Isaac arrived at the school promptly at 7 am before many of the faculty had a chance to claim the prime parking spots. He swung the car into the first open spot he saw and killed the ignition. Before exiting the car, he stared through the windshield at the large brick building. The school appeared to be from the turn of the century. It was gothic in style and quite foreboding. This meeting was the first time he’d made it to the school campus itself. Whenever he received a new assignment, Adrianne was in charge of getting the children transferred from their previous school. She took care of everything, allowing him the time and space to focus on work. He loved Adrianne’s independence and ability to care for the children no matter what circumstances arose, often taking him away from the family. Sometimes, he also felt a bit lost in it all. He loved his children. He was proud of them both, but he didn’t relate to Jericho in the same way that he could relate to Hannah.
Isaac quickly shook his head, bringing himself back to the moment and stepped out of the car before making his way up the broad staircase into the building. The door closed softly behind him, and his footfalls filled the empty corridor as he made his way from the foyer and toward the administrative office. Isaac rarely felt ill at ease in any situation, but something about the school made his skin crawl. He reached the executive office, extended his hand to pull the door open, and found it locked.
“Odd. I was certain the headmaster said to meet him at 7:15.” Isaac mumbled to himself as he glanced at his watch, then held it to his ear where the reassuring tick tock matched his ever-steady heartbeat.
Isaac turned and looked up and down the hallway. The place seemed to be empty. He glanced at his watch one more time before returning to the office door and peering through the narrow window.
“Mr. Foster?” A voice called, starling Isaac.
He turned sharply to face a portly man in a smart suit and crooked red tie.
“Yes. Headmaster Paulson, I presume?” Isaac answered curtly, unappreciative of the surprise approach.
“No, Headmaster Paulson is out for the week on vacation. I’m his Assistant, Mr. Whittaker. Please, come in.” Mr. Whittaker answered, pushing past Isaac to unlock the office.
Isaac’s brow furrowed. He had arranged the meeting with Headmaster Paulson only two days ago. If Headmaster Paulson knew he was going out of town, why did he bother to set up the meeting in the first place? Isaac’s intuition began to buzz in the pit of his stomach. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t yet determine what it was. Mr. Whittaker eventually found the correct key to unlock the office and briskly walked inside, leaving the door standing open for Isaac. Isaac briefly hesitated, waiting for an invitation. He let himself through the doorway through a small reception area and eventually into an exceptionally disorganized office when he didn’t receive one.
Papers of all colors and sizes were strewn across the large desk. File boxes were stacked haphazardly in one corner, and a bag of neglected sports equipment filled the other. Isaac found it difficult to hide his disgust with the state of the office, but he managed to do so as Mr. Whittaker made his way behind the desk and took a seat.
“Please, take a seat, Mr. Foster.” He instructed.
Isaac surveyed the small open space in front of the desk before delivering an unamused glance to Mr. Whittaker.
“Where, exactly, should I take a seat?” He huffed, trying to maintain his composure though his patience was quickly waning.
“I’m sorry. Just a moment.” Mr. Whittaker answered, standing from his seat and shuffling out from behind the desk. He kicked a stack of file boxes, moving them several inches to the left and exposed the arm of a small chair. Shuffling through several more piles of indeterminant origin, and scooting the file boxes once again, he finally freed the chair and slid it across the office to its prime spot in front of the desk. “There we are. Please, take a seat.”
Isaac took a deep breath and clenched his jaw before making his way further into the disorganized mess to light himself on the small chair. His large frame overwhelmed the chair, and he was afraid that it might collapse underneath him for a brief moment. The chair groaned and creaked as Isaac lowered his weight onto its rickety legs, but eventually stabilized.
“Thank you for meeting with me today, Mr. Foster. We’re sorry to hear about the injury your son sustained several weeks ago. How can we help?” Mr. Whittaker began, making minimal eye contact with Isaac.
Isaac paused, gathering his thoughts. He immediately knew what he wanted to say to Mr. Whittaker: ‘get your head out of your damn ass long enough to organize your office, maybe you’d be able to care for my children properly,’ but he held his tongue. Eventually, he composed himself and began: “I’d like to know why my son was denied a proper medical evaluation after his accident, Mr. Whittaker.”
“Mr. Foster, I assure you that our nurse on staff is fully licensed and certified by the state. She did offer a thorough evaluation when Jericho arrived in her office after his accident. At the time, there were no signs of a concussion or other underlying conditions that might require advanced medical care.” Mr. Whittaker answered.
“That’s not what my son told me, Mr. Whittaker. He said the nurse offered an over the counter pain medication and bandage for his laceration. From what he explained to my wife and me, the nurse barely even looked up from the phone conversation she was engaged in.” Isaac replied, as his jaw tightened a little more.
