J.J. Hart experiences her first day of middle school and her first day in public school ….
The bell rang, and the teacher called names to check actual bodies against the list of names she had been given. Then she stood to address the bright, fresh faces before her.
“Good Morning, everyone. I am Ms. Atkins, and I am going to be your homeroom teacher for this year. For some of you, I’ll be your Reading teacher also. Each morning when you arrive, you will be reporting to this room for twenty minutes for attendance, announcements, and then go to your lockers before being dismissed to your classes.
This is the only class where all of you will be together as a group, but you will be in the same homeroom for the entire sixth grade year. So why don’t we take this morning to get to know each other. Going in alphabetical order, I would like for each of you to please stand and tell us all a little about yourself.”
J.J. slid down into her seat. She had been looking forward to starting a new school year anonymously in a new place with new people. It delighted her that looking around she could see there were kids of all nationalities in this room. It was exciting to think about all of the different ideas and cultures she would encounter.
But, several kids she knew from her old school had tested into this middle school pilot program for gifted and talented students, and they knew her. Fortunately only one of them was present in this homeroom, and that one she didn’t mind being in there with her. She really did not want to have to get up in front of everyone here and tell about herself. It would suit her perfectly to be able to just blend namelessly into the crowd.
The A’s went and then it was Marnie’s turn.
Marnie cried and refused to stay at the Academy once she learned J.J. leaving, and J.J. was definitely leaving. Marnie’s mother liked J.J. and considered her to be a good influence on her daughter, so she had Marnie to take the test also. The best friends had taken the exam in the spring, and both of them had been accepted into the program. To their utter delight, even though the assignments had been randomly made, the girls had landed in the same homeroom classroom, once again seated next to each other.
“My name is Marnie Elaine Benson,” she said, smiling like she was onstage. “I’m eleven years old. I live with my mother and my stepfather in Bel Air. My favorite places to travel to are malls. My favorite things are clothes, makeup, shoes, and jewelry. I like talking on the phone and having friends over to visit. I have traveled all over the United States, but California is my favorite state. I’ve been to Europe twice, once with my best friend. Today I’m really happy that I’m starting Middle School with my best friend.”
“And who’s your best friend, Marnie?” Ms. Atkins asked.
“She doesn’t want me to say, but you’ll all find out soon enough,” Marnie smiled and waved like a princess, “Thank you,” then gave a little curtsy and sat down to the claps of her delighted audience.
J.J. slid her a look from where she had slid practically underneath her desk. “I am going to kill you,” she whispered.
“They might as well know right off that it’s a package deal,” Marnie whispered back. “Relax. I didn’t say it was you.”
The C’s and D’s went. There were no E’s. One F. and one G, and then it was the H’s turn.
J.J. reluctantly stood. She wore a pair of white Nike gym shoes, stone washed jeans, and a white Nike tee shirt. She nearly had a hostile standoff with her mother over that outfit. It was only her father’s intervention on her behalf that kept her from showing up in a navy blue pleated skirt, a blue blouse with lace on the collar and a matching sweater with her initials embroidered on it. Looking around the room at everyone else in tee shirts, jeans, gym shoes or sandals, she thanked him in her mind for saving her from dying a thousand deaths on this her very first day.
She spoke in a quiet voice. “My name is J.J. Hart. I’m eleven. I live with my mother and father. I also have a dog.” She sat down.
Ms. Atkins was taken aback by the extremely brief introduction.
“J.J., is that all that you’re going to tell us about you? Students in this room come from all over West Lost Angeles. Where exactly do you live? What kind of things do you like to do? What kind of dog do you have?”
Standing again, she added, “I live in Los Angeles, I like to have fun, and my dog is a mutt. That’s about it. I really don’t have much to say.”
She hoped that Ms. Atkins would leave her alone. But she didn’t.
“J.J., isn’t there anything specific that you like to do?”
Marnie gritted her teeth. Her friend did not like to be pushed.
