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He Stepped First (a short story)

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They always enjoyed eating there. The atmosphere was great. At least it was once they got inside. Located downtown, it was right across from an area that some of their friends would describe as shady.

There were always children playing right across the street. Maybe because they wanted to be or maybe because they weren’t allowed in. But that’s another story and part of what made them choose their parking spot carefully.

They ordered quickly because they were hungry and two-year olds aren’t known for their patience. As their son scribbled on the paper tablecloth, they caught up on each other’s days. Since they were both teachers, the topic was always the same. It was just a matter of whose day worse.

Both agreed that kids these days were a mess. And without having to say it, they both knew which kids the other was talking about. The same kids that were playing across the street. The same kids that often grew up to be. Well, they really had no idea because once they left their classroom they rarely ever saw or thought about them again. Nor did they want to.

The windows in the restaurant were huge. The kind that go wall to wall and floor to ceiling. This was one of the features that gave the restaurant its appeal. You felt like you were in a big city. The good part of the city. The part where you didn’t need to worry about where you parked or who was walking behind you.

The little fella had actually been quite well-behaved. And while their conversation was enough to keep each other entertained, they couldn’t help but look out the window. Across the street. At the kids that were playing. If that’s what you call it. These kids always seemed to be angry with each other. They figured a fight would erupt at any moment. But it never did.

Some of these kids even had their cell phones out. Recording each other. Recording what? Why would they ever want to look back at this? As he looked closer he felt like he may have recognized one of the kids. But he couldn’t remember his name. Tyron? Tyrone?

Oh well. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t in his class anymore. That was last year. He didn’t remember him being a problem. But he probably was. All the kids were bad that year. For some reason he always seemed to get the bad class. He figured it must have been because he knew how to handle them.

It was dark by the time they asked for the check. They wanted to be out of there before now. It made the walk to the car feel safer. The same kids were still playing across the street! Where were their parents? Typical he thought. He decided to give the waitress a small tip. He had to ask her three times for another bottle of wine. It was busy, but it wasn’t that busy.

As they were walking out the door he got a text. Probably nothing, but he wanted to check it. Just to make sure it wasn’t important. His wife was carrying the diaper bag and the box with the leftovers, while he held his son’s hand and finished reading the text.

And then…

In what seemed to be less than a second. His son let go of his hand. By the time he looked up his son was in the middle of the street. In the dark. In this part of town.

And that was when he saw the car heading straight for his son. For just a moment he froze. He wasn’t sure if he could make it to his son before the car did. At two years old and wearing a black shirt he would not be easy to spot.

Why had he checked his phone? It could have waited. He could have held his son’s hand tighter. Did he let go or did his son? This question would haunt him the rest of his life. He knew they should have eaten in a safer part of town. Where people drive slower and the street lights shine brighter.

All of these thoughts raced through his head during the first second that his son was out in the middle of the street. By the next second it was over.

Someone from all the way across the street dashed out and grabbed his son. Just in time. It was at that moment that he realized that he never would have made it in time to save his son.

He and his wife ran across the street and they both enveloped their son. Tears in their eyes and not knowing whether they should be happy or sad. They just were.

When he finally looked up he saw who it was that had saved his son’s life. It was Tyron/Tyrone. His former student whose name he still could not remember.

“Mr. Johnson that was close. You gotta watch the cars around here. I don’t let my baby sister anywhere near the road. Too dangerous. Gotta go. Mom has been inside all day cooking my birthday dinner. I can’t wait. You take care now. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow in the hallway.”

It was at that moment that he realized something about Tyron/Tyrone.

He stepped first. Without a second’s hesitation or thought. How else could he had made it to his son in time?

And as they made their way back to the car he couldn’t get those three words out of his head.

He stepped first.

He stepped first.

He stepped first.

Mr. Johnson wasn’t the same after that night. Never again did he get the bad class. In fact, from then on he always believed that he had the best class in the school.

One more thing. He always made it a point to say hi to Tyrone when he saw him in the hallway. He never forgot his name and he never-ever forgot the night that he stepped first.

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Jon is currently the assistant principal in Dorchester County, Maryland. This is his seventh year serving as an assistant principal at the elementary level. Prior to becoming an administrator he served as a Math Coach and an elementary school teacher. During his ten years as a classroom teacher he taught first, second, fourth and fifth grades. During his sixth year teaching he earned Nationally Board Certification, which he held for ten years. For seven years he ran a Young Gentleman's Club that was aimed at helping young men reach their full potential.  

Jon received a B.A. from Furman University while majoring in Philosophy. He later went on to earn his B.S from Salisbury University while majoring in Elementary Education. Jon was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to student teach in New Zealand. He eventually received his M.A. degree from Salisbury University in Public School Administration.

Jon lives in Cambridge, Maryland with his amazing wife and two awesome children.

  • Guest
    Ellen Saturday, 10 September 2016

    Nice article Jon. It sure does bring out the Jon Harper I remember way back when. Reading this makes me think what a great experience it would have been teaching along side of you. I bet the kids still get to know Mr Harper as an example of leadership along with being a friend to walk by their side. I love your talking points.

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