Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chapter 45

School started on the eighth that September since it was closed on Monday in observance of Labor Day.  The children, most dressed in brand new, but all in freshly washed clothing, greeted each other in the compound in front of the school, lazing in the shade of the trees or sitting on the brickwork in the sun, catching as much of the sun's rays as possible before being consigned to the dark depths of the dungeon otherwise known as school.

Angelo approached the school with some trepidation, even with Amadeo and Milo right beside him.  The 'What if's' had been running through his mind like a hamster on a wheel, going round and round and not getting anywhere.  He nearly turned around and went back home twice and would have if not for his two best friends there beside him to urge him on.

Once at the school they saw Charlie, Dennis, Jim and Aiden on the brick wall.  The four boys called and waved to the other three and motioned them over.

"Good to see you, Ange!  I knew you'd come back!  Good for you!" Jim said happily, clapping Angelo on the back with enough force to make the other boy stagger forward a few steps.  "Oh, sorry man, I'm just really glad you decided to come back." Jim said, patting a little more softly, laughing.

"We're waiting on Eddie and Felix, want to join us?  Do a little catching up?"  Charlie asked.

Amadeo laughed, “We saw you guys last night at the back to school party!" he laughed,  "So what happened between nine o'clock last night and this morning that's new?"

"My brother proposed to his girlfriend at some point last night."  Charlie said with a smile.  "They've only been going out for six years and he wasn't sure but I guess she told him a few days ago to make up his mind 'cause she wasn't going to keep waiting.  According to him she put it to him in language that he thinks no proper lady should know but it sure did wake him up.  He went to mom and pop and asked if they could help him buy a nice ring."

"Mom shouted 'Hallelujah!' and dad just said it was about time and what the h*** took him so d***ed long."  Charlie laughed.  "Then mom said he was lucky he found a girl that was willing to put up with him and he'd be a fool to let her get away. So they went out and bought the ring and he took her to a movie last night and afterward knelt down in front of the theater and proposed in front of all of the folks there.  Apparently they got a lot of applause when she said yes and they hugged."

"That's great!"  the guys chorused.

"I think it woulda been better if she'd said 'Too late, you missed your chance.' and then walked away."  he laughed.

"That woulda been mean!"  Jim said, smiling despite his protest.

"Yeah but I'd'a loved to see his face if she'd done it."  Charlie laughed again.

Amadeo joined the laughter.  "My sisters got their proposals this summer.  They had their venue the next day and their dresses picked out the following week."

"Jennine had hers in her closet already.  Shoes, veil, the works."  Charlie announced grinning like the Cheshire Cat.  "Her sister told everyone that Jenn'd gone to a psychic and the lady'd told her to buy the stuff, put the ultimatum to Gary and she'd get her proposal and the ring within a week.  D***ed if it didn't go exactly how she said it would."

"Aww, come on, a psychic?  Did that really happen or is that just a story?"  Dennis asked, “Who believes in psychics anyway?"

"Apparently his sister did."  Amadeo chuckled.

"My brother Matty believes in them,” said Angelo tentatively.  "He was worried he'd never find a girl.  See, we're Italian but we have some really dark skinned ancestors so some of us come out with kinda darker skin than others, and people always thought he was black, especially in the summer when he tans, except his hair turns red."  he laughed.

"So what did the psychic tell him?"  Jim asked.

"She told him to stop looking, and he'd find the right woman when he least expected it."

"And what happened?"

"He stopped actively looking, then one day he was sitting in a booth at a diner he went to a lot, having coffee before going to work, and this really pretty woman walked up to him and said 'The other tables are full, or people are waiting for friends and there are no other spots available.  Can I share the table with you?' "

"Well, Matty wasn't going to say no to anyone, particularly a lady, so he moved his paper and his coffee and started reading again.  He said the girl asked if she could read part of the paper he'd read already and he gave her the sports section, kind of as a joke, but she looked at the headlines and let out a whoop when she saw the results of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, with North Carolina winning 54 - 53 over Kansas.  Matty said he was so surprised at the sound that he spilled his coffee all over the front of his shirt."

