“And here’s why,” he dragged out, circling one of the numerous authors scribbled on the whiteboard, “we’ll be reading some Shakespeare this year. Lois Lawry is too eighth grade, although, The Giver is amazing. It just came out recently. I highly recommend it.” He put the cap back on the marker. “Also, Harper Lee had approximately one book out, and I wouldn't want to hurt anyone with reading Twain or Poe. The rest of eleventh grade is gonna be miserable enough,”
Mark put the dry-erase pen down, walking over to his desk. He pulled out the box he had gotten out from the cabinet from under his desk, grabbing a copy of Hamlet and skimming through the pages.
“For the weekend, I’ll just have you guys read the first two acts. It won't take more than half an hour. I know most of you aren't going to bother, but I hope it won’t bite you in the ass next week.”
The bell rang as Mark passed out the books to all of the students and left a few copies at the end of the desks for absentees. They jostled out in groups, emptying out of the room or loitering around and waiting for their friends to show up. The school year began on Monday; everyone was eager to hang out with each other or rush to the tranquility of their home.
It was his third year here. Mark grew accustomed to the way everything was run, what to do, what not to do, and so on. Since every year was different, he never got too used to falling into one routine. He sat back at his desk. Scored some papers. Capped a few pens. He was nearly done with everything, but decided to stay behind and wait until the crowd died down and everyone went home.
“Dude, did you just see that?”
The three of them were watching an infuriated middle-aged woman storm into the office, her kitten heels and bracelets clicking and tapping with every pronounced step.
“I totally just jumped over the counselor. She looks pissed,” he snickered.
Tom kicked up his skateboard, jumping on the railing and attempting to go as high as he just did. He was puzzled as to how he jumped so far up; maybe it was a stroke of good luck.
He was prepared to attempt the mind-blowing trick one more time, until the intercom made an announcement.
“Thomas DeLonge. Please report to the office.”
Quickly shuffling onto the ledge of the stairs, Tom prepared to get a quick start on his dash out.
“Fuck. I’m out of here, guys. I’ll see you tonight.”
Faster than he could put a foot on his skateboard, the same counselor grabbed the back of his shirt, “No way are you on your way out of here. Come on, you know where to go.”
He rolled his eyes and grunted to himself. There was no getting out of this one. His friends shrugged. Skating away. Not wanting to be a part of it. Which, Tom didn't mind, but so much for having his back. The lady latched a good grip onto his shoulder, pushing him through the door and needlessly guiding him to the principal’s office.
He slumped down in the familiar chair. Tracing over the same phallus-shaped marking he etched with a key under the arm of the seat in freshman year. They both waited a few minutes until the principal showed up, tired looking and ready to go home.
The older man sat back on his seat, sighing, and placing his hands together.
“What brings you here today?”
The school had gone quiet. Mark was in the creaky office chair with his legs propped up onto the desk, reading “what I did over the summer” essays. Some of them were painful to read. At least they completed the assignment, he thought. He would give their grades on Tuesday; it was due on Friday, but everyone's rusty, including himself. He’d let it slide.
He took off his reading glasses, setting them on top of a different pile of papers and rubbed his face. Tough class. He’d read enough papers in his career to judge if they were half-assed or sub-par or worked on thoroughly. So far, judging on some of the quality, someone hadn’t been doing a good job teaching.
Sometimes, the problem is that English can be subjective. There isn't always an absolute answer, unlike math, where there is. There’s no calculator for book reports. He’d have to read all the work thoroughly if he wanted to be fair. It wasn't always that way, though. He’d never let a student fall that far behind, but it hurt having to score a paper badly sometimes, especially when the effort was put into it.
Even then, grades had to be given for the sake of keeping his job. He didn't want to lose a job that he’d possibly be doing his whole life. It wasn’t his ideal plan to use his bachelor's degree to teach a bunch of uninterested kids how to pronounce ridiculous words and grammar; the job turned out to be easier than he thought, and enough to get him by. It was, dare he would say, fun, and kept him busy.
Mark grabbed his car keys from the safe under his desk, along with a backpack and a copy of Hamlet , in case he didn't have a copy in his apartment. He reached out to fold up his reading glasses, putting them in the case, noticing the first paper of the stack on his desk under it. Shit.
He checked his watch. 4:27. Fuck .
It was the attendance sheet for every student in class. He’d almost forgotten to turn it in twice in this one week. Ever since they stopped letting students run them over to the office, it's been a menial difference that's made a strangely difficult task to fulfill.
