Greg followed the snow covered highway north toward Bonner and his father. It was only for five months his father had promised. They would resettle in St. George in July. It would be a break for Greg. It would be a chance to get away from memories of Mom, Hal and Nancy. The house would be sold by the time they returned and they would both have a fresh start.
Greg glanced in the mirror and at the seat beside him. Everything he owned was in the car. The car was his. A sixteen-year old should be excited about his first car. He had accepted it when his father told him he was taking the position in Bonner in December. His father had said he would need his own wheels until he could join his father. His father and uncle had cheerfully picked the car out and installed a new CD player. Greg wasn't interested. It was paid for with blood money.
The park land was closing in on the highway and the lonely road was dwindling down to a narrow strip of blacktop. The solitary farms he passed were set well back from the ribbon connecting Bonner to the southern cities. He looked at the glowing display and calculated he had another fifteen minutes to drive.
Suddenly restless he pulled over to the shoulder and got out of the car. It was cold and gray on the side of the road. He hadn't seen any movement on the road since he left Aspen. Greg shivered and reached back for his Ripzone jacket, pulling it on. He left the car behind and crunched off the road toward a stand of aspen and poplar. He stopped walking when his feet sank through the hard crust of the snow. A tattered fence choked with weeds staggered along the highway. There was no movement across the fields. The land of hoarfrost covered trees was silent. A few flakes drifted down to catch on his shoulders. Greg buried his hands in his pockets and raised his face to the flakes. He was on a road to nowhere and he couldn't go back.
His father had tried to prepare him for the village, but even if he hadn't, it was much as Greg had worried it would be. After he made the gradual curve onto Main he put the car in neutral to take in the scene. The village was a collection of twenty buildings set amidst elms, aspen, poplar and clumps of Caragana. Any softer touches were lost in the midwinter drifts. The landmarks on the wide street were the hotel, store and a crumbling old bank building. The hotel stood sentinel at one end of the empty block and the store slumped into the snow half way down the opposite side next to the crumbling red brick village office. The street seemed deserted. On his left Greg had a clear view of the school through a break in the overgrown hedge. Across the street a yellow stucco church with a green metal roof rose from the snow. A row of pines and a tangle of aspen and poplar saplings framed the village's best building. Except for the sheet metal hotel, the village was frozen along with the land somewhere in the architectural fifties.
A horn barked at him like an angry dog. He glanced at the truck in his mirror and pulled the car over to the side of the road while he reached for the map his father had left. His father's car was close beside him. As he might have known, his hard working father was still at the school. He might have gone in to see him, but he ignored it and followed the meticulous drawing to a battered trailer lost in a grove of aspen and pine. He stopped on the street and walked up to the door sheltered under a broad car park. He read the note welcoming him and pulled it off the door.
When he snapped on the lights he saw that the trailer was better inside. He wandered around it looking for signs of his father. Few things were familiar. There was little to remind him of the home he had known his entire life. He dismissed the gloomy living room and wandered down the narrow hallway. His father had occupied the tiny room next to the kitchen. The single bed consumed the floor.
Greg opened the folding door on the closet; he found his father had not even opened half the boxes he had brought north from the house in December. Somewhere in them was the last family photo: Hal's graduation. Greg traced his hand along the cheap paneling to the back bedroom. A single bed sat on a stained shag carpet. Along the wall of built in drawers was a desk with the old family computer on it. Another wall was closet. Greg did not question why his father had given him the larger of the two rooms. He took a last look and went out for his things.
An elderly woman bundled against the cold disturbed the silent process of unloading the car. She clutched a faded scarf around her head as she peered at him. "You must be the new principal's boy."
Greg shifted his feet uncomfortably on the iron ground and tried to balance the load in his arms. He admitted she was right. "I'm your neighbor. I live there." The tiny bundle pointed at a cottage crouched behind a row of overgrown hedge. "I thought I better check to see who was here." Young people were so unreliable, she seemed to imply.
