Sunday, August 21, 2016

BROKEN ENGLISH: Chapters 1 & 2

By Marita A. Hansen

UK English is used due to the New Zealand setting.
All other variations are also due to where the book is set, as well as the characters’ cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. This is why some characters use different speech patterns from others.
This book is set in the year 2002.

Temptation is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart.
Thomas Boston
I turned into Wera High and parked in the teachers’ car park, so excited I was literally shaking in my seat. It was my first day as a permanent English teacher, something I’d been dreaming of since I was a kid. Prior to today, I’d only worked as a substitute, filling in when other teachers were away, which wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was to have my own class, one where I could foster a connection with the kids, and help them fall in love with literature like I had. Then a colleague had mentioned that Wera High was looking for an English teacher. I’d jumped at the opportunity, even more eager since the high school was in South Auckland, a lower socio-economic area in New Zealand, where I felt I could really make a difference.
I flipped the vanity mirror down and checked my appearance, making sure my lipstick hadn’t bled out like a vampire’s victim. I smiled at the metaphor. I was a huge Buffy fan. I not only watched the programme, but read all the books. My husband thought it was hilarious that a Lit Major loved ‘teenage, trash fantasy’, his description, not mine. He’d told me that I should be reading the likes of The Great Gatsby, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all books he knew nothing about, since his idea of good literature was Sports Illustrated.
My reflection in the vanity mirror wiped the smile off my face. My rose-coloured lippie had indeed attempted to escape my lips, making a beeline for my chin. I licked a finger and ran it under my mouth. One would have thought that by the year 2002 they’d have invented a lipstick that would stay put, but no, it was a constant battle keeping it confined to one area. Or maybe I was just useless at putting it on. Regardless, I applied a fresh layer and smacked my lips together, fixing the problem—for the time being. Happy with the result, I slipped my lipstick away in my tan-coloured satchel and smoothed down my long blonde hair, which I’d freshly dyed to get rid of my naturally mousy-brown colour.
Eager to get the day started, I got out of my yellow Volkswagen, taking in the vibrant surroundings. Wera High was so much livelier than the middle-class and posh schools I’d substituted at in London. The South Auckland kids were louder, bigger, scruffier, and more disorderly. They were streaming onto school grounds, cutting across the road, car park, and grass, one even kicking down a ‘No Walking On Grass’ sign as he headed for a two-storey, cream-coloured building with a green roof.
I slung my satchel over my head, resting the strap across my soft pink blouse and the leather bag on the hip of my darker pink skirt. I went to head for the same building, which held the principal’s office and the staffroom, but quickly flattened my back against my car as three boys bowled past me, almost taking me out. They sprinted across the grass, with a monster of a boy leading the way, his wide shoulders deserving their own postcode.
I shook my head and turned to go, spinning around as a yell rented the air. On the far side of the lawn, the three boys were pushing and shoving another boy, as well as throwing punches at him. Their victim looked like he was struggling to fend them off, his arms and feet moving fast in self-defence. Then the big boy hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground.
I ran for the fight, yelling at them to stop. My right heel clipped a raised patch of grass, almost sending me falling onto my face. I briefly flailed, but righted my footing in time and continued on, closing in on the fight. Two of the attacking party took off as I neared them, while the bigger one remained. He started kicking the fallen boy, one boot connecting with his crotch. The boy cried out and curled up into a foetal position, clutching himself below.
I shot in front of the thug as he raised his boot again. “Stop!” I shouted, holding out my hands.
He lowered his foot, his expression an angry mask of brutality. He had a crooked nose, square jaw, and a prominent brow, his number one haircut finishing off his tough-as-nails look. He was also very tall, well over six-foot, dwarfing my five-foot-three frame. I swallowed and took a step back, realising the danger I’d unwittingly put myself in. I’d read about teachers getting hurt in South Auckland schools. Only the other day, one was knocked unconscious at a school that was barely five minutes from Wera High, and here I was on my first day, jumping into a situation where I couldn’t possibly defend myself.
“Go to the principal’s office,” I said, trying to sound assertive, although I felt anything but, especially with this colossus sneering down at me.
