People need our help. Let’s figure out what they need, Emmanuel texted.
“Oh yeah. That is what we decided to do. Weird. It’s like I lost half a day yesterday. Ha ha, I don’t even know what I’m saying,” Miranda said as they walked to school.
Emmanuel shrugged. It had been a weird week.
“Okay, sleepy head, let’s get to know the people of Commencement. Starting after school, we’re going to canvass around town. I think the grocery store and the arcade are good places to start. Lots of foot traffic.”
You’ve thought a lot about this, haven’t you? Emmanuel texted.
“Heck yeah. This is my life’s goal. It’s just a club now, but who knows. Maybe someday Helper’s can be something bigger. Like a… a national organization.”
Emmanuel smiled. It was a nice thought. And something he was totally confident Miranda could pull off. He could see her in a nice pant suit in Tidewater, advocating for the less fortunate, or a rough flannel shirt and jeans combo building shelters for the homeless. She had that go get ’em spirit. She was bound for great things. Not glorious things, perhaps. Or fame or fortune. But greatness nonetheless.
The school bell rung and the gates opened without a fuss. Officer Rowinski watched vigilantly as students filed in for another day of drudgery. Emmanuel bid Miranda farewell after agreeing on a meeting place after school. He thanked his lucky stars that this morning had been so uneventful.
He stopped at the door to his first period class. His memory of yesterday came flooding back. Pop quiz. That demonic voice in his head. And… had he… did he…
He rubbed the scar across his throat. He hadn’t been able to speak since the accident. All the parts were there. The doctors had said it was nerve damage that made him mute. His working class parents couldn’t afford to fix it. They could barely afford the surgery that saved his life. Those medical bills would hang over them for the rest of their lives. Possibly his too.
To call it guilt did the feeling no justice. His mom and dad didn’t hate him. They didn’t blame him. But Emmanuel could feel it in his soul. He was the reason they had to sell the second car. He was the reason they had to sell the nice TV and his dad had to get a second job and his mom a second shift. He was the reason there was never any food at home.
“Hey. You gonna move?” a classmate standing behind him asked. Emmanuel stepped out of the way. “Dude, are you crying?”
Emmanuel walked away. Maybe he would skip this class today.
The bell rang. The last of the stragglers ran inside before they were marked late. Emmanuel was alone now. He couldn’t get caught out here. He needed a place to hide until the bell rang again. But where to go?
The bathroom seemed the obvious choice. He didn’t want to sit in that awful smell for an hour though. Maybe he could hide in the girl’s bathroom.
He passed a trophy case on the way to wherever he was going. He’d passed by it a million times before, but this time it happened to catch his eye. It was a display case showing various trophies won by the outstanding students of Pioneer High. Athletics, Mathematics, High Academic Achievement, the works.
Mounted in the center of the display case was a letterman jacket. The body of the jacket was green with cream colored sleeves and a stylized orange P for Pioneer High embroidered over the heart, with orange striped collar, cuffs and hem. It looked old. Worn. But in the light it almost seemed to glow with importance. He reached out his hand and touched the glass. The jacket was calling to him. What was it trying to say?
“Get lost on the way to class?”
Emmanuel whirled around in shock. Mr. Ellis stood with his hands in his pockets and a wry smile on his face.
“What are you doing out here, Emmanuel?” he asked.
Emmanuel held his hands up and shook his head. He accidentally backed up into the display case, rattling the trophies inside. Mr. Ellis looked at Emmanuel, then the display case, then back to Emmanuel.
“You were admiring the Hero’s Jacket, weren’t you?” he asked.
Emmanuel started to shake his head no, then paused. The what now?
“You know who that jacket belonged to?” Mr. Ellis asked, walking alongside Emmanuel. “The first kid to wear it… well, he was a real hero. He managed to save the world.”
Emmanuel looked confused.
“In his own way, of course. The faculty at Pioneer High honored him with this Outstanding Achievement display years ago.”
