“You were trying to do what?!” Principal Hazeltine shouted. She didn’t have to be so loud; there was only four of us in Mr. Holliday’s hobbit-sized office. Mr. Holliday was the school counselor who mostly handled the upper level students. I mean, he didn’t handle anyone, but he dealt with us. He’d only started dealing with me since a year ago when my urge to crime fight descended off the pages of the comic books I liked the draw and into the real world.
It had been three days since the false alarm shooting, and I had been summoned to Mr. Holiday’s office at the start of first period. When they called my name on the loud speaker, a couple of girls–I’d never bothered to learn their names– in my Government class laughed under their breaths amongst themselves.
So I was sitting in the hard plastic chair with the metal legs that I’d sat in many times before, and Mr. Holliday was sitting across from me with his hand on his desk, playing with a pencil absentmindedly. His wild hair was especially curly today, I noticed, like he had conditioned it in this new way that made it all luscious and bouncy. I wish there had been an opportune moment to compliment him on this.
“Daniella?” Principal Hazeltine said, her hands on her hips, awaiting my reply.
Mr. Isaac stood beside her, leaning against Mr. Holliday’s cluttered bookshelf that was so stacked with books it looked like it would collapse at any minute.
I looked at Hazeltine, my eyes peaking up at her. It felt like death was calling to me.
“Well?” she said.
I cleared my throat. “I was trying to stop the shooter.”
Mr. Isaac exhaled and all this air came out his body like he had monster-sized lungs.
“How were you expecting to stop a person with a gun?” Hazeltine clenched her fists
I shrugged. “By tackling them when they weren’t looking?” It wasn’t meant to be a question, but that’s how it came out.
“Is everything fine at home?”
I rolled my eyes. I wouldn’t ever say things were fine at home. I was an orphan. I lived with a bunch of orphan girls. Everything was…tolerable. “Yes,” I said. I wasn’t a good liar, and this moment was no exception.
“How are your feelings?” Mr. Holliday finally spoke, his head leaning to the side a little bit. He always talked like you were a kid, no matter how old you were. It was surprisingly comforting.
“My feelings are okay,” I said, and crossed my arms.
“Are you not being challenged enough academically?” Mr. Isaac said, his bony shoulders making his head look too narrow. “Should we load you up with tougher assignments?”
“Trust me, high school is challenging enough as is,” I said. “I don’t need more homework. Homework isn’t how I want to spend my days.”
“Well,” Mr. Holliday said to me. I was the kid in the room to him. “How do you want to spend your days?”
Mr. Isaac’s eyes widened, then he shook his head.. “Calculus is a far safer assignment for a sixteen-year-old.”
“I’m calling Miss Rosa.” Hazeltine reached for the landline that was hardly visible on top of Mr. Holliday’s messy desk. It was an endless collection of things he never threw out.
“No!” I threw my hands out. I almost knocked the phone out or Hazeltine’s hands, but refrained. “Please, she’ll kill me. I mean, not literally, but she’ll ground me for the rest of my life for this.”
Hazeltine kept the phone pressed against her ear but didn’t dial a number or anything. After staring me down for several seconds, she set the phone back down on the desk. “Detention. This afternoon. You can explain everything to Miss Rosa yourself. And if you don’t, I will.”
I nodded. Detention wasn’t so bad. It was just sitting silently in a desk in Mr. De Luca’s history class for an hour. It reminded me of Quiet Time, the designated hour that Miss Amarosa, the woman who used to run the Dresden House (the orphanage I live in) with Miss Rosa before she left because supposedly we all drove her crazy and made her cry all the time, would enforce whenever we would get too rowdy. It happened a lot over the summers.
When I arrived at Mr. De Luca’s room, there were already a couple of students sitting in desks scattered across the room so no one would talk to each other. And they all watched me, like mute people who had their voices stolen from them. So much was being screamed at me with their eyes, but the words didn’t come out.
“Daniella Sinclair,” I said in my lowest voice to Mr. De Luca, who sat at his desk with an issue of The New Yorker open in his hands. He nodded and pointed for me to sit in this seat toward the back of the classroom.
I sat down, and I could feel the boy behind me watching me.
I peaked behind me to see that it was Wren Wilder, a boy a grade above me who I’d never really spoken to. He and I were the only two people who were seated so closely we were practically neighbors.
Wren never ceased staring at me with his head tilted to the side; his big brown eyes rich with curiosity. A part of me wanted to yell that he could just ask me what I was doing here. It’s clear that that was the motive he was sleeping on. I just glanced at him through the corner of my eye every minute or so. It wasn’t really a warning or an invitation, but more of an awkward acknowledgement that I could see what he was doing.
“Hey,” he said, softest whisper. Because after at least three minutes of straight staring, a simple greeting in a sing-song voice that was all uphill at the end of his sentences was all he could muster up.
“Hi.” I raised my brows and nodded.
Wren: “You’re the girl who tackled Cheryl, right?”
Me: “It was an accident.”
Wren: “Were you really trying to catch the shooter?”
Wren: “Why on earth would you do such a thing?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Wren squinted his eyes to figure me out. “Are you suicidal?”
I huffed. “No.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Like…” his voice trailed off, and he looked toward the whiteboard, his hands gripping the far end of his tiny desk. “Harley Quinn Crazy.”
“Definitely not.” I turned my head away and opened my binder to pretend to do homework for the remainder of detention. I didn’t think it sustainable to feign an assignment for forty-five minutes, so I took out an Adventures of Empathy digest I’d had since I was a kid. The cover had tears and missing corners and the pages were rusty. It was the digest that I kept in my backpack and took out when I needed to run away.
“My guess is that you’re Harley Quinn Crazy.”
“I’m not,” I said, nose shoved into the digest.
“There’s always one weirdo in school that everyone remembers,” Wren said. “Why can’t it be you?”
“Because that’s abstract.”
Wren laughed to himself, then leaned forward over his desk so his face was closer to me. “Well, when you drop words like abstract…”
“Why are you here?” I said, a tad ruder than I meant to be. Obviously I wasn’t trying to be rude at all, but Wren was being super irritating.
“I like to do stupid things for attention,” Wren said, and he almost sounded disappointed in himself if it wasn’t for the smirk he was trying to hide. “According to Hazeltine, at least.”
His leg was shaking uncontrollably under his desk. Miss Rosa always told us Dresden girls that shaking your leg like that meant you were iron deficient. I was compelled to tell this to Wren, but didn’t think he would care much.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Is that short for Danielle?”
Wren smiled, and his face lit up like there was a lightbulb inside of his head that had just gone off.
The next forty minutes couldn’t go by any slower.