Chapter 1: Prologue
Vickie stands out on the curb with Mr. Carisi and Miss Rollins and waves at all the school buses and cars leaving the parking lot. All three of them have tears in their eyes as their high school students leave for the summer. The seniors aren’t coming back.
“I never thought it would be so hard,” Vickie says jaggedly, the words almost sticking in her throat.
“It always is,” Mr. Carisi says and gives her a side hug. He’s got so many emotions written on his face as he looks down at her, the student teacher he had mentored for the last five months.
Miss Rollins strokes her forearm gently and says, “It’s so hard to see them go isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Vickie agrees. “But it was such a hard semester, I never expected it to be this way.”
“Oh hon,” Miss Rollins says and envelops her in a comforting hug when she breaks down and cries. But she doesn’t want to do that for too long. She pulls away and wipes at her eyes, embarrassed.
“Now I feel stupid.”
“Nah,” Mr. Carisi says. “You’re fine. That’s normal. Check out Mrs. Perkins over there.”
He points at one of the math teachers, who’s surrounded by kids that adore her, kids who will miss her. And she’s practically bawling as she says goodbye to each and every one of them. Vickie wishes she had that. That she had touched at least one student.
“Hey, Miss Dahl!” Martina Flores rushes up to her and unexpectedly gives her a quick hug. “Thanks for being so nice to me. See you next year!”
Martina then turns and glares at Mr. Carisi before running back to join her friends waiting to board one of the buses. He just chuckles. He always seems to roll with the punches so well.
“She still hates you, huh?” Miss Rollins jibes him, knocking him in the side with her elbow.
He lets out a little ‘oof’ in response, ducking away from her. Then he beams a bright smile. “I’ll win her over. I’ve still got a couple of years left.”
Vickie knows that he won’t - knows why Martina will forever hate him. At least she had been able to help one kid out, be the trusted adult in her life, someone she could talk to, a shoulder to cry on.
“See?” Mr. Carisi says to her, practically reading her mind. “You’ll be fine out there in the big wide world, even if Principal Barba doesn’t hire you. But I know he will. Despite what you think Vickie, the kids don’t hate you - and your classroom management will improve with time and practice, you’ll see.”
He claps her on the back and beams down at her. Always the optimist. “Look, you were able to reach Martina. No one had been able to do that before you got here. You’re something special. I have faith in you.”
“So do I,” says Miss Rollins.
Vickie looks at both of them. They have such confidence in her abilities that it almost makes her trust their assessment.
“Thank you,” she says.
They all turn back and continue waving goodbye to their pupils, who are blissfully leaving it all behind for the summer. And leaving them behind.
“Aw, come on now, ‘Manda. Not you, too.” Vickie sees Mr. Carisi give Miss Rollins a side hug as she tears up a little, forgetting to call her by her “teacher name” even though there are still students about. But then, he would often get pretty familiar with Principal Barba too, even though that always seemed to irk him - especially if there was even a remote chance that kids were about.
Vickie notices that Mr. Carisi doesn’t let go of Miss Rollins like he had her and once again she feels that familiar jealousy creep up. She had been ‘hot for teacher’ all semester. It was embarrassing. Especially since Mr. Carisi probably knew exactly how she felt about him. He had always seen through her so easily - ever since she arrived that first day at 16 Peyton Place and walked into his classroom.
Prof W had picked out this school specifically for Vickie’s student teaching because he thought she would be comfortable with its excessively large student population, having always attended a big school herself. Peyton High School was located in a suburb outside of New York City, so it was a bit of a hike for her, but Prof W assured her it would be worth it – the school had a good track record for turning out competent teachers.
“Principal Barba is one of the best principals in the district. He has a fine reputation for student excellence and achievement with all the different programs he’s got going on there, not to mention his teachers are some of the most dedicated there are. Despite their large class sizes, they don’t seem to burn out as easily as I’ve seen elsewhere. It’s why they are always so eager to volunteer their time as cooperating teachers and mentor the student teachers I send to them. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Rafael’s a good friend of mine from way back,” Prof W had said to her knowingly with an incline of his head. “We went to grad school together.”
“Principal Barba.” Prof W clarified. “Make sure not to call him Rafael. He likes to stand on formalities.”
The grizzled man chuckles, absently stroking his prematurely grey hair. It looks like a brillo pad. Vickie just can’t imagine Prof W, the head of the secondary education program at her university, ever being friends with someone who stood on formalities. He’s the most relaxed and easy going guy out there, preferring his students to call him either Prof W or Mateo, and never by his last name. Or anything as formal as ‘Doctor,’ even though he had earned two PhD’s and the right to that title.
And he had not been kidding about his good friend Principal Barba either.
Vickie is starting to feel interrogated. Here I thought this was just a meeting so that the administration could get to know me, so why does it feels like a job interview?
“Miss Dahl?” Principal Barba had said curtly when she had first arrived. He had been dressed sharply – so sharply he could put a pair of scissors to shame. Formality, indeed. “Come into my office, please.”
The curtness hadn’t stopped there. Every question of his was clipped and she knew he wanted answers from her that were straightforward and to the point, without embellishment. The Vice Principal, whom he referred to as Principal Benson, most likely because he treated her as an equal, seemed warmer and would ask her questions too, but without unnerving her like he did. Thank goodness it was a team effort and they alternated questions.
