It’s fourth period. So far not one teacher has questioned who I am. Like everyone else the gym teacher accepted the transfer papers for David Albacore and waved me over to join the rest of the rejects in this class. We’re supposed to be practicing basketball passing drills. Not one of these guys, especially the nit wearing a dirty Chicago Bulls jersey, could even beat my sister. They’re laughing and joking and barely know what to do with a basketball. I never wanted to return to any school, but at least Farrington’s a place where I can be invisible. Then it happens.
The pain that’s made its home inside me for so long I’ve learned to ignore it suddenly roars to life, flexes its claws and tears at me from the inside. The voices around me fade. Sweaty bodies vanish as memory throws itself at me and I’m back. Back in that house. Caught up in that night. Only this time, it’s different. This time, I see his hand lift. Hear the gun fire. See the bullet racing through the air toward her chest.
This time I will save her.
Sweat pours from my forehead and salt stings my lips as I step into the path of death. I have no delusions. I know what’s about to happen to me. I’m David, not some superman. My hands clench, muscles tense as I wait for the impact, grateful for this opportunity to set things right.
My life for hers.
This time I will not fail.
The bullet slams into my chest. The collision forces air from my lungs and sends me hurtling through the air, sliding along the polished hardwood floor.
From the corners of my eyes I see the basketball rolling across the court. Slowly I turn my head, but I already know. My mother’s not here.
A voice, “Hey, Albacore, eyes open,” provokes a round of laughter.
The gym teacher’s whistle sounds, the shriek knifing through my ears. He runs over from the sidelines where he’s been talking with another man while the inept group of students practiced passing the ball. His pale face holds wide, worried gray eyes. You’d think he’d never seen a guy downed by a basketball before. Probably hasn’t been teaching in the inner city very long. Probably still has ideals and intends to do some good or something.
Probably needs to get the hell out of my space.
“You okay, David?”
The temptation to answer no to his stupid question grips me, but I’m not ready for the paperwork involved in a trip to the school nurse on my first day. That might put a little too much strain on the high-tension wire of fraud I’ve strung here at Farrington. I nod and sit up. Which makes the world spin and the cracks in the paint on the orange and black walls dance.
Over the teacher’s shoulder I see a larger man approach. He’s wearing an orange polo shirt with a wide black band around the left sleeve. I recognize the dark eyes and square chin from the picture in the trophy case outside the school’s main office. Hakeem Kasili, the new varsity basketball coach.
The gym teacher reaches to help me stand. I’m a senior, I don’t need help and I jerk free of his grip. Laughter runs through the tiny gym again when my legs tangle and I fall to one knee.
“Fish-face can’t even stand.”
Only three hours in this school and already I’ve picked up a nickname. It’s better than hundreds of voices in the stands yelling, “Don’t hassle Murhaselt.” Anyone around here says that, they’re dead.
The shuffling and muttering grow louder. Another joker says, “Get fish-eyes a pair of glasses.”
Kasili steps into the circle around me. He turns. Slowly. No more laughter. No shuffling. More than thirty guys in the class and every one silent.
First teacher I’ve seen in this place with that kind of power. He reminds me of Coach Anderson back at Grogan Hills. Except this guy can’t be much more than forty. Skin almost as dark as mine and deep lines in the corners of his eyes. If I were ever to play ball again it would be for a man like this.