The sixteen-year-old shuffled up the steps that led to the entrance to Maplewood Academy's main building. It was the first day of school, junior year. This year, Josiah Alton had explained earlier, was the most important year. Colleges would be looking at grades, extracurricular activities and standardized tests to decide who would make the cut. Sharpe honestly didn't care. His grades were good enough to get him into almost anywhere, despite the fact that he rarely tried.
"Sharpe!" a voice called from across the courtyard. The lanky teenager turned to find a smiling boy running towards him, his book bag flying behind and his uniform in a general state of dishevelled appearance. Sharpe calmly collected himself and waited for Mac O'Brien to catch up. "Hey, I knew I'd find you." Sharpe arched an eyebrow. Was it just his imagination, or did Mac get even more freckles over the summer. "Listen," Mac's voice dropped down to a whisper. "Rumor has it that they're picking an entirely new squad this year. That's right, no seniors."
The squad, or the Rule Enforcers, were students who assisted teachers by patrolling the hallways. These juniors and seniors were handpicked by the staff members and announced within the first week of school starting each year. Usually, there were about seven or eight total and oftentimes, all of them were seniors. Although these students could not give out detentions without staff approval, their words carried more weight than anyone else's did.
"And you want to be on the squad," Sharpe replied, shifting his book bag to a more comfortable position. For many of their classes this year, students were required to pick up their books before classes started and Sharpe was carrying around his physics text book, his Latin book and dictionary, calculus materials and AP US history books. All of this made for a very heavy bag.
Mac grinned. "Yeah," he replied. "Don't you?" His eyes brightened. "Think of what Tetsuya would say…" Tetsuya was the member of a gang of rough Asian kids who took joy in bullying others. Sharpe had always been one of their main targets.
"None of them will care of you're on the squad," Sharpe snapped back, beginning to walk back towards the eleventh grade lockers. "The only person they listen to is Mr. Smith." Mr. Smith was the physics teacher at the Academy, an older man who was once in the Navy and had a school wide reputation for being strict. He had been teaching physics for the past twenty years and the rumor was that he had been one of the original teachers at Maplewood.
"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," Mac muttered under his breath, flicking his sandy hair towards the side. Sharpe followed his glance to find their physics teacher strutting towards them.
"O'Brien, a word with you in my room," Smith ordered. Mac exchanged a brief glance with Sharpe, who forced a smile. "Sharpe, Callahan's office immediately." Sharpe waited until Smith was out of sight and earshot before letting out a sigh. He headed over towards the assistant principal's office, wondering what Ms. Callahan wanted with him.
Once he got there, he straightened up his uniform, including the burgundy and grey tie he wore, and knocked quietly on the door. "Please, come in," he could hear the assistant principal's voice coming from inside. He entered slowly. He had never felt this out of place before, except for on his first day at Maplewood, yet he couldn't explain it. "Please sit down." He let his bag of books drop to the floor and sat as he was told. Aside from the principal and from Smith, Ms. Callahan was the person he least wanted to be in trouble with at the Academy.
"Do you know why you're here?" she asked, pulling out a manila folder from the filing cabinet with Sharpe's name on the front. He assumed it contained his student records; it was very well thick enough to cover all of his classes the past two years. Sharpe shook his head. "Well, Mr. Nicholson needs a student to assist with his sixth grade science class twice a week and Mrs. Pruitt suggested you." Mrs. Pruitt had been his chemistry instructor the year before. "Now, you don't have to accept, but I think you'd enjoy it." Her voice sounded entirely too cheerful for Sharpe and it was beginning to irk him. His dark brows wrinkled together and his ears pricked backwards, a sure sign of annoyance.
"Yeah," he replied. "Sure. I'll do it." He shrugged. He glanced down at his schedule. In addition to taking English, AP US history, Latin, physics and calculus, he was also taking a physical education course and a free elective. Working with Mr. Nicholson would take up his elective, but when he had glanced through the list of electives being offered, none of them excited him much, anyways.
Ms. Callahan smiled. "There," she replied, closing the manila folder. "Oh, Mr. Nicholson asked me to give this to you if you accepted. You'll be needing it on your first day in the classroom, but he didn't tell me what it was for." From one of the drawers in her desk, she produced a long stick, about fourteen inches in length and made of kaya wood. "And you'll want this." She gave him a small bag of assorted items. "And now, you must get to class before the bell rings. Sorry about keeping you so long. If you need an excuse, just let your teachers know to ask me."
Sharpe gathered up his things. Upon leaving her office, he raised both of his eyebrows and lowered them. He walked through the halls, still carrying his book bag and trying to find his locker. It took him three times to open the combination and he was nearly late to physics as a result. Just before the bell rang, he slid into a seat next to Mac O'Brien, who was grinning widely.
"Guess what?" Mac whispered, careful to lower his voice so that Tetsuya and Kiyoshi, Tetsuya's partner in crime, could not overhear. "I'm in! And you?"
Sharpe opened up the bag of items. Inside was a lesson planner, notes from Nicholson and a special badge. "Student teaching assistant," he whispered back. "I'll tell you more in Latin class, where–"
However, he was cut off by Smith, whacking his pointer against the chalkboard. "Sharpe! O'Brien, pay attention!" The bell rang and class had officially started for the school year. Mac exchanged a knowing glance with Sharpe, who couldn't help smiling because now he knew what the stick would be useful for. He could hardly wait for Thursday, when he would go and meet the sixth grade class he would be helping.