I clear my throat and then say, “You may think Mr. Jonathan Franks is expendable, but he serves at least two great purposes, one of which is to protect you from lawsuits. Lawsuits? I can hear you asking. Lawsuits. I’m the poorest girl in the high school. I haven’t been to the doctor or dentist for a decade because my mother cannot afford health insurance. For all I know, I may have cancer or may be in need of a lung transplant. But I’d never know it, because we cannot afford to go to the doctor. Maybe if she worked for a good employer, I’d have health insurance. But she works for your school district—for fifteen years now—driving buses, which doesn’t pay so hot. No benefits either. So I don’t have money for the sorta fitting-in clothes your sons and daughters wear, nor do I have money to fix my messed-up teeth, and this has led to some serious self-esteem problems. But can I see one of the quality therapists some of my classmates get to see? No. Because I don’t have health insurance. Word. This high school is a daily hell for me, let me tell you, but there is one place where I am always welcome—where I don’t feel like going on a freaking rampage—and that is Mr. Franks’ room. I am the Marketing Club team leader, and I oversee the Childress MC chapter. I personally won second place in the marketing fast food competition last year at the regionals. Mr. Franks runs this club for little to no pay when you break down the hours and the costs of the trophies, ribbons, and pizza parties he throws to boost MC morale. And it is the only thing in this school that gives me any sense of self-esteem. So don’t take away the one good thing in my school day—or I might just snap, and start needing all that therapy you don’t provide the children of your employees. Ty?”

I take a step back. I survey the school board and catch a few sympathetic eyes. One large woman even nods at me and gives me a wink, like she is my mom or something and is proud. Cool, I think. We’re moving people tonight.


Ty steps forward and says, “I have a dream. I dream that some day in the near future Childress Public High School will diversify the faculty and recognize Martin Luther King Day. I’m the only black kid in the school, and the only place I feel comfortable is in Mr. Franks’ room. If Mr. Franks lost his job, there would be no refuge left for me in this school, and I think I might have to start writing letters to the local papers about how hard it is to be black at Childress High School, a place that does absolutely nothing to celebrate my heritage. A place that inadvertently says to me every day that white is right. No black authors in the English curriculum. Coaches always asking me to join the basketball team. Mrs. Watts always trying to get me to sing Negro spirituals in her all-white choir. I’m sick of it, yo. The only thing I’ve ever done through CPHS in celebration of my heritage was to raise money for the United Negro College Fund, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste. I ran a charity Ping-Pong tournament last year and do you know who was the faculty member that helped me market and chaperone that tournament? Mr. Franks. He also made the biggest faculty donation too. Don’t fire Franks, or you’ll be sorry when MLK day rolls around and you don’t observe the holiday again! Because I’m speaking up this year if Franks gets cut.”

Ty steps back, looks over at me, and I nod at him, which makes him smile, so I give him a wink, Donna style, and say, “Jared and Chad.”

“I’m just a regular white kid—I love Franks and all, but you probably noticed that I’m carrying around my younger brother in a backpack,” Jared says. I worry that he is going to forget the Scarface line, but then he remembers and says, “So say hello to my little friend!”

“Hello,” Chad says over Jared’s shoulder. “Maybe I would have driven my electronic wheelchair in here if the building was wheelchair accessible. But it’s not. Nor are the gym locker rooms, really. And Das Boot—my two-wheeled ride—don’t fit through the library aisles, so I can’t browse the books or anything like that. If I want to pick out a book to read, I have to be carried through the library, which is humiliating. No one—besides the kids in this room—really talks to me at school. I’m late for every class because I have to take the elevator and all the kids push the buttons on every floor when they walk by—ha-ha—so I have to wait forever. You people suck at accommodating the special-needs people of the world. But you know who makes me feel like I am wanted, every day? Mr. Franks. Yeah, we play video games, but you know what? In the video games I have normal legs and arms. I can run around and jump and walk in a virtual world that Franks sets up for me using his own equipment that he buys with his own money because you people do nothing to fund his program. Try not walking for seventeen years, and then tell me that video games are stupid. If Franks goes, there will be no more Xbox in school and therefore no place in the high school where I can socialize or interact normally with other teens doing something age appropriate.”

“We don’t have Xbox at home,” Jared adds, and then the brothers step back.

I give them each a nod and a wink when they look at me. My boys are rocking tonight. I’m so proud. “Ricky?”

Donna hands Ricky a prepared statement, and tells him to read it, which he does. “My name is Ricky Roberts. I am the only Childress Public High School student diagnosed with autism, and I do not like the special education teachers very much. Also, school board member Mr. Pinkston’s son Alexander Pinkston torments me on a daily basis, which makes me sad and angry sometimes. But I love Mr. Franks, because he always lets me into his room and makes me feel like I am wanted and that I have many friends, and that my friends are also wanted in the school. I do not like eating in the lunchroom, because Alexander Pinkston torments me. I like eating my lunch with Mr. Franks. Mr. Franks is my favorite teacher. Please do not fire him. Please. Thank you. Yes.”

