Being Thirteen


elisabeth_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Being Thirteen
Synopsis "When do you know you've grown up?"
Date November 10, 2008

Washington Irving High School

To all appearances, little has changed about Washington Irving High School, although it was closed for 20 months after the bomb exploded in Midtown. The windows broken and walls graffitied by mischievous teens during that interval have been restored to their original appearance; the hardwood floors have been recently waxed, the walls are clean, and row upon row of lockers line the halls of all eleven floors. The entrance hall remains elegant in its wood paneling and fireplace, as if nothing untoward ever happened.

Even when school is in session, however, there is a quiet atmosphere unusual in most public schools. Many teachers and students alike did not return when Chelsea was reopened; what faculty there are struggle with too-large classes, at least on those occasions when most of their enrolled students attend class. Some have to teach subjects not their forte, filling in the gaps left by the departed. Before the bomb, this school offered excellent instruction in fashion design and photography, along with an International Baccalaureate degree; now, it's just another example of Manhattan's fight to make ends meet at the most basic levels.

It is approaching the end of a beautiful late-Autumn's day over Washington Irving high school, which brings mixed feelings to the various people who work or attend there. Some of those feelings are complex and bittersweet; the viscera-twisting poetry of seeing a halcyon thing draw to a close. Other feelings are kind of stupid and fairly straightforward, probably runoff from having been cooped up within its red brick walls hours ago, seething with unspent hormones, ever-oscillating territories of rivalry, class warfare.

It reminds Teo of why he played the truant so often during his childhood. And here is the Sicilian now, dragging two boys through the East wing of the administrative building, heading for the nurse's office. Well, he's dragging one, following the other.

The smaller one's tumbling around a little weaselly in the older man's grip, shirt collar rent open, hat jammed crookedly back onto his head, his own fingers pinched around his nose, red down the front of his shirt; the bigger one is— considerably bigger and sullen, his small green eyes glaring frostily at the fluorescent lights of the ceiling as well as they can considering the beginnings of a black corona swelling bruised in his eyelids. Teo's mouth is in a line: fierce, foreboding, exasperated. He doesn't lecture.

She's just stepping out of the cross-hall when Teo hauls the kids through the intersection. Raising a brow, she merely falls into step just behind the group, since they're going her way. "Looks like a fun afternoon," she observes mildly. It's not as if fights are anything out of the ordinary in high schools in general, but certainly they're quite common in THIS school especially. Or maybe Elisabeth hasn't done this job long enough to realize that all high schools are hell on earth. "What happened?" she asks Teo as they walk.

As if in answer, the two students move their heads to glare at each other, belligerently accusatory but silent.

Teo glances back over his shoulder; he'd glimpsed a sliver of business casual stepping out into their slipstream, but hadn't realized who it was. "I don't know," he admits. He moves to steer his entourage to the right a few feet, that Elizabeth can pull up or pull ahead. "They were fighting for a few minutes by the time the girl — Marian Whittman? — she got me out there. I think drugs might have been involved."

"I don't do drugs," the thicker-set one objects emphatically.

"Do 'e 'ave to get d'ug tessed?" asks his whippet-sparse counterpart, eyeing Teodoro warily and with unmistakable distaste from around the grip on his own nose. "Dass'n invasion-a' bri—brivacy."

A half-beat. The larger boy's pace slows, his shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor. He adds, "Mare didn't do anything." The other boy nods in agreement. Teo gets squinty at them, then at Elisabeth.

Elisabeth eyes the two of them. "I'd say it's a matter for the vice principal to decide what to do with you both. But I venture to guess that if it's not drugs that was the source of the argument, arrangements might be made to keep things simple." Not the teachers' jobs to deal with this part. Just our jobs to walk them in. She gestures for Teo to go ahead. "I was heading that way anyway, I'll walk along."

