Secret Lives of Teachers
(an excerpt from a novel in progress)
Homeroom is a failure. Miss Sommers decides to shuffle things up and change the leave-well-enough-alone seating plan. Will ends up way in the back of the room and I end up in the front. Jazz and Ollie are in a different homeroom altogether, so I don’t even have a chance to end up with one of them. Instead I get the second seat from the front behind oh-so-obnoxious Brock de los Santos. He’s a jock and jocks are the male versions of Primas. To Primas, I’m caribou and it’s always hunting season.
After the seating shuffle, the morning announcements come through the overhead speaker. It’s mostly static mixed in with birthdays, club meetings and fund raisers. I trace my finger over the pattern on my plaid leggings and fiddle with the zippers on my shirt.
At the lockers between classes, the Primas, Shayna and Maddie, go out of their way to comment on every aspect of my appearance. My outfit is unflattering, my hair too long, my jewelry to sparse and my backpack too green. If I couldn’t complain to Will, I would lock myself in the girls’ bathroom and wish for a natural disaster.
After the longest most miserable morning, the Freak Squad united, arrive at the lunch room. Will, Ollie and I bring our lunches from home, but Jazz gets the school lunch, which today is mystery meat sandwich and tater tots. Jazz heads for the lunch line while the rest of us secure our usual table, in the outskirts. The jocks and Primas occupy the center tables.
Not two seconds after we sit down, Jazz plops down with her tray and asks me,
Why so glum?
I am hideous, I tell her.
Well those leggings are a fashion don’t, she agrees,
but you are not hideous.
The Primas have been giving her a hard time, Will volunteers.
Will told me not to wear these pants, I mumble and unzip my lunch bag.
Jazz nods in Will’s direction.
You should listen to the boy. You are too short to wear those leggings with
I’m too short no matter what I wear. Truthfully I am the shortest person in the entire school,
other than Ollie who wins by an inch. Even my twin sister is two inches taller than I am.
I peer into my lunch bag and pull out an egg salad sandwich and some chips. Will has emptied his lunch bag onto the table. He has a hunk of chocolate cake to accompany his cold chicken cutlet sandwich.
Cut her a break, Jazzie-Jazz, Will offers me some backup.
She had a tough morning.
Join the club, Ollie pipes in, his first comment since we sat down.
We turn our attention to Ollie as we much our food. Will swallows a mouthful and washes it down with a gulp of flavored vitamin water.
What happened to you? he asks.
Although the question is for Ollie, Jazz answers.
Like always, I’m confused.
Ollie slumps in his chair, which at his height is not a good idea.
I found out I need to wear glasses.
Still confused, I ask,
What’s that got to do with your parents?
Oh, it gets better, Jazz answers popping a few tots into her mouth.
Done with his sandwich and about to unwrap his cake, Will is getting frustrated.
Tell us already.
Jazz sits up even straighter and leans forward, her long slender body arches over the table. Her gold hoop
earrings sway and brush against her cheeks.
His parents came with him to school today, she declares.
So did my mom, I say.
And mine, Will adds,
They dropped us off out front because of the snow.
Ollie moans into his hummus and sprouts on a pita.
No, mine came with me to school today. As in, they
came to homeroom to talk to my teacher. He folds his arms and buries his head in complete disgust and
Oh my god! Why? I drop my spoon into my yogurt cup.
To make sure I get to sit in the front in all my classes, Ollie mumbles through his sweater sleeve. He
has barely touched his organic greens salad or his sandwich. And his pressed apple juice sits untouched.
Will wipes chocolate from his mouth and asks,
Why not just write a note?
Ollie turns his head to look up at Will.
Because they’re my parents. And because I’m me.
It’s the best explanation he can offer and the most truthful. Ollie was a miracle baby born to a pair of eccentric New Age parents, who go above and beyond to make sure he has the safest healthiest upbringing possible.
Yup. That’s life in Ollie-wood, Jazz confirms from her seat next to me. She attempts to toss her empty
milk carton in the trash barrel near our table. Of course, she misses. Jazz is tall and built like an athletic WNBA
player, but she lacks grace and coordination.
Ollie casts a disdainful stare her way.
I hate when you say that, he says.
That’s why I love it, she says back before standing to retrieve her missed shot.
Ollie finally sits back up and picks at his food.
What’s wrong with your day, Chelsie?
Will jumps in with an answer before I can swallow my last potato chip.
She got stuck behind a tree in
homeroom and the Primas have already begun Chelsie-season. Their rifles are locked and loaded.
Jazz returns to her seat,
Oh. Poor Chelsie, she empathizes. Jazz has had her fair share of Prima
Is that what you and Will were chatting about in between classes all morning?
I nod before throwing away my lunch trash. I grab Will’s and throw it away, too.
What tree did you get stuck behind? Ollie asks when I sit back down.
Again Will answers on my behalf.
Brock. He’s like the size of Chelsie times four.
I jump in with the details of the new seating plan in homeroom.
Will nudges Ollie’s with his elbow, making him drop his forkful of spinach and radicchio.
where are your new specs? I didn’t see them at all this morning.
Ollie stabs at his salad again, gathering a mouthful of lawn clippings.
Backpack, he states.
I don’t want
to wear them. My mom picked them out.
Let’s see, Will bumps his elbow again. More salad is dropped into the plastic food storage container.
I’m about to take a sip of my 2% milk. Milk makes you grow taller, right?
You better wait on that milk, Jazz warns.
Ollie slips his glasses out of his backpack and slides them onto his face. Jazz is right. One look at Ollie’s glasses and I have to stifle a laugh. They are just that awful. They have blue tortoise shell frames made out of thick plastic. Across the table, Will is having difficulty keeping a serious expression on his face. I know he wants to laugh, too.
Oh, Ollie, don’t ever take those out again, Will cautions.
I reach over my lunch bag to grab Ollie’s wrist.
You win, I say.
Your day is way worse than mine.
Lunch is over and Ollie dumps his uneaten food into the trash barrel.