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“She killed her husband.”
“Did you not watch it? She clearly killed him.”
“Where’d she hide the body then?”
“She fed it to the tigers!”
Chelsea and Bridget continued to debate the Tiger King subplot as they shared a plate of fries in the school cafeteria. Next to them sat Harry, barely paying attention.
“What do you think, Harry?”
“Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?”
“Who’s Carole Baskin?”
Both girls looked at Harry, incredulous.
“Jesus. Were you not listening to anything we just said?”
“He wasn’t listening.”
“Spaced out again.”
“Harry the Astronaut.”
Harry shook his head with a smile, then plucked two of the fries off the shared plate.
The perfect distraction.
“Hey, get your own!”
Chelsea whacked him on the hand, but didn’t manage to stop Harry from popping the fries into his mouth. Both girls turned to Harry as he began to chew.
“What’s going on with you, anyway? You’ve been a total space cadet all week.”
Harry paused mid-bite. Was it really that obvious?
“Nothing’s going on.”
“Then why are you acting like a spaz?”
“Yeah, tell us what’s on your mind, Harry.”
“Is it girl trouble?”
“Maybe it’s boy trouble.”
Both girls giggled at the throwaway comment. Then Bridget saw the colour of Harry’s face.
“What, did we say something wrong?”
“It’s not *actually* girl trouble, is it?”
Harry remained frozen, cycling through potential answers in his head. He opened and closed his mouth twice, but no sound came out. He eventually panicked and stood up, scooping his backpack off the cafeteria floor.
Harry looked down at both girls. He almost considered staying, but then saw a group of students at an adjacent table staring at the commotion.
“I, uh, need to get to class.”
“But there’s still twenty minutes of lunch left.”
“I, uh, need to use the bathroom first.”
Any remaining words were out of earshot as Harry turned and rushed out the cafeteria door.
* * * * *
“Sorry about earlier.”
Bridget leaned between desks during their final period History class, whispering to Harry while the teacher’s back was turned.
She poked him when he didn’t respond.
Harry shot her an annoyed glare, then returned his focus to the teacher at the front.
“Are you still annoyed with me?”
Harry’s tone didn’t match the sentiment.
“Then why are you—”
“Is there something you’d like to share with the class, Miss Watkins?”
Mrs. Holloway glared at both Harry and Bridget from the front of the class. Harry made a show of squaring his shoulders and giving her his full attention.
“Good.” The teacher glared at both Harry and Bridget before turning back to the white board. “Now, the First Five-Year Plan focused on…”
Harry managed to concentrate for the next few minutes, learning about Stalin and his attempts to modernize the Soviet Union. His mind inevitably drifted back to Alex, though. Where was the boy right now? Was he in school? Was he thinking about Harry? Maybe he was in gym class, sweating up a storm…
“No, I will not ‘excuse’ your failure to pay attention.” Mrs. Holloway glared at Harry over her wire-rimmed glass. “Could you please tell the class what the Second Five-Year Plan focused on?”
Harry drew a complete blank. All he could think about was droplets of sweat on Alex’s glistening abdomen.
“Okay. Anybody else?”
“Heavy industry.” Mackenzie Longman piped up from the front row, eager to steal Harry’s thunder.
Mrs. Holloway smiled at the bookish girl, before aiming another glare in Harry’s direction.
“Please see me after class, Mr. Delaney.”
Mrs. Holloway turned back to the white board, leaving Harry to glow bright red with embarrassment.
Eventually, the bell brought the lesson to a merciful end. Bridget offered Harry a sympathetic look as she packed up her belongings, but it was soon just Harry and his teacher alone.
Harry approached Mrs. Holloway’s desk, apprehensive.
“You wanted to see me after class, ma’am?”
“Yes, Harry. Take a seat.” She gestured to an empty desk in the front row. “Do you have any idea why I’ve kept you here?”
“Because we were talking in class?”
She reached into a stack of papers on her desk and handed one to Harry. It was a pop quiz with a letter ‘C’ circled in red marker.
“I wanted to talk to you about Wednesday’s pop quiz.”
Harry stared at the paper, noting the little red crosses next to a dozen answers.
“This isn’t up to your usual standard.”
Harry knew exactly what had happened on Wednesday. He’d spent half of Tuesday night awake, tossing and turning incessantly, before falling into a nightmare where Alex’s mother kept walking into his bedroom.
“I’m, uh, not really sure, ma’am.”
