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She bent far over her desk, her gaze fixed on the computer screen, her fingers typing furiously on the keyboard, her nails clacking against the keys and her eyes alight with a harsh intensity. A half drank can of soda sat to the side, forgotten as she wrote the essay she’d be submitting with her college applications.
She’d been hard at work since she had arrived home from school, and now, as the clock struck midnight, her cell phone buzzed on the table, jolting her from the intense concentration she had been buried beneath. She stared irritably at it for a moment, hands hovering just over the keys, before returning to her paper. It continued to vibrate almost insistently, and the girl sighed and answered it.
It was her friend, shrieking that she herself had just finished her essay and that the girl needed to come over right that second and proof-read it.
“Can’t you just e-mail it to me?” She asked disinterestedly, eyes still on the computer screen. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, on the contrary, she cared a lot about her friend, they were applying to the same highly selective college, but this needed to be finished soon, she’d be sending off her application by the end of the week, by tomorrow if she could finish it before then. She bit her lip, twirling a lock of honey colored hair as her friend pleaded with her to come over.
“I’ll proof-read yours!” She sounded desperate, her voice bordering on the edge of hysteria. The girl sighed once more, sounding like rusty springs groaning under the weight of an exceptionally robust person, and finally agreed. Her friend gave an ear piercing squeal of happiness and relief.
“Alright, alright, just let me finish my own,” she said, grumbling overtop her friend’s happy squeaks. She hung up, settling back in and attempting to finish her essay. It was no good though, and she printed out her own meager attempt, her only solace was the fact that her friend’s essay probably wouldn’t be any better.
As soon as she pulled her car up the driveway, her friend’s familiar face appeared in the window, eagerly urging her inside. The girl took her time. As soon as she got in the door, the paper was shoved in her face with two shaking hands, her friend’s wide eyes appearing above.
“Well?” She took it to the cluttered desk nearby, sitting and reading quickly, her brows lifting with every sentence. It wasn’t just a good essay, it was perfect. The turn of phrase was excellent, the theme just right… With the sort of college both were applying to, it was obvious both of them would not be getting in. And looking and her friend’s essay now, it was quite clear that with a paper like this, it wouldn’t be her friend that would get deferred.
She thought fast, her eyes hovering over the last paragraph as if she was still reading.
“Well?” Her friend repeated, her eyes searching the girl’s face. The girl’s mind was racing, plotting. The paper was ambiguous enough, didn’t mention names…
“Pretty good,” she told her, the normal tone of her voice surprising even herself. She looked back out of the front door from the chair where she sat, gears in her mind still working as she said, “Hey, do you want me to send in your application with mine on my way home?” She worked hard to remain casual.
Her friend’s face brightened.
“Would you?” She asked, her voice and demeanor so trusting it made the girl’s stomach twist.
She pulled up beside the large mailboxes labeled ‘out of state’, putting it in park while she finished sealing the essays and applications in their neatly addressed envelopes. She took up her friend’s application first, folding it in thirds and stuffing it into the corresponding envelope, leaving her essay on the passenger seat. She took a deep breath, her seatbelt tightening across her chest as she reached out with a trembling hand to grab her own pathetic attempt at the essay, folding it s well. She stared at it for a moment, the edges of her vision beginning to fuzz.
She had to do this. This was the only college she applied to getting in was not an option. She exhaled, stuffing it in the envelope along side her friend’s application, folding over the flap and sealing it before she could change her mind. She did the same with her own, folding her friend’s essay carefully to fit her envelope where her own application already waited, sliding it in and closing it up as well. She slipped both letters together into the cavernous mailbox, watching them disappear into the dark. She had the brief impulse to run inside the post office, asking them to open up the box and let her dig out the letters so that she could switch them back, but banished the thought just as fast, throwing the car into drive and peeling out of the parking lot.
The letter appeared in the mail an anxious month later. Her hands shook once more as she opened it, her heart pumping wildly. Reading the words of acceptance would make everything right, it would make her happy.
The phone rang, the caller ID revealing it to be her friend. She didn’t answer; she was too occupied staring at ‘we are pleased to inform you…’ Slowly she crushed the letter in her whitening fist, staring off blankly. She didn’t feel anything.