Holly Gapen sighed and switched the elbow she was leaning on. She was stuck in deep thought. Algebra was so discouraging!
"Holly?" Holly's ever-loving mother called. "Holly, it's dinner time. Lasagna, your favorite."
Holly shuffled her papers, finally done, into her overstuffed binder and groggily stretched her lanky legs that brought her so much trouble. Kids teased Holly because of the fact that she was six-foot-one, really tall for a fifteen-year-old.
"Holly, this is my last call."
"Coming, Mom. You sound like a train conductor."
"Toot, toot. Very funny." Holly's mother had come into the living room and was flapping a towel toward her daughter, playfully.
"Come on, Mom," Holly complained. She stood up and went toward the dining room.
* * *
The next morning, Holly awoke abruptly from a terrifying nightmare. She clung onto her teddy bear, Teddy, the only real friend she had. She was sweating and her hands were clenched into hot balls.
"Holly, honey," Mrs. Gapen reassured, "you're all right. Everything's OK."
Holly blinked her eyes and woke up. Her dream had been about the state achievement test.
* * *
Four . . . three . . . one . . . seven . . . open! Holly opened her locker and limply flung her backpack in. She looked toward her classroom and saw Linda Harvey, someone she naturally avoided, strolling toward her. She had a spiral book in her hands. Holly waved shakily and greeted, "W- what's up?"
"Hi, personne grande," Linda sneered.
"What?" Holly scrunched up her face.
"You'll find out in French class, today," Linda snickered as she pushed her shoulder-length frizzy red hair out of the way of her exotic green eyes.
"Well, I guess I'll see ya around, Linda. I've got to get to class now." Holly backed away from Linda, watching the spiral book get smaller and smaller before it took a turn down the hall.
"Bonjour, mes amis," Miss DuJour greeted her class.
"Bonjour, Madame Dujour," many children chorused.
"Today, we'll talk about features. To be tall is to be grande as to be small is to be petite . . ." Miss DuJour's voice faded away and Holly was insulted. Kids had turned around and were chanting, "grande, grande . . ."
Holly turned away to muffle the chants of her classmates. She was overcome with guilt that she was so tall, so she hid her eyes in her stringy, bleached hair. She was comforted when French was over and retired to the hall.
Linda was already waiting for her there. Her normally free hair was pushed back by a plastic headband with teeth that looked threatening. She was holding the same spiral book as before.
"Hey, Holly. Whatcha doin'?" Linda leaned against a locker, getting ready to stay there a long time.
Holly searched for an excuse in her mind to leave Linda, and thought of after-school activities. "I-I've got to get to tennis," she stammered. This was true. Tennis was Tuesday night. "Yeah, tennis," she announced more confidently.
"OK, yeah, tennis." Linda was not impressed. "But, you know, could I talk to you for a sec? I've got something you might like."
"Well, only for a second," Holly agreed a little reluctantly. "You know how Coach is if you're a little late."
Linda had a sparkle in her eyes. She smiled at Holly and beamed with pleasure at someone wanting to talk to her.
"Well, it's about the test." Linda glanced down at her spiral book and continued. "You know how some of the questions are really hard?"
"Yeah." Holly remembered some of last year's algebra. "Well, look at this." Linda opened the book she had been carrying around tenderly and showed Holly the first page. In bold, capital letters, a message was printed. It read:
1999 STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT TEST
"Oh, my. Where'd you find this?"
"Doesn't matter. Do you want to?"
"What?" Holly was mortified and asked the question even though she knew the answer.
"You know. Come on. It'll be fun. Imagine—the perfect scores."
Imagine—getting expelled, was what Holly was thinking. But still, so she wouldn't upset the volcano, she whispered, "I'll think about it."
Linda seemed pleased with that remark, and let Holly go in peace to tennis.
