Telling Tales Out of School

by Kristen Bealer

o O o

As David walked past the football-shaped mailbox and up the sidewalk to the home of his first tutoring client, he fought the urge to turn back around and walk away. If he didn't need the money for tuition, he might have done just that.

Think about last year, he reminded himself. Quinn Morgendorffer, in spite of a rough start, turned out to be surprisingly intelligent and eager to learn. He sighed. Unlike every other student I tutored. The worst part was that he was tutoring all of those "other" students this time around, too...plus a few more that, judging from his notes, would be no picnic.

It's either this or sell one of my less essential organs, he reminded himself as he rang the doorbell and braced himself. The door swung open and a stocky, balding man glared at David. "Oh. You're that egg-head my wife ordered, huh?"

"Er...I'm here to tutor Kevin," David replied, taking half a step back at the man's hostile tone.

The man abruptly turned and stalked away. David took this as the closest thing to a welcome he was going to receive and came in, shutting the door behind him.

A woman hurried into the room, drying her hands on a towel. "Oh, good! You're here," she said with a wide grin.

David, relieved to see at least one person was happy to see him, held out his hand to shake. "David Sorenson. Nice to meet you."

"Charlene Thompson. Kevin!" This last part was hollered over her shoulder. Seconds later, a teenage boy came barreling down the stairs.

"Hey!" the boy said with a wide grin. "Are you here for the smart person lessons?"

David hoped for a moment that Kevin was joking, but it quickly became obvious he wasn't. He shrugged. "Yup."

"Cool!" Kevin trotted over to the kitchen table, where David saw that Charlene had laid out enough stacks of paper, pencils, and snacks to last for a straight month of tutoring. Then again, that may be how long we'll need.

As David moved to join Kevin, Charlene took his arm and pulled him aside. "He might have trouble concentrating at first," she whispered, glancing over at her son. "His girlfriend broke up with him last week." She wasn't even trying to hide the glee in her voice.

"Oh." David looked at Kevin, who was now engrossed in trying to balance one of the pencils on his nose. "I'll do my best to cheer him up."

Humming, Charlene left the room. David sat down next to Kevin at the table and began pulling books out of his backpack. "So I see you're looking for help in pretty much every area, is that right?"

Kevin nodded, still grinning. "Except football. I'm awesome at that. I'm the-" He stopped suddenly, and his smile dimmed. "I was the QB." He looked away and fidgeted in his seat. "I thought maybe if I got my grades up then Ms. Li will change that stupid rule and I can get back on the team."

David, remembering that Kevin was about to repeat his senior year, nodded. "I don't know if it will work, but it can't hurt," he offered, trying to encourage him.

"Dad thinks it's a stupid idea."

No surprise there. Out loud, David said, "Well, even if you don't get back on the team, improving your grades will still benefit you in other ways."

Kevin shrugged and slumped over. "That's what Mom says. But if I can be QB again, maybe Britt will take me back."

"Oh." David felt uncomfortable bringing the subject up, but figured it would be better to get it out of the way before he tried to tutor Kevin. "I heard about the break-up. Look, sometimes these things happen and-"

"Mom said that, too," Kevin said, frowning at the table. "Brittany said something like it, too. Junk about maturity and going to different places." He huffed out a sigh and sat up. "Whatever. Let's learn smart people stuff!"

o O o

An hour later, David staggered out of the Thompson house and let out a tortured sigh. I'm not entirely certain, but Kevin might actually have gotten dumber. He rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache build. Come to think of it, I think I did, too.

Shaking off the disastrous session, David checked his schedule to see his next stop: Brittany Taylor. Brittany? As in the girl who broke up with Kevin? David felt his mood, which had just started to rise, plummet once again.

o O o

"Hiiiii!" Brittany greeted him at the door. "Come on in!"

David followed her into the house and sat down with her at the dining room table. "So I see that you're...going to college in the fall? Really?" he asked the vacant-looking girl before double-checking his notes.

"Yes! I just wanted to get a head start on all of that college stuff so I'll be ready when I start."