His angry gaze shifted to the fallen boy. “You’re so pathetic you need chicks to save you now. Just stay away from mine—”
“I don’t want your sloppy seconds!” the boy yelled on the ground, the kid obviously having a death wish.
Fury flashed across the other one’s face. The headline FEMALE TEACHER HOSPITALISED DEFENDING STUDENT jumped into my mind. Desperate to diffuse the situation, I whipped out my mobile phone. “I’ll call the cops if you don’t leave now.”
The thug tensed. “You should stay outta other people’s business, lady.”
“It is my business when you fight on school grounds,” I said, trying to sound authoritative. “What is your name?”
“None of your biz, bitch.” A second later he was gone, disappearing inside the school building. I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding in, relieved that I hadn’t gotten killed before the bell had even rung. Behind me the injured boy moaned, pulling my attention back to him. He was still curled up and clutching his crotch, using curse words that would make a sailor blush.
I squatted down and placed a hand on his arm. “Are you all right?”
He mumbled something I couldn’t discern. He had his face turned towards the ground, his black crop of hair speckled with flecks of grass, mud, and a small twig.
I pulled out the twig. “Do you need help to get up?”
“I said, fuck off!”
I whipped my hand back, shocked by his vicious response. “There’s no need to swear at me, I’m just trying to help.”
“I don’t need your help.” He turned around and sat up, his angry gaze going to mine.
I froze, taken aback by his appearance. He was...
Dark eyes stared back at me, framed by even darker lashes, which matched his wavy black hair. He looked Italian or possibly Brazilian, his olive-skin and sculpted face reminding me of a famous male model I couldn’t remember the name of.
The boy’s glare dropped. For a moment he appeared as struck as I was, then he brought a hand to his brow, breaking the connection. He wiped some blood off it, drawing my attention to a small gash above his left eye. I quickly pulled open my satchel and searched for a tissue amongst the mass of receipts, finding an unopened packet. I removed a tissue and applied it to his wound.
The boy grabbed my wrist, freezing me in place. “I’ll do it,” he muttered, taking the tissue out of my hand. Letting go of my wrist, he placed the tissue to his brow and pushed to his feet, grimacing as he straightened. His other hand went to his crotch, reminding me he’d been kicked there.
I rose up too, feeling small in comparison. Even though he wasn’t as big as the monster that had attacked him, he was still close to six foot. His arms were also defined, the material of his grey short-sleeved, button-down shirt straining against his biceps.
I cleared my throat. “I’ll take you to the sickbay,” I said, feeling ashamed for ogling a schoolboy. Though, he looked like a senior, which meant he was either seventeen or eighteen, which wasn’t that much younger than my twenty-four years.
He shook his head. “I’ll be fine.” He swiped up his bag, which was covered in writing reminiscent of graffiti. There was also a gang patch sewn into the black canvas. My husband had been concerned when I’d told him the position was in South Auckland. After watching the film Once Were Warriors, he seemed to think he was an expert on the area, calling it gangland territory. I’d teased him mercilessly over it, since he’d never even been to Auckland, let alone New Zealand. He was from London. I’d met him while on my OE—an overseas working holiday. We’d been together for a good four years, married for one of those. He was due to follow me in a few weeks, his documentation taking longer than we’d anticipated.
Brushing himself off, the wavy-haired boy headed for the main building, discarding me like the tissue I’d given him. I ran after him, holding down my knee-length skirt so it didn’t fly up.
“I think I should take you to the sickbay,” I said, speaking to his back.
He kept on walking. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not; you should get a bandage for that cut and check your—”
He came to a sudden stop, almost causing me to crash into him. I took a step back as he turned to face me, his glare making me take another one. “You better not say balls,” he said.
I snorted out a nervous laugh and waved a hand at him. “Don’t be ridiculous, I was referring to your other injuries.”
“The only thing injured is my pride, so just leave me the hell alone. I don’t need chicks fighting my battles for me,” he said, his accent sounding Maori, not Italian or Brazilian—like he looked.
