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"Hey, Tanisha."

"Hey, Earl." Earl was a pesky little kid, but nice. Tanisha didn't really want to talk to anyone, but it wasn't too bad to have him join her on the steps of the school while she was still getting over her tears. 

"Aren't you gonna go inside?" He asked.

"I don't think so.  I hate everybody at this stupid school."

"Even me?"

That forced her to smile a little. "OK. Not you, Earl." 

Was he going to just sit there by her until she spilled her guts about what happened? How she'd managed to freak out and get teased over nothing then ended up crying like a baby? 

But, instead Earl said, "What's in the jar?"

"A beetle." Tanisha answered "I brought it for show and tell. But, it was a dumb idea."

"Can I see it?" Earl leaned forward to peer into the jar. His eyes became wide when he saw the beetle. "It's beautiful!" He said, and more than anything else that started to make Tanisha feel better. But then he frowned in a serious way "This might actually be kind of a big deal, you know. It might not be the best idea to let anyone know that you have it, that is, anyone who you can't really trust."

"Why?" Asked Tanisha "I've brought in rare insects before..."

"I don't know if that's an insect." Said Earl "It looks like it could be some sort of fabricated automata." Earl was one of Ms. Madeline's kids and they all talked like that, full of technical terms and secrecy. Tanisha hoped she could become one of them. "Besides," Earl added, "with your dad gone-" The hurt look that Tanisha gave Earl made him stop mid-sentence. 

"So, everyone knows." Tanisha said, feeling defeated. 

"I'm just saying they'll be watching you. And-"

"I think I get it." Tanisha wasn't sure that she got it at all. But, now going in to the school seemed even more out of the question. Earl looked concerned. But then he smiled.

"You know what? I've got an idea! I bet Ms. Madeline would like to see it. And you can trust her. She's how I knew about your dad." 

"But, I don't have shop til Thursday!" Somehow waiting all week seemed impossible and... why would Ms. Madeline of all people know about her dad? Why would that mean she could trust her?

"Ms. Madeline is the one who told me that those charges were all made up and phony. She said I should look out for you."  Earl went on.  "And if you give me that bug I could bring it to her.  I have shop today even if you don't."

"No!" Tanisha hated the idea of someone else taking her beautiful beetle. Earl seemed to accept this and screwed up his face thinking. He was a skinny boy, on the small side, delicate even. Mean kids would call him "pretty." He had a messy curly Afro and big innocent black eyes. 

"Well," Said Earl "what if you come with me to the shop and say that you forgot which day it was."

Tanisha burst out laughing. It was such a stupid plan! But, Earl seemed serious about it.

"Ms. Madeline will understand. I know she will. I just gotta get my toolset from my locker. Stay here so the hall guards don't see you and we'll walk to the shop together."

Still feeling exhausted from crying, she gave in. She'd already be in trouble for being late. Why not make it worse and just go to the wrong building and the wrong class? And she really wanted to know what Ms. Madeline knew about her dad!

"OK" said Tanisha. And after watching Earl disipear inside probably to face the school security check in system and the mean kids in the hall she became absorbed in watching her lovely beetle until her friend returned. 

Submitted: November 28, 2020

© Copyright 2023 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.


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