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Lessons from a Stranger

by Kimberly Muta 5 months ago in Short Story
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Guess Who's Coming to School?

Lessons from a Stranger
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Lessons from a Stranger

Sydney was in a full-out crisis mode. She grabbed my arm and said, “Can you believe it, Samantha? Mr. Weston retired! I loved him. Why would he do this to me?”

“I’m sure he wasn’t doing this to you. He’s an old man. He was probably just ready to quit working and relax for a minute.”

“Well, he could have waited one more year.” She had a pouty look on her face. It emphasized her full lips. “And have you heard about the new guy? He’s supposed to be a really hard teacher. I am not looking forward to this year, and it’s supposed to be our best year yet. We’re seniors! This year should be amazing!”

I could understand Sydney’s angst. She got along really well with Mr. Weston, who contributed immensely to her love of reading and writing. She loved talking about literature with him. She often dragged me with her to his classroom after school to discuss Gatsby or Hester or Holden. Their conversations always left me behind, but I enjoyed watching her get so into the characters that they seemed like friends of hers. It made me wish that I got as much out of literature as she did.

Sydney and I soon immersed ourselves in the first day of our last year of high school. All of our classmates seemed as excited as we were to finally be seniors. The chatter in the hallways was enthusiastic, and the energy carried itself into the classrooms as we joked with each other and our teachers. And then it was time for Senior English with Kelly Marshall, the new guy.

The classroom was different than it had been last year. The walls were adorned with shiny laminated posters, and there were multi-colored panels over the fluorescent lights that gave the room a warm glow. Plants sat at either side of a couch in the corner. Mr. Marshall’s desk was not the old metal one that Mr. Weston sat at. This one was large, with a deep mahogany color that shone. The room was welcoming, to say the least.

Mr. Marshall stood behind his desk, greeting each of us and checking off our names on a clipboard as we introduced ourselves to him. He was attractively dressed in a pink button down shirt with black skinny jeans and gray Hey Dude shoes. He wore a knotted pink and gray scarf. I noticed also that he had glittering stud earrings, and his nails were painted. I was intrigued by him.

“What is that?” Sydney leaned over and whispered to me after we took our seats. “He has fingernail polish on! And a scarf!”

“So what? I think it looks cool,” I said.

“Really?” Sydney seemed doubtful. I wasn’t surprised by her reaction. Sydney was definitely part of a very conservative community; Logan Hills was small and politically red. Her parents had raised her with their traditional values. I considered it my obligation to expose my friend to more progressive ideas.

“Good morning, everyone,” Mr. Marshall began the class. “My name is Kelly Marshall. I would prefer that you refer to me as ‘Marshall.’ I’m nonbinary, and so I don’t go by Mr. or Ms. My pronouns are they/them.” He looked around the room, making eye contact with all of us.

I felt the class respond rather than see it. People shifted in their seats. Eyebrows raised. Lips pursed. Sphincters tightened.

Marshall continued. “I met with Mr. Weston last week to talk about the curriculum. I will focus Senior English on rhetorical analysis during the first semester as we examine and write arguments. Then in the second semester, we will engage in literary analysis. We’ll look at many of the literary works that Mr. Weston had picked out for you, so we won’t be doing entirely different stuff this year. Now, we’ll look over the syllabus, and I’ll answer your questions.”

Class continued as we reviewed Marshall’s expectations and policies. No one asked any questions about the syllabus, despite Marshall’s frequent stopping and checking in with us. “Okay, that’s the end of the syllabus,” he said. “We have some time left. Are there any general questions that you have about me or about the class?”

Sydney raised her hand. “Yes…” Marshall looked down at their clipboard. “Sydney, is it?”

“Yes, um, Marshall. What do you mean by ‘nonbinary’?” She asked. I was proud of the respectful way that she asked the question, and I hoped that Marshall knew how much effort it would take the students at Logan Hills to get used to them.

“That’s a good question, Sydney. It means that I don't identify as strictly male or female. You may have noticed that I am not dressed and accessorized as one or the other. That’s because I don’t choose clothes and accessories based on gender-specific associations. I just choose whatever I like, and I am attracted to things that are seen as traditionally male and female.”

“Can I ask another question?” Sydney said.

“Of course.”

“I heard you’re a really hard teacher. Is that true?”

Marshall smiled and their eyes twinkled. “I have high expectations of you and of myself. However, I will help you reach those expectations. I will be here early, and I will stay late if you want to meet with me for help. The things we will do in class will push you intellectually, and I do believe that there is value in struggle, but I will be your safety net. Fair enough?”

