Conditions Worsen (Echinodea--Chapter Three)

       The cool liquid encapsulated my body and seemed to fill me with energy.  I forgot how comfortable and relaxed I was while swimming.  Even though this was part of gym class, it still gave me the opportunity to feel like my old self.  Our gym teacher was absent today so the substitute allowed us to spend the time in the pool however we saw fit.  I chose to swim laps and then dive down to the floor and swim up to the surface.  My hope was that I would connect with Aerian through the Hippocampus Syndesi---the special connection Atlantean royals have with the sorcerers and sorceresses that serve them.  That connection was stronger in water, especially for royals trying to master the skill.
       My necklace, a diamond-shaped, silver pendant with a wing on each side and a blue gem in the middle of the top part of the diamond, lit up with growing intensity as I dove to the bottom of the pool.  Grandpa gave me the necklace as a lucky charm, though it turned out to be part of my problems.  The so-called 'royal key' ensured my connection with the island that I now ruled over.  It was no accident that Grandpa gave me the necklace to connect me with Atlantis.
       That thought took me back to the hospital the previous night.  Grandpa was about to tell me something important about my parents.  I planned to see him after school but I also knew that he wouldn't remember our conversation the night before.  The floor of the pool faded to Atlantis---a bird's eye view of the entire island.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  And I didn't find a connection with Aerian so she must not have been calling me.
       Back on the surface, Ashley wrapped her arms around me and pushed me under.  My hands found her stomach and I tickled her, releasing her grip.  Seconds later, she was in my arms and I tossed her into the air.  With a playful scream, she splashed into the pool.
       "Welcome back, Trey Atlas," Ashley smiled.  "Even if it's for just a few minutes."
       "It feels good to be back," I told her.  It's a good thing Jess wasn't in my gym class because jealousy would’ve got the best of her at that moment.
       Ashley and I spent the rest of the period racing each other from one end of the pool to the other.  I won all of the races---it really wasn't a fair match since I was a champion swimmer---but I held back so she wouldn't feel terrible.  The locker room was filled with typical pranks and jokes--of which I became a target in the last few weeks.  I dressed quickly and escaped to biology when the bell rang before the other guys could start giving me a hard time.
       The biology lab was empty when I took my seat, feeling rejuvenated and ready for biology for the first time in weeks.  No one entered the room after me, even after the late bell sounded.  Even Mr. Walker was missing in action.
       And don't forget to meet me in the computer lab with your completed projects tomorrow.  My heart was in my feet, which didn't help me move any faster.  I ran down the hallway, ignoring the hall monitors as they yelled for me to slow down, until I got to the lab.  Trying to be as invisible as possible, I opened the door slowly.
       "Mr. Atlas," the teacher said.  Busted.  "Let me guess, you fell asleep in your last class."  The class let out a laugh in unison.  I smiled and hoped that I hid the embarrassment on my face as I found a seat in between Coal and Jess.
       "You didn't miss much," Coal told me.
       "I forgot we were in here," I said.
       "Did you bring your project?" he asked.
       "No," I answered.  "I didn't even start it."
       "Alright," Mr. Walker walked the room.  "Let's see those projects you came up with.  We're going to try to get through as many of them as possible today and then we'll do the rest tomorrow."  He started up the projector and then turned out the front lights.  "We're going to present the animal phyla from least to most complex.  So we'll start with the sponges."
       Project after project was presented.  I zoned out on most of them, nearly falling asleep during a few.  But, like normal, Mr. Walker brought me back to reality.  "You're up next, Mr. Atlas."
       My stomach lurched into my throat.  Ten minutes left of class and I was on the spot to present my topic.  So I tried to cover.  "My project will take more than ten minutes."
       "So we'll stay past the bell," Mr. Atlas said.  "We need to get through your project today.  Phylum echniodermata is the last phyla before we get to the chordates, which we'll save for tomorrow."
       Honesty was the only thing that would solve this problem.  "I didn't finish my project."