“Ms. Atkins, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really have said all I want to say.” This time, J.J. did not stand to speak and from the tone of her voice, Ms. Atkins felt it would be best to move on.
After dismissing her homeroom class, Ms. Atkins had a preparation period. She decided to begin organizing her students’ records. Collecting the information cards the students filled out before leaving, which they dropped off on her desk, she began alphabetizing them. Coming to H, she picked up the card filled out by J.J. Hart.
Under first name, she had neatly written “J.J.” Ms. Atkins wondered if that was really her given name. She doubted it. There was no address given and no first names filled in for either parent, just the last name, “Hart”. She did write a phone number, which Ms. Atkins recognized as being a cell phone number, for her mother. No further information was provided about her parents at all. She did fill in the medical information completely with her doctor’s name and phone number.
Could it be the girl just did not know the information? That couldn’t be. Obviously she had tested high enough to be admitted to the program. Maybe she didn’t understand. Perhaps she was shy, or maybe she just being difficult. Little Miss Hart had certainly cut her off short when she tried to press her into telling more about herself this morning.
One of the records’ secretaries from the main office carried in a stack of manila folders.
“What’s going on with you? You look like you’re lost in a fog,” she said seeing Ms. Atkins staring at something on her desk. “Here are the student records for your homeroom,” and she placed the files on the file cabinet next to her desk.
“You are right on time. I desperately need an H file,” Ms. Adkins replied. “I hope it’s in this group.”
“Got a live one already?” The secretary asked hand on her hip. “I understand these gifted kids can be harder to handle sometimes than the regular ones.”
Ms. Atkins dug into the pile until she found the file marked “Hart, Justine Jennifer (J.J.)”.
“I don’t know if she’s a live one,” she said unwinding the string that held the inner envelope and the papers pertaining to the Hart child, “but I need to know whatever it is she is. I don’t usually like to look at the kids’ records until I get to know them personally. I don’t like to form opinions based on numbers and other people’s comments, but this one I think bears investigating.”
The file was much thicker than the others.
“Look at this record!” she exclaimed, pulling it out. “It’s huge!”
“Well, happy reading!”
The secretary went out as just as another woman walked in. It was the math teacher from the next classroom, Sheila Latimer.
“So what does the new crop look like, Marilyn?” she asked. “I see you have your records. Does it look like I have a good group for math out of your homeroom?”
“Too early to tell, Sheila.” Ms. Atkins pulled the rubberband from the file of interest and began shuffling through the paperwork inside. “Look at this. This child has been to about six or seven different schools.”
Ms. Latimer looked over Ms. Atkins shoulder, reading the file, quickly noting the dates and the school locations as she scanned the list.
“She’s been in the same school in Bel Air the whole time, but the rest of those schools are out of the country. Look, there’s Perpignan, France; Barcelona, Spain; Buenos Aires, Argentina- who is this kid?”
“Her name is Justine Hart. Calls herself ‘J.J.’ She wouldn’t tell anything much about herself this morning in homeroom during the introductions.”
She continued to go through the folder.
“My goodness, look at these test scores. She’s off the chart in math and science.”
“Reading is way up there like that too.” Noted Ms. Latimer, still over Ms. Atkins’ shoulder, but now trailing the numbers with her index finger.
“Here’s her intelligence test for admittance to the program.” She pulled the yellow form from where it stuck out from the other papers in Ms. Atkins hand. She whistled. “Whoa Marilyn! What did you say her name is?”
“Oh my God!” cried Ms. Latimer, suddenly breaking into a small jig behind her friend in her excitement. “I know just who she is. My friend taught her at the Academy in Bel Air. You remember my friend Ava Klienert from Boston! This is Jonathan Hart’s daughter. Her mother is Jennifer Hart.”
“And?” Ms. Atkins looked up, not making a connection.
