Rob Does Words
Treating fiction poorly since 2019

A New Beginning

Jerome stretched his arms and his pen fell from his fingers, clattered to the desk, then off the edge and clattered again on the wooden floor of the exam hall. The others taking the exam all made great efforts not to turn and to look, but the supervisors all glared at him with a singular disappointment, verging on anger.

For his part, Jerome looked suitably apologetic, even going so far as to putting his hands up in the classic symbol for my bad, please don't hurt me. He leaned down and swiped the pen off the floor. By the time he had sat back up, one of the supervisors was leering over him. Her eyes were almost hidden by her furrowed brow and her mouth, slightly parted, breathed warm, almost unpleasantly sweet smelling, air over him.

“Quiet,” she hissed without moving her lips. “This is an exam.”

“Sorry,” he whispered back. “I’m done.”

“Done?” she sounded almost offended by the word. “Done? It’s a three hour exam. You can’t be done.”

Jerome glanced up at the clock. It read 11:45. The exam had started at 9am. He looked back at the woman and shrugged. “I’m good at getting things done quickly.”

The woman hmphed and snatched the exam paper off the desk, sending the pen clattering to the floor for a second time. Not a smidgen of self awareness floated across her face as she turned on her heels and stalked away, kicking the pen across the floor, the sound of plastic on wood echoing through the otherwise silent hall.

Jerome sat there, a smirk on his face. It was her pen, after all.

Across the other side of the university, in a very similar room, undertaking a very similar exam, under very similar conditions, the young man only known as Husky was not finished writing.

His eyes nervously glanced up at the clock. 11:48. Twelve minutes to go. He glanced down at the essay he was in the midst of writing. The only question on the exam. A 3000 word minimum. How he was supposed to know whether he had crossed that line yet he didn't know. He had four pages and was three quarters through his fifth. Luckily for him, he knew the subject inside and out. But this was his last exam. And it was the only one that required an essay; a medium he had never found easy to finish within a time limit.

“Ten minutes,” a flat, monotone voice said from somewhere in the auditorium. “Ten minutes left.”

Several curse words flicked through his brain before he set to again and continued writing. He could talk about this subject and the ideas he was trying to present in the essay all day – his professor knew that – but everything that was worth anything outside the school walls was done in essay format. A medium that was not taught beyond high school. A waste of time, his high school English teacher had told him. The medium is not important, the content is. Even your college professors will tell you this. You'll be fine.

Or not, Husky thought as he scribbled down more almost incoherent thoughts onto the page, trying his best to summarise a complex idea into a few short sentences. At least it was the final exam of his final year at school. He knew the ideas they were testing him on and even if he whiffed this exam, he would still pass the course, he would still graduate and he would still be able to apply for the abundance of jobs that preferred employing over educated young men.

“Woof,” Jerome said, flopping down into the chair opposite Husky and their other friend, Bella.

“That good, huh?” Husky said, his voice etched with wear and tear.

“The exam was exactly as Doc Weston said,” Jerome shrugged. “Probably the best one for me to end on. Had it done with maybe a half hour to go. They did not like that.”

“I was writing right up until they called it,” Husky said, slightly embarrassed by the admission.

“And?” Bella said. She had graduated a year prior, from the same course Husky had just finished. “Was it essay based?”

“Yeah,” Husky replied. “Just the one though; 3000 words.”

“What was the question?”

“Analyse a specific trope from a book that I’d read in childhood and outline how that can be used in modern day society.”

Jerome stared at him. “Yeah, I think I’ll keep doing architecture.”

“Drawing,” Bella teased him. “You can just call it drawing.”

“Drawing with rulers and math,” Husky said with a cheeky grin. “It’s not even art.”

“That part I agree with,” Jerome said. “It’s not art; it’s science.”

“Here we go again,” Bella rolled her eyes.

“Every angle has to be exact. Every line has to be perfect. With a pen too; none of this pencil and eraser shit.”

“And how does your old man do it?” Husky asked, knowing the answer already.

“Dad is a renegade,” Jerome said, leaning over the table between them conspiratorially. “He does things his own way. Fuck the system, he says.”

“And that’s why he is,” Husky said, mirroring Jerome’s movements and leaning towards him. “Unemployed.”

This got a snort of a laugh from Bella and a pbbt from Jerome. Then all three of them burst out laughing.

The three of them joked about for a while longer, finishing their respective meals before Bella finally asked the question they had all been asking themselves since this semester, their final one ever, started.

“What are we going to do now?” she said.

The two men looked at each other, then back at her. “I guess we find a job,” Jerome said.

“Start being that thing we were all told were meant to be.”

“Productive members of society,” all three of them said in unison, in tones that screamed mockery, sending them back into peels of laughter.

“Seriously though,” she said. “You guys need to find a place to live. Unless you changed your mind and want to do post-grad stuff?”

“Fuck that,” Jerome scoffed. “I'm done with school. Done with education. I wanna get out there and start earning.”

“Yeah, earning all that money to pay back the loans,” Husky said.

“Hey, gotta start somewhere. Got room in your place for two more losers?” Jerome asked Bella.

“Oh hell no. Rachel and Bea would murder me. Literally stab stab stab if I brought home two more people to live there and don't even start on what they'd do if I brought two men back.”

“Must be frustrating,” Jerome smirked.

“Shut up. Here,” she said, throwing the classifieds out of the newspaper at him. “Places to rent and jobs. The two things you bozos are gonna need.”

“Well, my old friend,” Jerome looked up at Husky, sliding half the pages over to him. “We’re finally adults.”

“Finally,” Husky said, starting to read the listings. “Hopefully someone tells us what to do next.”