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Authors: Michael Northrop

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Gentlemen

BOOK: Gentlemen
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Gentlemen
Michael Northrop

TO THE LOCALS,
THE RAGGIES,
AND THE REST

1

It started out as just another Tuesday at the Tits: first period, Practical Mathematics, nothing special. Name aside, there was nothing all that practical about the class. It was just math, simple math, math for dummies. They didn't figure we were up to geometry or that kind of stuff, and mostly they were right, so they just sat us down and drilled us with the basics.

It was a sunny spring day outside, but we were stuck at our desks doing square roots. When I say we, I mean me, Tommy, Mixer, Bones, and the rest of 10R. Tattawa is a small high school. We call it the Ta-Ta's or the Tits—another long day at the Tits, we'd say. There are four levels of classes at the Tits and R is the last one. 10R is tenth grade, remedial. It's not too hard to grasp. The other students joked like the
R
was for
Retard,
but they didn't joke to the four of us. We'd kill
them. And we didn't think twice about telling them what
A
stood for.

I started out in 9A, in case you're wondering, one down from honors. I'd done OK on the test they made us all take back at the end of eighth grade. Better than OK, but the classes didn't work out. They said I wasn't “applying myself,” and that's fair enough. Then I threw Oscar Tully a serious beating for saying something he shouldn't've, and that was that, down to general in the middle of the third marking period. I had no idea what was going on in G, and I didn't really feel like trying to figure it out. Sophomore year started and I found myself in 10R.

Fine with me, that's where someone like me belongs—someone of my “pedigree,” if you read me. This should clue you in: My first name is spelled wrong. It's Micheal instead of Michael. Mom or Dad, one of them dropped the ball on that one, probably Dad, in the hospital or wherever it is you fill out that paperwork. Not that it matters; everyone calls me Mike. Still, it's a bad way to start things out. My grade school diploma reads: “This diploma hereby signifies that MICHEAL BENTON has blah blah blah.” The first time I looked at it, I half expected it to have red ink on it, like, −
2, sp.
Like that should have been a proud moment, right? But it just had no chance.

I like 10R all right: I'm smart here, and it's where my friends are. But don't think it's like some fun club. There aren't that many of us in R, and we see a lot of each other.
We're just as likely to get under each other's skin as not. And we're not all alike. It's not like you see on TV, kids pushed through high school and still can't read.

Three small elementary schools feed into the Tits: Soudley, Little River, and North Cambria. Small towns, small classes, all mother-henned by the teachers…The only ones who can't read after nine years of that are the special ed kids, and they get shipped off to their own little center up on Route 7. I think they like canoe and paint all day. I heard that once.

Don't get me wrong, we've got some real morons, kids who just don't get it. Then there's us. They call us hard cases, and we are. They say we don't try, and we don't. We're not going to be engineers or accountants or anything like that. We're going to put in our time, because you need that diploma now, even to work down at the garage. Then that's pretty much what we're going to do, go work down at the garage or something like that, overcharge the same dipsticks we went to school with when they bring in their Volkswagens. In the meantime, we're stuck behind these little desks.

Me, I think I'd like to work outside: gardener, landscaper, that kind of thing. I'd get a truck and plow snow in the winter. Mixer's dad does that. Seems like a sweet deal. We could do this stuff if we wanted, Tommy, Mixer, Bones, and me. Well, maybe not Bones so much, if I'm being honest.

Anyway, like I said, Tuesday morning and we were doing square roots. Mr. Dantley was going up and down the rows. He'd give you a number and you were supposed to tell him
the square root: no calculators, just paper and pencil, if you wanted. Sometimes he'd say something like 529 or whatever, and whoever got that one would be like, “I don't know” or “It doesn't have one.” Mostly, they were easier.

When my turn came, Dantley looked at me and kept looking. He didn't look down at his list the way he did with the others. He looked at me for a long second. Now, people will do that, because of the way my eye is, but he'd seen that plenty of times before, so that wasn't it. He just eyeballed me and said, “One hundred twenty-one.”

