“From the top,” I say, clapping twice and leaning back in my chair. I imagine it’s a director’s chair, high off the ground and demanding respect.
In reality, it’s a very wobbly fold-up chair, and I’m praying it won’t collapse on me.
“Ok,” the boy clears his throat, “I was just-I mean, I had to stay up so late because my-my mom, she went to the hospital and-”
“Stop.” He stops his blubbering and obvious fake crying. “I thought it was your dad? See, keep it going like this, and no one is going to believe your lies. It’s Boy Who Cried Wolf 101, didn’t you even read my manual?! I need us to be on the same page, Jim.”
“Whatever. Kaylee, what have you got for me?”
Kayle cracks her knuckles and stands up, her folding chair folding in on itself without her weight. Jake sits down, defeated, crossing his arms and mumbling about something.
I peek down at my clipboard before she speaks.
Ah, it’s a lie she’s been preparing to tell her friends so they think she’s cool.
“Hey, guys! Guess. What. I overheard Andrew and Mateo talking in the hallway," she says dramatically.
She shrugs. I sigh.
“Look, Kaylee, first of all, this isn’t what you’ve been practicing. Second of all, you can’t say a lie like this. It’s too risky. It’s going to backfire on you. Whatever ‘Andrew’ and ‘Mateo’ didn’t say, your friends are going to ask about it later, and then it’ll all just collapse. Keep practicing guys, I’ll see you tomorrow.” I hop off my chair and fold it up, tucking it under my arm.
Kaylee and Jack do the same, going off in their separate directions.
I’ve been holding my lying course for a couple months now. It lasts a week per session, and I charge 10$ per kid.
Don’t get me wrong- I get it! Lying is bad, the truth sets you free, honesty is the best policy, yadda yadda. But lying’s the only thing I know how to do. The only thing I’m good at.
And you know what they say- take your talent and find a way to make it profitable, right?
So I did that.
And I’ve been doing it pretty well, if I do say so myself. Advertising was the hardest part, but now, I get all sorts of people with all sorts of requests.
I even made a pamphlet to help people out. Yup- that’s what I’m all about. The helping. I mean, people come to me with crazy stories. 50% of the time, it’s relationships. Friendships gone rogue, people who've cheated and want to prove their (fake) innocence, that sort of thing. 20% of the time it has something to do with authority: parents, or sometimes, cops. And the rest of the time, it’s just people wanting to learn the art of lying.
There are three rules, three guidelines if you will, that I teach every new student.
Number one- Never make a lie too complicated. If you forgot one tiny detail of your lie, it’ll all backfire.
Number Two- Don’t bring other people in on your lie. You might think you can trust them, but especially considering lies with consequences, everyone tries to protect their own skin first.
And finally, number three- Never ever admit you’re lying, no matter how much evidence they have on you.
Maia had been staring at the mysterious boy who sat in front of her in French class since forever, trying to work up the courage to talk to him.
She didn’t know why. It’s not like she knew much about him, other than his name, and the fact that the back of his shirts were always interesting.
Today, there was a tiny piece of artwork on the fabric, a little boat on a raging ocean.
She despised french class. Her pronunciation couldn’t have been worse, and so she spent her time doodling, willing the clock to move faster, or staring at the back of the boy’s head.
The bell rang.
She dropped her empty French notebook back in her backpack. The boy tucked things into his backpack too.
Maia swung her bag over her shoulder, slowly walking forward.
“What class do you have next?” her mouth was saying, and her brain was retreating. The boy turned his head in her direction and immediately she regretted speaking because oh my god the boy was looking at her and his eyes were meeting hers.
“How To Rob A Bank,” he said with a straight face, swinging his bag over his shoulder. Maia stumbled to catch up with him as he walked out the door.
“Huh. Didn’t know they offered that here.”
“It’s only for the spies in the school. Special program.”
He turned a hallway Maia’s next class certainly was not in, and that was that. Maia’s feet were rooted to the floor of the hallway for a couple seconds before she finally collected herself and walked to class.
At least she’d gotten some words out to him.
Could’ve been worse.
Good turnout today, gotta say, considering the school’s been taking down my posters.
I mean, really, they take down my perfectly honest ways of making money, and they keep up Student Council posters from like three years ago, plus, they don’t bother erasing the vulgar graffiti on the bathroom stalls.
A couple of tall teens stand around, even though I specifically tell everyone to bring their own chair. Three other people sit in foldout chairs in front of me, one of them clutching my pamphlet in their shaky hands.
I clear my throat and cross my legs, placing my arms on the side of my chair.
