His brothers, Gabriel, twenty, and Con, now a senior at the same high school, would give him a swat, or a punch on the arm and tell him to get over it. He much preferred his sister's methods.
Another irritation was the time limit that Mr. Rossi had set regarding the length of phone calls.
Johnny silently and repeatedly thanked his wife for convincing him that a private line would be more effective than a party line, which he'd considered since it was supposed to be less expensive. But with four other children vying for phone time, as well as calls from his and Natie's friends, a time limit was necessary. He had a separate line for his business calls in his study, but it was strictly for business, so he also used the house phone for informal conversations, strictly observing the time limit.
It didn't stop Amadeo from chafing at the restriction which lately seemed made only to inconvenience him. He was frustrated by the fact that his father would make him stop studying at nine, even when he was on a roll and didn't want to stop, and make him go to bed at ten o' clock whether he was tired or not. In an uncharacteristic act of defiance he would pull the covers up over his head and continue studying by flashlight. His parents made sure he was up, washed, dressed, fed and out at the same time every day.
That particular morning, Wednesday the tenth, Mrs. Rossi had had to scold her youngest several times, frowning in equal parts concern and frustration. She had asked many times, finally demanded, that Amadeo tell her what was wrong, but he insisted he was fine and would say no more as he scowled at his plate.
His brother Con, had at first griped at his little brother to cool it with the attitude but had been silenced with a look from his father. As a result he sat quietly, eating his breakfast, and shooting the occasional unfriendly look at his brother.
Mr. Rossi had finally told his youngest son that he didn't have to tell them what was wrong if he didn't want to, but three days of his foul mood was more than enough. He threatened Amadeo with a bottom warming if he didn't stop scowling and growling at everyone, at which point the boy subsided into sullen silence which in a way was worse than the previous behaviour. He was sent on his way by his mother with a kiss, and his father with a warning to behave himself.
The routine was the same as usual. Classes went on as usual. The teachers reviewed the year’s lessons in a valiant effort to prepare their students for the finals. Students sat at their desks as usual. The tough guys feigning boredom, some propped their chins on their fists warding off sleep. One artistic girl had made a mask out of paper. She'd used her makeup to make it look like her face, complete with a hole for her nose, and wide awake, attentive eyes, held in place with her glasses, while she dozed behind it. Others took notes earnestly as though they didn't already have all the information they needed in their notebooks and texts.
Several teachers had been concerned by Amadeo's unusual behaviour and had tried to approach him but he'd insisted that he was fine and had excused himself quickly. As the days wore on his teacher's concern had turned to frustration and then anger as his manner hadn't improved noticeably from the day before, or the day before that.
He'd been reprimanded several times by teachers for his inattention and his attitude. He'd offered hollow apologies in a tone which left no doubt that he was only humoring them, resulting in his being written up for disciplinary action.
Two visits to Barne's office had been unproductive. Barnes had been unwilling to remand Amadeo to Mr. Cobrane, not because he didn't feel the boy had earned it but because Amadeo's record until then, barring the incident with Fishburn, which had turned out to be a valid issue, was spotless. The boy had also recently been through a lot and was obviously struggling to catch up to his other year mates academically, so despite the rules, Barnes was willing to cut the boy some slack.
Lunch came, the only time Amadeo could sit and relax with his friends who all joked and laughed, seemingly unaffected by the upcoming finals which for them would be held in two days’ time.
"S'matter, Dae? You been draggin friggin thunder heads around with you all week. What's wrong?" Milo asked finally when a joke elicited no more than a faint smile, before Amadeo turned back to glower at his carton of milk which had apparently done something to displease him.
"Nothin', Mi. Everything is friggin sunshine and buttercups." He growled before getting up, snatching up his tray and stalking to the trash bin to dump the remains of his lunch. After that he did the unthinkable. He strode out of the lunch room before dismissal, opened the main doors to the school and went outside, without permission, during school hours. He walked down the steps and into the tree filled courtyard and stopped in the middle of the walk way. He closed his eyes and put his head back, his face to the sun, and stretched his arms out, palms up. The sun warmed his face and shoulders, and he willed the energy and warmth into his body.
He was so tired. His body felt much as it had when he'd first woken in the hospital. Heavy and sore. His head felt as though it were filled cotton batting. It was hard to think. He didn't want to think. He was tired of thinking. He was tired of studying. He was tired of having so many restrictions placed upon him. Sure he'd had rules to follow all of his life but lately he felt like a prisoner. He was tired of rules. He was tired of school. He just wanted to lie down in the sunshine and listen to the birds. Think of it as a Science project. Nature Study.