And I was like, Fine, if you want to play it that way, and I looked straight at him, didn't even look down at my notebook, and said, “Eleven.”

It was on the frickin' times tables. I knew that in like fourth grade. He knew I did. He wasn't trying to stump me. I don't know what he was trying to do. These teachers were always trying to get inside my head. They always said it was for my own good, and I was always like, Whatever, I just don't want anybody in there, all right? Anyway, he gave me this little smirk, like he'd proved something, even though I was the one who got it right.

Tommy was next, and Dantley might've been working some angle with me, but he had real issues with Tommy. Those two were one hundred percent under each other's skin. Now, it's true that most teachers didn't like Tommy. He was “disruptive” even by 10R standards. He was loud, fidgety,
always up to something. Anyway, Dantley got to Tommy and he said, “Nine.” He looked down at his list, but you just knew he didn't read it off there. It was a special order, just for Tommy.

It was cold, and just cold on so many levels. First off, it was way too easy. Forget times tables, a five-year-old could've gotten that one. It was insulting, and he meant it to be. Secondly, Tommy couldn't say
three.
It was something about the
th
and the
r
back to back. I'd heard him try a few times. It came out too quick, too loud, and just sort of wrong.

Max went to elementary school with him in North Cambria and said that there used to be a lot more things Tommy couldn't say;
thr
-words were just the last holdouts. Anyway, it was the damndest thing. There were a few words like that, like
thrifty
or
thrust
or whatever, but, I mean, you don't have to say
thrifty
if you don't want to—kind of have to go out of your way to say it—but
three,
well, that'll come up from time to time. Generally speaking, that'd be in math class.

If we were solving problems out of the book, he would count ahead and see which one he was going to get. I'd seen him do it tons of times. Then he'd work the problem quick. Like I said, we weren't dumb, and he could solve those things easy with that kind of motivation. Anyway, if there wasn't a three in the answer, no sweat, he'd just chill until it was his turn. Then, like I said, he'd already have the thing solved. But if there was a three, well, his hand would go up for the
bathroom or to get something from his locker. Like he'd pocket his calculator and say he forgot it. Worst-case scenario, he'd just get it wrong.

But now, I mean, what could he do? This question was too easy to get wrong and it was too late to head to the john. I sort of half turned around to see what he would do, or to see him try to squeeze out another one of those spastic threes of his. And do you know what he did? He flipped his frickin' desk over! Seriously, no kidding, he put his palms under the front edge and then threw it up in the air.

His head jerked back with his shaggy hair flying. His books, his notebook, his calculator, and all that stuff went flying. The desk crashed down, hit the back legs of my chair, and kind of scooted me forward a few inches. I couldn't believe it, none of us could. Dantley definitely couldn't. He just stood there for a moment, his mouth hanging open like a goldfish's.

I expected Tommy to be all red-faced and mad, but when I looked at his face, he looked just as surprised as the rest of us, like someone else had thrown the desk. I figured he'd just lost it or panicked or whatever. When I thought about it a little more, I switched my guess and figured it was because Natalie was in the class. Tommy had it bad for her. He always said so anyway, and then when he was around her he was totally tongue-tied, like he had no idea what to say to a girl, like he'd never had it bad for one before. It was completely uncool, so I figured he meant it.

The class was sort of split as to who was the hottest chick. The other contender was Nicole. She had a big rack for a sophomore, which can happen when it's your second or third year as one. Natalie wasn't packing much up top, but she had a nice face and long legs and I figured that's what Tommy went for. He was always a little less boob-obsessed than the rest of us. He didn't talk about them as much, he didn't draw them in his notebook like Bones did, and I never remember him pointing out a good pair coming down the hallway.

As for Natalie, she was supposed to be seeing this guy who didn't go to the school, probably didn't go to any school. People said they'd seen him pick her up in a sweet sports car out by the edge of the student parking lot, but no one could agree what kind of car it was, much less anything about the guy.

