Theorem

A Midsummer Tale ~ Third Place
David N. Scott


Ian was a tad on the diminutive side, but wiry, a member of the water polo team and thus inherently tough and well-trained—just not on the football-playing, weight-lifting axis his peers looked for. Two years later, he would emerge into spectacular success dancing around in golden underwear as the title character in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but he was still a bit introverted then.

We were sitting in summer school, the two of us happy to have a good friend to take the class with. We were inseparable then, two lonely dudes hoping to expand our social circle and meet some ladies. Well, chicks, ten years ago. Sitting there in class, miserable, glad to be next to each other, we never could’ve anticipated not talking for almost a decade, keeping in touch via the occasional message on MySpace. Life is strange sometimes.

But, back to the story. Here it was a couple of weeks into summer school: geometry, to be precise. And, frankly, I’m pissed. At seventeen, I’d been working at my parents’ company for about six months, and I’d found that I liked working and hated school. Plus, at seventeen, you’re aching to grow up—you can taste it, but it’s still off somewhere. It’s funny, looking back at it—best of times, and all. But you couldn’t have told me that then.

I was sitting at a small desk, wearing all black, T-shirt, slacks, steel-toed dress shoes, and a nice black cotton blazer. The air conditioning in the little classroom was a nice break from the heat outside, but I wouldn’t have admitted it back then; I wore the jacket constantly. Why? Well, frankly, it covered my love handles. Even at my peak level of fitness things were still hanging around me. Well, on me, really.

Ian was already starting to dress a bit like me; he would eventually culminate by wearing his own jacket and steel-toes and driving an old-model sports car, like me, which was when it reached a pretty disturbing level. But, back then it was only black jeans and a T-shirt, almost sensible except for the heat. Like me, but not too much.

Anyway, I was doing pretty well up until that point; I’d been on the distinguished honor roll circa junior high, but fallen off the wagon when I hit high school. They had a lot of meetings for people like me—honor students who started getting their first Fs freshman year—and they tried to explain it with pressure, lots of classes, blah blah etcetera.

But the fact was, high school was boring. Teachers read off of overheads and didn’t give a rat’s ass if you even pretended to pay attention. They didn’t stop, rarely asked for questions, and droned on and on. Math was the worst; I didn’t want to wear glasses for the sake of vanity, and the stuff didn’t make sense when I heard it out loud. That and I didn’t do the homework.

It had changed for this class, though—I was alert, I was attentive, I was engaged like my life depended on it. I was sick of taking the same damn classes over and over again, and I was never, ever going to take geometry again. Which worked fine, really—combined with the advantage of having taken the class before, everything was clicking into place: theorems, proofs, the whole bit.

I didn’t even mind much when Ian cheated—the old scholastic confidence had dripped pretty low in recent months, so having someone want to peek on my sheets for answers was kind of invigorating. Besides, he was a friend, and who wants to see a friend drop off the world academically? His dad was pretty hard on him, too. It led me to adopt a laissez-faire approach (well, Government and Economics was still two semesters away, so I wouldn’t have called it that then). Basically, Ian would peek over my shoulder, and instead of being a nerd and covering my paper, I’d let him have access, keeping my arm low. I felt a bit bad, but it wasn’t me cheating, right? It was him. Well, the school’s statements on plagiarism disagreed. But I’m not there yet, though I’m at least getting close. In fact, as I turned in my test and put my head down to catch a nappy, I was as cheerful and peaceful as could be.

This sentiment continued on until the last bell, at which point I grinned a bit before adopting my usual teenage smirk, picked up my black leather book bag (backpacks were passé!), waited for Ian to get his stuff together, nodded to a few people, including the teacher, and headed for the door.

Ms. Tiedemann—she was the teacher, if you hadn’t guessed—had other ideas, though. She was an oddity among teachers, young and just getting started, unlike the other dull-eyed gray-haired lifers populating the big desks. This summer school class was the second class she’d taught at our school—I’d failed the first one, in regular semester.

Looking back on it, she was probably quite pretty: slim and petite, with dark hair, pale skin, and green eyes. But at the time, she was pure evil. She didn’t explain things well, she had a horrible, annoying voice, and she’d started summer school by wandering over to Ian and me and demanding to know “if we were going to try this time”—the aforementioned horrible voice ringing through the room.

So, no “Hot For Teacher” here, though I do feel obligated to point out that she wasn’t your stereotypical blue-haired lady. But, at that moment she was glaring at us, as if we should already know what we’d done. And, of course, we did. But, Ian and I both had overbearing dads and that made us good at lying. When she glared at us, she got blank looks, faces that transmitted I want to go home and What do you want now with absolutely no I am guilty in the mix.

She frowned in response, trying to outpace our teenage bluster, a difficult task given her insecurity, a human weakness I am only able to see now, more than a decade later. “I looked at your test papers, and it looks like you two cheated.”

We two? That part helped me look quizzical. What do you mean, we two? Ian copied my test. I shrug at her. “What do you mean?”

She made an exasperated sound and produced the papers. “I mean they have the same grade, the same two mistakes—you both thought a postulate needed to be proved—and they even both have this little doodle.” She pointed over at something that was supposed to have been a rectangle, and was now crossed out—crossed out, in fact, in an identical manner on both papers.