“I forget you don’t follow the stock market or read the Journal. Her father is that fine Jonathan Hart, CEO of Hart Industries here in downtown Los Angeles. Jennifer Edwards Hart, I know you’ve heard of her. The journalist? That’s her mother. Look, it’s all right here.”
She pulled out the parent information section of the record.
“Ava and I had lunch this summer and she got to talking about some of her kids. She specifically mentioned this one. She says this child has traveled some of everywhere with her parents.” While she was talking Sheila Latimer was examining the aptitude tests in the folder.
“According to these scores, she’s at the top of the gifted range. Ava told me that she thought she might be coming here. Says the girl really doesn’t talk about her personal life, and near the end of the last school year, she beat the crap out of a boy in the lunchroom and silenced all the other kids. To this day, nobody except maybe the kids who were right there knows why she did it, but Ava suspects the boy said something about one of her parents. She said J.J. is very private about her family life. By the way, I wouldn’t push her on it if I were you. Ava says she never talks about her personal life.”
Ms. Latimer closed her eyes and crossed the fingers on both her hands. “Please, please, please let this little girl be assigned to me. I would love to have this kind of challenge. I gotta go check my rosters.” She ran from the room back to her own, calling behind her. “This girl is probably going to be the highlight of our year, Marilyn.”
“Why do I always get the odd cases in my homeroom?” Ms. Atkins sighed and put the folder down on top of the stack. “A kid who’s probably smarter than I am and rich to boot. I have all the luck.”
“I know you.”
J.J. came up from where she had been bent down digging in her backpack for a pen. She had just taken her seat in Social Studies class and needed to put her name on the new notebook she planned to use. Marnie was assigned to another class this period, and looking around as she came in, she had been pleased to see she didn’t recognize anyone.
A thin boy with dark features and thick, longish black hair now stood over her. She didn’t recognize him, so she didn’t say anything. It was a security habit her parents taught her from the time she was a baby and now, even in everyday situations, it came naturally. Just when she thought she had arrived incognito, here he was saying he knew her. She was slightly annoyed.
“I’m Tommy,” he said, hitching the straps on the backpack he carried. “I don’t know your name, but I know you.”
“If you don’t know my name.” J.J. began, “Then how is it that you know me?”
He walked around her seat and took the empty desk next to her. He pulled out his notebook and pen from his backpack as he spoke. She took note of the sketchpad that he also pulled out.
I’ve seen you in the park on Saturdays sometimes with a guy,” he answered. “You like to do guy stuff.”
“Guy stuff?” J.J. was intrigued to think he had been watching her, and she hadn’t noticed. She thought she noticed everything that went on around her. “Define ‘guy stuff’ for me. By the way, I’m J.J.”
She expected him to go on the defensive or to try to clean it up. Instead, he smiled. She liked his smile right away. He had dimples.
“You like stomp rockets and you have two gas powered planes you fly; a small one kinda like a Piper or something and a bigger one, a jet. Sometimes the guy you come with plays catch with you and sometimes the two of you fly weird kites. You’re pretty good with a baseball.”
“Thanks. You have been watching. That guy you see me with is my father.”
“Well, I thought he was a little too old to be your boyfriend.”
She laughed at that. Tommy was alright.
“So Tommy, you know stuff about me. What about you?”
“I’m just Tommy Steele. I go to the park on the weekends to mess around while my mother is at work. It gets boring at home by myself. Sometimes I meet my friends and we goof off. Most of the time I just go there and ride my bike on the dirt track or something.”
“Do your mother and father go to work at the same time? Is that why you’re home by yourself?”
“No, I don’t have a father. Never have had one. It’s just my mom and me. She works and she goes to school right now. She’s getting her Masters degree in accounting.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to be nosy,” she apologized, sincerely regretting making the assumption. “I can be a little dense sometimes about that kind of thing. I get mad when people assume things about me and here I go doing it.”
