If Kyle Bennet had known that group assignments were going to be handed out that day in particular, he would have faked being sick. Or had a trusted friend cut off a couple of his toes. Whichever.
As it was, no matter how far into his seat Kyle had slumped down, it wasn't enough to make him invisible to his history teacher. So for the semester's group project, he is assigned to work with Charlie Colt… and Josh Nichols and Drake Parker.
It's not that they're bad guys (okay, Drake can be a bit of a jerk, but that's typically out of thoughtlessness rather than actual malice), it's just that conversations between the two of them can quickly devolve into deep, deep levels of misunderstanding. They have a tendency to snipe at each other until Kyle has to physically bite the inside of his cheek to keep himself from yelling out "Who's on first!!", which might end the argument, but would probably earn him strange looks from classmates who've never seen an Abbott and Costello routine.
Josh, at least, seems eager to begin work. "We could meet at lunch to discuss our presentation."
"Sure we could," Drake responds in a tone that suggests to Kyle that what he really means is 'Do whatever you want, 'cause I'm not gonna be there,' but Josh doesn't seem to notice the sarcastic inflection.
"Can't," Charlie interjects before Josh can say anything else. "I have a BSU meeting today."
Josh looks disappointed. "Any chance you can skip it?"
"Nope. I'm the president."
"Okay, well, what about after school?" Josh tries again.
"Water polo match," Charlie replies.
"Can you sk--" Josh begins, cutting himself off when he sees Charlie shaking his head.
"Let me guess:" Drake says, "you're the captain."
"Co-captain," Charlie concedes, shrugging. "But I'm free all weekend."
Josh looks dismayed. "I have to work."
"We could meet you there," Drake points out.
"You work at The Premiere, right?" Kyle asks, suddenly interested. If nothing else, maybe he can get a free movie out of this.
"Sure, I guess that's okay," Josh decides. "My shift on Saturday ends at four."
"I'll be there," Kyle says.
"Works for me," Charlie adds.
Drake is suspiciously silent.
But when Kyle shows up at the movie theater on Saturday at ten after four, it turns out to be Charlie who's missing. Drake is seated at one of the little round tables, books and paperwork spread out in front of him. Josh, still wearing his red work vest, has pulled up a chair next to Drake, and as Kyle gets closer, he sees that Josh appears to be tutoring Drake in math.
"What's the square root of pi?" Josh asks, gesturing to one of the problems on Drake's page.
"Cherry?" Drake replies flippantly.
Josh lets out a frustrated breath and leans back into his chair. Kyle considers beating a hasty retreat, but it's too late; Josh has spotted him.
"Hi, Kyle!" Josh beams.
"Mocha Cola?" Drake offers, holding out a half-empty cup from which he's clearly been drinking.
"No, thanks," Kyle declines.
"Suit yourself." Drake shrugs and takes another swig from the straw inserted through the lid of the cup.
"Have you guys thought about a topic that we can do our project on?" Kyle ventures.
"Rock 'n' roll," Drake immediately replies.
"Velcro," Josh says simultaneously.
"I was thinking of something that might be a little bit easier to research from a historical perspective," Kyle says carefully. "Like the Civil Rights Movement, or the space race, or the Bay of Pigs Invasion."
"Why would anyone want to attack pigs?" Drake asks. "All the ones I've met were really nice."
Josh catches Kyle's eye. He has a 'see what I have to put up with?' expression on his face.
"The pigs were inciting all the other animals to riot against the farmers," Kyle deadpans.
"Sounds intense," Drake says absently, sweeping up all his paperwork before shoving it between the pages of his math book.
"So that's a no on the Bay of Pigs idea," Josh says. "What about the Cuban Missile Crisis?"
"That would be a great topic for our presentation," Drake says. "Everyone loves a good explosion or two."
"Nothing exploded during the Cuban Missile Crisis," Josh explains. "That's kind of the whole significance."
"Bo-oring," Drake falls back into his chair, flipping the hair out of his eyes with a quick shake of his head.
"It was actually the opposite of boring," Josh replies, warming up to the subject. He lowers his voice in volume, but ramps up the intensity of his tone as he narrates the story. "For thirteen days, everyone in the country knew that nuclear war could break out at any moment. Meanwhile, President Kennedy was resisting pressure from all of his advisors to declare war."
"And he sent his brother out to deal in secret negotiations with the Soviet Union," Kyle adds, his shoulders hunching up as he leans inward.
A large object suddenly thumps onto the table between the three of them, and Josh shrieks and grabs hold of Drake's arm.
"Sorry I'm late, guys," Charlie says, repositioning his backpack from where he'd dropped it to the edge of the table nearest the last empty chair. "I do have news, though."
"Well, come on! Spill!" Josh says excitedly.
Drake loosens the lid of his cup, and turns it upside down above Josh's shoulder. There isn't much soda left in the cup, but there is enough to leave a dark stain dripping down Josh's bright red vest.
"Drake," Josh fumes.
"What, like I was just supposed to let that opportunity just slide on by?"
"Um, yeah," Josh replies, stripping off the vest. "That was the luge of opportunities. It should have slid right past before you had a chance to blink, or even think about it!"
"Whatever. You were saying?" Drake turns his attention back to Charlie.
"Mr. Schaefer told several students that on Monday, he's going to announce that we'll be voting on the group presentations, and the group from each class with the highest amount of votes in each class will get a free pass on the midterm."
"That's excellent!" Josh jumps up from his chair.
"Of course, that was the good news," Charlie says. Josh sinks back into his chair.
"Well, what's the bad news?" Kyle demands.
"Craig and Eric our in our class," Charlie answers.
"So?" Drake appears to be unthreatened.
"Craig's great-uncle is an astronaut." Charlie says conspiratorially as he pulls his chair in toward the table. He jerks his chin casually, gesturing to another table across the room, where Craig and Eric are sitting down with their group partners, Maria Whitman and Hector Navarro.
"Oh my god, that is going to be the best show-and-tell presentation ever!" Josh turns to look at the other group.
Eric spies the table of four people looking at him, and gives a friendly wave of the hand. His grin, though, looks kind of evil.
"How can we possibly compete with an astronaut?" Josh whispers to the rest of the group.
"Maybe we can get a letter from Fidel Castro," Drake says. When everyone turns to stare at him, he shrugs, too. "What? It's just a suggestion."
"See? My Velcro idea isn't looking so stupid now, is it?!" Josh crows, crossing his arms over his chest.
Kyle begins to mentally compile a list of topics he will need to study for the midterm.