I didn’t have any time to contemplate the message I’d received from Tattletale. The bell rang and I had to hurry to properly log off and shut down before heading to my next class. As I gathered my stuff, I realized I had been so caught up in researching on the villains I’d met last night and in Tattletale’s message that I had forgotten to worry about getting into trouble for skipping class. I felt a kind of resignation as I realized I would have to face the music later in the day, anyways.
Madison was already in her seat as I got to the classroom. She had a pair of girls crouching by either side of her desk, and all three of them broke into giggles as they saw me. Bitches.
My seat of choice was the far right, front row, closest to the door. Lunch hour and immediately after school was when the trio tended to give me the hardest time, so I tried to sit as close as possible to the door, for a quick escape. I spotted a puddle of orange juice on the seat, with the empty plastic bottle lying just underneath the chair. Madison was going for a two for one. It was both a ‘prank’ and a reminder of how they had doused me with juice and soft drinks last Friday. Irritated, I carefully avoided looking at Madison and took an empty seat a few rows back.
Mr Gladly entered the room, he was short and young enough you could almost mistake him for another high school student. It took a few minutes for him to start the class, and he immediately ordered us to break into groups of four to share our homework with one another and to prepare to share it with the rest of the class. The group that had the most to contribute would win the prize he had mentioned on Friday, treats from the vending machine.
It was stuff like this that made Mr. Gladly my least favorite teacher. I got the impression he’d be surprised to hear he was anyone’s least favorite teacher, but that was just one more point against him in my book. I don’t think he comprehended why people might not like him, or how miserable group work was when you didn’t identify with any of the groups or cliques in the school. He just figured people liked doing group work because it let them talk and hang out with their friends in class.
While the class got sorted, I figured I’d avoid standing around like a loser with no group to join and get something else out of the way. I approached the desk at the front of the room.
“Call me Mr. G. Mr. Gladly is my dad,” he informed me with a sort of mock sternness.
“Sorry, uh, Mr. G. I need a new textbook.”
He gave me a curious look, “What happened to your old one?”
Soaked with grape juice by a trio of harpies. “I lost it,” I lied.
“Replacement textbooks are thirty five dollars. I don’t expect it now, but…”
“I’ll have it for you by the end of the week,” I finished for him.
He handed me a textbook, and I looked over the room before joining the only group with room for more: Sparky and Greg. We had been in a group several times before, as the leftovers when all the friends and cliques had banded together.
Sparky had apparently picked up his nickname when a third grade teacher used it in an ironic sense, and it had stuck, to the point where I doubted anyone but his own mother even knew his real name. He was a drummer, long haired, and was so out of touch with reality that you could stop talking in the middle of a sentence and he wouldn’t notice. He just went through life in a daze, presumably until he could do his thing, which was his band.
Greg was just the opposite. He was smarter than average, but he had a way of saying every thought that came into his head – his train of thought didn’t have any brakes. Or tracks. It would have been easier to be in a group with just Sparky and essentially do the work by myself than it would be to work with Greg.
I got my share of the homework out of my new backpack. Mr. Gladly had asked us to come up with a list of ways that capes had influenced society. In between the various steps of my getting ready for my first night out in costume, I had taken the time to fix up my art project and had come up with a fairly comprehensive list for Mr. Gladly’s homework. I had even used newspaper and magazine clippings to support my points. I felt pretty good about it.
“I didn’t get much done,” Greg said, “I got distracted by this new game I got and it is really really good, it’s called Space Opera, have you played it?”
A full minute later he was still on the same topic, even though I wasn’t playing any attention to him or giving him any feedback on what he was saying, “…you have to understand it’s a genre, and it’s one I’ve really been getting into it lately, since I started watching this anime called – Oh, hey, Julia!” Greg broke off from his monologue to wave with enough energy and excitement that I felt a little embarrassed to just be sitting next to him. I turned in my seat to see one of Madison’s friends coming in, late.
“Can I be in Madison’s group?” Julia asked Mr. Gladly.
“That wouldn’t be fair. Greg’s group only has three people. Help them,” Mr. Gladly said.
Julia walked over to where we were sitting and made a face. Just loud enough for us to hear, she muttered a disgusted, “Ew.” I felt much the same about her joining us.
It was downhill from there. Madison’s group moved so the four of them were sitting right next to our group, which let Julia talk with them while still sitting with us. The presence of all the popular and attractive girls in the class just got Greg more wound up, and he began trying to insert himself into their conversation, only to get shut down or ignored. It was embarrassing to watch.
“Greg,” I said, trying to distract him from the other group, “Here’s what I did over the weekend. What do you think?”
I handed him the work I had done. To his credit, he gave it a serious read.
“This is really good, Taylor,” He said, when he was done.
“Let me see,” Julia said. Before I could stop him, Greg dutifully handed my work over to her. I watched her glance over it, then toss it onto Madison’s table. There were a few giggles.
