Everyone has a story. My name is Vivian Hastings, and this is mine.
"Vivian!” says Mrs. Fairwell, snapping me out of my trance. "Tell me how to conjugate prendre with je."
"Take the re off of the end of prendre, and add an s," I answer, sitting up in my hard wooden chair.
"Definition," she orders, folding her arms.
"Prendre, of course!" She flings her arm, indicating that it’s ridiculous that she had to explain.
“Prendre means to take. Unless, of course, you are ordering a meal. In that case, prendre means to have," I answer, feeling my face redden.
"You are a lucky girl. Now, please focus your attention on me instead of that window. Or do you find the window more alluring?” she asks, raising her eyebrows.
Yes, as I matter of fact, I do.
"No, Mrs. Fairwell. Im sorry. I'll pay attention," I say, pulling out a pencil and notebook to prove it.
"Merci, Vivian," she says before turning back to the board. "Now, when conjugating prendre with Ils or Elles, you must remember to add an extra n..."
I sink in my chair and stare at the clock, willing the bell to ring.
When the bell finally does ring, I'm surprised that Mrs. Fairwell asks me to stay behind.
"Yes, Mrs. Fairwell?" I say.
"Your grade has been slipping, Vivian," she says, flipping through a stack of graded papers.
I sigh. I was hoping she hadn’t noticed. "Yeah, I know. I'm trying Mrs. Fairwell, really. I'm just...having a tough time," I say, tucking a piece of chestnut brown hair behind my ear.
"Is something going on at home? Are you fighting with a friend? Please tell me Vivian. What is it that's making your grade slip so crudely?" she asks.
I turn my head away from her, afraid to make eye contact, knowing the anguish in my eyes would give me away. "Nothing. I'm just a little stressed out. That's all. You know, it is my senior year," I say, as if that explained everything.
"That's not the only thing Vivian. This is your test from the beginning of the year, and this is your test from yesterday," she says, holding up two papers. One a flawless A, and the other a taunting D-. "You don't seem to be getting the answers right anymore." Her expression is now questioning.
"That’s not true! I answered every one of your questions correctly just twenty minutes ago!" I defend.
"Vivian, you've known that stuff for months now! What is it you're not telling me?" she asks, her expression still questioning, only now it has a hint of sorrow as well.
I sigh. "Nothing is wrong, Mrs. Fairwell. I told you, I'm only stressed. I'm sorry. I'll try harder. Promise," I say, quietly, afraid of possibly falling apart if I try to speak any louder. I turn towards the door, but Mrs. Fairwell stops me.
"You know, Vivian, talking about it could make you feel a little better," she says cordially. I turn back towards her and see she's smiling at me. I look down at my shoes and bite my bottom lip, then, hesitantly, I walk over to the chair next to her desk and sit in it. She puts her delicate hand gently on my shoulder, and, still looking at my shoes, I say, "I think Junee is dying."
“I’m not sure what you mean, dear,” she says, furrowing her blonde eyebrows.
“Junee is in the hospital, sick, and I think it’s killing her,” I explain. Just as I feared I would, I fall apart.
If I had to give my life up for someone without hesitation, it would without question be my Grandma Junee. I love her so much, and having to admit that she could be dying tore me apart. I listened to the sound of my sobs as Mrs. Fairwell waited patiently. Instead of loud and bound to cause attention like mine, Mrs. Fairwell’s tears were silent. Mrs. Fairwell and Junee have been best friends for 38 years now. Junee used to watch over and care for Mrs. Fairwell when her mother went out, arriving many hours later, drunk and in a bad mood. Junee finally put her foot down and got Mrs. Fairwell's mother some help. She then committed suicide three months later. Junee used to visit Mrs. Fairwell at the foster home, and they'd play board games and talk about nothing for hours on end. Mrs. Fairwell never forgot it, and despite the dramatic age difference between them, (Mrs. Fairwell is 46 and Junee is 82) they've been best friends ever since.
"My dear, sweet child,” says Mrs. Fairwell, pulling out a handful of tissues from the tissue box. She hands me a wad of them and keeps the rest for herself.