“Why do you want to be a teacher? What about this frankly grueling job appeals to you?” Principal Barba asks her, his intense green eyes boring into her, challenging her.
“Uh . . .” Vickie stammers a bit, knowing this will take more than just a brief answer.
“It’s okay. Please tell us what drives you, what compels you. Why are you attracted to this line of work?” Vice Principal Benson inquires, looking at her with her warm brown eyes and leaning forward to assure her. “It’s okay to elaborate."
She looks over at Principal Barba who gives a nod, laces his fingers together and raises them to his lips, awaiting Vickie’s response.
So Vickie tells them how important teachers had been in her life. They had been the rocks she had clung to as her family tore apart – the only stability in her life. They had been more than just educators to her, albeit their instruction had been important to her as well, allowing her to make a better life for herself – to eventually escape the horrors of her neighborhood. Or so she hopes. She tells Principal Barba and Vice Principal Benson that she wants to not only give children the intellectual tools they need to navigate their lives successfully but also the emotional ones. She wants to pay it forward.
Principal Barba remains silent for a while, and then abruptly nods.
“Thank you Miss Dahl, that will be all.”
She is hurriedly ushered out.
What had she done wrong? Had her focus on being there for the kids emotionally make Principal Barba think she didn’t actually value educating her students? She knows Peyton High School has a stellar reputation for academic achievement, and it isn’t exactly an inner-city school like her high school had been. Maybe the kids there don’t need that from her? But no, deep down she knows that it doesn’t matter what walk of life one comes from, the teenage years can be brutal. Having adult anchors in your life that you can depend upon can be critical to making it through those years. They had been for her.
She immediately calls Prof W to talk with him about how it had gone at Peyton High School and he instantly makes her feel better about the whole thing. He tells her that her motives for wanting to teach are noble and not to worry – there’s nothing she needs to change. He assures her that things will fall into place as they should and she will end up at the school that is the right fit for her. He will make sure of it.
So she decides to adopt the attitude that if Principal Barba doesn’t want her at his school she’ll be fine with it. Her mission in life is to help kids. Period. She needs to be at a place that values that. If it turns out that Peyton High isn’t that place, then so be it.
The very next day she’s frankly a little shocked when she picks up her cell phone and finds Vice Principal Benson on the other line.
“Hi there. I just wanted to tell you that Principal Barba was really impressed with you yesterday.”
“He was?” More shock. The butterflies race to her stomach.
“Oh yes,” Vice Principal Benson continues. “We’ve spoken with your professor and he thinks our school will be a good fit for you, as do we, and has signed off on it already. So . . . we want you to come in at 5am when our new semester starts next month. Are you prepared to do that?”
“Uh. . . yes.” Vickie was still a bit surprised, and way too happy to utter more than a word or two in response during this phone call.
“Good. Report to Mr. Carisi when you get here, okay? He’s one of our Language Arts teachers and is going to be your cooperating teacher.”
“Sure.” Vickie agrees and hangs up the phone.
She does a little happy dance and then settles down. This news just made her entire New Year’s. Boy, would she have something to celebrate!
Vickie steps up onto the curb at Peyton High School, ready to start her new life. Upon entering the school she notices that it is nearly empty. It’s practically a ghost town. And it’s a huge school. Mr. Carisi is located in Hall S, 2nd floor according to the directory. Now where is that? There’s no one around to ask.
The butterflies in her stomach start up, but are quickly quelled.
“Are you Miss Dahl?” She hears a female voice call out from far down the main corridor and turns around. A very pretty petite blonde woman is walking towards her briskly.
“Uh, yes, I’m Vickie Dahl.”
The woman pauses and looks about briskly. What is she looking for? When she reaches her, before even introducing herself, she says very quietly, “You’re going to want to use your teacher name ‘Miss Dahl’ around here when there might be kids around. No first names. Got it?”
“Uh, yeah,” Vickie feels like she’s already in trouble and the day hasn’t even started.
The woman nods and puts out her hand for Vickie to shake. “I’m Miss Rollins. I’ll let you know my first name over lunch sometime when we’re in the Teacher’s Lounge, okay?”
“It’s the kid-free zone,” Miss Rollins explains. “Principal Barba believes that keeping an air of formality around here is good for the students. Provides them with some structure they may be lacking at home and also teaches them respect.”
“Yeah, it is. We work a little differently than other schools.” Miss Rollins takes a stray lock of blonde hair that has fallen down into her face from her updo and tucks it behind her ear. “Now if I understand correctly, you’re here to see Mr. Carisi?”
“Oh, just call me Miss Rollins. No need to call me ‘Ma’am.’ You’re one of us now. A fellow teacher.” She smiles warmly and claps her shoulder.
“Okay,” Vickie says and shrugs amiably. Yes, she really is a teacher now, if only a student teacher. And that sounds nice. She’s so close to reaching her goal – just one more semester. Just one little semester. . .
“Mr. Carisi sent me to come get you, so follow me,” Miss Rollins says and Vickie follows her down a myriad of passageways for what feels like a mile.
“It’s only half a mile,” Miss Rollins informs her when they finally reach the second floor of Hall S.
“What is?” Vickie asks.
