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Kelly recalls a time when her greatest fear in the classroom was realized

I sat up on the cold stool and rested my hands on the large black surface in front of me. I could feel the abnormally cold tabletop freezing into my arms through my thick hoodie. I gazed around the huge classroom. Everyone sat on navy-blue stools at their assigned tables. The room was completely silent aside from the third-grade science teacher’s voice.


There were textbooks, printed-out articles, miniature models, and posters neatly stored and pinned across all four walls.


There was also a massive Promethean board and projector set up at the front of the room.


Glancing up at the clock and then the schedule pinned on the wall, I slightly groaned. There was still a good thirty minutes of class.

Tap tap tap.

Tap tap tap tap tap—

Who is doing that?

My World

Turning to my right, I saw the culprit. Of course it would be him. Thomas, who sat next to me, was repeatedly tapping his pen on the table. Knowing him, he was counting down the seconds till the end of the class. He was extremely impatient, and from what I’ve heard from others, he didn’t get amazing grades last semester. I shouldn’t judge him, though. Plus, I didn’t blame him for being so jittery. He was the kind of kid who wanted to be outside playing soccer. Not stuck in a room with books lined up wall to wall.

Looking up at the board, I saw Mr. Campbell going through one of his Google Slides presentations. For the past few days it’s felt like he’s been repeating the same words over and over. That was probably better for me since I was a bit slow in science, but it was still tiring to hear the same lesson told in a different way every day.

I let out a small sigh and uncapped my pen. I didn’t really know what my plan was, but I started making small doodles in the back of my notebook. I didn’t get anything besides slight entertainment out of it, but it was better than nothing, I guess.

I kept mindlessly dragging my pen around until I realized my entire page was covered in ink. It was an image of a figure trying to present something with dozens of eyes staring back at them. Funny, huh?

Since I wasn’t exactly the most talented person out there, my only hobbies were drawing and playing video games. It really wasn’t that ideal. I wasn’t musically gifted in the slightest, and I didn’t like dancing, reading, writing, or anything that took more than five minutes and two re-reads to comprehend. That meant that the only way I had to express myself was art. Since I did nothing but draw all day, a good percentage of my art expressed my fears. I didn’t really—

“Kelly! I would appreciate it if you turned your attention to the board here.” I jumped and looked up to see the teacher’s annoyed glare piercing through me. Oh. I didn’t exactly want to make the situation any worse, so I quickly nodded in response. Even though I tried to play it off as just a small incident, I felt like everyone was staring at me. I shot a quick glance around the room and a slight wave of relief hit me. No one really cared about what had just happened. It was just me. Then my eyes slightly widened. What if someone had realized that I was going to turn around, catch them staring at me, and question them so they’d looked away? That could always happen. Or what if—

No. Stop it. I tried reassuring myself, telling myself that nothing like that was going to happen any time soon. I told myself that no one was going to make fun of me after class, but for some reason it still felt like every eye in the room was on me. Judging me. Laughing at me. That’s my problem. I always feel like there’s someone out there watching me, trying to make a stupid-looking image of me in their head.

That’s my problem. I always feel like there’s someone out there watching me, trying to make a stupid-looking image of me in their head.

More specifically, this one kid in the class. Hunter. He was the one kid who always raised his hand first, he was part of the student council, he always got everything right, handed in his tests first, he was organized . . .

Anyone who didn’t know him would ask, “Why is that a bad thing?” Well, alongside his occupation with being the smartest kid in the class, he took on the part-time job of being a jerk. He was pretty intelligent, sure. Didn’t mean he wasn’t stuck up and snobby, though. This is one of the worst combinations, in my opinion. I remembered this one time last week. Just thinking about it makes me slightly cringe at the way he acted.

*          *          *

Everyone in the room was completely silent, but at the same time, the tension in the air while the teacher handed back our test scores was so loud. We had just taken a pre-assessment for the new math unit, and no one was actually supposed to know any of the content, but that didn’t stop us from trying to chase a good grade.

Watching where the teacher was heading, I saw the girl sitting to the left of the one-and-only Hunter get her test back. Almost instantly I hear, “Wait, you got a 96%? How could you actually get something wrong?” Hunter whispered out. “It was so easy! I’m pretty sure that even someone like Thomas got it right . . .”

