Twelve-year-old Jonathan Hamilton stared through limo-black tint at the cadre of curious middle school students enamored with the über-expensive ride. “I don’t like it,” he told his eleven-year-old brother, Adam, from the sumptuous back seat of a chauffeured Bentley Mulsanne. Cradled in the opulent cabin of saffron leather and polished wood veneers, he liberated an open liter of sparkling water canted in the champagne cooler between the seats. He unscrewed the cap and drank from the bottle while he surveyed his public school peers dressed in cheap attire. He passed the water to his brother and leaned forward toward their driver, Tomás. “What do you think?”
Tomás touched a sterling silver replica of the Virgin Mary suspended from the rear view mirror. “I think you better go,” the sixty-eight-year-old mestizo chauffeur said in his native Honduran accent.
“Why do we have to change schools?” asked Adam, shielded from the outside world. He wore his straight brown hair parted down the middle with an Otis Ledge shirt and Abercrombie chinos.
Tomás repositioned himself to face the boys. “I’m sure your mother has good reason.”
“This school looks like a juvenile detention center,” Jonathan told the former refugee who’d been involved in his life for as long as he could remember.
“Worse,” said Adam, who spotted a group of students pointing in the Bentley’s direction. “We don’t belong here.”
“Perhaps these kids think the same about you?” Tomás proposed.
“Public schools are for poor people,” Adam replied. “No offense.”
“I grew up in Honduras with pequeño dinero, but I was never poor. School was a privilege. One I never took lightly. Neither should you.”
Adam processed what he heard. He loved Tomás, but he lived in Belle Meade, not South America. Things were different for him and Jonathan. “Who brings lunch?”
“What kind of food do they have?”
“The kind you can eat.”
“What time are you picking us up?”
“When school is over.”
Adam finished the sparkling water. His mouth hurt from his orthodontic adjustment. A torture he endured without sympathy on account of his older brother’s perfect teeth.
Jonathan leaned back in his seat. He didn’t buy what Tomás was selling Adam. “I’m not attending public school next year. I don’t care what Mom says. I’ll run away if I have to.”
“And go where?” asked Tomás.
“Anywhere but this dump.”
“This dump is your home for the next seven hours. Make the best of it. Now adiós. Both of you. Before you’re late.”
Jonathan got out first and waited at the sidewalk while Adam hugged Tomás goodbye.
The boys walked through the school’s main entrance together, soliciting unwanted attention and a crack about a Hardy Boys reunion.
Adam stayed close to his slightly taller brother, born ten months earlier with the same hair and dark brown eyes inherited from their mother. “Just ignore them. You can’t fix stupid.”
“This whole situation is stupid,” Jonathan lamented amidst the frenzy of students sorting personal effects in their lockers before the final bell rang. “We shouldn’t even be here.”
Adam checked his phone to read a text from his mom, wishing him good luck at the new school. He tapped his brother’s arm when he noticed a large, dark-skin woman with braided hair lumbering toward them.
“We’re lost,” Jonathan announced in frustration.
“You must be the Hamilton boys,” Principal Hendrix replied.
Jonathan raised a hand. “I’m the oldest.”
“I’m Principal Hendrix. I believe you’re both assigned to Mrs. Dotti’s homeroom.”
“When do we get our lockers?” asked Adam.
“Mrs. Dotti will work with you.”
Jonathan pointed to the cafeteria entrance. “What time is lunch?”
“Mrs. Dotti will have your schedule.”
“What do you do?” Adam asked candidly. He could tell by the Principal’s stony expression he’d opened a lid better left unscrewed.
Principal Hendrix moved with the urgency of a charging bull, parting the sea of loitering middle school students in her path. “I enforce the rules,” she replied without looking back at the boys who marched double-time to keep up.
Jonathan stared at his brother. He wanted his old school back. His old friends. His old teachers. His old locker. Regardless of what Tomás had told him, he hated everything about the new school, including his new principal.
He followed Adam into Mrs. Dotti’s room and waited uncomfortably at the front of the class while Principal Hendrix exchanged words with their new homeroom teacher.
He played it cool, pretending he knew the lowdown on his new surroundings without letting his apprehension consume him. When the principal disappeared, he endured the public humiliation from Mrs. Dotti’s lame attempt to introduce him to the class. Then he claimed a seat near the back with his brother. No one spoke. Not even the cute redhead with a missing arm who seemed less thrilled about being there than he did.