       "Why am I not surprised?"  Mr. Walker walked toward me.  "So let's see what you have."
       The whole truth was necessary.  "I didn't start my project."
       "Ahh, there it is.  Tell me, Mr. Atlas, what exactly do you care about now a days?"  His tone was accusatory and sarcastic.
       I lost control of my words.  "Certainly not your boring class."  I regretted it the second I finished the statement.
       "Well that doesn't make sense," Mr. Walker said.  "If you thought this class was boring, you would work harder to make sure you don't have to take it again.  It appears to me that you love it enough to repeat it."
       "Actually, I just like giving you a hard time so much that I wanted to be able to spend another year doing it."  Once again, I wanted to retract my words.
       "Take your things and get out of my class," Mr. Walker yelled.  "Get yourself over to the guidance office.  And make sure you get there because I'm calling to check."
       "Whatever.  I got enough sleep last night anyway."  A lie—I only slept about four hours—but I knew it'd be hurtful.
       "Get out!"
       I swung my backpack on my shoulder and left the room, kicking the door shut behind me.  Not wanting to get in more trouble than I was already in, I went straight to the guidance office.  Besides, my counselor, Mrs. Parry, was awesome.  Middle aged with three kids, she treated all of her students like one of her own children.  She'd at least ask me about my side of the story, instead of just acting like my thoughts and feelings didn't matter.
       The guidance secretary met my eyes with disapproval.  "He just walked in," she said into the phone.  Mr. Walker followed through on his word to check on me.  She hung up the phone.  "Have a seat, Trey.  Mrs. Parry will be with you in a few minutes."
       The answer to my problem was clear.  I needed to go back to Atlantis.  This wasn't my life anymore.  Fitting in just wasn’t an option now.  Besides, Aerian, Oaren, Ries, and Troy could use my help running the island.  It was my job, not theirs.  The only thing stopping me was the fact that, by law, I had to attend school.  I didn't want my parents getting in trouble while I was away, maybe permanently.
       "Come on in, Trey," Mrs. Parry greeted me with a smile.  I stood and followed her to her office.  "Have a seat."
       Setting my backpack on the floor next to my chair, I took a seat.
       "So what's going on?" Mrs. Parry asked in her motherly way.
       "Mr. Walker..."
       "No, Trey.  I want to know what's bothering you.  I don't want to know about Mr. Walker."
       "Mr. Walker is bothering me."
       She smiled; stifled a laugh.  "This didn't start with Mr. Walker.  Your behavior in his class is your way of hiding the true issues."
       Psychoanalyzation.  It's very uncomfortable, especially when you know you can't share the true problems.  Silence was key since I had nothing better.
       "Don't want to talk about it?"  Mrs. Parry took a pass out of her desk and started writing my name on it.  "Trey, I can't help you if I don't know what's bothering you.  You know I care about all of my students, and I do my best to help them, but I'm not a miracle worker.  I can't solve a problem that I don't know about."
       "Where are you sending me?  Back to his class?  I can't go back there."
       "You can't stay here if you won't talk to me."
       "I'm just dealing with a lot of stress right now.  And I walked into the classroom, feeling good about class for the first time in a long time.  But no one was there.  Then I remembered we were supposed to go to the computer lab.  So I ran there.  Instead of letting me slide, or talking to me after class, Mr. Walker made a fool of me in front of the whole class."
       "Maybe you're misinterpreting what he said?"
       "He asked if I fell asleep in my last class.  Then, when I told him I didn't have my project he asked me what I care about now a days and if I loved biology so much that I wanted to repeat it, because that's what I was showing him."
       "Maybe he's concerned but shows it in a different way than you expected?"
       "He's not concerned."
       "Trey, all of your teachers are concerned.  So is Coach."
       Coach.  The one person I could count on.  The best teacher I’d ever had and the reason I was so devoted to swimming.  At least until my world changed.
