On one of the longest days of my life, we rolled up to DeGrazia High in the Humvee bumpin' R & B Christmas carols. It's a real Humvee, Army surplus, not the domestic Hummer you get off the lot. And when I got out, it was like The Day the Earth Stood Still. Swear to God-people just froze in their tracks.
And this black girl with these real long braids grinned over at me and said, "Oooooo, Merry Christmas to me, honey..."
So...let's just stop here and let me give you the lowdown on my looks because they're an important part of my story, unfortunately.
Long story short, I model sometimes. Total fluke, how that happened.
I was one of those fools that stands outside of Abercrombie and Bitch spraying everybody with that damned cologne that you could smell all over the Tucson Mall by the end of the day-you know, those guys with no shirts on. I got that job, for which I was totally underage--I'm 18 now, by the way--almost the same way I got my first modeling job that day. Someone liked my looks and invited me to apply.
But the modeling agent who discovered me there was a very big deal in the business. She was rushing through the mall looking for something one of her models needed or something--I've never actually asked her what exactly she was doing there that day. But I remember she went flying by me, then took a few steps backwards, flicked me this business card and went, "Call this number on Monday. Nine-ish, A.M." and then rushed right off again.
So, yeah, I'm a better than average looking guy. That's not something to brag about, of course-it's not something I earned or some kind of accomplishment. Luck o' the draw is all. And it pisses me off sometimes that it matters so damned much, but I'm not going to lie to you--it's an advantage, nine times out of ten. Yeah, you run into a lot of guys who really hate your guts from jump--women, too. But mostly, it gives you kind of a head start. And you can work it or not, it's up to you.
Big Man works it--he's my right hand man. I don't know how to explain what his "duties" are, actually. He's not a bodyguard, not a driver, not anything like that, though he does those things. I mean, sometimes he's like a father, sometimes he's like a brother...I don't even think of him as someone who works for me, though I do pay his salary.
And he's got 'way more swag than me. I think so, anyway. I mean, when he got out of the Vee, the girl with the braids almost had a total meltdown. Dude is every ghetto girl's dream. Baller tall, baller pressed to death all the time, too. Custom suits--no rapper shit. If a rapper's wearin' it, he won't. They couldn't anyway. His clothes have to be tailor made because he's so huge.
I mean, the man is incredibly particular about how he presents himself. Keeps his hair shaved down almost to nothin' and lined just right-I like to tease him about that after he goes to the barber. I get out my IPhone "leveler" app and put it up to the sideburns or the line above his eyebrows like I'm checking to make sure they're perfectly straight.
He is also the only man I know who doesn't have to look up to me. Literally. I've been almost freakishly tall since 8th grade. And Big can look me in the eye easy--could break me in half in a heartbeat, too. I'm pretty buff, but he's ridiculous.
Which...is why he's perfect for the job. He doesn't have to go for bad. He looks like he's bad. But you don't get a lot of men trying to test that. You know what I mean. The gunslinger, "Quien es mas macho" routine. They don't do that with him. They're scared he'll decide to show 'em how wrong they are
Having pretty much brought the whole campus to a halt just be getting out of the damned car, we strolled up this walk to the Main Office Building trying to hurry up and get outta the way so the kids would just go on about their business. But a bunch of girls started following us. And then all these other kids started following us. Till they got to the Main Office doors where this big Mexican security dude stepped out and said, "I know you're not tryin'a come in here and work this last nerve the day before vacation!"
He wasn't talking to me and Big, though. It was the kids trying to rush in behind us he was angry with. The girls gave him some lip, but he was running interference for us, stepping aside just enough to let us through while he sparred with them verbally. You could tell he really liked the kids and vice versa. So they were mostly laughing and teasing him, and trying to bribe him with Christmas cookies and stuff like that.
So we eased on by, but got this "Who do you think you are?" look by this angry looking black woman who was talking on the phone at a desk just behind the "Check In" counter. There were three other women in the back there, but they looked like deer in the fucking headlights for some reason. I mean, they just stood there staring like we all had two heads or something.
It was clear that the black woman was the "gatekeeper." You know, the one all the other ones defer to, who sizes everything up and does "triage" to decide who gets waited on and in what order. If at all.
So I was glad that Big Man had followed us in. He hit her with his million kilowatt smile and said, "Merry Christmas!" in that smooth, "basso profundo" voice of his.
And her demeanor totally changed. She smiled all flirty and girlish and said, "Ooooo, looka here, honey! Christmas came early this year--yow can I help you folks this mornin'?"
I gave everybody else a few beats to recover, and then I said, "I think you're expecting me today, right? Colton James."
The black clerk reached for a box full of folders, flipped through in a way that let me know she'd been doing this job 'way too long, and came up with mine in two seconds flat.
And as she looked over some kinda note paper clipped to it, she said, "Your first stop'll be the Counselor's Office. Let me give them a call, baby. Just a minute. They been lookin’ for you."
As she went back to her desk, Big Man said, “Call your P.O., too.”
“No. just said the first thing that popped into my head—of course, I did!”
He chuckled and said, “Yeah, you’re crackin’ wise now, but you got a lot ridin’ on this, playa. It’s not just you’ll be in a world o’ hurt if you don’t get this done right. You get locked up…”
He didn’t finish that thought. He didn’t have to. There were some lives on the line, that was definitely true. So I sighed and started looking around the office myself as a distraction from the gravity of the situation.
It was an old school. In Tucson, they don't build schools with wood counters and things anymore and it's too bad because they feel warmer. Classier, too, I've always thought. Like the people who built them really looked up to teachers and thought education was a noble cause. The new places are like shopping malls. No soul.
But like a lot of the old and new ones, both, this one had sort of gotten left behind in the sheer craziness of it all over time. Like, there was this wall full of posters that had been there as long as the clerk, probably. I say that because the celebrities on some of them were long past their five minutes of fame. I didn't even know who a couple of 'em were, to be honest. They slap that kinda stuff up on the walls trying to be hip or something initially, but once they go up, they never come down. Which defeats the purpose, of course.
But you can understand why they get behind the times like that. I mean, while I was thinking about the posters, this big white woman stomped up to the counter and said, "I have been calling here for the past hour trying to get someone on the damned phone--where's the goddamned principal?! Hidin' in her office as usual?!"
And she would not stop yelling and cussing 'til security came to haul her away--even then, she kept screaming about suing and kicking people's asses the whole way out. All the ladies behind the counter just sat there looking like they were kind of used to it, but I could see they were sort of unnerved.