"Oh!" David was pleasantly surprised. "That's actually a really good idea."

"I know, right?" Brittany grinned. "I figured if I can get all the learning out of the way over the summer then I can concentrate on my cheerleading!"

"...Ah." David closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Well, let's get started anyway. We've got a lot of ground to cover. Think you're up to some hard work and studying?" He had a feeling he knew the answer to that, but decided to stick with blind optimism for the time being.

Brittany twirled a lock of hair around her finger as she considered his words...or perhaps she was just replaying the latest Boys R Guyz single in her head. At last she shrugged. "I'll try," she told him, "but I've got a lot on my mind right now."

Unlikely, David thought. "Is this about the break-up?" he asked.

Brittany paused in mid-twirl. "You heard about that?"

David nodded. "I just discussed it with-"

"I'm not surprised," she interrupted. "The whole school's been talking about it."

Struggling to come up with something comforting to say, David remembered what Kevin had said about maturity and Brittany's reasons for dumping him. "You already know that sometimes people go in different directions and things just don't work out," he reminded her.

"Oh, totally!" Brittany squeaked. "And sometimes that sneaky Brooke butts in and gets smacked down in front of the whole school."

"Um...okay." Kevin hadn't mentioned that part, but David had no intention of getting dragged any further into this than he already was. "So about your progress in math..."

"I mean, can you believe she thought she'd get away with it?" Brittany squeaked, rolling her eyes.

"I thought we might start with geometry and then move on to trigonometry if we have time."

"But of course she got caught. Serves her right, the little-"

"So how about those trapezoids?" David asked, desperate to change the subject.

"Huh? Oh, you might like those swing things at the circus?"

David breathed a sigh of relief that Brittany was so easy to distract. "Not exactly. A trapezoid is a shape with four sides, four angles, and two parallel sides."

"You mean it's two-faced? Like Brooke?"

David groaned. Maybe not so easy to distract, after all.

o O o

An hour later, David left the Taylor house and looked again at his schedule. Next stop is a girl named Brooke. His eyes widened. Well, maybe there's more than one Brooke at Lawndale High School.

There wasn't.

Arms crossed, the brown-haired girl glared at the table. "...and I keep telling everyone that I didn't do anything wrong! They broke up before I even got involved, and who can blame me for taking advantage of such a perfect opportunity? Besides, that bitch started it. If she'd just fought fair, then no one would have gotten hurt. All I was trying to do was defend myself!"

David, head in his hands, replied, "I'm not interested in any of this, Brooke. All I asked you was whether or not you'd covered A Tale of Two Cities in Language Arts class."

o O o

The next stop was a girl David had tutored unsuccessfully the previous summer: Stacy Rowe. He remembered her as willing to learn but unable to get past her debilitating panic attacks over...well, everything. He rang the doorbell and waited.

The door swung open to reveal the same girl in pigtails he'd met a year ago. "Hello again," he greeted her.

"Hey," Stacy grunted with a small smirk. "Come in if you wanna."

David followed her into the house, slightly awed at her confident posture and almost aggressive stride. I don't know what's changed, but this is far from the same meek girl I met before. "I'm glad to see you've discovered your assertive side," he said.

Stacy shrugged. "I'm not under anyone's thumb anymore. I like it."

"Well, congratulations," he replied. "So, let's start with World War-"

"Nuh-uh. I'm not doing this tutoring crap." Stacy leaned defiantly against a wall. "My stupid mom said I had to be there for this, but she can't make me study!" She grinned, and her eyes twitched slightly. "No one can make me do anything anymore."

"But your grades in history-"

"You want to talk about history?" Stacy snorted with laughter. "That's exactly how I'd describe Brooke's reputation at Lawndale High!"

David sighed. Is this really the only thing worth talking about in this town? "If you want to improve your grades, the smart thing would be to focus on your studies."

Ignoring him, Stacy continued. "Brooke thought she was smart right up until the whole school saw her taken down with just one belt." She sniggered. "POW! That was the end of that."

