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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter Five

Part 1

As I walked into school on Thursday morning, I was barely cognizant. I hadn’t slept at all, and even though my heart was pounding as if I’d just run ten miles, my brain was all fuzzy and exhausted. I felt like I had sucked down ten cups of super-caffeinated coffee, then followed it up with a sleeping pill. My body had no idea what to do with itself.

In the front hall, a bunch of my teammates were cavorting around with a football, tossing it back and forth and playing a mini game. A dozen girls stood against the walls, giggling and throwing out flirtatious glances. Two days ago I would have joined in the game, but this morning the whole thing seemed so inane to me. I was not in an ebullient mood.

“Mike! Catch!” Tim Brittan called out, lobbing the ball in my direction. I caught it, tossed it languidly back to him, and kept walking.

“What’s the matter, man?” one of the guys called after me.

“Not now,” I said. I guess when I was exhausted and guilt-ridden, I also became laconic. I was learning all kinds of things about myself lately. Unfortunately, none of it was good.

As I approached my locker, I saw that Winter was waiting for me. Just the sight of her cheered me up considerably. She looked adorable in a plaid miniskirt and denim jacket embellished with rhinestones, country-western style. There was no doubt that Winter Dumas walked to the beat of her own drummer.

“Hey!” I said with a small smile.

But my happiness was ephemeral. Winter did not look pleased. Cute maybe, but not pleased.

“Not that I want to be the ball-breaking girlfriend after one date, but weren’t you supposed to call me last night?” she asked, leaning her shoulder against the locker next to mine. I looked at her blankly. All I could remember about last night was my spectacular downward spiral. “We were going to watch Invasion together?” she prompted.

“Oh, God,” I said, rolling my eyes closed. “I am so sorry. I got home later than I thought I would from Ian’s, and I just . . .”

I was bereft of excuses. I should have called her anyway. I just—

“Forgot,” she supplied with a smirk. “So I’m forgettable. That’s cool. It’s good to know, actually. Maybe I should consider getting a boob job. It’s too late to grow long legs, but . . .”

I laughed. “Very funny,” I said. “You do any of that and I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Wouldn’t be much of a change,” she said with an overly dramatic sigh.

Her words may have sounded like a rebuke, but I could tell from her expression that she wasn’t actually mad. Winter was not the ball-and-chain type of girl. She was just messing with me. But I felt bad anyway. Even more so because instead of talking to her, which would have been fun, I had been busy losing all my money like an idiot. Why hadn’t I just stayed home and kept my phone date? If only I could go back in time. That was exactly what I would do.

“I’m sorry. I really am,” I said, leaning forward and placing my forehead against the cool metal of the locker. “I’m such an asshole.”

“All right, all right. Don’t go all drama queen on me now,” Winter joked. “You’re forgiven.”

I took a deep breath and blew it out, wishing there was something I could do to calm my pulse, to stop the bile from rolling around in my gut.

“Hey,” she said, turning serious. “Are you okay? Mike?”

I looked down into her concerned green eyes and felt even worse yet. Little did she know she was dating a total moron who couldn’t even hold on to his own cash.

You are a total loser, I chided myself. You don’t deserve a girl this cool.

“I’m fine,” I told her. And then I was saved by the first bell. “I’d better get to class.”

I opened my locker, grabbed a few books, and then slammed it. Hard.

“Okay,” she said. “But later, at lunch, you’ll tell me what’s wrong.”

“Yeah. Okay,” I said quickly, dismissively. “We’ll talk at lunch.”

Then I gave her a dry kiss on the cheek and ran off to class on the other side of the school. I walked through the door just as the second bell rang.

“Mr. Riley! Nice of you to join us,” Mr. Weeks, my history teacher, greeted me with his wrinkled face set in its usual, dour expression.

The second I saw what he was doing, I wanted to abscond from the school and never look back. He was placing papers face down on everyone’s desks. We hadn’t recently taken a quiz so that had to mean—

“Pop quiz!” he announced, placing the last paper on my empty desk at the front of the room. “Hope you all did your reading last night!”

I dropped into my chair, relieving my now quaking legs, and pulled out a pen. What had I been thinking? Mr. Weeks was notorious for his pop quizzes, but we hadn’t had one all year. Of course he would give one on the morning after I had completely skipped my homework for the first time ever. Usually, I was so fastidious about my work that even my parents urge me to take breaks. Now there was going to be a huge blemish on my record, and Mr. Weeks was going to peg me as indolent and irresponsible for the rest of the year.

“You have thirty minutes to complete the quiz,” Mr. Weeks said, sitting down behind his commodious desk. “Turn your papers over . . . now.”

There was a rustling of pages, and then everyone set to work. Pencils and pens scratched all around me, but as I ran my eyes down the list of questions, my compunction was compounded. I didn’t know a single answer. Not one thing looked familiar. Oh yeah. Weeks was going to be lavishing me with praise after this performance.

I decided to start with the multiple-choice section and just start guessing. Maybe, just maybe, I would be luckier today than I had been last night.

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