2007-11-18: Office 192


Lee_icon.gif Niki_icon.gif Church_icon.gif

Summary: Niki visits Cam's school in an attempt to smooth over the troubles he's having with some rough students, but it's harder than it sounds, as Mr. Jones and Mr. Church can attest to.

Date It Happened: November 18th, 2007

Office 192

Brubaker Secondary School

Upper East Side, NYC

Lee's office hours are being held in Office 192, which is apparently someone else's office. Although the door is open, Lee is not there - he is across the hall in the small writing lab that is set up, helping several kids with essays. A sign on the door of the office says:

Back Momentarily, Please Sit And Be Patient:

do ye thirst to bear

A heart which not the serpent Custom's tooth

May violate? — be free! and even here,

Swear to be firm till death!"—they cried, 'We swear! we swear!'"

It's a comfortable office, perhaps a bit too comfortable - whoever normally sits in this office has spent a lot of time in here with the door closed and the piles of books scattered around their only companions, in contrast to Lee with his hipster shirtsleeves rolled up across the hall, helping a blond-streaked young woman with an essay about James Madison. "That's not even a sentence." he says bluntly. "Start the whole paragraph again. Focus on the idea you want. Get me that idea in the first sentence or why should I even bother to keep reading?" She's frustrated, trembling almost with fear, but she wants to get it right. The bluntness is helping, in this case. Lee is almost relieved to use it for good rather than for evil.

These halls aren't familiar ones to Niki Sanders; she's barely stepped foot in this building, having seen it mostly from the outside until now. She walks the corridor, the low heels of silver cowboy boots (yeah, really; they're paired with tight black jeans, the rest of her outfit hidden by a dark blue winter coat, a stylized trench) echoing dully on the tile. Holding onto the strap of a mom-sized black purse as she walks, she has the obvious air of someone looking for a certain place. As she walks past the office Lee is using, his face — distinctive, let's face it — catches her attention and she backpedals, one hand coming to touch the doorframe. "Mr. Jones?"

Lee looks up. The kids do too. "Hi." he says, with a polite nod, "Just have a seat in 192 over there and I'll be with you in a minute." The priority that he places on the writer's workshop over the blonde in the boots is not lost on the kids. "Okay, and you, Armando, what do you have?" They clean up some grammar. "I think you're making progress. What's next?" he asks. "Citations?" Armando guesses. "Right. Off to the library, remember to ask for Mr. Parrish, he knows all about the project. I'll be here until four o'clock, if you don't get done by then, I'll have your papers in class tomorrow, okay?" Lee says. Armando scoots. Lee emerges with him, crosses over to 192, and enters, closing the door behind him. He seats himself in the chair that's far too wide and far too low to the ground for someone of his slenderness and height. "…Ms. Sanders, right?" he says. "It's good of you to come in."

By the time Lee enters 192, Niki is, of course, already there; she's seated in front of the desk, hands in her lap, legs crossed at the knee. Her chair is similar ill-fitted to her frame, but she sits close to the edge, perched, and her casually slouching posture makes her seem less tall than she is. She straightens a bit, however, as Lee settles in. "I was … actually going to see the guidance counsellor too, about Cam."

Lee says, "Cam's already spoken to Mr. Church, but I'm sure he would appreciate any information you have." somewhat noncommittally, like he's not sure Mr. Church is quite completely on the ball when it comes to Cam.

Lee puts his long-fingered hand out on the table, palm up as if showing her something: "Ms. Sanders, I have to tell you," he begins, almost painedly, "when I heard about what happened to Ms. Thigpen and who took responsibility…Cam was very enthusiastic about the place he was staying. He still is. But to let someone like that man into your home, to give him access to Cam, let Cam develop a relationship with him, and then he goes and murders a woman who is looking out for Cam and trying to do what's in his best interest…it reflects on your judgment. Now I'm trying to keep an open mind about you - I haven't ever met you before, I don't know your story, I don't know how it ended up the way that it did. I used to teach in the middle of the Bronx, so I try not to make judgments about people's situations, I know that it's really easy to get into a relationship with someone and they're one way, and before you know it…" All together now: "…they're a whole different person. And like I say, Cam absolutely adores staying with you, and he's a savvy young man, he would tell someone if he was in some kind of danger. And it's sure as hell better than where he was before. I don't want to see him let down, so…I guess what I'm saying is I hope you can set my mind at ease by telling me what the situation is in your home. I don't have any right to ask it of you, it's not my responsibility, if CFS says he can stay with you, it's their call - but I haven't been teaching very long and, well, I'm attached to Cam. I want him to succeed."

