pt. 1 - Jimmy’s POV
Mrs. Anderson speaks, unfaltering, over the natural classroom buzz. There’s a group of girls in the corner exchanging notes, some guys on the football team right beside them, giggling at anything that sounds even remotely close to sexual. They’d make up their own innuendos just to have something to laugh about. The front row is taking one for the team, acting as the front line of defense, feigning diligence for the other kids in the back so they can goof around.
Christian Thompson’s not much different in taking advantage of the diligent kids, it’s just he’s all by himself, so Mrs. Anderson suddenly chooses him to make an example of. The resident weird kid (and he seems to enjoy that title), building a miniature tower out of torn up notes, folded and painstakingly set in place until the it becomes noticeable enough to draw attention. The girls in the corner point him out first. Then Mrs. Anderson notices and stops the lecture, lowering her book. She eyes him sharply over the rim of her glasses. “Christan? Am I boring you?” She asks, just as he’s flicking a sturdier piece of paper - many folded into one - into the tower, crumbling part of it. His aim isn’t very impressive, but the tower is.
“What’s up?” He looks up, mouth hanging open slightly, eyes only half-focused. He always looks like he’s just waking up from a nap, but that’s just his resting expression.
Mrs. Anderson remains stoic even as the class erupts around her. “Am I boring you? I already told you once about the hood.” She motions toward her head.
Christian slowly pulls back the hood on his jacket. He’s been wearing it all Summer despite the heat, but no one asks about it, because no one wants to talk to him that long. He lives behind a barrier of sheer noise and ridiculousness not many are brave enough to try and break through, so they all just laugh at him, egg him on. I think we could be good friends, but that barrier is intimidating even for me, so I just watch.
With his hood down, as told, he flicks another speck of paper across his desk and shrugs. “You’re not boring me.”
“Then what is that?”
“It’s a tower,” he answers, smiling, wiggling the front door he’d fastened to it, as if to show it off, but she’s not impressed.
“And since you built it during the lesson, is it not then safe to assume I’m boring you?” Mrs. Anderson places her hands on her hips, eyebrows arched as high as possible.
“You’re not boring me.” Christian shakes his head. “I heard everything you said.”
“Oh, did you?” Mrs. Anderson laughs. The rest of the class laughs with her. Christian does nothing. “Why don’t you come up and answer the question on the board then?”
Christian shrugs and stands up, students snickering as he makes a walk of shame up to the front board as Mrs. Anderson scribbles out a question relating to their reading - a snippet from Jim Whittaker’s A Life on the Edge.
Why does the author include the exchange between Gombu and himself where they each say “You first!”?
She offers a few choices, then steps aside with her arms folded.
It takes him a minute to read the whole thing - or at least long enough for people to start chattering again, just to be hissed at by Mrs. Anderson. Finally, he circles the second one correctly; because they see each other as equals. “Good?”
Mrs. Anderson is somewhere between flabbergasted and embarrassed, but she doesn’t go down without a fight. “Back to your seat,” she demands, pointing. “And get that thing off your desk.”
- - - - -
pt. 2 - Christian’s POV
Class goes on as scheduled. Because I ruined goofing off for the rest of the class, they all keep leering at me, or laughing at me. I don’t mind if they do. Something in me kinda likes that they can’t really figure me out. For the next month or so, I’ll just be the kid who tried to build a paper fort in class, which is a step up from the kid who bullied Justin Baker into switching schools.
Class lets out. Mrs. Anderson pulls me aside for a riveting conversation about my behavioral issues and asks the classic question - everything okay at home? Which sounds absolutely bogus when paired with a threat to get my parents involved if I don’t straighten up, so I don’t tell her anything. It’s all fine, and I’m on my way, never to create another paper fort again.
Between periods, the hallway feels more like a zoo; everyone running around, catching up at the lockers with their friends on mismatched schedules; yelling from either side; doors creaking open, then slamming shut. As soon as I join the frenzy, I hear someone calling out for me. I think about stopping, but don’t, and whoever it is opts to ignore the hint.
I wanna keep walking, but he’s too close now, so I stop. I remember him, but I can’t think of his name. We’ve talked like twice in class, only to borrow stuff from each other. I think I still have one of his pens, but I’m not about to bring it up.
“Never seen anyone stump Anderson before,” he starts off, now walking beside me, both of us more strolling than hustling.
“Was it entertaining for you?”
“It was pretty classic. You read the story before, huh?”
“Nope, I guessed.”
I laugh. “Yeah, I know. Could you imagine how badass that would be though? I just walk up there and guess the f***in’ answer?”
“Imagine if you guessed wrong,” he tacks on.
“I’d have to change schools.”
He stops at his locker to throw some stuff in. I stop with him, looking around the hallway to distract myself. I’m still wondering why he’s bothering with me.
“So -.” He shuts the locker and leans on it. “You wanna come hang out with me and my friends on Saturday?”
I scoff a little, thrown off. “What, you feel sorry for me or something?”
“Is that a no?”
“No, it’s a yes, I’m just wondering.”
“Nah, we’re just kinda off-beat too.” He starts walking again. I get a funny image in my head of us being a group of rag-tag teens in some campy 80’s movie.
“Well, I guess count me in.” My locker’s the opposite way, so I start separating myself. “Just one question.”
“Go for it.”
I squint a little. After trying this whole time to recall his name, I’ve given up. “What’s your name again?”
He laughs. “Jimmy.”
“Right, Jimmy. So Saturday?”
“Saturday.” Jimmy walks off down the hall, waving. “Seeya’ man.”
“Later.” I’m trying to play it cool, but I can’t stop smiling about it once we part ways. Maybe some rag-tag friends are exactly what I need.