What had started as an ordinary Thursday was quickly turning into something else. And it wasn’t even third period yet.
The muscles in Shea’s legs were jittering now, like little electric shocks were coursing through them. His whole body had flipped into some weird high gear at the same moment the school’s emergency system started its loud electronic beeping. Each beep over the monitors sent another zing racing in his bloodstream.
Could it be just the stupid tornado drill putting him on edge?
Logically, he knew tornados and tornado drills were simple facts of life in central Oklahoma. Plainville High’s cavernous gym had more than enough room to hold the entire student body. It wasn’t claustrophobia or nerves that had him on edge. It was something else. Something more. Almost as if there was an electrical charge in the air and Shea’s body was the lighting rod attracting it.
Finally, the all-clear bell rang and he heaved a sigh of relief as the tingling subsided.
“Okay, people,” said Mr. Kelley, raising his voice to get the attention of the freshmen milling next to the bleachers. “The drill’s over. Line up and head back to class.”
John Hansen pushed into line behind Shea. “At least we missed most of history.” John was taller than most and built like a blond brick wall. “Western Civ has got to be my least favorite class this year.”
“Yeah, Mr. Kelley can be harsh.” Just shy of six feet, Shea was considered big for a freshman, but even he felt dwarfed by his best friend. “I can never get all those dates right.”
“What are you talking about, Maguire?” John laughed. “You practically ace every quiz.”
Shea scowled. “No, no I don’t. I get some wrong.”
John kept laughing and shook his head. “Whatever. So… did you ask yet about Saturday? Mom said you could spend the night Friday so we can get an early start. Hello, Shea?”
He was distracted by one last little zing crackling along his spine. He’d never felt anything like this before, but it almost felt like his body remembered the strange sensations. It took a minute for Shea to register John’s question. “What? Oh, yeah, the Redhawks game. I forgot to ask.”
“Oh come on…”
“It depends on whether we get the rest of the fields planted by tomorrow. Otherwise, I’ll have to stay. We don’t have as many farm hands as your family.”
“Your dad never lets you do anything fun.” With the overhead lights still off, the slatted blinds painted bold stripes of light along the desks closest to the windows, leaving the rest of the room in shadows. Darkness made no difference to Shea. His eyes always adjusted to whatever light was available.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think your dad was trying to keep you locked up away from the world.”
“Nah.” Shea shook his head. “Just a lot of work to do.”
“Hey, what if there really was a tornado, and it sucked away that stupid John Deere of yours?” John laughed. “Then your dad’ll have to let you come to the baseball game. He won’t have any excuses left.”
“Yeah, right. I’d never be so lucky.” Shea gestured toward the window, where brilliant blue skies peeked through the blinds. “Not a storm cloud to be seen.”
Just a stupid safety drill, Shea told himself as he dropped into his seat. Another quick shiver bolted down his spine.
The last few students entered the room and flipped on the lights. Jeannie and Maria had leaned up against one of the front row desks to flirt with Bobby Joe Peters. Shea scowled as Jeannie tossed her long red ponytail and smiled at some stupid thing B.J. said.
Jeannie glanced up, catching Shea’s stare. She leaned over to whisper in Maria’s ear. The pair both glanced his way and Shea felt his cheeks burn a little. John elbowed him in the ribs. “Dude, we’re not in middle school anymore. They’re cheerleaders now. Way out of our league.”
“Speak for yourself,” Shea said, and smiled in Jeannie’s direction.
“Oh, yeah.” John snorted. “Like your dad would let you out on a date, when he won’t even let you come to Oklahoma City with me for a baseball game.”
Up in the front, B.J. looked from one girl to the other, and then back toward Shea. His brows shot up as his eyes narrowed. Suddenly, B.J. sat straighter, making a big show of pointing his nose toward the ceiling and sniffing the air. “Do you smell something?” His voice was pitched a little too loud, his face contorting into an overly dramatic grimace while the girls giggled. “Something stinks…”
He flared his nostrils and slowly swiveled his head toward the back of the room. His eyes widened as he spotted Shea and John staring back at him. “Oh right, the farmboys are in this class! You should bathe more, Hansen. You too, Maguire. Eau de manure isn’t the ‘in’ thing this spring.”
Laughter filled the classroom. Shea could feel his face burning. Bobby Joe barreled on with his sneering tirade. “Didn’t your daddy ever teach you about soap, Maguire? Or doesn’t Mr. Farmer know any better? No wonder your mom ran out on you – she probably couldn’t stand the smell.”
Shea’s throat tightened as tears pricked at his eyes. He glanced at Jeannie and saw she was laughing right along with the rest.
“Don’t listen to them,” John said in a low voice, nudging his arm to remind Shea he still had a friend at his side. “They don’t understand. Not really.”
Neither do I, thought Shea, thudding his head down on his desk. The surface felt cool against his burning forehead. My mom didn’t even hang around long enough to get to know me, how could I understand?
Mr. Kelley entered the classroom. “All right, all right, settle down.” The tapping of his foot on the tiled floor got louder and louder as the students scurried to their seats. Shea didn’t need to look up to know the teacher wasn’t happy to have lost most of his precious class time. “Settle down and I’ll hand out last Friday’s quizzes. We can go over them before I take them back to keep in your files for this term.”
When he reached Shea’s desk, he stopped. “Mr. Maguire.” When Shea lifted his head, Mr. Kelley asked, “Can you guess how many questions you answered correctly?”
“Umm, I don’t know?” He heard Jeannie muffle another giggle and felt his cheeks flame again.
“You got one wrong,” Mr. Kelley answered, his eyes glittering. “Can you guess which one?”
The rest of the class had turned in their seats to watch the exchange. Shea felt the burn creep down his neck. “Um, no?”
“The third question,” Mr. Kelley said, carefully placing the test paper in the exact center of Shea’s desk. His index finger skewered the page to the surface as he stood staring into Shea’s face. “It bothered me, because it’s a question I was sure you answered correctly the week before.” The teacher paused, his eyes never leaving Shea. “So I checked.”
Shea dropped his gaze. “So?” he finally mumbled, wishing a hole would open in the floor to swallow him.
“I looked back through all your test papers. It seems you always get one question wrong every week. Regardless of whether it’s something I know that you know. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were getting answers wrong on purpose. Now, why would that be?”
“Um, Mr. Kelley… I…”
A knock on the classroom door interrupted, giving Shea a few extra minutes to scramble for an excuse that wouldn’t sound completely lame. How could he explain that he was just trying not to stand out? Or that…
“Is there a Shea Maguire here?”
Shea’s head jerked up. A state trooper stood in the doorway, mirrored sunglasses hiding his eyes. A cold ball formed in the pit of Shea’s stomach. His arm felt like lead as he raised his hand.
“Come with me, son,” commanded the trooper. Shea stood, automatically grabbing his backpack from the floor next to his chair. Moments ago he’d been wishing for a miracle to take him out of the situation, but suddenly he knew he’d rather stay.
He felt twenty pairs of eyes follow his long walk to the front of the room. Something was wrong. Really wrong.
“We’ll finish this discussion tomorrow,” Mr. Kelley called after him.
Shea kept walking.