Ray always sat in the front of the room right next to the pencil sharpener, books perfectly stacked, hi-lighters always standing upright ready to mark importance. Always 15 minutes early studying his homework from the night before.
Angela always sat in the third row, perfectly out of view from where Mr. Wan stood at the front of the classroom. Pen caps always chewed flat. Her shoe laces always obnoxiously frayed, mangled, and straggling into class 5–10 minutes after the bell rang.
In September Mr. Wan tried to make a point to highlight every student’s work at least once throughout the course of the year. He knew that the classroom was the one guaranteed place these kids could have a meaningful mentorship outside of their home. Growing up, Mr. Wan was not unlike Angela. His two older sisters cast a wide shadow, winning every medal, trophy, and scholarship in sight. His obsession with worms and dirt won him e-coli and Most Sick Days in his class. Mr Wan’s parents saw bad grades and bad habits, but they never saw how he helped every kid up at recess or how he joined the science club to save the caterpillars being held captive in the back of his 4th grade classroom. Becoming a teacher was the one thing he knew his parents couldn’t dispute, but his resentment for always coming in last place always had a way of coming back to the surface.
In December, Mr. Wan’s classroom resembled the backroom of a 99 cent store, decorated with the bottom of the barrel tinsel and wrapping paper crafted into Christmas trees cut out with tiny friskers scissors. The day before Christmas break all the 6th graders were high off candy canes and Russell Stover chocolates given as gifts to Mr. Wan. As the giddy group gathered around the box tv screening of The Grinch, the classroom phone rang. After a few minutes of muffled phone conversation from the hallway, Ray was called to the principals office.
Ray had a little brother Manny who was the apple of his parents eye. Though Ray was a straight-A student and a teachers pet, Manny always stole the spotlight despite his countless days in detention and straight D-average. This day was no different. Manny’s favorite stuffed animal was found in the boys bathroom set on fire, laced with urine, with a shoelace strung around his neck. Ray’s parents insisted this was Ray’s doing and was called to be held in the principals office until they could pick him up.
Christmas break came and went and Mr. Wan’s classroom was full once again, except for one seat. 10 minutes after the bell, Ray strolled in. Months came and went and Ray’s hand was no longer the first one up, and Mr. Wan wasn’t going to let it slide. He knew Ray was better than this, yet despite all of his pep talks and leeway, Ray’s grades continued to slip from an A.. to a B.. to a C.
Mr. Wan was worried about Ray’s performance but he had seen kids ebb and flow before. He had 22 other kids he had to keep an eye on. On special friend day his whole class was excited to tell everyone about their family friends, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins. All except Angela, who’s last name conveniently fell at the end of the alphabet. She was relieved once the school bell rang signaling the end of the day. “Don’t worry Angela we’ll get to you tomorrow and you’ll have a special showcase!”. Tomorrow came and went, without a special showcase, despite this confirming that she was invisible to Mr. Wan, she was just fine without a “special showcase”.
As the days grew longer, Mr. Wan’s patience grew shorter. In May, a fight broke out between two girls about a missing panda printed pen. Mr. Wan gave all the students a chance to fess up before he had to call the principal. As he dialed the principals office, he noticed a black and white printed pen tucked under Angela’s sleeping foot. Angela denied any involvement but Mr. Wan had his mind made. He knew of her reputation as a loner, and dismal track record with teachers in past years. The perp was caught red handed and would be regretting her decision as she sat in detention everyday until end of the year
June 4th signaled the end of the year and the most exciting day for all 6th graders. Each student arrived at their seat 10 minutes early in anticipation of summer vacation. All were present, except Ray who had recently been arriving 15 minutes early everyday. An hour passed and no note of absence was shared by the principal’s office, though administration was often delayed these days especially with the fatigue from the summer heat. Another hour passed and Ray was no where to be seen. Calls were made and answered and still no news. Mr. Wan brushed it off, assuming his parents pulled him for summer vacation early.
June 5th, Mr. Wan arrived at school with relief as he opened the door to an empty classroom. A full day of organization and grading lay before him. He reached for the phone to ring the principals office anticipating the confirmation of Ray’s absence note, and reassurance that he was already enjoying Aruba with his family. As he reached for the phone, it rang. He answered and crumpled into his seat as he listened to the voice of the principal’s secretary.
Ray was found unresponsive at a treehouse on Boulevard, with a shoelace wrapped around his neck. He sat still as a rock, as he remembered the football shaped papers he had been intercepting between locker grates each day. Hands shaking, he reached for his drawer and pulled out a handful of neatly folded notes.
“I know you didn’t do it”
“It doesn’t matter, my parents don’t believe me. “I don’t even want to go home, they’re going to be so mad”
“Don’t worry, you always know how to make things right”
“Noticed you were late again today. Is everything ok? You’re the smartest person I know. Keep your head up! ~Angela~”
“You didn’t come by the treehouse yesterday, are you alright? You said you’d come every day. ~Angela~”
“Why are you still ignoring me? Please come by the treehouse today. I’m always here to listen. ~Angela~”
“I’m sorry Angela, I’m not allowed to hang out or talk to you anymore, my parents said you’re a ‘bad influence’ I know it’s not true. You and hanging out at the treehouse are the only things keeping me sane. -Ray.”
“I’m hurt you wouldn’t stick up for me, but I know how strict your parents can be. You’re strong, you’ll be fine without me and the stupid treehouse”
“I’m happy you were at school today. I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you, you really hurt me, and being stuck in detention kept me from the treehouse after school. But I’m always here for you, and don’t worry — the treehouse door is still always open for you, you know where the key is :) ~Angela~”
6. Over the course of the school year, a sixth-grade teacher intercepted dozens of notes being passed between students. He keeps them in a drawer. On the last day of school, he decides to read some of them. What do they say?
I really struggled with this one. Sometimes fiction is just not meant to be concise. But instead of being stuck. Here it is, and one day I’ll make it better.