Part I: Peter gets his latest test paper back and learns of his dire situation.
Mr. Johnson's seventh period math class was quietly working away at a few problems that were on the board. This was the norm for a Monday, actually, this was the norm for most every day of the week. Mr. Johnson ran a tight ship and the students already knew that they were to behave or risk being in trouble. Unlike other teacher's, Mr. Johnson didn't punish students by sending them to the principal's office or sending a note home to the offending student's parents. He was much more devious than that. Misbehaving in Mr. Johnson's class meant a lower grade, even failure. Rumor had it that a few years ago he even failed his own son for accidentally calling the teacher “dad” in front of the whole class.
There were only a ten minutes left in the school day and the group of twenty-five or so eighth grade middle school students did there best not to fidget around as they tried to look at the clock inconspicuously. Though they were eager to get out of school and out into the Freedom of an early summer afternoon, there was another event they were anticipating. Mr. Johnson followed the same routine every time, why would today be any different. The second to last test of the school year was administered the previous Friday and today the results would be revealed.
Just as the second hand hit the top of the hour, Mr. Johnson stood up with a packet of papers in his hand. The students snapped to attention as all eyes fell upon him. There would be no hiding their interest now, nor did the teacher expect them to pretend to do their work as he made his way around the room, placing the graded test face down on the student's desk as he made his way by.
The teacher stood in front of the very first desk, that of Veronica Appleton, and cleared his throat, letting the class know that he wanted their attention even though he already had it. “I must say,” Mr. Johnson addressed the class, “I was very pleased with most of the results of this latest test. It shows that you have been putting real effort into your studies and some of you should feel very proud about what you have accomplished. With that being said, remember, in two weeks is the final two-hour exam that will count for fifty percent of your grade. Though the weather is nice out and you may be tempted to do otherwise, I suggest you don't get complacent when you are so near the end.”
Mr. Johnson placed the first test on Veronica's desk and then moved on to the next student The teacher never gave a hint at how well the student did as long as they passed. But some student's gave the result away on their very own. Veronica turned over stapled stack of papers and saw the big red letter “A”. A large smile came to her face and her cheeks turned the same color as her grade. She quickly flashed the grade at her friend Peter across the room and was pleased with herself when she got a thumbs up in return.
It took a while for the teacher to reach the very last row, leaving the smallest boy in class to wonder if he had received a grade comparable to his friend's. They had spent the entire week studying together and he was certain that he had the material down pat. The anticipation was almost too much as he watched student after student flip over test papers. It was this way every week and he sort of made a game out of guessing what letter was on the front page by reading the expressions of his peers. Most looked relieved, some looked tense, it was easy to separate the D's from the C's but it was even harder to tell the B's from the A's.
“Mr. Connors,” the teacher said as he finally stood in front of Peter's desk. He leaned down close to the boy's ear. “I will need to see you after class.”
The other students being to snicker and giggle. Mr. Johnson stood up and gave a fierce look around the room that became instantly quiet. It was well known that if Mr. Johnson asked to see you after class when he was handing out test papers, that meant you failed. This would not be the first time that Peter was asked to stay over.
“But, but,” Peter stammered as his eyes welled up with tears. He wouldn't give his classmates the satisfaction of seeing any of those tears fall though.
“After class Mr. Connors,” the teacher said firmly and finished his round.
As was often the case, a few seconds after the teacher handed out the final test paper the final bell rang. The students began to file out in an orderly fashion, but once beyond the door of the classroom they reverted to their normal behavior. Veronica stopped by Peter's desk, placed a comforting hand on his forearm and gave him a reassuring pat.
“I'll wait for you by the lockers,” Veronica told her friend and then left before hearing a reply.
As the last student left the room, Peter stood up and walked to the teachers desk. As was the norm, he waited in silence until the teacher was ready to speak.
“Mr. Connors, do you know why I asked you to stay after class?” It was the standard question that was always asked when a student had failed.