       Mrs. Parry watched my reaction as her statement sank in.  "Trey, you quit swimming, your grades dropped, you're talking back to your teachers, and you're not getting along with your friends.  All of that coming from a boy that was always concerned about his grades, lived to swim, was respectful, and extremely popular.  Trey, I’m worried.  And I think that if you're not willing to talk to me one on one, we need to call your parents and teachers together for a conference."
       That's all I needed to hear.  Things were bad now.  My parents were going to flip when they found out that the school wanted to have a conference.  I asked Mrs. Parry to send me to the nurse so I could lie down for a while because I had a headache—a lie but it worked.
       After resting for a short period of time, I convinced the nurse that I was ready to go back to class and I managed to make it through the rest of the day with no other problems.  At least until the end of the school day bell sounded and I was directed to the main office by my English teacher.
       Mom and Dad sat in the conference room—Mom looked thoroughly upset and Dad seemed annoyed—when I entered.  I took a seat next to Mom and she placed her hand on mine that rested on the wooden table.  "We're here for you," she said—though I didn't believe that was true.  A few minutes later, Mrs. Parry joined us with Mr. Walker and Mr. Tull—the assistant principal.
         Mrs. Parry began, "This conference was called because all of us at this table are concerned about Trey.  He quit the swim team, his grades dropped, he's been disrespectful to the teachers—Mr.Walker in particular—and his peers have found it hard to talk to him.  Even when a student shows one of those signs a red flag goes up.  However, the fact that Trey is demonstrating all of those behaviors has us looking for a cause and trying to help him."
       "Is there anything you'd like to say, Trey?" Mr. Tull asked.
       All eyes focused on me.  My heart burst open and tears formed in my eyes.  I swallowed hard to fight off the urge to cry.  Crying wouldn't help me in any way.  But telling them how I felt, even if I spared the details, might get them off my case.
       "My world is falling apart," my voice shook and cracked.  I cleared my throat.
       "Can you clarify that for us?" Mrs. Parry asked, true concern in her voice.
       I sighed.  "Let's see, I found out I was adopted and that no one knows who my biological parents are.  Everyone seemed to think I was crazy when I shouted about a fire in the pool during the swim meet.  And, even though I was cleared by a doctor, everyone still looks at me funny.  They can't attribute it to the pressure I was under.  And to top it off, Grandpa Atlas is dying."  A tear ran down each cheek and I wiped them away.
       Mom sniffled and wiped tears from her face as well.  "He's going through a lot," she supported me.  "And it doesn't seem like he's getting the support he needs here or at home.  We need to step up to help him as much as we can."
       "What are you thinking?" Mr. Tull asked her.
       Mom looked at Dad.  He shook his head, but not as a directive.  It was more like he knew she was going to say it and that he couldn't stop her, but he didn't like it.  Mom wiped more tears away, "We're going to pull Trey out of school and home school him."


       Buildings rushed by as Dad guided the SUV from the school to the hospital.  My head rested against the back seat of the vehicle.  Shock to my system remained.  We're going to pull Trey out of school and home school him.  That decision was stated before it was even discussed with me.  Not that I disagreed.  In fact, I thought it was a good start to solving all of my problems.  If I was home schooled, I could go to Atlantis whenever I wanted.  And when I came back, I could make sure I got all of my schoolwork done.  Sort of like the young celebrities.
       We'd been driving a few minutes wordlessly.  I loved the decision but I didn't want to talk to my parents at the moment.  It seemed like Mom was starting to understand the pressure I faced but I didn't think she was quite at the full realization yet.  So what would we talk about?
       Mom broke the silence first, which I guessed would be the case.  "So what do you think, Trey?"
       "I think it makes a lot of sense," I told her.  "It certainly frees me up to go to Atlantis when needed."
       "Well this whole situation, while hard on you, really helped the process.  Mr. Tull took me to complete the paperwork necessary while you were with Mrs. Parry at the end of the conference.  So as of now, you're officially being home schooled."  Mom's eyes locked on the side of Dad's face.  Silent the entire time, I knew he had a lot he wasn't saying.
