The bell rang at the end of the day. Like clockwork, we all gathered our things, shoved them into our bookbags, and filed out the door, each of us nudging a long hand as we passed the threshold. When it was my turn to contribute a second, Professor Haywood stopped me at the exit. “Miss Roam, may I have a minute?”
And just like that, he stopped time. My eyes met Ruben’s on the other side of the door and I signaled him to go on without me. “Yes, Professor?” I knitted my eyebrows together then planted a smile.
“You’ve been behaving quite odd lately,” he ventured. “You’re always in a rush to leave this room. You used to be the last to pack up!”
“No need to explain yourself, you can leave early if you like. I’m not accusing you of anything, but, is there something you should tell me?”
I vigorously shook my head. “Not at all, Professor!”
He narrowed his eyes like I’d seen him do when Ruben claimed the money he was pocketing was his own. “Alright then, I will see you next class.”
I flashed my smile brighter before scampering out the door.
“Whimsy!” It was Ruben calling from where he was waiting down the hall.
I ran to catch up with him. “What did he say?” Ruben asked. His face was serious. “Does he suspect anything?”
“Maybe, but he doesn’t have any proof.”
“Okay then, hurry up!” he said, practically dragging me out the door. We ran to our spot in the back corner of the field behind the school.
I climbed over the wire fence and ran my hands underneath the brambles. They made contact with something hard and I pulled out a small gardening shovel. I handed it over the fence to Ruben and clambered back over. Ruben had already brushed aside the loose grass and was expanding the small hole it revealed. What he was digging up was not ordinary dirt, but clay-mud.
It was all a part of our brilliant project. We would make and sell creations out of clay-mud at school to earn some much-needed cash. The problem was, it broke multiple school rules. First we were leaving school property without permission or supervision by storing our shovel on the other side of the fence; next, we were damaging school property by digging in the field; and finally, we were selling items and exchanging money during school hours. But, as long as we didn’t get caught, we were fine.
“What are we working on today?” I asked Ruben.
“Piper wants thirty clay beads and Evander wants a small flower pot.”
“Painted?” I had already started rolling some beads between my fingers.
“Just the beads, fifteen yellow and fifteen red.” Perfect, painting costs extra.
Ruben and I worked out a system. He deals with clients, keeps track of orders, and digs the mud. I find a way to sculpt, bake, and paint them. We split our earnings fifty-fifty, which is enough to pay for school lunches for both of us one day a week. We also set aside a dollar at the end of each month to pay for new paints.
We worked for two hours, Ruben digging, and me molding beads (I carved holes in them with pine needles, smart, right?) and a flower pot. Then we covered the hole, returned the shovel, left the beads and pot to dry in small parched holes beneath the fence, and gathered last week’s creations, twin candle holders, to bake.
“I heard Professor Haywood ask Victor where he got the top spinner we made him.”
“And?” I raised my eyebrows. Victor was a suck up, a rule follower, every teacher’s pet. If he could keep his mouth shut then so would everyone else.
“What? No! When? How much?” I was horrified.
“Last week. He got your name and I think he knows it was sold during school.”
“He didn’t give your name?”
“No,’ he slumped. “I’m sorry, I should have told you earlier.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m just confused,” I frowned. “Why didn’t Haywood mention it when he spoke with me after class?”
“I don’t know…” Ruben was staring at his feet. “I was so sure you were in for it.”
I baked and painted the candle holders over the weekend but almost didn’t bring them to school Monday morning. I finally slipped them into my bookbag, deciding that if Haywood didn’t stop me for a week, he wouldn’t stop me now.
Astrid was waiting for me at the main door, two dollars at hand. We traded items and characteristically shuffled in.
In class, I squirmed in my seat and counted down minutes instead of listening to the lecture. Every time Professor Haywood looked in my direction, I broke into a sweat. When the bell rang for lunch, I wanted to dash through the door and never turn back, but instead, I trudged out with the rest of the class.
Haywood interrupted me at the door again. “Miss Roam, I want to see you in my office after school.”
I was barely able to squeak out a “yes, Professor” before disappearing down the hall. Ruben was at my side in an instant.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
The second half of class was worse than the first. I counted down minutes again, but this time dreading what would happen when they were all gone.
I was almost grateful when they finally disappeared. I waited until everyone left the room before creeping into Haywood’s office. Haywood sat at his desk, Astrid’s twin candle holders before him. That traitor! “Take a seat,” he said plainly.
“Did you make these on your own?” He gestured to the candle holders.
“And how much did they sell for?”
“Really? You are just giving them away, dear. I would pay at least five dollars for these.” I stared at him, dumbfounded. “Now here’s the proper way to run a business…”