Part One: The Leather Book
Josiah Alton knocked on the door that separated his office from the chemistry lab and glanced at the clock. Classes had only been out for about fifteen minutes, so he was sure that Sharpe was still in his room or in close proximity. Shuffling papers accompanied by a few harsh spoken words confirmed his suspicion.
"Sorry," he heard Laura Clarkson, the young biology teacher, say. He knocked again and was surprised to see the door swing open. He had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit in the face. The young teacher blushed and turned away. "I'll ask later," she sniffled as she walked towards the door that separated her room from the chemistry lab. She slammed the door shut and Josiah could hardly prevent himself from raising both of his eyebrows. However, he was hardly surprised.
"I don't want to know, do I?" he asked, turning to Sharpe. He received a quiet glare in return, which would have sent most others running in the opposite direction, but Josiah knew better. He simply sat down on one of the stools in the lab and motioned for Sharpe to do the same.
Had it been anyone else, Sharpe would have refused, but he obliged, albeit unwillingly. He glanced at the pile of work he had left to do, then at the clock. He still needed to work out answer keys to the exams he had given that day.
Josiah handed Sharpe a brown paper bag. "Some official business, some not," he explained. "But I suggest you look inside and I won't inquire about the…" he searched for the word he wanted to use "… altercation." Sharpe narrowed his eyes and Josiah took this to be a sign that Sharpe was actually listening to him. "Don't worry. I'll help Laura with her lesson plans." He forced a weak smile and made an exit towards the door that led to the biology classroom, leaving Sharpe alone with his work and the brown paper bag.
Sharpe started to empty out the bag and pulled out a manila folder with information from the last staff meeting. Sharpe had been unable to attend because he'd fallen ill that morning. His almost black eyes skimmed through the highlighted notes about the new detention policies and he frowned. Now, teachers and staff would be required to notify a student's homeroom instructor if detention was assigned and the homeroom instructor would be responsible for designating an appropriate punishment. He started to remove the other contents of the bag – the things that Josiah told him did not pertain to school business – when he heard a knock at the door.
"The door is unlocked," he said without even bothering to turn around. It was probably either Laura or Josiah or perhaps Anthony Wilson, the physics teacher. Much to his chagrin, however, a small Asian boy opened the door and entered the room.
"I'm here for detention," he said. His voice was no louder than a quiet whisper and he stood there with his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes staring down at the tiled floor.
Sharpe turned around, already feeling a headache coming on. It always happened this way. Whenever he saw the kid, there was something in his head that clearly started hurting him. He frowned and narrowed his eyes. "Come in," he muttered, motioning towards the sink. "You need safety goggles. Wash the dishes in warm water and soap, rinse three times in the tap water, then once in the DI water." He glared in the youth's direction.
The youth nodded and felt like sinking into the floor. "Yes," he replied, shuffling towards the sink. He set to work cleaning the dirty lab glassware and attempting to ignore the heavy weight of Sharpe's stare on the back of his neck.
Only a few moments later, Sharpe returned to his previous business. He finished making his way through the numerous notes scribbled in the margins of the staff papers. He then proceeded to remove an old leather book from the bag. He frowned; he had never seen this before and he was certain that this was what Josiah had been referring to as not school business.
The notebook was made of dark leather – with the odd lighting in the chemistry lab, it was difficult to tell whether it was brown or black – and well-worn around the edges and the spine. He ran a long finger down the spine a few times, as was a habit of his, before opening it. He gasped aloud when he saw what had been written in elegant cursive on the inner cover.
Jedediah Victor Sharpe
February 19, 1970
He frowned. There was absolutely no way that this could possibly be Josiah's writing. He decided to open up to the first page and, much to his surprise, it had a picture of a mother holding a small baby. The woman looked familiar, like he had seen her somewhere before. Her dark hair was pushed back behind one of her shoulders and dark, smiling eyes gazed down at the newborn baby. Carefully, he turned the book to the next page, which had pictures of two boys, about three and five, he guessed, doing various activities. In one picture, the older boy was reading to the younger out of a picture book. In another, the boys were in a swimming pool. The older one was learning how to swim and the younger one was sitting on the steps in the corner.
