“I bet you can’t even get it close,” said Jimmy Varano in a voice just above a whisper.
“You kidding me? I can make it in without even hittin’ the rim,” I spat back.
“Can to,” I said with confidence.
“Two packs of Pop-Rocks says you can’t,” he said, smiling.
“Deal,” I quickly responded, sticking out my hand for a firm handshake. Both of us returned our attention to the front of the room and with slow coolness, I leaned back in my chair and began to wad a piece of paper into a tight ball. I took my time, carefully making sure to push each little piece that stuck out tightly into the center with my tip of my finger. Cupping my hand over the top of the round paper grenade, my heart began to pound in my ears. I had to remain calm. I had to wait for my opportunity. I’m pretty sure it was only a few minutes, but it felt like forever until Miss Thomas turned to write something on the board. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and hauled off and let the ball fly. It looked like it was turning in slow motion as I watched the white orb sail over the waste basket, over the big wooden desk and smack right into the blackboard, just to the right of Miss Thomas’s head. As the class erupted in giggles, I immediately turned to Jimmy who was now doubled over with laughter. I quickly slunk down in my chair.
The slow screech of the chalk in Miss Thomas’s hand came to a horrifying stop. My eyes darted around the room to see if anyone was looking at me, hoping their glances wouldn’t give me away.
Miss Thomas calmly bent down and picked up the disruptive object. She unwrinkled it, carefully inspected it, placed it on her desk and continued the lesson.
The class quieted down and although I didn’t know whether or not I got away with anything, I breathed a little easier. I closed my eyes and put my hand on my chest, trying to convince the beat inside to go slower, that everything was going to be okay.
“Way to go spaz,” whispered Jimmy.
I opened my eyes and stuck my tongue out at him, certain that I would be able to return the name-calling—most likely on the playground where I’d make him cry like a baby. The last part of the class went by without incident and as the bell rang I started to gather my things.
“Samantha Carson?” said Miss Thomas.
The sound of my name startled me, and I stood red-faced with my back to my teacher. “Yes?” I creaked over my shoulder, a lump forming in my throat. It was usually weird when someone used my whole first name. Everyone, including my family, called me Sam and even though it seemed strange, I kind of liked the way it sounded coming from Miss Thomas’s mouth.
“Could you come up here please?” I put my books back down on the top of my desk and looked over at Jimmy.
“You better bring me Pop-Rocks tomorrow…watermelon ones,” he said to me, smiling as he grabbed his books and headed for the door. Just as he was about to disappear, his pudgy hand grabbed the door frame and spun around. “No! Green apple!”
I immediately sneered back at him and then cautiously made my way to the front of the class. I nervously leaned against the front of her desk, feeling the cold hard wood underneath my fingertips.
“Have a seat,” Miss Thomas said, pointing to the front-and-center chair that she was now towering over.
I gingerly sat down and looked up at her. She wasn’t like the other teachers here at school, she was younger and although other kids saw her as old, I saw her as sophisticated, worldly. She had this long brown hair that she always wore down and although she had glasses, they weren’t thick like Mr. Pederson’s or Mrs. Brinton’s…they were thin and green with sparkles on the sides.
“In light of your antics today, I think it would be appropriate to keep you after school,” she said as she placed the crumpled sheet of paper in front of me. “Don’t you agree?”
“Why do you think it was me?” I eked out, my voice trembling.
Miss Thomas laid her slender pointer finger on top of the piece of paper. “Perhaps it wasn’t wise to choose a piece of paper that you had already written your name at the top of?”
I could feel my cheeks begin to burn red as my chin dropped to my chest.
She turned around and began to erase the board, my eyes beginning to peep upward every few seconds. I was truly embarrassed and yet I couldn’t keep them lowered. I watched her soft hand sway back and forth as it smoothly rubbed the chalk away. She looked like that poster of Annie Hall I saw once; a checkered oversized men’s shirt, unbuttoned halfway down so that a white tank-top could be seen underneath and beige cotton pants that fell loosely, flaring at the bottom. I looked down at my own tank-top and tattered blue-jean shorts; I had worn the same thing for as long as I could remember, along with my rainbow socks and black tennis shoes with the toes scuffed up from playing kickball. I suddenly became aware of how worn my clothes were and feeling self-conscious, looked back up at my teacher, wondering if my waist was going to be that small when I grew up. The sound of kids playing outside floated through the window to break my trance.
Miss Thomas stopped as well and turned to face me. “Silly me. I actually think that you should be doing this,” she said, shoving the eraser towards me in her outstretched hand.
