Chapter Four: Nescience Penalty
"Sitting in his office behind his desk
Harvard badge on the wall- thinks he's the best
A smile on his face to seem like he cares
I'm just another troubled youth holding back her tears."
- Mr. School Psychology, Devotchkas
"Hell of a time for you to be coming out of the closet, Mr. Sinclaire," I said before I though about it.
Oh God! What was wrong with me? I was going to be in deep shit! Why did I have to go and say th-
He laughed. He actually just laughed. "I figured I better do it soon, if I ever wanted to get class started."
I rolled my eyes at him, thinking that he'd much rather nap all day in that closet than come out and teach us about the wonderful world of numbers. Or maybe he would want to teach us. Hmm. Who knows? Mr. Sinclaire was a complicated man.
"Are you going to make class interesting today, at least?" I asked.
He beamed at me. "Don't I always, Maxi?"
I gave him a 'yeah, right' look.
I don't know if I can properly describe what it is that makes me and several other students fall asleep in second hour math. It might be because we hadn't gotten enough sleep that night, or the lesson was boring, or we just wanted to see how many math classes we could go without before we failed. Or maybe a combination of all of those. Who cares? I mean, honestly. It's friggin' math.
For myself I knew it was because it was much easier to-
"Maxi, it is apparently distracting for you to be by your two friends. So why don't you come sit in the front right here?"
I saw that he was gesturing to a seat on the other side of the room (still in the front, eww) and next to a loser with glasses, whose name I didn't care to know. Double eww.
He expected me to sit next to that guy when I was sitting between these gorgeous twins?
That was so messed up.
"Anytime, Maxi." he said in an impatient tone that set my teeth on edge.
I sighed loudly. "Well, as much as I enjoyed spending time with you, ladies, it appears that I must do as my teacher bids me. And like all good students, I know that the teacher's words is law," I gave them a small, slow wink as I gathered up my bag. Annalise giggled a little, her sister gave a huff and I sat down next to the geek.
I expected him to introduce himself, but he did not and kept his four-eyed gaze on the teacher.
Groaning, I slumped in my chair and I heard someone chuckle in the back of the room.
Oh, I knew that chuckle, and that someone was so in for it.
"Now that I have the entire class's undivided attention, I would like everyone to work the problems on the board. You have five minutes and then we'll move on. I suggest you get started for your time starts as soon as I say GO!"
Everyone made a quick grab for their bag and pulled out their notebooks and began scribbling down the equations that were dominating the expanse of the chalkboard.
I gave a small, silent laugh as I watched Four Eyes write his so fast the point of his pencil actually blurred. Honestly, these people put way too much effort into school.
Leaning back in my chair, I turned my head to see that even Drew was writing down the problems. That made me the only person in this room who still hadn't done a thing.
And who could blame me? Five minutes for all those damn things?! Hah, not going to happen. That was an impossible and ridiculous order. This is why math class was pointless.
"Are you going to write or did '2a' have you stumped?" A deep, sort of rumbly voice said this, and I looked around for the speaker. My two eyes found four. No way. That guy?
"Did you say something?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I did." He said in a deep voice that made trembles in my eardrums. Yep, it was the same voice. How creepy can this guy get? He sounded like one of those old-time actors that played the dumb characters that turned into, unexpectantly, very clever homicidal guys. Okay, so maybe that was just my imagination, but I swear I'd seen a movie like that once.
The point is: this guy creeped me out.
He continued looking at me, but I avoided his eyes and doodled on my paper, my hand idly moved across the page.
My hand created swirls and turns, the pencil shading it in different values as they overlapped each other. Doodling during class had proved to be a great stress-reliever in the past when I was freaking about an assignment, namely because I forgot about it until later. At which point, I got it done, apologized to the teacher and charmed them into not taking points off for lateness. This worked for every teacher, except for Mr. Sinclaire and Mr. Laskaris. Mr. Sinclaire was just a jackass like that, and Mr. Laskaris actually expected something from me, and I always did my best in theatre.
The devil on my paper smirked at me from my page and I smirked back, satisfied with how he had turned out so far. I started in on the background, and I had half of that done, and then I had that prickly feeling. The kind you get on your neck when someone's looking at you. Well, it wasn't too hard to figure out who that would be.
