“Everyone,” I clear my throat, waiting for the class to settle down, “there’s mischief in the air this time of year, the perfect time to study psychology.” I perch on the edge of my battered desk, pausing for effect. “Since you’ve forgotten how fortunate you are to be a part of my class, I’ve gotten permission from the school board for our next assignment.” It’s the little things I have to be thankful for, like the deans’ terrible poker face.
“What’s the assignment?” The class punk snorts from the back row. “Or have you forgotten already?”
“Peter. I’m so glad you asked.” Waving a hand, I call him forward, and go around to the other side of my desk to find his paperwork.
“I don’t have all day, Parker.”
“That’s Mr. Parker to you, Peter. This is your dad’s signature?” I show him the paper and he nods. “Good.” Sitting down, I motion to the box sitting on a chair in the far corner. “Can you get my prop from that box for me?”
“What am I, your mommy?” He rolls his eyes and the class giggles.
I shudder. “Thank God, no. If you were, I’d be a lot uglier.”
The class bursts into laughter and Peter balls his hands into fists.
Leaning back into my chair, I prop my feet up on my desk. “Peter, you can either go back to your seat, you can get what’s in that box, or you can go have a chat with Principal Austen for the second time in three days. Now, what do you choose?”
Going to the corner, he opens the box, triggering the spring mechanism that flings a whipped cream pie into his face. The tendons in his neck bulge, before he sees the whipped cream that missed him and hit me. He begins to laugh.
I merely grin as the class erupts into hoots and hollers. “This weekend I want you to prank someone and video their reaction. I then want you to give a theory as to why they reacted the way they did. We’re keeping this within the class because part two of the assignment will be to see if you correctly identified the emotion of your partner, and why they felt that way. To keep things fair, I’ve assigned partners to everyone.”
A groan emanates from these helpless souls.
Pulling a towel from my desk, I hand it to Peter along with a hall pass. “Since there aren’t enough partners for everyone, Peter, you’ll be assigned to prank me. I can’t wait to see how you retaliate. Now remember,” I say as the bell rings, “keep it legal, and keep it peaceful.”
The class filters out, each student buzzing with excitement and I catch sight of Peter still laughing. Mission accomplished.
My face aches by the time I get home. At the beginning of the year I had thought Peter might be someone I couldn’t reach, but maybe there is more to him than the Neanderthal his father is. Sure, they both have an affinity for stuffing people into lockers, but if a teacher had done to his dad, Butch, what I just did to Peter, Butch would have stuffed them into a desk drawer—In fact I think I saw him do that when we were kids. A shudder skips down my spine. Is Peter anything more than his dad?
That night I jump and jolt at every noise. A raccoon tips over one of my garbage cans and I practically pee myself.
By the time Monday Morning arrives, I practically stick to the ceiling every time someone says hello to me on my way into work. Who’s brilliant idea was this assignment? I sink into my chair, taking another swig of energy as I ready my laptop and projector for the students’ videos.
The bell rings and I topple backward onto the floor, much to the delight of my class. When did they come in? On my desk sets a stack of prank reports and one by one I bring each pair to the front to share their findings.
“I knew,” Monica giggles, tears running down her face and Alex taps his foot, “that he’s scared of spiders. So I taped a fake spider to the door handle of his car.”
Pressing play, I smile as Alex’s scream echoes from the speakers.
“He was scared,” she giggles, “obviously, but then he got angry.” She says as the video begins to shake. “He chased me for a whole block!”
“But why did he react this way?” I say.
For a moment she considers him, his face burning bright red. Her posture slackens. “I think he was mad I used something he told me in private for the class assignment.”
I excuse the two back to their seats making a mental note to give her an A+.
“Lastly, we have Peter Finnley.” I rub my eyes, hoping my exhaustion was his prank.
“He’s not here,” Jenna Marlow says, pushing her glasses up her nose.
My gaze goes to the empty seat in the back of the class. How had I not noticed? “Does anyone know where he is?”
“His car was still parked in the driveway when I went past his house this morning, so was his dad’s, which is weird,” she says.
I feel a pit forming in my stomach. I dismiss class early and head for my car.
The doorbell tones mournfully out of tune at Peter’s house. I turn up the collar of my windbreaker, an icy breeze battering my ears.
The door flies open and Butch stands puffing on a cigarette. “What do you want, nerd?”
I straighten my shoulders, coughing as I catch a heady whiff of cannabis. “I came to pick up Peter’s assignment.”
“May I come in?”
When he starts to close the door, I block it with my foot, gulping as he growls.
“Are you deaf?”
“No, what I am is concerned for your son. If I’m not mistaken, marijuana isn’t legal in this state. Should I call the police?”
He scoffs, grumbling under his breath. “Where’s a locker when I need one?” Stepping outside, he closes the door behind him as Peter walks around the side of the house, a rake in one hand iPod in the other, and deep red bruises on display.
Seeing me, he stops, his iPod crashing to the ground.
“Leave that thing there and get back inside!” Butch bangs his fist against the porch railing, making the wood shudder.
Peter bolts away.
“Get off my property before I turn you in. Peter’s grounded, okay?” Butch takes a step toward me. “It’s his pot. All part of a prank, he said.”
My eyes water in the smoke. “I specifically told them nothing illegal, and he certainly didn’t get that from me. The police and board are welcome to search my home, my classroom, and anywhere else they’d like to look. Can you be that generous?”
“I don’t need to be.”
“You will if I tell them you’ve been beating your son.” Sweat trickles down my temple.
He smiles. “I can discipline my boy anyway I see fit.”
“Is that what you call beating Peter until his eyes swell shut?”
“Get off my property or I’ll have you arrested.”
“Peter!” I step off the porch, backing to the sidewalk. “Peter!”
“Leave my boy out of this.”
Cautiously, Peter opens his bedroom window. “What do you want, Parker?”
“That’s Mr. Parker to you. You’ve still got half a day of class to get to.”
Butch steps out where Peter can see him.
“I’m not going anywhere, Parker.”
“Get off my property before I feel like getting my shotgun.”
I take my cell phone out of my pocket. “The law says you can shoot me if I’m on your property, but the sidewalk is public property.” Turning on the camera, I zoom in on Peter’s face and snap a picture. “All I have to do is hit send and this goes straight to the dean. If you don’t hurry, Peter, you’re going to miss History class.”
Thank you so much for reading, and for your patience! I know this story was really late, but I hope you found it to be worth the wait. Have a question you’d like to “ask” Mr. Parker? Leave it in a question below and I’ll be sure to include it in the next character interview. And don’t forget to check out our Ruling Reader program! You might just get to be the next Ruling Reader. To find out how, click here.