Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 19

Friday afternoon, I hadn’t heard back from Warren to find out if he had any luck, but I did hear something from Mr. Packer, although indirectly. It was lunchtime on a day I’d normally have gone to sit with Sydney. She’d made it clear she did not want me going over there, which put me in the kind of mood where I didn’t really want to be around other people.

Instead of going to my usual table with my friends, I headed towards the choir room, planning to talk to Mr. French about my interview. He might not have made it big, but he had a lot of friends in the industry, which gave him experience in this kind of thing.

I also wanted to sound him out on how to deal with Marco and the rest of the guys about the interview. Marco had blown a gasket over the interview with the paper in Asheville, and that only serviced one mid-sized city. This was a national, syndicated interview, and he wasn’t allowed to go because of how the contract was arranged. We might not have reached it yet, but we were closing in on the point where he wouldn’t back down, and we’d find out if the band could survive his ego.

I was also planning on complaining about Mr. Packer and his annoying decision to block me from skipping the bus ride back after Friday’s game. I was far from confident that Warren could sort this out, and it was really rubbing me the wrong way. I know Mr. French was probably getting tired of me complaining about Mr. Packer, but I just needed to get it off my chest.

I was a few steps away from the choir room when I was surprised to hear raised, angry voices. I paused outside the door, which stood slightly ajar, peering through the crack to see if it was clear to go in or not.

Mr. French’s office door was open, and whatever was happening, it was happening in there. I couldn’t make out the words, but I recognized the tone, and I definitely recognized the voices. Mr. Packer was almost screaming, his voice hard, while Mr. French’s voice was a lot softer and harder to make out.

Mr. Packer being on the warpath now didn’t bode well for me. Worse, it might mean something bad for Mr. French. It wasn’t a secret he was my go-to teacher. I spent basically every downtime moment I had at school in the choir room if he didn’t have a class, and he’d gone to bat for me several times in the past. It was possible Mr. Packer was increasing his vendetta to include anyone defending or supporting me.

I’d gotten the impression that Aaron’s father was pushing him to make more progress in their scheme to get to me. I didn’t know if Mr. French had said something, but if it became known, I imagine Mr. Packer would be worried and feel like he had to do something about it.

I hesitated outside the choir room, wrestling with the urge to get within earshot so I had a little warning about whatever might be coming. The problem was, there was that window in Mr. French’s office and the open ground from the door into the choir room and anywhere I could hide. If I did go inside and they were looking this way, I’d be busted. Hell, if the extra light from the hallway spilled in enough, it might draw their attention to me.

Either way, I didn’t imagine Mr. Packer seeing me show up would help anyone in this situation. Still, forewarned was forearmed. If I knew Mr. Packer’s latest move, I might have a chance to do something about it.

Ignoring the voice in the back of my head telling me this was one of the dumbest things I’d done in a long time, I pulled the door open as slowly and carefully as possible, trying to gauge if it opened too far to let in the light, while keeping my eyes on the office. Mr. Packer was facing away from me, finger pointed at Mr. French, whose mouth was set in a thin line. I don’t know if Mr. Packer recognized it or not, but that was how Mr. French looked when he was furious.

I slowly moved towards the small storage closet between his office and the hallway, to the left of the door I was sneaking through. I thought I’d made it free and clear, until Mr. French’s eyes darted sideways, maybe attracted to the motion of me sneaking into the room.

To his credit, he didn’t react except for a slight widening of his eyes, which he almost instantly got under control, looking directly back at Mr. Packer. His eye twitched a little, probably resisting the urge to look back over at what I was doing. I was committed now. Leaving would only give Mr. Packer another chance to see me. And I really wanted to know what was happening.

I slipped into the closet and pulled the door mostly closed behind me. I had to hope that when he left, Mr. Packer wouldn’t be paying attention, since the door had been open when I’d gone into the closet.

Mr. Packer’s voice rose, taking on a threatening growl. Even closer, Mr. French’s voice was still too soft for me to comprehend what he was saying, but Mr. Packer erupted again in response.

In barely restrained fury, Mr. Packer said, “I don’t care about your opinion, Kevin. Your job does not include questioning the decisions made by the administration. You’re here to teach choir, and that’s all.”