I would've been scared, too. People are fucking nuts now. She could have had a gun or an old man waiting outside who would come in and tear the place apart, maybe. Who knew?
I didn't have time to think about that, though. Because this little Mexican woman wearing one of those really awful, applique'd Christmas sweaters came out, gave me a motherly smile and said, "We have been waiting for you, mijo! Come!"
I turned to Big Man and said, "I'll text you after my last class."
And he said, "Hasta luego. MEE-hoh," with this little wise guy smile on his face.
I "socked" him. Which of course just made him laugh. But then he put his big hand on my shoulder gently and studied my face for a second to make sure I was really okay.
"It's all good. We'll head on over to the Carnival when I get out--call Bonnie for me."
"You think she should be out there in all that noise'n' whatnot?"
"We can try. If she gets tired, we'll cut it short."
I'll tell you what that was all about later.What matters is how worried he was about leaving me there. But he finally gave me a pat on the shoulder, saluted the clerk and started for the doors without looking back.
So I followed the Mexican woman, marveling from behind at her big, feathery "do" that came together in back just like swan's wings. The top layer was dyed a kind of coppery red and the "feathers" beneath that had been dyed almost blue black, which was a bit too edgy for her. But at least it wasn't "Telemundo" blond.
The Counselors Office was just around the way from the Main Office. When we got there, the Mexican woman nodded toward one of the little rooms along the wall, and my counselor, Ernesto Martinez, rose from his desk very solemnly and offered his hand.
He was a really tame looking guy, in a navy sweater vest and eggshell blue shirt, all of which went really well with the mom jeans he was sporting for casual Friday. I could've done without the little Frosty the Showman pinned to the vest, but it was the kinda thing a well-meaning secretary might've brought in for the holidays. As were all the tinsel garlands and origami stars and other signs of the season.
They even had Christmas lights framing the big picture window across from all the offices that opened onto the hallway. In fact, all the little office windows were also framed in lights. And a radio was tuned to one of the soft rock stations playing nothing but the sappiest carols imaginable all day long-I wish a reindeer would've run over whoever wrote that song about Santa getting run over by one. Swear to God I do.
Despite all the canned Christmas cheer, Martinez was so stiff he almost seemed afraid of me. He asked for my file and looked everything over so carefully that I think it was just a way of regaining his composure. And then he closed the file and trained those nervous eyes on me-they were almost doing that thing albino eyes do, that little oscillation thing that makes you nervous when you try to focus.
And he said, "I see that you exceeded standards in all three state exams." And I could tell that he had decided on that opening line 'way before he looked at that file. Or the first time he looked at the file and realized what a mistake this whole thing was. They didn't get kids who passed those exams, period, let alone a kid who'd exceeded standards. Most of the schools didn't-even the better ones. So this was going to be one helluva fucked up little deal. And he had to try to sell me on it anyway. Or thought he did.
So I said, "Yeah, but that was...almost six years ago, right?"
"But the state universities might admit you on the basis of your test scores. Regardless."
His eyes were begging me to say, "Wow! Really? Let's do that, then!" But this was not his lucky day.
I had to say, "You've read the judge's decision, right?"
He nodded and accepted the inevitable, knitting his fingers together on his belly.
"It's...a very unusual arrangement."
I smiled and said, "Well, he's out to make a point. And I’m not tryin’a aggravate him. I got mouths to feed and a business to run—lives hangin’ in the balance, you know? If I go down, it all goes down with me. I am the franchise.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility for someone your age.”
“You think?” I said—I was laughing, though. He…sort of smiled. I think I’d scared him a little bit, to be honest.
“I mean, I am the franchise, you know?” I added. “So I can’t do time. And we’re talkin’ felonies, too. Big time—this judge is no joke. He’s itchin’ to take me out.”
I wasn’t even close to giving him the whole story—I won’t go into it here, because it’d slow things down too much. But when I say I couldn’t do time, I mean it. From the depths of my soul, I mean it. Trust me on that.
He said, "Yes," and his eyes started doing that thing again. So I was really glad when he went back to the file and pulled out my schedule and said, "We couldn't put you back in the gifted program mid-year, of course."
And then he looked up and added, "Though we could appeal that decision."
"No need. I'll...do whatever."
His eyes started pleading with me again.
"It's just that...our language arts program is...remedial, for the most part. Given our population, which is largely at-risk or ELL."
He had the jargon down, this guy. And by the way he said, "remedial," and "...at risk or ELL" kinda bothered me, too. I figured he was also one of those people of color who had bought the "up by the bootstraps" thing hook, line and sinker--I would've bet money he was a proud Republican, in fact. To prove that bogus point that anyone can make it in America if they work hard enough--I'm sure he gave that old line to all the kids he dealt with, too, no matter what ailed them.
And as he told them the story of how he started out a poor barrio boy, he would leave out the special scholarships and how affirmative action had forced a few people to grudgingly admit he had the skills they were looking for. And now here I was, a kid who'd stumbled into the American Dream without a lick of hard work--without finishing high school, too. Damn me.
"It is what it is," I said. "Sometimes you just have to make it work."
I thought he'd like that answer, but he looked sort of puzzled, like I'd said it in Hebrew or something. And then he put the schedule back in the folder and sat back in that way that tells you the interview is over and the lecture is about to start.
I sat back, too, to give him my full attention. Or to look like I was listening.
"I will have one of our student assistants walk you to your first class, and each of your teachers will appoint a guide to get you to the class that follows. You will need to have the Daily Progress Reports in the file signed and comments entered from each teacher, each day and then submitted to me after school on Fridays throughout next semester."
"How are the teachers taking all this?"
"Well...some know you're coming today to get acclimated. But a few of your classes were changed last week, so you may catch those teachers off guard."
"Yeah, no kidding! The day before Christmas vacation, I'm here."
"It's not unheard of."
"Students come and go rather randomly here. But...what I'd really like to know, if you're willing to discuss it..."
"Shoot! I've got a pretty open mind."
He watched me for a minute with those oscillating eyeballs, and then leaned into it.
"The...business you're in..."
He had to stop there and find a way to talk about it without making it sound as bad as he obviously felt it was. So I decided to help.
"Adult entertainment," I said.
I saw a faint smile flicker on his face. And he nodded and said, "Yes..."
