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My breath came in gasps, but not because I was racing down the hallway in a dead run. I needed to get out. Fast. My pleated skirt twisted around my legs in defiance of my bounding strides. I must have made quite a sight to any student glancing in my direction. A red faced middle schooler charging through the hallways, dragging a backpack behind as if it were a sulking child. I wondered if the teacher might call after me, and the thought made me double my efforts. My heart raced faster, pleading, cajoling, begging me to speed up and catch it. I barely slowed as my shoulder shoved open the exit doors. Rushing down the building steps, I scanned the walkways for any threats. Satisfied, I made a final race through the library doors. At last I could relax in my sanctuary from fears.
The day had started off as usual. “Beep. Beep. Beep.” I cursed my alarm clock, before dragging myself out of bed, happy as any teenager could at 6:05am. Stumbling to the bathroom, I flipped on the lights, squinting blankly at the zombie staring back from the mirror. But perhaps it hadn’t been a typical day. Today was the start of Finals and I had been up late, studying.
On the way to school, I comforted myself with the hard work I had done. I loved science. I shouldn’t be afraid of today’s test. I was prepared. I could do this. As the minivan doors slid open, I charged out like a Marine, landing on the beach at Normandy. I marched briskly across the campus. In my head, the Andrews Sisters were singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.” I found my footsteps matching the beat, my skirt swinging to the rhythm, and my outlook rising to the occasion. I walked into my advisory room with a salute, a smile, and twirl.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” I asked cheerfully. Amy and Sarah were sitting on top of their desks, surrounded by review sheets, giggling, and unaware of my grand entrance.
“Are you studying for science?” I asked, trotting over to them.
“Did you see ‘Pretty Little Liars’ last night?” Sarah asked, ignoring my question. “Can you believe the text she got?” I mumbled something innocuous, trying to hide my total ignorance about the most fashionable T.V show in school. Admitting my complete lack of knowledge in front of Amy, the most popular girl in class, would mean social suicide, and I was already struggling to fit in at my new school. A good impression with Amy could open doors to more friends, something I’d wished for almost as much as a trip to the Swiss particle collider.
“Hey Audrey,” Sarah said, “want to study with us?” She flashed me a smile. “I bet your notes are really good!” I sat down next to them in a daze and passed over my notes, refusing to believe my good luck at this invitation.
“Did you hear that Kylie’s new lip kit is coming out next week?”
“Really, no way, I so want one!”I stared up like an eager puppy, waiting for their attention, but it never came. Eventually I gathered up some courage. I needed to be useful and make a good impression.
“Do you want me to quiz you?”
Amy sighed, “yeah, I guess we should do some studying.” I opened my binder and found my review sheets.
“Okay, first question, what does the mitochondria do in a cell?”
Sarah groaned, “ I’m gonna fail this test!” Karina, another girl in the grade, shyly wandered up, curious what we were doing.
“Oh, you don’t need to know that,” she said matter of factly.
“Huh?” Amy stared at her, puzzled.
“I took the test yesterday,” Karina explained.
“Well, come on,” Sarah leaned forward. “Tell us, what we do need to know? I really need help.” She gave Karina the same winning smile that only moments ago had reflected on me.
Karina started pointing out sections on the review sheet, delighted to be welcomed into the circle. I watched in horror as the cabal took shape. How could they casually discuss test material when it was against school rules? The whole thing made me feel sick. I blushed a deep red and stared awkwardly at the ground. I wanted to get out of the place.
“I need some fresh air,” I blurted out.
“Are you okay,” Amy asked, “you look kind of feverish?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answered hurriedly, stepping out the door, just as a teacher passed me by. Had she heard our conversation? I began to panic. My hysteria increased, and I started running blindly down the hallway.
As I walked into the library, I sighed with relief. I needed time to think, and the library had a calming effect on me, from the hushed whispers in the stacks to the musky cologne of old books. I climbed the stairs, then walked to the far end of the room, diving into my favorite bean bag. I felt safe, surrounded by my fortress of books. My eyes wandered along the bookshelf battlements, stopping at a magnificent leather bound volume. Intrigued, I opened it and started to read. Shakespeare’s poetry engulfed me in a bewilderment of jumbled old English, but its rhythms hypnotized and comforted me. I read on until some words jumped out of the page. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Wasn’t it wrong to report on my classmates? I didn’t want to be known as a tattletale, no one would ever talk to me again, let alone be my friend. And I so desperately wanted friends. But on the other hand if I didn’t turn them in, I was complicit in cheating. It started to dawn on me that no matter which decision I made, I would still commit a crime that day.