Though he struggled against it, David started to feel curious in spite of himself. "You mean someone actually hit-look, never mind. We need to discuss history, not current events, okay?"

Stacy crossed her arms and smirked. "Make me."

David sank down in his chair. This is going to be a very long session.

o O o

After fighting-and losing-an uphill tutoring battle, David finally trudged outside to his car and collapsed into the driver's seat. He checked his schedule and saw that it was time for lunch. Eat, rest, and regroup, he told himself. And hope to God the next session goes better.

His next stop after lunch was an unfamiliar name: Robert Korleski. Maybe a boy will be less interested in gossiping about Kevin and Brittany's break-up.

o O o

"Good afternoon, sir," Robert said in a polite but emotionless voice when he opened the door. "Please come in."

"Thanks." David settled in with his bag. "Before we get started, let's talk about your goals for next year."

Robert didn't hesitate. "Dating Quinn Morgendorffer."

"I mean academically."

"Oh." Robert thought about it. "Uh, Coach Gibson says I have to keep my grades up so I don't get kicked off the team or held back like Kevin."

"Well, I think that's a good starting point," David said, hoping to get past the subject of Kevin without any unpleasant detours. "Although, looking back at your grades from last year, you might be in for a tough fight."

"Fight?" Robert's dull eyes widened. "You heard about the fight?"

"I didn't mean a literal-"

"I don't care what anyone says, it was all Kevin's fault."

This again? David shook his head. "All I meant was that-"

"It sucked, but Brittany should have just let it all blow over. Instead she just made everything worse. Nothing good ever comes from physical violence. Look, I don't want to talk about it, okay?"

"Great!" David almost shouted. "I don't want to talk about it either."

The rest of the session went by without gossip, but also without much academic progress, either. David was relieved to get back into his car afterward, until he looked at his schedule and saw that his next stop was Tiffany Blum-Deckler. Maybe if I hide all of the shiny objects I'll be able to hold her attention for more than thirty seconds.

o O o

The good news was that Tiffany didn't spend the entire session applying makeup. The bad news was that she had chosen to give herself a full manicure instead. David, futilely trying to interest her in the periodic table, was ready to snatch the nail file out of her hands and stab her with it.

"This is something you're going to need to know if you want to pass your chemistry class," David pleaded, secretly wondering how she'd managed to pass any of her classes. Ever.

Tiffany just frowned at a ragged cuticle and redoubled her efforts with the file.

"If you'd just pay even the slightest amount of attention!"

Now she was peering at a selection of nail polishes, trying to decide between Tickled Pink and Caught Red-Handed.

David covered his face with both hands. I never thought I'd do this, but desperate times call for desperate measures. "I've been hearing a lot about Brittany, Brooke, and some kind of fight?"

Tiffany slowly turned her gaze toward him. "Broooooke?" she drawled.

"Yes, Brooke. Now that I have your attention, can we talk about-"

"Pooooor Broooooke." Tiffany shook her head. "Her messed-up face...sooooo saaaaaaad."

"Her face? But earlier she looked just..." David trailed off as he remembered Stacy's comment about Brooke getting taken down by one hit and Robert's frustration that Brittany had resorted to violence. "Hold on; are you saying that Brittany and Brooke-no! We're talking about elements, not brawls! Just look at this chart, and-"

But it was too late. Tiffany had settled on Crimson Tide and was now focusing all of her attention on her nails again.

o O o

It had been the worst tutoring session yet, but it finally ended and David continued on his way to the next stop, Jamie White's house. When he arrived, not one but three boys answered the door. "Hi," Jamie greeted him in a deep but friendly voice. "These are my friends, Jeffy and Joey. Is it okay if they stick around for tutoring, too?"

"As long as they're willing to pay attention and work hard," David answered, wondering if he could bill each boy for the same hour.

"Oh, yeah!" Joey said eagerly.

"Totally!" Jeffy agreed.

Well, at least they seem motivated. David sat down with all three, feeling cautiously optimistic. "Now, what areas do you all think you need the most help in?"

