April 30, 2009


CJ Hastings dashed out the door and down the three steps of the townhouse, shouting, “See ya, Phyllis! See ya, Mai Li!”

Waiting at the end of the sidewalk, was his best friend, who shouted, “You’re gonna be late again if you don’t hurry!”

“I told ya to call me,” CJ complained as they dashed down the sidewalk and turned right down an alley between the townhouse blocks.

“I did call you! But you have to turn on your cellphone if you want to hear me calling you!”

“Crap!” CJ exclaimed, wishing he could say something with a little more punch. But Job’s mom and dad were super religious and came from Liberia – they didn’t understand simple American slang was supposed to make you feel better. He tried to watch it around Job.

“Your leaf isn’t turning over very fast, CJ,” Job called as he sprinted past his friend.

“Hey!” CJ shouted, “I’m not the super track star and Brainiac of the seventh grade!”

Job stopped suddenly and CJ shot past him. An instant later, he’d pulled up alongside CJ as they hit Neill Armstrong Middle School’s outdoor track. It wasn’t a great looking field, but it would do until they graduated to the high school track in ninth grade. Then they’d run for Coopman High School – one of the best track sprinting high schools in Minnesota.

They did a ninety-degree cut and dashed through the front doors just as the bell rang. “Hey! There’s still people in the hallways! That was only the first bell!”

Mr. Beidelman, the building principal was standing in the very center of the crowd of moving students. At two meters tall, he towered over the hundred kids hurrying to make it to Home Room in time for the first bell. Of course, he was looking right at CJ when he raced into the entryway, nearly trampling two little sixth grade girls. He scowled as he said, “CJ! I thought we had this all worked out? Your mother was going to make sure you got up on time and job was going to make sure you made good time from your house to the school.”

“But Mr. B! Mai Li was in one of her moods today! She had Mom by the hair and then Mrs. Dondelinger was late…"

Mr. Beidelman held up his hand and closed his eyes. He said, “No more excuses, CJ. We’re tired of excuses. We want to see a new leaf. That’s what you and your mother promised: you were going to turn over a new leaf now that it was spring and there were five weeks of school left.” He made a brushing motion. “Now get to Homeroom before you’re really late.”

CJ hung his head for a moment, but inside he wanted to punch Mr. Beidelman’s lights out. But the man was almost twice as tall as he was and weighed about a hundred kilos more. Mr. Beidelman had been in the Marines. He’d could probably chop a wimp like CJ into little pieces and feed him to the rats in Ms. Talented’s science room.

Job was tugging on his sleeve and he followed. They had just enough time to throw their backpacks in their lockers before dashing into homeroom.

He was lucky Ms. Talented was his homeroom teacher. She only sighed when he stepped into the room right after the bell rang. She just said softly, “New leaf, CJ. Let’s work on that new leaf…”

CJ stared at her, looked around at everyone staring at him then let his head fall to his desk.

Nothing was ever going to change. Especially him.

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