“Boys.” Mr. Meagher hung up the phone heavily. It was the middle of math class, and he had been talking in hushed tones for over a minute. “Boys, I have to leave you on your own for a few minutes.”
“What happened, Mr. Meagher?” Steve Ardill, a large, cherub-faced boy with straight black hair, was the smartest in the class. “Can I be of assistance?”
“What I need out of all of you is to settle down and do your problems.” Mr. Meagher spoke abruptly, his well-liked sense of humor gone. “Is that understood, Mr. Moreland?”
Moreland’s thick blonde hair dangled in his eyes. “Yes, sir.”
Mr. Meagher turned to the boy slumped in the back row, his legs sprawled out. “Mr. Nettie? Am I clear?”
“Of course, sir.” Nettie smirked.
“I’m leaving Mr. Ardill in charge.” Mr. Meagher left the room. “Get to work.”
We listened to his footsteps fade down the hall.
“What do you think happened?” O’Connell asked.
“Shut it, O’Connell,” Nettie snapped back. “Get to work.”
A few kids snickered at that, looking around at each other and the empty hall.
“Oh, okay.” Doherty sat in a tight ball, his arms awkwardly under his desk, his face obscured by his bunched-up blazer.
“What did I say, Doherty?” Nettie demanded.
Doherty half moaned and muttered to himself.
Nettie wore a checked blazer. He was the only one who didn’t wear the standard-issue dark blue blazer that everyone else had to wear at the school. I didn’t understand why. “Doherty, I’m talking to you.”
“Doesn’t look like he’s listening,” Moreland said.
Nettie lobbed a paper ball at Doherty which grazed his head and skittered across the worn marble floor. “You going to pick that up, Doherty?”
Doherty moved slightly, his thick glasses briefly visible from behind his jacket, and then curled away again.
“Doherty.” Nettie lobbed another paper ball, this one a direct it. “I’m talking to you.”
I looked around at Ardill, who had not looked up once since Mr. Meagher had left.
“What’s the matter with you, dummy?” Moreland hissed. “You deaf?”
“He isn’t doing anything.” I knew it was a mistake to say anything. I really didn’t want to and immediately wanted to take it back.
“What’s that, McPhedran?” Nettie replied. “You say something?”
“Can’t you just leave him alone? He’s not doing anything.”
“What if he doesn’t want to be left alone? You ever think about that?”
I stared down at the math problem I had scrawled out and had no idea what any of it meant.
“I’m talking to you, McPhedran.”
“Hey, Excedrin,” Moreland added. “He’s talking to you.”
“Like I haven’t heard that one before,” I snapped back.
“God, McPhedran, you are such a…” Nettie leaned lazily forward, an arm extended in a half threatening manner. “You’re a dipstick.”
“What does that mean?” I demanded.
“You’re such a dipstick, McPhedran.” Nettie lobbed another paper ball at Doherty.
“Leave me alone.” I was making a lot of mistakes today; first speaking out and now this. “You can’t do this to me.”
“Dip stick.” Nettie replied. “Donny the Dipstick.”
“Donny Dipstick,” Moreland chorused.
A few others laughed, some of them – Kipp, McConkey O’Connell – trying the name out too. “Donny Dipstick.”
My face was hot. I was on the verge of blubbering. “I’m telling Mr. Meagher!”
“Donny Dipstick!” Moreland led the others in the chant. “Donny Dipstick!”
I was going to get up and beat the shit out of him, that or just run away, when a door down the hall opened and footsteps approached. The class went quiet as Mr. Treasure entered.
“I will be subbing for the rest of the class.” Mr. Treasure had a thick beard and squinty eyes; he never smiled.
“Is everything all right, sir?” Ardill asked.
“Everything is fine, Mr. Ardill.”
“Uh, sir.” Nettie raised his hand. “Can we work with a partner?”
“Individual work, Mr. Nettie.” Mr. Treasure walked down the side of the classroom. “Get to it.”
“Sir?” Moreland stood up.
“Sit down, Mr. Moreland.”
“I need to use the facilities, sir.”
“When class is over, Moreland. Sit.”
I looked around at Doherty, still bunched up, around at Ardill and the others behind me, all of them working and then over at Moreland and Nettie, who were not. Nettie gave a cruel nod.
“Mr. McPhedran,” Mr. Treasure announced. “You will find that you can do more work if you look at the page.”
“Dipstick!” Moreland made it sound like a sneeze.
The class laughed.
“Who’s looking for early morning laps here?” Mr. Treasure warned. “Mr. Moreland, you are looking like a prime candidate.”
I stared down at the page, writing out numbers in random sequences. I wanted the class to never end, to be frozen in my chair forever, but it wasn’t to be. The bell made me jump.
“Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen!” Mr. Treasure said.
“Thank you, sir.” Nettie was the first to leave.
I continued to pretend to work.
“Get a move on, Mr. McPhedran,” Mr. Treasure said.
“Yes, sir.” The room was all but empty now, Doherty just leaving. I crossed the quad after him, thinking of skipping lunch and sitting at the back of the chapel instead.