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The Elf Fraud and the Burning Bush

Man hanging up Christmas lights and a wreath with boldness
I’m a wimp, and I know it. If you’d had a middle school experience like mine, you would be, too.

December 15, 2023: 9:35 a.m.

“Fraud! You’re a FRAUD!”

I suddenly feel a cold breeze on my bald spot, but don’t bother turning around—I already know who yanked my elf hat. “How am I a fraud?” I ask.

“You’re a false elf!” Cody Holgate hollers.

“A false elf? Hello—I’m stringing Christmas lights!” I turn to face him, holding up a strand.

“You’re too tall and fat for an elf! Grow pointed ears and shrink three feet.”

I could point out that Cody’s a scrawny geek with bedhead, a unibrow, and a baggy Goodwill outfit, but I’m the adult here. And honestly, clowning with him is better than crawling through bushes in 40-degree drizzle. I drop to my knees and hold my pointer fingers next to my ears. “Does that work?”

“Mr. Spencer, you look like Satan before a growth spurt.”

I bound to my feet, lunging for my hat—and miss. Cody sticks it on his head and dances out of reach. “I’m saving Christmas from elf fraud!”

“Why would a false elf string Christmas lights?” I ask.

“True elves build toys,” Cody insists. “Make a toy if you want a hat.”

“A toy? Cody, just give me . . .” I’m about to pull rank to recover my headwear—even the middle school janitor has a little power. But then I have an inspiration.

“If it’s a toy you want,” I say, turning my back on Cody with a mysterious air, “it’s a toy you’ll get.” I dig a piece of scrap paper out of my pocket. Shooing away Cody’s attempts to peek, I fold it into shape.

“When I turn around, we trade — the toy for the hat,” I say. “Agreed?”

“Show me first,” Cody insists.

“Then come closer.” I turn around and beckon to him, hiding the paper in one hand.

Cody senses a trap but can’t help himself. As he comes within range, I open one hand to reveal the world’s worst paper airplane. I use the other hand to snatch my hat off Cody’s head.

“That’s not a toy, Mr. Spencer—that’s trash!” Cody yells. “I’ve been duped by the False Elf!”

“Don’t you want the toy?” I tease. Cody is about to make another try for the hat when we hear the school door open behind us.

“Cody, what are you doing outside?” says a severe voice.

Cody and I whirl with guilty looks on our faces. Ms. Jimenez is fixing Cody with her best Teacher Death Stare.

“I’m an office aide, Ms. Jimenez,” he says. “They said to tell Mr. Spencer a urinal won’t stop flushing.”

I give Cody a look—Why didn’t you say so? He shrugs.

“Well, now he knows,” Ms. Jimenez says. “Get inside; the bell’s about to ring.”

Cody scurries through the door. Then Jessica Jimenez fixes me with a glare not much different from the one she gave Cody. “Have you applied yet?” she asks.

I may be 28, but I suddenly feel 13 and doomed. “Um, the holidays . . . I’ve been busy—”

“You’re too good with the kids to waste your gift,” she lectures. “I watched you just now with Cody—”

“Watched me?” I’m mortified.

“—and it’s beautiful how you reached him.”

I blush. “Anyway . . . I work with kids already, so I don’t need—”

“Are you giving them your best?”

“Jessica, I could never be a teacher. You hafta . . . know your limits.”

“It’s between you and God if you’re capable of college. Now, I wouldn’t normally speak for God—”

“I’m too old,” I protest. “I’d be in classes full of 18-year-old Swifties—”

“Moses was a shepherd until he was 80, then he rescued—”

“Moses got a personal appearance from God! And a burning bush! He didn’t have to wonder . . . whether he could do it.”

Jessica gives me another Death Stare. I liked it better when she was glaring at Cody.

I try to think of something witty to say. The seventh-grade math teacher and I have bonded over helping Cody, whether I should go to college, and being Christians in a public school. But I wouldn’t mind if we bonded in a different way, and I wish I could make her laugh before she goes inside. Unfortunately, all I’ve got is awkward silence.

