Chapter One: Orientation
In the loosest of terms, success is measured by the ability a person has to rise above conflict. That is, one can be measured as successful if they are able to meet conflict and overcome. An irony may lurk in the pain most people take to avoid conflict and the subsequent forfeiture of potential victory. That is most people covet success, but they refuse to engage the element that surely brings the desired outcome when overcome. That is most people avoid conflict. A curiosity emerges because conflict pursues one and all on a daily basis. Just leave the house and it is waiting in the streets like a tough though invisible thug in a backed-in car ready to pursue a would-be victim at first sight. Thus the stage is set, and humanity is provided with daily opportunities to find success, yet strives to avoid the situations where success can be all but insured.
Paradoxically, the dismissive nature of a want to move a person’s life from one dwelling to another is as unique to man within the animal kingdom as is blushing. That the same beasts who will avoid even the simplest of conversations as part of an effort to keep from fleeting discomfort will similarly box their entire lives to move down the street should be the cause of marvel. Still, some can find a reason to move and purchase a home even in the face of both reason and financial prudence. Michael and Judy Templeton were of that variety.
Michael’s first family was his car. That is said because of the many hours a week he had spent in it commuting from suburbia to downtown. Judy had been a dutiful suburban housewife making sure that their home was filled with the appropriate number of things and that all appeared to be just so. They had two kids, Ruth and Daven, whose seeming good natures leant them the appearance that life-altering change would be handled in adolescent stride.
As markets adjusted and prices fell the Templetons calculated that they had the opportunity to make a lifestyle transition and Michael and Judy told their children that they were going to relocate to downtown. Michael would no longer have to feel married to the freeway network. Judy could stop wondering what real-life Friends would be like by charming more urban sophisticates. And the two kids were young enough to suffer no affliction while enjoying a new adventure. And so the move to a seemingly hip three bedroom bungalow just miles from the city’s skyline was ready for completion just a few weeks prior to the beginning of the school year.
“This is going to be such a fun adventure!” Judy cooed to her oldest and daughter Ruth from the driver’s seat of her SUV.
“Mom, seriously, if you try and reassure me one more time, I’m going to totally make up some problems about everything just to give you something to keep going on about,” Ruth retorted while frantically pounding away at a cell phone. She was put together with her usual effort toward glamour. Her long blonde hair was drawn in exaggerated curls that danced over her shoulders and across her shining purple top. Flashing ringed fingers with red painted nails drew attention as she wailed at her phone with her thumbs.
“Point taken! Who-ya texting?” Judy asked.
“Oh my gosh! It’s Beth. She’s sorry she couldn’t come and she says her mom wants to talk to you after we check it all out.”
“See, aren’t you just so happy you get to bring your friend on this adventure?” Judy asked as they pulled into the parking lot in front of St. Bartholomew’s High School.
“I told you! What did I tell you?” Ruth laughed, “I told you, ‘If you reassure me one more time I’ll hate something!’, and now, I promise I hate…this,” she reached in front of her seat with an outstretched arm and gently waived at all that was before her. Gold bracelets danced under her surveying wrist.
“Feel good?” Judy asked with a pseudo-stern face that belied her amusement, “Feel good to get that out?” Most of the parking lot was roped off as new blacktop was being applied and fresh lines for parking spots were being painted. “Looks like the whole place is getting a facelift,” observed Judy while motioning to the newly painted school walls, “It’s a very bold southwestern rust, don’t you think?” she asked Ruth.
“Yeah, I…,” Ruth paused, “I don’t care…,” she laughed, “Just…just as long as their degrees are printed on, you know, official paper.”
“So long as they don’t, you know, grade eloquence…?” Judy joked as they continued to chatter and text while walking toward a short flight of stairs that led up to doors labeled ‘Administration’. The text was laid out in a crisp new white paint which communicated a brand new world to the returning students and promises of a structured tomorrow for the new arrivals. The looming effort toward order was disrupted as the Templetons walked up the stairs as a car entered the parking lot behind them while rhythmically blasting a shot of bass that was immediately followed by the trunk rattling as if it were made of clattering teeth. Judy and Ruth looked back and saw a blue low-rider coupe that, at least from the sound of the car’s shaking pieces, seemed out-priced by the sound system it contained.
“You signed off on a classy joint, Mother,” Ruth said with thumbs frantically moving in every direction across her phone’s keyboard.
“Oh come now,” Judy returned, “You can’t judge a bushel by one g-ride.”
Her assertion was immediately put to the test. As the two walked inside, Judy and Ruth were surprised to see that the sounds from the street had muffled the chaos that was ensuing in the office. A uniformed officer kept a tough looking kid pinned against a chair while three women surrounded another who was making great use of pointing and shouting in reference to his subdued counterpart. A bald gentleman with a phone pressed to his head saw Judy and Ruth walk in and quickly said, “Thank you-thank you,” and then hung up and hurriedly quickly to the alarmed Templetons.