Sydney nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Any other questions? Not just from Sydney. From any of you,” Marshall said. No one responded. “Okay, then, for tomorrow, I would like you to read pages 13-20 in the textbook. The books are stacked over there,” they said, pointing to the wall next to the door. “Please pick one up on your way out.” At that, the bell rang. Students shuffled out, grabbing books as they walked out the door.

Sydney and I had lunch next. She was quiet as we picked up our trays and found our spots at the senior table. “So what do you think of Marshall?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. H– They seem okay, I guess. I still miss Mr. Weston. He was so…normal…and easy to understand.”

“I like them,” I said. “They’re easy for me to understand.”

“Really?” She asked for the second time. This time I answered her.

“Yes. I get where they’re coming from. Sometimes I feel girly, but sometimes I feel more masculine. Maybe that’s how they feel. And they are confident enough to live it out loud.”

Sydney looked at me for several seconds. “Do you think you are nonbinary, too?”

“I don’t think so. But maybe I’ll feel differently someday.”

Sydney was quiet. I’ll give her this: She didn’t freak out on me. I took that as a good sign.

* * * * *

Over the next several days, Marshall taught us about rhetorical analysis: the situation, the appeals, etc. We looked at different arguments, famous ones like The Gettysburg Address and Letter from Birmingham Jail. Most of us could understand the summaries of the literature, but explain the authors’ claims, decisions, and impact? We were struggling. Marshall was patient with us, prompting us, asking us questions, encouraging us to take risks. Some responded well, but others–many others–pushed back against the efforts to challenge us. Sydney was one of them.

“I just don’t know why we have to do things differently. I was doing great when Mr. Weston was here. I don’t understand Marshall and all that rhetoric crap h– they want us to do,” Sydney complained to me.

“Marshall wants us to understand literature more deeply. They want us to know what the author says, okay, but also why they say it and what they’re trying to accomplish. I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” I countered.

“Well, I don’t like it, and if I don’t get an A on this first essay, I’m going to do something about it.”

She didn’t get an A.

* * * * *

At first, I thought Sydney had just been making a threat about doing something because she seemed to take the news about the B- pretty well. When Marshall handed back the papers, Sydney opened hers up, nodded, showed me her grade, and put the paper in her backpack. Her expression was mild, unconcerned, I thought. And when I showed her the A on my paper, she smiled at me. I was so excited about getting a good grade that I didn’t immediately notice that the smile didn’t reach her eyes. It was only when I reflected later that I realized it.

* * * * *

Two days later, Sydney met me in the Commons before school, as usual, but she was carrying a clipboard. “What’s that?” I asked.

“A petition,” she said, not offering anything else.

“For what?” I pressed.

“To get Marshall fired. I’m not going to ask you to sign it, because I know you like them.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. “I do, that’s right. Why do you think they should be fired?”

Sydney looked down. She didn’t answer, so I swiped the clipboard out of her hand. “Hey!” she protested.

“For promoting values not in line with those of this community,” I read. “And what values are those? Critical thinking? Analysis? Or is it the values of straight white America?”

“You know what I’m talking about, Sam. Don’t pretend you don’t. Marshall doesn’t fit in here.”

“Oh, really? So we just remove anyone who is different? How very tolerant of you.”

I was angry. All of this was over a B-. And Sydney was using Marshall’s lifestyle to get her way. “And what’s next? Do we get rid of students who are different? You might not understand what you’re asking for.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m gay, Syd. I’m a lesbian. Should I be kicked out, too?”

Her eyes widened. “You’re what? How long have you known that? And why am I just hearing about it?”

“It isn’t about you. That’s why I haven’t told you. Plus I have just been figuring it out for myself. Marshall has freed me up to think about who I really am.”

“See? That’s what I mean! They are having an influence on kids, and that's just not right. You’re probably not a lesbian, Sam. You’re probably just confused. And Marshall is taking advantage of that.”

“Are you serious? Are you for real right now? I– I don’t even know what to say to you. I’m not confused, Syd. I am finally accepting who I really am.”

“Whatever, Samantha. I’m going to class. And I’m going to get this signed, and I’m going to take it to Principal Warren. And then Marshall is going to lose their job. You had better be prepared for that.” She walked off, stopping at a group of sophomores and showing them her petition.

