Authors: Tim Mettey
“Okay now, when we get in there, let me do all the talking,” Cora said.
“I know. It’s the same as last year and every year before that.”
“Well, I’m just making sure you remember, smart-aleck.”
We parked in the visitors’ lot next to the main entrance.
The main entrance was just as elaborate as the rest of the school. It was surrounded by large yellow rose bushes all in full bloom. Right in the center of the walkway was a large flagpole with one of the biggest American flags I had ever seen. We crossed the street and stepped onto the slate-like decorative concrete that led from the visitors’ lot to the entrance. We walked up to the large glass doors, and they opened automatically. We walked into the main lobby. For how incredible the outside was, the inside of the school was nothing special. It looked like any typical high school. Actually, my last school was nicer. This one had tacky, orange-patterned carpet that you would find in a bank, and the walls were a mix of brick and metal panels painted a sterile off-white.
“Hello. My name is Cora Keller. I’m here to finish registering my son, Nicholas, for school.”
The secretary didn’t even look up. She spoke in a monotone voice, like a recording from an old answering machine. “Please fill out the green form to the right, and make sure we have proof of your current address and a current physical if the student is going to participate in any extracurricular activities.” Then she continued to type, never looking up at us.
“I already filled out the paperwork and sent it in with the physical a month ago,” said Cora.
“Oh, well then,” the secretary said, looking up, “please have your son go around the corner and down the hall. The Guidance Office is on the right. He needs to meet with his counselor to work on his class schedule, and then he can get his school ID.”
“Oh, we already discussed his schedule and sent that in too, so I guess we can get his ID and be on our way.”
“Ms. Keller, he has to meet with his counselor. All new students have to when they enroll here.”
“We are in a hurry. We have lots of errands to run today to get settled into our new house.” Cora sounded uneasy. I knew she didn’t want me to be questioned by anyone when she wasn’t around.
“Mom, it will be quick since you already sent everything in.” I took her hand. She held on to it tightly and gave me a look that said, “Don’t tell them anything, and be nothing special.”
I walked around the corner and down the hallway. On the right was a sign that said “Guidance Office.” I entered through another glass door.
“Hi, my name is Nicholas Keller. I’m a new student. I’m supposed to meet my counselor.” The secretary was very old and almost invisible behind her computer screen. Her thick glasses had a long chain around her neck. She stood slowly, using the desk as a crutch. She was unable to stand up completely.
“Please wait right there, young man. I’ll go and see if your counselor, Joy Lemmins, is available to see you.” She turned slowly and walked down a narrow hall behind her desk. There were several offices on both sides of the hall. She stopped halfway down the hall, glanced in one of the offices, turned around to face me and walked back to me slowly. “Nicholas, Ms. Lemmins is ready to see you.”
I walked past her and down the hall. I looked back, and she was already at her desk working.
“Nicholas Keller, right?” The voice was coming out of the office to my left. “Come on in and shut the door.”
The door was covered in white paper and had different, colorful shapes and words all over it. It looked like a bulletin board from a kindergarten classroom. Joy Lemmins was standing behind her desk. She was short and stocky with frizzy blonde hair going everywhere. She had thick red-rimmed glasses that framed her round, pale face. If anyone needed to be outside to get some sun, she did. Her office was outrageously decorated. There were lava lamps, strings of beads, and a large red pleather bean bag chair in the corner. I could smell something like sugar cookies, but I couldn’t see where it was coming from. Her office looked like a little kid had decorated it.
“Please get cozy, so we can get to know each other.” She pointed at the bean bag chair, but I chose the normal chair in front of her desk. Her lips puckered together and then shifted to one side. I guess she wasn’t happy with my choice of seating.
She wasn’t bothered long, because she sat down and began to speak with a large, toothy smile. “My name is Joy Lemmins. I’m going to be your counselor and friend here at Winsor High, home of the mighty Cougars.” Then she let out a small roar and swiped her hand through the air. I guess she was doing her Cougar impression. Scary.
“So where are you from, Nicholas?”
“We just moved here from Tatesville, Ohio.”
“Oh goodness, that sounds like a pleasant place. It must be really nice. Was it hard moving away from your friends? That must have broken your wittle heart.”
“No, the move has been okay, and my little heart is just fine.” What was wrong with this woman? If Cora was in here, I think she would have smacked her by now.
“So why did you move here?”
“My mom was transferred.”
“Okay, what company is that?” She had a piece of paper out; it looked like she was taking notes. What was with all of these questions? She knew all of these answers, because they were in my school file. Cora always made sure to give them plenty of information on me so that people would not ask me these types of questions.
“Excuse me, Ms. Lemmins. Not to be rude, but I thought that we were just going to go over my class schedule.”
“Oh yes, we are, deary. I was just trying to get to know you better so we can become pals.”
Did she just say she wanted to be pals? The look on my face must have given me away.
“Don’t you want to be pals?” she asked, like I had just hurt her feelings.
I ignored her question and looked down, hoping to avoid the question altogether. “Sorry, Ms. Lemmins, I just don’t like to talk much. I’m kind of shy.”
Joy Lemmins was now peering through her red-rimmed glasses down at some papers on her desk. A minute passed and I began to feel uneasy.
“Sooooo, are you on track with your academics?” Before I could answer, she said, “Yes, yes, yes, you are, you are.” She wasn’t talking to me, but to herself, and the scary thing was that she was answering back. She pulled off her glasses and squinted at me. “Mr. Keller, your classes look fine. You are taking a very difficult class load, but based on your past transcripts it looks like you can handle it. Hmmmmm, but something is missing, missing, missing.” Her voice whined and trailed off.
“Ms. Lemmins, I can get whatever you’re missing. My mom is out in the lobby.” I stood up.