"Well thanks" Greg contributed, wishing she would let him move on.
"Your father has been such a nice man. It was such a sad thing to hear." She had found the scab. Like everyone else, she wanted to pick at it.
"Yes." After seven months there was not much more to say. Bonner was not far enough away from the pain. She held him pinned to the driveway in aimless conversation about her life and the community of Bonner. It was a friendly community, not like some others she knew. She hoped he liked the move to Saskatchewan. Her son had moved to Aspen. It was a shame the school was closing.
"I'll let you get on with your boxes." She turned away and shuffled back to the street and the quiet of her home.
Greg returned to moving his life into the old trailer.
When he had the last box he stopped to survey the empty street. Tangled brush filled the abandoned lots across the street and he felt like the shabby trailer was buried in a wilderness. A rusty Impala full of teenagers inched past. Two girls with brown bottles in their hands stared at him then turned to giggle at each other. He had been welcomed to town.
There was not any food in the fridge. Greg took a no-name pop and headed back to his new room. He snapped on the computer and checked the wiring. It was a simple telephone connection. He was going to be in 56K hell for the next five months. He tried the connection and began unpacking his things while the world found its way to him.
He had gone to his old house before he left town. The memories had pressed in and the shades of his lost family had hurried him back out the door.
He put Hal's snowboarding poster over his bed and Nancy's Curious George on the dresser next to the last Steven King book he had been reading with her. The guitars and a few other items went in the closet. Everything else was just memories now. He trusted Aunt Rose to save some other things from the haunted house. She would have a good instinct about that.
There was no mail for him so he turned the computer off. His chest tightened with irrational disappointment, he had only just said goodbye to his friends the previous night. He could not focus on settling into the room so everything else went into the closet. It did not feel like a home, but then, home did not feel like home.
"You made it." Greg turned to find his father in the door. His father surveyed the room pausing at the poster. "Looks like you are settling in."
Greg put his drink down and gave his father a hug.
They had to make this work. They had to fill the gaps that had been left in the fabric of family. They went out into the living room and sat on the worn out couch. They stitched at the rip with a few simple words.
"I thought you could have the bigger room. I find I work at the school or here in the kitchen. I don't need the space."
Greg put his feet up and looked around at the anonymous room. The entertainment center was the only familiar friend.
His father noticed his gaze. "We don't have cable."
Greg rolled his eyes.
"Would you like me to get a satellite dish? It seems a bit of a waste for five months."
"Well that would depend on whether you want me hanging out around here or finding a drug dealer to keep me stoned in the evenings." His father failed to see the humor in it. Greg immediately regretted his words and felt a wave of shame engulf him. "Do what you want dad." Greg flipped on the TV to see what might be on. The trailer was sheltered, but he felt the cold seeping in through the old aluminum windows.
They sat together in the silence. Greg did not mean to sound angry and he flushed when he remembered his thoughtless comment. They only had each other.
It was better to be together, wasn't it?
John looked at his son. He looked good. John had worried about him driving up from St. George alone. The sixteen year old was everything now; but you had to move on. You couldn't let the fear stop you. John watched his son blinking at the TV screen.
Greg caught him looking. "Do we have any food?"
"No I let that slip a little." He slapped Greg on the leg "Let me take you to the hotel."
Greg took around the bar. More people sizing up the principal's son. It was one of the reasons he had argued so vehemently against coming to Bonner. Stuffed wildlife joined a family and a scattering of older people in their covert observations. It would have intrigued Greg under other circumstances. It was his first time in a bar. It was unexpected. The long oak bar with its unused stools, the electronic jangle of the gambling machines, the old men and women dozing over bottles of Pilsner beer, the grumpy woman who brought their food; it was all a let down. Nobody was smoking, but ash seemed ingrained in everything. The long room seemed clean but it still smelled like the day after the party. It was so quiet. Greg wondered if it ever got rowdy in the evenings. A younger teenager looked at him from across the room and made some comment to his sister that caused the family to turn and stare. Greg thought of the welcome anonymity of a city restaurant. He tried to ignore the stares and concentrate on his father.