Donna steps forward and says, “And I am a tax-paying community member. Mr. Pinkston’s son likes to trick my son into making sexual overtures to female classmates. My son will repeat almost anything he is told, especially when encouraged by the captain of the football team, so this is quite an easy task to accomplish. On Monday, Mr. Pinkston’s son told my son to tell sophomore Ryan Gold that her quote boobies were lovely unquote. So Ricky did, which resulted in Ryan Gold’s bursting into tears in the middle of the lunchroom.”

Mr. Pinkston stands and says, “How dare you burst into our meeting and accuse my son with unfounded—”

-- Advertisement --

“Sit down, Mr. Pinkston!” Donna says.

Mr. Pinkston scans the crowd for support, finds none, and then sits.

“We visited with Ryan Gold and her parents yesterday,” Donna says. “Ryan Gold is a member of the National Honor Society. She goes to church every week. She is the nicest, most well-spoken girl you have ever met. And she is willing to testify in a court of law. Now I have talked with Principal Fiorilli several times and have even sent him letters regarding the harassment Mr. Pinkston’s son has inflicted on my son and other students. These letters are documented, of course. I have responses. So if you fire Franks, or if this man’s son—with malicious intent—comes within thirty feet of my son or Ryan Gold or any of these good kids here tonight, I will launch a lawsuit on this school that will drain your budget so fast, you’ll have to fire every damn teacher in the district to get it passed. Am I clear?” Donna’s eyes scan the crowd. She lets them take in her hotness. “And if any of these children have any sort of uncomfortable experience during the next few school days, this digital document gets copied and sent to every newspaper and television station in the area. Have a good meeting, boys and ladies. Keep Franks. Avoid legal trouble. It’s a win-win.”

When Donna strides out of the room, we follow, and when we are outside, Donna distributes the celebratory high fives, and my boys are all smiles.

“What do you think, Amber?” Chad says.

“Did we deliver the speeches okay?” Ty says.

“Do you think it will work?” Jared says.

For some crazy reason, instead of answering, I smile and give each one of my boys a big old hug, which makes Ricky say, “Hi! Hi! Hi!”

And Donna says, “Let’s go to Friendly’s!”

So we all pile into her Mercedes.

When we arrive at Friendly’s we get a big booth and Donna orders one of every sundae on the menu and six spoons, and we eat ice cream as a team, sword fighting with long ice cream spoons, laughing our butts off, getting chocolate sauce and whipped cream and caramel all over our teenage chins as we shuffle around the sundaes and sample all of the delicious concoctions—replaying the night, talking about how cool we all were, and how Franks is sure to keep his job now, and how Franks Freak Force Federation rocks hard-core, espe-cially in our new camo shirts, which we all agree to wear to school tomorrow like the sports teams do before big games. But when people ask us what the shirts are about, we won’t tell them, because it’s our secret. True? True.

So I try not to get any sundae on my new shirt and catch myself looking at Donna a lot. She’s not really saying anything, and she doesn’t eat very much ice cream, but she’s smiling in this very satisfied way, and every so often she runs her nails through Ricky’s hair, which makes me jealous again. God, I really wish she were my mom. I’d be so much cooler and smarter and—but then I remember to be thankful for what JC sent my way today, and I smile and run my nails through all of my boys’ heads of hair, which makes them say, “Stop! Ice cream hands! You sticky ho-bag!” So I laugh at them and keep on trying to run my hands through their hair, pretending to go for one, and then at the last second, going for another boy’s hair, which results in a lot of grabbing wrists and screaming.

The waitress comes over when we almost knock over Chad’s high chair. She’s a teen from another high school, who says, “You must chill, or Kevin is going to—like—freak.”

“School night, kids,” Donna says, and then pays the bill while we all try to mess up each other’s hair on the lawn outside of Friendly’s. As we wrestle, I think about how much I love these boys. They are good people. I really really love these boys. All of them equally. My boys. My friends. Franks Freak Force Federation.

After Donna drops off Ty, Jared, and Chad, I say, “How did you know that Lex made Ricky say that stuff to Ryan Gold?”

“Lex Pinkston is a bad boy!” Ricky says. “Bad boy! Bad boy! BAD BOY!”

“Hello?” Donna says. “Son diagnosed with autism. No secrets in the Roberts household.”

“Did you really talk to Ryan Gold and her parents?”


“But you had a murder trial today and—”

“I sent Jessica to represent our interests regarding the Golds.”

Jessica is Donna’s young and pretty and extremely smart assistant, whom I hate, because Donna is always going on and on about what a great future Jessica has.

“Cool,” I say, totally wanting a Jessica of my own someday, who will help me do even more killer good for deserving people.

-- Advertisement --