There was no reply. The girl shuffled in her chair, scratching the blue-gray tiled floor as the uneven chair legs rotated to face the left side of the room. The side of the room without an annoying kid who makes fun of you for getting one question wrong.

*          *          *

Suddenly, the room filled with voices. I blinked a few times, bringing my mind back to reality. Right, science class. Forgot about that for a minute. “So what do you guys think?” My friend Evelyn, who sat at the end of the table, was gazing at the rest of our group with questions swirling around in her bright, hazel eyes.

“Uh, sorry. What was the question? I wasn’t really paying attention,” I quietly asked, barely loud enough for the others to hear.

“It’s—” Evelyn started to answer, but Thomas quickly cut in.

“The question is asking what would happen to a plastic bottle if you left it in a freezer.”

“I was about to say that!” Evelyn sent the short brunette a death glare before sitting down on her stool quickly after realizing she had been leaning over the tabletop.

Exasperated, I let out a small sigh. Sometimes I forget that this table never gets anything done. I never liked telling others what crazy conclusions I came to, but knowing the group, it was obvious that this discussion would end up being an argument if I didn’t do anything.

“Well, I think it would compress and—” Thomas and Evelyn’s eyes snapped from each other to look at me, and I quickly stopped talking. “I, uh, I don’t know. Sorry.”

“I don’t think anything would change. Y’know it’s just a bottle, right?” Thomas slightly tilted his head, expecting some kind of response. I couldn’t think of anything funny or practical to say, so I just gave him a small shrug.

Evelyn chimed in, agreeing with Thomas. “Yeah, he’s kinda right. It would stay the same. Plus, there isn’t any reason to believe something would happen.”

“I . . .”

They’re wrong, right? It doesn’t make sense for nothing to happen. I guess it also doesn’t make sense for something to change, though. They’re probably right. There’s a reason they both got that answer. I don’t know. It doesn’t actually make any sense. I mean, I guess it does? No, it really doesn’t. I don’t get it.

I pushed my stool back, making it stand on the two back legs. It’s not like water bottles in freezers mattered that much, but as entitled as this makes me sound, I hated being wrong.

After what felt like forever, Mr. Campbell asked everyone to be quiet. “Alright. So here’s what we’re going to do. By a show of hands, how many of you think something will change?”

Looking around the room, I realized that no one was raising their hand. I couldn’t tell if it was because everyone actually thought the bottle wouldn’t be affected or if no one bothered raising their hand because they didn’t want to be the first to do so.

“I . . .” Eyes. There were so many eyes. All focused on one person in the room. Me. Their stares were a hawk’s talons reaching for its helpless prey.


Seriously? Again?


I turned my gaze to Thomas again. My expression transitioned from annoyance to confusion within a millisecond. He was poking the space on the table next to my splayed-out hand.

I gave him a look, trying to silently ask what he wanted. He let out a slightly annoyed sigh and pointed his pen directly at the ceiling. That only made me more confused. Apparently Evelyn was watching and understood, though.

I felt a soft nudge in my side and saw Evelyn’s hand slowly rising up in the air. What? That doesn’t make sense. She thought—she—huh?

I stared at her, shock and bewilderment flooding through me. She clearly saw my questioning eyes and quickly matched them with an equally expressive glare filled with anticipation. Wait. She can’t be serious, right? I must have interpreted that incorrectly.

Mr. Campbell seemed a bit taken aback. “Only one person?” Evelyn’s eyes were still focused on me. “No one else?” They bored into the side of my head. “Just Evelyn?” Her gaze was cold enough to give me frostbite. I knew she didn’t like sharing out. She was doing this because she wanted to get me to talk. She didn’t even agree with me.

I was going to regret this later.

Hesitantly, I pulled my hand up off the table. My arm felt heavier than usual.

“Alright, Evelyn, what do you think will change, and why do you think that will happen?” I don’t think she planned this far ahead, judging by the expression painted on her face.

“I—er—I don’t really know. I just think it would, y’know? It just kinda . . .” Her voice trailed off into silence. Her already pale skin seemed almost white at this point. “I just—it makes sense in my head?” Her voice got higher in pitch, making it sound like she was asking a question.

