“I dunno, Adam…” said the smaller boy, glancing nervously around the hallway as other students streamed by. “What if it doesn’t work?”
“Then your lunch money just gets ripped off again, I guess,” said the taller of the two, craning an arm up into the dark recesses of a school locker. “What have you got to lose?” Adam spit out a wad of chewed gum and spread it on the flat side of a contraption hidden in his backpack. “Why don’t you keep your cash on you instead of in your locker anyway?”
“Just makes it easier for them to steal,” said the boy, shaking his head. “Figured it had a fighting chance if I kept it locked up. Or at least I thought,” he added dejectedly. “What’s this thing supposed to do anyway?” he asked, staring intently at the softball-sized gadget now clinging to the inside of his locker.
“A few things,” said Adam, a devious smile playing about his face. “This is a motion sensor, it’ll detect when someone opens the door and will start the firing sequence. This nozzle will spray our perp then the guts of this old cell phone will snap a pic and text it to me. You know, photographic evidence, just in case. The whole thing is controlled by a battery-powered Raspberry Pi.”
“Hang on… motion sensor, firing sequence, pie? How am I supposed to get into my locker?”
“Come on, Spence,” Adam laughed, “have I ever let you down before?” The boy gave him a weak smile and shook his head. “Here, take this. Short range RFID tag. The sensor I attached will disarm the system when you get within a few feet of it, so you can get your books and stuff without getting sprayed.”
“Cool,” said Spencer, tucking the small chip into a pocket. “Good idea. What does it spray, anyway?”
“Well, I wanted to use methyl blue dye to mark our klepto friend, but the chem lab was out. I just grabbed the closest bottle before Mrs. Garcia saw me. Canine pheromone solution...” Spencer gave him a funny look. Adam shrugged. “Seemed like a waste not to spray something. The micro pump was not easy to… acquire.” He tapped the small plastic reservoir hanging off the side, the yellowish liquid sloshing inside.
“You stole all this stuff, didn’t you?” asked Spencer disapprovingly. “Aren’t you ever worried about getting caught?”
“Borrowed,” Adam whispered. “I’ll return it all once we catch the jackwad who’s been stealing your cash. Okay, should be ready to go.” He reached behind the device, flipping a hidden switch. A small, red LED softly illuminated the back of the locker as he shut the door with a loud thwack.
“Thanks, Adam,” said Spencer, “I owe you one. Again.”
“My pleasure, as always” said Adam, “see ya ‘round.” The boys parted ways with the intention of giving the thief ample room to do his dirty work. Adam made his way out to the courtyard in the center of the school. The mid-September weather still quite warm. He ducked into his new favorite lunch spot, a shady area under a willow tree. In the two short weeks he’d been in high school, it had proved to be the best place to eat in peace without being bothered. The long, draping branches provided an opportunity to watch other people’s comings and goings without drawing too much attention. He ate the sandwich his mom had packed and eagerly checked his cell phone every few moments.
The lunch hour passed uneventfully. Adam parted the branches to exit his sanctuary. He carefully eyed Spencer’s locker as he passed through the hallway. It looked undisturbed for the moment. Patience, he told himself, it’ll work. It was only moments before he was rewarded. The phone in his pocket vibrated just as he sat down in the next class.
Quickly whipping out his phone, he cast a furtive glance around the room and unlocked it. Adam swore quietly as the image of the perpetrator popped into the text thread. A large, blurry hand obscured most of the picture. Shoulda made the camera fire sooner, he thought. He set the phone on the desk, staring intently at the photo. Between two of the fingers, a section of the thief’s striped letterman jacket was visible. Has to be at least a sophomore. None of us freshman would’ve lettered yet. Hmm. His brain spun up, trying to reason out how he’d determine the identity of the lunch money thief without some other evidence. He focused on the image, trying to pick out some detail that would help. The start of class bell jarred him out of his thoughts.
