“No, you listen here!” the dad shrieks at me, shaking off the mom’s hand. “You are not going to treat my boy like you’re better than him.”
“Sir,” I say, “with all due respect, I am here to teach your son –”
“Then fucking teach him!” the dad yells.
“If he won’t treat me with respect, there’s not much I can do,” I say, blandly.
“Well, then, make him respect you,” the mom snaps at me, “my god, the entire place is completely full of idiots, isn’t it?”
“And how do you suggest I do that?” I ask.
She pinches her lips together and then says, “well, he respects me, doesn’t he, so how hard can it possibly be for you?”
“Ma’am,” I say, and I sound affectless even to myself, “if he treated the teachers in his school the way he treats me, he would have detention every day.”
“Oh, right,” the dad says, “teachers always whine about how their job is so hard, but if you just instilled some discipline in these kids, it wouldn’t be so hard, now would it?”
“And what does ‘instilling discipline’ entail, in your mind?” I ask.
“Are you a man, or aren’t you?” the dad says. “Good god, these people have gone soft, all worried about child abuse and hurting people’s feelings and making their numbers.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting I strike your son?”
“What the fuck did you say to me?” the dad says.
“You touch a hair on his head and we’ll see you fired on the spot,” the mom adds.
“In that case, your son refuses to listen, pay attention, or work with me,” I say.
“And whose fault is that?” the dad sneers.
I just stare at him, trying not to visibly take a breath as I count to ten. “I can recommend several reputable private tutors, if he’d like to take that route.”
“Private tutors?” the mom snaps, “how about you do your job, instead.”
“Alternately,” I say, “he could join a program in a different city.”
“Oh, and just how the fuck are we supposed to get him to a different city every day, smart guy?” the dad says, “I guess you didn’t think of that.”
“Once the paperwork is through, he would meet here as normal, and be travelled to a different city to work with their program,” I say, keeping the purple sparks on the other side of the screen, not that the filter wouldn’t probably catch them, anyway.
“No,” the mom says.
“Your only other option for continued training is a private group, then, I’m afraid,” I say, “unless your son’s school offers some sort of program.”
The mom glares daggers at me. “We come to you because you have a problem teaching our son, because you can’t do it correctly, and you try to send us to someone else?”
I wait for her to add something, or for the dad to chime in, or to spontaneously drop dead so I don’t have to talk to anyone from this family ever again.
“Let me get this straight,” the dad says, through gritted teeth, “because you refuse to do your job, we’re supposed to pay through the nose, or let some creeps put their hands on our kid?”
“What?” I say.
“He’s not being travelled,” the dad says, punctuating it with a chopping motion, “who knows where they’ll take him or whether they’ll give him back.”
Oh, god. One of those. “Sir, I assure you, all of our travelers are trustworthy professionals, who’ve undergone extensive background checks. None of them will hurt your son.”
“That’s even if the radiation was safe!” he adds.
I suck in a breath. “There’s negligible radiation associated with any kind of travelling, and anyone we’d have working with your son would be rated safe for children.”
“Working with, that’s a fucking rich way to put it,” the dad scoffs. “I know how many kids go missing by their hand every year, don’t think I don’t.”
“No one’s going to make Todd go to a different city,” I say, a little too forcefully.
“Don’t you take that tone with my husband!” the mom says, “you just watch yourself around our son, do you understand me? I better not hear any more complaints.”
“Yeah, you want to get listened to, you better start being a teacher who deserves to get listened to,” the dad says. Then, under his breath, “if you even can.”
“Of course,” I say, resisting the urge to smash my head through the monitor.
“Well, that’s settled,” the mom says, icily, “I hope you have a nice day.”
“You better shape the fuck up,” the dad adds.
“Sir,” I say, forcing a smile, “ma’am. I –”
But it’s finally over with. I rest my head against the window, looking at the gym but not really seeing it, and let my breath fog the glass until my forehead goes numb. I hear the distant stomp of feet, and then the angry clearing of a throat, and then the door slamming shut.
I look up.
Darren is glaring at me. “Is that my sweatshirt?”
I glance down. Right, I took my coat off. I shrug.
He narrows his eyes. “Why are you wearing my sweatshirt, Travis?”
“It’s comfortable,” I say, “god, did you seriously come in here and interrupt me to talk about your sweatshirt?”
“No,” he says, “I came in here to talk about something else, but you spent five minutes ignoring me, so now we’re talking about my sweatshirt.”
“I was busy,” I say.
“The fuck you were, you were staring off into space,” he snaps, “you can’t just, you can’t just fucking do that, what the fuck, Travis.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve borrowed your sweatshirt,” I say, “hell, it’s not the first time I’ve worn this particular one to work –”
“It’s not the same, not when,” he says, “fuck you, you’re acting like you’re doing something totally reasonable, and not even considering how I feel about this, Travis.”
“Stop saying my name like that,” I tell him.
“Stop wearing my sweatshirt!” he yells.
“You know what? Fucking fine,” I say, yanking it off and balling it up to throw at his head, “no one’s going to think you’re a faggot because of one fucking sweatshirt, Darren.”
The sweatshirt unballs as it flies through the air, and he snatches at it, tucking it under his arm and stalking out. He opens the door hard enough that it bangs against the wall.
I change into my costume after all.