"Mr. Rossi!" Came the one voice guaranteed to send a shot of freezing cold down his spine regardless of the warmth of the day. "What, may I ask, do you think you're doing?"
Amadeo put his arms down but kept his face to the sun and his back to the DOD. "I'm think I'm standing in the sunshine." He turned to finally look inquiringly over his shoulder at the vice principal, "Why, what do you think you're doing?" he asked conversationally.
Mr. Cobrane's eyes narrowed. He stepped aside and pointed back toward the school. "You will return to the school this minute, Mr. Rossi. You will meet me in my office, immediately."
"Can't," replied Amadeo, closing his eyes and turning his face back toward the sun.
"What do you mean, 'can't'?" asked Cobrane, becoming quite angry.
"Well sir, you said 'immediately', and unfortunately immediately came and went so fast that it was already past before you could even finish the word."
If there was one thing he disliked about being a high school Vice Principal it was having to deal with the smart alecs, whose clique Amadeo Rossi had apparently decided to join. Cobrane advanced on Amadeo, who hearing the footsteps, seemed to come to his senses rather quickly and took a few steps backward. The older man leaned in toward the boy, taking deep breaths near his face and his clothes and hair.
When Amadeo realized what the man was doing he burst into laughter. "I'm not that stupid, sir. And I'd like to believe that if I were that stupid, I wouldn't do it at school."
"Then you and I will return to the school together, Mr. Rossi. And we're going to have a discussion about your behaviour today," the older man said, taking the boy by the wrist and leading him briskly back toward the school.
Amadeo either didn't notice or chose to ignore the gaggle of students who stood, whispering, against the walls in the hallways or crowding each other in doorways. Others peered around their friends, and gawked as Cobrane escorted him back into the school. He didn't even protest the slight manhandling from the older man as he was dragged into the vice principal's office. Once the boy was out of sight the teachers, who had been futilely attempting to get their students back under control, ordered them back to their desks, closed the doors and resumed their lessons.
Cobrane stood Amadeo dead center in his office and called Mrs. Jennings, asking her to contact Mr. Barnes and requesting that the two of them come to his office. It only took a few moments before the two of them arrived, Mr. Barnes looking stern, and Mrs. Jennings with an impassive expression, carrying a clipboard containing several sheets of paper and a pen. They stood unobtrusively against the wall by the door while Mr. Cobrane sat on the edge of the desk. He pinned Amadeo with a severe look and crossed his arms.
"Mr. Rossi, for the past few days, your teachers have been complaining about your behaviour and attitude in their classes. This has happened once before, if you recall." He waited for Amadeo to acknowledge his words. Amadeo, for his part, stood silently, not acknowledging, agreeing or disagreeing with Cobrane's words, his gaze focused on the picture behind Cobrane's desk.
"If this behaviour had occurred after your injury, as we were informed it might, then we would have understood and tried to help you in whatever way we could."
"In the past few days, your attitude has," he paused to pick up a sheet of paper and began to read, "has been defiant, belligerent, impolite, abrasive, inconsiderate, quarrelsome, disrespectful... in short Mr. Rossi, you have been behaving like a sulky, grumpy, ill mannered, spoiled, naughty child," he said pointedly, pleased to see the flush of embarrassment on the boy's face. "Until now you have been getting by on your past academic record, and history. The demeanor you've been exhibiting lately must stop, and I'm afraid, sir, that your credit is no longer good here."
So many of the young men called into his office kept up their tough guy facade until the last swat. Some maintained a stoic expression, shrugging the punishment off as no more than a mosquito bite. Cobrane despaired for those boys who were too afraid to be boys even in the privacy of his office where none of the other students could see them. He wondered if Amadeo would turn out to be one of those boys.
He saw Amadeo's jaw muscles clench, and his Adams apple bob as he swallowed nervously. The boy's expression, however, didn't change. Cobrane glanced over his shoulder to see what held the boy's attention. The painting on the wall featured roiling masses of silver-grey clouds above a field of grass and flowers, bending in the wind. A single lightning bolt reached from the sky, apparently ready to destroy the beauty below it.
"You will receive six swats, Mr. Rossi, for your bad behaviour, disrespect and attitude over the past three days."
Amadeo's eyes widened, but rather than feigning disdain, or becoming fearful or nervous as so many other students had in the past, Amadeo became angry.
"Six! Six?! The cowards who stood by and watched Angelo getting the crap beat out of him only got three and detention! Yeah, I've been rude but I didn't nearly allow someone to get killed, and I get six?!"
Cobrane took a step toward Amadeo, who swallowed convulsively and took a step backward, still angry but now afraid that he'd crossed the line. Rather than grab the boy and begin the punishment, the Vice Principal walked calmly past and drew a chair away from the wall.