There were still a few minutes left before first period. I walked up the grand staircase to catch Marshall before the bell. I found them in their classroom, writing on the white board. They were more feminine in appearance today, with a cold shoulder blouse and large hoop earrings. “Marshall,” I said. “I need to talk to you.”

“Is it about the petition?”

“Wait, how did you know?”

“Teachers find out things very easily and very quickly. You’d be surprised.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing.”

“But, you might lose your job. You have to do something.”

Marshall turned to face me, their face kind and patient. “Samantha, there really isn’t anything I can do. The petition will be signed or it won’t. The administration will respond to it or they won’t. The Board will fire me or they won’t. I just have to wait it out and see what happens.” They paused for a moment, and then they said, “What I’m more concerned about is how this will impact your friendship with Sydney.”

“Me, too,” I said. “I came out to her today.”

“How’d that go?”

“She thinks I’m confused. And that you have influenced me.”

“Have I?”

“Well, sort of. I have been inspired by you to face who I am. But am I gay because of you or because of something you did or said? No.”

“I inspired you?” Marshall’s green eyes glistened. “You know, Samantha, whatever happens will be okay if I helped one person to find their true self.” Marshall grabbed a kleenex off their desk and dabbed at their eyes. I was surprised at their emotional response, and I stepped up to hug them. A couple of moments into the hug, the bell rang, so I went off to my first class. I was anxious to see what luck Sydney was having with the petition.

* * * * *

By the end of the day, Sydney had 146 signatures. In a building with only 250 students, that was enough to attract some attention. I knew that Sydney had a meeting scheduled with Dr. Warren the next day. I decided to make an appointment myself to speak on Marshall’s behalf. It worked out that I would speak to him right after Sydney. I was nervous about what I would say, but I knew that I had to try. It just wouldn’t be fair to let Dr. Warren think that Sydney spoke for all the students.

* * * * *

During Marshall’s class the next day, two passes were delivered: one for Sydney and one for me. They both said, “Now,” which confused me. It confused Marshall, too–they looked at me quizzically as I packed up my bag. I wasn’t sure what Marshall would think of my speaking on their behalf, and so I avoided their eyes as I walked out the door.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Sydney asked me when we were out in the hall.

“I am sharing a different opinion than yours. Don’t you think that’s fair?”

“Samantha, I wish you would see things my way. Marshall’s influence is dangerous.”

“No, it really isn’t. Marshall has every right to live their life the way they want to. And if others learn to do the same, then more power to them. And anyway, what is this really about? Marshall’s queerness or your grade?”

Sydney ignored my question. “Do you still think you’re gay right now?”

“I am gay, yes. It’s not a right now thing. I have always been gay. I just hadn’t accepted it until now.”

“It’s just interesting to me that when Mr. Weston was here, you weren’t gay, but now that Marshall is here, you are.”

“Were you not listening to me? I didn’t just become gay.”

Sydney looked away, tucking her hair behind her ear, a nervous habit she had always had, but not one that she displayed often. Sydney was not the nervous type. I wondered what caused that little movement.

By that time, we had reached the office, and Dr. Warren’s secretary waved us in. “He wants to see both of you,” she said. Sydney and I looked at each other. “At the same time?” I asked.

“Yes, as it seems to be regarding the same thing.”

“C’mon in, ladies,” Dr. Warren said from his office. Sydney and I stepped inside. We each took a seat in front of his desk. “Now, what can I do for you two? Sydney, do you have something for me?”

“Yes, sir.” She handed a sheaf of papers to him. “It’s a petition to reconsider the hiring of Kelly Marshall.”

He took the papers, and he looked through them slowly. He seemed to read each signature carefully. I felt the prickle of sweat on my forehead.

“Okay, Sydney, thank you. Samantha, what do you have for me?”

“Nothing, sir. I just want to present a different viewpoint.”

“I see. What viewpoint is that?”

“The gay viewpoint, Dr. Warren,” Sydney blurted.

“Hey!” I nearly shouted.

“Girls, that’s enough. Sydney, why don’t you let Samantha speak for herself?”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Dr. Warren, Sydney wants Marshall fired, but they are a really good teacher. We are learning to think for ourselves in their class. Marshall helps us analyze literature and write really good argument essays. That’s the real problem. No one cared that Marshall is nonbinary until we got our first grades from them.”

“That’s not quite true, sir. Some of us have been concerned that Marshall would use their influence to promote their values, and that seems to have happened. Samanatha is proof.”

“What does Sydney mean by that?” Dr. Warren turned toward me.