And then he looked away again--this time, to check something on his computer. Or to pretend he was.
"We have...decided it would be best if you didn't discuss or...divulge any details about that with the staff or students."
"Wasn't planning to. I mean, it's not exactly gonna come up in casual conversation, right? Like, 'We're having pizza at lunch today and how many porn sites do you have exactly?'"
He went Casper white.
"Well, I...wasn't aware of..."
"Adult entertainment," I said, with this little twinkle in it. I mean, what 'd he think it was?
"It's the parents we're most concerned about, actually. They might not be as...open minded about it as the district has been."
"Believe me, we brought that up, too. But the judge had a thing or two to say about that."
I smiled. He was soooo freaked out--worst poker face, ever.
"Well, he said that as long as the kid lives within your school's boundaries, it's against the law to turn him away. He went toe to toe with your legal eagles about that--you gotta remember that he sees your gang bangers and drug dealers and whatnot after they're arrested over here. So, in his eyes, I'm nothin' compared to that."
He pondered this...and let it go.
"Would you mind talking about your decision to leave only five months into your freshman year? That first time around?"
He suddenly looked really comfy. I think because questions like that are what counselors are taught to ask.
So I said, "It wasn't much of a decision. We were pretty much homeless at the time. And I had six brothers and sisters who needed to be fed and clothed and all that. My eldest sister had a little job, but it didn't pay much. And there were a coupla little ones who weren't in school yet, so somebody needed to watch them..."
"And your parents?"
I smiled quietly.
"Well...my mother was...let's just say...the opposite of gifted. I mean, she tested as what they call MIMR, but...I have a feeling that's kinda frowned upon by now."
"The legal designations were changed to mild or moderate intellectual disability-MOID."
"Yeah, well...bless her heart, whatever you call it, she was more like one o' the kids than a mother."
"And there was no father present in the home?"
Killed me the way he put things. It was like he was reading a questionnaire or something--he could've just said, "So...where was your father?" or something more conversational and compassionate.
"Oh, there was always a man around, but...none of 'em were what you'd call a father, no."
He frowned a little, so I added, "I kept up with all the programs and...shelters and whatnot for us, though. Places we could eat, places we could get healthcare, clothes--that's a full time job in and of itself. Everything's temporary or...there's a limit to how long you can be in the program or something. So I hadda keep track of it all."
"But didn't your mother have to sign things or..."
"Yeah, that was a problem sometimes. But we would find somebody to stand in for her. Or, sometimes I used to say she was deaf. I even learned to sign from this kid we knew-Gracie could only do like...'Yes' and 'No,' though. Coupla other things."
"That must have been a very heavy burden for you."
That was sincere. I could feel it. So I smiled sincerely for once, too.
"Yeah, well...we survived," I said.
And when he looked uneasy again, I said, "So! That's my life story. Pretty dismal, right?"
"I've heard much worse," he said, in what I think he wanted to be a reassuring voice.
"Oh, no doubt."
"Well, we're...about done here. Do you have any questions?"
"Nah, I'm good. Let's get this show on the road!"
"Great! We'll get one of our student aids to show you around, then. Should be a pretty easy day for you!"
He was just offering his hand to seal that deal when all hell broke loose just outside his window. There was this husky looking Indian girl being dragged into the outer office by two security guards--she was wrestling with them like it was a WWF match or something, this girl. And she was clearly under the influence of one of more substances, because even when they'd finally got hold of her arms she started kicking at the teachers and a couple of other security guards and screaming like she was being stabbed to death.
But Martinez didn't move. He was like Bush in that classroom on 9/11, sitting there all pale and flummoxed as she called those guy every street name for genitalia--male and female---in the book. And then she went back to wailing like someone had shot her dog or something when these two cops came running in.
"Jamila, what did I tell you the last time?" the female cop of the pair asked.
The male one knelt down next to her pretty fearlessly considering. But Jamila was watching the female one, which gave him the opportunity to tie up her hands and ankles right quick. She worm squirmed a little bit right after he got her ankles shackled, but then she just sort of went limp and started whining like a puppy.
And I quit waiting for Martinez to react or say something.
"I know my way around," I told him. "You don't need to send anyone with me."
But he turned his focus back to me as if nothing weird had happened, flipping through this folder holder thing in one of his desk drawers 'til he came up with a map of the campus to hand me.
"There are a few new buildings," he said. "The Senior Wing and Voc. Ed. complex weren't here when you last attended."
"That's correct. We divided the campus by class levels the year after you left. Parents had been asking to have freshmen set apart from the others at least."
"I bet the kids didn't--"
Something hit the wall in that room where they'd taken the Indian girl. And then she started growling like some kind of wild animal. And Martinez still didn't move.
So I got up, hoping maybe he'd do the same. And he did, but not to go find out what was going on, just to walk me over to the door and say, "My door is always open" in that fake voice that also said he didn't really want to be bothered.
I left, but then I back tracked, and saw him walk toward the room where that crazy girl was flailing around even with her arms and legs cuffed. And she looked up at him and said, "What'chu lookin' at, faggot?!"
I've never seen such blazing hatred in anyone's eyes before. But then, just as I was getting to the end of that hallway, she started to scream, "HELP ME!" over and over again like they were getting ready to water board her in there. And something about that and the dark, dingy hallway made me feel like I couldn't catch my breath. I actually had to stop and shake my arms and legs like runners do, just before they bend down into the blocks. And then I inhaled and exhaled...and started walking toward my first class right when that weird electronic bell "hooted" and the real race was on.
I’m going to give you a little run down of my day first. It may be slow going at first, but you’ll understand why I did it when we get to the crazy part.
So, my first class was Arizona History and Government because you have to pass this ridiculous test on that before you’re allowed to graduate and I obviously hadn’t done that yet. I don’t even remember her name anymore, but she had the kids watching Dances With Wolves, which aside from being pretty long past its prime wasn’t even about the kind of Indians that live in Arizona. But the teacher was this sour faced old white woman---kinda doughy and sluggish looking--who clearly wished the day was over.
She didn’t have long to wait. The days before holidays are almost always half days. They shave off a few minutes from each class to get the day over with as quickly as is legally possible. You have to have a certain number of hours to get state and federal funding for that day, and with their budgets in such dire straits most schools weren’t taking any chances. And most teachers kinda slack off on those days—it’s like a classic films festival in most schools.
