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The Accused One
Graham slammed his backpack onto the concrete stoop that led to his front door and fell back, sitting heavily on the single step. He rubbed his hands over his face and back through his hair, his fingers catching on a few of the short, tangled curls. It was hot and the fifteen-minute walk from the school to his house had made him begin to sweat. He lifted his head toward the sun and closed his eyes, taking in the heat. He tried to replay what had happened early that day in his head.
It had been the middle of math class and the students were about to take a test on anti derivatives. The teacher slowly passed out the papers and mundanely explained the instructions. When told to do so, Graham turned his test over and skimmed the problems. There was nothing he didn’t understand. He got to work, most of the problems taking him only a minute or two to complete.
It had been twenty minutes when a kid sitting a couple chairs over in his row coughed. Graham turned his head because of the sudden noise, just in time to spot another kid looking at his test. His name was Jack. Graham didn’t really know him, he just knew that he wasn’t very smart. Jack looked up and made eye contact with Graham. He was mouthing something, probably asking for help. Graham sat back in his seat placing his hand in his pocket while stretching out his legs. Even in the back row, hidden by all of the other students, the teacher had spotted them. Graham turned his attention to the clock and watched as the hands found their place causing the bell to ring, dismissing class.
Just as he was about to exit the classroom, the teacher had called his name followed by Jack’s. Rolling his eyes, Graham pivoted on one foot getting ready to explain what had really happened. She took turns, staring each of them in the eye, “I will not tolerate any form of cheating in this class.” He felt embarrassed by this accusation.
“I’m sorry, but I wasn’t-”
“I won’t hear it. I saw you two talking and there is no talking while taking a test.” She picked up the pile of tests that the students had dropped off on her desk before leaving the class.
“I wasn’t even talking to him though,” Graham’s voice shook slightly with the anger he was trying so hard to keep contained, while Jack stood there quietly, guilt playing with his facial expressions.
“I’m sorry boys, but these will have to go in as zeros,” she sighed while ripping the two tests in half and tossing them into the trash. He stood there not believing what had just happened. For the rest of the day he functioned numbly, unable to understand the teacher’s insensitivity. She must have had a heart of stone. Did she have any idea what she had just done?
He opened his eyes and took a deep breath. A zero on a test would make his grade drop to the point where he wouldn’t be able to play football. It also meant that his parents would ground him from all entertainment. He stood up from the stoop and braced himself to go inside, his parents were going to be furious. He wondered if they would believe his innocence. He’d never given them a reason not to. Graham picked up his backpack fighting the urge to take out his anger and chuck it across the yard. Instead, he slung the bag over his shoulder and entered the house.
Before he even got to the kitchen he could hear their mumbled voices, they were whispering furiously back and forth to one another. He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. He entered the room and dropped his bag. The thud grabbed his parent’s attention and now they were staring at him. His mom made the first move. She placed her hands on her hips and kept swaying from side to side as if to comfort herself. His hands felt moist so he slid them into his pockets, naturally.
“We got a call today from school,” his dad’s voice was deeper than usual, as if he was trying to be more intimidating. It was working.
His mom’s forehead creased as her eyebrows moved, creating a sympathetic look, “Please honey, tell us you didn’t cheat.”
“Of course not!” Graham lost control. He stormed to the counter his parents were standing behind and without hesitating for even a breath, told them what had happened during class that day. He watched as their facial expressions changed, relief making their shoulders relax.
His dad put a firm hand on Graham’s shoulder, “We’ll make a call to your teacher. You’ve never caused any problems before, I don’t see how she won’t fix this misunderstanding.”
His mom jumped in, “Maybe she’ll just let you retake the test.”
Graham smiled, “Yeah, I wouldn’t even mind.”
It hit him instantly, it hadn’t even mattered that his grade had dropped. It was the accusation of cheating, the disappointment he felt coming from his teacher and parents that made him feel to terrible. He swallowed. Everything was going to be okay. His parents believed him.
He left them in the kitchen and ran up to his bedroom. Closing the door quietly behind him, Graham reached into his pocket to pull out a slim piece of paper and a twenty-dollar bill. He placed the money in a concealed envelope behind his desk and shredded the paper into multiple pieces. The answers to the math test slowly disappeared as the paper got smaller and smaller. Poor Jack had paid Graham before he had even taken the test. He really wasn’t a very intelligent kid.