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A Call for Help

Jean Valjean

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THE HEART AND SOUL OF AMERICA ACADEMY'S A-TEAM WAS AN AMAZING GIRL NAMED ARISTOTLE. She was smart – brilliant, in fact – yet she didn't know what she was going to do in life yet, and therefore had no idea of what she was going to major in. She had an English major chosen at the moment, yes, but that was a front in order for her to qualify for a number of scholarships offered for that field. In truth, she had no idea what she would do with that major, and this was the third time she had changed, having first gone in declaring that she would be an Art major and then a Philosophy major and then a Theatre major.

          So she was like many people at that age, and didn't quite know herself.

          At the moment all she knew was that she was really smart, and so was everyone else on the A-team. Except everyone else had figured out what they wanted to do.

          The first was Adam, her very good friend who was going in to become a Theology major. It also happened that he always wore a red t-shirt.

          There was Aristocles, a wrestler and all-round athlete – but particularly a wrestler – who was majoring in Philosophy. It also happened he always wore an orange t-shirt.

          There was Anne, a political activist who was getting her degree in economics. It also happened she always wore a yellow t-shirt.

          There was Athena, who came from the farm and was getting her degree in Biology. It also happened she always wore a green t-shirt.

          There was Amadeus, a gal who could play seven instruments who was getting her degree in Music. It also happened that she always wore a blue t-shirt.

          Finally there was Aesop, a guy who had already starred in twelve plays in just his second year of college and was getting a degree in English. It also happened that he always wore a violet t-shirt.

          Then there was, after the final friend, Aristotle herself, who had a major, sure, but far from a permanent plan. The only thing permanent about her was her white t-shirt, except for when she spilled spaghetti on it. In which case people constantly speculated that it was her way of flirting with Aristocles.

          “No, we are worlds apart,” Aristotle would affirm.

          Spaghetti, why are you so misleading?

          Food spills aside, the white little princess of the A-team helped Aesop host a party at his apartment to celebrate February 29. Then Amadeus came over, and between her and Aesop they put together a selection of music that worked for their interests. Apparently, there was no better way of celebrating the special day of Leap Year than Phantom of the Opera. The connection was obvious.

          Now people came, and together the seven of them just ate pizza and discussed how it could be the meaning of life until Adam and Aristocles took it too seriously and got to the deeper implications of such a thought process. Aesop thoroughly enjoyed the subject as well, uniting all the guys on the matter while the girls groaned at how complicated discussion of pizza had become. Except Aristotle was a girl, and she actually joined the discussion enthusiastically, so saying “the girls” can’t be taken as a truthful generalized statement, and in this case it should just mean “all the girls who wore actual colors and weren’t the main character, because the main character is always the exception.”

          However, since another story written by this author covered this topic already, there will be no redundancy here and the topic will just be skipped over and we shall instead focus on the next thing that happened, which was Aristotle carelessly whipping pizza sauce on her white t-shirt. It showed up as an orange stain.

          “Mrs. Aristocles,” teased Athena, “It looks like you’re going to have to wear one of your husband’s shirts if you want to carry on!”

          Aristotle just rolled her eyes. Or rather, she looked up, then looked down. It wasn’t literally rolling, and it’s difficult to say why people would call out such a motion under a description like that, as the eyeballs don’t actually roll in the sense that they rotated about a horizontal axis and moved forward on a plane parallel to that axis, as one would geometrically describe the movement of a wheel rolling on a road, but regardless, this figure of speech has been used millions of times and its meaning is understood. If there was a more technical description of such a movement, it would not be used here because chances are that nobody would understand it.

          Right then: her reaction.

          So she ended up putting on one of Aristocles’ orange t-shirts. Athena and Aesop both “oooo-ed”. Aristotle rolled her eyes again, but we’re not going there. The bottom line was, she took it all lightly. And then she was the person who restarted the discussion on philosophy with regards to how pizza related to the way she incorporated pleasure and recreation into her worldview.

          But Athena was persistent. “Listen to me: you two are perfect for each other.”

          Aristotle realized that she was sitting absurdly close to Aristocles. He could put his arm over her shoulders. “Suuure.”

          Anne spoke up. “Hey, why do we always have to be shipping romances?”

