oxymoron: (noun) a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction
She fixes her bun in the small mirror on her filing cabinet, adjusts her jacket on her shoulders and her slacks on her hips, kicking her feet lighting so the pant legs are loose around her ankles, flutter around the straps of her shoes. After sitting at her desk for an hour, her toes are still a little tingly and her eyes burn just enough to be irritating, her head still aching from her two morning classes.
But the afternoon class, as much as she doesn't want to do it, isn't optional.
The bell rings, announcing the end of the third course, and the hallway outside her classroom is instantly flooded with students. Bickering, gossiping, flirting. A few stop by their lockers, the clinks and clanks of metal on metal echoing through the halls, all around the school's third floor. Others groan and grumble and whine about how heavy their binders or backpacks are, carrying them from room to room, floor to floor, day after day.
The first student that arrives in her classroom is a quiet girl named Jordan. She has pitch black hair that's always loose over her shoulders, two binders balanced in her arms. She walks silently from the door to the desk way in the back corner of the room, the one she claimed the very first day of classes and hasn't given up since.
After that, the room starts to fill with students. Almost all of them arrive in pairs or groups, chit chatting as they roll their eyes at any mention of class, each sliding into their chair. She lingers awkwardly by the door as she waits for the classroom to fill, waiting for the second bell to ring, the one that announces the official beginning of fourth period.
The students groan in unison, as though they were all expecting today to be the day it wouldn't ring. They day they would be allowed to spend the last hour of school sitting around talking.
Well, sucks to be them, because she has an English class to teach.
"Hello, class," she greets. Her smile is forced, her head pounding as she closes her fingers around a pile of heavy books, the pages laced with short stories, that all the students hate. She hands them to the boy, Jared, that sits at the front of the classroom, at the desk nearest the door. "Pass these back," she tells him. She repeats the process with the other four rows of students, smiling halfheartedly as they obey. "Today," she speaks again, "we will be starting a new project. But first, I want you guys all to open your books to page twenty-seven."
She reads the story out loud, not having the patience to deal with having the students read. It's the story of a teenager living in the big city, having been dragged into the gang. He's dying, the boy named Andy. He was stabbed and left to die in a dark alley. Just because he was there, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, wearing the wrong jacket.
She hates that story, On the Sidewalk Bleeding by Evan Hunter. Not because the story is bad, per say, but just…
She just doesn't like it.
She sets the book down on her desk. "So, guys, what did you think of the story?" she asks the students, once again forcing that stupid smile that is supposed to make her a better teacher or something.
It doesn't seem to help much, though, since all she gets in response is a few synchronized shrugs from some of her students, uninterested yawns feebly hidden behind hands and a few blank stares.
She sighs. "Guys, if you don't participate in class, I will have no choice but to make you do the seven questions that accompany the story, and neither one of us wants that, so please just participate?" She brings her hand up, rubs two fingers against her skull, trying to rub away the migraine.
Finally, a hand shoots up. A girl named Sarah smiling shyly as she glances around the class. She's one of those really smart students who doesn't want anyone to know she's really smart.
Her hand falls back to her desk. "I thought it was very sad, Ms. Beckett," she says. "Andy didn't get to say goodbye to anyone, didn't get to make amends. He just died, and for nothing. Just because of his jacket? It's horrible."
She has to suck in a deep breath to keep herself steady. "Yeah, it is," she agrees, though there's so much more she wants to say. So many words that she finds the short story puts inadequately. So many things she understands that she feels this author does not.
And fuck, why can't the school just find a different story about self discovery?
She takes another breath and turns back to her students. "Any other thoughts about On the Sidewalk Bleeding?" she asks, dragging her finger across the book's glossy page.
She gets a few more answers. A boy named Raiden comments on the part of the story where Andy finally gets his jacket off. A girl named Steph focussing her answer on the two cops at the end who dismiss the murder because Andy was a member of the local gangs. A boy named Preston who rudely interrupts her.