Niki listens, watches — tiny creases form around her eyes the more Lee goes on. It's easy to see her becoming more and more tense with every passing second, even under her winter jacket. Her face says it all anyway: anger flares, along with insult. Lee's twisting the proverbial knife deeper and deeper. The woman lurches forward as if she's going to lunge at Lee, but just grabs the edge of the desk. "D.L. would never have done anything to hurt Cam," she gets that out of the way first and foremost. There's only so much she can say and deny without making everything seem all the worse. "I don't know how long Cam'll be staying with us, but I can assure you his homelife is fine. It's safe now, and he's happy."

Lee remains calm - almost studious - he watches her reaction closely. A denial couldn't possibly make things /worse/, so her outrage actually makes things better. Not much better, but better. He lets her statement cool in the air before he says, "That's all any child can ask for. If there's anything I can do to help on my end, anything at all, if you need a break, or if the money from the state is slow coming through and you need someone to help raise hell, just pick up the phone and call me." He takes a stack of index cards held together by a binder clip, scribbles a number on a card with a red pencil, then pulls the card loose and offers it to her. "That's my cellphone. Day or night, no questions asked. Now. What did you want to talk to me about? Would you like me to have Mr. Church come in to hear it as well?"

Niki is hesitant to simmer down, but slowly, she lets go of the desk and starts to lean back in time to take the card. She looks at it transiently before it's hidden under her hands on her lap. She nods, slowly, comprehending. "Cam's been having trouble with some of the other students," she says. A hint of that heated emotion lingers in her voice, but it's forced to minimum. "And it doesn't seem to be getting better. I told him I'd talk to Mr. Church."

Lee says, "I'm aware of his troubles with some of the other kids." He leans back in the chair, his own hands folding across his stomach, he looks down at them almost helplessly: "Cam got wrapped up with a bad crowd - at first he liked it, then he started to have pangs of conscience about what they were up to. One of them led to him telling me about an incident, but right now it's his word against theirs and the administration isn't taking any action, and the kids he told on are after him. I've talked to Mr. Church about it, and we're trying to keep an eye on him - /and/ those other kids - but there's no protective custody at school." He looks back up. "I wish I could give you better news. Mr. Church and I and a few other teachers are aware of the problem and we're trying to address it… in various ways." he finally concludes, rather obviously intentionally staying vague. "Let me buzz Mr. Church in, he should hear if you have new information." He picks up the phone - quite modern and slick-looking, the school of course has /plenty/ of money for gadgets, and dials a few numbers.

None of this seems new to Niki — an indication, at least, that Cam seems to keep her in the loop. That's a good sign, right? All the same, Lee's answers and well-meaning lack thereof draw vexed lines on her forehead. "He's scared. And he's getting hurt. There has to be something we can do," she insists, but cuts off any further pressing, waiting, instead, for the new face to appear. In the meantime, she folds her arms over her stomach, glancing this way and that idly around the officespace.

Lee has to borrow an office from someone else to have after-school office hours, since his office is buried somewhere in the basement. Of course, Brubaker has plenty of punch-clock teachers who go home right at the last bell, so there's plenty of office space. The one Lee's borrowing, and has summoned Church to, has Niki installed in one of the chairs, and himself in a chair obviously for someone a lot fatter and shorter, from how his knees stick up and his elbows stick out.

A jostle of the doorknob is the only prior noise to the office door opening, the blinds on the inside rattling against the glass window. In comes the man that they're now waiting for, looking somewhat worn at the end of the day. Church straightens up once he is inside of the room, brushing rolled sleeves up behind his elbows once more and habitually brushing at his hair. He'd been so used to having more that the gesture is lost on his cropped cut.

