The day started like any other. Peter woke to his mother calling his name, ordering him to get up and join the rest of the family for breakfast. He yawned and pulled the pillow over his head to deafen her calls and block out the eye-piercing sunlight shining through his bedroom window. It was the middle of the schoolyear and the novelty of being in kindergarten had worn off; he was pretending not to hear his mother’s beckoning in order to sneak in another five minutes in bed.
He lingered for a minute too long. She stormed in his room like a twister and swiped the blanket off the bed, “Peter Stephens, get your skinny butt up and moving!”
“Mom, don’t!” Peter croaked groggily, “Why can’t I just sleep for a little bit longer?” Seeing the scowl on her face, he didn’t wait for an answer and did what he was told. His mother was a small, gentle woman with a sweet disposition, but her patience was not to be tested when she was in a bad mood. It appeared that her temper was flaring like an active volcano this morning, so he thought it best not to push his luck and got dressed hurriedly as she watched over him from the doorway.
Satisfied by her son’s obedience, she snuffed her previous eruption and calmed her voice, “Breakfast is on the table, sweetheart. Don’t let your sister leave for school without you, okay? I’m late for work as it is, and I don’t want you walking on your own.”
“Okay, Mom.” Peter knew his sister wouldn’t wait for him, regardless of what their mom said, but decided to keep that to himself.
He finished dressing and put on his favourite hat, a Ninja Turtles baseball cap with a bright green brim and all four turtles posing on the front. He had gotten it for his birthday two months earlier and had worn it every day since – he dreamed of becoming a Ninja Turtle when he grew up and it was as though wearing that hat was a rite of passage.
“What’s for breakfast?” he asked seeing that his mom was still watching, “Is it Captain Crunch cereal?” Captain Crunch was another favourite of Peter’s, but it wasn’t something his parents bought often given it would rot your teeth out,at least that’s what they told him almost every time he asked.
“That junk will rot your teeth out! I made you eggs with finger-toast and some orange slices,” she exclaimed before turning around to leave.
Finger-toast was just regular toast with butter, but it was cut into five thin pieces that were perfect for dipping into the egg’s yoke. It was no Captain Crunch, but it was a close second when it came to Peter’s preferred breakfast foods. His stomach growled with sudden hunger as though telling him not to be picky and hurry up and feed it; he listened to its demand and followed his mom out of his room, down the hallway, and into the dinning room.
Peter plopped down at the table next to his sister, Terra, and started devouring his breakfast. His mom kissed them both on the forehead telling them to behave at school and to come home directly afterward. She also warned Terra not to leave without her brother and that Peter stay with his sister on the walk to school. They agreed pleasantly and watched her leave through the front door.
Once their mother was gone, Terra gave Peter a disgusted look, “Chew with your mouth closed, goon.” She got up and went into the kitchen to clean her plate. “I’m leaving in ten minutes. You better hurry up, ‘cause I’m not waiting for you!”
Try as he might, Peter couldn’t meet his sister’s deadline and heard her leave while he was still brushing his teeth. Just as he had predicted, he would be walking to school on his own again. Thankfully, Ritson Road Public School was within sight of his house and he only had to cross one street to get there. Plus, loads of kids who went to the school took the same route, which meant he wasn’t really walking alone.
The walk was uneventful, but Peter ran most of the way. Sleeping in had made him late and the sound of the bell signaling the start of class was heard as he left his driveway. Luckily, the teachers had struggled to organize the students into orderly lines this morning and he was able to catch up as they were being led into the building. He followed along trying to catch his breath while the kindergarteners and first-graders were directed downstairs into the basement classrooms, and the second- and third-year students headed up to the first floor. Peter watched admiringly at the fourth-, fifth, and sixth-grade kids as they sauntered all the way up to the top floor; he had yet to see the second floor of the school and there was something mysterious about it to him.
Pushing the curiosity from his mind, he continued down the stairs towards his classroom. The kindergarteners were split into two groups, Mrs. Roberts’ class and Mrs. Mattingly’s class, and Peter was a student of Mrs. Roberts whom he liked very much. She was a welcoming woman with a kind face that was easy to trust, she reminded Peter of his mom somewhat, so he felt right at home under her instruction.