Peter fidgeted and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He didn't know if he was expected to answer or if this was one of those rhetorical questions.
“I asked you a question, Mr. Connors.”
“Um,” Peter stammered. “Um, I did so well on the test that you think I cheated?”
Mr. Johnson frowned as he reached into a manila envelope and grabbed the final test paper from the previous exam. “No, Mr. Connors. I doubt you cheated. In fact, part of me doubts that you put in any effort at all when it comes to your studies.”
Peter watched as the teacher flipped of the stapled stack of papers. A big fat “F” was written across the top in red and circled. Next to it was the number 59, which would have indicated the actual score. He was only six points away from actually passing. “But, but, but,” the small child couldn't form any other words.
“But what, Mr. Connors?” The teacher gave the student a stern look.
“But I studied. I studied every night for the last two weeks,” Peter said in a rush. “I even studied on Saturday and Sunday,” he added to emphasize his point.
Seeing the earnestness in his students face, Mr. Johnson relaxed his posture. He was strict, but he certainly wasn't evil. “Are you studying on your own, Mr. Connors?”
“Heck no. That didn't work earlier in the year. I've been studying with Veronica. Almost an hour every night after school.”
“Ah, yes, Ms. Appleton. That's not a bad choice in a study partner, but are your parents not available to help you as well?”
“My mom says she understands algebra as much as she understands Greek and she doesn't know any Greek and my Dad works late and is too tired to help me when he comes home.”
Mr. Johnson gave a sympathetic frown. “I understand Mr. Connors. You know that in two weeks is the final exam. You haven't failed the class yet, but you are in great danger of doing so. However, if you do well on the final exam, make a B or greater, I will give you a passing grade because I believe you have been really trying and I do see some improvement from your earlier performances. But, if you don't do well, there is always summer school and you can still join your peers in high school right on time with the rest of them.”
There were a million objections that Peter could have raised, but none of them would have mattered. The small boy realized that the teacher was actually being quite kind by giving him a way to pass the class at all. He had pretty much failed or had gotten a “D” on every test he had taken so far, but he thought he was so close to understanding this math stuff that doing well wasn't that far out of the question. At least there was hope, Mr. Johnson could have simply told him not to even bother coming in for the final exam, that it was an exercise in futility, but instead he was given an out.
“Thank you, Mr. Johnson.” Peter took the test papers from the teachers desk, stuck them in his text book, and turned towards the door.
“Mr. Connors,” the teacher said as his student reached the door.
Peter took his hand off the door knob and turned around. “Yes sir?”
“If I were you, I would do everything in my power short of cheating to get that B. I have faith in you that you can do that, however. You just need to have faith in yourself.”
Peter let out a strained smile. “Yes sir,” he said and upon seeing that there was nothing else to be said he left.
Usually when a child is released from school they do so with reckless abandon, going as fast as they could not caring who got in the way. With the small amount of time that Peter spent speaking to his teacher, the halls were nearly empty save for a few lingering students who probably had after school activities in the building. Peter shuffled his feet as he moped his way to his locker.
“That bad, huh?” Veronica said as she stood leaning against her locker which was right next to Peter's.
Peter looked up, and even looking at the girl in the navy blue mini-skirt that was just legal by school's standards and white blouse with its ruffled sleeves couldn't make him feel better. “I almost made a D, I missed it by a few points.”
Veronica frowned. “Is that what Mr. Johnson wanted to talk to you about?”
“Mainly,” Peter said with a sigh as he worked the combination lock on his locker. “He said that I'm failing.”
“What really sucks is that if I fail I'm going to have to go to summer school,” Peter said as he retrieved a few workbooks from his locker that he would need for homework and placed them in his denim backpack.”
“You can't go to summer school,” Veronica objected. “You're suppose to come with me and my family to Hawaii, remember?”
Peter turned to face the girl and frowned. “I know, how can I forget. Mr. Johnson said that if I make a B on the final he will pass me.”
