Chapter 11: With Your Classmates

“Groupwork… I hate groupwork…”

“What was that, Bea?” asked Bodhi.

She didn’t reply.

Beatrice and five other students sat in a circle trying to storm up ideas for a group project to be presented at the end of class. To be more accurate, though, it was less a group project and more a group debate right now.

Beatrice wasn’t the type to contribute much to a big conversation and was currently sitting there, muttering to herself, and jotting down anything interesting she heard from the others. But the others weren’t saying much either. Why was nobody ever interested in working together for group projects? Why did they always go so poorly?

 The topic was to argue anything from a headline in today’s Balarand Circle newspaper. There were literally a dozen options. But they hadn’t even picked anything out yet. And now they had twenty minutes left. This was communications class, far out of the realm of Beatrice’s interest or expertise, so there wasn’t much she could do.

The classroom, its students divided up into groups scattered around the place, had a special atmosphere reserved for the time of group projects, something nobody enjoys, and never will enjoy for the remaining history of mankind. The collective sense of frustration was so thick in the air that it was breathable. Or maybe that was sweat, because the fireplace was making this room quite warm.

“We gotta do the war story,” one of the girls said. “Dannark is gonna, like, use the new skirmish as an excuse to end the ceasefire with Doros. They’re gonna conscript all the Elincians so, uh, so they can kill all the young people and then there won’t be anyone else left to resist.”

“That’s a terrible topic,” Bodhi said. “How do you argue that?”

“Then do you got any ideas, shoe guy?”

“Obviously not.” Bodhi lowered his cap to cover most of his face, as if he were being cool or something.

Beatrice used to think this whole enthusiasm problem was endemic to religion classes– they were never going to use anything they learned in real life, so they never bothered to learn it in the first place. But communications classes were very important for adults trying to make themselves in the world, and still nobody really cared.

Only this time, Beatrice wasn’t exactly impervious to the criticisms she was mentally lobbing to her classmates.

She found her attention wandering even as her classmates spoke. Why were newspapers printed on such uninviting, rough paper, when they were read by literally tens of thousands every day? That question felt more interesting to her than anything they were currently doing, and she wasn’t even sure why.

“Well, we can talk about how they’re putting more guards at all the Nexurk shrines because of those protestors last week,” Bodhi said. “I think that’s a better topic.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” the girl from before asked. 

Beatrice butted in finally, saying, “Maybe it would be a better debate if we chose a different topic than every other group in the class.”

“Like what, Bea?” the girl asked.

“Maybe, uh, something about Reo L’Hime’s floating bridge test?”

They looked at her like she was crazy. 

“Isn’t it kind of interesting?”

She faced the daggers of ten pairs of extremely unenthused eyes and felt herself shrink away.

“Whatever, it’s not like I’ll be doing this much longer,” said Bodhi in an admission of defeat. “My pop’s gonna train me the moment I get the certificate.”

“That’s pretty cool,” said one of the students. “You gonna give us free shoes?”

“Yeah, if you give me all the materials and then pay me to make it.”

The conversation then became about Bodhi’s shoe cobbling and the various designs he had been tinkering with in his filled-up sketchbook.

Honestly, it was incredibly annoying that she was going to fail this assignment because she couldn’t bring her classmates to pretend to care about this subject even a little bit. They weren’t going to figure out a topic to argue, and Beatrice wasn’t going to put in the effort to try and lead the group herself. Her frown deepened, and Bodhi seemed to notice that.

“Bea, don’t worry about it,” he told her. “You’ve got the best grades in the junior priest class like, ever. They aren’t gonna hold it against Ms. Ragnell if her slacker classmates do bad on one project.”

“My name isn’t Bea,” she grumbled. “It’s not my grades, though.” She felt really sad all of a sudden. “I guess I was really hoping once I reached AA-grade there’d be more people who… I don’t know. I like being a junior priest.”

“It’s pretty fun,” the girl said. “I like the Winter Ceremonies stuff we’re doing. This here is a load of Mammoth crap though.”

“I’d be a priest if it didn’t mean I have to become some celibate traveler the rest of my life,” another classmate added. There were murmurs of agreement. 

“Well, I don’t exactly…” Beatrice cut herself off. She had that conversation with herself too often. The celibacy requirement was no small deal, that was for sure.

“Yeah, it’s a bit of a jump to make it into the priesthood,” Bodhi said. “I’m glad you like it so much, but none of us really want to do that with the rest of our lives. But we know how much it means to you to do well, so… maybe we should try something for this project. For you.”

“It’s okay,” Beatrice told him. “You don’t have to do anything for me.”

It was a bit of a self-pitying comment, but they took that as a resignation to abandon the group work assignment. They ended up picking the Doros-Dannark skirmish after all… just like every other group in the class. 

Oh well. It wasn’t long before the Priesthood Exams and then everything would change.

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