From The Hot Girl – I
Roosevelt Junior High, October 20th, 1971
Deanna clung to her open locker door with her right hand, leaned her head on the shelf inside. She couldn’t go to homeroom. She didn’t want to talk, or smile, or lead cheerleading practice. Or read the afternoon announcements or do anything at all. Just for a day, she didn’t want to be who she was. All she wanted was to be alone and maybe have one real friend she could tell about Gramma Cora. Goddammit. Was that too much to ask, really?
Coach Stephens raised his chin in acknowledgment at the growth-spurt skinny eighth-grade boy in his doorway. “Mornin’, Jackson.” He tilted his head slightly toward the wall to Jackson’s left, tossed the blue nylon bag full of his laundry at him like it was a medicine ball. “Some geniuses clogged the shitter in the band room.” Stephens pushed his chair back, hitched up his coach sweats. “C’mon. I’ll get you out through the girl’s side. Grab a hall pass in case you meet a stranger on that side of the building.”
Jackson tore off several pre-stamped with Coach Stephens signature hall passes from the pad, even though, after a year and a half, there wasn’t much likelihood of anyone stopping him on blue bag days. He hefted the laundry bag to his shoulder, followed Stephens to the center of the basketball court, the invisible wall between the only non-coed homerooms at Roosevelt Junior High. Stephens chirped his whistle.
“Heads up, skirts down, legs crossed, ladies. Man comin’ through.”
Jackson knew he’d turned red, shielded his head with the bag and sent his eyes to the floor for his trek through the minefield of girl’s gym homeroom. Damn. They sat on the floor cross legged, or laid on their backs with an ankle on their knee, skirts dropped to almost there. He heard them all shuffling positions, heard the giggles, the murmured comments that followed him across the basketball court until he was out the double doors. Up five steps and he was in the hall headed toward daylight.
He shifted the bag, raised his eyes, and noticed an open locker opposite from where most of the hall was blocked with junk that had been pulled out of the janitor’s closet to go deal with the clogged band room commode. All he could see under the locker door were sweat socks and girl’s saddle oxfords. Cheerleader gear. Great. And coming down the hall from the other direction, on a collision course with him and the cheerleader’s feet was Mr. Han, the asshole French teacher and hall pass Nazi. Shit.
“Bonjour, Mr. Han.”
“Always halfway clever, Monsieur Jackson. You and the bag say it’s Wednesday but on the wrong side of the building. Something to do with who we have at their locker that should be in homeroom?”
Jackson stepped into the narrow space between the cheerleader’s open locker door and Mr. Han, swung his laundry bag around his right shoulder, knocking the unseen girl backward into her locker. He was chest to chest and almost eye to eye with Han, butt facing the cheerleader. In near-zero personal space, he managed to lift a hall pass out of his back pocket with a thumb and finger, held it under the bag, and waited until he felt her grab it.
“She was with me, Mr. Han. There’s shit, uh, sewage all on the floor by the band room on our side, and Coach sent her to escort me out the girl’s side. So I wouldn’t do anything stupid or talk to anybody. And, um, anyway, she needed a book, that’s why he sent her with me. And, uh, she ran ahead of me. To get her book.”
The girl pushed the crumpled pink slip past the bottom of the blue bag for Han, who snatched it, gave it a cursory glance.
“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be, Mr. Jackson?”
“Yes sir.” Jackson stepped off in a hurry, just under the ‘don’t run in the hall’ rule, didn’t look back. Han followed him with his eyes until Jackson and the blue bag were around the corner.
“Miss Collings, are you feeling alright?”
“Yes. And no.” Deanna brushed her butt, checked her effort and the pleats of her skirt over both shoulders. “My grandmother’s funeral was yesterday. I just didn’t want to talk to everyone…Anyone. That’s why I, um, ran to my locker, like he said. I’ll be okay. Really.”
“I understand. There’s never a good time for a funeral.” Han glared down the empty hallway. “Or Jackson.” He flicked the pink pass in his hand with his middle finger, handed it back. “Someday, Stephens will learn to put names and dates on his hall passes and sign them like the rest of us. Why he’d send someone like you out with that kid and the bag is beyond me.”
“Well,” she waved her hand under her nose, “there is some really gross shhh…Poop. And stuff. All on the floor on their side and Jackson can get in trouble. I mean pretty easy, and kind of a lot. And I did need my book.”
“As usual, Miss Collings, everything you have said is true.” He pushed her locker door closed. “But homeroom young lady. Now.”
“Yes sir.” She smoothed out the hall pass, put it inside the history book she wouldn’t need for four hours. Blue Bag Jackson had spare, stamped hall passes from Coach Stephens? Slacked her hassle with Han before it got started and covered her, no big deal, no stupid guy conversation, no junk? Even if he was kind of a jerk, knocking her on her butt…But still. Cool.