When the bell rang the end of the Ms. Langston's 12 Calculus class, Jenn Mitchell pushed herself out of a desk inscribed with notes, obscenities, and math hints from generations of bored students. She walked to the heavy institutional door of her classroom, past Mary and Mark whispering passionately to each other, and prepared to battle the changing classes thronging the school hallway. But instead, she found herself stepping into a dimly lit restaurant, all deep reds, oaken woods, and candles as Paul, slouching at the furthest table from the door, leapt up. “Jenn! I was afraid you weren't going to make it. You look great! Come and sit down next to me, you sweet thing.”
Jenn was utterly confused. She had left the Calculus class, which she shared with Paul, and found herself on what appeared to be a dinner date with him. She had never liked him; they had never gone out. Paul was on the football team, as he always reminded people. He was a mixture of muscle and fat, with greasy black hair and an unwarranted sense of entitlement that intimidated some people. Jenn just found it repulsive. He was wearing a hounds' tooth sports jacket that clearly had Value Village in its future, if not its past, and she noticed in horror that while she had been wearing a sweatshirt and jeans in her classroom, now she was wearing a slinky black dress. Why was she here, and where was here?
“Paul, what's happening?”
“Aw Jenn, you're hurting me, girl. It's our dream date, the perfect evening we've been planning all semester. And it's going to go just as we knew it would, all the way.” There was a leer in his voice that reminded her of another reason why she had never liked him. Fortunately, they were in a public place...but which one? He motioned for her to slide into the faux antique chair across from him.
“Listen, I've got to go to the washroom to freshen up. I'll be right back” She walked to the back of the garish restaurant (she decided it was pretending to be Italian). The tough boys who usually hung out in the school smoking area were at one table, and they had accumulated an impressive number of empty beer bottles, considering they were all under age. After only one false try, she found the Ladies room, cutely designated by a baby carriage icon. She opened the door and walked through.
“Miss Mitchell,” the flat dry tones of Mr MacTap, her History teacher “so glad you could make it before the class was entirely finished.” She started to speak, though she had no idea of what she was going to say, but he bore on. “No, no please don't tell us some story where you were. This is Canadian History, not Writer's Craft. When you have found your seat I will continue.”
Jenn found her seat, in the second row. Dazed, she fished a pen out, opened her note book (where had it come from?) noting with horror both that she was back in her jeans and sweatshirt, and that Paul, sitting on the other side of the room, paid her no attention whatsoever.
She ignored Mr MacTap for the remainder of the class, which was easy to do (she usually ignored him anyway, and since he ignored the class in favour of a small section of ceiling it seemed only fair.) What had happened? Had it been real? There seemed no way to make any theory explain these facts. At the end of the class, she gathered her books together nervously, and walked to the door (same heavy institutional door as all the school doors, though the square foot of glass in this one was obscured by a poster of the twelve most important members of the Family Compact). She took a deep breath, and walked out of the classroom, through the door and into her best friend Mary's bedroom. She recognized it immediately, (pink chiffon, stuffed animals), though she was helped out by the sight of Mary lying on the bed sobbing brokenly. “He said he loved me. He said we'd always be together, that he loved me, that we'd get married. And then afterwards he just got up and dressed and left and I, I haven't heard from him all week.”
Jenn looked around in horror, her eyes widening as she saw that her reflection on the closet mirror was now wearing a tight tank top. She guessed that Mary must have been talking about Mark, her boyfriend, a slimeball who had been trying to get into her pants all semester. Then she heard herself saying things she would never say, “Mary, you're too good for him. You could have anyone in the school. Mark's just something you wipe off your shoes and then, girl, you just walk on.”
Mary looked up gratefully from her bed, her puffy eyes not noticing the look of confused misery on Jenn's face. “You mean that about my being too good for him?”
Jenn started to think of how to answer, but before she could decide she heard words coming out of her mouth. “Mary, you're gorgeous. You could have anyone in the school you wanted. It's just that there's no one there who's worth you.” Part of her mind was pounding the inside of her skull in horror. How could she say such utter bullshit? What was happening to her?