“No, sit down, Nicky. I don’t think your mom can help because she doesn’t have what I’m looking for. It’s not a piece of paper, but something you haven’t done.” She put her glasses back on, folded her arms, and leaned back in her large chair, nearly tipping it over.
“I haven’t done something, Ms. Lemmins?”
“Extracurricular activities is what you haven’t done, my boy. You know, a club, a sport, or something. I know you’ve moved a lot, but you need to think about college. Great grades are only half of the equation.” Joy Lemmins continued to ramble on about what colleges are looking for, but I didn’t hear her. She was right. I hadn’t really done anything but go to school. Then I remembered something I did.
I blurted out, interrupting her ramblings, “I play football. Well, I try to.”
“Oh, football,” she said like she just smelled some rotten food. “Well, that’s not my first choice, but it’s a start.” The disappointment in her voice was evident. I bet she was hoping for Glee Club or Science Club. “I believe football started a week ago, but I’ll see what I can do.”
She picked up the phone. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before; her phone was completely covered with multi-colored gems. It shouldn’t have surprised me that her phone looked the way it did, because it matched the rest of the room. Crazy.
“Yes, Gregory. I have a new student here who would like to try out for the football squad. Yes, Gregory, I’m well aware that you already started, but he didn’t have a choice. He just moved here with his mommy. Yes, he has his physical. Okay, Gregory, that’s super-duper, thanks. Yes, yes, I will let Mr. Keller know.” She hung up the phone.
“Nicholas, you are all set. You start football tryouts tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. on the practice fields on the side of the school. If that doesn’t work out, I would like for you to consider something a little less barbaric. Oh yes, Gregory wants to make sure you are ready for hard work, because if you’re not, he said and I quote, ‘Don’t waste our time by coming in the morning,’” she said in her best rough man voice, and then she growled.
I stood quickly. “Thanks Ms. Lemmins.” I grabbed my ID from her desk and hurried out of her office to escape.
Cora was sitting in the lobby looking extremely anxious. Her legs were bouncing up and down.
“Mom, are you ready?”
Cora looked up at me with relief and met me at the front door. “Why were you in there so long? I was going to come in there and get you. I was worried.”
“Don’t worry. I avoided her questions and tried to blend in, but . . .”
“I have football tryouts tomorrow,” I said, not knowing how she would respond.
Cora waited until we were in the truck to say anything else.
“You know you don’t have to try out for the football team here.” Cora’s words stung. She knew the reason why I played, or more accurately, sat on the bench. Dad had been a great football player, captain of the team. So if I couldn’t be with him, at least we could have this in common.
“Listen, Nicholas, football is taken more seriously around here. It’s not like the other schools. They actually have cuts.”
“Cora, I know I’m not good, but I would like to try.” I looked out the window, trying to hide my anger mixed with grief. Thinking about my parents made me sad, reminding me of how much I missed them.
“What are you watching, Cora?”
She was standing in the middle of the family room, wearing her apron. She was glued to the TV. “I’m watching
.” Cora rarely watched TV, especially shows that had to do with celebrities and Hollywood types.
“We have a special guest with us today,” the female host said. “You may know him as Doc Hollywood. It’s the one and only Dr. Chase Letterby.” There was a roar of applause from the audience.
“April, it’s a pleasure to be here with you as usual.” The doctor looked like he had come out of a soap opera.
“So, Dr. Letterby—”
“April, please call me Chase.”
The two of them were clearly flirting with each other, not with words, but with their body language—and all on national TV. It made me sick to watch, but Cora was soaking up every moment.
“Okay, Chase, it may shock our viewers to know that you are not a plastic surgeon.”
“Yes, you are right, April.” He put his hand on her knee. She giggled. “I am not a plastic surgeon, even though I have had to do some plastic surgery in the past. I do a little of everything.”
I looked at Cora and she was hanging on his every word.
“Chase, you are too modest. I have heard you can do everything from taking out tonsils to brain surgery.”
He just smiled at her and gave a larger-than-life, fake-sounding belly laugh.
“So how did you get the nickname ‘Doc Hollywood’?” she asked.
“April, I guess it’s because I have helped some celebrities over the years.”
“Is it true that you performed a kidney transplant on Prince Matthew of Wales?”
“Well, April, I don’t talk about my patients, but I can tell you that I have met him.”
They both laughed.
“Cora, why are you watching this garbage?”
“I knew him from college. He was in med school when I was a freshman, but that was a long time ago.” She turned off the TV and walked back to the kitchen. She didn’t want to talk.
ora dropped me off at school at 7:30 the next morning. I had no idea where to go or who to see for tryouts. There were six large practice fields, some with soccer goals, others with football goals. On the other side of the fields were three baseball diamonds that any minor league team would kill to have. Sitting by itself in the distance beside the large parking lot was a stadium. This stadium looked like it was taken straight out of Ancient Rome for the gladiators to fight in. It was a work of art with its large arches and dramatic pillars and columns.
I walked through the rose-covered front entrance and walked up to the same secretary who was there yesterday. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Gregory. I think he’s one of the football coaches. I am here for tryouts.”
In the same monotone voice as yesterday, she said, “Coach Greg Hoff is on Practice Field One getting ready for football tryouts. It has several bleachers around it.” She looked at her watch and said, “The coaches should be having their coaches’ meeting right now by the first set of bleachers.”
I walked back out the front entrance and headed toward the practice field with the bleachers. The day was already getting hot and the humidity was creeping in. There was a group of coaches standing off to the side of one of the three large sets of bleachers. By the bleachers was a large sign that said “Practice Field 1.” The coaches were all listening to a tall, older man. I stood a couple of feet away from the group of coaches, waiting for him to stop talking so I wouldn’t interrupt. One of the younger coaches saw me standing there and walked over to me.