A brass bell hung at the Square end of the Sallyport, the main entrance to Newberry Military School. The gray clad cadet guard who rang it intoned, "Release from second period class." Inside the Trig/Solid room the class rose to its feet, almost as though they controlled the bell and guard. The instructor, new to the school, and not very military, nodded to the section marcher, who still saluted properly, and the cadets were out the door.
Phil Boydon used both his rank and his wrestler's shoulders to gain freedom from the middle of the pack and turned left on First North to head for the PX and a Reese's Cup. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Denny Zimmerman, his roommate for the third year in a row, who showed Phil his English lit book in his hand.
"Forget your notebook?" Phil asked. Denny shook his head, which didn't even rustle his close cropped black hair. Phil thought for a moment. His was up to date. "Notebook check?"
Denny snorted. "You know I can't tell you that." The Honor Code easily silenced roommate loyalty, but mentioning it could reveal lots of information, Phil knew well. Denny waved his English lit at Phil and said, "A Demon grim was Grendel called."
"Thanks, Denny. I have mine." Phil held up an expandable folder with a girl's senior photo taped to the front. "It's in good shape. In fact, I hope he gets it. There's a lot I have to write El about."
Denny frowned. "Trouble, my boy? You can tell Uncle Denny."
Phil snorted. "Right. I'll do it myself. I trust you to help clean windows and dust the transom, not to help me with Elaine Dolores Goodman."
Denny stopped dead just as he was about to enter the Administration Building, the school's PX's location. "You used her whole name. Shouldn't you bow, or genuflect, or whatever you say you do in church?"
Phil laughed and looked equally short Denny in the eye. "I think I'm supposed to throw a roommate over the rail, headfirst to East Parade." Phil opened the door and walked in, Denny following. Both of them laughed, trotting down the steps as Youngsters, the first year cadets, came to attention to let the two cadet officers pass.
There was the usual pushing and shoving in the PX, where rank and number of years at Newberry Military School ceased to matter, but Phil got his Peanut Butter Cup and Denny his Dr. Pepper and they left the noise and jostling to walk out the downstairs door and cross East Parade to reenter the barracks in time to get to their room on second South, swap books for the next two classes, and head back out. Phil slid into his seat in the second row of Colonel Hoary's Senior English classroom long before the bell rang again.
He pulled an envelope from the notebook and pulled the letter out. He'd only gotten past "Nov 10, 1960" and "My Dearest Phil," when Colonel Hoary said, "She coming to the Thanksgiving Dance, Mr. Boydon?"
Phil glanced at Colonel Hoary, "Yes, sir." Colonel Hoary's face cracked a thin smile. Phil smiled himself at the attention shown by Newberry's legend. Phil looked around. The pointer was on the chalk tray; he didn't see any cards, but they'd be in the desk, anyway. Maybe it would be "I'm thinking of a number...". Phil wondered how many others had been warned by roommates or friends from the first two periods. The small room filled with gray clad teenage boys, identical in appearance to the stranger, but with subtle differences of uniform which meant a great deal to the boys. But each knew if the battalion commander didn't have his notebook when called upon, he would receive a zero just as fast as some poor boy regulated by fate, parents, or grades, to spend his senior high school year as a first year military school cadet.
Phil glanced around the room. He could tell that others picked up implied warnings. He thumped his notebook, knowing it was in good shape.
"All right, Gentlemen," said Colonel Hoary, after the ranking cadet had assured him that all was in order, and proper salutes had been exchanged, unlike in Trig/Solid, "let's finish with Mr. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales." And, without mention of notebooks, Colonel Hoary began to point out, explain, question, quote, and do all the other things which kept the gray clad boys busy with their notebooks.
In other classes, at other times, Phil might have taken a few moments to daydream - to picture Elaine, his El. Others might find her thin, but to Phil she was petite and perfect. Others might mention that her hair was hard to describe, but to Phil her still pony tailed hair was bright chestnut, soft, and smelling of fresh hay. Others might mention her freckles, few and faded, but freckles nonetheless, but to Phil they were the signs of the Irish passion her ancestors passed on to her. But here he didn't daydream, not in Frank Hoary's class when Denny had been as specific as he could be and not overstep the honor code, that notebooks would be checked.
