Cary still had the rest of the school day to endure, but his mind was disengaged. Unfortunately, he could not skate through Gym class again. Coach Mandy, in a right tizzy, seemed thoroughly unwilling to cut Cary any slack. Already dressed out - his skinny knees just below the baggy second hand school issued shorts, a ratty t-shirt hanging from his bony shoulders, the Happy Endings High School mascot so faded on the front Cary couldn't make it out anymore - Cary stared at the planks of the gym floor. All around him were similar, but better dressed, boys shooting basketballs in turn.
“...can't you be like Smalls over there?” Coach Mandy yelled at Cary. He was used to being yelled at, it hardly affected him any longer, when at a distance. But at the mention of Troy Smalls' name, Cary's head shot up, his heart pumped harder and his face heated. Standing just a few feet away, his shirt damp from sweat and clinging to his muscles, was Troy Smalls. He glared at Cary, unseen by Coach Mandy. Two other boys flanked Troy, though Cary couldn't remember their names. They looked just as disgusted as Troy did. Cary looked away, fixated on the floor.
“Think you can just dress out and do nothing because you're a Nancy, eh?” Mandy snarled as he leaned down face to face with Cary. Cary did not look up. “Look at me when I'm talking to you!”
Unwilling, Cary resolutely looked away. Mandy moved to where Cary was staring and Cary dropped his head to look at the floor, where he saw the tips of Mandy's sneakers and little else aside from the floor. Mandy roared. “Are you deficient or something, Carver? Got some marbles loose upstairs? If you don't get out there and shoot that ball I'm going to send you straight to the Principal's Office ...after I put my foot across your ass!”
Cary endured the tirade, not looking up, no matter what Mandy called him. Eventually, the whole class looked on. Cary felt them all around, as if the silence in the Gym, save for a few muffled snickers, didn't give it away. Mandy, his patience exhausted, exploded.
“GO TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE YOU NAMBY PAMBY FA..” The sound of Coach Mandy's teeth smacking as his mouth shut was a loud boom which echoed across the Gym. Cary sullenly went to Jenson's office with a note. Great. Now I'm going to get Detention. Before he had left the Gym, Cary heard Troy Smalls and his friends laughing at him, calling out, “See ya Ickie Queenie!” to roars of laughter from the other kids.
Cary walked down the hallway towards Jenson's office when he realized what was in store.
Jenson is going to call Bird.
Cary flirted with the idea of just throwing away the note, hoping Mandy would not bother checking up. But Jenson emerged from the office door ahead and saw Cary lurking in the hallway between classes, still wearing his gym clothes, the crumpled note in his hand.
“Come here, you..Ha..Carver.” Jenson said. “What is that?” She grabbed the note from Cary's hand. Her eyes narrowed upon him. Cary held to it for a moment, let go and stared at the floor tiles. She's gonna tell Bird I'm a fa..I'm going to get beat. He'll take my action-figures. Clearing's gonna hate me like Troy does. Jonathan will... It was quiet while Jenson read the note. She sighed. “Why won't you participate in Gym class, Icarus Carver?” Cary shook his head and shrugged, not looking up, Jenson stressed his name in the oddest way, as if she were trying very hard to make herself say it.
Another sigh from Jenson. “Coach Mandy has ordered a detention for you, Carver. You'll need to stay after school on Friday to complete it, and I'm afraid I'll be calling your ...father.”
It took Cary a moment to realize she had said father.
Not parents. And she said my full name.
For some reason, she was familiar with him. He remembered her conversation earlier with Lurlene, there had been some mention of adopted kids, of which Cary sort of was. He swallowed hard and pulled his head up to look at Jenson. Her pallid face was pale and drawn, wrinkles like chalk etchings parted under the caked makeup. Flame-red hair was pulled into a wispy bun, but wild hairs had escaped everywhere, as though she had just come out of a run in a strong wind. Her frilly blouse heaved, more, her hands shook. When his eyes met hers, they were wide and she licked her lips nervously.
“Yes, well. Friday it is.” Jenson murmured, slowly folding the note while not looking at it. She glanced away down the hall, “Come with me, Ic..Cary.” She drew him into her office, where she sat him on a narrow sofa while she phoned someone. Jenson had a terse conversation which Cary could not understand a word of. She licked her lips several times and drummed her fingers on her desk, not looking once at Cary. She slammed the phone down and with a drawn out, exasperated sigh turned to Cary.