But I could tell she was like that every day, that one. Just plain tired of teaching. Counting down to retirement. And you know, I wasn’t mad at her. She was old enough to remember when kids and parents sort of still liked teachers. Today, they get no respect at all--there’s not enough money in the world to reward them for all the shit they eat every day.
I was just more mouthful as far as she was concerned, probably. So after the initial “startle” when her eyes followed my extended arm up to my face, the eyes hardened again.
“Whose idea was it to have you come today of all days?” she asked as I handed her my schedule. I needed it signed, because of the probation thing. To prove I’d been there.
“Well, my P.O. thought it would give me just enough time to find where all my classes were and introduce myself,” I said. “That way I can hit the ground running when we come back.”
She studied the schedule like she was hoping it would magically change before her eyes or something—she even pulled her glasses back up higher on the bridge of her pudgy nose so she could look through instead of up over them.
And as she finally signed it, she frowned even deeper and said, “Lee Ann?”
“Well, I’m going to have to have a talk with that woman,” she said.
And then she turned to check on the class and saw that nobody was even facing the Smartboard anymore. Big surprise, right? I mean, they’d probably seen the beginnings of two or three films already—half day schedule. So you couldn’t even get into the movie all that much before the bell rang.
But she frowned up like someone had farted or something and yelled, “I’d pay attention if I were you!”
It woke up a few of them. Most only turned to look vaguely in her direction. Which made that Pillsbury dough boy face go all red.
“Your ticket out question is going to be on this,” she said. “And believe me you will rue the day if I have to hold you here ‘til the end of that damned dance when I have grades to do!”
A few more students turned around to stare at the screen so they wouldn’t have to find out what it meant to “rue” a day. And she handed me my schedule back and said, “You’re back there,” nodding toward a desk over by the windows. It was the last seat in the row, so the kids would have to turn to see me. Which meant she’d catch them at it. She had tricks, this one. Old ones, but they still work most of the time.
The girls were ready for that one, though. They got out mirrors and makeup compacts or put their heads down on their desks in ways that let them look back at me and wink and smile. I smiled back, but I wasn’t about to give them any real play.
I have to be cool about girls even outside of school. I mean, most girls my age are nothing like ready for someone like me. But in this situation, I knew the guys were going to hate me just for being me. Messin’ with their women would only throw gas on the fire.
It’s always a delicate dance. If I don’t give them any play at all, they think I’m stuck up or something. So I finesse it by being a “nice guy.” No really--girls love it when guys are nice to them without any ulterior motives. I’ve got women. Women, you feelin’ me? We’ll get into the particulars later, but trust me, the last thing I need is a little teenage girlfriend.
So I talk to them the way you’d talk to a friend. And I pick up some amazing info—if you’re a guy, you really outta take a lesson from me on this. It’s good stuff, woman wisdom. And they give it to us for free all the time. We just don’t know how to work it.
When I wasn’t smiling at girls, I was answering a lot of my business emails and texts and whatnot on my IPhone. Which was supposed to be off during class, but the teacher was so busy trying to get her grades done early that she never looked up from that computer again, except to yell, “Keep it down to a dull roar, wouldja?” if someone got too loud.
When the bell hooted she grimaced a little and started hitting this one key over and over again—I figured the bell had made her mess something up. She didn’t say anything to the kids, let alone to have a nice vacation or something.
So as I passed by her desk, I gave her, “Have a good one,” because I couldn’t bring myself to do the whole “Merry Christmas” thing.
You should’ve seen her face. She looked up at me like I’d said it in Chinese or something. Like she had to translate it, I mean. I didn’t wait to see if she’d answer, I just looked back and saw her sitting there looking all gobsmacked. Poor thing.
My next stop was Advanced Remedial Math. Which sounds like an oxymoron but it was for people who’d finally mastered the basics and could start tackling a little bit of algebra and geometry with a lot of extra help and support. And since it was done almost entirely by computer I noticed right away that I could pick the right answers by intuition or just plain elimination tactics.
Which is something that got me in trouble all through elementary school, by the way. I have always intuited the answers to math problems without doing the computation—Einstein did that, too, right? Dreamt the answer before he even knew how to write out the whole equation or whatever. I’m not saying I’m that smart, but I understand how that works.
You just “feel” it—the answer pops into your head, and you can’t explain how it got there. But you have to “show your work”--you remember that, right? They wouldn’t give me any points because I didn’t have a fuckin’ clue how I got the answer. But the answer was always right. In fact, if I did it their way, I’d get the wrong answer most of the time. And only one teacher put it all together and started letting me work backwards with her, so I could see how the pieces fit together.
She quit teaching, though, someone told me. That’s what happens. I was glad for her, though—she develops curriculum or something, at least. Most of ‘em don’t go anywhere near education ever again. Not that I blame them.
This math class wasn’t even really taught by a teacher, though. Mr. Johnson—him I remember for some reason—gave me a packet and a computer “station,” and a little, “Nice havin’ you with us.”
Which was more than any of the others had said. He was cool in general, Johnson. Amiable black jock type who’d probably been recruited mostly to be a coach or something. I mean, he was dressed like he was going running or to shoot some hoop right after school. And when I went up to get the guest passcode the computer said I needed, he gave me a fist bump and asked me about the Humvee that “got everybody trippin’.”
“You got these girls goin’ out they minds, playa,” he told me, in that way that some guys do when they sincerely envy you. No attitude, just props.
He was showing Freedom Writers, which was at least marginally current at the time. And while we watched, he was on the phone talking to girlfriend for a few minutes, leaning ‘way back in his chair behind the desk.
He didn’t give a shit that all the girls were mostly watching me and not the movie. There wasn’t going to be any “ticket out” quiz in his class. But that’s why they were all so chill. Kids are nice to teachers like him usually. I mean, if the principal or someone had come in, they woulda snapped to attention like good little girls and boys for his protection. Sucks a little, because they probably weren’t learning much even on full days. But at least it was an honest arrangement. And everybody was cool with that.
After his class I had a couple of media department electives that I could tell they tried to match to what I did in my real world. The first one was an introduction to multimedia programs most 10-year-olds have mastered or not even bothered with now that you can damned near make a feature film with your cell phone. It was taught by this guy with what I thought was a German accent and who spent most of his time in the back of the room fiddling with a couple of computers that I gathered had broken down.
When we were shuffling in, he said something like, “It is a shorter class period today, so we will not be able to complete the project we began on Monday. However, this is a good opportunity to review what you have done and improve upon it in the time we have.”
