June 29, 2009


Mr. Bates caught Christopher Hastings in the hallway. “Will you be joining us tonight for Math Team practice? The District Tournament is this Saturday and the State Meet is next weekend.”

For a second, CJ couldn’t breathe. If he didn’t meet Mom before Ms. Hester called her, she would not only have a thermonuclear meltdown, she’d probably ground him for the rest of the year. But if he missed practice, he wouldn’t be ready for the Tournament AND his three-day suspension would be over and Mom would just HAVE to let him go.

He held his breath then said, “I’ll be there, Mr. Bates.”

“Good,” he nodded, his long, thin nose cutting the air like a blade. “You must practice reading the questions. You don’t have time to stumble around and ask others to help you sound out words. You have been practicing your sight words, haven’t you?”

CJ nodded and hurried to his locker, got his books for next hour and got to class before the bell rang.

After school, CJ felt sick. “Maybe I should just go home, tell Mom and get it over with?” he said to Job Doe.

Job shook his head. “Listen, I know your mom’s gonna implode, but if you don’t practice tonight, there’s no telling how bad you’ll mess up on reading the Tournament questions!” Job replied. “Mr. Bates may be a refugee from a horror movie, but he’s still the only one who’s ever been able to help with your reading."

CJ nodded and walked into the math room.

Mr. Bates scowled. “On time as usual, eh, gentlemen?” He turned back to the rest of the team. After a moment, he turned to CJ and snapped, “Calculate the cube root of 4907.”

CJ fired back, “Sixteen point nine-nine.”

He nodded slowly then handed Job an envelope. He opened it, read, paused and replied, “Two of them will make thirteen ninety-five and hour. The manager will make twenty-six fifteen and hour.”


Practice wore on until Mr. Bates handed him an envelope. He watched CJ intently.

CJ felt the usual panic fill him, starting at his ankles and moving up until his ears seemed to be gurgling.

Mr. Bates said softly, “You can do this, Christopher. Stop panicking, close your eyes, open them, focus on the words and read one at a time.”

CJ did what Mr. Bates told him to do. After a moment with his eyes closed, the panic subsided. He opened them and looked at the first word, read it then moved on to the second, third…by the time he reached the end, he knew the answer. “They’ll need fourteen thousand, nine-hundred and sixty-two linear feet to complete the garage.”

Mr. Bates smiled and nodded. Jude Hildebrandt clapped her hands, smiling at him, too. CJ blushed. Eighth grader Sentury Millner gave him a dirty look. She’d never liked CJ and he was pretty sure she asked Mr. Bates after every practice if they really needed to have the “seventh grader who couldn’t read” on the Math Team. But Mr. Bates had never let CJ go.

The worked on until Mr. Bates finally said, “Enough for tonight. We need to meet in the entryway of Armstrong High School on Saturday morning at eight o’clock. AM, people. Not at night.” He scowled at Job and CJ, but his look softened until he rolled his eyes and dismissed them.

CJ and Job sprinted for the door and pounded out it, cutting across the parking lot. Ms. Hester’s car was still in its usual place. “Maybe she didn’t try to call Mom yet,” CJ shouted at Job.

“I can only pray!” he shouted back as he cut away from CJ at an angle, heading for his own house. CJ sped up and reached home moments later. He bounded up the steps and stopped. No car in the driveway! He was home free!

She was waiting for him in the living room. “Christopher. Please come here and sit down.”

Chris came and sat, hands in his lap.

Mom said, “You’re grounded. Until Monday.”

“Mom, we have a…”

“Math Tournament. I know. I just got off the phone with Mr. Bates. He knows you won’t be there.”

CJ jumped up but didn’t shout. He was too afraid he’d bust out crying if he opened his mouth. Instead, he stomped through the house, opened the basement door and slammed it good and hard as he ran to his room, sure that he heard Mai start crying because of the slammed door – and not sure if he cared right now.

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