Rachel walks into Lit. class with an ashen face. As she passes my desk, I silently will her to meet my eyes, to see the triumph there, but she slumps into her seat without glancing in my direction.
She fumbles in her backpack as Mrs. Crandall starts her boring Beowulf lecture. A wadded-up paper rolls out and she jams it back inside, blushing furiously. I recognize that paper—I taped it to her locker, knowing she’d find it between classes. It’s a masterpiece, although my teacher wouldn’t appreciate it; I managed to insult not only Rachel but her wimpy religion, in vocabulary that Mrs. Crandall might call crude, but effective.
Mrs. Crandall calls my name—“Lisa, do you have something to contribute?” and I realize that I must have snorted.
“No,” I say, and I pretend to take Beowulf notes. Instead, I compose several sentences beginning with “Rachel is a --”. My plan is to pass the paper to my best friend, Shana, three rows to my right. Shana and I have made Rachel-baiting an art form, and I know this will make her day. I add a sketch of Rachel in church, doing an activity not often seen beneath stained glass windows.
Honestly? She makes it so easy. She carries a Bible in her backpack, and wears a WWJD bracelet, and hangs out with losers like spastic Jessica and Patty the Fatty. She thinks she’s better than us, with her weirdo clothes and her NutriSweet smile. Our goal—Shana’s and mine—is to eliminate that nauseating smile. Today’s locker note may have done it.
My counselor says I should be using my brains to get better grades, that I’m not “living up to my potential.” Last session, I told him I’d make a deal with him—I’ll start to care about Beowulf and quadrilaterals and the Constitution when he can put together a sentence without psychobabble clichés. He responded with something about my co-dependent relationship with Shana, who exposes me to excessive peer pressure. Guess who’s going to win that deal?
I fold the note into a compact square and wait for Mrs. Crandall to turn her back. While she writes “Quiz tomorrow!” on the board, I lob the note to Shana. Unfortunately, it bounces off her desk and skitters across the floor, landing at Mrs. Crandall’s feet.
Of course she reads it, so I spend the rest of the period in the office, waiting for the principal to summon me. This isn’t the first time I’ve been sent to the office, and I’m very familiar with my student handbook; I’ve earned a five-day suspension for my literary and artistic efforts.
Thirty minutes have passed when I hear Rachel being paged, and she sidles past me into the principal’s office. The door is closed for a long time, and then I’m called inside. I wonder if I’ve made Rachel cry, but she’s calm, even smiling a little. What the…?
Mr. Hartley regards me, his fingertips pressed together. “I’ve been talking with Rachel about this…incident. This isn’t the first time you’ve harassed her, is it, Lisa?” While I’m formulating an answer, he continues. “Rachel has told me of a number of occurrences. It appears that you’ve been terrorizing her for most of this semester. Unfortunately, with your record of referrals, you’re now eligible for expulsion.”
Expulsion! Not five days’ suspension? I flash on the scene at home when they get the phone call from school: my stepdad’s furious anger and the smack of knuckles on flesh.
Mr. Hartley continues. “However, I do have some latitude, which is why I asked Rachel in here. She’s shown the most extraordinary mercy…she’s asked me to forego punishment altogether. And while I’m not inclined to do so, Rachel was most persuasive. She begged for mercy on your behalf, and so mercy it shall be. Go back to class, girls.”
I look at Rachel in disbelief and scoot out of there as fast as possible. Biology has started, and I can’t wait to tell Shana I got away with it.
Shana slips me a note as I take my seat. peas 4 lunch, it says. lets fill her backpack.
Shana grins, and I look from her to Rachel, who is already working on today’s worksheet. Perhaps she senses my eyes on her; she meets my gaze for the briefest moment. I think about the satisfying squish of peas on canvas, and then I think about mercy.
I write a note to Shana. Not today.
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