["Come in!" the older boy yelled to the younger one, sending a wave of water towards the steps. The smaller boy coughed on the chlorinated pool water, crying out to his mother.
"Michael Hosea," a woman warned from the side. The older boy flushed slightly and muttered an apology to the younger one.]
Sharpe swallowed back a lump that had been growing in his throat – though he had no idea why – and proceeded to shuffled around some papers on his desk. He knew he shouldn't be thinking about this; these were all old memories that he had shoved out of his mind and his life years ago, on a cold day in the middle of winter. But he didn't want to think about that now; he had other work to do, including supervising a detention student.
[A normally quiet student picked up his bag and stormed out of the room, letting the door slam behind him. A couple of other students stared on, as most of them couldn't believe what had just happened. Only a few minutes before, they had been quietly studying for various classes. Sharpe, like always, was pacing around the room, his pointy stick in one hand and the other hand shoved in his pocket.
He stopped by one of the lab stations and whispered a few harsh words in one of the student's ears.
"How dare you!" The student exclaimed, jumping up and narrowing his eyes. A couple others were surprised; this was the first time many of them had heard the small Asian boy talk all year, much less use that tone of voice with a teacher.
"Mr. Liu," Sharpe's voice cut through the air quicker than a samurai's sword. "I highly suggest you show respect to your superiors."
Michael narrowed his eyes even more, a definite sign of defiance. "Then I suggest you earn that respect!" he snapped back. With that, he walked straight out of the room and the door slammed shut.]
Sharpe sighed to himself. Of all the students to supervise, why did it have to be this one? he could have easily managed Ricardo Martinez or Emiko Takahashi, both of whom were outwardly disrespectful and plainly cruel and he could get away with being snitty towards them. But Michael, but until now, had always been quiet and a good student. 'Just like…' he thought, but he pushed that thought out of his head nearly as quickly as it had entered. He glanced towards he back of the room, where Michael was still busy washing glassware.
He turned through the next couple of pages in the book, which included pictures of a boy being baptized in the ocean. He wrinkled his nose, not even wanting to know what his parents would say if they saw him now. They were dead, so what did it matter now? 'Nothing,' he thought bitterly to himself, a hand reaching up to touch the scar on his left cheek right under his eye. A small tear rolled out of his eye and he quickly wiped it away before anyone could see.
However, Michael had seen what had just happened through the glass reflection on the fumehood near the sink. At first, he thought that it had just been a speck of dust in Sharpe's eye, but his intuition told him otherwise. He hasped aloud, nearly dropping the soapy test tube into the sink. He wasn't sure quite what to make of it, but he assumed that it was best if he kept quiet, so he did and pretended like nothing had ever happened.
Sharpe turned back to the book. Although he knew that he should be working on answer keys to the chemistry test, there was something strange about the book that kept drawing him in. He glanced through the next couple of pages of the book and frowned. School pictures from elementary and middle school – as well as report cards and other memorabilia – lined the next several pages. He frowned when he saw marks from one of his English teachers, as well as his sixth grade science teacher. Well, he hadn't cared much for her, either.
["You could be really good, Jedediah," Mrs. Lambert told him after class one day. "But you don't try. Your homework is never turned in, but you've gotten perfect scores on exams and labs." She let out a sigh of exasperation. "If you don't learn to do the work as you should, you'll never reach your full potential." The young student only stood there, his arms crossed and dark eyes narrowed.]
Sharpe's disgust became evident on his face and he slammed the book shut, almost cursing under his breath. The only thing that prevented him from doing so was the student in the back of the room, who paused upon hearing the book shut. Wisely, however, he decided to keep working and not turn around. As a third year student, he knew very well of Sharpe's infamous temper and was well aware of the fact that the chemistry teacher would double his punishment if he so desired. Such was the problem of having him as a homeroom instructor.
