Rating: T/PG-13 for mild language and adult themes.
Chapter Five: I’ve Just Seen a Face
"I feel sorry for that kid."
Carl looked up from his trash barrel to see Jack Taylor standing just outside of the doorway to his office. He glanced over at Carl and lifted his eyebrows. “He’s gonna have a rough time at home. I can tell.”
Carl nodded mutely, trying to get his heart to stop beating so rapidly. Eight years. He could have gone eight hundred years without seeing Harold Johnson again and his life would have been the better for it.
Jack shook his head. “I could use a cigarette.”
Carl took a deep breath. “Yeah, me, too.”
The principal narrowed his eyes. “You got any on you?”
Carl reached into his jumpsuit and pulled out his pack, which was still half full. Jack glanced at his watch. “We’ve got ten minutes before the final bell rings.”
Carl grabbed the garbage bag he’d been meaning to take out to the dumpster and the two men walked across the school and out to the faculty parking lot. Carl threw the bag into the dumpster and pulled out his pack again. After he lit their cigarettes, he leaned against the dumpster and took a drag. “So, how’s your mother-in-law?”
Jack smiled. “Still a miserable old wench. How’s Julia?”
Jack burst out laughing and Carl smiled. He took a couple more drags before glancing over at Jack warily. “So, that was Harold Johnson.”
Jack nodded. “Yep.”
Carl paused. “I used to work for him.”
Jack looked over at him, eyes narrowed. “He’s not…”
“The one and only.”
“You’re kidding me!” Jack shook his head. “What a small world.”
Carl nodded in agreement. “You’re tellin’ me.”
Jack took another drag on his cigarette, still shaking his head at the revelation. “So, this is the first time you’ve seen him since he fired you?”
Carl laughed. “Fired. That’s a funny to put it, but yeah. It’s the first time.”
Jack sighed angrily. “If I’d have known, I would have called the police and had him kicked out of my school.”
“You can’t do that. He didn’t do anything to you.”
“Like hell he didn’t! You were one of my best students and he screwed you into the ground. I take that personally.”
Carl didn’t say anything. He appreciated Jack’s anger and appreciated the fact that he was sticking up for him, but it wasn’t what he needed just then. He had enough anger for the both of them; what he needed was to be able to forget again. Forget the expression on Harold Johnson’s face when Carl confronted him about the money, the numbers that just didn’t add up. Forget his boss’ clipped, impersonal tone: “Resign and we can sweep all of this under the rug and you can leave with a clear name. Otherwise, I won’t have much of a choice but to fire you…” Sometimes he thought it would have been better if he really was to blame, if he was the one who’d taken the money, if he really had done all those things they’d said he did. At least then there’d be reason for him to be mopping floors. At least then he’d know that he got what was coming to him.
“I’m going back to the school board.”
Carl snapped out of his reverie and looked over at Jack. “What?”
“I said I’m gonna talk to the school board again.”
“No.” Carl sighed tiredly. “They didn’t listen the last five times and they’re not going to listen now.”
“I’ll make them listen.”
Carl shook his head. “They’re not going to do it.”
Jack threw his cigarette butt onto the cement and used the toe of his shoe to crush it into the ground. “You could teach those damn math classes better than half of the idiots I’ve got doing it now. Accounting, too. Ryan’s gonna be retiring soon. You could take his place.”
Carl kept shaking his head; the offer sounded better than anything he’d heard in a long time, but that only made it worse. “They’re not going to do it. They don’t want criminals in the classroom.”
“You’re not a criminal, Carl.”
“On paper, I am.”
“Well, the both of us know differently.”
“I don’t think they give a damn what the both of us know.”
Jack looked surprised at Carl’s harsh tone. Despite their comfortable relationship, Carl still treated him like his principal. He took a deep breath and gave Jack an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I just… I don’t want you to put yourself on the line like that.”
“It’s worth it.”
“Why not? I don’t want you mopping my floors for the rest of your life. You’re better than that, Carl. Too damn smart.”
Carl clenched his jaw and stuck the cigarette between his lips so that he wouldn’t say anything stupid. He felt the anger building up again, though he couldn’t tell if it was directed at Harold Johnson for firing him, Jack for giving him hope in a future that didn’t exist, or Carl himself for being stupid enough to get himself fired in the first place. Because, at the end of the day, Jack was right; he was too damn smart to be mopping floors, but that was almost beside the point. After eight years, it was clear as day that he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Jack Taylor getting angry at the school board for refusing to let Carl teach wouldn’t change one goddamn thing. It was time that they both came to terms with that.
“Maybe you should just fire me then.”
