You hold your sister’s head underwater. You wait until her movements become jerky. Panicky. You decide to let her up, after all tomorrow is the first day of school. There are bigger things to worry about. You look up at the sky and think about how wrong the weather forecast had been. It’s the last day of summer and you can hear thunder rumbling in the distance.
America runs inside to tell mom. Little brat. The thunder rumbles again and you grab a towel from the deck chair. You walk past your sister and Mom on the way to the shower and smile because Mom is more concerned about the water America has dripped on the floor than anything she has to say.
You met Ms. Doyle a week ago at Meet the Teacher. The ball of nervousness in your stomach had turned white hot with anger when Mom had told her you were a little on the hyperactive and talkative side. But Ms. Doyle had smiled and laughed, saying that she had had many students like that. It was just something 4th grade boys did. Maybe this year your teacher will be cool, understanding.
Ms. Doyle moved your desk right next to hers by the third day of school. You’ve seen this before. She has been smiling at you more than the other students, trying to make a connection. Adults are so dumb. Does she really think she can control you with a little extra attention? You fall asleep during math. Ms. Doyle is getting mad now; she drops a book by my ear. But it isn’t your fault. She should be a better teacher. Teachers are so dumb.
The classroom calendar was just changed to October. The dumb girls that always stay in during recess to help Ms. Doyle decorated it with pumpkins today. Ms. Doyle moved your desk to the back of the classroom. You fall asleep there, too. You told Mom that you were just resting your eyes for a second when Ms. Doyle freaked out on you. Mom was hugging you when the phone rang. It was Ms. Doyle. Parents are so dumb. Your little sister glares at you from the table where she does her homework. She hasn’t played with you in weeks. She better get over whatever she thinks you did to her. Mom’s pregnant again, and soon she won’t be the baby of the family anymore. America will need you, but she’ll be sorry then for being so rude to you.
You told Mr. Rose the music teacher you needed to go to the bathroom during breakfast. He doesn’t ask you why you’re bringing your backpack to the bathroom. Mr. Rose never asks anybody anything. He’s so dumb. While you’re washing your hands, Jaylen comes in. “Hey,” you whisper, “want to see something cool?” Jaylen is the coolest kid in Ms. Doyle’s class. You’re starting to like him. You even played soccer with him and his friends at recess last week. Last night you texted him and played Fortnite together. Jaylen’s cool.
The zipper is stuck on your winter hat. You pull and finally get the backpack to open. Jaylen’s eyes grow wide. You knew he would be impressed.
We are stuck inside for recess today. You told Ms. Doyle, she should take the class outside anyway. The office won’t know if one class goes outside. She didn’t even look at you, just pointed back to your desk. Yeah, she needs to learn a lesson. Very disrespectful. The same dumb girls are cutting out paper snowflakes to decorate the class calendar for this month. You walk over to Jaylen and Ryan and ask to play Lego’s with them. Jaylen knocks over the box of Lego’s. His voice is high and squeaky as he apologizes and backs away, saying he needs to go to the bathroom. He must be hitting that puberty thing people keep talking about. You sit down and take his spot next to Ryan, while Jaylen walks to Ms. Doyle’s desk to ask for permission.
Clap clap. Ms. Doyle stands up from her desk.
Snap snap. The class stops playing and looks at her. Ms. Doyle is white, well she’s always white, but now she’s really white. Maybe she’s going to throw up. You can only hope, but then that would mean you couldn’t teach her a lesson until tomorrow. You look at your backpack. It has to be today at dismissal when all of the other kids have left the classroom.
Ms. Doyle announces that we are going to the library right now. We might as well go now since we are stuck inside for recess, get new books for winter break. There are groans from everyone, but kids start to clean up. You grab a handful of Lego’s to put in the box. But Ms. Doyle says there is no time to clean up. We have to go to the library now before the librarian has her next scheduled class.
You hate the library on a normal day, but now you have to be there during recess. Ms. Doyle is an unfair, idiot. You go sit on the comfy couch in the corner of the library. Mrs. Brooks, the librarian, comes over to you immediately.
“You know the rules, young man. The comfy couch is for kids who read a chapter book last month.”
You glare at her and put your head on the arm of the chair. You are about to close your eyes for a nap when the principal walks in. He takes one big look around the library, and his eyes fall on you. The assistant principal comes in behind him. They both walk over to you and put an arm on each of your shoulders.
In the principal’s office your heart beats faster. Your backpack is on top of his desk. Open. But you swallow the panic. Grown ups always expect kids to tell the truth or cry, but you know how to lie. It’s actually kind of like your very own superpower. You can convince anyone of anything. The principal holds up the kitchen knife. Your eyes grow wide with surprise.
“Why was this in your backpack?” he asks you. His voice is deep, almost scary.
“Oh, in my backpack? I don’t know, ohhh. Oh my gosh, is it, is it real?”
The principal just looks at me from across his desk. His face is like a statue.
“I thought it was made out of cardboard. I saw this Youtube video last week and made a cardboard knife for a science experiment, but, oh wow, I must have accidentally grabbed the real one.” You are good. You sound so concerned. A little warm feeling of pride grows in your stomach for a moment.
The principal sets the knife down and folds his fingers. “And why would you bring it to school?” He is talking slower now, making each word sound like a threat.
“The science fair.”
“A fake knife is part of your science fair project?”
You take a deep breath, you need to sound grown up to convince him. “Well, I was thinking about it. Maybe cutting different thicknesses of things. I was going to ask Ms. Doyle if it was a good idea after school today.”
“And you really thought Ms. Doyle would be okay with a weapon in her classroom?”
You have a burst of inspiration. “Oh yes, well no, I thought it was cardboard,” you nod your head up and down. “Ms. Doyle is my favorite teacher. She makes me love science, and she taught us all about science safety.”
The principal doesn’t say anything for a whole minute, but you know the game. He is waiting for you to cry or sweat or confess. You stare back at him cooly.
“Your dad will be here soon, and there are two police officers waiting outside to speak with you.” He waits another long minute.
You feel your heart in your feet. Dad was not part of the plan. Mom would believe anything you said, but Dad. And police? But you keep your gaze calm even though your insides are twisting in a knot. It will be extra work, but grown ups are so dumb. Next time, you won’t trust Jaylen. Next time you’ll just have to teach two people a lesson.