Alex walks down the main hallway scanning the crowd of students that is growing increasingly larger the closer they get to the first bell. He’s looking for his student. It’s now 7:50 which means that his kid is 20 minutes late to their session. Which isn’t a great sign. For the past six weeks, he’s been seeing DeVante every morning before school for a breakfast session to help start his day off on the right foot and Alex can see it’s helping. His violent outbursts have drastically decreased with only one issue in the past month. His teachers have started reporting that he’s been turning in assignments. And he hasn’t heard a single complaint from Mr. Guyer about DeVante in at least three weeks.
But if DeVante is skipping his session, it’s not a great sign.
“Hey, Trey, have you seen DeVante?” Alex asks, grabbing one of the other 8th graders as he walks through the door.
“Man, why you think I know where he’s at?” Trey says, looking annoyed, but Alex doesn’t let it rile him up like the other teachers do whenever Trey gets that tone.
“Because the two of you are joined at the hip,” Alex says, giving him a knowing look.
Trey shrugs. “I don’t know. He was on the bus.”
Alex nods and lets Trey go, figuring that’s all he’s going to get out of him. At least Alex knows that he’s at school today and is actually ditching his session. He’d already checked the cafeteria to see if Mrs. Ortez had seen him, but she hadn’t. Meaning not only is DeVante skipping his session, but he’s also skipping breakfast. The boy is gonna head into first period ELA, his most hated class, hungry and unregulated.
“Kyle,” Alex grabs him as he walks past. “Have you seen DeVante around?”
Kyle sighs deeply. “Please tell me he didn’t skip your session.”
“He skipped my session,” he confirms as Kyle shakes his head and looks around.
“Well that’s not gonna end well for anyone,” Kyle says. “Have you checked the cafeteria?”
As the school nurse, Kyle is one of the only other people in the building that actually has empathy for a lot of Alex’s toughest cases. Kyle understands mental health and the impact of trauma on a child and is an advocate for the kids. They two of them have headed up a lot of the schools PD on social-emotional learning and trauma informed teaching.
“He’s not there.”
“So he hasn’t eaten and he’s blowing off counseling,” Kyle says with a wince. “What’s his first class?”
“ELA,” Alex says with a significant look, which just causes Kyle to sigh louder.
“Hey, Marci,” Kyle reaches out to stop one of the girls. “Where’s DeVante?”
“He’s in detention,” Marci says with a shrug.
“Detention?” Alex says the words in a calm voice, but inside he’s already fuming. “Who gave him detention?”
“That new science teacher they have or whatever,” she says with a roll of her eyes.
As Marci walks away, Kyle turns to him with his hands raised like he’s about to approach a wounded animal. “We don’t know what happened—”
“I’m gonna murder them,” Alex says.
He doesn’t even wait to hear whatever Kyle has to say. Instead, Alex turns on his heel and heads directly to the science wing, ready to let this new science teacher have it. DeVante has an IEP and a behavior plan, meaning he can’t just throw around detentions and punishments whenever he wants, he has to follow the plan. He has to consult Alex. Having a kid with behavioral needs skip his counseling session in order to attend a detention is absurd. Even if Alex believed in detention, which he doesn’t, it’s inappropriate.
Alex turns the corner into the science hallway and can already see DeVante sitting at a table through the open door of what used to be Mr. T’s classroom before he abruptly turned in his notice halfway through the school year so he could accept a research position in Albuquerque. Alex hasn’t had a chance to meet the replacement yet, but he already hates them on principle alone.
Alex steps into the room, eyes trained on DeVante. “What’s going on D?” Alex asks him, ready to throw down in the kids defense at the poor treatment he’s clearly getting.
“Nothing,” DeVante says. And a moment later a man comes out of the closet with several individual size boxes of cereal in his hand.
“Alright, we’ve got Golden Grahams, Apple Jacks, Chex, and my personal favorite, Comet Crunch,” the guy says.
Alex crosses his arms and stares the man down until he realizes he’s there. “Uh, hi,” the guy says, setting the boxes down on an empty table. “Can I help you with something?”
“Yeah, you can explain why DeVante is here with you instead of with me,” he says, arms crossed.
“Yo, relax Mr. Manes,” DeVante says. “Mr. G was just helping me with a retake.”
“A retake?” Alex asks, looking back and forth between DeVante and the man — Mr. G apparently.
“DeVante’s work didn’t really meet the standard, but I could tell he was almost there. I asked him to come in so we could do a little experiment together. See if some hands on exploration helped solidify the content. And it did. DeVante’s got it now,” Mr. G explains with an easy smile, sending DeVante a proud look that has the boy actually smiling. Like, genuinely smiling. Which is rare. Alex’s heart thaws just a little bit.