Thankfully for Michael, Sharpe was too wrapped up in what he was doing to pay much attention to what was going on elsewhere in the room. For a moment, he picked up one of the exams to work on an answer key to one of the long problems, but soon he found that curiosity about the remainder of the book's contents kept him from focusing on the required math.
He opened the book to the next page and gasped. There were pictures of a band playing at a candlelight Christmas Eve service. Beside those pictures was a picture of a smiling teenager in a suit, holding a polished alto saxophone. The writing on this page, however, was different than the writing before had been. Instead of the elegant cursive that graced the earlier pages, the writing was now neat printing with a slight back-slant to most of the letters.
Sharpe was quiet for several moments. He remembered that night as if it had only happened a week ago; how could he forget? Long fingers gently brushed up against the photographs, which were covered in protective paper. He still had the saxophone in its case somewhere in his apartment, even through he hadn't played it since that night nearly a quarter of a century ago. It was hard for him to believe it had been that long since… he closed his eyes and could feel the pain radiating from the scars on his body and especially from the one under his eye. He had been alive long enough to know that there were some wounds that time just couldn't heal, despite Anthony Wilson's claim to the contrary.
["You know, Jedediah," Anthony said. Much to Sharpe's dismay, the physics teacher insisted upon calling him by his first name. "If you give it time, things'll work out fine." He had come into the chemistry lab early one morning to find Sharpe in an extremely rare moment of being emotionally distraught. Normally, the chemistry teacher could maintain his composure through almost anything and everything.
"You don't know anything about me!" Sharpe – who had been completely taken aback by Anthony's words – snapped back.
Anthony adjusted his glasses and smiled. "Maybe I don't," he admitted after a moment. He was used to being snapped at by Sharpe; most teachers were after a year or so of working together. "But time's helped heal the pain of loosing June." He became quiet for a moment, thinking of his wife, who had died of cancer only a few years before.
Sharpe only glared at him, using a long finger to point towards the door. "Get out now," he insisted, his voice rough, but deadly. Each of the words was enunciated and emphasized, a bad sign. Anthony didn't bother arguing with that and he scrambled towards the door, muttering something under his breath the entire way. Even he knew not to push Sharpe that far.]
He scowled to himself. How could anyone know about him? Not only had he lost both of his parents and his brother and nearly died himself, but he still had haunting nightmares about it now, as if he had been awake and perfectly lucid.
The nightmares were always the same. Their family was driving through the icy streets on Christmas Eve, along the familiar roads from their church back home. His dad was driving and his mom was sitting in the front seat, adjusting the radio to the local Christian station. He and his brother were sitting in the back, his brother talking about how exciting that year's service had been. He was quiet, just enjoying everything that was going on and glad to be out of school for a couple of weeks.
Without warning, the old family station wagon hit a large patch of black ice and started skidding. He could hear his mom screaming as his dad tried to apply the breaks, much to no avail. The car kept skidding and rammed into a large tree on the side of the road. Sharpe grimaced as he could feel the searing pain shoot through his side. His eyes automatically squeezed shut and his jaw clenched. He could see the mangled, bloody body of his mother, who had been thrown out of the car. His father was dead, too, his body smashed by the steering wheel. He could see his brother, who looked just as bad as either of their parents did. When he looked, he could see an elderly couple standing on the front porch of their house, the husband talking frantically on the phone to the 911 operator. He heard sirens, but the pain in his head and body became more intense and he closed his eyes…
"Sir?" A voice asked quietly, pulling Sharpe out of his thoughts. Sharpe's head snapped up and he met Michael's eyes with an icy glare. "Are you alright?"
Sharpe nodded and tried to intensify his glare. "Just go home!" he snapped.
Michael glanced up at the clock. It wasn't even half past three and his detention was supposed to last until four. "I…" he started to say. His glance fell to the floor; it hurt to hold eye contact with Sharpe for more than a minute and no other students and only a few teachers could even hold it for that long. "My detention isn't over until four, sir." It was evident that he was unnerved; he never called Mr. Sharpe "sir".
Sharpe could sense this. "And who assigned your detention?" he asked, softening up his glare slightly. He rubbed his hand along his pointy stick in one of his hands.
