The two children sat in the lush meadow dotted with the sprawling hues of springtime, laughing as they plucked dandelions from the grass and blew the light seeds into the air. The sky was a gorgeous blue, with only a couple of puffy white clouds floating hazily in the distance.
The boy finished weaving a wreath of violet and cobalt wildflowers, grinning widely as he placed it in his best friend's hair. She giggled, securing it on her head with her stubby fingers, before leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. "Thanks, Gil. It's so pretty." She leaned her head on his shoulder, watching as a monarch butterfly fluttered past.
"What is it?"
"When we're all grown-up...do you think that we could...get married?"
"You want me to marry you?" She pondered this for a moment. "Well...okay."
The toddlers smiled shyly at one another, and he quickly fashioned two rings out of dandelion stalks, placing one in her open palm. "We'll have to make a promise, then."
"What kind of promise?"
He inhaled deeply, lacing his fingers through hers. "Okay...I, Gilbert, swear to marry Elizaveta once I'm old enough."
"I, Elizaveta, swear to marry Gilbert once I'm old enough," she echoed breathlessly.
"So that's it," he sighed, easing onto his back and pulling her down with him, so all they could see was the canvas of blue. "We can never ever break this promise, okay? We're gonna have a fairytale ending."
Gilbert Beilschmidt groaned, banging his head repeatedly against his desk. Another flunked history test. And most likely a D for the semester.
God, he really hated school.
His friend Antonio leaned over to glance at his paper. "Another one? Lo siento, amigo."
"Can you stop throwing random Spanish into our conversations? It makes my brain hurt," he huffed. "And don't even think about giving me another lecture, Tony."
Antonio frowned. "You read my mind. Pero-"
"What the hell did I just say? And please don't mention Ludwig right now— I don't need to hear it," Gil snapped, before groaning and slapping his forehead. "Oh my God, I'm so screwed."
"Mr. Beilschmidt!" the teacher said sharply, having finished handing out the graded tests. She glowered at him through her horn-rimmed spectacles. "Is there something you would like to share with the class?"
"No, ma'am," Gilbert mumbled, staring pointedly at his desk. As soon as she turned back to the blackboard and continued with the lesson, he shot her an icy glare. "Bitch."
Elizaveta tapped her pencil against her chin as the teacher droned on and on about the Protestant Reformation, jotting down notes with unrivaled fervor. As the student council's secretary, second chair cellist in the school's reputable orchestra, and star player on her field hockey team, she had to do everything she could to maintain her reputation in the school's social hierarchy, including pretending to pay attention to their teacher's boring lectures. Who knew popularity could be this demanding?
Her eyes flickered to the chattering boys sitting a couple of seats to her left. Couldn't they at least make an effort to conceal their whispers? It was like they were trying to be loud.
She snapped back to attention. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Did you hear what I just said?"
"Um...sorry. I sort of spaced out."
The teacher sighed. "I said that Principal Vargas wants you to see him during one of your free periods. He didn't give me any details, but he said that he had something important to discuss with you."
Liz gulped, wracking her brain for any missteps she may have made recently, but coming up with nothing. Her test scores never fell below an A-, and as far as she remembered, she had had perfect attendance since the beginning of tenth grade, was always punctual, typically paid attention in class, and had never skipped field hockey practice or orchestra rehearsal. So could possibly be wrong? "Understood."
"Excellent. Class dismissed!"
Liz creaked open the door to the principal's office with great trepidation, trying not to look as terrified as she felt. "Excuse me? My name is Elizaveta Héderváry. Mr. Vargas wanted to see me?" she choked out, blanching at the sight of the bespectacled secretary clacking away at her desk.
"Yes, he informed me. Right this way, Ms. Héderváry," the woman said, beckoning her over with a crimson-colored talon.
Liz shuffled towards the office in the corner, gingerly rapping her knuckles against the door. "Come in," Mr. Vargas called out cheerfully.
Okay, he didn't sound angry. So whatever she'd done couldn't have been that horrible, right? All she had to do was apologize and quietly await judgment.