“The distance from Hall N to Hall S, the two buildings that are furthest apart here at Peyton. And we walked here from the middle of campus this morning – so we’ve only gone about a quarter of a mile.”
“Oh, it feels longer.”
“It can,” Miss Rollins agrees, shrugging. “But I’m used to the long walk over this way. My office is in Hall N. The gym is just outside of it. I teach P.E.”
No wonder she’s so thin, Vickie thinks bitterly, wishing she herself was. Her ‘Freshman 15’ had turned out to be 75 and it’s not like she had been thin in high school either. But she had been dieting in grad school and was down 50 pounds. Up until now she had been proud of that achievement, but looking at Miss Rollins, it makes her realize just how far she still has to go to become the woman she wants to be. She frowns.
They come upon Room 24 and the door is ajar.
“Mr. Carisi?” Miss Rollins walks right in before Vickie can even see inside it. “I’ve brought your your star pupil!”
And there he is. When Miss Rollins clears a path for Vickie to enter she sees him in all his glory, the man of her dreams.
He is sitting on a student’s desk, long legs straddling a corner of it, one foot dangling. She notices that his brown shoes and the exposed sock from his dangling foot don’t match the navy blue suit he is wearing. At all. But his tie sure looks nice . . . He is fiddling with the controls of the Smartboard with his long, elegant fingers. The biggest smile illuminates his face as he gets up off of the desk and comes towards her, his hand outstretched in greeting.
“I’m Mr. Carisi. You must be Miss Dahl.”
She can only gulp as she looks up at him and notices the subtle shocks of silver gracing the sides of his temples. She has a thing for older men. She has a thing for THIS man.
Thanks to Skittle479 for the beta on this!
Before Vickie can even really respond to the tall man’s greeting, he is already in “teacher mode,” telling her how everything will go down that day in his strong Staten Island accent, so different from Miss Rollins’. Vickie surmises that she has lived in New York for quite a while, but is likely a transplant from the South. But she’ll have to listen to her talk some more to put all the pieces together.
“Okay,” Mr. Carisi was saying, “We’re on assembly schedule today . . . and given that it’s the first day back from Winter break and all, that means it’s going to be . . . Well, ya heard of Murphy’s Law, right?”
“Well, it’s kinda going to be like a Murphy’s Day in here.”
Vickie snorts. “That bad huh?”
“Probably.” Mr. Carisi smiles.
Miss Rollins says, “I’m going to go, guys. See you at the assembly?”
“Yeah,” Mr. Carisi answers. “I’ll make sure my homeroom sits next to yours. Save us the good seats.”
“I don’t know how you can expect me to get my measly twenty students to hold seats for your crazy huge class,” Miss Rollins answers sarcastically.
“Oh, I’m not worried. You always find a way,” he answers her back with a twinkle in his eye and waves her out. “Okay, where were we. Oh yes, the schedule.”
Mr. Carisi goes back to sitting on a student’s desk and invites Vickie to perch on one across from him. He already has a copy of today’s assembly schedule – and the normal schedule – in a file folder in his hands. She’s not as tall as he is – nowhere near in fact, she’s shorter than Miss Rollins – so perching on a desk gracefully requires some effort on her part, but she figures it out.
“So, I had you come in super early today to give you the lay of the land and such, but classes don’t start until 7am, so you don’t have to get here until 6am tomorrow, okay?”
“Now,” he says and hands her a piece of paper with one of the schedules on it. Vickie accidentally brushes his fingers when taking it from him, which makes her flush and look down. He makes no acknowledgement of this, just continues on, pointing at the schedule while he talks. She is mesmerized by his elegant fingers. “This is my schedule. Four periods of Latin, one of Italian, one of Portuguese.”
He pauses for just a second. “Now I know you’re only credentialed in Latin – but that’s okay. Even though that means you’ll only fully take over four of my classes, you’ll be doing plenty in the other two. But you won’t be fully responsible for the actual curriculum and such since you aren’t credentialed to teach Italian or Portuguese.”
“Just so you know Mr. Carisi, I’m a great lover of linguistics and I do have familiarity with both Italian and Portuguese. I wouldn’t call myself fluent, but I can get by. So even though I’m not credentialed to teach either language, I promise that I can figure out what you need me to.”
“We’ll definitely let you take over what you can in those classes. It just won’t be everything.”
“I understand.” Vickie thinks for a minute, intrigued by the notion of hearing this man speak Italian. She can tell from his accent that he’s of Italian descent and from Staten Island . . . she just wonders how that accent comes through when he’s trying to teach students to speak Italian as a foreign language, not as one his Nonna probably speaks at home here in America.
She herself was raised bi-lingual, thanks to her grandmother, and tells him, “I also speak fluent Spanish. I’m credentialed in that too, you know. If that counts for anything at all . . .”
“I know,” Mr. Carisi says, grinning like a cat. “As am I. That’s why Barba wants to put you in the sub pool so badly.”
“The sub pool?”
“Don’t want to overwhelm you just yet. We’ll talk about that more on Friday.” He goes back to pointing at the paper in her hands. Damn, those nice hands!
“So, here’s where today becomes a mess. Homeroom is second period at this school, not first. AND we have staggered lunches on a normal day. Just two lunches, mind you. We haven’t gone up to three just yet, but it’s a possibility for next year.”
