I hadn’t been physically cornered, but I knew from experience that running would only hinder my escape. The only way out of this situation would be to stand still, remain calm, and keep talking.
The authority figure sipped his coffee and asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be in class right now?” Given that I was a fourteen-year-old wandering around an empty high school hallway at ten thirty on a Tuesday, this was a fair question.
The answer was going to require a heaping helping of premium bullshit, which is best served wrapped in a thick layer of facts. In this case, I was supposed to be in class, so I said, “Yes.” What I left out was that the class I was supposed to be in was located in the catholic school on other side of town.
“And why aren’t you in it?”
“I’m running an errand.” This was also true.
“Can I see your hall pass?”
“I don’t have one.” This honesty thing was a breeze!
The bearded teacher took another sip from his coffee with a grunt. “What’s your name?”
There was no reason to start lying now. “Max,” I replied. “Maximilian Fuentes.”
“And who sent you on this little errand, Mr. Fuentes?”
Now I was going to have to start lying. “The principal.”
There was more than one principal? What was this nightmarish, tyrannical dystopia I’d stumbled into? The situation called for a Hail Mary–both the blind, desperate sports maneuver and the blind, desperate prayer to Jesus’s mother. “The funny one?”
He grinned. “She is pretty funny, isn’t she?”
I noted that the funny principal was female.
“Go on, run your little errand,” he told me. “But when you get back to Mrs. Mihelcic’s office, you need to remind her not to send students out to the hallways without a pass.”
I noted that the funny principal’s name was Mrs. Mihelcic.
He shook his head and resumed his walk to wherever it was he was going before I’d interrupted him, adding, “I’d hate for you to get written up for this.”
“I’d hate that too,” I said truthfully.
As soon as he was gone, I strolled around the corner and casually opened a classroom door. Whatever doodling, letter-writing, daydreaming, or, God forbid, note-taking was going on in the classroom came to a dramatic halt. I didn’t know what the teacher had been doing, because I hadn’t seen her at all until the moment she appeared in front of me, her eyes burning with rage and impatience. “Can I help you?”
With my cheeriest voice, I replied, “Hi! Mrs. Mihelcic sent me to pick up Lisa Green!”
“There’s no Lisa Green here.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “My height? Light brown hair? Red hoodie? Kind of a mean look about her?”
“Do you see her here?”
I scanned the students’ faces, taking care to wave at the really pretty ones, and turned my attention to the plaque on the door. “Oops!” I declared. “I should have looked more carefully! This is room C-101!” Smacking my forehead for emphasis, I added, “I have to learn to pay better attention. Thanks!”
Leaving behind handful of apologies, I slipped back outside, walked across the hall, burst into room C-102, and announced, “Hi! Mrs. Mihelcic sent me to pick up Lisa Green!”
It took me until D-112 before I had to move onto the next stage.
“And why does Mrs. Mihelcic want to see Miss Green here?” The teacher nodded his head in her direction.
I didn’t look, because there was no way I could hide the inevitable, incriminating giggle that would spark with eye contact. Instead, I focused my attention on the teacher. “She didn’t tell me, and frankly, sir, it’s none of my business.”
“Aren’t you a little too young to be an office assistant?” he asked with a frown.
“I don’t know how young that is, sir.”
“Do you have a note?”
With a shrug, I replied, “You know how Mrs. Mihelcic is.”
“I can’t let her leave without a note.”
“That makes sense. I’ll just go back and tell her that I need a note. Is there a specific format or something, or should I just get a signed piece of paper?”
“I think that, as an office assistant, you’d already know the answer to that,” the teacher snorted.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I sighed. “I’m trying to learn but I just transferred in and Mrs. Mihelcic is so mad about something and I don’t know for sure but I think it has to do with this Lisa Green person and I was afraid to ask too many questions and I know it was stupid and I’m trying to learn and if I have to go and come back with a note I just want to make sure it’s the right one because I don’t want to be yelled at again and if I learn to do it right I won’t get yelled at so much…”
He shook his head, pulled a notebook of blue paper from his desk, and wrote on it. “I’m going to give you two a hall pass. The next time she sends you out, make sure you’re carrying a slip of paper that looks like this, but in green. You got that?”
“I do, sir!”
“Go directly to the administrative office; no messing around.”
“Okay,” I said. “Thank you so much!”
Lisa got up from her desk and sheepishly joined me in front of the room, it was more crucial than ever that we not look at each other. Her blushing alone threatened to melt my ruse.
As soon as we were alone in the hollow corridors, she grinned and punched me in the shoulder. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re gonna get me expelled!”
“Come on, Green,” I reminded her, “that was slick, you can’t deny it.”
She rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Should we grab Hakim?”
“Screw that guy,” I told her. “It’s just you and me today.”
She blushed again. “What next?”
“What time does class let out?”
“About ten minutes.”
“Then we’re going to wait outside C-108,” I said. “There’s a girl there in black jeans I’m hoping to get to know better.”
I heard her growl, but I didn’t think anything of it. “Let’s just go.”
“Give me eleven minutes.”
“We’ll get caught.”
I touched her cheek and looked her directly in the eye. “Trust me?”
“Then trust me.” Taking her hand, I led her toward the room in question.