Credence was having a bad day. A really, really bad day. Heck, he was just having a terrible week.
It had started on Sunday. The meeting Ma had organized did not get as big a reception as she had hoped, and as always, Ma had turned her anger on him.
You should have handed more pamphlets, Credence! We need a wider reach! The word of God needs to be spread―people need to know!
So, on Monday, Ma had deposited twice the number of pamphlets into his bloody palms (which was really a punishment in and of itself; it was nearly impossible to hand out his usual stack of pamphlets, let alone the double). And when he had come home at the end of the day, with over a dozen pamphlets still remaining, Credence had gone straight to his room to start on his homework. He knew he wouldn’t be getting any supper that night.
On Tuesday, he was tired, sore, and hungry. Credence decides to skip his gym class, because he would likely faint if he tried to participate. And fainting would mean a trip to the nurse’s office―which he couldn't risk. Mr. Scamander had very keen and perceptive eyes, always asking questions that will land Credence in even more trouble with Ma.
Your shoulders seem tense, Credence. Is your back hurting you?
Are you sleeping well, Credence? Your eyes look tired.
Are you getting enough to eat? You’re very pale today.
Credence was running out of excuses to give the man—his only remaining option was to avoid him at all costs.
Even if it meant getting into deeper trouble with Ma.
But of course the school calls in the evening to announce that Credence had skipped his fourth period, and Ma demands his belt. Credence’s palms are still healing, so she beats his back instead, and for the second day in a row, Credence is sent to his room without food.
Which brings us to today, Wednesday. Credence had shown up to school, looking more ragged than usual (which is saying something). His horrendous bowl cut, which usually sits well-combed across his forehead is in disarray. His dark eyes are sunken-in, emphasized by the dark circles under his eyes. His pale skin is covered by a fine sheen of cold sweat.
Miss Tina takes one look at him in first period and shakes her head.
“Don’t sit, Credence. Just wait here for a moment.” Miss Tina asks. So, Credence clutches his bag to his front, and waits awkwardly by her desk as other students get seated. Miss Tina assigns them some readings before leading Credence out of the classroom.
Credence expects to be lead to the nurse’s office. Not to the principal’s.
If he thought he was sweating before, it was nothing like he was sweating now. He could feel the little rivulets run the length of his spine, stinging the welts across his back.
Credence is ushered into a chair. He sits with his back ramrod straight and tries his best not to grimace or wince.
A few minutes later, they were joined by Mr. Scamander, Principal Picquery, and—
Credence shuts his eyes hard. No, no, nonononono—
“What, exactly, is going on?” Mr. Graves’ deep voice never ceased to make Credence’s stomach flutter.
Mr. Graves was his English teacher, and the first to really notice that something was wrong with Credence. It was during the Poetry unit, Credence had handed-in his prose homework and the next day Mr. Graves had asked him to stay behind at the end of class. The man had pulled out a chair, asked Credence to take a seat and had asked, with the most sincere, kind, and open eyes: “Is everything ok at home?”
Credence had never run so fast in his life. Just grabbed his bag and bolted.
That incident had happened a month ago. Mr. Graves had respected his space after that, but Credence could see the man’s suspicion lurking in his eyes every time they made eye contact, however brief it was.
Credence wondered what he could have done to warrant the attention of all four of these people.
“Just look at him, Graves.” Tina replies hotly.
Oh. Was he being indecent? Credence tries to flatten the rats nest that is his hair.
Someone behind him lets out a deep sigh. Credence can hear them all shuffling around, but keeps his gaze on his lap. Whatever it is, he’s in trouble. Credence does his best to choke down the bile threatening to come up.
“Credence?” The soft voice comes from in front of Credence. He opens his eyes to see that the Principal has taken her seat. She has one arm comfortably draped along the side of her chair, and the other causally supporting her chin. Her eyes bore into the boy with such intensity that he looks back down at his lap.
“Credence,” she addresses him again, “do you know why you are here?”
“No,” Credence answers, voice cracking awkwardly. This is the first time he has spoken today.
“Your teachers have raised some concerns about your home life, recently. They do not think you are well. What do you think of that?” The principal asks.
Credence clears his throat numerous times to ensure it will not crack again before answering. “Mary-Lou is a dutiful guardian, and I am very fortunate that she has graced me with her kindness.” Credence replies, the answer long ago rehearsed.
“Graced you with kindness?” Principal Picquery questions, beginning to lean forward, “In that case, you won’t mind if we call her and ask you to come get you and bring you home? You look very sick today, Credence.” She reaches towards her phone. Credence jumps forward and catches her wrist.
Her eyes bore into his and time seems to stop. Credence can’t breathe. He also can’t seem to let go of her wrist.
Finally, her eyes look away from his, and Credence gulps in a deep breath. And then he realizes that she is looking at his hand instead. The one holding her wrist.
He sees the blood trailing down her delicate wrist, contrasting against her skin. His blood, he realizes. He must have busted open the wounds from Sunday’s beating.
Credence jerks his hand back into his lap, but the damage is done. Principal Picquery is looking at him again, her eyes wide.
Credence grabs his bag from where he dropped it at his feet, and makes to bolt out of the door. He makes it halfway out of the chair before a heavy hand lands on his shoulder, pushing him back into the chair.
“No, Credence. You can’t keep running away.” Mr. Graves chastises him.
Credence lands with a “umpf”, his bag on his lap. The hand stays heavy on his shoulder.
Everyone other than Mr. Graves still seem to be in shock. The silence is suffocating.
