With a powdery crunch, the tip of the pencil lead snapped and slid uselessly out of the wood beneath her fingertips. It rolled across Becky’s paper, leaving a gray smudge across the question she’d been attempting to answer.
She threw down her pencil in disgust.
“Now what?” her friend Robin asked in a hushed whisper, looking out from under her carefully styled-to-look-messy thick, blonde hair. Robin glanced around quickly, looking for Mr. Nairhoft.
“My pencil is being stupid again! Besides that, I really don’t think writing an essay about the Spanish conquistadors is going to help Nana remember where her bedroom is, or not to turn on the stove,” Becky sighed, glaring at the offending question on her assignment. “I need to get home!”
“Well at least make it look like you’re working,” Robin replied with another fast glance around for the detention room monitor. “Getting another detention isn’t going to help your Nana either. It’s a good thing she can’t remember when you’re supposed to be home anymore, or you’d really be in trouble!”
“Is there a problem here, ladies?” Mr. Nairhoft said in a smooth, arrogant voice. “Rebecca?”
“Sorry, Mr. Nairhoft,” Becky apologized with a sweet smile. She really, really hated it when people called her “Rebecca.”
“This is the third time today my pencil’s broken,” she went on. “And I got frustrated with it. I’m sorry to have caused a disruption. May I go sharpen it again? That might help it, at least through the end of detention, anyway.”
Becky gazed up at the tall, rail-thin Mr. Nairhoft, hoping her repentant smile would earn her his permission.
“Does anyone have an extra pencil Miss MacDonnell can borrow?” Mr. Nairhoft asked loudly, turning around to view the detention hall, which was really just the cafeteria with the tables moved around a little. He’d glanced around so fast that he couldn’t have even bothered to see if anyone had an answer to his question. “No?”
Mr. Nairhoft turned back to Becky with that stupid fake smile he always had plastered on his face.
“Here, Mr. Nairhoft,” said a voice from the far table in the corner.
Becky turned around to see who had spoken, as did Robin, and Mr. Nairhoft. Actually, everyone in detention swiveled their heads to see who was denying Mr. Nairhoft the occasion to be his usual unpleasant self.
A boy about her age, sitting at a table by himself, wearing a black leather jacket, faded jeans that were more gray than black, and a T-shirt in the same condition, waved a yellow pencil in the air.
“She can use this one.”
He said it almost defiantly … like he was daring Mr. Nairhoft to come over and take it himself.
“Mr. Dugan, surely you haven’t completed all of your long overdue assignments,” Mr. Nairhoft said, folding his arms.
“I’ve completed all I’m going to,” the boy replied, matching Mr. Nairhoft’s tone exactly. The boy looked at Becky. “Want this?”
Becky nodded and stood up slowly, her frustration with her own pencil, assignment, Mr. Nairhoft and detention forgotten as all the attention shifted from her onto the boy.
“Becky, no,” Robin hissed in a whisper.
The boy’s eyes went back to Mr. Nairhoft’s as he held the pencil out for Becky to take.
Ryan Dugan wasn’t just a bad boy, he was the bad boy; everyone knew it. Always in trouble, always getting sent to the principal’s office, always in detention. There was even a rumor that last summer he wasn’t in summer school like he usually was, but in Mariposa Juvenile Detention Center three towns over.
And Ryan never, ever gave you anything without expecting something in return.
It felt good though, doing something Mr. Nairhoft couldn’t really complain about, even though she was technically breaking the “don’t leave your seat without permission” rule. Still, Mr. Nairhoft had asked if anyone had a pencil she could use, and Ryan did, so she was going to take it no matter what everyone else thought. Really she just wanted to see the look on Mr. Nairhoft’s face as she took the pencil from Ryan with a quiet “thank you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ryan said with a big grin. He winked—actually winked—at Mr. Nairhoft as he held onto the pencil before letting Becky take it. “Wouldn’t want you to get in any more trouble now, would we?”
Becky shook her head, stunned, and hurried back to her seat where she sat down quickly and bent her head over her assignment. She wondered if he knew what had landed her in detention. He sounded like he knew. Like he knew, and approved.
Becky’s mouse-brown hair hid her blue eyes enough that it kept Mr. Nairhoft from seeing that she was secretly glancing at Ryan while she pretended to work. Her eyes went to the clock on the wall. Twenty minutes of detention left, then she could get home to Nana.
Ryan sat back, clasping his hands behind his head as he leaned against the wall. Mr. Nairhoft berated the boy until he was blue in the face, said something about “another week’s worth of detention!” and stalked away to harass another student he didn’t think looked busy enough.
Ryan just grinned and caught Becky looking at him. He winked at her.
Becky blushed and bent her head back over her paper, trying not to think about how much time she had left to sit there.
Or that Nana might be setting the house on fire.
Everyone else had someone to pick them up when detention was finally over—even Robin, whose dad looked unhappy as Robin got in the car, even though he smiled wanly at Becky.
Although Becky would have been perfectly happy taking the bus, Nana used to drive her to and from school, when Nana could still be trusted to drive. Nana hadn’t driven in about three years. They’d taken away her license when Becky was eleven. Not that Nana was that old; there were plenty of drivers on the road older than Nana, but they could remember which house was theirs and which gear made the car reverse, and where they were going.
The doctors called it “early onset senile dementia,” but everyone knew that was just a polite way of saying that Nana was really too young to have Alzheimer’s, even though it was obvious that she did.
The school buses only ran before detention, not after, so that meant someone had to pick you up, or you had to walk home. Becky offered Robin and Mr. Turnbull a little wave of apology—after all, Robin wouldn’t have gotten into trouble if it hadn’t been for her—and then shouldered her backpack and turned quickly away to begin the long walk home before Mr. Turnbull could offer her a ride. There was just no way she wanted to be in the car with that much tension, and she really needed to clear her head before getting to her house. Who knew what disaster would be awaiting her today.