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The hands moved slower than ever before. His mind zoned back into calculus as the marker squeaked loudly on the board. Ten minutes left. As he shifted in the stiff chair, a crinkling noise came from his pocket. His face flushed and his clammy palm grasped the pencil in an attempted innocence. Ezra knew only of As: 93s and above. He knew only of ironed shirts and kisses on the cheek and a taste of his father's wine on Christmas. So on that unseasonably warm March day, no one heard the whisper of the crisp bill in his pocket, no one heard the buzz of excitement in his head, and no one heard the rhythmic pounding against his chest, heavier than ever before. But to Ezra, these sounds reverberated throughout his mind like a sharp yell in an empty hall.
Ezra took a couple deep breaths before resting his head on his hand, feeling like everyone was staring at him, a caged animal in the zoo. He thought back a few hours to the encounter. Had it really only been a few hours ago? It felt as though the confrontation had occurred days ago.
He had woken up at 6:15 as usual, staring up at his white ceiling, thoughts of the day's schedule immediately running through his head. He took a deep breath and held it while he counted: History, English, Biology...
“EZRA, come down and get something to eat before everything that I worked so hard to make gets cold!”
He exhaled sharply, knowing that this day would be the same as every other. Grabbing his backpack and throwing on a clean shirt and jeans, he hustled down the stairs and into the kitchen. His mother was waiting there at the mahogany table, dark bathrobe on as always, examining the newspaper with the permanent grimace on her face.
Two other boys sat at the table, both with the same facial structure as Ezra, yet much taller. The rips in their cargo pants and stains on their gray shirts were long forgotten by their mother. Oftentimes, Ezra would imagine what it would be like to live a life like theirs. Would it be more exciting to pursue a different adventure every day and not worry about living up to expectations? Of course it would be. But Ezra was much too nervous to bring about any sort of dramatic change in his life. He knew that he should feel lucky to be as intelligent as he was, and happy to have a mother who pushed him.
“Do well on your history test today, the universities are keeping track of all your grades. Now is not the time to slack off,” his mother warned.
Ezra sighed. “I will. See you later,” and he slung his backpack over his shoulder, feeding his other arm through the loop and walking out the door.
The same route he walked everyday was followed once more: Ezra turned at Massachusetts Ave. and made his way to the high school. He climbed up the stairs, carefully holding the railing, counting up to twenty-four as he always did, a number for each step.
As he held the door open for a few sophomores going inside, he wondered what it would be like to have the door held open for him. What if he let the door swing back on them, as often happened to himself? These actions, typical of his older brothers, were far from what Ezra knew himself capable of actually executing. He was not at that point on the social ladder of Walpole High School, and he knew it. He had to maintain his reputation as a respectable young adult, just as he had to uphold his astounding Math Team record.
“Hey, how's your bio project coming along?”
Ezra blinked twice, clearing his mind of the perfect score he had received at last week's Math Meet, and realized that Les was passing through the still-held-open door.
He let the door go cautiously and started off to his first period class with Les.
“Decently, I think. I just have to add a few more paragraphs to the summary. Plus my mom's making me do the extra credit analysis, so I should probably finish that up.”
The boys approached AP Euro and sat down, taking out their notebooks and paying little attention to the morning news, as usual. As they were unmistakeably repeated day after day, Ezra knew he would be able to hear any of the announcements tomorrow as well.
Though he didn't usually mind AP Euro, Ezra needed to get away from the humid classroom and the growing debates. He asked to go to the bathroom after some time, not as impressed with the storming of Bastille as he had been years before.
He meandered to the bathroom, taking a breath of school-air before entering the even-worse-air of the entire adolescent male population.
Inside, the harsh lights made him look even paler than usual. He stared at his reflection for a few moments, trying to find some imperfection to take care of, and hoping the sun would rid him of his pasty complexion soon enough. He leaned toward the mirror slightly, possible acne sighting, then stumbled backward suddenly as the door flew open, cusses and threats pouring it like a wave of bitter salt water.
“Next time, he'll know when to stop…”
Ezra took a few steps to the side, trying to remain inconspicuous. Black hood pulled over his shaved head, the other senior boy stood intimidatingly a few steps in from the doorway. Most likely without meaning to, he was blocking Ezra's path out. But the pasty, much-smaller senior didn't dare speak up for himself.
