J.T.

     After class, I had to stay after everyone else left. I can't say I was looking forward to it. There have been times that I'd just get up and go along with everyone else in class, but this time I was sort of curious. So I stayed in my seat.

     "Jordan," the nun said.

     "Elizabeth," I said.

     "Sit up straight."

     "I don't think I can," I said honestly. I was pretty much incapable of sitting up straight. It was a skill that had left me long ago. My English teacher back at West Street always used to say, "Everyone sit up straight--except for J.T."

     "Sit up straight," Sister Elizabeth repeated.

     I managed to sit up straight for about a second before slouching again. It seemed to be good enough for her.

     "You can just call me J.T., you know," I told her. "Everyone else does."

     It hadn't always been like that. I changed my name around a lot. I'd been Jordan, Jordy, Tyler, and Ten and Tennessee because that's my middle name. I liked being called Tennessee because of the playwright. I was a writer. None of my friends wrote, but I was pretty sure there were other kids that did. They just weren't the ones I hung out with. I knew that, in some ways, I was different than my friends. In some ways, though, I was different from everybody. I liked that.

     Sister Elizabeth didn't respond to the name thing. She started in on her "I'm the Teacher, I'm In Charge" Speech. I had heard it a million times before, of course. Teachers were all the same--full of BS, trying to sound strict for some reason that I sure never could figure out. I made it pretty clear that I didn't care, nor believe a word she was saying. That pisses teachers off a lot, when they can tell you don't give a shit. They want you to care, and they want you to look up to them. Good luck, I thought.

     She asked me if I understood.

     "Damn well," I said, even though I hadn't heard a word she'd said, and I had to copy pages out of the Bible for swearing. All I said was "damn!" At West Street some of the teachers said "damn." Jeez.

     The freakin' nun wasn't the only problem, obviously. When I got back to the dorm room, Insect Boy and the twins were all studying vigorously. I asked them if they wanted to go down to the rec room and shoot pool, and they hardly looked up. God, how easily this school brainwashes people, I thought. Or maybe they were born that way.

     I went down to the rec room by myself. There was no pool table. There wasn't even ping-pong. There were just a few couches and a TV that didn't get cable. In River Heights everybody got cable. Up on the wall there was a list of rules about the TV. We could only watch on the weekends unless we had special permission! What was up with that?

     Lights out was at nine thirty. I could hardly believe it. After years of staying up past midnight, it was kind of tough. To top it all off, the dorm room was too small. There was hardly room for the dressers and the beds and the desks, and there were two doors. One of them lead to the hallway. I tried to open the other--it was locked.

     "Hey, what's on the other side of this thing?" I asked Insect Boy and the others.

     "Girls' dorms," said Daniel.

     I automatically took out a paperclip and started picking the lock. They stared like that was weird.

     "What the hell you guys starin' at?" I asked.

     They stared even more, and Insect Boy's eyes grew wide.

"You said the H-word," he said, appalled.

I stood in disbelief. "Fuck." I didn't say this for their reaction; I said this in surprise.

He shuddered.

"Come on," I said. "You guys gotta be kidding me. This school is all religious and crap. They've gotta say 'hell' sometime."

"Not like that," said Evan.

I was amazed, because most kids swore at West Street. I never thought about it. I never thought about breathing, either. I was twelve, and that was a big age for swearing. I did it because it came naturally. You've probably figured out by now that I wasn't even good at it. I'd been swearing since I was two. I could remember the first time I said "fuck" as a four-year-old. My parents had thought I'd seen it on TV, so they'd started monitoring what I watched for a while. Actually, I'd read it in a book, but they never thought to monitor what books I read. A lot of adults had problems with TV, which I thought was weird, since watching TV and reading seemed so similar to me. Still, adults said, "Watch TV and it will rot your brain. Read and you will learn a lot."

I was getting uncomfortable. St. Joseph Hall was not working for me. I was a champion lock picker, but the door wouldn't even get open. I swore loudly and kicked it, and of course Fallows came in at that exact second to make sure we were in bed. He shook his head and said something about my bad attitude. I told him to fuck off. I couldn't stop cussing now, of course. I got dragged down to the office. Fallows sat me down in the mahogany chair. It was uncomfortable. It kind of forced me to sit up straight.

"I'm not going to expel you, Jordan," Fallows said.

I didn't know how to respond to that. "Uh, I'm not going to expel you either."

I sometimes said stupid stuff like that. Don't know why, it kind of escaped my mouth before I even thought about it.

Fallows frowned. "Listen. In past years, we have expelled students with half your infractions."

"I've only been here two days," I said plainly.

"Still. Jordan, I'm not going to lie to you. The school board is concerned with the number of expulsions, and I'm not going to be able to expel anyone for a long time."

Shit. Oh, shit. I couldn't leave now. This ruined everything. No matter what I did...

He started talking about how this school was going to knock some respect into me. What an optimist this guy was. I just sat there. Shouldn't my life be flashing in front of my eyes about now? I thought. I was stuck.