"Ah. Here we are." He exclaims as he studies the two other adults, giving Lee a nod of greeting and lending the woman a meager smile. "You must be Niki. Cam's told me about you." With this, a hand extends towards her as he approaches the second chair in front of the desk. "Lawrence Church."

Lee says, "Ms. Sanders is Cam's placement. We were just talking about his difficulties with some of the other students here. I mentioned that we were aware of the situation, and thought I should give you a call. In addition, Cam specifically mentioned to her that he wanted her to see you about this." Lee almost sounds relieved that Cam prefers Church over him on this one.

Niki turns in her seat as Church comes in; she's seated at the edge, more or less, and so she grabs the back of the chair as she twists, looking up at him. "Mr. Church," she repeats. There's a tense, worried air about the woman, but she gives the counsellor a polite smile and meets his hand with hers for that handshake. The blonde's grip is firm, but distracted — her hand slips back to her lap after a second. "I am, Niki Sanders." She glances back to Lee, then back up to Church. "I don't want to see Cam hurt," she explains, clearly concerned. "Those kids — they cornered him the other day. They were hitting him. He was pretty shaken up. This is ridiculous."

Church finds a seat in the empty chair, watching Niki as she speaks and simply nodding calmly when the woman finishes her thoughts. "I hadn't heard about that yet." Lawrence admits, voice a lot more solemn than it might be otherwise. "Ms. Sanders-" The older man begins and half-turns in his seat to face her. "-have you been informed about the 'why' concerning these incidents? With most of our violent incidents?" There is a vague glimmer of hope that Lee might have been telling her at length about the 'why', and he's going to find out. "Not that it has a bearing on Cam specifically, but many parents and guardians don't know the full extent of how much this happens." Judging by his tone, it sounds like he doesn't like that fact. The fact parents ignore or simply are too clueless about problems at the school. And those who don't go either way are the ones propagating it.

Lee says, "The main issue is we need to be able to prove it. We need to get another student to come forward, first of all. That's what I see as the most realistic next step. I'm doing what I can with my students, hopefully someone will listen." For Lee, anyway. "I think what Lawrence is asking is - did Cam tell you how he got mixed up with these kids?" Clearly he hadn't clued Niki in yet.

"The drugs? I know what he was doing," Niki states right away, matter-of-fact. "He's been on the streets, he's just trying to get by, he's doing what he knows doing what those kids say. But he's not going to get out of it as long as those jerks are still bullying him." The blonde mom-type looks between the two men, firm and pleading a the same time. "Doesn't a school like this have security cameras?" …as immediately as the words are out of Niki's mouth, she regrets them. If they do have cameras, if they see what Cam did…

Lee says, "In some areas. The kids are smart enough to know where to go not to be seen." and he says it both as reassurance and as apologia.

"If it makes everyone feel better, I'll have a look at those later this evening?" Lawrence comments on the cameras, though he does also seem to be levelling with Niki as she speaks. Another nod, of course. "What we have here isn't the best situation for doling out punishments. Which I regret, firstly. It does feel as if some of the more…affluent families like to hold funding and such over the heads of the administration. Luckily, I'm the new guy here- and I could not care less about who fills which pockets… " Church leans slightly forward in his seat. "That is why I've been meeting with some of the Narcotics officers from the NYPD, and coming to a point with them about what we need to be doing. I'd like to put these kids right and make the others safe as much as you do, miss Sanders, but there's more at work here than meets the eye." Well, at least he is honest about it.

Lee winces at Church's honesty. He's no company man (so to speak), but already being on the administration's shitlist clearly has him looking over his shoulder. "Even once the ones targetting him are punished, it's not going to be easy. The students will be in turmoil. Cam's an excellent student, behind, of course, because of his circumstances, but the other students know who he is, and they respect him. That means when things get rough they'll count on him." he says.

"I know it's complicated," Niki says, holding onto one of the arms of her chair. "I'm just scared of what might happen if someone comes after him again. There's gotta be something you can catch those kids on to suspend them for 'til you figure something out." It's frustrating, but she appreciates their being upfront about it. Her frustration is directed at the situation more than the school or its staff. Just as she's taking a breath in, poised to say something else, Niki quiets, her gaze becoming out-of-focus, looking somewhere past Lee at the books crammed in the office without seeming to really see anything at all.