"Sit, Mr. Rossi. Now," Cobrane said, quietly but in a tone which told the boy that however politely it had been said, it was not a request.
Amadeo sat and looked anxiously up at the older man. Cobrane went back to his desk and sat on the edge, one leg on the desk, hands clasped loosely on his knee, and looked down at the child before him.
"I'd like you to take some deep, slow breaths and try to calm yourself. Then we can converse like two rational people," Cobrane said, still in that same quiet voice. "Breathe in, please. Slowly now. And out, slowly," he continued as the boy did as he was told. "Again, please."
Cobrane could see that Amadeo was calmer than he had been, but he could still see the anger in the boy's eyes and the tension in his shoulders. He was tempted to tell the boy to breathe again but was fairly certain that that would only set the boy off again.
"Now, Mr. Rossi, are you able to speak to me rationally and in a normal tone?"
Amadeo gave the man a sullen look but replied, this side of respectfully, in the affirmative.
"First of all, I'm curious. Where did you learn of the disciplinary action taken against the boys who stood by and watched? That was privileged information."
"Someone told me," Amadeo replied defensively.
"May I know who?"
"No," Amadeo replied shortly. "Sir," he added quickly as he saw the dangerous narrowing of the man's eyes.
"Very well, Mr. Rossi. My next question for you is whether or not you believe you've earned punishment. Not..." he said, holding a hand up to forestall Amadeo's quick response, "Not whether you've earned six swats specifically, just whether or not you believe you deserve to be punished. Do you believe that your behavior, manners and attitude toward your teachers and fellow students have been acceptable for the past few days?" He saw the hesitation on Amadeo's face and added, "An honest answer, Mr. Rossi. Despite everything else that has happened recently, no one has questioned your integrity. Please don't destroy my good impression of you by lying now."
"Yes sir. I believe I've earned it," Amadeo said softly, once again focused on the painting behind the desk.
"Look at me please, Mr. Rossi," Cobrane said in a gentle voice, then continued when the boy looked him in the eye. "Your fellow students, who were punished for standing by while another student was in danger, were given three swats each, and two month's detention to be served in it's entirety for them to be eligible for graduation. If I were to give you the same punishment, you would then be ineligible for promotion to the next grade even when you pass your final exams."
"Your behaviour should have been addressed before now, but you've been allowed leeway because of your past history. You're a good student, well liked, not normally a trouble maker, respectful, attentive, honest, as I've said, helpful. However, lately something has been eating at you, and you've allowed it to manifest itself in inappropriate language and behaviour. You've been unwilling to talk about it to any of your teachers or fellow students, nor even your parents."
Amadeo's eyes widened a little in shock that Cobrane knew that little fact.
"Yes, Mr. Rossi. I know. I've spoken to your parents, who, like your teachers and friends, have been very worried. I suggested to your parents that a little more structure to your day would be helpful. Not allowing you to study yourself to exhaustion. A set, enforced bedtime...."
"You did that?!" 'Deo shouted, slapping the palms of his hands on the armrests of the wooden chair as he stood to face the older man.
"Mr. Rossi," said Cobrane in the tone that froze students, and even some teachers, in place. "Sit down. Now." he paused to allow Amadeo to do as he'd been told.
Amadeo continued to stand, outwardly angry and defiant, but inwardly shaking with equal amounts anger and fear.
"If you insist on behaving like a petulant child throwing a tantrum, then I have no qualms about treating you as such. Sit down, sir. One more outburst on your part and I will have you stand in the corner until you are calm enough to hold a rational conversation. Do I make myself clear?" Cobrane said silkily, cold, black eyes trained on the young man before him.
Amadeo searched Cobrane's face and found nothing to indicate that the man was joking or bluffing in any way. He glanced over to where Barnes and Mrs. Jennings had been standing silently. Mrs. Jennings wrote furiously. Her job was merely to record the discussion between the DOD and the student as proof that the student had been informed of and understood the proposed punishment and the reasoning behind it. She would leave as soon as Amadeo signed the form, whereas if the student had been a girl she would have stayed and Mr. Barnes would have gone. Thankfully the majority of girls preferred detention to paddling, so she was rarely called on to serve in that capacity.
Mr. Barnes stood quietly, an impassive expression on his face. He was only there as a witness to the discussion and punishment, to verify that the student understood the charges, to make sure that he was given only the punishment that Cobrane had dictated, and to verify that the student was in good health afterward.
