Excerpt: The Greenlee Project
The bus pulled away from the curb slowly, but the shift in gear caused such a jolt that it shook Greenlee’s whole body.
She woke up dazed and confused, her eyes focusing on an odd pattern she didn’t recognize, back of the bus seats, it hadn’t registered that she was on the bus until the motion and stale odor that wafted through the aisle filled her nostrils. It was nauseating, and brought her back to reality quick enough, bus, she’d hopped onto a bus, and now she had no idea where she was. Greenlee stared out the window, but didn’t recognize a thing. Hanging her head in her hands and closing her eyes, she thought back to the events that had taken place. Cole’s laughter rang in her ears and flash backs of kids pointing fingers and laughing at her raced through her mind, embarrassed she sank down in her seat, heart burdened and heavy, knowing she couldn’t stay on the bus much longer, she panicked.
Glancing out the window, hoping she’d recognize something, Greenlee she was lost. Lost in that particular moment, all things considered, didn’t seem too bad. Each time a bitter memory flashed through her mind, her cheeks involuntarily flushed beet red. Trying to block the memories out she shook her head as if clearing a slate, but they continued to weigh upon her like a wet blanket; heavy, and impossible to lift. Nervously she stood up and moved toward the front of the bus. Incognito, if only from herself, she hung head and prepared to step onto the sidewalk.
The bus stopped and the doors swished open, but as she prepared to step down, Greenlee noticed the driver staring at her. She had an odd look on her face and her mouth was open as if she wanted to say something but she didn’t speak. Greenlee couldn’t discern if the lady was concerned or if she owed her more money. As if purposely biting her tongue, the driver simply shook her head, clenched her mouth shut and waited for Greenlee to step down. As soon as she did, the doors closed behind her and the bus pulled away.
Greenlee stood on the pavement, not sure which direction she should walk. Her phone vibrated and it occurred to her that she hadn’t talked to a single person all day. Avoiding people forever, impossible, she knew that, but for now it seemed like a plan. Twenty-eight missed calls, eleven messages, fifty-four texts, and Greenlee hit delete without listening or reading a single one of them. She couldn’t deal, not right then anyway, even knowing the consequences for what she’d just done. Marianne was becoming a problem, non-stop calling and against her will Greenlee answered the phone.
“Are you kidding me? That’s all you have to say?”
The phone went silent. Greenlee didn’t want to talk, let alone argue. She already felt like a piece of malleable meat, beat to a pulp for someone else’s entertainment, chewed out for someone else to feel like they were doing their job as a good friend. Regardless of Marianne’s intention, this wasn’t her idea of a phone call. Cell pressed against her ear, Greenlee heard the words, but her mind was a million miles away. For the first time the saying in one ear and out the other made total sense. Marianne kept talking – Greenlee wasn’t listening…dead silence. Finally Marianne caught on. Pause. Awkward silence.
“Ok I’m sorry – I admit it; I’m not thinking; are you all right?” Marianne’s voice had notably softened.
What a stupid question! Of course she wasn’t all right. Greenlee didn’t respond. Her throat felt as if it was closing up and she couldn’t breathe. Who was she kidding? She couldn’t have talked through the tears anyway.
“Greenlee where are you?”
Greenlee glanced at the street sign above her head and mumbled the name, adding, “I don’t really don’t know where I am, and I’m not sure I really care.”
Marianne felt stupid for sounding so bitchy when Greenlee had first picked up. Worry. Worry can make even the meekest of personalities harsh and seemingly bitter.
“I can send someone to come and get you.”
The comment both surprised and alerted Greenlee to the unusual situation that she now found her self in. She declined. She had mixed feelings. She wanted to be safe but she didn’t want to see or talk to anyone, at least not yet. She knew an impending confrontation was on the horizon and avoiding it with her parents, impossible, but she just couldn’t face them or the argument yet. Not for her sake, but for theirs – the humiliation she believed she’d caused them was too much to stand.
“No. Thanks. I’ll punch it in my phone nav. and go from there. If I need you, I’ll call.”
“Are you sure?” Disappointment in Marianne’s voice as she realized she’d been dismissed.
“Yes. OK?” Greenlee had zero intentions of calling.
Greenlee was dismissive and Marianne felt ditched. Hurt and disappointed that Greenlee hadn’t trusted her, she reminded herself it wasn’t about her. Greenlee pulled up the nav app. on her phone. She was 28 miles from home. How in the heck had that happened? Suddenly she felt fearful and started to panic, shocking even her, she hit speed dial D.
“Greenlee where are you? We’ve been trying to call you all day.”
He didn’t wait for her response; he just kept firing questions at her one right after the other. Immediately Greenlee felt as if she’d made a mistake placing the call.
“What are you playing at?” “What are you doing?” no hesitation, “Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!” “We don’t deserve this!” “Greenlee…. Greenlee, where are you?”
Greenlee blurted the first thing that came to mind, “Dad I don’t really know,” she said, “And if you don’t mind, which I’m sure you do, I really don’t want to talk about this right now!”
“Are you crazy?”
Her dad bit his lip, took a deep breath, and as calmly as he could in that particular moment said, “Greenlee we’re definitely going to talk about it; maybe not at this very second, but you can rest assured we will talk about it!”
“Dad, could you just find me? Please. Save the lecture for later.” Pause. “I don’t even know where I am.” … “Dad I know you’re mad at me, but please?”
