Deck of Cards

By Klaha Rastaban

Episode One: Hello, my first name is Distance

(September)

-First Period-

The classroom was a typical math class; the old wooden flooring was covered in dirty, frayed rugs of tan and chocolate, the walls were lined with photographs of hideous old men famous for their math skills. There was a heavy oaken desk at the front of the classroom, set in front of a chalkboard. The teacher, a short, stocky man with a black comb-over and ridiculously outdated and oversized eyeglasses, was droning on about the school rules and protocol—this was, after all, the first day of school, and arguably the most boring in a long line of boring days that stretched out over the course of a year.

Before the oaken desk were seven rows of five desks each, set in a neat, precise order, as one would expect from a math teacher. Alek Bawler sat at his desk, a row from the back, slouched in his chair, tapping a pencil against his thigh. He swallowed a yawn as the teacher, Mr. Bullock, went on in his dull voice about what he expected from the students this year—which was no different than the speech he'd given last year; a thing Alek was keen to remember, as he was possessor of a photographic memory. A blessing and a curse in its own right. Hmph, the man probably wrote the speech back in the 50s and memorized it—he sounded bored with his own words, for crying out loud!

"Ugh… Could he make this any more uninteresting?" Alek muttered darkly under his breath, slamming his cheek into his palm with a short huff.

A seat up, one desk to the left, Alek spied some kid hunched over his desk, writing something in his notebook as if his life depended on it. He didn't seem to be paying any attention to Mr. Bullock's lecture, either. Curious as to what the kid was scribbling so furiously into that notebook, Alek leaned forward and whispered, "Hmm? Are you taking notes on this?"

He'd never heard of somebody so dedicated to school before that he might take notes of the rules on the very first day—a day notable and celebrated the world wide for the very lack of work. Alek himself seemed to skate by on his memory; he only had to hear or read something once to recall it vividly in his mind, so he didn't need to study or cram anything into his head like the other students. This made classes for him a long, boring torture, especially when he already knew the subject. Sitting in class for an hour for no reason wasn't exactly his idea of fun.

The kid looked up, startled out of whatever world his mind happened to be in at the moment.

"H-huh?" He stammered, lightly placing a hand over the notebook as though it would hide the words that graced its pages. This immediately piqued Alek's interest. "Oh… U-um, no… Not exactly…"

"Then, what are you writing?" Alek pressed. "It has to be more interesting than this lecture."

The boy gave him a look that clearly said anything is more interesting than this lecture, before saying in a tone much too casual, "Oh, it's nothing."

Alek raised a single golden brown eyebrow in his disbelief.

"Oh? Are you sure?" He leaned closer, trying to get a peek of what was written in that notebook. The boy predictably covered the contents of the notebook hastily with other loose-leaf pages he had nearby.

"Really. It's nothing."

Alek leaned back in his seat with a small explosion of air escaping his lips.

"Fine, sheesh, whatever…" He waved a hand dismissively.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bullock continued droning on about the school rules, don't hit, don't make any derogatory remarks, blah, blah, blah. Alek crossed his arms on his desk and placed his head on them.

"Ugh… I already know this stuff…" He told his desk as he rolled his eyes.

"Well, I still have to tell you this," Mr. Bullock's voice interrupted his soliloquy. "I loathe the first day, too. I'd much rather jump straight into the actual class."

"Sure…" Alek mumbled into his arm.

"It's for legal reasons. Kids could say that we haven't told them the rules and that they didn't know they can't eat or drink in class and when they choke; it'll be on the school's head."

Great, now he'd started the old badger into a rant on kids these days. Alek made sure to quickly hide his water bottle in his bag. Just in case. He thought he'd been slick and nobody noticed, but he saw that kid from earlier watching him; though he turned away just as their eyes met. Alek watched his back for a moment.

"How rude of me," Alek realized he'd never introduced himself; but his real goal was to get the kid's name. "I'm Alek, by the way."