“I’m sorry,” he began as he put a massive arm around both of their shoulders, “A few of our students have had rough couple of summer sessions and things finally popped.” He walked them through the office and toward a long table where a student was receiving directions from one lady while another was checking her phone. “So, I’m Henry Dotter, and I’m the principal. You must be…?”
“This is Ruth Templeton,” Judy began, “We just moved into…,”
“Into Desert Shadows!” Dotter interrupted, “Ah yes, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you! Ah, this is great! They’ve done such nice things with that neighborhood!”
“Yes,” Judy said with both eyebrows raised in surprise, “I have to admit, your school has all been a little…”
“Oh, believe me, I understand,” Dotter spoke quickly, “Yes, just remember this very rarely happens. A couple of our students had a rough couple of summer sessions and those two decided that they would take it out on themselves,” he looked from Judy to Ruth, “It’s really very rare.” His eyes continued to nervously move his glance from one Templeton to the other. Sweat had already broken through his oxford as the light blue under his arms was moistened and dark. His slacks were busy with wrinkles and his brow shined while his cheeks flushed.
“Well all right,” Judy said while looking at Ruth.
“Well all right,” Dotter repeated likewise glancing at Ruth before continuing, “So, I’m really sorry, but they can help you out,” he motioned to two ladies seated at a long table in the hallway. “Welcome to St. Bart’s!” he cheerfully offered before hurrying back into the office.
Judy and Ruth exchanged curious looks before moving in front of the referenced table. One of the women was busy speaking with another parent/student combination. The other was reading a celebrity magazine and seemed to be in a situation primed for assistance. “Hello,” Judy began, “This is Ruth-,”
“I’m sorry, she’ll be right with you,” the unoccupied lady interrupted without removing her gaze from the periodical. Judy’s surprise by the interruption left her gawking silently until the attendant eventually moved her eyes upward, but, when she did the direction her eyes took seemed to be more closely investigating the bright red wall behind them rather than the student and parent before her.
“But… O…K…,” said Judy.
They moved in line behind the busy school worker just as another mother and daughter walked into the hallway and made haste to the now vacant lady at the table. As they approached the three began speaking to one another in rapid-fire Spanish. Ruth and Judy looked at each other in a dramatic fashion that is generally used by women when they are attempting to draw attention to themselves and Judy said, “I guess that line’s for Spanish…”
“I’m sorry about that,” said the now available lady in front of them as the previous pair moved away from the table. Her dark hair was cut just under her ears and her St. Bart’s polo did little to conceal a poorly hidden secret that she was as round as she was plain. “We typically have one assistant ready for English and then one ready for Spanish too. How can I help you?”
“Well,” began Judy, “This is Ruth Templeton and she is going to school here this year.”
“OK. Let me see what we got here,” Judy got Ruth’s attention and mouthed ‘Spanish’ to her daughter’s silent delight while their helper discovered Ruth’s schedule. “All right, here’s your schedule and a map. Looks like you have second lunch,” she looked up at them, “You know what that means, right?”
“Um…yeah. I guess…,” said Ruth.
“Yeah, that means you go to home room first and then lunch.”
“I got it,” Ruth responded through a smile.
“All right, so here’s your map and schedule and you can spend all the time you want to taking a look around and figuring out how to get to and from classes. Just make sure you don’t go down any hallways where all the lights aren’t working. All right?”
“Wait. What? Why’s that?” Judy asked, “Why aren’t lights working a week before school, and then…why shouldn’t we…you know…go…down those…,” she trailed off as the bravery she exhibited in the parking lot before the low-rider dripped away in a maternal anxiety.
“No reason. Just insurance purposes, you know, tripping and what not. Let us know if you have any questions.”
“Well all right. No dark hallways,” Judy said while looking around nervously as Ruth studied over her schedule.
“Ugh, gosh, PE.”
“Yeah, well, you could’ve been a cheerleader-,”
“Yeah, and I could’ve been a stupid too…,” Ruth responded.
“Nice,” said Judy, “How’s it all look?”
“Well, this is the first class right here,” she pointed as they turned the corner and into an indented and extended area of hallway that housed four classroom doors, “So I guess that’s a good thing. You know a short stretch inside means I can wake up later since I don’t have to walk as far. Or something…”
They continued to stroll through the generally empty halls. Each corridor was long and marked by cavities in the walls that boasted a varying number of doors with a varying number of lights and signs. The red brick walls drew much of the eyes’ attention as an industrial smell pervaded throughout the school’s interior and announced the efforts made to clean and make seem new.
“I haven’t seen many white kids,” whispered Judy as they passed only a few small groups of teenagers with parents.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to say stuff like that out loud,” said Ruth. But just as she said it Ruth saw a giant of a white kid turn and start walking toward them. “Oh my,” she whispered while slapping her mother’s arm as Judy hurried to find the object of her gaze and reaction.
“Hey! How are you guys doin’?” the giant asked as he walked to them.