"So there she was busy apologizing and they were trying to get the coffee stains out of his shirt.  She was offering to pay for a dry cleaner and he was telling her it was nothing.  Somewhere along the line they introduced themselves and that was that.  They've been married six years and have two kids." he finished his story, proudly.

"Ahhhh, sounds like a love story straight off the Bodice Ripper presses."  joked Aiden, laughing as Angelo socked him on the arm.

"Do you believe in psychics?"  Charlie asked.

"I dunno."  Angelo shrugged,  “I guess I'm open minded enough to go to one, but whether I believe or not would depend on what they had to say."

"Hey guys!  Wanna pool our money and go see one?"

"Sure, where're we going?"  asked Eddie as he joined the group.

"To see a psychic."

"Would we get a group rate?"  asked Felix, sure that the whole thing was simply back to school nerves and silliness.

"How much did that psychic charge your brother... how many years ago was it?"

"If we did find a psychic would they take the lot of us or would they only take us one by one?"  Jim said.

"Where are we going to find a psychic?  And what the heck are we gonna ask her?  When'm I gonna lose my virginity?  Does Rose Marie Parnell want me?  I mean... what do you ask a psychic?"  Jim asked.

"And why do you have to ask a psychic anything?  Aren't they psychic?  I mean, they know everything so all we'd have to do it go there and sit and look at her and she can tell our futures, right?"  Aiden asked.

"You guys are serious?"  Felix asked, surprised.

"Why not?  It could be fun."  Charlie replied.

"Going to the amusement park is fun.  Jumping out of the tree into Ketterly's Pond is fun.  Going to the movies and getting into a popcorn fight is fun.  Seeing a psychic who's gonna tell us what we want to hear and take our money isn't what I call fun."

"Hey, maybe we can find a psychic that sells Love Potion Number 9.  I'd like to see if it would work on Farlee Frasier, my lab buddy in chemistry."  Dennis said.  "She's smokin' hot and she's only with me because I know what the heck I'm doing, but boy if she'd give me a second look... I mean, I'm pretty sure if she got to know me she'd find out she liked me."

"Beauty and the Beast?" quipped Aiden.

"It could happen."  Dennis protested.  "What would you want to know?"  he asked Aiden.

"If we're ever gonna get a phone."  Aiden joked.

"No, really, Denny, if you had only one answer to any question, what would it be?"

Aiden became serious and thoughtful and said quietly, “Will I ever make something of myself.  Will I ever get out of this little town and be 
successful at anything.  That's what I'd like to know.  Will I have a wife and family and a good job and a house or will I always live in this 
little podunk town in the house I grew up in, working for minimum wage at the stone works.  Can a psychic answer all that?  Will she charge a fee for each answer?  I mean, heck, I don't want to start my life in debt to a psychic because I couldn't afford to pay for all the answers I want."  he said, his voice heavy.

Before anyone could answer the first bell rang indicating the start of the day.  The students who had been lounging around jumped into action, picking up knapsacks and satchels, comparing schedules with friends and stowing them away once again in pockets and pocketbooks before filing into the school and finding their home rooms.  Within minutes the hallways were empty and quiet, not even a scrap of paper to indicate that anyone had been there.

Second bell had the children seated for announcements, eyes focused on the round speaker in the walls above the blackboard as though they could see through it to the vice principal who laid out the rules and expectations of the school before leading the students in the Pledge of Allegiance and My Country Tis of Thee before welcoming them all back for another year of learning, at which the third bell rang and the children scattered to their first classes.

Amadeo was pleased to see that Angelo had several of the same classes, but when they tried to sit next to each other they were placed on opposite sides of the room.  The teacher, as each child came in, immediately separated students who were deliberately trying to sit next to each other.  None of the students were stupid enough to complain or protest but none of them liked it.