          “Because Aristocles and Aristotle are perfect complements for each other,” said Aesop. “You can have one or the other, but you combine them into an Aristotlecles sandwich and you get a perfect, flexible, all-encompassing union that will address everything in the universe, which is what a good marriage has. No wait, I’m not putting that right, or at least as not as well as I could. What I’m saying is that they’re different in such a way that they aren’t opposites, but complements, and they complete each other.”

          “Hey, Aesop, do you just want a kiss?” proposed Aristotle.

          “What? No! Not from you. I mean, you’re pretty, but…”

          “I bet I could kiss you and Aristocles wouldn’t get one bit jealous,” said Aristotle.

          “This discussion is stupid,” said Anne. She left the table and turned on Aesop’s television to watch the news.

          There was more teasing, more eye rolling, and finally laughter as they concluded that Aristotle was secretly a guy. She was a tomboy, so she could live with that.

          “But wait, isn’t that demeaning toward women to say that the only way they can be cool is if they are more like men?” asked Athena.

          “No, not really,” said Aristotle. “We all have short hair and don’t wear skirts. That doesn’t make us more like boys, though. Dude, if anything, traditionally girly things makes you less girlish. Those people who wear skirts and makeup are just insecure and brainwashed by society. T-shirts and jeans: that’s the way to go.”

          “Aristotle, you look weird in orange,” said Athena.

          “I know, I feel naked without white,” said Aristotle.

          She got up and sat next to Anne, covering herself with a blanket. The news had changed from politics to current events. There was a giant earthquake on the news and a ton of tumbled buildings.

          “That’s just terrible,” said Aristotle.

          “I know. I wish I could make a difference.”

          And then Aristocles sat next to them. “Sucks, huh?”

          “Yeah,” said Aristotle. “Hey, Amadeus, can you turn down the music?”

          Amadeus turned down the music. Then everyone bundled around the television and turned up its volume. The statistics were grim. The body count was high. There were a lot of people who needed help.

          “This looked like a problem for the A-team,” said Adam.

          “Say that again,” said Aristotle.

          “What? ‘This is a problem for the A-team?’”

          “Yeah, that,” said Aristotle.

          “You mean…You want to hear it another time, but this time not asked as a question?” asked Adam, before Anne hushed him and crawled up closer to the television and kept herself just one foot away from the screen while she lowered down on her belly so that she didn’t block anyone’s view. Because you know, blocking views is very rude, and Anne would never do that. Although she had specific political beliefs, and if she ever ran for office there would be people who would say that she was very rude and lacked tact no matter how untrue that was.

          But that’s neither here nor there.

          Now Aristotle pulled the blanket over her like a tent. “Game plan time! Get under!”

          Everyone but Anne got under. And Amadeus, because thus far in this story she hasn’t whispered a peep. Five people and one blanket tent is a better ratio, anyway.

          “So what do you want to say, Aristotle?” asked Adam.

          “Alright, we’re the A-team, right?” asked Aristotle. “Of all the people on campus, we go around and actually do stuff. We’re the bomb. Unlike every other nerd on the video game design compartment, I have a life.”

           “Why are you brining the video game design department into this?” asked Athena.

           “You’re right. That’s completely irrelevant,” said Aristotle.

           “But it was a colorful comparison,” said Aesop.

           “No it wasn’t,” said Athena. “Most of those guys wear black. Unless you mean it was an orange comparison, because she’s wearing orange.”

           “Hey, just because she’s wearing orange doesn’t mean she’s my wife,” said Aristocles. “Alright, Aristotle, what are you thinking. Do you want to do a fundraiser? Because I can totally see us doing a fundraiser to help people get shoes.”

           “That, and we’re actually going to go out there and make a difference,” said Aristotle. “We can make a volunteer effort over Spring Break to clean up as much as we can. C’mon, we’re the A-team. We can do this! Between the seven of us, we can do the work of a thousand people because we’re just that good. Plus, Amadeus can keep spirits up with her music. Amadeus?”

           “Amadeus?” asked Adam.

           “Amadeus?” asked Aristocles.

           “Guys, she’s outside,” said Athena.

          Aristotle poked her head out for a moment and looked at Amadeus, who was nestled up on the couch that she now had all to herself. “Help me, Amadeus.”

