“Like 911, It’s Just a Number,” by Adriana Tosun

Dec 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Let’s cut to the chase: Milky (16) likes Joe and Joe (17) likes Milky, but since they’re teenage boys who have known each other for half their lives and who talk mostly about video games and homework and breasts, neither one knows how the other feels, and anyway neither of them is too sure about that gay shit (spoiler: they both end up liking it enough to stick with it). This, however, is not their story, although anybody could assure you it’s a rollicking good one, with drama and intrigue and a fair amount of make-up sex.

Instead, it is a story about their friend, Hallelujah (16), who has fallen in love with Mr. Farneaux (39), her period three English teacher.

If you asked Hallelujah to define herself––and Mr. Farneaux does, on the first day of class, which is approximately four days before she begins to feel heartwarmingly woozy around him––she would hand you this list:

1. a Believer in Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior Amen
2. possible future astronaut
3. an avid birdwatcher
4. collector of 1980s plastic wristwatches
5. a good friend

(Numbers 1 and 3 are lies she tells for her mother’s sake, but three out of five ain’t too shabby.)

Hallelujah has never felt about anybody the way she feels about Mr. Farneaux, who suffers from slightly off-center male pattern baldness and whose wedding ring slips to the knuckle every time he gestures downwards. When he speaks, she feels her heart tremble, like a shivering quail has taken residence in her chest cavity, gentle and hollow-boned, easily crushed.

English, for her, has always been pure torture; now it’s a delicious one.


The first afternoon Milky ditches Hallelujah to stare around at Joe and work up the nerve to kiss him (spoiler: it doesn’t happen) is the afternoon Hallelujah stares around at Mr. Farneaux to do exactly the same thing, although if you asked someone other than Hallelujah, they would probably tell you she’s taking a make-up quiz for the math class she missed when she passed out after trying to crash diet and really only crashing her blood sugar.

Despite being a junior, Hallelujah has never before been in the detention room, and its suffocating quiet comes as a shock to her. There are two hooded delinquents (she waves to one when she realizes it’s her cousin (15), who’s now going by the name of Satana), but everyone else just looks like a bored version of themselves. Mr. Farneaux is sitting at the desk reading a self-help book called I Can’t Do This Anymore.

“Hi,” says Hallelujah. “Uh. Mrs. Canon should have left a quiz for me?”

Mr. Farneaux squints at her and then says, “Oh, Hallelujah! Sure. Here.”

Their fingers brush as she takes the paper from him and she tries not to pass out again. She goes to sit next to Satana and frowns down at the quiz, which says

Mrs. Canon
Pd. 7 Pre-Calculus

1) Given the following triangle, find the value of Z.
2) Using the attached formula sheet, prove your answer to 1).

Hallelujah turns the page over; there aren’t any formulae there, either. She looks up to see if Mr. Farneaux’s accidentally left it on the desk or something, but he isn’t anywhere to be seen, which at least explains why Satana has started sculpting her half of the table with a pair of safety scissors.

Hallelujah sighs and cracks her knuckles.


Name: Hallelujah Mourning
Mrs. Canon
Pd. 7 Pre-Calculus

1) Given the following triangle, find the value of Z
Z = 3.2

2) Using the attached formula sheet, prove your answer to 1).
Using the proof of Heron’s formula I have provided on notebook paper, we can eventually prove that Z =√ [s (s – a) (s – b) (s – c)], and, plugging in, we’re left with Z = 3.2
I have never understood why you insist on using Z rather than A when we’re calculating area. NEXT TIME GIVE ME A FUCKING FORMULA SHEET.  >:(  


She gets a detention like she plans, but there’s a different teacher at the desk, reading the same worn copy of I Can’t Do This Anymore. Hallelujah is faintly disappointed that Mr. Farneaux is not possessed of a need to better himself but immediately revises their wedding plans to include her mother once again, now she knows they won’t need any of that New Agey anti-Christian stuff during the ceremony.