"All right, signorina." Ever the obedient and cooperative one, Teodoro proceeds onward, one hand on either boy. Both delinquents seem peculiarly mollified now, tossing a few questions about parents and contacts persons to and fro, and in a few long seconds, the Sicilian's exasperation gives way to amusement.

They reach the nurse's doorway, and Teo unloads both into the care of a bird-boned woman who views the world through myopically enormous eyes and dense glasses lenses. Dorothy Caraway will have them patched up and sent to the VP in just a few minutes. In the meantime, Teo pads back out into the hallway, rubbing his nose to clear the cold and bitter tingle of antiseptic, his shoulders momentarily filling the doorframe like the great blocky shape of a St. Bernard fresh from retrieval.

"Girls," he says to the woman, should she have chosen to wait. The next moment, blue eyes hatch a blink, blue as robin's eggs. "I mean— no offense."

There is laughter as Teo returns to the hall. Liz is actually leaning against the far one waiting to see what the verdict was on the cause of the fight. "Yeah… I kind of figured Marian Whitman had something to do with that fracas. She's a cute girl," she observes easily. "And she has this way with making all the boys, not just those two, drag their tongues on the ground." She seems to shrug off the fight as nothing terribly important, though Teo's response thoroughly amuses her. "So, uhm…. how're you doing? After all that the other day, I mean…"

She means— he remembers what she means, abruptly, forgets about the kids momentarily, despite the incipient grumble he can hear from the office. "I'm okay, grazie," he answers, rubbing his jaw between forefinger and thumb, grins the way that people do when they don't know what else to volunteer. Or are, you know. Merely happy to have not been blown up in a church by terrorists. "A little shaken up.

"It felt like a close call, but I know it wasn't really." They'd come for the cameras, and the camera was all they got; blood for later. Someone else's problem, he's content to pretend. For now. "How about you?" he inquires, stooping his head slightly to look at her face.

Elisabeth smiles slightly. "Better. Had a relatively major adrenaline crash that kept me up all night Saturday night, but other than that, I'm just grateful all they wanted was the publicity," she replies, unconsciously echoing his sentiments. Hitching the backpack on her shoulder a bit higher, she comments ruefully, "It's been quite a while since I've been caught in the middle of that kind of tension."

"Me too," Teo says. Kind of regrets it the next moment, but doesn't look at it too closely; waits for an inquiring look or the transpiration of enough time beore answering: "I grew up in a major city in Sicily. We had problems with crime. A different kind of crime, generally, but close enough in the ways that matter."

He drops his hand from his face, pushes it into his pocket and looks at her for a protracted moment. His features go mildly rueful; gaze drops to the floor for a moment. He isn't much of a chauvinist, but he'd be more of a dick if he felt otherwise. "Thanks for looking out for me back there. You handled yourself really well. Heading out now?"

Elisabeth does give him the puzzled look he was expecting, and then when he explains, she nods a bit. That makes sense to her. When he thanks her, she looks surprised. "Looking out for you? I don't think I did anything different than anyone else would have….. besides… you had the opportunity to get a phone out and try to get help in." She pauses. "I have to tell you, I wasn't too sure of that call… it could have escalated things badly. But if we hadn't made the call and they'd been kamikaze-ing it…. " She shakes her head slightly. "You were cool under pressure. You did good." She nods to his question too, "Yes, I was heading out. Want to walk?"

Teo's mouth twists, wryly skeptical but grateful nonetheless. "If you think most people would've stepped up to be the meat shield for some guy—" a grunt. "I like the world you live in. I figure if they were planning to do the kamikaze thing, it would've taken them longer and your polizia would have shown up in time. It seems like PARIAH accounted for the timing.

"Like they knew talk wasn't going to get them in trouble." He says it like it's a science, albeit an approximate one. Logic, reassurance; as much for her as for him. "Besides. Your code was for a potential hostage situation, right?" He'd asked. "It worked out.