“Big school,” Vickie muses.
“Yeah,” Mr. Carisi says with a small grin. “Gotta shuffle all those kids.”
Mr. Carisi pulls out the assembly schedule so Vickie can see the differences. He points to the middle of the schedule. “But today all the kids are together at one lunch – and it’s shorter than normal too.”
“What a mess.”
He looks at her quizzically.
“I went to a big school. I understand.”
He nods and continues, pointing at the top of the schedule now. “You’ll notice that we have a BRIEF – yeah a ten minute – homeroom today before the assembly.”
Vickie looks and sees that homeroom, being second period and thus normally in the second position, is instead in the first slot on the assembly schedule.
“That’s ten minutes to make sure everyone is assembled into their homeroom classes – not their first period ones – and then escort them all down to the auditorium in time for the assembly. And it’s the first day back from break, so this means new schedules for everyone. A lot of these kids don’t know where they are going on the first day of school on a good day.” He shakes his head and makes a little ticking noise.
“I see the dilemma.”
“A lot of these kids will try to go to first period, not remembering there is an assembly today – and won’t be listening to the announcement that Principal Barba will be giving about it. And the rest will go to last semester’s first period by rote.”
“So, what do we do?”
“That's where you come in. I’m so glad I have you!” Mr. Carisi says and beams. His smile is like sunshine washing over her. Vickie basks in the glory of feeling wanted, useful. Together they make a plan for how to find all of the kids that need to make their way into their classroom that morning quickly and get them all there.
Vickie is handling the incoming students while Mr. Carisi is out in the hallway in the chaos, rustling everyone up. They trickle in slowly and steadily over the twenty minutes that pass before class officially starts.
A girl with very dark curly hair, almost as dark as Vickie’s, flounces in and takes a seat right in front of where she is standing.
“Who are you?” she asks with a bit of an attitude, smacking her gum, looking Vickie up and down, sizing her up.
“I’m Miss Dahl. I’m your student teacher this semester.”
“Student teacher?” a scrawny white kid in the back bursts out. “What’s that?”
“Yeah, what’s that?” another one echoes.
Vickie starts to tell them, but then Mr. Carisi pops his head in through the doorframe and says, “Two minutes until the bell. How many we got so far?”
Vickie does a headcount. “Twenty-two.”
“Not bad. Almost two-thirds. Get ready to officially take roll.”
He pops back out and Vickie clutches the roll book to her chest. She had already been checking that the names of the students Mr. Carisi had been filtering in were actually in their homeroom class. She just hadn’t actually marked any of them off yet.
“Mr. Carisi’s a dick,” Vickie hears the girl in front of her mutter and is shocked.
“Why would you say that?”
The girl just shrugs, looks away.
“Hey,” Vickie says softly, leaning down over her desk.
The girl looks back abruptly. “I like your hair.”
“Yeah, what do you use to make it look like that? Soft curls and shit?”
“Ooooh . . .” Vickie hears some kid in the back say and realizes she should correct the girl in front of her for her use of language. But she doesn’t want to. That would be petty. She’s not using swear words to be disrespectful. Quite the opposite. She’s using them to get closer to her. Vickie hopes she won’t get in trouble with Mr. Carisi or Principal Barba for letting this slide . . .
“What’s your curl type? 3B? 3A?”
The girl’s face lights up. “I’m a 3B, but on dry days I'm almost a 3A.”
“Me too!” Vickie says excitedly. “We could practically be hair sisters. I’m usually a 3B, but on those humid days . . .”
“Oh the humidity!” the girl jokes.
Vickie laughs. “Yeah when it’s humid my hair acts like it’s a 3C.”
“Gotta use more product then, Miss Dahl.”
“Yup,” Vickie answers, suddenly realizing she forgot to check this girl’s name in the roll book. Holy crap, is she even in the right homeroom? “I’m sorry . . . I forgot to check your name when you came in.”
“Martina,” the girl answers. “Martina Flores.”
Wrangling the kids and getting them all down to the assembly in one piece had been quite the production, but Vickie and Mr. Carisi had managed it somehow. The auditorium is huge, holding thousands of students at once for the assembly – and it is actually quite comforting to Vickie to be surrounded by such a large student body. After attending classes in college that were insanely intimate – her entire graduating class had been just 72 students – this felt like coming home.
“Oh God, not Miss Rollins’ class again!” Vickie hears one kid moan when he sees that they are to be seated with her gym class.
“’Again?’” she challenges him. “Didn’t you just start with a fresh schedule this semester?”
“Doesn’t matter. We’ve dealt with them before.” says the scrawny white kid from earlier. “Miss Rollins and Mr. Carisi? They’re like best friends. Teacher besties.”
“The worst kind,” another kid pipes in.
“Yeah. You screw around in gym, Mr. Carisi doesn’t take too kindly to that. And you mouth off in Latin?”
“Oh, boy,” another one continues, “You catch Miss Rollins’ wrath. Those two are fierce, I tell you. Fierce. They have each other's backs.”
“Yeah,” the scrawny kid says. “I just want to learn some Latin so med school will be a little easier you know . . . Do I LOOK like I want to train for a marathon? No! Sheesh!”