“You know Roswell Junior High doesn’t really believe in retakes,” Alex informs him, not because he believes strongly in that rule, he regularly fights against the school’s grading and assessment policies, but he’s curious to hear where this guy stands.
“Listen, from my perspective? Nobody really cares how long it takes you to learn to ride a bike if at the end of the day, everyone knows how,” Mr. G says. “DeVante didn’t learn the material the first time I taught it, because I didn’t teach the material to him in a way he responded to. I taught him a different way and now he knows it. What do I care if it took us both another try to get it right?”
Alex doesn’t say anything, but he feels his heart thaw even more. He even allows himself a moment to check the man out, now that he’s no longer determined to destroy him. He’s attractive. Like really attractive. The kind of attractive that would have Alex asking to buy him a drink if they weren’t at work and Alex was sure of the man’s sexuality.
DeVante stands up and picks up the box of Apple Jacks and heads for the door.
“Do you need a bowl? Some milk?” Mr. G asks.
“Nah, I’m good,” he says. “Thanks, Mr. G. You alright.”
“See you 3rd period, man,” Mr. G says with a wave and then DeVante is gone.
“You alright,” Alex repeats, stunned by the exchange he just witnessed. “That’s high praise.”
Mr. G crosses his arms casually and leans back against the table, but not in a standoffish way, in a way that makes him look incredibly comfortable and relaxed.
“He’s a good kid,” he says with a shrug. Like it’s a perfectly normal thing for somebody to say about DeVante and that’s what finally wins Alex over. Because of all the teachers in this school that DeVante has had, he’s the only one that has ever said that about him.
“He is,” Alex says. “Not that many people see that.”
“That’s cause most people are entitled, privileged brats who don’t understand what it’s like to grow up in the system,” Mr. G says. “Mr. Manes I believe he said? You’re the school psych, right?”
“Alex,” he says, reaching out to shake the man’s hand.
Alex is probably imagining it because it’s been a long time since anyone’s actually hit on him outside of the dark haze of a club, but he swears Michael checks him out and gives him an appreciative look.
“So I take it DeVante was supposed to be with you this morning?” Michael asks. “He didn’t tell me he had other plans. I would have found another time.”
“I see DeVante every morning,” he explains.
Michael winces. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”
While only 10 minutes ago Alex was ready to storm in here yelling about BIPs and IEPs and positive reinforcement systems, he finds he’s much less upset about the whole thing now. After all, the whole point of seeing DeVante in the mornings is to make sure he’s eaten something and that he’s regulated. To make sure that he has a positive check in with an adult that cares about him. Michael, it seems, has managed to check all of those boxes.
“It’s fine, you didn’t know,” Alex says, finding he actually means it.
“Yeah? Cause you came storming in here like you were ready to flay me alive or something,” Michael says with a teasing smirk.
“One of the kids told me that you gave DeVante detention,” he explains.
Michael shrugs. “He told me that he didn’t want his friends to know he was getting help with his science,” Michael explains. “I told him that it doesn’t matter what his friends think because it’s not silly or weak to get help, but I also told him that I know what middle school is like and if it would make him feel better he could tell his friends I gave him detention.”
“Yeah, that tracks,” Alex says, thinking about how DeVante would rather die than ever let one of his friends know that he was getting help with anything. Ever. To DeVante, his reputation is everything, because he feels like it is all he has.
“How ‘bout you let me make it up to you?” Michael says, and this time, it’s hard to convince himself that the appreciative once over Michael gives him is all in his head. “Lunch together? I pretty much live in my classroom because the teacher’s lounge both terrifies me and pisses me off. I could use a lunch date.”
“Are you hitting on me?” Alex asks with a smirk, trying to play it cool and not act like a total idiot.
“Only if it works,” he says with an easy laugh that Alex can see himself falling for.
“And if it doesn’t?” Alex asks, shifting his weight back and forth, reminding himself that Michael doesn’t know him. Not really. That guys have hit on him before at clubs and changed their mind when they found out about his military background and his leg.
“It’s an invitation to eat lunch with a colleague and avoid the teacher’s lounge together?” Michael says.
“Okay,” Alex finds himself agreeing easily.
“Okay to which one?”
“We’ll see,” he says with a wink before walking toward the door as the first bell rings and kids start filing into the room.
Out of the corner of his eye, Alex can see Michael ducking his head with a blush before he starts greeting his students. Alex waves hello to a couple of his kids before heading to his office, trying his best to contain his excitement. He doesn’t know how this lunch will go. It could be awful. But as Alex hears the way that the kids get excited to say hello to Michael, Alex bets it’ll go great. After all, if Michael can love Alex’s hardest cases, he certainly can learn to love Alex. Right?