The boys looked at each other. Jamie spoke first. "Getting Quinn to remember what my name is."

"I'm talking about your grades," David explained.

Jamie nodded. "I know. Quinn made being a brain popular, so getting smarter is my-" he paused as his eyes briefly darted to his friends, "-our best chance of getting a date with her."

David shrugged. "Whatever keeps you focused on tutoring," he said. And speaking of staying focused, let's try a new strategy. "Now, I'm going to say right here and now that gossip about Kevin and Brittany's breakup, or about Brooke, is off-limits. Got it?"

The boys looked back at him in amused surprise. "No problem," Joey said confidently.

"Yeah," said Jeffy. "That's chick stuff."

"Glad to hear it," David replied, opening one of his books.

"Hey, speaking of Kevin and Brittany, wasn't that cat fight crazy?" Jamie asked.

Oh, no.

"Yeah! All that screeching and clawing," Jeffy added.

Joey laughed. "I think people heard it all the way in the library!"

So much for "chick stuff."

"The whole thing was pretty brutal, even from the first punch. Damn, that must have hurt!"

"But it was a long time coming. I mean, that's what you get when you take what doesn't belong to you, right?"

David closed the book with a loud thump. I am definitely billing all three of them for the same hour.

o O o

By the end of the session, David had learned a great deal about Quinn Morgendorffer, football, and (surprisingly, from Joey) baking. Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie, on the other hand, had learned absolutely nothing unless you counted a new recipe for snickerdoodles. David had just one more person left to tutor: Sandi Griffin. I would say that it couldn't be worse than what I've already been through today...if I hadn't met Sandi before. This isn't a question of whether it's going to hurt; it's only a question of how much.

o O o

"Good afternoon," Sandi greeted him pleasantly after opening the door to let him in. "Thank you for coming."

David double-checked the address on his list. This is the right place, and that looks like Sandi, but... Too shocked by her politeness to respond, he followed her into the house. Once they were settled in at a table, he looked warily at her and waited for her to start talking about Brittany, Kevin, and Brooke.

She just folded her hands and looked at him.

"Oh," David finally said, realizing she was waiting for him to begin, "well, let's start with Language Arts."

"Certainly." Sandi took a piece of paper out of a folder on the table and pointed at some titles on it. "I've read all of the books on the suggested summer reading list, plus a few extra that Mr. O'Neill recommended to me."

"I...see." David looked at his own notes, where he'd written, "Try to get her to remember who wrote Moby Dick," and set them aside. "That's excellent. What about history?"

"I've gone over all of the events Mr. DeMartino covered last year, giving special attention to the events we're most likely to go over in greater detail during my senior year."

David fought the urge to ask for proof of identity. "And science?"

"I'm caught up on the topics in my biology, chemistry, and physics work I blew off before, and I've started a few side projects relating to electromagnetic waves and Darwin's theory of evolution."

At this point David simply stared at her in silence. She looked calmly back at him. A thought occurred to him and, before he could think better of it, blurted out a question. "Are you at all concerned about what happened with Brooke?"

Sandi chuckled. "Brooke? God, no. Why would anyone want fight over something that's sooo not worth the trouble? I have much more important things to deal with now. Schoolwork is my first priority."

David smiled for the first time that day.

o O o

Although his tutoring session with Sandi continued flawlessly, David still felt exhausted when he left. He got into his car and drove downtown to The Coffee Snob for a well-deserved break. At the counter, he ordered a very large espresso. Cup in hand, he turned around and found himself face-to-face with Quinn Morgendorffer.

"I thought that was you!" she said cheerfully, tilting her head slightly and giving him a small wave.

David chuckled. "I didn't think you drank coffee."

"Duh. They have decaf!" Quinn waved toward a table behind her. "Come join me, okay?"

Sipping his coffee, David followed her and sat down. "I'd ask you how school was going for you, but I'm pretty sure I already know the answer to that. You're perhaps the only student in Lawndale I'm not tutoring."

