Corey had some misgivings about the new school year. Her parents had discussed moving again, but they hadn’t wanted to put their daughter through more changes. It was bad enough that two of her classmates had died tragically the year before. The only real reason they had for not moving, though, was Terese. Through everything, the little blond girl hadn’t left Corey’s side and Helen and Andy knew how much Corey needed a friend. But, sometimes, Corey wished they could move far away and get away from all the weird deaths. The other kids kept looking at her like she was sick or crazy or something.
That, and it was bad enough they’d heard some bad stories about their second grade teacher.
Mrs. Allen was a middle-aged woman with glasses who never smiled. Ever. She always wore her graying brown hair back in a severe, and painful looking, bun on the back of her head. She always dressed in dark slacks and had button down shirts neatly tucked in. Over it all was a hip length gray sweater. She always looked a little scary on the playground and the students usually tried to avoid her.
Back in May, when Corey’s class was getting excited about starting a new grade in the fall, the current second graders had whispered stories about the woman. She was supposed to be mean and demanding and didn’t mind piling on the homework. Apparently, she also carried around a wooden ruler in her back pocket and never hesitated at whipping it out even though it wasn’t allowed anymore. The second graders also claimed Mrs. Allen screamed and yelled at them a lot, but most students were too afraid to go to the principal, or even their parents, about her. She always said she would make their lives a living hell if they ever said a word about her. So, the second graders were reduced to whispering stories and warnings to the first graders and thus it had been for the past six years.
Morning on the first day of school was bright and sunny, but Corey only threw her covers over her head and hugged her teddy bear tight, rolling onto her side and ignoring how hot and stifling it was becoming under the sheets and comforter. She didn’t want to go to school. She was already terrified of her teacher.
A knock came at her door before Helen opened it and peeked in, a smile on her face. Corey groaned and heard her mother chuckle before quiet footsteps told her Helen was approaching the bed. The covers were pulled back so Corey was left to blink at her mother’s smiling face.
“Come on, Corey,” Helen said coaxingly. “Time to get up. Breakfast is waiting.”
Corey groaned and turned over. She buried her face in her pillow and said something, but it was muffled by her pillow.
“What was that, dear?” Helen asked, leaning over her daughter and cupping her ear. “I didn’t hear what you said.”
Corey lifted her head slightly, but didn’t turn to look at Helen. “I don’t want to go to school. I don’t feel good.”
Helen reached out a hand and put it on Corey’s forehead. “Sweetie, you’re not running a fever and you’re not coughing or sneezing. Both Andy and I have to work today, so you can’t stay home.”
“I don’t want to go to school,” Corey practically wailed as fear gripped her heart. “Everyone said Mrs. Allen is mean. I don’t want to go to her class.”
“Oh, honey,” Helen sighed. “I’m sure what they said isn’t true. You’ll see. Mrs. Allen is a perfectly lovely woman. Andy and I met her a couple of months ago and she was very nice and welcoming. She was very excited about the upcoming school year.”
Corey turned to look over her shoulder, her eyes wide. “Really?” Had the new third graders just been messing with them?
Helen smiled and nodded. “Really. I’m sure she’s very nice, Corey. So, why don’t you get up, get ready for school, and go meet her. I’m sure you’ll like her.”
Corey pushed herself up and silently regarded her mother for a moment. “But what if I don’t? Can I go to a new school?”
“I’m sorry, honey, but it’ll be too late to get you into a new school. But if you really don’t like her, we’ll petition the school to put you in a new classroom, okay?”
Corey perked up. “Can I do that right away?”
“Sorry, but you’ll have to wait a week. You should meet and get to know her first before you decide you want another teacher. Do you think you can do that?”
Corey looked down at her hands. “I suppose,” she muttered. “I’ll try.”
Helen reached out and gently ran a hand over her daughter’s hair before leaning forward and kissing her forehead. “Don’t worry, Corey. Everything will be fine. Besides, you’re one of the smartest kids in your class. She’ll love you. Now hurry up and get dressed. I have some toast and eggs all ready for you. Sound yummy?”
