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Authors: Antony John

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Busted (15 page)

BOOK: Busted
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29

M
s. Kowalski appears flustered, which is a new look for her. She has a standard repertoire of facial expressions—exhausted, bemused, incensed—but she rarely looks flustered.

“Kevin, I'd like a word with you. In private.”

The class looks up in unison, stares at her momentarily, then shifts its attention to me. I feel a dozen pairs of eyes boring into me as I climb out of my chair and follow her into the corridor.

Ominously, she closes the door to give us some privacy.

“Kevin, I just want you to know that I haven't said a word to your mother about your connection to the Graduation Rituals.”

“Okay.”

“I know you're aware that I don't approve of them, and I'm disappointed that you of all students would be involved. But I've made it a point not to come between you and your mother.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Good. I just wanted to make that clear before she finds out about your involvement.”

“Ok—” Hold on. “Finds out? What do you mean, finds out?”

“Well, Zach Thomas requested permission to join your mom's class, and knowing him, he's not doing it to show his support for the senior girls.”

“But s-surely you didn't let him in?”

“Of course. We had to,” she says breezily. “It's school policy that no student be denied access to a course on the basis of gender. He could sue us.”

“But it's not even a real course!”

“Kevin, that's just the attitude toward Women's Studies that your mother is trying to undo—”

“No, no. I mean, she's not teaching it for credit.”

“But she's teaching it on school grounds, so she's bound by the same rules as any other teacher.”

Oh crap. This is really bad.

“Can I have permission to join the Women's Studies class, please?” I ask.

“What? Why?”

“Because I have to stop him.”

“Not a good enough reason.” Ms. K shakes her head vigorously. “Not good enough at all.”

“Um, how about: because I know I've been a jerk, and I want to make amends?”

She hesitates, and stares at me like she's trying to gauge my sincerity. “Okay,” she says finally. “Permission granted.”

I rush back into class, grab my bag, and less than a minute later I'm standing outside the door of my mom's classroom. I'm about to walk in when I hear Morgan's voice rise above the general murmur:

“Well,
I'm
not comfortable with him being here. Have you all forgotten he's part of the problem?”

I peek through the small window in the door and see that her comments are aimed at Zach, who doesn't look perturbed at all. He's leaning back in his chair, a look of utter contentment on his face.

“Now, Morgan,” says Mom soothingly. “I hear your concerns, but let's not play the blame game until we've given Zach a chance to speak.”

“But he's involved in the Book of Busts, for Christ's sake!”

“The Book of Busts?”

“Yeah. It's where the boys write down the measurements of all the girls in the senior year and publish the results.”

“That's a horrible accusation to make, Morgan,” trills Mom, turning violently red. “That any boy would dare to undertake
such a despicable and degrading exercise is unfathomable. Zach
, tell me this isn't true. Tell me this book is a myth.”

Zach looks suddenly and convincingly contrite. “I'm so sorry,” he mumbles, “but it's true. That's why I'm here. I know what I did was wrong, and I feel
terrible
.”

“Well, I must say,” fizzes Mom, like a bomb craving detonation, “you've either got a lot of guts or a lot of nerve to come in here today, given your involvement in something as egregious as this.”

I don't think Zach knows what “egregious” means—he looks confused—but in the context he knows it isn't good, so he hangs his head like a shamed puppy and fiddles with his hands.

“You're right,” he sighs. “But I haven't really done anything with the book—”

“But you would've done if you could,” Morgan shoots back. “I bet you wanted the job of compiling the book. Then all the girls would've been lining up dates with you instead.”

“Morgan!” protests Mom. “What on earth are you saying? You're not seriously suggesting that girls arranged dates with the boy compiling this book, are you?”

Morgan looks away. “Yes.”

“But why?”

“So they could give him inflated measurements … boost their scores a little.”

Mom's face has morphed from a scarlet red to a pale, almost ghostly white. “Has anyone here done such a thing?”

