Chapter Sixteen

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            The next Monday, I was forced into the guidance counselor’s office.

            I suppose I should’ve seen it coming. Maybe I’d have been less surprised had I not been so preoccupied with the events of that weekend, thoughts of which still buzzed stubbornly around my head like an annoying wasp. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shove the constant replay of the argument with Luke out of my head. The stinging words continued to echo between the confines of my skull; surprisingly, it hurt just as much the hundredth time over.

            I was pulled out of homeroom for the appointment, though I wasn’t too cut up about that. My opinion shifted, however, when I was ushered into a small room with a strange burning smell and motivational posters pasted across every inch of the wall. The stuffy classroom in which I usually sat through the morning announcements was rapidly becoming more appealing.

            The guidance counselor herself was a very small woman with a dark complexion and what seemed like the world’s largest collection of hair beads. Huge glasses were perched atop her nose, the thick lenses magnifying her eyes until they looked at least five times larger than normal.

            She introduced herself as Ms. Osenberg, following with a swift invitation for me to take a seat. I glanced over at the huge cushy chair stationed opposite her desk, its worn fabric looking like it had been there for fifty years, before reluctantly lowering myself onto it. My nose wrinkled at the smell; I couldn’t determine whether the place was used as a secret hideout for her smoking habit, or whether she just had a strange affinity for candles.

            “So,” she said purposefully, as the chair creaked threateningly under my weight, “what can I do for you?”

            I gave her a strange look. “I don’t know. I got told to come here.”

            “Oh!” She tried her best not to look perturbed, though I seemed to have thrown her slightly. “Well. Is there anything you wanted to talk about?”

            She was stalling, trying to collect her thoughts together as she rifled through an untidy folder on her desk. I guessed she was looking for my file, though I wasn’t sure I even had one. “I don’t think so.”

            But I’d been wrong, because after a few moments she was waving a thin manila file, a couple of sheets peeking out of the top. “Corey Ryder,” she muttered, half to herself. “Yes, here you are. Let’s have a look at what’s going on.”

            “I’ve only been here a month,” I pointed out. “I really don’t think there’s going to be much in that—”

            “Oh, dear,” she interjected. “You haven’t been doing so well in your classes, have you?”

            It wasn’t like this was shocking news. I’d sat tests in every class and failed nearly all of them, the exception being gym. While the coach might’ve taken an undeniable shine to me, the same didn’t stand for any other teachers. It wasn’t that they were angry – more concerned, which in some ways was even worse. The decent ones were the most irritating, always lingering a few feet from my desk, ready to pounce at any opportunity to discuss my progress. And yet the more they tried to reach out, the more I shied away from it all, determined to stick to my own and keep away from the outstretched arms of any school staff.

            I couldn’t avoid it forever. There was only so long I could be kept in a class I was hopelessly failing before somebody stepped in. I’d be more settled in freshman placements, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be in them. It would be even more humiliating if I was struggling to keep up while surrounded by a bunch of fourteen-year-olds, in classes way too basic for my age.

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