The kid turned his face slightly to look at him over his shoulder with one dark green eye and he stared at him like he was trying to figure out why he was asking in the first place; before turning his attention back to the board and the monotonous teacher. Alek heard his voice a second later, small and quiet .

"Matthew."

Alek smiled a little. Bingo. He tucked the name away for future reference.

"Just thought we should know each other's names, since we'll be sitting next to each other all semester."

"Hm," the kid called Matthew shrugged a little. The sound of Mr. Bullock's slightly whiny voice cut through their short-lived conversation.

"…So, look at the person beside you and say hello! Because this will be your partner this whole semester! Hope you like the look of their mug!"

The teacher clapped his hands and smiled around at his class, as if thinking he'd made a clever joke. Alek couldn't help but smirk. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his seat again.

"I have this down. It must have been engraved in my mind some time during last year's class."

"Now, I know many of you are wondering, what is the need for partnerships in Calculus? And I will tell you why, right now. There are many things that keep people from understanding this fine art called Calculus, and that is where your buddy will come in very handy. That, and should you be ill, they can bring you the work, and some of my assignments, believe it or not, will include group work." Mr. Bullock paused as he looked knowingly at Alek; he obviously recognized the little smart mouth from last year. "And young man, your partnership is a fourth of the grade, so if your partner falls behind, so do you. Call me old fashioned, but I think students should be helping one another..."

Mr. Bullock went on, his voice fading back into white noise. He looked back at the kid, Matthew.

"Don't worry, I'll make sure to keep you in shape. This stuff comes naturally to me." He stopped to think that over. "Well, kinda…"

He couldn't exactly call it natural… Not everyone had a photographic memory, after all. Not even half the population. But the kid burst his bubble.

"Math is my best subject."

"Oh?" He wasn't expecting that from the weedy little kid, but then he supposed he should have. He was a thin, wiry kid, with a helpless quality about him. Definite nerd material. "Then maybe you'll be helping me instead. Do you take good notes?"

"I don't need notes."

Was that so? Then just what the hell was he writing in that notebook, hm? Well, he'd already admitted they weren't, exactly, notes. So what was it?

"Oh?" Alek repeated. "Do you have a photographic memory as well?"

"Not really."

"I see," Alek rubbed his chin, thinking. "Well, either way, I'm sure we'll both pass with flying colors."

The kid said nothing in response, just went back to scrawling something in his mysterious notebook.

"Hm, not much of a talker?"

Matthew paused in his work. "Nah."

"I see… How boring," Alek declared, putting his hands behind his head. He rapidly lowered them again when he realized he'd caught Mr. Bullock's attention. "Oh crap! He's looking at me."

Alek picked up a pencil and acted like he was writing something as fascinating as Matthew, making a show of being a productive student. Mr. Bullock looked at him and tut-tutted in disapproval.

"Mr. Bawler, you are the same each year, no matter if the class is Algebra or Calculus."

"Uh, heh," Alek flashed a sheepish smile, knowing he'd been caught. "But I pass each year in excellence, don't I?"

The Calculus teacher could not argue with Alek; it was true. He merely pursed his lips and gave him the old hairy eyeball.

"You do, so I can't complain about your academic achievements."

"Does that mean you'll let me take a nap?" Alek asked, sitting up in his seat with a perky grin. There was a smattering of laughter as the other students admired his cheek.

"You already know the answer to that."

Alek replaced his arms on the desk and laid his head down on them. Mr. Bullock cocked his head sternly at him, but Alek could see a glint of humor in his eye as he looked down at him through his glasses.

"And it's no."

Alek sat up, putting up his hands peaceably and laughing shortly.

"I know, I know, sorry bout that."

"Let's resume the class…"

Mr. Bullock went back to the board, outlining expected conduct while within his classroom walls.