He hadn’t noticed that the desk in front of him had become occupied. A large, wide-shouldered football player now sat there. The boy had twisted around, staring between Adam and the phone sitting on the desk, his face drawing into an angry sneer. Adam looked up and giggled involuntarily, eyeing a large wet spot on the football player’s chest. His shirt and letterman jacket were soaked.
“You know anything about this, freshman?” said the boy menacingly.
“Nope, no idea,” said Adam smugly, quickly pocketing his phone. He took an exaggerated sniff, nose wrinkling as an odor rather like wet dog began to permeate the room. “Hey, is it just me, or does it stink in here?” The boy gritted his teeth and growled before turning around. The teacher sauntered in from his office at the front of the class.
“This isn’t over…” said the boy under his breath. “Better watch yourself.”
“Will do,” Adam yawned. “Thanks for the heads-up.” He slouched down in the uncomfortable desk, rather glad the hulking football player shielded him from the teacher’s vantage. Maybe just a little snooze, he thought as the instructor began another unusually dull monologue on the amazing usefulness of geometry. Adam had barely laid his head on his notebook when he began to drool, a puddle accumulating as the teacher droned on about polygons, angles, and theorems. Adam didn’t often dream during his school naps, but today’s was quite vivid. Perhaps it was the heat.
He ran full-out on a rocky beach, small pebbles slipping under his feet. The ground rushed underneath him as he paralleled the water, urging his long legs to carry him faster. He quickly began to sweat in the humid night air.
Another person ran ahead of him, continually glancing behind. Adam couldn’t make out the face, but he knew he was trying to catch up. Somehow, everything depended on it. His muscles started to burn in protest. He was already weary. His chest began to ache as he panted. The momentum escaped his body as he skidded to a stop. Falling to his knees, Adam watched in disconnected torment as the other runner disappeared into the shadows.
Mr. McNeely had just finished erasing the board and glanced around at the glassy eyes in front of him. He took a class roster off his desk, scanning the names over the top of thick-rimmed glasses.
“Adam Locke,” he called out to the class, “stand up.” The teacher surveyed the room. No one had risen. “Adam?” he asked again, now obviously annoyed. “Where is Adam Locke?” A girl in a cheerleader uniform near the front pointed toward the back. The football player leaned to one side, trying to keep out of the instructor’s line of sight.
“Mister Locke! Are we interrupting your nap?”
Adam jerked his head off the desk, only dimly aware of hearing his name. His sticky cheek pulled away from the paper he’d been doodling in, leaving a mirror image of the ballpoint ink picture on the side of his face. The room came into focus, every set of eyes staring back at him.
In the short time they had been in school, students in this particular class learned that Mr. McNeely always chose someone at the end of each lecture, someone to question about the precisely thirty minutes of mathematical wisdom he’d just imparted.
Adam stood slowly and stretched, now fully aware that he was today’s victim. He gazed around the room, seeing the looks on his classmate’s faces. Many of them snickered quietly. As he stared from student to student, only one person’s face showed a glimmer of compassion. Nicole. He and Nicole Mason had been friends since the first grade. She was one of the few girls that would still talk to him now that they were in high school. He gave her a feeble smile before looking back at the instructor.
“Adam,” said Mr. McNeely snidely, “would you be so kind as to explain the Pythagorean Theorem for us? It shouldn’t be difficult for you, considering I have done so for the last half an hour.”
“The Pythagorean Theorem states,” said Adam, clearing his throat, “that the–”
“Up here,” interrupted the instructor, sweeping his arm in a mocking gesture toward the front of the room, “Everyone wants to hear this.”
Adam ambled toward the whiteboard. “The Pythagorean Theorem states,” he began again, “that for any right triangle, if we know the measurements of the two sides adjacent to the right angle, we can find the measurement of the third side, or hypotenuse.” He glanced away from his classmates and toward the teacher, noticing a flicker of irritation. Adam tried not to smile.
