Jonah sat in his usual seat in his third period math class. His desk was in the front row, but it hugged the wall, so thankfully he didn’t feel too exposed. He’d rather be somewhere less conspicuous, like in the back, but it could be worse. In fact, of all classes, being in front for math wasn’t so bad. On most days recently, he did actually pay attention even though most of the stuff he already knew.
However today he dazed off for the entirety of class, still thinking about what happened that morning and what would happen after school was over.
“Before you leave today, here are your quizzes back from last week.” Mr. O’Reilly walked around the room, flipping through papers as he handed back a test to each student. The air in the room always became a bit tense at this time, as students awaited their results. Results that would elicit sheer joy and relief or a sense of doom.
Mr. O’Reilly’s shadow approached Jonah from behind. Soon there was a hand laying a piece of paper on his desk, which Jonah wasn’t expecting since he wasn’t fully alert. The teacher didn’t seem to notice Jonah’s surprised jolt and said quietly, “Good job, Jonah. Stay a second after class, will you?”
After the bell rang minutes later, Jonah lingered in his seat and only got up once nearly everyone out of the room.
“You’ve been doing good on your homework and tests.” Mr. O’Reilly said jovially once Jonah approached the teacher’s desk. “Did Annie kick your butt into gear?”
Jonah muttered a quiet, “Yeah…”
“You don’t need help in math do you?” Mr. O’Reilly continued. “No one goes from zeros to A’s like that. You’re just actually trying now.”
Jonah’s expression barely changed, but if it did he would almost look a bit bashful.
“Listen,” Mr. O’Reilly went on, taking a more serious tone. “I’m going to talk to your guidance counselor to get you to take another math next semester to get you out of the remedial track. That sound good to you?”
“I guess so.” Jonah shrugged. There was little sense of enthusiasm but it was an affirmative answer nonetheless.
“Ok, good.” the teacher nodded with a smile.
Jonah took that as his cue to go—he did have to get to the next class after all. He slowly made his way towards the door.
Mr. O’Reilly chimed in behind him. “You know, I have faith that you can excel in your school work. Not just math. I also have faith that you can stay out of trouble if you tried.”
Jonah looked back. “Umm…thanks.”
“Don’t sell yourself short.”
The sun hung low in the sky. It was approaching four o’clock, and in mid-October that meant the day was winding down. The light was warm, casting long, cool shadows across the land. The air was crisp with hardly a cloud in the sky. There was a slight breeze that occasionally picked up and forcefully whisked leaves from their branches, sending them cascading down to the ground where they collected in colorful piles of autumnal hues. The trees surrounding the football field danced in these moments and became more bare with each gust of wind. The field that not long ago was packed with grunting athletes and excited spectators was empty and calm.
Jonah entered the field from the side entrance, approaching the massive set of bleachers from one end. If there wasn’t already enough proof, the sheer size and complexity of their football stands, complete with announcer box at the top, would certainly convince anyone on how intensely the town loved their high school football. Jonah had never set foot in the place, unsurprisingly.
When he reached the base of the bleachers, he looked around but saw no one. He didn’t realize how vague the location instructions were until arriving at the sport holy ground, eerily quiet and desolate.