Dexter hated his new school already.
It was only his first day barely his first hour. So far Dexter had decided that he hated the principal, the school secretary, and the janitor. He hadn't even met the janitor yet, but he hated him anyway. The janitor had made the floor so shiny and slick that Dexter slipped on it, falling right in front of a bunch of other kids.
Dexter hated those kids, too. They laughed at him.
Now he was standing in front of his new fourth-grade class, a sea of staring eyes.
"Dexter moved here from Cincinnati," his new teacher said. "Dexter, would you like to tell us a little about yourself?"
"No," Dexter said.
The smile on his teacher's face didn't shrink at all.
"Well, that's quite all right, Dexter," she said in a fake, cheerful voice. "I know it can be kind of scary being new."
Dexter wanted to say, Oh, no, I'm not scared. Not me. But the teacher was already showing him to his desk. Her too-wide smile stretched back almost to her ears.
"It's so wonderful that you've joined us today, Dexter, because we're starting on the most exciting writing project," she said as Dexter slipped into his seat.
She was wearing huge star earrings that seemed to twinkle at the class. He could tell already: She was going to be one of those sparkly, enthusiastic teachers.
He hated that kind of teacher.
"Don't you all want to hear what the project is?" the teacher asked.
"Yes, Ms. Abbott," the whole class except Dexter chorused together.
Disgusting. The other kids were going to be as sparkly and enthusiastic as the teacher.
"Great!" the teacher said. "We're going to be working on the same piece of writing every day for a month! We're going to pretend we're all professional writers, and that's how they work. They don't just write something and say, 'Hurray! I'm done! Isn't this wonderful?' They write a story and then they go back and rewrite it, and revise it, and make it as good as possible. Some writers may rewrite the same story dozens of times! What do you think of that?"
Dexter thought that professional writers must be pretty stupid. He wondered if he should add professional writers to the list of people he hated.
"We'll start out today just writing the first draft," the teacher said, still all twinkly and cheerful. "Get out a piece of paper and tell me a story. It can be a true story or it can be made up. But" her eyes seemed to rest on Dexter for a moment "I'd really like it if you could tell me a story that lets me know more about who you are!"
All the other kids started writing right away. Dexter sat frozen at his desk.
"Dexter?" the teacher said. "Don't you have pencil and paper?"
Staring down at his empty desktop, Dexter shook his head. No. He didn't have anything he needed.
"That's okay," the teacher said, slipping a pencil into his hand and sliding paper onto his desk. "I'll send a note home with you tonight to let your parents know what school supplies to buy."
Dexter clutched the pencil so hard he was surprised it didn't snap in two.
"It's my grandmother," he blurted.
"Excuse me?" the teacher said, and for the first time, she didn't look sparkly or twinkly. She looked confused.
"You have to send the note to my grandmother, not my parents," Dexter said, the words coming out in a rush. "I live with her now."
"All right," the teacher said. "No problem. Let's get started writing, okay?"
Maybe it was no problem for her, but now there was a huge lump in Dexter's throat, which made it hard for him to swallow. It kind of made it hard for him to breathe. He stared down at the blank sheet of paper on his desk. Every other kid in the class was writing like crazy. He could hear the pencils racing. He saw one girl already flipping over her sheet of paper, to start on her second page. Dexter couldn't even remember exactly what he was supposed to be writing. Something about letting the teacher know who he was. Fine. He could do that.
He gripped the pencil and printed:
I'm the new kid. I am tuf.
He put the pencil down.
"Some of you who finish early might want to start your revision process now," the teacher said from the front of the room. "Add details, descriptions, examples!"
Dexter picked up his pencil again. His hand shook a little as he wrote:
This morning I beat up a kid.
It was kind of scary seeing those words in black and white. He stared down at his paper, and the words seemed to stare back at him. He put his hands over the paper so all he could see was one sentence: "I am tuf."
I am, he told himself. I am. So there.
"All right, everyone," the teacher said. "Make sure your names are on your papers and hand them in. Even if you aren't done, Marleeza."
A girl in the front, who'd started waving one hand in the air, abruptly put her arm back down.
Someone behind Dexter poked him in the shoulder and handed him a stack of papers. Dexter stuffed his own paper in the middle of the stack, so no one would see it. Then he handed the whole stack to the kid in front of him.
Dexter's stomach churned as he watched the teacher's hands gather all the papers together. Her long fingers smoothed the ragged edges, making the pile neat.
"I'm so excited to start reading these!" the teacher said. "It's almost time for recess anyhow. I'll let you go a few minutes early, to reward you for all your hard work. And when you return, we'll begin workshopping!"
Why did I write that? Dexter wondered. Why?
His hands itched to grab his paper back before the teacher saw it. But how could he do that? What would he tell her?
The paper was lost to him now. The teacher was holding all the papers too tightly.
He squared his shoulders. He tried to ignore the sick twisting in his stomach.
Who cares? he told himself.
He walked out of the room behind the other kids. He didn't let himself look back.
Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Peterson Haddix