Wes had no idea how to make a movie set. He was even more clueless about how to make a set for a movie about everything.
He gathered every Easter, Christmas, and Halloween decoration that park residents were willing to spare, combined them with fake flowers and plastic slides, rusty bicycles and scrap lumber, but still found that the chaotic scene wasn’t nearly enough to transform a chunk of the Sunset sizable enough for the number of actors that would be present. So it was that he found himself pedaling his bike towards the house of his arch nemesis, Principal Dan Greery.
The principal opened the door wearing a white tank top and scowling with open animosity. He looked two moves away from punching Wes in the face. The sight of the man’s anger frightened Wes. It wasn’t the threat of physical violence that unsettled him so much as the very real loathing in Greery’s face.
Somehow, Wes had always managed to convince himself that his grudge with the principal was a sort of friendly rivalry and that, underneath it all, the school administrator cared for the boy. In that moment, however, as the man stood there out of uniform, the disgust in his eyes looked quite personal, and quite real.
Wes found himself sputtering a steady stream of syllables that ran together into one enormous word. “Grady-is-dying-and-I-need-your-help.”
Greery scrutinized the boy from under bushy brows. “What do you mean Grady is dying?”
Wes explained the situation. When he was done, Principal Dan cross-examined him mercilessly, as if suspecting the whole thing was some sort of setup. After several minutes of this back-and-forth, he finally seemed to accept the veracity of the tale. His expression softened.
“Okay, Wesley. I believe you, and I’m very sorry to hear that, but what do you want from me?”
“Stage props. Like, stuff from the plays that the drama department puts on. I need it for the movie.”
Principal Dan gazed suspiciously at the boy for a while before nodding, more to himself than to Wes. “Okay. Let me get my keys.”
Their ride to the school together was the most awkward twenty minutes of Wes’s life. Principal Dan blasted ancient forms of country music as they went and talked about how the concept of American masculinity used to be synonymous with civic mindedness and personal responsibility, not slovenliness and criminality. Wes had never thought of those things before. Not seriously. While he hated to admit it, they made a certain kind of sense.
The pair carried the drama department props out of the auditorium and loaded them into a trailer that Dan pulled behind his truck all the way to the Sunset. The principal helped him unload everything, too, and enjoyed the labor.
“I miss this kind of work,” he said. “Feels good to sweat. That’s the only problem about being a principal. I never get a good sweat anymore.”
Wes agreed but didn’t say so.
When all the materials were out of the trailer, Principal Dan extended his hand for a shake. Wes stared at it for a few moments, brain scrambled, not sure what to make of this strange, alien gesture. Finally he reached out and took hold, his arm waving like a wet noodle in the school administrator’s hand.
“I’m holding you personally responsible for every piece of equipment here. Got that?”
Principal Dan looked square into his eyes. “I think this coming school year we ought to wipe the slate clean. A fresh start for both of us. I won’t hold anything from the past against you, if you don’t hold anything against me.”
Wes cleared his throat to get the words out. “Sounds good.”
“There’s still time to right the ship, Wesley. Not a lot of time, but enough.”
Principal Dan got in his truck and drove off.
Wes started picking through the drama props, trying to decide what would go where. After a few moments, the realization hit him that he’d called Principal Dan “sir.”
He spun around frantically in circles to make sure no one else had heard it.
Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak
Continue to Part 11