Mississippi. Middle of September and still hot as hell in the shade.

Sixteen year old Laura Jamieson lifted her thick wiast length black hair from her neck and fanned herself. One day, the Newton county school board was going to have to step into the the twenty-first century and buy Sparta High school some freaking air conditioners. It was only eleven o' clock and already her white cotton sundress was clinging to her like a second skin.

She yawned and looked out the open window. She was mentally counting of the hours until school was over and she could get in her air conditioned Camaro, then after a short stop by the Police department to see her Daddy, she could go to thier air conditioned house.

"Miss Jamieson!"

She snapped her head around at the sound of her teacher's voice. Apparently, Mrs. Christenson had been trying to get her attention for some time, because the other students fell out laughing. "Yes, ma'am?" She smiled sweetly.

"Can you tell me what the answer to number three is?" Mrs. Christenson asked.

She looked down at the equations in her science book. This was science. Not math. Why were they studying this junk? She stunk at math. "No, ma'am," she answered, honestly.

"Do you even want to give it a try?"

"Not really." The classroom snickered.

"Laura," the teacher sighed. "I think you need to go the office if you don't want to do the required work for my class."

"Okay." She gathered up her books and walked out the door. She headed down the hall to the guidance counselor's office. Mrs. Christenson had only told her to go the office, she didn't say which office. She knocked on the frame of the open door.

Althea Tibbs looked up and smiled, "Hello, Laura, come in. Shut the door behind you."

She shut the door then took a seat in one of the chairs in front of Althea's desk. "Hey, Mrs. Althea."

"What can I do for you, Laura? Are you having a problem?"

"No ma'am, I'm not having any trouble." She loved Mrs. Althea.

"Then you just stopped by for a visit in the middle of class?"

"No ma'am, Mrs. Christenson sent me here," she replied.

"Why did Mrs. Christenson send you to me if you weren't having a problem?" Althea was tired of being a babysitter for teachers that just didn't want to do thier job with difficult students.

Laura shrugged, "She asked me a question and apparently she didn't like my answer. She told me to go the office, but she didn't say wich one, so I figured this one was as good as any other."

"I see." Getting answers from this child was like pulling teeth, hard and painful. "What question did she ask you and what was her answer?"

"She asked if I knew the answer to question three, and I didn't so I told her no ma'am. Then she asked if I wanted to give it a try and I didn't again, so again I said no ma'am. Then she told me I could come to the office if I didn't want to do the work, so I came here."

Althea sighed. This child used to be so sweet and helpful when she first moved Sparta. The little 11 year old, hiding behind Lonnie Jamieson, occasionally peeping out at Althea and Virgil and the others at thier house that night, only to hide again quickly when someone spoke to her. She had been so painfully shy when Lonnie first got custody of her from her mother.

Her parents, Lonnie Jamieson and Hallie Simpson, had divorced when she was three, and Hallie had been given full custody of the child, with little investigation in to her background because thier case just happen to fall with one of those, "children are best left with thier birthmother" judges. Hallie then proceeded to take Laura and move just far enough away that it wasn't feasible for her to see the Father she adored every weekend as ordered.

It took seven years for Lonnie to prove that Hallie was abusing the little girl, and another year to get another custody hearing, but finally his little girl was back home in Sparta. The first few months she was back was a living nightmare for Lonnie. Laura was scared of everyone except him, and oddly enough, Chief Gillespie.

She had nightmares, and hid in the closest anytime anyone came over to thier house, screamed liked bloody murder if anyone dared to touch her. Then as things improved, she went through a super helpful phase, scared that if she didn't please him, Lonnie would send her back to her mother in Collins, Mississippi. Now, althea guessed, she was going through a rebelious stage. Althea privately wondered if this sudden change in attitude had anything to with her mother recently being declared rehabilitated enough to have bi-monthly visits with the girl. Although Lonnie was smart enough not to send her back to Collins to see her mother, insisting instead that Hallie come to Sparta to see her, the visits were not court-supervised. So no one really knew what happened from the time Lonnie dropped her off at the Sparta motel on Friday evening until he picked up again on Sunday afternoon. Oh, people saw them running around town, shopping, going out to eat, going to the moives and stuff like that, no one knew what went on behind the closed door of room 3A, and Lord knows Laura never tell, no matter how good or bad they were.

"Laura, How are the visits with your mother going?" She asked.

"Fine."

"Are you having a good time?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Does your mother ever have anyone else with her when she comes to visit you?"

Laura nodded, "Yeah, once her friend Christy came, and slept the whole time, then every other time but once, her boyfriend has come with her."

"Do you like him?"

"He's aight," she shrugged. "Hey, guess what?"

"What?"

"I was looking at the game rosster for the rest of football season and we play Seminary high school next week."

"Is that good?"

"Yeah, I'm mean game wise, they're a pretty good team, but we can take them, but it's good cause that's the school I went to when I lived down there. Seminary Attendance center. It goes from K-12. Maybe I'll see some old friends."

"Maybe so," Althea smiled, even though Laura had changed the subject on her.

Then the bell rang. Laura stood up and gathered her things. "I'd better go to class now," she smiled. "Don't worry, Mrs, Althea, it's History. I know the answersin that class, I'll behave this hour."

"See that you do," Althea replied. "But come back when you need to. See you later, Sweetheart."

"Bye."

Althea watched her go, shaking her head. Lonnie Jamieson sure had himself a handful with that little five foot nothing, one hundred and nothing, black haired, green eyed firecracker.