No, no he doesn’t , Vickie thinks and smiles to herself. She takes her seat next to Mr. Carisi as Miss Rollins joins them on his other side. The three of them have a good view of all of their students from where they are seated.
“This is going to be hard,” Mr. Carisi says and hangs his head.
“We’ll get through it,” Miss Rollins says and pats his hand lightly.
He smiles softly back at her, but when he turns back to Vickie, she can see tears still shining in his eyes.
What’s going to be hard?
Before she knows what’s happening, Martina flounces down beside her.
“Hey Miss Dahl!”
Vickie hears Mr. Carisi emit a soft ‘wow’ and sees him and Miss Rollins exchange a look.
“Pay attention, Mr. Carisi!” Martina snaps at him. “The assembly is starting.”
Principal Barba is on every monitor in the assembly hall, giving everyone a close up view of his stern face, his starched white collar, and his striped black tie. He looks . . . dour.
He begins with, “Normally, on this day, I’d be inviting you all back to continue the next semester with us. But that is not why we are here.”
A deathly silence descends. The students are so quiet that it feels unreal. But then the silence is broken by a loud sniff. People’s heads turn, looking for the source of the noise, but do not find it. Principal Barba resumes.
“We lost someone last semester, someone dear to us. He was a mentor, a protector . . .”
Mr. Carisi and Miss Rollins entwine hands silently.
“. . . He came to our school to learn how he could better serve you, our student body. Make you better, kinder people. Help prepare you for your launch into the world. To be respectful, successful, adults. . .”
Principal Barba’s face fades as a still image of an honorable looking man takes its place – one with dark hair, a clean-shaven face, and kind eyes. It’s a graduation photograph, and the cap he is wearing is that of one graduating with a higher degree, like a Master’s or PhD. Vickie wonders who this man is. Prof W hadn’t prepared her for this.
“Unfortunately, just days before Winter Break tragedy struck our school and Vice Principal Dodds was shot down in these very hallways!” Principal Barba practically shouts and points out at the crowd. “He was shot down while defending you, our students.”
The students remain quiet and the sounds of Principal Barba fuming though the microphone haunt the auditorium. Raging breath in and out. In and out. Finally, he speaks again.
“We have a ZERO tolerance policy for violence at this school. And I mean zero.”
Is Mr. Carisi crying? Vickie thinks he is as she sees Miss Rollins’ hand grips his tighter.
“Vice Principal Dodds was shot down like a dog in the line of duty. PROTECTING you guys. And why?”
More angry fuming is heard through the mic before Principal Barba’ strong voice is heard again.
“Because we had a bullying problem here. At this very school." He takes a break to scratch his head and then lays out a questioning palm. "What were you thinking? Seriously, what were you all thinking?”
Mr. Carisi is crying now. Definitely.
“Hon, you gotta stay strong, your part is coming up,” Vickie hears Miss Rollins whisper to him.
“No more tears, kay? Just for now.”
He wipes at his eyes just as Miss Rollins notices Vickie staring at the two of them.
“Keep your eyes on the kids!” she snaps at her and looks around quickly, making no one else has seen Mr. Carisi crying.
Vickie looks away, warmth creeping into her cheeks. Yes, she’s definitely got his back. Teacher besties for sure. Damn.
“How did this happen?” Principal Barba asks sarcastically from the podium. “We also had zero tolerance for bullying last semester.”
The auditorium is mostly silent. Some feet are heard shuffling. Guilty feet.
“How did we, all of us … students, teachers, everyone … how did we let this happen?” He pauses, and then shakes his head in defeat. “I am ashamed. We should all be ashamed.”
The picture of Vice Principal Dodds fades back to Principal Barba, speaking at the podium.
“Well, we have a ZERO tolerance policy for bullying again this semester, too.” Principal Barba raises his chin almost defiantly. “And you people better listen to Mr. Carisi here as he walks you through this . . . what has been put together for us all, teachers and students alike.”
Miss Rollins releases Mr. Carisi’s hand and softly rubs his back. “It’s time.”
He stands up and makes his way down to the podium as Principal Barba continues. “This year . . . This year you don’t have a Vice Principal Dodds to sacrifice on the altar of your aggression and disrespect for each other. This year . . .”
Mr. Carisi comes up behind him and he turns to give him a quick nod, acknowledging his presence.
“. . . Your word is RESPECT. I want to see respect and tolerance here. If we can all respect each other . . . even if we don’t always agree . . . then you will see that there is no need for violence. None.” Principal Barba nods firmly and motions for Mr. Carisi to come up to the podium. Once he joins him, Principal Barba places his hand solidly on Mr. Carisi's back and keeps it there while he continues. “Mr. Carisi is in charge of our RESPECT program this year. He is going to explain our new anti-bullying policies and what resources you have as students so that we can get back on track and make this the safe school we know it can be. Safe for ALL.”
Principal Barba steps back and in a somewhat shaky voice, Mr. Carisi steps forward and begins. He looks . . . haunted.
“Uh . . . last month, as you all know, Bobby –“
Screaming is heard near one of the entrances to auditorium. “What have you done to my son?”
A man in a dark teal suit is seen running towards the podium. He pushes Mr. Carisi out of the way upon arriving there and messes around with the laptop that is hooked up to the projector. “My son! My son!”
