[CARMEN BOWMACK POV]
"Alright, kiddos," Mr. Crane sighs, leaning back in his chair, "I've had a bad day today, so I'm going to be nice to you: Today is a catch-up day. Use your time in class today to finish up any part of your respective projects that you should've had done by now. No homework over the weekend. We'll start planning our presentations on Monday. This class will be the last one presenting on the last day of school, so I suggest you leave some gaps open in your presentation plans to allow wiggle room - you know, if you see something that someone else did before that you like, and want to implement into your own. You guys are lucky you're getting partners on this assignment. Only half of the classes seem to be doing it that way." He sighs again, rubbing his temple. "So finish stuff up, and if you're done, then just chill, or, if you want to start planning early, you can do that too. There are links to help you out already up on my website."
As my body simultaneously tightens up and relaxes in response to the things he just said, some dude raises his hand.
"Is everything okay, Mr. Crane?"
Mr. Crane gives him a weird look. Honestly, if I were in his position, I would be doing the same.
"Yeah, I'm just fine. Thanks for asking." He starts to laugh to himself. "You'll… you'll understand when you have kids."
I can't help but chuckle. Jay is surprisingly silent, fiddling with the zipper of her backpack as she studies something undefined in a corner of the classroom.
"Good luck, guys," he finishes. "And please, don't bother me unless your question is important."
Terrance looks mildly guilty, lowering his head. I kind of feel bad for him. I mean, he barely talks except to Mr. Crane. He's a teacher's pet without the teacher's pet part - so, a suck-up. A brown-noser.
The class falls silent for twenty seconds or so, now that our teacher's instructions are done, but quickly picks up it's usual level of just-quiet-enough-to-not-qualify-as-loud-but-too-loud-to-be-mild background noise.
So I pull up Mr. Crane's website in order to have easy access to those links he mentioned (and so I don't forget they're there), and kick my feet against Jay's legs as a silent greeting. It feels cliché; you know, to play footsies with someone who you've secretly kissed. But being a little cliché is fun sometimes. I type something into our shared Google Doc, right beside where her cursor blinks:
Her eyes take a second to flicker up to mine, and she gives me a small smile. "Oh, yeah, uh - happy Friday, Carmen."
I raise my eyebrow at her, taking note of the lack of the usual enthusiasm in her words and the circles under her eyes. The weird thing is, I'm not sure if they were there when we were talking earlier today. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Yes," she says, eyes on her Chromebook. The 'S' is harsh. I don't know why I'm noticing that. "Just tired. You know, um…" She screws her face up like she doesn't know what to say. "... exams? Yeah, exams."
'Is this about your dad?' I nearly ask. But then another thought hits me.
"What did Nina want to talk about?" I've always had a bit of a fascination with that girl. Not a crush. No way. I'm pretty sure she's avidly against that kind of thing, anyhow. She's just interesting. She's a great soccer player (I've felt how good of a kicker she is first-hand), and a natural leader. Takes judo. I think she was in juvie for a couple of months, too…
"Ah, you know…" Jay's lips pinch. She isn't looking at me. "... exams."
"Exams," I repeat, my pulse beginning to quicken. I feel like if this were a real issue for her, she would have mentioned it to me by now, and maybe even asked me for help. "You and Nina were talking about exams. And that, that got you… pretty stressed out."
"Uh-huh." She types something, but it's not on the doc. She's probably working on something for another class, since we're all caught up on our research. She's using one hand for ninety percent of the keys she's tapping, which concerns me about her wrist that she refuses to elaborate on. "I heard a lot about exams at lunch."
"Yeah?" I swallow hard. What's with her mood? She wasn't even this way with me on the stairs today. "Is there something weird with them this year?"
"Sure," she replies, taking a slow breath. Her eyes stay locked on her screen. Mine flicker down to my keyboard, but hop back up almost immediately. "Apparently, we're getting notes in our lockers this year. You know, with very important information on them."
My heart gets faster as I rack my brain to decipher her code. 'Okay, are you stupid, or is she not making any sense? Are you STUPID, or does she sound MAD?'
"I just kinda wish that the exams' coordinator had decided to tell me about it sooner," she says quietly, meticulously enunciating her syllables, "instead of leaving me to hear about it during my lunch break."
My eyes widen as my heart skips a beat.
I actually say the word 'Oh' out loud about four different times as my brain scrambles for a better response.
"Um, shit, I - J- uh, look - Hey," I finally decide on. I flick the back of her computer in a frantic attempt at getting her attention. "Hey, I'm sorry-"
"Quit that," she mutters, pulling it toward her.
"L-look, I don't know what happened," I hiss, leaning forward, heart loud in my ears. Anxiety from discovering the two notes that I got yesterday begins to resurface. Crap, how much does she know? And wait, does that mean Nina knows everything, too? How does she play into this?
'Focus on the now, Carmen!'
"I'm sorry," I repeat. "I was gonna say something, I just-"
"Whatever, Carmen," she snaps, finally looking at me. Her face is red and her eyes are wild. She looks scattered, like she has too many thoughts flying around in her brain to deal with at one time. I'm getting a lot of emotions from her - which I'm desperate to understand, so I can handle this confrontation correctly - the main one being anger. But fear is a close second. She's actually reminding me of when I look in the mirror in the middle of a panic attack. But she can't be having one of those right now, can she?
"You chose not to," she says quietly without losing any of the energy in her words. Okay, she's definitely not having any kind of attack. She's just very intense right now. "I'm glad you didn't. I-it tells me a few things."
"What?" I ask, my eyebrows pulling in. And they only pull tighter when I see her stand up. "Whoa, where are y-"
"Think I'm gonna work somewhere else today, okay?" she says, her gaze flickering to an empty chair on the other side of the bright classroom.
I balk. Okay, was that decision REALLY such a big deal? I feel like there's something else that happened at lunch to make her act this way. But that could be wishful thinking. "Why? If you want to talk about this, w-we can talk, and if not, then we won't-"
"I, I, I… I just-" She shuts her eyes and shakes her head, as if pressing a Restart button in her mind. "I need to think. And you need to relax."
"Am I wrong to think you're pissed at me?" I whisper.
She hesitates, softening the slightest amount. "It-… -'s not about that."
"Uh, okay? Then - then I'll move. You can stay here-"
"No, I'll move." She presses her lips together and takes a step back. None of our classmates look twice. I'm just sitting here, unsure if I should be taking this as merely Jay needing her processing space or as a huge red flag.
"You're not gonna win this fight, Carmen," she tells me. Then she walks away, sits down, and sets to work on something other than our doc at the far end of the room.
I'm frozen. For about four seconds. Then my hand is sliding through my hair and I'm closing my eyes, mentally cursing myself out. God damn it! Bad enough that I have to deal with these ominous note-dropping people, but now Jay's trust in me has snapped - and she heard about things through Nina, which probably means whatever she told her was inaccurate. But I don't know. I wonder how Nina fits into this whole thing. Is she important? She wouldn't really go out of her way to threaten me anonymously, would she?
But above all of that, the thing that sticks with me the most is the last thing that Jay said. No, not the words that left her mouth.
Not the tone.
But the unspoken implication that in terms of this 'fight,' she's on the other side.
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