“I had forgotten Bird Carver and Coach Mandy are well known to one another...” Jenson said, half under her breath. She wiped at her brow where a line of sweat had formed, though it was cool in the office.
“Well...It seems you won't be doing a detention after all, Ha, I mean Carver. You father was most upset. He says he will punish you himself. So...” Jenson struggled like she was being forced to think quicker than she was used to, finally she waved him off. She balled up the note she had so meticulously folded and dropped it in the trash. "Get to your next class then...Carver, and do try and stay out of trouble.” But Cary made forceful eye contact with her again and was sure for some reason she actually was hoping he WOULD get into more trouble. Why does she want me to get into trouble?
He managed to get changed without being seen, left and went to hide in the boys' bathroom near his sixth period class. The day was almost over, if he could just get through it...
The bell rang. Cary shot out of the stall and walked, head down for his Algebra class. An hour later the bell rang again and Cary found himself once again with Clearing. The hour passed by without Cary absorbing a word of Clearing's lecture about dark energy.
“The destructive forces of creation – the very things that rip our universe apart, supernovae, black holes, galaxy collisions – these all beget creation! By disturbing the status quo of quiescent interstellar gas clouds, by compressing the clouds until they trigger star formation, these destructive forces often spur the new forms of the very things which they just destroyed. But this does not answer a fundamental problem with our universe. Something is forcibly pushing galaxies apart, some force, which we can neither see nor identify, save for the effect it has on space around it, is steadily expanding our universe with such power that eventually space will be so spread apart the skies will be black, and once the last stars die, well. We've no idea what will happen then, save that the only energy remaining in the universe will be dark energy.”
Cary spent the time parsing the questions in his mind, trying to understand what was actually going on between Jenson and Lurlene, but part of him filed away Clearing's words. It seemed to boggle his imagination to suppose his neighbor, for whatever reason, was threatening and extorting his school's Principal. Why was Lurlene interested in adopted kids who went to the school? Jenson had said there were five of us... who are the other four?
Cary was sure he had heard names, but he hadn't recorded them.
Jenson mentioned me. And she knows Bird isn't my real father...
He had always just assumed he was the only adopted kid around. Everybody else has families...loved ones. The bell rang and snapped Cary out of reverie. Clearing held up his hand to keep the students seated.
“So remember, people. Dark matter servers to BIND our galaxies together, even though we CANNOT see it or interact with it, we can OBSERVE the effects of it, but dark energy is utterly repulsive. It only destroys!” Clearing sighed. “Class dismissed.”
Cary gathered up his things and was the last student left in Clearing's classroom when Clearing spoke again, directly to him.
“Can I have a minute, Cary?” Cary stopped. All he wanted was to get away from the school and figure out some of the things troubling him. He was sure Clearing was only going to add to his confusion.
“I heard about what happened in Gym today, Cary,” Clearing said after the classroom emptied. Cary didn't respond, he fidgeted and toed the floor. He's going to want to do something. If Clearing intercedes it will just Mandy off further. Especially now his detention was canceled; a fact Cary was sure Jenson would relate to Mandy. Mandy'll think Clearing trumped him again...
Clearing sighed. “It's OK to not want to talk about it. I guess I haven't helped much. I'm just not sure how appropriate it is, Cary. People will think the wrong things if I tell you....” Clearing stopped talking and sat behind his desk. He pulled out the framed photograph he had shown Cary earlier in the day.
Should I tell him about Jenson and Lurlene? That Jenson saw his picture?
“Derek was a programmer, Cary. Did I tell you that?” Clearing said wistfully. “He built databases for websites. And he helped build JK Rowling's Pottermore. I...I..” Clearing's voice trailed off.
“Thinking about Derek always makes me wistful. Sometimes I look at Pottermore just so I can feel connected to him. I..shouldn't be telling you these things. I wish things could be easier for people like us, Cary, but just remember what I said earlier, don't let other people tell you who you are..
Cary nodded. Clearing sighed, as though he wanted to say more but instead dismissed him.
“You can go, Cary. I can understand you might not want to discuss it...” Clearing said. "But if you need someone to talk with, I'm here, Cary.”
Cary nodded staring at the floor and waited. This often worked in getting adults to leave him be and Clearing was no exception. The man sighed. “Alright, well go on home, Cary. And don't forget what I talked about in class today!”
Cary bolted from the classroom.