Judith waited anxiously as Maura came back from the registration table, class schedule in hand. She peered over her friend's shoulder as she looked it over.
"We both have C lunch," she said excitedly. "And P.E. fifth period!"
"That's great!" Maura replied. "Did you get that art class you wanted?"
"So do you know anything about these teachers?" Meghan asked, holding her schedule out to her cousin. "Are they easy? Tough?"
"I wouldn't know, but Maura might. She's a sophomore," Judith replied. "Maura, this is my cousin, Meghan. She just moved here to live with her dad."
"Hi," Maura smiled. Before she could say more, her mother interrupted.
"Maura, Vince and I are going to meet with his counselor now. I'll meet you back here when we're done."
"Is it okay if I ride home with Judith?"
"It depends on what Judith's mother says."
"She's in the office," Judith replied. "She's doing some paperwork or something for her new substitute job."
"Well, if I run into her, I'll ask her. Otherwise just wait for me here," Lucy said, before turning to her son. "Come on, Vince. We'll be back."
Maura waited for her mom and Vince to leave before saying, "I hope your mom says yes. I don't think I want to ride home with them after the meeting."
"Your mom still doesn't know about him skipping, does she?"
"No and she doesn't know that he's probably failing either."
"I'm sure my mom won't mind, if we can let your mom know it's okay before we have to leave."
"Did you say your mom is going to sub here?" Meghan asked Judith with a frown.
"Yes," Judith replied with a roll of her eyes.
"So what?" Maura asked confused by their reactions.
"Are you kidding?" Meghan replied. "Would you want your mom here all the time, knowing everything that's going on at school?"
Maura shrugged and said nothing.
"Oh my gosh and she's probably going to be calling my mom and telling her stuff all the time too."
"Maybe not," Judith said slowly, as she tried to look on the bright side. "My mom probably won't be here that much and hopefully she'll be in a different part of the school most of the time. Besides, there's probably not much that they would care about knowing anyway."
Meghan looked unconvinced. "You know what? I think I'm going to go ask Julian what he knows about these teachers. He's a Junior, he should know what there is to know."
"Wait," Maura said after seeing who Julian was with. "We'll come with. I wanted to ask Jeremy what his classes are. Coming, Judith?"
Judith sighed and reluctantly followed behind them, hoping this wasn't a sign of how things were going to be all semester.
"Thank you for coming in, Dr. Stuart," Ms. Johnston, the counselor, greeted Lucy with a handshake. "Vince, why don't you go with Mr. Shahan and get started on cleaning up the graffiti. We may call you back in later." Once Vince and the janitor were out of the office she said to Lucy, "Please, have a seat. We have a lot to talk about."
Lucy sighed knowing that couldn't be a good thing.
"Let's start with academics. As we discussed last spring, Vincent needed to make up credits in summer school in order to graduate on time. I have the evaluations from his summer school teachers and I'm afraid they aren't what we had hoped."
"He didn't pass?" Lucy asked, her hopes sinking.
"No. From what I can see his test scores were pretty good and he did well on the assignments he completed. His problems seem to be missing and incomplete assignments and poor attendance. He missed a lot of classes this summer and his grades reflect that."
"Wait. He missed classes? How many?"
"Several. He was present for about half of the class meetings. Was there any reason for him to be absent so often?"
Lucy exhaled sharply and shook her head. "No legitimate reason," she replied. "He should not have missed any classes. In fact, I thought he hadn't. I made sure he was up for school every morning before I left for work. On my days off or when I worked later, I dropped him off at the school personally. I can't believe he just didn't go to class."
The counselor nodded her head slowly and thoughtfully. "I was afraid of that. He will have to make up these credits before he will be able to graduate."
"Is that still possible? Is there still a chance for him to graduate on time?"
"There is. He will have to pass all of his classes and make up the credits he didn't complete in the summer in a night class. It's still possible, but it's going to be up to him to apply himself. Vincent is capable of doing this. He has the intelligence. He does well on the work he attempts and completes. He just isn't applying himself and taking the initiative to complete it. I'm confident he can do it, but whether he wants to and is willing to work at it is the issue."
"Is there anything we can do?" Lucy asked desperately.
"We can be vigilant. I think you're going to have to keep on top of him at home and make sure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing. Making sure he's attending class and doing the work."
"I have been, as much as I possibly can. Other than quitting my job and never leaving his side, I don't know what more I can do. Even if that was possible, I'm not sure it would help."