“It’s O.K., J.J. Hart,” Tommy answered, reading her name as she wrote it out on her notebook. “If we’re going to be friends you would have found that out about me sooner or later anyway. Is the pretty lady with the hair like yours, who dropped you off this morning in the Mercedes, your mother?”
She looked up at him through narrowed amused eyes. “Well, are you stalking me or something, Tommy Steele?”
This time he laughed.
“No. I just happened to be walking up when you got out of the car, and that’s when I first recognized you as the girl from the park. I have another couple of questions to ask if you don’t mind.”
She liked this boy. He wasn’t shy and he didn’t seem like a jerk the way most boys came off being to her.
“What is it?”
“Are you rich?”
She was caught off guard, but she quickly recovered.
“What makes you ask?”
“Well I’m adding it all up. Your mother drives the big Mercedes sedan. Your father drives you to the park in a Rolls Royce like it’s a Jeep or something or the top of the line Range Rover. You have what look like diamonds in your ears and there’s one in that bracelet. They are real, aren’t they? Those Nikes on your feet don’t come cheap either; I saw them at the mall. And you didn’t want to talk this morning in homeroom.” He leaned down a little to whisper, “And by the way, I like how you got the teacher off your back.”
He was observant too. She had not noticed him in homeroom, but then that was when she was trying not to be seen.
“Yes, my parents are wealthy,” she answered in a whisper. “But Tommy, if we’re going to be friends, keep your mouth shut about it. And I didn’t mean to be rude to Ms. Atkins. I really had said all I was going to say.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” and he smiled his dimpled smile. She loved it already. “That’s a mighty crazy secret to want to keep, though, if you ask me. If I was rich, I’d want everybody to know it.”
“I just like to keep things to myself. People don’t need to know that about me,” she said. “They just need to get to know me.”
“So J.J., which one are you; gifted or talented?”
“They say gifted. And you?”
“Talented. I can draw, and I’m good with computers.”
He handed her his sketchbook and a folder. Looking through it at his pencil sketches, she could see he was indeed talented. The folder he handed her contained graphics he had created on the computer. These intrigued her the most. She too loved computers and working with them. She understood how they worked, which fascinated her, and she was learning basic programming from her father.
“These are all great,” She commented as she perused his designs. “We have computers in common. I love everything electronic. I get that from my father. You’ll have to meet him. He’ll like that you are good on computers like this.”
“J.J., I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship. You’re an okay girl.”
“Thanks, you’re an okay boy, Tommy.”
The teacher came into the room and called the class to order.
Jennifer sat waiting for J.J. to come out of the building. This was something entirely new for her. She took in the sights with dismay and some amusement. Kids flooded out of the doors at the dismissal bell dressed in baggy jeans and pants slung low at the waist and sagging at the seat. There were huge flowered shirts, torn tank tops, gym shoes, shorts, sandals, micro mini skirts, spiked hair, whatever. No wonder J.J. dug her heels in and refused to wear that outfit she had suggested.
She and her father had gone shopping over the weekend and they came back with nothing but denim and cotton. He always seemed to always know what was going to make J.J. happy. He was right about the clothes that morning. She hoped that he was right about this program and this school as well. Somehow watching these eclectically dressed children, she got the feeling that this was going to be a good place for Jonathan Hart’s daughter.
“Hi, Mrs. Hart,” Marnie called as she bypassed the car on her way to her mother’s parked a few vehicles back.
Jennifer answered her, waving and making note of Marnie’s smart skirt outfit. Marnie wasn’t as exceptional as J.J. academically, but even as a very little girl she had been exceptionally style conscious. Jennifer wished J.J. cared a little bit about what she put on, but she really did not. A pair of jeans, tee shirt, baseball cap, a pair of sneakers, and J.J. was all set.
One couldn’t have everything, she guessed. If she had to choose one over the other, she preferred her daughter be smart to being a clotheshorse.
