EPISODE THREE: First Test
“Well,” Maurice said, folding his hands, “it’s been two weeks since we started this Study Club. Tomorrow is your first exam. I hope you two do well on it.”
Xavier rolled his eyes. He’d never felt more unprepared for a test in his life.
“There’s no way we’re going to do well on it, Maurice. I’ve seen the study guide. There’s a whole lot of stuff we never covered.”
“You have the rest of the evening,” Maurice said, narrowing his eyes. “It is not my responsibility to spoon feed you all of the information. My job is to reinforce good study habits in all club members.”
“I don’t have any study habits,” Vicki said, closing her folder. “Do you think you could help me a little more this evening?”
Maurice stood up. “We talked about this. I am your tutor, so that means—”
“Yes, I know, we can’t be together, but—”
“No ‘buts’,” Maurice said. “Now, it’s time for the two of you to leave.”
Xavier sighed, gathered his things, and left the classroom. It’d been two long weeks and he didn’t feel any smarter than when he’d started. The only thing he’d gotten from this whole thing was his new friend, Jenna.
Oh, that’s right! I agreed to meet her after Study Club today.
They were supposed to take care of her plants again. But he couldn’t hang out with her today, not when he needed to study. He would have to hurry to the front of the school, to let her know.
“I am so stressed about this test.”
Vicki’s voice startled him. She leaned against the closed door, wringing her hands together.
“Are you talking to me?”
She ignored his question. “Do you feel stressed?”
He thought about it.
“A little. I mean, I’ve always done poorly on tests. Why should this be any different?”
Vicki rolled her eyes. “Because, Xavier, we made a commitment to this Study Club. We’ve told the whole world that we want to be better students. We can’t just fail tests like we did before. How would that make my Maurice look?”
Xavier shrugged. “I don’t really care how it’d make ‘your Maurice’ look, to be honest.”
“Well, I care,” she said, turning up her nose at him. “And I know I told you that I could never be with you, but for the tiny shred of respect you still have left for me, you will do well on this exam.”
“I don’t owe you anything, Vicki,” he spat, turning away from her. “You’ll never have Maurice, no matter how well you do on this exam.”
“I don’t owe you anything, Vicki,” he spat, turning away from her. “You’ll never have your Maurice, no matter how well you do on this exam.”
“I’m not trying to get nasty here, Xavier,” she said, reaching out and touching his arm. He raised an eyebrow. She was making physical contact with him? Could this mean something?
“Look, I’m just stressed out, so I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Vicki closed her eyes and shook her head. “Maybe I’ll have a panic attack.”
“No, that wouldn’t do.” Xavier crossed his arms. “What about meditation? I’m sure if you do some meditation, you’ll get rid of your stress.”
Vicki’s eyes popped open. “That sounds like a wonderful idea! You are the greatest!” She pulled him into a quick hug, then realized what she had done and stepped back. He felt his face turning red.
“I’m going to go home and spend the rest of the night in meditation.”
“But what about studying for the test?” He asked. “Aren’t you gonna do that?”
Vicki shrugged and ran down the hall.
He sighed. She was one crazy chick.
But that hug was cool, though.
She sat on her bed, legs crossed, mind focused on an invisible dot. She thought of the dot, watched it grow and dance across a red background. The dot continued to grow until it took the shape of a face. It began to smile and soon grew a nose, eyes, ears, glasses and—
“Oh, it’s no use,” she sighed, opening her eyes. She’d been trying the meditation as Xavier suggested, but it wasn’t working. That’s what she got for taking the advice of a poor student like him. She should’ve asked Maurice for stress reducing techniques. He was a good student. Surely he felt stress every now and then.
But he’s the greatest. There’s no way someone that perfect could ever feel stress.
Vicki sighed again and flopped down on her bed. She stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars tacked onto her ceiling. When she was in first grade, she had been so obsessed with astronomy that she convinced her father to buy her a telescope. She had decorated her room with stars, planets, asteroids, and the Milky Way. When she made it to middle school, the fascination had worn off and she’d thrown everything away except for the stars on her ceiling. She’d never admit it to anyone, but every night, just before falling asleep, she stared at those stars. They reminded her of a time when she was still passionate about something.
Dreams for the future were great, but she knew they never came true. Just look at her parents. They had such incredible dreams for their marriage and family, and look how they turned out. She had dreams too, but every single one of them had withered in the face of reality.
But she couldn’t think about that anymore. She had a test to study for, and stress to alleviate. Vicki could feel the stress in her veins, pumping through her blood, working its way into her heart. She couldn’t let it get there. If it did, she would explode.
She had a panic attack before, when she was fourteen. It was the first time her father had left them. There would be more times, but that time had terrified her. She was the only one who knew about the attack, and she wanted to keep it that way. Her mother would never forgive her for it.