"My name is Mr. Charles Franklin Adams." announced the fifty something year old man.  "You, of course, will call me Mr. Adams.  I am your American Literature and English teacher, since you cannot read American literature without being able to properly read and write English."  he announced.

"These will be your seats every day,” the teacher said, holding up the paper with a grid drawn in pen.  "Using pen only, write your name in the box that corresponds with where you are seated. When it reaches the end of the row that person will pass it behind him or her.  The graph will make its way back up the row in the same manner, with each student filling in their name where they will be sitting.  I will use that list to take attendance every morning so that, one, I will get to know each of you by sight as well as name, and two, we don't have to waste time calling roll to see who is missing."  

He placed the paper in front of Angelo who had been seated in the first desk in the first row, far right.  "Remember, simply write your name in the first box, then pass it to your left where the next person will write their name, etcetera and so on until it reaches the end of the class, at which time,"  he said raising his voice again, "I expect the last person to have the list in their possession to bring it to the front of the  class and put it on my desk. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir."  the students chorused.

Angelo wrote his name in his cell block, as he thought of it, then grinned as the teacher turned his back to begin writing on the blackboard.  He quickly wrote Amadeo's name in the block to his left, and then passed the grid to the next student.  At first Nicky Matin, the boy to Angelo's left, looked at Amadeo's name in 'his' grid block and he looked at Angelo with a frown.

Angelo frowned back, glanced at the teacher who was still writing facts from the piece of paper in his hand.  Angelo looked at Nicky, then the teacher, then the paper, waggling his eyebrows.  Nicky caught on relatively quickly, grinned and put his name in the third block with his best friend Carl's name in the fourth.  The same unspoken prompts were passed down student to student until the students who had been separated were on the grid as next to each other, and the students who had been placed in the front or center of the class who had wanted to be in the back, found their names in their preferred seats.  

The class went off without a hitch.  Each time Mr. Adams turned to write something on the board two or three of the students would switch places quickly and silently.  Several students also requested permission to use the lavatory which was ungraciously permitted by the teacher who resented having to take the time out of his class to write out hall passes for the bladder challenged of his students.  Vacated seats were quickly claimed by their rightful owners.

The 'jig' was almost up when two of the boys came back from the boys room and sat back down.

"Those are not your seats."  Mr. Adams accused.

"Begging your pardon, sir, but yes, they are.  Just check your grid sir." Garret Freydon said.  The rest of the class would swear to the end that butter wouldn't have melted in that boy's mouth.

"Give me your hall pass."  Mr. Adams demanded of Shelton Eames as he swiped the grid from off of his desk.  Shelton placidly handed back the hall pass.  Mr. Adams looked at the name on the hall pass, then at the name on the grid.  Shelton Eames.  He did the same with the other boy with the same results.  Mr. Adams didn't say another word but went to the front of the class, placed the grid back down on the desk and finished transcribing his notes from his paper to the blackboard, during which the last of the class had finished playing musical chairs.

"Copy these facts.  Once you've done that we will review, at which time you may ask questions about the subject matter."  He said, sitting down at his desk and opening a book.  The children opened their note books and studiously copied each fact.  When the last student had put down their pen Mr. Adams got up and reviewed the material as promised, taking time for questions during which the students added the information to their notebooks.

"Do you all feel that you have a working knowledge of what we just went over?"  asked Mr. Adams.

He was met with a chorus of “Yes, sir."

"Very good then.  Take out a sheet of paper and fold it into three sections.  Put your name, date, and the name of this course in the upper right hand corner." He directed, picking up the eraser and removing the facts from the blackboard.  He turned and waited until the students had done as they’d been told.