J.J. came through the school doors. She walked out in the middle of a group of about five boys all of them engaged in an animated conversation. One of the boys, who appeared to be of East Indian descent, seemed to be adamant in getting a point across to J.J., but she kept putting the palm of her hand up to his face, dismissing him. They all broke away to go in different directions once they reached the end of the walkway, and she came to the car.
“Just because you said that,” she called down the street, “I will be number one at the end of this school year! You just wait and see!”
She put her backpack through the open back window and then got into the front seat.
“Hello, Mom. Boys are so stupid and arrogant.”
“Hello J.J., and that isn’t nice to say.”
“But it’s true.”
She leaned over and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek before fastening her seat belt. “I’m in Accelerated Math with all boys for the last period every day. There’s fifteen of us in the class, and I’m the only girl.”
“Is that a good thing?” Jennifer asked her, intrigued by the possibilities that situation could promise in terms of challenge. J.J. Hart thrived on a good challenge, especially if said challenge involved using her head.
“Heck yeah! I love it. They all think they have the inside track just because they’re boys and I’m a girl. Ajay, he’s from Pakistan, had the nerve to tell me just now that girls are inferior in intelligence to boys. I’m going to whip his-” She bit her lip and stopped herself, remembering it wasn’t Daddy in the car with her. “I mean I’m going to show him how wrong he is. If I don’t know anything else, I know my math. The teacher is a lady from Harlem, in New York. Her name is Ms. Latimer, and she’s no joke. Her degree certificates are on her wall, all three of them. She studied at NYU, Spelman, and at Stanford. Her Education Specialist Degree is in Mathematics. She started us right off on the hard stuff. I already have math homework, and it’s just the first day.”
She pulled the band from her ponytail and shook her hair loose as her mother pulled out of the space.
“I think I’m going to like it here. It’s my kind of place. I have all advanced classes, and everybody in them is all mixed up.”
She was so excited, her words came fast. Jennifer laughed, happy with her child’s exuberance. “What do you mean “all mixed up. The kids are confused?”
“No,” J.J. giggled, “I mean they’re all nationalities. People come from everywhere. There’s one girl in my Language Arts class who just came here from France. She’s actually from Perpignan. I told her that was where Aunt Sabrina lives, and that I go there every summer. She speaks English as a second language beautifully. When I spoke to her in French, she said I speak it nicely. She and I tripped everybody out going back and forth in both languages. Her name is Emmeline. Isn’t that pretty?”
“Yes, J.J. it is a pretty name.” Jennifer was still smiling in her effort to keep up with her excited child. “Did you let her know your real name is Justine?”
“Yeah, and then she wanted to know why I substituted a pretty name like Justine for J.J. I told her my father gave me that name when I was a baby. You know what she said? She said she understood completely then. ‘J.J.’, she said, was a ‘love name’. Isn’t that a nice thing to say?”
J.J. sighed and sat back savoring that thought. She liked romantic notions despite the tough exterior she liked for the world to see.
Jennifer loved all things about France. It had been her late mother’s native country, French was the first language she learned to speak, and was now the home of her mother’s identical twin, J.J.’s favorite aunt, Sabrina.
“That is a lovely thing to say,” she replied. “A truly beautiful way of looking at it. And that is just what J.J. is, a love name.”
“I met a boy today who knew me from the park. He saw Daddy and me there together with the rockets and the planes. He didn’t know my name until today when he introduced himself. His name is Tommy. Mom, he is so nice for a boy. He can draw, and he likes computers. We sit next to each other in Social Studies. When he smiles, he has dimples.”
“Oh, my, it sounds as if you like his smile an awful lot.” Jennifer laughed, sneaking a look at J.J.’s face.
J.J. was appalled at first, and then catching her mother’s eye, realized she was being teased.
“You know I don’t like boys. He’s just a nice person, and he has a nice smile. That’s all.”
She leaned her head back on the seat. “I had such a good time today, Mom. I think I’m really going to like this school. The whole day was great!”