Amadeo's first thought was to turn and storm out of the office. Naughty? Petulant? Spoiled?! Put him in the corner, for God's sake?! Had he somehow, unknowingly, been thrown into a time machine and been transported eleven years into his past? Did everyone here now see him as a five year old? This was ridiculous! They couldn't treat him like this!
"If you choose to walk out rather than take your punishment, you will be automatically expelled, Mr. Rossi," Cobrane said with finality, dropping the anvil that Amadeo had been expecting. "Now I suggest you do as you were told. Sit down, mind your manners, and we can finish our discussion."
It was bad enough that he'd been written up and had actually ended up in Cobrane's office. It was bad enough that he was about to have his hindquarters blistered, and certainly bad enough that his parents were going to hear about it first by phone and then in writing. This was definitely not a school paper that his parents would tape to the refrigerator.
For all of that he'd doubtless be grounded for the rest of the year, if he were lucky. But if he were expelled on top of it all, his father, kind as he was, would murder his youngest. The murder would be deemed justified and fair, and no court in the world would convict him.
Amadeo blushed and sat down quietly, hands palms down on his thighs and his gaze on his hands.
Once again Cobrane read the list of complaints against Amadeo, including the infraction regarding leaving the school without permission, and explained why and how his decision had been made. "Do you contest any of these complaints, young man?" he asked.
"No sir," Amadeo said quietly.
"Do you understand how the proposed punishment was decided upon?"
"Do you understand why your punishment is not the same as those of your school mates?"
"Do you have any protests you'd like to raise at this time?"
"Do you accept the punishment which has been chosen for you?"
Amadeo tried not to swallow and lick his lips nervously but failed. "Yes sir."
"Is there anything else regarding this disciplinary action or the events leading up to it that you'd like to expand upon?"
"You do understand that your punishment is to be six swats with the paddle?"
Mr. Cobrane nodded to Mrs. Jennings who came forward with the completed forms. "Read these, Mr. Rossi, to be sure that our conversation was recorded correctly, and sign both copies at the bottom, please."
Amadeo scanned the pages. There were two sets, both said the exact same thing, written in Mrs. Jenning's impeccable cursive. He sighed heavily and signed the forms.
He was angry at the four boys who had come to him with their stories. Angry at the student population in general who must have known, must have seen, must have heard something, and had done nothing. Angry with the teachers, all of whom had stood by and allowed his friend to be abused time after time. There had to have been signs.
There had to have been marks on the kid afterward. Bruises. Dirt on his clothes. Hadn't anyone noticed that he was frequently alone in the lunch room and possibly going hungry because some jerk had turned his lunch into ant food?
He thought back to the day his father had spoken to him, and assured him that what had happened to Angelo hadn't been his fault. Johnny had reminded his son that he couldn't have done more than he had, and that if he'd known sooner he would have helped sooner. He'd pointed out that he had, in fact, jumped in and helped when he did know. That his actions had spurred other students to take action. That he should be proud of himself.
But he wasn't. He wasn't proud of himself. Not in the least. Inside, Amadeo still blamed himself. He felt that he'd failed this boy, his boy, Angelo, whom he'd only known for a couple of months now, and who had come to mean so much to him. More than a friend, more than family. As though Angelo were somehow part of him, as though he filled an empty space Amadeo hadn't known he had, as though he somehow resided in him.
"Mr. Rossi. Mr. Rossi!"
Amadeo blinked and focused his attention on Cobrane who looked both annoyed and concerned. "I'm sorry sir. I guess my mind wandered for a moment. What were you saying, sir?"
"Are you ready to begin?" Cobrane asked for the fourth time.
Amadeo licked his lips and nodded. "Yes sir."
"Stand up then, please, and empty out anything you may have in your pockets."
Amadeo stood up and glanced around. Mrs. Jennings was gone but Mr. Barnes still stood quietly by the now closed door.
"He is only here to make sure I don't injure you inadvertently. Understood?"
"Yes sir," Amadeo said, removing his keys and wallet from his pockets.
"Very well then, Mr. Rossi. Lean over," he said gesturing to the desk. "Place your elbows on the desk, palms down. You may count if you like but you don't have to. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir," replied Amadeo as he did as he was told.
"Spread your feet a little wider apart, Amadeo," Cobrane said, voice once again gentle. "About shoulder width. You'll have better balance that way."
Once again, the boy did as he was told. He felt the slight pressure as Mr. Cobrane tapped the paddle across his backside gently for aim. Amadeo thought of Angelo tapping Shave and a Haircut on the rim of the pan and tried not to laugh. This was definitely not the time for laughter.
The first swat made Amadeo grimace, but he managed to remain silent, but only just. That paddle stung like nothing he'd ever experienced before.
The second swat elicited another wince and an involuntary hiss. Amadeo could feel his toes curling in his sneakers.