           “What?” she asked.

          “Can you write really entertaining music for an earthquake/tsunami disaster pickup to help keep up good spirits?”

          Amadeus gave her a thumbs up. That was good enough for Aristotle.

          Heads back in the blanket.

           “Alright, so we have that taken care of. Can we each afford tickets?”

           “We’re actually doing this?” asked Aesop.

           “Are you being a skeptic?” replied Aristotle.

           “No, but this is sudden,” said Aesop.

           “Alright, but we each have our own skills, right?” began Aristotle. “Adam and Aristocles are wise guys – I mean wise men – who can make people feel better. Anne can be nice and just help move stuff around and it would help her career to say that she’s done community service. Athena, you can disinfect cuts people get on their feet, I guess? Amadeus, well, Amadeus can write great music to keep us all entertained. And with your English major and all of your theatric activity, you can make our stuff really dramatic, I guess, Aesop. Wait a minute…”

           “That’s all kind of useless,” said Aesop.

           “I just realized that none of us have any majors that solve real problems,” said Aristotle. “Wait, we’re the A-team and none of us have any competency in places that we need them! What’s up with that? I mean, we’re the A-team for Pete’s sake!”

           “I wouldn’t do anything for Pete’s sake,” said Athena. “Although I would for Aristocles’. Too bad he’s taken.”

           “Shut up,” said Aristotle, and she pinched Athena. “So none of us? None?”

           “You just noticed,” said Aristocles.

           “Hey, no offense guys, but we have useless superpowers,” said Aristotle.

           “You’re speaking in metaphor, of course,” said Aesop.

           “What if it isn’t a metaphor? I mean, there are comic book characters without powers who are considered superheroes. Look at Green Arrow. He’s awesome, and his superpower’s arching. What’re our superpowers? We can get into lively discussions. I want to have something like Green Arrow. I want to be able to do something cool,” said Aristotle.

           “You know, even in comics there are the people without powers whose sole power is to be good leaders,” said Aristocles.

           “Also, I have considered the applications of my worldview on this matter and believe that what you say about spiritual healing and emotional support is very important,” said Adam.

           “Yeah, well that’s all useless if you don’t also do everything you can to help someone’s overall condition,” said Aristotle.

           “Yes, I believe that, too,” said Adam. “But it doesn’t mean that I should have some sort of special talent that solves these problems. Isn’t it good enough that we just do what we can?”

           “I want the best I can to be enough,” said Aristotle. “That’s it. Everybody out. Everybody get out from under the blanket. You’re all useless.”

           “Technically it’s my blanket,” said Aesop.

           “Aesop, don’t start an argument with me over that. If you have an actual game plan, you’re invited to come back into the special tent. Do you have any game plan? No? Then you’re an illegal immigrant. Get out! Away with thee!”

          Everyone disappeared. Aristotle was then the only person under the blanket, which she let fall down and cease to exist as a tent. She crossed her arms and lay on her belly, thinking about it and just continuing to think about it.

          Then she made a call on her cell phone. It took forever, and no one answered.

          Dangit. That was the phone number of the people in the phone book who claimed they had all the answers in life. She had written the number down in case she ever needed one. The Phone a Friend option wasn’t going so well.

          Aristocles crawled underneath that space with a flashlight. “Hey, Aristotle.”

           “Hey, husband,” said Aristotle. She put her phone back in her pocket.

           “So I just thought I’d mention my two cents on the matter. Oh, and I thought I’d ask a question.”

           “Is it a game plan?” asked Aristotle.


           “Because if it isn’t a game plan, you’d better get out.” For emphasis , she pointed out, in case one couldn’t tell which way to take when underneath a large but nevertheless finite blanketed area.

           “Well, this is obviously something you care about. How much would you say you care about this?” asked Aristocles.

           “A lot,” said Aristotle. “I mean, whenever I see things like this, I wonder why I’m doing something else with my life and just playing around and doing what’s fun, like staring in The Phantom of the Opera with Aesop. That’s just selfish of me.”

           “I agree.”

           “You’re not supposed to say that!” hissed Aristotle.

           “Woops,” said Aristocles. “Alright, so in your ideal life, you’d be helping people?”

           “Yeah, once I think about it.”