That was reasonable, except that he said it while the kids were scooting chairs and calling each other faggots and throwing Christmas ornaments and candy at each other. But he said it like he didn’t expect anyone to hear him, and just headed over to his desk computer where brought up this YouTube page to teach the class how to use a PowerPoint presentation to make a Photostory movie. That was the assignment sort of haphazardly written on one of the white boards—I read it to see what all he had asked them to do.
It wasn’t much. Their movie had to be at least 3 minutes long and have at least 10 pictures and other graphic elements in it. He didn’t care where we found them or give us any other guidelines except that we had to have either background music, narration we recorded ourselves, or both.
So I entitled mine, “My First Day at DeGrazia,” and did a quick Garageband “score” to run in the background. Just some snippets of music and sounds I found on a free loops site and downloaded through a browser that got me past their district security firewall pretty easily. I just took shots of kids sleeping and doing stupid things in class—didn’t matter that it was all his class, really. He wouldn’t even recognize his own kids probably. And it only took me about fifteen minutes to do just about the whole thing. I was the only one in the whole class who actually did anything, of course.
The other course taught you how to use a DAW—Digital Audio Workstation. Garageband was the one they used because it came with the Macs they bought—I use Ableton at home. Pro level. So I put together this Christmas techno thing out of samples. But it was hard to keep busy with all the craziness going on around me. The teacher was this young, nerdy guy right out of college who did not have a clue. I’m not even sure how he got the job. He wound up sitting by me and asking me a lot of questions about what I was doing.
Meanwhile, there were kids throwing shit around and walking on desks to get to other kids. I’m not kidding. It was bedlam the whole time, but the teacher had trained himself not to notice, I guess. He knew computers—I could tell he probably played World of Warcraft nonstop after school. Or maybe was be a Second Life type, who only dropped in on the real world to earn a living. That’s how I was able to finally communicate with him.
See, we develop virtual worlds—my company, I mean. So I showed him all this sick stuff that the “JCrewe” had sent me via my IPhone. They’re these Japanese geniuses who do all of our media stuff. And that week, I was on the Jumbotron at One Times Square dancing around in some of the clothes from the line I didn’t even want to create ‘til somebody showed me some ideas I really didn’t like and got me to start telling them about some things I might like—the girls taught everyone how to do that. If they want me to stop saying, “No,” they tell me an idea they have that’s so wrong I can’t help trying to make it right. And then from there I always cave and say, “Oh, fuck it, let’s do this!”
The gimmick for the ad campaign in Times Square was that people who stopped by the van set up by one of the local radio stations underneath the big screen could get a pair of 3D glasses that made me leap out of the screen at them at just the right moment. I’m dancing to this song called When I Come Back Around, a Jamie Liddell joint I love. And when he goes “When I come back around,” I pop out and do a 360 that gives you a look at whichever outfit I’m wearing at the time from all sides. And there are several versions of the ad, so you don’t see the same stuff all the time, either.
So they’d sent me some hilarious videos of people freaking out when I jumped out at them—it was so funny that I had to really rein in to keep from laughing out loud in class. But then some of the kids started leaning so they could watch it. And one of the girls got this wistful little look on her face, and said, “How did you do that?”
And when I said, “How do you mean?” she said, “I mean, that’s not really you, right? Up on the screen thing?”
At first, I didn’t know how to handle that—how much I wanted to get into my real life, I mean. But I decided it was probably best to be as honest but also as simple as possible.
So I said, “I model sometimes.” Which as the simplest I could make it. And her brows went up.
“That’s really you?”
She reached over and turned my hand so she could take another good look, and all her BFFs crowded in to ogle along with her. And you know what? It was so far out of the realm of possibility for them that when the bell hooted…they just kinda stood there looking blank faced for a few seconds…and left. Looking back at me a few times like they just couldn’t put two and two together to save their lives.
It was right about then that I almost literally bumped into my probation officer, LeeAnn Wozniak. I walked out of the classroom and there she was, all smiles as usual. Loves her job. I have no idea why given all the wacko kids she has to deal with all day—I include myself in that description, believe me. I’m no picnic. And I come with drama she’d never seen before.
But she’d dropped by to walk me to my last class and debrief me a little bit. And that class deserves its own chapter, believe me.
My case had been bullshit top to bottom, so Lee Ann was really trying to help me get through my “conditions of probation” as best she could. She was also trying to find a loophole big enough for me to crawl through—maybe an online solution or something. But the judge wasn’t going for it so far.
Anyway, I was always glad to see her. But she kinda unnerves the kids a little bit because she’s that kind of “stone butch” lesbian who is constantly mistaken for a guy. She wears men’s clothes for one thing. But she also just walks and talks like one of those jocks you’d see loping to class over at the U, maybe. And she relates to me like a guy would--straight up. I sometimes forget it’s a woman I’m talking to, which has made for some really interesting exchanges, I have to admit. But I think being a bit of both sexes gives her a huge advantage. She kind of understands everybody’s side of things. I envy her that a little bit.
She bopped over to me with this cool little smile on her face, put a hand on my shoulder and said, “How do you like it so far?”
I said, “Sucks, but I’ll survive.”
Which made her laugh. She’d figured as much, of course. So she sat on the edge of the table—the multimedia class had long tables instead of desks. Which were even easier for the kids to walk across. Honestly, they ask for this shit, the public schools. They really do.
“We’re out at, like, one or something, right?” I asked her.
“Hot date, right? I heard! It’s gonna be fun for her.”
Some kid banged right into her and she spun around—and caught my arm before I could go after him.
“It’s cool! I’m good,” she assured me.
I gave her a look…but I didn’t give chase. And whoever’d done it was long gone anyway.
“This is a zoo, this place,” I told her.
“Well, it’s over after this. They changed it at the very last minute, too,” she said. “My idea, though”
“Dare I ask?”
“I thought the teacher was a safer bet than most. Very easy on the eyes, by the way.”
I gave her another little look, and said, “That’d be a refreshing change.”
And I followed her out of that building and down this walkway that was painted green—I found out later that they’d painted all the walkways and hallways floors in the Senior Wing green. Graduation Green, they called it—like the “Go” green in a traffic light. I swear I’m not kidding--is that too Sesame Street for high school or what?