He turned back around and awkwardly ascended the stairs to the main building, the kick below obviously still hurting, which was no doubt why he was being so grumpy with me. I followed him into the corridor, where other students were milling about, talking, stuffing their belongings into lockers, and generally being noisy, the bustle reminding me of the London Underground, just more suffocating. The smell of teenage sweat, cologne, perfume, and even mud permeated the air, along with the heat their bodies were generating, making the corridor a rather unpleasant place to be on a hot summer’s day.
I pushed past some students, not willing to let the boy get away from me. My husband described me as a pit bull when I was determined to do something, biting in and not letting go until I got my way. “You could at least tell me your attacker’s name,” I said, doing my best to keep up with him, the crush of students impeding me. “I have to report this.”
He shook his head. “Not happening.”
“It is, so I need his name.”
He stopped in the middle of the corridor and turned to face me, giving me another annoyed look. “Cut me some slack, lady. I don’t wanna start off the year in the principal’s office, defending myself, when this isn’t even my fault.”
“You won’t need to, you’re the victim.”
He grimaced. “Don’t call me a victim, I don’t appreciate it.” He turned to go.
I shot in front of him. “I still need to know the boy’s name.”
“You don’t give up, do ya?”
I shook my head, just as determined to get it as before, if not more.
He exhaled loudly. “It’s Ronald McDonald, but if I get called into the principal’s office I’ll deny it. I’m not a nark.”
I scowled at him. “Do I look like an idiot to you?”
His annoyed expression dropped, the first sign of a smile pulling at his lips. “Do ya really want me to answer that?”
My scowl grew. “Don’t be cheeky. And you can’t seriously expect me to believe that boy’s name is Ronald McDonald.”
He blinked, then let out a burst of laugher. “That is his name. His father’s a big fat cunt who loves McDonald’s. Though, we usually call the prick Ron, Ronnie, or Happy Meal. We also call him Burger King or Wendy’s when we really wanna piss him off.”
“Are you playing with me?” I asked, not sure whether to believe him or not. Although he sounded genuine, I couldn’t fathom someone naming their own child after a clown.
He shook his head, his smile drawing my attention to his mouth. He had the most perfectly shaped lips, with a full bottom lip just made for nibbling on. His smile grew into a cocky smirk, alerting me to the fact I was staring.
I ripped my eyes away from his mouth. “What about you, then?” I asked, again feeling embarrassed.
“If you wanna know more ’bout me, I’ll meet up with you after school,” he said, appearing highly amused. “My number is—”
“I don’t want your number, just your name?”
“It’s Dante Rata.” He blew me a kiss, then spun around and disappeared into the mass of students.

I glanced back at the teacher, thinking she was hot as fuck. Just a pity it hurt to look at her, my balls whining like a bitch. It felt like Happy Meal had left his boot-print on my gonads and all because I’d been nice to his girlfriend ... by letting her suck my dick. I’d gate-crashed a party with two of my mates. She’d been there, minus Happy Meal’s ugly mug. Before I knew what was happening, I had a stomach full of vodka and my pants around my ankles, with my dick down her throat. I hadn’t even remembered going into the bedroom with her. If anything, I swear I’d gone in there alone to sleep. But since she’d already gotten me hard, it was a no-brainer to let her finish the job, plus she was hot.
Just not as much as that M.I.L.F. of a teacher, that was, if she was even a mother, because that tight little bod didn’t look like it had shot out any bambinas. I grinned, finding it amusing she’d gotten all hot and flustered over me. I wondered how old she was. Early twenties at a guess. I’d cream my pants if she ended up being one of my teachers, because it would be so much fun to wind her up. But I didn’t get that kind of luck. I either got old hags, fags, or guys with Hitler complexes, like my drama teacher.
I pushed through the sickbay door, aware I could’ve let her bring me here. I just didn’t want to. It was humiliating enough that she had to save my sorry arse from Happy Meal and his halfwit friends; I didn’t need anything else from her. I could get to the sickbay all on my lonesome without some M.I.L.F. holding my hand like I was a primary school kid.