"You cut it a little fine Greg. Classes start tomorrow."
"My classes are all screwed up anyway. Saskatchewan must be completely different than Assiniboia. I don't know how I am supposed to finish grade eleven here." Greg picked at his greasy fries and tried a bite of the overcooked chicken strip. He doubted they gave refills on his ice tea. He was surprised that he did care about his classes. Hal had been the family nerd, still Greg and his friends talked about going to university together. His mom had expected him to go. She had thought he should be a journalist. "Why don't I just drive to the next town? Aspen? You said there was a bigger school there."
John glanced around the room quickly before answering him in a low voice. "Let's take that up later back at the trailer." He pushed the basket of food away and looked longingly at a beer being nursed by some pensioner. "It wouldn't play well in the community." He shrugged at his boy "To tell you the truth Aspen School only has about one hundred and forty students. They don't offer much of a program either. And you shouldn't worry about the credits so much. I've already told you the two provinces are pretty much the same."
Greg did not argue the point. He was here, the decision had been made.
John knew that Greg was doing this for him and he appreciated it. His study leave had been shattered by the accident. After that he could not concentrate on grad school. John had started to slide and Ed Marsh offered him a life line. It had meant leaving Assiniboia and teaching in Saskatchewan but the work had given him back his balance. It was only a short detour for Greg.
"I promise you will be on track when you go back to McGregor in the fall." John would find a way to make it work. "You'll have to do some stuff on your own though." He looked at his son's expression. I can take your anger kid, you're alive. You are all that's keeping me going right now.
Seth watched the flakes fell in the breathless night like the heavy ash of some nuclear winter. Without the wind the snow simply softened the tracks through the yard. The yard light anchored the near corner of the cement foundation where the quanset had stood and an amber cone of light caught the relentless shower. Fifteen centimeters promised to the spring piggy bank. Not that it mattered any more; the future was as dark as the tangled brush behind the old barn.
Seth whistled into the darkness. Barney didn't come. Barney wouldn't come. Barney couldn't come. Three weeks since he had curled his scruffy body on the overstuffed chair and passed away unnoticed in the depths of the night: Merry Christmas Seth . They would not get another dog yet. Things were too uncertain. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Seth felt oppressed by his helplessness. Things moved too quickly. Barney had been company for the thirteen year old. School sucked and everyone was on his case. Aaron and Seth were getting tired of hanging out together. After a while they would just start talking about the parties they were missing. Monday morning Rod and Wyatt were always on about the fun until Cox shut them down.
Seth did not like Mr. Cox. He had been looking forward to a male teacher. Mrs. Klein was a witch who never did anything interesting. Seth had figured a man might be an improvement. The first period Cox had to remind everyone that his mom was also a teacher and that finished it for him. Being pressured to go to the parties was bad enough; having to take the heat for your mom whenever she was a bag was too much.
Seth turned away from the cold and went back in the house. He ignored his mom doing school shit in the kitchen and thought about playing something on the piano. That was a bad idea. His mom would get all excited and push him to go back to lessons. Piano had killed hockey and he resented it. Still, he liked the music. Seth pulled himself up the steep stairs and grabbed his dad's guitar. It frustrated him. He had to admit he was used to taking lessons and trying to figure the fingering and chords himself was taking too long. He could not remember what his dad had shown him.
The guitar reminded him of Cox's son. He wanted the lessons, but Cox had to bring it up in class. Seth wanted to tell Cox that he did not like him doing that. It was like the teacher always singled him out. The girls could talk all day and Wesley and Nigel could hang out in the boy's room half a class doing what ever it was they did, and it was always Seth in the hallway writing lines.
