Once, when he was fifteen, and August was sweltering, he rode his bicycle from his parents' house on the hill down toward Lake Steven. In one moment he was furiously squeezing the brakes, and in the next he was moving in a kind of squiggle across the road. Then he was lying face-up beside the stop sign, one arm hot with pain. A shadow moved over him. "Young man," a woman's voice said. "You took quite the spill, didn't you?"
Her name was Lalani, and she substitute taught at his high school. He might have had her for math, but it was hard for him to think of anything clearly right then. In her car, as she drove him to the hospital, he had to keep his feet out of the way of a stack of books on the floor of the car.
"My son's name is David. You must know him?" asked Lalani.
"Oh," he said. He hadn't made the connection before, but now it seemed obvious: the caramel colored skin, the sharp eyes.
"He said you've made fun of him," she continued, and now her voice was lower. "You can imagine I didn't like hearing that very much."
"I don't–" he started, and then stopped. He moved one leg over on the seat, peeling it slowly from the hot leather. They were at a five-way intersection now, and Lalani had taken her hands off the steering wheel and placed them in her lap. He could feel her staring at him. The car behind them honked.
"Calling him fat, pushing him in the hall – that's what my David told me you did. You did do it, didn't you?"
The car behind them honked again. For a moment, he considered opening the door and running for it. He could find a pay phone, call his mother at work, have her pick him up. If he cried a little, she would feel sorry for him instead of lecturing him about his bike. But the bike was exactly the problem: how would he explain its disappearance? It would still be back there, crumpled in Lalani's trunk.
She was waiting for him to answer. In the side mirror, he could see the line of cars growing behind them.
"It's your turn," he mumbled.
"Yes," said Lalani. "It is, isn't it?"