I’m not usually an eavesdropper, but I dare you to try not listening if you hear your best friend talking about you to an adult.
I inched closer.
‘… alone this summer,’ Grover was saying. ‘I mean, a Kindly One in the school! Now that we know for sure, and they know too –’
‘We would only make matters worse by rushing him,’ Mr Brunner said. ‘We need the boy to mature more.’
‘But he may not have time. The summer solstice deadline –’
‘Will have to be resolved without him, Grover. Let him enjoy his ignorance while he still can.’
‘Sir, he saw her…’
‘His imagination,’ Mr Brunner insisted. ‘The Mist over the students and staff will be enough to convince him of that.’
‘Sir, I… I can’t fail in my duties again.’ Grover’s voice was choked with emotion. ‘You know what that would mean.’
‘You haven’t failed, Grover,’ Mr Brunner said kindly. ‘I should have seen her for what she was. Now let’s just worry about keeping Percy alive until next autumn –’
The mythology book dropped out of my hand and hit the floor with a thud.
Mr Brunner went silent.
My heart hammering, I picked up the book and backed down the hall.
A shadow slid across the lighted glass of Brunner’s office door, the shadow of something much taller than my wheelchair-bound teacher, holding something that looked suspiciously like an archer’s bow.
I opened the nearest door and slipped inside.
A few seconds later I heard a slow clop-clop-clop, like muffled wood blocks, then a sound like an animal snuffling right outside my door. A large dark shape paused in front of the glass, then moved on.
A bead of sweat trickled down my neck.
Somewhere in the hallway, Mr Brunner spoke. ‘Nothing,’ he murmured. ‘My nerves haven’t been right since the winter solstice.’
‘Mine neither,’ Grover said. ‘But I could have sworn…’
‘Go back to the dorm,’ Mr Brunner told him. ‘You’ve got a long day of exams tomorrow.’
‘Don’t remind me.’
The lights went out in Mr Brunner’s office.
I waited in the dark for what seemed like forever.
Finally, I slipped out into the hallway and made my way back up to the dorm.
Grover was lying on his bed, studying his Latin exam notes like he’d been there all night.
‘Hey,’ he said, bleary-eyed. ‘You going to be ready for this test?’
I didn’t answer.
‘You look awful.’ He frowned. ‘Is everything okay?’
I turned so he couldn’t read my expression, and started getting ready for bed.
I didn’t understand what I’d heard downstairs. I wanted to believe I’d imagined the whole thing.
But one thing was clear: Grover and Mr Brunner were talking about me behind my back. They thought I was in some kind of danger.
The next afternoon, as I was leaving the three-hour Latin exam, my eyes swimming with all the Greek and Roman names I’d misspelled, Mr Brunner called me back inside.
For a moment, I was worried he’d found out about my eavesdropping the night before, but that didn’t seem to be the problem.
‘Percy,’ he said. ‘Don’t be discouraged about leaving Yancy. It’s… it’s for the best.’
His tone was kind, but the words still embarrassed me. Even though he was speaking quietly, the other kids finishing the test could hear. Nancy Bobofit smirked at me and made sarcastic little kissing motions with her lips.
I mumbled, ‘Okay, sir.’
‘I mean…’ Mr Brunner wheeled his chair back and forth, like he wasn’t sure what to say. ‘This isn’t the right place for you. It was only a matter of time.’
My eyes stung.
Here was my favourite teacher, in front of the class, telling me I couldn’t handle it. After saying he believed in me all year, now he was telling me I was destined to get kicked out.
‘Right,’ I said, trembling.
‘No, no,’ Mr Brunner said. ‘Oh, confound it all. What I’m trying to say… you’re not normal, Percy. That’s nothing to be –’
‘Thanks,’ I blurted. ‘Thanks a lot, sir, for reminding me.’
But I was already gone.
On the last day of the term, I shoved my clothes into my suitcase.
The other guys were joking around, talking about their vacation plans. One of them was going on a hiking trip to Switzerland. Another was cruising the Caribbean for a month. They were juvenile delinquents, like me, but they were rich juvenile delinquents. Their daddies were executives, or ambassadors, or celebrities. I was a nobody, from a family of nobodies.