Jack looked over at him incredulously. “What?”
Carl laughed. “I said maybe you should just fire me. You don’t want me sweeping up after your students and I’m not quitting. It may be the only way to get rid of me.”
Jack narrowed his eyes, but the corners of his mouth were curling up. Inside the school, the final bell rang, signaling the end of class for the day. Carl stubbed out his cigarette against the side of the dumpster and threw it inside. Jack started straightening his tie. “Do I smell like smoke?”
The principal rolled his eyes. “I’ve got a student council meeting in five minutes. What a role model I am, sneaking smokes out by the dumpsters with former students.”
Carl chuckled. “Yeah, it may be you getting fired next, not me.”
Jack shook his head. “It would almost be worth it for that cigarette.” He finished buttoning up his coat and popped a breath mint into his mouth.
“About that student council meeting, I should warn you.”
Jack looked at him wearily. “About what?”
“They’re gonna petition for a Coke machine in the cafeteria.”
Jack sighed. “What, do they think we’re made of money or something?”
Carl shrugged. “The teachers have one. Why shouldn’t the kids?”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you had something to do with this.”
“Who, me?” Carl smiled innocently. “I haven’t asked you for something that expensive in thirteen years.”
Jack chuckled. “Damn, I’m getting old.” He paused. “So, a Coke machine, huh?”
“You should give it to ‘em.”
Jack allowed himself a slow smile. “Probably.” He waved at Carl and started back towards the door. “Thanks for the cigarette.”
“Of course.” Carl watched the door close behind him and settled back against the dumpster again. He looked out at the faculty parking lot and smiled. Mr. Gray and Miss Marchetta were in her car again, but they weren’t making out this time. Instead, it looked like they were searching for something. After a couple of minutes, Miss Marchetta pulled herself out of the backseat and held up her hand triumphantly. Mr. Gray smiled sheepishly and accepted his tie from the biology teacher.
After a few minutes, Carl collected his thoughts and himself and reentered the building. He weaved in and out of the throngs of students stopping by their lockers and chatting with friends before leaving for the day. When he made his way back to the hallway in front of the administrative offices, he found that his garbage bin was nowhere in sight. Damn kids. They were probably using it as a roller coaster ride on the ramp outside by the student parking lot.
“Looking for this?”
Carl whirled around to find George leaning against his garbage bin, the two of them tucked into a corner near the main stairwell. Carl grinned and walked over to him. “As a matter of fact, I was.”
“You’ve been leaving it all over the place today. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were slackin’ off.”
Carl chuckled. “Maybe I was.”
George grinned slowly, his leathery old skin folding up like a map. “In that case, I’ll have to report you. Unless…”
“Unless you give me one of those cigarettes you hide in your jumpsuit.”
Carl laughed and removed the pack. “Here. Take one.”
George took three sticks from the pack and tucked them into his pocket. “Glad to see Taylor didn’t clean you out this time.”
Carl grinned. “You don’t miss a thing, do you, George?”
George’s shaggy eyebrows went up. “No, but neither do you.” He patted Carl on the arm before brushing past him and hobbling quite quickly down the hall. Carl watched him disappear down the next corridor, then put the cigarettes back where they belonged and started for the nearest stairwell to start sweeping up the last of the day‘s Coke cans and candy wrappers.
At 5:00, Carl collected his broom and dust pan and paused at the door to the cafeteria, where a small group of students was filtering out, talking amongst themselves. He recognized the tall brown-haired boy he’d spoken to during lunch.
“I told you, Claire. All we had to do was ask.”
The redheaded girl rolled her eyes and swung her purse over her shoulder. “You were right, okay? You don’t have to rub it in.”
Carl smiled as the group disappeared through the large set of double doors that led to the student parking lot. He glanced at his watch. 5:06. Time to get the hell outta there.
Carl collected his supplies and headed back to the janitor’s closet. He fumbled with the lock for a moment before the door swung open and a piece of paper lodged under the door floated on top of his boot. When Carl saw what it was, he laughed. On one side was a very familiar picture of Dover Beach with its steep, white cliffs jutting out over the ocean and on the other side was a picture of a tiny stream flowing through a clearing in the woods. In addition to the usual trees and bushes, the artist had also added a few other woodland animals drinking from the stream alongside one another. Deer, squirrels, rabbits and even foxes existing in total harmony. It would never happen in real life, Carl knew; the fox would be more likely to feast on the rabbit than to share it’s drinking hole, but it was a beautiful dream. Something a little tamer…
Carl smiled and folded up the paper so that it would fit into his shirt pocket. Then he grabbed his jacket and keys and went home.