The Test

Willow’s heart was racing. What have I done? God Willow, you are so stupid. Why did you agree to that. Just because he’s a tall good looking star point guard for the basketball team. How dumb can you be?! He doesn’t care a hoot about me but I agreed. Shit! Shit! Shit!

She walked out of the empty classroom after her ALP college level calculus class. Alex had pulled her aside and asked if she would take the mid-term senior calculus test for him. The test was still experimental. It would be done on their computers with assigned codes and passwords for each student. The test could be completed anytime in a two day period of time. He seemed to have it all worked out. She would use his computer and he would be there with her just in case. “I really need this grade for my scholarship,” he had said. ‘I want to get into med school,’ he had said. And she got all gaga, ‘Yes’, she had said. He thanked her, turned and walked away to join his friends. It was cheating. pure, plain and simple cheating.

Whereas Alex was super popular, Willow was the opposite. She had one friend, Mary who was equally unpopular. Willow considered herself neither beautiful nor ugly, but simply considered herself as being plain, with a wild shock of unruly auburn hair and green eyes with flecks of brown. On the other hand she was smart, very smart. And so was Mary, neither beautiful nor ugly, but smart. Both girls had managed to ride below the radar of their peers, staying away from social media and all the high school drama. Willow was tall which didn’t help, but she managed a low profile and nobody really knew who she was. She was especially good at math sciences and was planning on studying physics at Stanford where she had earned an academic scholarship . . . three months until graduation. 

Her stomach was in turmoil and she could barely eat her dinner that night. “Are you okay Honey”, her mother asked? “You’ve hardly touched your food.”

“I’m sorry, Mom, I’m just not that hungry.”

Her father chimed in, “Something must be bothering you. You always have an appetite for meatloaf.”

“Just not tonight, Dad. I’m sorry, but can I be excused please?”

Her two little brothers chimed in of course with taunts until their mother gave them a look which was enough for them to shut up.

Her parents concern went on for a few more minutes and she was finally able to escape to her room citing a load of homework. She flopped onto her bed and hugged her old teddy bear from her childhood. She had always  found comfort in that silly old thread worn bear. She didn’t sleep well that night and when by morning she thought she might have a solution.

Alex and she were in the same classic literature class during last period that morning and she caught up with him when he was leaving and pulled him aside.

“I need to talk to you,” she said.

He gave her a questioning scowl, “You’re not going to back out of our deal, are you?”

She mustered up all the courage she could and said, “Yes and no. I can’t cheat for you but I’ll be happy to tutor you. You’re smart. I know you are. You’re in several ALP science classes so I know you are. You can master this calculus. I know you can. You know it, you just don’t realize you know it. I’ll help. Please let me. I can’t cheat. If we’re caught, our scholarships will be history. And they spot monitor the test with face time so I can’t do this. We’ll get into serious trouble. Please?”

He looked at her, thinking this through. “You’re right. It was stupid of me to ask you to do that for me. I’m sorry. But, seriously? You’d help me? Why, after I asked you to cheat for me? Why’d you ever agree to do that in the first place?”

“I was taken off guard. I’m not the most popular girl as you know, and, well, I was thrilled that you even noticed me, and, I don’t know, I said yes before I thought of all the ramifications. If you do the work you can do this. I’m making it my mission for you to ace that test. Okay?”

He hesitated and said, “Okay then, when do we start? And where?”

“This afternoon after your basketball practice. The local library has study rooms. I go there a lot. It’s a good place away from distractions like my mom and little brothers. What time can you make it?”

“If I get showered and not mess around I could be there by 4:00.”

“See ya then.”

Alex showed up at four sharp, his black hair still wet from his shower.

“Good practice?” Willow asked.

“Usual. Yeah, it was good I guess. Game Friday night. You coming?”

“Ah, I hadn’t planned on it. Did you bring your notebook and computer?” she said to change the subject.

“Well, yeah . . . of course I did,” giving her a look of disbelief at her question.

“Sorry. Stupid question. Let’s get started. Where do think you need the most help?”

He went through what he felt he understood and then what he didn’t have a clue about, which was a lot.

“So, it looks like we have some work to do then,” she said, “so, let’s get going.”

They both realized at the same time that it was 5:30 all of a sudden. Time had flown.

“Oh my god, I have to get going or I’ll be late for dinner,” she blurted out.

