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“Isaac, I’m not going to suspend you.”
I clasp my hands in my lap. The ripped knees of my jeans, the bits of scraped skin poking through.
“I know it’s been tough for you. I can’t imagine how hard this must all be.”
I look up as he pauses, his gaze resting on me, expression unreadable.
“Are you seeing a counsellor, Isaac?”
I shake my head. “They can’t do anything for me.”
He shrugs and crosses his fingers together, resting his chin on top. “They can help you better cope with the aftermath of your past, so you can move forward. And I think that’s important, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I don’t know.”
The principal continues. “It’s not about changing who you are, or asking you to throw away all you feel from what happened, or who you lost. It’s about being able to live again, Isaac.”
I don’t respond.
“Either way, I’m going to book you in with an appointment with the school counsellor, alright?” He doesn’t wait for me to reply. “There’s no shame in needing help, Isaac. Sometimes, reaching out can be the strongest thing you can do.”
“It doesn’t fucking matter.”
The principal frowns at me, and I hang my head for a moment, the smooth polished floor staring indifferently back.
“Alright. Thank you,” I mumble.
I shoot furtive glances around, past all the repeating beige doors, turning down a small corridor offshoot near the school offices.
The vague sounds of students in the courtyard outside are muffled by the walls and doors. Soon, there is just quiet. Soon there is just my footsteps and my heart pounding in my chest.
I make my way to the end and raise my hand to knock on the door.
“Come on in,” the counsellor says gently.
I fall onto the couch as the counsellor shuts the door behind her.
“So, we’re here to talk about what happened before you moved here.”
“Sure.” My throat instantly closes up. It’s only been thirty seconds. I stare at the relentlessly ticking clock and I trace the minute hand’s path through another twenty five minutes.
“This will be a weekly thing, sometimes more frequently if needed. Is that alright with you?”
“That’s fine.” I stare back down at my old, torn and muddy boots and I make a mental note to get a new pair someday.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed about. We’re just going to talk over the next few months, give you a chance to learn some ways to cope, to accept how you feel. It’s okay to be confused and upset, what’s important is processing it and learning to live with it and to forgive yourself.”
I don’t say anything to Marcus for a long time in homeroom the next morning as I stare down at my phone, opening and closing apps but not looking at anything of substance.
“Hey, dude.” Marcus exhales, almost resigned. “You have some time after school to talk?”
“What do you mean?” I shoot back at him.
“It’s nothing. Just want a chat.”
I look up at him but his expression betrays nothing.
Before either of us can say more, the bell rings for class and he immediately gets up, swinging his bag over his shoulder and disappearing out of the room into the crowd.
Gathering up my belongings in my arms, my mind is anywhere but on English or maths or studying as I head into the crowd as well.
The school ground is mostly deserted as I walk out with my earphones hanging around my shoulders. I head tentatively around the building and Marcus is leaning there with a skateboard in hand, staring absentmindedly at the sky. He looks up as I arrive, and raises his eyebrows briefly in greeting.
“What did you want to talk about?” I ask, stopping just short of him.
For a moment he doesn’t meet my gaze, only continues staring steadfast ahead, expression unreadable. “Are you mad at me, for stopping you?”
“At the cafeteria.”
“I – no, I’m not,” I stammer back, dumbstruck. “But that guy was being an asshole. He got what he deserved.”
Marcus frowns. “I don’t think it’s your place to decide that.”
I scowl. “I don’t think you’re in a position to act as moral judge and jury either.”
Marcus sighs and rubs his temples for a moment. “I know. I’m just – sorry. It was wrong of him, I know.”
I stand there struggling to find appropriate words to say, clutching my maths textbook so tightly with my hands that I can feel the dent beginning to form in my skin. His face and uncertain expression spin in front of me.
“It’s fine. No worries. Thank you, for stopping me. Otherwise I’d probably be expelled.” I hesitate as he adjusts the skateboard leaning against him, his gaze still not meeting mine. Anything to change the subject. “So do you skate?”
He nods, his eyes lighting up as he looks up. “Almost every day.”
I manage a half smile. “Me too.”
“Would you wanna check out the skatepark with me sometime after school this week?”
I tuck my textbook under one arm and wipe some of the sweat off my palms. “Yeah, sure thing.”