He looked up as Gerrod Knight walked by. Gerrod was not actually walking in any normal sense of the word. More aptly, he was floundering by. Floundering was a safe word. It had been on the class's first quarter vocabulary list.
"Stop floundering about!" cried Mr. Tyrell, entering the room indignantly. "And get back to your desk before the bell rings!"
Gerrod paused in mid-flounder. "I'm not floundering," he said, a cryptic smile on his face, "I'm wandering lackadaisically."
Mr. Tyrell's expression went to one of rage, and Brian was afraid he would pull out his rifle already. But he kept his temper and managed to scream "Where did you learn that word?"
"Which word, sir?"
"Luh... that L word!"
"Oh, you mean lackadaisically?"
Mr. Tyrell screamed and ran to his gun closet. Gerrod saw what he was doing, and grabbed Brian by his leather coat, holding him as a shield.
"Let me go!" yelled Brian, thrashing violently about.
"Let yourself go!" answered Gerrod. It made no sense to Brian.
Mr. Tyrell saw what was going on and sighed. "Okay, Gerrod, truce." He put his rifle back in the gun closet. Gerrod released Brian and with a smirk returned to his desk.
The next day, Mr. Tyrell had finished grading his papers. He was particularly dismayed that Brian Turner had tried to make an analogy to the human condition with the novel. It wasn't true, or Mr. Tyrell would know it already.
"Class," he said slowly, not taking his burning eyes off of Brian, "we all know why we do these essays." He shifted the papers from one hand to the other.
Brian knew that - to get into a good college. Brian wanted to get into a good college, certainly. He didn't want to be any kind of artist, for sure, and have to hang out with seedy drug people in old cafes. He reflected that Gerrod Knight would probably end up doing just that, and he felt sorry for him for a moment.
Mr. Tyrell continued: "Yesterday I had someone say a word that isn't even on the suggested SAT vocabulary list. Today," he grimaced, "I have an essay that tries to explain that this novel was a metaphor for history!" Brian was sure if the lights were out, Mr. Tyrell would be glowing. He was, at least, glowering, a second-quarter word.
A hush had fallen over the room, except for Gerrod, who was laughing to himself. "Brian Turner, please come forward," commanded Mr. Tyrell.
Brian, confused, walked forward. What did Mr. Tyrell want from him? There was nothing about metaphors in his paper except the one Mr. Tyrell had talked about, the birds in flight toward the sun.
"Brian! Read the class what you wrote in this paragraph." He handed Brian the essay on the top of the stack.
Brian looked at the essay. "This isn't my essay, sir."
"It's got your name on it!" screamed Mr. Tyrell.
"I- I-" quivered Brian.
"Read it!" shouted Mr. Tyrell.
"'In the novel, the caged birds symbolize truth and virtue, which are shielded from the world.' Mr. Tyrell, sir, I didn't write this, I didn't!" Mr. Tyrell had never said anything about truth and virtue, thought Brian. But the paper did have his name on it, and it was typed so no one could tell.
"Then who did?" said Mr. Tyrell.
Brian flailed his arms (flailed, he thought, as if in a trance, that's what Gerrod should have said he was doing...) -- that was it, it had to be, "Gerrod Knight, sir. He replaced my paper with one that he wrote!"
Mr. Tyrell focused now on Gerrod, who stood up. "He's right, I did. I did it because you'd never listen to anything I wrote, and I thought maybe if I wrote it as someone else it might have some effect."
Mr. Tyrell pushed his desk over in rage. "Do you know what they'd do if you wrote that on the Advanced Placement test!? THEY'D FAIL YOU!"
Then Mr. Tyrell grabbed his rifle faster than the day before and shot Gerrod dead. Brian winced. That was three this year. Mr. Tyrell took a pencil and scratched Gerrod of the roll list.
He got what he deserved, thought Brian. He wouldn't have passed the SAT anyway.
Just two more months until the Advanced Placement test! If he didn't get into a good college, Brian reflected, he might kill himself! In his happy excitement, Brian unknowingly missed the first sentence of Mr. Tyrell's lecture on "The Scarlet Letter", and for the lack of Mr. Tyrell's opinion he was shot after his next essay.