When the folded piece of paper finally reached Charlie Dawson at the front of the classroom, it was sticky. That only meant one thing: the note had passed through the hands of pudgy Steven Melbit, who sat two seats behind him. Steven’s hands were perpetually sticky because he always seemed to be eating doughnuts or candy, or anything that contained a lot of sugar; before or after lunch, it just didn’t seem to matter.
Steven was always offering his classmates these treats, too. He’d reach into his pocket and pull out some gooey object and thrust it toward who’d ever be walking by. For some reason he never seemed to understand why anyone would turn him down.
Charlie glanced over his shoulder, past Sally Evans, and cringed—Steven was licking his fingers. Charlie and his best friend Ryan Tyler would always try to avoid notes going through Steven but it just wasn’t that easy; Steven’s arms were like chubby tentacles, stretching out to intercept anything that went by.
The note-passing became more difficult this year in the sixth grade when everyone was seated alphabetically. This new seating arrangement found Charlie sitting in the front row and Ryan all the way in the back and one row over. Of course that wouldn’t stop them from exchanging funny faces when the teacher turned her back or pantomiming boredom or similar feelings; but now they could no longer whisper these sentiments to each other or hand each other messages.
Also, reading notes in the front row wasn’t easy. Charlie had to be crafty, carefully hiding them behind text books or hand-outs or pretending they were notes he was taking.
The latest note (that Charlie unfolded slowly and inserted between two pages of his math book) was a typical one from Ryan: “This is soooooo boring!!!! I’m leaving. I’m going to get up and leave, I swear I’m gonna do it this time.” Charlie smiled and turned around to look at him. Ryan smirked and pretended to get up out of his desk. Charlie turned back around and read the rest of the note: “Did you see what Steven was eating at lunch? It looked like a chicken leg with frosting on it! Yuck!!!”
They knew that Steven read their notes when he snagged them because he would often add his own comments. On this note he wrote, in his sloppy handwriting: “That was not frosting on my chicken! It was gravy. My mom makes it fresh and it was good.”
Charlie tried to stifle his laughter but failed; he found that generally Steven’s additions were funnier than what Ryan wrote, albeit unintentionally.
“Do you find something amusing, Charlie?” Mrs. Henderson asked as she wrote fractions on the chalkboard.
“Uh, no,” he replied sheepishly. After a moment he turned around to look at Ryan who was himself trying to suppress his own laughter. Ryan again faked getting up from his desk and Charlie grinned.
It was Ryan who came up with the ultimate in note-passing technology. Charlie and Ryan’s favorite pastime at lunch (after their peanut butter sandwiches and fruit cups were consumed) was to play football, of the paper triangle variety. They had some epic games, sometimes showing up late to art class when overtime was necessary.
One day, as Charlie was preparing to kick a field goal, Ryan had a brainstorm. “Hey! You know what we could do with this?”
“With what?” Charlie asked and, using his right index finger, “kicked” the ball over the uprights (Ryan’s thumbs) and against his forehead. Ryan caught the paper ball as it fell and held it up.
“With this. We could write notes, fold ‘em up like this and kick them to each other.”
“Yeah, right. C’mon, it’s your ball.” Charlie said.
“I’m serious. We could get them right over Steven. He’d never be able to grab ‘em!”
Charlie looked at him skeptically. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s kind of a long way to kick.”
“Yeah, but just think about it, how quick we could get each other’s notes. You know I always have something important to say.” Charlie laughed.
“Yeah, real important: ‘I’m sooooo bored. I can’t believe she’s talking about this junk again.’” Now it was Ryan’s turn to laugh.
“Okay, so they’re not all important. But I’m serious. Tomorrow I’m gonna fold up my note like this and kick it to you like this.”
He kicked the ball and it sailed well over Charlie’s head and into the wall. “Okay, not quite like that, but you get the idea.”
“What’s the score?” he asked after Charlie had retrieved the ball.
Just then the bell rang and they both looked up. “Nice,” Ryan said. “Just enough time for me to catch up.”
The next day, before their geography lesson had begun, Ryan decided to put the plan into action. When Mrs. Henderson tried to pull down the map of Europe, it stuck a little and Ryan saw his chance. Charlie immediately turned around in anticipation.
Ryan swiftly set the ball up, holding it on end with his left index finger. He quickly glanced around and then with his right middle finger, kicked it.