"It's so sad. I honestly have no idea what I'll do if it happens. If she...leaves," I say, breaking down into more sobs.
"I know dear. Junee is an extraordinary woman. She was there for me when I needed a friend the most. For that, I will always owe her," she says, embracing me in a sympathetic hug. Her arms are warm and welcoming. She pulls away from me, and her blonde hair sticks to my soaked cheek. I’m not really one for heart-to-heart moments, and I don’t want to talk about Junee anymore.
"Sorry, Mrs. Fairwell, but I can’t talk about this now. It hurts too much. Is there anything I can do to get my grade up?" I say, trying to change the subject of my favorite person in the world possibly dying.
"Yes, you have a few options to choose from," she says, getting the message and wiping away her tears, only to have her efforts wasted by a new family of them.
"Well, I would really like to get into a good college, and I'm not going to let a stupid french grade, no offence, get in my way. It's what Junee would want," I say, looking at the floor again.
"You're so right. Nothing is more important to Junee than a good education," she says, smiling at the floor. It’s quiet for a moment as she reminisces the past years she’s spent with Junee. I don’t want to take her away from her memories, but the silence is giving me a headache.
"So," I say, sighing, "what are my choices?"
"Well honestly, now you're not going to like this, but I think the only real choice you have is to get a tutor. Well, that or drop out of the class," she answers.
"Oh, no Mrs. Fairwell. I am NOT dropping out. Junee hates quitters. I guess that only leaves me with a tutor then," I say, making a face of disgust.
"Yes, you are correct," she says, turning back to her papers, silent tears still falling down her elegant cheek bones.
"So, what do I have to do? Do I have to fill out a paper, find someone on my own time, or do you assign someone to me?" I ask. This is all so new to me. I've never been tutored before in my life.
"Well, you'll have to find someone on your own time, but I do have a suggestion," she says, pulling out a tub of third year papers.
"Yes?" I say, looking curiously at the tub of papers.
"I have a third year student. He is the best in the class. He will know how to help you. Well, I think so anyways. He's such a nice boy. I can't possibly see him turning someone in need down," she says.
"He?" I say, suddenly regretting the whole tutor thing. I’ve seen movies about boys and girls setting up tutor sessions. I cringe at the thought.
"Yes, he. Well, Ian Daniels to be exact. He's a senior as well. I'm sure you know him. And, by the look on your face, I know what you’re thinking. He’s not that type, Vivian. No need to worry," she says.
Of course I know him. He's the only boy in the world I've ever had a crush on in my whole
She pulls out a group of papers from the tub. She lays them on the desk in front of me. About a dozen flawless A's are staring up at me. All of them autographed at the top by none other than Ian Daniels. I ogle at them incredulously.
"Well, you have my input. Do what you want with it," she says, scooping up the papers and placing them neatly back in the tub.
"Thank you, Mrs. Fairwell. I'll ask him," I say, rising from my chair, not sure how true that statement really is. Anything is easy if you only think about doing it. Actually doing it is the hard part.
"I'm sure he won't disappoint you," she says, also rising from her chair.
"Thank you so much for your help and concern Mrs. Fairwell," I say, returning my gaze to the floor.
"Anytime, Vivian," she says, placing her hand on my shoulder for a brief second.
"I'm sorry I ruined your day," I say.
"Oh, my dear, what do you mean?" she asks.
"Well, now that you know about Junee, you're going to be so melancholy all day. Not to mention how worried you’re going to be," I explain.
"Yes, that is true. But, I'm a worry wart anyways. I do have three children you know," she says, reminding me of my friend, and her youngest child, Dixxie Fairwell, waiting for me in the lunch room.
"Well, thank you. I guess I should get some lunch before fifth period starts and Dixxie starts to worry," I say, heading towards the door.
"You're welcome. And Vivian?"
“When you see Dixxie, would you mind letting her know that I won’t be here after school. I’m going to be leaving early. I’m sure she’s probably forgotten by now,” says Mrs. Fairwell. Then, shaking her head, she adds, “Sometimes that girl worries me.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Fairwell. I’ll let her know,” I promise. She nods and turns back to her desk.
I walk out the door and head to lunch, stopping in the bathroom along the way.