The class drew towards a close and Phil, like any other student, had his internal clock tell him that English was almost over, and ROTC, the hardest part of which was getting to the distant classroom on time, would soon begin. And no mention of notebooks. Then Colonel Hoary stopped, almost in mid sentence.
"Gentlemen. I almost forgot." All eyes followed as he opened a desk drawer and drew out a well thumbed deck of cards, to rapidly remove several from the top. His round face was deadpan. "Ah," he said. "Sixteen students. Sixteen cards. " He held up the Ace, King and Queen of Spades, then buried them in the small stack and mixed the death cards in with the living.
No spade even got close to Phil. All three were taken by classmates in the first row, a Staff Captain, a Company Commander, and the Battalion Sergeant Major. No dumping on Youngsters in this section. Phil breathed a sigh of relief, but it was faked; he'd been ready - he could have used the time to think harder about colleges and plans and how he and El could be together.
There'd be thirteen students tomorrow - thirteen cards and three Spades. He had to be ready.
Then they were dismissed, and Phil trooped out and headed for the distant ROTC classroom. Next was DRC, what Phil had once called lunch, and he reported early to the mess hall, as he was on duty as Mess Officer. After DRC everybody not involved stopped and watched guard mount, which, in early November, was almost flawless. The long midday class break ended and classes resumed. There was nothing spectacular in either class, nor did drill have any surprises.
During free time he changed clothes and ran, still not sure if he would wrestle his senior year. He cut the run short enough to get hot water in the shower, next to 238, his large three man, sink equipped room. So he was clean and dressed to report again to the mess hall and await the sound of the drums as the Corps marched in after Retreat. He was glad that clean up went smoothly, and he cut across the Square to mail call.
Scout, the wise-cracking faculty officer who delivered mail, called out his name, and Phil answered, "Here, Sir."
Scout snorted. "It's heavy, Boydon. She catch you cheating again?"
Phil could feel his face heat up. "No, Scout. Love poems, probably. Surely not geometry proofs." There was laughter, but cadets who followed the four year long battle between the two knew that the interchange was not either's best. He turned the thick letter over and headed back to his room to read it.
The letter from El was short, but there was a snapshot of her in her band uniform, trumpet in hand, and several pages torn from college catalogs. As she wrote, she tried to show him that the possibility of going to the same college seemed remote, but there were now three possibilities of going to ones less than one hundred miles apart.
He put that aside and began to type his English notes from the earlier class. The next day he walked into English knowing that he'd be picked. Good luck never seemed to come his way, El Goodman being the sole exception. But it did again, and he walked out of English as one of ten with a notebook still to be checked. And he had to squeeze in writing a letter to El.
Denny showed him the "80" on his returned notebook and said "Good luck, Phil."
And, to everybody else, good luck was what Phil seemed to have. Three days later he was the only senior at Newberry whose notebook had not been checked. And he faced Colonel Hoary, the ace of spades and the ten of diamonds, and drew the ten.
After class he was thumped on the back, kidded, and even spoken to by a few who had always thought Phil to be beneath them. After all, they dated Seminary girls, students of the finishing school in the eastern section of town, while he dated the seldom seen El.
In the meantime Colonel Hoary gave notes to transcribe and El wrote another letter which needed answering. Physics began to be rough, and the trig instructor might not understand Newberry, but he still knew how to assign homework. Phil was also aware of the legend that the last notebook was graded much harder than the early ones. The owner had warning to prepare, after all.
It seemed to Phil that the day became a blur with English and study hall, scribbled notes and a typewriter being the only focused objects - other than more praise than he had ever received, another unanswered letter and a mental picture of a light redheaded girl whose dazzling smile began to seem to change to a frown.
So he stood the next day and drew the ten of diamonds.