-Third Period-

The World History classroom was nothing like Mr. Bullock's classroom. It had the wooden floor, but that was where the similarities ended. Nakamura-sensei's classroom had a decidedly Asian aura about it. In fact, Nakamura-sensei was a feng shui enthusiast, and he claimed every item in the classroom, down to the last flower arrangement was especially designed for a calm, scholarly atmosphere. It was certainly calm.

The desks, which were mandatory—because had they not been, Nakamura-sensei would certainly do away with them in favor of sitting on the floor—were arranged in a half circle around the chalkboard. Placed in between the board and the desks was a portable koi pond. How it had ever been authorized was a school mystery—think of the drowning hazards!—these were teenagers, for Pete's sake, not toddlers!—but it was definitely a beautiful mood setter. It even had a recycling waterfall that made for a pleasant ambience.

The walls were set with gold and red tapestries of dragons and birds made of fire; the beautiful calligraphy set in tasteful black frames were said to have been made by his son. All around the room were tiny golden brown bowls of water and delicate plants on black wooden shelves. Sweet smelling incense choked the air; and gave the room a smoky, dark look. Too bad the student desks somewhat detracted from the look.

When Alek entered the room, Nakamura-sensei sat in a corner, cross-legged and peaceful atop his silken cushion. Other students were taking their desks. And Alek spied a perfect seat.

Sliding into a desk towards the back, Alek murmured, "Ah, so we meet again…"

He could see the kid's back tense when he spoke, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. To his credit, though, Matthew did not turn around, though he ceased writing in his ever present notebook. Alek heard a small sigh escaping the kid, and he leaned forward, curious.

"What?"

"Nothing."

That answer again. Alek wondered if he should be annoyed by this old stand by answer of his or enjoy the fact that he was already getting to know his patterns.

"Are you sure? Was that a sigh of annoyance or relief?"

"It was a sigh of nothing."

Aw, and here he'd deluded himself into thinking Matthew would say something more informative.

"If you say so," Alek said, leaning his cheek into his hand again. He found himself wondering why a kid who looked like a lower classman was attending not one, but two classes with him when he was a senior. The kid looked like a freshman, if even that. Alek nodded in the kid's direction. "Hey, how old are you, anyway? Taking all these advanced classes."

"Fifteen."

"Really?" Alek found himself mildly impressed. "You must be some kind of prodigy, then."

"Not really."

Hm, he sure did fall back on those answers nothing and not really a whole lot. Plus, knowing the difficulty of these classes from watching the others around him struggle, Alek knew the kid was playing modest. Calculus without a photographic memory had to be pretty hard.

"Come now, don't be shy. You are, aren't you?"

Matthew shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable. Alek watched him with a keen eye in silence before asking, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Obviously something; I'm not bothering your ability to learn, am I?"

"How would you manage that?"

"I'm not sure. That's why I'm asking. But if you don't wanna talk," Alek shrugged carelessly. "Then that's fine."

Matthew was still not turning around, so Alek couldn't gauge his facial expressions, but he caught a definite hesitation in the boy's voice as he said, "It's not that…"

"Then what is it?" Alek could sense something important behind the tone of Matthew's voice, and he was one who wanted to know everything.

"Well—Never mind…"

The bell rang, signaling class to start. Nakamura-sensei unfolded himself from the floor and began talking in his pleasant alto. But Alek was not letting this go. He opened one of his notebooks and wrote, "Never mind what? You were going to say something, weren't you?" on a page and tore it out carefully before folding it up and tossing it expertly onto Matthew's desk. He saw the boy unfold it and look down at it, though he still could not see his face to begin guessing at what he was thinking. Why the hell had he chosen the seat behind him? He watched as Matthew took his pen and wrote slowly—nothing like the frenzied pace in which he wrote in his own notebook, Alek noted.

Matthew snaked an arm back and Alek took the note from Matthew's hand, noticing that Matthew's nails were short but well manicured on fingers small but slender. He also spotted a strange, cross-shaped marking around his wrist that looked like scar tissue. Matthew's hand now gone, Alek opened the note to find that Matthew's handwriting was small and neat; and read: "It's no big deal. I just thought it was beneath you to be talking to me. If you're planning something, it's all been done before. So if you're trying to find some kind of weakness to exploit, don't bother."

