“Alright now! Hurry up and get off, I ain’t got all day!”
Johnny stumbled onto the sidewalk as the bus sped away before the doors had barely shut. He walked toward his house, searching the windows for any sign of his dad. Nothing.
The 12-year-old hesitantly made his way to the front door, the pit in his stomach growing with every step. He wished for some way out. He thought of running, but he knew he had nowhere to go.
His hands shook as he reached for the knob, trying to make as little noise as possible. He carefully shut the door behind him and…
He felt the blood rush from his face as the sound resonated through the air. It might as well have been a gunshot.
“John?! That you?!” cried his father’s gruff voice.
Johnny swallowed, “Y-yeah…It’s me…”
A large man appeared through the kitchen door, covered in grease and dressed in construction clothes. “Welcome home, my boy! I’ve been waitin’! Did ya get yur English test back?”
“N-no…” Johnny replied, sheepishly.
The burly, middle-aged man looked at his son with a sternness that could only be matched by posters found in the streets of Moscow or Berlin.
“Oh really…gimme that!” he said, snatching Johnny’s bag.
“Wait! No! Please!”
Johnny could see his father’s jaw tighten, “What did you say? Boy, when I tell ya to give me ya fuckin’ backpack, ya fuckin’ hand it over! D’ya hear me?!”
“Y-yes, sir” Johnny said as he handed over the backpack, tears starting down his cheeks. He slumped onto the steps.
The next few moments drug on forever as his dad tore through the backpack and commandeered the test. Dark eyes glanced over the paper and landed on the “B+” at the top of the page.
“B Plus?! What the fuck is this?!” he barked as rage sparked in his eyes.
The little boy hesitated, wishing there was a canyon separating him from his prosecutor.
“Didn’ I ask you a question, boy?!” his father yelled as began taking off his belt. “Get off your ass and drop’em!”
Johnny crouched down as he tearfully obeyed, lowering his jeans to his calves. Before he could re-erect himself, he rediscovered the pain of his knees slamming the floor. He tried to force back the tears and the yelps, but nothing could prevent him from reacting to the assault against his thighs. Instead, he reached for something, anything, so that he could prevent his hands from martyring themselves by running to his defense. He grabbed his backpack, pulled it in close, and huddled over it until the storm had passed.
Once he was able to collect himself, Johnny limped the rest of the way to his room, dragging his only comforter up the stairs behind him.
He couldn’t bring himself to eat, and homework only whispered the inevitable “teaching moments.” He prayed for sleep to come quickly as tears drenched his pillow. The hours dragged on as his dreams taunted him with the promise of escape, but it was well after midnight before the night yielded any compassion and allowed him to sleep.
Johnny got up early so he could eat his breakfast and leave the house as quickly as possible. He was convinced that there was no other kid in the universe who felt as delighted in seeing the school bus as he did that morning. He slouched in the back seat in complete silence, grateful that no one expressed interest in talking.
Johnny focused all of his energy in trying to cover up the limp as he down the hallway, reluctant to make eye contact with anyone on the way to his classroom. He knew that if he got there quick enough he could snag a desk in the back, fading out of sight and of mind.
“Good morning, Jonathan!” came a kind voice from behind the front of the room.
“Good-mornin’, Mr. Hopson…” He replied, staring at the floor as he passed.
‘What’s wrong, kiddo?” the young teacher asked,”Bad morning?”
“I can’t…” Johnny stopped mid-sentence, attempting to fight the torrent building behind his eyes. He braced himself against a nearby desk as he felt emotion sucking the strength out of his knees.
Mr. Hopson hastily moved from his desk to kneel next to Johnny.
“My boy, what’s wrong?”
Johnny opened his mouth, but before he could force the words out of his chest, his worst nightmare thundered through the doorway behind them.
“Boy, ya think you can just up and run outta tha house withou’ sayin’ somethin’ to ya father?!”
Johnny was startled at the sudden appearance of his dad. Instinct and self-preservation hijacked him and he found himself crouched in a defensive stance behind Mr. Hopson, who had found himself equally as startled.
“Well, good morning Mr. O’Reilly. Is everything ok?” he said as he stood to address the unexpected visitor, feeling the cold sting of terror coming from the crouched figure behind him.
” ‘Fraid the answer’s gonna be a nah, Teach.” He chuckled, “This one here hadn’t learned no respect for his elders. I’m here to make sure he learns some respect an’ apologizes to ya.”
“I don’t understand. Why would Jonathan need to apologize to me?” the teacher asked with confusion.
“I saw his test. He done gone blown it all when he know he’s better than this! He wasted yur time. Not applyin’ his-self. Fuckin’ up his grades. AGAIN!”
Johnny let out a whimper in response.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” Mr. Hopson replied trying to remain calm himself as he stood in disbelief that someone would say such things in front of their kid. “If I recall correctly, Jonathan did well on that test. One of the top 5 scores in the classroom.”
“It ain’t acceptable! He is better than this. He knows it!”
“No,” Mr. Hopson retorted firmly, his patience now gone. “No, sir, he is not ‘better than this.’ But if he continues to show the improvement and effort that I have seen thus far, I have no doubt in my mind that he most certainly will be!”
At first, surprise overtook the burly man’s face, but anger quickly took the helm.
“HOW DARE Y…”
“No, sir! How dare YOU?! This is your son! He worked hard to receive a more-than-acceptable grade and you responded with shame and degradation?! I would venture to guess that his,” Mr. Hopson paused to remember the phrasing, “ ‘wasting my time’ is the reason why my favorite student limped into my classroom this morning!”
“I-I…how dare…”, stammered O’Reilly, his angry confusion leaving him lost for words.
“Get out of my classroom. You are not welcome here!”
“Uh-I-uh…” disbelief hindering his ability to respond.
“NOW, Sir! Get out before I call security!”
“F-fine…boy, let’s go!”
Johnny began to move towards the door when, suddenly, Mr. Hopson’s arm moved across his chest and held Johnny at his side.
“He won’t be going anywhere with you. Not until CPS has conducted a full investigation of your household and parenting methods.”
A mixture of surprise, anger, and fear flashed over the defeated man’s face.
Finding no words, Mr. O’Reilly bowled over a few desks and grabbed the teacher’s shirt.
Suddenly, Johnny heard a thwap! and watched as the angry beast-of-a-man staggered backwards, clutching his bleeding nose.
His father jumped at them again with a yell.
O’Reilly fell into several desks, struggling to get back up.
Johnny didn’t even see Mr. Hopson pick up the yardstick which he now held, raised in preparation for another defensive strike.
With incredible grace, Mr. Hopson parried yet another assault with a quick flick of the wrist. He also managed a well-placed strike to the temple, leaving a nasty wound to swell up on the side of the assailant’s face.
“This is your last chance,” bellowed Mr. Hopson, “GET OUT!”
O’Reilly looked at the teacher enraged. “We ain’t through! I’ll be back and you’ll get what’s comin’ to ya!” He stormed out of the room.
In the first few silent moment, Johnny stood paralyzed. He looked out of the door in disbelief. Once his body had determined that it was no longer in a state of harm, the primal “fight or flight” crew relinquished their control. A deluge of emotion came over Johnny and his knees yielded all of their will to continue. He didn’t care what people saw or heard anymore and he slipped into the most honest, unhindered crying that he had awarded himself in years.
Mr. Hopson dropped his weapon and knelt down to pull him close. “It’s ok, kiddo. You’re safe. He is gone now and you are here with me. I promise, Jonathan. You…are…safe!“