I stood at his door before lunch straining to hear the rhythmic beats pulsing low and steady from his laptop. The song was mellow and monotonous—understated sophistication—and I thought I should be having an intellectual conversation with someone while it played. I wanted it to be with Mr. Connelly, but the 59 percent on my math test suggested the conversation would sound more like this:
“Cadence, there are special classes for students like you.”
“You need to be in a special class for math.”
“I don’t understand.”
I considered walking away. I was extra nervous to be near Mr. Connelly ever since the wet wipe incident. I still couldn’t figure out what he was doing. He had been just as remote and distant after the wet wipe incident as he was during the weeks that followed my lunch from Moe’s. Back and forth. Back and forth. He was giving me a headache.
In any case, I needed help. I could not fail math. I had to graduate, so I pushed through the door before I lost my nerve. He looked up from the stack of papers in front of him, throwing his pencil carelessly on the desk. Like everything he’d been working on was suddenly unimportant.
“What’s up, Cadence?”
“It’s obvious I don’t understand anything,” I said, slapping my test in front of him. “I’m not stupid, though. I mean, just because I don’t understand derivatives doesn’t mean I’m a freaking idiot.”
I shuffled my feet and hung my head low, biting nervously on my bottom lip.
“No one said you were an idiot,” Mr. Connelly replied, turning off the music.
I looked up and saw a slight grin on his face. Glad he found me amusing.
“Well, a 59 percent sure does look stupid,” I said sulkily.
“We’ll make it better,” he said.
“I’m starting tutoring sessions next week after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he replied.
I bit my lower lip harder. How could I stay after school? I had no ride home and was not asking my parents to pick me up. They both worked anyway and wouldn’t be able to.
I shook my head and shrugged. “Oh well.” Again with the instant tears. I had a knack for being out-of-control emotional around this guy.
“What does that mean?”
“I can’t stay after school. I have no ride home.” My lower lip quivered.
“Hmm.” He swiveled in his chair and scratched his cheek. “Well, you can’t fail calculus or you won’t graduate. And I suspect you wanna graduate and get the hell out of here.” He looked up at me expectantly.
I nodded, fighting the tears. I thought about Oliver’s intramural soccer game this weekend and how boring it’d be. There. That seemed to work. I felt my eyes drying up.
“Don’t worry, Cadence,” Mr. Connelly said. “I’ll work something out.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just leave it to me,” he replied, then took a sip of his Orange Crush.
I smiled. “I’ve never seen anyone over the age of eleven drink Orange Crush.”
“Well, my friends in college gave me hell over it,” he replied. “Apparently in college you drink iced lattés. That’s what you do.”
“Duly noted,” I said.
Mr. Connelly cleared his throat and looked down at the papers on his desk. I took it as a signal to leave. I turned around, then froze at his words.
“I’ve got something for you,” he said.
“You do?” I asked, turning back around to face him. He dug around in his messenger bag.
“Yeah. Just give me a second to find it . . .”
I stood nervously pulling on the buttons of my shirt. My girlish heart and brain thought it might be a flower or a box of chocolates. I was an idiot, okay?
“Here we go,” he said, and pulled out a CD. He handed it to me. “I remember you said you couldn’t get on the Internet. Thought you might wanna listen to ‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ since you were curious about it.”
I blushed, hanging my head so that he couldn’t see. This was way better than chocolates or a flower.
“I did,” I whispered. “In computer class.” I didn’t have to tell him that, but I wanted to. I wanted to hear his reaction.
“Oh? When you were supposed to be working?” The question came out as a flirty admonishment. And that’s the reaction I wanted.
I shook my head. “I finished my work first.” I looked up at Mr. Connelly.
“And what did you think?” he asked.
“I thought it was . . . perfect.”
His stare made me uncomfortable and extremely excited. I wanted to know what he was thinking, but I wouldn’t dare ask. It looked utterly private and off limits.
“Would you like to keep the CD for a while?” he asked.
“You won’t miss it?”
He shook his head. “I’ve got an iPod.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I replied, and tucked the CD securely in my bag. “Who were you listening to when I came in?”
“DJ Premier,” he replied.
“What’s the song called?”
“‘Teach the Children’,” he said with a smirk.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Mr. Connelly chuckled. “I’m really not. The song is called ‘Teach the Children’.”
“So what? Is that, like, inspiration for you when you’re planning out your lessons?”
He cocked his head slightly and considered me. “You’re funny. And yes, maybe it is inspiration.”
I swear his eyes burned holes into my face. He was so . . . intense. But a quiet, stable kind of intense, if such a thing could exist. I stood awkwardly, waiting for him to dismiss me.
“You should go to lunch, Cadence,” he said, a faint smile playing on his lips.
“Okay.” I turned to leave.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Mmhmm,” was all I could say.
The phone rang after dinner, and Oliver picked up.
“Miller residence,” he said, then paused, listening politely to the person on the other end. He looked at me and grinned. “Hold on just a minute, sir,” he said, and called for Dad.
Dad took the receiver, and Oliver sidled over to me, the grin still plastered on his face.
“What?” I barked.
“Did you get in trouble today?” he asked.
“Then why is your math teacher calling?”
My heart plummeted to the floor. Why was Mr. Connelly calling my house? And then I remembered our conversation earlier. Tutoring sessions! Oh God! I never showed my parents that test grade!
I hurried over to Dad, hovering near him like an irritating gnat.
“I understand,” Dad replied, trying to shoo me away. “No, no. I’m glad you called.”
“We’ll work something out,” Dad went on. “She’ll be there Thursday. Thanks so much for the call, Mr. Connelly. Take care,” and Dad hung up.
I bounced from foot to foot, dying to get it over with. My punishment for withholding that awful grade from my parents. What would they take away from me next? I had only my cell phone left. Surely they wouldn’t make me part with it. They used it to track my every move, call me incessantly, make sure they knew exactly what I was doing.
Dad stood staring at me. I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Here!” I shoved my phone into his hands.
“What are you doing?” Dad asked. He pushed my phone away.
“I know I’m in trouble,” I said. “Just take the phone. I know you’re going to anyway.”
Dad shook his head. “You’re not in trouble.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“But you could have told me you were having trouble in calculus,” he said. “Mr. Connelly told me he spoke with you today during lunch. He’s offering free tutoring sessions.”
“Yeah, after school starting next week,” I said. “I can’t stay, Dad, or else I’d miss the bus.”
Dad thought for a moment. “Suppose I let you drive to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
My mouth dropped open.
“You think you could handle that?” he asked.
I nodded, mouth still hanging open. Dad smirked.
“Close your mouth, Cadence,” he ordered, and I snapped it shut. “I’m taking a risk here, letting you drive so soon.”
Drive so soon? I hadn’t driven in close to a year, but I didn’t argue.
“Don’t make me regret it,” he warned. “You get two days. Do you understand me? The rest of the week you take the bus. Once we work out a part-time job, we’ll see about reinstating your driving privileges.”
I flung my arms around him.
“Oof!” he cried, then wrapped me in a hug.
It was the first time Dad hugged me since I left for juvie. It felt strange and wonderful.
I squeezed his neck hard and heard him laugh.
“Two days, young lady,” he said, lips pressed to my forehead.
I’d take whatever I could get.
copyright S. Walden 2013