“There is a desk in front of Ms. Small’s,” he said. “Go out and get comfortable, Derek, because that’s where you’re going to be until I decide what to do with you.”
And so I was sentenced to spend the day on display, gawked at by every kid who walked by the office. First period had barely started before Ms. Carter, my science teacher, walked in.
“Hey, Derek. I hear you get a change of scenery today. Lucky guy. Our classroom is freezing. I swear someone left the window open.”
I mumbled something. She was trying to be nice, and I did appreciate it, I just didn’t know what to say.
“I brought your work,” she said. “I know you’ll be done it in ten minutes, so I grabbed a book out of my private stash.”
She handed me the work and the book, and I said thanks. Then she stood there, like she wanted to say more. After a moment, she marched toward Thierry’s office.
The secretary leaped up. “He’s busy on the phone—”
Ms. Carter walked into the principal’s office before the secretary could finish. She shut the door, but I could hear just fine.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “That boy has never caused any trouble—”
“Apparently because he hadn’t been here long enough.”
“We have students who can’t get through the day without a trip to the office. The paper says it was an accident.”
“No, the paper said Derek claimedit was an accident. The police haven’t made a determination yet.”
“No, apparently your job is to kowtow to a big alumni supporter. I hear you spent half the night on the phone with Travis Walker. He’s not too happy with the situation, I take it.”
“Of course not. His son—”
“—should have been kicked out the last time he was found with a knife on school property. But you can’t expel him because daddy might withdraw his sizeable financial support.”
They fought for another few minutes. Then Ms. Carter stormed out. As I pretended to read my sheets, she took a second to compose herself, pulling on a bright smile. Then she came over and promised I’d be back in class tomorrow, and told me just to relax and take advantage of the lightened workload.
A half-hour later, my phone vibrated. I answered, getting a glare from the secretary even when I mouthed, “It’s my dad.”
“Hey, bud,” he said. “I hope you’re not answering your phone in class.”
“Good. I was going to leave a message, but this is even better. How are things going?”
He rambled on for another minute, talking about stupid stuff like asking whether I remembered my jacket and joking that no responsible parent should let his kid walk around in January without one and—
A pause. Then he cleared his throat. “We need to leave town, Derek. The story made the Albany paper.” He went off on a rant about a slow news day and didn’t they have anything better to cover and why should it matter if the kid’s dad was some factory owner and you’d think someone like that wouldn’t raise thugs.
“Dad?” When he stopped, I asked if the article had named me.
“They know better than that. But it gave details, like your age, that your dad is a lawyer and that you were allegedly defending your adopted brother against racial taunts. It also mentioned something about unusual strength. If the people who are looking for me see that . . .”
“They’ll come to see if it’s us.”
“We’re going to leave the state this time. I’ll get a different job. I always thought I was being clever, staying in New York, working as a lawyer, the last thing they’d expect. I screwed up, Derek. And, once again, you guys have to pay the price. I’m sorry.”
“I know.” He sighed. “He has that big game tonight, doesn’t he?”
“We’re going to wait until after that, then. I’ll tidy up my cases, take the rest of the day off and get ready. I know you guys hate packing. I’ll do all that and pick you up at five.”
“And . . . don’t tell Simon. Let him have his last day.”
I think he’d want to know, have the opportunity to say, “Forget the game—we should leave.” But Dad never gave Simon credit for stuff like that, always worrying he wouldn’t understand.
“See you at five?” he said.
I spent the rest of the day playing juvenile delinquent on display. They wouldn’t even let me leave for lunch. That got Simon going, demanding that they call Dad, but I talked him out of that. It wasn’t like I’d be welcome eating with Simon and his friends today.
Simon stayed with me for lunch, which the secretary declared “so sweet,” as did all the girls who passed the office, whispering how great Simon was, sticking up for his loser brother. Simon missed the worst of the comments, but he caught enough to make him grumble and glower as they popped their heads in, which only made them giggle and swoon all the more.
“So let me get this straight,” he said to me. “You save my ass, and you’re a loser. I stick up for you because of it, and I’m a hero. How does that work?”
“I don’t know. But it’s so sweet.”
He flipped me the finger and bit into his sandwich, shaking his head.
When the day ended, the principal left for a teachers meeting. The secretary waited until he was out the door, then grabbed her purse and coat and took off without a glance my way.
Thierry hadn’t said anything about a detention, so I figured I was free to go. But that left me with a problem. I always watched Simon’s games, and I knew this one was important to him. On the big city teams, Simon was an average player. Out here, though, where football and hockey were the sports of choice, Simon was a star on the basketball court. And this was one of their last regular season games.
I wanted to go—I liked watching him play. The question was whether I’d distract him more if I didn’t show or, under the circumstances, if I did. I compromised by staking out a spot away from the bleachers, where he could see me, but I wasn’t near the other kids.
After the game, Simon ran over, face red, hair plastered down, eyes glowing.
“Did you see that?” he said.
“Yep. You won them the game.”
“I ownedthe game.” He grinned and ran his hand through his hair, spiking it up, sweat spraying. “Coach says this means we’re in the semis. First time they’ve ever made it, and you know who got them there.”
“And you know who’s going to take them to the finals?”
My smile faltered then, but he only clapped me on the back and laughed. “Kidding. I’m no Michael Jordan. I just look good compared to these guys.”
One of his teammates called from the court, waving Simon over.
“Actually, they’re heading out for Cokes at Truman’s. That okay? Tell Dad I’ll be home by six?”
“Or if you’d rather I didn’t . . .” He waved his teammate off. “That’s cool. Why don’t we do something tonight? I know it’s a school night, but special circumstances, right? I’ll see if Dad’ll give us a lift into Albany, catch a movie.”
“It’s not that.” I paused. “We have to go, Simon.”
“Go?” He said it slowly, as if hoping he’d misheard.
“Dad’s picking us up at five.”
I could tell he wanted to ask if I just meant we had to go home, but he didn’t dare because he knew the answer and, right now, he didn’t want hear it.
“Go on,” I said, waving at the team. “Dad can pick you up at Truman’s at five-thirty.”
“No, if we need to leave . . .” He glanced at his team, and then squared his shoulders. “Then we need to leave. As soon as possible. I’ll get changed and meet you around front.”
By the time Simon got out, it was almost five. We stood on the curb, not talking, until 5:10. Then I checked my cell and he checked his. No calls from Dad.
“He must be stuck in traffic,” Simon said.
I shook my head. “He was heading home after lunch. He’s just running behind.”
After another five minutes, I called. The phone rang four times, and then went to voicemail. I hung up and tried again, this time leaving a message.
“He’s probably on the line,” Simon said. “Work. If it’s a judge, Dad won’t pick up another call, and he sure won’t say he has to take off to get his kids.”
Another five minutes passed. Simon’s coach pulled his car to the curb, asking if everything was all right and Simon said yes, we were just waiting for our dad. The coach left and the parking lot was empty.
“He did say five, right?” Simon asked.
Another couple of minutes, then, “We’re really leaving, aren’t we? Dad’s picking us up, and we’re taking off and not coming back.”
He found a smile. “Hey, it’s not like this was the best school we’ve ever been at. Bottom three, I’d say. B-ball was the only thing it had going for it. And being the best on the team? Not exactly going to give me mad new skills. I need to be challenged, you know?”
“My friends weren’t much of friends if Mark was any example.”
“And Lily? The only reason we’re still together is because it’d be shitty to dump a girl before semi. She’s really nice, but . . . clingy, you know? Last night she texted me about ten times.”