       "So any word on how Grandpa's doing today?" I asked to get out of the awkward situation.
       "They were running some tests today," Mom said.  "Hopefully, we'll get some answers when we get there."
       Grandpa wasn't in his room when we got there.  The bed was empty and neatly arranged.  "I'll find out where he is," Dad said on his way out of the room.  I went to the windowsill and scooted up onto the ledge.  Six floors up, the streets seemed as far away as Atlantis as my mind focused on trying go figure out what my next step needed to be.
       "He's been moved to ICU," Dad told us when he came back to the room.
       "What?!" Mom gasped, her hands went straight to her mouth.
       "He took a turn for the worse," Dad said.  "They're not sure what caused it but his heart and lungs started failing." 
        The white walls, floor, and ceiling seemed to drown us in their expanses as we went back to the elevator.  "They stabilized him now but they're not sure if it's going to last.  Said he's very fragile."
       "No one called us?" Mom said, half stating and half questioning.
       "They said they called the house but no one answered.  They apparently tried my cell phone but it didn't ring because I turned it off while I was in a meeting earlier and left it off for the conference."
       The second floor was well monitored.  Large, automatic doors only opened for people buzzed in by a nurse.  Dad buzzed in and told them who we were.  Static came took over for a second and then the speaker turned silent.  We waited, not sure what had happened.  Within a minute, a nurse came through the doors.
       She met us with a smile.  "Good afternoon."
       "We would like to see my father," Dad told her.
       "He needs to rest.  Doctor's orders are that visitors are not to be allowed in today."
       "This is ridiculous," Dad said.
       "I'm sorry but it's for the best of the patient."
       "I'd like to speak to his doctor," Dad looked nervously upset.
       The nurse smiled again.  "I can call for him but you'll need to have a seat in the waiting room over there.  I'll see if he'll come talk with you."
       "Thank you," Mom said before Dad could respond.  She took Dad's hand and led him to the waiting area while the nurse disappeared behind the doors to the ICU.
       A small room filled with blue chairs and tables with magazines was where we ended up.  Two families already filled up half of the chairs.  Four small kids played with toys on the floor, yelling and carrying on.  I couldn't stay there.  There was no point since I couldn't see Grandpa anyway.
       "I'm gonna start walking," I told my parents.  "I'll see if I can meet up with Coal, Ashley, and Jess.  I wanna let them know what happened today."
       "Be careful," Mom replied.  Dad said nothing.
       "Call me if you hear anything," I said and then left the hospital.

    The message on my cell phone was the last thing I needed to hear.  I had turned my phone on for the first time since school to hear Jess' voice, crying and sniffling, as she poured her heart into my voice mail.  "I'm sorry Trey but I don't think it can work out with you hiding part of your life from me.  You scared me in biology today.  I hope you're okay but this can't continue.  I can't see you anymore.  I'll talk to you at some point but I need my space right now.  Please don't call me back."
       The cell phone felt awkward in my pocket.  A constant reminder of the message I’d just heard.  As much as her breaking up with me hurt, it was also a good thing because it was one less thing I had to leave behind when I went to Atlantis.  I just wished she'd talked to me in person instead of leaving me a message.
       The walk home was a blur after that.  As I lay on my bed, I couldn't even believe I'd made it home.  My mind raced with the day's events and didn't focus on where I was going or what I was doing.  Amazing that I didn't get hit by a car or get lost.  I guess instinct counted for something.
       But I didn't want to eat or move.  I just lay in bed.  Didn't cry.  Wasn't mad.  Just indifferent to the world.  So much had happened in a matter of weeks that my mind didn't even process emotion.  It took the easier way out, the way that required less energy; and that was to just try to ignore everything going on around me.  That worked for a couple of hours.  And then I fell asleep.


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