Meanwhile, she’s looking around at the tangled mess of lights and extension cords that I’m supposed to turn into a Christmas display. “Spencer, those cords look a little worn,” she says. “Maybe ask Kelly for some new ones?”

I shake my head. We both know the principal thinks a $20 purchase is a massive waste of school funds.

But Jessica won’t let me off the hook on this—or on anything. “You have to take initiative,” she lectures, “and ask for things.” She fixes her eyes on me with an altogether different look. “Sometimes . . . you might even get them.”

The bell rings. She abruptly breaks the eye contact and heads inside for her next class.

What did that mean? I ask myself. Was she saying . . . does she want me to ask her out?

Then I catch a look at myself reflected in the door. I’m wearing an elf hat with jingle bells, a camo Carhartt hoodie, and ancient jeans with grass stains from crawling in bushes. I have to laugh: Common sense says the math teacher doesn’t think of the janitor as boyfriend material.

As for college . . . well, I would if I could. But I know my limits, and higher education is beyond them. I’ve known ever since I was in middle school myself.

December 5, 2008: 11:50 a.m.

It’s fifth period, and as usual, I’m leaning on the lockers outside Ms. Pulaski’s room. I spend more time in the hall than I do in her class, staring at the clock and pondering the mysteries of life—like, Why am I always in trouble?

Soon, there’s a swell of 13-year-old voices through the door, and I brace myself for my usual end-of-class lecture. Ms. Pulaski strides into the hall, landing in front of me to deliver a crossed-arms staredown. I study the floor tiles.

“Why didn’t you join a group when we divided the class?” she asks.

We both know why—nobody wants to work with the dumb kid who doesn’t understand what’s going on. I shrug.

“Maybe if you didn’t interrupt the lesson with comedy routines, people would invite you to join—”

“But Hector farted! Everybody was laughing.”

“And comedy wasn’t enough today, was it? On what planet is it acceptable to slam books and shout about hating the school?”

“Well, you sent me to the hall—”

“For hooliganism—”

“But I didn’t do anything before that!”

She withers me with a glare.

“I mean . . . anything much.”

Fact is, I don’t regret joking about Hector’s farts—but I do feel guilty about losing my temper when Ms. Pulaski sentenced me to the hall. I didn’t mean to throw the book and yell; it’s like a poltergeist took over my brain. Becky-the-Counselor says outbursts are common with ADHD, but they always land me in trouble. They also make the other kids keep their distance.

“I’m sorry,” I plead softly. “I didn’t mean to slam the book—”

“So it leaped out of your hand.”

“I forgot my medication.”

“Excuses are like armpits, young man. We’ve all got them—”

“I’m just . . . sorry,” I say, back to studying the floor.

“That doesn’t work with me,” Ms. Pulaski snaps. “An apology means changing your behavior. Are you promising not to slam books again?”

“I’ll try.”

“Are you going to stop interrupting the lesson?”

“Kids think it’s funny—”

“And are you going to remember your medication?”

Don’t you get it? I want to yell. I don’t have a CHOICE to remember! I hate getting in trouble and alienating every kid in the class and being a punchline. I’ve tried asking Mom to remind me, putting a sign on the fridge, sticking my pills in the box with my breakfast bars . . . some days, nothing works.

“If you could stay on task, your grades would improve,” Ms. Pulaski lectures. “Maybe your peers would take notice. Doesn’t it matter to you—”

“It matters!” I interrupt. “I know! I can’t go to college without good grades, and to be a counselor or a teacher—”

“Just—stop.” Ms. Pulaski shakes her head. “Spencer . . . it’s important for all of us to be aware of our . . . limitations.”

I may have ADHD, but I’m not an idiot. I get it: She thinks I won’t make it in college.

“All right,” says the teacher, “let’s go inside. The bell’s in two minutes.”

I shake my head. I feel tears coming, and the last thing I need is for the class to see me cry. Ms. Pulaski rolls her eyes.

“Then stay here,” she says wearily, and walks into the classroom.