“Mr. Foster, Jericho hasn’t made himself known to the school staff as a child who understands the concept of honesty.” Mr. Whittaker scoffed as he finally sat back from the desk and pressed himself into the disproportionate leather chair.
“And you, Mr. Whittaker, have not made yourself known to me as someone competent enough to care for my children.” Isaac fired back, staring daggers directly at Mr. Whittaker.
“Mr. Foster. Please. There is no need to throw accusations around here. Our staff performed their duties. Unfortunately, Jericho’s injury was more severe than we thought, yes, however, there is nothing more that we as an institution can do about it. I’ve spoken to his teacher, and she is willing to give Jericho additional assignments during the rest of the school year. That should make up for his missed work over these past several weeks, and compensate for any negative marks on his grades.” Mr. Whittaker retorted, ignoring Isaac’s intense stare.
“I’d like to see Jericho’s file. When students receive medical care on sight, part of the proper procedure is to record it in their file. Is that correct? If your nurse performed her duties as she claims she did, there would be a written record of it in Jericho’s file.” Isaac said sternly.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Foster. Jericho’s file is sealed along with his transcript until the end of his enrollment here at St. Mary’s. “
Isaac raised an accusatory eyebrow. While he wasn’t entirely familiar with the rules and regulations regarding student files, he had never been directly denied one before. As far as he knew, he was entitled to all information regarding his children on school grounds or at home.
“Is it? Well, then I suppose his enrollment ends today. I’d like to see his file, please.”
“Mr. Foster. Be reasonable. There’s no need to disrupt your son’s education simply because of our information policies.” Mr. Whittaker laughed.
“I don’t think this situation is very humorous, Mr. Whittaker. My son’s education became disrupted when your staff neglected to offer him proper medical care. My son’s life was almost cut short because your staff neglected to offer him proper medical care! If you thought that I was coming here to do anything more than withdraw his enrollment…” Isaac began to raise his voice before pausing to collect himself. “Mr. Whittaker. My son is no longer enrolled at St. Mary’s. I will fill out the necessary documents to complete the withdraw before I leave, and I’d like to see his file. If you can find it.”
As if they agreed with Isaac, several file boxes collapsed onto the floor nearby, spilling their contents.
Mr. Whittaker sighed and reached into one of the desk drawers. To Isaac’s surprise, he produced Jericho’s file and slid it across the desk.
“Jericho spends a lot of time in the office, Mr. Foster.” He said as Isaac leaned forward and opened the tan manila file folder.
Isaac scanned the contents making a note of several incident reports of poor behavior Jericho had neglected to bring home and eventually found what he was looking for Jericho’s medical history. He scanned several pages until he found the date of Jericho’s accident, where to his surprise, the nurse had indeed listed a precursory exam of Jericho’s injuries and treatment. She offered him a pain reliever and bandage, just as Jericho said she did. Isaac felt a wave of relief wash over him, followed by intense and vivid hatred. He was right. Jericho was telling the truth. The staff at St. Mary’s neglected their primary duties of student care, and Isaac nearly lost his only son because of their negligence.
“Mr. Whittaker, can you show me where in this document that your staff performed their duties to keep my son safe?” Isaac asked sharply, tossing the page across the desk into Mr. Whittaker’s lap.
“Mr. Foster, I don’t think I appreciate your behavior right now.” Mr. Whittaker replied, scrambling to catch the sheet of paper thrust into his lap and return it to Isaac. “General Colgrove won’t be happy to hear about this.”
“Excuse me?” Isaac asked before a smirk spread across his face. “I think we’re done here,” he replied with a chuckle of disbelief.
Isaac stood, snatched the errant piece of paper from Mr. Whittaker, and turned to depart from the office with his head held high. By the time he made it out of the office, the halls had begun to fill with students. The school day was nearly underway. He paused for a moment, then jumped into the flow of kids and teachers anxiously trying to get to their first classes of the morning.
“Hi, Daddy!” Hannah called.
Isaac turned around to see his daughter, arms full of various school books and supplies standing with several other girls about her age. She looked so happy and at home here at St. Mary’s. It was the first school that was able to keep her engaged in the learning process and challenged her.
He returned her wave and smiled before making his way out to the car. The sun was now high in the sky and shone brightly through the large maple trees surrounding the campus. Isaac raised his hand to block the sun as his eyes adjusted before walking down the large staircase and across the lawn. He made it halfway to his car before he heard Mr. Whittaker yelling after him.
