Red Alert

The bell tolled, starting the last period of my day. I wandered in from the doorway to see most of my students chatting, some with notebooks or textbooks out, others staring forward at me.

“Alright, settle in. I know it’s the last hour of the day, and you all want to leave, right?”

Students nodded and voiced general, if not unanimous agreement.

“Then you’ll be happy to know that I’m giving you this time as a study hall, seeing as finals are coming.” I traveled to the whiteboard and grabbed a marker. “I’ll put topics on the board to help you get started in figuring out what you need to work on.” I scrawled a list from the short stories read in class to general vocabulary.

The students eyed the board and more fished out their notebooks. Some opened their textbooks to get started.

“Feel free to come up and ask questions, study together, or work on other classes if you feel you’re ready for this exam. Please use this time wisely.” I finished my speech while I sat down at my desk.

I slid my glasses to the top of my head while I read emails to the tune of student discussion and inevitable chatter. I peeked up every couple minutes to see students copying notes, making lists, and practicing vocabulary and important concepts. One student in the back of the room decided making paper airplanes was a better use of his time, but before he could aim and fire, I spoke up.

“I don’t think throwing paper airplanes is a productive use of your time, David. Please find something to work on.”

He chuckled, nodded, and dropped the plane under his desk. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of my best students, Samantha, with her head in her arms, asleep on top of her textbook. I waved to catch the attention of the two girls across from her. When they looked up, I pointed to Samantha.

“Will you wake her up, please?”

Before one could get up to tap her on the shoulder, a paper airplane soared and hit her in the back of the head. Samantha’s eyelids fluttered open and she raised her head.

My eyes traveled to the culprit, and my eyebrows rose along with my voice. “Do I need to give you a detention or will ten push ups be punishment enough?”

David smiled and slid out of his desk onto the floor. The others counted the push ups as Samantha picked up the crinkled airplane and walked up to my desk to throw it away. I stopped her before she could go back to her seat.

“That’s the second time this week you’ve fallen asleep in this classroom.”

Her eyes flashed, and she bowed her head. “Sorry, it won’t happen again.” Her voice lilted with fatigue.

“Do you need to go to the nurse?”

She shook her head. “No, I’m just tired, really. There’s a lot going on right now.”

“You’re right, finals do add a lot to students’ plates. If you’re sure that’s all it is, you can go back to your seat.”

She nodded and offered a smile before she walked back to her desk. She tripped when a girl in the front row tipped her backpack over without noticing. Samantha toppled to the floor, crying out when she landed.

“You okay Sammy?” David stood, stepping out to come and help her.

She picked herself up and limped back her seat before he got there. “I’m okay. No worries.”

I gazed over to her, and she nodded to confirm it. I checked the clock on my computer, and it read 2:50, ten minutes of class left.

“Are there any questions in last ten minutes here?” My eyes wandered over the groups of students and settled on David with his hand raised. “Yes, David?”

“How many questions on the test?”

I sighed and chuckled. “One hundred multiple choice questions on vocabulary and general novel information. There’s also a handful of short answer questions, but I’ve decided to spare you the essay this time. I’ve made it an extra credit opportunity instead.”

Students cheered at that, with collective a collective ‘yes’ and a few ‘thank Gods’ to go around.

“Any others?”

Another hand shot up. “Do we have to memorize all the vocab words?” He stressed the word all.

“Better to know them and not need them than to need them and not know them.”

He groaned and looked down his notes to cram for the last few minutes. My eyes scanned for more raised hands and wandered back to my computer.

“Miss Matthew?”

I looked up to find Samantha with her hand raised halfway. “Yes?”

“I have a question, not about the test, but I was wondering when your club was going to start.”

“Well, unfortunately, I don’t have many members, but it would start soon after finals if I got enough people interested. If you’re willing to stay after class for a few minutes, I can print information out for you.”

“Do I need parental permission?”

“A parent’s signature is needed to show they’ve read through all the information.”

“Oh.” She bowed her head as the bell rung for the last time.