Mary smiled wanly, and wiped her eyes. “Thank you Jenn. I'm so lucky I have one friend who can be totally honest with me. Hey, are you okay?”
“I'm feeling funny. I'm going to the bathroom. I'll be right back." She walked out of Mary's room and entered the cafeteria, where Paul and two other members of the football team were doing a break dance on the stage at one end, while the grade 9's hurled milk cartons at one another at the other end. She stared in disbelief, and fled the cafe hysterically, only to find herself back in Ms Langston's room which had always been at the other end of the school, on the top floor.
Her Calculus teacher sat there, smiling brightly at her. Mary took one look at Ms Langston, and broke into tears. Her teacher continued smiling, though she was also trying to look sympathetic, a strange combination that seemed slightly more than she could manage.
“Jenn, dear,” the sympathy seemed to be trying to overtake the smile now, “what's wrong? You know you can tell me anything.”
“It's my parents, Ms Langston” Jenn by now was on auto pilot, knowing that to explain the real reason she was so upset was utterly impossible. She didn't believe what she had been seeing, and it would have been absurd to ask anyone else to, let alone Ms Langston, who had a reputation for being far more interested in getting students to reveal their innermost secrets than in actually saying anything useful or supportive once they had done so.
“My parents don't want to treat me as a grownup.”
“Dear Jenn,” sympathy on “You know I'm a parent too” Smile on. Smile off. “Well it's hard to be a parent. Maybe” smile back on “almost as hard as it is to be a kid. So if you are gentle with your parents, maybe they'll be gentle with you.”
Jenn was trying to respond to this when the loudspeaker crackled to life. “Would Jenn Mitchell please report to the office immediately? Jenn Mitchell to the office immediately.”
“Well, Jenn, I guess you've got to go. But I'm glad we had this little talk, aren't you?”
“Yes Ms Langston. Thank you for being so understanding and wise.” The sane part of Jenn's mind screamed in horror as it heard those words coming out of her mouth. Why was she saying this? What was happening? What would happen when she walked through the door? She ran to it, pushed the sticky handle away from her, and stepped directly into Mr Ogilvy's office.
“Thank you for your promptness, Ms Mitchell” the unctuous tones of the principal “please have a seat.” She sat down in the student chair, numb with apprehension. It was uncomfortable because it was too short, which meant you had to look up at Mr. Ogilvy. What was next? Mr Ogilvy sat down behind his desk, locked his fingers behind his bald spot, and looked down at her with an expression of sympathy horribly reminiscent of Ms Langston. She wondered, fleetingly, why no one in this school was capable of a genuine emotion. Mr Ogilvy gazed sadly at his computer, on which a screen saver showed little dollar signs devouring one another, becoming larger as they did, till only one was left. It flashed brightly a few times in gold, the screen went blank, and a set of euro signs appeared. He looked back at Jenn.
“Ms Mitchell, you've been a good student, and your marks show it. But I'm sorry” Ogilvy picked up a sheet of paper “your audience response ratings are way behind those of the other students. You just haven't managed to develop a persona of interest to anyone out there” a vague all purpose gesture failed to give Jenn the slightest idea of what he was talking about. "You refuse to be a bad girl with Paul, which is such a good way to get people involved in your story, and in all other areas, you're just, well, bland. Even when we dub your voice, you just look as though you're not into it. I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, Jenn, but the board has cut your contract. With the ratings war as intense as it is, and the school's income so directly tied to the number of viewers, there's just no room for dead weight. We're rescinding you, effective immediately.”
Jenn stared at him in horror. What he said sounded like English, but it made no sense at all. She got shakily to her feet, left the office, and disappeared from Mr Ogilvy's sight. Sighing, he rose, and followed her into the empty room. Jenn was, of course, nowhere to be seen. Mr Ogilvy made a note to have all records of Jenn wiped from the credits by his sexy blond secretary, twice-divorced and now in the midst of a tragic breakup with the head of Phys. Ed. He shook his head. It was pathetic really. Even given the chance for a heart–rending final scene, Jenn had done nothing. Some days, it seemed as though these kids weren't learning anything at all.