Vicki closed her eyes and tried to think of something else. She saw the invisible dot in her mind again. How can you see something that is invisible? Didn’t it become visible once she thought of it? She was so confused.
Suddenly, the door to her room burst open. She bolted upright.
“Vicki, can you play with me?”
“Cameron, I can’t play right now,” she said, sighing as her little brother stood in the doorway, tiny fingers clutching the handle. “I’m trying to study.” It wasn’t entirely true, but her little brother was too young to understand the implications of stress.
“Well, can you take a break?” He shut the door and held up a board game. “I wanted to play with Dad, but he’s talking loud with Mom, so I didn’t want to interrupt them.”
Vicki smiled. “Come sit up here with me,” she said, patting her mattress. He climbed up.
Her parents had no respect. It didn’t matter to them that he was only five years old. He didn’t understand what they were fighting about half the time, but he still had to hear it anyway. What’s the point of hearing all of that if you can’t do anything about it? Healthy arguments are fine. But the destructive ones? What could a little five year old do about that? Could he be a mediator? Could he take sides? Could he give advice? Vicki was old enough. She could handle it. But it was a burden Cameron should never have to carry.
“It’s gonna be okay, Cameron,” she said, taking the box from him.
“I know.” He smiled. “Can I have the blue piece?”
“Youngest gets to choose first.”
Vicki knew she wasn’t going to get any studying in. But school could take a backseat. This little guy was more important. Her parents wouldn’t understand, and neither would Maurice.
But Cameron would. And for the moment, that was all that mattered.
“Do you ever wish the sky was filled with rainbows?”
Maurice tried not to laugh as his sister leaned against the back door, staring into the heavens. They sat together at the back porch as they had every evening since their mother stopped coming home. Katy was too young to remember it, but he couldn’t forget it. He couldn’t stand being around the front door after dinner, hoping she’d walk through but knowing she’d never show. Maybe he was hiding, running away from his problems. Or maybe he was sparing himself some pain.
He looked up at the dark night sky.
“Not sure you’d see those rainbows,” he said, crossing his arms. “Rainbows are formed, in part, by sunlight.”
“I know,” Katy said, smiling. “But it’s an interesting thought.”
Maurice returned his gaze to the field behind their house. Tilting his head back was hurting his neck.
“Katy,” he began, but stopped. He wasn’t sure how to say what he needed to say. He didn’t want to hurt her. But if he didn’t say anything, that good-for-nothing Jimmy would hurt her far worse.
“Katy,” he started again, “I’ve had a chance to research and study this Jimmy character—”
“You mean my boyfriend?” Katy smiled. “Well, what do you think?”
“He’s not a good guy, Katy.”
She shrugged. “No one’s perfect. Not even you.”
“But there’s a difference between being imperfect and being a bad guy.” Maurice sighed. What could he say to make her understand? “You’re young, Katy. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m fourteen, and I’m old enough to decide who I want to date.” Katy stood up and yanked open the porch door. “You aren’t my father. Only one man could fill that position, and he’s already long gone.”
She slammed the door behind her as she stormed in the house. Maurice sighed and rested his head in his hands. She was right. He wasn’t her father. He couldn’t command her to stop seeing Jimmy. The only thing he could do was warn her of danger and be there to catch her when she eventually did fall.
Why did you have to leave, Dad? Why did you force this position on me without giving me authority?
He didn’t know who he was talking to. His father had left long before he got a chance to know him. He didn’t want to think about this anymore. That’s why he studied so hard. It was easier to think about formulas, dates, and assignments than dwell on the past.
The club was going pretty well. His two students were about to take their first test in the morning. They weren’t the best of students, but for this test, Maurice knew that they were ready.
Vicki is probably crying her eyes out because she can’t remember anything we studied.
He smiled. She was a funny character. He wasn’t sure why she fawned over him all the time. He wasn’t even that good looking, and he didn’t even know how to have a normal conversation about things that mattered to him. He knew math, science, English, history, economics, and a host of other things. But he didn’t know anything about interacting with humans, much less girls who were in love with him.
Of course, he’d never had any before.
This must be what it’s like to be a celebrity. It’s actually pretty nice.
He stood up. He’d have to talk to Jimmy one of these days. Tell that boy to leave his sister alone. If he was right about him, Jimmy wouldn’t listen. But at least, when it was all over, he could tell Katy that he’d tried. That would have to be enough.
He found Jenna sitting in the plants in front of the school, just as they planned. Xavier sighed. He knew she was counting on his help today, but he couldn’t stay. At least four more hours of studying awaited him. If he wasted any more time, there was no way he’d get anything done. Plus, aside from the test, he had at least four more projects for other classes that were due next week. And he had to practice his speech for Mrs. Delano’s class.
Xavier shook his head. Stop thinking about this, bro. You’re just gonna stress yourself out.
