Truth, Pride, Victory, Love

By: David Connor & E.F. Mulder

Prologue


“REED, YOUR word is a noun.” My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Smeckler, stood beneath the big clock I spent most of the school day watching, her vocabulary book in hand, her stare boring into me. “It is defined as a deep feeling of pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements. Mathias….” She turned to him. “Your word is also a noun, one meaning something accepted as factual. You must tell this at all times. As you know,” Smeckler said, “the score is tied.”

Not for long, I thought. I was ready to kick Mathias What’s-his-name’s butt.

“Whoever gets to the board and correctly writes their word first….”

That’s going to be me.

“…will bring their team the victory.”

My word was pride. I knew Mathias’s too. His was truth. Truth and pride… I planned on writing both, just to show how smart I was.

Come on! Say go!

My entire body quivered with excitement as I waited. I really wanted to win, and not just because the victors got fifteen minutes added to recess while the losers had to stay in and study. I always wanted to win—at everything—because winning felt so good.

“Remember, spelling counts.”

Stop talking, Smeckler! I was ready to fly.

“Take your mark.” She dragged it out. “Get set.” She raised her hand. “Go!”

An empty chair toppled sideways as I bolted, and a book slid off Mike Savoy’s desk when I crashed right into it.

“Reed!” Smeckler scolded me.

“Dang it!” I had to go back and pick both items up, wasting precious time.

“Remember, move to the opposite white board without actually running.”

What the heck fun is that?

The class was divided in half, my team in front of the windows, Mathias’s group shoulder to shoulder along the wall with the “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?” bulletin board.

“Go, Reed!” My team cheered me on. Mathias’s sort of coerced him—harassed might have been even more fitting. He hadn’t budged from his spot, and as I glanced back, half his teammates were yelling, while the other half were staring him down. Smeckler did too, like some sort of alien monster with laser-beam eyes.

“Mathias…?” she said. “Do you know your word?”

I came to a halt after picking up Mike’s book. Come on, kid, I thought. I don’t want to win on a forfeit. There was no pride in that. Truth!

His word didn’t seem that challenging for a fourth grader, except maybe for the dropped e from true, its root. “Many of these words will have some tricky phonemes and graphemes.” Mrs. Smeckler had tossed that out at the start of the so-called game. I wasn’t familiar with either one of those terms, but I knew how to spell truth, and I couldn’t imagine any of us didn’t, including poor old Mathias…. Mathias… what? Mrs. Smeckler had mentioned his surname that morning, and each of the four days of school so far that year. He sat right next to me in first-year band. We both played trombone. The band teacher had called out both names too, but I’d have been damned if I could recall it at that moment. The short, frail-looking kid always slouched down in his seat during scales. He was squirmy now, and had been from the start. Actually we were all still summery restless. The fall leaves hadn’t even begun to change color yet. It was still hot outside, and every one of us wanted to be out there, not in some stifling classroom involved in a nerve-racking matchup only Mrs. Smeckler could consider enjoyable. “A vocab bee is a fun way to learn and get to know one another.” Those had been her exact words.

Fun? As if.

Personally, I’d have rather been pitted against my classmates in a rousing game of dodgeball. I got a sense timid Mathias would have been petrified by dodgeball—not that he seemed the epitome of calm while playing word games. Me, I was always fidgety. When Mrs. Smeckler asked me on the first day of class why I couldn’t sit still, I told her it was because I had a constant surge of energy coursing through me like an electric eel. “They feel like that, right… all charged up and spazzy?” She looked at me funny. “Hey. Do they, like, electrocute each other when they touch?” Smeckler told me to look it up. I figured that meant she didn’t know. I decided I’d just ask my father—my father, not my mother, because she’d tell me to look it up too, even if she did know.