Veronica scrunched up her face. “That high, huh?”
Peter's highest grade on any test in Algebra that year had been a 69 and that was on the test before the last one. It had given him some hope that he was actually starting to catch on to all the X's and Y's, but this latest set back didn't give him much hope.
“Maybe your parents won't make you do summer school,” Veronica said hopefully as the two walked down the hall together.
Peter slid his book bag over his shoulder. “Fat chance of that happening. If I don't pass, I won't graduate middle school and while your in High School having fun, I'll be stuck here doing the same stuff over again.”
Veronica frowned alongside her friend as they walked towards her home. They had been walking home together ever since the third grade when their parents finally figured they were old enough to make their own way. Since they only lived a few houses a way from each other they had been life long friends since infancy.
They walked in silence, which wasn't the norm, until they reached Veronica's house. It was a modest home in a middle class neighborhood that looked just about like every other house on the block. The only thing that distinguished it from the others were the numbers on the mailbox and the bronze statute of a boy and a girl playing on a see-saw.
“Hi Veronica junior, Hi Peter Junior,” Veronica said to the bronze statue children as she cut across the yard.
Peter ran his hand over the bronze boy's wild hair. “Hey pal,” he said to the inanimate object as he passed by. “Good afternoon princess,” he added to the girl figure as he made his way by, always glancing at the fancy dress the statue wore with it's flared out skirt.”
Veronica went through the front door of her home first with Peter just behind her. “Hi mom, I'm home,” she called out as she dropped her book bag by the side of the door.
“Hi Veronica, hi Peter,” Mrs. Appleton called out from the kitchen without even looking into the parlor to see who was there.
“Hi Aunt Becky,” Peter called back. Though she weren't really his aunt, he couldn't remember a time when he didn't call her by that moniker.”
Peter gently placed his book bag just next to his friend's. They were exactly the same, made of denim, only his was a light blue and her's was a soft pink. They often got similar things, most likely because their parents always went shopping together. It was often joked when they would go clothes shopping that they might mix up bags and Peter would get things meant for Veronica.”
Becky came in to make sure the kids were okay and was taken a little off guard by the frowns. “Bad day at school?” she asked sympathetically.
“Peter failed another math test,” Veronica offered up without giving her friend a chance to answer.
“Oh, Peter,” Becky said as she put her hand on the small boy's shoulder. “And you tried so hard.”
“I know,” Peter spoke for himself. “I just don't get it,” he added in frustration.
“It's not the end of the world, you know,” Becky tried to comfort the child. “Sometimes it just takes a person a little while to figure things out for their own, but once you do, you'll be a regular whiz kid.”
“I better figure it out in two weeks, or else.”
“Oh,” Becky looked at the child quizzically. “How so?”
“Mr. Johnson told him that if he doesn't get at least a B on the final test he is going to fail and have to go to summer school or he won't get to go to high school next year with me,” Veronica answered for her friend.
“And if I have to take summer school, then no Hawaii,” Peter added.
“I see. Now I know why your so bummed out,” Becky tried her best to insert some of the children’s lingo into her speech to try to fit in. “But, you got two weeks, plenty of time to figure it out.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “I've had all year and nothing has sunk in yet. Maybe we should get right to studying.”
Becky tsked and shook her head. “You know the rules, no homework right after school. Your mind needs a chance to relax and you're so upset now, I doubt that anything you looked at would even make a dent in your cranium.”
“I know,” Peter said as he made his way to the couch and slumped in one corner.
“Veronica, go upstairs to your room and change into your play clothes.”
Peter watched as the girl disappeared down the hall.
“Don't worry too much about things, Peter,” Becky said as she sat in the chair beside the couch.
Peter continued to look in the direction where his friend had scampered off too. “I try not to, but we've been planning on Hawaii since Christmas.”
“Hawaii isn't going any where,” Becky said as she gently stroked the child's hairless, milky white, forearm. “Though it wouldn't be the same without you.”