He stood there for a moment quietly, unsure if he was finished. Mr. McNeely crossed his arms. Adam picked up a marker, “The theorem is expressed by the formula,” he continued while drawing a triangle on the whiteboard, “A squared plus B squared equals C squared.” He labeled each side of the triangle and wrote the equation below it.
Adam glanced over again. Mr. McNeely’s eyebrows now furrowed severely beneath his thick glasses. He locked eyes with the teacher. “For example,” he said rather forcefully, “if we know these two shorter sides A and B, we can calculate the longer side, C. Let’s say side A is six feet and side B is eight feet. Six squared is thirty-six and eight squared is sixty-four. Added together that’s a hundred.” Copying the numbers under the formula, Adam looked out to his classmates. Their previous sneers were being replaced with cautious nods as they studied the equation.
“So now,” said Adam with just a hint of a smile, “we know that C squared is a hundred. Take the square root of one hundred, ten, and that’s the length of side C.” He finished labeling the triangle and dropped the marker into the tray with a metallic clang. He glanced briefly back at the teacher before returning to his desk. Mr. McNeely’s left eyebrow shot up as a collective gasp echoed around the room, equal parts newfound understanding and outright shock. For the first time, the geometry teacher’s chosen student wasn’t utterly humiliated. Someone knew the answer. The balance of power had shifted. Even the thieving football player looked slightly less perturbed than he had before.
Their unlikely hero now out of view, the students’ heads snapped back toward the instructor, wondering what could possibly happen next. Adam relished the sneer on the teacher’s face, a strange mixture of surprise and anger. Mr. McNeely calmly took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, the redness in his cheeks melting away.
“Well, Mr. Locke,” he said to the class, almost cheerfully, “that certainly was enlightening. I didn’t realize I had done such a thorough job explaining the Pythagorean Theorem, but you were even able to describe its formula and illustrate an example. Well done!” Just as quickly, he switched to his usual oily, monotone voice. “I have obviously underestimated the potential for learning in this particular group of students. Since you all apparently have such a sound grasp of this subject already, I would like each of you to prepare a five-page essay on Pythagoras and his contributions to mathematics.” A slow smile spread across his face. “And, it will be due on Monday.”
Adam’s stomach knotted instantly. He slid down in his chair, knowing without looking that his classmates’ grins were being replaced with scowls. He knew that until about a minute ago, nobody else knew the theorem, formula, or anything else useful about Pythagoras. Loud groans, sighs, and variations of that’s not fair echoed around the room. Mr. McNeely ignored them happily, waving students out as the bell rang.
Adam stayed slumped in his desk as people filed out, most of them shooting him foul looks as they left. He was about to try and slink out unnoticed when he heard his name again.
“Mr. Locke,” said Mr. McNeely snidely, “a word?”
Adam turned around and approached the teacher’s desk, aware that his shame and embarrassment were quickly being replaced by anger. “Yes, Mr. McNeely?” he asked, glaring.
“I will not be made a fool of in my own class.” he said calmly.
“I was just trying to explain—” Adam stammered.
“You did far more than explain,” the teacher interrupted, “you provided an example of the theorem in a formula. I still had an entire lecture period before the class was to see how the theorem applies to geometric calculations.” He paused and leaned forward in his chair. "I am the teacher here Mr. Locke, not you. I will decide what the students learn and how they will learn it.”
“Yes, Mr. McNeely.” Adam desperately wanted to tell the teacher exactly how he felt, how horrible this class was, how much everyone hated him. This is my year to turn things around, he thought, taking a deep breath to attempt to calm himself before anything else came out. Be cool, let it go… Edging out into the hallway, Adam felt his cheeks burning. He navigated into the river of students, trying to blend in and disappear. His triumph had lasted only moments. By Monday, the only thing his classmates would remember was a weekend ruined by a surprise essay. An essay I got them stuck with. That guy is such a…
“Oww, watch it!” said a voice he recognized instantly. “Oh, hi Adam. Sorry, didn’t know it was you.”
