What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Sunday, March 24, 2019; Morning
After they had bagels with cream cheese for breakfast, Alex said goodbye to Kevin with a hug and a kiss. They definitely had become very, very good friends. They had even talked about being boyfriends, someday. After Alex left Kevin realized he forgot to ask if Alex had told his family that he’s gay. He’d have to ask that question, and soon.
Kevin gathered what he needed for his study session with Laura. He left at quarter to eleven and rode his bike to her house. He was a little early and saw Laura sitting on a swing on her front porch reading the Sunday paper.
“Hey, there!” he called out as he pushed his bike up the driveway.
Laura looked up. “Hey, yourself! Let me open the garage door, and you can put your bike in there. Better than leaving it out where some ne’er-do-well could steal it.”
Kevin laughed. “Near do what?” he asked.
She described how it was spelled, then said, “It means ‘a good-for-nothing person.’ It’s something my grandmother used to say. ‘Don’t be someone who’s a ne’er-do-well’ she’d say to my brother and me when we were younger, or ‘he looks like a ne’er-do-well’ about someone else.”
“Harsh!” Kevin said, then he chuckled. “I will remember that!”
“Now that the ancient English language study session is over,” Laura said, “shall we move on to the wonders of our Algebra 2/Pre-Calc class?”
“Wonders will never cease, so I guess we’ll have to do it,” Kevin replied.
“I have the kitchen table set up for our use,” Laura said. “follow me.”
“Would you like something to drink?” She asked.
“How about a glass of water?”
“Ice or tap?”
She brought Kevin his ice water, then they sat down.
He drank about half of the water, put the glass down, and took a deep breath. “Thanks for the water. I didn’t realize that I was so thirsty until I had the glass in my hand.
“Now, where are we on my Algebra 2/Pre-Calc exams?”
“You should take the exam we had the first week you were off.” She pointed, “This is it.”
Kevin took the exam handout page and looked at it. “Hey… how did you get out of the classroom with a clean exam handout? When you took this exam, you had to do all of your work on the same pages and turn in all of them at the end of the exam. So how did you get this?”
“When she returned my graded exam handout I made a copy of it, cut it up, taped each of the problems on a clean sheet of paper, copied that sheet, and, voila! You have all of the problems on the exam without my answers. This way you won’t be able to cheat by peeking at the answers. I still have my completed and graded exam that has the correct solution for each problem. If you look close to the paper, you can see where what I cut out was pasted onto the blank page. It’s like a pale line around each problem.”
“Yeah, I can just make out the lines. Very clever way to do it, Laura.”
“So, why don’t you get started on the first exam, Mr. Young?”
Kevin did, and because he’d read through the chapters in his Algebra 2/Pre-Calc textbook the day before, he was able to finish the twenty problems in twenty minutes.
“Good job!” Laura said. “Now let's see how many you got right!”
She compared Kevin’s answers to those on her actual exam page. She’d missed one, which meant she still got an A on the exam. But she also had the corrections Ms. Arnold had added to Laura’s wrong answer. She set it down next to his completed exam page.
Kevin saw that he had all twenty correct.
“Showoff!” Laura groused.
“Do we have time to do another exam?”
“Yeah, let’s do the next exam you missed. Do you need a review?”
“Let me try it without a review. And remember, this will be to see how much I’ve retained from way back when I read this chapter in our textbook seven weeks ago.”
“Okay. Here’s the second exam handout page. This will be the last one today because I haven’t created the handout pages for the other exams yet. Don’t forget that you have to assume that Ms. Arnold will give you exam handouts that are different than these.” She waved the handout, then set in on the table in front of him. “The problems on the makeup exams you take will probably be different.”
It took Kevin twenty-five minutes to complete the twenty problems on the second exam. He got one wrong, and Laura said it was a typo on the handout, not Kevin misunderstanding how to solve that problem.
“She gave all of us credit for that problem, no matter whether we tried to solve it or skipped it.”
“That was nice of her.”
“Now, here’s the book I bought at the used book store on Oak Grove.” She handed him a thick textbook titled, ‘Introduction to Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus’ and subtitled, ‘For a University-Level Science Curriculum.’
Kevin looked at the front and back, then randomly looked at several pages.
“It looks old. Or used,” he said.
“It’s both. That’s what you get for two dollars plus sales tax. Look at the copyright date.”
“Let’s see…” He looked through the pages at the front of the book, and he found it. “Whoa! It’s 1989. That’s lots older than you and me!”
“Now, look at the handout for the first exam you took. Now, turn to page 343 in this book. Compare the problems on the handout and the ones on pages 343 and 344.”
Kevin compared the problems with Laura’s book. “Number four isn’t in this book, but the rest through number ten are.”
“And, where would you guess number four came from?”
