8th Grade by Cole Parker

Sometimes the kids don’t like a teacher.
Sometimes a teacher doesn’t like the kids.
That could be. . . awkward.

Chapter 4

The next morning in math Brad came up to me to chat before class and was really friendly. There was something about him, something I didn’t understand but something that made my shyness go away. I found I didn’t have any problem just talking and responding to him. Weird.

After classes that afternoon Brad was already in the corner of the detention room waiting for me. I grinned at him, then walked up to the front of the room. Tonight’s Director of Decorum was Mrs. Odom, a young first year teacher who always tried to be friends with all the kids. I figured this would be easy, and it was. She readily agreed that Brad and I could work together and even said we could ask her for help if we needed it. I thanked her and went back to the corner.

“What did your parents say, you know, about the detention and the D on the quiz?” I asked.

“Ah, they weren’t too bad. Sort of like I expected. When I told them how much I’d learned, working with you, they forgot all about everything else. Dad wants me to get an athletic scholarship after high school and keeps telling me I have to keep my grades up to get one from a big school, and I have to start now. He’s been on my ass about algebra. He’s been pissed, but he doesn’t know squat about math and hasn’t been able to help at all. He was really pleased when I told him you were helping me and it was all making sense now.”

“That’s great Brad, but remember, I’m just showing you what Graedon should have. You’re doing all the work learning it,” I pointed out. “You’re really very good at this.”

“Naaa. I’m really not. I didn’t get it at all from Graedon. You’re a better teacher than she is, you know? All she does is gripe and piss and moan at us, then make sarcastic remarks when we have problems, which makes us nervous. She intimidates rather than teaches, and it’s difficult to learn when you’re scared. You keep encouraging me, and you make it understandable. I don’t know why, but you seem to really want me to learn the stuff, and for some reason, that helps. I’d just given up on it. I thought I was too stupid to learn it.” He looked a little embarrassed, then smiled at me again and got a look it his eyes, his very deep blue eyes. I couldn’t quite interpret it, but the look made my stomach feel funny. I started feeling very uneasy all of a sudden and didn’t know why.

“Let’s look at where we stopped yesterday,” I said, sitting down and fumbling with my books, finding my math text; a couple other books ended up on my lap.

We worked together, I pointed out a couple things, we kept talking back and forth and way too soon Mrs. Odom was telling everyone they could go. Brad seemed almost reluctant to stop. I had to admit, it hadn’t seemed like an hour and a half. I guess sitting there working with Brad, being that close to and comfortable with him, time can pass like that. The feelings I’d had yesterday of getting to know him and liking being with him had continued to grow. He seemed very comfortable with me, too, but perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part. Maybe I just wanted it to be true. After all, he was a star, I was a dork. That’s a very important divide at 13.

“Well, at least we’re done with detention,” I said lightly.

“Yeah, but we’ve still got a couple chapters to cover. Hey, could we do this again tomorrow? I could come over to your house after practice.” He had a pleading look in his eyes and seemed so eager that it was funny and I had to laugh. Then I sobered up and remembered it was Brad I was talking to.

“Are you sure you want to do that? You know, we got stuck in here because of my big mouth and temper, but now, you can get anyone to help you. You don’t need to hang around with me for this.”

Brad looked at me and it seemed he got sort of angry right away. “What are you talking about?” he asked, a little heat in his voice. “Nobody’s going to help me like you are. Do you want to stop doing it? I don’t. I want to keep going. You can keep doing this, can’t you?” His tone changed. “Please?”

“Sure, if you want to. I’ll keep going if you want to.”

Was he kidding? This was great! I loved doing it. “I’ll need to give you directions. Here, I’ll draw you a map.” I was opening my notebook when I felt his hand on my arm.

“You don’t need to do that. I know where you live. I’ll be over right after practice tomorrow. Should be around 4:45. That OK?”

“Sure,” I said. “See you then.”