Somehow, I stopped myself from rolling my eyes at this. God, what a moron. He copied the scratch-outs, too? And he couldn’t have taken one hit for the team, marked one damn thing different?

But, instead of rolling my eyes, I looked thoughtful. I furrowed my brow; I touched my chin. What to say? And then, I gave Ms. Tiedemann a brief glance from under my half-closed lids and realized something. She was looking at me beseechingly, hopefully. She’s hoping I say something convincing. And, why not? Really, it was pretty obvious—if she failed us now, we would pop back up in September. For a third time. Bad pennies and all.

I began to speak. “Well…” I trailed off again, falling back into thought, Ian and the teacher both looking at me with hope, entranced by the “well.” I cleared my throat, and began again. “Well…” I paused and looked at her, brow still furrowed, confused. “Ian and I did study together.”

She looked at me with a glimmer of hope. “Really?”

I nodded to her. “Sure, we even had the same study sheet—maybe it had the same mistakes on it. But, I mean, I thought it was right—I thought it said a postulate had to be proved.”

She frowned. “No, a theorem has to be proved. You made the same mistake on the test.”

I know that, stupid. You just told me. But, instead, I blinked, feigning surprise. “Really?” I shrugged. “Well, I guess that could explain it.” She looked relieved at first, her green eyes softening, but then she straightened up again, stern. “Well, I guess if you showed me the notes.”

I nodded to her. “I think I still have them at home—I could go get them.” I glanced over at Ian. “Can you find yours?”

Ian caught on quick, thankfully—he imitated my thoughtful pose, then nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

Ms. Tiedemann looked at us for a long time, then nodded once. “Bring them back fast.”

I nodded once more. “Give us an hour.”

“Okay.”

And then, we were off—out of the room and down the hall—I dared not speak until we were across the quad, past the classrooms and unconcerned students, and into the sparsely-filled parking lot. Then, I lead the way to my big Chevy S-10 Tahoe, climbed in and opened the door for Ian. He climbed onto the cloth, slightly-ripe interior, and then we took off and sped down the road towards my house.

I always drove that truck fast—I was, of course, a teenager, and more to the point I was bummed to drive a big black truck, secretly craving the sports car I got later. I was driving like a moron, which would get us back twice as fast. It also gave me an excuse to maintain an exaggerated focus on the road and thus not say much to Ian, turn the music up to blasting—my memory fails me here, but I’d reckon it was something by Metallica or one of N.I.N.’s good albums—and generally try not to scream at him for being a complete moron.

Once we were there, it was easy. I copied down the last chapter’s big headings and summaries into a word processor document, making sure to make that one mistake since apparently the other one was not particularly unusual, and then I poured some soda on it, scuffed it up a bit, and dried it off with a hair dryer.

Soon, it was nicely dirty and used-looking. Ian’s, on the other hand, was still flawless and clean. I glared at him. “You’re supposed to make it look old.”

He shook his head, folded it up carefully, and put it into his wallet. “Nah. I’m the neat freak, so mine’ll be folded all nice and clean. You’re the slob, so yours should be messed up.”

I glared at this, a bit, but really I had no particular expertise in forging study sheets. I sighed and accepted it, then played the music loud on the way back to not bitch about that. Soon, we were zooming into the parking lot, headed for a space—I had a tendency to speed and then stomp on the brakes, letting the truck skid into parking spaces, for some reason; it would eventually be a major factor in the truck’s demise—and then we rolled out of the truck, headed back. We had an excess of time of adolescent awkwardness, so we did that sort of fast-walk thing back to the classroom before handing our so-called study sheets to Ms. Tiedemann, both holding our breath as she frowned at them, scrutinizing them.

Eventually, she nodded, either fooled or able to pretend to be so. “Yes, they both have the same mistake.” She sighed. “I’ll let it go this time, but it had better not happen again.”

Actually, as I would confide to Ian over chili fries later, it would probably be enough to not absolutely copy my test close enough to make it obvious to a blind person. Ian learned that lesson—he passed the class with a ‘B’ to my ‘A’, always careful to only copy enough answers to pass the test.

And that was summer school. I suppose it set patterns in stone that continued for a lifetime—I still am an excellent liar and inventor of tales, which helps me make a living in sales, and hopefully, eventually, as an author. Ian, on the other hand, continued to need other people to give him structure; he joined the air force several listless years later and recently confided to me that he is terrified to stop re-enlisting, lest his life come apart within a few months, dissolving into a drug-induced haze.

So we were then, so we are now. What else can be said?
pencil

David N. Scott is an up and coming author and dabbling blogger who resides in Orange County, California, where he is an undergraduate student at Hope International University. He spends most of his creative time working on his novels, but he has previously been published at 8763 Wonderland and in the Shadow Sacrament online journal. He has also had a creative non-fiction story accepted for publication by Valentine Bonnaire. His blog, Pererro.com, has been listed by High Class Blogs, and is a content provider for Newstex’s Blogs On Demand. E-mail: DnJScott[at]gmail.com.

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