* * *
Tennis class was different. Holly was usually a natural leader and played really well. That Tuesday was different. Holly missed every ball that came to her and just wasn't running fast enough. When practice match time came, Holly was paired up with Ronny Simmons, who was one of the easiest kids on the team to beat. She was occupied thinking about the answer booklet, though, and Ronny beat her easily.
Holly sat down after the match next to Coach. He seemed understanding.
"Got something on your mind, eh?"
"It's hard." He smiled and patted Holly's back. "Sooner or later, you'll get to your goal. You'll make it."
Holly remembered his words as she untied her shoes. You'll make it. She wondered if she would make it to eleventh grade, and then her mind wandered back to the booklet and all thoughts of Coach vanished.
* * *
"Honey, how was school?" Holly looked up from her book to stare at her mother.
"Fine, I guess." Holly lied through gritted teeth. If she told her mom, all she would get would be a lecture. They usually lasted at least an hour long. They weren't what you would call "fun."
"All done with your homework?"
"Get to bed early. Then at least you won't be so grouchy for the big test day after tomorrow."
"That early?" Holly dropped her book on the floor, then recovered it.
"Uh-huh. Be prepared!" Mrs. Gapen cackled like a witch.
"Very funny, Mom." Holly gave her mother her most bored look and resumed her reading.
"Well, you better get enough sleep for tomorrow." Holly's mother left the room and went back to cleansing dishes.
* * *
Holly opened her locker and carefully hung up her backpack. She had gotten a good night's sleep, and was prepped for the test that would be taken by many the next day. Thinking of the test made her remember Linda, and she tried to desperately think of an excuse to delay her answer to the discouraging question Linda had popped. She could run, but that would be senseless. She already was viewing Linda strolling down the hall toward her. Holly tried to look cool, and Linda smirked.
"Well, have you chosen?" Linda pushed, still holding her spiral book.
Holly meant to set Linda straight, right then and there, but Linda's exotic eyes just bore right into her. Holly knew cheating on a test was wrong, but she couldn't bring herself to say so. So she just smiled and insisted, "I'll tell you tomorrow, I really will."
"Sure, yeah, tomorrow." Linda tapped her glittery nails on Holly's locker. "Well, be ready with an answer. I'll be here tomorrow. How about right before school tomorrow?"
Holly nodded. Linda seemed to settle things with her eyes, and everything was straight.
The rest of Holly's day was mediocre. Nothing was really great, but nothing was terrible. Everything just sort of went by in a jumble. By the time she went home, Holly was confused and exhausted.
* * *
"Teddy, you've got to help me." Holly squeezed another hug out of her limp arms.
Teddy just stared with his lifeless glass eyes. If you had not known the stuffed animal, you would have thought, It's no use. But Holly saw through those glass eyes and knew what Teddy was saying. She was definitely ready for the next day. Having settled that, Holly leaned back and dozed off to sleep.
* * *
Linda was already there, looking impatient. As Holly put away her backpack, Linda pushed her question. Holly cleared her throat, wiped her skirt, and began. "Linda, from the beginning, I knew that what you were doing was wrong. Now, I'm going to tell you two things. First, no, I'm not going to cheat on a very important test, plus I'm going to report you."
Linda grasped Holly's shoulders and threatened, "If you . . ."
Holly had already broken away from Linda's squeeze and ran to Miss Lepson, the guidance counselor. The whole tale poured out, even the section about Teddy. Tears mixed with words, and everything rushed out like a faucet. All the stuff Holly should've said came out too, all in one big glob. Miss Lepson was very understanding. She took Holly to her class and had an explanation talk with Holly's teacher along with Linda and her teacher.
* * *
Holly went home happy. Mrs. Gapen got a call from the school and she and Holly discussed a bit more.
The matter was straightened out now. Everything was under control. Holly's mother graciously understood Holly's not telling her a word.
* * *
That night, Holly sat thinking in her bed. She was happy with how she had done her test, although she didn't have her score yet. She remembered how much Teddy had helped, even though he was lifeless. All she had to do was to see behind Teddy's eyes.