CHAPTER 9 -- 'WE'RE GOING TO BE FRIENDS'
"Adam's pretty weird, but I'm not sure he would start shooting people. Then again, I'll probably keep hiding in the bathroom at 12:14 for a while just in case. I'm too young to die and I definitely don't trust psycho Thomas whatever-his-name-is," Candace rambled on into Nicole's ear as she stashed her lunch bag and a paperback book into her locker. Scores of students streamed past them in the long corridor. "Is that what I think it is?" she asked, pointing to the book.
"Yeah, I was going to let Adam borrow it if he wants," Nicole said of "Wild."
"He doesn't seem like an avid reader."
"You never know," Nicole said, closing her locker and turning the lock. "I thought it went pretty well yesterday. Thanks for backing me up, C.C., and holding your tongue at the key moments. ... I guess your shirt did the talking for you," she added with a wink and a grin.
"Pretty rad, eh? Adam definitely couldn't handle hanging out with the two of us at the same time -- he was like a shy pathetic freshman at first," Candace said as they began strolling down the busy hall.
"I'm just glad it turned into a fairly positive experience -- something to build on maybe. I didn't want a full-blown intervention in the woods," Nicole said.
"That's what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised," Candace said, clutching her books close to her chest. "I think the Russian guy and his dog really saved the day."
Nicole chuckled. "A little trail magic right there. I think the food helped Adam's morale, too."
"OK Strayed, I'll see you later."
"I have to meet with Ms. Alvarez now," Nicole said.
"Why? ... Oh yeah, Friday's shoving incident," Candance answered her own question. "Too bad I missed that."
"See what you miss when you're hiding in the bathroom," Nicole quipped with a grin.
"Oh well. Bye Nikki," Candace said, waving as she walked into a classroom on the right.
"Later," Nicole said, heading straight for the guidance counselor's office.
Ms. Alvarez cloaked her strong arms in a long-sleeved black shirt today, but her dark brown eyes didn't lack for intensity as she stared at Nicole in the seat in front of her desk.
"Why would you encourage a boy like Adam to beat somebody up? That's just not like you, Nicole," she said, dark curls framing her tan face. "I have to tell you that incident on Friday really threw me for a loop. I needed the weekend to process it before I talked to you."
"Timmy was making fun of Caleb ..."
"Yes I know, I know that, but still ..."
"What do you mean when you say 'a boy like Adam?'" Nicole asked, cutting off the counselor in turn.
Ms. Alvarez sighed. "You know what I mean, Nicole."
"No, I don't, so you're going to have to tell me," she replied firmly.
Ms. Alvarez raised her eyebrows and thought for a moment.
"Nicole, I really don't prefer to talk about another student behind his back in this office, but I think you're smart enough to know that Adam Upton has some behavioral issues and the last thing he needs is a girl pushing his buttons to act out," she said sharply.
"I wasn't trying to push his buttons," Nicole insisted. "How was I sup- ..."
"But you did, so I've decided that you can join Adam in detention after school today," the counselor ruled curtly.
"Look, I wasn't necessarily planning on giving you detention, but I really don't like your attitude right now. Your tone is very challenging and unremorseful. There is no place for fighting inside this school and I don't want to see you involved in any more incidents like this. Do you understand?"
Nicole rolled her eyes and tugged at her long strands of brown and blue.
"Do what you want, but all I'm trying to do is be friends with Adam and it isn't the easiset thing, you know," she said, suddenly looking up at the ceiling, hoping the counselor wouldn't see the tears welling up in her eyes. She had never been disciplined in school before at any level and it didn't sit well with her.
Ms. Alvarez could see the girl getting emotional and softened her tone.
"OK, Nicole, but you have to understand that I've never seen you two hang out in school before so I'm a little confused -- and then the incident on Friday? I walk into the cafeteria and the lunch lady tells me what happened. Then you defend Adam and admit you played a role in it. What am I supposed to do? Just ignore that? Timmy could've been seriously hurt. Adam is a much bigger boy."
Nicole shrugged and forced back her tears. Her punishment had been handed out so she decided to change the subject. She suddenly wanted to test how much guidance Ms. Alvarez was capable of providing. Hopefully it was better than her ability to hear someone out.
"Can I ask you a question, Ms. Alvarez?"
"Yes, of course, Nicole."
"Do you feel safe coming to this school every day?" the teen asked gravely.
Ms. Alvarez appeared even more confused now, tilting her head to the right, raising only her left eyebrow and clasping her hands together on top of her well-organized desk.
"Yes I do, Nicole -- what are you talking about?"
"I mean, do you ever think about Newtown or Columbine and wonder if something like that could happen here at Lakeview?" Nicole asked, looking the counselor right in the eyes.
"Of course I've thought about it -- how can any of us not think about it when these shootings have happened again and again, but I don't worry or agonize about it," she replied. "Walking around in fear is no way to live. We all come here to learn and teach and guide, and that should be our focus."
Nicole nodded and looked down at her hands. She noticed her finger nails needed a fresh coat of lavender polish as she waited for the counselor's inevitable follow-up question. Did she really want to go there with Ms. Alvarez?
"Why? Do you know about something? ... Because if you do, you should tell me right now, Nicole."
Nicole sighed. "I don't know anything, but I did have a dream a couple of weeks ago," she said.
Ms. Alvarez squinted at her. "A dream? Go on."