"Very well then, children,” he said, "This is your first quiz of the semester." he said, once again picking up the paper he'd been transcribing from.  He held his hands up to forestall the groans and moans of the students who hadn't expected a quiz on their very first day of class.  Some of them had only been half listening to the review, so they knew they were going to do very badly.  Some of the students who had originally thought the idea was brilliant had changed their minds and were now shooting Angelo unfriendly looks.

"Lesson One, children.  I may be old, but I am not blind, deaf, or feeble minded and I resent being treated as such.  I also have a very good memory, so after this test you will all go back to the seats in which I placed you upon entering this class.  You will then fill out the grid properly and those WILL be your seats until the end of the school year. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes sir."  came the disgruntled replies.

"Whose idea was it to do this?"  he asked.

No one moved or spoke.  Angelo began to nibble on his thumb nail, sure that someone would rat him out, but no one did.

"If the person responsible for this does not speak up, then the entire class will serve detention for a week, and will continue to serve detention every day until the person speaks up.  The detentions will last as long as your resolve, children. I'm your teacher until the end of the year and if you insist on this stubborn silence then I can guarantee you that I can not only last as long as you but I can outlast you.  I am very tenacious.  You will look the word tenacious up in the dictionary tonight and write it one hundred times."

"I'll give the miscreant until the end of the test to turn him or herself in.  If, however, someone else would like to tell me who the guilty party is we might avoid this test all together.  It's up to you."

Once again he was met with silence, though he couldn't help but to notice some looks being shot toward the slender, dark haired boy in the front row.

"That's fine, children. You will add the word miscreant to your list of vocabulary words, also to be written one hundred times."  he said 

"Now then, question one..."

"It was me, Mr. Adams."  Angelo said, trying to keep the quaver from his voice.

"Me?"  Adams asked, somewhat superciliously.  "Who is 'me'?  Who said that?  Stand up please so that we can all see you." he said, scanning the classroom as though he had no idea where the voice was coming from.

Angelo stood up, fingertips and eyes glued to the desk top.  "It was me, Mr. Adams.  It was my idea."

Mr. Adams looked down at the chart.  "Who would you be, young man? I cannot be sure now that my chart has been contaminated."

"Di Marco, sir.  Angelo Di Marco."

"Look at me, Mr. Di Marco."  ordered Mr. Adams.

Angelo looked up from beneath his lashes.

"Head up! Shoulders straight, young man.  You must be proud of what you've started.  Proud of your wit and cleverness, so you must show it. Head up!"

Angelo licked his lips, squared his shoulders and raised his head to look at his teacher full on.

Mr. Adams looked at the chart. It was then that he noticed that several of his students had identical writing, including the boy to the left of 

"So you must be Mr. Amadeo Rossi?"  he asked, giving the boy the hairy eyeball. Nicky, who hadn't had the chance to switch places, wilted in his chair like a flower in high summer heat.

Amadeo stood up at his desk by the windows where he'd been placed, fourth seat back on the far right as Mr. Adams looked out at the class. "Here I am sir."

"You didn't change your seat.  Explain."

Amadeo cleared his throat.  "I was going to do it tomorrow sir." he admitted, “I thought that too many people switching seats so soon would be too obvious so I was going to wait." he admitted.

"Stand up."  Mr. Adams ordered.

The class stood as one, the only sound they made was the slight scraping of chairs as they got up.

"All of you who switched seats, go back to where I had placed you initially."  ordered Mr. Adams watching with a gimlet eye to be sure that no one tried to pull another one on him.

About a third of the class picked up their books and bags and went back to their original places.  They began to sit down when Mr. Adams ordered the class to remain standing.  He went to the bank of drawers next to the window that held school supplies and took out another large piece of paper.  He sat down at his desk and carefully, with a drafting square, outlined a new grid.  When he finished he brought the new sheet over to Angelo who was still seated first seat, first row on the left next to the door, as Mr. Adams would look out over the class.

"Sit."  he ordered.

Angelo sat, unsure if he'd still have that pleasure by the end of the day.