“Okay . . . well . . . what about you, Kelly?” Oh. Oh no, no, no, no, nononononono. My head started to spin. I could feel my palms sweating. My lungs seemed to be taking in less and less air with every breath. “Kelly?” I don’t know the answer. Please don’t ask me. Never, ever ask me.

“I . . .” Eyes. There were so many eyes. All focused on one person in the room. Me. Their stares were a hawk’s talons reaching for its helpless prey.

I let out an awkward laugh. It rang through the air, reaching every corner of the room.

Well, that only made things worse.

I let my eyes swerve to my right. Thomas was tap, tap, tapping at the table. The thing was that it seemed like it was on mute. I could see each tap with my own eyes, but there was no sound that followed it.

I swung my gaze around to the left. Evelyn’s face was brightly lit like  it always was. Then my pupils focused on something else. Someone behind her. Hunter. He had a hand in front of his mouth. Behind that hand, he was grinning. At what? At me, of course.


Next to him sat my best friend. I was expecting something like an encouraging smile, but it looked slightly different. It seemed like a smile filled with—not malice but, whatever it was, it didn’t feel good.

I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be slouching on my beige couch, the TV quietly humming in the background. I wanted to be talking on a call with my best friend. Of course, I couldn’t do those things. I was here, in my science class. There was no beige couch. There was no TV. On top of all that, and this was the worst of all, my best friend was laughing at me.

I closed my eyes and stuttered out, “I just . . . think it would do that. . .” I couldn’t imagine anyone thought that was a valid answer. I was just repeating Evelyn’s words. “I really . . . don’t know . . .” Opening my eyes, I racked my brain for anything to say. Just to make a bit more sense. I wanted to add on, but my mind kept drawing blanks.

“Sorry,” I quietly whispered out, only loud enough for me to hear. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Mr. Campbell was probably done with my garbage at this point. He decided to stop me before I dug my grave any deeper than it already was. “Right . . . uh, okay . . . would anyone like to explain why the bottle would stay the same?”

I looked down at my open notebook and almost laughed out of pure self-pity. The picture on the page stared at me. The person on the lined paper wasn’t anonymous anymore. It was me. It was a picture of me not knowing how to explain the answer to a basic question.

I closed my eyes for a second. When I opened them, I was confused. Why were there suddenly wet dots on the page? I blinked again and saw more wet spots appear. Wait.

Raising one finger to the corner of my eye, I understood what the dots were. They were tears. Why, though? Why was I crying?

I didn’t care anymore. I closed the black composition notebook and buried my face in my arms on top of it. I quietly cried. I didn’t know if anyone saw me, but if they did, then they didn’t care enough to ask how I was doing. But that was fine with me.

Class continued on. They kept asking and answering questions like any other day. They moved on. I couldn’t tell how much time had passed, but I didn’t feel like checking. It didn’t really matter anyway. I’d made a fool of myself. I’d messed up and everyone had seen it happen.


I swear—


Are you kidding? Again? For the third time?

“Hey, are you okay?” Instead of hearing Thomas’s high-pitched voice, I heard a different but familiar one.

I raised my head slightly and standing right in front of me I saw none other than Mr. Campbell himself. The cause of all this.

“Did I catch you off guard?”

I wiped my eyes and simply shrugged at him.

“Well, here. Can I see your notebook for a second?” I hesitated. The last thing I wanted was for him to see the drawing. The fact that I was doodling at all was pretty bad, but I also just didn’t want him to realize that I was scared of something so stupid.

I carefully flipped to the front page to make sure he didn’t see the page I drew on and handed it to him.

I watched as he took out a pen and wrote a number down on the paper glued to the front cover. The paper where he would write your grade for that day. I completely forgot that it wasn’t filled out yet.

I felt too drained to be anxious, honestly. I already knew I wasn’t getting a good grade.

For some reason, when Mr. Campbell was done writing he smiled at me before sliding the notebook in front of me. Sighing, I looked for whatever terrible number he wrote down.

“Wait . . . what?” I muttered. I reread the writing over and over, trying to see if I misread or if my brain was messing with me.

Four? You mean the exceeding-standards kind of four? What—but I messed up so bad. How did that happen?

“You and Evelyn were actually the only two out of the class who got the question right.”

Kelly Chan
Kelly Chan, 11
New York, NY

Crystal Fu, 10
Chappaqua, NY

Saira Merchant, 12
Bellaire, TX