But anyway, we followed the green walk to the Senior Humanities building, where things were going south in a hurry. There’d been kids running around pushing and shoving and cussing all day. But now it felt like there were more kids in the halls than in the classrooms. Loud as hell, too—knocking each other into the old lockers they don’t even use.
I don’t know why they haven’t been removed yet. And they still have locks hanging on them, too. So every few seconds you’d hear, “BANG! Clatter… BANG! Clatter…” The locks do the “clattering.” Some of the kids were running down the hall sliding their hands over ‘em just to make even more of a racket. It was like a Marx Bros. movie in those hallways by then.
If you’re wondering about security, forget that. Districts cut back on all that a long time ago—there’s just no money. Yeah, I know, after all the shootings and all it seems ridiculous, but there’s just no money. And this campus took up a city block and some—no way they could hire enough security. Kids always find places to get up to no good in, security or no, though. You could bring in the fucking National Guard and they’d still manage to get into all kinds of nooks and crannies. And trouble.
What touched me, though, was that some of the nerdier kids were running around doing that corny “I’m holding mistletoe over your head so you gotta kiss me” gag. They were mostly white and kind of frail and nervous looking, but they were the kind of kids who could still giggle and chase each other around like…kids.
You had your Emos and Goths and hipsters and whatnot sulking along and doing the eye roll to set themselves apart from the silly stuff. But they were more like real teenagers, too. You should be that kind of “faux” rebel at that age—I say it that way because they all dress alike, which…is the opposite of being rebellious, of course. But they were downright cute compared to the street kids shoving them into the lockers. And by the way, the kids doing the shoving were actually sort of nice to them, right? It wasn’t real hard shoving, just like…playful. Like they’d come to an uneasy truce at some point. And the kids getting shoved seemed to almost like it. I guess just being noticed at all was a big deal, probably.
“What parent in their right minds would send their kids here if they didn’t have to?” I asked LeeAnn. Meaning the nerdy kids I was talking about.
“Some of ‘em are teachers’ kids.”
“Yeah, but they of all people…”
“I hear ya’—die hard 60s.”
“The Kumbaya crowd, right?”
LeeAnn almost bust a gut laughing for a minute.
“That’s a new one!” she said. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“Hey, I’m all for equality and whatnot, but those kids are sitting ducks in a place like this!”
“Yeah…I thought so, too. But I think…well, it’s kinda uplifting, you know? That there are still people who walk their talk.”
“Their parents aren’t walkin’ it, the kids are. And I bet they never asked them if they wanted to do the walkin’ for ‘em, either.”
LeeAnn smiled up at me and said, “You walk yours! That’s why you’re here today, innit?”
I gave her this little snort and she bumped hips with me. And I liked that so many of the “colored” kids slapped five with LeeAnn on the way past. There were a lot of kids on probation or parole, even, probably. But she greeted them all with that upbeat attitude. And they calmed down, too, most of ‘em, when she gave ‘me her little look.
And they’d say, “Aw, Miss…”
“You’d think they’d just leave,” I said. “I mean, instead of hangin’ out in the hallways.”
“Christmas dance after school,” she said, looking over to see my reaction. Which was immediate and predictable.
“You gotta be kidding me—you’re kidding me, right?”
She got a laugh out of it, even though she’d known what I’d say the minute she told me.
“Well, there’s a whole lotta kids didn’t graduate in June, you know? So this is their last hurrah.”
“And they really go to this dance?”
“Very big deal.”
“This school has a very interesting history. You weren’t here long enough the first time to get into all that. But there’s a lot more to it than you’re seeing right now.”
“I gotta hope so.”
She laughed and said, “Remember, Tucson schools were totally segregated ‘til, like…I guess the 60s maybe, still.”
“They still are. Economically, anyway.”
“Yeah, but this was racial. And official. I mean, the pools and all kindsa places were ‘Whites Only.’ So they built this one for all the Native kids, initially. Because it’s on the edge of the two reservations. And that was a first. Up ‘til then, they went to those boarding schools where they did all that heinous shit to them. For the district to build a public school here…that was, like…a miracle.”
“I guess that’s kinda cool. I mean, you ever talk to anyone who went to those boarding schools?”
“Oh, all the time. They’re incarcerated, a lot of ‘em. The guys. Well, the women, too. It totally messed with their minds.”
“Messed up their minds.”
“Yeah, so you get it, then. This was theirs. It was a hollow victory, given how they just neglected them after that, of course. They didn’t want them getting any big ideas. Like, that they were really going to get a solid education and go to college or something. I mean, who’s gonna do all the landscaping and whatnot, right?”
“That’s fucked up.”
She laughed and slid her hands down into her pockets.
“Even so…there’s a sort of pride that goes with being from DeGrazia. It's like…if nobody else loves ya’, you gotta love yourself. So you’re down for your school, even if everybody else thinks it’s a hell hole.”
“Thus it was and thus it shall ever be…”
“Oh, yeah. They definitely get the message that they’re not going anywhere but back to the hood or the rez to get married and have a house fulla kids. If you’re here for College and Careers Week, listen to how the counselors talk to them when they come to get their transcripts to show to the college reps. They’ll ask ‘em which schools they’re interested in, and if they say, like…Stanford or something, the counselors’ll start hemming and hawing around. Trying to talk ‘em into seeing the military recruiters, if they’re guys.”
“Stanford comes here?”
“They all do! Free rides now’days, if you’re brave and willing to work your ass off to get your skills up to par once you get there. We get Harvard, Yale…”
“Does anyone ever go, though?”
“Once in a blue moon. Mostly they wind up at Pima.”
“Worst community college on the planet.”
“If not, damned near. Yeah.”
She heaved a big sigh. And I watched this group of Mexican girls down at the end of the hall, yelling and laughing all loud. They’re loud because of what LeeAnn was talking about. Trying to wake us the fuck up. I’d be the most obnoxious bastard on the planet if people treated me like they treat most brown people, still. Please, don’t ever kid yourself that things got different after Obama. Did you watch how they treated Obama once he got elected? I mean, Jeezus--Big Man always goes, “And liberty and justice for y’all,” at the end of the pledge. If he says it at all. Another reason I love that man so much. He tells it like it is.
The Senior English hall had these big, colorful Mexican-style murals over the doors that led into and out of it. The words “Senior English” were painted in these sort of Mayan looking glyphs so they were kind of hard to read at first. And there were portraits of all kinds of authors and fictional characters and whatnot, only done up street style. Yes, it was like putting lipstick on a pig, but it was something the kids had created, at least. I took pictures of it, in fact. For whatever I decided to make out of this insane “educational” experience later.
