A line of students was approaching my classroom, and I recognized Alyssa's face among them. My heart dropped as Alyssa passed me to enter the class, deep in conversation with the boy beside her. I stared at her until she passed and concluded she at least had Mr. Thomas's nose. That much was obvious upon quick inspection.
The class sat around the whiteboard as they always did. As soon as the bell rung out, the students silenced their conversations, looking to me for today's class activity.
"What's today's assignment, Ms. Norton?" a student asked, catching Alyssa's attention.
"Your white board is blank." Alyssa said with her hand raised. "Are we doing something special today?"
I nodded, grinning. "We're going to work on the play. I finally found what we'll be doing for it."
Some of the girls squealed. Another student raised his hand, eyes wide. "What are we gonna do?"
"Mr. Thomas volunteered to write a script for us. For the time being, let's break into pairs to practice our singing."
The students jumped up and began loudly forming pairs. I wasn't used to seeing them so excited over a class activity. After several minutes they were already paired up, and I gave them songs we had learned the week previous to practice with.
I had gone around the room to all the pairings, and by the time I reached Alyssa's I'd forgotten that Alyssa was in this class. Her pale cheeks were pink from singing.
"Ms. Norton, hi!"
"Hello Alyssa." I smiled. "And I see Derek's with you."
Derek, the boy next to her, shrunk away slightly. He had always been shy in the few years I'd known him, so I didn't take offense. I sat down beside them.
"Why did you split us in pairs?" Alyssa questioned.
"I'm trying to find my best singers." I admitted with a selfish sparkle in my eyes.
Derek sat up a bit, flattening down his brown hair with the palm of his hand. "U-um, Ms. Norton...?"
"I was wondering if I could have a solo part?"
The boy's voice was so soft that I almost didn't catch what he said. "Maybe you can. I'm giving everyone a chance to audition."
"Did you give Alyssa a solo part?"
Without hesitation I answered truthfully, and neither students took well to it. Alyssa became pale as Derek turned to snap at her. "I knew you got a part! You lied to me!"
"I didn't want to hurt your feelings. Please, please, please don't be mad, Derek!"
He pouted and crossed his arms. "I wasn't going to be mad about it."
"Derek, you'll get a chance to audition, I promise." I intervened and brought their focus back on to practicing. Derek wasn't upset by the time class ended, and he and Alyssa left glued together just as they had come.
It was already time for lunch, but I didn't have an appetite. The play was on my mind, and I was already curious what progress Mr. Thomas had made with it. I headed for the cafeteria where I had saw him yesterday, and upon entering I noticed him right away.
He was slowly walking down the aisles in between tables of students. Confused, I glanced toward a table near the kitchen. Three teachers sat, on cafeteria duty. There were always a few teachers on duty, and I felt a pang of sympathy realizing Mr. Thomas probably never was on duty to begin.
I started to walk his way when I noticed an older boy stick out his foot. As if trained in the art, he had waited for Mr. Thomas' cane to pass by. With no warning signs visible to him, Mr. Thomas stumbled against the student's foot and fell.
Laughter came from the older students. The teachers in charge glanced over, but made no attempt to discipline the boy who had caused the mess. By the time I had made my way to him, Mr. Thomas was already at his feet.
"Are you okay? That was a nasty fall." I picked up his cane and handed it to him. He snatched it, straightening out his shirt and tie.
"I'm fine, kiddo. Which brat tripped me?"
"Um..." I glanced at the group of 5th graders who were still laughing. "I'll handle it. One second."
When I approached the 5th graders, their relaxed postures remained. They were happy I had joined the party.
"Ms. Norton!" one of them shouted. "Did you see Mr. Thomas fall? It was perfect!"
"You can't bully a teacher like that." I eyed Todd, the one I had seen tripping Mr. Thomas. "If it happens again, you'll--"
"Whatever, Ms. Norton." Todd snapped. "You used to be cool, but now you're just as stuck up as Mr. Thomas."
The students giggled. Christ, had I really been viewed as one of the kids? Embarrassed, I scolded them louder than I had before, storming off without a farewell.
"I didn't know you were much for discipline." Mr. Thomas commented as I returned. "To be honest, it never seemed like the students respected you."
Still irritated, I ignored him and delved into a complaint of my own. "If you hadn't been out here, you wouldn't have been tripped. Why are you here when there are teachers on duty already?"
He scoffed. "I'd rather be here than the teachers lounge."
"We're better off eating lunch there, though. I wanted to know if you'd done anything for the play yet."
"I have, but...can it wait?"
I glanced back as Mr. Thomas averted his attention back to the student tables. He got closer to me, leaning in to whisper. "Alyssa didn't see me fall, right?"
"Mr. Thomas, please." I mumbled. "The whole cafeteria saw it, trust me. Can we go now?"
"I'll go speak with her. Will you wait a moment?"
He shifted to turn but I stopped him, bringing him close enough to hear my voice. "Hold up, Mr. Thomas." I whispered. "You can't talk to her so much when she isn't even your student. It'll look strange, don't you get that?"
"She was my student last year. It's not strange at all."
I got behind him and pushed him. He lagged along without much of a fight, and soon he stepped off on his own. I got to his side and noticed he was much taller than me. It felt like he was looking down on me.
I knocked on the lounge door before stepping aside. Several teachers gaped when Mr. Thomas entered. I trailed behind him, waving shortly to Mr. Smith.
A teacher stood from his seat to make room for us, and all the others watched Mr. Thomas' every move. The gentle sound of light rain could be heard in the silence.
Clack, clack, clack.
Mr. Thomas settled into a chair, and I followed to the chair beside him. "Since this kid's been nagging, I decided to write you a script. I'm open to any ideas your students may have mentioned."
"He means me." I added, certain that nobody knew who Mr. Thomas was referring to.
"First thing's first..." Mr. Smith said. "Do you expect us to cooperate after how you've acted all these years?"
"You speak for the rest as if they're drones." Mr. Thomas frowned thoughtfully.
Nobody moved or spoke. Mr. Thomas sighed. "Okay, I'll admit it. I was rude."
"Rude doesn't even begin to--"
Knocks at the door interrupted Mr. Smith. Annoyed, he called out to welcome our guest, and the door creaked open.
I saw Alyssa's face peek in, looking like a frightened owl. I was so surprised that I didn't realize Mr. Thomas was unaware she was here. He tapped his thumbs patiently against his cane until he heard Alyssa's voice.
"Hi, Mr. Thomas. Are you okay...?"
He jumped, blushing. "A-Alyssa?"
"I saw those kids trip you, and it looked like you fell really hard."
"Oh, no. I'm okay. There's no need to worry."
"Should I sing you something?"
"You really don't have to."
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey."
"She's got some pipes on her!" Mr. Smith interrupted with a grin. "Who taught you to sing like that?"
Alyssa had turned as pink as Mr. Thomas, and her frizzy hair was ruined by the humidity. "It was Ms. Norton."
The room averted its attention to me and I smiled, finishing Alyssa's song.
"You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."
Clapping echoed around the room. Even Mr. Thomas had lifted his hands to clap. After I sat down I noticed how depressed Mr. Thomas had become, slumped slightly over his cane. Alyssa's goodbye wasn't cherished as it usually was; she was only beckoned away.
"Let's begin then, shall we?"