Excerpt of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
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One classroom had its lights on, and the people he had
followed were sitting in the too-small desks, saying hello as
if they all knew each other. Construction-paper signs and
pictures covered the walls, and the cursive alphabet ran along
the top of the chalkboard. Most of the people were about his
parents age, though their faces were softer, and they dressed
as though they lived in town, in thin shoes and clean bright
jackets. He went to the back of the room and took a seat. He
left his coat on, a big old sheepskin-lined denim, and he
checked his boots to see what he might have dragged in, but
they were clean from walking through snow.
We should have gotten a high school room, one of the
A ladya girlstood at the teachers desk at the front of
the room, taking papers from a briefcase. She had curly lightcolored
hair and wore a gray wool skirt and a blue sweater,
and glasses with wire rims. She was thin, and looked tired and
nervous. Everyone grew quiet and waited for her to speak.
Ive never done this before, she said. Im not sure how
to start. Do you want to introduce yourselves?
We all know each other, a gray-haired woman said.
Well, she doesnt, another woman protested.
You could tell me what you know about school law,
the young teacher said.
The adults in the small desks looked at each other. I
dont think we know anything, someone said.
Thats why were here.
The girl looked helpless for a second and then turned to
the chalkboard. Her bottom was a smooth curve in the wool
skirt. She wrote Adult Ed 302 and her name, Beth Travis,
and the chalk squeaked on the h and the r. The men and
women in the desks flinched.
If you hold it straight up, an older woman said, demonstrating
with a pencil, with your thumb along the side, it
wont do that.
Beth Travis blushed, and changed her grip, and began to
talk about state and federal law as it applied to the public
school system. Chet found a pencil in his desk and held it
like the woman had said to hold the chalk. He wondered
why no one had ever showed him that in his school days.
The class took notes, and he sat in the back and listened.
Beth Travis was a lawyer, it seemed. Chets father told jokes
about lawyers, but the lawyers were never girls. The class was
full of teachers, who asked things hed never thought of,
about students rights and parents rights. Hed never imagined
a student had any rights. His mother had grown up in
the mission school in St. Xavier, where the Indian kids were
beaten for not speaking English, or for no reason. Hed been
luckier. An English teacher had once struck him on the head
with a dictionary, and a math teacher had splintered a yardstick
on his desk. But in general they had been no trouble.
Once, Beth Travis seemed about to ask him something,
but one of the teachers raised a hand, and he was saved.
At nine oclock the class was over, and the teachers
thanked Miss Travis and said shed done well. They talked to
each other about going someplace for a beer. He felt he
should stay and explain himself, so he stayed in his desk. His
hip was starting to stiffen from sitting so long.
Miss Travis packed up her briefcase and put on her puffy
red coat, which made her look like a balloon. Are you staying?
No, maam. He levered himself out from behind
Are you registered for the class?
No, maam. I just saw people coming in.
Are you interested in school law?
He thought about how to answer that. I wasnt before
Excerpted from Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
by Maile Meloy Copyright © 2009 by Maile Meloy. Excerpted by
permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.