Chapter 2 (or, "Someday's Dreamer")
Previous Episode: Our heroine was going through her daily routine when a man collapsed in the coffee shop.
Classroom 302 was her homeroom. From here, she would go to room 224 and take biology with Mrs. Anders, and then room 114 with Mr. Withrow for math. Now, though, she just had to make it through homeroom --
She jumped; turning around in the hallway, she spotted the last person she had wanted to see this morning: Peter Doyle, the hall monitor and a mortal enemy of hers. His six foot tall, bulky football player frame filled the entire hallway.
“You’re late,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “It’s been a long morning --”
“No excuses.” And with that, Peter took her by the shoulder, and she had no choice but to follow him to room 302.
The room turned quiet as she approached, and she could hear Mrs. Bellemore starting the morning’s announcements. She filed behind Peter as he knocked on the huge wooden door. Within seconds, Mrs. Bellemore answered.
“Miss Lopez,” she said in that harsh voice that most every student had learned to fear. “You understand that this is the third time you have been late this month.”
She took a deep breath. Actually, the first two tardies hadn’t counted because her train had been late both times, and she had gotten proof. But she didn’t have that as a buffer today. Instead, she told the truth. “A man collapsed at Saint Arbucks this morning,” she said, loud enough for the entire class to hear. “I think he died.”
The entire classroom was so still one could hear a pin drop. Peter moved away from the door and disappeared down the hall, presumably to harass other late students. Even Mrs. Bellemore looked stunned; she just opened the door and let her in.
She turned towards the back and identified Mark, the class clown. “Nice excuse!” he said, and there were scattered chuckles throughout the room.
Well. If they didn’t believe she was telling the truth, she would just have to prove it. She walked to her desk, just right across from Mark’s. “He was an older businessman,” she told him, her voice soft but steady. “I left my duffel bag in the bathroom and he got it for me. Five minutes later, he was just eating his bagel when he fell over backwards.” She turned towards the front and made eye contact with Mrs. Bellemore. “Can we start class now?”
Thankfully Mark shut up, and the rest of homeroom went well. The gossip spread like wildfire, though, and by the time Carissa got to room 224, it seemed like everybody in school knew about her Saint Arbucks adventure...if one could call it that.
“Are you serious?” her best friend Isabel asked her as they sat down next to each other and pulled out their biology books. “Dang, chica, that is some excuse.”
“It’s not an excuse. You would have been there too if you would have caught the one train on time. You always leave the house at the last possible second if I don’t call you first.”
“Whatever.” Isabel looked up from her papers. “The point is that you actually made it to school...woah...” Her eyes became fixated on something. “Who’s the new white kid?”
What? Carissa looked around the classroom until she saw who Isabel was talking about. The kid in question was new...er. She had definitely seen him before, but if she remembered correctly, he had been at this school since the beginning of this year. He was tall, with red hair and blue eyes. At the moment, he was just sitting in the back of class with his nose in a book.
“He’s not new,” she finally said.
“Oh, really? He’s not too bad looking actually, for a white guy. You know his name?”
Carissa thought about it for a minute and realized, no, she didn’t. She was saved by the fact that Mrs. Anders came into the room at that moment, and class began. She lost herself in facts and figures and life science. At one point, the teacher handed back graded papers in rows, and she got another glimpse of the boy in back with the red hair and the book. Probably a total geek, she thought to herself, and Isabel didn’t typically go for those types.
She looked down at the papers, but none of them rang a bell as far as a name.
Biology ended and math was next, a class Carissa didn’t have with Isabel. But she did have it with the nameless guy, who again sat in the back and kept reading his book without nearly any break in mode at all.
“And that’s why both sides have to balance out,” Mr. Withrow continued. “Just because you just came back from winter recess does not give you the excuse to sleep in class. That means you, Miss Harrigan.”
Everybody turned and laughed as one girl in the back rose her head from her arms, guilty as charged. Mr. Withrow smiled. “Now, can anybody tell me the answer to problem 13?”
Carissa looked down at her own paper and shook her head. The problem with problem 13 was that it had required three different steps in order to finish it. The first two had been long and complicated enough, let alone the third step, which she had attempted four times over break.
The classroom sat silent for too long. Finally, Mr. Withrow looked toward the back. “Mac?”
Without any warning, the boy with the book rose from his seat, putting the book itself on the desk, and walked up to the front of the classroom. Then, without saying a word, he picked up a piece of chalk and wrote out the entire solution on the blackboard, with no fanfare whatsoever. As he walked back to his seat, Carissa caught a glimpse of his face: while it wasn’t traumatized, Mac certainly hadn’t wanted to get up from his seat for some reason.
The rest of the day went on, uneventful for the most part. Since it was the first day back, some classes went easy on the students and some didn’t. Carissa found herself with three pages of math homework already, problems much like the one Mac had done in class. She thought back to how Mr. Withrow had called on him. It was like Mr. Withrow knew that Mac could do the problem, like Mac was a last resort. How smart was this Mac person, anyway?
The train ride home was a simple affair, although Carissa almost got kicked by a couple of kids performing tricks on the subway. When she arrived home, she climbed up four floors of stairs to her apartment only to realize that, no, her mother was not home yet, and it was four floors back down to walk the neighbor’s poodle.
Mama didn’t do much after she finally did arrive home, other than sit down in front of the television and watch her novelas. Carissa put together her own dinner, knowing that her father would again be too late home to see her awake, and headed to her bedroom, pushing aside the beaded entry.
The room was full of posters, clothes lying around, a mostly unmade bed, and two closed closet doors that hid the rest of the mess. Carissa sat down her duffel, suddenly remembering the man who had returned it to her. Was he really dead? Or was that old lady as crazy as she seemed? And she did seem quite crazy.
Carissa opened up her computer and searched online, finding the news for New York. Certainly if something that crazy had happened in the early morning hours, it would still be somewhere on the page. Searchable, at least. But it wasn’t. No matter how many news sites Carissa looked at, she couldn’t find any reports of the incident ever happening.
She slept on it, hoping that in the morning, this time it would make more sense. Her mother had the news on as she woke up and went into the kitchen to make her breakfast. She checked her smartphone and got a message from Isabel -- she had caught the express, so they would meet up at the same Saint Arbucks Carissa had been at the previous day.
“So he was just sitting here and he keeled back?” Isabel asked as she sipped her iced coffee.
Carissa was so glad to have her chai again this morning. “Yep,” she said. “No warning at all. It just kind of happened.”
“To be honest, I’m glad I wasn’t here when it happened,” Isabel said. “I would have probably freaked out.”
“And they would have had to take you in an ambulance as well,” Carissa noted.
“Ambulance?” one of the baristas asked. “When did this happen?”
Carissa gave a nervous chuckle. “Oh, it never happened with my friend here, but yesterday there was an ambulance here. Someone collapsed.”
The barista gave Carissa a strange look. “There weren’t any ambulances here yesterday. I was here all day. I would have had to sign off on the accident report.”
“Hah!” Isabel said as Carissa struggled to make sense of it all. “So it was just a story to get you into class late!”
“It wasn’t,” Carissa said. She looked at the barista. “It was here, on 72nd and Broadway, around this time. A man fell out of his chair and someone called an ambulance. Oh -- and a woman screamed, really loudly. Everybody heard it.”
“You’ve had too much chai,” Isabel said. “Perhaps we need to get you to class...”
But Carissa wasn’t paying attention to Isabel. For the crazy lady from yesterday was outside, eating another apple, looking straight at her.