Peter frowned but still didn't turn his gaze towards his friend's mother. “There's got to be a way for me to pass. I don't know how Veronica does so well on her test and I stink up the whole school.”
“She just figured it out a little before you did, just like you figured out how to do a real cartwheel before she did.”
“Yeah, but knowing a cartwheel isn't going to get me into high school or keep Veronica from wearing a hula skirt.”
Becky giggled. “You know, no matter how much you stare, you aren't going to see through her bedroom door.”
Peter quickly looked at his friend's mom and blushed. “I wasn't trying.”
“Sure you weren't,” Becky teased.
“Remember when we use to change together,” Peter said as a smile crept to his face.
“Yes, I remember. If I remember correctly, I was the one doing the changing. But that was a while ago and things have changed, haven't they.”
“For Veronica they have,” Peter said referring to his friend entering the early stages of puberty. Though they seemingly did everything together, it seemed that Peter's body was lagging behind his friend's just as much as his math ability was. Though he found the changes in his friends body fascinating, even enjoyable, he regretted not to be going along on the journey with her.
Becky smiled. “Don't be in such a rush. You are both still little kids, no matter how much you want to protest to the contrary. In a few years you'll both be fully grown and we'll have to worry about other things then, won't we.”
Peter made a funny face. “But you still got me now. Still a little boy.”
“If you say so,” Becky said and then laughed as if she knew something she wasn't suppose to. “It's about time we were able to tell the little Bobbsey twins apart anyway, don't you think?”
“I guess so,” Peter said, going along with the teasing. “It was fun while it lasted though. Hey, maybe we can get Veronica to dress like me and take the final for me.”
Becky chuckled. “And who is going to take the test for Veronica?”
“I could,” Peter offered.
“You have great legs for her miniskirt, but I think your teacher knows you two well enough to tell you guys a part.”
Peter frowned. “It was just a thought.”
“We'll figure something out.”
At that time, Veronica came out of her room wearing a blue cotton dress. By the lack of the small mound on her chest, it was evident to Peter that she had removed her training bra as well. He knew better not to mention that he noticed because the last time he said something he got a light smack to the back of his head and it was please that neither her or her mother appreciated the observation.
“Now Peter, you can go change,” Becky informed.
It was a long established ritual that Peter changed at his friend's house after school that started back in the second grade. At first it was because his mother took a job in order to pay for some unforeseen expenses, but even when she was back to being a stay at home mom, they never reverted back to the old ways of doing things.
Peter walked down the hall and into his friend's bedroom. It was the exact shape and size as his own, but definitely made for a girl. White walls with pink accents and an overabundance of frills told him that Veronica was certainly a girly-girl.
The little miniskirt that his friend wore to school was neatly on the bed. Peter gave it a quick glance and giggled at the thought of putting it on and walking out into the living room. He gave up the notion as he pulled of his khaki pants and collared shirt. Though he felt like being in a silly mood after a tedious day of school, he was only willing to go so far. Instead of the miniskirt, he put on a pair of gray shorts and a white t-shirt, an outfit he could get as dirty as he wanted in.
“There he is,” Becky said as the boy reappeared in the living room. “And he wasn't gone long enough to do any snoopy in your Undie drawer,” she said pointedly to her daughter.
“Mom!” Veronica said in protest.
Peter turned 5 shades of red. “I would never do that,” he said in his own defense.
Becky laughed. “Sure you wouldn't. Come on, I have your snacks waiting in the kitchen.”
Being thoroughly embarrassed, the two kids walked one behind the other into the large eat in kitchen. As always, Peter was the gentleman and held the door open for the girl.
“Thank you kind sir,” Veronica said in a sappy, over the hill, British accent and did a slight curtsey.
“You're welcome m'lady,” Peter fell into character alongside his friend with an equally bad accent to match.
The two children sat at the table, each with six Oreo cookies and a glass of milk.
Math class was over for the day, and the upcoming hours seemed promising.
