What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
The next day was going to be a busy one. The boys had discussed changing schools with Dr. Warren. If they had been willing to let the process drag out, it wouldn’t have mattered how they approached it, but all three of them wanted this done as soon as possible. It was logical to first approach the Taft administrators to ascertain if Josh could be enrolled there immediately, that they had room for him and the timing was acceptable. However, the enrollment process would require a transcript and other papers that had to be obtained from Kennedy, and so they had decided that was where the process needed to begin.
After Bryan had left for school, Dr. Warren and Josh had breakfast together, Josh having scrambled some eggs for both of them. Josh had wanted to be at school when it began, but Dr. Warren convinced him it would be better to let the principal get his day started without interruption.
At 9 AM, Josh and his father walked into the Kennedy High School administrative office. A severe looking elderly lady was at a desk. Otherwise the office was empty. Dr. Warren and Josh walked to the counter, then stood and waited.
The secretary glanced briefly at them, then continued working on some papers in front of her. She seemed to be ignoring them intentionally. After five minutes, Dr. Warren cleared his throat loudly enough that it would be noticed. There was no reaction from the secretary.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Yes?” was the response, sounding irritated. The secretary did not look up.
“Could you help us?” inquired Dr. Warren pleasantly.
The secretary scowled and kept working for a full minute before responding. Then she angrily threw her pen on the paper she was working on and strode to the counter.
Dr. Warren politely asked to see the principal.
The secretary gruffly asked what it was about, and Dr. Warren, his hand on Josh’s shoulder, said, “My son, Joshua Warren.”
“Mr. Gonzales is very busy. I guess I can see if he has a minute. You don’t have an appointment, do you? He rarely sees people without an appointment.” She went back to her desk and picked up her phone. Eventually, she put it back down and, not bothering to look back at Dr. Warren, began doing paperwork.
Dr. Warren and Josh stood at the counter, not sure what was going on, and waited for fifteen minutes. Dr. Warren was getting unhappier by the minute and was just about to call out to the woman when the door opened on which Mr. Armando Gonzales, Principal was lettered and a short, dark-haired, heavy-set man stepped into the office. He looked at the counter, saw Dr. Warren and stepped forward. He had a frown on his face.
“I see people only by appointment. I’m busy. What do you want?” His tone of voice was decidedly unfriendly. He did not offer his hand in greeting.
Dr. Warren, a very pleasant if often somewhat vague man who was soft-spoken and even-tempered in almost all circumstances, was beginning to feel his emotions rise.
He paused before answering, letting Mr. Gonzales’s question hang between them.
Finally, he spoke. “Mr. Gonzales? I’m Josh’s father, Dr. Warren,” he said, extending his hand. “Could we talk a moment?”
“Go ahead. I’m listening.” Mr. Gonzales ignored the hand.
Dr. Warren paused yet again. He was wondering how this man managed to keep his job if such rudeness was his normal behavior. “Mr. Gonzales, perhaps it would be better for us all to go into your office? Or another room where we can talk privately?”
“This is fine. Get to it. I’ve got things to do.” He made an obvious show of looking at his watch.
Dr. Warren slowly raised his eyes from where they’d dropped to Mr. Gonzales’ wrist and stared very hard at him. Then he said in a tone of voice that was hard as glass and showed no intimidation at all, “You know, you can be as discourteous as you want. Your secretary can as well. We came to get something done and we’re going to do it. If you want everyone to hear your private business, I can do that. It won’t embarrass me. Is that what you want? I wouldn’t think you’d want some of the things I’m going to say to you about the way you run this school to be overheard and then discussed by others after your secretary runs to tell everyone about them.”
Mr. Gonzales simply turned on his heel and started toward his office. “Follow me,” he said over his shoulder.
When both Josh and Dr. Warren were inside the office and Dr. Warren had closed the door, Josh looked around. The office was small and the desk was cluttered with papers. Two chairs stood in front of the desk. Mr. Gonzales was already seated behind the desk, looking up at them. He did not invite them to sit.
Dr. Warren was tired of the disrespect and lack of simple politeness he was receiving. He pointed at one of the chairs to Josh, then sat in the other himself. He then spoke to Mr. Gonzales.
“We’ve come to get Josh’s transcript and school records. He’s going to transfer to Taft. We would like them today.”