I already knew my options were limited: How could the kid who can’t remember a pill survive in college? But no adult has ever told me in so many words I’d be a washout, and the truth hurts. Counseling and teaching—helping kids like me—are the dreams that keep me going. Suddenly, they’re gone.

I hear a noise down by the cafeteria and look up to see Mr. Saladin, the school janitor, mopping a spill. That’s probably going to be me someday, I tell myself bitterly.

December 15, 2023: 9:50 a.m.

Fixing a never-ending urinal flush is easy; you just jiggle the handle. (If only I could train the kids to try it.) I tell the office staff that a crisis is averted and head back toward my Christmas lights.

Just inside the door, I see Kelly Jackson, the principal, staring through the glass at my mess of lights and cords. Uh-oh.

“Spencer, can you help me understand why the lights aren’t finished yet?” she asks, painting on a smile.

“Maintenance issue,” I say. “One of the toilets—”

“You’ve had a week.”

“But I was the only custodian while Kelvin had COVID—”

She holds up her hand. “I need you to stay focused,” she says. “One thing at a time. I know it’s challenging for you . . .”

She goes on, but I check out. Kelly likes to blame every fault on my ADHD, which isn’t remotely accurate. It makes me regret that I ever told her.

Honestly, my ADHD’s way better than it used to be. A couple years ago, my doctor found a medication that (strange as it sounds) keeps me from forgetting my medication. That doesn’t mean I can focus like normal people. But I could hang Christmas lights just fine, thanks—if I didn’t have to fix urinals.

“So do we understand each other?” Kelly asks. “Before lunch?”

I bob my head, then sigh with relief as she turns to go. But I remember what Jessica said about initiative and call after her.

“Kelly, the cords are a little . . . frayed, and stuff. Could I run out for some new ones?”

“That sounds like another distraction,” says Kelly, delivering her own version of the Death Stare. “As educators, we make do with what we have.”

Kelly quickly paints her smile back on. Terrific—that’s a warning that she’s making one of her patented pivots from Stern-Bosslady to Buddy-Pal. She always wants to be friends after she tells me I’m incompetent.

“Spencer, do you know what I’m curious about?” she asks.

Hmm . . . I bet it’s the same thing as every time we talk. I shake my head innocently.

“Ms. Jimenez!” she exclaims. “Have you. . . well?”

I force a smile. “I don’t think she’s interested.”

“Why not?” Kelly says. “You’re good with kids . . . you have a steady job . . .” She struggles to think of another positive quality and comes up empty. “Anyway . . . fortune favors the bold. Think about it, Spencer.” She gives me a playful punch in the arm and heads for her office.

Bold—yeah. That’s one thing I’m not. Besides, boldness doesn’t work. All I wanted was extension cords and I got shot down. And that’s nothing compared to the way I’ve been torpedoed by girls.

May 8, 2009: 6:30 p.m.

My first stop is the restroom. It’s raining like crazy outside, and I need to make sure the pomade’s holding my hair down. Cowlicks are not allowed at the Eighth Grade Farewell Dance.

I walk into the gym. It smells like stale puberty, but Student Council did a nice job with the decorations. I spot the table where Angela Labuda is sitting. Angela is not only gorgeous; she actually talks to me sometimes. I’ve been in love for months, and I’m hoping that tonight she’ll dance with me. Even a dork with ADHD needs dreams.

“You look nice, Spencer,” Angela says as I sit down.

I know she’s just being nice, but I still blush. “Thanks. I mean . . . you, too.”

Besides Angela, there’s two other kids at the table, and I don’t know them well. A lot of people are probably sitting with their besties, but I’m not the kind of kid who has a BFF. I’m the kid who lives on the fringe, cracking jokes.

I look around the room, groping for a conversation starter, and see that Mr. Saladin is leaning on the wall. “Anybody got a comb?” I say, pointing him out. “The toupee needs help tonight. Looks more like his mop.”

Angela rewards me with a chuckle.

