Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 16

I was still thinking about what I saw Sunday night when I got to school on Monday. While it cleared up so many questions, I just didn’t know what to do with it. I thought about talking to Chef, but he didn’t really know the people involved, and he’d just tell me to be patient and wait until something else happened. That doing something for the sake of doing something was what led to mistakes. It wasn’t bad advice, but it also wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Instead, I made my way to Mr. French’s room during my lunch period.

Peeking into the choir room, I saw he wasn’t busy and knocked on the door frame. His office was a little offshoot of the choir room, with a door, which was usually open, and a window that let him see what the choir was up to. He looked up and saw me through the window and waved me in. This part wasn’t that unusual. I came by to have lunch with him or stopped by after classes got out, from time to time. He’d been a huge help in both writing music and putting me in contact with Rowan, who’d produced our first album.

Today, though, he could tell something was different. I thought I was playing it cool, but he could read the worry on my face.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

The office smelled like old coffee, as always, and it had a weird way of calming me down. At school, this was my oasis, where I could get away from Harry, Coach Bryant, or Mr. Packer and just relax for a little bit. I guess I’d started to connect the smell of his constantly half-full old coffee pot with the idea of a refuge. It’s weird the connections our brains can make.

“Yeah,” I said, sitting down. “I saw something on Sunday night, and I’m not sure how to handle it.”

“Okay,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “And what did you see?”

“So, you know how Mr. Packer has been out to get me all year?”

“I wouldn’t say I’d agree with that. He has made some decisions I disagree with, but I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s out to get you.”

“I know you have to be diplomatic and can’t speak badly about other teachers, and I get it, but I told you about the drug thing and him trying to frame me. I know you said it was probably just an accident, but it wasn’t. Anyway, I’ve also had a similar problem with Aaron’s father. Even after that drug thing was shown to be BS, and the sheriff said there weren’t any more problems with it, he tried to charge me with possession anyway. We got it thrown out, and he claimed it was an error, just like Mr. Packer did, but he’s had it out for me ever since I started getting tangled up with Aaron. It only got worse after Aaron got arrested at the prom.”

“Charlie, I’m not saying I’m doubting you, but if what you’re saying is you think both Mr. Packer and the District Attorney are out to get you, you know how that sounds, right?”

“I do, but it’s also true. I know it’s hard to hear something like that from someone my age and take it seriously, but this is true. And now I have proof. Well, not proof, but now I know what’s happening. You’re right. A teacher wouldn’t just randomly pick out a student to torture and harass. I didn’t know it at the time, but that isn’t what Mr. Packer is doing. I saw him and Mr. Campbell at school on Sunday after the baseball game, and I saw Mr. Campbell give Mr. Packer an envelope full of cash. I wasn’t close enough to hear their conversation, but from their body language I’m nearly certain Mr. Campbell is why Mr. Packer has it in for me. He’s actively paying the man to get me. I’d heard he was vindictive, but I never imagined he’d take what happened between me and Aaron so personally, or that he would try to take it out on me like this.”

“You know this would be a huge risk for Mr. Campbell. You’re accusing him of paying off people to attack you personally and leveraging his office, up to and including fabricating evidence, to go after one person. That could cost him his career, or maybe even put him in jail. It’s difficult to believe that someone would do all that because he blames you for his son getting in trouble. More so after he managed to keep his son out of any trouble and, from what I hear, he’s off to college and already playing football. They haven’t lost anything, and yet you’re saying he’s willing to throw his career away just to get you.”

“I know it sounds crazy, it sounds that way to me too, but I know what I saw,” I said, frustrated. “If I can’t get you to believe me, what chance do I have to convince anyone else?”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” he said. “It’s that what you’re talking about requires more than just belief. You have to be able to prove what you’re saying. Did you overhear any part of their conversation?”

I shook my head. “No, I was too far away. But you have to admit that the whole thing seems fishy. Why is the DA meeting with a high school vice-principal at the school on a Sunday night? What else could he have been passing him? This is the only thing that explains what’s been happening to me, and it explains Mr. Packer’s actions all this year too.”

“I agree it does seem suspicious. But without knowing the content or context of their conversation, we have no way of proving they were doing anything wrong.” He held up a hand to stall my protests. “I know you believe they were plotting Mr. Campbell’s vendetta against you, but that is even harder to prove.”

