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Eugene Sledge Goes to Summer School

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Eugene’s never been late for summer school, and he doesn’t want today to be the day that fact changes, rushing up the steps of Roosevelt High with his keys and cell phone. The hall monitor gives him a glance and says, “Just made it.” Eugene nods in reply and hurries up the stairs to the second floor, pushing the door open to classroom 3-D.

Snafu is asleep on the desks, sprawled across Eugene’s more than his own, hoodie pulled up over his head and hiding his face. Eugene nudges his ankle with a foot, and Snafu raises a one finger salute in his direction without lifting his head.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t see that,” Haldane says mildly, from behind his desk. Leyden rushes in the door and throws himself down into the seat next to Eugene’s, cussing under his breath. He, Haldane, and Eugene all look up at the clock at the same time. Ten minutes past seven-thirty.

Haldane clicks out of a program on his computer and rises to his feet. “Let’s just say everyone was here on time, all right?”

He surveys the classroom, from Snafu sprawled across the desks to Jay sitting in the corner with earbuds jammed in his ears, to Hamm idly tearing edges off his notebook paper and collecting them all in a mound of shreds on top of his Algebra 2 textbook. He sighs.

“Okay, everybody up. We’re going to wake you all up.”

Leyden groans, and kicks Snafu in the shin as he walks past him to where Haldane is gesturing from them to come, saying “If we all have to do this, you do too.”

They end up in a half-circle around the front of the room. Burgie smiles at Eugene and says, “Good mornin’, Sledge.”

Eugene smiles back. “It’s nice to see you.” A couple days ago Burgin explained to Eugene that his girlfriend found out she was pregnant last year, and he spent most of the year trying to provide for her and prepare for the new baby, working two jobs and only showing up at school when he had time. If he doesn’t pass this class, he won’t graduate, and he’s already been two hours late more than once. Haldane’s explained to him that if he misses attendance two more times in total, he’ll get an automatic fail.

He says, “It’s good to see you, too,” and then looks back at Haldane when he opens his mouth. “All right, we’re going to do another one of these icebreaker questions to get your brains working with your mouths before we start on Chapter Four.”

He nods to Jay, “You said that you have a question this time, Jay?”

Jay, who hasn’t said anything about why he’s here other than that school makes him nervous, says, “What animal would you be?” He pauses. “I’d be a bear. They’re big, and tough.” He breaks into a smile, “And they get to sleep all winter.”

Leyden nudges him in the shoulder and grins, “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Haldane chuckles and says, “Okay, counter-clockwise, you’re up next, Eugene.”

“A dog,” he says, simply, and Haldane nods in approval. “Romus?”

Burgin offers up a sea animal they’ve never heard of, and the answers all go downhill from there, ending in chaos when Peck says he’d rather be a rock, and Hamm offers that he could be a pig - and quickly tries to backtrack when no one laughs at the joke.

“Okay, okay,” Haldane says, shooing them back to their seats. “Everyone’s awake, let’s get to work,” He scribbles out ‘f(x) = ax2 + bx + c’ on the board with long cursive letters. “Quadratic functions,” he declares, “The graph would look like this-”

“I hate this chapter,” Snafu says, an hour later, during their first ten minute break. “Hate it more every damn time it comes up.”

“…How many times have you taken Algebra 2, Snafu?” Eugene asks.

“Twice,” Snafu says. “So far.”

Leyden slams his book shut and says, “This is bullshit. I just don’t get math.”

Snafu offers up his opinion. “My old man said if you ain’t good at school, you’re just shit. Ain’t never gonna change, Leyden, you gotta stop trying.”

Burgin, who has been quietly taking notes from the equations written on the chalkboards, looks up at this. “Snafu is actually capable of doing the work, he just never shows up.”

“Aww, Burgie,” Snafu says with a grin, “Always got such nice things to say about me.”

“Yeah, well, they’d be nicer if I didn’t have to drag your ass back here for summer school this year.” He draws a line on his graph with a ruler and continues, “I thought I’d only have to see your mug during the school year.”

“You can’t never get rid of me.” Snafu steals the ruler from Burgie and turns backward in his seat to smack Jay with it. “What!” Jay says, pulling his earbuds from his ears and frowning at Snafu. “You got a pencil?” Snafu asks. “Or some money for the break?”