Corey nodded enthusiastically and pushed back her covers. She loved eggs, could eat them all day. She slid off the bed as Helen left her room and gently closed the door. With a sigh, she walked over to her closet and got dressed for the day. After running a brush through her mid-back length hair, she hurried over to her bed to give her teddy bear a kiss. Then she grabbed her backpack and slowly walked out of her bedroom. She still had misgivings, but hoped everything would work out like Helen had said.
“Hurry up, Corey,” Helen sang out. “Breakfast is getting cold.”
The girl sighed and picked up her pace. She walked into the bright kitchen and dropped her bag next to her chair before climbing up onto it. Andy smiled and reached out to ruffle the ends of her hair.
“Ready for school, honey?” he asked pleasantly.
Silently, she shook her head, but obediently ate her toast and eggs. Around a mouthful, she said, “I don’t want to go to school.”
“She’s afraid of Mrs. Allen,” Helen clarified for her husband.
He gave her sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, honey. But at least Terese is in your class with you. And Mrs. Allen is really a very nice lady.”
“Maybe to you,” Corey said. “But all of last years’ second graders said she’s mean. And they should know. They were her students last year.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Andy said. “Now hurry up and finish. You don’t want to be late for the first day of second grade.”
Corey sighed and finished off her breakfast. Then she gave her father a kiss on the cheek and morosely followed her mother out the door. She was only grateful that Terese had been assigned to the same teacher she had. She hoped it would make the year much more bearable.
She also hoped there would be no more weird deaths this year. She was only glad nothing else had happened for the rest of first grade. She prayed she would only have to deal with Mrs. Allen during second grade and not more deaths that would make everyone avoid her like the plague.
The ride to the school was all-together too short for Corey. After giving her mother a peck on the cheek, she climbed out of the car, backpack trailing after.
“See you at two-thirty!” Helen sang out.
Corey turned and sadly waved as her mother drove away, fervently wishing she were still in the car. Once Helen’s car was gone from view, she headed through the school gates and made her way to the classroom.
“Corey!” an excited voice called out.
Her head shot up as she recognized the voice. She looked around and caught sight of Terese jumping up and down, waving her hand like she’d had six cups of caffeine for breakfast. Corey grinned and waved back before picking up her step and meeting her friend halfway. The two girls hugged each other tightly before Terese linked her arm through Corey’s and they made their way to the closed classroom door. Several other students milled around, all of them silent as they contemplated what the year with Mrs. Allen would be like.
“I’m so glad we’re in the same room!” Terese said. “I don’t think I would survive the year without you.”
Corey nodded. “I tried to tell my parents I was sick, but they didn’t believe me.”
“I tried that, too,” Terese said seriously. “My mom saw right through me. Whatever that means. My older sister always says that whenever she tries to get out of doing something by pretending to be sick. Mom always knows when we’re not really sick. I guess she can always see into our souls or something and can tell if we’re lying or not.”
“I think Helen is like that, too. I wish she wasn’t though. Do you think some of our classmates will be out sick today?”
Terese shrugged. “I don’t know. So far there are fifteen of us here. We’re missing ten and school starts in ten minutes.”
“I wish I could stay at home, too,” one of the other girls whispered as Terese and Corey walked by.
Terese and Corey stopped and regarded the black haired girl for a moment. She was about Corey’s height, a few inches shorter than Terese. Her hair hung to her shoulders and shimmered in the sunlight. Her blue eyes were wide and slightly frightened. She was chewing on her fingernails, which were starting to look ragged.
“I tried to make my mom let me stay at home,” the girl was saying. “What last years’ second graders said about Mrs. Allen really scared me.” She leaned closer to the other two girls. “Do you really think she’s that bad?” she whispered.
Terese and Corey shrugged.
“My parents said she’s really nice,” Corey said. “They met her over the summer.”