           “Well, let’s look at what the National Guard has to say,” began Aristocles. “The National Guard pays attention to these sorts of things. They help. They do the kinds of things that most people only ever get to do in video games. But let’s think about this in the bigger picture. They’re sort of like the Army, a highly constructive force that gets a lot of good done with the help of a lot of selfless volunteers who are willing to give their all in the name of making the world a better place. What does the army value? Well, a quick look at what programs will earn scholarships for people going into the ROTC shows a heavy favor for science and engineering. If that’s what the army values, then maybe that’s what you should value.”

           “Sounds good, but I’m not an engineer,” said Aristotle.

           “Yeah, but you have the can-do attitude of one,” said Aristocles. “I’m probably wrong though. No, you’re right, you’re definitely not an engineer.”

           “Reverse psychology…It’s working…” said Aristotle. “Alright, I’m pumped up. I’m super-smart. I can do anything. It’s not the most fun thing in the world, but I can see myself doing this.”

           “Well, that’s where I was using my philosophy in this discussion. Basically, I’ve differentiated between a life of meaning and a life of happiness, and ultimately I think that we should choose a life of meaning first without any intention of also trying to nab a bit of the life of happiness as well. You have to throw yourself fully to that ideal. Then, ironically, even though you gave up happiness, it comes to you anyway, because you live a good life.”

           “Eudaimonia,” said Aristotle. “Ah, a revelation. Wait, yes, it’s definitely coming to me. You know what? In order for this group to be truly multifaceted we need someone who has practical real-world talents.”

           “I heard that!” cried Athena.

          Aristotle cringed at her mistake. “But yeah, you know what I mean.”

           “I know what you mean perfectly,” said Aristocles. “So maybe you’re better off than us. Hey, if you’ll be the mechanic among us, we’ll be your infantry, your grunt laborers. Then you’ll be the woman with the plan.”

           “Haven’t I always been?” asked Aristotle. “Thank you for the idea, Aristocles. I’ll really think about this one.”

          That night, when the party was over, Aristotle tried calling that number again. Those people who had all the answers – they had better at least have the answer to their phone. They owed it to her.

          It didn’t pick up. Darn.

          Later she changed into a white t-shirt and tried again.

          Just because they had advertised themselves that way. She wasn’t going to give up until they gave her some answers. She was soul searching. Really, they owed it to her now. She actually needed them.

          This time the phone picked up.

           “Hello, this is Ian.”



           “And Io!

          Chimed four voices.

           “Hello, Four-I’s,” said Aristotle. “I’ve trying calling you hundreds of times before. It’s kind of hard to believe that you would be answering all at once.”

           “Well, you didn’t have any serious questions until now,” said Ian.

           “How did you know?”

           “We have all the answers,” said Ivan.

           “Can I just talk to one of you?” asked Aristotle. “Like, just Io?”

           “Of course,” said Io. “You guys, stick around though. Just don’t make a peep. We’re all in on helping you together. What is it, Aristotle?”

           “I’ve just been doing some soul searching,” said Aristotle, essentially repeating what the narrator said thirteen paragraphs ago. Thanks a lot, Aristotle. Good writing isn’t redundant. You just had to go screw this whole story up, now didn’t you? “And I’ve been wanting some answers to prevent me from making a really huge mistake.”

           “Do you have faith in what you’re about to do?” asked Io.

           “No, I don’t,” said Aristotle. “I mean, if I make the right decision, then great. If it’s wrong, though, I don’t know. I just wanted to hear your answer.”

           “Well, right now we’re helping with the victims in that earthquake and we’ve delivered shoes to over a million people right now. Using our genius as mad scientists, we’ve rebuilt one hundred homes perfectly. We’ll continue to make that difference with our genius. Is that the stuff you’d like to do?”

           “You’re totally my role model right now,” said Aristotle.

           “Wait, Io,” said the voice of Ike. “Excuse me, but the continuing conversation is going to have a lot of ‘he said’/‘she saids.’ Given that the narrator has already broken the fourth wall, I figured I might as well do that right now to justify switching to play manuscript format.”

           “Ike, I love you, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Io.

           “It’s just that there’s a reader named Nuile who takes issue with the excessive use of the word ‘said,’” said Ike.