My classroom was down at the end of the hallway, real close to one of the side exits to the parking lots--a feature which was going to be ‘way too tempting I feared. But when LeeAnn knocked on the door, I peeked in and noticed that the kids were actually sort of listening to whatever this teacher was saying.
But then this teacher was someone I would’ve paid attention to also. Not out of any particular interest in English literature, though I actually am pretty good at that particular subject. She was just really good looking, in that way that some older women are—though, I wasn’t even sure how much older she was.
The face that looked our way didn’t have a line on it, except for the little one you get between the brows sometimes when you frown. She reminded me of this actress you may not even have heard of—Brigitte Bardot, do you know her? I only know her because the old man—more about him, later—had made me watch some of her movies once. She was one of those “sex kitten” actresses from back in the 60’s, only she hated it so much she became a recluse or something. But she was ridiculously beautiful, that one—this teacher even had the pout and the long blond hair.
She was a little more hippy-ish, though. I mean, the hair was all the way down to her hips and she was wearing one of those Indian kurta tops and Teva sandals and the dangly, “ethnic” earrings, all that. Nice on her, though. She could rock anything, probably. Nice little body—very petite. Maybe a little too petite to be in a room with a bunch of thugs like the ones I saw when I first looked in.
But when she asked them to hang on a minute, her kids, they sort of slumped down in their seats like they were kinda pissed off about being interrupted, too. And she rushed over to the door like she wanted to get us over with as quickly as possible.
But then she looked up at me—remember, I’m really tall so her being really little made her have to look ‘way up. And instead of startling like some do, she just…stared. In a way that made me smile, because it was an annoyed stare, as if to say, “Oh good. This is all I need…”
She was calculating the degree of difficulty of this introduction on a day when the kids were already buzzing from my arrival and all the other stuff going on. And it added up to ‘way more trouble than I was worth.
And as if she got it, too, LeeAnn said, “I know, I know, but this one’s going to surprise you. I promise.”
The teacher smiled in a real wise ass way that made me smile, too. And she said, “Famous last words…”
“C’mon! Just…hear me out,” she said. “Or, better yet…”
She handed her my folder and the teacher leaned to look in on the kids, who were strangely silent—it almost scared me that there was no noise. And then she leaned back on the door frame with one foot in the classroom, one foot out in the hallway—smooth move. She could watch them, and still attend to us at the same time. And it kept me out in the hallway, too. To give her time to come up with a battle plan.
At first, she flipped through the papers in the folder like she’d done it a thousand times before, running a finger quickly down some pages, skipping others. And then she flipped back a couple of pages with a different kind of frown on her face and ran a finger down that one page twice. And her brows went up.
“Gettin’ the picture, huh?” LeeAnn asked, sort of gloating.
And the teacher looked up at me and said, “You were in the gifted program.”
She smiled faintly. I could feel her reading me. Weighing the information, the face, the tats and all—I saw her check out the studs that run all the way from the lobe and around the cartilage of my right ear. But the cagey little smile didn’t change.
She closed the folder and hugged it to her chest.
“You also exceeded standards on the AIMs exams. That’s a free ride to the state college of your choice—you know that, right?”
“Yeah, well, you don’t get off that easy. The judge wants me here.”
That got a good frown out of her.
“Why, for Chrissake?”
“He thinks I should have the full high school experience.”
“In one semester?”
“Yup,” I said. And then I stuck out my hand and said, “Colton James, by the way.”
She took my hand—a little wary about it, though.
And she said, “Oh, I know who you are.”
I looked down at my schedule. And my brows went up.
“Wyatt Taylor?” I said. Or…asked.
“That’d be me,” she said. I could tell she’d gotten used to people thinking she was a guy.
So I said, “Nice. I like it.”
She tilted her head sideways like dogs do when you freak them out.
So I said, “The name. I like…that you’re a woman.”
“So do I,” she said. Giving me a wee bit of attitude. Which I liked.
“I like that name for a woman is what I’m trying to say.”
“Well, I’m so glad you approve,” she said. More attitude. But playful.
And then she looked at me straight on--no bullshit.
And she said, “Okay, here’s the deal. This class is for seniors who didn’t pass the first time. Remedial English, they didn’t pass last spring. The few who manage to squeak by the second time will graduate in two weeks. Your group will have both the ones who failed this classand a new crop who failed their first semester. And you’re gifted. Ponder that.”
“He can ponder it all he wants,” Lee Ann said, jamming her hands in to her man jeans. “The judge wants him here. And he’s not hearin’ any excuses. Believe me, we’re tried ‘em all.”
Taylor looked up at me and said, “What’s his problem? If you’re willing or allowed to explain that, of course.”
I cleared my throat like I was getting ready to give a speech or something—that made her smile. I amused her, at least.
And I said, “I am what’s wrong with society at large and young people in general today. I break rules and work around the ones I’m not able to break outright. I make success look easy, and my success is built upon the exploitation and subjugation of others—chiefly women. And I also represent the triumph of style over substance and the delusional and downright dangerous cult of personality. End quote.”
“Wow. I’m impressed,” LeeAnn said. “You sounded just like him.”
I breathed on and buffed my fingernails on my shirt like I was all proud.
But then Taylor said, “You’ve told me how he felt, not what you did that made him feel that way.”
“Oh, that,” I said. Sort of teasing her back.
“Yes. Do tell.”
She gave me a really nice little smile then. I wasn’t home free, but I didn’t have far to go. So I ran it down for her.
“Weapons charge. Chopped shotgun, two unmarked handguns in the house--and I’m underage. Which would’ve just been, like…a fine, probably, with anyone else. I mean, this is Arizona, right?”
“Which begs the question…”
“He just…didn’t like my face, I guess.”
“Well, that’s…quite a face,” Taylor said. I couldn’t read that one. Except that the smile was sort of like she was teasing me again. Woman to man. A warning, you know? That she had my number, face notwithstanding. Or maybe because of it.
And then she looked at LeeAnn and said, “You owe me one.”
“Oh, I am well aware!” LeeAnn assured her. And to me she said, “Okay, I’m out then! We’ll talk later!”
And then she headed off right quick, like she was afraid Taylor might change her mind or something.
But she nodded toward the door. And the minute I walked in behind her, all the girls went bat shit crazy—a few of them actually squealed like little fan girls.