I bought a new chair, a lawn chair, so this one won’t be wobbly.
The tall ones come a little closer.
“Hi, guys. Just, uh, drop your payment in the little basket, and then we can get started.” I nudge forward the basket with my foot, and everyone puts ten dollars in.
It’s a nice day outside, with little wind, so nothing flies away. I chose the park for my class, because, well, a multitude of reasons.
I can’t very well have it at my house, because my mom doesn’t really know I’m doing this. As far as she knows, I have an afterschool job at the pizza place this time every day after school.
Hey, I teach a lying course, of course I’m gonna do it.
“Why don’t we just go around in a circle, say your name and why you’re here,” I say, bringing my hands to the clipboard on my lap. The girl who’s fiddling with the pamphlet talks first.
“There’s nothing...specific I’m trying to do. I just want to know how to keep my lies believable, whatever they are. Like even if it’s keeping a secret and pretending I’ve got nothing to hide, that sort of thing. Everyone always says they can read my face super easily. So...yeah. Oh, and my name’s Ray.”
I scribble down quick notes on my paper, and then draw a line. I signal for someone else to go with my hands.
One of the tall ones standing by her chair goes next.
“Same. Nothing specific.”
“Name? And where’s your chair?”
“I’m Will, and this is my sister, Leah. We walked here, so we didn’t really wanna carry chairs.” Will clasps his hands together at his front and his sister fiddles with the cuffs of her jacket. I make a note of them in the same column.
“Name’s Eric. I need some believable homework excuses,” the kid in the middle shrugs. He’s about my age, and I might’ve even seen him before in class.
I write it down, struggling to choose between a k or a c for the end of his name.
I settle with both and move on.
“I don’t really want to say my name, but uh, I’m here to try and figure out why everyone always knows I’m lying,” the girl says.
I scribble down a note, writing ‘girl who cried wolf’ for her name.
“Well then! Let’s begin.”
Maia had now talked to the mysterious boy four times in total. Each conversation had been longer than the last, and yet, still, all she knew about him were the same two things.
The back of his shirt today was just plain black.
She cupped her cheek in her hands and leaned onto her desk, scribbling onto her French notebook. Her teacher droned on and on about french numbers.
What was the point of other languages anyway? She was perfectly content with English.
She ripped off a corner of a page of her french notebook.
I hate french class, don’t you? she wrote on the paper in curly handwriting.
She crumpled the paper and kicked the boy’s foot with her shoe. He turned around, annoyed.
They were in the back, so the teacher hardly noticed.
Maia shook the hand with the paper in it, and dropped it onto the floor. The boy raised his eyebrows, unamused. He turned back around.
Maia thought that he maybe hadn’t got the memo, but then he bent over and picked it up discreetly.
It was dropped again a couple minutes later, and she carefully bent over and picked it up. She unfolded the paper.
Yeah. Waste of time, too. I already know french.
Maia scribbled down a reply.
His handwriting was so perfectly messy.
She dropped the paper in the space between their desks.
Why didn’t you just test out?
They went back and forth for a while.
I wanted an easy class I guess. How bout you, why not just take spanish? Isn’t it easier?
Ugh, I always thought french was more “romantic” or whatever, considering it comes from, you know, France and Paris and all that.
Ah, regretting your choice?
Maybe a little.
Another question- if you hate french class, why are you always scribbling notes so passionately?
Ha! Flattered you think so. No, I’m actually doodling. Question for you- why are you always so quiet?
The bell rang, and Maia shut her notebook. She tucked it in her backpack just as the boy dropped a piece of paper on her desk. He didn’t stop to watch her read it.
She picked it up, smiling. It was the same piece of paper they’d been writing on, so she struggled for a second, trying to find the part that was new.
I was abducted by aliens, and they probed my brain, so I can’t talk very well. 313-555-0119 I’ll be your french study buddy.
It’s not every day a pretty girl starts passing notes to you in class. I always thought Maia was a goody-goody two shoes too- not one to break any rules, especially under a strict teacher’s nose.
And so, of course, I tried to think up any excuse I could find to give her my number.
It may have involved a lie.
Pretty soon, she was going to figure out I was, in fact, not fluent in French, nor was I getting good grades, and, worst of all, there was no way spending time with me studying was going to help either of us, in terms of grades.
For now, though, no one has to worry about any of that…
Besides, maybe she won’t take me up on the offer anyway! Maybe she doesn’t have a phone.
My phone vibrates in my pocket. I squeeze my eyes shut and pull it out.
Please, please, please…
I open my eyes.
salut its your french study buddy maia! more like student, since I need major teaching
If she wants to be my student, this is definitely the wrong subject.