           “You scare me sometimes,” said Io.

          There was a pause. Aristotle had no idea what was going on. There was a slight staticky feeling in the air, something that she couldn’t quite place, but it died down, and she continued on under the decision to treat it as nothing, because it probably was.


Io: I'm sorry we didn’t answer later. Well, technically I'm not, but the point is that there was a reason. You weren't feeling like yourself. For the sake of crispness, we'd figure we'd answer once you weren't dressed like your husband.

Aristotle: He's not my...never mind.

Io: Now that I'm sorry for. Anyways, now that you're in white, do you feel more like yourself?

Aristotle: Yeah, I guess. Being on my own has helped me think this through. I'm unsure about this, though. I idolize you guys, though. I wish I could do what it is that you do.

Io: Oooh, about that. The A-team is small talk. We at Four-I's are the major leagues. Actually, we're a league all on our own.

Aristotle: Are you saying that I need to have your talent in order to really pursue a degree in engineering or science?

Io: No, not at all. I was just being unnecessarily vain. I actually love that we inspire other people to be nerds – true nerds. But the definition of a nerd is Ivan's rant. The point is, I'm really glad for you.

Aristotle: You mean that I should be a mechanic?

Io: Do you really think we have all the answers? My friend, we've discovered that even though we're almost always right, we're not divine. We might have the answers here at Four-I's, but we don't give them out with authority. Are you really just going to take our word for it and let us make the decision for you?

Aristotle: I wish you did. It would make things a lot easier.

Io: And since when were things supposed to be easy for you? If I recall, choosing between a life of happiness and a life of meaning was an easy choice and a difficult choice respectively. So I suppose that life was meant to be ridiculously difficult.

Aristotle: Food for thought. My friend Aristocles gave that whole meaning versus happiness gambit earlier.

Io: I know. Aristotle, where are your values?

Aristotle: I want to help others in ways that are real and important.

Io: And you want to pursue a major that will help you accomplish that, even though what you enjoy is something different, because the sacrifice is worth it?

Aristotle: Yes.

Io: If that's what you know with your heart, why are we even debating this? It's just a matter of making that decision. All it takes is a little faith, and that seems to be your only struggle right now. What's holding you back?

Aristotle: I want to give this a try, but if it doesn't work out, if I get bored with it, then it will have been a waste of my time. And really, a waste of your time, too.

Io: But by your logic, so is a useless degree. If this is where your heart is, what have you to lose?

Aristotle: Nothing?

Io: Exactly. The only thing that's holding you back is fear of failure. If this is what you believe in, if it's something you value, then I can imagine no better life than dedicating yourself to this ideal. You have my encouragement and support, and right now the guys are behind me nodding their support as well. We're not telling you to go through with this, though. We're just saying that the idea makes sense. This is your decision. Make it, and goodness, once you've made that decision, stick with it! It's my sincerest desire that your heart remains strong.

Aristotle: Thank you.

Ian: You're welcome.

Ivan: You're welcome

Ike: You're welcome.

Io: You're welcome. Our thoughts and prayers will be with you.


          The other side of the phone disconnected. Aristotle got on top of her bunk bead and looked at the ceiling, imagining a Periodic Table of the Elements poster on her ceiling. That was actually a very cool thought. Maybe that was what being a nerd was all about: not being cute, but caring about things that jocks and cheerleaders were too arrogant to see.

          She inhaled through her nose. Her name was Aristotle, and she could achieve anything she set her mind to. She wasn't going to disprove her own boast now, when she seemed to be facing the exact purpose for believing in such a boast in the first place.

          She closed her eyes and thanked the Four-I's for giving her their blessing. It made all the difference in the world.


Edited by Jean Valjean
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I really like how this short story gives the feeling that you can do anything that you put your mind too. Also the fact that every little bit helps and nothing is unimportant. I also liked your usage of names of some important people in our history and that you gave symbols (colors of shirts) to the characters in your story in association with their majors. The part I was confused on was if the Four-Is were truly her friends and how come if they were, she wasn't able to catch it through all the clues he was obviously given. Also how come you choose all Is for their names.

One wording error I noticed...you put "So she ended up putting on one of Aristocles’ white t-shirts." I assume you meant to put orange.

Thank you!

Wordsmith <3

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