Seth sat on his bed and listened to the clear notes. He thought it was tuned right. The new guy was in Tyler and Evan's grade. The last time he was in Cox's office he studied the guy's picture. He looked cool. Seth sighed to himself. He had to admit to himself that he was curious. You had to wonder what it was like. Seth just imagined it should be different than... well alone in his bed, fingering himself, he imagined it as something special. Alden was the only one who did not treat him like he was a freak. Alden was in grade ten and even he did not understand why Seth didn't get into the game at least once like everyone else. The new guy worried Seth. He got by staying out of the older boys' way most of the time; if he did the guitar lessons then being alone with Greg was going to be very hard.
Seth stripped down to his boxers and climbed into bed. As he fingered himself absently he thought about the new guy. He knew where all the guys in school stood on Evan Molde and Tyler Molde's game. Seth hadn't even met him yet and here he was, fantasizing about him.
Greg's father was gone when he woke up. Greg knew he was expected to show up at the school by nine. The trailer was cold. He was glad he had brought the bedding from home. Even his dad had thanked him for the extra duvet he had brought. The shower turned to ice before he was ready to get out.
He decided the Mustang was a little over the top for the first day in a new school so he walked through the still morning air. Fresh snow had fallen through the night and he walked in the vehicle tracks adding to the braided pattern of small prints leading to the school. The bag was heavy on his shoulder. Every semester it was the same thing. There were always new people to meet and new connections to make. But this was different. He would be the principal's son.
The little brick school house had prefabricated trailers like the ones at his old elementary school. The powder blue portables ruined the balance of the older building with its white trim and bell tower. He made the door just as the bell rang.
He stopped a cute little kid in the doorway and asked where the office was then climbed the flight of stairs to an open space flanked by classrooms. The office-staff room was opposite the stairs. The door was open so he went in.
The secretary was formidable. She towered over him and she looked like she could slap Greg around a bit if he stepped out of line. She kept him waiting while she did the morning announcements. The office and staff room looked like it had been an old classroom. There was an air of informality here he was not used to. His father's office was boxed into a corner of the room. He could see that his dad was not there. It was a big change for his father Greg realized. He had not taught much over the last few years. His father had said there were only six teachers and two were part time.
"Mr. Cox is teaching a class right now. He said he would talk to you before lunch."
Great , thought Greg, what am I supposed to do till then?
The secretary motioned him to the door and said, "I'll take you to your home room. Stay with them until he straightens out your time table." Greg started to follow her but she stopped and turned to him "It's terrible about your family but we are happy to have you join us. The grade eleven's are really excited to have you join the class."
Greg tried to smile his thanks back to her.
She led him back down to the worn wooden stairs and through a door that had been cut through the red brick of the school. He realized she was taking him to the portable classrooms he had seen coming up the street. The hallway connecting the four rooms was a dull green. Greg guessed he was in the high school. The walls had funky murals and the occasional plaque on the wall memorializing former students. Later he would notice that the pictures chronicled thirty years of vehicular misfortune: cars, motorbikes and snowmobiles: Testosterone, machines and speed launching so many into a sad immortality. Everything smelled of overheated varnish, teenage socks and yesterday's school lunches. The secretary stopped at the first door and walked in without knocking.
Greg took a deep breath and followed her in. Five months and he was out of here.
It was a different world. There were three groups in the classroom sitting in different configurations. The teacher was an older woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Patterson. The six grade tens sat at desks facing an old chalk board. They stared at him cautiously. Three grade twelve's sat at a table together and two guys made up the grade eleven class. She introduced him as "Mr. Cox's son Greg", just in case the fact was not well known.
Greg stepped over the bags and coats to hang his coat on a hook and sat with the two grade eleven boys.
Mrs. Patterson ignored him after that while the class turned back to whatever they had been doing while they waited for him to show up.