Setting down my pencil so that it made a low thud, I turned and snapped. "What do you want?"
Here I was, minding my own damn business, lost in my happy place and trying to forget about this weird guy and he had just stared at me the whole time. Don't mess with me when I'm drawing, asswipe.
Freak dude blinked once, the only sign that he was surprised at all. He just shook his head and continued copying down the definitions.
Oh, that was so not cool. This may have seemed entirely irrational for me to get this ticked, but my doodles were something sacred to me. It was my way of cooling down, it was my thing, and this jerk had interrupted it. And then he had brushed me off, when he had got my attention first. Bullshit.
"Look, why are you just staring at me?"
He raised his head and met my eyes, a cocky grin curling across his face. "Well, I just thought it might be enlightening to observe how a sub-standard student spends his time during class. However, I've deemed you unworthy of my research. You're quite beyond the finite boundaries of what is suitable to observe as you are so far from simply dim."
I gaped at his comment, my expression evidently amusing him as he gave a low chuckle. He turned back to his definitions, seeming to think he was done talking to me.
Red anger roiled in my gut. This guy was unbelievable. What an asshole.
I tapped him on the shoulder, about to say something else, but
"Maxi, I appreciate your ability to copy down 20 problems, work them in a careful and thorough manner and then check them, as I know you have done, because that's how I've taught you all year, in less than a minute that took me four to write. Wou-"
"Hey, wait! I didn't co-"
"Copy them down? Then why are you speaking?" Parting my mouth to speak, I was cut off again. "You are not to speak in my class unless your work is finished. And Maxi, your work has never been finished." There were some sporadic sounds of amusement at this remark, and the tilt of Mr. Sinclaire's lips raised slightly in that smirk I hated so much. "Would you care to explain why you find it necessary to speak, then?"
"Look, I was just talking to him and he started being an asshole and-"
"Maxi, Maxi, Maxi. If someone is being unkind, you do not tell your teacher and you suck it up. It's always a good idea to refrain from using strong language if you can help it. Of course, you may have used them so often that they're the only auxiliary to your vocabulary besides necessary articles, verbs and nouns." Freak dude laughed at this, and my scowl deepened, my urge to bash his head against the desk rose. Repeatedly.
"I want to see you after class."
I want to be the very best, like no one ever was.
The silence that followed was so solid and suffocating that I heard Drew's PaperMate 0.7-millimeter mechanical pencil drop. The impact-activating gizmo I had super glued to the side of it as a joke played the Pokémon theme song. That helped me somewhat in knowing that is was his that had dropped.
To catch them is my real test; to train them is my cause.
Mr. Sinclaire had never done this before.
I will travel across the land, searching far and wide.
I mean, sure, he'd stressed about how I was negatively affecting my life this and that I was an immoral, incredibly idiotic teenager that, but he'd never actually cut me off like that. It had always been light, friendly banter when we argued (like old friends, hah!), or when he seriously did want me to shut up, he just gave me one of those looks and that was enough. But he had never bashed me in front of the whole class like that, at least, not that plainly.
It had to be a sign.
Each Pokémon to understand the power that's inside. Pokémon! It's you and me! I know it's my destiny.
I'm only slightly humiliated to say that Mr. Sinclaire is one scary dude, and I worship his frightful skills. He's one of two teachers in this whole school whom I had actual, true respect for. He could make a class silent just by walking in the room, stop an argument with a look, force you to study by tapping the board with his chalk. It was a mostly silent, cold way of ruling the classroom.
If Adrian and my teacher ever started to not seeing eye-to-eye, I wonder who would win the argument.
Pokémon! Oh you're my best friend in a world we must defend.
Oh, for chrissakes. I turned around, looking for Drew. He wasn't following along with the lesson, his gaze fixed on the infernal pencil that rested on his desk, still belting out the lyrics at a level that was almost tolerable at my distance, so it must be deafening for him.
It wasn't often that my pranks came back to bite me in the ass, but this was really annoying.
He glanced up, registered that I had been looking at him for awhile and glared.