"Write your name in that box right there."  Adams ordered.  Angelo did as he was told.   "Now sit on your hands and remain in that position until the rest of the class has written their names.  Once again, Angelo did as he was told, glad of the order since his hands were freezing cold at that moment despite the September heat.

Mr. Adams went down the rows, ordering each child to sit, write their name and then sit on their hands.

Once the grid was completed Mr. Adams strode back to the front of the class.  

"How many of you were in on this little scheme of Mr. Di Marco's?"

At first only a few of the braver souls raised their hands, but under Mr. Adams' steely grey gaze, eventually the entire class raised their hands.

"Then you will all receive a failing grade for your first quiz AND..."  he raised his voice to be heard over the protests of the students, "You have no one else to blame but yourselves.  Any one of you had the chance while you were filling out the grid to tell me what was going on and NONE of you spoke up, so you will NOT blame Mr. Di Marco without taking a portion of the blame on yourselves for your collaboration and silence on the matter.  Understood?"

When no one answered immediately he barked, "UNDERSTOOD?"

"Yes sir."  the class chorused reluctantly.

"Very well then. Add the word 'accountability' to your vocabulary list, and while you're at it write the definitions of each word."  Mr. Adams said, once again seating himself at his desk and pulling out one of the dreaded blue slips which he began to write on furiously.  Once he finished he stood and strode over to Angelo, holding the folded blue disciplinary slip between his index and middle fingers.  "Mr. Di Marco, you will add the word 'consequences' to your list of vocabulary words and definitions tonight.  Pack up your things, Mr. Di Marco, and report to the Principal's office."

Angelo packed up his things and left the room without a sound or a backward glance.  He'd never been to the principal's office but he knew what the blue slip meant.  He hated that his first day back at school was going to begin on such a sour note.  He walked into the office and handed the slip to Mrs. Jennings who accepted it with an expression that wavered between disapproving and amused as she read it.  Of all the students she'd expected on the first day, Mr. Angelo Di Marco was not one of them.

"Have a seat there, Mr. Di Marco,” she said pointed to the wooden bench by the door, which had been smoothed and polished over the years by many bottoms.  She went into Mr. Barnes' office to deliver the slip and calmly went back to her desk.  She had read the slip, and while it was certainly not appropriate she had to admit she found it clever and amusing, and quite bold coming from a boy who only the semester before had been little more than a shadow in his classes, getting good grades but otherwise unnoticed by faculty and staff.  Personally she thought that old Charlie Adams was a stick in the mud but she couldn't say that to the students.

Eventually the buzzer at Mrs. Jennings desk sounded and she told Angelo to go in.

"Have a seat, Mr. Di Marco."  said Mr. Barnes amiably.  Angelo had grown a couple of inches during the summer but the chair was so low that he still felt like a little kid.

"Now, perhaps you'd like to explain your side of the story to me."  Mr. Barnes began, with his usual avuncular smile.

"Will it help me?"  Angelo asked, respectfully.

"That depends on your answer, I suppose,” Barnes said, unknowingly echoing Angelo's words from earlier that morning.  "What made you think that defying the teacher and tampering with the seating grid was a good idea?"

Angelo swallowed and licked his lips again as he thought about it.  "Well, sir, we're teenagers, not little kids.  He... he separated us.  Anyone who came in with a friend and tried to sit next to them, he separated, as though if we were allowed to sit together we wouldn't be able to behave ourselves."

"Some of us are better off in the front row because we see the board and hear the teacher better, and some like the back because we don't like being under the teacher's eye all the time.  Not because we're necessarily doing anything bad it's just that being in the front makes us feel like we're on display.  We're the first ones the teachers call on, and everyone behind us can see us and... well... it's stupid but..." Angelo's voice ground to a halt.

"Just tell me, Mr. Di Marco."  Barnes said softly.  He'd never heard Angelo speak more than a few words at any given time so for the boy to open up like this was something of a miracle.  It seemed he'd grown in more than one way over the past summer.