Lee says, "That's not up to us. That's up to the administration, and they've made it clear what they expect before they make any disciplinary decisions of that kind." Lee may not have blurted out as much as Church did, but he is equally aware of his position at the school. "We're going to do our best to be sure nothing else happens to him." That hasn't worked so far, but it probably would have been a lot worse without the two men keeping an eye out. Lee doesn't seem to think Niki's unfocusing is unusual. It's hard to think about this sort of thing happening to kids, let alone talk about it.

"I'll see what I can do. I'm sure there is some way to manage them some kind of punishment." Which may or may not be actually framing children for possession. We'll see about that. As the woman seems to quiet down and quite literally stare into space, Church shifts uneasily in his seat. "Niki?" He addresses her by her first name now, for some reason. "Was there anything specific Cam told you that might give us a hint as to where things like this usually go on?" Catching someone red-handed is usually a better idea than framing them, right?

Niki stares off into space for a moment longer before slowly turning her head toward the last person whose voice reaches her ears: Church. Blue eyes squint on him, refocussing, as the woman seems to battle a sudden bout of confusion. "I'm sorry, what?"

Lee says, "Is there anyplace in particular? I know Cam's friend Jakey…" Jakey was everyone's friend. "…got hurt out at the handball court, but I doubt they'll be going back there anytime soon. They almost got caught."
Church peers back into Niki's eyes with a subtle curiosity, clearing his throat a little. "Exactly. Has Cam given you any hints as to where these kinds of activities usually happen? I'm thinking if I catch someone with red mitts, it'll be easiest."

Niki turns back to Lee; it takes a few seconds for her to seemingly sort out what he's even talking about. After Church's clarification, she starts to shake her head. "A closet… I don't know. I can find out."

Lee says, to Church, "It might be the closet out by the north end of the gym, I heard Mr. Martinez, the janitor, say that some kids wrecked the place and must have broke a freon canister from the old air conditioner or something, there was stuff spilled everywhere and some of it was iced up. I told him if he finds any more of those canisters it's probably about time to donate them to the science department to freeze stuff in experiments."

Oh, Lee, you rascal. Lawrence files this all away, though for only the obvious purposes. "What kind of janitor leaves those sitting around?" Anyway. "Niki, if you could find out what Cam knows about locations- or even convince him to talk to me about them- I would be in your debt. I don't want to hunt him down about this if he might think he is going to get in trouble like that again." Plus, Church is pretty much an investigative team all on his own- maybe he will be able catch kids with their hands in the cookie jar.

Alarm! Niki looks very sharply to Lee when he starts talking about Freon and things being iced up, eyes widening noticeably — all around, she seems tenser, all of a sudden, but attempts to cover it up with a cooperative smile and nod. "I'll talk to him," she says, pushing up from her chair.

Lee, naturally oblivious to all things superhuman, says, "Probably the administration told him to hide them to keep from having to pay someone to haul it to the toxic waste station." but it's clear he's being sarcastic - he really has no idea why or if there are any such canisters around. He rises with Niki and offers his hand, "Thanks Ms. Sanders, and if you hear anything else, find out anything else, you have my number."

If the spacing out didn't make sense, the fact that Niki tenses up really doesn't seem to either. It leaves Church with a weary manner of smile as she stands; he stands with the other two out of courtesy, but keeps an eternally curious eye on the woman. "Thank you for stopping in, miss Sanders. Take care, and please stay in touch."

Niki shakes Lee's hand. That'll do as confirmation enough that she'll call if she has to. She doesn't come out of this meeting gushing with gratefulness or relief, so her smiles for the two men are a little forced. "Nice meeting you," she says in passing to Church on her way out.

Lee does not seem to expect anything more than what he got. He looks to Church after Niki is gone. "So." he says, but it's more a conclusion than a question.

"So." Lawrence echoes, one hand leaning on the top edge of the chair he was just sitting in. "It looks like it is time to take care of business." Which is certainly what it is going to be. No more Mister Nice-Guy, yonder kidlings.

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