The classroom was heavy on boys. Greg assessed the room much as he might have been doing back in St. George. The twelfth grade class was an unattractive lot: two dumpy girls and a thin boy with possibly the worst case of acne Greg had ever come across. All three lost interest in him quickly and began quietly collaborating on an assignment. This seemed to involve two of them copying answers from the third. They did not look like a promising group. There was one girl in grade ten. Greg guessed her to be the sister of the twelfth grade girl with all the answers. He hoped he could tap into the social life in Aspen because hot girls were thin on the ground at this school. The five boys surveyed him with unconcealed interest. Greg caught a hint of a smile from the one closest to him. A well worn cap perched on the back of the boy's head. Greg kept his response neutral. He would have to make an effort to get to know them, but he knew he had to be cautious. This was not a good time to explore. He finally turned his attention to his new classmates. These were the only names he had bothered to keep straight. They had the same last name but didn't look similar. Tyler Molde was about his size and build. Evan Molde had a smaller frame. They were more promising than the twelfth graders.
"So what do you think of Boner ?" Evan asked him casually.
Greg picked up on the nickname. His reply was cautious and evasive. Probably wouldn't do to say he thought it was a hole.
"I haven't seen much of it yet." Greg took out a Five Star and Hal's Tungsten but he didn't know what the boys were working on.
Evan went back to drawing an elaborate doodle in his notebook before replying. "You've seen all there is."
Tyler nodded agreement. "Boner is the back end of nowhere" he added articulating Greg's assessment when he had first seen the little village. Greg saw the trap and avoided it; this was not his town to trash.
Mrs. Patterson left the tenth graders and sat at the table with the boys. She smiled at Greg to make him welcome. For Greg's benefit she explained that she taught Math B30 and supervised their Biology 20 class next door. Greg told her he had eleventh grade Biology already and he was not sure he could take it again. Something would be worked out for him. She gave the boys well used texts, a course outline and about ten minutes of her time before shifting over to the three twelfth graders.
Evan glanced at Greg, "Did you understand that?"
Greg shook his head.
Evan leaned back for a moment and threw his hands up. "Shit, we were counting on you to teach it to us." The three boys went back over the notes in the textbook and puzzled through the first assignment. The boys watched Greg copying notes into his binder.
"Why are you doing that? It's in the textbook." Tyler asked.
Greg stopped for a moment and looked at his page.
"It helps me understand it," Greg answered, then went back to writing the formulas down.
There was a pattern here. Mrs. Patterson would pit-stop at their table every once and a while to check on them and untangle the snarls in their progress before moving to the next group. She seemed to spend the most time with the grade tens. The five boys fooled around while the girl doggedly worked through whatever they were given. Mrs. Patterson let it slide as long as they were reasonably quiet.
Greg finished the assignment and checked the answers at the back. He thought he had a handle on it. He glanced at Mrs. Patterson "What are her exams like?"
"They were tough in grade ten. She just gave us an old Departmental to work on last semester," supplied Tyler.
"Yes, it was a bitch. You know what it is like. You are screwed if you make a mistake," Evan added glancing at Tyler . "I hope I passed." He turned to Greg "I had a 57% going into the Departmental."
Greg was confused. "What is a Departmental?"
Tyler and Even did not understand the question for a moment and then found himself explaining the system to Greg. Greg was surprised. "Fifty multiple choice questions and they don't look at your work?" The boys nodded. "So how many departmentals do we have to write?" It was just the math that semester.
"Is that your Mustang?"
Greg admitted it was.
"God rich teacher's kid or what" Then Tyler seemed to think better of his comment. "Is it used?"
"2001" Greg had to admit it was cool to drive. He knew his Uncle Ben and father had hoped it would distract him a little.
"That's what I would do too." Evan nodded with approval. "Hey maybe you could show us how fast it is sometime." Evan noticed Greg was still working. "Mrs. P didn't tell us to do that page."
"But it is the next thing and there is still twenty minutes left." Greg was not used to being the keener. Maybe he should be a little more laid back. It was only the first day. He sat back and fiddled with his pencil.