"Whenever I was stuck in the front of the class I'd end up picking spit balls out of my hair at the end of class, or I'd find someone had taped a sign to my back.  Sometimes I'd find stuff missing from my satchel, or worse, something nasty would've been put into it for me to find later.” 

“Sometimes, if I was called on to answer a question and I got it wrong everyone would laugh like I was the only person to ever get an answer wrong and they'd all look at me, there in the front row.  The kids in the back, when they got an answer wrong, the class would laugh but when they'd turn to look at whoever gave the answer the teacher would yell at them to keep their eyes forward."  Angelo said, beginning to run out of breath.  Mr. Barnes stopped him, made the boy relax and take a breath, then prompted him to continue when he saw the boy was calmer.

"I resented being forced to sit at the front of the class again, being separated from my friends... Mr. Barnes, I was afraid to come back today.  If it hadn't been for Dae... Amadeo Rossi and Milo Jablonski, I might not have made it, but they kept telling me it'd be all right and I'd have just felt safer with them near me.  I know it's childish but..."  his voice trailed off.  "And now because of my stupid idea the kids are probably mad at me, and Mr. Adams gave us three words, four for me, and their definitions to write one hundred times each and he said we all failed our first quiz which none of us expected on the first day and which he didn't even allow us to take because no one spoke up to tell him what was going on and it's all my fault and now I'm worried that I'm going to be like I was last semester and I can't do that again, Mr. Barnes."  Angelo said, sounding close to tears but holding them back admirably.

"All right then, Mr. Di Marco.  Is that all you wanted to tell me at this time?"

"No sir.  I do want to apologize.  I know what I did was wrong but... well, sometimes I do things without thinking ahead.  Please, Mr. Barnes,” Angelo said earnestly,  "I've never been paddled.  They didn't do that sort of thing in New York, not in the public schools, anyway, though I heard stories about the private schools.  Can't I do detentions instead?"

"I'll let you discuss that with Mr. Cobrane." Barnes said, standing and holding out a hand toward the boy to precede him into the DOD's office.  

Barnes, and Mrs. Jennings with her note pad at the ready, stood by quietly while Angelo explained his actions and the reasons for them, and repeated his apology and request for detentions rather than a paddling, even though he knew that Mr. Adams had requested the latter.

Mr. Cobrane had perched on the edge of his desk with his arms crossed as he'd listened to Angelo's story.  Suppressing a grin, he looked at the boy who sat before him, and said, "Well, Mr. Di Marco, if I'd had any idea that having friends would turn you into a bad boy I'd have asked Mr. Barnes and the school board to think twice about allowing you back into the school."

Angelo blushed, “I'm not a bad boy, sir.  Honest.  My dad says I'm impulsive, but I'm not bad.  I don't do things with the idea of hurting anyone or getting anyone into trouble."  he said meekly.  "I just don't think ahead, sometimes."

"We're not pleased with the trick you tried to pull on your teacher, Mr. Di Marco.  It shows a lack of respect, and frankly a level of deceit that I would never have expected from you.  I'm not insensitive to what you were feeling or the reasoning behind your actions, but what you did was wrong. So I'll ask you, do you believe you did wrong?"

"Yes sir."

"Do you believe you deserve to be punished?"

Angelo's heart sank and he looked at his hands which were twisting helplessly on his lap.  "Yes sir."  he said quietly.

Mr. Cobrane looked up at Mrs. Jennings and Mr. Barnes and held up two fingers.  Both nodded.  Mrs. Jennings wrote the verdict down and handed the clip board to Mr. Barnes before leaving the room, quietly closing the door behind her.