If anything, Mr. Gonzales showed relief. “Oh. I turn things like that over to my staff. You don’t even need to talk to me. Just talk to my secretary, give her the information and she’ll take care of it. It will take a couple of weeks. You’ll be notified.” He stood up, indicating he was done and the meeting was over.
Josh started to rise, but his father laid his hand on his leg, so Josh stayed in his chair. Dr. Warren then stared at Mr. Gonzales, who remained standing. The silence grew, until Mr. Gonzales said, “We’re done here. I’m busy.”
“Mr. Gonzales, you don’t understand. I want this done today, right now in fact. Not in two weeks. Now.”
“Not possible. Anyway, you have to talk to Barbara. Now please leave.”
“Mr. Gonzales. I start to see why there are problems in this school. An organization takes its direction and attitude from whomever is at the top. Now let me be very frank. We’ll have those records without any more delay. In fact, I’d say within the hour. Now that I’ve met you and seen your attitude, I’m very embarrassed. I’ve allowed Josh to attend this school and I never should have done that. I now understand why this school has a bad reputation. It comes from the man at the top, sir, and that’s you. Now, I suppose you need an incentive to get Josh transferred today.”
Dr. Warren stopped, but continued to glare at Mr. Gonzales, who was still standing behind his desk, his face darkening. Dr. Warren turned to Josh.
In a much softer voice, he said, “Josh, I’m sorry, but please show him your side.”
Josh hesitated, then reluctantly stood and pulled his T-shirt up so his bruise, now black and blue and very unpleasant looking, could be clearly seen. He held his shirt up for a moment, then lowered it. He sat back down, looking embarrassed.
“Mr. Gonzales. We want those records now. I could go into what will happen if we get any more crap from you, but I’m not going to even bother. You had your chance to be courteous, to handle this in a professional manner, and you blew it. Instead of an hour, I think we’ll make the deadline a half hour. You’re obnoxious and incompetent and I want to be out of here for good as soon as possible. I’m going with Josh to empty his lockers, then we’re coming back to the office. If the papers aren’t ready, then believe me, you will wish they had been. You’ll have made a huge mistake, one you will wish you’d never made. If you want to continue to try to show me how important you think you are, go right ahead. You’re a public servant, working for the school board. We all know how that group loves public scrutiny and notoriety. I can’t believe they haven’t already received numerous complaints about you. You’re very much in the wrong here and obviously have no idea how to do the job you are occupying. People should know. Those papers had better be there when I return, or so help me, they will. You have no idea who I am or what influence I have. How much risk are you willing to take today? Think about it. Think about whether you’d like to be still occupying this office tomorrow. Those papers, all of them, signed, on the outside counter in one half hour. Good day, sir.”
Both Dr. Warren and Josh stood up and left the office. Mr. Gonzales was still standing behind his desk as they left, his face as red as the stripes on the flag behind him. Dr. Warren asked Josh to take him to his gym locker and then his hall locker so they could clean both out.
Josh was a little shaken up. He didn’t like confrontation. It had upset him, seeing how Mr. Gonzales had acted, but he was also stunned with and proud of the way his father had stood up for both of them. He’d never seen him act that way before. He felt about three feet taller than usual, walking down the corridors of the school.
Josh took what belonged to him out of his two lockers and left what was school property, including his textbooks, inside both, then locked them.
When they returned to the office, a folder with Josh’s name on it was lying on the counter. Next to it was a form titled School Transfer Record. It had been filled out and Mr. Gonzales had signed it. Dr. Warren looked through the file, then picked up both it and the paper. He then called across the office to where the secretary was now busily typing. “Josh left all his books. If we hear one word about something belonging to the school being missing or damaged, this school is going to be sorry it ever hired either you or that sorry excuse for a principal. I hope that’s clear enough for you.”
Dr. Warren waited, but there was no response from the secretary. A small smile crept over his face, and he and Josh left the office.
“Whew,” said Josh. “That was amazing.”
Dr. Warren winked at him. “It takes quite a bit to rile me up, but when it happens, I guess I can hold my own. At least in that type of fight. The trick is, fight them on the battleground where you’re best equipped to fight. Both those two are bullies. Bullies hate it when you fight back.”
Their reception at Taft was remarkably different. When they walked into the office, a secretary got up from her desk and came to the counter, a smile on her face.