I sighed. I should have known she would out me. “I’m gay, sir. Something that I have known for a really long time. I have only recently begun to accept it, though. Sydney thinks that I’m gay because of Marshall, and that’s just not the case.”

“I see. Well, I can’t ignore this petition. There are just too many signatures to do that. But I’m not going to recommend that we fire Marshall, either. I will pass this on to the superintendent and the Board of Directors. Sydney, should I call your parents to tell them, or will you let them know?”

I looked at Sydney. If she had already involved her parents, then this was a much more serious matter. It was easy for adults to ignore children, but to ignore other adults? Not so much. And what if her parents got other parents involved?

“I’ll take care of it, Dr. Warren.” Sydney stood up. She waited a moment, looking down at me, and I realized she was waiting to walk out with me. It was a testament to my nervousness and confusion that I stood up and left with her.

* * * * *

Sydney and I didn’t talk much after that. We went through our day together, as usual, but we talked more to the people around us than to each other. After school, I went to my room, not an unusual occurrence, but I immediately got into bed and pulled the covers over me. That was how I handled stress. I slept. A couple of hours later, my phone buzzed, waking me. It was Sydney.

“Hello, Sydney. What do you want?”

“I want to say that I’m sorry. I know you really like Marshall. I don’t want this to ruin our friendship.”

“Funny. That’s the thing that worries Marshall most. Not their job. Our friendship.”

“Really? That’s what they said?”

“Yes.”

Sydney was silent.

“See, Syd? They are more concerned about us than about themselves. That’s a really good teacher. Hell, that’s a really good person.”

“I suppose.”

“So, do you still see them as trying to influence us?”

“I don’t know,” Sydney said. “Are you really gay?”

“Yes, and I have known it for a while now.”

“What does this mean for our friendship?”

“I don’t think it means anything. I’m no different today than I was yesterday. And, no, I don’t have a crush on you or anything. You’re my best friend.”

“Well, good, I guess. You’re my best friend, too. I don’t want to lose you.” She paused. “My parents are going in front of the Board of Directors tomorrow night.”

“Well, that was fast.”

“Yeah. Are you going to be there?”

“Of course. Someone needs to speak up for Marshall.”

“I’m glad they have you to speak for them.”

“Are you?” I wondered aloud.

“Yes, Sam. I know you don’t think so, but I am. I don’t dislike Marshall, really. I– I honestly don’t know how I feel anymore.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I don’t know, Sam. I gotta go. See you tomorrow.” Sydney hung up.

* * * * *

The next day, talk about the upcoming Board meeting buzzed around the school. Kids from all grades approached Sydney to congratulate her and encourage her. With each one, Sydney seemed to get more nervous, as evidenced by the almost compulsive tucking of her hair. I was a little surprised by that. Sydney was no stranger to attention from the masses. Her beauty and her position on the cheer squad ensured that she was well known and well liked by all. Usually she seemed to blossom under the adulation. But not today.

“Sydney, what is up with you today?” I asked impatiently as we walked to class. “You are really not yourself.”

“I’m fine. Sort of. I guess… I don’t know, Sam! Leave me alone!” She picked up her pace to walk ahead of me. I shrugged and let her go. Women, I thought. So touchy… I had more important things to think about, anyway. I needed to plan what I would say at the school board meeting. Maybe Sydney was just nervous about what she would say, too.

* * * * *

“Samantha, can I see you after class?” Marshall asked as we were all packing up to leave at the bell. I nodded, but I wanted to ask why. The bell rang, and kids filed out the door. I walked up to their desk.

“Sam, I hear that you plan to speak at the Board meeting tonight. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Of course it is. The Board needs to hear multiple perspectives, don’t you think? They can’t make an informed decision without all of the information.” I appealed to Marshall’s sense of logic and fairness.

“Nice try. I see what you’re doing. However, I don’t think you should put your neck on the line.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are too vulnerable as a gay person in this town. I don’t want you to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. It’s not safe for you.”

“With all due respect, Marshall, I think you’re overreacting. I have lived here all my life, and I have been gay all that time. I wouldn’t say that I’m ‘vulnerable.’”

“You might not think so, but believe me, you are. The people of this town haven’t known you as a lesbian your whole life. And trust me, it will come out in the meeting.”

“I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I’m not going to let Sydney and her parents have the last word about you.” I picked up my bag. “I have to go to lunch now. Please don’t worry about me, Marshall.”

“Easier said than done, Sam.”

I walked out of the room and saw Sydney waiting for me down the hall. “What did they want?” she asked.