Pokémon! A heart so true. Our courage will pull us through.
'Can't you shut that thing off?' I mouthed. His scowl deepened.
'No. You didn't allow me the luxury of an off-switch.'
I laughed. Oh, yeah. Why in the world would I make an off-switch?
'Then break it or something!' I mouthed at him.
He shook his head, a smirk unfurling. 'No. I kinda like this song, and if this pisses you off, then who cares?'
You teach me and I'll teach you. Pokémon. Gotta catch'em all! Pokémon!
I gave Drew a last glare before I turned back around to the front. Dammit. Next time I would make sure it was a song he didn't like. I'm sure he was already planning a prank or two for me, but that didn't mean I couldn't give myself a higher score first, right?
Looking at it logically, I couldn't be the reason for the pop of the cork. I hadn't done anything more tragically awful than usual. Maybe he was just having a bad day. That was possible, right?
Engrossed in my own thoughts, the rest of class passed uneventfully for me.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and Drew wished me good luck and gave me a quick hug before he followed the line of students out the door.
I shook my head wistfully. That kid changed his mood so fast. It made sense why most people were completely baffled by him, and couldn't truly understand him or be his friend. Imagine if you had a yelling match with some kid before class, and then after class they gave you extra candy they didn't want, hugged you and said 'I'll see you later'. I don't think that's normal behavior, but neither do a lot of people. The difference is that I'm used to it, and it doesn't bother me... well, not a whole not. It can be disconcerting at times.
I guess that's why he chose three other crazy people to be his friends.
Shaking off my thoughts, I picked up my backpack and went to Mr. Sinclaire's desk. It wasn't until I got there that I realized I wasn't the only student left in the classroom.
Four-eyes freak was still here.
Great. Wonderful. Just what I needed--Mr. Sinclaire chastising me in the presence of this irritating bookworm that put me in a pique all too easily.
Turning my back on him, I asked, "What is it you wanted to see me for, Mr. Sinclaire?"
He gave me a long, searching look that made me think he was trying to see inside me. With his pale grey eyes, and the solid set to his face, it seemed possible he could.
I couldn't look away. There was something that held me in place, a compulsion of mine to not turn away, yet an outside impetus that gripped me as we stared at one another.
I wasn't being allowed to look away.
As I realised this, panic washed over me, a cold sweat; covering my other thoughts, I thought I would scream, but then something cleansed my fear. I was okay, I was with Mr. Sinclaire. He's just a math teacher, what can he do?
I was no longer afraid, but I still felt uneasy.
It wasn't normal for people to stare at one another this long.
I resisted the urge to fidget. No one wants someone else to know his or her deepest secrets, and I could almost feel him boring through my being, searching for an answer to something. There were some things that I was not willing to tell anyone, not even Neil or Drew. What I hide is meant to stay hidden, and I truly wished Mr. Sinclaire would butt the hell out of my head.
I felt like he was inside my mind, and my thoughts were a library he browsed through. Strolling along with leisure, he stopped and read the backs and examined the covers until he found the right book.
He blinked and broke his trance-like gaze. Looking past me, he said, "Paul, would you mind coming over here, please?"
'Please'? Had he just said 'please'? He was never this polite to me or anyone else! Who the hell was this Paul guy? Why did he treat him like this? A little voice told me to cool my temper, but I ignored it.
Mr. Sinclaire casually made eye contact with me in a gaze that took me off guard. His look was very unlike the one before; this one was intense, cold and hard. He'd done it as if it was natural, like he was just talking to me. But this was a glare, a murderous, "I'm going to kill you, shovel your innards to the pigeons, and hide your body where no one will ever find it" glare.
Or maybe that was just my imagination.
Uneasiness nibbled at my confidence. Hah, what confidence? I thought. Any scraps of bravery I might have had had vanished from the moment he browsed through my library.
"Maxi, I think you are aware of your grade in this class, yeah?"
I nodded. My grade in math was currently a 67%, as my father had reminded me the night before.
"And you aware that you don't pay attention very well?"
I nodded again. Everyone knew that. I couldn't listen in classes.
"Do you want to improve your grade?"