He shut off the lights. Heading out after he stowed the unread essays into the bag. Locked the door. Walked fast paced. Of course, the office has to be on the other side of the school.
Great start already.
“Is there a reason why you haven't been here most of the week?”
The counselor had left, muttering something about her son’s soccer game, how Greg needs all the support he can get now that his dad isn't around. Like Tom cared, like the principal cared.
He pushed up his glasses. “You weren't here on the first day, yesterday,” he said nonchalantly. “And you were only here today for third period?”
“It was for a test,” Tom explained, “just ‘cause I don’t show up, doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“You got a D,” the principal defended, just as quickly.
Tom had to laugh internally, not wanting to fuck up his situation any more.
The principal got up, taking Tom’s folder with his information with him. He didn't know where the counselor had taken it out from. Typically, it was on hand and nearby with the amount of times Tom would be there during the year, but they had moved it over the summer, he supposed.
One thing that hadn’t been relocated was the overstuffed Rolodex and the arrangements of the index cards in it. Tom reached over his desk. Not even bothering to make sure that the principal wasn’t looking. At the same time the cabinet door slammed shut, he located the fifth paper of the stack that the other would often times scroll to and tore it off.
The principal sat back down in front of him. A sweat bead rolled down thickly off his forehead; reaching out or bending over to put away a file was tasking on his body, apparently so.
“Does your mother have the same number as last year?” He squinted, telling himself how he could've sworn the number was right there a minute ago.
“I dunno.” Tom folded the paper in half and slid it into his pocket when the principal looked away, serenely and discreetly.
“Do you know her number?” Tom shook his head, he wasn't exactly lying, he truly didn't know. It wasn't even a huge deal. It's not like he'd hurt the counselor, he had a theory that the principal just liked to prove points about his wrongdoings and got off on doing so.
He huffed and looked back at Tom. “When I find it, be certain that I will call. Let your mother know that she’ll be expecting it.”
Tom knew it was bullshit. He wouldn't find it, obviously, and he wouldn't remember. He wasn't the only kid who had questionable behavior; there'll probably be another menial incident that’ll report him to the office sometime soon.
“Well, it's almost four-thirty,” he looked at the clock on his desk to confirm. “I can't keep you here longer, so you’ll have to—”
“Sorry, Mr. Fields,” the door swung open. “I forgot to bring this in. Again.”
A book under his arm and a bag clutched and sliding off his shoulder, Mark turned around with a crumpled paper in hand. “I’m glad you're still here,”
“And I’m glad you got this here a minute before it's too late,” he took the paper, stamped it, and stowed it into the desk, grabbing his own bag.
“I was just about to head out, I had a bit of a holdup,” he pursed his lips, “but I think Mr. DeLonge here is all set now, am I right?”
Tom stood up, not saying anything.
“I’ll see you two next week.”
He rushed out, checking his watch and almost bumping into the door. Tom wished.
“Hey,” Mark said, looking over at Tom. “I thought you weren’t here today.”
Tom remained silent for a bit. He didn't want to say the wrong thing, but he mostly didn't want to spark up a conversation.
“I…was here,” he put his hand on the back of his head, “but only for a little.”
Mr. Hoppus was one of the bearable teachers he had, from what he gathered from one day of seeing him. Tom loathed English; he hadn't read a composition book since elementary school. He thought that it was useless to perfect the English language, with its stupid rules and stupider grammar.
“I won’t ask you why, that's your business.” Mark knew that he was one of the kids who didn't exactly show up everyday. He’s seen him once, heard rumors about him from both the teachers and the students, about his attendance, about his life. Mark knew to take everything with a grain of salt; he believed that even if he ditched most of his classes or didn't show up, it doesn’t necessarily mean he had ill intent or doesn't show up just because he doesn't want to. He had been a student before, too. He’d like to think that he’s empathetic as he possibly can be.
He held the door open for both of them, “but, uh,”
Why did it feel weird to tell someone one-on-one what to do, when it wasn't school hours? Even though he had to perfect the art of speaking, Mark was still as awkward as he ever was.
“There’s uh,” he took the book from under his arm, handing it over, “this. It's Hamlet. Read the first couple of acts if you get to it. It's actually not the worst thing to read. The movie from the seventies is pretty sweet. Helen Mirren was hot too,” he laughed. They stood there for a couple of seconds while Tom skimmed the plot. Prince Hamlet is depressed…something about Denmark…father’s funeral…avenging his death…
He closed the book, murmuring an okay. They stood there again for a few more seconds.
