Peyton Warner | August, Junior Year
I feel like there’s a hundred-pound weight on my chest. I wonder if this is what Dad felt. That’s what they say heart attacks are like. Pressure on your chest.
Then, sometimes, you die. Other times, you survive, but not if you’re John Warner.
Mrs. Everett glares at me when I walk in late, holding nothing but my phone. Dyslexia fucks me up when I’m taking normal notes and reading regular English on the whiteboard. Chemical equations? There’s no point in even bringing a notebook to class.
I shouldn’t be here in the first place. I guarantee the school would have bent their attendance requirements for me. They ignore all the other rules for the team. But no, Coach wants a team with perfect attendance, so I have to start junior year the day after my dad’s funeral.
There’s only one open spot, and of course it’s in the back, so Mrs. Everett’s beady eyes bore into my skull until I pull the chair out, scraping the linoleum floor, and plant my ass in the seat between Karina Ross and a girl who looks familiar. She’s kind of cute, with freckles on her cheeks and long, light brown hair that flows over the back of her seat.
Yet another ‘I’m sorry’ text pulls my eyes back to my phone. Keeping up with all of them is like working an assembly line.
The girl catches my attention again when she straightens up in her chair, her blue eyes fixated on the whiteboard as she copies down every word Mrs. Everett speaks in perfect handwriting. I’ve definitely seen her before. She received one of the smart kid plaques at the academic award ceremony last year. Mikaela something. I’ll have to pick a new seat tomorrow. This poor girl doesn’t want to be next to my stupid self all semester. Wouldn’t want to screw up her probably perfect GPA with my football-damaged brain.
“Partner up with your neighbors, please,” Mrs. Everett calls.
Smart Mikaela definitely doesn’t want to work with me. I check to my right, hoping Karina doesn’t hate me because of my association with Jake. Based on her glare and the way she hastily asks the girl on her right to be partners, I think I’m guilty for being best friends with the guy who cheated on her.
I turn towards Mikaela, forcing an apologetic smile. “Want to be partners?” I ask.
She blinks a couple times. I’m about to repeat myself when she finally mumbles, “Sure.”
All I can do is watch while she measures water and weighs some weird blue crystal-looking things. The girl sitting in front of her turns around and glances between us. “I’ll save you a seat tomorrow,” she says sympathetically, like being my partner is the worst possible thing in the world.
I shouldn’t be mad, because she’s not wrong, but anger bubbles up inside me anyway. I wonder what Mikaela’s going to respond to that. Probably make her friend swear on her life that she’ll reserve a spot so Mikaela isn’t stuck next to the dumb football kid again.
Mikaela shrugs. “Remember when you burned a hole in my pants last year? I’ll recover not being next to you in science for one day.”
I stifle a snort. I wasn’t expecting something like that. I guess Smart Mikaela has a sassy side.
“I did you a favor getting rid of those,” the girl snaps back, a giggle in her voice. She tucks a piece of black hair behind her ear and rolls her eyes. “How’s Sean?”
Mikaela blushes and mumbles something that sounds like, “He’s good.”
“I’ll get more out of you later,” the girl says confidently.
Mikaela shrugs again. “Probably.” She turns back to the experiment and starts mixing around the crystals with a metal stick.
Here’s my chance to be less of a useless partner. “I can stir,” I volunteer.
“Uh, sure,” she replies, looking nervous. She’s probably traumatized from the time her friend burned a hole through her pants.
I silently stir, trying to keep my eyes on the slowly dissolving crystals and off Mikaela. She’s an interesting one, barely speaking to me but giving her friend sass. And she didn’t act the way her friend did, as if she drew the short straw in the lab partner department. She didn’t even make a face.
Too bad Sean, whoever that is, exists. I kind of want to get to know Smart Mikaela better this year.