I stood and took hold of the scratchy black rectangle, lightly dusted with white. Her finger lightly touched mine, involuntarily bringing a patch of goose bumps to the surface of my arm. I immediately felt the weight of being in trouble.
“Good, all of it please,” she said and twirled around to go back and sit down in her chair.
The whip of her hair caused the scent of lavender and Ivory to penetrate my nose. Every day she would pace between our desks, always leaving a faint trail of flowers and soap. It made me think that maybe it was time to start putting on deodorant like my older sister does. I put the eraser against the blackboard and started to wipe but couldn’t help but keep looking over at Miss Thomas. I felt guilty. Like I was really in trouble this time. She pushed her hands through the long length of her hair. The color was a deep shimmering brown, reminding me of a piece of chocolate that had fallen on my thigh just a bit earlier at recess, and then melted by the heat of the day. As she ran her fingers through the sides by her temple I could just make out the pinkness of the exposed scalp between the strands of hair.
I put my free hand up to touch my own hair; it was always up in a ponytail clasped tightly with a bobble, a style I repeatedly told my mom I didn’t want to wear anymore. It felt so tight, confining and not me. Feeling the thinness of my own hair between my own fingers I suddenly became sensitive to how I looked. I dropped my hand to my side and continued to erase the board.
“I’m finished,” I said, standing at the end of the blackboard.
Looking up from her desk, Miss Thomas smiled at my compliance and crooked her finger at me. “Good, come here.”
I obeyed and as I stood before her I began to think of my parents finding out about my abnormal classroom activities. A feeling of fright washed over me. “You’re not going to tell my parents, are you?” I blurted. The thought of explaining to my mom and dad what was going on made me sick to my stomach. I felt the shame wash over me.
“Should I?” she responded. “This is the third issue I’ve had with you this week.”
I felt my forehead crinkle up as I slowly lowered my eyes. Oh god no. I thought. Oh please please please no.
Miss Thomas raised up my chin with the tips of her soft fingers. “You’re a good kid Samantha.”
Her bright green eyes stared at me through her sparkly glasses. Samantha. I liked the way it sounded. Maybe I’ll make everyone use my full name from now on.
“I can call them right now?” she said.
Her words snapped me back to reality. “No!” My shout seemed to startle her. “I’ll do better…I promise.”
Miss Thomas sighed. “This can’t keep happening, or I will have to let your parents know what’s going on. Okay?”
I timidly nodded my head.
“All right, go on now,” she said, smiling warmly.
I quickly grabbed my things and made my way out of the classroom, my heart pounding like a jack rabbit’s foot. Jimmy, who had been playing out on the playground, came running over as soon as he saw me.
“Ha! You owe me candy!”
“Yeah, yeah, all right, chill out,” I said.
“Was it bad?” he asked.
As soon as the words came out of Jimmy’s mouth, Miss Thomas stepped out of the room behind us. She slung her bag onto one of her shoulders and began to fiddle with the keys in her hand. “Hello Mr. Varano.”
Jimmy flashed a cheesy smile. “Hello Miss Thomas.”
She finished locking the door and tossed her keys into her bag. “Where are your rides?” she asked.
“Oh, our parents are gonna pick us up out front,” replied Jimmy.
“Ah, I see. Would you like me to walk the two of you up there?”
As Jimmy began to shrug his shoulders, a chill ran down my spine. I quickly pinched the back of his arm.
“Nope!” I said at the same time as Jimmy’s yowl. “We gotta go get our soccer ball, right Jimmy?”
“What?” he said, feverishly rubbing his arm.
I widened my desperate eyes at him.
“I mean, yeah…I forgot my ball,” he said.
“Okay,” said Miss Thomas, looking slightly suspicious. “I will see you too tomorrow then. Have a goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Jimmy and I said together.
As our teacher turned and walked away, I carefully watched her make her way down the corridor, my mind becoming hooked on the “click, pop, click” of her high heel shoes striking the concrete underneath her feet.
Jimmy slammed his fist into my arm.
“Ow!” I said glaring at him.
“That’s for the pinch,” he said evening up the score. “Well?”
“Well what?” I said.
“Did detention suck?”
I felt my lips curl slightly upward as I answered him. “Nah, it wasn’t that bad.” I began to rub my arm as the two of us started to walk down the hallway.
“You better bring those Pop-Rocks tomorrow!” he reminded me.
“Click.” “Pop.” “Click.” The sound seemed to bubble up within me, echoing in my ears as the smell of lavender filled my head. I looked at Jimmy and smiled. “Wanna make it double or nothing?”