The third swat forced him up onto his toes. He grimaced, stood up, and covered his backside, clutching the stinging, burning cheeks to alleviate the pain.
"Back into position Mr. Rossi." Cobrane said sternly. "If you get up or interfere with your punishment again I will start from the beginning. Do you understand?"
Amadeo drew a deep breath and replied, "Yes sir," on the exhale.
The fourth caused him to gasp. He had to fight his instinct to get up and clutch the burning cheeks again.
"Very good, Mr. Rossi. Two more now. Nearly done. Are you all right?" Cobrane asked.
Amadeo wanted to get up and yell at the man. 'No! I'm not all right! Do I *look* all right? How about if I take that blasted thing and use it on you and then we can see how all right you are! Jackassssssss!'
Deciding that he wasn't yet ready to die he ground out, "Yes sir."
He hadn't meant for it to happen, but the fifth swat tore a muted yell from him. He felt the tears running down his cheeks and was grateful that it would be over soon.
"One more, Mr. Rossi. You're doing very well," Cobrane said quietly. "Are you ready?"
Amadeo gulped, took a deep breath and tried to answer, but all that came out of his throat was a tiny, strained sound that a mouse would have had trouble hearing. He cleared his throat, took another breath and managed to say, "Yes sir," in a nearly normal sounding voice.
"Last one, Amadeo," Cobrane said gently. "Ready?"
Amadeo nodded and braced himself but it wasn't enough. Another sound was forced out of his throat with enough pressure to cause it to feel as though he'd swallowed sandpaper.
Cobrane allowed the boy to gather his composure a little before helping him stand upright. He handed some tissue to the child, who took it gratefully, excused himself, turned his back on the two men and wiped his face and nose as quietly as possible.
When he felt he was more himself, Amadeo turned back toward the two men. He was surprised and confused by the look of approval on Cobrane's face. Mr. Barnes now stood beside them with more tissues, offering them to Amadeo who took them with thanks and put them in his pocket.
"All right now, Amadeo?" Mr. Barnes asked kindly. "Do you feel the need to see the school nurse for any reason?"
"No sir. I guess I'm as fine as I can be, considering," Amadeo replied in a shaky voice.
"One last formality then, Mr. Rossi. This form says that the punishment was administered and witnessed, and that you are in good physical health. You need only sign beneath Mr. Barne's signature. One copy will be kept here in our files and one will be sent home to your parents. Understood?" Mr. Cobrane said, placing the paper and a pen on the desk that Amadeo had just been leaning on.
"Do I have to sign it sir?" Amadeo asked curiously.
"No, you don't. We won't force you to." Cobrane replied quietly. "You will, however, be required to visit the school nurse and be checked out for any injuries or bruising so that she can make a record of it in case you have any problems in the future as a result of this punishment. Do you need to see the nurse, Mr. Rossi?" he asked, concerned. "Are you experiencing extreme pain, or undue discomfort?"
"No sir," Amadeo replied. Oddly enough, he felt much better than he had before the paddling.
"It's up to you young man. We won't coerce you," Barnes said kindly. "Are you, in clear conscience, willing or able to sign the form?"
Clear conscience. That's what it was. His conscience felt clear. The anger he'd felt, and the weight he'd been carrying since the previous Friday seemed to have been lifted. "Yes sir," Amadeo said, bending down to sign, wincing a little as the material of his jeans scraped across the tender flesh beneath. He picked up his keys and wallet and looked up at Cobrane with still slightly reddened eyes. "May I go now, sir?"
"Actually, Mr. Rossi. Since the day is nearly over and you would be disrupting your last class by walking in halfway, I would like to take this time to talk with you. Are you willing?" Cobrane asked.
"Yes sir. I guess so," Amadeo replied, curious as to what his Vice Principal would want to speak to him about, and grateful that he wouldn't have to go out into the school with puffy eyes and a red nose.
"Excuse me, Shandon. If you don't need me any more I'll get back to work," said Barnes with a smile. It was a standing joke between them that Cobrane seemed to forget who the boss was occasionally.
Cobrane favored his boss and friend with one of his rare, genuine smiles, and with a mischievous look in his eyes he said, in an imperious tone, "That will be all for now, Hugh. Thank you."
The two men saw the look of confusion on Amadeo's face and laughed, clapping the boy on the shoulders to include him in the joke.
Barnes picked up the papers and with a slight bow and a smile and left the office.
Cobrane went to the leather couch which sat against a far wall in his office and retrieved a pillow, which he fluffed up and placed on a chair. "Have a seat, please, Amadeo, and let's talk," he said with a smile.