The nurse looked up from her desk as I entered the room, disappointment thinning out her lips. She was a large fifty-something Tongan woman, with a thick head of hair and čokolada skin.
“Already, Dante?” she said, slipping out from behind her desk. “The bell hasn’t even rung.”
I shrugged and lay down on the single bed. My torso felt like Mike Tyson had used it as a punching bag—with knuckle dusters on. “Can I have an icepack?”
“Say please.”
Pretty please with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Smiling, she grabbed one along with the first aid box. She passed it over and sat down next to me as the bell rang. “Why can’t you keep out of fights, Dante?”
“If I did that I wouldn’t get to see your beautiful face.”
“Shush, Romeo.” She was used to my sweet-talking, but she still smiled as she cleaned the cut above my eye. I lifted up my shirt and placed the icepack against my ribs, although I wanted to stuff it down my pants to take away the ache from Happy Meal’s kick.
The nurse’s eyes widened. “Dante! What on earth!”
I looked down at my ribs. My torso was covered with blotchy red marks from Happy Meal’s and his mates’ boots and fists.
“I’ve had worse,” I muttered, laying my head back down. “And at least my stomach will look pretty in a day or too. I like purple and yellow.”
Her face hardened. “This isn’t a joking matter. Who did this to you?”
I shrugged, not interested in dobbing in Happy Meal again. I shouldn’t have even opened my mouth to the blonde teacher, but she wouldn’t shut the hell up. She was like a rabid little dog that wouldn’t stop yapping until I gave her what she wanted. I just hoped she didn’t blab to the principal, because I didn’t need that do-gooder interfering in my business. I could deal with Happy Meal all on my own.
“I really wish you would stop fighting,” the nurse said, cutting through my thoughts. Since I’d started Wera High two years ago, I’d been in and out of her office more times than I could remember.
She pushed to her feet with the first aid kit. “Will you be all right to go to class or do you need me to phone your father?”
“I’ll be fine after a few minutes,” I said, definitely not wanting the second option. My dad would bitch and whine if the nurse pulled him out of work, even more so since it was my first day back at school. Or worse, he’d probably beat the shit out of Happy Meal, which wouldn’t end well, since the prick’s father was the president of the Devil’s Crew, a bikers’ club that constantly clashed with my father’s gang.
The bell for the end of tutor class rang, signalling that I needed to get to my first lesson of the day: Drama. I thanked the nurse and left the sickbay, doing my best not to walk like I’d just had my balls crushed. I lifted my chin in friendly hellos at people I knew, giving a couple from my gang handshakes, all the while pretending that I wasn’t hurting like a eunuch who’d just had his nuts waved in his face. I wondered whether word had spread about me losing the fight. It didn’t matter to people that I’d been up against three good fighters or that I’d been sucker-punched from behind. All that mattered was that I’d lost. I just wasn’t willing to act like I had. Get your balls handed to you and you still had to walk like you could crush someone else’s. Appearance was everything where I lived. It wasn’t about fancy labels, it was about putting on a tough front, proving you were worthy of wearing the patch. That was what counted, no matter how much it hurt.
I stopped outside my drama class and opened the door, just enough to stick my face through. It looked like I was the last one to class. My classmates were sitting in the centre of the floor in front of our drama teacher. We didn’t have desks for drama, only a small stage and props.
I shouted, “Here’s Johnny!” doing my best Jack Nicholson impersonation.
Mr. Aston jumped a mile. He spun around, giving me a hundred-watt glare. He had reddish-brown hair and was built like a brick shithouse, with a chimney stack that constantly blew. Though, despite his solid build, he obviously couldn’t fight for shit, since his busted up nose had more curves than Happy Meal’s girlfriend.
Mr. Aston shouted at me, “Get in class!”
I didn’t know why he was so angry, considering I was only acting, and it did say ‘Drama’ on the door. I kicked the door open the rest of the way and sauntered in, lifting my chin up at him. “G’day, Mr. Aston, miss me?”
