gladys cohen is sitting outside the principal’s office, staring at a crack on the linoleum floor. she’s been here for the better part of lunch, ever since she was dragged in by an especially vindicative math teacher and left to rot - reprimanding a repeat offender for smoking in the girls’ washrooms is evidently low on featherhead’s list of priorities.
she drags the rubber sole of her shoe along the crack, wondering idly about punishment. surely this wasn’t a suspension-worthy offence - she’d take her week’s detention, but her mom would be mad about anything more.
a clatter at the mouth of the corridor forces her to sit up slightly straighter. the vice principal marches in, bypasses her entirely, and drags another student toward the row of chairs.
“sit,” she orders coldly, gesturing to the seat next to gladys, and the student does - a junior boy about her age, wearing a ripped up white t-shirt upon which the word FAG has been marked out huge in red sharpie.
the vice principal disappears into featherhead’s office the moment the owner of the t-shirt hits the seat, and gladys can hear the murmur of low, tense voices through the door. she glances at him, and he glances back.
“cool shirt,” she says, distracted momentarily from her cigarette craving.
the boy sizes her up, then gives her a sideways grin. “thanks.”
gladys opens her mouth to ask more, but featherhead suddenly appears in the crack of his office door, already looking tired. the vice principal scuttles out in a hurry, giving the pair of them a glare as she strides coldly up the corridor back to her office. her pointed heels clack on the floor; the sound of impatient fingernails.
featherhead sighs, his face pinched. “mr andrews, come into my office please.”
he holds the door open, a gaping hole behind him. the kid - andrews - stands willingly and marches in. featherhead gives gladys a long look and then pointedly swings the office door shut. it bangs loudly, and then featherhead pushes it back open.
“why are you here, cohen?” he demands. she can’t see her fellow prisoner from where she’s sitting - he’s probably already seated opposite the huge mahogany desk.
“smoking in the ladies, sir .” she tacks the last word on ironically, but he doesn’t bother to reprimand her disrespect.
“don’t do it again. get to class.”
he withdraws into his office again, but this time the swing of the door pauses a quarter-inch from the frame, leaving a tiny crack. she listens to the rustling of his suit as featherhead moves away from the crack and deeper into the room.
gladys glances at the only other occupant of the office - a puffy-haired secretary, typing at a computer and making periodic trips to a nearby filing cabinet. gladys waits until she’s rooting through files, and then starts scooting her chair forward. if they talked loudly enough -
the secretary turns, headed back to the computer. gladys stops, sits up straight and stares at the opposite wall, the picture of obedience. the secretary sits down at her desk, and gladys drags her chair up against the door to press her ear to the crack.
“i don’t have any other clothes,” fred is saying inside the office.
“gym clothes?” featherhead offers unsympathetically.
the secretary’s chair creaks as she rolls her seat back, glancing up toward where gladys is sitting. gladys shoves her chair back soundlessly by about a foot, looking innocently toward the window on the far wall. the secretary goes back to her typing. gladys inches her chair back to the crack of the door again.
“this is an institution of learning.” featherhead is a yell first, ask questions later type. sounds like fred’s raising his blood pressure. “the stir you’ve caused wearing this around the halls is completely inappropriate. i’m not interested in you derailing an entire day of classes.”
“and the guys who did this, they don’t get anything?”
“do you know who did this?” no real interest in featherhead’s voice, just annoyance. the last thing he wants to do is track homophobes down.
“no. but i can guess.” fred’s voice is all fired up, and gladys can feel herself rooting for him. “here’s some names. marty -”
“marty mantle’s father is an esteemed member of our school board.” she can hear the condescension dripping from featherhead’s tone. “you have a bad attitude, mr andrews. i suggest you adjust your behaviour immediately. the next time i hear you’re disrupting a class, i won’t be so lenient.”
“i didn’t do anything.” fred’s voice wobbles into plaintive, but then he’s heated again, “all i did was leave my clothes in my gym locker. marty and his assholes are the ones who messed them up -”
“if you modified your behaviour, perhaps your classmates wouldn’t be so quick to target you, have you ever thought of that?”
gladys sucks in a breath. “what behaviour?” fred spits out, and she feels like cheering him on.
“the way you’re wearing this, acting as though you take pride in it -”
“what are you implying?”
fabric rustles as featherhead sits back at his desk, playing a trump card. “perhaps i should call your father.”
“fine.” andrews doesn’t cave. the kid has balls of iron. “i’ll wait.”
featherhead sucks in a short, sharp breath. “i’m sure we can find you a spare shirt. the wrestling team keeps-”
“what’s wrong with me wearing my own shirt?” fred asks loudly. she barely needs to strain to hear him. “marty and hiram wrecked it, and i’m wearing it. what’s the problem?”
“detention.” featherhead yells. “three pm today.”
“for wearing my own shirt?”
“for being disrespectful to authority.”
footsteps toward her, and gladys scoots her chair quickly back into line. the door swings open, and fred steps out, head held high, the slur still painted in bright bloody letters across his chest. the rest of the t-shirt is in tatters, clearly attacked by a pair of scissors. he’s holding a detention slip and the expression on his face is unapologetically brash. featherhead strides out behind him, heading straight to the secretary’s desk. they speak together in a huddled conference - probably about the possibility of locating whatever spare shits the wrestling team had.
“that’s pretty badass,” gladys says to fred.
“thanks.” fred has a nice grin, the kind you can trust. she hadn’t expected him to be so gentle. “i’m fred.”
“gladys,” she says, and gets right to the point. “he’s wrong, you know. you shouldn’t have to change the way you act so people don’t fuck with you.”
fred shrugs and sits down beside her. “i don’t mind detention. it just kinda blows because i have band practice after school.” he puts the slip in his mouth to tie his shoe - it makes him look comical and impetuous. she watches him tie a floppy bow.
“you’re in a band?” somehow she’s not surprised.
fred takes the detention slip out of his mouth. “starting one.”
“what’s it called?”
“doesn’t have a name yet.” he stretches the torn collar of his shirt out so he can read it upside-down. “i’m thinking fred and the faggots,”
it’s the first time he’s said the word aloud - she can tell by the way it fumbles exiting his mouth, cracking just for a second, ruining the nonchalance of the joke. gladys gives him an appreciative grin and a chuckle so he’ll know it was still funny.
“what do you play?” she asks.
“rock and roll,” fred answers.
“cohen would you like a detention?” featherhead is back, hovering by her side, a stormcloud of impatience. fred raises his eyebrows at her and gladys stands, putting on her most sardonically obedient smile.
“no, sir. i was leaving.”
“my locker’s by the east stairwell,” fred says to her, acting as though featherhead isn’t there. “bottom floor, by the history classes. come by after school and i’ll tell you more.”
“not a chance.” featherhead seizes fred’s arm, nostrils flaring. if this were a cartoon, he’d have pillars of smoke coming out of his head. “you’ll be in detention then. cohen, unless you want to join him-”
gladys cuts him off. “why not?”
featherhead’s mouth drops open, his nails still digging into fred’s arm. “excuse me?”
she shrugs. there’s a delighted grin spreading across fred’s face, and gladys gets the crazy idea, not for the last time, that she’d do anything for it. “i said i’ll join him.”