Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Question

I started an online teen writers' group in May 2005. Every week, we post writing challenges. This is the one from January 1-7, 2009.

CleanPlace Squabblings Challenge: Write a story using the opening line: There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. Taken from: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis
Requirements: Contemporary Fiction, 500-1,000 words

“The Question” by MangyCat
Word Count: 800

There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His beady eyes, messy black hair, and bottle cap glasses certainly didn’t help him much either. The kids called him the teacher’s pet mercilessly, but he didn’t care one bit. There would be no other woman for him ever in his life other than Miss Candy Anastasia Francis.

Miss Francis had hair like the golden down of the tabby cat next door. Her eyes were blue as the rocks in the bottom of his fish tank. And her voice, oh, her voice! It was like the sweetest song the wind ever played against the chimes on his grandma’s porch. When she talked about the sun being a gigantic nuclear furnace, he became a star about to go super nova. He never wanted 6th period 5th grade science class to end.


“Yes, Miss Francis?” he replied, always at rapt attention.

Miss Francis leaned forward on her desk, nudging the stack of homework papers under her folded hands in the slightest. “Was there something else?”

Eustace went red in the face as heat rushed to his cheeks. He glanced around at the classroom which had emptied without his notice. “I-I guess so.” Standing up, Eustace pushed his chair back, sending the chilly scritch of metal on dirty tiles through the quiet room. He winced at his 11-year old awkwardness as he picked up his backpack.

With one hand, he reached inside and pulled out an orange. Eustace approached Miss Francis’ desk and laid the ripe fruit a few inches from her fingers. His pinky brushed her knuckle. “That’s for you, Miss Francis, for being the greatest teacher there ever was.”

She smiled, and the world exploded into symphonic splendor with a full choir of angels spouting Handel’s Messiah. “Citrus aurantium,” she said, picking up the orange. Miss Francis examined the skin and rubbed the textured surface with her palm. “Thank you, Eustace.”

Beads of sweat formed on the back of his neck. “You’re welcome.” He remained in front of her desk, mute to the question he wanted to ask. She probably thought he was just another kid in her class, but he couldn’t stand waiting any longer. He had to know what she would answer.

Miss Francis flashed another smile that blinded him with loveliness, then got to her feet. She glanced at Eustace for he had not left. “Did you have a question?”

His heart soared on a trapeze. How had she known the deepest desires of his soul? They had to be meant for each other. “Miss Francis...” His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. “I do have a question.”

She stopped straightening papers and crossed her arms. “Was it about today’s lesson?”

“Oh, no, ma’am,” he replied. “You make everything so clear, and I know science better than anyone in my family now. Honest.”

Miss Francis’ lips closed over her teeth, and the smile became a thin line. He had to act fast or he might lose her.

“What is it then, Eustace? What can I do for you?”

If only the words would come out of his mouth! Eustace chewed on his tongue. He pushed his glasses up on his nose. His sneaker kicked at the leg of her desk, making a dull thudding noise.

Miss Francis glanced at the clock as she picked up the stack of homework papers. Her eyes turned toward the door when she put the students’ work under her arm. She looked back at Eustace, the smile had gone completely. “I have an appointment with Dr. Kelsey in the school office. Maybe you could email me if it’s a hard question.” She came around the desk and patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll have an answer for you tomorrow. Okay?”

Tingles shot through Eustace’s arm, and he wished he’d worn a short-sleeved t-shirt instead of this practical green sweater. He swallowed the question that pushed at the back of his teeth and nodded.

Miss Francis granted him one more million-watt smile and even winked one of those sea-blue eyes before walking out into the hall where she weaved between students who were fully unaware of the beauty in their midst.

Eustace Clarence Scrubb sighed heavily. He pulled a clean sheet of paper from his backpack and wrote four words on it, then signed his name. He carefully folded the note into a square and placed it on Miss Francis’ desk.

As Eustace left the classroom, the words he’d written played over in his mind. He would rather have said them aloud, but maybe it was better this way.

Will you marry me?

It was a big question, and she would need some time to think about it. Hopefully five class periods would be enough.

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