Jay shakes his head and says, “Only enough for me.”

“Damn,” Snafu says, “I coulda used a turnover right now. Or a nice breakfast burrito all smothered in sauce.”

Eugene’s stomach grumbles in appreciation. “I’m not listening to this shit,” Leyden declares, and gets up to sharpen his pencil. Eugene is trying to figure out why his equation makes absolutely no sense when he hears him shout from across the room. “What the--”

Leyden has Peck’s cell phone up in the air, staring incredulously at the screen while Peck tries to grab it back from him. “Bill,” Haldane says, sharply. “Go sit down. Tony, you’re not supposed to be using your cell phone during class.”

Leyden reluctantly hands the phone back and shakes his head. Haldane stands up, frowning, and walks to the front of the room. “I guess the break is over,” he says, and turns back to the newest equation he’s written on the board. “Jay, do you want to come up here and take a shot at this?”

“Jesus Christ,” Leyden says, taking his seat. He lowers his voice, “That kid has some girl sending him naked pictures. Dirty bastard.”

Snafu whistles in appreciation, and across the room Peck shoots them an unhappy glare.

 

Just as the bell rings for the fifteen minute snack break at nine-thirty, Eugene’s phone vibrates against his leg. He tugs it out of his pocket, clicking into the blinking text message. you wouldn’t believe who i have a date with says the text from Sid.

who? Eugene quickly sends back. He navigates his way through the students lining the halls and chatting with their friends from other make-up classes, taking care to avoid a group of guys rough-housing and cheering as their friend careens backward into the hall from a particularly hard shove. A teacher starts yelling at them, and Eugene ducks down the stairs, pausing on the steps when his phone vibrates.

Sid replies, only the hottest girl in school (; After a moment another message appears. mary houston

He shakes his head in disbelief. THE mary houston? no way in hell

ur talking to the guy who just so happens to be dating THE HOTTEST GIRL IN SCHOOL Another text follows quickly after. be happy ur my friend

i’ll believe it when i see it

well ur in luck then cuz were all going to a movie once ur done with class

The line to the food cart parked inside the library is quickly growing, so Eugene hurries over and gets in line, sending a quick reply back to Sid as he waits. thanks for making plans without me He doesn’t wait for a reply, grinning to himself. i’ll be there

The breakfast burritos are all gone by the time he makes it to the front of the line, and the lady organizing the money only raises an eyebrow at him when he asks, so he grabs an apple turnover and pays her quickly. The halls are starting to clear out, and he rips the packaging off the turnover and starts eating as he heads back up the stairs, catching up with Oswalt on his way back to Haldane’s room.

 

“Test time,” Haldane announces, as they trickle back into the room. He waves a stack of papers at them from where he’s perched on an unused desk near the chalkboard. Hamm gives a pitiful groan from behind Eugene, and Tony Peck looks ready to set the entire stack on fire, from the way he’s staring at it.

Oswalt, who seems perpetually stocked up with gum and erasers, hands Eugene a piece of gum and says, “You know, chewing gum during a test is supposed to make it easier to focus.”

“That’s true,” Haldane says, and hands them each a test to take their back to their seats. “The test should take about twenty minutes, and you can start on the questions at the end of Chapter Four when you’re done. No talking until everyone’s finished. Good luck.”

“Hey, Andy,” another teacher says, stopping in at the front door. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…” He waves a form in Haldane’s direction, and Haldane hops down from the desk and follows him out into the hall, shutting the door behind him.

“That’s Mr. Jones,” Burgin says with a grin. “He teaches music classes here during the year, he must be helping out with the administration for summer school.”

“He and Haldane are the only teachers worth shit,” Snafu says, something akin to respect in his tone. Eugene catches Jay nodding in agreement out of the corner of his eye.

Haldane and Jones have finished up their conversation, and they catch the tail-end of Haldane’s sentence as he opens the door, “-I’ll see you after.”

They notice everyone staring in their direction and Jones shares an amused glance with Haldane. “Don’t do drugs, kids,” he says, raising a hand in farewell.