Michael glanced up from the speckled tiles that lined the floor of the chemistry lab. "Mr. Alton did, sir," he replied, fiddling with his glasses.
Sharpe narrowed his eyes, wondering what Josiah could be up to. It seemed awfully suspicious to him, delivering a package with extreme sentimental value and strong, mixed emotions attacked while he had to supervise the one student in detention that he swore could read his thoughts at times. He would have to worry about that later.
He quickly regained his composure. "Have you finished the glassware?" Sharpe asked, eyeing the sink. Everything was neatly in order, even more so than he had left it in beforehand.
Michael nodded eagerly. "It's finished," he replied, almost waiting for Sharpe to criticize his work. Even if he did something well, the chemistry teacher knew how to find even the slightest imperfections in work – and he never failed to draw attention to these shortcomings.
Sharpe stood up and walked over to he sink, letting his long legs carry him. He inspected each piece of glassware. "Good," he said, much to Michael's simultaneous surprise and relief. He turned back towards the youth and produced a single piece of folded paper from his pocket. "Copy this in the far corner of the board. Use any color of chalk except for purple."
Michael took the paper from Sharpe and headed over to the board, wondering what the chemistry teacher liked so much about the purple chalk. The paper had the schedule for next week because it was class competition week. He frowned to himself, but busied himself by copying it out onto the board using neat handwriting and blue chalk.
Sharpe resumed his work at his desk, flipping through more pages of the book. On one page, there was a picture of a few ninth graders on a field trip to the San Francisco Zoo. He was in the picture, as was Mac O'Brien, a kid with sandy hair and freckles. Sharpe didn't remember much of O'Brien, except for being lab partners in every science class (and getting into trouble with their chemistry and physics teachers) and having English together their senior year. The other boys, both Japanese, were immediately recognized as Tetsuya Takahashi and Kiyoshi Sato.
Sharpe could feel his insides almost turn inside out when he saw this photograph. He'd never told anyone what happened then, but Jon, one of his classmates, had noticed what was happening and asked him about it. Sharpe hadn't really said anything. Jon, after all, was an upperclassman, a senior when Sharpe was only a freshman, and they only had art together. Over time, things got worse and verbal teasing eventually turned into physical bullying. Still, Sharpe refused to say anything, even through his math teacher, Mr. Harrington, was furious about it, as was Mr. Alton, who was teaching biology at the time.
[An afternoon right after most of the students have left. Sharpe grabbed the last of his homework from his locker and slammed it shut. Saying that today had been a bad day would have been an understatement: Harrington had assigned extra homework, Sprenkle had assigned half of Romeo and Juliet to read for English class, they had an in-class history essay, as well as a biology test, which Sharpe was pretty sure he'd failed. Unfortunately for him, the day was just going to get worse.
Two pairs of eyes watched him from the dark corridors behind the classroom and the owners of those eyes sniggered.
As Sharpe was walking by, one of the boys pulled his math binder away from him. As he was reaching for it, the other boy pushed him down. Sharpe's face smashed into the concrete. This was about the worse pain he'd felt since the horrific car accident about a year before. The boy who had his math binder was about to kick him in the side when all three of them heard a loud voice.
"Takahashi! Sato!" The voice was clear and Sharpe immediately recognized its owner. Both of the other boys straightened up at once. "You'd better leave him alone or I'll report you to Smith!" The boys paled; Smith was the nastily tempered physics teacher who was usually the detention proctor. He made a wet cat seem like a docile stuffed animal. "Now go!" Takahashi dropped the math binder and took off, Sato close on his heels.
Sharpe stood up and brushed himself off. "Thanks," he muttered, looking down at the ground.
Jon smiled. "No prob," he replied. "Just don't let them push you around anymore. They do enough of that and the only one's they'll listen to are the teachers and a few upperclassmen." He gave a mischievous grin.
