Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Exhale (08/15/13)
By Sara Harricharan
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The unnerving sight of a pouting preteen enveloped in red flames drew her up short. Her frazzled brain struggled to process the fact that the flames were harmless and the child seemed fine.
“Marvin, are you okay?”
He sniffled in answer.
“Wonderful.” Sandra licked her lips. “Can you turn the flames off?” This hadn’t been in the job description when she’d applied for the teaching position at Haroldings School for Gifted Children.
Mournful eyes stared back at her.
Sandra winced. “Right. Look Marvin, We all have off days.” Her gaze flickered from his subdued flames to the scorch marks beginning to take shape on the floor. Foot-shaped scorch marks. Oh joys. That would certainly come out of her meager paycheck. “It’s alright to be different sometimes.”
“I’m too different!” He wailed, “and nobody cares!”
“I care.” Sandra fumbled with the large buttons on her new raincoat. In a matter of seconds, she stripped it off of her person and tackled the flaming boy to the ground. She ignored the surprised squeak and bit back a grunt at the force of impact.
To her immediate relief, the flames switched off, though she did roll him a few times just to be sure, before yanking the smoking coat off of his shocked form. His school uniform was thankfully intact and except for the watery eyes glimmering up at her, he appeared to be perfectly fine.
“What were you thinking?” She swatted at his faintly smoking feet with the ends of her jacket. “You could have hurt someone.”
“My flames never hurt me.” He sat up, shoulders hunching forward, a sullen look on his freckled face. “S’not my fault that you’re just a regular human.”
Sandra blew out a harsh breath and dumped her coat on his head. “Precisely, I can’t help being human. You now owe me a coat.”
He tugged the garment off of his head and wriggled away from it. “Students are not to be held responsible for the destruction of personal property when emotionally distressed-”
Her eyes narrowed. “Then you owe me three essays—yesterday.”
The teary sheen in his eyes vanished at once. “What?”
“One on the student handbook for appropriate behavior during school hours, one on how to remove scorch marks from hardwood floors and one on the history of Albright Raincoats and just how much they cost the average working human.”
Her sweet smile was honey-dipped and razor-edged. “Yes, dear student of mine?”
“That’s not fair,” he tried, feebly. “I didn’t do this on purpose.”
“No. You just thought that throwing a tantrum was the best way to handle things.” She rubbed her forehead. “Good grief, Marvin. You know, human children are usually less childish at this age.” Her shoulders slumped in dismay as she stared at her smoldering coat. “That’s three paychecks right there.”
“It was new!” She thumped him, lightly on the head. “The faculty parking lots don’t have covered walkways like you students do. I’ve been saving up for weeks.” She sighed.
He ducked his head a faint blush dusting his cheeks. “Sorry.”
“Sorry won’t cut it this time,” Sandra reached down to haul him up to his feet. She tipped his chin toward her when he refused to meet her gaze. “ We have student counselors for a reason, you know. Make an appointment for next week.”
His cheeks grew red and his hands clenched at his sides.
“You don’t need to do something like this to get my attention.”
“That’s not what I-”
“That’s what it looked like to me.” Sandra released his chin and pulled him into a tight hug. He held himself rigidly against her for all of ten seconds, before his arms curved up around her waist and he was bawling into the front of her cardigan.
“They hate me.”
“They’re your parents. They love you.” She soothed, gently scrubbing a hand through his hair. “Sometimes parents have a weird way of showing it.”
“They never have time for me. It’s only because I can light things on fire that they-” He hiccuped.
"Shh, breathe child. Inhale. Exhale. There we go. Now we'll sort this out one thing at a time."
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