Plucking up every ounce of her courage, Liz opened the door, shocked to see the enormous smile on Mr. Vargas' face. It was her first time ever meeting him in his office, and she was struck by just how casual he was; his desk was scattered with messy documents, photos, and mementos from students: a porcelain dolphin emblazoned with a sparkly 'Cancun', a plastic apple dated from 1989, a tiny statue of a stack of books, among other little trinkets and ornaments. A miniature basketball hoop hung from the bulletin board crowded with schedules, announcements, and scrawled-on Post-It reminders.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Vargas," she said stiffly. "How are you today?"
He laughed, beaming at her. "No need to be so anxious, my dear. You're not in trouble, no, no not at all! Quite the contrary, actually. I have some wonderful news for you, Ms. Héderváry."
"Um...oh...so that's all it is?" Sheer relief washed over her.
"Of course. I wouldn't joke around like that," he assured her, before quickly growing solemn.
"So, Ms. Héderváry...we have a student. He's been failing most of his classes, getting into fights, receiving detentions on a daily basis, so on and so forth. And, I hate to say this, but if this sort of behavior goes on for much longer, he will be expelled. The administration thought that if he had a role model to get him back on track and tutor him occasionally, things might start to look up for him." He smiled wearily at her. "You're running the Oyster Club with Ms. Sofia Braginski, right? And the first meeting is this afternoon?"
She nodded hastily. All she had to do was tutor some punk? Piece of cake.
"I'll give him the option of joining that for a bit of extra credit. So, once school's over, I'll call him to the office and talk to him. I'm fairly certain he'll take the option of joining the club— most of the students have. You'll meet him there, introduce yourself, etc." He frowned, cocking his head to the side. "Is that okay with you? I don't want to force you into anything—"
"No, no, it's alright. I'll do it. No harm in helping out the student body," she forced out in a cheery voice.
"Great. I knew I could count on you!" He winked at her, reaching out to shake her hand. "Thank you so much for your help, Ms. Héderváry— I'll be sure to put in a good word for you when college application time rolls around next year!"
Well, staying on the administration's good side was never a bad thing.
Feeling immensely satisfied with herself, she thanked him and turned around to leave, before realizing that, out of relief, she had neglected to ask the most important question. "Sorry, just one more thing. Who exactly am I tutoring?"
"Gilbert Beilschmidt to the office, Gilbert Beilschmidt to the principal's office."
Gil groaned after stepping out of his last period classroom and hearing the announcement. Just what he needed— the icing on the cake for his spectacularly shitty day. He wondered if the old geezer had found out about his brief tussle with one of the soccer players the other day, or if he was gonna give him another detention for some far-fetched reason.
Fantastic. Just fucking fantastic.
Francis frowned at him, clucking his tongue. "What on earth happened this time, Gilbert?"
"Nothing too serious," he retorted, rolling his eyes. "At least, nothing that should get me suspended or something dumb like that. Just tell Coach I'm gonna be late. Later, Francey-pants."
He stormed away before his friend could protest, sighing as he glanced at his watch. His teammates would probably clobber him to death for being late once the geezer finally finished shaking his fist at him, especially that jackass Roderich.
Gil had barely reached the office when the door was shoved open, a gawky woman with a clipboard staring back at him. "Gilbert Beilschmidt?" she asked sharply, her pen poised above the paper.
Great, he was famous now. Well, that was he got for selling his soul to popularity.
"Yeah, the principal wanted to see me," he mumbled. "What does he want?"
"You'll have to see." She grabbed him by the forearm and dragged him over to Mr. Vargas' office, shoving him inside and slamming the door shut behind him.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Beilschmidt." Mr. Vargas gave him a strained smile. "How are you today?"
"Gilbert Beilschmidt?" she spluttered, trying to contain her surprise. "That Gilbert Beilschmidt? You want me to tutor him? B-But-"
Her heart contracted at the thought of him. He was the last punk she wanted to get involved with, and that was saying a lot, considering she'd have to deal with a dozen of them as the advisor to the Oyster Club. Oh God, she would have preferred anyone else; even that pyro sophomore chick seemed like a saint compared to him.
