And The Winner Is...
Disclaimer: As usual, I own nothing.
Part One: George
George spent the better part of the day trying to look dignified, which was unusual for him. A few weeks before, he'd won a client one epic settlement. He hadn't felt this much like a character out of a Grisham novel in years. And today the check came. He stared at it. He kept reaching into his desk to touch it to make sure it was still there. He ran like hell to the bank at lunch to deposit it, fighting not to do the happy dance while he waited in line.
They offered him a partnership in the firm again. Again he explained why he couldn't take it. He knew too many lawyers whose kids barely saw them, whose wives left them and hired their own workaholic lawyers to take them for all they were worth. He was just too used to coming home at a decent hour, making the odd parent/teacher conference, school play, cooking the odd horrible dinner. Nora and the kids were just too important to him. He told the partners this, for the third or fourth time in five years. Most were unsurprised. But they couldn't ignore the money he'd recently earned them and the cases he'd won even as an associate, so they gave him a raise.
"So? What are you buying your wife?" Joe Schmidt, one of the partners, said to him as they left the meeting.
"I don't know yet," George said.
"Better be good," Joe said, patting him on the shoulder. "And the kids."
"Them too," George said. He needed a couple of cheeseburgers before he could think of anything else. He'd eat them outside on a bench. It was getting hot out. The squirrels would be out begging for fries.
Part Two: Paul
"I don't get it, Paul," Casey said. "They post a list of the top twenty students in every grade every quarter, and suddenly, no list. The one time I have a chance at rising above number eight, and I don't get to see it up on the bulletin board! Why?"
Paul placidly watched her pace his office. He was imagining a path worn into the rug and through the linoleum below. When she graduates he plans to put a plaque there. He realized that she was expecting some sort of reply.
"Hmm," he said. "Couldn't tell you."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You know something," she said.
"Do I?" he said. He did, but he wasn't going to tell her.
"Not again, with the answering questions with questions!"
"Why would I do that?"
"To avoid answering?" Casey asked.
"What's to avoid?" Paul said. "At any rate, you get your report card at the end of the day, and your class ranking will be on it this time, I'm told."
"So you knew that the list wasn't being posted!"
"So you probably know why," Casey said.
"Doesn't necessarily follow," Paul said. "Why is this such a big deal? Why is it so important to you to know who scored more than you did?"
"It's important. Universities all over the world ask where you ranked within your class when you apply to them," Casey said.
"Not so much in grade ten," Paul said. The kid really did need to relax. She was one of the best in the class if not the school, and yet she was constantly looking for validation.
"Are you forgetting something?" Paul said.
"Summer vacation starts in about an hour, does it not?" Paul said. "You're a kid. What do kids do during the summer?"
"I was thinking of taking a class at the community center."
"Well, okay," Paul said. "But don't forget to have fun! Run through sprinklers, Swim in pools, do dopey kid stuff. Hang out with your boyfriend maybe?"
"I'll try," Casey said. "I guess."
Part Three: Derek
"You know what I'm about to tell you, right?" Lisa Chen, his homeroom teacher said, when she'd finally called him out to the hallway. They'd all been summoned back to homeroom right after lunch to pick up their report cards before they could leave. It was standard for homeroom teachers to call every kid out into the hall for some privacy when they handed the report cards over. Derek, as usual heard every tick of the clock on the wall. Alphabetically, he was second to last in the class and he couldn't take the suspense anymore.
"Not really," he said.
"Yeah, you do," she said. She was smiling. "Who are you kidding? It's just you and me out here."
He looked at her, said nothing.
"Don't look at me all innocent," she said. "You really pulled it off. We all knew you had it in you and now you have to keep it up. Poor you." She handed him the yellow computer printout, which he scanned quickly and folded up, sticking it into his pocket. It took everything he had to look nonchalant. Casey was going to freak.
"Thanks," he said. "I think." He went back inside, got his messenger bag and took off for the stairs.
He slogged through the ankle deep and growing pile of papers and other junk toward his locker. There were still a few kids here and there, emptying their lockers and tossing things in the general direction of the trash cans. Casey was waiting for him at his locker, as were Emily and Sheldon. Shemily? He thought.
"Well?" Casey asked after their customary peck. He was really starting to rethink his no PDA rule for her because these little pecks weren't cutting it.
"Well?" Derek asked, putting his arms around her just a little more fully.
"How'd you do?" Casey asked. "Tell me!"
"How'd you do?" Derek asked, pulling away and starting to go through his locker for stuff he still wanted.
"Something's sticky in here..."he said, "what is this, jelly?"
"Uh-uh," Casey said. "You can't put me off that easily."
"Meh," Derek said, face still in his locker. "Passed everything. What else do ya need?"
She let it go, for the moment, but from the way she looked at him, he'd be in for it later.
"How bout you?" Derek said.
"Number six in the grade," Casey said, suddenly beaming. "94.2 percent average."
"Twenty-five," she said. "Straight 80 somethings. Shel is number three."
"97.563 percent." Sheldon said, unable to restrain himself.
"Oooh," Derek said. "Sheldon beat you."
"There's always next year," Casey said. She and Sheldon turned to each other and hissed like cats. Emily laughed.
"Okay, Miss Kitty," Derek said. "Let's get you outta here before you get into trouble." He dragged her off, having stuffed the last of his junk into his bag.
When they got to the car, Casey turned to him. She leaned close until their noses almost touched.
"Where is it?"she said.
"Your report card, Derek."
"What," he said, pulling away,"do you think I'm lying?"
"I didn't say that."
"Not in so many words," he said. "If I were lying, you'd find out about it soon enough, anyway, wouldn't you?"
"I didn't say you were lying," Casey said trailing her fingernails lightly up and down the back of his neck."Why are you being all defensive?"
"Why do you wanna see my report card so bad?"
"Because I care," Casey said. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
He groaned and rolled his eyes. "Later," he said.
"Later?" she said, pouting. "Why?"
"Cause you," He leaned over and kissed her quickly, "can't keep a secret," he said, getting into the car. "You coming?"
She huffed and got in.
Part Four: George.
He stood in the middle of the jewelry department trying to pick something out for Nora. She was going to assume that he did something very very bad that she didn't know about. He giggled at the thought. A scary middle aged woman with dollar signs in her eyes came up to him before he'd had a chance to reach the counter.
"How can I help you today, sir?" She said, hungrily. This type of woman usually got all of his money from him, just to make her go away.
"Just looking really,"he said. "A little something for my wife."
"Weeelll," she purred. "I'm sure I can help you pick something out." She led him over to the diamonds.
An hour later, an exhausted George got home, a little box in his jacket pocket.
He then remembered about the report cards and groaned inwardly. He put down his briefcase and took the long walk to the living room where Derek and Casey were watching TV.
"Okay, let me have 'em," he said to the them. Casey handed hers over. Derek became suddenly very interested in a speck of dust on the coffee table.
"Derek," George said. Derek got up and went to his book bag near the door. He reached into its depths and pulled out a folder. He opened it up and went through several individual papers, stopped looking, then started over. George could feel his blood pressure rising by the second.
"Derek!" George said. Derek jumped, then reached into his pockets, found it, and gave it to him.
George's stomach dropped. The kid had been doing so much better this year. He gave Casey's the most cursory of looks, knowing he had nothing to worry about with hers. He took a deep breath and unfolded Derek's.
"Son of a—" George said.
Derek grinned. "Gotcha," he said.
George sat down on the couch, suddenly boneless.
Casey went over and took the printout from him. Her eyes widened as she looked it over.
"Son of a—"