“Bingo!” Laura said, then she hugged Kevin from where she was standing in back of his chair. “I think what she does is select the problems that had the largest number of wrong answers on the homework we — that’s all of us in all of Ms. Arnold’s Algebra 2/Pre-Calc classes this semester — turned in. Then she selects ten problems from this book I found. To round it up to twenty problems on the exam — since our exams always have twenty problems to solve — I think she gets them from somewhere else or makes them up or pulls them out of her ass.”
Kevin laughed, and Laura grinned and wiggled her eyebrows. Besides her reputation as a motormouth, Laura had a well-deserved reputation as a potty mouth.
“Anyway, since there are fifty problems in each set at the end of each chapter of this book, it gives her a lot of flexibility to make up exams that are different each year so getting the problem sheets from someone who had the class the year before wouldn’t be very helpful.”
“Sneaky, isn’t she,” Kevin stated. “And clever!”
“Yeah. Very sneaky and very clever. And very consistent, as well. Maybe too consistent. Look at the pattern of which problems she selected from this chapter in my book.”
Kevin turned his head and looked at Laura then turned back to the problems on the handout and the book. “She picked problems 2, 7, 12, and so on. Every fifth one.” Kevin laughed. “So, next year maybe her exams will use problems 3, 8, 13, then 4, 9, 14, and so on. Not only is she a plagiarist, she’s also lazy!”
“Bingo!” she said, again.
“Now, look at the handout for the second exam. Check the problems against pages starting with 351 in the book.”
Kevin laughed. “Problems 3, 8, 13, and so on. Interesting, the one with the typo isn’t from this book.”
He turned and looked at Laura. Her expression reminded him of the proverbial cat that ate the canary. The only thing missing was a yellow feather hanging from her lips. It made Kevin chuckle.
“Okay, how are we going to do this? You need this book so you can study for exams; I need it for that plus for the exams I have to make up.”
“You don’t go to church, do you,” she stated.
That made Kevin think about the church where his family’s funeral had been held, but he quickly banished that thought.
“I don’t either, but my folks do. So, let’s get together on Sundays, at eleven like today. That way, eventually, you’ll catch up and then it will take less time each Sunday.”
“Sounds like a plan. However, how am I going to work around Ms. Arnold wanting to meet me every week?”
“But isn’t that just so you can take the exams you missed?”
He thought for a few seconds. “Yeah, you’re right. Trouble is, it’ll take a long time to get caught up if I only take one catch-up exam a week. I’m behind by almost seven weeks. That’s seven exams I have to make up, but I also have the current exam to take every week, too. To get into AP Calculus-AB next year, which I need to so I can take AP Calculus BC when I’m a senior, I have to get an A in Algebra 2/Pre-Calc this year. I’m not sure I can do all that and catch up on my Chemistry, English 2, World History, and Spanish 3 classes all at the same time.”
“That’s why you and I will meet every Sunday so you can complete all of those exams you missed as practice. You could take one each week and be finished in seven weeks, or take two each week and be finished in just over three weeks, take three each week and… well, you know what I mean. You’ve never had a problem with algebra, trigonometry, or pre-calc, so I think you’re worrying unnecessarily.
“So, I think you should arrange with Ms. Arnold to take two makeup exams each week. You could ask her to let you take them one at a time on Wednesdays then on Fridays during Academy period. That way you’ll be caught up with all of the exams you missed in a month. Of course, you’ll take the regular weekly exam, in class with the rest of us, on Mondays. But after a month all you’ll be taking will be the regular weekly exams.”
Kevin took a deep breath. “That makes sense. So, how about we review all the homework I missed starting with the oldest one, and I’ll see how long I think it’ll take me to cover the material?”
“Okay, let’s do it that way.”
After an hour and a half, Kevin leaned back and stretched. “After sitting almost all of yesterday working on catching up with what I missed in chemistry, then sitting here for a couple hours, I need to take a walk or something to get the kinks out of my legs and butt and back and shoulders and so on.”
“How about we eat lunch first, then we’ll take a walk, then we’ll come back and finish up. We’re almost done, anyway.”
Laura fixed chicken salad sandwiches as she’d promised, and they sat at the kitchen table eating. After they finished and he had complimented her for the sandwiches — which were delicious — they went outside and walked for almost an hour. They talked about school, and the classes that each of them had that the other didn’t have.
“So how’s the boy’s tennis team doing?” Laura asked.
“Our first matches won’t start until next month. Right now it’s the guys on the team playing practice matches against each other. I’m just starting to get back into tennis after having been out for seven weeks — eight weeks including the time it took me to get registered and back in school. I need to get more exercise, mostly in the weight room.”
“Any idea how the team will do this year?”
“It’s too early to tell. Like us, none of the schools in our league have started playing matches yet. All we have to go on is how many of our players are back from last year’s team, and how the the guys coming up from the JV and freshmen teams did last year. The other thing we can do is look at how the teams from the other schools in our league did last year.”
