“You’re smoking something, Mr. Beaver,” the towering student in the back row said. The students burst with laughter.
“What did you say, Dwayne?” Brice asked, folding his arms. Then he sucked his two front teeth. His fingers trembled as he tasted the dryness of his mouth. He positioned his hands behind his back.
“I’m too busy studying how to survive, Mr. F,” Dwayne said, laying his brush on top of his notebook.
Brice looked over the class staring up at him and strolled toward the back desk.
“Studying not to be the next crime victim is a joke,” Brice said, standing over Dwayne’s desk. “There’s always going to be crime, what you need to do is avoid it. Keep out of trouble and trouble won’t find you.”
The class quieted down. Dwayne attempted to leave after he gathered his brush and notebook. Brice guided him by the arm back to his desk.
“Let me go!” Dwayne yanked his shoulder away, dropping the brush and notebook. He plopped into his desk, gripping his hands on the corners. Dwayne’s eyes flooded with tears. The students turned away. “Everybody knows what happened to my brother and me.”
Brice placed his hand on the bulletin board for support.
“My brother was horsing around about to step up on our porch when two losers came out of nowhere, one stabbing a knife in his side and one jamming a gun to my eye.”
Brice bent down and rubbed Dwayne’s shoulder.
“They wanted my eight ball jacket and British Knights. The one who had my brother kept moving the knife up and down as my brother murmured.” Dwayne said, clearing his throat as he wiped the tears from his mouth. “‘Don’t shoot my brother.’”
Brice reached for the toilet paper roll a student handed him.
“Then Ty dropped to the ground and they ran. The joke to me was my brother fought for his life four days before dying to come back to what?” Dwayne said.
“Your brother wanted--” Brice waited for Dwayne to look up-- “to make it back to you.”
“I knew he loved me,” Dwayne said, swallowing hard.
“Thanks, Cecil, for the roll,” Brice said, standing up. “I don’t know what to do for you kids. The crime and violence should’ve been cleaned up before all of you were born. I failed and the rest of the neighborhood adults failed to keep you kids safe.” Brice grabbed his chalk and scribbled two math problems on the board.
Cecil shouted, “What page explains how to work the problems?”
Brice knew he couldn’t block this story from his mind, just like the ones from his past.
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