"Ok, gentleman," Hancock commenced, seating himself in front of the large group of writers. "It's time for the final vote. Charles... You can begin."
Charles Thomson picked up a notebook and pencil and stood up in front of the class next to Hancock. "If you want the two petitions recently written by Richard Lee and Thomas Jefferson to be published in our next issue, signify by saying yea. If not, signify by saying nay... Samuel Chase..."
Samuel Chase held up his finger, suggesting that he must swallow his peep before opening his mouth to answer. Finally, he managed to utter, "Yea."
Thomson put a tally on the right side of the paper. "George Read..."
Read hesitated for a moment, but when he glanced down the hallway and saw Senor McKean's threatening glare he quickly stuttered a nervous, "Yea!"
"Yea!" he called out confidently.
Caesar gave one quite cough into a napkin before he mumbled, "Yea."
Adams smiled, feeling that it was rather silly that he actually had to say it. "Yea!"
Lyman Hall looked down and began to run his finger down a column of his history book. Finally, he looked up bravely and declared, "Yea." Rutledge gave him a slight sneer and turned away, offended.
"Uh... I'm going to respectfully yield to Edward Rutledge." The entire room turned to Edward nervously. He pretended not to notice, but eventually he lazily got out of his chair and strode towards Adams.
"Well, Mr. Adams?" Adams looked up irritably.
"Well, Mr. Rutledge?"
"You must believe that I will do what I said I was goin' to do. Remove the offendin' passage."
"Edward, if we take it out, we'll be guilty of what we ourselves are rebelling against."
Rutledge glanced out the window, a quick expression of guilt masking his face. But just as quickly as it arrived, it was replaced with a stubborn grimace. "Never the less... Remove it!" Adams did not know what to do. He turned to Ben whose eyes were desperately begging him to give in. Next, he turned to Jefferson, who was absent mindedly doodling on a scrap of paper.
"Jefferson, say something!"
"I don't know what can be done."
"Well, you're the one who wrote it!"
"I wrote all of it." Adams turned around the room, realizing that out of all the people who were supporting his cause, he was the only one who had been willing to throw it all away over this one issue. He said nothing, but leaped up, snatched the petition from Thomson's desk, and furiously scratched out a small portion of Jefferson's writing. He thrust it to Rutledge.
"There... Keep your narrow-minded prejudices, little good may they do you. Now VOTE!" Rutledge glowered, gave the petition a quick glimpse and calmly placed it back on Thomson's desk.
"Joseph Hewes and I... vote YEA!" Adams took his seat, feeling as though everything he stood for had just been smashed into dust. Ben saw this and quickly slid over to the desk next to him.
"Don't worry, John. Maybe in the future we'll be able to fix it." Adams did not respond but gave Ben half of a grin, just to keep him at ease.
Thomson continued with the voting. "James Wilson..."
Before James Wilson had a chance to say anything, Dickinson stood and walked towards Hancock's desk. "I'm sorry for all the inconvenience such distinguished men as John Adams were put to just now. You might as well have kept your document in tact, for all the good it will do you. James... Give your vote."
Wilson cleared his throat and was about to speak when he was interrupted one more time.
"James," Ben urged. "Consider what your doing. You're about to make a vote that could be the very reason why this school will never get better... ever! Extra curricular activities will be cancelled, students will be denied any rights, and the whole school will begin to decompose right before your eyes... And who will the students have to blame... but you?" Wilson gazed into space, suddenly feeling unsure of himself. At first, Dickinson took no notice of this, but when he realized that Wilson still hadn't made his vote, he started to feel anxious as well.
"Come now, James! Nothing has changed. Franklin's just trying to confuse you with one of his mind games. Don't let him get to you." James rotated his head to look at Dickinson, whose voice was beginning to crackle, as though he were agitated.
"John... Ben is right about one thing. If I vote with you, I'm going to be the reason why all the students at this school will suffer. Whereas, if I vote with them... I'll just be one among a dozen. I'm sorry, John. I don't think I can take that kind of pressure."
Dickinson began to pace the room uneasily, clutching at the large bruise on the right side of his face. "And is that how you're going to make decisions for the rest of your life? Just trying to fit in with the crowd, is that it?!"
"I know you're disappointed in me... But my vote... is yea!" Dickinson took a step back, his complexion going white. For a moment, the students were briefly concerned that he might pass out. Charles Thomson, however, soon lost interest in the state of John Dickinson, and cheerfully made another tally on the right side of his paper.
Dickinson stood closer to Wilson. "James!" he moaned quietly. "I thought we were friends."
Wilson looked away, pain stricken. "I really am sorry to hurt you, John. But... I think it's time that we... maybe hung out with different people. It's not you, John, really. It's just... You know that girl from French class... Rachel Bird? Well, we've been secretly engaged for the past year and yesterday I asked her if we could elope."
The entire room jumped from their seats and whipped around to Wilson. "WHAT?!" they all cried out in unison.
