“Life at home was a mess. Pete was always crying. Mom was always away, and I hadn’t seen Dad in months. The day he left isn’t an open subject, and neither was ‘Him.'”
Life at home was a mess. Pete was always crying.
Mom was always away, and I hadn’t seen Dad in months.
The day he left isn’t an open subject, and neither was “Him.”
“Him” is the driver of the mysterious car that mom climbs out of some nights. It’s not a taxi; trust me. It’s a blue Mercedes. I’m good with cars. Credit goes to Dad.
School is my escape from all that. And I don’t mean that.
With my friends I can escape. No, no, no. It’s my teacher. My math teacher, to be exact. Ms. Linson.
She’s cheery and bright, and actually makes learning, well, fun. I’m not a straight-A student. I mean I don’t fail, but my grades range from the occasional A to the super rare C, so my grades are mostly B’s.
Don’t get me wrong, I have good friends. Nico and Rick and Kyle and I are all cool, but we’re not all buddy-buddy, like girls. I started skipping to class, only to halt abruptly and question my mental mind. I’m lucky no one saw me. I dribbled my basketball the rest of the way to class, careful to keep myself from skipping again.
Why are people so mean?
Is it a virus?
A chemical in our brains?
Or the result of bad parenting?
Also, why don’t they tease me? People have told me, “You’re pretty and nice; that’s why.”
But then I always say, “Olivia is nice, and she gets bullied.”
After that, people just shake their heads at me. I don’t care; they also do that when I help Olivia up.
I like school. Especially music and math. I play three instruments. Piano, flute, and violin.
Flute’s my favorite, though. My dad calls me Madame Mozart because I love music so much.
But I love math too. I mean, with a teacher like Ms. Linson, it’s impossible to not like math. She’s so nice!
I mean, when I forgot my homework at home last week, she was really nice about it and let it go after I promised to bring it next week.
When I arrived at school, I was happy and excited.
Did you realize I said “was?”
I walked down the hall quickly, head down, hoodie up.
I prayed they wouldn’t see me.
“Hey look, it’s cowgirl!”
Too late, I thought.
Niko and Yanic cornered me.
“What’s wrong? Show your face, come on, don’t be shy,” jeered Yanic.
I had to. If I didn’t, lord knows what would happen to me.
Slowly, I revealed my face. Yanic and Nico showed mock faces of disgust.
“I think she’s gotten uglier since we last saw her!”
“Why do they let cows in school?”
“People, look out! Cow without a bell! Cow on the loose!”
Stop it, stop it, stop it, I thought.
Okay, I know you’re wondering. Let me clear up the mystery. My caramel skin is covered in white blotches. Only on my face though. Unfortunate, isn’t it? Imagine, in all the places it could be, it’s the face. Really, God, why are you punishing me?? Tell me!! I shut my eyes and thought of butterflies. I rehearsed the song my little sister, Layla, taught me. “Butterfly, butterfly, ooh a butter-butter.” A scream erupted my song. Until then, I hadn’t realized the math room had been oddly still. There was a crowd surrounding the now open door. I hurried to get a better look.
I gasped as people said, “Somebody get the nurse!!”; “Is she dead?!”; “Unconscious?”; and “Why are her eyes open??”
Ms. Linson, my favorite teacher, was lying on the ground.
A look of terror plastered on her face.
I was the one who had gotten Mrs. N, the school nurse. As soon as I saw what happened, I ran to get her. I told her what happened. She looked at my face to see if I was kidding, then jumped out of her chair when she realized I wasn’t. She ran down the hall surprisingly fast for a seventy-something year old. When she came to the classroom door, she froze. Then she bent down.
She checked Ms. Linson’s pulse.
She checked it again.
Ms. Linson’s first name.
She turned around, face ashen.
She looked at a girl in my class.
“Harper, get the principal.”
“I’m calling 911.”
I sprinted down the hallway to the principal’s office. A few other teachers were in there, and the rest had already come to the scene.
Mr. Thompson, the principal, said, “What’s wrong?!”
I was tired from sprinting down four flights of stairs, so my response was a little delayed.
“Ms. Linson… lying down… not… breathing… Nurse — ”
Before I could finish, the principal was out of the door and racing down the hallway. I ran to catch up with him.
When we came to the scene, he gasped. Several teachers who had already arrived were crying and pale.
Then, the ambulance came.
A tension had been clogging up the room, like a thick, black smoke, and it had been getting really hard to breathe.
All of that disappeared when the ambulance came. Well, almost all of it.
