How to Save a Life(7)

By: Emma Scott

As I Lay Dying. I’d read it. I’d read a lot on the road. That one was a novel where the main character is a dead mother. You could say I was intimately familiar with the material.

“I can catch up.”

Ms. P’s warm smile was starting to get on my nerves. “I have no doubt you can,” she said. “But that, plus the end-of-year course work isn’t going to be enough. There are simply too many holes in your school year.”

“What are you telling me? I have to go to summer school?”

“I don’t see how it can be avoided.”

Ms. P smoothed her knee-length knit skirt, like we were pals, shootin’ the shit. Equals. I hated when teachers pretended to be equals, especially when they held my entire future—fragile as it already was—in the palm of their hand.

Ms. Politano didn’t seem all that bad, but she could royally fuck up my life if she didn’t let me graduate.

I gnawed my lip. “What if I did some sort of special project? For extra credit?”

“I was thinking along those lines as well. But it would have to be pretty spectacular.”

I had thirty poems in a collection at home. Twenty of them were okay, ten were pretty good. I hadn’t intended to use them for something stupid like school, but if it meant graduating or not graduating, they’d be my sacrificial lambs.

“What about a poetry project? I have a bunch I could show you and maybe you could assign me a few more?”

Ms. P’s face lit up. “You write poetry? Wonderful. Earlier this year we did a whole unit on love poems and sonnets. Keats, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning… Maybe we could focus your project on that.”

I struggled to keep my lip from curling. “Love poems aren’t really my thing.”

Ms. P laughed. “Can’t make it too easy on you, can we? Bring me what you have tomorrow and we’ll see what we can work out. Sound good?”

It sounded better than not graduating, but I didn’t have much hope this project would satisfy Ms. P. She was a dreamy-eyed romantic. My stuff about suicidal mothers, dead fathers, and pervy uncles wasn’t going to float her boat. Then I’d be royally screwed.

What did I know about love? Jack and shit, that’s what. What little I’d known had been ripped away, leaving only a gray haze of distant memories that were growing fainter by the day. My mother…She’d been my whole world—vibrant and full color, and now I could hardly see her face.

I rubbed an ache over my heart as I left Ms. P’s class, and braced myself for summer school.

Later that day, I was walking down the hall with Marnie and Adam. Evan Salinger walked ahead of us, his nose in a book. He wore a blue and black plaid flannel over a worn t-shirt, jeans, and his work boots. The jeans were streaked with engine grease but they made his ass look damn fine.

Jared Piltcher, now my recess make-out buddy, leaned against his locker with a few friends from the football team. A wall of beef in denim and letterman jackets. They elbowed and jostled one another as Evan approached.

“Uh oh, hold up,” Adam said, drawing me aside.

Marnie pursed her lips. “In five…four…three…”

As Evan passed the guys, Jared knocked the book out of his hand.

“Blast off,” Marnie muttered.

“Knocking books,” Adam said. “How original.”

Neither he nor Marnie made a move to help Evan. They just watched. So did the rest of the hallway population. So did I.

Evan knelt to gather his book. “Fuck off, Jared.”

“It’s alive! Alive!” Jared laughed while Matt King, a linebacker, stuck his arms out like a bad Frankenstein’s monster, moaning and goose-stepping. Another jock put his fingers to his temples and made a zzzt! sound, then convulsed as if electricity coursed through him.