He recognized the football player as Torque, a boy in CP1 classes, but not a complete twit. Ezra knew that most of his getup was just an act, as the two of them had been friends in elementary school. There must still be a piece of that innocent Tor inside him.
“What are you lookin' at?”
“Sorry. Nothing. Hi.” Not knowing quite what to do, as he was still at the loss of an exit, Ezra focused back at the mirror, waiting for Torque to direct his attention elsewhere.
“You wanna do something for me?”
Ezra turned slowly, unsure why he was being spoken to.
He answered with circumspect, “Me?”
“'Me?'” Torque laughed. “Who else? Yeah, you wanna do me a favor? I really don't feel like listening to another freaking Shakespeare lecture.”
“Umm…I don't understand,” Ezra mumbled. What could he do? He wasn't tough enough to do anything. He didn't even know why he was being spoken to by someone like Torque.
“Here, take a 20 bill. Just pull the fire alarm at 1:30 so I don't have to sit through that class, got it?”
The bluntness of Torque's request threw Ezra off. Of course he couldn't pull such a deplorable stunt. What was Torque thinking? He wasn't talking to one of his football buddies, this was the valedictorian he was asking such a service of.
“Uhh…I really don't think that's a good idea,” Ezra finally voiced, knowing that he couldn't possibly sound more lame.
“Well I do, so it had better be done right at 1:30. Everyone would love you for it, ya know,” Torque added, knowing he would get his way eventually. As Ezra seemed at a loss for words, Torque moved closer, stuffed the bill into shrimp-of-a-senior's hand, and tread on his sneaker, to seal the deal.
Ezra stood where he was until the sight of black cotton had exited completely from the room. He moved slowly, still in disbelief of what had just happened. He glanced down at his shoe. A few new, dark scuff marks presented themselves on the bright white Nike. Trying to buff them off, Ezra knew his attempt was hopeless. He carefully pocketed the money, and looked back into the mirror.
The water felt cool on his flushed face. Ezra tried to make himself look the same as when he had walked out of History class. Surely he must look the same…He only felt different. But it was hard for himself to believe, as he felt like an entirely different person from the one who was worrying about a trace of acne.
He straightened his shirt and walked back to his classroom, knowing that he wouldn't tell even Les about what had just happened. As discussion on the French Revolution continued, Ezra thought about the consequences. He could definitely pull the alarm without getting caught, because he knew where there weren't cameras in the school, and which alarms sprayed ink on your hands. He knew that reading up on the history of Walpole High would come in handy at some point in time, but never thought that this was the sort of information he'd be referencing from it.
Kids had pulled stunts like this before, it really wasn't that big of a deal. Torque was right: If he wasn't caught, everyone would really appreciate the spontaneous break from class. By now, he had probably told his friends about this entire situation, so half the senior class would be expecting to get out of last period. Ezra should step up for once and do something brave. His brothers would be impressed.
But what if he failed? What if he got suspended from school? He couldn't even begin to imagine his mother's reaction. Her only perfect child: ruined. Ezra couldn't believe that he was actually debating the pros and cons. Of course he shouldn't go through with Torque's idea. Yet, he had already gotten 20 dollars and a few scuffs on his shoe, so he felt obligated.
The rest of the day passed excruciatingly slowly. He was too nervous to speak much, in fear of his voice cracking out of anxiety. When he finally arrived in the final class of the day, he knew the decision must be made, that he couldn't put it off any longer.
Two minutes until 1:30. Rubbing his palms on his jeans a few times, he asked if he could go to the bathroom. This was the second time today. Yesterday, Ezra would have never missed more than five minutes of class time.
He tried to appear casual as he passed a fire alarm on his left. He was going to walk to a stairwell and pull it there. That way, no teachers would be able to run from their rooms to see him. Slowly making his way down the stairs, the sun fell through the window onto his face, and he took the last steps toward the innocent red buzzer.
Ezra held the door open for Les, as he once more brought up the topic of their science project.
“Finish your summary?”
“Nearly. I'm through with the extra credit, though.” The boys ambled to Period 1. Ezra had been up for hours last night, working his way through the tedious analysis on top of all his other homework. He had even managed to get the scuff off his shoe.