He quietly leaned against the wall at the back of the classroom, blearily eying the loudly-colored posters on the room walls. Some teachers had drawings or schoolwork, but Handson only had glossy prints of cartoon kids. Only none of them were fucking or stumbling around naked.
Mr. Handson sat at his desk, grading papers with a red felt pen. Slowly, he peered up and exclaimed,
“Oh! It’s you.”
“Yeah. I’m here to talk about my grade.”
“Yes…” Handson shuffled his papers and remarked, “you’ve been doing a lot better. Gentry has been quite a friend to you. I’m actually surprised you have learned anything, or ah, how quickly you have caught up with him… I mean, especially how you found the time to...”
Zach stared at him impassively.
“I want to redo the Romeo and Juliet assignment.”
“I don’t give retakes, Zach. You know my policy.”
“The script I gave you wasn’t mine. Gentry wrote it. But everything else I’ve done here was my work. Gentry tutored me, and that’s it. Please. I just want a fair chance.”
Handson sighed, “Cheating is absolutely unacceptable. I can flunk you out of my class for this. You are an adult—”
“I am not an adult.”
“You are expected to act like one—”
“— Adults cheat. Adults cheat all the time, and if I were adult, I wouldn’t be stuck in a place where people call me faggot, and I’d get paid for my work. You people always tell us to act like adults, but almost all the adults I know lie so they’ll look better than the kids they’re criticizing. They pretend like they’re better than us, and get mad when people notice they aren’t. I’m told to be polite, to not cheat, to be respectful, but most adults here don’t follow any of that. You tell us to be organized, but if all these adults are so damn organized, why do we get weekend homework, summer homework, and homework over breaks? So if you want to fail me for telling you something you didn’t notice before, go on!”
Handson furrowed his eyebrows and exhaled deeply, taking off the old brown-rimmed glasses he wore to rub his dry eyes.
“No, Zach. I won’t do that.”
Zach sat down.
He put his elbows on the desk and leaned forward on them, “I’ve done everything I can to avoid cheating, but I see everyone around me do it while I get threatened. My grade stinks, and all I want is a fair shake. I don’t cheat, and I don’t want to. Just tell me what to do so I can make up that credit, give me at least the chance to pass.”
“Show me the paper.”
Zach reached into his backpack, trying to pull the paper loose without taking out the entire folder. After a few minutes of futile tugging, he pulled the entire black plastic binder out from the backpack, to the thump of everything else collapsing in. It flew open in his hands, yet Zach lurched forward just in time to save all the papers from sliding out. He noncommittally whipped out Gentry’s piece from the empty back pocket of the folder that he never used, and slapped the papers down on the table. Wuthering Heights lay bruised and beaten in his drooping backpack. Handson gazed at it briefly, and his sunken eyes lit up at the mardi gras beads that hung out from one corner, shining like wax in the fluorescent light. That rainbow cake was bigger than anything on the Spanish teacher’s table, and had beaten out anything in her Fiesta Party’s food selection for the front page of the school website. It showed up great in high resolution, too. Yet the Spanish teacher was going to get an award because her test scores were higher than his were.