The following Monday arrived without a hitch, allowing all of the students to enter the school with a sense of dread for the new week. As usual, the remedial students wandered through the hallways, taking up as much time as they possibly could so not to actually make it to Gabe's class on time. Unsurprisingly, as the bell rang, Gabe peered into the hallway to discover four students, all too familiar with tardiness, loitering in front of the lockers.
"For once, just once, I would love it if the four of you actually entered my classroom before the bell rang."
"Would that make you happy, Mr. Kotter?" Epstein asked with a smirk
"Happy? Why it would make me delighted!"
Epstein shrugged with a grin "Looks like today ain't your day."
"The rest of the week ain't lookin' no good either." Freddie added before receiving a low five from Epstein
Horshack drew attention over to himself as he started to laugh. Vinnie put an end to the laugh before stepping over to Gabe.
"Mr. Kotter, we've been over this before. We hang out here long as we can to hold onto what's left of our freedom in the school day. An' it would make us happy if you didn't butt in every time the bell rang."
"All of you get in the classroom."
The boys all grumbled as they shuffled past their teacher into the classroom. Once all the students were inside the room, Gabe closed the door. The class went by just like any other class, with an exchange of wisecracks between the students and teacher, as well as other jokes and corny impressions amongst actual learning. Eventually the bell rang, bringing an end to the class. While most of the students left the room, Epstein remained behind and stood, grinning, by Gabe's desk.
"Juan," Gabe said with a small laugh "Don't tell me you're looking for some extra credit, or a tougher homework assignment."
"What? And ruin my reputation? I might as well turn in a test paper I didn't cheat on."
"The day you do that will be the day Mr. Woodman cracks a legitimate smile. And not from putting down the Sweathogs."
"That's good, that's good." Epstein nodded "Hey listen Mr. Kotter, I just wanted to thank you for the past couplea weeks. You really helped me through a tough time there, y'know? Not many people are willing to do stuff like that for me."
"Well, Epstein, I'm glad to be here for you. You know you can come to me any time you feel you need it."
"Yeah I know. Thanks. And, uh, you should be glad to hear that I finally went back home last night. Faced my mother."
"Good for you, Epstein! So how did it go?"
"Well it was actually better than I expected it to be. When she first saw me, she pulled me into the biggest hug she ever gave me. Couldn't breathe for a little bit there 'til she let go. Then when she finally let me go she slapped me upside the head for being gone for so long." He paused, catching Gabe's amused expression. "Then she and my father sat me down and we had a real long talk about everything. I apologized for running away and my mother apologized for some of the things she said to me the day I left. She then made me promise that for now on, no matter how heavy things may get, I won't run away like that no more."
"Well good to hear that. How's she taking you being back home?"
"I've only been home since last night, Mr. Kotter. But I can tell she's already happy to have me back. Even though I am an animal." He laughed. "I think it's gonna be rough for a little while, but y'know, it's good to be home. Actually, I couldn't stand going from house to house no more. Mr. Kotter, do you know what it's like sharing a room with Horshack? That laugh follows him to bed in the form of a snore. Took all I could not to smother 'im with my pillow."
Gabe laughed. "I think Arnold's glad you were able to show such restraint."
"Let me tell ya, it wasn't easy."
"Epstein, I really am proud of you for finally going home and facing your mother. I just hope the next time you have a problem, you keep your promise to her."
"Don't worry, I will." He started to leave the room but stopped and turned back towards the teacher. "Oh, thanks again, Mr. Kotter."
"Any time, Juan."
Epstein grinned and left the room. As the student headed for his next class, Gabe shook his head with a grin. It was only a couple weeks into the new school year and he already had to deal with a serious issue plaguing one of his students. However, he was more than glad to help him when he needed it the most. He knew that, after what he went through with Epstein the past couple weeks, things were only going to get much more interesting for the semester. And, he felt that he was ready for whatever was to come. With the students he had to face on a daily basis, Gabe Kotter wouldn't have things any other way.