“Oh crap. Me too. Hey, thanks a lot. In just this time I think some of this is beginning to make sense. Same time tomorrow then?”

“Yep. See ya then.” 

Willow had a bigger appetite and slept very well that night.

They met after school every afternoon that first week. At school it was still the same. He ignored her and she him, but when they were working together at the library, it was a different. He was a really nice guy. And funny. Willow had never dated, but as the days went on, she increasingly looked forward to seeing him.

“So, Willow? That’s an interesting name,” he said one afternoon.

“Yeah. It’s weird, but so are my parents. They are the progeny of some hippies from up north. I guess weird names run in the family. Mom’s name is Autumn Dawn and Dad’s is Indigo Peace, ‘Indy’ for short, just like Indiana Jones. Go figure. But they are pretty normal I guess. Dad’s a professor in math science over at the university. I guess that’s where I get my math brains. And mom’s a psychologist and a counselor at the women’s center.”

He gave her a warm smile, his dark eyes were sparkling, “Your parents sound interesting. I’d like to meet them sometime. Tell me, Willow, I hardly ever see you around, like you’re hiding? You’re really pretty cool.”

She about fell out of her chair and knew she was blushing from the tips of her toes to the ends of her auburn hair. She swallowed, “I’m painfully shy, Alex. I am afraid of being around more that one or two people at a time. I’m not very secure with myself.” Why am I telling him this. He’ll really think I’m a loser.

“Yeah, I can understand that. I’m not too happy around crowds either. I feel most at home on the basketball court. But I manage somehow.”

“God, Alex, you date Mandy Johnson, the most popular girl in school. And you have friends coming out your ears.”

“Yeah, I know. But you want to know something? I’m happier spending this time here working with you. You’re amazing and a great help. I feel like I’m starting to really get this stuff. Thanks. I really appreciate it and I appreciate you for helping me.”

She thought she might throw up, but she swallowed hard again, “Thanks, ah, okay, our times about up so let’s hit his next equation.”

The test day came and Alex was as ready as he ever would be. He was confident. The tutoring lessons were over. The test was easy for her. And she knew Alex would do well because he knew everything that was on the test. The next day, they met in the hall. He noticed her, smiled, and walked on by with two other players. Well that’s that . . . until the next time he needs help.

She met Mary for lunch as she always did and she gave her a look, “What’s going on?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“It’s all over school. You and Alex. Somebody saw you and him at the library. Mandy knows and is furious. Be careful and watch your back. She’s a vicious cat.”

Willow absorbed all this. She hadn’t heard anything. “I was tutoring him for the calc test is all. That’s it. And screw Mandy. She doesn’t bother me.”

“All the same. Be careful.”

Mary was right. After last period Friday afternoon when Willow was leaving school, Mandy and three of her cohorts confronted her. “Hi BITCH!” Mandy started, “You keep your slutty ass away from my Alex! He’s mine you little slut! If I hear you ever even look at him again, you’ll be sorry.” The four of them walked by her, all of them giving her a shove or a shoulder.

Willow looked around to see who was watching the encounter and saw Alex with three of his team mates. He saw her look at him and turned to his friends saying something. Willow turned and ran for home as fast as she could. God. Now everybody will know I’m a loser. Mandy will make sure of that. I was so stupid to get involved with anybody, especially Alex. He’s probably laughing about it with her right now. I was so stupid.

She got home and old her parents she wasn’t feeling well, went up to her room fell into her bed and cried. Her mother came up a while later, knocked and went in. She felt her forehead for a fever.

“You don’t have a temperature. What’s wrong, Honey?”

“I just don’t feel well. I don’t think I can eat dinner.”

“Can I make you some chicken soup? You always like soup when you aren’t feeling up to par.”

“Maybe, maybe later. I just want to rest.”

“Did something happen to upset you?”

“No Mom! No! I just don’t feel well and want to be alone.”

“All right. Okay. I’ll check back later,” and she left.

Willow lay there, finally getting up and put on her pajamas and crawled into bed, opened her computer and started her homework assignments hardly able to maintain any concentration. Her mother came up about an hour later with some chicken soup. Left it on her desk and left without a word. Willow was hungrier than she thought and devoured it. She went back and worked on her homework finding it hard to focus with a gnawing sense of apprehension about what tomorrow would be like when she had to go back to school. She turned off her light at 9:00 which was standard bedtime for the whole household. She was still awake at 10:00 and heard a plink on her window. She got up and looked out and saw Alex dimly lit from the street light. She opened her window, and with a loud whisper asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Can you come down. I need to talk to you.”