“Do the teams tend to be good each year if they were good the prior year?”
“Yeah, there’s some of that. We’ll find out once the matches get started.”
“Do you have tournaments the way our girls’ tennis teams have?”
“Yes. There are always tournaments at the beginning of the year. Do you follow the girls’ tennis team?” he asked.
“Yes. A friend of mine, Barbara Overlin, made the girls’ varsity team last year. I went to one of the tournaments. It was at Miramonte High. It was interesting, sort of like the pro tournaments they have on TV. Have you ever gone to a tournament?”
“I was on the JV team last year, and I played in a tournament that was held at Mira Loma High in Sacramento. I hope we don’t go there this year. The weather was really hot, and playing tennis when it’s over one hundred and five degrees is not something I ever want to do again!”
“I’d think you could get heat prostration playing in that kind of heat,” Laura said.
“They had a system that sprayed mist on the court, but all that did was make it hot and humid. It didn’t cool us at all. It seemed that we were drinking gallons of water and Gatorade all day. We were sweating so much we didn’t have to pee at all!”
They arrived back at Laura’s house and returned to the kitchen, then sat down at the table where Kevin expected them to continue on Algebra 2/Pre-Calc homework.
Instead, Laura asked Kevin a question.
“So, tell me about the tutor you have helping you with chemistry.”
“He’s a junior and last year he took AP Chemistry. He’s a nice guy, very friendly, and is a great tutor. I told him he should think about becoming a teacher, but he said it doesn’t pay enough. He wants to be a research scientist at a university. Working for some company is his second choice.”
“Is he cute?”
He grinned. “Cute? Why are girls asking me that question about him?”
“What? Did some other girl ask you if he’s cute?”
“Yes. Donna Garcia. She’s my Chemistry lab partner. I told her about Alex because our class is fourth period, right after collaboration period. That is when I’d first met him. He left before she got there, and she asked me if he was cute. I think she wants to meet him to see if he’s a candidate for her to get him to ask her out on a date.”
“Okay, so answer my question. Is he cute?”
“I guess so. He’s got bushy curly light blond hair, green eyes, and is tan because he’s outside a lot. He’s on the varsity lacrosse team.”
“Do you think he’s gay?”
“How am I supposed to know that? Walk up to him and say, ‘Hey, Alex, my friend Laura wants to know if you’re gay. Are you?’ He’d slug me, and I’d have to find a different tutor for chemistry.”
“Do you like him?”
“Sure. He took AP Chemistry when he was a sophomore, he took a chemistry course at DVC between his freshman and sophomore years at Edison. He knows more about chemistry now than I’ll ever know. And he’s a really nice guy. What’s to not like?”
“Do you like like him?”
“I said, do you like like him?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. If he’s gay, and since you’re gay, you could finally find someone to like that way.”
Kevin smirked. “Where in the world did you get the idea that I’m gay?”
“Come on, Kevin! You never dated any girl at Edison, including moi, and when there’s a cute guy who joins our lunch table, you always check him out. When we go downtown or to the mall, you’re always checking out the good-looking guys. Besides, I have infallible gaydar, and when I look at you, it’s always buzzing off the chart. So, now tell me, unequivocally, whether you are or are not gay.”
Kevin bent his head down and put his hands covering his face. “Why are you doing this to me? Especially since I’ve just gotten back in school and I have a ton of work so I can get caught up in all of my classes.”
“Because you need someone! You need a boyfriend, someone who can be there for you in ways that Jeff and I can’t.
“So, this Alex guy. What’s his last name?” she continued.
“His name is Alex Burney. It might be Alexander, but…”
Laura interrupted him. “Oh my god! I know him. My brother Jordan was dating his sister Ruth when I was in the seventh grade. I met Alex when we went to the Burney’s for a barbecue that summer. He was cute even when he was in the eighth grade.”
Kevin scowled at her. “The last time you saw him you were in the seventh grade?”
“It was the summer between my seventh and eighth grades. The Burney’s have a pool. He was playing pool games with the other guys who were there. He didn’t pay any attention to the girls even though they were all looking at him sort of dreamy-eyed. That included me. I looked older than a 12-year-old. I tried all of my feminine wiles on him. I flirted. I bumped him in the pool. I talked to him. I batted my eyelashes at him. I held his arm. I pushed my tits into his shoulder and back. Nothing.
“So, we’re in the pool, and I was watching him looking at the guys. When most of them got out, I swam up to him and whispered, ‘Are you gay?’ He almost drowned! He looked totally panicked. So I said, ‘I won’t ever tell anyone.’ Then he did a ‘shhh’ with his index finger across his lips, and he nodded. So, that’s how I found out that Alex is gay. I whispered that I’d never out him unless he told me it was okay or if it was an emergency. You, Kevin Young, are an emergency.”