“We’re OK,” Judy answered as Ruth tried not to stare. He stood 6 feet four inches tall at the very least and had the strapping build of some sort of ball player. He had effortless blonde hair that fell over his forehead but could not keep a life’s worth of happiness from shining out from underneath. He had a genuine smile that was as large as his frame and a pressed polo and khaki combination that indicated fashion competence. “You must be new here too?” Judy asked with hopeful curiosity.
“Oh yeah,” he said while looking at Ruth, “We just moved in to Desert Shadows.”
“Well how ‘bout that! So did we! Ruthy, did you hear, they live in our neighborhood!”
“No, I couldn’t make it out, mom,” she blushed as the boy reversed his direction to turn and walk with the two.
“Hi, I’m Hugh Gondola,” he offered his hand, “You must be Ruthy…”
“Don’t do that,” said Ruth while shaking his hand, “Ruth works just fine.”
“So, have you been on your walk, Hugh?” Judy asked, “Because we just started ours and…”
“No. I’d love to come along if it’s all right,” he said as they moved forward, “I heard the cafeteria is this way and I wanted to check that out first. My last school only had Taco Bell and Domino’s. I’m hoping for a burger or…you know, a burger of some kind at this one.”
“Hard to ruin a burger,” Judy agreed as they continued to make introductory small talk while making their way down a hall. “Have you found all your classes?” she asked Hugh.
“Yep. I just wanted a peak in the cafeteria before I moved along. This place is like a giant maze, which is funny since I think it’s also a giant circle,” Gondola remarked while Ruth smiled up at him as they turned the corner into the cafeteria’s hall. “Meh,” Hugh muttered as they looked inside, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, I guess.”
“That goes without saying,” said Judy, “But what’s up with that?” she wondered while pointing at a deep red ‘X’ painted near a back corner.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” mused Ruth as she glanced at her phone, “It doesn’t look like there’s much hamburger action here either. You do have a wide choice between tacos and burritos and…‘Pizza…Hat’… Did I read that right…?”
“Oh yeah! Pizza Hat,” Hugh laughed, “Well, what are you going to go? Let’s get out of here, it’s bringing me down,” he feinted as if he were wounded by disappointment and clutched at his heart.
“Looks like your homeroom is just down the hall there,” Judy said pointing at Ruth’s schedule.
It was a really short walk into a hall marked ‘Social Science’ by a banner across the top of the ceiling. Their shoes squeaked and echoed after leaving the carpet and onto a linoleum floor. Like the other halls it appeared to be newly painted. This series of classrooms had some clutter, though, as many notices of clubs and student governmental exhortations were taped to try and encourage involvement.
“History Club signs, huh?” Judy asked as they walked to a door labeled ‘SPURLOCK’. “I guess I’ve never heard of any sort of History Club.”
“That’s probably because you’ve never lived,” boomed a voice from the classroom’s interior, “Hi, I’m Charlie Spurlock,” he approached with outstretched hands. Spurlock was dressed surprisingly well considering he was a teacher and it was the summer. His shirt and slacks were both cleanly pressed and his necktie was cinched all the way to the top of his straight collar. The blue in his shirt drew the eye to the subtle blue checks in an otherwise red tie. And his shoes gleamed as if recently shined.
“Oh, hi! This is Ruth, and she’ll be in your homeroom,” introduced Judy. She smiled while being slightly taken aback by the apparent youthfulness that the head of the History Club seemed to boast.
“Hello, Ruth! And hello…,” he glanced down at his desk, “Ms. Templeton! Very good to meet you. Is this your son?”
“No, no. This is…,”
“Hugh Gondola, I’m just walking around with them.”
“Ohhh, Gondola. I’ve heard things…,” Spurlock trailed off.
“Yeah well..,” replied Hugh.
“Yeah well, we gonna win anything this year?” asked Spurlock
“We gonna try!” Hugh laughed.
“Who’s your homeroom teacher?”
“Uh, Benitez,” Hugh responded as Spurlock made a face, “Yeah, I guess there’s some kind of mix up and that’s usually…”
“I’ll say! That’s usually one of the freshmen orientation homerooms. You’re no freshman, I take,” Hugh shook his head no, “Well, come by here the first day and we’ll see about another arrangement!” He looked at each of the three faces and asked, “Say, I don’t suppose either of you know Bethany Kranepool?”
“Oh, Beth’s my friend!” said Ruth.
“Yes, she’s newly moving in too?”
“Yeah, she couldn’t make it over here because they just started moving in today. So….”
“Well,” Spurlock began, “I look forward to meeting her and having both of you in here! We started this homeroom concept as a method of encouraging all of the students to do some of their homework in class where we can kind of supervise their effort. It also helped to keep the lunchtime more…uh…manageable. But it will be really nice to have some students in that may even be willing to lend a hand to their classmates?” Spurlock posed. It was not so much a question as much as inflected to be one.
“Well, I guess so…,” answered Ruth.
“Great! So, I guess we’ll see you in a couple of days! And welcome to St. Bart’s!”
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