ninety-eight days before

One of the unique things about Culver Creek was the Jury. Every semester, the faculty elected twelve students, three from each class, to serve on the Jury. The Jury meted out punishment for non expellable offenses, for everything from staying out past curfew to smoking. Usually, it was smoking or being in a girl’s room after seven.

So you went to the Jury, you made your case, and they punished you. The Eagle served as the judge, and he had the right to overturn the Jury’s verdict (just like in the real American court system), but he almost never did.

I made my way to Classroom 4 right after my last class — forty minutes early, just to be safe. I sat in the hall with my back against the wall and read my American history textbook (kind of remedial reading for me, to be honest) until Alaska showed up and sat down next to me. She was chewing on her bottom lip, and I asked whether she was nervous.

“Well, yeah. Listen, just sit tight and don’t talk,” she told me.

“You don’t need to be nervous. But this is the seventh time I’ve been caught smoking. I just don’t want — whatever.

I don’t want to upset my dad.”

“Does your mom smoke or something?” I asked.

“Not anymore,” Alaska said. “It’s fine. You’ll be fine.”

I didn’t start to worry until it got to be 4:50 and the Colonel and Takumi were still unaccounted for. The members of the Jury filed in one by one, walking past us without any eye contact, which made me feel worse. I counted all twelve by 4:56, plus the Eagle.

At 4:58, the Colonel and Takumi rounded the corner toward the classrooms.

I never saw anything like it. Takumi wore a starched white shirt with a red tie with a black paisley print; the Colonel wore his wrinkled pink button-down and flamingo tie. They walked in step, heads up and shoulders back, like some kind of action-movie heroes.

I heard Alaska sigh. “The Colonel’s doing his Napoleon walk.”

“It’s all good,” the Colonel told me. “Just don’t say anything.”

We walked in— two of us wearing ties, and two of us wearing ratty T-shirts — and the Eagle banged an honest-to-God gavel against the podium in front of him. The Jury sat in a line behind a rectangular table. At the front of the room, by the blackboard, were four chairs. We sat down, and the Colonel explained exactly what happened.

“Alaska and I were smoking down by the lake. We usually go off campus, but we forgot. We’re sorry. It won’t happen again.”

I didn’t know what was going on. But I knew my job: sit tight and shut up. One of the kids looked at Takumi and asked, “What about you and Halter?”

 

“We were keeping them company,” Takumi said calmly.

The kid turned to the Eagle then and asked, “Did you see anyone smoking?”

“I only saw Alaska, but Chip ran away, which struck me as cowardly, as does Miles and Takumi’s aw-shucks routine,” the Eagle said, giving me the Look of Doom. I didn’t want to look guilty, but I couldn’t hold his stare, so I just looked down at my hands.

The Colonel gritted his teeth, like it pained him to lie. “It is the truth, sir.”

The Eagle asked if any of us wanted to say anything, and then asked if there were any more questions, and then sent us outside.

“What the hell was that?” I asked Takumi when we got outside.

“Just sit tight, Pudge.”

Why have Alaska confess when she’d already been in trouble so many times? Why the Colonel, who literally couldn’t afford to get in serious trouble? Why not me? I’d never been busted for anything. I had the least to lose.

After a couple minutes, the Eagle came out and motioned for us to come back inside.

“Alaska and Chip,” a member of the Jury said, “you get ten work hours — doing dishes in the cafeteria — and you’re both officially one problem away from a phone call home. Takumi and Miles, there’s nothing in the rules about watching someone smoke, but the Jury will remember your story if you break the rules again. Fair?”

“Fair,” Alaska said quickly, obviously relieved. On my way out, the Eagle spun me around. “Don’t abuse your privileges at this school, young man, or you will regret it.” I nodded.

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