“I think so. At least most of them heard him. He whispered it, but there wasn’t another sound in the room at the time.”
“That tears it. The board will expel him this time.”
Neil shook his head. “I don’t want him expelled. I’m so mad now I could kill him, but I don’t want him expelled.”
“It’s out of your hands. After last year, the board will have no patience with him. He has been in trouble with every teacher in the school this morning. I was coming to get him when I saw him in my office and came on out to see what he had done to you.”
“He came in hassling Lorraine, threw a paper wad at T. J., claimed he had not, slammed his desk deliberately to disrupt the class, all but called me a liar when I accused him, and then cussed me out on the way back to his desk.”
Bill shook his head in disgust. “Write it up,” he said. “Write it very carefully, and don’t leave anything out.” Then he added, “Why are you out here?”
“I wanted to cool off. I didn’t want the kids to see me this mad. I’m afraid I yelled pretty loud at Jesse.”
“Evelyn thought she heard you. Don’t worry about it; you should have heard the harangue Fiona gave him. And don’t worry about being angry in front of your students. They know you’re human; believe me, students always know all of our faults.”
Suddenly, Bill Campbell’s tone changed as he asked, “You didn’t hit him or push him around, did you?”
“I felt like strangling him, but I never touched him.”
“Good. Then there is no problem. Now get back to your classroom and act like nothing happened. Or let the kids write about how it all made them feel. Don’t let them get into a discussion, though; they might draw you into saying something you shouldn’t.”
Neil nodded. This was the second time Bill had backed him up in a crisis with Jesse. Neil was learning a great deal at Kiernan, and not the least of those lessons was that paranoia clouds your reason and distorts your ability to read others. He had misjudged Bill Campbell very badly at their first meeting.
# # #
A slow, sickening anger continued to dog Neil throughout the day, and he took it home with him. He was thankful to have the night to recuperate. He was tempted to stop for a bottle of Scotch, but he knew where that road would lead his mind.
He drove into the lot at his apartment and found a familiar green sedan in his space. For a moment he could not place it; it was too much out of context. Then Tom Lewis waved from where he was lounging in the driver’s seat and Neil was suddenly transported back to the world he had left seven months before.
Tom came over and shook his hand. There was a forced gaiety about him, masking a new reserve. Yet, only Tom had stood by him when the others had backed away. When even his lover had backed away.
“Hey, Neil, old buddy. How are you doing?”
“Okay, I guess. What are you doing here?”
“I’m on my way south to L. A. for the Christmas vacation. I decided to drive so I could stop by and see how you were.”
Neil was moved. He gripped Tom’s hand tighter and said, “Thanks. That means a lot.”
Tom turned to his car and opened the trunk for a bag. He said over his shoulder, “Say, you really picked an ugly pace to live.” more tomorrow