"Well, the dream warned me that something bad like that might happen at this school and time was running out to stop it," Nicole said.
Ms. Alvarez nodded thoughtfully and sat back in her padded black chair to ponder what the teen said.
"Dreams are not real, Nicole, but they are a good indication of what's on our subconscious mind -- fears or whatever," she said. "I don't blame you for being afraid of that threat because we all have been inundated with these images of mass killings over the past decade or so, and many of them have taken place in school settings."
"Do you think the dead can talk to us? Warn us?" Nicole asked.
"No ... no, I don't believe that, but that's my personal belief. However, sometimes dreams can focus on things that we might overlook while we're awake. Did the dream warn you about a specific plot or a specific person who might be behind it?" Ms. Alvarez asked.
Nicole thought about her answer for a moment.
"Yes," she finally said, "but I don't want to say who."
Ms. Alvarez nodded silently, picturing the face of Adam Upton in her mind. For the first time in their conversation, the guidance counselor didn't seem confused at all.
Nicole skipped lunch. She needed a break from Adam after her draining talk with Ms. Alvarez. She knew she'd see him in detention anyway and decided to give him the book then. She spent her lunch period in the school library instead, using the computer to do Internet searches on bipolar disorder, Columbine, Newtown, Asperger's syndrome and Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter. It troubled her that she was dealing with an Adam, too.
"Do they really have to have the same exact first name? Creepy," she whispered to herself.
Computer research only added to Nicole's anxiety, so she tried to focus on the progress she had made with Adam instead. She was staring out the window and thinking about Sunday's hike at Rainbow Lake when Mr. Richardson called her name in English class about a half hour later.
"What? I'm sorry," she said, realizing she was in a fog.
"Yes, Nicole, you were clearly someplace far, far away," the teacher said with his usual easy-going style. "That's OK. Can you share with us the song you chose? And please tell us why this particular lyrical poem moved you."
"Sure," she said, straightening up in her seat, clearing her throat and focusing on the iPad screen on her desk. "I chose 'We're Going to Be Friends' by the White Stripes. Most of you probably heard the song on the soundtrack for the movie 'Napoleon Dynamite,' which came out in like 2004."
"Oh I loved that movie," a boy shouted from across the room, drawing a round of laughter, followed by a few dissenters who called the film "stupid," "assanine" and "retarded."
Someone else yelled "vote for Pedro!" in reference to Napoleon's popular Hispanic sidekick in the movie. Yet another person bellowed, "Liger ... a cross between a lion and a tiger, bred for its skills in magic," one of Napoleon's infamous one-liners. That sparked another round of laughter and chaos in the classroom.
Mr. Richardson allowed his students to have some fun with their trip down cinema lane for a few moments, but then he regained control. "OK everyone, let's hear Nicole's take on the White Stripes' song," he said, hushing the room with the downward motion of his hands.
Nicole looked down at her iPad again and recited the first five lines of lyrics to the class:
Fall is here, hear the yell
Back to school, ring the bell
Brand new shoes, walking blues
Climb the fence, books and pens
I can tell that we are going to be friends
Nicole noticed Derek gazing at her intently from the desk to her right as she looked up to address the class from her left-aisle window seat. She gave him a quick smile and spoke clearly. "I've always loved the White Stripes and most people know their song, 'Seven Nation Army' ..."
A boy in the back left of the class interrupted her by humming the popular melody to that song -- a catchy, militant progression often sung by fans at college basketball games and even soccer matches around the world. A few others joined in before Mr. Richardson, once again, had to tamp down the noise with his hands.
"Continue, Nicole," he said.
"Well, I chose 'We're Going to Be Friends' because it's an acoustic song with a great melody and the words take me back 10 years ago when I was 7. That's when going to school was so new and exciting and innocent. Back then it seemed like making friends was so much simpler, easier and fun," she explained, trying her best not to get emotional while she talked. "I'm especially moved by the lyric, 'We don't notice any time pass,' later in the song. It's just so true. We're so completely wrapped up in learning and beginning to discover this world that we can't possibly see the forest through the trees. Before we know it, 10 years have come and gone. Once again, fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell -- only now we're starting 12th grade instead of second. It's almost over for us, but the cycle continues.
"The second-graders over at Park Ridge Elementary are going to be friends, going to learn and won't notice any time pass. It makes me wonder where I'll be, what I'll be doing and who my friends will be 10 years from now -- when I'm 27 and those second-graders are sitting in this classroom ..."
"Telling me about their favorite songs," Mr. Richardson said, deftly finishing Nicole's sentence and smiling like he, too, was moved by the lyrics and her interpretation of them. "Well chosen and well said, Nicole. I really believed you captured the essence of the song and applied it to exactly what you've guys have gone through. I love how the writer -- Jack White in this case -- has written the song in present tense even though he's clearly an adult now, looking back on a time when he was much younger and completely innocent. It's hard not to yearn for that innocence yourself when you read the lyrics and especially when you hear the song. It's a song that makes you smile and hurt a little all at the same time -- and that's not easy to achieve. It's often the simplest songs with the most heartfelt, honest messages that move us the most."
Nicole wiped a tear from her left eye and smiled at Mr. Richardson. Derek gave her a pat on the right shoulder and she blushed. Amazingly, the previously rowdy class even embraced quiet reflection for a moment.
"I like the positively determined title of the song, too," she added softly. "'We're Going to Be Friends.'"