If anger could kill, everyone in this room would be dead. “What do you mean I’m not going to graduate?” I cannot be hearing him correctly.
“I’m sorry, Miss Drake, but you’re short.”
“I’m not short,” I snap. “You just showed me my transcript and I have seven credits more than required for graduation.”
“And I just explained to you,” Mr. Bowman says with forced patience. “You took your last math class”—he looks down at my schedule and his finger traces the line over to the class name—“AP Geometry, in tenth grade.”
“So here at Anaheim High School we require you to take one math credit in ninth grade.” He looks at my schedule again. “And you did. You took AP Algebra. And then you needed to take another math credit as an upperclassman. You took both your math credits as a lowerclassman.”
“But I took them both. That’s the important part here. I took both.”
“I’m afraid these are the rules, Shannon. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Well, that’s fucking stupid.” I blurt it out without thinking and I wait for Mr. Bowman to get angry and write me a detention. But he just pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs.
This makes me brave. “It’s stupid,” I repeat. “You’re punishing me for getting my math credits completed early.”
“Well, they might make an exception, except that you spent the first half of your junior year in this…” He looks down at my transcript again. “Alternative school.”
“I was taking graphic web design. It wasn’t some loser school.”
“You didn’t take math.”
“I was done with math!”
“You didn’t take science either. That’s another problem.”
“I took AP Biology.”
“In tenth grade. Not eleventh.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you people?”
Another guidance counselor looks over at me and scowls. Boy, these Anaheim people must be used to the f-word. Back in Ohio, I’d be expelled if I talked to a counselor like this. But back in Ohio I was ahead in credits too.
“So you need to make up PE.”
“I knew that part. You told me that last month. And I have a note from a doctor explaining that my knee was injured last year and it’s still very painful, so I have to sit PE out.”
“You need to make up driver’s ed.”
He ignores my note excuse. I don’t really mind driver’s ed. I don’t have my license yet and it’s already on my schedule, just like PE.
“You need to make up one semester of science and you can take the other one this semester. And you need to make up one full year of math. We don’t have room for you in AP Trig. We don’t even have room for you in regular trig this semester. All the trig classes were cancelled since no one passed the first semester.”
What kind of school has no trig class? But more importantly… “AP Trig? Are you on drugs? I’m not taking AP Trig. Do you see that D there?” I tap my finger on my schedule over the grade I got for AP Geometry. “I only passed that class because my teacher paid a mafia guy to kill his wife while he was out to dinner with the chief of police and was distracted with attempted murder charges. He said if I got an A on the final, he’d pass me with a D.”
Mr. Bowman smiles at me and takes his glasses off. “So you got an A?”
“And stop making up stories like that, Shannon. It makes you look crazy.”
“That story was true, asshole. When you’re living a life like mine, there’s no need for lies.”
He sighs. Loudly, like he’s just about done with me. “The important part of your statement was that your teacher challenged you and you rose to the occasion. I’m confident you will rise to the occasion again.”
Defeat washes over me. Dear God. Can this life suck any worse than it already does?
Why, yes, God says. Yes, it can. You cannot graduate high school, Shannon. Even though you’re seven credits ahead.
I’d get angry, except I’m already angry. I’d yell and scream, but I’m already doing that too. I’d walk out, but what the fuck? I did the work, goddammit. I did the fucking work. How can they punish me for getting it done early?
“Are we in agreement then?” Bowman asks. “You’ll do the extra work?”
I look down at my feet for a few seconds before going for pity. “I don’t want to rise to the occasion, Mr. Bowman. I want to skate through this last semester the way I’ve skated through all the ones that came before this.” I look up and meet his eyes. “I don’t want to think very hard about anything, I just want to exist right now. And there’s no way I can skate through AP Trig. I’m not even good at math. They put me in AP Algebra in ninth grade by mistake. I swear to God. And then they refused to let me drop down to a lower class. They forced me to take those AP classes. I can’t do trig, Mr. Bowman. I’m not even kidding.”
He sighs again. “Look, I should’ve told you all this when you transferred here last month. But it was two weeks before Christmas vacation and I figured it was best to break the bad news after the holidays. You’ve been through a lot, Shannon. You’ve been to five different high schools, three in your junior year alone. So I understand that you’re upset and life is difficult right now. But it’s not the best time to give up. It’s the best time to work harder.”
“Upset? Upset doesn’t even begin to cover it. You told me I was ahead last semester. I had so many free periods, I was working in the office and the library just to fill out my schedule.”
“Again,” he says with his practiced sympathetic tone, “I’m sorry. We didn’t know what to do with you. Your school in San Diego had you working in the office and library, so we just did what they did.”
“Because at that school, I was ahead. And it was a helluva lot nicer than this dump.”
“And now at this dump, you’re behind. I’ve talked to everyone I could. Now, I can make one more plea before we finalize this, but I’m warning you now, the administration will not give in.”
I sigh. I might cry, that’s how frustrated I am.
“Would you like me to ask one more time?”
I nod, swallowing down my tears.
“OK. Stay put. Calm down. And I’ll be back.”
This is not an office, per se. It’s a room filled with desks and counselors. Like half a dozen of them. And there are kids everywhere. I suddenly realize lots of people are staring at me, watching me have a meltdown.
My whole face heats up as I glance at the guy next to me. He’s built like a quarterback and if he wasn’t wearing a black Taking Back Sunday concert shirt, I’d have pegged him as one. But the shirt is a dead giveaway. In high school you are what you wear. “Nice shirt,” he says, pointing to my white one that says Cage the Elephant. “You ever see them in concert?”
“Where the fuck do you think I got the shirt?” I snap.
He puts his hands up and smiles. I look away real fast, afraid that he will realize I’m about to start sobbing. I get by in school by being tough. Not mean, just tough. No one can hurt me. But crying in the counseling office does not scream tough. And snapping at a cute guy who was just trying to be nice screams bitch.