Ben was so lonely he could die. Dying would be better than living with his father.
He knew his mother hadn’t sent him away as punishment, but couldn’t help thinking there must be something wrong with him – some flaw that made it so no one wanted him around. All that time being good, and Mom still sent him away.
He was tapping his pencil on his desk in English class, and thinking about how much he wanted to go home but was going to have to walk to his dad’s after school instead. Mrs.D paused in the middle of the thing she did where she walked around the classroom and talked about English stuff. She grabbed the pencil right out of his hand, snapped it in half, and dropped the pieces on his desk.
It was his only pencil.
Now he wasn’t going to be able to do any of the assignments for the rest of the day, and he hadn’t even had lunch yet!
“Get out your rhyming couplets. You have until the end of class to finish them. Late assignments will be given no credit, so don’t be late.” Mrs. D sat at her desk. She just flopped down like one of those puppets from Pinocchio when the strings are cut.
Any other teacher he would have asked if he could borrow a pencil, or have more time so he could get a pencil, but not Mrs. D. She had it in for him even worse since Mom yelled at her, just like Mom said she would.
He wanted to go home so bad it made his eyes hurt.
He waited until Mrs. D was looking down, then leaned toward Nancy. “Can I borrow a pencil?”
Nancy was working on her second page. She’d probably get another A. Ben wouldn’t get an A even if he did everything perfect. She looked up through beautiful, blond hair. “What?”
He made a give-me gesture.
“Oh. Sure.” She started digging around in her binder. There were about a dozen pencils in there, but she’d only give him one that she didn’t mind loosing. That was all right with Ben, cause then he wouldn’t have to return it.
Mrs. D caught them right when Nancy handed him one of those black, mechanical pencils. It would have been perfect not just for today, but until he could make Dad get him some.
“Miss Weiler, what do you think you are doing?”
“Loaning a pencil to Ben?”
Mrs. D shook her head. “I don’t think so. Ben, you are disrupting class. Do it again, and I’ll send you to detention.”
Nancy hesitantly put the pencil away.
Ben looked at his paper. He only needed to do one more couplet and he was done. He even knew what couplet he’d write, if he had a pencil.
“Psst! Ben.” It was Gene, who sat in the seat behind him.
Gene was the biggest, meanest, strongest kid in the whole sixth grade. He once broke a boy’s arm just for looking at him wrong. That’s what some of the other kids said, anyway. Ben hadn’t seen it happen, and didn’t know the guy with the broken arm, though he’d seen him around and the arm had a cast on it. Ben wasn’t sure what to think.
Ben twisted around. Gene was so big he made the desk look uncomfortable. He had big hands, long thick arms, and a little hair under his lip that wasn’t quite a beard but was more than Ben could grow. In his fingers, extended toward Ben, was one of those fancy Papermate mechanical pencils – the kind they sold in the student store for $5 each.
“Quick, before she sees.” Gene nodded toward Mrs. D.
Feeling like he was making a deal with the devil – that’s what Mrs. J would have called it – Ben took the pencil.
He had just enough time to finish the assignment. Everyone turned theirs in as they were leaving. He was so proud to be able to do it too.
Instead of putting his paper on the pile along with everyone else, she put it on the other side of her desk, right over the garbage can. Ben sighed. He knew what she would do. She’d done it before. He stopped in the doorway and looked back. Sure enough, she nudged his paper with her elbow. It dropped into the garbage can. She acted like she hadn’t noticed.
Ben flinched. It was Gene. He might get punched now, or shoved. He’d never actually talked to Gene before and wasn’t sure what to do.
“About my pencil….”
Ben scrambled for it, so eager to hand it back he almost dropped his binder.
“…. Keep it.”
“Keep it?” Ben’s voice came out a squeak. Gene must want something. He wouldn’t just give away a really nice pencil like that, would he?
“Yeah. Every time you use it it’ll be like I’m thumbing my nose at Mrs. D.” Gene grinned, nodding slowly and knowingly. “It’s more than worth it to me.”
He slapped Ben on the shoulder, then headed down the hall the other way from where Ben was going next.
Thumbing his nose at Mrs. D? What happened when he was done thumbing his nose at her? All Ben knew was he better not lose that pencil.