This fall, the Kiwanis Club of St. John’s announced the winners of their second annual Kiwanis High School Short Story Award for students in St. John’s and Mount Pearl. Below is third place winner, Emma Troake’s story “Front Rows.” Pick up December’s print issue to read the first place winner.
“Sit over there. Away from the door.”
I reluctantly walk over to where his stubby finger pointed, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. The only other person, Evans I guess, follows silently behind. I drop my decrepit bag on the scuffed gymnasium floor. Mr. Jacobs looks at me expectantly. I sigh and slide down the wall, and Evans mimics me when Jacobs looks at her too. This whole situation has a kindergarten “time-out” vibe to it, only I wish this were a time-out. No, instead, this is the result of the office calling a lockdown while I was passing by the gymnasium.
Mr. Jacobs is pacing back and forth in front of the locked double doors, probably in an attempt at getting his steps in on his new wrist pedometer he loves. My eyes drift to the PA box as he passes it. Oh how I yearn for the obnoxious crackle of the speaker to come to life, with an equally obnoxious voice announcing the end of this prisoning boredom. I nearly lose it when Jacobs starts jogging around the gym.
“Geez, he’s obsessed with that thing,” I grumble.
Evans doesn’t respond. I glance over at her, actually observing her. Her auburn hair falls around her shoulder and her long face and protruding nose is exposed. Her heavy black eyeliner cries attention to her green eyes, which are preoccupied with the woollies on her navy sweater. Lastly, she sports yoga pants and worn burgundy Converses. Not that I’m one for the latest clothing trends, but my guess is that this girl doesn’t make the fashion cut. Interrupting my examining, Jacobs jogs past us. I gesture to Jacobs and roll my eyes. She smiles weakly and I notice she’s trembling. In fact, her whole body is shaking, and her face is pale.
“Hey, are you okay?” I ask, knowing full well she isn’t.
She runs her hand through her hair. “Yeah—well no. Not really. These things freak me out,” she murmurs.
“What, joggers?” I chuckle, trying to loosen her up.
“No, I mean the lockdown.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing big.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble, but usually something’s up if we’re required to hide in the corner of our classrooms.”
I shrug as Jacobs nears us again.
“Um, with all due respect sir,” I speak up, and he skids to a stop. “Isn’t the whole point of a lockdown to, you know, be quiet?”
“Yeah, so an intruder would think we aren’t here?” Evans chimes in.
“Lucky for us, there’s no intruder. This is some locker-search situation,” he explains, then starts jogging again.
I sigh and cross my arms. “See, I told you it wasn’t anything major.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Her face remains the same shade of ghost.
“I’m Roy, by the way,” I mention.
Suddenly her name rings a bell. From what, though? I don’t partake in any extracurriculars, I would never dare attempt to play a piano or swim laps, I would be a safety hazard. Even at the piano.
“Wait, are you in my bio class?” I ask.
“Maybe, do you have Ms. Jay?”
“Yeah, I do. I guess we are in the same class.”
“So um…do you like it?”
“Bio? It’s alright. Really darling classmates we have,” she mutters.
“I barely even pay attention to Jay, let alone anyone else,” I chuckle.
“It’s pretty hard to miss my daily encounters with them,” she says quietly, and I can tell I’ve hit a sensitive area.
It’s true that I zone out everyone around me in bio, though I do slightly recall hearing some banter towards the back of the class. The back is the pops’ (populars) territory, and anyone who finds themselves there should expect to hear about it from them. There’s no doubt if Harper sat back there, she would be subjected to the collaborative derision provided by the pops. I’ve accumulated enough knowledge over the years to recognize that if you stick to the front rows, you’ll survive.
“Why would they call a lockdown to search a locker?” Harper speaks up nervously.
“It’s probably drugs.”
She looks away again. I fiddle with my hands as we fall into an awkward silence. For some reason I can’t get my mind off the thought of the pops ganging up on Harper every day. I don’t know how somebody could deal with that.
I turn back to her. “You know, Harper, …” I start. I’ve never been talented at encouraging people. Well, um…don’t listen to those guys, okay?”
“It’s not that easy.”
“I know, but you seem like… well a really good person.”
The corners of her lips turn up a bit. “Really?”
“Of course. Don’t listen to those morons, they prey on others because they feel insecure about themselves.”
“I…don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, that was probably the worst pep talk in history.”
She laughs wholeheartedly at this. “It wasn’t, really. I never really thought anyone…thank you, Roy,” she beams, and I nod.
We return to silence again. Suddenly, the PA buzzes to life and the secretary lifts the lockdown. We both grab our bags and walk to the gym door.
“Hey, we’ve got bio now,” I inform Harper.
“I’ll uh, meet you there, okay? I’ve got something to take care off—get rid of, actually,” she remarks, and backs down the hall.
“Okay, see you there.”
She grins before turning away. I weave my way through students climbing the stairs. On the way up I catch snippets of conversations, all of which are about the lockdown.
“I heard they found prescription drugs in someone’s locker, a lot of them too.”
“For what, recreational use?”
“Who knows these days?”
I tune out my surroundings, sighing in relief as I make it out of the stairwell. I enter Ms. Jay’s room and take my seat as usual. I set my bag in the empty desk beside me. I think someone else can benefit from the front rows.