"I want to meet with him at least once a week during the school year, perhaps more often if necessary, and check in with him and his teachers to see how he's doing, if he's keeping good attendance and turning in his work. I'm willing to do whatever I can to help, but I'm afraid, ultimately, it's going to be up to him."
"I just wish I knew what to do to get through to him. He just acts like he doesn't care at all, like none of this is important," Lucy said. "I'm not sure what he's going to do. Sometimes I worry about how he's going to end up, especially when I start getting calls to pick him up at the police station because he's vandalized the school. I am so sorry and so embarrassed about that. I feel like I can't apologize enough."
"Don't feel like you need to apologize, Dr. Stuart. This incident is out of character for Vincent. He isn't a troublemaker at school. He is, however, impressionable. Any kind of slight misbehavior we've seen from him in the past has been from the influence of other kids. I would imagine this incident is the same type of situation."
Vince grumbled and mumbled under his breath as he dipped the sponge in paint thinner and began scrubbing at the brick wall.
Feeling eyes watching him, he looked sideways out of the corner of his eye to see a man standing on the sidewalk watching him. He ignored him and continued working, hoping the man would just go away and not bother him.
When the man continued to stare and then started to walk towards him, Vince scowled and braced himself for whatever remark the man was going to make.
"Is this your work?' the man asked as he motioned towards the graffiti.
Vince mumbled and shrugged, preparing himself to be lectured at again.
"Dumb question, right? You probably wouldn't be cleaning it up if it wasn't. You did paint it?"
"Yeah. Why do you want to know?"
"Because it's pretty good actually. Technically speaking, that is. If it had been authorized work, somewhere more appropriate, then you wouldn't have to cover it up."
"You like it?" Vince asked in disbelief.
"I probably shouldn't tell you that. I don't want to encourage vandalism. But yeah, I think it's good. Do you paint a lot?"
"Some. Mostly I draw."
"What do you like to draw?"
"Whatever," he shrugged.
"Well, it's good to be versatile and practice drawing many different things . . . Do you go to school here?"
"Yeah, I go here."
"Then how come you haven't taken any of my art classes?"
"I don't know. I never thought of it."
"Would you be interested in taking one?"
Vince lowered his sponge and turned to look at the man. Now he was getting his attention.
When Lucy came back from the meeting, Maura could tell she was in a bad mood. She decided not to press the issue of going home with Judith and instead said goodbye to her friends and followed her mother out of the cafeteria.
"Where's Vince?" she ventured to ask.
"He's staying here to clean up the damage he's done. I'll come back to pick him up later."
"Excuse me. Is that your son cleaning up the graffiti outside?" the man asked as he overheard Lucy talking.
Lucy sighed, dreading what he might say next. "Yes."
He smiled, noting the resemblance in their expressions. "I'm Mr. Gregory, the art teacher here at the Academy. I have to tell you, ma'am, your son is very talented."
Lucy was taken aback. That had not been what she had been expecting to hear at all. "Thank you," she mustered, not sure how to respond.
"I was just talking to him outside and I'd like for him to sign up for one of my art classes. I was just about to talk to Ms. Johnston about it and you, if you were still here."
"That's very thoughtful of you, but my son has a lot of credits to catch up on if he's going to graduate. Ms. Johnston was just telling me that he's going to have to take classes at night just to finish the courses that he's required to have to graduate. I don't think taking an elective like art is an option for him."
"I think it has to be an option," Mr. Gregory argued. "Talents need to be nurtured. I think your son would make a great addition to the school's Art Society, but he would have to be enrolled in an art class in order to join."
"I don't see how that's possible-"
"Anything is possible. Let me talk to Ms. Johnston on his behalf. Surely one of my classes could count towards the credits that he needs."
Lucy still seemed doubtful. "Even if that does work out, I'm not sure art classes are something we need to be worrying about right now."
"I think it's exactly the thing. If it's a class your son is interested in and good at, he's going to make a better grade in it that something that doesn't interest him. Being part of the Art Society will keep him busy after school so he won't have time to get into trouble and one of the conditions to being in the Art Society, like any other extracurricular activity at the Academy, is that the student has to maintain passing grades in all of their courses. That might be just the motivation that he needs to get those final credits."
Lucy mulled it over. He did make it sound promising.
"What do you say? Can I talk to Mrs. Johnston into getting Vince into one of my classes, provided it will count towards what he needs to graduate?"
Lucy nodded and shrugged. "Okay. At this point I'm willing to try anything to get him to graduate."
Mr. Gregory smiled. "I'll see what I can do."