His question was one my father had phrased in different ways to me so many times before. I was the superintendent's son. I was supposed to be one of the top students, but instead I scraped by with a D average.
I was a sensational athlete, though.
No, I'm not bragging. I really am. I was the best forward on the soccer team. I had the best time for the butterfly stroke, and my breaststroke, backstroke and sidestroke weren't bad either. I wasn't bulky enough for football, but I was a decent shortstop. The only person who could run faster than me was Drew, but I could run for longer. And recently I'd gotten into basketball, and my height was serving me well. I had done some wrestling, but it wasn't really my thing.
With all these sports, is it so hard to imagine that my grades suffered?
Unfortunately, my father didn't care for my athletic success. He didn't believe that it would take me anywhere in life, and so the pressure for better academics had been there since the start of fifth friggin' grade.
I focused on Mr. Sinclaire's eyes. I paused for a second. Slowly, I said, "Yes. I--I need to get my grade up." Irritation made me frown. I had actually stuttered.
Pale, grey eyes regarded me curiously. A moment passed. I shifted awkwardly under his scrutiny.
His eyes softened in what may have been realisation. I looked at the floor, embarrassed that he may have figured a part of me out.
"Then, I'm going to assign Paul to be your tutor if he consents." He glanced at Paul, whose eyes were hidden by a glare from the florescent lights on his lenses.
Shock and dread hit me with a force likened to the amount of pain accidentally snorting mouthwash would create.
"WHAT? Him?" I swear that Paul smirked a bit. "NO," I raged, "Anyone but him!"
Mr. Sinclaire pretended to not hear me, so I yelled again. "Sir, are you friggin' serious?! This guy is an ass! He hates me and I didn't even do anyth-"
"Please retrain from making assumptions if you don't yet know the person, Maxi. You two just got off on the wrong foot, I'm sure.
"Galens, will you be Max's tutor for math?"
Not even looking at me, he responded, "Yes, it would be my pleasure."
Oh, eww. math - a pleasure. This guy had just crossed over into the disgusting realm of oddity.
Mr. Sinclaire thanked him, Paul smiled with a "No problem," and left.
Oh, sick! Either this guy was messing with me, or he was sucking up. I really hoped it was the second explanation because I did not want some kind of freak- well, he was a freak, okay, but not a nasty, I-take-sexual-pleasure-from-teaching-little-boys-how-to-multiply (no pun intended) freak tutoring me. Wait, what the hell?
"Is there something you need?" Mr. Sinclaire said, smiling slightly. I wondered if that was supposed to compensate for the very serious sin he had just made. If that was his idea of contrite, it was wasted entirely on me.
I didn't realise until this moment that in the face of my apparent dislike, it was only on the surface. I actually did like Mr. Sinclaire, he had a sort of personality that made people like him - even with his occasional sadistic behavior and odd quirks. More than that, I had trusted him, but now he had gone and assigned me a tutor.
I whispered, "I hate you."
Turning to leave, I adjusted the strap on my backpack and took two steps before I felt a hand on my upper arm.
I pivoted and watched my feet rotate and kept watching even after they stopped moving. I hadn't meant to say that out loud, but the milk had been spilt and then the cup had shattered. This mess was beyond fixing.
A finger pushed my chin up and my eyes flashed up with it, startled.
Mr. Sinclaire held my chin in place, a frown evident on his face.
"I don't hate you, Maxi. I wasn't trying to be cruel to you. I was only trying to help. I'm sorry." He paused, maybe waiting for me to reply. I was far too surprised to have any sort of response, though. "I hope with time that you won't hate me."
Forget the mouthwash, this was hydrochloric acid I had just inhaled into my poor, suffering nasal passages.
He removed his hands, but I still felt bound to that spot by his eyes. Oh, for chrissakes! How many times could his eyes captivate me in one day?
He smiled lightly and it was the first open and unguarded smile he had ever directed at me. "It might be wise for you to rush to your next class. I'm not sure how lenient Mr. Laskaris is with tardies."
Then he turned away, going back to his desk and the manacle effect of his eyes was gone.
"He won't care," I muttered, but I hurried out the door all the same.