It was already too late. He felt the stress in veins. Maybe that’s what Vicki had been feeling earlier. He laughed. That girl was purposely subjecting herself to pain. Didn’t she realize that she could never get anywhere with Maurice?
“Hey, Xavier! Thanks so much for coming,” Jenna said, waving as he drew closer. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.”
He laughed nervously. “Well, we’ve got our first test since starting this study club. I was trying to get some extra studying in.”
Jenna nodded. “That’s okay. You’re here now, though, so you can still help out.” She stood up. “For starters, I need some water for these guys over here.”
“Jenna, I won’t be able to stay,” he said slowly. “I’ve still got tons more to study for, plus I’ve got at least four projects and a speech to practice—”
“Xavier, I understand.” Jenna put a hand on his shoulder. “I go to school here, too, remember?” She frowned. “You sound like you’re stressed about this test and all the work you have to do for it.”
“A little,” he admitted. “I thought I was fine, but once I start thinking about all the work I have to do, all of it gets to me. I don’t think I’ll have enough time to do it all and still pass my classes with a decent grade.”
“School just started, Xavier,” she said, smiling. “There’s more than enough time for you to do all that you need to do, and for you to do it well.”
“I know. And thanks for the reminder. I was just letting all of this overwhelm me.”
Jenna snapped her fingers. “I just remembered! I have just the thing for you.” She began to search through her plants.
“What are you looking for?” Xavier asked, following her fingers as she checked each individual plant. Some of them had grown faster than the others, and there were a few that she’d planted before he met her that were already sprouting and budding.
“It’s got to be here somewhere,” she said, not looking up. He wanted to ask her what it was, but she was paying any attention to him anymore. He watched her work. She really did love her plants. He wondered if she and the science teachers got along with each other. He knew they didn’t get along with him. One of these days, Mr. Harmon was going to kill him. Especially if he kept spilling solution all over the place.
“Aha! I’ve found it,” she said. Jenna pulled out a pair of scissors and snipped a few leaves from one of the plants. She lifted the tiny purple plant to his face.
“This, my friend, is passion flower.”
“Passion flower?” He shook his head. “I’ve never heard of it before.”
“Well, it’s one hundred percent real,” she said, “and it has anxiety reducing properties in it.”
“I’m not anxious,” he cut in. Jenna smiled.
“Yes, you are,” she said. “You just don’t realize it yet.” She handed him the plant. “Put this in your tea, or ask your mother to do it for you. Drink that before you start studying again, and you’ll be able to focus better because the anxiety will be gone.”
Xavier laughed. “Wow. I didn’t expect these plants to actually mean something in real life.”
“You thought this was just a hobby, right?” Jenna shook her head. “Most people feel that way. But, as in any area of study, there are real world applications. Finding and using them is worth all the effort in learning them.”
“Thank you, so much,” he said, putting the plant in his pocket. “I’ll catch you around.”
“Good luck on that test of yours.”
Xavier smiled. He doubted that the plant would do anything for him. He wasn’t even sure if he would put it in his tea. What mattered was that she had done something to help him. That’s what real friends did.
What until I tell Dad!
Maurice unlocked Room 305 at 1:30pm. His last teacher was more understanding than most and allowed him to leave early to set up for his Study Club that afternoon. He was such a good student. They didn’t need to worry about him. They loved him so much that they let him go off campus to pick up some things for an event he was planning.
He pushed open the door and was about to take a step inside when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
He stiffened and slowly set the cooler he was holding on the ground. If worse came to worse, he needed both hands to defend himself.
“My name is Maurice and I run the Study Club that meets in this room every afternoon.”
“I know who you are.” He started to turn around, but the speaker tightened their grip on his shoulder. “I want to know why you are trying to break up me and my girlfriend.”
Maurice felt a smile coming on. There was only one person he was doing that to, and that was Jimmy and his sister. If this clown was Jimmy, he didn’t need to worry. He ducked out of the boy’s grip and turned around.
He was right.
“Listen, Jimmy, I’m only doing what’s best for Katy.”
“Yeah, well you don’t know anything about her. How can you know what’s best for her?”
Maurice stared at the boy. He was tall, slim, muscular, handsome. He understood why his sister had fallen for him. But he obviously had no brains in his head. If that was what his sister was attracted to, he needed to have a serious talk with her.
“Of course I know her—”
“I don’t care what you have to say. You just want to take her for yourself.” Jimmy stepped closer to him, ready to strangle him.
Maurice raised his hand to stop him.
“She’s my sister.”
That did the trick. Jimmy’s eyes widened and he took a step back.
“I see the resemblance.”
“I’m only trying to look out for her. You understand. You’ve got sisters yourself.”
“I didn’t know your connection,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. “I thought you were jealous of me.”
