#31DaysOfWriting: Third Man In

He was still standing by the doors, balanced on one foot, his bookbag on his knee while he rummaged through the front pocket. There was no question he was new. Even if he hadn’t asked where the office was I would have known. I’d never seen him before, and it’s not that I know everybody at Vestrich High, but I definitely would have remembered him if I’d seen him before. There aren’t many black kids at our school. Actually, there are only six, one guy and five girls. He pulled out a slip of paper and made his way over to the stairs. The crowd had thinned out.

“I’m Alec,” I said as we headed upstairs.

“Ben. Ben Walker.”

“Not many kids transfer in January,” I said.

He shrugged. “My dad took a research position at Yale when the guy they hired bagged at the last minute. So here I am.” He stopped on the stairs and looked around the foyer. “What’s in there?” he asked, nodding to the right side of the stairs.

“That’s the auditorium.” I climbed the stairs two at a time to the top landing as the final bell rang making me officially late for Hannaford’s class. “But it’s pretty much off limits except during assemblies or for drama classes.” I pointed to my left. “And that’s the gym. Which is never off limits unless there’s a class.”

“Good to know.” He nodded.

“And this is the office,” I said, going in and stopping at the counter for a late pass.

“Thanks.”

“I’ll be right with you,” Mrs. Mahoney told Ben, then clucked her tongue reproachfully in my direction.

I shrugged innocently. “The guy didn’t know where to go. What could I do?”

“Indeed,” she agreed.

I was one of Mrs. Mahoney’s regulars; had been since my freshman year. Luckily she was a hockey fan so she cut me some slack when morning workouts ran over. It helped, too, that she and her husband were parishioners in my dad’s congregation. She handed me a late pass.

“I owe you one, Mrs. M,” I whispered, giving her a wink.

“That’s a bit optimistic given that it’s only Monday,” she said with a smile. “But we’ll call it even if we beat Guilford.”

“Deal,” I told her. I looked over at Ben who was thumbing through a pile of forms Mrs. Mahoney’s assistant had handed him. “Good luck, dude,” I said, nodding at the pile.

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, dropping into a chair next to the counter.

I sprinted to my locker, grabbed my English notebook and calc book, then took off for Hannaford’s class, running the whole way as if my life depended on it, which, with Hannaford, wasn’t too far from the truth. Even with a late pass, he’d probably still call on me repeatedly. I ran through last night’s reading assignment in my head, trying to remember what I’d flagged as important plot points. Wanting to draw as little attention as possible to my late arrival, and still wrapped up in remembering what happened in Chapter Nine, I went for the back door. Good in theory, not in practice. Even as I reached out for the door knob I remembered. Sure enough, it was locked and my momentum forced all my weight to collide painfully with the door. And attract the attention I hoped to avoid. From the last seat in the row by the door, Stuart Crandall smiled smugly, showing no sign of getting up to open the door. Sometime during the first week of school, Stuart, the target of many a prank since junior high, had appointed himself Hannaford’s tardiness tracker, calculating the number of minutes after the bell someone arrived. Hannaford was a stickler for punctuality, and his penalties were persuasive. To secure his role of authority, Stuart took to locking the back door. He did it every day, usually before the final bell.

My girlfriend, Christine, who sat next to Stuart, opened the back door. “You’re late, Mr. Miller,” she whispered, narrowing her green eyes, “and we’ve missed you.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Christine Kelley and I had been going out for almost two years and seeing her always made me smile. “Yet again you’re coming to my rescue.” I closed the door behind me.

She brushed against me as she turned back toward her seat, a teasing smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Your emotional rescue,” she said softly over her shoulder, referring to one of her favorite old Rolling Stones songs, and gave me that look that made me crazy for her. And then just as quickly she turned around and walked slowly back to her seat, leaving me standing alone wishing I were anywhere alone with her instead of in Hannaford’s class. She was amazing. Beautiful. Smart. Sexy. She stared down at the book on her desk and ran a hand through her shoulder length curly reddish hair, pulling it over to one side, baring her neck. How many times had I kissed that spot?

“I was saying, Mr. Miller, how nice it was that you could join us this morning.” Hannaford’s voice broke through my thoughts and suddenly I was aware of twenty sets of eyes staring at me staring at Christine. Hannaford stood behind his desk, a book open in one hand, a dry erase marker in the other like a cigarette, shirt sleeves neatly rolled to just above his elbows. “Perhaps you’d like to have a seat now.” He gestured in the direction of my desk.

Several kids snickered and I could feel my ears burning. I cleared my throat and started to my seat. “I’m, uh, I’m sorry I’m late. I was showing someone where the office was.”

“Mr. Singer has already exonerated you,” Hannaford said, nodding in Scott’s direction, “speaking at some length about your good Samaritan instincts.” Scott shrugged with a sly grin as Hannaford turned back toward the board. “Simply leave your late pass on my desk and have a seat. We’re discussing chapters nine, ten and eleven of To Kill A Mockingbird. We’ve talked about the plot generally, but now, I’d like to focus on a couple of significant developments.” He paused, writing out the heading, ‘Chapter Nine’ on the board. “Who wants to begin?” he asked, turning around.

Let’s Chat

Have you ever had a teacher like Mr. Hannaford? Note: Hannaford is based on a teacher I had. Not everyone appreciated his passion and enthusiasm, but I did, and still do.

If you enjoyed reading this section of Third Man In, please give it some claps so others can find it and enjoy it. Thanks!

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