"No that sounds like a good idea, show me what you're doing." Tyler grabbed his paper and looked it over.
Evan glanced at Tyler like he had just taken the last beer and started working on the next page of math.
The three boys went back to work while Tyler and Evan probed Greg for personal information. No questions about his family, they wanted to know about his St. George friends and the differences between life in Assiniboia and Saskatchewan. Greg did not tell them much about his friends and the two Prairie Provinces were not that different. At the break the five grade ten boys gathered around the table to ask their own questions. Greg hit his first snag with them. Except for the dude in the cap named Alden who reminded him of a friend back home, the tenth graders made him feel like he was challenging their turf. They came across to him like a clique of little girls.
The six oldest students went to the media lab during second period. Greg watched while they did a teleconferencing class with students at Aspen. It looked like a cool way to learn. It was too bad he could not do classes with his friends in St. George. He played on one of the computers at the back of the room. Mrs. Patterson had told him he would probably take a distance education class during the hour.
The class in Aspen had about fifteen grade elevens in it. Greg thought people seemed relaxed there. His new classmates whispered amongst themselves during the period. At one point the teacher zoomed in on him playfully and dropped a question in his lap. He smiled back the answer. "Whoa we have someone listening out there" the teacher had laughed. Greg was sure he was at the wrong school.
During third period he sat down in the office and ironed out the problems with his father. He agreed to take a journalism class during the third period. He was okay with that, but he did not like taking History 30 in grade eleven. He wanted to take it with his friends in St. George. His dad pointed out that he did not need History 20 and he would be free to take a different elective if he wanted to next year. He was missing English. He had taken it in the first semester in St. George so his father suggested they could work something out with Ms. Bartlett the English teacher.
"I have an idea for your fifth class." His father hesitated for a minute. "You could do a special credit project on your own. The ten to twelve's have a gym class every other day. You have the credit, but you might want to be with them anyway." His father looked out the window a minute. "There is at least one boy in grade eight who would like to learn to play the guitar." Greg's heart jumped a bit. "I thought you might earn a credit teaching him." Greg had not touched the guitar since Hal had died.
His father let the suggestion hang between them while Greg looked out the window at the tangled forest of Caragana crowding the back of the school. Hal would have been sorry if he quit playing now. He had brought all the guitars with him. Greg knew he needed to stop his headlong flight away from the past. He looked back at his father and realized that the older man needed to stop avoiding the past too.
"I'll do this if you take the family pictures out and put them in the living room."
John looked back at his son, ready to challenge the assumption he was deliberately avoiding the past. He stopped himself. Maybe he was. It was a just trade. John nodded his agreement.
"When do I do this with the kid?"
"Well I'm actually hoping you might do some stuff with more than Seth. Seth's ready for private lessons but he rides the bus. I thought you could do something at the trailer or here at the school on the days his mother works. His mother is Debbie Patterson."
"I don't want to be a teacher dad."
"I know, but we have to fill a hundred hours." There was a prolonged silence between them. John relented a little. "You start with Seth and
I'll work something out later." Greg started to head back when his father stopped him again. "Will you stay out of trouble if I give you open campus?"
"You mean I don't have it?" Greg had been coming and going since he was in grade ten.
"New schools, different rules; you can drive your car if you like."
Greg frowned at the thought. "I already heard the rich teacher's line."
His father grunted and told him to take a look at the other cars in the parking lot at lunch.
"We have to get some food dad."
John peeled off some money and told Greg to handle it himself.
Greg met Evan and Tyler's girlfriends at lunch. When the bell had rung Greg followed the two boy's lead and stayed in the classroom. He realized there was not a lunch room. The high school students ate pretty much where they liked.
Lunch was a time to see what the cliques were in a school. The grade tens who stayed for lunch broke into two groups. Two of them stayed in the room and were joined by two younger boys from his father's classroom. The other one went somewhere else. The tenth grade girl joined the twelfth graders at another table and four students talked quietly as they ate their food. Evan and Tyler offered to share their food when Greg found out there was not a canteen in the school. The two eleventh graders also shared five young girls who came to stand around and flirt.