The teacher shook her head, unsatisfied with the answer.
“You’ve never scored lower than a A-minus before. Something must have happened.” She looked off to the side, as if suddenly recalling a memory. “Now that I think about it, you’ve looked distracted all week. Is something bothering you?”
“I don’t believe you.”
She looked Harry in the eye, waiting to see if he’d open up.
His gaze quickly fell to his shoes.
“Okay, have it your way.” She began tidying papers on her desk, ready to finish the working day. “Just know that I expect this result to be a one-off.”
Harry exited the classroom into an empty hallway. He hurried to his locker and extracted every textbook, before slamming the locker door and yanking his backpack’s zipper closed.
Nobody saw his frustrated tears as he hurried towards the exit.
* * * * *
Harry was scribbling notes at his desk when Jill poked her head into his bedroom.
“Hey, I’m home.”
Harry looked up. The crick in his neck suggested it had been a while.
“How was school?”
Jill looked at the book on Harry’s desk. Stalin and His Repressive Regime 1922-1953.
“On a Friday night? Wow.” Jill stepped into the room and made a show of feeling Harry’s forehead. “Do you feel alright?”
“Stop it.” Harry shooed her away, but couldn’t help laughing. “I need to get this done.”
“It can wait.” Jill smiled, happy to hear the sound of Harry’s laughter. “Dinner’s waiting downstairs.”
He joined Jill in the kitchen and began unpacking take-out containers. They then settled on the couch to watch an episode of MasterChef.
During the first commercial break, Jill turned to Harry.
“So how was school today?”
Harry looked up from his Kung Pao Chicken, immediately suspicious.
“You already asked me that.”
“And you didn’t elaborate. How was it?”
Jill took another bite of her Szechaun Pork.
“Did you get your history test results?”
“How’d it go?”
Jill let out a deep sigh. She set her container aside and turned properly towards Harry.
“I know you’re lying, Harry.”
“Your teacher, Mrs. Holloway, rang me after school.”
The statement hung in the air, forcing Harry to break eye contact. He turned back to the television, suddenly fascinated by a commercial for carpet cleaning.
“So, tell me about the history test.”
“I got a ‘C’.”
“Then why do you keep on asking me?”
“Because I wanted to hear it from you.”
Jill picked up her container again, needing something to keep her hands occupied.
“Why do you think you got a ‘C’?”
“I don’t know.”
Jill fiddled with her chopsticks, before trying a more direct approach.
“Does it have anything to do with what happened at Alex’s house?”
Harry looked up, suddenly terrified.
“Nothing happened at Alex’s house last weekend.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Jill set her container down again and pinned Harry with eye contact.
“You came home at the crack of dawn, clearly upset. Then you’ve moped around the house all week, grunting one-syllable answers. And now I’m getting phone calls from your teachers because you’ve slipped two whole grade points in a week.” Jill shook her head, not giving Harry a chance to respond. “You need to tell me what happened at Alex’s.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Jill took a deep breath, preparing to open a Pandora’s Box.
“Whatever it is, you don’t need to feel ashamed.”
“I need you to be honest so I can help you.”
“I don’t need your help.”
Jill shook her head, still not believing her son. She picked up her container and turned attention back to the television, eating in silence for a few moments until Harry finally spoke up again.
“I’m, uh, not ready to talk about it yet.”
Jill kept her eyes on the television, figuring lack of eye contact might help Harry.
“Will you talk to me when you’re ready?”
That answer was good enough for Jill. At least for now.
She glanced across, giving Harry what she hoped was an encouraging smile, before plucking another morsel of pork with her chopsticks. She then nodded towards the television, much to Harry’s relief.
“Anyway, tell me who you think is getting eliminated tonight.”
* * * * *
Harry had his head buried in a textbook again when Jill knocked on his door later that night.
“I’m gonna turn in.”
Harry kept his eyes down. The silence lingered.
“Look at me.” Harry looked up, rather sheepish. “Don’t stay up too late, okay?”
Jill shook her head with a small smile. They both knew better.
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
Jill turned and walked to her bedroom at the opposite end of the hall.
Meanwhile, Harry turned back to his textbook. He read another three pages, making another half-page of notes along the way, before a tapping at the window distracted him.
What the fuck?
He looked to the window, but didn’t see anything.
A few seconds later, he heard the tapping again.
This time, he looked up and saw a familiar silhouette. One that immediately set his heart racing.
Thanks for reading the sixth chapter of Model Behaviour.