----  ----
“Hi there, I’m Mrs. Tucker. How can I help you?”
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Warren and this is my son Joshua. We’re interested in getting him enrolled here, today if at all possible. I just left Kennedy High School. These are his records, and this is his transfer paper.
Mrs. Tucker took a quick glance at the transfer document, then opened the folder and pulled out the transcript. A quick glance, and then she smiled at Josh.
“Josh, what a great record! You’re just the sort of student we want here. Congratulations! You’re going to fit right in at Taft. Please give me a second, I think Dr. Collins is free. One moment, please.”
She stepped to an open door off the main office and, tapping briefly, stuck her head inside and spoke a few words. Then she withdrew, and, smiling across to Dr. Warren and Josh, said, “Can you both come in here, and bring those papers? Dr. Collins would like to meet you.”
Dr. Collins was a tall, thin man. He was scowling at a budget sheet on his desk which otherwise was empty. His office had one wall covered with bookshelves filled to overflowing with scholarly looking tomes. Chairs were set around his desk, and Dr. Collins, after rising, changed his scowl to a broad smile. He shook both their hands while introducing himself and asking their names, then graciously invited them to sit.
Quickly glancing at the papers Dr. Warren handed him, he looked up at Josh. “I see here you’re coming to us from Kennedy, and you have outstanding grades. Can I ask why you wish to transfer?”
Josh’s shyness kicked in. He was not good meeting new people, and someone in authority was always terrifying. Dr. Collins smile helped calm him a little, but he was still nervous.
“I heard you had a creative writing course that was really good here, and I know someone who goes here, and I sorta wanted to take that course, and, and . . . . ” His voice trailed off to nothing and he looked down at his lap, blushing.
Dr. Collins stood up, walked out from behind his desk and took the chair next to Josh. He put his hand on his shoulder. “That’s great, Josh. We do have an excellent writing course, in fact several of them. Whom do you know that goes to Taft, if I can ask without being too nosy?”
“Oh yes, Bryan. And he suggested you enroll here?”
“Yes. That’s okay, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, it’s fine. I just don’t hear Bryan’s name mentioned much. He’s one of those students who, as the saying goes, exists below the radar. I hadn’t ever known he’d be the sort of someone who’d advertise us to anyone. But, I’m delighted that he did. A principal has a difficult time getting to know all the students at school; I’m afraid he generally gets to know the more obstreperous ones the best. Bryan certainly isn’t one of those. I have the impression he’s a bright kid who might do a little better if he’d apply himself more, but I don’t know him well enough to say that for sure. Just an impression. I do know he doesn’t get in trouble. Not that very many of our students do.” This remark was directed towards Dr. Warren.
“Dr. Collins, is it possible for Josh to start here tomorrow? I realize we’re a month into the term, but I don’t want Josh returning to Kennedy. You may only like to take students at the beginning of each term, but if possible, I’d like to request you make an exception here.”
“I do prefer that, but Josh’s grades show he can do the work, and I assume he’s maintaining them at the same level this term at Kennedy. Josh, are you keeping your grades up?”
“Well, I see no reason you can’t start here tomorrow. The sooner the better so Josh loses as little time out of the classroom as possible. It’s a little bit irregular, but we can make it work administratively without question. What we need to do is set up a class schedule. Then, if there are any problems, like if some class here is considerably ahead of what you’ve been doing, Josh, something of that nature, we’d have to work through getting you caught up. But these records show you’re a very good student, and good students are able to take changes in stride.”
Dr. Collins stopped and looked at Dr. Warren. “Did you by chance meet Mr. Gonzales?”
Dr. Warren met Dr. Collins’ look, and then a wry smile formed on his lips. “Yes, we met. I doubt either of us will forget it for a while.”
Dr. Collins smiled too. “We’ll have to discuss that some day. Right now, what we should do is have Josh get together with our 9th grade advisor so he can get his schedule set for tomorrow and we can show him around the school and let him know what he’ll need in the way of gym clothes and how lunch works and that sort of thing. It’ll take him about two hours. You’re welcome to accompany him, but usually students are embarrassed to have a parent poking along with them. They think it makes them look bad to the other students, and we try to minimize our students’ embarrassment as much as possible here as standard policy. How would you like to handle this? He can call you to pick him up when he’s done, or he can simply get home by himself.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ll be at the university two hours from now and then for the rest of the day. In fact, I should be getting there pretty quickly or I’ll be late. Josh, are you all right on your own from this point on?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, Dad. Thanks a lot for your help today.” And he gave him a quick but firm hug.