"You'll be receiving two swats with the paddle, Mr. Di Marco."  Cobrane said, letting the words sink in.  The boy looked up briefly as though he would plead his case, but then trained his eyes back on his hands, which had gone from wringing to clenching.  "One for your disrespect towards Mr. Adams, and one for the deceit.  Two swats are, I'm sure, preferable to a week of detentions, and I believe that the punishments that Mr. Adams has meted out already are adequate so not much more is necessary.  Do you agree?"

"Yes sir."  Angelo said, gripping his fingers which had gone ice cold.

"Remove anything you may have from your pockets, front and back, we don't want anything digging in.  Just put them to the side."  Mr. Cobrane directed.

Angelo stood up, removed his keys and his wallet from his pockets, patted himself down and nodded that he was ready.

"Turn toward my desk.  Put your hands on the top.  Step back.  A little more.  Spread your feet to about shoulder width."  Cobrane directed. "All right then, are you ready, Mr. Di Marco?"

"Yes sir."  the boy replied quietly.

It was quick and painful but not nearly as bad as Angelo had thought it would be.  He gently put his wallet back in his back pocket and stowed his keys, then signed the form saying that he had been punished but was in otherwise good condition.  Mr. Barnes took the form to give to Mrs. Jennings to file and went back to his own office.

"May I leave now sir?  I have math next and I think I'm going to be late."  Angelo asked respectfully.

Mr. Cobrane sat at his desk and took out one of the pink hall passes, which would excuse his tardiness.  Before handing it to the boy, Mr. Cobrane looked at him and said, "You are a good boy, Angelo.  I'm glad that you have friends, and to see that you've flourished over the summer. I want you to remain a good boy.  I know that children do impulsive things, but you are growing up, I could see that the minute you walked into the office, and you won't be a child much longer.  Learn from your mistakes, and don't repeat them.  Understood?"

"Yes sir."

"Very good."  Cobrane said, handing the hall pass to the boy.  "I expect you to apologize to Mr. Adams on Thursday when you have class with him again.  Understood?" 

"Yes sir."  the boy said, taking the hall pass and heading toward his next class.  Math, and distinctly Fishburnless.  He grinned.

The rest of the day went considerably better.  He ran into several of the students from Mr. Adam's class who greeted him with smiles.  A couple even stopped to whisper that it had been a great plan and they were sorry it hadn't worked.  Not everyone had been so impressed after being faced with three hundred words and their definitions so Angelo was grateful for the encouragement.  

Amadeo, Milo, Angelo and the other boys had a free period before lunch and they took the time to look at their schedules.

"You're in with me for choir!" said Amadeo, delighted.

"Have you ever heard me sing?"  Angelo asked, surprised that anyone would be happy to hear him sing.

"I can't sing very well either, but people like us are usually in the background singin' one note.  The really good singers are the ones Ms. 
Mastroiani puts in the front.  It's easy credits.  All you have to do is show up and open your mouth."  he laughed.

"And look!  You, me, Charlie and Milo are in Art together!"  said Dennis.  "Don't worry, Mrs. Christoff is happy if you draw a stick figure as long as you put some real effort into it."  he joked.

Amadeo glanced at Angelo who looked away and blushed.  Dae had seen Angelo's sculptures and drawings which had been tucked into the furthest recesses of the cellar.  Several of his pieces were on display in the house but Angelo was prolific and had so many that there just wasn't enough room in the house to put them all.  He had no doubt that Mrs. Christoff would love Angelo.

Before he knew what happened, Angelo was roughly pushed from behind.  All of the boys looked around angrily to see who'd dare to push another student around, and with witnesses to boot.  They were only slightly mollified to see that it was Con, Amadeo's older brother, now in his senior year at the high school.

"Wayda go, Angel-o."  Con said with a grin.  "I heard what you did to Mr. Adams.  That was a great stunt.  It's all over the school!"

"Yeah, a great stunt that got me and the whole class in trouble."  Angelo said unbelievingly.  "I'm surprised that anyone is still talking to me after that."