“It’s too bad,” Milky says when she tells him. “The glowing crystals were a nice touch, I thought.”

“You could keep them for table centerpieces,” Joe points out. “No harm, no foul.”

Hallelujah makes a note and then wonders when they’ll get their act together (spoiler: following an embarrassing post-Prom encounter, they work it out by graduation).


The Friday after Valentine’s Day, Hallelujah has received

1. a platonic Valentine’s Day card from Joe
2. a platonic Valentine’s Day card from Milky
3. a vaguely ominous box of candy hearts signed from You Know Who (she doesn’t)
4. a note from Mr. Farneaux to please see him on Friday after class

Hallelujah feels buoyed by hope and sick with nerves. Will she kiss him? Will she cry? So far every kiss she’s ever had––all three of them––have ended in tears for somebody.

She knocks on the door of the English office and then opens it. “Mr. Farneaux?”

Four overweight, bespectacled women are sitting at the desks placed around the room; they all turn to look at her in one simultaneous movement. “I think he’s in his classroom,” says Mrs. Adelmann (53) eventually.

“Okay, thanks,” Hallelujah says, and beats a hasty retreat.


Mr. Farneaux is, in fact, sitting at his desk when Hallelujah comes to find him, reading something that appears to be titled What To Do When You Can’t Do Anything. Hallelujah guiltily  puts the crystals back on the altar and kicks her mother back out of the church.

“Oh, yes, Hallelujah,” Mr. Farneaux says. “Thank you for coming.”

“N-n-no problem,” Hallelujah stammers, and curses her wretched tongue. “I mean, it’s cool. What’s up?”

Mr. Farneaux gestures at the chair across from him and says, “I admire the progress you’ve made this marking period.”

“Thanks, I guess,” says Hallelujah, sitting down. “I’ve been working pretty hard.”

Mr. Farneaux nods. “I can tell,” he says. The silence is awkward between them.

“So,” Hallelujah tries when the heat of the classroom gets too oppressive, “how come you asked me to come talk to you?”

Mr. Farneaux clears his throat and says, “Well, Hallelujah, I––I like you.”

Hallelujah feels an answering stab of want from the pit of her stomach (well, that or the hot lunch was acting up, she couldn’t tell; star-crossed love and indigestion seemed to share a lot of the same symptoms). “I like you, too, Mr. Farneaux,” she says. “I like you an awful lot.”

“I thought so,” he says, “I really did, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you. Look, Hallelujah, can you keep a secret?”

Hallelujah is about to nod when he darts out his tongue to lick the corner of his mouth. She’s never seen him make a gesture so furtive before––so dirty––and all of a sudden she can picture it: his undershirt’s collar ringed yellow in sweat, his love handles jiggling portentously under her palms, her fingers in his chest hair. “Maybe,” she says nervously.

Mr. Farneaux reaches forward to pat her hand. “I need a yes or no from you, Hallelujah,” he says. “I need a yes.”

Hallelujah looks at their hands on his desk, almost intertwined. “I don’t think so,” she says.

He offers her a lollipop a little desperately. She trashes it as she leaves the classroom.


“I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” Hallelujah sighs.

“Maybe not,” Milky agrees. “He wasn’t your type, anyway.”

“No?” Hallelujah asks. “No, I suppose you’re right. Too much of a daredevil.”

“I heard his wife is pregnant,” Joe says with a twist to his mouth.

“Next time,” Hallelujah promises herself (spoiler: it’s not the next time, nor the time after, but it is the one after that, the one who looks at her and sees more than her mousy hair and her thin lips, who sees all the wonders she contains, who sees more than the sum of her parts, who doesn’t object to the crystalline table favors, who sets her small quail of a heart free).


Adriana Tosun currently lives in Paris, but before that she lived on a schooner in Maine. Go figure. Her poetry has been published in Divine Dirt Quarterly.

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