“Mr. Foster! Isaac Foster! Stop right there! I can’t let you leave the campus with that file!” Mr. Whittaker called over the din of children laughing and rushing into the school as the last bell rang through the halls.
Isaac paused and turned to face Mr. Whittaker, who was flush from running down the hallway.
“And why not?” Isaac asked, marching back across the lawn and taking steps two at a time before reaching the top of the staircase, meeting Mr. Whittaker face to face.
As he reached the landing, Isaac towered over Mr. Whittaker’s squat stature. Isaac’s tall, athletic frame was intimidating to a man of average height. He dwarfed Mr. Whittaker.
Mr. Whittaker paled as he turned his head skyward to meet Isaac’s eyes.
“It’s school property, Mr. Foster. Regardless of Jericho’s enrollment. The file itself belongs to the school. If you’d like a copy, you’ll have to make a formal request when you request a copy of his transcript. You also have to make a formal withdraw of his enrollment.” Mr. Whittaker explained, taking several steps back from Isaac’s intimidating stance. “I’ve set the forms aside for you. I’ll be putting them in the mail at the end of the week. Hannah will also be formally withdrawn. I don’t appreciate men of your caliber intimidating the rest of the staff with your antics or me. Your children are not welcome here.”
Isaac clenched his jaw once again and handed Jericho’s file over to Mr. Whittaker.
“Men of my caliber…” Isaac spat, before catching himself. “You wouldn’t know integrity if it bit you in the ass, Mr. Whittaker. Get out of my way. I’m going to collect my daughter and her things.” He pushed past Mr. Whittaker and confidently walked directly down the hallway, hoping that the doors to each classroom would be marked. He had no idea what class Hannah was in, but he wasn’t about to leave her in the care of Mr. Whittaker after a political stunt.
He knew Mr. Whittaker had made a phone call to General Colgrove before chasing him down. It was going to be one hell of a day when he reported to the base. Overall, Isaac loved his job. He excelled and advanced in rank very quickly, no matter what his assignments entailed. The only drawback to a career in the military now at his advanced position was politics. Everything he did reflected on his superior officer, even when it came to the civilian aspect of his life. Someone always knew someone else who had money or clout enough to make his life difficult. While Mr. Whittaker was the first person to use Isaac’s career against him in quite a few years, he wasn’t going to be the last. Isaac had mostly accepted it as part of the job, but it still got under his skin even more so when it impacted his otherwise innocent children.
Before he could find the correct classroom in a stroke of luck, the bell rang, and students began to fill the halls. Isaac used his height to his advantage and surveyed each class until he spotted one of the girls talking with Hannah a few moments earlier.
“Excuse me, young lady? Do you know Hannah Foster?” He asked, fighting his way through the crowds of bustling students.
The young girl looked up and nearly dropped the books she was carrying. “Oh my, God.” She stammered. “Me? Do what now?”
“Do you know Hannah Foster? I’m her father. I’m looking for her.” Isaac repeated warmly, trying not to scare the girl.
“Oh! Oh okay. Yeah. She’s over there in Mr. Jones’ room.” The girl answered, pointing across the hall toward the classroom she had just exited.
“Thank you,” Isaac replied with a smile as he reached the opposite side of the hallway and quickly opened the door to find Hannah gathering up her belongings.
“Hannah, come with me. We’re going home.” Isaac said calmly.
“What? Dad, why?” Hannah asked, piling the last remaining items from her desk into her book bag.
“We’ll talk about it when we get home. Get your things.” Isaac reassured as he held the door and quickly ushered his daughter into the hallway.
Mr. Jones began to protest Hannah’s abrupt departure but thought better after Isaac sent a glare sharp enough to cut steel in his direction. As Hannah reached her father’s side, Isaac put an encouraging arm around her shoulders. They shuffled through the mass of students until they eventually arrived at the family car’s safety.
All families have their strengths and weaknesses. For the Fosters, it was no different. Isaac, the Foster family’s patriarch, made his lot in life by enlisting in the military immediately after college. It was the quickest and most accessible way out of the tiny Midwestern town where he grew up. He served admirably through his young adulthood, bouncing around from place to place, overseas and domestically until fate brought him to a small Alabama town where he met Adrianne, the woman who would soon become his wife. Their romance was effortless, and things seemed to be going well, until the birth of their second child, a son, Jericho. Once Jericho arrived, nothing about the Foster family would ever be the same.
Follow Jericho through his boyhood as he faces numerous challenges from bullies in the schoolyard, to gang members in back allies, drug abuse, a life of crime, and multiple attempts to redeem himself. The journey is one full of heartbreak and an intimate glimpse into family dynamics with the nuances of raising a child who lives on the fringe edge of society.
Copyright: R. MacCeile 2020