He smiled at me and said, “I’d give you a ride home but my mom’s taking me to the mall to get some stuff and then we’re going out to eat. So OK, see you tomorrow.” And with that he was gone.

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I went to my locker, dropped off my books, stuck some different ones in my backpack, grabbed it and my jacket and started home. I lived about a mile from school and always walked. I could have ridden my bike but with a heavy backpack it was awkward and I didn’t mind walking anyway. I always sort of wished I had someone to walk with but pushed that thought to the back of my mind as much as possible.

When I got home my father greeted me as usual, and we sat for a while talking about what had gone on at school. I have to say right out, I’m very close to my dad. We talk about things most teenagers don’t discuss with their fathers, like what’s happening in my life and my feelings and stuff like that. Almost everything’s okay to talk about, although sex has never come up. That we don’t discuss. Not that there’s anything to discuss, unfortunately. And I hadn’t had the courage yet to talk about maybe being gay, but as I don’t know what’s what with that anyway, it’s always seemed premature to talk about it with anyone. But I probably will when I’m ready, and I don’t think I’ll have a problem doing it. I can discuss anything that is troubling me. I really like him as well as love him, and we’re really close, as I said. I don’t hate him or feel rebellious against him or anything like that. He’s smart and affectionate and supportive and, well, really cool. I’m closer to him than anyone else in my life.

And he’s the only one I can talk to like a best friend. He knew about me working with Brad, we’d discussed what had happened yesterday, and so I told him he’d be coming over tomorrow to finish the work he needed help with.

“OK,” he said, “Why don’t you go make sure your room looks good, just like you want it to, so you can work there tomorrow.”

I agreed, and after making sure I couldn’t get him anything, headed upstairs to do that. First, of course, when I got there, there was something more urgent to attend to. An hour and a half of being close to Brad had increased about tenfold the normal urgency I always felt this time of day.

I didn’t have to worry any about being interrupted, so closing the door was more a formality than necessity. I always changed out of my school clothes when I got home. Closing my door, then undressing, was sort of a ritual, a preparation, that in and of itself got me excited. By the time I was undressed, I was ready. From ready to explosion didn’t take very long. I’m 13.

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All next day I was buzzed. I was looking forward eagerly to Brad coming over, but was nervous at the same time. I guess you could call it a dreadful anticipation. This was the most popular kid in school, coming over to my house! He sure hadn’t acted the slightest bit stuck up with me, but he had a lot of friends, all of whom were popular and a lot of whom were probably rich, maybe even he was rich, I didn’t know, and my family certainly wasn’t. We just had a small house in a lower middle class neighborhood that for sure wasn’t anything special. My room was small, and, oh my God, where was Brad going to sit? I’d have to think about this. I couldn’t sit on the bed with him. I’d be hard as a steel pipe in a second, and he’d see. The small desk I had in one corner was only big enough for one chair. That wouldn’t work at all. Maybe we could work on the floor. There was room for that, we wouldn’t be so close together, the bed wouldn’t be wiggling every time either of us moved, that might be a lot better.

And then a thought jumped out of nowhere. It was: Brad knows where I live! Huh? That didn’t make any sense. Why would he have any idea where I lived? He didn’t even know I existed till a couple days ago. Or did he? He seemed to have known my name. I was used to being totally anonymous at school. This was confusing. It seemed a little strange. It seemed even a bit unsettling.

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In math class the next morning, Mrs. Graedon announced a big test next Monday. She looked at Brad when she said, “And this one will cover everything we’ve studied so far.” The class groaned its mandatory groan and she glared at us, then began talking about imaginary numbers. I think. It’s difficult to be sure exactly what it is that’s being talked about, with her.

After class, Brad reminded me he’d be over this afternoon and I told him I was looking forward to it. He smiled and said, “Me too. See ya then.” I watched him as he headed off down the hall for his next class. He really was gorgeous.


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