Becky stood watching the pair while leaning on the kitchen counter top. She remembered when the two were still toddlers, sitting together, swinging their feet under their chairs without a worry in the world. They were practically inseparable and it would be a shame if Peter missed out on an adventure to the tropical island, or worst yet, high school. She knew that they were on the verge of no longer being little kids though, and this summer might be their last chance at innocence before the pressures of high school and wanting to be more adult took over their lives.
“Okay, you two,” Mrs. Appleton ton the children when she saw that they had eaten all their cookies and drank their milk. “Time to stop talking about school and go outside and waste some of that energy.”
Peter and Veronica knew that they wouldn't be able to stay inside forever and headed out to the back yard. There was a trampoline already set up and that seemed to be the most inviting thing outside that day.
“Race ya,” Veronica said, seemingly reading Peter's mind. They had been together as friends for so long they usually knew what the other was thinking without even speaking.
“Go!” Peter said loudly and took off in a sprint.
Veronica quickly overtook her friend and beat him by a good two feet to the large trampoline that was took up a good portion of one side of the yard. She wasn't even tired and probably could run forever.
Though Veronica might have beat Peter to the trampoline, Peter beat the girl to being on top of it. With no concerns for his body, or what might happen if he misjudged the distance, the boy took a flying leap, twisted his body in the air with the grace of a gymnast that had been practicing for years, and landed on his back on top of the black canvas of the trampoline.
“I win,” Peter shouted as he reached down and helped his friend up onto the toy.
“Not-uh,” Veronica protested slightly. “I made it here first.”
“But I made it up first, so I win,” Peter continued the mock argument, by the look on his friend's face he knew she was enjoying it as much as he was.
“That's just because you have longer legs and could jump higher.”
Though they were practically the same height, maybe Peter was shorter by a few centimeters, it was true that he had longer legs where his friend seemed to have a longer trunk. They had spent many times measuring and couldn't figure out why.
“Jealous,” Peter said as he jumped in opposite rhythm as his friend. As she went up, he was going down.
“Yeah, like I'm going to be jealous of a silly boy.” Veronica stuck her tongue out at her friend.
“We can't all be girls,” Peter said as he made a sour look on his face like being a girl would be the worst thing in the world. “Then where would babies come from.”
“The Cabbage patch,” Veronica answered as she grabbed her friend's hands and they bounced together.
“I still got Tiffany Marie in my closet,” Peter said, referring to the gift he had gotten for Christmas when he was four. He remembered how both of them had so desperately wanted the soft doll.
“Consuela Bonita is on my shelf, but I don't play with her no more.”
“Me neither,” Peter said as he did a knee drop. “I guess we got too old to play with dolls.”
“Ya,” Veronica said sadly. “Now we play with algebra.”
“Don't make me barf,” Peter said as he rolled his eyes. “You play with algebra, algebra just beats me up and kicks me when I'm down.”
“But when you do the work with me here at home, you always get the same answers that I do.”
“That's because I'm not good at taking test. Tests suck.”
“Yeah they do,” Veronica agreed, wondering if she should let her friend in on her little secret to passing math test, but didn't think he would go along with it.
“Maybe you should take my test for me and I will take yours for you.”
“Your hair is long,” Veronica said, “but not long enough for Mr. Johnson to think you're me and I'm not cutting my hair for him to think I'm you.”
“Just a thought.”
“Besides, cheating is wrong. We'll think of something though. I promise. I don't want to go to Hawaii without you.”
“Yeah, we got to do the hula together.” Peter twisted his hips while he was mid air.
“I want to see you in a grass skirt.” Veronica laughed.
“Only if we do it together.”
“Of course,” the girl agreed.
“Best friends forever,” the two children said in unison.