Quinn giggled. "I know, right? I start using my brain and all of a sudden everybody at school decides being smart is, like, the 'in' thing this year." She leaned back in her chair. "Even Sandi's gone crazy trying to one-up me in pedagogy. Especially after that thing with Brooke."

"No!" David shouted. The other customers in the shop stared at him, and he lowered his voice. "I do not-repeat, do not-want to talk about Brooke and Brittany fighting over Kevin!"

Tilting her head in confusion, Quinn asked, "What on earth are you talking about?"

David gripped his coffee cup angrily with both hands. "All I've heard about today is how Brittany broke up with Kevin, and then Brooke had a fling with him that made Brittany angry enough to beat her up. I'm done with it!"

"Wow." Quinn shook her head. "That's...completely not what happened."

David forgot that he didn't care. "It's not? Then what did happen?"

Quinn took a deep breath. "Brittany broke up with Kevin, yes. But Brooke never so much as looked at Kevin. She was too busy trying to take over the Fashion Club!"

"What?" David went back over everything he'd heard in his head. "But Brittany told me that after the break-up Brooke tried to butt in and got 'smacked down.'"

Nodding, Quinn explained, "After the Fashion Club break-up. We all agreed that we were going in different places and no longer needed the club. That's when Brooke tried to step in, restart the club, and declare herself Fashion Club president."

"That doesn't seem like any reason for Brittany to beat her up, though. Why would she care about that?"

"Brittany?" Quinn frowned. "Who told you Brittany beat anyone up?"

"Uh...everyone?" David counted off on his fingers. "Brittany bragged about 'smacking down' Brooke, who complained about 'that bitch' not fighting fair, and Stacy said Brooke got taken down by one belt that, according to Tiffany, messed up her face."

Quinn laughed again. "Brooke got smacked down, all right. She wore this hideously ugly green belt with-ugh-orange tassels and Sandi mocked her in front of everyone. When Brooke tried to argue that it was retro, Sandi just laughed in her face and the whole school joined in. Brittany's not the bitch; Sandi is." She hastily added, "According to Brooke, I mean."

"Then who messed up Brooke's face?"

"Brooke's face has always been messed up. Not even Dr. Shar could save it."

"Okay, but hold on." David was remembering more now. "Robert specifically mentioned an actual fight involving Brittany."

"Oh, that? Well, technically Brittany was involved."

"So she did get in a fight with someone?"

Quinn sighed. "There was an actual fight, but it was between Kevin and Robert. When Kevin found out that Robert's going to be the quarterback this year, he got mad and sucker punched him. Brooke wasn't even there."

"But how does that involve Brittany? And Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie called it a cat fight."

"Yes. A cat fight. Cat. Fight."

"Beg pardon?"

"Brittany was there when it happened, and she was holding a cat that she'd taken away from her brother." Quinn shuddered. "Don't ask. Anyway, the cat, like, went nuts when Kevin hit Robert. It started screeching and yowling and it pounced on Kevin and started scratching him like crazy. That ended the fight right there. Even Robert felt sorry for him. He blamed Brittany for it, but it's not like she did it on purpose."

David sat back in his chair. "So there was no love triangle."

"Nope."

"No fight between Brittany and Brooke."

"Nope."

"Just an extracurricular activity dissolving and a fistfight broken up by a cat before it even began."

"Yup." Quinn stirred her coffee and smirked. "So am I just going to sit here and listen to you tell me gossip that didn't even happen? Once upon a time you were more into people with...ahem...depth."

David massaged his temples. "Touché."

Smiling triumphantly to herself, Quinn took a sip of her drink. "So we're agreed on changing the subject?"

"Please."

"As you wish." She set her cup back down and leaned across the table. "Besides, the real juicy part was when Brooke tried to get back into everyone's good graces by convincing Tori to let her give her a makeover and you will not believe how badly it turned out..."

Quinn's monologue was only momentarily interrupted by the sound of David's head hitting the table.

o O o

Thanks to RLobinske for beta reading.