“If you have just a quick moment more, Dr. Warren? Could I ask what you do at the university?
“I’m chair of the Antiquities Department.”
“Not Dr. Frederick Warren?”
“Well, this is a distinct honor. I know you’re rushed, so I’ll let you go. But we need to talk. We’d love to get you here as a guest lecturer in some of our advanced history and humanities courses. Could I call you?”
“It would be my pleasure to help you out. Of course, that might violate your rule against embarrassing students.”
Dr. Collins laughed, Dr. Warren joined in, and Josh blushed. The two men then shook hands, and Dr. Warren left.
“Josh, we’re really happy to have you here. We try very hard to provide a place where all our students can, and are encouraged to, achieve whatever is in them to achieve and where they feel safe and welcome. Please come and see me whenever you have a problem, or if you just want to chat. I love to know what my students are thinking. This school isn’t just my school, it’s yours every bit as much as it is mine. I’m going to have Mrs. Tucker take you to see Mrs. Betchmeyer now. School starts at 8 AM, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. Please say hello when we do. And welcome to Taft.”
----  ----
When Bryan arrived at Josh’s house that afternoon, he found a broadly smiling Josh in the kitchen.
“You look happy! What happened? Are you going to be able to get into Taft?”
“Not only am I getting in, I start tomorrow. And even better, I’m in three of your classes!”
“Really! That’s great! But how’d you manage that? I mean, how’d my name even come up, so you’d know I was in any of the classes they assigned you to?”
“Bryan, Taft is incredible! The people I met treated me like a person. At Kennedy, all the teachers and administrators are angry all the time, and they treated us like we were the enemy. When you’d ask them anything, you felt like you were interrupting something important and you felt like you were an annoyance. Most of us never even spoke to a teacher if we didn’t absolutely have to. But at Taft, every adult I met who worked there was friendly and polite and treated me like I was an adult too. The guidance counselor, Mrs. Betchmeyer? She asked me all about what I liked and didn’t like and if I had any thoughts about what I was going to do after high school and what hobbies I had and all sorts of stuff like that, and it didn’t seem like she was being nosy or bossy, just real friendly and interested in me. It was like she respected me and my opinion! She asked about why I wanted to come to Taft and if I knew anyone there, and when I mentioned your name, she asked if I’d like to be in any classes with you, and then changed what she was scheduling so I could get in some of those. And best of all? We’ve got lunch and gym together!” Josh was beaming when he finished.
“That’s great, Josh! You know, I guess I’m just used to Taft, even if I’ve only been there a month. They do treat us well, I guess. It’s comfortable there. I don’t know any other high school or how it could be different. I didn’t know I was lucky going there, but it sure is different from what you say about Kennedy.”
“I’m going to meet with my teachers tomorrow and see where their rooms are and what I’ve got to do to catch up, if anything. She told me what books they’re using and only one of them is what I had at Kennedy. But I’m sure I won’t have a problem. I just might have a little more homework for a while. No prob.”
Josh had been making them both sandwiches as the conversation unfolded. Now, they took them upstairs, along with cans of Sprite.
Josh obviously didn’t have any homework yet, and Bryan had very little. Josh looked over what he did have, then suggested Bryan do it right then so they’d both be free for the rest of the day. While Bryan was doing that, Josh picked up a book he was reading and lay back on the bed with it.
A half hour later, Bryan closed his book and stretched. “That wasn’t bad tonight. I wish every day was that light.”
Josh looked up at him and grinned. “Do you want me to check it for you? So you have it all correct for once?”
“Hey, screw you, Brainiac. I do okay.”
“I don’t know. Dr. Collins said you could do better. Just trying to help is all.”
“Yeah, well help with this!” Bryan retorted, and grabbed his crotch.
“Uh, maybe later,” said Josh and he broke out laughing.
If you enjoy this story, please let me know! Authors thrive by the feedback they receive from readers. It’s easy: just click on the email link at the bottom of this page to send me a message. Say “Hi” and tell me what you think about ‘Josh, Evolving’ — Thanks, Cole.
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