Unfortunately, that’s when Jackson Kallis walks over. Jackson is everything I’m not—smart, handsome, athletic. Worse, he does what I didn’t dare do: He takes the empty chair next to Angela.

“What’s that about mophead, Spence?” he says.

I hate being called Spence. “Mr. Saladin,” I explain. “His toupee needs help.”

“Like your hair’s any better?”

My hand jumps to my head to make sure the cowlick’s staying down. Jackson smirks.

I’m vaguely aware that everybody starts exchanging compliments with Jackson, but my attention wanders to something more important: How will I ask Angela to dance?

A lot of kids are dancing. Would you like to . . . y’know, with me?

Nope—awkward. It’s better to be cute and funny.

May I have this dance?

Eh, cute is risky. Keep it basic.

Angela, you wanna dance?

Nah, shorter is better: Could we dance?

“Hey, are you in there?” Jackson leans over and pokes the side of my head. “I said, ‘Who’re you trying to impress, Spence?’”

I bat away his hand. “What?”

He talks louder and makes hand gestures like he’s talking to an idiot. “I asked, WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO IMPRESS?”

“I don’t get—”

“C’mon. You tried to do something with that crazy hair. You’re not wearing Goodwill clothes like always. You don’t even smell like funky feet. So who’re you tryin’ to impress?”

Okay, I admit it: Sometimes my hair sticks up. Sometimes I forget my medication and my deodorant. But none of my clothes are from Goodwill, and I have no idea why this guy I barely know is coming at me. “What’re you talking about?”

“You think any girl’s gonna dance with a feet-smelling, raggedy mophead?” Jackson guffaws.

“Why’re you . . . why . . . what’s your problem?”

Angela tries to swoop the rescue. “Jackson, quit,” she says. “Don’t be mean.”

I’m sure she doesn’t realize she just made things worse (because I need a girl to defend me). Jackson holds up his hands in surrender: “Just keepin’ it real. I don’t want Spence to get his hopes up.”

Jackson’s tirade ends there . . . but the damage has been done. I’m no longer rehearsing how I’ll ask Angela to dance. I’m wondering what planet I was living on where I thought Angela—where any girl—would dance with me. I head to the restroom, where I hide in a stall intermittently choking back tears.

Nobody’s ever gonna dance with me, I think bitterly. I’ll never have a date. I’ll never find a girlfriend. Forget getting married. How could anybody love an ADHD freakshow? With such cheery thoughts, I silently sob my way through the next half hour.

Have you ever noticed that if you cry long enough, you automatically feel better when you finally stop? I guess that’s why positive-but-stupid thoughts begin coursing through my brain as I sit on the porcelain throne.

Don’t let a bully rent space in your head, I think. (It’s what Becky-the-Counselor tells me.) Jackson can’t control whether Angela says yes or no. Maybe she’ll feel sorry for you after what he said. You’ll never know unless you try. With such happy thoughts and pixie dust, I wash my face at the sink . . . then go forth to my doom.

I sit back down at the table. Jackson’s telling everybody—I swear, this guy is a walking cliché—about his home run that won the last baseball game. Angela is listening intently. But with a bravery that only comes from stupidity, I tap her on the shoulder.

“Hey, Angela?” I whisper.

I’m not quiet enough. Jackson pauses his story as every head at the table swivels to me. I freeze like an aardvark in the headlights.

“What’s up, Spence?” Angela prompts impatiently.

Too late to stop now. “I was wondering . . . could you, I mean . . . you wanna dance?”

Jackson stifles a laugh. If I could, I would murder him.

Angela looks faintly amused. “Sorry, Spencer. Me and Jackson . . . we’re kinda together.”

“Oh . . .” I wish the whole table would stop looking at me. “Um . . . I understand.”

Jackson whispers something in Angela’s ear and she laughs. Then she holds out her hand, and the happy couple heads to the dance floor.

The other kids at the table suddenly find the floor fascinating. As for me, I call Mom and beg her to pick me up early. I head outside to wait in the rain.

December 15, 2023: 11:55 a.m.