“Give that back,” I said.
“Give what back?” Julia said.
“Madison,” I said, ignoring Julia, “Give it back.”
Madison, cute and petite and crush of choice for half the guys in our grade, turned and managed a combined look and tone of such condescension that a grown man would have flinched, “Nobody is talking to you, Taylor.”
That was that. Short of running to the teacher and complaining, I wasn’t going to get my work back, and anyone who considered that an option has clearly never been in high school. Greg looked between me and the girls with a kind of panic before settling into a funk, Sparky had his head down on his desk, either asleep or close to it, and I was left fuming. I made an attempt at trying to to salvage things, but getting Greg to focus was impossible, as he constantly tried to apologize and made lame attempts to convince the other group to give my work back. Our time ran out, and Mr. Gladly picked out people from each group to stand up and go over what they had come up with.
I sighed as Mr. Gladly picked Greg to do our group’s presentation, and was forced to watch Greg botch it badly enough that Mr. Gladly asked him to sit down before he was finished. Greg was one of those kids I always figured made teachers groan inwardly when they raised their hands in class. The sort of kid that took twice as long to answer as anyone else, and was often only half-right or so off-tangent that it derailed the discussion. I couldn’t imagine what had possessed Mr. Gladly to pick Greg to do our group’s presentation.
What made things worse was that I then got to watch Madison rattle off my very impressive sounding list of ways capes had changed the world. She cribbed almost all of my stuff; fashion, economics, Tinkers and the tech boom, the fact that movies, television and magazines had been tweaked to accommodate cape celebrities, and so on. Still, she got it wrong when explaining how law enforcement had changed. My point had been that with qualified capes easing the workload and taking over for most high profile crises, law enforcement of all stripes were more free to train and expand their skill sets, making for smarter, more versatile cops. Madison just made it sound like they got a lot of vacation days.
Mr. Gladly named another group as the winners, by virtue of the sheer number of things they had come up with, though he made a point of saying the quality of Madison’s work was nearly good enough to count. From there, he moved on to his lecture.
I was steamed and I could hardly focus on the lecture, as my power crackled and tugged at my attention from the periphery of my consciousness, making me acutely aware of every bug within a tenth of a mile. I could tune it out, but the extra concentration that took, coupled with the anger I felt towards Madison and Mr. Gladly, was distracting enough that I couldn’t focus on the lecture. I took a cue from Sparky and put my head down on the desk. Being as exhausted from the previous night’s activity as I was, it was all I could do to keep from dozing off. Still, spending the class half asleep made it go by faster. I was startled when the bell rang.
As everyone gathered their things and began to file out, Mr. Gladly approached me and quietly said, “I’d like you to stick around for a few minutes, please.”
I just nodded and put my books away, then waited for the teacher to finish negotiating where to meet the prize winners from the class contest so he could pay for their prizes.
When it was just me and Mr. Gladly in the classroom, he cleared his throat and then told me, “I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Okay,” I replied, not sure how to respond.
“I have something of an idea of what goes on in my classroom. I don’t know exactly who, but I know some people are giving you a pretty hard time.”
“Sure,” I said.
“I saw the mess left on your usual seat today. I remember a few weeks back when glue was smeared on your desk and chair. There was also the incident that happened at the start of the year. All of your teachers had a meeting about that.”
I couldn’t meet his gaze as he brought that last event up. I looked at my feet.
“And I’m guessing there’s more that I don’t know about?”
“Yeah,” I said, still looking down. It was hard to explain how I felt about this conversation. I was gratified, I think, that someone had brought it up, but annoyed that that someone was Mr. Gladly. I felt kind of embarrassed too, like I had walked into a door and someone was trying too hard to make sure I was okay.
“I asked you after the glue incident. I’m asking you again. Would you be willing to go to the office with me, to talk with the principal and vice principal?”
After a few moments of consideration, I looked up and asked him, “What would happen?”
“We’d have a discussion about what’s been going on. You would name the person or people you believe responsible, and each of them would be called in to talk to the principal, in turn.”
“And they’d get expelled?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.
Mr. Gladly shook his head, “If there was enough proof, they would be suspended for several days, unless they’ve done something very serious. Further offenses could lead to longer suspensions or expulsion.”
I gave a rueful chuckle, feeling the frustration welling up, “Great. So they might miss a few days of school, and only if I can prove they were behind it all… and whether they get suspended or not, they feel a hundred percent justified in whatever else they do to the rat for revenge.”
“If you want things to get better, Taylor, you have to start somewhere.”
“That isn’t a starting point. It’s shooting myself in the foot,” I said, pulling my bag over my shoulder. When he didn’t immediately respond, I left the classroom.
Emma, Madison, Sophia and a half dozen other girls were standing in the hall, waiting for me.