Circe Du History

Pete Mitchell squeezed his long, lean six foot two frame into one of the one-size fits all desks that littered Mr. Richard Trent’s American History class. It was hard enough trying to wriggle into one of these fish can seats, but having to walk sideways past crowded desks and bulging book bags made getting to his desk like a performance of Circe Du Soleil. But as much as he hated the contortions of going to History class, he loved Mr. Trent – well, maybe that was an overstatement. He didn’t love the man or his class subject matter. Rather he enjoyed the chance to take a nap for ninety minutes, without any fear of being called upon or having to contribute in any way.

Like a superhero’s unique talent, Mr. Trent had perfected the technique of droning to expert levels; within minutes of starting his lecture at least half the class would be unconscious. By the end of the first half-hour, the other half would be drooling on their desks or slumped over in their seats as if someone had anesthetized the room. Pete sighed. The man had a gift and his students were willing recipients, almost offsetting the average bedtime of about two in the morning.

Now all that had to happen was to make himself comfortable, before Mr. Sandman, as Mr. Trent was affectionately known, trundled into class. Short, stoop-shouldered, and bald, Trent shuffled along everywhere in his saddle shoes. If anything noteworthy could be said about him, it was that everything about him seemed diminished, except for his tweed jacket and bow-tie, which just looked ridiculously old fashioned. Rumor was that he still lived in his mother’s basement.

Stabbing everyone in the ears, the first block bell shrilled several times. On the last ring, the door opened, and Mr. Trent trudged in, followed by a boy in an Army surplus jacket and well-worn jeans.

Pete glanced at the new boy and quickly dismissed him. Another new transfer. Here today and gone tomorrow. As he watched, the boy whispered into Mr. Trent’s ear, who then turned and pointed at an empty seat to the right of Pete’s.

The boy sidled into the desk, nodding at Pete, who ignored him.

“Class, it is time to take roll. Will you please answer when I call your name?”

“I’m absent today,” chimed in Bill Parson. A round of chuckles rose from the class.

“You won’t find that so funny when I actually count you absent, Mr. Parsons.”

Leave it to Billy to rile up the Sandman. So Mr. Trent called out roll call for the rest of the condemned, most barely making an audible “yo” before moving on. Pete heard his name, shot out his requisite “Sup!” then yawned, fluffed up the book bag on his desk. Man, I stayed up way to late waiting for Dad to call from Iraq. He watched Trent mangle a Hispanic boy’s name. What a tool. Screw it, time for nighty-night. His head sank into the recess of his Jansport.

“Jonathan Carpenter.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pete opened an eye and peeked sideways at Jonathan. Sir? Man, what a suck up.

Trent paused. Pete lifted his chin off the book bag to see the reaction. This should be fun. The man seemed momentarily stunned by the response. Bet he can’t figure out if the new kid is being respectful, or just making fun of him.

“Where did you go to school last year, Mr. Carpenter?”

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?” Trent pushed his coke-bottle glasses up on his nose. “Were you home-schooled?”

“You could say that.”

Peering over his thick rims, Trent replied, “Understand this, Mr. Carpenter. This is my classroom, and I expect everyone to show up and control themselves. Do you think you can do that, or am I going to have trouble with you?”

Jonathan held up his hand. “You have my word that I will do as exactly as you ask.”

Trent risked a slight smile, his small eyes darting around the room. “Very well then. I’ll take you at your word. Welcome to the class.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Pete groaned. The new kid was a teacher pleaser — a boot licker. Bet he’s going to rat out people the moment they break a rule. He shot a glare at Jonathan, who met his look with a wink. Suddenly it occurred to him that the new kid was telling Trent what he wanted to hear. There’s hope for you yet. Pete gave Jonathan a quick grin and turned his head away, nestling deep into the book bag. Time for shut-eye.

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