 

At half past ten Haldane says, “Break time, you guys. Ten minutes like usual, then we’ll do work problems until the end of today. You’re almost done.” They scatter before he even finishes talking, spilling out into the hall or sprawling on the floor behind the desks in the back of the room. Sledge takes him time reorganizing his papers before he heads out the door.

When he steps into the bathroom, Snafu is in the corner blowing cigarette smoke toward the vent.

“You could set off the fire alarm with that,” Eugene says.

“So?” Snafu asks, his tone implying he thinks Eugene’s being stupid. Eugene shrugs and unzips his pants, trying to ignore the way that Snafu is still staring at him from the corner. When he flushes, Snafu says, “Four more weeks of this.”

Eugene goes to wash his hands. “It isn’t that bad,” he says. “I kind of like it.”

Snafu regards him for moment, expression blank. “Time to go,” he says, and puts out the cigarette against the sink, tossing it carelessly into the trash. Out of habit, when Eugene finishes drying his hands he makes sure the paper towel covers Snafu’s cigarette as he drops it into the bin.

 

The last hour of class is always the longest and the easiest, because Haldane takes pity on them and lets them loose to wrestle with a few pages worth of work problems. He probably deems it a lost cause to try to force any more information into their brains after three hours of constant math, and Eugene appreciates him for it.

“What are you doing in summer school, Oswalt?” Burgin asks after Oswalt comes back from helping Hamm with a problem on the other side of the room. “You don’t need any help with the math.”

“I wanted to take this so I had my prerequisite to take higher level biology,” Oswalt says.

There’s a pause.

“You mean you don’t even have to be here?” Leyden exclaims. “Shit.”

Burgie shakes his head, “That’s some dedication.”

Oswalt returns to looking at his textbook, face coloring slightly. “My family wants me to be a doctor.”

“My ma’s just hoping and praying I’ll finish high school,” Snafu retorts. He regards Eugene and says, “What about you, ain’t you all the way from that rich kid school too? You selling your summer away for some pretty grades?”

Eugene shakes his head. “I was sick a lot, during the year. I missed a lot of school and didn’t pass this class.”

Burgie gives him a sympathetic glance from over Snafu’s shoulder, and then says, “We should probably finish this round of problems before we get another set.” Snafu makes a face in his direction, but flips the page of his textbook and gets back to work anyway, only occasionally copying answers from Burgie or Eugene. When Eugene catches him, Snafu gives him a look like ‘what you gonna do about it?’ and Eugene gives up any hope of trying to get him to stop.

By the time end of class roles around, everyone’s starting to fade from exhaustion and boredom. Jay’s making paper cranes out of his past test, and Snafu has gotten reacquainted with his desk, grumbling about something unintelligible in his sleep. Even Oswalt has taken to staring blankly at the wall.

Burgin looks at the time and shuts his textbook, gathering up his notebook and materials and stowing them in the metal basket under his seat. “I need to get going as soon as the bell rings,” he explains, and holds out a hand to take Eugene’s book from him. Jay has gathered up his and Oswalt’s, and Burgin pulls Snafu’s out from under his head, continuing, “Florence is taking care of Jack.”

He adds the textbooks to the stack on the back counter and runs a hand across his face, looking drawn and exhausted. “I have a construction job in less than an hour that I need to get to.”

Leyden shrugs and says, “Nobody can pick me up. I’ll walk home.”

Snafu raises his head, “Don’t you live down in them houses by the lake?”

Leyden shrugs again. “That’s on the other side of town,” Burgin says. “It’d take at least an hour to walk there.”

Jay steps around his desk, backpack already slung across his back, and puts a hand on Leyden’s shoulder. “Hey,” he says, “I’ll give you a ride.” He smiles. “My aunt wouldn’t mind if I’m home later.”

The bell rings and Leyden grunts out a quick, “Thanks,” shifting uncomfortably. Jay just smiles back at him and digs his keys out, gesturing for Leyden to follow him. Oswalt gathers his backpack from next to the AC unit and says goodbye to Eugene. Snafu and Burgin are already headed down the hall, Snafu bitching about how many more weeks of this they have left.

“Eugene,” Haldane says, holding the door open for him as he walks past. “Good work today.”

“Thank you, sir,” Eugene says, and smiles. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”