“So, I’m screwed,” I said, slumping back in my chair.

“Charlie, I didn’t say that. I believe you saw what you saw. I just think the worst thing you can do is to take some kind of rash action. There are too many unknowns. Anything you do now could backfire on you spectacularly.” He gave me an apologetic look. “Consider your history with Mr. Campbell and here at school. I know everything they’ve said about you isn’t true, and you’ve been proven innocent time and time again; but to a casual outsider, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to paint you as a troublemaker. From there, they would just have to say they were continuing some investigation into your actions, and the meeting is explained away.”

“This is so unfair.” I clenched my fists, frustration boiling over. “They’re getting away with it, and no one will do anything!”

“That won’t necessarily be true forever. If they’re bending the rules this far, eventually someone’s going to notice. But escalating the situation will only make things worse before that happens.” Mr. French’s tone was calm but firm. “Right now they don’t know you’re onto them, so if they are trying to get you kicked out of school or even brought up on charges, they’re going to keep trying to do it in a way that puts them in the least amount of danger possible. If they realize you know what’s happening, they might escalate things, which you really don’t want.”

I didn’t really have an answer for him. He wasn’t wrong. In this situation, they had all the power, and if they lied how was I going to fight it?

“I know this isn’t what you were looking for, and I’m sorry for that. I know it sucks to hear, but life is often not fair. Sometimes you run into people who have a little bit of power, and they’re determined to use it to get whatever they want, regardless of how it affects anyone else. But, you don’t have to just sit and take it or go through it alone, either. I’ll tell you what, I’ll look into this and talk to some people I can trust to not make things worse. I’m not promising anything, but I’ll see what I can do. I still think, without solid evidence, there’s only so much you, or I, or anyone can do in this situation.”

Although it didn’t make me feel a lot better, I appreciated the gesture.

“I understand, and anything you could do to help would be great.”

“For now, just keep your head down and try not to give them anything they can build on.”

“Okay,” I said, half-heartedly.

I really wished people would stop telling me to keep my head down and stay out of trouble. That’s what I was doing. I hadn’t been in any major conflicts at school aside from a few harsh words with Harry on the baseball field. That didn’t stop them from trying to frame me, and I doubted it would stop them from whatever their next move was.

I did appreciate Mr. French’s offer to help, but I think I felt worse now than I did before I knew Mr. Packer was essentially doing all this for Aaron’s father. Before, it was just misguided meanness. Now I knew it was a concerted effort to hurt me, and one that I had no power to stop.

Everything felt so much more hopeless than it had just yesterday morning.

Kat sighed, dropping her pencil on the table in frustration. “I just don’t understand why she’s ignoring me. I’ve texted her at least a dozen times, apologizing for what happened with Troy. But she hasn’t replied to a single message.”

I looked up from my algebra homework, frowning. We’d both been home for about an hour, and had quietly been doing our homework, so it took me a minute to wrench my brain away from the numbers and letters on the page in front of me to what Kat had said.

I did feel bad about how things had gone at the diner, but I’d hoped it would be a momentary blow-up, and things would go back to normal. Considering how close Kat and Hanna had gotten over the last year, it felt wrong to have it thrown away over someone like Troy.

“I’ve called her too,” I admitted. “Left a couple voicemails. But she hasn’t called me back either.”

“Do you think she’s really that upset with us?” Kat’s eyes were worried, the anxieties she constantly fought getting the better of her.

Troy had been out of line, and it had taken a lot for her to confront him. And Hanna had needed to hear it. She’d been letting Troy walk over her all year, and she deserved better than that. I had kind of hoped the tough love approach Kat had gone for would have worked, and I hadn’t expected such an extreme reaction from Hanna.

“I don’t know. Troy was wrong, and you were right to stand up for yourself. Hanna should have had your back.” I paused, choosing my words carefully. “Maybe she’s just embarrassed at her overreaction, and she needs some time to be able to deal with all of it.”

“I guess, but it’s been more than a week. I’m just really worried about her. She hasn’t been herself since she started dating him. I mean, she’s fine when it’s just us, but when he shows up, she becomes a doormat.”

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