Samuel was making small talk with Ms McGill one day after school. He was waiting on Jacob to come back from the restroom so they could walk home together. He’d said something funny and Ms McGill was laughing at his joke when Jacob came back in the room.
There was a loud bang as he accidentally bumped Samuel’s desk and all of his books fell on the floor, disrupting the conversation. Samuel came around and helped Jacob pick up the books. Jacob seemed to be in a bad mood and his brother wondered if he’d run into someone in the halls while he was gone.
Samuel berated himself for not going along, even just to the restroom. He handed Jacob the last book and Jacob gave him a cold stare, looking right through him. Samuel shivered and turned back to their teacher to tell her good-bye.
Jacob turned to her and said, “I’m going to make like a tree and leaf!” but she didn’t laugh at his joke.
She was distracted and looking through papers on her desk, so she just gave the boys a faint smile, “Do you boys want me to walk with you to the end of the block today?” She asked.
Jacob practically ground out the words, “No, that isn’t necessary. We don’t need you.” He turned and walked out of the room, his back rigid.
Samuel met his teacher’s confused look and shrugged his shoulders, “I’m sorry about that,” he said. “I don’t know what happened before, but he just gets like that sometimes. We’ll see you on Monday!” He tried to end on a cheerful note, but he was honestly really concerned about Jacob now. Jacob would have never been short with his favorite teacher before. Something bad must have happened to set him off. Samuel grabbed his own books and rushed out of the classroom to catch up with Jacob before anything else happened.
His brother was nowhere in sight. Samuel heaved a sigh and wandered around the school building for a bit, hoping to catch a glimpse of his angry brother. After a while, he finally started the long walk home, hoping to find his brother along the way. Samuel had no idea what had changed Jacob’s recent good mood, but he was hoping to find him back to his happy self by the time he got home. He crossed his fingers and hoped that nothing really bad had happened. Things had been going so well lately, he really didn’t want to think about the rage he’d seen in Jacob’s eyes today.
He knew that he shouldn’t be angry with Samuel. Jacob knew that his brother loved him and would do anything for him. He’d already proven it time and time again by taking Jacob’s punishments, by doing his homework, by getting in the middle of fights to defend him. All of this should have made Jacob feel even closer to his brother, but instead he just found himself resenting Samuel.
It was as if Samuel was becoming this perfect person, the best child, the most giving one, the favorite. Jacob wasn’t even sure how it had happened, but even though Samuel took the blame for most of Jacob’s mistakes, everyone still seemed to like Samuel the best. Nobody liked Jacob best, not even their own mother.
Nobody until Ms. McGill. Jacob’s favorite teacher was the first adult, the first person to ever give Jacob attention first. She didn’t seem to even notice Samuel, not in the beginning.
Ms. McGill spent time with just Jacob. She let him stay inside during recess and would talk to him about his favorite books or help him with his homework. Jacob started to thrive on the attention he got from his favorite teacher. He’d never had anyone give him undivided attention before. He reveled in it, ate it up like a feast for a starving man.
She protected him against bullies so thoroughly that she had shifted the entire class, the attitudes of 30 kids changed under her care and teaching. Jacob’s life had started to shift for the better. The anger and frustration that had been building in him for the short time on this earth had started to dissipate. He had felt things blooming in his heart, good things. Feelings like love and compassion. Forgiveness.
That is, until the day he came in and found Samuel with her. Making her laugh. Jacob had knocked the books off of his desk in a fit of blinding rage so deep that he’d almost scared himself. Samuel, of course, helped him pick everything up. Of course he did.
“I was just waiting for you to come back,” Samuel had said.
“I know,” replied Jacob. And he did. Samuel was always going to be there to help fix his stupid mistakes. Jacob felt a dark place in his heart just then. A dark place, crowding out the good that he had started to feel. A dark, foreboding shadow was creeping through his very soul and he embraced it.