He continued to glare, looking like he’d pulled the short straw with getting me in his class again. “Cross me and I’ll slap ye with detention for the rest of the week,” he snapped. He sounded like a Scotsman who’d lost his balls to New Zealand, his accent a watered-down version of Billy Connolly’s, minus the sense of humour.
I resisted the urge to imitate his accent, wondering whether I could get through his class without receiving detention. He probably had a whole bunch of blue slips already printed out with my name on. The guy couldn’t stand me; thought I was an arrogant prick. He was right, but I thought the same of him, just didn’t get all red-faced over it. He really needed to chill the fuck out, because he had some serious anger management issues. If he hated teenagers so much why did he become a teacher? It was like working at a brothel and being allergic to condoms. Or being a nymphomaniac and signing up to a nunnery. Why would you put yourself through that?
He continued jabbering on about what he expected from me and how important Year Eleven was. I had to bite my tongue to keep a straight face, especially since I could hear my best friend sniggering on the floor behind me.
Mr. Aston finally finished his lecture. “Now, remove yer shoes and sit down.”
I kicked off my boots, sending them flying to where everyone else’s was. The array of black shoes and sandals were spread out next to the door, the drama teacher preferring the rank smell of foot odour to a little dirt on the carpet.
I sat down on the carpet by my best friend. Jasper was as tall as Happy Meal, just fat, the dude always smelling of meat pies and Coke.
Jasper held out his hand. I grabbed it and did a fancy two-tiered handshake, pumping our fists together at the end, our gang’s full greeting. We’d been best mates since we were little kids, going to the same kindergarten, primary, intermediate, and now high school, minus the short period of time when I got expelled and was forced to go to Claydon High. After that dive expelled me too, I headed right back here, the principal making an exception for me. I knew why he let me back in. It was because he felt like he owed my family since he’d done fuck all for my oldest brother, who’d almost killed himself in a suicide pact while he’d been going here.
Mr. Aston’s voice cut through my thoughts about my brother. He’d started calling the roll. When he got to my name, I held back from being a smart cunt and just answered with a “Here.” In return, I got surprised looks from half the class. They’d probably expected me to say something stupid, but I didn’t feel like it right now, my aching balls still distracting me.
I gently adjusted my crotch, noticing Phelia Lamar, a.k.a. Happy Meal’s girlfriend, ogling what I was doing. She was a Māori chick with the coolest afro hair, which was all fuzzed out in the old seventies style. She also had big tits and the shiniest, juiciest mouth that was made for sucking cock. Just a pity she didn’t know how to use it well, because she sucked in more ways than one.
She sidled up next to me. “Hi, Dante, you wanna come over to my house after school?”
I gave her an Are you fucking kidding me? look, definitely not interested. I didn’t care how hot she was. There were plenty of other good-looking chicks I could get without having to deal with jealous boyfriends.
She screwed up her nose, probably realising why. “What Ronnie did to you wuzn’t my fault.” Her gaze moved to my brow. “And you only got a scratch,” she said, reaching out to touch the bandage.
I jerked my head away. “Don’t touch me.”
“Oh, c’mon, babe, don’t be angry with me. We had fun, didn’t we?”
“We had fun. Past tense.”
She pouted at me. “It doesn’t hafta end. I’ve broken up with Ronnie.”
“He doesn’t seem to think so.”
“Well, I have. I wanna be with you.”
I went to tell her that I didn’t feel the same way, but got cut off by Mr. Aston.
“One more peep oot of you, Dante, and I’ll slap ye with detention so fast ye won’t know what hit ye,” he said.
I shot Phelia a glare, annoyed that she’d caused me more trouble. She gave me an apologetic look.
Mr. Aston resumed what he’d been talking about before Phelia had interrupted him. “We’re going to start off doing Space Jump,” he announced, which was an improv game. “Ye’re going to act oot a scene from something ye did during yer holiday break. Ye’ll get a minute each. So, everyone up.”
All the students pushed to their feet. Half the class who knew the game froze into a pose. I was tempted to face Phelia and freeze doing a cock-sucking action, but decided not to antagonise Mr. Aston further, because I kind of liked this game.
“Phelia,” Mr. Aston called out, “go first.”