And this one really big black girl in one of the front seats went, “Ooooooo, damn he fine—put ‘im right here next to me, Miss!”
And this pimply, ferret-faced white kid next to her scowled and said, “Dream on, Shamu!”
“Who you talkin’ to, bitch?” the black girl hissed back.
Taylor walked right up to them and folded her arms. The black girl smiled and sat back.
“Tell me he ain’t fine!” she said. “You ain’t that old!”
“Oh, I’m old. But I’m not blind,” Taylor told her. And the entire class laughed.
She laughed, too. But then she said, “You now have less than 15 minutes to complete that makeup quiz, which is the only thing standing between you and graduation—some of you, that is.”
Lots of heads ducked down but the way they stared at the papers in front of them told me that I’d be seeing a lot of these kids next semester. And it made me really sad, because I got a glimpse of the quiz on her desk. A 6th grader could’ve aced it in ten minutes.
Taylor took my schedule, checked her computerized roster and added me to it quickly. And then she turned to this bookcase behind her desk and started making a little pile of papers and books for me.
“You can look over the syllabus and do some of the reading over the holidays,” she said as she handed the stack to me.
“Let’s put you…”
She looked out over the classroom and all the female heads popped up. But she nodded toward a table in back and their faces fell.
“Will that do for today?” she asked me.
I said, “Absolutely.”
And as I headed down one aisle, this cute boy wearing tons of mascara and pink lip gloss said, “Hate to see you go but love to watch you leave, honey—work!”
And that cracked everyone up again.
But then they went back to work. I was truly amazed. But then I realized why they were so obedient when Taylor started working those aisles, stopping to check in with the students having the most trouble. She even knelt beside some kids and gently questioned them ‘til they got the right answer. Or at least remembered something they’d learned that would help. I really liked that she challenged them like that. And their eyes lit up—first time I’d seen that all day, too. Kids really learning something. And loving it.
She was kneeling by this very good looking girl with blue hair when an even better looking little Mexican girl hopped up with a wadded up piece of paper she apparently intended to either toss or take to the big waste basket back by me. But as she rose from her seat, her hip rubbed the strap of her purse that was slung over the back of her chair. And when that purse hit the floor, a bunch of neon colored condom packets went skittering down the aisle along with an all of her makeup and tampons and whatnot. And all the boys in both rows dove for the condoms, sort of fighting to snatch up as many as they could.
Taylor clapped her hands and headed into the mob scene to help the poor girl gather up what little was left—it was just all the really embarrassing girl stuff by then. And then as she was about to walk back to the front of the room, she looked down at this white boy who had folded his arms on top of a big pile of the condoms.
And she said, I swear to God:
That brought the house down. Kids just fell all over their desks laughing. But she gave the boy’s head a playful little shove and he laughed, too.
And then the big girl who’d greeted me so “warmly” leaned to look at Ferret Face’s little stash and said, “Lookit this child sittin’ up here frontin’—you don’t need no condoms, fool! Ain’t nobody tryin’a get wit you up in here!”
He went, “Shut the fuck up, ho!”
And the big girl smirked and just brushed that off with, “Honey, you wouldn’ know a ho if you saw one. And you sho’ wouldn’ know what to do wit one. Lil’ hatchet faced bas--”
Before she could call him that name, he leaped up, swiped everything off of his desk and stood there glaring down at the black girl, breathing like an angry bull. I mean, talk about a hair trigger, this kid was nuts or something. No, for real—his eyes were all wild and he was shaking all over and his fists were all balled up.
Which is probably why when Taylor walked up and touched his shoulder, he wheeled around and socked her dead in the face—she dropped like a rock.
And the kids were so stunned they just froze. But I ran over and slammed him face down on top of a desk and bent one of his arms bent almost all the way up his damned back. So then all the girls started running and climbing over desks to get to Taylor. And the guys came over to make sure Ferret Face didn’t get away from me.
And the fool starts yelling shit like, “You are dead, faggot! Dead!”
Which amused the big girl--Lakesha was her name, according to the paper on her desk—no end.
She came and leaned down to look him in his beet red face. And said, “He dead? Mutha fukka, who down, yo?”
So then the stupid fuck starts trying to mule kick me in my junk. And ‘til I leaned into so hard that he started screaming that I’d broken his arm. Which was right about when a whole posse of teachers came swarming in--this one black teacher shoved her way past all the others to get to Taylor.
She was kind of chubby and had a really pretty face. And all the kids moved out of her way—she didn’t even have to say anything.
After she’d looked Taylor over right quick she went to the podium in front of the room, took out this yardstick from somewhere behind it and started whacking on the top of the podium—it sounded kind of like gun shots. And the room went dead silent.
“Ya’ll better git those butts in some seats!” she said. “Yeah, you heard me!”
Most of the kids started making their way back to their desks reluctantly. And all these security dudes came stomping through, headed straight for me and Danny.
One of ‘em got hold of Danny’s arm and said, “Okay, son, I got this.”
So I let go and watched them haul Psycho Boy out still kicking and hissing and spitting and screaming bloody murder—and a lotta really racist shit, too, about the fuckin’ niggers and beaners they should have been dragging out of the room.
One of the security guys who stayed, this big, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson looking mother slapped a hand down on my shoulder and said, “More than a pretty face, huh?”
And Lakesha goes, “One hit, yo! ONE hit’n’ that fool went down!”
“And you were right in the middle of it weren’t you, Miss Lakesha?”
“Called me a ho!”
“And what’d you call him before that?”
Lakesha rolled her eyes and sat back down. And to me he said, “So, Johnny Depp! Think you could stick around a little while after school’n’ talk to the cops and whatnot?”
I let the Johnny Depp stuff slide—I get that a lot, though—and said, “I can do that.”
And he headed off to check on Taylor, just as LeeAnn walked in and gave me this little look that got all the girls riled up. They started all trying to talk at once, some of ‘em holding up their cells so she could see the video that proved who did what.
And the black teacher started whacking on the podium again, but then the bell rang and even my little defense attorneys all flew out of the classroom. It was totally devoid of students in about two seconds.
So LeeAnn put on the little “frown” again and said, “Ten minutes and I’m back here!”
“Yeah, well he socked the teacher! So I put ‘im down,” I said.
“Taylor! The psychotic bastard.”
She reeled around and headed straight for the little bunch of teachers crowding around Taylor and pushed through. I went in behind her.
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