“Ms. A is torturing me,” Leah says. Her posse—Hana, her black hair streaked with purple; Jamila, always swaying unsteadily like she’s not exactly sure how to balance on sprouting limbs; Leslie, a head taller than her friends, contorted downward so as to hide from her impending beauty—turn to face me, eyes wide and unblinking, like a set of dolls.
“Why is that?” I check all of them off on the attendance sheet. Paul leans over my shoulder, having just shouted “I’M HERE! I’M HERE!” in my ear. “I see you,” I replied. He has come to fact-check. Now his blue-eyed gaze is directed away from the attendance sheet and toward the quartet of girls. For once, he is silent, probably in hopes of gaining some insight into what makes these creatures tick.
“Your jacket,” Leah whines. She has braided her sleek brown hair with a ribbon intertwined so that she looks sort of like a My Little Pony. “I want a leather jacket so bad but my mom won’t get me one.”
“Why won’t Mom get you one?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Leah says, with the same anguish that animated her when the sixth-grade talent show coordinators wouldn’t let her sing a particularly angsty Lorde song. Her wallowing is briefly interrupted when her gaze flickers toward an enthralled Paul; Leah has already turned Michael and Kevin down for pizza-and-movie dates this week.
“Here.” I slide my jacket off and offer it to her. The slack leather, pockets bulging with keys and credit cards, is heavy in my grip as it sways in the space between us. “Go ahead,” I urge.
Leah pauses and glances around as if she might get in trouble. Then she slips into the jacket and skips away, ladies-in-waiting shuffling behind her. “It doesn’t even fit her,” Paul observes as he fans a set of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards out on the sticky cafeteria table. Indeed, two Leahs could slip into the leather jacket’s wide shoulders. Nevertheless, she struts from table to table, posture upright and giggles loud, donning the garment like armor.