She watched from a corner in the cafeteria as the lunch lady leaned closer to the boy before serving him. There was a brief moment where the two shared a knowing look before the lady smiled.
The boy blushed, looking around before he extended his hand for the ‘special meal.’ Word had been going around that something sinister was happening in the cafeteria.
Witnessing it firsthand, the teacher knew she had to get to the root of it. What she’d find would have her dialing the authorities.
The last thing elementary school teacher Cassie Johnson expected to do that day was phone the authorities, begging them to rush to the school.
She’d always been a dedicated and compassionate teacher and had always prided herself on creating a supportive and nurturing environment for her students. So when she realized one of the best kids in her class was in trouble, she knew she had to step in.
Every sunny weekday morning, her wonderful and energetic third-grade students walked into the classroom with beaming smiles. Cassie greeted each and every one of them, mirroring their infectious enthusiasm throughout the day.
Among her most cheerful and brightest students was Clive Anderson, a boy who’d impressed Cassie with his academic prowess since day one. If only she knew what was about to happen to him.
Clive was truly a gifted boy. He was intelligent, generous, and always eager to participate in class activities. He always walked around with a smile, his boundless energy preceding him wherever he went.
He was the heart of Cassie’s classroom, and she admired his hard work and dedication, often mentioning his achievements to her fellow teachers. However, things would take a dark turn as the semester progressed.
It all started with a bit of change in his behavior. Cassie realized that Clive was less chirpy than usual. He sulked in his seat and seemed lost in his head. When she asked if he was okay, he only stared blankly at her before looking away.
This shift in behavior had Cassie worried. She’d never seen him like this in the three years she’d taught Clive. She took it upon herself to get to root out the issue.
Cassie kept an eye on Clive as the week passed. Where he was once the life of the classroom, egging the other kids to answer questions or play along to whatever game Cassie was using as a mode of teaching, he now appeared despondent and withdrawn.
His usual vibrant eyes were now shrouded by sadness, and his laugh, which had never failed to light up the class, had vanished. Something was terribly wrong.
Cassie could no longer ignore what was happening. The concern in her heart weighed on her heavily. Something was troubling Clive, and she wouldn’t forgive herself if she didn’t find out what it was.
She started studying him with more interest than before. She wondered if his issue was caused by something within the school. Was he being bullied by the older students? The answer would be way worse than that.
Talking To Him
After the last bell rang one Monday afternoon, Cassie asked Clive to see her after school. “Clive, can I have a word after class?” she asked with a gentle smile. He nodded and neared her desk, and she walked him to a quiet corner.
“Yes, Ms. Johnson?” Clive hesitantly replied. He glanced up at Cassie with glossy eyes before his gaze flew to his feet.
Are You Okay?
“I have noticed you haven’t been yourself of late,” Cassie said while going down on one knee. “It worries me to see you this way. Is everything okay?”
Clive looked at her for a second, his eyes boring into her. He seemed to be analyzing her words, gauging the authenticity in them. His answer would lead Cassie to the truth.
“I am,” the boy said, holding his gaze throughout the exchange. But Cassie could tell he was hiding something. He kept looking outside the window, where other kids were running into the bus to go home.
He seemed to have picked up something good outside because he smiled, though slightly, and asked Cassie if he could leave. “Of course,” the teacher said, knowing this was far from over.
Clive’s reaction had taken Cassie by surprise. She’d never known him to be a liar before, but today, she’d experienced this side of him.
She watched from the class window as he ran out of the school building onto the afternoon sun. She was about to turn around when she saw something that piqued her interest.
A Curious Occurrence
Like most other students, Clive loved it when the school bus driver parked the bus at the gate, ready to take him home. He was usually among the first to race to it, laughing loudly.
But today, he didn’t run toward the bus as usual. He took a path to the left, heading to the side of the school, where he disappeared for a second. When he came back into view, he was holding a brown paper bag.
What’s In The Bag?
Cassie couldn’t wrap her head around what was happening. Why had Clive’s behavior changed all of a sudden before he rushed out?
Why didn’t he go straight to the bus, and where did he get the brown paper bag? But the most crucial question was what was in the bag he so happily carried in his grasp.
In the two weeks Cassie spent worrying over Clive, today was the first time she saw him in a good mood. He hopped onto the bus with his signature smile.
A bamboozled Cassie watched in silence. She thought it was over when Clive started waving at someone out of nowhere as the driver pulled out of the parking lot.
His Mystery Friend
Cassie opened the window and stuck her head out, trying to see who Clive was waving at. But the parking lot was empty.
She stood at the window for a few minutes, trying to understand what she’d just seen. It soon became apparent that if she were to crack this case, she’d have to track down whoever Clive’s mystery friend was.
Cassie spent the rest of the week shadowing Clive, trying to pinpoint his friend. He was back to sulking again, sitting alone in class and at recess. She was almost losing hope when she heard a few of the kids talk about Clive one day.
They insinuated that something terrible was happening between him and a faculty member. Cassie was speechless when she heard these rumors. She had yet to learn that they were entirely accurate.
Cassie continued watching over Clive. She was keen to uncover this mystery and even moved around a few of her classes, hoping that she could keep an eye on him during lunch break and recess.
During one of these breaks, she finally saw what was happening with her own two eyes. It turns out those kids weren’t lying at all.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
For the past week, kids had been talking about something that was happening in the school cafeteria. The rumors weren’t the best kind, and Cassie hoped they were just that: rumors.
But that day, something kept pushing her to follow Clive during lunchtime. The teacher gave in to the urge, ushering a few kids into the cafeteria, Clive included.
In The Shadows
She pretended to walk away when the kids joined the food queue. But she hurried behind a corner and bided her time, waiting to see if there was any truth to what the kids were saying.
Clive walked up to the lunch lady. He had already picked a tray for his food. But he didn’t hand it over, instead holding it against his chest with both arms.
A Silent Interaction
Since Cassie was feet away from the serving line, she couldn’t quite make out what the lunch lady was saying when she started talking to Clive.
But she could see her grin and wink at him before gesturing for him to hand over his tray. Clive reluctantly did. But the lunch lady did something else that had Cassie’s brows furrowing.
A Similar Bag
The lunch lady handed Clive a brown paper bag similar to the one he happily ran into the bus with the other day.
Was she the mysterious friend he ran to instead of going straight to the bus? Cassie’s mind raced with questions. But she couldn’t come out of her hiding spot. Not yet. She continued watching, knowing there was more to this than was meeting the eye.
Go To Him
Clive took his food tray and mysterious paper bag to a lone table at the furthest end of the cafeteria to eat. Cassie found it weird that he was sitting by himself.
Clive had always had many kids lining up to eat with him. Cassie felt sad seeing him all alone. She was about to approach when the lunch lady beat her to the punch.
Thinking It Through
The lunch lady walked to Clive, sitting with him for a few minutes. Cassie wondered if they were related in one way or another.
But she’d met Clive’s parents before and was sure they weren’t related to the lunch lady. She wanted to give the woman the benefit of the doubt. If what the other kids said about her was true, she would face the law very soon.
Clive seemed uncomfortable sitting with the lady, although he was clearly less miserable than usual. After a few words between him and the lunch lady, he finished his tray and stuffed the brown paper bag in a backpack he’d been carrying.
Afterward, he waved goodbye and walked away. Cassie walked away from her corner as well. Something was going on, and whatever was in that brown paper bag would tell her what.
Cassie followed a quiet Clive back to class. Her mind had already worked out an elaborate plan to ensure she’d search his backpack without him knowing.
As his teacher, It was her duty to ensure that she averted any danger aimed his way. She couldn’t watch him flounder when she had the power to help him.
Cassie waited for every kid to settle in class before informing them they would have the rest of their period on the playing field. Everyone except for Clive jumped joyfully, and the teacher ushered them out of class.
She asked them to go to the field, assuring them she was right behind them. But as soon as the class was empty, she hurried to Clive’s backpack.
Going For The Bag
Cassie opened the backpack and reached for the brown paper bag. She only had a little time since leaving students on the playing field during class wasn’t ideal.
She’d get in trouble if the principal found the kids all alone. But she felt the risk necessary if it meant helping one of her star students. She opened the bag, stepping back at what she saw.
Filling the brown paper bag was an assortment of foil-wrapped delicacies, from pizza slices and cheese sandwiches to vegetables and fruits. Cassie wrapped them back up and returned everything the way she found it.
She went to teach her class, even more confused than before. Fear bubbled through her as the implication of the food in Clive’s backpack meant. She needed to call the authorities.
Time For The Truth
Cassie had always heard stories of faculty members getting involved with students in ways they shouldn’t. She prayed that wasn’t the case here. But she couldn’t live on assumptions and guesswork. She hurried to the lunch lady as soon as her class was over.
The lunch lady, Mrs. Townsend, had worked in the school well before Cassie joined three years ago. Cassie didn’t beat around the bush. She asked what was going on between the lunch lady and Clive.
Call The Authorities
The lunch lady explained that for two months, Clive had been sitting alone during lunch because he didn’t have enough money in his account for food. His parents were going through a rough patch and had separated and seemingly neglected him and his little sister.
It had gotten so bad that the two kids were going days without food at home. Every day, the lunch lady gave Clive food from the cafeteria. She was also packing enough food for him and his little sister’s dinner, all of which came out of her pocket. Cassie listened carefully, seeing the truth in the woman’s words. Regardless, she phoned the authorities.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.