Students packed and shuffled out the door. Samantha slid her textbook into her backpack and hoisted it onto her shoulders. David waited for her by the door, but I caught her attention before she could leave.

“Is the signature a problem?”

“My parents don’t like the idea of me wasting time with creative writing. They wouldn’t sign off on it.”

“I see. Is there anything I can do? If you want to join, maybe I could call them.”

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head. “Please don’t, I wouldn’t want to upset them.”

“Is there something going on at home I should be aware of?”

She took a step back. “No, no, it’s nothing. I should go. I can’t be late.” Her back hunched with the weight of her bag, making her limp more pronounced.

“Hang on, why don’t you sit down? I’ll get you some ice before you go.”

“I can’t be late, really, it’s fine.”

David rounded the doorway. “Sammy, just sit down. Your parents can wait.” He offered his hand to take her backpack.

She shook her head and slid it off. She let it crash to the floor as she slumped in a chair. I opened the miniature fridge under my desk and cracked some ice into a sandwich bag.

“I told you that damn thing is too heavy.”

“Language, David.” I wrapped the pack in some tissue and handed it to Samantha.

“It’s ridiculous what she carries.” He tore open the largest pocket. “Look.”

Textbooks, folders, and notebooks overfilled the bag until it couldn’t close all the way.

“Don’t you stop at your locker?”

Samantha pulled her pant leg back to ice her ankle, revealing a bruise above it.

She shook her head. “I don’t have time, and I can’t risk being late to class.”

David bowed his head and zipped her bag as far as he could. “I told her she could use mine, but she won’t. She carries all that weight everywhere, and it’s not good for her, ‘specially with the abuse she puts up with.”

Samantha’s head popped up. “David!”

He glared at her. “What? It’s true! You get enough of a beating at home!”

Tears welled in her eyes, and I grabbed a chair to sit down next to her. David stood behind her, gripping her shoulders.

I nodded toward the bruise on her leg. “Is that true? Are you being abused at home?”

She looked down, saw the bruise peeking out from under her clothes, and pulled the pant leg down enough to cover it. A few tears dripped and soaked into her pant leg, and she nodded.

“I’ll have to report this. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.” I turned toward the phone.

“No, please don’t call them!” Samantha’s hand lashed out to grip my wrist before I could dial. “They’ll be so angry.”

I took her hand and peeled it off my wrist. “I’m not calling your parents. I’m reporting this to the police, so they can take care of your parents.”

She relented and I called to report. Samantha gave me her address and her parents’ names. I handed her the phone, so she could answer any questions the officer had and wandered over to the computer. While she talked I printed two pages of information and laid them out on my desk. I tore off the portion for a signature on one and set it on top just as Samantha gestured for me.

“They want to speak with you again.”

I took the phone from her, and she watched as I confirmed what she’d told the officer. Her parents would be taken care of, but he advised me that she should find a place to stay. He ended the call and I set the phone back in its cradle.

“Do you have a safe place you can stay? The officer doesn’t want you to be alone.”

David squeezed her shoulders and spoke up. “My parents won’t mind if you stay in the extra room. They love having you around.”

I smiled at him while Samantha nodded. The tension seeped out of her shoulders and she moved her ankle.

“It feels much better now, thank you.” She handed the plastic bag over. “Thank you for helping me.”

I nodded, smiled, and threw the bag away, grabbing the pages from my desk. “I’m glad everything’s taken care of, so you’ll be safe. Now, about the writing club.” I handed the papers to her.

“I thought you said I needed a signature.” She looked down at the papers.

“I’m making an exception in your case. I’d be happy to have you as part of the club. Now, I think I’ve kept you two long enough. Do you have a ride?”

“I’m driving her.” David lifted her bag as she stood and waved her away when she offered to carry his. “I got it, come on.” He walked out the door before she could protest.

She thanked him and stood with the papers, turning to give one back. “There’s two here.”

I smiled and chuckled as David stood in the doorway. “See if you can convince him. It’ll keep him out of trouble.”

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