Sharpe nodded in appreciation and wondered if he would ever be able to stand up to people like Takahashi. It was always hard for him because he was pretty quiet and rarely said much of anything, and he was smaller than most boys his age. Perhaps not shorter – he already stood at five feet, nine inches – but smaller. He was so thin that he could never find clothes that would fit both his height and his weight. It was no wonder why kids like Takahashi and Sato always chose to pick on him; it wasn't like he could really fight back very well, even if he tried.]
Sharpe sighed to himself, wondering what had become of these people. He knew Takahashi was a politician. In fact, his only daughter, Emiko, was one of the students in his homeroom. He had no idea what happened to Sato; it was as if he disappeared from the face of the earth or something like that. And Jon? He puzzled for a moment. Why did he really care about these people? Who were they to him and why did it really matter? They were people from his past, a past that he would rather not remember.
He thought for a moment. "Michael," he said. Michael turned around, nearly dropping the piece of chalk on the floor out of pure surprise that Sharpe had addressed him by his first name. "What is the name of the school your father graduated from?"
Michael frowned for a moment, wondering why Sharpe wanted to know about his father. He also had to think; knowing where his parents went to school was not an important fact to quickly recall. "I think it was called Maplewood Academy or something like that," he offered. "Sixth through twelfth grade and I know he and my uncle were both rule enforcers." Rule enforces were a group of upper classmen who helped mediate arguments between students when teachers were not around. He shrugged, still finding it odd that Sharpe had asked him. "Why does it matter to you?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
Sharpe's mouth opened slightly, but he didn't respond right away. It was all beginning to make sense now. Making up a lie to tell Michael passed through his mind, but he promptly decided against it. It wasn't particularly in his nature to lie.
[Emiko Takahashi turned in her chemistry exam and left the room. Every problem was complete and she had signed the honesty statement, promising that she hadn't cheated.
About five minutes later, there was a knock on Sharpe's door. He opened it to find Michael standing on the other side. The Asian youth looked very serious, quite nervous and a little distraught. He glanced up, meeting Sharpe's dark glance with his own.
"Mr. Sharpe," he began, fiddling with his hands, which were clasped behind his back. "I don't mean to intrude, but you should know that Emiko cheated on her exam. She copied off of Ron."
Sharpe narrowed his eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Liu," he replied, brushing off Michael's comment as a scheme to get Emiko into trouble.]
Later, however, as he had been checking over the tests, he found that Emiko's test bore a strong resemblance to Ron's. He as greatly surprised at the fact that Michael had commented on this and later he overheard Scott Adams – one of Michael's closest friends – telling Evan Saunders that Michael could tell if people were lying.
"It is none of your business to know," he replied. He'd have to settle on that for now, accompanying his words with a sharp glare that could have cut straight through Michael's body.
Michael paled slightly and glanced up at the clock. He still had at least fifteen minutes of detention time remaining. How long would this last? He sighed, setting back to work and neatly copying the rest of the schedule out. He was so wrapped up in what he was doing that he didn't even realize Sharpe calling his name; he only noticed when the lights turned off for a few seconds. He wasn't the least bit surprised to see Sharpe standing by the light switch.
"That will be all," Sharpe said. Michael turned around and nodded gratefully. He started to leave, but Sharpe caught his attention before he could exit the room.
"Yes?" Michael asked, slipping his coat on. Even in March, it was still cold enough outside to bundle up, despite the fact that Michael didn't get cold easily.
Sharpe handed an envelope to Michael. It had multiple sheets of paper inside and it was tightly sealed shut. It was obvious that Sharpe didn't want its contents to be seen by anyone other than the person it was intended for. "See that your father receives this," he said, using his normally stern voice. However, there was a flicker of emotion in his facial expressions that almost gave him away. Fortunately for him, Michael didn't notice. He took the envelope and left for home, leaving Sharpe alone with his thoughts once again.
Sharpe smiled, stroking the leather notebook. Outside, the winds were blowing and next door, he could hear the frantic shuffling of papers, as well as Josiah and Laura Clarkson arguing over something. He was quiet, enjoying the rare moment of peace that came only every so often in the chemistry lab. Quiet meant that he was able to think in solitude. And that was the way he liked it.