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.

Breakfast at JHS

Holding his loaded breakfast food tray, Matt scanned the cafeteria for a place to sit. To his left preened the jocks and cheerleaders, definitely not the group to go near. On his right sat the nerds and assorted freaks of nature – the cripples, rejects and other assorted dregs of school society. In front of him, off to the left corner, next to the lurking presence of teachers and assistant principals, perched the collaborators. That group, members of student government, yearbook and newspaper staff, huddled together whispering and conspiring amongst themselves. Toward the right, taking up most of the cafeteria sat the normals – those without an agenda and claw marks on the social ladder of success.

The challenge, he knew, was trying to figure out where he fit in. This was his second year at Jamesville High, and despite that, he still didn’t know which peg hole suited him. Last year blew past like a blur, not that it didn’t have moments when time seemed to creep along, like some wishfully forgettable moments in gym class. Unwilling and unable to accomplish even the minimally pathetic goals of Coach Peterson’s PE class, he’d hidden in the bathrooms until dragged out by the perpetually red-eyed coach onto the parquet floors of the gymnasium. There, under the unrelenting stares and incessant hoots of the jocks, humiliation rained upon him as he failed task after task, of jumping, shooting baskets or even running between orange traffic cones. So he was not a jock, and yet he could do most everything else, particularly math and history, which put him closer to the nerds. He conversed readily with the pedestal dwelling student government types, and even those creatures which engendered mortal fear in all nerds — girls. So he didn’t fit there either.

As his eyes moved over the normals, he spotted a table closest to the freaks section, with one occupant, who sat with his back to him. The boy had long brown hair, an olive green army surplus jacket, worn jeans and scuffed up combat boots. Probably a misplaced normal, as no one would willingly sit near the freaks. Since no other suitable tables had an opening, it seemed that should be the place to go. If he were lucky, though, the boy would be leaving soon.

Tray in hand, Matt made is way over there, avoiding the glances coming from the freak table – do not make eye contact, they might say something in their simian way. Dodging a crutch and the handles of a wheelchair, he slid into a seat at the table with the lone boy, positioning himself on the opposite side and corner from the boy. Best to avoid contact if possible.

Yet the boy looked up at him and they briefly made eye contact.

Clear olive colored skin and large brown eyes greeted him. “Hello.”

Matt averted his eyes but mumbled back a reply. “Hi.” Hopefully, that will be enough. Much to his disappointment though, the boy slid down the bench seat toward him.

Something the matter?”

Matt looked up. “No, why do you ask?”

You look concerned.”

No, I just like my privacy.”

The boy sat back, “Really?”

Matt stared at him a moment but did not reply. Please make it stop.

Is that why you came into a crowded cafeteria?”

Feeling his face grow hot, Matt growled, “It is none of your business, really.”

No offense intended. I’m just trying to get to know you.” The boy leaned forward, “My name is Jonathan, by the way, so if I’m irritating you, at least you know who is doing it.”

Matt narrowed his eyes, but Jonathan’s face registered a slight smile, and his brown eyes looked on with kindness, not arrogance.

My name is Matt,” he said digging a fork into some eggs.

Jonathan speared a sausage and munched on it as he looked around the room. “Is it always this crowded in here?”

Matt looked around, most tables were full, but that did not surprise him. “Not usually. Breakfast pizza and mini-cinis days are just popular. The rest, not so much.”

Where I came from, they never served breakfast, and at lunch we never had more than a handful enjoying a meal.”

In spite of himself, Matt laughed. “Well, not sure anyone enjoys a meal around here since it is school food.”

Jonathan tapped the hard French toast stick on the tray. “Well, the sticks are a bit hard, I will admit.” He held it between his hands and bent it, with a crunch it broke into two pieces. “But even the hardest problems can be made into a blessing.” Dipping the halves into pancake syrup, he bit off and chewed the soft center.

Matt watched Jonathan chew the nearly fossilized sticks, which he apparently enjoyed. Odd phrasing this kid has. “Where did you say you’re from?”

North.”

Huh? “North where?”

Just north.”

Okay, be mysterious then. Damned strange, this kid. “I take it you’re new? What grade are you in?”

Jonathan nodded. “This is my first day of eleventh grade. How about you?”

This is my second year here. I’m in eleventh grade as well. Who do you have for homeroom?”

Prentiss.”

Matt stopped mid-chew. “Really? That’s mine too. But I didn’t see you in there last week.”

I just registered. My first class will be Trent for history.”

Oh, that should be a treat,” Matt said grinning. “Trent’s a pompous windbag. You won’t learn anything in there.”

Jonathan stared at him. “You can learn from anyone. The only question is whether you will learn the lesson.”

What is he talking about? As he finished his eggs, Matt continued to study the new boy. Finally, he spoke, “Suit yourself, but you might want to take a magazine to look at while he’s boring the crap out of you. To slow the pace down, just ask a couple questions and he’ll yammer on for fifteen to twenty minutes on most anything.”

Interesting.”

Pete will be in Trent’s class with Jonathan. I need to ask him about this new kid. He glanced at his watch. Five minutes until first block. He wolfed down the rest of his meal and washed it down with a carton of OJ. Grabbing his book bag, he slung it over his shoulder. Jonathan ate a few more toast sticks but left most of his food untouched.

Noting the applesauce container sitting in a bowl, Matt gestured toward it. “Are you going to eat that?”

Pausing, Jonathan replied, “Yes, I do believe I will.”

Nuts. Oh well. “I have to go,” Matt said. “See you around.” He slipped out of his seat and began moving toward the tray return cart.

Jonathan nodded. “Have fun in chemistry.”

Matt froze. What the? How did he know that was his next class?

I saw it on your agenda.”

Oh, right,” Matt said, an awkward feeling creeping over him. This kid was definitely weird. Slipping toward the door, he glanced back at the new boy. Standing next to the freak table, Jonathan offered his applesauce to them. Several hands raised hesitantly and he handed it over.

What is he doing? I was going to eat that.

With a grimace, he pursed his lips. Don’t feed the freaks, newbie. Like dogs, they’ll just come to expect it. I have to tell him that is not how it is done around here. Jonathan turned and looked his direction. Their eyes met, and Jonathan smiled warmly and waved. Matt flicked his hand in reply, then turned away and stepped into the hallway.

What a nut job. This kid is going to get in all kinds of trouble with his strange ways.