I type out multiple different replies.
Sorry who’s this? How about I teach you to lie instead? I lied, I really don’t know French, but I still
I delete that one before I even finish typing it out.
Rule number three, right?
glad you could read my handwriting lol
I press send before I can delete anything else.
The three dots come into view.
you have very nice handwriting, dw
how soon can i take u up on the offer? theres a test in three days and im very worried
Maybe she just wants to spend time with me? I sigh.
we can meet at the library tomorrow if you want
I silently pray that the three dots never come back and she suddenly blocks me for some reason and she never shows up to French class again.
lifesaver man, lifesaver
Time to hit the French books, I guess.
Maia was way too giddy for a trip to the library, according to her mother. She toned down her glee and swung her backpack over her shoulder.
"You should be happy for me mom," she said on her way out, closing the door behind her.
She practically skipped all the way to the library, constantly checking her phone for any new messages.
How had this worked out so perfectly for her?
I mean, really, she should have mustered up the courage to talk to the boy ages ago. Now, they were already meeting for a study session (study date, as she was silently referring to it as) and she couldn't be more excited as she tacked off more things she knew about him in her head.
- His name
- The backs of his shirts were usually interesting
- He knew french
She quieted her walking as she went into the library, smiling brightly. She found him at a study table, waiting for her with the French book open. She waved as she sat down.
The boy smiled at her, but it was sort of like a grimace. Maia didn't notice. She put her backpack down.
"I'm ready, monsieur. Teach me the ways of the french."
She really wasn't ready and she really wished that french wasn't even part of this and maybe imagined they could just lean against each other and read or she could just watch him write in french with that handwriting of his.
The boy started flipping pages in the French book though, and she took a deep breath.
I shut my sketchbook when the bell rings, marking French class's end.
I'm about to escape when the teacher calls my name.
"Theodore, please come see me."
Maia gives me a sorry look as she passes by me and leaves the classroom.
This is it. It's gonna be karma coming to get me.
I've always scraped decent passes in this class, but now, my grades have been dropping. I've only been focusing on the little parts of the assignments that Maia needs help with, and with my course and other classes, there's no time to do extra studying.
I dredge up to the teacher's desk. She looks at me from underneath her glasses and sighs.
"Theodore, your grades have been dropping vite like the titanic!" She brings her hands up and down to demonstrate. I tuck my sketchbook under my arm.
"I'm sorry Madam." I don't really know what else to say.
"I don't want to fail you."
That makes two of us then.
"I'll try harder, I promise."
"Do you need help?"
I shake my head quickly. No way I'm coming in after school for 'help' like a dumb kid. I can handle this.
"Okay. You have until the end of the card marking to bring up your grades. Please let me know if I can help. I only want you to succeed." She pushes up her glasses and starts typing something. I take it as my cue to leave.
Maia's eyes glazed the posters on the walls as she walked to french class.
One of them caught her eye.
She took it off the wall and stared quizically at it.
That was odd.
She skimmed the title and everything else, but her eyes caught 'Theodore' and '4:00pm-5:00pm daily'.
That was exactly when Theodore said he had his afterschool job at the pizza place.
Odd, but, hey, maybe it wasn't her Theodore.
She walked into French class just as the bell rang.
She opened up her no longer empty French notebook when she sat down. Her grades were improving, and not just because of Theodore.
Actually, it was because of him, but mainly because she wanted to no longer need his help so they could spend time together doing other things, so she'd upped her studying game. Before class really started, she scribbled a note on the back of the flyer and folded it up.
"You're a pathological liar! Is your name even Theodore?!" Maia yells, or, half-yells, I'm assuming because she doesn't want people to look at us.
I am the worst teacher ever.
Lying wise, and French.
"I'm sorry, Maia."
I put my hands in my pockets. When she called me to come over to the park instead of my pizza shift, the exact park I was already going to be at, I knew something was up.
Thankfully, it's a slow Monday.
"So what do you do here?! You teach people to lie?" She throws a crumpled pamphlet at me. "Maybe I can start my own class. How to tell you're being lied to. Number One- It's too good to be true."
A guy walks over to us, paper in his hands.
"Sorry I'm late I-"
"Class is over, maybe try telling the truth," Maia says. She glares at me and storms off.
The guy freezes.
"Is that the pamphlet?" I motion for him to give it to me when he nods. "You heard her, right?" I shrug.
He shakes his head and walks away.
I open my pamphlet. I pull a ballpoint pen out of my pocket and open it to my guidelines page.
I scribble out the rules so hard, I rip the pages.