The Boy, The Girl, And The Teacher
The boy stood before her in tears, trembling as he tried to explain himself. His wet cheeks were flushed red, his forehead hot to the touch.
It was clear that something was terribly wrong.
The teacher went down to her knees. She remembered having reprimanded him for what he did to that girl. But she never expected his parent to take it this far.
More Than A Punishment
But little did science teacher Ms. Amanda Shaw realize that this was more than a simple punishment on the boy’s parent’s part. There was something more sinister and elaborate happening here.
She’d met the woman at one of her parent-teacher meetings that year. Even then, something about the mom rubbed her the wrong way.
But when she saw little Cole curled inside that toilet stall, sobbing his eyes out, she knew she might have underestimated the situation.
Not Your Typical Morning
When Amanda reported to her local middle school that morning, she expected the day to be like any other.
It was a cold morning, with the streets covered in rainwater as it had stormed the night before.
After a few minutes of greeting her fellow teachers, Amanda reviewed her lesson plan and hurried off to class. If only she knew what she was about to uncover.
Her Life’s Calling
Teaching in a small school in North Carolina hadn’t always been in Amanda’s cards. She’d always envisioned herself as a zoologist somewhere in the humid tropics uncovering the world’s long-lost secrets.
But a friend had convinced her to step into the classroom as a teacher.
She’d promised herself to try it for a year and move on. She had no idea she’d already found her life’s calling.
Amanda was on her way to class when she heard sobbing inside the boy’s washrooms. The hallway was empty, given that all the kids had already gone to their respective classes.
Clutching her teaching props closer to her chest, the thirty-year-old knocked at the door. She thought she’d find a routine meltdown inside the washrooms.
She’d be in for the surprise of her life.
After waiting a few seconds, Amanda announced that she was going in and pushed the door open.
The washroom was empty, save for a navy blue backpack on one of the sinks.
The sobbing was coming from one of the bathroom stalls. The sound was pained and desperate, like an injured buck in a hunter’s trap. With furrowed brows, Amanda approached.
Do You Need Help?
“Hello,” she called soothingly. “Is everything okay in there?” When no answer came, she debated calling one of the male teachers to help. Perhaps whoever was inside was embarrassed because she was a woman.
“D’you want me to get help?” she asked. But no answer came.
She placed her teaching materials next to the backpack and hurried back to the stall. She’d uncover this mystery if it were the last thing she did.
She’s Here To Help
The best part about being a teacher had always been helping kids out. In this regard, Amanda was in her element. After assuring the boy that he was in no trouble for not being in class, she asked if he could share his name.
In a 500-student school, you’d think it would be difficult to know each learner by name. But Amanda knew each student.
You can imagine her surprise when the boy said his name behind the closed door.
“Cole,” the boy whimpered. “Cole Lieberman?” Amanda almost choked the words out. She couldn’t believe it. Cole was among the most feared kids in schools, and with good reason.
How many times had Amanda sent him to detention? How often did the administration send him home for bullying, playing pranks, or backtalking teachers?
He was a tough kid. Amanda never imagined he’d be crying inside a stall at first period. Something was definitely wrong.
He Can’t Go There
“What’s wrong, Cole?” she asked. “D’you need help with anything?” Given the seven-year-old’s history with the administration, Amanda knew bringing in more authority figures might scare him into withholding information.
“What’s wrong,” she repeated.
“I can’t go to class,” Cole sobbed. “I can’t. They’ll laugh at me.” “Who will laugh at you?” Amanda asked. She thought this might be a typical bullying case, not knowing that it was something bigger.
“The other kids,” Cole answered. It was clear that he was upset, given the sobbing and sniffling. “Why do you think they’ll laugh at you?” a curious Amanda asked.
But then she remembered what had happened the previous day and stood up.
She swallowed back a curse, recalling what Cole did and the administration’s retaliation for his actions.
The day before had been a normal one for Amanda, who, after her morning classes, was in the staffroom enjoying a quick snack.
But she heard a commotion in the hallway, prompting her and another teacher to investigate.
She found Cole, alongside some of his friends, laughing over a little girl named Linda. Amanda was quick to help her to her feet as the other teacher reprimanded the boys. But that was only the beginning.
Where It Started
Amanda walked Linda into the staffroom and asked what was happening. She learned that Linda’s mom had been battling cancer and had just undergone chemotherapy.
Since she hadn’t seen her daughter in months, the ailing mom drove her to school that morning.
Linda was more than happy that her mom was strong enough to take her to school. She didn’t know Cole and his friends were watching closely.
Little Linda’s Account
Cole spent the entire day making fun of Linda’s situation, calling her mom names because she’d shaved her head. He insisted that Linda was going down that same path.
Amanda had to stifle several winces as she heard Linda’s account.
She had to excuse herself afterward to go and compose herself. She was close to breaking down as the little girl spoke. Cole and his friends wouldn’t get away with this.
Amanda called Cole’s mom, alongside the other boys’ parents, and told them everything. She explained Linda’s situation and how hard her family had it.
What Cole and his friends had done wasn’t fair.
Amanda only hoped that the parents would talk to their kids. She had no idea she’d find Cole crying inside the boys’ washrooms. But this was only the beginning.