Jimmy laughed nervously. “Look, I wasn’t trying to hurt you or your sister, okay? I realize now that she’s a bit too young for me.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I thought she was older. Now that I know, I won’t lead her on any further.”
“I’m not that kind of guy, you know.”
Maurice raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. “You’ve heard about that Claudio kid, right?”
“I’m not like him.”
“He’s not the only bad person around, you know,” Maurice said.
“I know, but he’s the only one that comes to mind right now. I want you to know that I’m not like him. I would never purposefully hurt your sister.”
Maurice sighed. Jimmy was just as bad, maybe even worse than the guy he was talking about. Maurice didn’t believe any of his fronting. “Okay, we’ve settled it. Are you finished?”
Jimmy nodded. “Sorry again for coming at you like that.”
“It’s all right.” Maurice paused. “How did you know I didn’t want you to be with my sister?”
“Katy pointed you out one day when you were following us. She said you were against us being together. I thought she was trying to make me jealous at first, but it didn’t work.” He shrugged. “Then, I recognized you as the Study Club guy and it got me all fired up.”
Maurice nodded. “Okay. Make sure you tell my sister, face to face, and not over the phone.”
Jimmy laughed but didn’t respond. Maurice didn’t watch him walk away, but stooped to pick up the cooler. His sister was going to kill him, he knew. But she would understand. One day, she’d meet some girl that Jimmy had ruined and she’d thank him.
He was about to walk into Room 305, but stopped in his tracks. All the lights were off. This was unusual. He had an agreement with Mr. Tracy that he’d leave all the lights on if Maurice promised to turn them off before he left. It wasn’t hard to turn on himself, but he was so used to the routine that he wondered if something had gone wrong with Mr. Tracy.
He took a step forward.
And nearly lost his mind.
Maurice’s face was to die for.
They both stood crouched under the front desk, peeking out at him from the thin slits on the sides. Vicki giggled. He looked even cuter when he was afraid. She knew he was probably wondering why all the lights were off. When they found out that he would be coming earlier, it had taken them thirty minutes each to convince their teachers to let them do this.
Vicki could barely contain herself. She kept looking at Xavier, asking with her eyes, Is it time yet? Can I go now?
And each time, he shook his head. No. Not yet.
Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She screamed at the top of her lungs and jumped out from under the desk.
Maurice had nearly had a heart attack. Xavier stepped from behind the desk, camera snapping away casually.
“Oh, Maurice, we wanted to surprise you!” Vicki danced over to him and gave him a huge hug.
“Vicki, what is the meaning of this? You nearly scared me to death!”
“This is a moment of celebration,” she said, pulling back from him. She could see his face was growing red. She smiled.
“What are we celebrating?”
Vicki glanced back at Xavier, who nodded to her. She turned to Maurice.
“Xavier and I both passed our exams!” She hugged him again, this time only for a second. She didn’t want to impose on their teacher-student relationship. Vicki knew he wouldn’t let two hugs slide in one day. But she was so excited!
It’d been so hard to study, but when the test came around, she knew she would do well. And Xavier felt the same way, too. He’d come to her afterward and was beaming, holding his grade. For a moment, she was proud of him. Then, she remembered her own grade, and all feelings of pride transferred to herself. She had done it! And all with Maurice’s help.
“Well, I want to congratulate the two of you on this wondrous accomplishment,” Maurice said, smiling slightly. “This was your first test, but I know you two will do just as well on the others. So that’s why I brought you guys something.”
Vicki raised an eyebrow.
Maurice brought something for us?
She turned to Xavier, who just shrugged. He’d been silent this whole time. She wondered if he was really excited as he’d claimed to be earlier. Or maybe that was just how he showed it.
To each his own, huh?
Maurice opened his cooler and showed them the contents.
“Ice cream?” The question came from Xavier. He laughed. “What is that for?”
“It’s for a job well done,” Maurice said.
“But you didn’t even know our grades yet,” Vicki protested. “Why did you buy ice cream if you didn’t know we’d passed?”
Maurice smiled as he handed her a carton of chocolate ice cream.
“Because you guys worked so hard. I wanted to give you something nice to reward your effort.” He closed the cooler and opened his bag to find some spoons. “Grades aren’t the only thing in the world, you know. Sometimes, working hard deserves its own reward, whether you do well on an exam or not.”
Vicki wanted to hug him again, but held herself in check.
“I can’t believe you would do something so nice for us, Maurice,” she said, holding back tears. “I think I’m in love with you more now than ever.”
He laughed and it sounded so perfect that she let the tears flow.
“Here, why don’t you give me that ice cream carton,” he said, taking it from her. “And what have I told you about our student-teacher—”
“I know, I know,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Falling in love is not a feature of our relationship.”
But as she watched him scoop ice cream into a clear plastic cup, she wondered if she could ever get him to change his mind. The smile he gave when she thanked him for the ice cream gave her hope that maybe, one day, she could.