“Ready for the presentation,” Douglas asked.
“What presentation,” Mark asked he chewed his lunch. An unhealthy pause grew between the two as the cafeteria filled with sounds of chattering of high school students.
“Mr. Reynolds’ oral assignment,” Douglas asked as he fished for his book bag. Mark coughed as he stifled a chuckle. Douglas rolled his eyes. “He’s been talking about it for months,” he said as he fished for his papers. His face lit up as he flipped through his folder. Mark tossed another fry in his mouth before brushing his hands together.
Douglas placed it neatly on top of the surface in front of Mark. Mark twisted his head in disbelief as he rubbed his fingertips on his pants.
“You really don’t have it,” Douglas said finally. “It’s a big part of your grade.”
“Why didn’t you remind me,” Mark said, his eyes still fixed on Douglas’ paper. His fingers instinctively reached out to see the contents of Douglas’ paper. Douglas snatched it back, nearly wrinkling it.
“I didn’t think I had to considering he’s been talking about it every day since we’ve got back from holiday break.” Douglas fought the urge to tisk his tongue. “You’d have to strategically shut your brain down whenever the topic came up.”
“It’s not so far fetched,” Mark mumbled under his breath, as he grew his garbage onto his half uneaten plate.
“So, what are you going to do,” Douglas asked after placing his paperwork safely away.
Mark shrugged as he gathered his things. “The work.” Mark threw his plate including the cafeteria tray in the nearby gray can.
Douglas’ face filled with surprise. “How? You were supposed to be researching this topic for weeks.”
“I could stick around answering you, but those are precious minutes I could use towards this assignment,” Mark said. His book bag was on his shoulder and was already striding towards the hallway.
Douglas frowned and followed him. He could see Mark had set a timer on his watch.
“Mark,” Douglas asked after catching up, “what are you doing?”
“I already told you.”
“You got two other classes before public speaking,” Douglas said, struggling to keep up.
Douglas blinked. “The odds are-”
“Look kid, never tell me the odds.”
Douglas frowned. “You’re quoting Star Wars.”
“It’s cause I hang around you,” Mark said flatly.
“I’m flattered, but Mr. Reynolds is gonna see right through your BS.”
“Oh Douglas, how naive you can be.”
Mark strolled into the school library and and slid into one of the chairs. Douglass trotted in after him and studied Mark as he pulled out a fat folder filled with messy pieces of paper stacked together. Douglas then started to pick his best assignments from various classes from previous years and pieced them together from left to right.
Mark lifted his eyes to see Douglas’ shocked face. “Douglas, if you haven’t any plans to assist then maybe you should consider arriving to class like a good student.”
“So, you’re going to graft your best assignments that you did over the last two years and make this assignment for public speaking.”
“Very observant,” Mark said to himself, piecing each paper over the other as he studied the thread.
“Oh yeah, I see. What’s the topic,” Douglas asked, leaning to see the upside down words. “I’m sure Pythagoreas and Genghis Khan meeting up for tea to discuss… what is it,” Douglas peered closer to see his papers laid out, “nucleotides and the American Civil War is going to make for an interesting debate.”
“It wouldn’t, wouldn’t it,” Mark said enthusiastically, catching Douglas off guard.
“What,” Douglas spat.
“Yeah,” Mark said in a distant voice as he fished for more papers. ” I could talk about the differences between an empire and democracy, power struggles and equality.”
“That wasn’t the homework,” Douglas cried. “You are supposed to write about a personal essay about your career choice and then use each of the different types of speeches to explain it… verbally.” Mark looked at his papers laid before him. Suddenly, the pieces looked limp and lifeless. “You can’t do this in less than two hours, dude.”
“Well, maybe I want to become a public speaker,” Mark said as he wiggled his head.
“You hate public speaking.”
“Got a good grade so far.”
“Are you gonna cheat?”
“I dunno. Are you gonna expose me? It’d be nice if you didn’t. You know what I have going on this summer.”
Douglas sighed. “Why do you do this?”
“Slack off. You’d be really good if you tried. I could be but then I’d end up like you and that image is terrifying.”
“What’s so terrifying about that?”
“Come on. Do we really have to have this conversation right now? I wouldn’t have a life, no friends. No memories. Besides, I’m doing just fine the way I am.”
“But you could be more.”
“God, you sound like my dad. He put you up to this or something?”
Mark pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, are you going to help me with my assignment or not, cause I’m burning daylight here.”
“Ask for an extension.”
Mark frowned. “That means a lower grade.”
“How do you even know that?”
“I pay attention to what’s important.”
Mark leaned back in his chair and saw an older woman making a face with her pointer finger on her lips, signaling for quiet.
“Really,” Mark started loudly. “It’s a library. I get it, but there’s no one here. Except you. And it’s a school library. The silence thing isn’t real. I’m the only person you’ve seen in here all day.”
“Shh,” she said more sternly.
“You’re wasting my time,” Mark said in a lowered tone. “You in or out? Come on. Out with it!”
“I won’t support you in your mediocrity. You’re on your own.”
“You sound like a movie.”
“And the results are your reality.”
Douglas got up and left. “Be courageous and admit defeat. Ask for an extension.”
“Thanks Frodo,” Mark said, waving as Douglas pushed the glass door to leave.
Mark grabbed a piece of paper and flipped it over and scribbled on it: My career. His pen tapped the surface in waiting as Mark fixed his jaw.
At the final bell, Mark walked into Mr. Reynolds’ class.
“Mr. Reynolds,” Mark said with a hoarse voice.
“Mr. Wright,” the teacher said with a bight face. “So you didn’t skip class. I don’t think you would have dressed back up in school uniform to see me.” Mr. Reynolds closed his briefcase. “How can I help you?”
Mark dipped his head. “Can I have an extension?”
Mr. Reynolds sighed with a smile. “Mr. Wright, I can give you an extension, but you missed class. Even if you got full marks on the assignment and final exam, you wouldn’t pass. I have a more pressing question for you. Why didn’t you come in and do what you typically do, BS your way through my class?”
Mark looked up to see his eyes. “You know?”
“Of course, I know!”
“And you still passed me anyway,” Mark asked.
“Heavens no,” Mr. Reynolds excitedly. “You passed because you have skill. However, you didn’t answer my question. Why didn’t you come in and make something up as you go along?”
Mark hovered at thought. His words at the tip of tongue, fearful at what might come out. “Because… your assignment. My career? I don’t know what I want to do.”
Mr. Reynolds gave a warm smile. “Mr. Wright, your last name reminds me of someone who inspires me, Frank Lloyd Wright. Ever heard of him?” Mark shook his head. “He’s a famous architect that would design buildings and homes in the most uncultivated of places. Like you, you flourish no matter where you are. But you have to think and speak on what you are going to do before you do it.”
Mark looked up weakly as this had been something that had been weighing on him since Douglas left him.
“Come with me,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I’ll give you some guidelines on how to complete the assignment. Then maybe you can earn some extra credit to pass my class.”
“Thank you, Mr. Reynolds! Thank you!”