"Well, he kinda deserved it, don't you think?" he asks. "He's the one who joined the gang. He knew the risk of what he was doing. Who cares? A bunch of people die every day. I bet they don't all get nice cops to find their killer. It's not a TV show, Steph." His words are harsh and they hit too close to home.
She wants to shout, wants to tell Preston that he's right. That not all murder victims get good cops who try so hard to find the killer like they do on TV. She wants to tell Steph she's right, that nobody deserves to have their death just dismissed like that. She wants to march down to the principal's office and tell him she's never going to read the story again, if she has it her way. She's not really sure what she wants to do first.
But the last thing he wants to do is hear the teacher in the room next to hers start laughing.
And yet that's exactly what she does get.
The children smile and laugh with him, leaning over their books, willing participants in his class. A boy named Brandon is playfully nudging the guy next to him, Kyle, in reaction to what he just answered.
"Yeah, Brandon, he probably could have found himself a cooler jacket that wouldn't have gotten him killed. You're right about that. But are there any other ways he could have avoided getting killed? You know, besides wearing a different outfit?" he asks the classroom full of students.
A girl in the middle of the class named Hannah raises her hand this time, having her nails, painted pink, in the air. He points to her, snapping his fingers and she smiles. "He could have just not joined the gang in the first place," she suggests, shrugging one shoulder gently.
"Also true, but I'm talking less… more in the present. The day he got killed, is there anything Andy could have done to prevent it?" he asks. He sees Brandon's hand shoot up again and shoots him a look. "Besides choosing a different outfit that morning," he adds, smiling as Brandon sinks back into his seat.
The class is silent for a while, all of them staring at him as though they expect him to give them the answer. He's sure they know by now, though, that even though he is the cool teacher, he doesn't just give up the answers. Not without them trying first. He still has to be a teacher, after all.
Finally, a girl named Hayley raises her hand. He smiles and points to her, snapping his fingers again, and she smiles back at him. "I think, Mr. Castle, that it was too late for Andy by the time the day he got stabbed came. That the only thing he could have done to have truly avoided being killed like that was to have not joined the gang in the first place. Or, I guess he could have left the gang a little sooner. That would probably have worked, too."
He smiles at her, pushes himself up from where he's sitting on his desk to stand in front of his class. "That, Hayley, would be correct. Andy was killed solely because he was in the gang the Royals. So, the best way to avoid being killed would be to avoid getting into the gang. This would make Andy joining the gang the beginning of the…"
He points to a random student and, used to this technique, the teen picks up immediately.
He smiles. "That's right," he confirms. "The rising action would consist of everything that happened from when Andy joined the Royals, which we don't actually see in the story On the Sidewalk Bleeding, to the climax. That could include any number of things that we don't know about. And the climax comes, which is…"
He points to another student, who immediately answers: "When Andy gets shot."
He snaps his fingers on both hands. "Yes!" he says, smiling at his class. "And then we have the denouement, which is everything that we do get to read in On the Sidewalk Bleeding." He walks over to his desk, flips the cover of the book shut to tell his students they're done with the story and leans forward, hands pressed against the hard surface of his desk. "And that, dear students, is the story of Andy's death."
He swipes a pile of papers out from beneath his hands and balances them in his arm. He hands them out, one to each student. He makes sure they're all upside down so the students can't see quite yet, walking around the class until he has one paper remaining, his, held easily between his fingers.
"Okay, class, today we are beginning a new project," he tells them, waving the paper in the air playfully before holding it against his stomach again. "We've spent a lot of time in this class talking about people's stories. Their stories of life, self-discovery, and even death, like Andy's. But now, I want to get to know you guys and your story." He smiles. "Hence, the All That I Am project."
On cue, each student turns the paper on their desks over, scans the paper of instructions quickly and looks back up at him for further explanation.
"The All That I Am project consists of four parts," she explains, sitting behind her desk. "The first one is a visual representation of yourself and to write a half page explanation of why you think that represents you." She pushes herself up from her desk, grabs the black pen from the tray in front of the Smart Board and scribbles a few lines onto the white screen, a quick drawing to make her point. "Does anyone know what these are?"