Con laughed and grabbed Angelo by the arm, to turn him to the side. Angelo instinctively covered his backside and Con laughed again. "Nope, no scorch marks, no smoke, so if you got it you didn't get it bad."

"Con you have NO tact!"  Amadeo said, finally finding his voice.

"Don't worry little brother, I had Adams twice, once for English and once for Lit.  He's a decent enough guy, just don't tick him off.  Oops, sorry, shoulda told you guys that earlier."  he laughed.

"Con, remember how you told me that I was too young for you to associate with in school and for me to not bother you when you're with your friends?  Well now it's my turn to tell you to bug off, got me?"

"Then I guess you don't want to hear the scoop on Adams.  I'll see you guys later."

"Con!"  said Amadeo.  "When we wrestle, who wins?"

"Shuddup twerp."  Con said, scowling.

"Then stop being a jerk and tell us what's going on."

"Fine, but all y'all owe me one, got it?"

"Yeah, yeah, fine, as long as it's not something stupid or that mom and dad would tan you for if they ever found out." Dae replied, nearly smiling at the crestfallen look on his brother's face.

"OK brats, listen up.  Adams is the top dog in his class, you know?  You challenged him, he asserted his top doggishness, it's all well and good now cause unless you guys are brain dead you won't be trying any more stunts on him after this.  You got those 'vocabulary words' to write, and man I gotta tell you you guys broke the school record!  You should be proud of yourselves!  The whole class punished within the first hour on the first day of school?  You are my heros!"

"But anyway, here's the good news.  Now that everyone knows who the uncontested Big Dog is he'll go easier on you after this and..." he said, dropping his voice an octave, “Adams always drops the lowest quiz and test grades, so that bogus quiz that you never took and failed doesn't exist. Just make sure you do good in his class and you won't have to worry about any more bad grades.  Now, was that worth a small favor sometime in the near future?"  Con grinned.

"Thanks for the heads up, Con.  But it's like I said, if you ask us to do something you know mom and dad wouldn't approve of I will rat you out faster than a copperhead strikes.  You got me?"  Amadeo said with a smile which seemed to be aimed at something over his brother's shoulder.

"Shit head."  Con threw at his little brother.

"What was that, Mr. Rossi?"  came a familiar silky voice from behind them.  "Constantin Rossi, if I'm not mistaken?"

Con glared at his brother, licked his lips and forced his features into something a little more respectful before turning toward the vice principal.

"Yes sir, Mr. Cobrane.  I'm sorry for my language, I was just joking around with my brother and his friends."

"Is that true, boys?"  Cobrane asked casually.

"Yes sir, and he also pointed out our error this morning, and offered suggestions on how to make things right with Mr. Adams."  Amadeo offered.

Cobrane leveled his gaze on Amadeo, waiting for the boy to crack under the pressure, but Amadeo's expression never changed.

"And what would that advice have been?"  Cobrane asked.

"Just not to mess with him again, work hard in his class, and don't fail any more tests or quizzes."  Dennis said.

Once again Cobrane's eyes slewed across the line of boys, looking for any sign of deceit.  Finding none Cobrane nodded.  Training his eyes on Constantin he said "I'll see you in detention at three o' clock this afternoon, Mr. Rossi.  You're very fortunate that there were no ladies present when you decided to 'joke' with your brother. Good day, boys."  he said, striding off.

"I'll get you later."  Con threatened Amadeo, with slitted eyes.

"You better get to your next class before Mr. Cobrane remembers that you're not in the same year as us and gives you another detention for not being in class right now."  Amadeo said, unconcerned.

Con clenched his jaw, looked guiltily over his shoulder, turned quickly and headed to his next class just before the bell rang.

"What do you guys have for lunch?  Mom gave me ham again.  Anyone wanna trade for some chicken?"  Milo asked.



A drafting square is an L shaped ruler used by engineers.

"Love Potion No. 9", 1959 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, originally performed by The Clovers.

From the previous chapter:
Ansaphone was the first answering machine.

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