After a few minutes, Jennifer stopped for a light and realized J.J. was quiet and still. She was falling asleep.
Jennifer moved through the house checking doors and windows on the first floor as was her habit every evening before going up to bed. Marie had already retired to her room for the evening. Jonathan had gone up some time ago. She had been on the phone with Patricia in New York deep into a conversation about a piece they were collaborating on about the new exhibit at the Museum of Art when J.J. came in to tell her good night. She carried an armload of books and papers. She kissed her and then left to go up to her room.
Turning off the lights in the foyer, she climbed the stairs. Before crossing the second floor hall to go to her bedroom, she decided to continue down the hall to check on J.J. Lately she had been working so hard on things for school that a couple of nights she found her asleep across her bed with her books and still fully dressed.
J.J. had always been a good student, but before this semester it seemed like such an effortless thing for her. Now she worked from the time that she got home until the time that she went to bed. Some mornings at breakfast she continued to pore over her books, scribbling notes as she went. She never complained about her workload, in fact she seemed to enjoy it. Jennifer noticed that it was usually math that she appeared to be toiling over more often than anything else.
Approaching J.J.’s door, she could see the light peeking from underneath. She checked her watch. It was going on midnight. Figuring that she had fallen asleep again, Jennifer opened the door and to her surprise found J.J. sitting at her desk working.
“What are you doing still up? You have school in the morning!”
J.J. looked up at her. “I know, but I need to finish this for tomorrow.”
“You’ll be worn out tomorrow, J.J. if you don’t rest tonight. Why do you always have so much work? This is just sixth grade!”
“I just need to finish this.” She repeated continuing to write. “I’ll go to bed as soon as I’m done, I promise. I don’t have much more to do.”
Jennifer came into the room and stood over her to see what she was working on. It was math again. This teacher was working her to death.
“Does she always give this much work? You’ve been doing math all week.”
“I know, but stuff keeps happening and I have to do it over again.”
J.J. continued to write.
“Wait. Stop!” Jennifer took the pencil out of her hand. ” What kind of stuff keeps happening?” She waited for an answer.
J.J. sighed and got up. She went over to her bed and sat down. Jennifer followed and sat down next to her.
“O.K., but you have to promise me, Mom that you’ll let me handle this by myself if I tell you.”
Jennifer shook her head, negating any deals.
“This is not Jonathan Hart you’re talking to; this is Jennifer Hart. You know that you can’t buffalo your way over me the way that you can your father. I make no promises ahead of time. Just tell me what’s going on and we’ll go from there.”
She reached over and pulled the band from J.J.’s ponytail and then handed her the nightgown that lay across her pillows.
Following the unspoken instructions, J.J. pulled her shirt off over her head as she answered her mother.
“The boys in my math class are harassing me. They take my stuff. Last week my math textbook came up missing for two days. Ms. Latimer fussed at me for being irresponsible in front of everybody when she found out that I didn’t have a book and then she let me use one of her extra ones. After two days, my book turned up back on my desk. Another day last week, I went to the board to work out a problem and when I came back to my seat, my notebook was gone. The next day it was mysteriously back on my desk, but all my notes and my work inside had been scribbled on and some of the pages were gone altogether.
On Monday of this week, she gave us a packet of work to do that was supposed to be turned in on Friday. I did it all by Tuesday to get it out of the way, and I was going to turn it in when I went to class on Wednesday. I had it in my folder. We had a substitute on Wednesday, so I decided to wait until Ms. Latimer came back to give it to her. I had it to give to her when I got to class today. She told me to take a restroom break at the beginning of class because she didn’t want to stop for it in the middle of the session. When I got back, all my work was gone, the whole packet. Mom, it’s due tomorrow.”
“Did you ask about it?”
“No. I know that they took it. They would have just denied it and made me mad.”
“Why didn’t you tell Ms. Latimer?”