“About what? Your girlfriend?”

“She’s not my girlfriend anymore. Not after what I saw. Please come down. I need to talk to you.”

“Shhhh. I’m coming.” She shut her window, threw on some sweats and shoes and snuck quietly downstairs and out on the porch. He was standing out by the street and she beckoned him to come up to join her. Her parents bedroom was in the back so they could talk quietly on the porch swing.

“What do you want?” she asked angrily. “Haven’t you done enough damage?their I’m ruined. I’m ashamed to go back there after today.”

“I’m so sorry for what happened with Mandy. That was so wrong. She had no business doing what she did.”

“Then why didn’t you stop her? You were there. I saw you watching.”

“I just got their at the end. Two of my friends were trying to tell me what happened and when I turned to find you, you were gone. But I did catch up with Mandy and we’re done. It was actually kind of funny, I mean the way she threw a fit and everything. I don’t really know why I went ever out with her. She’s not a nice person. Deep down I guess I always knew that. My buddies all hated her and kept warning me. But she was popular and good looking. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry for what happened. Tell you what, I’d like to pick you up in the morning and we’ll go to school together. Then let them talk.”

Willow sat for a long time in silence. “But why? You don’t need to do that. I’ll be fine.”

“If we walk in together, they’ll all, I don’t know . . . maybe let it all go. I already saw Mandy’s tirade on social media. Didn’t take her long. God, I really despise her right now. I really owe you a huge favor. I’ve been trying to find you all week to let you know that I aced that test. Thank you for helping me out. I owe you now more than ever. And I want to show them all that you are my friend. You’re a really nice girl and I like you.”

She sat again in silence absorbing what he had just said especially about liking her. “I don’t understand. Why would you like me? Just because I helped you out for a test? As you might recall, I sort of got into a jam about that, by offering to help you cheat.”

He hung his head, “Yeah, I know. I’m apologize about that again. It was a bone head idea and I handled it all wrong. But you still hung in there and we did it. And, I like you because you are fun and nice. I liked having our study meetings. I looked forward to them and I sort of miss them. You really helped me. Hey, it’s late and I gotta get home or I’ll be trouble. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 8: 15.”

“But . . .”

“No buts. Tomorrow at 8:15.” He got up and left, turning back once to wave at her and give her a thumbs up.

She sat thinking about all this. It was a bit much for her to wrap her head around. He broke up with Mandy and now he wants to take me to school so we can walk in together. And he said he likes me?

She went back to bed and her heart was racing. I’m not sure about this. After another restless night, morning came and she took a little more time with her hair and upped her dress code a few notches.

Her mom looked at her and commented, “You seem to be feeling better. And look at you, you certainly look nice today. Something special going on at school?”

“No, I just  feel better. Must have been the chicken soup. Thanks Mom.” She grabbed a slice of toast, slathered on some peanut butter, grabbed her backpack,  and ran out the door hollering, By Mom, gotta go. Alex Bancroft is giving me a ride this morning and he’s waiting.”

“Alex who . . . ?” But it was too late she was already gone.

Willow got in the truck, “Alex, this is going to be really awkward and I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. It’s bad enough kids might see me getting out of your truck.”

“It’ll be okay. I got you into this and I’ll do what I can to get you out of it.”

They got to the high school and pulled into the parking lot along with seemingly everyone else. As they exited and walked towards the front door, he took her hand. She tried to pull away, but he held on tight. A terrible thought came to her. What is he’s just setting me up. He’ll take me into school and laugh at me and go back to her. That’s what he’s doing. I’m so stupid. 

He turned to her, “See, not so bad.”

“I can’t do this Alex.”

“It’ll be okay. Trust me. It’ll be okay.”

She took a deep breath. I hope so. I hope so.

They went in and started towards their locker. Everyone stopped talking and watched them walk by, like they were a couple going to their execution. Dead couple walking. Then she saw Mandy. Shit!

Mandy stepped out in front of them and confronted not her but Alex, “How could do this to me? With that little no-body? How dare you!”

Alex looked at her and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “A no-body? A NO-BODY?! Look whose talking. I’ve known Willow for about three weeks and she is ten times the person you are. She’s nice, she’s smart, she’s fun, she’s pretty and is way more interesting than you’ll ever be. Out of our way,” and he shoved their way around her, not without Alex throwing some shoulder into her the way she had done to Willow the day before. By that time the hall monitor had arrived and was moving everybody along.