I rush through the Christmas light-hanging and finish just before lunch duty. I won’t win The Great Christmas Light Fight, but the results should keep Kelly away.

I loathe lunch duty.

My gig is to stand at the cafeteria exit telling kids not to empty drinks into the trash, then cart bags to the dumpster when they get full. Last week, a bag burst and I got to clean it up on my knees while kids walked through the mess.

I’m always looking for ways to connect with students, but not during lunch duty—no middle schooler would get caught dead talking to Garbage Man. Talking about me, however, is clearly a thing. I recognize the smirks. This must be how Mr. Saladin felt.

I stare dourly at the sliver of cafeteria I can see from my post in the exit alcove. I see Cody sit down by himself at one of the tables. Poor kid, I think. Eating by yourself in middle school is the worst.

A sixth-grade girl I recognize from the hallways sits down across from Cody. Cool! He has a friend, I think.

But then the girl helps herself to Cody’s tacos, which are the only decent thing in today’s lunch. Cody stares down at what’s left on his tray as the girl nibbles the stolen goods.

Cody protests, but the girl ignores him. He reaches for the girl’s untouched tacos, but she quickly licks them both. I can’t hear the words, but I can tell Cody’s asking for his food back. The girl shrugs and returns half-eaten tacos to his tray. She smashes them into a gooey mess by pounding Cody’s milk carton on top of them.

The milk spurts all over Cody. The girl dumps the rest of the carton on the remains of his lunch, then takes her tray and walks out of sight.

Okay, I know middle schoolers can be evil; Jackson taught me that. But what did Cody do to her? It’s pointless cruelty. Maybe one of the kids at Cody’s table will step up, I wish for his sake.

I spot a few sympathetic glances in Cody’s direction—and a couple of mocking laughs—but only one boy does anything, and it’s not exactly helpful. He mops the milk that sloshed towards him with a napkin, then drops the soggy rag into Cody’s lunch puddle.

I’m debating whether I should walk over there. On one hand, this seems like a good time to do a little adulting. On the other hand, grown-up intervention on Planet Puberty can make things worse. Cody solves my dilemma when he dejectedly brings his tray to my garbage station.

I try to catch Cody’s downcast gaze. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” he mumbles.

“Cody . . . I saw what happened with your lunch.”

I suddenly have his full attention as he looks up in terror. “No. You didn’t.”

“What? I watched that girl—”

“Don’t do anything. Please? All week kids have been saying I’m getting bullied by a girl.”

“All week? She’s been doing this since . . . what are you eating?”

“I eat plenty at home.”

I give him an incredulous look.

“Don’t! Just—don’t, Mr. Spencer,” Cody pleads. “No offense, but if kids hear the janitor had to stop a girl from messing with me—”

“We should tell Ms. Jackson.”

“What’s she gonna do?”

“Maybe . . . suspend the girl?” I know that’s not true; Kelly never suspends anybody. Jessica says it makes her discipline stats look bad for the school board.

“Even if that girl gets a couple days, what’ll she do when she comes back? Maybe . . . she’ll quit bugging me after the weekend,” Cody says hopefully.

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Then . . . do something Monday. Maybe. Okay? “Snitches get stitches, Mr. Spencer. You’re, like, my friend. Please.”

Neither of us says anything else. We have a staring contest — Cody’s pleading versus my uncertainty. The kid blinks first. He dumps his tray in the trash and heads for his table, then stares down at the place his lunch used to be until the bell rings.

May 19, 2009: 3:15 p.m.

The Farewell Dance may be over, but there are still three weeks left in eighth grade, and Jackson is obviously going to make them as miserable as possible. Every time we pass in the hall, he feints like he’s about to swing a punch. And every time, I hate that I can’t keep myself from flinching.

One day he does it right before Language Arts. I tell Ms. Pulaski.

“What do you suggest that I do?” she asks testily. “Give Mr. Kallis a detention for vaguely threatening gestures?”

“It’s not ‘vaguely threatening.’ He keeps—”

“Spencer, people might leave you alone if you . . . if they didn’t feel annoyed,” she says.

