“Oh-Jillian-I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this,” Jax said frantically. He finished his blueberry scone and used the Starbucks bag to slowly breathe into.
“Calm down. You are not hyperventilating,” Jillian replied, driving with both hands on the wheel. “How scary can substitute teaching be? Just let the students play on their phones all day. If their teacher were there, they’d be doing the same thing. Either way, you’re done by 3:00.”
“I need air!” Jax cried, pulling at his turtleneck sweater, hitting all the buttons in the car to put the windows down. “I need air!”
“You need rent money,” she looked at him, pointedly.
“Fine.” Jax petulantly sat back. “Look what I’ve come to. Who knew fashion would be such a tough field to break into?”
“Everyone. Everyone did,” Jillian replied. “Don’t give me that look. I’m a women’s studies major, which makes my job at T.J.Maxx all the more insufferable. Max aggravation for minimum pay.”
“You did get me this lovely Merino wool sweater for $1.99,” Jax said.
“It’s irregular. The left sleeve is four inches shorter than the right.”
“You can’t tell if I push them up. See?” Jax held up his forearms to demonstrate. “And chartreuse is a bold color choice.”
“You look great. And I love you. The students will love you, too” Jillian said, pulling over to let Jax out in front of the administration building. “Break a leg!”
“Jillian,” Jax looked down his nose, over his glasses. “This is middle school. Don’t give anyone ideas.”
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“Mister Jax—” called the school’s front office secretary.
“Just Jax! Here I am.” Jax came right up to the desk.
“Well, Mister Jax, your 8th grade homeroom will be boarding the school buses—”
“Are they going home already?”
“No, Mister Jax. You are chaperoning a trip to the Science & Discovery museum.”
“I’m not trained for that.” Jax frowned.
“You aren’t trained to sit on a bus, walk around the foyer of a large building, and then count off thirty kids to make sure you bring them all back?”
“You make it sound so easy. These are 8th graders. They may vape. They may join a gang. They may have an emotional breakdown. I may have an emotional breakdown.”
“My guess is that your students will be bored out of their minds and just play games on their iPhones,” she replied, matter-of-fact. “Here is your roster.”
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“All right everyone. We’re just about to disembark—”
“Disem-what?” Snarky Black Eyeliner Girl, who looked far too old for middle school—or high school for that matter—decided to test Jax.
“Oh. You. Are. Precious,” he said. “We’re just about to GET OFF the bus. Just follow the other students into the museum. You will have 90 minutes and then we’ll—”
“Re-embark?” Snarky Black Eyeliner grinned.
“Whatever,” Jax said.
“Your green sweater has weird sleeves,” she noted.
“Chartreuse. It’s chartreuse,” Jax replied, unusually self-conscious.
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“Are you Mr. Jax?” asked a security guard.
“I am,” Jax said.
“I think your class is causing a commotion in the Edison wing. You might need to get your students in order.”
“I’m just a sub.”
“Are you responsible for your students?” the guard raised an eyebrow.
“For $89.50, I’m responsible for watching students play on their iPhones. This? Museum-wrangling? I should be getting hazard pay.” Jax stormed off.
Walking quickly to the main exhibition on “The Wonders of Thomas Alva Edison,” Jax wondered who the main culprit was. One-eyebrow Manchild? Overbite Clarinet Girl? Please lord, not Snarky Black Eyeliner—she certainly had a weapon on her.
“What. Seems. To. Be. The. Major. Malfunction,” Jax said, hands on hips. His right sleeve slid down from his elbow, making him look like a Jim Henson muppet.
“Edison is a dick,” Late-bloomer Stickboy reported.
“Of course he was,” Jax agreed. “Everyone knows Edison was a d—ifficult man.”
“Edison pushed an anti-Serbian agenda to steal Tesla’s discoveries,” said Self-Important Booknerd slowly to Jax, as if he wasn’t going to understand her every word. “Edison wasn’t an inventor. He was just a salesman. The fact that he has an entire wing dedicated to him at this museum smacks of normie-dominated Anglo-Saxonian privilege.”
“All true,” Jax nodded. “So what is your concern?”
“We’re big mad at Edison. He’s a dank memer,” said GameBoy Beanie.
“I’m not even sure what that means,” Jax admitted.
“Look, Mr. Jax,” Blackfish T-shirt buttonholed him so close that her “Sour Patch Kids”-breath threatened to give him diabetes. “Edison murdered animals just to prove his direct current was superior to Tesla’s alternating current. Which it wasn’t.”
“Okay. I understand you are very angry over two 19th-century scientists,” Jax said, his flock of thirty congregating closely around him. A cloying cloud of Axe body spray momentarily nauseated him.
“We want justice. Justice for Tesla,” boldly declared Blackfish T-shirt.
“So, my roster of 8th graders. Are we going to fight the power? Because alternating current already won.”
The group went uncharacteristically quiet.
“Tesla deserves better,” said Snarky Black Eyeliner, quietly.
“Tesla inspired the invention of the radio, radar, and x-rays,” added Self-Important Booknerd, reading right off her phone. “And hydroelectric plants, cryogenic engineering . . . I could go on.”
“Edison is a simp!” added GameBoy Beanie, helpfully.
“All right, young people. I completely understand your concern,” Jax said, shepherding his Dr. Seuss-creatures out of the main walkway. “We have about seventeen minutes to make our point before we have to re-embark on the bus. Let’s huddle over here right by the poster of Edison—maybe NOT scrawl profanity in a speech bubble . . .”
“Edison can suck my—”
“Let’s just not,” Jax said. “Look, if you want to be effective at protesting, there are some basic rules. Let’s SIT for our sit in.” Jax pantomimed sitting down. Oddly, thirty 8th graders followed his lead.
“What now, Mr. Jax?” asked Overbite Clarinet Girl.
Jax looked around at too many eyes wanting further instruction. He smiled, brain scrambling for a plan to keep his wards happy in the puberty forest.
“Now? Now we sing. Ready?” Jax stood. “Repeat after me. Do you hear the people sing?”
“Do you hear the people sing!” screeched thirty chaotic voices.
“Singing the song of angry men? It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again!”
Young adult voices echoed down the corridors as Jax encouraged their passion.
“When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!”
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“Well, how’d it go? Jillian asked, picking Jax up from the administration building at 3:01 p.m.
“Fantastic,” Jax said, smiling ear to ear. “We bashed straight white males and sang show tunes.”
“Sounds like every Friday night,” Jillian remarked. “Minus the mojitos.”
“Oh. No. I need all the mojitos. Minus the lime juice, sugar, mint and soda water.”
“That’s just rum, Jax. You just want a bottle of rum?”
“So no more substituting for Jax?”
“No, Jillian. No more substituting,” Jax sighed. “I’m a permanent sub, covering for a teacher out on maternity leave for the rest of the school year.”
“That’ll pay the bills. So what are you teaching, Jax?”