“My parents said the same thing,” the girl whispered. “But I don’t believe them. My first grade classroom was right next door,” she said, pointing. “I could hear Mrs. Allen yelling at everyone. I’m scared.”
“We are, too,” Terese said. “Stick with us. I hope we’ll be okay. I’m Terese.”
“Corey? Isn’t that a boy’s name?” Stacy asked.
Corey shrugged. “It’s really Cora, but my biological parents started calling me Corey when I was really little.”
“Are you adopted?”
Corey nodded. “My parents died when I was four. Helen and Andy adopted me a few months later and I’ve been living with them since. They’re really nice.”
As they were talking, a few other students joined their class. Now, the classroom door was creaking open and a tall woman with graying brown hair pulled back in a tight bun and glasses covering her hard eyes poked her head out. She wasn’t smiling. Every student froze where they stood and turned to look at her with varying degrees of fright.
“Step in line,” she said curtly. “Boys and girls. Hurry up, now.”
Quickly, the students grabbed their bags and arranged themselves in two straight lines. Terese, Corey, and Stacy kept close together towards the middle of the line. The boy and the girl at the front of each line were holding their heads slightly back and their eyes were wide with fright. Everyone could tell they weren’t sure of how they got to be at the front of the lines.
The door opened all the way and Mrs. Allen retreated into the brightly lit, Spartan looking classroom. Corey clutched at the sleeves of her sweater. She didn’t want to go in there. Mrs. Allen was not making a good first impression.
“Hurry up and get inside. We start class right on time, so you’d better get here early.”
All of the students swallowed hard. The girls marched in first, followed by the boys. All of them took care not to look up at Mrs. Allen as they walked past her.
“You’ll find your desk by your last name,” Mrs. Allen said in a clipped voice as they girls were filing by.
They dispersed across the classroom, walking up and down the rows to find their last name. Unlike first grade, they did this in dead silence, not even looking at each other. Corey was just glad she found herself sitting next to Terese and two desks in front of Stacy. Terese and Corey traded nervous looks. Corey was sure her parents were wrong; Mrs. Allen wasn’t going to be a nice teacher. She had seen the wooden ruler sticking out of her back pocket.
Once all of the students were seated and settled, Mrs. Allen drew out her ruler and smacked it against her palm as she made her way up one row, walking towards Corey. All the students stiffened and sat up straight at the sound. Corey, sensing the woman was walking towards her, went completely still, hardly breathing.
“All right, class,” Mrs. Allen began, her voice still clipped and stern. “Welcome to second grade. I’m hoping you’re much brighter than last year’s class. Isn’t that right, child?”
Corey swallowed hard as Mrs. Allen stopped by her desk. But she had turned to look at Terese. With frightened eyes, the blond girl nodded, hardly daring to meet her teacher’s gaze.
“And I expect not to have any problems from any of you,” Mrs. Allen continued, spinning to look at Corey. She put her face on level with Corey’s and the girl drew back slightly. “Isn’t that right? You’ll be no trouble for me. If you are….” Mrs. Allen stopped talking to smile and to smack her ruler against Corey’s desk, making the girl jump. “I said, isn’t that right?” Mrs. Allen practically yelled.
Mutely, Corey nodded, holding herself stiffly.
But Mrs. Allen wasn’t happy with that. She put her face closer to Corey’s. “I said, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, Mrs. Allen,” Corey said in a trembling voice.
Mrs. Allen smiled, but her eyes remained hard. “Good, child. Because if you’re not good, you’ll be disciplined until you are.”
Mrs. Allen smacked her ruler hard against her palm twice, making every student wince. Corey swallowed hard and nearly sighed in relief when Mrs. Allen started walking towards the front of the classroom again. But she didn’t think sighing would be a good idea.
Terese and Corey traded looks. There was some definite fear, but some relief, too. If they could stay out of Mrs. Allen’s way, they might be okay. Might. This was going to be a hard year.
“Math books out!” Mrs. Allen called out, startling every student and making a few jump in their seats. “Now!”
They all scrambled for their math books.