With nothing to stop him, Jackson keeps up his intimidation campaign. But then something new happens on the bus two days before summer vacation.

There’s a kid named Nathaniel on our bus who can fall asleep anywhere and sleep through anything. Once he napped through a fire drill. Nobody realized it until our class came back inside and found him drooling on a desk.

Anyway, on this fateful day, Nathaniel has—surprise, surprise—dozed off in his bus seat. Jackson is sitting two rows ahead of me, so I have a good view when he points out Sleeping Beauty to his friends. “Watch this,” he says, moving into Nathaniel’s seat. Jackson waves a hand over the kid’s face. No response.

“Nathaniel?” he whispers. “Wake up, sleepyhead . . .”

Jackson’s friends are snickering.

Jackson cautiously unzips Nathaniel’s backpack and rummages through it. He finds a romance novel, the kind you expect girls to read, and holds it up for his cronies’ guffaws. Then he digs out Nathaniel’s phone and snaps a selfie with the sleeping boy.

Jackson dives back into the backpack, tossing aside a math textbook . . . and at the bottom, he finds a wad of 20-dollar bills. He counts them out—120 bucks. It’s probably Nathaniel’s birthday money.

He holds the cash up for his pals: “Should I?” he mouths. They urge him on. Jackson glances around, then pockets the bills and heads for his seat. That’s when he notices me watching.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t say a word. He just sits down and faces forward.

What’s that mean? I wonder suspiciously. My stop’s coming up and I know I should tell the driver about Nathaniel’s money, but what does Jackson have in mind? There’s still a day of school left. Plenty of time for him to make me wish I had shut up.

When I walk past Jackson, he does one of his usual feints, and I do one of my usual flinches. But while I’m distracted, he sticks out a leg and trips me. I sprawl down the aisle. I hear Jackson’s voice softly behind me: “Snitches get stitches, Spence.”

Nobody saw Jackson stick out his foot, but because this is eighth grade, someone starts a round of sarcastic applause. “You okay, son?” says the bus driver, an old guy who never remembers anybody’s name.

I nod to the driver, scarlet-faced, and get off without a word.

I lose a lot of self-respect in that moment. I knew exactly what I needed to do—just tell the bus driver—but it was impossible after I got Jackson’s message. I wimped out. Nathaniel would have to worry about his own cash.

December 15, 2023: 2:40 p.m.

I spend the afternoon setting up chairs for tonight’s choir concert, with two pauses to mop puke in the hallway. I guess everybody gets sick in December.

The whole time I’m working, I have a battle raging on the inside: Should I tell Ms. Jackson what happened to Cody?

Kelly probably won’t do much. Is she really going to suspend a girl for smooshing tacos?

But Jessica’s right. Sometimes you need to speak up because . . . because you just need to speak up.

I never told anybody what Jackson was doing to me (except Ms. Pulaski, which doesn’t count) and it turned out okay. The bullying ended when eighth grade ended. Maybe Cody’s right and the lunch-squashing sixth grader will stop after the weekend.

But what if she doesn’t? And even if she leaves Cody alone, you think she won’t find fresh meat?

But Cody asked me not to get involved. Can’t he make choices, even at 13? If the kid doesn’t want help . . . if the kid doesn’t want . . . if the kid . . .

My thoughts trail off. For a few minutes I’ve been noticing a hot smell, like the lunch ladies are reheating something in the kitchen. But I realize the smell has nothing to do with the kitchen when I look out the cafeteria windows.

My Christmas lights are on fire.

I drop a folding chair and sprint for the fire alarm.

By the time the fire trucks roll up a few minutes later, the guidance counselor and I have already put the flames out with extinguishers. The kids are outside pointing at a smoking puddle of dead twinkle lights and fire-retarding goo. It’ll take time to herd the students back in, but there’s no real harm done.

As I explain to the firefighters, I used a frayed extension cord for the Christmas lights that sparked a fire in the bushes. I get a stern lecture about electrical safety. Meanwhile, I see Ms. Jackson soothing a gaggle of sobbing sixth-grade girls who apparently thought the school was going down in flames.