Mr. French’s response was too low to discern fully, but I picked out words like “harassing,” “vindictive,” and “targeted.” I appreciated his defense of me, but when I’d complained to him about what Mr. Packer was doing and his connection to Mr. Campbell, I hadn’t expected him to actually confront the vice principal. If he managed to lose his job over this, I would feel terrible.

Mr. Packer snorted, “I don’t know where you heard that, but it’s bullshit. Every decision I’ve made has been for the good of this school and the student body. If you weren’t trying so hard to be their friend and were trying to be their teacher, you might actually recognize that.”

Again, I couldn’t hear Mr. French’s response, although I made out the words “obsession” and “lackey.” Whatever he said, it clearly hit a sore spot because the force of Mr. Packer’s words suddenly turned threatening.

“I think you’re confused about your role here, Kevin. Do I need to remind you of the terms of your contract? Should I go to the district about these baseless accusations?”

This time I could hear Mr. French’s response.

“You can do whatever the hell you feel like, Harold, but keep in mind my accusations aren’t baseless if they’re true. If they actually start an investigation into this situation, which of us will come out worse? Did you cover your tracks with the money he’s given you? On second thought, maybe we should just bring this to them now. How about that? Should I call them now?”

“You son of a...” Packer snarled, cutting off abruptly.

Seconds later, the door to Mr. French’s office banged open. I pulled back, away from the closet door, and held my breath as Mr. Packer stormed past.

I couldn’t see him, but he must have stopped in the doorway of the choir room because his voice was right in front of me when he said, “You’re going to regret this.”

“We’ll see,” Mr. French said, standing just in view of the cracked door, his arms folded.

The choir door banged open, and Mr. French disappeared from view. After a few beats, the door pulled open, and he said, “All right, come on out.”

I slowly stepped out. Mr. French stood in front of the choir room door, arms folded, staring at me.

“That was stupid,” he said.

It came out as a matter-of-fact statement. He didn’t sound particularly angry that I’d snuck in to listen to the conversation, although I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

“I know. I was walking by and heard y’all yelling, and I was worried you were confronting him about what I told you, and that you’d get in trouble.”

“And if I was, what exactly was your plan?”

That was an excellent question.

“I didn’t have one, but if I knew what was happening, I’d have a better chance of doing something about it. I was mostly venting when I told you about him and Mr. Campbell. If something happens to your job because of it, I’ll be responsible.”

“Charlie, I’m an adult and a teacher. You’re sixteen and a student. Which one of us is responsible in this situation?”

“I am,” I insisted. “I might not be an adult, but I’m old enough that I’m responsible for anything I put in motion. Also, technically, I am an adult.”

“I need you to stay out of this. If I choose to talk to Mr. Packer, that’s between me and him. You already have more to focus on than anyone at this school. You need to keep your eye on what’s important. In a year, you’ll be out of here, and none of this will matter anymore.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t treat me like I’m a little child.”

“I’m not treating you like you’re a little child. I’m treating you like you’re a teenager, which is exactly what you are. Charlie, I know it feels like you know everything there is to know, and you’re a smart kid, but this is outside of your depth. I’ve dealt with people like him before, and I know how to handle it. If you have any trust in me at all, please don’t put yourself in a situation like this again. The last thing you want to do is give him an actual reason to come down on you.”

I sighed, shoving my hands in my pockets. While I wouldn’t agree with his assessment of me, considering the incredibly stupid and risky move I’d just made, it wasn’t like I was trying to disprove it either.

“I’ll try. But I’m not going to stop fighting for myself.”

“Fine, just don’t sneak into closets to hear other people’s conversations anymore. Okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, appropriately chastised.

“Good. Now get out of here.”

I made my way back to the cafeteria. I did trust Mr. French, but I was still certain that confrontation was a mistake. The problem was, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do about it. Other than taking his advice to stay off of Mr. Packer’s radar, there weren’t a lot of options for me, which is why I’d gone to Mr. French in the first place.

Now he was involved, his job might be in jeopardy, and I still had no good options.

To my surprise, Warren actually came through. He hadn’t told me and had already headed back to Asheville, since Wellsville didn’t have a lot in the way of motels, at least not like what he was used to. He was probably billing it to our account, which didn’t come out of our money directly but was used to track all of the expenses related to my contract to determine if I was profitable for the label or not. Not that I minded. With some of the gigs and publicity he’d arranged for us, he’d made me way more money than he’d ever cost me by staying in halfway decent hotels.

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