Liz pinched her arm and squeezed her eyes shut, praying that she was dreaming. However, when she opened her eyes, she was still met with the baffled face of the school principal, a fading red splotch on her arm, and bitter, harsh reality. Was it too late to change her mind?
"Is there anything wrong, Ms. Héderváry?" Mr. Vargas' tone was light, inquisitive. He was testing her, goddammit!
She hesitated, but her mouth seemed to move of its own accord. "No, there isn't a problem. I'll do it." Wait, what?
Liz wanted to slap herself; she should have said no when she still had the chance! Screw that ass-kissing side of her that couldn't bear letting her principal down, not to mention that tantalizing prospect of him writing a recommendation for her application to Dartmouth. Why did she have to be such a goddamn fruitcake?
"Expulsion?" Gil gasped. "Are you serious?" He could practically feel the disappointment radiating off Mr. Vargas, who was probably thinking of his brother Ludwig, the school's perfect student council president/star debater/all-around genius, and wondering what exactly had gone wrong.
"If you continue with this behavior, I'm afraid that that's what's going to happen, Mr. Beilschmidt." Mr. Vargas sighed. "But if you're willing to make amends...I have an offer to make, young man."
Gil glowered at him. "And that would be...?"
Mr. Vargas was unfazed. "I've already talked to a student that has agreed to be your tutor. She's a very smart and considerate young lady, and I trust you two will get along just fine. You'll meet a few days a week for a couple of hours to ask her questions about the curriculum and have her help with your work."
"What about football practice! How am I supposed to play if I'm being tutored?"
"As for that...well, I've already spoken to your coach," Mr. Vargas said grimly. "He agreed with me, upon seeing your progress reports, that it was better for you to leave the team. But don't worry: if your grades pick up, he'll be glad to let you rejoin for your senior year."
"You can't just kick me off the team!" Gil protested, slapping a hand down on one of the chair's armrests.
"Nothing will change my mind, Mr. Beilschmidt. Try all you want, but you'll only be wasting your time. You're going to be tutored, and unless your grades start looking up, you're not allowed to rejoin the team or any other non-academic extracurricular activities. That's my final decision," the principal said sharply, watching as the boy slouched even further down in his seat. "However, there's one exception."
"Yeah?" Gil grunted, uninterested. Man, he was really pissed. An F in history, his less-than-satisfactory progress report, a meeting with his least favorite geezer, and now he had to quit the only thing that made school worthwhile? He might as well drop out; even flipping burgers at the local fast food joint would be preferable to this.
"The Oyster Club. If you join, I can offer you a bit of extra credit." The principal tapped his pencil on the surface of his desk.
"The Oyster Club? What the hell is that?" he snarled, interest piqued nonetheless. He really could use the extra credit.
"After school, every day...hmm, how should I put this?" Mr. Vargas pondered it for a moment. "Troublemakers from every grade are invited to meet up, discuss their personal issues, participate in charity events, and learn how to become proper members of society. That's what it is, in a nutshell. It's a new addition to the school, just approved by the administration, so the student council is sending one of their members to advise it and determine whether or not it's effective. Your new tutor just happens to be that person, so, after the meetings, you two can have your cozy tutoring sessions."
He paused. "It's an excellent deal, Mr. Beilschmidt. I see no reason for you to turn me down."
Gilbert had to admit that the old sot was right: it was a decent deal, considering how much trouble he had caused the past three years. "Alright, fine. I'll join your stupid club."
She had watched one of his football games once, out of curiosity, even though she wasn't particularly interested in the sport. He was the quarterback, according to Lili, who, much to her dismay, seemed to revere the asshole, but even she had to admit he was talented. Gilbert was nimble on his feet, seemed to get along with his teammates reasonably well, and during every moment he was on the field, his face would brighten like she hadn't seen in ages.
She had felt an overwhelming wave of nostalgia as she watched him score a touchdown, but had squashed it immediately. What was wrong with her?
Now that she was officially his tutor, their relationship would be entirely forced, unwanted, and exclusively business-like. There was no way she'd give him the satisfaction of backing down.
Her lips curled in a triumphant smirk. Bring it on, Beilschmidt.