The following day he did the same. Colonel Hoary shook his head, his classmates cheered him as they left, and he wrote half a page to El, begged her forgiveness, told her how much he loved her, and went back to his English notebook.
The following day he drew the ten of diamonds and Colonel Hoary said, "Mr. Boydon, I believe that you have set a record. In fact, I think you did yesterday. How long can you do this?"
Phil wanted to just shrug his shoulders, but he knew that was not acceptable. "I don't know, Sir."
"Maybe until June, Colonel," Hegman said before he realized he had spoken uncalled for and without approval. But instead of silence, the class voiced support.
Colonel Hoary glanced around, silencing the undertones and said, "That would indeed be a record. Now let us continue." Phil knew he could not hold out until June. Still, the pats on the back, both figurative and literal, were a pleasure to receive and he had made it through math earlier and seemed prepared for physics later. But what if he missed a page or two when he transcribed his scribbled notes into legible typed pages? What if he put a page out of order? At this stage that could drop an "A' to an "F".
At mail call there was still another letter. Wracking his memory, Phil could not remember a single instance when El's letters outnumbered his; he, after all was the writer, she was the conversationalist. Yet he now had two unanswered letters on his hands and his earlier response had been weak and short. He cut short three seniors talking to him with, "Well, you guys are going to have to get back to work. No matter what happens in Friendly Frank's class tomorrow, he's getting my notebook."
Denny looked horrified. "You can't do that."
"Boydon, do you have shit for brains?" asked Hegman, who obviously would love for Phil to hold out until June.
Even Corey Hudson, Mr.Straight Arrow himself, said, "You going to let your classmates down? We're counting on you."
"English isn't my only class. And I've got letters to write. I just can't spend my whole life getting ready for a notebook check." Then Phil turned and walked away. He heard a few comments about the importance of friends and girlfriends.
Before the study hall bell rang, ten seniors had come by, expressing horror that he would voluntarily surrender the notebook. Phil could tell that each was behind and feared that Colonel Hoary would immediately launch another check.
The same thing happened during the break between first and second study hall. He was asked again, even by two Youngster seniors, as he went down to the PX and a coke. Phil could tell that a lot of people were actually mad at him for saying he would give the notebook up.
But he felt better when, all work finished early, the notebook in as good a shape as it could possibly be, he was able to put paper in typewriter and begin a real letter to El.
As he typed along it seemed that the picture's frown began to loosen into a smile again. But he was not met with smiles the next day. It seemed that those who had been the friendliest were the most vocal with their challenges. Colonel Hoary looked at him and Phil focused on the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the World War II campaign ribbons on the teacher's uniform blouse.
"Ready, Mr. Boydon?"
"Sir, there's no need for cards today." Phil extended the notebook with El's smiling face. "It's as complete as I can make it. You both can and may have it, Sir."
"Most unusual, Mr. Boydon," Colonel Hoary said, and made no move to accept it.
"Sir, how can he just give it to you? You select. He can't volunteer," said Hegman, probably becoming braver since he hadn't died from his outburst of yesterday.
"Mr. Hegman, I think I make the rules in this classroom," Colonel Hoary said, looking coldly into the cadet captain's eyes. "I think things need to get back to normal around here. Mr. Boydon's notebook is the last to check. A lot of young men have been very slack the last week. Mr. Boydon's luck gave you vacation; his willingness to be judged just compensates and sends you back to work." Colonel Hoary smiled and glanced at the notebook and El's picture. "And I imagine it gives Mr. Boydon time to worry about other things - like physics, and a red headed girl."
Phil grinned. "Yes, sir." He was sure he had done the right thing, even if he had ticked folks off. He was equally sure he would receive a decent grade. And after all, El's love was, as it had been since the summer before the ninth grade, far more important than what anybody else thought. It had been fun to be in the spotlight. Now it was time to retreat from the sight of all but the most important person in his life.
He took out his pen and some loose leaf paper. Colonel Hoary was about to start. He could write El about it in the evening.
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