The kids jumped on the trampoline for little over an hour and finally tired of it. They then walked back into the house and proceeded to do homework together. They did a few math problems, and like usual, Peter performed the task with relative ease alongside his friend. He was always relaxed when she was right next beside him. Then they went over the test together. Without the pressure of time and the fact that it was going to be graded, Peter picked up on the several mistakes that he had made. Mostly he mixed up a few formulas in his head or instead of canceling out numbers the right way, he made a mess of things on the paper. After a half hour, they were done and it was time for him to go home.
“Mom, I'm home,” Peter said as he walked into the kitchen where his mom was just starting dinner.
“I can see that. How was school?” His mom asked.
“It was okay,” Peter said noncommittally as he began to wash his hands.
“Just okay?” His mom could always tell when her son had something on his mind.
“I didn't do so hot on my math test,” Peter admitted as he grabbed his apron from the peg on the side of the refrigerator.
“Oh, Peter.” Mrs. Connors knew how hard her son was really trying with math, so she was certainly sympathetic towards the boy. “How bad.”
Peter scrunched up his face as he tied the apron strings behind his back. “Almost a D,” he said.
“So where does that leave us?”
“Mr. Johnson says I need to get a B on the final if I'm going to pass.”
Mrs. Connors smiled. “That gives up some hope.”
“Mom,” Peter whined. “Sometimes I have to take two test grades together and add them up to get enough points for a B.”
“True. But the test covers everything from the whole year, don't it.”
“Yes,” Peter said as he sat on a stool next to the counter. His mother already laid out a half dozen potatoes and the paring knife for him. “So what?”
“So, you already know the stuff from the beginning of the year like the back of your hand. Remember you telling me how all this stuff built on top of the old stuff.”
“I guess,” Peter said as he started peeling potatoes.
“Just do your best and we'll be happy with that.”
“But if I fail I won't be able to pass the 8th grade.”
Mrs. Connors frowned. “You know what that means, don't you?”
Peter pouted. “Yes. Summer school.”
Mrs. Connors ran her hand through her son's thick hair. “Sorry Kiddo, but that's the way it has to be. I know you have your heart set on Hawaii, but you got to take care of responsibilities first. Besides, you don't want Veronica at high school being hit on by all those boys without you around, do you?”
“Mom!” Peter said loudly and then turned 5 shades of red.
Mrs. Connors laughed. “You can't hide nothing from me, kid.”
“Besides, I'm more worried about missing the tropical island than High School,” Peter admitted.
“And why is that?” Mrs. Connors inquired while watching her son cut the potatoes into smaller chunks for the stew she was going to cook.
“Well, Veronica was suppose to wear a coconut bra.” Peter raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Oh and you don't want to miss out on wearing one too.”
“Ma!!!” Peter shouted.
Mrs. Connors broke out into a fit of laughter. “When you were little, you didn't mind wearing her things.”
“Yeah, and that made dad real happy, didn't it?” Peter could remember the sour looks his dad would give him whenever he saw his son playing dress up with the girl next door.
“But you were happy.”
“I was four.”
“But you were pretty.” Mrs. Connors continued to needle her son.
“You keep calling me Mom I'm going to change my name.”
“Susan!!” Peter countered.
Mrs. Connors gave her son a stern look to let him know that wasn't appropriate.
“I mean Mother Dearest, pretty mommy.” Peter grinned.
“Better, my handsome, debonair, son.”
The rest of the night would go off without any further correction. Even when his father came home, he didn't get in trouble for performing so badly on the test, but it was made known that he would definitely be going to summer school if it meant him going on to high school on time. Though Peter didn't like the idea, he liked the idea of doing eighth grade all over again even worst.
Author's Note: As usually, what I planned to be a stand alone story has turned out to be much longer because I care about things like setting up the story, developing characters, and giving some sort of sense that what is going to happen isn't so far fetched. This is going to be a light tale. Cute even. I do cute sometimes. This hopefully will only be a two parter though. But, you know me, I'll have 10 parts before I know it and a dissertation thrown in for fun. I already know what I am going to do in the story. I know the point. It is fun. I might even do a sequel.
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