Wilson became puzzled. "I guess we did a good job at hiding it. Anyway, I hope I can trust you all to keep this secret. We're going to Kentucky tonight and will be back by Sunday. Whatever you all do, don't tell our parents!" Feeling no need to explain himself any further, Wilson reseated himself and began to leaf through his notebook. Dickinson, who looked as if he had just been smashed with a ton of bricks, stumbled towards the window, gasping for air. Thomson turned to Hancock, unsure of whether or not it was appropriate for him to ask Dickinson for his vote. Hancock nodded in affirmation.
"John Dickinson...Yours is the final vote." Dickinson swiveled towards the group tensely. He turned his gaze from Thomson to Wilson, and finally to John Adams.
"It's all up to you," Adams whispered, with a pleading gaze.
Dickinson swallowed with difficulty and staggered towards Hancock, giving Adams a look as if to say, "I've lost my future, my girlfriend, and my best friend all in one day. How could you make it any worse for me?" But though Dickinson's expression did in a way draw out a sense of sympathy, Adams felt his heart leap inside him rejoicing, for at that moment, he knew that he had finally won. Dickinson attempted to swallow though his mouth was as dry as sawdust, before finally giving his response:
"I cannot... with a clean conscience, sign such a document... For I feel as though by doing so, I would be betraying everything that I stand for... I will never stop hoping that one day, this paper will be able to reconcile with the school board... But... If everyone in this room thinks that by publishing these articles, they will be improving this school, which I, in my own way, hold up just as dearly as does John Adams... I cannot stand in the way." Adams gripped the sides of his desk fearfully. "Hancock... I guess what I'm trying to say is... I'm quitting the school paper... So I guess my vote doesn't matter anyway." No one dared to speak, but they all watched as Dickinson somberly began to gather his belongings into his leather pack one last time. Before he left the room, Adams boldly addressed him.
"Gentlemen of the paper, I say ye, John Dickinson." Dickinson briefly turned to Adams, but for once, wasn't giving his sour glare. He quietly left the room, leaving Adams to revel in his victory. Yet, Adams was not nearly as happy as he imagined he would be. He was definitely pleased that all his hard labor was finally producing results, but he just wished that things could have been different. But there was no point in being gloomy. There was plenty of more work to be done. Hancock got up from his desk and took the petition from Thomson.
"All right. Step right up! Don't miss your chance to be expelled!" The students chuckled nervously.
"Wait!" Adams called out. "I have a change to make to the petition!"
Hancock's jaw dropped. "You, John Adams?!"
"Yes! I don't see why that's so odd. Jefferson, you wrote the word 'inalienable'. It's 'unalienable'."
Jefferson thought for a moment. "No, 'inalienable' is correct, John Adams."
Adams smiled patronizingly. "Jefferson, I happen to be in six different writing clubs."
"Yes, and I happen to be in seven."
Hancock decided that it was his job to end the debate. "Thomas Jefferson, will you yield to John Adams' request?"
Jefferson thought for a moment and then began to smile deviously. "No, sir. I will not!" Adams crossed his arms indignantly and slouched in his seat.
"Very well. I withdraw it," he pouted. Ben gave him a good-natured punch on the arm. Adams smiled, trying to be good-natured about it as well, though secretly he was wondering if Ben's blow was going to leave a bruise. "I'll force McNair to change it later," he mumbled under his breath.
Returning to the matter at hand, Hancock took up a pen a boldly signed the paper.
"That's a pretty large signature," Hopkins remarked.
"It's so Mr. George can read it without his contacts." He smiled proudly at his huge name and placed the paper back on Thomson's desk. "Ok... Who's next?" No one raised their hand. "Come now! If Mr. George were to come in now, I would be the only one to get in trouble!" Finally, Adams stood and approached the document. He too took the pen and signed his name. "Very good, John," Hancock commended.
"Thank you John." Adams sat close by, preparing to observe the rest of them, making sure that they all signed. The next one who was brave enough to come up was Ben. After him was Jefferson, then Witherspoon, Hopkins, Hall, and so on. The last of course was Edward Rutledge. He sauntered in front of them, bouncing his wavy hair from side to side. Adams didn't want to say anything, fearing that he might irritate Rutledge (something that he could not afford to do at the present time), but he didn't see why that little Southern belle felt the need to show off his assets all the time!
Finally, the procedure was done. Hancock skimmed over the paper one last time. Adams noticed that while reading it, his hands were shaking. Hancock called out for McNair. "McNair... Take this as well as Richard Lee's article down to the printing room. I want two hundred... No... Make that six hundred copies made. I want every student to have the opportunity to read it."
"Six hundred? I thought the limit was fifty!"
"What?! Is Mr. George going to get angry because we wasted paper?!"
McNair took the paper hesitantly. "Ok, Johnny... You sure you want to do this? You're not gonna get scared the second I hand out the papers tomorrow, are ya?" Hancock scoffed and tapped his fingers on his desk.
"Mr. McNair... I'm already scared."
And at that, McNair left the room, both petitions in hand, and diligently crossed the hall to the printing room. No one spoke for a while. And in that time, all that could be heard was the sound of ink being pressed into newspaper, and the deafening beats of over a dozen hearts, all of which were wondering what dark fate would be waiting for them in the next few days to come.