Philip and the Dragon
Philip and Emery
Philip’s teacher gives the class an impossible assignment. He calls it a “scavenger hunt/research project.” Philip blames it on his classmate Cecil, who asked for harder work to do. Philip and Emery team up, and thanks to a combination of inspiration, good luck, and hard work come up with a project the likes of which neither his class nor his teacher has ever seen.
Philip glared at Cecil Peabody and poked his best friend Emery, who sat next to him. Emery rolled his eyes and put his head down on his desk.
“Emery,” Mr. Decker teased. Mr. Decker taught Social Studies and visited the class three times a week. “Are you listening to Cecil? You’ll learn some things from him if you do.”
Emery picked up his head as Philip stifled a laugh. Nobody in his fourth grade class wanted to learn anything from Cecil Peabody. They wanted to forget about Cecil Peabody. How anybody nine years old could know so much stuff about so many different things boggled Philip’s mind. The mountain of information Cecil had wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was Cecil’s knowing he knew more than anybody else and waving his great big brain around like an American flag so everybody could salute it.
Cecil kept talking. “President Kennedy’s most famous speech, perhaps, occurred at the Berlin Wall, a wall erected to separate the free people in West Berlin from the poor Communist people in East Berlin. The speech is commonly known as the ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech.”
And where’d Cecil learn to speak English, Philip wondered? Did his family own a dictionary factory? Did he eat Alpha-Bits every morning of his life so he could swallow letters but spit out words?
Gloria Falconi squirmed in her seat. Gloria knew the answer to practically every question any teacher came up with and always tried to get her answer heard before Cecil got his answer heard. They battled every day for attention in class. If a question stumped Gloria, though, Cecil’s arm shot to the sky, and he’d have the right answer on the tip of his tongue. Nothing stumped Cecil.
Mr. Decker glanced at Gloria, then focused his attention back on Cecil.
“Very nice, Cecil. You may finish up,” Mr. Decker said. “We’ll give some others a chance.”
Cecil frowned, spouted a few more information-filled sentences, and sat down.
“Great job, as usual, Cecil. Who would like to go next? Emery? You got a nice rest when Cecil spoke, so you should be full of pep.”
Emery oozed reluctantly to his feet.
“Who is your President?” Mr. Decker asked.
“Richard Milouse Nixon.”
“Uh, make sure you put the h in the middle name, Emery. Milhouse. We really need the h in there. And his most famous speech, Emery? Go on. Tell us about it.”
Philip snorted as he tried to keep from laughing. The sight of Emery staring at the floor and looking miserable really hit his funny bone. Philip had been called on yesterday and sped through what he’d memorized about the military-industrial complex speech of President Eisenhower. Philip had no idea what he was talking about, but managed to learn eight sentences from a Wikipedia article by heart. Philip thought he’d sounded pretty good, even though by his third sentence, the other kids in the class looked at him as if he were speaking Martian. Stupid Cecil even burst out laughing. Mr. Decker shushed Cecil, and Philip managed to finish his eight sentences and sit down. Having survived his own ordeal, the sufferings of the other kids in the class now provided a source of great relief and entertainment for him.
“Emery, you with us?” Mr. Decker prodded.
Emery cleared his throat.
“Richard Milouse Nixon’s most famous speech was called his I’m not a crook speech.”
“Uh, I think we’ll stop there for the day. Emery, come see me for a minute before I leave. We’re about out of time. Any questions?”
Cecil’s arm blasted off from his shoulder.
“Why do you always give us easy stuff to do? Can’t you give us something hard?”
A moan swept through the class. Even Gloria glared angrily at Cecil. Emery and Philip turned to one another, eyes big with surprise. Only Cecil would ask a question like that.
“I thought this assignment pretty difficult and pretty sophisticated,” Mr. Decker said.
Cecil frowned as the class chorused their agreement with Mr. Decker’s assessment.
“But,” Mr. Decker continued, “I’ve been toying with an assignment that would really require some smarts and hard work to do well.”
Another groan from the class.
Mr. Decker laughed. “Would that make you happy, Cecil?”
“You bet! Real happy.”
“I’ll give it some thought and let you know what’s up next time. Ah, here’s Mr. Ware. I have to go. Emery, can I have a minute?”
The two teachers chatted a moment, and Emery followed Mr. Decker out of the room.
“What did he say to you?” Philip asked Emery as the class lined up for dismissal. Nobody wanted to stand near Cecil, and he stuck out in the line like an island in the middle of the ocean.
“He asked me to find a different speech.”
“Did you say the speech was called the I’m not a crook speech?”
“The computer said, not me.”
“What did he steal?”
“I don’t know. Something about a water gate, whatever that is.”
“He stole a water gate? What . . .? You better find something you understand better.”
“Did you understand your military blah, blah, blah?”
“Didn’t have to. I memorized it exactly. Mr. Decker couldn’t say I was wrong about anything.”
“I hate memorizing.”
They’d reached the schoolyard, and the line broke apart. Gloria walked near Philip and Emery as they headed to the sidewalk.
“How come your friend thinks he’s so smart?” she asked. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Who, Emery?” Philip said, amazed at Gloria’s high opinion of Emery. “He doesn’t think he’s so smart. Do you?”
“Not after today, I don’t. Not him. Cecil.”
“He not my friend,” Philip answered back.
“Mine either,” Emery agreed.
“Why’d he have to ask for extra hard work? Social Studies is hard enough already. I have to get high marks or my parents’ll kill me.”
Neither Philip nor Emery had an answer for her.
“I know Mr. Decker’s going to come up with some crazy assignment only Cecil can understand, and all of our marks will go pfft!” Gloria shot out her fingers like a magician making something disappear. “Boys,” she grumbled and walked off.
“Don’t blame Emery and me,” Philip shouted after her.
It was mid-January and very cold.
“You gonna come out to play?” Emery asked.
“No, it’s freezing,” Philip answered. “You want to come to my house?”
“I guess so. Your mother’ll let us play the video games on the big TV, won’t she?”
“Until dinner,” Philip assured his friend. “After dinner, I’m supposed to study all night.”
“Lousy report card last time. Especially, Social Studies.”
“You did okay yesterday.”
“Cecil and his give us hard work will take care of my Social Studies mark.”
“Do I what?”
“Study all night?’
“Me, either. When I finish my homework, I stay in my room and do stuff. When I think it’s long enough, I go downstairs.”
“Okay, I’ll drop my books. Wait.”
“Hurry up. It’s like zero degrees.”
Emery opened his front door, tossed his books inside, and rejoined Philip.
“My mom told me new people moved in behind us,” Emery said.
“I don’t know. She didn’t say, and I didn’t see anybody yet.”
“I hope it’s not another Cecil.”
“Can’t be two of him.”
“I hope not.”
The boys said hello to Philip’s mother and headed straight for the big TV.