Principal Picquery is the first to react; she calmly takes a Kleenex and wipes her wrist clean.
“Credence,” she begins. “May I see your hands.”
Credence doesn’t move. The principal holds out her hand, palm up.
“Please, Credence.” She implores.
But Credence can’t move. His whole body is shaking, tears gathering in his eyes.
He jumps when Mr. Graves whispers into his ear, “You can trust us, Credence.”
Credence looks at the hand on his shoulder to the many faces gathered around him. None seem angry. Credence trains his gaze back to Principal Picquery. To her outstretched hand.
Credence forces his lungs to take in air, trying to balloon his courage, and places his damaged hand into hers, and awaits judgment.
To her credit, the principal keeps her face carefully blank while she examines the boy’s hand.
“Does this happen often, Credence?” she asks.
“Uhm.” Credence did not expect that question. “Yes?”
“How often?” She continues, voice calm.
Credence feels his cheeks heat. He doesn’t really want to discuss how often he manages to screw up. “About. Uhm… about once a week?”
The president just nods her head.
“Mr. Scamander, care to take a look? They don’t seem infected to me. The fever could be a result of the flu.” Mr. Scamander carefully takes Credence’s palm away from the principal. His touch is gentle.
“No, these aren’t infected,” Mr. Scamander states, “but this doesn’t look like the flu either.”
“What doesn’t?” Credence questions.
“You’re very pale today, Credence. More so than usual. We just want to make sure you aren’t sick.” Mr. Scamander explains softly.
“Oh. Because you don’t want other students to get sick?” Credence asks.
Mr. Scamander furrows his brow, confused. “Well, yes. Of course, we don’t want other students to get sick, but our primary concern is you, Credence. We want to know you are in good health.” Mr. Scamander responds.
“I’m not sick.” Credence informs them, and feels Mr. Graves’ hand tighten on his shoulder.
“All we want to do is help you, Credence,” Mr. Graves says. “But we can’t do that if you won’t let us.”
Help was such a foreign concept. More of an ideal, really. Empty promises and unless words said to appease and distract. Fruitless and corrupt. Credence stopped believing in help a long time ago—his stomach empty, his knees aching, and his hands painted red.
No help was coming for him.
But this group of four seemed determined to do something. Credence simply didn’t know what that something was yet.
“Please, don’t tell her,” the student begs, it’s the only hope he has left. “You can’t tell her.”
“Don’t tell who? Your mother?” Mr. Graves asks, his hands an ever present pressure on Credence’s shoulder. It might be comforting if it didn’t feel like a restraint.
“Please,” is all Credence can manage. She would surely kill him.
“Is she the one that does this to you, Credence?”
Credence doesn’t understand what they want from him. Do they want a confession?
“I’m sorry,” he says. That’s usually what Ma wants to hear.
But it doesn’t work this time. Oh God, he was making it worse. Mr. Scamander was shaking his head, Principal Picquery covered her mouth with her hand, and Miss Tina can’t even look at him.
On instinct, Credence tries to bolt again. But Mr. Graves’ hand holds him fast, forcing Credence’s already weak body back into the chair. And all at once, Credence’s entire back collides with the backrest of the chair, causing his barely-healed welts to burst open.
Credence gasps shakily at the impact, the pain momentarily blinding him. And when his vision comes back to him, it remains blurred at the edges. What little blood he still has escapes him now, soaking into his sweater.
The last thing Credence hears is his name being shouted before darkness pulls him under.
He wakes to the sound of far away beeping.
It is unfamiliar, the sound. And the… mattress? This wasn’t his bed.
Credence shuffles in the strange bed, feeling the pull of bandages across his back.
Oh no. What had he done?
Mounting fear is what finally pulls Credence to full consciousness.
He opens his eyes to a bright, clean, white room. He’s on a crisp white bed, covered by a single white sheet and garbed in a medical robe.
Credence had never been in a hospital before. It was much too expensive. If his wounds ever got infected, Mary-Lou was the one to deal with it.
But he was in a hospital now. Which meant he had royally fucked up. Mary-Lou was going to skin him alive for this.
The beeping was getting faster and louder, so much so that it momentarily pulls Credence from his rising tide of panic.
Oh. Is that my heartbeat?
It must be. I was odd seeing the physical manifestation of his terror. Credence watches the monitor with a kind of out-of-body fasicantion.
Credence is so focused on the monitor, that he doesn’t realize when a nurse enters his room.
“How are you feeling, darling? That’s quite a heartbeat you have right there. Any pain?”
Pain was the last thing on his mind. Or, well, his present pain.
Future pain, however. Different story.
“I need to leave.” Credence says with as much conviction as he can muster. Maybe he can still fix this. Maybe it wasn’t too late to just run—
“Absolutely not.” A deep voice says from the entrance of his room.
And Credence’s heartbeat spikes. Almost painfully. He feels it in his chest as much as he hears it from the monitor. God , surely it couldn’t beat any faster than it already was??
“Mr. Graves…” Credence begins, heat flooding his cheeks. Trying to find the words to explain exactly why he couldn’t be here.
“Credence.” Is the eloquent response. Credence can’t bring himself to look at the man. He doesn’t want to see whatever emotion is playing over his teacher’s face.
“May we have the room?” Mr. Graves asks the nurse, politely.
the short women nods, gathering her things and shutting the door behind herself with a soft click.
“You’re not running from us this time, Credence. Not from me. ” Mr. Graves continues calmly, pulling up the chair beside Credence’s bed. “So, this time. This time we’re going to talk.”