He got into the class and the rest of his fellow students began to settle down, while Mrs. Roberts stood at the front of the room and instructed them to gather together in a circle on the carpet. Afterwards, they continued to stand as the national anthem was played over the P.A. system, and they were told to sing along if they remembered the words. Once Oh Canada ended, Peter sat down next to his friend Tiffany as they waited for their teacher to go over the day’s agenda.
Everything was typical and part of the routine Peter had come to expect. They would start the day with numbers and math, which led them into ‘play time’ to give their little brains a break. Next, they would expand on vocabulary and spelling, a subject he always looked forward to, and then the class would do arts and crafts until the end of the day. That’s what usually did, at least, but today was different. Mrs. Roberts had to leave early, so Peter and the rest of her students would be joining the other Kindergarten class for the final hour of the day instead.
An unexpected change to his day wouldn’t normally have had such an impact, but this meant he would be under the care of Mrs. Mattingly. You see, while Mrs. Roberts was warm and sweet by nature, Mrs. Mattingly was cold and rotted to the core. She also held a grudge against the kids of Ritson Road Public and struck terror into the hearts of the younger students like Peter. He had heard the older boys refer to her as a miserable croon, but he had also seen those very same snickering kids become meek and silent in the presence of the old woman.
Having to join Mrs. Mattingly’s class, if even for an hour, did not appeal in the least to Peter, and for the rest of the day his stomach tightened into knots. He became increasingly anxious and unable to focus on his lessons as his sense of unease grew with every passing hour. When the time finally came for Mrs. Roberts to leave, he was a nervous wreck and could barely stand from the weakness in his shaky legs. Cold sweat was beginning to form on his pale face as he waited in line for Mrs. Mattingly to welcome them into her classroom; he pulled his hat down lower as though it were a mask that would hide his identity from an evil villain. His anxiety was well warranted, and disaster fell upon him the moment he stepped through the door.
“Take that hat off, right now!” Mrs. Mattingly spat seeing Peter as he entered the class. He hesitated, shocked at being spoken to in such a venomous tone. His teacher never talked to her students that way, nor did she ever tell him to remove his favourite hat.
Peter stood still, frozen in place like a deer caught in the headlights, “W-what?” he questioned at last.
“Don’t you what me, you little twerp,” she stormed towards Peter making him shuffle back in fear until his back was against the wall, “and you’ll take that silly hat off while you’re in my classroom!”
The wise thing to do would have been to accept defeat and take off his ballcap, but Peter was offended by Mrs. Mattingly’s disrespect to his idols, and a spark of anger came from her ignorance. After all, he was a Ninja Turtle in training, why should he cower before a frumpy-looking teacher?
Peter found courage in that thought, and along with it, came a moment of carelessness, “But Mrs. Roberts lets me wear my hat!” he shouted in defiance. He knew within an instant that he had gone too far upon seeing Mrs. Mattingly’s red face, and his courage was sapped just as quickly as it had come.
“Are you talking back to me?” she questioned with a growl.
“N-no, ma’am,” Peter responded in a barely audible whisper. Reluctantly, he took his hat off as he stared down at the ground willing the tears in his eyes not to fall.
“That’s more like it. This is my classroom, and in my classroom, there are no hats allowed! It’s disrespectful to wear them indoors, especially one as stupid as yours. Now, give it here. You can have it back at the end of the day.”
Peter watched as she reached forward, and the thought of her pudgy hands all over his prized possession sickened him. “Can’t I just keep it?” he pleaded without thinking, “I promise I won’t put it back on!”
Mrs. Mattingly’s eyes flashed red with anger and her lips pursed together so tightly they almost disappeared, “Enough!” she bellowed and snatched the hat right out of his hands. “Your attitude and poor behavior have earned you a spot at the back of the class where the delinquents sit.”
Peter couldn’t hold back the tears any longer and they began to slowly drip down his face. Another first for him was being told to sit at the back apart from the rest of the students; as Mrs. Mattingly said, it was where the ‘bad kids’ were told to sit, and until now, he had always been considered a good pupil.
“D-d-do I have to?” he sobbed already knowing the answer without hearing the response.