Charlie watched it sail through the air. It was a good kick, he thought; not too high, good arc. But most importantly, it flew right over the head of Steven Melbit. Charlie caught it just as Mrs. Henderson turned around and started talking about Spain.
It was harder for Charlie to send the notes back, but he soon developed a system: he would turn around (when he had the chance) and kick off from a book or notebook on his lap. There were a few stray kicks at first (one got lodged in Leslie Fiedler’s thick curly hair), but once they got the hang of it, it was smooth sailing.
Sometimes they would have so much fun kicking to each other they would forget to write anything. The other kids in the classroom didn’t seem to care and most of them thought it was funny. At first everyone expected the class tattler, Cindy Davis, to rat them out, but she didn’t. The fact that she had a little crush on Charlie might have had something to do with that.
The only person not amused by the game was, of course, Steven. He’d stretch his arms as far as they could reach, coming close to, but never quite getting that little paper triangle as it flew over his head. Often he would put his arms up well in advance of a kick, anticipating it would be coming at any moment. Mrs. Henderson became increasingly agitated when she would call on him and he had no explanation for his raised hand.
Steven wouldn’t tell on them either because he didn’t want the game to be stopped, he just wanted to be involved; and of course he wanted to get those notes so he could see what Charlie and Ryan were writing about him.
On Friday afternoon Mrs. Henderson began passing back their quizzes from the day before. When she handed Ryan his quiz (a C-, “you can do better,” wrote Mrs. Henderson), he decided to fold it up and air mail it to Charlie. Just to make it more interesting he scribbled on the paper a generic “Steven smells” and quickly turned it into a football. Then he tried to make eye contact with Charlie.
Charlie had turned around in his seat, waiting for Mrs. Henderson to give him his quiz (a B+, “nice job”), and he glanced Ryan’s way. Ryan grinned and held up the quiz-football. Charlie looked surprised and quickly shook his head and mouthed “No!” Ryan grinned wider and placed the ball on his desk.
Mrs. Henderson was slowly making her way down the row. If I time this just right, Ryan thought, Charlie will get it just as she passes by his desk; she’ll never suspect a thing. He kicked off.
Charlie tried to keep an eye on Ryan but just then Mrs. Henderson arrived and stood by his desk, blocking his view. She rummaged through her stack of papers trying to find his quiz.
“I know it’s in here somewhere, Charlie,” she said.
Ryan hadn’t prepared for this. Right now the ball was on course to hit his teacher probably in the back of the head. Suddenly he felt sick and became very pale. He tried to say something but nothing came out. Well that’s it, he thought. Summer school, expulsion, deportation; I’m doomed.
Keeping an eye on the whole situation, of course, was Steven. He was more determined than ever to get that ball. After Mrs. Henderson had given him his quiz (a C, “better”) and politely declined a soggy Twinkie, he suspected something was going to happen. He saw Ryan fold up the football and prepare to kick.
This is it, he thought. This is my chance to finally get that thing. As soon as Ryan kicked off, Steven got up on his seat. It was a high kick and a little off to his left and he knew he was going to have to reach for it. He stood up on the tips of his Pumas and stretched as far as he could. He just barely got the tip of one finger on it and, thanks to the remnants of chocolate left there from a recent candy bar, the ball stuck.
Steven smiled but only for a second. He lost his balance and toppled off the chair, right into Mrs. Henderson. The papers flew out of her hands and the glasses went flying off her head. Steven dropped to the floor as the other kids laughed. Among them, Ryan, who had gotten some color back in his face and looked very relieved.
Mrs. Henderson, on the other hand, looked furious. “Steven!” she shouted. “What do you think you’re you doing?!” The classroom became silent at once.
“Um, I was uh,” he stammered, picking himself off the floor. “Just trying to…”
“Trying to what?” she asked, glaring at him.
“Catch the football,” Steven said quietly.
Charlie glanced back at Ryan. Ryan shrugged.
“Football? Steven, you’ve been a disruption this whole week. I think you need to go to the principal’s office right now.”
Steven was about to object but thought better of it. He slowly started walking toward the door. Just then he noticed the little white triangle stuck to his hand and beamed.
“Hey!” he yelled a moment later from the hallway. “I do not smell!”
The whole class erupted in laughter. As Mrs. Henderson started picking up the papers, Charlie looked back at Ryan again. Ryan held up another paper football and smiled.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED