Clay by Jill B Tucker

Friday, August 6, 2021
Jill B Tucker's character tries to discipline a difficult student who also happens to be his resentful new stepson.

A crashing sound breaks the whisper-filled silence like a bomb. Shards of beige and mauve colored ceramic spray across the cheap linoleum floor like flying shrapnel. Students jump from their chairs and a few of the more dramatic sophomore girls scream. The two jocks in the back dive under their desks and yell, "Earthquake!"

Here we go again.

This is the third time this week one of the ceramic pots has "accidentally" fallen off the display shelf. You would think the cheap wooden shelves were lined with Crisco. The latest casualty: Jenny Johnson's mid-term project. Contrary to popular student-body belief, most teachers are neither naïve nor stupid. I already knew who'd done it. Unfortunately for me, the culprit also happened to be my new sixteen-year-old step-son, Miles.

The metal feet of my chair make a high-pitched scraping sound as I push away from my desk and I grab the broom I learned to keep handy. I weave through the long art tables surrounded by giggling students to the freckled-faced fiend pretending to work.

I stop in front of his table and wait for him to look up at me. Earbuds stick out from under a mop of curly fire-red hair and he taps his is too-large feet under the table. I should ask him to take them out, seeing that they're against the rules, but experience has taught me he'll just put them in again the moment my back is turned.

I watch and wait patiently as he expertly molds his clay ball into an oblong shape. When I realize he's forming a phallus, I let out a strangled cough in an effort to hide the inappropriate laughter rising in my throat at the utter balls the kid has. When Miles finally looks up at me, I hold out the broom for him to take.

"What's that for?" he asks, all innocence.

"You know what it's for." He raises his brows in question and I point to broken pieces on the floor.

"Wait! You think I did that?"

"Come on, Miles. There are probably six other students who saw you knock it off the shelf on purpose. I'm willing to bet that at least one of them will rat you out."

"How do you know I did it on purpose?" He asks, still playing with his penis clay. "Maybe it was an accident."

"Come on. Three accidents in one week is pretty unlucky, wouldn't you say?"

"Well, you know what they say. Redheads have no souls. Maybe I'm just cursed. It would explain how I got stuck with you."

I sigh and kneel down in front of him. He scoots back in his chair. "Look, I know you're still upset about your parents' divorce," I whisper. "But it's been three years now, Miles. Your mom has moved on. You should too."

"You know what? Screw you, man." He drops his dick creation onto the paint-splattered table and stalks towards the door.

"Where are you going?" I call after him.

"Bathroom." Without a backwards glance he's out the door. The other students watch silently as the door slowly swings closed. Then their quiet conversations pick back up as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And, I guess, it hasn't.

I call the office fifteen minutes later when he doesn't come back, and Mr. Allard finds him hiding-out in a bathroom stall. He's escorted back to my room with a detention slip in hand, and the look he gives me suggests it's my fault he's in trouble. A deep sense of fatigue settles into my bones, making me feel older than my thirty-five years. Thank goodness it's the last period of the day.

I knew it wasn't going to be easy, marrying the mom of my most difficult student, but I couldn't have anticipated how difficult it was actually going to be. The last four months have been nothing but struggle. Sure, I love my wife. She's got great legs, blonde hair, and killer cooking skills. She's the total package. Her only flaw is that she spawned the devil. Not that I'd ever say that to her face. She still thinks Miles is her little angel and I hate the idea of robbing her of that small happiness. After all, I'm not the monster in this situation.

When the bell rings, the students flee to freedom. I let out a sigh of relief. Another day down. Sure, I live with the kid, but it's only at school that I really have to deal with his crap. At home, he's your typical teenager, either at soccer practice, out with his friends, or locked in his room playing video games. In mere moments, he'll be out of my hair for the rest of the day.

And yet, maybe not. After the last student leaves, Miles is still sitting at his desk.

I walk over to him and tap him on the shoulder. "Miles. The bell rang. You can go now."

"Actually, I can't." He hands me a yellow slip of paper. "I have detention in here until three-thirty."

I hold back a curse. What in the actual hell was administration thinking? This is more punishment for me than for the kid. Not only do I have to stay later than my contractual hours, I have to spend it with the literal version of the red headed step-child. I take the offensive piece of paper from his freckled fingers and reach for the broom again.

"Fine. You can start by cleaning up the mess you made." I point to the broken red and cream shards that are still spewed across the floor. "When you're done with that, just... sit quietly and do your homework."

He rolls his eyes and mutters a few choice words of his own under his breath before taking the broom from my hand. He takes his time sweeping the broken ceramic pieces into a pile and then into a dust pan. Then, without a word, he walks over to my desk and dumps the dust covered shards onto the papers I'm grading.

Determined not to lose my temper, I say between gritted teeth, "Clean. That. Up."

"What are you going to do? Ground me? Suspend me? Tell my mommy?"

He knows I'm not going to do any of these things because it would hurt his mom. She's been through a lot and I can't add more crap to the pile. She wouldn't sleep with me for a month. Still, I can't let him win.

"Don't have to," I say smugly. "I'll just give you a failing grade and let you deal with Coach D."

The little bit of color in his pale face drains away and I can almost taste his fear rolling off him. Miles lives, breathes, and sleeps soccer. It's the one thing I can hold over him. He glares at me and picks the stack of papers up and dumps the dust-bunny shrapnel into the garbage. After handing the stack back to me, he walks to his seat and pulls out a math book and graphing notepad.

Feeling victorious for the moment, I go back to grading and daydreaming about what my wife will make me for dinner tonight. Then, suddenly I feel a scorpion-like sting on my neck. I look around and see an innocuous red rubber band sitting on my desk. It's definitely not mine. I look over at Miles who is still quietly scribbling away in his math notebook. Anger burns within me. He wants to go? Fine. Two can play that game. The little punk isn't going to know what hit him.

I make a gun with my fingers, stretch the rubber band across it, and take aim. I hit my mark right between his eyes. Yes! I do a mental victory dance.

"Hey!" Miles jumps to his feet, pen curled in his fist.

"Is there a problem?" I look up in mock-surprise, and I deserve an Oscar for the straight face I'm keeping.

"You just hit me!" His face is turning fire-ball red.

"I did what?" I say with the same faux-innocent tone he used with me earlier.

"You can't do that; You're a teacher. I'm going to tell Mrs. Strong and she's going to fire your ass." He throws his pen onto the table and it rolls to the floor with a clatter.

"First, language," I say, "Second, I never raised a finger to you."

Although I did leave a mark on his face with my perfectly aimed shot. I'm pretty sure I can't get fired for shooting a student with a rubber band. Or can I? I push away my sudden doubt and fear, knowing it's what he wants me to feel.

"I hate you." He's said these words so many times now, they've mostly lost their sting.

Miles continues to glare at me again as he sits back down in his seat. He leans down to pick his pen up off the floor, all the while holding my gaze. I can see a challenge in his evil-green eyes, and I instinctively raise my guard.

Keeping one eye on Miles and one eye on the papers in front of me, I cautiously go back to work. Several minutes go by without incident. He plays the model student while I play the model teacher, each hyper aware of the other. A few more minutes pass and think maybe he's done for the day. I let my shoulders relax and turn to open my computer when I feel something cold and wet splat on my cheek. I put my fingers to it and they come covered in red paint. That little...

I zero in on my enemy, and instead of pretending to be working, Miles is standing by a bin full of small paint cans. He opens them up one by one. I slowly stand from my chair and walk carefully backwards to my personal supply of paint. Without breaking eye contact, I reach back and pop open the first can my fingers touch. I dip my hand into the gloopy, wet liquid and pull out a fistful of forest green paint.

I launch it at him before he has a chance to deflect my assault and green splatters across his chest. Shock splashes across his freckled face, and with satisfaction, I realize he's wearing his favorite shirt. Blushing red from head-to-foot, he responds with a volley of colors. I open the rest of my paint cans and began a full-out assault.

Miles retreats to the display shelves at the back of the room and begins grabbing student-made pottery at random, throwing them directly at my head. I weave and duck, but a shard from a broken bowl painted with cheerful flowers rebounds off the wall and cuts the skin just below my eye.

"You are going down, you little shit," I growl.

We each turn and reload our weapons, and soon paint and pottery fly through the air in a flurry of colors and chaos. My aim and speed have never been better; we are both covered with paint and debris. I am just about to hurl my hand-made pencil holder at him when I hear a sharp intake of breath. Miles and I freeze with our hands in the air.

"Miles! Justin! What is going on here?"


My wife is standing at the door, gaping at us like a beautiful wide-mouth trout. I'm at a loss for words, so Miles gets to her first.

"Mom! I'm so glad you're here! Your new husband over here made me stay after school just because I accidentally knocked over a tiny piece of pottery. And then he totally freaked out and started throwing stuff at me."

"You little lying piece of..."

"Justin!" she snaps. "Do not yell at my son. We agreed I would handle all the discipline. You are way out of line here." She looks me up and down.

"Are you kidding me right now?" I say, incredulous.

"If Miles says it was an accident, then it was. It isn't a crime to be clumsy, Justin."

"Babe, does this look like an accident to you?" I hold my paint-covered arms out as evidence.

She rolls her eyes and sighs. "I think we should talk about this at home. You two need to get cleaned up." She puts an arm around her son's paint-covered shoulders, completely ruining the low-cut sweater I gave her for Christmas, and leads her demon child towards the door.

Just before they're out of sight, Miles looks back at me and smiles.

And I know...

This is war.


  1. A fun paint fight, but I felt like Miles and Justin were just getting warmed up...hard to tell if this was heading in a strictly humorous direction or perhaps somewhere darker. Perhaps that was the point. Miles seems like he's going to be a tough nut to crack.

  2. Funny. You did a terrific job of putting us in the shoes of both a teacher and stepfather doing his best to tolerate a teenager.

  3. Oh it's so very real! I kept waiting for the lighthearted ending, where they both smile and realize they love splattering paint all over each other . . . but I'm glad it didn't come.

  4. “Clay” is a snapshot of a rather hapless stepfather trying to grapple with his obstreperous (read: little asshole) stepson in the course of their daily existence. I’m known many Miles characters, and most of them have red hair—as have I—and I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for the MYM (Misunderstood Young Man). The story strikes many true chords, about contemporary education, mixed (up) families and old fashioned male rivalry. As another commenter mentioned, it didn’t end as I thought perhaps it would. Nice job, Jill.