachers never acted on their own. I decided not to say anything, and instead allow her to think. People would be coming in for class soon and I was running late for Geometry, but I was willing to waste time if I could blame a teacher for my absence from class.
"If I take you down to the school counselor, will you talk to her?"
"I'm not sure what I would say."
"Abigail, she can help."
She hurried me out the door and we walked through the crowded hallway and down the two flights of steps to the lower level. Walking next to a teacher called all eyes to look at you. Everyone knew you were either in trouble, or even worse, being taken to a counselor. And, sadly, I was the latter. It didn't help that I was already hated, and as the eyes followed us I could overhear little bits of conversation popping up from behind us.
"What did she do?"
"I heard she punched Zoey in the nose! For no reason!"
Mrs. Grace seemed to be completely unaware of the chattering teenagers. Luckily, the lower level was mainly used for offices. There were only a few scattered lockers that were added in over the past few years to accommodate a slightly growing number of students. Most of the people with lockers on the lower level preferred to share lockers with a friend or something on the upper level as it was easiest to navigate. The only people who still used lockers down here were some exceptionally brave stoners, and the air smelled faintly of marijuana smoke, which I had smelled many times passing the cars of the seniors in the parking lot.
The door to the counselor was bare except for a small name, 'Ms. Ambers', written below the window. Windows for counselor's offices were only for appearance. No matter how hard you tried, it was impossible to look inside because whatever the put on the window made the shadows and colors in the room distorted in shape.
"Are you ready?"
I nodded, and Mrs. Grace knocked three times on the door, as if that particular amount of knocks was some secret code. A woman, presumably Ms. Ambers, opened the door and stepped out into the hallway with us. She was taller than most women I had seen, and I stepped back in order to make direct eye contact with her. A faint smell of coffee tickled my nose, and I wondered if she had a coffee pot somewhere hidden in her office for secret midday caffeinated escapades. She took one look at me and seemed to understand what was going on without the two women needing to speak at all. Mrs. Grace cleared her throat a little and patted me on the back before hurrying off upstairs and leaving me alone.
"Come on inside, have a seat."
Never before had I stepped foot inside of a counselors office. Walking through that door was like crossing over into a world that I could not return from. It was a world filled up with uncomfortable talks and art expression. There was no turning back, though, so I followed her in and took a seat in a fairly uncomfortable chair. The room was filled with stress balls, terrible artwork, and self-help books. Vowing to myself that I would never read a self-help book for as long as I lived, I tried to fake a smile at Ms. Ambers and folded my hands in my lap in a little pyramid shape.
"So, may I have your name?"
"It's Abigail, ma'am."
"Abigail Maryann Patters?"
She typed something into the computer on her desk, grumbling something about hating the new setup of whatever program she had running. I wondered what she would find when she searched for my name. What information did the school have on me? Ms. Ambers stopped typing and turned towards me, tapping her index finger on the table as if she was debating what she would say.
"So, Abigail, why are you in here today?"
"I don't know."
"Yes you do."
"Mrs. Grace thinks I need to talk about things."
"Bullies, I guess."
She wasn't going to make this easy on me, and she was probably going to make me do all of the talking. Aren't counselors supposed to help you? If I wanted to get things off of my chest I would go write in a diary. I paused, staring down at my hands. What do you say to someone to explain these sorts of things? The idea of talking had been in my head for a long time, but I never expected to get to that point and have no idea what to say. Trying to explain things to an outsider you've just met is like spilling your guts to some stranger on the subway. Except, this subway stranger has a degree or whatever.
"Well, yeah. I mean people have been saying things since the beginning of Freshman year."
"What sort of things?" Her expression was cold and calculating as though she had no feeling whatsoever. She wanted me to tell her everything? Were you allowed to curse in front of a counselor? If so, this was definitely one of those moments that I would be cursing.
"Well they call me Abby the Fatty and they make jokes about my weight and things like that."
"Well, aren't they original? Do you let them get to you?"
"Well, Abby, they're just bullies. They can't hurt you if you don't let them get to you."
"Well it's not easy to ignore."
"Are you comfortable with your body?"
"Have you tried losing weight?"
I thought back to the bathroom floor, the taste of vomit.
"Did it work?"
"Does it look like it worked?"
She pursed her lips together tightly and started typing something in her computer. I wondered what she had to say about me, this strange fat girl who shows up without warning and isn't willing to tell her everything immediately. Counselors must get so frustrated when they actually have to work, instead of just listening. How many girls had come here crying about a breakup? How many drug addicts have told her they would try to sober up? School counselors must get all the kids who just want to get out of class, too. Maybe that's what she expected I was here for. After all, the longer I could postpone talking would be a longer time I would be missing class. Unfortunately, I wasn't here just to skip. I didn't exactly plan on telling her that, though. Seeing how long she could manage to deal with me would be far more interested.
"Well, Abigail, unless you talk to me I can't help you."
"I'm not sure what I'm meant to say."
"Who has been bullying you?"
"Surely not everyone, you must have friends."
"Not really. I mean I met the new boy, and he talks to me."
"You know him?
"I'm sorry, I can't discuss that."
Why would Travis have been to the counselors office? Did he see counselors at his old school? Where was he from, anyway, and why did he leave? Did his work program have something to do with Ms. Ambers? This brought up more questions in my head than it did answers. If he's only seventeen years old, why does he even need to work, especially midnights? He should still be living with his parents, and they should be paying for whatever it is that he needs, unless it's a car or something like that. Why had I not thought to ask him that earlier? In truth, I knew very little about this boy that I was so quick to mention as a friend. Knowing that this woman sitting across from me knew the answers to my questions was frustrating, and I wanted her to tell me everything, but I knew that would be betraying trust.
"Is he the only one?"
"Everyone else avoids me?"
"Have you tried?"
"Good point. What about your parents?"
"What about them?"
"Can you talk to them?"
"They don't really care."
"About the bullies?"
"Oh." She pursed her lips again, as though it was her natural expression, and sat in silence.
"They care about other things." I muttered, and she looked up as though this meant she could help me.
"What other things?"
"Well, like holidays and big events or whatever."
"I see. Well, I suggest that you ignore your bullies."
"I'm not sure what else to say, Abigail. Kids will be kids and they are going to bully. There isn't anything I can do, unless you'd rather me call the whole school down to the auditorium for a strict talk about respect, which you and I both know that they won't listen to. You have to be comfortable in your body. If they see that you are confident with who you are they will get bored and leave you alone. After all, they just want to try to upset you, if you don't let them get to you then they can't do anything."
"How am I supposed to be confident in my body when I look like this?"
"Abigail, you are a very pretty girl. If you're uncomfortable with your weight then diet, or exercise, do something to lose weight if it will make you happier."
I just nodded, and stood from my chair.
"I guess I'll go to class now, then."
"Alright. Enjoy the rest of your day, and if you need to talk I'm here."
That was one invitation that I was never going to accept. What good was a counselor if they're only advice is to ignore them, or to get over it? Piermont says how against bullying they are and how there will be consequences for students that bully, but when I show up complaining about people bullying me I'm just told to ignore it?
Authors Note: Alright, say hello to the extended second chapter! I hope that it looks alright, I got a little to into the conversation with the counselor. Have you ever been in a school counselors office? How did they act? I based Ms. Ambers off a previous counselor I have seen. Anyway, I will work on getting you the third chapter very soon! Who wants to find out more about Travis? Cause you will soon!