Mr. Thompson rode in the ambulance, and his secretary, Janine (last name unknown) sent out a message to our parents. My dad and my mom picked me up. I could tell my mom had been had been crying, and my dad had been comforting her. Nobody said anything on the way home. We watched a silly movie, Welcome To My World. But as soon as the TV switched on, we started crying.
You wanna know why?
The first thing that appeared on the screen was an animated sun who said, “Don’t worry, and all your worries will go away!!”
Part Two: What a Day!
My grandmother, Hedi, picked me up. On the way home, she didn’t speak, and neither did I. As soon as I got to my room, I turned on the movie I always watch when I feel sad: Welcome To My World. But I turned it off after I heard the opening monologue. \
I flopped down onto my bed and cried. I cried for myself.
I cried for Ms. Linson.
But I cried for myself, mostly.
I heard Hedi come up the stairs and into my room.
“Tell me,” she said in her thick, Russian accent. “Tell me about those… ” (She doesn’t know much English.) “Boihs.”
I laughed a little. Then I told her the story I’ve never told anyone, the one I’m ashamed to speak of, afraid people will call me what they always have: Freak. Weak. But when I finished, my grandmother smiled and said simply, “Strong.”
I knew exactly what she meant.
I rode home on my bicycle. This was Mom’s day to pick up Peter. I put the frozen lasagna in the oven and plopped down on the bean bag chair in my room. I had so many emotions running through me, and it hit me, the reality.
There was no way Ms. Linson was alive. I know I didn’t mention it, but up until then, I had been telling myself, Okay, it’s okay Jack. She probably just fainted or something. That happens, right??
Just then, Mom burst through the door.
“Mom? Where’s Pete?”
“I dropped him off at his friend’s house. I told his parents I needed to spend some time with you for a change.” She smiled.
Mom never smiled anymore. I mean, there have been half smiles, but this was a full-out smile. She hugged me, then burst into tears. I hugged her, And she told me everything. About him, about Dad, about me and Peter. Him was a man she knew from work. His name was Tyson Brown. After Dad disappeared, Tyson had gone out of his way to make sure Mom didn’t get fired for missing so much work. Later, when Mom had kinda, sorta recovered, he started taking her to dinner on a weekly basis. She told him about me and Pete, and he didn’t seem to care… at all. Mom said she was thinking about having him meet Pete and me. But then she realized he wasn’t a good person and dumped him (even though they were never really together). She said she should have known better. When she was done, Pete got dropped off, and we watched Welcome To My World together… as a family. I cried a lot, but it was nice to be together for once.
The next morning, I woke up with my head spinning. I went downstairs for breakfast, though I wasn’t in the mood for talking. I was starving. I once read that hunger will make you do anything for a meal. I guess it’s true. Downstairs, my mom was flipping French toast on the grill, and my dad was reading the paper.
“Good morning, sweetie,” said my mom.
“Mornin’ Madame Mozart,” said Dad. He ruffled my hair.
Mom put down a plate of French toast with strawberries and maple syrup, my favorite. Mom sat down with her cup of coffee, and by the look my parents shared, I knew they were about to tell me something bad. I just stared down at my plate.
“Harper — ”
Maybe I misread their looks, maybe they’re going to tell me something good, like she just fell asleep on the floor?
Oh, who am I kidding??
“Is she alive?? Unconscious??” I asked frantically.
“Harper, princess… ” my dad began.
“Sweetie, she didn’t make it. We’re really sorry, honey,” my mom finished quickly, like ripping off a band-aid.
I lay my head down on the table. It was too much to bear. I cried. I don’t like sad stuff, I like happy stuff!! This definitely would qualify as a sad stuff thing!!
Then, a thought came to me.
“Will… she g-get…” I sniffled, “… a f-funeral?”
“Mozart, she doesn’t have any family left alive, and the PTA is generous enough to raise money to pay for one for her. It’s next Sunday.”
Mom cut in then. “Sweetie, you don’t have to g — ”
“I’ll go!! I need to go there, Mom, Dad.”
They nodded, and we had an agreement.
All weekend I stayed active. Babushka made sure of that. She took me to parks, museums, and a free Shakespearean play that was playing in Oaks Park. She did this to distract me from my sadness. Every time she saw some variation of a frown on me, she would slap me on the face lightly and tell me to snap out of it or she’d slap me on the face harder. That made me laugh. I knew this was to make me forget about Ms. Linson’s death. Regardless, I almost felt better. But, of course, on Monday I had to go back to school. Back to teasing, back to homework, back to bad memories. Actually… maybe not. Babushka had reported to the principal about the teasing (she called it harassment), but I was not sure if I was actually worth being reported. I mean if Nico and Yanic had decided that I was worth teasing through most of sixth grade, there must be something wrong with me… right?
