C'mon!" Walk yells back to the big white girl Kirsta?
Kristal? Whatever her name is.
He races down the hall and kills the stairs. His feet are burning; doors, lockers, kids are flying by.
He knows where the class is because he and his momma, Sylvia, walked the schedule last week. He can't be late. Not on the first day.
The bell rings.
Walk slides into an empty seat Matteo saved for him. Matteo is the only kid he knows here.
The girl is behind him breathing like somebody better dial 9-1-1.
The old guy up there with the belly and the long hair? Must be Balderis, the history teacher. The man's all red like a pimpleeven his ears and his nose are red. He opens his mouth like he's going for the slaughter, then shuts it again, shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and starts over. "Your name is?"
Sweat pours down Walk's back. "Walker Jones."
"And yours?" Balderis looks at the girl.
"Mr. Jones," Balderis says, "would you and Ms. McKenna please see me at the back of the room. And the rest of you need to read chapter one of McDougal. I trust you all have brought your McDougal. I'll be giving a pop quiz at eight forty-five."
"What, is he crazy? This is the first day," a kid mutters.
"Just refuse to do it. If everyone does, then what'll he do?" another kid says.
Walk shoves past Matteo, who is already reading McDougal, scritchy-scritching the words all neon yellow. Matteo looks up. His smile spreads slowly across his face: he gets an extra five minutes to studythe rat.
Walk would have been on time, too, if he hadn't stuck around to talk to Kirsten and watch her mom lay rubber on the drop-off.
"You weren't in your seat when the bell rang, Walker. Kirsten, you weren't even in the room." Balderis crosses his arms; he taps his foot. "But . . . I'm going to call you both on time, seeing as how this is day number one and I need students to help me move my classroom to room 251 this Saturday. I will expect you both to be here at nine a.m.or Monday you'll be marked tardy and sent to the office, should you be late or not. Am I making myself clear?"
Sylvia will destroy Walk if he messes up at this school. Crush him to itty-bitty bits. If this Balderis guy wants him here dressed like a reindeer with a red nose, he'll say uh-huh. "Yes," Walk says.
"You want us here on Saturday?" Kirsten sticks her chin out. "I have to ask my mom."
"By all means ask away. Just remember, you don't show up for any reason and Monday you'll march into the office for a pink slip, understand?"
"Yeah, okay," Kirsten mumbles.
"Nine o'clock." Balderis taps his hand with his pencil. "I expect you to be on time Saturday, too."
"Hey," Kirsten whispers on their way back to their desks. "You're gonna give up your Saturday for one measly pinky?"
"You better believe it, girl," Walk says.
"Attention please." Balderis raises his voice now. "Anyone late to this class for any reason will be sent to the office for a trouble slip. Understood? In lieu of a pink slip Kirsten and Walker here have generously agreed to help me move our room on Saturday. That's available to you as recourse for a late slip, this week only."
"We're moving?" asks a kid with so much hair, if it wasn't for his nose, you couldn't tell the back of his head from the front of his head.
"Someone puked in the heater vent," a girl in fatigues tells him.
Excerpted from If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko. Copyright © 2007 by Gennifer Choldenko. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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