Within seconds, she was dancing around me, which was what she’d been doing at the party before she’d sucked me off.
Mr. Aston finally called out another name, stopping Phelia in her tracks. She froze in a dance pose, allowing Mr. Aston’s niece to take over. The red-headed girl started pretending to swim. She had so many freckles on her face I had the urge to get a pen and play dot-to-dot. I smiled, wondering whether her body was covered with them too. I could spend a whole afternoon joining them together, then have a different kind of fun afterwards. Her eyes flicked over to me, giving me the same look the hot blonde teacher had. I winked at her, causing her face to go bright red. She quickly looked away and continued with her act until her annoyed-looking uncle called out my name, probably noticing his niece was eyeing me up.
Jasper started sniggering, fully aware of what I’d done over the summer holidays: selling drugs for my cousin and getting laid continuously. Though, I did visit my grandparents for Christmas, where I went surfing with my oldest brother and uncle. But pretending to surf for the drama class was lame in comparison to imitating sex, which... Fuck it, it was worth getting detention just to see the look on Mr. Aston’s face.
I cupped my hands in front of me, pretending to hold someone’s head and started moving my crotch back and forth, going, “Yeah, baby, take that cock. You know you want it. Yeah, yeah, ye—”
Before I could get the last yeah out, Mr. Aston grabbed me by the neck and hauled me to the door. He yanked it open and shoved me into the corridor, yelling, “Detention for the rest of the week!”
The door slammed in my face. I stood in my socks, listening to the class erupt into a fit of laughter on the other side of the door, Jasper’s laugh the loudest. Next thing, the door burst open and Mr. Aston threw my boots and bag at me, thankfully not hitting me in the balls in the process. Everything landed at my feet with a resounding thud.
“Principal’s office. Now!” he roared, slamming the door in my face once again. On the other side he boomed at the class, “Be quiet!”
I smiled and shoved my feet into my boots, not needing to fix the shoelaces since I never undid them. Instead of heading for the principal’s office, I aimed for the exit, intending on sitting out the back of the gym until the bell went. Mr. Aston never checked to see if I’d gone to the office, something I’d discovered last year. He probably didn’t care if I went or not, just that I was out of his class.
As I passed another classroom, a loud wolf whistle pierced my ear. I backed up and looked through the small square window in the door, instantly recognising the hot blonde teacher. She was standing in front of a class of Year Tens. One of the boys was whistling at her while his mates sniggered next to him. She fired back a retort I couldn’t hear, but whatever it was, it shut the boy up faster than my cock in Phelia’s mouth. A second later, I realised she’d be taking my English class.
A big smile spread across my face, the day suddenly getting a whole lot more interesting. I resumed walking down the corridor, looking forward to English for the first time ever.
After the bell had rung, I headed to my maths class, one of my least favourite subjects. As soon as I entered the room, the teacher told me that the principal wanted to see me. I trudged to Principal Sao’s office, annoyed that Mr. Aston had finally checked up on me. I wondered whether it was one of his New Year’s resolutions to make my life miserable.
At the end of the corridor, I turned right and entered the reception area, taking a seat on the navy-blue vinyl couch. The secretary looked over her desk at me with a slight shake of her head. She was an old bird in her sixties, with dyed blonde hair and a lady-boner for pearls. She gave me one of her disappointed looks, like she’d expected better of me, which always floored me, since I spent half my time here.
She indicated for me to go into the office. “He’s expecting you.”
I pushed up from the couch. “I bet he is,” I mumbled under my breath, again cursing Mr. Aston for finally doing his job.
I opened the door and entered the bland room, ignoring the painting on the wall, knowing it off by heart. It depicted two boys walking into the sea, one of them my brother—who’d painted it. It always reminded me of that fucked up year Ash had tried to kill himself, a year I wished I could wipe from my memory.
“Please take a seat, Dante,” Principal Sao said, indicating to the chair in front of his desk.
He was sitting in a swivel chair, looking at me with a serious expression, probably wondering how he could save me from myself. I slumped down into the cushioned seat and looked out his window, wishing I’d stayed in bed.