One by one, Jessica, Kayla, and Taylor raise their hands.

“B-B-But how can you think a boy like that is worthy of even a second of your time?” chokes Mom. “Why wouldn't you just tell him to crawl back to his cave?”

“I pretty much did,” laughs Taylor. “I told him he was a loser who ought to know better.”

“Well, that's something, I suppose.”

“Oh, come on,” says Morgan quietly. “Let's just be honest for once … almost all of us are responsible for this. None of us wanted to rock the boat. No one was willing to stand up to the boys and say the Graduation Rituals suck. We just played along like every other senior class before us, because it beats being called boring or frigid. We could've stuck together and ended it … We
should've
stuck together. We shouldn't have let it go on.”

The room is suddenly silent. Everyone seems to be studying the floor.

“I don't know what we were thinking.” Kayla nods solemnly. “He's not even that attractive,” she adds, provoking laughter all around.

“But that's not relevant, is it, Kayla,” Mom chastens her. “One of the purposes of our class is to move beyond people as objects, and that goes for boys too. It's his behavior and his attitude toward others that defines a man, not his looks. The boy you're talking about is a discredit to all males because of his blatant disrespect toward women.”

I notice that Zach is laughing now, and everyone seems to have forgotten that he's in the doghouse too. Everyone except Mom.

“I'm surprised to see you laughing, Zach,” she chides. “After all, he's one of your friends.”

“No, not him. Like Kayla says, he's a complete tool, and he's pretty freakin' weird, and his name—”

“He's not weird, and he's not a tool,” shouts Abby suddenly, interrupting Zach before he can say my name.

Thank you, Abby. Thank you.

“Oh, whatever,” drones Zach. “Just 'cause you want him doesn't mean he's not a loser. Just ask any of the girls who went out on dates with Ke—”

“He's a really decent guy if you'd only bother to see past this stupid book,” Abby practically screams, drowning out Zach's voice. “It's tearing us apart, all of us. This isn't just about one boy, it's about all the boys who join in these pathetic Graduation Rituals … including Zach.”

She's staring at him with a blinding intensity, daring him to utter another word. I know that stare, and so I know why Zach's having second thoughts about saying my name. Right now, I love Abby with all my heart.

“But I'm not compiling it,” complains Zach, then hesitates as Abby unleashes another withering look. He takes a deep breath. “Kevin Mopsely is.”

At once, I feel cold and nauseous. Mom seems frozen to the spot, jaw hanging open and shoulders slumped. Across the room from her, Zach smiles broadly, looking around like he's expecting congratulations for having outed me. I don't know how he knows we're related, but I never did get around to checking the Web page for Mom's class. Maybe Zach was a little more disciplined, a little more motivated—he always said he was onto me. I guess he decided now was the time to bring my world crashing down.

Mom doesn't say anything for almost a minute, so some of the girls begin asking her if she's okay.

“She's okay,” says Abby, wiping away a stray tear. “She just needs a moment, that's all.”

“Yeah,” mutters Zach. “She's just discovered her son is compiling the Book of Busts—”

And suddenly the room is filled with shouting and crying and I know I have to walk in and take the heat. I have to face my mom. I have to stand at the front of the class like a man and let GRRLS hurl insults at me. It's no more than I deserve.

I place my hand firmly on the door handle, press down—then sprint straight out of the school.

30

O
n the way home I formulate a plan, which doesn't take long as there's only one course of action left: I need to hand over the Book of Busts to someone else in such a way that the guys won't hate me or beat the crap out of me. Right now I'm running low on the popularity meter—I've lost my quartet friends, and it's pretty clear that all the senior girls ha
te me—and I'm counting on the guys to make sure I reach graduation with all my limbs intact. After all, there may be multiple groups currently planning retribution.

When I get home, I lock myself in my room and wait for Mom. I figure I'll know when she arrives because she'll try to break my door down.

