Guidance

“Ted?” Ms. Roth called out. Ted Potensky looked up. “You can head into Mr. Davidson’s office now.”

Mr. Davidson’s door cracked open just as Ted stood up. Ted saw a girl step out of the office. Her eyes looked puffy. Mr. Davidson peeked his head out of the doorway and beckoned cheerfully, “Hey hey! Come right in, Ted!” Ted obliged, though he still had no idea as to why he had been called into the guidance counselor’s office in the middle of the day.

Mr. Davidson circled back to his desk and motioned for Ted to sit as he picked up a pen. “So, Teddy, tell me, what’s up? How are you?” he began.

Ted wasn’t sure how to answer the open-ended question. He tried to use it to make conversation. “Good, good. I actually had to pull an all-nighter last night for a presentation in Spanish class. I think—”

“Oofta yeah, yeah that’ll do it” said Mr. Davidson, listening actively while jotting notes on the sheet of paper in front of him.

“—I think it was worth it, because the presentation went really well. People had a ton of questions after the—”

“So, you’re feeling okay, then.” declared Mr. Davidson, hovering his pen over a checkbox on the sheet.

“Uh yeah I’d say so, maybe a bit tired or hungry. I find that—”

“Mhm. Ok that’s great. Great to hear,” he said, ticking the box. “So, just so you know, the reason I ask is because I have to do this boring thing for the school’s insurance where I periodically check in with some of our vulnerable students.” Mr. Davidson air-quoted the last words as he said them.

Ted was confused. “What do you mean ‘vulnerable’?”

“Oh it’s just psycho-babble technical jargon. No need to worry about how it sounds.” Mr. Davidson moved his pen down the left side of the sheet of paper until it found its starting point again. “So, Teddy, how do you feel about your academics? How are you doing in school?”

Ted wasn’t quite satisfied with the answer to his question. He put a pin in it. “Pretty good, actually,” he said, enthusiastically. “I got mostly As last semester, and I feel pretty confident about this semester too. Like that Spanish presentation I mentioned went pretty well, I think, so that’ll be another A.”

“Not bad, not bad at all, my man!” said Mr. Davidson, with a new infusion of excitement. “It doesn’t say here, so remind me again what level Spanish you’re in?”

“Uh, three,” said Teddy.

“And math?”

“Three.”

“And chemistry?”

“Three as well.”

“Cool cool,” said Mr. Davidson, filling in the last details on his sheet. “So it looks like the remedial classes are a good fit for you. I’m glad you’re doing so well in them.”

“Huh.” Ted paused for a moment. He didn’t know anyone else who was in all threes, now that he thought about it.

Mr. Davidson moved right along. “Alrighty, now tell me, what’s your social life like? Got any pals you like to hang out with?”

Ted recovered. “Oh, plenty” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a pretty big group of friends, maybe five or six,” he included the numbers because he figured Mr. Davidson liked numbers, “and like we get lunch together and hang out in the lounge together. It’s fun.”

“And you all presumably hang out on the weekends? Maybe go to the movies or the mall?” probed Mr. Davidson.

“Hmm?” Ted was caught slightly off-guard. He decided to own it. “No, not really. I don’t see most of my friend group outside of school so much. It’s more like an in-school kind of friend group, if you know what I mean.”

Mr. Davidson was still writing. Without looking up, he persisted “I think I know what you mean. Would you say you have an out-of-school friend group, then?”

Ted didn’t answer right away. He had always considered himself to be a social guy. He took about 10 seconds to think it through before he conceded “No I guess not. I’m home most of the time when I’m not in school. Mostly on the computer.” He briefly wondered just how badly he was deluding himself. Then he remembered, “Oh! But I have a bunch of people I talk to regularly on IRC—that’s internet relay chat. I kinda hang out with them on the weekends, if you think that counts.”

Mr. Davidson smiled. “Oh that sounds nice. I’m glad you consider them your friends.” He finished writing on the last line on his sheet of paper while mouthing the words “no real friends” to himself. Ted was feeling a little nauseous now.

“Last question,” Mr. Davidson said, turning over the paper. “If you don’t mind me prying a little, could you share a bit about your dating situation? Are you seeing anyone? If you feel uncomfortable answering, you just say the word, I totally get it.”

Ted truly didn’t want to answer the question. But he also didn’t want Mr. Davidson to know that he didn’t want to answer the question. He considered making up an answer, but he knew he was no good at lying. Besides, Mr. Davidson was clearly quite perceptive. He swallowed and went with the truth. “Not much going on, really,” he said, sheepishly.

“Come on, a guy like you? Straight As and a bunch of school friends? I’m sure there’s something going on,” pitched Mr. Davidson.

Ted felt flattered. Mr. Davidson hadn’t really done anything explicitly to make Ted feel bad. Ted was probably just in his own head. He elaborated, “Well, I was thinking of asking someone out. She’s in some of my classes and we talk a lot.”

“Oh you mean Sheila?” inquired Mr. Davidson flatly.

The name hit Ted in the gut. He stammered, “h…how…”

“I overheard Sheila talking in the hallway earlier this week. Talking about how she was stringing along some loser in one of her classes. She really seems to appreciate how much free time she has when you so chivalrously offer to do all the work in your group projects.”

“No. No, I don’t believe you.” Ted felt his eyes getting warm and blurry.

Mr. Davidson began to raise his voice. “You think I’m messing with you? You think I’d make this up? I know more about Sheila than you do. Did you know she’s got a boyfriend?” he taunted. Ted shook his head. “That’s right, she has a boyfriend in another school. Bet you would have known that if you spent a lot of time talking with her like you said you did. Or did you talk to her over IRC?”

Ted banged the desk. “Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” he yelled, his voice cracking. Tears were streaming down his face.

“Ooh I’m scared now. Does that make you mad, Teddy? Would it make you mad if I told you she spent that free time fucking her boyfriend in his studio apartment?”

Ted tried to look tough through his tears. Mr. Davidson wasn’t buying it.

“Would that make you want to lash out, huh? Maybe hurt her? Or would you rather take it out on the whole school? Does violence suit you, you lonely, remedial loser?”

Of course it didn’t. Ted didn’t say anything. He had nothing to say. His face froze in its contorted state.

“That’s what I thought. All bark and no bite. God, you kids are so predictable,” snarled Mr. Davidson as he checked off the “Not an Active Threat” box on his sheet. A few seconds passed and Ted was still unresponsive. “Well? That’s it! Get the hell out of my office!”

Ted, face damp with tears and mucus, stood up and made his way to the door.

Mr. Davidson put his feet up on his desk and clicked the intercom beside him. “Ms. Roth? Send in the next psycho. This one’s a fuckin’ pussy.”