"Va bene, I should get out of here myself. Homework and shit." He swivels on his foot, sole grating briefly on floor. Motions down the hallway. "I have to stop by the lounge to grab my stuff, though." He starts walking, his gait syncopated casually with hers. It's only a quick detour, a nod exchanged with the hook-nosed math professor, a grin at the coach; Madame Sagnier asking if Liz hasn't done more with her singing.

Outside, the temperature's taken a sharp drop; it's cold enough to fog breathing, wisps of opacity obfuscating the one shriveled tree at the gate when Teo pauses to look at it; looks, momentarily, sad. The sun peers out from behind a chalky cumulus cloud, shedding a little less heat than light, limning the cramped warrens of apartment complexes and small businesses. Sirens in the distance.

"Do you like it here?" he asks, suddenly. Gestures around, a wide sweep of arm, generously-proportioned in that way young men take up space. He looks at her out from under a quizzically arched eyebrow. "Recently I've been examining human motivations."

She walks along with him, easy with the lack of chatter as they return to the lounge to retrieve his gear. She does get sidetracked by Madame Sagnier, halting in the hall to speak to the teacher whilst Teo gathers up his things inside the lounge. She has no intention of taking her voice further at the moment, no thank you. When Teo rejoins them, Elisabeth looks relieved and excuses herself very politely.

Once outside, Liz breathes in deeply and forces herself to relax. The chill in the air doesn't seem to bother her as she pulls her jacket tighter around her, and she considers his question. "Well enough, I suppose," she finally replies. "I don't think this school is any worse than any other, I guess." She looks at him as they walk. "Human motivations are …. complicated matters," she says. "If you have a specific question, feel free to ask though."

He thinks he has one, but can't remember how to phrase it for a moment. "Hnnh." Walks, instead. Always felt better when he was doing something physical: driving heavy machinery, correcting electrical wiring, running somewhere or punching a deserving body in the face. Keeps him from ruining his eyes from books. The cold bothers him more than it does her, but that's true of most people he takes walks with. What he'd do to get back to the Mediterranean.

Which might well be the point. "When do you know you've grown-up?" he asks her, the corners of his mouth up. "Your first real job, when you've figured out what you want to do? Second job, when you realize it wasn't? When you can put yourself between three terrorists and a coworker?"

Elisabeth looks somewhat surprised at the question, and seems to consider her response carefully. "I wish I knew," she finally says quietly as they walk. "You don't just suddenly feel like an adult one day. At least… I haven't yet. And I'm 35, so …. Inside, you're still the same person, no matter how old you get. Age doesn't change you into an adult…. it's more that experience refines and hones your personality, I think. But… the mental image you have of yourself probably never quite meshes with the reality."

The bag hanging off Teo's shoulder bounces slightly, rattle of pencils and paper and a firearm, somewhere deep within, as he pauses to kick a can off the edge of the sidewalk. It skips end over end, tumbles into a drainage ditch. "That's too bad," he remarks sidelong. "I hate to think you have such a low opinion of yourself." Follow that remark far along enough, and it ends up in the region of a compliment. His shoes scrape concrete and he huffs out a fist-sized cloud of condensation. "You mind if I smoke?"

Elisabeth looks surprised. "I'm not sure I follow," she answers. When he asks about smoking, she makes a 'whatever' kind of gesture. It doesn't bother her as long as we're outside, at least.

Teo reaches into his coat, long fingers scaling the lining until he finds his pocket. Pulls out the small box and lighter, signalling a request to pause lest the wind snatch at the tiny Bic flame and light his face on fire. One drag, and he pulls the thing away and out of his mouth, the smoke sliding past Elisabeth. It doesn't rid her space of the smell entirely, but it doesn't send the stink into her face at the very least.

"In reality, you're pretty cool," he says. "The kids like you, and they're in their teens. Sagnier likes you, and she's French. You're brave as fuck, bright enough to give an appreciable answer to an ambiguous question, pretty, and you can sing. If that doesn't mesh with the mental image you have of yourself, that's a crying shame." Another drag, his strides lengthening a little, almost imperceptibly. It's cold.