“Superintendent . . .” Principal Barba tries to calm the frantic man and Vice Principal Benson joins him in the effort.
Mr. Carisi just takes a stance away from the podium. One hand comes up to his forehead, effectively covering his face, and the other one wraps about his waist. It looks like this is too much for him. What happened here?
“My son!” the man shrieks triumphantly and faces one of the monitors which is now displaying the portrait of Vice Principal Dodds again. His hair looks a touch ‘mad scientist’ – like it had been styled earlier that day, but then destroyed later by fretting – by fingers anxiously tearing through his hair like they are now.
“Superintendent . . .” Vice Principal Benson is saying to him soothingly when he turns on her.
“You! You killed my boy. It was your fault. He was on YOUR watch.” He points an angry shaking finger at her.
“I know,” she says defeated, hanging her head. “I was his mentor. He was on my watch.”
“No!” Principal Barba jumps in, almost frantically, and stands between his Vice Principal and the Superintendent. He takes her arms. “You don’t get to do this. Listen to me. It was out of your hands. You weren’t even there. Not in that moment.”
“But I wa –"
“Not in that moment.”
Vickie is watching Mr. Carisi closely. Something about what the Principal is saying is disturbing him. His body language shifts. Even Miss Rollins sees it. Vickie hears her whisper, “Oh no.”
Thank you to the following people for beta'ing and reviewing this chapter: Skittle479, SarahInColour, & Esparzart.
Chapter 4: Friday
Thanks to Skittle479 for the beta and Esparzart for the review!
“He’s having a flashback. You watch the kids.” Miss Rollins bolts down to the front of the auditorium before Vickie can even protest.
In the blink of an eye only Principal Benson is left standing at the podium. Somehow Miss Rollins has spirited Mr. Carisi away and Principal Barba has removed the Superintendent from the auditorium. Despite the total pandemonium that had just erupted on stage Principal Benson maintains composure and tells the students that there will be another assembly sometime later where the RESPECT program will be explained to all of them, but now everyone must return to their homeroom classes and stay there until the next bell.
The students start to stand up around her and Vickie suddenly realizes that Miss Rollins’ students are dispersing and returning to their homeroom without any supervision.
“Wait!” she calls out to them. They pay her no mind since they don’t really even know who she is. However Mr. Carisi’s students halt.
“What do you need Miss Dahl?” one of them asks.
“I – I uh. Miss Rollins’ class . . .”
One of her students whistles and waves at a fierce looking man sporting a closely trimmed goatee. He’s obviously a teacher, yet walks with almost military precision towards them.
“What’s up Perry?” he asks the student.
“Mr. Tutuola, Miss Rollins’ class is leaving without her.”
“I got em’” Mr. Tutuola replies with confidence. In way of introduction he says, “You must be Mr. Carisi’s student teacher.”
“Yes, I’m Miss Dahl.”
“Yeah, no worries Miss Dahl – I’ll handle Miss Rollins’ kids. Keep ‘em with my class. I’m over in N Hall too. No time to chat though . . . You all good handling Mr. Carisi’s kids there on your own?”
“Yep,” Vickie replies with confidence she doesn’t feel.
“Alright. Catch up with you later.”
Somehow Vickie doesn’t lose any of Mr. Carisi’s homeroom class on the way back to S Hall. But it’s probably because they all seem worried about him and are in no mood to mess around. She has to field many questions about whether or not their teacher is okay without really knowing the answer.
And she hears a lot of muttering about some kid named Bobby Bianchi . . .
It’s finally Friday and what a whirlwind week it had been. The students have left for the day and Miss Rollins hasn’t made her way over to their classroom just yet. It would always seem to take her about an hour to wrap stuff up over at the gym before coming over to Mr. Carisi’s class to wait for him to finish up – often hours later. They carpooled to and from work every day – back and forth from the city. It made Vickie insanely jealous at the end of each day when she would stand in the parking lot and watch them walk to whoever’s car they had brought to work that day, smiling and laughing, sometimes touching without thinking. She wanted that. It wasn’t fair.
But the hour before Miss Rollins would arrive was always an hour that Vickie would have alone with her very attractive mentor. Each day he had a new lesson meant just for her. . .
“Mr. Carisi.” She hears Principal Barba’s clipped tones from the doorway.
. . . when they weren’t interrupted. Damn. Mr. Carisi had been leaning over her again, his shoulder so close to her back that she could feel the heat that emanated through his plaid dress shirt wash over her body.
Monday all over again. She suppressed a groan. On Monday Principal Barba had interrupted them as well. Monday had been assembly day.
As Principal Barba and Mr. Carisi are out in the hall, Vickie realizes she should take this opportunity to use the restroom. Who knows how long after school Mr. Carisi will keep her? He had said it could be hours. Apparently teachers do not work eight hour days.
Vickie steps out into the hallway and realizes she’s interrupting something. She freezes . . .
She hears Mr. Carisi speak and he sounds ragged, like he’s been crying some more. “I need to do this Raf. I need to. It’s important to me.”
“You’re an emotional wreck.”
“I know, but. . . after what happened . . . here at Peyton . . . and before . . . I just . . .”