“It's good seeing you. Stay out of trouble, or try to,” Mark said as he walked to the parking lot.
Tom watched as he got into his car and drove away. He looked down at the book again, stuffing it into his oversized pocket. Knowing he wasn't going to touch it. Before skating away.
“This paper sucks,” Tom complained, cupping it so the contents would fall back into the grinder without flying out everywhere. For the second time. He crumpled up the paper once again, balling it up and rolling it on his jeans, trying to get it pliable and smooth.
The sun was slowly starting to set, the blue sky repainted peach and yellow in the west. They were at their usual hangout spot, the skate park next to the elementary school. It was quasi-separated by an invisible line that divided the younger kids with the older ones. Currently, they were the only ones there. The younger kids had gone home for dinner, the others lost interest.
“That’s what you get for wanting to roll one in a stupid fucking piece of paper.” Scott set the lighter down next to the grinder, thinking of how they could've been high by now. They didn't have anything else to wrap a joint with, though. And Tom liked the dramatics of putting something he stole to good use.
He looked at the paper Tom was crumpling up and recognized the handwriting. The best penmanship of someone they had all despised.
“Wait,” he said, “give me that.”
Before Tom could object, the paper was out of his hands. He watched his friend read it, turn it around, and eyes widen, jaw dropped.
“Dude, do you see whose number is on there?” He started to laugh. Scott was a relatively monotonous guy. It was the most animated Tom had seen him in a while.
“That’s the fucking science teachers, Miss Morgan’s, holy shit!”
Deryck mimicked the same reaction, taking the paper away from Scott, squinting at it. He was Tom’s friend’s friend who they would kickback with occasionally. He graduated only a year prior, but always hung around the school after his morning shift at the record store. He was that one guy who had high school in his blood; chilling with the school kids even though he was out.
“Wow,” he exasperated, “just looking at her number is giving me a boner,”
“Will you guys cut it out?” Tom was the one to step in and whip the paper right out of his hands. He looked at the chewed up index card and smirked. Alaina Morgan. She was the AP biology teacher, the sole reason why no guy in the school ever failed that subject.
“It's my stupid paper, you know,” he said as Deryck tried to swipe it from him.
“I doubt any of you two would get even close to even speak on the phone with her.” Tom didn't exactly care about himself being included. It would be more fun to just watch. “Let's make this a competition,” he declared, crossing his arms and keeping it out of the way.
“Whoever gets to second base with her first, wins,”
“Well, what do we win?” Scott asked.
“Getting to second base with her isn't enough of a prize?” Tom knew none of them had much to offer. So he came up with the best prize of all. “Bragging rights.”
They all looked at each other, nodding and shaking hands to make the truce.
“It’s settled,” Tom ripped off two strips off of the paper, one for each of his friends to have. “Who here has a pen?”
It's Friday night, the sun had set and the warm breeze started to chill. Mark was on the balcony, reading. Something about stories from a vanguard. Not so much reading, more staring at the lines on the pages and staring out. He didn't have a view of palm trees and sunsets over the ocean, but he saw the lush green of the park outside and the trees lightly flowing back and forth. In his opinion, it was just as pacifying as a beachfront.
He set the book down, forgetting momentarily what the book was about and why he even had it. He got up. Went back inside, cleaned up dinner, which was more of a snack consisted of crackers and leftover coffee from the morning.
Mark was about to settle back down and watch either some news about the shit happening in the area or the world or a shitty sitcom to tune out. Until he got a call.
He checked the landline, one of his shitty friends from college. Deciding to ignore it, he let it ring and sat at his desk instead. Going over the last of the essays his students wrote. Some had been quite amusing, summer escapades and things he’d only think of ten years ago written onto oil-stained binder paper.
Not like he had anything better to do.
He probably did: There was always something that needed to be done. The living-room needed to be vacuumed, he needed to go grocery shopping. His friend most likely wanted to hang out, reminisce about old times and get wasted. Mark didn't want to, at all, especially the former.
A prozac and a gin did sound good, though. He was only half joking, he didn't make the effort to do any of those, didn't care.
There was nothing that he wanted to do. Nothing but turn in for the day.
It's Friday night, it's 9:17 p.m. Mark is fast asleep.