She stared at him with a disgusted look etched into her wrinkly face, “Stop that crying! Maybe this will serve as a reminder to not be so insolent and to respect your elders. Now get to the back of the class, sit down, and don’t make another sound for the remainder of the day. If I hear even as much as a little peep out of you, I’ll grab the meter stick and give you something worth crying over!”
Peter was directed to sit on the cold, tiled floor while the rest of the kids bunched together at the front of the class on the soft carpet. He wasn’t alone though, a few feet away sat another boy looking just as upset as Peter felt. The boy’s hair was curly but somehow formed closely to his head like a helmet. He had bright, intelligent-looking blue eyes, and two large buckteeth barely hiding behind his lips. The two glanced at each other and silently commiserated in one another’s misfortune. They didn’t dare speak but recognized that there was a commonality between them, their disdain for Mrs. Mattingly, and despite having never met or interacted before, a bond was already beginning to form.
Mrs. Mattingly waddled to the front of the class and sat down with an audible groan on a chair that was threatening to give out beneath her weight. As she began reading to the class the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a story in which the boys had little interest in, her attention to the back of the class faded. The two took notice and slowly started to nudge themselves closer together; Peter prayed she wouldn’t perceive their movements, but he couldn’t help but take the risk. He was curious to know who his companion was and what he had done to end up separated from the rest of the students.
A final skootch was made and the boys were side-by-side. Just as Peter was about to whisper his greeting Mrs. Mattingly suddenly looked up at them as though her Spidey-senses had triggered a warning. She paused her story and considered saying something, while the two boys sat motionless as if hiding from a tyrannosaurus rex – the ancient teacher was old enough to be a dinosaur, at least, so the tactic seemed appropriate. Coincidently, the strategy worked, and she looked back down at the book and proceeded with the story.
Peter released his breath, waited a moment, and then took his chance, “What’s your name?” he whispered.
The boy widened his eyes in distress and rapidly glanced back and forth from Peter to Mrs. Mattingly. He was terrified of getting in trouble, more trouble to be exact, and like Peter, he had also never been disciplined at school until today. But the thrill of rebellion was taking hold, and something told him that fate was knocking at the door.
“I’m Arnold,” he responded in an almost undetectable voice, “who’re you?”
Before either could say more, Mrs. Mattingly closed the book loudly and stood up with obvious effort. She looked over the entire class methodically until her eyes finally came to rest on the two boys at the back of the class. “I need to step outside for a moment. None of you are to move, and if I hear a single word coming from this classroom, there will be hell to pay!”
“Yes, Mrs. Mattingly,” the students responded in unison like a classically trained choir – all except Peter and Arnold who remained quiet, albeit they were both nodding their heads in agreeance.
Mrs. Mattingly studied her students one final time before making her way across the room and out the door. The moment she was out of sight, Arnold spoke again, “I can’t believe she took your hat. She’s such a stupid troll!”
Peter couldn’t help but chuckle. He never imagined saying such a thing about an adult, but the truth of Arnold’s words struck a chord within him. “Yeah, I bet she lives under a bridge too!” he added boldly.
The two giggled at that, while the rest of the students stared at them with mixed fear and respect. They were stunned by the blatant disobedience and foolhardy behavior of the two boys.
“How come you’re here at the back of the class,” Peter asked when his laughter eventually stopped.
“I don’t like story time,” Arnold replied with a sour look, “it’s boring. I like playing with toys, having fun and running around. She told me I had to stop and sit down for the stupid story, and I said no.”
Now it was Peter’s turn to look at Arnold with admiration. It also made him feel better about refusing to listen to Mrs. Mattingly; Arnold had done the same, and it had brought them together. Strangers become brothers in times of war, and the boys had done battle with an evil teacher.
“Is she always such a butthead?” Peter asked, “It’s like she wants to make everything ugly just like her face!”
Arnold didn’t answer, and his face had gone as white as a ghost. Little did Peter know that while the two were talking, Mrs. Mattingly had returned to the classroom and crept up on them silently despite her heavyset stature. She heard every word he had just said.
Peter’s sense finally picked up on her presence as the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand at attention, and the warning signal penetrated his awareness. Slowly he turned to face the teacher as an outnumbered knight preparing for combat against his enemies. She stood over him puffed up with rage, and he envisioned an angry bullfrog readying itself to devour an unsuspecting fly. Peter almost smiled, but it was wiped from his face before it even arrived knowing he was in serious trouble this time. Smiling would only make matters worse.
