Savannah stared at her test and saw Jimmy’s dead body lying in a shallow grave. Earth worms wriggling from the loose dirt and slithering on his pallid face.
Pencils scratched against paper as students attempted to complete their test before the bell rang. The smell of sharpened lead and spray-bottle perfume swirled around the class.
The teacher, Mr. Crouch, sat in his faded purple chair and stared at his century-old computer monitor. His eyes squinted behind his glasses, and he grimaced as if it hurt to look at the screen. He refused to go bald, holding onto a thin strip of hair that wrapped around the side of his head. His mustard-yellow shirt was tucked into oak-brown khaki’s.
To Savannah, he looked like a cross between Dwight Schrute and Tobias Funke. Mr. Crouch didn’t act like either one, though. Not once throughout an entire year had he made her so much as smirk.
Her phone vibrated in her pocked and startled her. She gasped, biting out an unwarranted scream. Resting her head on her left arm, she unlocked her screen with the right.
QP had texted her. Meet at the spot after school. It’s important.
Savannah: Can’t. Have to pick up Jose.
She sat in the back of the class. A ragged backpack with a buttons pinned on the outside rested at her feet. She gripped a strap and waited for the bell.
She’d take the fail on the test. What did a letter mean to a life? It’s not like she even liked Jimmy. No one did. But they had buried him. She glanced to the front corner of the class. His chair was empty. And no one cared. No one noticed.
One minute to dismissal.
Mr. Crouch must have noticed the time, for he spoke from behind his computer. “For homework, you all need to read—”
An assault of groans and boos cut off the rest of his sentence.
“For summer,” he shouted above the cacophony. “You’ll read chapter twelve of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There’ll be a quiz tomorrow.”
The sweet noise of liberation sounded. Students sprang from their desks like animatronic moles popping from their holes. Chairs scraped against blue tile. Zippers opened and closed.
“Ms. Espinoza,” Mr. Crouch said. “I need to speak with you.”
Savannah’s heart caught in her throat. She glanced at Jimmy’s empty seat, then she glanced at the clock, which sat above the door students shouldered through.
12:21. Jose’s middle school let out at 1:00 today. It took her about twenty-five minutes to bike over. She strolled to the classroom’s only door.
“Ms. Espinoza,” Mr. Crouch said.
Savannah looked over her shoulder. “That’s the bell. I’m no longer your student. I’m going to leave.”
“You’re failing the class, Savannah. I saw you on your cellphone.” He pushed his rolling chair back and stood. His shirt tucked into his jeans, highlighting a stomach that rolled over his waist. “I remember making a deal with you. Said I’d help you get your credits if you turned in some extra work. What happened?”
She studied the empty classroom. Posters of literary ghosts haunted the walls, along with motivational quips.
When did she have the time to do his extra work? She had her little brother to care for. She had a house to clean. She had bills to pay. Why would she take the time to study a book about nothing, written by no one of relevance to her?
“I did a little work. I just didn’t understand all of it.”
Her eyes kept flicking over to Jimmy’s desk. She kept seeing him in her peripheral vision, sitting in the chair and folding paper airplanes out of white masks.
“I told you,” he said in a voice so condescending, Savannah could nearly see the pity on his tongue, “if you need help, stay after school and I’ll tutor you.”
“I can’t stay after school. I have to pick up my brother and—”
“Your brother isn’t your responsibility.”
Well, tell my mom that, she thought. Tell my mom to be around and to pick up and raise her children. Tell my mom to stop blowing every dude in the city so she could get a hit of whatever drug they were handing out. Go ahead, tell her.
“Listen,” said Mr. Crouch. “I’ve provided you with every possible chance. You keep taking my kindness for weakness, and, quite frankly, I’m sore from being walked all over. You’ll receive a zero on today’s test for having your phone out. You also owe me an hour of detention.”
Savannah shook her head. “My brother’ll be out of school at one. You understand that? My mom’s not picking him up, which means I have to. I’m not staying for your stupid detention.”
“Maybe I should call your mom and talk to her. See what she has to say about all this.”
Yeah, you go ahead and try that. She’ll butter you up like she does every other person. Make all kinds of false promises. “Oh yes, Mr. Anderson, Savannah can stay for detention. Jose? No, he won’t be a problem. I’ll have my junkie-whore sister pick him up, watch him. They can shoot up together. You know what? Maybe I’ll stay home and join them. But at least Savannah will serve her detention.”
Savannah looked at the blue-tile floor. Hair and food crumbs swirled around her feet.
In her pocket, her phone vibrated. Frustrated with the conversation and looking for an out, Savannah pulled it from her pocket.
QP’s name flashed on the caller ID.
“Excuse me.” She held a finger up to Mr. Crouch. “It’s my mom. She’s probably calling about my brother.” She pressed the answer button, then switched to the home screen so it didn’t show who she was talking to. “Hi, Mom,” she said.
“This is QP.”
“Mom, I’m not going to forget Jose.”
“Is Mr. Grouch holding you back? Tell him school is out. Tell him to get laid. Maybe that’ll make him smile.”
“I’m with Mr. Crouch right now, mom. He wants me to stay for detention.”
“May I speak with her?” Mr. Crouch asked. He stepped forward.
“I’ll tell you what,” QP said. “I’ll impersonate your mom and get you out of detention and his time-freezing class. But you have to agree to meet in our spot. It won’t take long.”
Savannah glanced up at Mr. Crouch. He extended his hand for the phone. “Okay, mom,” she said, then handed the phone to her teacher.
QP was good at two things. One. Annoying the shit out of anyone and everyone. Two. Impersonations. He even had a YouTube channel where he impersonated different celebrities, male and female, and he had built quite a substantial following.
Mr. Crouch handed Savannah back her phone.
“Mom,” she said.
“See you soon, baby girl. Oh, and I prefer Daddy.”
Savannah ended the call. “So?” she asked Mr. Crouch.
“Grades are due next Friday. Have that extra work I gave you turned in by then.”
“Oh, and, Savannah. This is your last chance.”
“I understand. Thank you,” Savannah said. She risked one more glance at Jimmy’s former desk.