Kathie was pretty sure Marie had put him up to it, but Jim offered her a ride to school the next day, which she gladly accepted. It pissed her off, though, that she was changing her routine all because of Peter Johnson. She was in a crappy mood when she got to school and, naturally, had a hard time opening her locker.
“Piece of shit,” she cursed, kicking at the bottom, which often helped.
“Miss Hudson, I’ll ignore that for now,” Mr. Bowen, her first hour teacher said. He was standing right behind her with a pink hall pass in his hand.
“Sorry, Mr. Bowen,” Kathie murmured. “It’s been a tough week.”
He smiled and handed the pass to her. “Dr. Schneider wants to see you first thing in her office,” he said.
Kathie groaned. Now what? More lectures? More insinuations? “Thanks, Mr. Bowen,” she said, “you know, for everything.” She nodded at the locker which chose just then to pop open.
“You’re welcome,” Bowen said, already moving off to class. “Rest assured, though, that you’ll be writing ‘I will not curse at my locker’ 100 times on the blackboard this week.” He chuckled and turned back to wink at her.
Kathie grabbed books out of her locker and actually chuckled herself. It never mattered, it seemed, how awful things got or how horrible some people were, there was always someone or something that balanced it out. Then she frowned. Time to see Dr. Schneider.
“Enter!” Schneider called out after Kathie rapped tentatively on her door. Kathie rolled her eyes, then entered.
Schneider didn’t look up from the papers on her desk. Kathie sat on the hard-backed chair, the only other chair in the office, and waited.
“I thought you might want to see this,” Schneider finally said, holding out a stapled pile of papers.
Kathie looked at the top sheet, not getting what it was at first. She flipped through a couple more before she got it. They were teacher evaluations sent to the superintendent of schools regarding their #1 problem child, Kathie Hudson.
“Excellent student,” Mr. Bowen had written.
“Does superior work,” her math teacher said. That surprised Kathie.
She had to laugh, though, at her Consumer Ed teacher’s comment under “Does the student contribute to the class?” He had written: “Very much. Sometimes to much.” She looked up at Schneider.
“Yes,” she said, “Mr. Glass doesn’t have a great grip on grammar.” She allowed herself a small smile.
Kathie got to the last sheet, the one from the school principal. “Very gratifying,” he’d written. That was all. Kathie knew that the superintendent had fought the old bastard to get her into school.
“I’m probably breaking some rules showing you these,” Schneider said. “But sometimes it’s important to do that.” She finally looked Kathie in the eye. “It’s very important, though, to admit to being wrong.” She looked down again and shuffled some papers. “I was wrong yesterday, Kathie, to question your veracity. And I use the word ‘veracity’ knowing full-well that you know what it means. I wanted to offer you my apologies and also my help.”
Kathie couldn’t help herself; she teared up. She flipped through the evaluations once more, trying to get back her cool.
She was still pissed. Even at 17 you hoped that the adults around you had their shit together more than you did. Time and time again she’d been disappointed.
It was hard, but she finally said, “Thank you.”
To her credit, Schneider waved the thanks away. “No, thank you,” she said, “for offering me the opportunity to open my eyes … I haven’t always taken it. This job...”
Kathie heard the excuse in those last words, but forged on. “What kind of help are you talking about?” she asked.
“There are a number of things we could do,” Schneider said. “The first thing is notifying the police.”
“Yeah.” Kathie told the psychologist what Marie had said the night before. “She wants to call the police tonight,” Kathie told her.
“Well, that’s a start,” Schneider said, “and it gets things ‘on the record.’ Unfortunately, it might not stop there.”
“What do you mean?”
The doctor sighed. “Channels,” she said. “It’s kind of a process that victims are forced through. You call the authorities. An officer comes out and takes a statement. He – and it’s almost always a he – asks questions that may or may not be relevant and many are uncomfortable.” She blushed, likely remembering her own words. “In this case, I’m afraid he – without checking with anyone else – will recommend changing the phone number.”
“Ugh,” Kathie said. “And change my walking route? Get rides every day? Move, maybe?” She was getting worked up all over again.
The doctor held up her hand. “The next thing – if necessary – is a restraining order.”
“Wow, that sounds serious,” Kathie said.
“It is,” Schneider admitted. “And it’s complicated. You’ll have to petition the court for a temporary restraining order, which the sheriff will serve to this Mr. Johnson. You’ll have to attend a hearing two weeks later to ask for an injunction, which can last up to four years. Of course, the court can deny the request...”
“Why do they make it so hard?” Kathie moaned and held her stomach. “I just want him to stop following me around and calling!”