Kevin sat with his eyes closed for about ten seconds. Laura wondered if he was still breathing. Then he looked up.
“Yeah…. No…. Sure…. Yes….”
Laura looked confused. “What does that sequence of meaningless words mean?”
“You asked me four questions. I answered your four questions.
“First answer: Yeah, Alex is cute.
“Second answer: No, I don’t think Alex is gay, I know Alex is gay.
“Third answer: Sure, I like him.
“Fourth answer: Yes, I’m gay.”
Laura jumped at Kevin, startling him. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him so tight it was hard for him to breathe.
“Let loose, Laura! I can’t breathe!”
She let loose and stood looking at him with a smile that seemed to fill her face.
“Oh… my… god! I’m SO happy for you! You and Alex were made for each other!”
“What!? How can you say that? You haven’t seen him for what, two years? Besides, I met him for the first time on Friday. That’s just two days a go. We’ve never been on a date. We’ve never gone anywhere together, even to just go out to eat or to a movie. Jeez, Laura, give us some time to get to know each other.”
“Okay, okay. But I want to meet him. Call him and ask him to come over.”
“He told me his folks and brother Rick were out of town and were coming home today. He said he had chores to do before they got home, and he still had homework to finish. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to come over now. So, I’m not going to call him.”
“Okay, I guess I’m trying to move things along too fast. But I want to meet him. How about this? You call him and ask him to eat lunch at our table tomorrow. Tell him you have a surprise for him. That’ll be me. But don’t tell him that. Okay?”
“Okay. I’ll call him later and ask if he’ll sit with our group at lunch tomorrow, and the reason is I have a surprise for him. Satisfied?”
“Yes. I can hardly wait to see him. He was cute back in the day. It looked like he couldn’t keep his hair combed. Does he still have blond hair or did it get dark?”
“Like I said, he’s blond. His hair is sort of bushy, mostly curly, and light blond. He has green eyes. He’s about six feet tall. He plays lacrosse, so he’s slender but looks strong. He’s tan from being out in the sun. He’s cute.” Kevin grinned. “Now that I’ve told you everything I know about him, I guess we won’t need to invite him to have lunch with us at our table tomorrow.” Kevin stared at Laura with a smug expression.
“Don’t get all smart-mouth with me, mister!” Then she grinned. “Just invite him, please? Okay?”
“Okay. You agree that you won’t tell anyone else that I’m gay, including Jeff, right?”
“And you agree that you won’t tell anyone that Alex is gay, right?”
“Right. It’s up to you and Alex to tell people what you and Alex want to tell them and when you and Alex want to tell them. Or not. That includes both never and nothing, depending on who’s asking.”
“Thanks. I don’t need that getting around with all the other stuff I have to deal with now.”
“I understand. But don’t worry about things so much. You’ve always been a worrywart. I won’t tell anyone that you’re gay — or that Alex is gay. Okay?”
“I guess,” Kevin replied. But he didn’t sound like he was convinced.
“Remember, I said I promised Alex that I’d never tell that he’s gay. And I won’t. And I won’t tell anyone about you, either.”
“So, our discussion about Alex Burney is over,” Kevin said. “So let’s finish reviewing the chapters in our actual Algebra 2/Pre-Calc textbook that we haven’t covered yet. Okay?”
Finally they finished the review, and Kevin remembered that he had things to do at home.
“Thanks for everything, Laura. It’s time for me to head home. I’ve got a bunch of telephone calls to make to some of my relatives on the East Coast. And I have to do a final pass on the World History assignment that’s due on Tuesday. Do you think I’m going to be okay with our Algebra 2/Pre-Calc class?”
“I think you’ll be okay as far as what we’ve covered so far, and after a couple more Sundays you’ll be caught up with the class,” Laura told him.
“Alright. Thanks, Laura. This has been a big help. And I think getting together for the next few Sundays is a good idea.”
“So I’ll see you tomorrow during first period for another scintillating session of Algebra 2/Pre-Calc led by that audience favorite, Ms. Dianna Arnold. I think you’ll be okay to take the exams up through what we’ve covered today,” Laura told him, then she grinned. “And don’t forget that I discovered that she’s a cheater.”
Kevin laughed. “You should think about becoming a detective, Laura. Or a stand-up comedienne. Just remember, you’re my bestest.”
They hugged, and Laura opened the garage door so Kevin could get his bike. They both waved as he walked his bike down the driveway then got on to ride home.
As he rode his bike, Kevin thought about his meeting with Laura. The fact that she’d guessed, correctly, that he was gay, and she knew that Alex was gay, too. He supposed that this should be something to include in his meeting with Dr. Ranse on Wednesday. It should be added to the list he’d made and that they’d talked about on Friday. He’d also have to update her about his relationship with Alex.
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