Mark stared at the test in disbelief. The letter on the first page was in dark red, in stark contrast with his previous grades. There was no accompanying note, nothing from the teacher to soften the blow. An F. I can't believe I got an F. What am I going to tell the Chief?
Sitting back in his chair, Mark thought over the previous two weeks. We've been training extra hard. Maybe that's it. I guess I should have spent more time studying instead of helping Keyop with his science fair project.
Mark shook his head. Not like it would have made any difference. He looked down at his score: 58%. The pages of equations were peppered with corrections. He glanced up just in time to see Jason sauntering toward him. Mark turned the test over on his desk.
"So, how'd you do on the test? Another A for your collection?" Jason said with a smirk. He stood over Mark, arms crossed, and stared down at him expectantly.
Mark shoved the test papers into his notebook. He didn't return the smile. "Let's go to lunch."
After working their way through the cafeteria line, Mark and Jason sat at their usual corner table. Jason plunked his tray down first and headed over to the vending machines. Mark tried to focus on the tray of food before him, but it was a worthless exercise. He kept seeing the Chief's face, growing ever larger and redder. The Chief's voice echoed through his mind. I expect more from you, Mark. You are the commander of G-Force. You must set a good example for your team.
"Hello?" Jason returned with two cans of Coke and waved one in front of Mark's face before handing it to him. "What is it with you?"
Mark shook his head. "How's it going with Marina?" He caught his breath while asking; Marina was a risky subject. But his bid for time worked. Jason launched into a ten-minute diatribe about his latest fight with Marina, why her friends were to blame, and his growing attraction to her despite the fact that he was dating her sister and ... As the drama wore on, Mark lost himself in thought. How am I going to tell the Chief?
It wasn't as if he had perfect grades. Despite what the others believed, Mark didn't excel at everything. But usually he got by with at least a B, occasionally a C on a hard test. Mark could not remember ever receiving a D, not even on a homework assignment.
Jason and Tiny might bring home low grades, but I never do, Mark thought. Until now, he amended unhappily.
Jason was staring at him with a curious expression. "Well?" he asked.
"Well, what?" Mark parroted. He had no idea where they were in the conversation. Am I supposed to say something?
"I asked you what you thought about double-dating with Marina and her sister. This is the part where you tell me what a terrible idea it is and how you won't do it." Jason pointed his half-eaten sandwich at Mark.
It was Mark's turn to smirk. "I see you have this all worked out. You don't even need me here." He took a polite sip of soda.
Jason shrugged. "It's not like you're here anyway. You haven't been listening to a word I've said for the last ten minutes. If you had, you would have told me that re-wiring your plane was a bad idea."
Mark's eyes widened. "What?"
Jason laughed. "You are so gullible." When he stopped laughing, he added, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Mark couldn't contain his surprise. "How often do you ask me that?"
"Try never. But I thought it couldn't hurt. You look terrible." Jason finished his sandwich and opened a bag of chips.
"Thanks. By the way, how did you do on the chemistry test?" Mark tried to sound nonchalant, but he knew he was failing miserably. He took another sip of soda to hide his expression.
"Fine. Better than last time." Jason shrugged. "You?"
Mark sucked in his breath and shook his head slowly. Do I have to say this out loud?
Fortunately for Mark, Princess came up to the table and interrupted their conversation. She dropped her books next to Jason. "Hi guys. What's for lunch?"
"I have to go." Mark grabbed his notebook with one hand, the uneaten tray of food with the other, and headed for the nearest trash can.
"What's with him?" Mark heard Princess ask Jason.
Mark could picture Jason rolling his eyes when he answered. "I think his streak of A's just ended."
Mark pondered their conversation as he made his way toward the door. So what if Jason guessed, he told himself. So what?
TO BE CONTINUED ...