Willow let out a huge sigh and felt a lump rise in her throat. I can’t cry! She swallowed it away and said to Alex, “Thanks, that was nice.” She picked her head up and walked proudly to her locker. She and Alex parted to go to their respective homerooms. No one said a word about anything all day. Alex quickly took her home after last period so he could get back to basketball practice. 

Willow was still on edge from the day and her mother noticed, “Willow. Something has been going on with you. Things aren’t okay, are they? Talk to me.”

“Oh Mom . . .”

“Don’t ‘oh mom’ me. Tell me what is going on. Are you having difficulties at school?”

“Yeah, sort of . . .” and she related what was happening the last few weeks and all she knew about Alex. When she finished the story, her mother sat quiet for a minute then smiled, “Good for you Sweetheart. It seems you have a new friend. And he sounds like a nice guy. Do you like him?”

“I guess. I’ve really never been interested in boys I just thought I was destined to always be a nerd.” She looked off into space, and took a breath, “Yeah, I guess I like him. He is nice. It was like he was protecting me today. And then he confronted Mandy in front of everybody. I was so embarrassed, but it felt nice.”

“Well, I think you might just have a new boyfriend, like it or not. Just be careful,” and Willow picked up on several implications about ‘be careful’.

Willow was doing her homework when she got a text on her cellphone. The only person who she ever got texts from was Mary and when she checked it, she was surprised to see it was Alex. She remembered they had exchanged phone numbers when she began tutoring him. 

“Have you been on social media. It’s all over. Alex and Willow are a couple and Mandy Johnson is a loser. I’ll pick you up at 8:15 tomorrow.”

She sat there, stunned. Mandy, ‘a loser’. She was nuts before, now she’ll be totally crazy. And Alex and me ‘are together’. She laughed quietly at that. Yeah. Right.

Willow and Alex arrived at school and walked in together. After the last morning period, Alex found her, “My buddy, Jason, who’s in the same homeroom as Mandy said she didn’t show today. And he said that he’s in her psych class and she didn’t show there either and apparently they had a big test today.”

“She’s probably embarrassed to show her face if what you texted last night is true.”

“Didn’t you see it? It was all over.”

She laughed, “I don’t do social media. Never have. Sounds sort of silly, posting all the stuff I hear about, like so and so did that and I’m doing this, or here’s a picture of my cat and so on. I don’t have time. Rather read a book. Oops sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

He laughed back at her, “No offense taken. You’re so different, Willow, so different from all the others. I really like you more all the time. Hey, the new Star Wars movie is in town. Would you like to go see the late afternoon show Saturday and we can go have something to eat after?”

She almost choked and swallowed hard and stammered, “Like a date? I’ve never been on a date before. I don’t know, Alex. I don’t know what to do on a date.”

He looked at her incredulously, “You’ve never been out on a date? You’re kidding. Why?”

“No one ever asked me and I wasn’t really ever interested,” which was a lie. She had secretly always wanted to have a date and had been asked out a few times but the idea made her nervous and she had always declined. After those few denials, any such offers vanished. Word was out. Now here was one of the most popular guys in school asking her out. She knew him and liked him. “Sure. I’d like  to.”

“Great. My friend Kyle and his girl friend are going with us so it’ll be fun. First date than, huh?’

“Yep, so be nice,” she smiled up at him, “hanks for asking. That’s nice.”

“It’ll be fun. Kyle is funny and Cindy is really nice.”

“Cindy Kelley? She was in ALP Spanish with me. She was nice. I liked her.”

Alex said, “Great. It’ll be fun. I really want to see that movie. Hey gotta get to my next class. See you after last period.”

That night she noticed how good dinner was and thanked her mom when she was helping clear the table. Her mother commented, “You’re in good spirits tonight. Have a good day at school?”

“Yeah, very interesting and she told her mother about her upcoming ‘date’.

Her mother smiled warmly, “I’m very happy for you, Sweetheart. You know, your dad and I will need to meet him.”

“Of course you will.”

She texted Mary with the news and Mary was both astounded and happy for her.  

Willow giggled all the while she was doing her homework. Getting ready for bed, she just started laughing at how all this transpired. I have a date with one of the most popular guys at school. How ridiculous is that. She laughed herself into a sound sleep.

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