During advisory, I receive a note that says I need to meet the principal in his office during my lunch period. I’m scared- what did I do wrong to deserve this? Sure, I had failed a few tests, turned in a few assignments late, and my gpa wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t like I had broken any rules.
After getting a salad from the cafeteria and telling Leticia and Lauryn that I have to go to the principal’s office, I finally reach his door. I knock, and that’s when I realize that my palms are sweating I’m scared that I’m going to drop my food.
“Come in,” Principal Diep says, and I open the door. The only light sources in the room are the windows that lead out to the hallway and a lamp on his desk. “Sit down.” I do as I’m told while he walks over to the windows and pulls down the blinds. At least that plum Sofia can’t tease me for getting sent here. “So, Ms. Doll,” he says as he sits down behind his desk, “Do you have any idea why I’ve called you here?”
Wait- he’s not just going to yell at me, then let me go? He wants me to actually talk? A lump forms in my throat, so I just shake my head no.
“Anne, your grades for the first semester of school were very poor. Mid-term grades are about to come out for this semester, and they’re not any better. Your highest grade is a C+, and the rest of them all fall somewhere in the D range. It’s normal to have a bit lower grades than expected when they come out in mid-first semester, but most students are able to pick them back up. They also usually do not differ that much from grades in elementary school, even if they do drop a bit,” he says before pausing to see if I’m listening. I am, even though I’m munching on my salad at the same time. I nod again, which makes him agitated.
“Anne, you were an A-student in elementary school, and I’ve also looked at your best pieces of work in each of your classes. I have also spoken with your teachers, and all of them have told me that you are very attentive and hard-working in class. You obviously have the potential to do well, but you aren’t using it for some reason or another. Is there anything in your life that you think is causing you to not perform as well?”
I could tell him everything. I could say that my father only has eyes for his work, my mother hates her own children, and my older brother only cares about himself, leaving me to care our three younger siblings as well as his own daughter. But if I do, what price will I pay? If I told him, he would be required by law to contact social services, who would launch an investigation. They would take the five of us away from our home, and probably from each other. I have to think of the four children that have changed my life so much. What if the families that we would be placed with saw James’ artistic works as useless, Elizabeth’s power an illusion, Andrew’s unusual interests as disturbing, and refused to see Angel as the girl that she is? That thought makes me swallow the lump in my throat and reply, “No.”
He nods. “Anne, we need to find a solution to this problem, and I think that the best place to start would be for you to quit sports for the remainder of this school year.”
“Wait, what?!” I reply, startled.
“I know that this might be a big change for you, but your academic future is much more important. I’ll contact your coach so you won’t have to do a thing but get your grades up. Your lunch period is almost over, so I’ll finish this up by saying that I only want to help you, and if you need anything please let me know.” Then the bell rings, perfectly timed with the end of his speech. I get up, take my bowl back to the cafeteria, and go about the rest of the school day in a haze.
After school, when I tell Leticia and Lauryn about what happened in the principal’s office, they decide to take me to The Blue Velvet to help cheer me up. There’s no one there besides the mixologist since it’s still afternoon.
I’ve been working with the piano in Instrumental Music, so I play some really cheesy-but-fun music while watching my two best friends dance. It’s good seeing the two of them back to normal again.
Then Leticia needs to pee, so we head upstairs where the restrooms are. Lauryn takes one look out the window and practically drags me out to the balcony. I have a feeling that she’s going to have a great career as a painter.
I get lost in the view. The sun is setting, turning the sky into an ombre of almost every color imaginable. The busy city streets begin to grow quiet as the world enters into darkness. The sky seems so vast, while the town of Willow Creek is just one dot on a map, tiny and insignificant. We stand there until it’s almost dark, when we realize that Leticia hasn’t joined us.
After searching the whole building with no luck, we find her on the back patio where she’s fallen asleep on one of the benches. Who knows who would’ve found her here if we hadn’t.
I’m also glad that we found her because while she’s sleeping unaware of our presence, I see a whole different side to her. She looks so… innocent, lying there like that. Like she has no reason to believe that anything bad ever happens in this world, though out of the three of us she’s probably seen the most bad things. Lauryn finally pushes me to wake her up, and I feel bad for doing so, but we really need to leave. People are already showing up, and we really shouldn’t be here. The feelings continue to puzzle me as I head home.
When I get upstairs, I’m surprised to see that the four kids are already in their pajamas and that the lights are out in their two bedrooms. I enter the boys’ room, where there seems to be some sort of commotion going on. I’m forced to put all of my thoughts and feelings aside when I see that Angel is scared of something. “Anne, there’s a-a monster under the bed!” she exclaims.
I kneel down and look underneath the bed, but I don’t see anything. She’s still scared, though, so I try my best to comfort her while attempting to figure out what happened from the other kids. All of their stories are confusing me. It sounds like James and Andrew know more about this “monster” than there letting on, while Elizabeth seems genuinely curious about its properties of camoflauge (or something like that). Tired of trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, I find a grey hair on Angel’s sleeve and give it to Elizabeth to experiment with and send James off to draw a picture of the monster.
“Andrew,” I ask, “Can you please tell me everything that happened today, starting when you came home from school?”
“James and I were eating in the kitchen,” he started, “but the light switch wasn’t working for some reason. Then we saw Edward walk in, but he didn’t see us since his eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet. He was sneaking around and had something in his arms that he was trying to hide. He came up here, but we decided not to follow him.”
His story is interrupted by James running into the room with his picture. After he’s tacked it on the wall, I take a look at it. It looks suspiciously similar to a bunny, but he insists that it isn’t.
Elizabeth finishes analyzing the piece of fur, and after she’s written it down in her journal she says that it has similar properties to squirrel fur. Where she found any of that, I have no idea. Since she’s the only one of the kids who’s running around with clothes on, I take the opportunity to ask her about her side of the story.
“Well, after school Angel and I went to the park. She was scared to go by ourselves, but I said that it was fine because there’s plenty of other people around there. After I filled up my backpack, we took the trolley home, or as close to home as we could get, and walked the rest of the way-”
“You did what?!” I reply. “Elizabeth, it’s extremely irresponsible of you to go anywhere but straight home after school without telling Mom. Before the fact, not after. Angel was right to be scared- there are plenty of bad things that can happen when you’re out in the world without an adult.”
“As I was saying,” Elizabeth continues, “When we got home, the four of us came up here. I was analyzing the samples, James was playing violin, and Angel and Andrew were dancing. Then Mom came in and yelled at us for making too much noise when she already had a headache, even though none of us knew that she had a headache. I was scared and froze against the wall. She told James, Andrew, and Angel to go to bed, but didn’t see me even though I was right by the door. The three of them put their pajamas on, but since she didn’t tell me to go to bed I didn’t. Angel wanted to be tucked in, but when we looked in her room she was already asleep. Daddy wasn’t home yet, and Edward seemed to have disappeared, so we all decided to wait until you got home. Then Angel said that she saw something under the bed, so she tried to make it come out so she could make friends with it, but it bit her.”
I look at Angel’s finger where she claims that it bit, and I do see two tiny tooth marks. Thankfully it looks like they didn’t puncture her skin at all. Whatever it is, it’s definitely real, black, and very tiny. I carefully look under and behind furniture until I find it; then I put it in an old fish tank of Edward’s.
I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it really does look like a hybrid between a squirrel and a mouse. I’m too tired to figure out what it is now, so after getting promises from the kids that they’ll do their unfinished homework before going to bed, I head into my room, change into my pajamas, and go to sleep.