“Sonn, I’m just not sure you should be running our anti-bullying program.” The principal reaches out and gently places a closed hand on Mr. Carisi’s cheek, stroking it a bit with his thumb. “I’m so worried about you. About all that you are going through over all of this.”
Mr. Carisi looks down and accepts his boss’ comfort for a while. They stand together in silence until he breaks it. When he looks back up he is insistent.
“Raf, it feels like the Lord has called me to do this, you know. To help these kids. To stop this violence. Because of what happened to me. To Mike. There’s a reason I lived and he didn’t. I truly believe The Lord wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t want me to take up this calling.” He shuffles his feet. “Raf, you of all people should understand this. We’ve talked about how we each felt the call to work in education – to work with these kids. This is just an extension of that. Please, I need to do this.”
“Okay,” the Principal says and nods brusquely, accepting this. He puts his hands on Mr. Carisi’s shoulders and looks him steadfastly in the eye. “But you’re going to need all the support you can get.”
Mr. Carisi smiles widely, nodding. “Oh, I’ve got Amanda. She’s helping me get through this and she’s been amazing.”
“Miss Rollins, huh?” the Principal asks. His hands drop to his sides.
“Yeah,” Mr. Carisi answers enthusiastically.
“Okay, well I’ll leave you to her then,” the Principal says and just walks off, leaving Mr. Carisi standing there. Principal Barba can be so weird sometimes, Vickie thinks as she slips off to the bathroom unnoticed.
That had been Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday had been interesting since the schedules were all garbled. Because the shooting incident had taken place in the final days of the last last semester, the students had to take the exams they had missed. So on Tuesday and Wednesday not all of the kids coming into Mr. Carisi’s classes were ones she would have as her own students once everything settled down - some were just there to take tests. But Mr. Carisi had set forth a challenge for her to have all their students’ names in all six periods memorized by Friday. He had given her this challenge Monday morning before the assembly, the day all the students she had taken roll for were actually going to be in her classes for the semester. But what he hadn’t known? She had had them all memorized by Tuesday and was ready to blow him away come Thursday.
And she did.
At lunch that day in the Teacher’s Lounge Mr. Carisi finds himself bragging about his star pupil.
“Yo ho there, Miss Cabot!” Mr. Carisi practically yells out as a very thin, serious looking woman in stylish cat’s eye glasses enters the Teacher’s Lounge.
“It’s Alex,” she corrects him drily as the door closes behind her.
“Not when the door’s open, it’s not,” Miss Rollins says with some sass. “Students might hear us.”
Miss Rollins and Mr. Carisi high five each other.
“What do you guys want?” Miss Cabot asks rolling her eyes and sitting down at their table.
“Have you met my student teacher, Vickie Dahl, yet?”
“No, I don’t believe I have,” Miss Cabot says politely, turns to Vickie, and shakes her hand.
“Well, Vickie did the most amazing thing today,” Mr. Carisi tells Miss Cabot as she starts to unpack her lunch.
“And what’s that?”
Miss Rollins leans forward, “You know Sonny’s name challenge? The one he gives to all his student teachers?”
“Yeah. The one any person hoping to become a decent teacher should be able to master?”
“Yeah, well Miss Cabot –“ Mr. Carisi starts in again.
“It’s Alex!” she protests. “What is with you today, Sonny?”
“I wonder if that door wasn't open again?” Miss Rollins says real quietly, turns her head towards the closed door, mouths a silent 'nope,' and then giggles. Vickie can’t help but join her.
“Alex.” Carisi corrects himself. “You should have seen Vickie taking roll today. She walks right up to this kid and says ‘You’re Will Jones. You play Call of Duty and Black Ops 3 is your favorite version,’ and then goes up to this other kid, a real shy, quiet one and says, ‘You’re Mary Ythui. One day you hope to attend a Hello Kitty convention in Tokyo.’ And then, oh man, this is the best, she approaches another kid and says ‘You’re Omar Kittean. You’ve been considering blocking your best friend, Brian Chang on Facebook because he’s being a d-,’ she had to stop herself from cussing there, but she ended up recovering with an ‘uh, not a nice person.’ Good one huh? Vickie can really think on her feet. Anyway, and then she continued to tell Omar ‘But now you’ve forgiven Brian and all is good, so you won't be blocking him afterall.’”
Miss Cabot’s mouth is wide open. A carrot stick had been on the way to it, but was stuck in the air.
Miss Rollins giggles again. “Isn’t Vickie amazing?”
“Holy shit,” Miss Cabot says when she recovers and chomps on the carrot stick. “Are you sure you’re in the right line of work? Sounds like you’re a natural for sales.”
Vickie smiles at the praise. Memorizing names had always come easy to her, especially if she knew a little something about the person. It was no big deal. Names, languages, dialects, accents, linguistics - if it was spoken, Vickie had a knack for it.
Mr. Carisi indicates Miss Cabot with a jerk of his head and tells Vickie. “She used to sell copiers for Xerox.”
“Best sales training in the country. At least back in my day. Good ‘ole PSS.”
“What’s that?” Vickie asks.
“Professional Selling Skills – a training program for sales reps that Xerox put all their people through and sold to other companies, too. We sold more of that training program that we did copiers.” Miss Cabot laughs. “It was that good.”
“What subject do you teach?” Vickie inquires.