Emmanuel pulled out his phone, typed something out, and held it up to Mr. Ellis.
How did he save the world?
“You’re still practicing your sign language, right?” Mr. Ellis asked. Emmanuel nodded. “It’s kind of a long story. The hero and his friends, they saw injustice in the world. They fought against it. Years later, a new hero and his friends came together and did the same thing. Three times, the world has been saved by the hero that wore that jacket. I’m thinking the time for a new hero is coming soon. Things are getting worse. The environment, poverty, war, starvation. It’s a scary world out there. But I’m not worried. Know why?”
Emmanuel shook his head no.
“Because you and your friends are going to be the ones who save it.”
Emmanuel turned back to the Hero’s Letterman jacket. He shook his head again.
No. Not me, his eyes seemed to say. Mr. Ellis chuckled.
“Don’t sell yourself short. You have more power than you know.”
Emmanuel grinned at the thought. Mr. Ellis was such a cool teacher. He wished he had a class with him this year.
School finally ended and Emmanuel was happy to be out of there. He ran past everyone to get to the rendezvous point where somehow Miranda was already waiting.
“Hey, slowpoke. You ready to start canvassing?”
“Okay should we go to the *grocery store or the +arcade?”
Emmanuel pondered the question. Which one should he choose?
“You okay there, Manny?”
“Okay. So, you have a preference? *grocery store or +arcade?”
Emmanuel pondered the question.
“Can’t decide?” Miranda asked. Emmanuel shrugged.
“Well, why don’t we head over to the grocery store first. There should be lots of people there this time of day.”
They walked the twenty minutes to the local grocery store, Fresh n’ Green.
Fresh n’ Green Parking Lot
Miranda pulled a handful of papers from her bag and gave them to Emmanuel.
“Here you go,” she said. Emmanuel looked them over. Miranda had printed dozens and dozens of surveys. “There’s a return bin so people can drop off their responses. Make sure they see that,” she pointed to the top corner of the survey.
“Okay, let’s spread out. We’ll meet back here in… let’s say an hour?”
Emmanuel gave her a thumbs up.
One hour later…
“Okay! So, how’d we do?” Miranda asked. Emmanuel still had most of his surveys. Several more flew the across the parking lot, carried by the wake of passing cars.
Sorry, he said with his eyes.
“Hey, it’s a good start. We’ll get some feedback. It’s better than nothing.”
“Well, should we head to the arcade now?”
Emmanuel gave her a thumbs up.
“Okay. Then let’s-“
A pink limo came barreling through the parking lot and came to a screeching halt next to the two of them. Lights, confetti and loud catchy music began to play from the limo’s speakers.
“Going somewhere, losers?” Madison said as she exited the limo. She was wearing a black private school uniform with a white button up beneath her black coat (subtly embroidered with gold), black skirt (also embroidered) and a striking black tie. Her black bunny mask practically sparkled in the bright afternoon sun.
“Yeah. Away from you. Come on, Emmanuel,” Miranda beckoned.
Three more girls in black private school uniforms leaped from the limo.
They announced in succession, posing as they did so.
“Oh great. The whole President’s Club is here,” Miranda said.
“Behold my Summer Project,” Madison waved over her crew. “The Social Enforcement Force!”
“Ha!” the other three shouted.
“Are you serious? What the hell is all this?” Miranda asked.
“This is what I’ve been working on. A group aimed at civic engagement via kick ass spectacle. And, most importantly, it keeps losers like you from drawing outside the lines. Like throwing your shitty vitamin water on me yesterday. That’s going to be a big fine.”
“Leave us alone already,” Miranda said, pulling Emmanuel away.
“Don’t try to run! That’s going to be an even bigger penalty,” Madison said.
“Kiss my butt, weirdo,” Miranda snapped back.
“No. You kiss my butt!” Madison snapped her fingers and her gang surrounded the two of them. “Prepare to feel my boot on your faces. Because I’m about to kick you down a notch, bitch.”
The President’s Club