Anyway, Tommy always said he had it bad for her, and I figured he probably didn't want to embarrass himself in front of her. It's kind of funny that he thought flipping a desk was less embarrassing than screwing up the word
three,
but maybe he thought it would seem hard-core or something. But he was seriously out of luck now.

Dantley pulled it together and started yelling. Teachers don't like to be challenged physically. He knew we could tear him apart if we wanted to, so he had to make a show of being in charge, and that's what he did. He didn't hit Tommy or anything, but he yelled until the spit was coming out. Faces began appearing at the little window on the door. Faces of
teachers, kids with hall passes, wondering what all the shouting was about.

Tommy just took it, just sat there in his chair with no desk. Pretty much, anyway. He gave Dantley some looks, but he kept his mouth closed. He was in enough trouble already, more than he probably meant for. Dantley got it out of his system, told Tommy to pick up his desk and his stuff, and sent him to Trever, the assistant principal. Trever was the hatchet man. He and Principal Throckmarten had a pretty well-polished good cop/bad cop thing going. I'm sure they'd been doing it since long before we arrived. Trever was a big black dude, which you didn't see much of around here, and I think that intimidated some of the kids.

I didn't say anything to Tommy when he walked by me; I just sort of let out some air, like,
phhhhhh!
as if to say, Man, you are one crazy dude, but I guess he could have taken it as, Man, you've got some big ones. I like to think he did.

We were still talking about it after class. When Mixer and I got to second period, I told Mr. Grayson, “Tommy will be a little late. He's with Trever.”

“What's his offense this time?” Grayson asked.

I knew he'd ask that. It was kind of his standard line in that situation. I shrugged, like it was no big deal, then I said, “He threw a desk.”

Grayson raised his eyebrows and made a little whistle sound, which most of us thought was pretty funny. Grayson was the coolest teacher we had, which was kind of like being
the best-smelling fart but still. He lights things on fire, drops them in acid, and once he took us outside to watch him set off a model rocket. I guess he has an advantage over the other teachers with things like that, because he teaches science, but he's also kind of more on our frequency.

Last winter, when I was in A, he held up a sparrow that'd hit the little glass walkway between the library and the main building. He held it up by its feet, or whatever they're called—I don't know if sparrows have talons, exactly—and it was frozen stiff. It was like a birdcicle. I mean, he must've seen it and gone out into the snow to pick it up, just so he could hold it up in front of the class. It's not the kind of thing most teachers would've done.

So anyway, we're basically cool with Grayson. We call him Mr. G, and that's the same thing we called him in class and when he wasn't around. Most of the teachers, we didn't address at all in class and called them like Mr. Doucheley when they weren't around. The class was about amoebas, and we were looking at diagrams on the overhead of little organisms with like hairs to move around with, just microscopic little goo-bags, basically. And the whole time we're expecting Tommy to come back, and the whole time he doesn't.

The bell went off and still no Tommy, so we knew he was really in deep. I had to go back to my locker to get my books for the next two classes. I don't like to carry too many books at once, and they don't let us carry backpacks around school since Wakeland got shot up last year, so it's replace
math and science with Spanish and English. English was only one little paperback book, because we'd taken the test on the last one the day before, so I could've taken another book or two, but I didn't need to, because I had lunch and then gym after that. But I was really dragging, because Spanish was the worst and the English teacher was a total jackass. If I could, I would've skipped straight to lunch. It was sloppy joes, and even the school version of those wasn't that bad.

So anyway, I was swapping out my books and Mixer came over from his locker, which is pretty much straight across the hallway from mine.

“Wanna see something?” he said, and I was like, “Sure.”

Now, when most people ask you if you want to see something, you just stand there and say, What is it? But with Mixer, you've got to go through this whole production. I knew the drill, so I opened my locker up a little more, like ninety degrees, and then stood in front of it. That blocked off people on the door side and out in front of it. Then Mixer closed in and blocked off the other side, and we had like a nice little nook to look at whatever it was without anyone else seeing.

BOOK: Gentlemen
3.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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