I can break him, I thought. I have to. I gotta be so bad he's got no goddamn choice.

He let me go, after talking for forever. I went back to the dorms. Evan, Daniel, and Insect Boy were already asleep. I guess they're used to the schedule, I thought. God knows how I'll survive, though. I sat down at one of the desks and started to write a letter.

Dear Dave, Samantha, Carl, Luke, Lisa, and everybody else in River Heights:

Things suck over here. I've been sent to the office twice already, once because I wouldn't wear a sweater-vest, and once for swearing and stuff. The principal is weird. He can't expel me because of the school board, so I'm stuck here. We don't even switch classes, so my only teacher is this nun named Sister Elizabeth, who's a total bitch.

The kids are almost as bad. I walked into the cafeteria, and all the girls were on one side and all the guys were on the other side. It was practically creepy. My roommates are these twins with uniforms too small and this guy who looks like a bug...to a point where it's scary. They freaked out when I said hell. They're crazy. And none of the girls are hot.

I can't wait until I somehow find a way to get out of here. Hopefully I'll see you all over the next break unless my parents say it's "family time." I miss you guys. I practically miss Mr. McDillan. Tell my parents I hate them.

                         Totally and 100% Sincerely,

                              wish you were here (instead of me)

                                   JORDAN TYLER

     I folded the letter and looked around for envelopes. I'd send it to Dave first, and tell him to pass it on. Dave was my best friend. He went to RHJH. I'd known him since kindergarten. I wondered why I didn't really miss him. I wondered why I wrote that I did. He was an egomaniac, and a real wise-ass, but that didn't bother me. I liked wise-asses, and I really wanted to be one, but I was only half there--kind of mouthy and sarcastic, and pretty cocky but not ego-crazy like Dave was. I was working at it, but so far I wasn't clever enough to be a total wise-ass. I was smart, but not real clever, and Dave was the other way around. Maybe that was why we were such great friends.

     I stuck the letter in my backpack so I could mail it the next day. I flopped down on the lower bunk and took out Taming the Star Runner. Travis, the protagonist, got sent to a school full of hicks who didn't recognize cool when they saw it. I could relate, as I was getting sent to a school full of religious fanatics who didn't recognize cool when they saw it. They actually read the Bible before they went to bed. At one point Evan had asked me, "Aren't you going to say a prayer?"

     I'd been kind of surprised. I mean, I believed in God and everything, and I did pray and stuff--actually I prayed a lot--but never real formally like that. I'd kneeled, put my hands together, closed my eyes, and said, "The Usual. Amen."

     I'd had to use a flashlight to write the letter and now I had to use one to read. I didn't want to risk turning on the lights. I finished the book at one in the morning or something, and went to sleep.

MADELINE

     "How long do you think it'll be before he gets expelled?" asked Catherine at breakfast.

     "Tomorrow," Tiffany predicted wistfully.

     "Next week." Lily shrugged.

     "Hey, can I get some of that action?" asked a voice from behind us. "I'll put twenty-five dollars on months from now."

     It was J.T. We hadn't noticed he was there.

     "I'm a compulsive gambler," he said proudly. "Horse races, mostly, but sometimes poker."

     Cool. I had never met a compulsive gambler before.

     "Fallows said he couldn't. Expel me, I mean." J.T. sat down beside us. It was the first time he had shown up for breakfast. He was trying to break the rock-hard waffles.

     "Save yourself the trouble and throw it away," I said. Nobody had ever been able to break the waffles.

     "I'm a determined person, I'll handle it." He shrugged.

     "Good luck," said Catherine. Most people were sticking to the sausage.

     "What did you say about Headmaster Fallows?" asked Judith.

     "He can't expel me," J.T. told her gloomily. "It's because of the school board. It doesn't matter, though. I'll get out. It'll just take longer than I thought, that's all."

     "Good luck," Catherine said again, cheerfully.

     "The hash browns okay?" asked J.T. doubtfully.

     "They're great," Nathaniel told him.

     "Second opinion, anyone?"

     "Stay away from them," I warned.

     "They're good," said Catherine. "Ignore Madeline. She's just incredibly selective."

     "So am I," J.T. said, looking at me.

     "Try them, but get your orange juice ready to wash it out," I told him.

     "I hate orange juice." J.T. made a face.

     Karen, Kimberly, and Lynn were sitting at another table. There wasn't really enough room for thirteen people.

     "Hockey tryouts are tomorrow," Tristin told us.

     "We have a hockey team?" J.T.'s face lit up.

     He's an athlete, I thought. That's so cool! At that point, he could have said, "I'm a chess player," and I would have thought, That's so cool!

     "Sure," said Tristin.

     J.T. asked some more questions--about how many kids usually tried out and stuff.

     "Are you coming?" he asked Tristin.

     "Yeah, and Jarred."

     "And the twins?"

     "Just me," said Daniel.

     "Wouldn't it be funny if we could get Insect Boy out there?" J.T. grinned.

     "Don't even say that," said Insect Boy.

#

We watched in awe as J.T. broke the waffle.