A combination of relief and fear swept over him with such magnitude that he was forced to bat away his own tears. The photo of Greenlee staring up at him that sat on his desk didn’t help; all smiles, sparkling eyes, and freckles across her cute button nose, took him back to the days he’d lift her in his arms and wing her around and around till she begged he’d stop. He took a deep breath and spoke as softly as he could without breaking down.
“I’m not mad at you Greenlee,” he said softly, “But we will talk about this and you know we that we have too,” he grabbed his jacked and his keys. “I’m on my way. Don’t move from that spot and text me the street address or at least the name of the street and a landmark.”
“Don’t talk to strangers,” he slammed down the phone and left his office.
As the air chilled Greenlee realized two things (1) she was starving and (2) she was cold. She wondered if she should ask her dad to stop and grab her a bite to eat, but given the circumstances she figured it wasn’t the best time to ask for a favor. She kept her head down, hoping to avoid eye contact with the masses of people that now flooded the street, she wasn’t used to being in the city by herself at that hour and the hustle and bustle of people that had spilled over onto the concrete made her feel fearful. Fortunately no one was paying much attention to her, and that brought her comfort. She shivered as a gust of wind blew through her body, and her hands clambered to grab her sweatshirt and wrap it as tightly around herself as she could. She shivered and continued to wait for her dad, who seemed to be taking too long. Odd – her emotions running so ramped, surprising even Greenlee. In less than twenty-four hours she had experienced both ends of the spectrum, from not wanting to see her dad at all, to feeling relieved that he was finally pulling up next to the curb.
The car door opened and she slid into the front seat without saying a word. Thankfully her dad asked her if she was hungry, and yes, starving more like it came to mind. She nodded. He pulled into the first fast food place they came to and ordered a burger and a large coffee. Handing her the brown soggy bag, he continued driving home.
Greenlee spoke first. Her voice echoed the sound of distress; her pitch inconsistent, and frantically she tried to compose herself to speak to him without trembling. It was impossible. Reaching over he grasped her hand. He never took his eyes off the road and didn’t offer any kind words – his simple gesture was enough. It was heartfelt, meaningful, filled with love and compassion, and touched Greenlee beyond any words that he could have chosen anyway. Gently he squeezed her hand in his, and she tried to speak.
“I…I can’t go back there, dad, I just can’t.” The tears that had filled her eyes brimmed over and flowed uncontrollably down her cheeks. She swallowed, sucked in a gasp of air, exhaled, and tried to continue.
“The whole thing is just too un-freaking believable. I can’t wrap my head around it. I feel so stupid.”
She wasn’t hungry anymore but habitually took another bite from her half-eaten burger, chewed a moment too long, swallowed, and looked at him as he continued to drive.
“I’m begging you daddy, dad, please, please, don’t make me go back there.”
Her words and the tone, with which she said them, broke his heart. He hurt for her. He was angry for her, mad, mad at himself for not knowing, and furious with the kids that were involved. His daughter. His daughter! Terrible for any daughter, but why had this happened to his daughter? Blinking back tears he’d hoped that she hadn’t seen, he struggled to find the right words. His voice sounded different than usual; shaky but soft, concerned, but definitely filled with anguish. Greenlee studied his face for a moment but was forced to turn away. Tears had filled her dad’s eyes, and though it would have killed him to know, Greenlee, felt humiliation engulf her as she realized inadvertently she had brought her father to tears and caused him such pain.
“It was cruel and I want to kill him, hurt him, and the others.” He hesitated, blinked, and added, “And of course I can’t. I’m angry, no, make that furious! I’m disgusted and mad at myself for not protecting you.” He couldn’t look at her, but he had to ask, “Greenlee, how did I not know?”
Greenlee put down the burger and whispered, “Its easy dad, I didn’t even know!”
He stopped at a red light, released his grip on her hand, and took a sip of coffee. Clearing his throat, he tried to speak again, but he couldn’t. The words simply would not come. Rage had taken over and fearful of scaring her, he put his foot on the gas pedal and moved forward into the flow of traffic again.
“If you don’t go back you have to transfer. If you transfer, they win. You can’t let them win! You are better than they will ever dream of being; I hope you know that. I hope Greenlee, that you see just how amazing you are, you have to go back.”
Another tear rolled down his cheek and he didn’t even bother to wipe it away; Greenlee sobbed in silence.
“I know; actually, I don’t know, how hard this will be for you. I’d be lying if I said I did. But I do know this,” he hesitated choosing his words carefully, “You have to do this; you have to do this for you! I don’t care how long it takes, but the sooner sweetheart as hard as it is, I know the better. But you’ve gotta go back.”
He never said another word and Greenlee didn’t offer any either, there was no point. The inevitable was around the corner, but how she’d deal with the situation once she went back to school, facing those people, was left to be seen.
The principal had been calling their house all day long, but that only added to the fear and frustration that her parents felt; they hadn’t even mentioned the calls to Greenlee.
“We assure you,” the principal had said, “We will handle this situation appropriately. This student, and any others for that matter, that was involved with this dreadful situation will be disciplined to the full extent that the district is able.” He hesitated and added, “Mrs. Granger, you have to know that we do not under any circumstances approve of this behavior. Right?”
The Principal waited for assurance he was handling the situation appropriately, but that affirmation wasn’t about to come. Mrs. Granger was angry and her words were sharp and bitter; it didn’t matter that he didn’t approve, it had happened, and it happened to her kid.
“What am I supposed to tell her?” she had asked.