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Chapter 7: Scene 25: Reading lab


ThinkLink: Have you ever been in a situation where you didnít want people to notice you or pay attention to you?


"Reading lab," Logan says, and he points me through a door. "Mrs. Warren, this is John Hanson, your new tutor. Can you use him?"

       "Certainly can. I'm testing all this week. John, sit over there by Pat Douglas. He'll show you how we do things."

       Four tables fill the middle of the room, four chairs at each table. Only six kids in the room, though. I pull out a chair and plunk down next to Pat. "Show me how you do this Tutoring ."

       He slumps over and looks out the window. His boy-next-door face gets all red, like he's been running. He pushes a book down the table at me. "I'm not the tutor. You are. I'm the one who can't read. I mean I can read some. I just..." He glares at me, like it's my doing. "Lots of guys come in here."

       "Sure. I get it."

       "No you don't." He squirms around and scrapes his chair against the table leg. Mrs. Warren gives us her teacher's stare, so Pat leans over and mutters low, "We was always moving around. I'd think it was fun to go to a new school. Shit. She'd stick me in with the crows or lame ducks. Everybody else got to be bluebirds or robins."

       "So what'd you do?"

       "Fooled around." He perks up. "I figured I was too sly to get caught." Then he grins big. "In fourth grade I skipped school twenty-three days first semester."

       Mrs. Warren stands up behind her desk in back of the room and calls to a guy at the next table. "Denny, bring your book and come back to my desk. And, Gary, now that you've finished your test sit up at Pat's table and read for John. He's the new tutor."

       I slump down when she points me out. I look around to see if anybody's sizing me up. Nobody but Pat is in Taylor so they must be from other cottages. I hunker down. At Wheatland High , the social studies teacher told us an old Chinese saying: The nail that sticks out gets pounded down.

       I watch Gary as he pokes along by the counter that runs under the windows. He stops to ruffle up the pages of a big dictionary.

       "Gary, get to work now," Mrs. Warren tells him.

       "OK hold your horses. I'm just looking up a word."

       "Gary!" Her voice turns screechy.

       "I'm going, I'm going," he says. He struts over to the table and sits down next to Pat. I watch as they whisper to each other, but I can't catch what they're saying. They pass stuff back and forth underneath the table.

       Then Gary calls back to the teacher. "Mrs. Warren, I gotta go to the toilet."

       "All right, but don't stay in there more than two minutes."

       "No one can do number two in two minutes," he booms out, howling out loud at his own joke."


       "Yeah, Mrs. Warren."

       There's a little bathroom right behind our table and Gary slams the door behind him as he goes in.

       Mrs. Warren looks ready to snarl but Pat gives her his sweet look and she turns back to her desk. When she looks away, he nudges me and points to the grate at the bottom of the bathroom door. The smell of tobacco smoke makes its way out to our table first and then down to the end of the room. Everybody looks down like they're reading the best book they ever saw. Mrs. Warren jumps up from her desk and marches toward the bathroom. She bangs on the door. "Gary, get out of there at once!"

       "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming." he says, but his voice is partly covered over by the toilet flushing. He opens the door and steps out in a haze of smoke. He looks real happy with himself, even when she tells him to sit in a chair next to the door while she calls for a staff worker to come and take him to the office.

       "You give him a cigarette ?" I ask Pat, who's flopped over on the table, laughing so hard he's about ready to cry.

       When he can talk he says, "He tore a page outta that dictionary back there, and he made a rollie from some tobacco I traded him. Got it from my brother when him and my Mom came to visit yesterday." Pat looks smug. "Buys me all sorts of stuff. Guys owe me work, junk from the commissary ; you name it, I get it."

       Right after Gary's been led off to the office, still grinning, the bell rings for lunch. Pat walks with me over to Taylor Cottage, while Davis herds us two-by-two on the walkway from the school as Ferguson watches from the front door.

       "I wonder what kind of grub we get for lunch," Pat says. "I must put on ten pounds every time I get sent here."

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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