When Greg had bothered to notice girls in grades below his he usually thought them pretty silly. It was like they were giggling drunk all the time. If they noticed an older boy like himself watching they became suddenly shy and usually took off as quickly as they could. These Bonner girls were different. Zoë would have called them little sluts. They pushed whatever dress code the school had to the limit. They were also very forward with the older boys. There were two Elisabeth's, which might have been confusing except one was called Lisa and the other Beth. Lisa seemed to be attached to Austin, one of the grade ten boys. Beth was the prettier of the two. He had a bad feeling the girls were sizing him up. Greg had a Mustang.
After a short tour of the school they all piled into a 2003 Dodge Truck to drive Greg home so he could get his car. Deirdre referred to the truck as Tyler's. The truck was very nice. Greg began to see his father's point about rich teacher's kids.
Justine and Deirdre were in grade nine. In Greg's world Tyler and Evan were losers for going after jailbait. They were pretty enough and there was not much choice, but he was not comfortable with them. They reminded him of Susan. Greg wondered why the boys did not drive into Aspen to poach girls. He had seen a few cute ones in the biology class. As for anything else... well, Greg seriously doubted there would be any interest and resigned himself to a lonely winter.
He had to get his keys from the bedroom so everyone had a chance to catalogue his belongings. They sat in the living room till lunch was over and Greg was informed about the wasteland of Boner. The boys sat with their arms around the girls. Evan and Tyler were cousins. Half the town was cousins. There had been other grade elevens who had moved away and the boys talked about them as if he should know the details of their lives.
Tyler and Evan were patient with his questions, but Deirdre looked at him like he was rudely asking for details on a movie they had been dedicated enough to watch from the beginning. Why hadn't he joined them at the start, she seemed to imply. It was just too much to explain.
Greg was beginning to see that these were people deeply into their town. He tested the waters by asking about parties in Aspen. Evan and Tyler let the girls do the talking. "Oh we don't party with them. They are kind of strange you know?"
"Yes; my dad said when the school closes next year he's going to take me to Ripley even if it is farther away," Deirdre sniffed.
"Yes; I mean, who wants to go to Aspen?" Justine looked at Greg as if it was obvious. "Mr. Cox is okay and everything. He lets the high school kids drive. But everyone knows he's here to close the school and fire everyone."
Greg suggested it had not been his father's idea then cursed himself for getting involved.
"Yes I guess so." She did not look like she believed it.
Evan and Justine drove back to the school with Greg. Justine was a chatterbox in the back seat and could not convince Greg to show her what the car could do. The boys were disappointed when they learned Greg was not in the class after lunch. He waited till the bell rang and went to his dad's middle year's class. He asked him if there was anything he could take from Aspen using the conferencing equipment. His father said he would look into it.
The little girls tittering and whispering in the background concerned John. Greg had never had a steady girl friend and John did not want Greg following the Bonner high school boy's lead and take up with the younger girls.
Greg asked when he should talk to Seth.
John turned around to look at the young boy staring at his son. He turned back to Greg. "He's very excited. Ms. Patterson is leaving soon so why don't the three of you talk about it right now."
Seth came to the door and looked up at Greg shyly. Greg did not do little kids very well so they had an awkward start in the hallway. Seth's mother told him Seth had been playing the piano. She didn't tell him Seth had finally rebelled. The guitar had appealed to him more. Seth had an old acoustic, she explained, and if the lessons worked out he would get an electric for his birthday in a month.
Seth broke his silence to say he didn't want to play at school where his friends could hear him. They agreed on a couple of days after school over at Greg's trailer. Seth was not sure about that either, but he finally agreed. Greg tried to bridge the gap a little on the way back to class. Seth was a good looking kid and Greg found him appealing. He tweaked Seth's ear and asked him why he did not have an earring like his classmates. The tall thirteen-year old pulled away from him suddenly.