As the firefighters pack up the truck, Kelly stalks in my direction and yanks me aside. There’s no painted smile this time. “How did this happen?” She bites off her words one at a time. “Those lights were your responsibility!”

I believe in owning my mistakes, but I’m not going down for this one. I mutely hold up the burnt end of the frayed extension cord. I think about adding, “As educators, we make do with what we have”—but decide to let the cord speak for itself.

Kelly’s mouth forms a perfect O, just like a cartoon. She walks away without a word.

Jessica Jimenez sees this exchange and flashes me a thumbs up. “See? You can be bold,” she says under her breath, walking her class back to the building. “Like Moses.”

Maybe it’s being compared to Moses, but I’m suddenly infused with a little burst of courage. I run to catch up with Ms. Jackson and ask if I can see her in her office. She eyes me suspiciously but agrees. I tell her about Cody and the lunch smasher, whom I’ve learned from asking around is Marlene Beretta.

“I’m glad you brought this to me,” Kelly says, showing me a bit of (grudging) respect. “Another student reported Marlene for taking lunches, but she denied it, and her victims wouldn’t . . . well, ‘snitches get stitches.’ Now that an adult’s seen it . . . I think our school will be better off without Marlene for a few days.”

It’s a Christmas miracle. The bully’s getting suspended!

I head back to the cafeteria and finish setting up chairs, which takes me until after dismissal. I shuffle to the janitorial office for my coat, thinking: I’m glad it’s the weekend. I’m headed for the door when Jessica pokes her head in.

“Hey,” she says, brandishing her laptop. “I’ve been turned down before, but I ain’t proud. You wanna look at classes at JCC? Spring semester’s coming up.”

“Okay,” I say. Then, with my new Moses Boldness, I gulp a deep breath. I add, “Maybe . . . over coffee? Quills is open late.”

She eyes me. “Like . . . a date?”

“Yeah,” I manage to say. “Like a date.”

I look at her expectantly. She doesn’t say anything. The silence drags on.

“It’s cool if . . . sorry,” I stammer. “Pretend I didn’t ask.”

“No! That’s so nice, and we can get coffee, and we’ll look at classes, but . . . I’m so sorry, Spencer. I thought you knew . . . I’m seeing somebody. From church.”

Suddenly, I want to call Mom and ask her to pick me up early from the dance. Even if I have to stand in the rain. I’m still an ADHD freakshow, I think bitterly. You stick your neck out and somebody steps on it.

“It’s cool,” I finally say. “You don’t hafta . . . I don’t need to look at classes.” I force a smile and zip up my coat.

“No! I want to help; I just can’t . . . don’t be stupid, Spencer!”

Her words make me pause—and suddenly I remember how Moses’ story went after God found him in the desert. He summoned his courage, went to Pharaoh with God’s command . . . and got rejected 10 times in a row.

Boldness doesn’t mean you get it all, I tell myself. It means you trusted God enough to try.

I gulp another deep breath. “Let’s do it,” I smile. “Let’s find some classes.”

“Spencer, I don’t want to pressure you. Honestly.”

“Spring semester’s coming up,” I remind her.

She looks at me through narrowed eyes. “Okay . . why now? Why not before? Who should I thank for the Christmas miracle?”

“Well . . . God, I guess,” I tell her. “And Moses. And a frayed extension cord. I mean, it’s hard to ignore a burning bush. Especially when it’s right outside the school.”

# # #

Interested in reading other fiction pieces by George Halitzka? Here are a few for you to check out: Bullets and Black Eyes at the Manger and Grace for My Worst Day – Part 1 and Part 2.

Copyright 2023 George Halitzka. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

George Halitzka
George Halitzka

George Halitzka is a writer, storyteller and theatre artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s the founder and artistic director of Drama by George, an educational theatre company. George loves God, his wife Julie, performing onstage, and eating peanut butter (not necessarily in that order).


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