An hour passes, then two. Eventually I hear the front door click open downstairs and Matt the Mutt greets Mom like she's the center of the universe—which, at least for the dog, she probably is.

I wait for her to climb the stairs, but she doesn't. I wait for her to scream, but she doesn't. There's not a sound down there. It's the quietest our house has ever been.

I let another five minutes go by, but by then I can't bear the suspense any longer. I want to get this over with. There's no way to avoid it, so the best thing is if she just reams me, grounds me, tells me I'm evil and disowns or castrates me, exactly as Abby predicted.

I tiptoe down the stairs and peek into the kitchen, and the living room, and the study. She's not there. And then I notice that her bedroom door is closed, so I creep over and knock as gently as I can.

There's no answer, but I detect the faintest hint of moaning from the other side, so I knock again. Still nothing, but I open the door anyway.

She's sitting against the wall, hugging her knees like she's twelve years old. I think I've heard her say that developmental regression is sometimes a result of an emotionally devastating event, which I guess puts the blame firmly on me.

“Are you okay, Mom?”

“Why why why why why why—”

“Mo-om?”

Her mouth continues to open and close, but she's stuck on
why
like a damaged CD.

I take a tentative step toward her, then another. “Mom, I'm really sorry.”

She sighs. “Where did I go wrong? What was it I failed to do? . . . failed to explain?”

“Nothing. You didn't fail at all.”

“Why were you at Hooters?”

Hooters? Oh, the credit card statement must have come. Crap.

“That was when I was with Dad.”

“What were you and your father doing at Hooters?”

I should tell her the truth—Dad was getting hammered and ogling the waitresses—but I think it would break her heart, so I don't say a word.

A moment later she's crying, and although Dad used to have her in tears at least once a month, it's the first time in my life I've been responsible. And I don't feel glib or defiant or even defensive anymore. I just feel like an asshole.

“I'm sorry, Mom. I really am. I just wanted to be popular for a change.”

“Popular with whom? I mean, it doesn't seem like you're popular with the girls in my class.”

“No. It hasn't exactly worked out like I planned.”

“You
planned
this?” A fresh dose of crying ensues, and she peers up at me through the curtain of tears. “Who are you?”

“I'm me. Kevin.”

“No, you can't be. My Kevin would never do something so hurtful.” She closes her eyes. “I think you should go stay with your father this weekend. I can't have you around right now.”

I crouch down beside her. “I don't think he's going to be very helpful, Mom. I really don't want to go—”

“I don't care.
I
need you out of here, and I think that spending some time with your father will help.”

The idea is so stupid that I snort, hoping she'll take offense and have it out with me right here, right now.
But she doesn't bite. She just remains crumpled against the wall, gently rocking back and forth.

“There's money in the drawer. Call your father, then call a cab. I expect you gone in half an hour. If you can't figure things out by talking to him, then don't bother coming back.”

She doesn't look up, so after a few more seconds of silence I prepare to leave. I can't believe it, but Abby was right: Mom's disowned me. Then again, so has Abby, and Morgan and Taylor and Kayla and Jessica, and Nathan and probably even Caitlin. And I'm still not clear on how everything got so incredibly messed up.

I pause at the doorway and listen to the awful sobbing that became the soundtrack of our lives after Dad left. Mom cried for so long I began to wonder if she'd ever stop. But these last few weeks, since she started teaching at Brookbank High, there haven't been any tears. She's even begun to resemble that bohemian scholar in the photo upstairs: determined, energetic, content. My insanely dysfunctional high school—the bane of my existence—gave her a taste of happiness, of fulfillment. And she really did make a difference. Had I undone everything?

I look over my shoulder, but I can't bear to make eye contact. “Mom, I know I don't deserve it, but would you apologize to your class for me? I mean, for everything I've done.”

She shakes her head. “No, Kevin, I won't … They took a vote. They don't want me to come back.”

BOOK: Busted
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