He’s Still A Kid
Amanda pinched the bridge of her nose as she wondered about the best course of action.
She realized that in her pursuit to make Cole pay for what he’d done to Linda, she’d forgotten that he was also still a kid.
This realization had her crouching back down as the anger that had cropped up inside her slowly ebbed. She would help fix what was happening.
Please, Let Me Help
“I’m going to need you to open the door, Cole,” she began, hoping the boy would trust her enough to let her help.
“I want to assist, but I can only do that if you let me.”
A solemn quietness took over the washrooms before the door clicked open. Amanda stepped back at what she saw.
Oh my word, she almost said but quickly swallowed her words.
The boy’s head, which had been covered by thick blonde curls the day before, was reduced to patchy bald spots.
His tears doubled as the door swung to a halt. He rushed out and hugged Amanda, crying as he held on tightly. What was happening?
The first thing Amanda did was reassure Cole that everything was alright.
She convinced him to accompany her back to the staffroom, telling him no one was there at that time of day.
Even though Cole was renowned for being the school bully, that morning, it was clear that he was a victim. But this ran deeper than an unfair haircut.
Amanda waited for Cole to settle down before finally asking the needed questions. She’d already called in a favor from another science teacher, asking them to take over her morning classes.
Cole’s apprehensiveness and endless tears quickly revealed to her that more was going on here.
She pulled a chair before him and commenced the questioning.
The Extent Of His Revelation
Amanda asked Cole to start from the beginning. The boy recalled the previous day’s events, apologizing for everything he and his friends said to little Linda.
But that was the extent of his revelation.
Amanda still needed to get to the root of his distress. She continued asking questions, prodding as carefully as possible. But one thing was becoming apparent.
Whatever upset Cole was more than the expected ridicule he’d get from his friends.
Amanda sat back, deciding that instead of just quizzing him on what happened, she would also work on negating the consequences of his haircut.
She’d offer Cole a day off so he could go home and regroup. He’d get a chance to visit a barber and have time to rebuild his confidence. But that would only be the first part of the fix.
The Second Part Of Her Plan
Amanda would also have to shadow him the next day to ensure that kids didn’t make fun of him. It was clear that he was remorseful for hurting Linda.
Two wrongs never make a right. So, Amanda would protect him as best as possible.
She shared her conclusions with Cole, hoping that a day away from school would at least dry his tears. Amanda wasn’t ready for his response.
Cole began trembling, the fear in his eyes almost boring a hole through Amanda.
He couldn’t even cry, only shook where he sat, his irises darting all over the staffroom.
“What is it?” Amanda asked, alarmed. The boy’s eyes were wide, his limbs shaking. Had she struck something that she wasn’t supposed to?
“Are you okay, Cole?” she asked. He was hyperventilating, frantically trying to hold back from crying. Amanda hurriedly knelt before him.
Did she unknowingly trigger a past trauma in him?
In her experience, kids stored such harrowing memories behind thick mental walls. Breaking those walls could result in unmitigated disaster.
Amanda retraced her words, realizing Cole’s reaction started after she mentioned he would be getting the day off from school. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “You won’t go home. How about we call a barber here instead?”
His breath steadied, his tears finally falling down his cheeks in peaceful streams. Things were becoming more apparent now.
Cole stood before Amanda in tears, trembling as he tried to best explain his situation. His cheeks were tinged red, the same as the whites of his tear-filled eyes.
He Can’t Go Gome
He told Amanda that he couldn’t go back home before school was over. Hoping not to upset him again, Amanda beat around the bush while asking why. She was beginning to see a pattern here.
She remembered how strict Cole’s mom had been when they met for the parents-teachers meeting. Cole also shared that he couldn’t afford to make his mom angry again.
If Amanda was concerned before, now her body was charged with worry. What was happening in Cole’s home that he’d be this upset? What did his mom do?
Getting To The Root Of It
Amanda needed to report this matter to the principal. Afterward, she’d have a needed conversation with Cole’s mom.
Lucky for her and Cole, the principal knew how to work a set of clippers and trimmers.
He helped restore sanity around the boy’s hair before sending him back to Amanda and calling in his mom. It wouldn’t be long before the truth came pouring out.
Amanda watched as Cole’s mom pulled into the school’s parking lot. She was a tall, well-built woman with thick blonde curls and a walk that meant business. She hurried into the principal’s office, and after a few minutes, the secretary called in Amanda.
Amanda found the woman staring into the principal’s eyes. She turned to the science teacher, “Where’s my son?”
“In class, Mrs. Lieberman,” Amanda answered calmly. “I found him crying his eyes out in the washrooms. When I offered him a chance to go home and get a haircut, I could sense the terror pouring out of him. Why is he afraid of going home?”
Cole’s mom’s lips curled into a dangerous smirk. “After his incident yesterday,” the woman began. “I decided to teach him some lessons on accountability. I added a few bucks to his monthly rent and internet bill – effective this month. I also took his tablet and gave him a hairdo.”
She explained how her son used 30% of his monthly allowance to pay rent and settle his room’s electricity and internet bills. Amanda stood flabbergasted. What had she gotten herself into?
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.