catch yourself up with a visit to the archives.
– Chapter 7 –
Maranatha decided extracurriculars were pointless in middle school, when she tried out for gymnastics. Another team hopeful told everyone there she was gay and none of the girls would volunteer to spot her. But now that she was a senior with a tepid GPA, she needed all the help she could get. College application deadlines were looming and for the opportunity to skip town, possibly for good, she was willing to make sacrifices.
Three weeks into the school year, she began noticing new flyers plastering bulletin boards, hallway corridors, and empty lockers. The blue ones announced the revival of the school paper; there hadn’t been one in years, ever since the alleged “budget cuts” of five years ago, the ones that just happened to coincide with the “renovation” of the nurse’s suite and the installation of surveillance cameras in the classrooms and halls.
The other flyers, gold ones, announced the launch of Holy Pentecost’s first literary magazine, The Manna Quarterly. Maranatha made a mental note of the date for the combined informational meeting.
But as she approached the cafeteria after school that Friday and heard far more voices than she’d anticipated, she considered bailing. Sweat pulsed into her palms. Her teeth began to chatter like she was cold, even though the hall was stuffy and unseasonably warm.
It’d be easy to just head home. Maybe should manage a few undisturbed hours while her mother prayed and studied for upcoming speaking engagements before her stepfather got home. She thought of her CD collection, of the journal tucked under her bed, of the Oreos she’d bought at the grocery store two days ago. But home’s creature comforts paled as she imagined a faraway dorm room and a major that didn’t require her to memorize psalms.
She steeled herself, creeping up to the massive, closed double doors. Through the window in one of them, she saw that of the twenty-eight round tables in the cafeteria, ten were filled. The size of the crowd confused and intimidated her. Jake Rich was there with his wide-eyed freshman girlfriend. Cammi Shaw was sitting a table surrounded by her usual coven. Cosi whispered something to Demetria that made them both turn and grin idiotically at Ben Waldron, the best artist in school. And there were clusters of underclassmen she didn’t know, milling around their own social whirls.
Strangely, all the rungs of the academy’s hierarchy were represented. Like all schools, Holy Pentecost had its varying levels of popularity, but they weren’t always achieved by the same means. Here, you were automatically lauded if your parents were part of Holy Pentecost Christian Center’s leadership staff. Because the pastors there founded the school, the children of pastors and elders and deacons part of their own superior orbit. That was Demetria Simmons’ world.
Children of choir members cliqued because of all the Saturday choir practices to which they’d been dragged before they could protest or drive. Kids who’d gone on youth missions trips together generally cloistered themselves away from everyone else and spoke to each other in hushed reverential tones, like post-war survivors.
Of course, there were still the meritocracies. You could become revered for induction into National Honor Society or for being a gifted artist like Ben Waldron or for acting in the school’s stage adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember.
It was always tricky for transfers, since most Holy Pentecost students had been enrolled here since they learned to walk. But their way could be made infinitely easier, if they and their parents were church members.
Obviously, the small minority of students who didn’t attend Holy Pentecost Christian Center were misfits by general consensus. And Maranatha was in a class apart and alone.
She scanned the room for the faculty advisor. The flyers hadn’t listed one. Finding out who was in charge was imperative. She wasn’t sure she could manage an afterschool club with this broad a cross-section of potential tormenters unless the faculty advisor was someone with whom she had a moderately amicable relationship. Some of her teachers were just as bad as the students.
“You joinin’ us?” Mr. Agee said as he sauntered by pointing at the doors.
She knew her face was reddening like peach skin as she watched him pass. He didn’t wait for a response. She watched him yell, “All right, all right. Let me get everyone’s attention real quick!” And the loud chatter of moments earlier suddenly quieted.
It’d been stupid to think he remembered her. She’d been in his class three weeks and he’d barely glanced in her direction, not even when he was taking role or handing back a graded paper. At first, she was a little surprised. Not only was her name unusual but when you fall on someone hard enough to break a limb, Maranatha figured, the decent thing to do would be to commit the collision to memory.
Then she realized how silly she was being. The whole thing, from the fall to the medic’s arrival had probably taken no more than ten minutes. She thought about all the bizarre and minute and monumental things that had transpired in her own life between that day and now, and how Mr. Agee had his own rope of occurrences he’d tugged him from Hallelujah Day ’88 to now. Who knew how many accomplishments and tragedies and secret shames he carried or how many it had taken to eclipse breaking a second-grader’s arm?
After she got over herself, she spent most of her time following him around the room with her eyes. She absorbed the way his body stretched up, long, narrow, and stalwart like the trunk of a palm tree. Thick black hair covered his chin, his cheeks, his scalp. Every time Maranatha slid into her chair in his classroom, the same strange-sounding SAT word popped into her head as she looked up at him: fecund. His skin was dark, almost as dark as the blackboard he stood in front of at the start of each class, and slate-smooth, like he’d never had so much as a whitehead in his entire life. His smile had to be earned. He only offered it if a question was answered impressively or he was teaching a book he really seemed to love.
Mr. Agee never aimed any of his rare smiles at Maranatha. He wasn’t in the habit of calling on students who didn’t volunteer and Maranatha sat in the back of the room, never raising her hand. She secretly wished he would force her to participate. She knew the answers. She could’ve coaxed one of his smiles.
He’d been talking for a few minutes when she saw him turn to the doors and, with an almost imperceptible head tip, beckon her in. She thought she heard his voice raise when she entered, like he was trying to keep the group from commenting on her entry. Or maybe he was just trying to make sure she didn’t distract them.
“If you’re truly committed to either publication, I’ll make sure we find a place for you. But please be aware that there is a required writing sample. It’s due next Friday and I’ll be personally evaluating each. Everyone’s welcome to pitch ideas, but staff writers will be selected on the strength of their writing sample alone. Consider it a tryout. Put forth your best possible effort.”
Maranatha slipped into a hard plastic chair at an empty table slightly removed from everyone else.
“If there aren’t any questions, I’ll send around this sign-up sheet. Next to your name, indicate your interest—photography, sketches, layout, or writing—and unless you want to waste any more of this rare, sun-dappled day in your school cafeteria, you’re free to go.”
Maranatha smiled to herself. He was going to be one of those faculty advisers—the grand, eloquent Dead Poets Society type she though only existed in movies. It was both charming and embarrassingly affected.
The sheet made its rounds and everyone began to disperse, the girls catcalling their singsongy goodbyes to Mr. Agee and the guys head-nodding or dapping him up. She wondered how many of them would actually submit the writing sample or stick around to see what other role they’d be assigned.
She waited until most of them were gone before shuffling toward the doors herself. Unlike the rest of them, she had no intention of saying goodbye.
“I see you signed up for writing.”
It took her a few seconds to decide whether or not she should turn. She’d be mortified if he wasn’t talking to her. But turn she did. He wasn’t looking in her direction, but when she glanced around, she saw she was the only one who’d stopped and the last of the students were making their way through the doors.
He took a few steps forward and stopped, glancing up from the sign-in sheet where he’d fixed his gaze. His voice cracked a bit on the edge of a question that began with the word, “How.” He cleared his throat. “How’s your arm?”
“It’s… You did remember.”
He turned back to a flyer-strewn table and hastily gathered the papers under his hands.
“Maranatha,” he said over the loud tapping of the flyer-stack against the table. “You never forget the people you break.”