J.J. looked at her in disbelief. Her mother could be so clueless sometimes about obvious things. Exasperated, she explained it to her.
“I’m no squealer. That’s what they want me to do: go running to the teacher like some little sissy-Mary. I just told Ms. Latimer that I misplaced the last packet. She fussed at me and called me irresponsible again, but she gave me another one anyway. That’s what I’m working on now. I almost have it finished.”
She pulled her nightgown over her head after dropping her jeans and went back the desk.
Jennifer gathered the clothes that J.J. took off from where they lay on the bed and the floor.
“So how long are you going to endure this?” She asked taking the things over to the hamper.
Two pairs of shoes were by the hamper; the ones J.J. wore to school and the pair she had on after school. She took them to the closet and put them away as she continued, “Because I’m not going to have you up all night doing things over that you’ve already done just because someone wants to play a prank on you. And I’m also not going to have the teacher thinking that you’re careless. You have never been careless when it comes to school. Sweetheart, you work too hard to tolerate these kinds of distractions. It had better stop soon, or I will get involved.”
When she came out of the closet, J.J.’s head was down on her arms on the desk, her thick red hair fanned out over her papers and her book.
“Poor baby.” Jennifer whispered, shaking her head at the sight. “Oui, ma petite chou, boys can be stupid and arrogant, just as you said.”
Leaning down to her, she called her name softly to wake her and led her to bed.
When she slipped into the bed trying not to wake him, Jonathan wrapped his arms around her. Even in his sleep, he instinctively reached for her when she came to bed.
“What took you so long?” He murmured.
“I had to put your child to bed.”
She felt him raise his head a bit. He was checking the clock on the night table on her side.
“It’s after midnight. What’s she still doing up? Homework again?”
“Yes, but there’s more to it. She’s getting the business from the boys in her math class. They’re playing pranks on her and she’s having to play catch up because of them.”
“She got it covered?”
“She says that she does; she begged me not to get involved when she was telling me of it. It’s been going on for a little over a week it seems. She hasn’t told the teacher about it because she doesn’t want to be a ‘sissy-Mary’. Jonathan, what the hell is that?”
“It’s just like it sounds.” He answered matter-of-factly, lying back down. “That explains why she’s been working so hard.”
He pulled her in closer to him. “J.J.’s tough. She’ll take care of it, just like she told you she would.”
“I don’t want her fighting again, Jonathan.” Jennifer warned.
“This time it’s just math, not anything as important as her mother. I don’t think she’ll fight over math.”
“We never established that the last fight was about me. In fact we don’t know why it happened at all.”
“How much do you want to bet that it was about you?”
“What do you have to wager?
He moved himself knowingly into the right places of her body until the fit was right. “Is that enough?”
“More than enough.” She purred as he began nuzzling into her neck the way that he knew she liked.
“Will you be at the park tomorrow?” Tommy had the locker next to J.J.’s and he spoke to her as she pulled out her things for math class.
“Yeah, I’ll be there. Daddy and I are going to fly the planes. Are you going to be there?”
“Yep. All day. My mother has school all afternoon. I’ll probably be out on the dirt track.”
“I want you to meet my father then, O.K.? I’ll bring him over there.”
“See you, then.” Tommy waved as he walked off.
When she closed her locker door, she saw that there was a folded piece of paper taped to the front. Pulling it off, she opened it. Tommy had sketched her picture as she was reading her book while they were in Social Studies class together. It was very good. At the bottom he had written, “J.J. Hart, Not Just Any Old Girl”. That made her smile. She refolded it and stuck it in her math book. Slamming her locker shut, she went to class.
She took her seat and organized her things for class.
“Hey J.J., got your homework?” Steve called. “You’ve had all week to do it.”
“I have mine.” She replied without looking up. “You worry about yours.”
She got up to sharpen her pencils. The building was constructed in an U and she could see through the window into the class in the next wing across the courtyard. Marnie smiled and waved to her from where she stood looking out of the window from her seat. They had a daily ritual at this time every day of finding a reason to come to the window and waving to each other.