On Monday, half of the kids who attend our school (Oak Academy) did not even show up. Information about how Ms. Linson died had not been released yet, and some parents feared foul play. I could sympathize with the terrified parents. I mean if this were to happen in my child’s school, I would immediately assume the worst as well. Mom and Dad had called and said they would make it home for the funeral, but I highly doubted that. They almost missed their own wedding because of work. Anyway, back to Monday. The whole school seemed gray and empty. I ran to class, literally, hoping to outrun Nico and Yanic, if they were even here.
“Hey!” someone yelled.
I stopped and turned. It was Harper, the girl who helped me up when I fell over my clumsy feet. She looked sad, but did her best to smile. “Nico and Yanic aren’t here today.”
“C’mon, let’s get to class.”
Her friends were frowning at her, and some actually started walking away.
“Why?” It was a stupid question, but I was curious. She was popular, not me.
“Because I want some nice friends for a change.”
I smiled. She smiled.
And we started walking to class.
I think every kid on earth can agree that Mondays suck. But this one in particular really sucked. I mean, I found out my teacher died! But Mom said I had to go to school. I guess it beats watching Pete fail at Mario Kart all day though. I walked into school as usual, but I realized that a lot of kids weren’t even at school! It was kind of creepy. I looked around and saw that Harper was here… walking with Olivia? I knew that Harper was always nice to her, but… then I had a pretty genius idea.
I walked up to them and said, “Hi Harper, Olivia. Can I walk with you guys to class?”
Olivia smiled. Score!
Harper smiled. Double score!!
“Sure,” they said at exactly the same time.
We cracked up at the look of surprise they shared, and then walked to our class.
Harper, Jack, and Olivia
This is what happened the morning before the funeral:
I put on one of my favorite dresses (chosen by me, Olivia, for her to wear) with black lillies (which we figured was appropriate because it was a funeral) and ate oatmeal (yuck) before we left.
I wore my dark, purple skirt and one of Harper’s shirts she lent me (which, by the way, is so pretty). Aw… thanks Liv! Welcome. I had cereal before we left.
Ugh. My mom made me wear these painfully tight jeans and a tie that really itches. Hey, I think they look cool! Do you guys have crushes or something on each other?! Change of subject, please! Okay fine… for now… mwa ha ha!!
Anyway, the funeral was really sad. R.I.P Ms. Linson!! Apparently she died from some sort of really rare bacteria that infests the bodies of people who get sick a lot. And you can’t get medicine for it because there is no medicine for it!! Sad…
Oh, we almost forgot something!!
Eh, people can read it in the author’s note. Wait what?!
So, you’re probably wondering why I left you off like that, and I’m sorry for that because I absolutely hate it when authors leave me on a cliffhanger at the end of the book. It’s the worst kind of surprise. But I realize that the end of the book should probably be told by the most important character in this story: Ms. Linson.
I should have gone to the doctor when I started feeling off-center. I really should have. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to end up sick and alone in a hospital bed like my mother, with no one willing or able to take care of her after she ran off without me at age eight. I didn’t want to leave my students, the children I found my only joy in (through teaching them). So I didn’t. And each day, slowly, I got worse. I could feel it in my bones. Each day, the cramps were worse, the pain was worse. I regret it, I regret it, I regret it.
One morning, I felt particularly awful, and I decided that day after school, I would go to the doctor. But as I was preparing the morning lesson, I fell out of my chair. I felt lightheaded, and I couldn’t get back up. I saw a ray of light poke through the roof of my classroom, and the sky opened up. I felt myself lift up into the air, leaving my body behind. I felt a rush of… alive, that I hadn’t felt in a while. I ascended into the clouds and settled down to watch over my students I knew needed a little extra help. Harper, Olivia, and Jack were three students I had that were a perfect friend match, but they just happened to be in the wrong positions. I pulled a few strings, got them together, and on they day of my funeral I decided to make one final appearance before I would permanently move myself, forever. Destination: Oaks Park. I swooped in, on paper thin angel wings and settled down on my grave. The only people who saw me were my three students, Jack, Olivia, and Harper, who stared at me in awe.
Before I disappeared into the earth forever, I whispered one last sentence, “Remember: You are never alone, you always have your angel wings.”