One boy lets out a soft snort from the back of the room. "Chicken scratches."
"Hey," she says, pointing the boy, a jock named Derek. "This is not about my drawing skills. This is about the lesson, so unless you know what these are, Derek, you are not supposed to be talking. So, do you know what these are?"
He shrugs. "Some kind of ancient scale thing, like an old version of those things we used in like second grade," he answers with a shrug, wincing at her screen like he really cannot decipher what her drawing is.
She sighs, dropping the pen back into its tray. "Close enough," she mumbles. For herself, not for her students. And then she raises her voice so they can all hear. "These are the scales of justice. I think they represent me because I believe in justice. For example, I like to think that, if I had been in the place of the cops in the story On the Sidewalk Bleeding, I would fight harder for Andy, to catch his killer."
It wells in her chest, the stupid emotions that come with the stupid memories and she's had a long day, so when a student pipes up with a "Maybe you should have become a cop instead of a teacher, then," she's all but ready to explode.
She doesn't though. Figures that would be a sure fire way to be disliked even more by her students. Instead, she points to him. "You. No speaking in class unless it is pertinent to the lesson," she tells him. He rolls his eyes, but sinks back into his chair a bit anyway. "Anyway, you make a visual representation of yourself, as simple or complicated as you want, and then, in half a page, you explain why you feel that represents you."
She walks away from the smart board, drops back into her seat. "Part 2: a poem," she says. She holds up the book of short stories they were just reading from. "You see four page numbers on your explanation sheet. These each indicate a page in the book." She jerks it slightly in her hand before dropping it back to her desk. "Each page has a poem on it. You will use these poems as examples for your own poem."
Sarah raises her hand. "Miss Beckett? If we have a different idea for the structure of our poem, can we use that instead? Or does it have to be based on one of those four?" she asks.
She scowls. "Your poem will be based on the structure of one of these four," she repeats, pressing her palm against the book's cover. "Any other questions on the poetry part of this project?" Nobody answers, so she nods her head. "Good. Part C of the project is an anecdote. Does anyone know what an anecdote is?"
"Isn't it like, a story or something?" suggests a student named Brody.
"Raise your hand before you speak," she reminds him like she would a kindergartener, "but yes, an anecdote is a type of story. More specifically, it's a story about something that actually happened. For example: your first day of high school, your first kiss, the last time you broke up with someone. I don't care what story you tell, as long as it's real and about you. Your anecdote will be two pages long. No more. And no less than a page and a half. Got it?"
The students nod in unison, uninterested and bored.
She plasters on that stupid fake smile again. "Good," she says. "Now, for the fourth and final part, you will have to choose an object, place, person, animal, any tangible thing that is important to you. You will write a one page long explanation as to why the thing you chose is important to you."
A student named Camille raises her hand. "Can you give us an example, Miss Beckett? What's most important to you?" she asks.
Her mind flashes to the ring that's settled against her chest, hidden, as always, by her button-upped blouse. That's the object that is most important to her. That and the watch strapped around her wrist. But she can't get into that, into the why for either one.
"No," she tells the class, "it's simple enough for you guys to figure it out on your own." She slides back into the chair behind her desk, crosses her arms in front of her. Hopes her students can't read anything on her face. "You guys will spend the rest of the class brainstorming ideas. You have two weeks to finish this project, so you guys had better get to work."
It's most likely just because they're tired of listening to her talk. That much she knows. But she's really glad that they don't argue and instead, all pull out their notebooks and pencils, scribbling down ideas, doodling. At this point, she doesn't care. Her head is pounding from a long day spent with ninth graders, her eyes burning from lack of sleep and she really needs another cup of coffee. And for today to be over.
"So, who here wants to guess who or what is most important to me?" he asks the class, pen poised in his hand as he stands in front of the white Smart Board. He turns to smile at the students, sees a few hands poke up. He motions to a boy named Lucas who sits in the far corner of the room. "Yeah?"
"Your daughter?" he guesses. "Uh, Alexis."
