Gwendolyn was waiting for Lori outside their next class. It was biology, which bored her, so she did not mind being late. The teacher, Mr. Thomas, did not care as much about tardiness as Mrs. Wiles did so Gwendolyn would waltz in when she felt like it. She checked her phone, which she had managed to sneak past the metal detectors. There were 11 texts from her ex-boyfriend Rafael. She rolled her eyes and deleted them without even reading them.
“Hey, you waited for me?” Lori asked her. Gwendolyn nodded and gave her an exasperated look. “What’s wrong? I mean besides having to go to Biology?” Lori said as she nudged Gwendolyn with her elbow.
“Rafael be texting me,” she said quietly.
“What did he say?” Lori asked with concern.
“Dunno. I didn’t read ’em,” Gwendolyn replied.
“Good. Ain’t nothin’ he can say that will explain him beating on you,” Lori said, feeling a little awkward switching back to her regular vernacular after her discussion with Mrs. Wiles.
A Different Kind Of Teacher
“Got that right. If he tries again, I’m gonna break every bone in his hand,” Gwendolyn said and pushed the classroom door open. The teacher ignored them as he continued his monotone lecture. His students were doing whatever they wanted and did not bother hiding it. They knew Mr. Thomas was there for the paycheck. If he did not give a damn, neither would they. Gwendolyn watched as Lori pulled out her notebook and began writing. It was pretty typical for her to do other assignments during that class. Gwendolyn looked at her phone again, three new texts. She turned it off.
Bored, she pulled out her class science book and opened it. She had read the whole thing twice already but she felt like she understood things a lot better each time she read it. She had even started to write the thoughts she had while reading. Questions about each subject and things to look into. But she was embarrassed. She had worked hard to create the reputation that she did not care. She was a tough girl, only in school to avoid truancy charges but she really did find biology interesting, especially human anatomy and osteology.
How She Got Here
At night, she would watch crime shows and let herself think, just a little, about being a forensic scientist. But only when she was alone, not when her drunk father would stumble home and interrupt her by throwing lamps and chairs and screaming about things that did not make sense. That was how she got so tough. Dealing with a drunkard, abusive father, she had taught herself how to fight. One of her friends owned a boxing club and trained her when he had the time. For a while, she thought about being a fighter but she could not make enough money that way. So she just used the gym to get out her anger. It was effective. It was also a secret hobby that she had only told Lori about. If she was going to get into trouble, she did not want people to know her skill set.
When she got home that night, Gwendolyn was home alone. Her father was at the bar and her sister was at her boyfriend’s house. Gwendolyn was trying not to worry about her sister but it was well-known that her boyfriend was one of the more violent members of their local street gang and liked getting into trouble. There was a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” she barked.
“It’s Raf! Who else would it be? Open up!” he screamed. He was pissed that she had not texted him back and she did not want to deal with him.
“Go away Raf! It’s over. Go find some other chick to beat. It ain’t gonna be me,” she said with attitude.
This made him even angrier and he busted through the door. “Shit Raf! You gonna pay for that?” she yelled. He did not answer. He just barreled toward her landing a punch straight to her left eye. She snapped.
With a combination she had perfected in the boxing ring for the past few months, she landed a punch to his ribs, snapping one. Then another went to his jawbone and finally a kick to his stomach that sent him flying back to the wall. He crumbled to the floor. She looked up to see two of his friends standing just outside. Without a moment’s hesitation, she pointed to him and said, “You might want to take this fool to a hospital…Oh and Raf, don’t you ever touch me again.”
The two dumbfounded friends picked him up and helped him outside. She leaned the door up on the hinges and went to sit on the couch. She was stunned. She never thought she would actually have to do that.
The Ever-Present Teacher
The next day, her eye was purple. She did not try to cover it with make up because she knew it would help her reputation. She told Lori everything but no one else. She would let the rumors spread. She did not care. She did not make eye contact with any teacher but this was hardly unusual in their school. But of course, Mrs. Wiles was not used to it.
“Ms. Aiken, can you wait a moment?” she said as the bell rang. The whole class joined in making an “ooooooooooooo” sound. Mrs. Wiles gave them a look and everyone shuffled out quickly. Lori motioned that she would wait outside.
Gwendolyn slowly approached Mrs. Wiles’ desk.
“Do you want to tell me how you got that black eye?” she asked.
Gwendolyn just looked away.
“Well at least tell me the other guy looks worse than you do,” Mrs. Wiles said with a wink. That caught Gwendolyn off guard.
“Uh.. yeah… he uhh… I did some damage,” Gwendolyn replied.
“You know Gwendolyn, I am hard on you for a reason. I know you are tough and I know you are smarter than you let on,” Mrs. Wiles began.
“How do you know that?” Gwendolyn shot back sarcastically. Mrs. Wiles held up a few pieces of paper that Gwendolyn recognized as the notes from her science book.
“You’re interested in science,” Mrs. Wiles stated. Gwendolyn looked away.
“It don’t matter. It’s not like I can do something with it,” She said defensively. “I ain’t gonna get out of this neighborhood. You and I both know it. So stop playing your games with me,” she said as she snatched the papers out of Mrs. Wiles hands. She rushed towards the door.
“Gwendolyn,” Mrs. Wiles called after her to stop. She paused and turned her head slightly, “I made a deal with Lori yesterday. Ask her to tell you about it. If you like what I told her, the same offer stands for you. I can help you if you want.”
Without a word, Gwendolyn gave her a quick nod then left. She saw Lori waiting. She was curious about the deal they had made and what this teacher was helping her with. She opened her mouth to ask then paused.
This is Part Two of a four-part short story series. Read Part One, Lori’s Story, here. Subscribe and receive an email update of our posts, including this series and posts by our other Contributors as we continue this month-long focus on life challenges and how different people cope and grow through them.