“You’re nothing but a little brat!” she shrieked, “Your parents must be embarrassed to have you as their son, a skinny little runt with no respect or manners!”
More than a brimming of tears filled Peter’s eyes as he began to cry once again. He had little shame in being seen balling his eyes out by the others, but he was mindful of Arnold watching him. That only made him cry harder – their budding friendship was ruined he thought, who would want to be friends with a big crybaby?
What happened next shocked both Peter and Mrs. Mattingly alike. Arnold leapt to his feet like an uncoiling spring and came to Peter’s defense, “Hey, that’s not nice! Stop being so mean and leave him alone!”
The air was sucked from the room as the other students inhaled their breath in one deep gasp. The tension could be felt by all, taught like a hunter’s bowstring, and in this case, Mrs. Mattingly had her arrow sighted directly at Arnold’s face. Both boys sat motionless awaiting their fate. Arnold’s fire had burned hot and fast, but he was now chilled to the bone by his teacher’s icy stare, while Peter’s head hung low avoiding her gaze altogether. He knew his comments were rude, and now he was about to be punished by the scariest lady he had ever met.
A loud bell rang causing everybody to jump including Mrs. Mattingly, and the school came alive with children bustling about in the hallways. The bell signaled the end of the school day, which meant the students of Ritson Road Public were all rushing to gather their things and head home. Everybody except Mrs. Mattingly’s class, that is. Her kids were transfixed in anticipation of their teacher’s instruction like a crowd in a courtroom waiting on the jury’s verdict in a capital case.
An amazing thing happened, a miracle in Peter’s eyes, as Mrs. Mattingly gave way to a rare act of kindness. She decided that the effort of disciplining the boys was more work than it was worth and let them go; keeping the two after hours was not only punishment for them, it was a penalty for herself as well.
“All of you get out of my sight!” she said hotly and then walked off to the closet where her coat was hung.
The other students bolted to the door, grabbed their things on the way, and disappeared in a flash. Peter and Arnold were much slower with their exit being unsure of whether Mrs. Mattingly meant they were to leave as well. It seemed possible that she wanted to exact her evil without witnesses. However, the teacher continued to rummage through the closet and ignored the pair completely.
The boys approached the door, but Peter stopped short before leaving the classroom. He glanced over at Mrs. Mattingly’s desk where his hat sat next to her coffee mug – it had the phrase Don’t Talk Back written on it in bold lettering. His eyes flickered to the teacher and saw that her attention remained elsewhere. Peter tip-toed across the room and snagged his ballcap like the Grinch sneaking Christmas presents from the Whos of Whoville, while Arnold gestured him to hurry up. Not wanting to linger any longer, Peter gave up all pretense of stealth and ran from the classroom as fast as he could.
Arnold laughed with surprise as his new friend sped passed him, “Wait up!” he shouted and took off in pursuit.
The two raced through the hallways recklessly, dodging the other students as they swerved in and out. Just like the Ninja Turtles battling Shredder and his Foot Clan, they survived an encounter against their foe when all odds appeared to be stacked against them. Mrs. Mattingly was as malicious as they come and the boys were sure their demise was imminent, but they had lived to fight another day. The ecstasy of the encounter was coursing through their veins, and now that they were out of harm’s way, their excitement could no longer be contained. When they finally burst through the school’s front door, their laughter was almost maniacal. Peter and Arnold’s mothers were waiting outside with raised eyebrows of concern, but when they noticed the children weren’t in danger, they looked away and continued to go about their business.
Peter and Arnold ran around like madmen, chasing each other and laughing loudly as they did, until finally Peter’s mom called his name telling him it was time to go home. He stopped to catch his breath with Arnold at his side.
“I have to go,” he said with a sigh.
“Me too,” Arnold replied.
“Meet you on the playground tomorrow?” Peter asked hopefully. Despite knowing deep down he had just made a friend for life, a nugget of doubt remained.
The doubt was pushed away immediately, “Of course, as long as the troll doesn’t get us tonight,” Arnold responded jokingly.
They began laughing again as they walked towards their parents.
“See you tomorrow, Arnold!”
“See you tomorrow, Peter!”