He smiles, nodding his head slowly. "That would be the who," he confirms, writing Alexis' name down on the board with an easy, practiced few flicks of his wrist. "My daughter who has banned me from telling any stories about her in my class because apparently having the ninth graders know about your childhood is embarrassing."
A few students laugh. Others nod knowingly.
"How about the what? Anyone want to try and guess that?" he asks. "I promise, this one is much harder." He grins, pressing the pen against the white of the board again.
A few students raise their hands. The first one guesses his computer, but that's not it. The second guesses his first book, which is also not it. The third, one of the main jokesters in the class, guesses his divorce papers. He laughs, of course, but is quick to tell the student no, that it's something else.
"Come on, Mr. Castle. What else could be all that important to you?" calls out a student from the back of the room.
He smiles, takes a step away from the Smart Board. "Well, class, this one is part of my story, and probably not what you would expect to be one of the most important things to me," he tells them. He walks back over to the board at the front of the class and presses the tip of the pen against the little black dot he made earlier, scribbling down the words before stepping away so the class can see.
"Your first rejection letter? But, why?" calls a student, and he turns to the class and smiles.
"You'll have to wait and see for when I tell you the answers to my All That I Am project," he promises. "But the point of this," he motions to the board behind him, "was to show you how you could begin your brainstorm for step four. Choose a person and a thing that are very important to you. Write down all the reasons you can think of as to why they are important to you and then choose the one you feel you can justify best."
His class smiles and nods, each student pulling out a notebook and beginning what he hopes is their brainstorm. He waits for a second before heading over to take a seat at his computer, pulling up the manuscript for his attempt at writing another Derrick Storm book. It's not going so well, he reminded himself once more, as he stares at the blank document again.
He spends a good twenty minutes staring at it, testing introductory sentences on the keyboard only to delete them again. Occasionally, a student comes over to ask him if they're doing the project right, and he's thankful for the distraction. It draws his mind away from a snappy Gina reminding him that if he doesn't get the first few chapters for another book in soon, they'll drop him and from Alexis constantly telling him that maybe he just needs a new story to tell.
By the time the bell rings, he's staring at a still blank, white document. He happily pushes himself up from his seat and goes to stand by the door like he usually does. The students are gathering their binders, piling them into their arms or stuffing their homework into their backpacks, a few pulling their cellphones out of their pockets to quickly check their texts.
The first student appears by his side. "You get any work done today?" he asks. The student nods, so he holds his hand and gets a quick high-five before the teen heads for the hall, getting lost in the crowd of students that fill them.
He trails behind the final student before making his way into the hall. Hands in his pockets, he rocks back and forth on his feet as he watches the clusters of students dissipate, the teens lining the walls and they stuff binders into their lockers and pull their jackets out, groaning about homework or chatting with their friends, a few of them holding hands, ready to leave together.
Ms. Beckett appears next to him, arms crossed over her chest. "Don't they know that there's not supposed to be any PDA on school property?" she asks, most likely to herself.
He answers anyway. "Probably. I remember being a teenager, though. Rules aren't usually the first thing on your mind," he says, shrugging as he watches one couple who looks to be Alexis' age share a quick peck goodbye. "Although I bet you were the poster child of good behavior," he adds.
He feels her glare before he turns to look at her, finds her shooting daggers at him with her eyes when he does.
"What?" he asks innocently.
She lets out an exasperated sigh. "I don't have the patience to deal with you right now," she says before turning around and all but slamming the door behind her.
He smiles, turns to face the window in her door. "You're cute when you're angry," he calls.
The glare she shoots him this time is downright adorable.
Well, it's a little late to start, but hey, I actually have my ficathon project up and being written. I hope you enjoyed.
The prompt that inspired this story was posted on the castlefanficprompts blog forever ago, and then Alex posted it on the main castlefanfics blog, also forever ago, but I finally got to filling it. Prompt: Castle is the fun "cool" English teacher all the students love. Beckett, in contrast, is a strict teacher. But all the kids ship them together. (Maybe, middle school or high schoolers).