Principal Sao pushed out of his chair and walked around to me, seating himself on the edge of his desk, blocking my view of the window. He was a big Samoan man who had a penchant for smart suits. Right now he was wearing a navy-blue one, with a purple and white striped tie over a white button-down shirt.
He started talking, making me think of the actor who did Darth Vader’s voice, just without the breathing problem. “I was very disappointed to find out you were fighting with Ronald again,” he said.
Surprised by his words, I didn’t reply, all thoughts about Mr. Aston ratting me out gone. How’d he know? It hit me a second later. The blonde teacher had dobbed me in. I grimaced, now annoyed with myself for giving her my name, not to mention Happy Meal’s.
The principal continued, “It’s the first day of school and you two are already at it. I told you last year I won’t stand for this nonsense anymore. If I have to, I will suspend you, Dante, regardless of the connection I have with your family.”
Pissed off he was blaming me, I sneered at him, wanting to tell him he had no connection to my whānau. He wasn’t family, he wasn’t even Māori. He probably thought that since he was Polynesian he could identify with me. He couldn’t identify shit, because he hadn’t pissed blood from being beaten so hard, hadn’t had to deal drugs just to pay the bills, or gone hungry because his father took too many sick days due to being mentally ill. Instead, he was what my Tongan mate called a Pālangi Poly—a white Polynesian, who’d probably grown up in East Auckland instead of Wera’s streets.
He shook his head at me. “I wish you would stop fighting everyone, Dante. You need to learn to walk away.”
I remained silent, wondering how the hell he expected me to walk away from being jumped from behind. Then again, he was probably trying to get me to blurt out it wasn’t my fault, twisting things to get me to talk.
He narrowed his eyes at me, giving me one of his this-is-serious faces. But it wasn’t a serious matter to me. The beating Happy Meal and his mates had handed out was nothing in comparison to what my stepfather had done to me. This was no more than a paper cut, something I’d forget about once the bruises disappeared. But what my stepfather had done ... I could never forget that. I just wished I could.
Principal Sao sighed. “I can’t help you, Dante, if you don’t talk to me.”
“I don’t need your help,” I finally said. “I need to be in class,” because it’s better than being here.
He indicated to the door. “Okay. Go.”
I pushed up and headed for the door.
“Dante,” he said.
I placed a hand on the door handle and looked back at him, waiting for him to get whatever he wanted to say off his chest.
He pushed up from the desk, giving me one of his soulful stares, something that I felt he’d copyrighted just for me. He knew too much about my family, things I didn’t want anyone to know. It just made me feel even more uncomfortable around him.
“I know you believe that everyone thinks you’re a bad kid, someone who’ll end up in jail,” he said, “but you’re not. Deep down inside you’re a good kid, who would do really well if you just applied yourself instead of creating your own personal warzone.”
I snorted out a laugh.
“This isn’t a joking matter, Dante. This year is important and I want you to treat it as such. Stop looking for fights and concentrate on your school work, because if you applied yourself you’d pass.”
I snorted out another laugh. “I’m gonna flunk. All my teachers know it.”
“It’s only you who thinks that.”
“Tell Mr. Aston that.”
“Okay, he’s the exception. But if you just concentrated you’d do well, especially in English and Music. You have a stunning voice and are great on the guitar and drums. You’re also a wonderful poet. You could get into university if—”
“I’m not goin’ to university,” I cut him off, not interested in his fantasies.
His shoulders slumped, the man appearing to deflate at my words. I didn’t know what he expected from me, especially since he knew no one in my family had ever amounted to anything, other than ending up in the newspapers for committing some sort of crime. Or worse, being a statistic like my mother, my stepfather having murdered her.

Wishing I wasn’t his pet project, I disappeared out his door and headed back to my maths class. As I walked down the corridor, my mind shifted to the English teacher, angry with her for ratting me out. I’d planned on going light on her, just a bit of teasing and flirting, nothing serious, since I liked the idea of having something pretty to look at during class. But now there was no way I was going to play nice. And like with any other rat, she was going to get what was coming to her.

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