“I know, Kathie, and I’m sorry it’s like this. Why don’t we see how it goes tonight when your sister calls the sheriff and go from there?”
“I guess I don’t have much choice.”
“Not really, but I want to warn you that even this part won’t be easy,” Schneider said. “Do yourself a favor and before tonight, write down everything you can think of – dates, times, your feelings at the time, witnesses – have your sister do the same. You’ve mentioned small nephews in the house; I’m sure that concerns your sister a great deal.”
Kathie balked. “I don’t know,” she said, “I mean it’s not like he’s a monster or anything...”
Schneider held up her hand again. “Kathie,” she said kindly, “you have absolutely no idea what or who he is. All anyone can go by are his actions up to this point, right?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
The doctor stood up and came around to the other side of her desk. Kathie stood up, too, and was surprised when the woman gave her a warm, reassuring hug.
“You’ll do fine,” Schneider said. “Will you be okay going to classes today, or do you want me to get you excused?”
Kathie thought about it for a moment, then declined the excuse. “All I’d do is sit and worry all day at home. At least I’ll be distracted here.”
The distraction didn’t outweigh the worry, however, nor the doubt. What if it was all just a big misunderstanding? Police, courts, restraining orders … what if his life was ruined? Then her thoughts would swing the other way. What was he doing, after all, but ruining her life? Making her look over her shoulder, cringe at the sound of the phone. She used to like taking little walks in the neighborhood in the evenings, now she didn’t feel safe doing that. Even her sister was getting paranoid. The last thing Kathie wanted was to be a burden to Marie and her family, yet just a few weeks into her stay, everything was in an uproar.
Her mother used to call her “Trouble, with a capital T”, but it wasn’t like Kathie went looking for trouble, it just always seemed to find her. What if Marie and Jim decided that they didn’t want the extra worries and hassles, especially if there was some big court thing to be dragged through? Jim didn’t say much, but Kathie knew he’d been against bringing her into their home in the first place. Where could she go from here?
Kathie put her head down on her desk. She was supposed to be taking notes, but she was just doodling in her notebook. She’d missed most of Mr. Bowen’s class anyway and although he kept glancing at her, he didn’t seem to be upset. Bowen was cool. He never wore a suit or tie and his hair was pretty long, for a teacher. He reminded her of Mr. Fricke at her old school who used to get high with her and her friends under the bleachers during football games. He really listened to them when they bitched about parents, school, whatever. Kathie doodled a lit joint and frowned. Fricke had been busted and disappeared. She’d always wondered who’d narked on him.
“Ms. Hudson?” Kathie started. Bowen was leaning over her, one hand on her desk.
“Sorry, Mr. Bowen,” Kathie said, sitting up and brushing her shoulder against his chest while trying to black out the doodle. “Kind of out of it,” she confessed.
“Need to talk? After school maybe?” he asked. Kathie could see the other kids’ attention turning their way. Did she need to talk? Yes, she sure did, but she and Marie would be a bit busy after school.
“No, um, thanks,” she said just as the bell rang. Kathie took her time putting her books into her backpack while the other kids fled the room.
“I know you’re going through some stuff,” Bowen said.
Kathie looked up at him in surprise.
“You know how people talk,” Bowen said, scooting his butt onto the desk across from hers. “Schools are like large families; there are no secrets.”
Kathie stood and shouldered her backpack. “Yeah, well, families ain’t all they’re cracked up to be,” she said and immediately wondered why she’d said it. “Talking would be nice, but I need to be home right after school,” she added.
“Well, I’m here if you need me,” Bowen said, sliding off the desk. He went to the front of the room and started erasing the board. The chalk dust looked like little pixies in the morning sun.
“Nice to know,” Kathie said, heading out the door to Consumer Ed and Mr. Glass who didn’t know ‘to’ from ‘too’. She paused in the doorway. “I appreciate it,” she said.
As it was, the school secretary found Kathie in her fourth hour class. “There’s a phone call for you,” she said, looking like she’d just run a marathon in bad shoes. “Your sister.”
A bit surprised that the woman hadn’t just announced it on the loud speaker as she usually did, Kathie followed her back to the office, hoping there wasn’t a crisis … and that she wasn’t at the center of it.
“Marie? Is everything okay?” Kathie said.
“Yes and no,” her sister answered. “Frankie came down with the flu. I had to go pick him up at school and he puked all over the back seat.”
“Oh, well, I hope he’ll be okay,” Kathie said, wondering why the news had prompted a call.
“Sure,” Marie said, “he’ll be fine in day or two, though my upholstery might not. I just wanted to let you know that we won’t be able to do what we were going to do tonight, though I do have some other news too.”