“They were trying to talk me out of speaking tonight. They think I’m ‘vulnerable’ as a lesbian.”

“Well, Marshall is pretty smart. I’m not going to tell you not to speak at the meeting, of course, but you should think seriously about what they said.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Are you ready for tonight? I don’t know what I’m going to say, yet.”

“I have been writing some thoughts down, yes.”

“Well, good luck. I know you feel strongly about this. I don’t agree with you, but I admire you for taking a stand on your opinion.”

“Thanks, Samantha. I admire you, too.” She smiled at me, and the world lit up. I loved her smile. It made me feel like everything would be alright. Ironic, I thought.

* * * * *

The boardroom was full when I got there. People were standing against the walls. I signed in and indicated that I wanted to speak. I saw Sydney’s parents’ names on the list already, and Sydney’s name was right below theirs. I looked around, and I finally found them sitting in the third row of chairs. Two rows behind them, I saw Marshall. They were in a purple slim-fit suit with conservative black pumps. I wished they had dressed more carefully. Maybe if they looked like a cis-male, it would be harder for the Board to see them as a threat to all the straight kids at Logan Hills. Turning, I found a spot against the wall in the back.

“Thank you all for being here tonight. Quite a crowd, isn’t it?” Board president Mrs. Stallworth said, turning toward the rest of the Board. “We have some people who want to address the Board, so I think we’ll start there tonight. Mr. Morse, I believe you signed up to speak.”

Sydney’s father stood up and walked to a podium set up in front of the Board members. As much as I loved Sydney, I really couldn’t stand her dad. I kept that to myself, of course. Sydney didn’t need to know that I found her father to be an intolerant, pompous ass.

“Thank you, Mrs. Stallworth. Ladies and gentlemen, Logan Hills is a wonderful community full of good people. Part of what makes this a great place to live is our strong family values. We don’t tolerate anti-family trends that liberals promote. We stand strong for God and the United States. Now, it has come to my attention that our children are being exposed to those very liberal ideals that we have protected them from for years. The new teacher, Mr. Marshall, is endorsing sexual perversion by claiming to be ‘nonbinary.’ He is in a position of influence in our school. Children might begin to think that it's okay to go against God’s plan for men and women. We don’t need our kids thinking that there are more than two genders. We don’t need our kids thinking that they are something other than God made them to be. Other towns might succumb to the encroaching tide of liberalism, but Logan Hills is better than that. We can stand strong by firing Mr. Marshall, and hiring someone whose values are in line with those we hold dear. Thank you.”

There was applause from almost all of the crowd, but I was happy to note that there were some people shaking their heads. They were the minority, but at least I wasn’t alone. I saw a few of our teachers in that group, and I saw some students as well.

“Thank you, Mr. Morse. Sydney Morse, I believe you brought the petition to Dr. Warren. You have the floor to speak,” Mrs. Stallworth said.

Sydney stood up. She was wearing a flowered romper and glittering sandals. Her blond hair was pulled back in a gold clip. She really was a beautiful person, inside as well as outside. I had such a hard time reconciling that beauty with the prejudice that her father espoused. I truly thought she was better than that, but here was the evidence that I might be wrong.

“Hello everyone. My name is Sydney Morse, and I’m a senior. I’m in Marshall’s Senior English class. I remember the first day of school. Marshall was standing there in men’s skinny jeans, a pink shirt, Hey Dudes, and a pink scarf. He even had earrings and painted nails. I was shocked. What man wore scarves and had painted nails, I remember thinking. Right? Has anyone here seen that type of person before?” She paused and looked around at the Board members and the audience. She waited until people began shaking their heads in response. “That’s what I thought. No one like Marshall has come to Logan Hills before. My dad is right. Logan Hills has very strong values, and Marshall’s values are different from ours.

I have learned over the past few weeks that when it comes to values, steel sharpens steel. That means that we can only test our own ideas when we put them up against those that differ, in fact, oppose them. Guess who I learned that from? Marshall.”

People began to murmur and shift in their seats. Mr. Morse looked confused.

“I have learned from Marshall. They’re really a good teacher. But the question is whether they have an influence on us, and the answer is yes.” At that, Sydney turned around and looked right at me. “Samantha, would you come up here?” She mouthed, Trust me.

Yes, I considered the possibility that she would out me for the purposes of getting Marshall fired. But Sydney was my friend. She had been my friend–my best friend–for years. She wanted me to trust her, and I did, I decided. I walked through the crowd to her, and I took her by the hand that she held out to me.

