Well, the Monday after the homecoming game—the homecoming loss—Mr. Gisborne was in a dark mood, as you might expect. In fact, after my classmates had filed in quietly and taken their seats, as if they were at a funeral or something, our science teacher just sat at his chair and stared at the top of his desk. This went on for some minutes. Then he started moving his head slowly, side to side, and looked up at us. He face was wet, eyes red with emotion. I wasn’t really surprised. Out at lunch we had heard this was coming.
He took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to apologize to you,” he said in a quivering voice. “I know how much we all let you down.”
I could hear other kids crying, too—some of them were really loud and dramatic about it. Mr. Gisborne slowly got to his feet. “But I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, his voice all but disintegrating, “I have never seen a group of young men play their hearts out the way the Bears did on Friday night.” And then he just broke down. His shoulders started shaking, his whole body then shuddered, and he was sobbing like a huge baby.
Lots of kids—okay, mostly girls—ran up to the front of the room, surrounded him, and engaged in some sort of group-hugging thing that went on for quite a while. It sounded like a pre-school twenty seconds after the parents dropped their kids off.
I just sat there and watched. It was really quite something. Then I felt someone move into the abandoned seat just across the aisle. I looked over. Gil.
“You’ve been ignoring me all day,” he said.
“You’re right,” I snapped. “Why don’t you go up there and join in?” I asked. “They could use another boy.”
Gil laughed. “I just moved here, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I think most of the people in this school are crazy. Absolutely insane.”
I liked hearing him say that. But for a reason I can’t explain very well, I was still bitterly angry that he was doing a social studies project on my house. So I lashed out at him. “Well, then, you should fit right in. And why don’t you just go back to your own seat!” I turned to show him my back, hoping he’d get the hint.
He did. Without a word, he moved away, and when I was sure he was gone, I turned back to face the front, where the weird sad ceremony had not let up at all.
It took about fifteen minutes for everyone to settle down. Finally, though, the cluster began to break apart—as if an iceberg were melting away—and slowly moving back to their seats were all the sorrowful girls, sniffling, wiping eyes on the bottoms of shirts, some still shuddering with emotion.
Mr. Gisborne spoke once more: “I want to thank you,” he said with enormous passion, “for giving me the greatest moment of my life.” He paused a minute. And then added in a near-scream: “The greatest moment until next year … when we kick Ingol High School’s butt!” And the room erupted in throaty cheers. Someone started singing the school fight song, “Bears Go Wild,” and soon the whole classroom was singing in full voice. When they reached the final chorus, everyone stood up and shouted it:
“So look out, people, don’t you get the bear riled,
’Cuz it ain’t a pretty picture when Bears Go Wild!
There was so much cheering after that, so much noise, that someone in the vicinity of our classroom must have complained, because about two minutes later, in came the assistant principal, Mr. Ursine.[i] Following him in was instant silence.
“Mr. Gisborne,” he began, “we all know how upset you are today.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Mr. Gisborne, sounding like a soldier.
“But other people are trying to conduct classes, and all the noise from this room has been making that difficult.”
“And it’s been going on all day, hasn’t it, Mr. Gisborne?”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
As soon as the assistant principal was gone, Mr. Gisborne turned on us. “Way to go,” he snarled, “you’re prob’ly gonna get me fired now.” And he started to cry again.
Again, kids (girls) swarmed to the front of the room, surrounding Mr. Gisborne, hugging him and crying with him.
I gave up. I put my head down on my desk and within seconds, fell asleep. When I awoke, the room was empty. I looked at the clock. School had been over for nearly an hour. I stood up, stretched, then noticed some sheets of paper on my desk. Some were just the usual handouts from Mr. Gisborne (photocopies of homework sheets from the workbook that accompanied our textbook). But there was also a note lying there. And I didn’t need three guesses to figure out who wrote it.