Prose, Grades 10 – 12: Second Place

Easy A— Sasha El-Hai

The solution to all her problems, the key to fixing everything, was right there in front of her. Lindsey’s eyes widened as she watched her teacher tuck the thick book of test answers back into her desk. Lindsey made sure to remember which drawer it was stored in: the middle one on the left side.
She looked down at the worksheet on her desk, squinting at the problems. How could this jumble of numbers make sense to anyone? To her it was nonsense. She had never asked her teacher for help or reached out to a friend. She hadn’t even looked for help online. She knew her capabilities, and math simply wasn’t one of them.
Instead of taking a risk and trying to solve these problems, Lindsey glanced out the window, distracted. The air was thick. The normally blue sky was smeared with clouds, letting no sun shine through. A cold gust of wind rushing through the window sent chills down Lindsey’s arms. She shuddered and wished the sun would come out, erasing the clouds that made the sky as unclear as the thoughts in her mind.
Lindsey drummed her fingers on her desk, wondering if her teacher left her classroom right after school or if she stayed. Would there be enough time to sneak in? All she needed was one picture. One picture that could make or break her grade, depending on how she executed this plan. Lindsey chewed on her nails. She knew this was wrong. She should just study extra hard this week. She should just try.
When Lindsey pictured actually sitting down and attempting to tackle her math problems, her throat tightened. She imagined herself drowning in the seemingly infinite pages of her math book. It was too much work. Work that she wasn’t capable of doing. But did that make it OK to cheat?
Lindsey’s thoughts were shattered by the bell. She numbly stood up, collecting her supplies and sliding them into her backpack. Her eyes flickered to the board: “Test Friday! Be Ready.”
She quickly read where her teacher had offered to help out kids after school to study and just as quickly forgot it. Lindsey strode towards the door. She was thinking about how she would deal with this upcoming test so frantically that she nearly crashed into her best friend, Samantha.
When it came to school skills, Samantha and Lindsey were polar opposites. Samantha was an expert at multitasking. She juggled sports, clubs and school without a problem. On the other hand, Lindsey just couldn’t seem to get anything right. She felt as though she was missing something. Was there a secret to getting good grades? She must just not be smart enough, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it.  
“Hey Sam, what’s up?” Lindsey struggled to cover up her anxiety with overenthusiasm.
“Not much, just ready to kill this test on Friday.” Samantha smirked. “I’ve been so on top of the homework I feel like I don’t even have to study!”
Lindsey’s eyes widened. She tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear and forced a grin. “Me too, it’ll be so easy.”
Sometimes it was easier to just not be honest with Samantha. It would be too embarrassing to admit that without cheating, she was going to completely fail.
“After the test we should celebrate. You know, go out to eat or something. We deserve this.”
Lindsey nodded. “Yeah, for sure.” She said goodbye and watched as Samantha went to her locker. Lindsey’s head hurt. What was she supposed to do?
That night she tossed and turned nonstop. Lindsey’s thoughts swirled through her head like a tornado. Her twisted sheets felt like ropes wrapping around her arms and legs. Her stomach tightened with stress. The test was only two days away. She hadn’t even glanced at her notes or attempted to review. She simply didn’t think she was capable of passing this on her own.
Her mind was made up. She knew what she had to do.
Squeak. Lindsey grimaced at the sound of her shoes. She paused to make sure no one had heard her before peeking around the door of her math classroom. The room was dark and empty. Shadows were spilled across the floor in eerie shapes, which sent chills down Lindsey’s spine. The only sound was the rush of the wind blowing through a crack in the window. A couple of papers fluttered on her teacher’s desk. Lindsey was used to the room being noisy and bustling with students. The silence made her uncomfortable. She wanted to get this over with.
Lindsey cautiously crept inside, eyes focused on her teacher’s desk. After taking a deep breath, she dashed across the room and yanked the drawer open. The middle one on the left side. To her relief, the thick black book was right where it was supposed to be. Perfect. Lindsey grabbed it. It was lighter than she expected.
Her hands quivered for a second as she processed the severity of what she was doing. Cheating. This meant if she got caught, an automatic zero. Lindsey winced. It wasn’t really her fault she was bad at math, was it? People are gifted in different ways. It’s just what you’re born with. She couldn’t pass this test on her own. It’s not like she really had another choice.
Lindsey dropped the book onto the desk. It smacked down hard, causing Lindsey to jump a foot in the air and nearly shriek. She flipped to Chapter Three, the section her class was working on at the moment. There they were, the list of answers. Lindsey couldn’t help but smile. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, opening the camera. You can do this, she thought. She hurriedly took a picture of the page. Done.
After sliding the drawer shut and putting her phone away, Lindsey dashed towards the door, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. Guilt pulsed through her chest. She rushed into the hallway, ignoring the “Need help? Study group all week to prepare for test after school!” sign in the doorway. Once again, she nearly collided with Samantha.
“Whoa, didn’t see you there!” Samantha leapt back, startled.
“Oh, me too. My bad.” Lindsey turned bright red. Her hands fumbled with the hem of her shirt.
Samantha didn’t seem to acknowledge her anxiety and smiled. “Why did you stay after school today?”
Lindsey’s mind automatically began shooting out a million possible answers a second. She hesitated just a second too long, but again it flew right by Samantha. “I just left my phone in the math room and had to grab it.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I gotta go. My mom’s waiting outside. I’ll see you tomorrow, though!” Samantha turned hurriedly and headed off down the hallway. Lindsey exhaled deeply.
Lindsey looked at her paper. A mess of equations and graphs looked back at her. She didn’t have to worry about where to start, she didn’t have to solve these problems. Lindsey had never felt so relieved before. She almost didn’t notice how much her hands were shaking. She was finally going to pass and bring up her grade. Her parents would be so proud of her improvement.
When she was positive her teacher wasn’t looking, Lindsey slowly slid her phone out of her pocket and propped it up in her lap. She opened up the picture of the answers. Perfect.
After about five minutes, Lindsey was on a roll. She had a steady rhythm of glancing from her phone to the paper, phone to the paper. She wrote out the answers neatly and took her time; finishing the test too quickly would be suspicious. Lindsey ignored the fact that her palms were sweating and that everyone else in the room was coming up with answers just as easily without cheating. She tried to just focus on what she was doing.
In fact, she became so absorbed with the phone in her lap and the paper on her desk that she didn’t even hear the footsteps coming towards her. She nearly jumped when a hand grabbed her phone, which Lindsey suddenly realized she hadn’t even been looking at for the last half of the test.