Elisabeth's expression clears, and she starts to laugh softly. "Well, now…. my image of myself doesn't appear to quite live up to YOUR image of me…. and thanks for that, cuz it seriously does my ego good." She grins at him, unbothered by the cigarette as they walk. "I was more referring to … I saw it explained in a movie once. This old guy tells this young guy about marriage 'It's a blessing to have someone in your life who looks at you and still sees what you think you look like.' And that line sort of resonated for me — the whole idea of how sometimes when you look in the mirror, the person you see isn't quite what you thought you looked like because in your own head, you're still… 18 or 21 or whatever. And you still sort of FEEL 18 or 21 or whatever — like you haven't quite got a handle on what being a grown-up means, even when you're almost 35."

Teo cuts a translucent sheet of smoke out through his teeth, listening and watching without staring conspicuously at the woman by his side. "That's kind of funny," he says. "I was thinking about feeling young.

"Thirteen years old, sometimes, like my voice is just breaking and my nuts haven't dropped, and I have a crazy crush on someone who I don't want to know and I'm just hoping no one can tell just from looking at my face. Other times, I'm still gangly and seventeen and I just fell out with my brother, and I can't get my big dopey head around it. I think the line you cited— the film?

"I think that's more about growing old with someone." He employs that phrase as if it were something more foreign to him than the rest of the English words he'd just stencilled out, less for the definitions than the meaning. "But I see what you mean. The schism. And fucking around trying not to fuck things up until…" you die, he thinks but doesn't say; no need to be morbid. He adjusts subjects with a grin, an abrupt glance. "You don't look thirty-five."

Elisabeth chuckles. "Well, yes… the movie was about that, but it still made me think of exactly the kind of thing you just said. Feeling about 16 and my heart going all nuts over some guy and wondering 'oh God, does he LIKE me? Did he just look at me?' and stupid stuff." Or you know, feeling about 13 and evading a conversation with 'I didn't say that!' Can't talk about that, though. "Or … getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror and being surprised at those little lines in the corners of my eyes that I'm quite sure weren't there yesterday." She shrugs. "It's no big, though. And thanks. I'm not quite there, but soon enough, I guess. Age is just a number — it's all in how you feel in your head as far as I'm concerned." She studies him, uncertain of his mindset. "I know things are kind of crazed and Saturday probably brought up all kinds of 'live each day as if it's your last' feelings, but… try not to dwell on it, hmm?"

He shows his appreciation easily enough: his Madre taught him that much. Smile 'cause you mean it. "I'll try, thanks. I don't think it's that. Well not just that. Ummmm," momentarily confounded by inarticulate embarrassment, he considers the road ahead. They'll be passing by the Nite Owl in less than half a block, then he needs to left toward Harlem. His left eye winches shut a little ways, the other one round, a comical expression of self-revelation. "I think I'm just overthinking my birthday, in all honesty. It's getting close. Having my middle-aged crisis early: my one boast to being precocious. Sorry to be a pest," he says, offering her a hand, even as he points the other one crosswise over her wrist. "I'm this way."

Elisabeth laughs at him lightly, clearly amused as she takes his hand. "Yeah… birthdays can do that to you. Make you all 'oh crap, am I really that old?! How the hell did that happen??'" She waves her free hand and points back a little way. "I'm back over there, actually. And you're not a pest. I enjoy talking to you." When he lets go, she turns and walks back the way they came a little bit. "See you tomorrow, Teo," she calls over her shoulder.

"Ciao." He tosses up a wave at her back, is rewarded by a cheerful zig of her hair behind her. "Dalla maniera!" Teo calls abruptly. An old man passing with a chessboard under his arm is startled by the unabashed loudness of the call, and shoots the Sicilian an irritable look. Teo doesn't mind. "I'm sure he does like you, and he was looking," he adds, winking once. He turns.

November 10th: Pharmaceutical Philosophies

Previously in this storyline…

Next in this storyline…

November 10th: Fixing It Up
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