Alek blinked down at the note, trying to make sense of it. Beneath him? Did he come across as some rich snob or something? And what did he think Alek was planning, anyway? Puzzled, Alek wrote back: "Beneath me to be talking to you how? You have to be some kind of prodigy to be in advanced classes and I applaud anyone who is that smart. What do you mean by planning something that's already been done before? You're confusing me."

Now Alek watched closely as Matthew read the note; his back still seemed tense and he didn't relax after reading the note. Matthew looked up, watching the teacher as he paced the room, talking in his heavily accented English about his expectations of conduct in this classroom; basic first day stuff. He didn't seem to be paying much attention to their note passing, so Matthew must have deemed it safe; he wrote back, then slipped the paper back to Alek.

"If you don't know already, it won't be hard to figure it out. Ask anyone."

Alek stared down at the note. Now he was interested. What could have possibly happened, that an entire school should know about it? And why didn't he know? He'd been attending this school for the past three—going on four—years now, and he had yet to hear about…whatever this was? Too impatient to write and not worried about Nakamura-sensei—who was now dreamily telling some old folk tale from Japan—Alek leaned closer to Matthew.

"Then I shall have to ask around, since you won't tell me…" He said softly, close to Matthew's ear. Matthew, who had sat up straighter when Alek leaned in, lowered his head and slouched into his seat at the words. Hm, that meant it wasn't good news. That looked like shame to him…. Alek sat back, wondering what it could be.

END OF EPISODE ONE

--

Year 4 Encyclopedia Entry 1: Mr. Bullock

Age: Really old or at least he looks around his late 40's mid 50's

Looks: Ugly pudgy man with a very bad hair style that went out of style many eons ago. Huge thick glasses, probably so he can see the board behind him. He wears old people clothes, dress shirt, brown tie and brown pants. I don't think I've seen him in anything else other than that. He also wears these old disco looking shoes all the time. I've seen him in bowling shoes too.

Likes: Coffee, or so it seems, he drinks it every time I've seen him drinking something. He really seems into teaching math, even though I doubt he knows that he's boring. I've seen a photo of a woman on his desk, is this his wife? She looks too hot to be his wife, maybe his cousin or sister? Still, I don't think the two are related, she might be some girl in a magazine he'd seen and clipped out the image, regardless, he looks at the picture with longing eyes a lot. He also seems to like things organized, last year I took something and put it somewhere else and when I was leaving, I saw him look as if he was panicking and putting the item back where I had gotten it. I think he likes bowling; I've seen him in bowling shoes before.

Dislikes: Hot sauce, or at least hot sauce in his coffee, I pulled a prank on him one year because he gave me an A instead of an A+ on my paper. He did not seem too thrilled about it. He doesn't like rodents, there was a mouse in the class one year and he freaked out over it.

Personality Quirks: He seems bored with himself most of the time. He doesn't talk very enthusiastically and therefore he is boring. He does not anger very easily, which is a good thing, otherwise I'm sure I'd been thrown out of his classroom by now.

Thoughts: I don't think he realizes that he sweats so much, usually when he's writing something on the board you can see dark areas on his dress shirt; dark, wet areas that you know are sweat. His head sweats a lot as well, I think even though it's cold in the classroom, he's just one of those people that normally sweats a lot. Maybe that woman in the photo was a girlfriend but she dumped him? Was this because he sweats so much? Or because he's ugly? Maybe she's an internet girlfriend? If so, he must have sent her a false photo, unless she did as well? Either way, I think this teacher is extremely boring, you have to be either a math nerd or have no life if you think he's interesting.

Authors' Notes: I hope you enjoyed our debut chapter. We worked hard on this, day and night, and we'd love to hear some feedback on our work.