"I don't want to get an earring." Seth looked at Greg warily as he stepped back. "I just want to learn how to play the guitar."
The two comments seemed disconnected and Greg paused to look at Seth. Greg felt like he had lost ground with the kid. Apparently Seth didn't like to be touched.
"Sure, I understand." Greg said, not really understanding. "I never got one either." He showed the boy his ear lobes. Greg's reply seemed to ease the sudden tension between them. It was like he had just reassured the boy in some strange way. Seth nodded his head and went back to class leaving a slightly puzzled Greg standing in the hallway.
Seth ignored Cox's smile when he returned to his desk. He cursed himself for getting defensive with the older boy. Greg had seemed nice enough. The handsome eleventh grader's obvious reluctance to teach him guitar actually reassured Seth. Maybe it would be easier to handle being with Greg. He caught Cox smiling at him again and slumped deeper into his desk. Teacher's kids hanging out with each other. Seth did not need more hassles. Seth was determined to keep his distance.
Aaron whispered something he did not catch and he glanced over at him. It had been hard on them both this year. Seth noticed Rod and Wyatt whispering together. The light caught Wyatt's earring as he glanced over at Seth. Everyone had been talking about the guy since the word had come out. Seth felt mingled anger and misery. Even Seth was thinking about what Cox's son would do.
Wyatt glanced quickly at the teacher and made a rude gesture toward Aaron and Seth. Seth gave him the finger back. Wyatt would think that. Everyone thought Seth was a freak for avoiding Even and Tyler . It came to him suddenly that everyone would be watching to see what the two teacher's kids would do together. Seth needed to get away from the stares. Mr. Cox let him go to the basement when he caught his attention.
Once Seth was in the hall he realized he did not feel any better. He wandered down the stairs slowly. There would be another party on Friday. Maybe he should just go and get it over with. Evan probably; Tyler was so big that he intimidated Seth. Aaron and he had discussed the subject endlessly. What it would be like, whom to choose. Sometimes they would laugh about it. Why did he have to make a big deal about it? It was just supposed to be game. Why did it feel like something more important to him?
Seth opened the door and froze when he saw Cox's son at the urinal. There were only two so his choice was to go back up stairs or join the older boy. He pushed in and joined Greg self consciously. They did not look at each other and Seth shifted slightly so the older boy wouldn't see him. Seth found it hard to get his stream going.
Greg was cooking supper when John came home. His presence lifted John's spirits.
"I talked with the people in Aspen. You could fit into a creative writing class at that time. It bounces around the day a little. You would miss a few classes each week. The teacher there wants to try the equipment out so he is willing to have you in his class anyway."
Greg remarked that they seemed to be going to a lot of trouble just for him.
"Not really. The equipment has to prove its worth. So do the teachers for that matter." John thought there might be one or two other students who wanted the chance to take the class.
John had five months to bridge the gap between Bonner and Aspen. Greg wasn't interested in his problems. The last principal had been in the middle of the fighting and lost her perspective. She was sulking at home taking pot-shots at John through the local board and writing letters to the department and the United Nations. John didn't care. Six months from now he would be back in St. George time tabling for the fall.
"I don't know dad, that's a lot of English for one semester." Greg's voice brought him back from his musings.
"You love to write Greg. It's about the best thing you do right now. You could handle it. We could run into Saskatoon this weekend and trade that old computer in on a new laptop for you."
Greg slammed the spoon down. "Stop buying me things. It isn't going to make it better." He went back to stirring the sauce.
John sat in silence feeling defeated. The outburst had broken the fragile sense of normalcy they had been nurturing.
Greg dropped noodles into the water. "Well I guess I have to get some books for the kid to practice on. The computer is a piece of crap now."
John smiled. We'll stay the night, he thought