“Econ. Putting all that business experience to good use.”
And now it is Friday afternoon and Mr. Carisi is otherwise engaged in the hallway with Principal Barba once again. Vickie sighs and checks her phone while she waits. There’s an email from Prof W. She panics a little when she reads it.
Congratulations! The program at UC Davis has accepted you for that urban linguistics seminar we talked about. Full scholarship. Your flight, hotel, meals, the seminar itself, everything is going to be covered by the university. I knew you’d get it! See, you just have to have a little faith in yourself.
She really doesn’t want this. Oh, why can’t she say no sometimes? It’s so hard to do when people believe in you. And in this case Prof W knew about her passion for linguistics, making it even harder. She loves not just individual languages themselves but the process of language, what languages have in common, how they function, how they change. It is her true passion. The seminar had sounded amazing when she first looked into it - an exploration of multicultural/multilingual urban communities and their effect on the acceleration of changes found in Standard American English.
But California? She just can’t.
“I don’t want to go to California. Those people are crazy. Nuts. Kooky,” she says to herself, still staring down at her phone as a tall, lanky guy enters the classroom.
“Hey, is Sonny around?” he says and her head pops up.
A blonde man is standing there in a dark suit right in front of her. His accent is very likely Californian, although placing it as Northern or Southern Californian will take her more time to discern, since they can be quite difficult to distinguish. And she’s embarrassed by her mutterings, hoping that he didn’t actually hear what she had just said about Californians. But that's probably too much to hope for.
The guy looks young, so Vickie automatically assigns the descriptor of ‘boy’ to him in her head even though he’s obviously an adult man. And he looks just like what she imagines Mr. Carisi would have looked like when he was younger, except with lighter hair. She can’t help but find herself a bit physically attracted to him, but he’s not old enough for her . . . so, no. She shuts that off immediately.
“Wasn’t Mr. Carisi just out in the hallway?” Vickie asks him.
“Uh, no.” He hesitates for a second, and then sticks out his hand. “I’m Enzo by the way. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself first.”
“Vickie,” she says and shakes it. His fingers are slender and elegant like Mr. Carisi’s and his handshake is firm and warm.
Suddenly Principal Barba sticks his head in the room and nods to Enzo. “Counselor Lucido.”
Enzo nods back. “Principal Barba.”
They know each other? And . . . Wait, ‘Counselor’?
“Have you guys seen Miss Rollins? Is she here yet?”
“No,” Vickie and Enzo both answer simultaneously as Mr. Carisi slides past Principal Barba into the room. As he brushes up against him, neither of them say ‘excuse me’ or attempt to adjust their positions at all. Those two really don’t know the meaning of personal space when they are around each other. Vickie shakes her head.
“Enzo!” Mr. Carisi says in greeting and exchanges a quick hug with the man Vickie's been talking to. “You’ve met my cousin already then, Vickie?”
“Yes, I’ve met him.” Vickie smiles.
Principal Barba says, “Send Miss Rollins to me when she gets here, okay?”
“Will do,” Mr. Carisi answers, giving him a smile and a little salute. Principal Barba ducks back out.
Vickie turns to Enzo. “I’m assuming your full name is Lorenzo Lucido then? A little alliteration, eh?”
“Oh, Lorenzo Lucido is NOTHING," Mr. Carisi interjects. "His middle names starts with an ‘L’ too.”
Enzo groans. “Please don’t get him started.”
“What? Is it something ridiculous sounding like ‘Luigi’? Lorenzo Luigi Lucido?” Vickie starts to laugh, but then he starts to groan. She puts her hand to her mouth. “Oh no, it really is, isn’t it?”
He nods with a wry grin. She bursts out laughing.
“I’m sorry. I can’t.” She’s gasping.
“And what’s your full name Missy?” Enzo playfully demands.
“Victoria Dahl,” she replies, not revealing her middle name to this boy she has just met.
Now he bursts out laughing. “Dahl? Your name is Vickie Dahl?”
“Yeah, what’s funny about that?”
“You don’t know?”
“Enlighten me,” Vickie demands.
“Here, I’ll show you.” Enzo pulls out his smartphone, does a little search, and then. . . “Ah hah!”
Vickie raises an eyebrow. Enzo hands her the phone, points to the image on the screen and says, “My mom collects those. Vintage Vickie Dolls.”
Vickie sees a doll lying inside a scrunched-up box being sold on eBay. The doll inside looks like a Barbie doll, but it isn’t blonde. In fact, the doll is dark skinned, like her. Vickie scrunches up her nose. “What’s with that box?”
“It’s vintage,” Enzo replies simply. “It’s hard enough to find these things in good condition, let alone in a box. Now, finding one with a box that’s in good condition . . . ? Near impossible.”
“Wait a minute,” Vickie says putting her hand on her hip, finding part of this just too hard to believe. “Are you telling me your white mother – excuse me, I’m just assuming she’s white ‘cause you’re one of the palest boys I’ve ever seen –“
“You’re right. She’s white. She's Italian.”
“Okay, so you’re telling me that your white mother basically collects black Barbie dolls?”
“Vickie Dolls come in other races too, including white. But in general, yeah, many of them are black and most of them aren’t white.” He spreads his arms wide. “I don’t see what the big deal is. Collecting has no color.”