Kathie was trying to follow what her sister was saying. The school secretary wasn’t hiding that she was all ears. “What news?” she asked.
“I called the phone company,” Marie said. “All those silent calls? Definitely came from one number, one Peter Johnson, Sr. … I assume that’s your Peter Johnson’s father and junior was using the family phone. Unless you have something to tell me about Johnson Senior.”
Kathie couldn’t help herself. “My Peter Johnson? Mine? You’re the one who set up the blind date that started all this crap!” The secretary scooted her office chair closer to the phone.
“Oh, just stop, Kathie,” Marie said. “We’ll get to the bottom of it all. I just wanted to let you know that you didn’t need to be home right away. Oh, crap, Frankie’s retching again. I gotta go. See you later.”
Kathie sighed and hung up the phone.
“Everything okay at home?” the secretary came right out and asked.
“Just dandy,” Kathie said with a sweet smile. She started to leave, then stopped and plunked her backpack down on one of the plastic chairs usually occupied by nervous kids waiting to see the principal. She found a notebook and tore out a sheet of paper and quickly wrote a note to Mr. Bowen, telling him that she would be able to stop in to see him after school. She eyed the curious secretary and, seeing a stapler on the desk, stapled the note several times before putting it into Bowen’s cubby hole.
“Bye now,” Kathie said with a little wave. There were only a few more minutes left of fourth hour so she headed to her fifth hour class, Spanish, instead, wishing she’d taken Schneider up on the offer to go home; it’d been a wasted day so far. Sixth hour study hall and her friends there was the only thing to look forward to. And maybe, afterward, Mr. Bowen could help her decide what to do.
“Seriously, Kath?” Lori said after Kathie had told them what Dr. Schneider had said about helping her. “I didn’t want to say anything before, but it always seemed like that woman was really anti-kid. And she works in a school!” As usual, the small group sat in the back of the big study hall, their desks pushed close together.
“Yeah, it sure seemed that way at first,” Kathie admitted, “but I think she means it.”
“Oh, oops,” Lori said when a girl sitting in front of them turned to look at them. “Sorry, Denise,” Lori said to the girl. Kathie frowned, confused. Mark poked her in the back and leaned close to her ear.
“Denise doesn’t much like Dr. Schneider,” he whispered. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
“You do that, Mark,” Denise snarled, obviously overhearing him. The girl stood abruptly, snatched her books off her desk and stalked off to a desk in the front of the room.
“What was that all about?” Kathie said.
“That’s Denise Sterling,” Lori said. “Linda Sterling’s sister?” she went on when Kathie still looked at her blankly.
“That was before her time,” Brad reminded Lori. “She probably doesn’t know.”
“Know what?” Kathie said a little too loudly. “What’s going on?” She looked at all three of her friends, waiting for an explanation.
“Linda was a student here a few years back,” Mark said. “We were all still in junior high.”
“So I guess she went to see Schneider about someone harassing her,” Brad added.
“Denise says the doctor told her she’d get to the bottom of it,” Lori said, “but according to Denise, Linda was accused of making things up just to get attention … that she was, uh, a slut and had it coming.”
This was a little too close to home for Kathie. Is that what people thought about her?
“So, who was harassing her?” she asked.
“No one knows,” Mark said, “but Denise thinks the doctor knows.”
“I think she’s full of it,” Brad chimed in. “After what happened afterward, no way would Schneider keep that to herself if she knew.”
“What? What happened afterward?” Kathie said.
“She disappeared,” Lori said, suddenly taking an interest in her math book.
A chill went up Kathie’s spine. “What, she ran away?” she asked hopefully. None of the kids looked at her.
“No-o-o-o,” Mark said, hesitating. “They found her out at Red Creek Park.” He stopped and looked at Lori and Brad. “Hey, she can look it up herself,” he said. “Hearing it from us might be better.” The two friends shrugged and Mark went on. “She was all cut up and, uh, had been raped. The coroner said the rape happened after she was dead.”
Kathie’s hand flew up to her mouth; she thought she was going to be sick. “Oh my God, oh my God,” she said over and over again. She put her head down on her knees and took a few deep breaths. “Did they find him?” she asked, barely above a whisper. “The guy who did it? Did they find him?”
“No,” Lori said, “they never did. For a few months, I remember, the whole town went nuts. Parents walked their kids to school every day. No one got to play outside at night. It was pretty scary.”
“Then, you know,” Brad said, “it all just died down and things went back to normal.”
“Normal for all of us maybe,” Lori said, “but not for Denise or her family.” Everyone looked over at Denise who sat hunched in her seat.
That’s when Kathie threw up all over the study hall floor and Mark’s new moccasins.