“Hey, Nicole,” he said weakly, regaining his balance as his brain brought him back to reality. “My bad. Wasn’t watching where I was going.” He’d been wandering the hall in an aimless fog after leaving Mr. McNeely’s room and had run into her open locker door.
“No big deal,” she said, closing the door and gently touching the place on his forehead where he’d collided, “I think you’re allowed today. That guy is such a…”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m really sorry about the essay.”
“Not your fault. It’s totally unfair that he’s punishing the whole class just because you knew the answer to his rigged question. Who cares about Pie-thang-ora anyway, right?”
“Pythagoras,” corrected Adam, already wishing he hadn’t said it.
“I wish I always knew all the answers,” she said wistfully as they began to stroll down the hall.
“Yeah, it’s a real treat,” he answered sarcastically. She flashed him a wry smile and his stomach lurched. Adam’s mouth began to blurt out words before his brain could stop them. “You know, I could, uh… help. With your essay, I mean. Maybe we could do our research together?” His voice cracked as he tried to make it not sound like a question. “You know, if you want.”
“That’d be awesome,” said Nicole, her face lighting up. “You don’t mind?”
“The least I can do. It’s my fault you have to do it anyway.”
“You wanna come over tomorrow morning? I don’t have anything going on.”
“Yeah, cool,” he answered, trying hard to mask his excitement.
“Cool. See you then.”
Adam grinned and headed off, only vaguely aware that his feet were carrying him. Yes, finally! Not like I actually asked her out, but… Studying at her house. Baby steps, right?
School let out that afternoon and Adam had managed to mostly avoid other kids from geometry class. He truly felt bad for them. Getting stuck with an essay during one of the last few weekends of nice weather was a major bummer. He boarded the bus, quickly noticing the large football player with a stain on his shirt. Adam flashed him a grin as he passed the boy’s seat, getting only a growl in return.
He made for an empty seat at the back of the bus. Taking one more rearward step, his sneaker caught on something. The extra weight of a full backpack pitched him forward. As he fell, Adam wondered why he’d put his hands into his pockets. With a sickening thud, he fell face-first onto the sticky bus floor. Wind nearly knocked out of his chest, he worked a hand out from under him and pulled up on the back of a nearby seat, trying to ignore the tumultuous laughter now erupting. He glanced over his shoulder as he stood again. The football player grinned widely, his upturned foot still in the center of the aisle.
Well played, Adam thought as he slid into the tattered seat. Guess you use the tricks you got, right? He couldn’t really blame the guy. The kid had more reason than most to put Adam at the top of his not-so-favorite-people list today. He sighed as the bus pulled away, already looking forward to getting a driver’s license more than a year from now.
Adam stared out the window as the bus made its route, his mind wandering toward the next day and the invitation to Nicole’s house. At least some good came out of that stupid class, he thought. Guess I should thank Mr. McNeely. Ha, right… He snapped out of his thoughts as a familiar scent wafted through the bus, something canine. The football player had risen to get off, his letterman jacket wadded up under one of his bulging arms.
Adam smiled as he heard it start, a cacophony of barking and sharp toenails scraping against pavement. The bus driver had just begun to pull away as a small pack of neighborhood dogs streamed from the opposite side of the street, the bus jerking to a stop to avoid them. Adam whipped out his phone as he savored the scene, the boy just realizing what was happening. The herd grew in numbers as he staggered backwards up his driveway, a rather enthusiastic Chihuahua leading the charge toward the source of the scent. Adam snapped a photo as the football player stumbled up his front steps and into the house, a rather motley assortment of dogs now howling wildly on the front porch.
Adam texted the photo to Spencer, knowing it was worth whatever personal suffering he’d endured today. He tapped out a brief sentence just below the image.
Don’t think you’ll have any more problems with lunch money.