“This is my best friend, Samantha Hanson. I sometimes call her Sam,” she began. “Sam came out to me yesterday. Some of you don’t know what that means, I think, so I’ll tell you. Sam is gay. She has always been gay. I think I knew it long ago, and she did, too. But only now has she had the courage, in this town, to be honest about who she is and who she has always been. And only now have I been brave enough to stand here with her in front of you. That courage and bravery comes from a very specific place–it comes from Marshall. Their influence has made Sam and I fearless in our acceptance of each other.

“I love Sam, not as a girlfriend, but as her friend. The idea that she might have to hide her true self is a hard idea for me to accept. Harder, in fact, than the idea that there are people out there who are different from us. My own values have not changed–I still value my heterosexuality and my hopes for a traditional family. In fact, I feel stronger in those beliefs because I have encountered beliefs different from my own. Marshall was right. Steel sharpens steel.

“Do you want to know why I started that petition? Because Marshall gave me a grade I didn’t feel I deserved. I had always received A’s in English, and they had the gall to give me a B-. But I didn’t think you would listen to me if I complained about my grade. So I picked on something that I actually don’t give a crap about. So what if Marshall wears earrings, and scarves, and sensible black pumps?” Everyone turned to look at Marshall. “I know that I started this. But now I want to end it. Please ignore my dad. Marshall is a great teacher, and they deserve their own classroom–here, in this town–so that they can continue to help us develop our own minds and strengthen our own beliefs. Yes, Logan Hills has specific values, but they aren’t strong ones unless we test them. Marshall helps us do that. Thank you.”

There was silence. Then a smattering of applause broke out. True, it didn’t spread throughout the entire audience, but a few of the people who had applauded Mr. Morse were now applauding Sydney. Mr. Morse’s face was red. He leaned over to his wife and whispered furiously into her ear. I was worried about what they would say to Sydney when they got home.

Sydney turned to me. “Thank you for trusting me,” she said.

I hugged her. “Are you going to be okay?” I whispered into her ear.

“Yes. Mom and Dad will be pissed for a while, but they’ll get over it. I’m sure there will be some new liberal-created crisis in the news tomorrow that will divert their attention.” She smiled that glorious smile.

“Thank you, Sydney. Samantha, you are also signed up to speak. Are you ready?” Mrs. Stallworth said.

“Thank you, but I think Sydney said everything I would have said anyway,” I replied.

“Okay, well, the Board will go into a closed session to discuss this issue. I would ask that the audience please leave the room for that session.”

People slowly got up and filed out of the board room. Sydney joined her parents at the door, and I looked for Marshall. I found them out in the lobby of the district office. “Well, that went better than I imagined it would,” I said to them.

“Sam, you need to be prepared for me to be fired. I know you think that Sydney’s speech will fix everything, but in my experience, that’s not what happens.”

“What do you mean? She admitted that she shouldn’t have even started this whole thing. You don’t think that will put an end to it?”

“I wish it would, but Mr. Morse’s voice will carry more weight than his daughter’s.”

“Really? That’s not fair!”

“Samantha, I have really enjoyed having you in class. Sydney’s voice is a powerful one, but so is yours. You can be an inspiration, too, just like I was for you. Other kids look up to you, just like they look up to Sydney. I see it in their faces when you speak in class. There are others who are looking for themselves, who are trying to discover who they are. Your example will be the inspiration they need to find their answers, whatever those answers may be. No matter what happens tonight, I want you to understand that.” Marshall reached down to hug me, and then they turned and left the district office. They thought they knew the outcome, but I still believed in the goodness and grace of people.

Dr. Warren appeared out of the crowd. “Samantha, you should head home now. You have school tomorrow.”

“I want to know what happens.”

“I know you do. I don’t blame you. But they will likely be in there for at least an hour. Closed sessions take some time. Stop by my office in the morning, and I’ll let you know what happened.”

* * * * *

I waited for Sydney the next morning. I wanted her to be there when we found out what the school board decided. We walked to the principal’s office. His secretary looked up. “Yes, ladies?”

“Can we see Dr. Warren, please?”

“Send them in,” Dr. Warren said loudly from his office.

Sydney grabbed my hand. “No matter what happens, we’ll be okay, right?” she said.

“Yes. I love you, Sydney. I always will.”

We walked in together, united in friendship.

Short Story

About the author

Kimberly Muta

I am a 55-year-old high school teacher in Iowa. I have just begun to write creative works after thirty years of academic writing.

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