When she returned to her seat she immediately saw that the entire folder containing her homework was gone from the top of her desk. Fury immediately rushed up from her feet, coursing through her entire body, and finally banged against her forehead screaming to be let out. She closed her eyes willing herself into her poker face and attempting to push the anger back away from the surface of her being. Opening her eyes, even though she did not look up from her desktop, she could feel them grinning at her. She carried on as if nothing was wrong.
Ms. Latimer came into the classroom closing the door behind her.
“Alright, you all have had a week to get it together. Everybody have your homework packet out on your desk so that I can check it in and then we’ll go over what you’ve done.”
J.J. heard someone snicker behind her. She sat up front so Ms. Latimer reached her desk first.
“Where’s your work, J.J.?”
Despite her attempts to stay calm, she could feel her face turning red with the rage that she just couldn’t hold at bay. She held on to the sides of her desktop and didn’t look up at the teacher as she replied, “I don’t have it, Ms. Latimer.”
“Why? You had all week to get it done.”
“I did it. I just don’t have it.”
“J.J., you’ve been losing things for the past two weeks. Maybe this isn’t the class for you if you’re going to continue to be so irresponsible. How are you going to keep up if you can’t hold onto anything?”
“Ms. Latimer,” J.J. began, speaking slowly trying to control her broiling temper and her escalating level of frustration. “My father says that when people pick at you it’s because they consider you a threat of some kind.”
Ms. Latimer looked down to the little redhead sitting with her eyes closed, gripping the edges of her desk so tightly that her knuckles had become translucent.
“What?” She was confused by J.J.’s seemingly illogical response to her query as well as by her unusual physical reaction.
“My father says that if people consider you a threat to them, then you actually have the upper hand. For the past two weeks I’ve been being attacked. My book was taken; my notebook was taken and vandalized, and I dealt with it because I knew that it was done because somebody in here considers me a threat to them. Now my homework is missing for the second time this week. But what they’re too stupid to realize is that the information is in my head. When it’s test time, I’m going to ace the tests regardless of what is done to my class work and homework.”
She turned slowly in her desk to the boys behind her. Her face was now ashen with anger, her crystal blue eyes flashing.
“Because I know my math. You guys can’t take what’s up here.” She pointed to her head. “So just keep playing your silly little boy games. I have the trump card in my hand and when it’s time to take the test,” She snapped her fingers in their faces. “I’m throwing it down on the table!”
Ms. Latimer, still standing over J.J., looked back at the sheepish boys now sitting with bowed heads, suddenly making sense of what was going on with this brilliant little girl who appeared to be falling apart in this classroom of boys.
J.J. then looked up at the teacher.
“I did my homework, Ms. Latimer, two times, and I brought it to class both times, but now I don’t have it. You’ll just have to give me a zero for it.”
J.J. turned back around in her seat and opened her math book. Tommy’s picture was folded into the crease of the page. Unfolding it again, she read his words under the picture he’d drawn, “J.J. Hart, Not Just Any Old Girl”.
“You’ve got that right, Tommy.” She thought to herself. “Absolutely.”
She could see her father in her mind smiling and winking at her. It was going to be O.K. because she held her own.
At the end of the class period Ms. Latimer returned from hall duty to her desk in her empty classroom. Sitting down, she noticed in the middle of her desk a completed homework packet belonging to J.J. Hart as well as a folder that had her name on it. Inside the folder were her papers and a second completed homework packet as well as some pages that appeared to have been torn from a notebook.
“Well Miss J.J.,” Ms. Latimer smiled to herself. “I think you handled your business quite well in here this morning. I owe you an apology. You are quite a little lady.”
She opened her grade book and gave J.J. her credit.
“Score one big one for the girls’ team.” She whispered. “I don’t know about homeroom, but this girl is going to be the highlight of my year.”