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Chapter 5

I thought about the whole Past Lives Letter thing as I walked to my next class. As we learned in Civics last year, Crimson James’s theory was not well received. Although Hollywood had fun capitalizing on several cheesy science fiction films based on the theory, the Defense Department left no stone unturned when it came to crackpot ideas that showed actual signs of life. The government secretly began palm printing newborns and all Department of Defense employees.

Seventeen years and running, with its database growing steadily, the government had its first match and it didn’t take long to expand their acquisition techniques. All foreign born people coming into the country were scanned and catalogued under the auspice of national security. The top-secret operation continued until an inevitable leak. Public outrage followed and eventually all recording and identifying ceased.

A funny thing happened though. The intrigue in finding out who one may have been outweighed concern for Big Brother and their obvious invasion of privacy.

Eventually, the private sector took over until database rights amongst competing companies prevented file sharing and the number of matches quickly dwindled.

As a result, the government was back in business with heavy oversight regulations put in place. Congress ultimately decided that on a person’s eighteenth birthday, the government would deliver his or her Past Lives Letter. However, in order to streamline things and cut down on a ballooning budget, it was decided a few years later that the printing and notification of each citizen would be more efficiently handled in high school. Scientists had discovered that sixteen was the magic number for palm print maturity and since everyone was at least that age at the end of their junior year, the current system was put in place.

I bumped into Allison and she was excited to tell me about her pre-law class, but even more excited to get to her next class, which was a special course designed for aspiring Library of Congress workers. I didn’t quite understand it all and wondered what one could do at the Library of Congress besides be a librarian. Oh well, she’d have to explain it again later and I gladly accepted another peck on the cheek.

My next two classes went by quicker than first period. In Political Science we discussed current events with an emphasis on the Chinese situation. Civics looked like it was going to be a challenge as we had to study significant Supreme Court cases related to the Tracer.

Mr. Cartright, our teacher with a knack for making cartoonish and exasperated faces, must have read my mind because he spent time previewing the famous case that allowed one to set up a Past Lives Transference Will. As a result of the ruling, you could now leave a percentage of your inheritance to yourself. For example, if I made a gazillion bucks in one life, I could carry it over to my next life. Not bad, I thought, now all I needed was a gazillion dollars.

According to Mr. Cartright, this had a big impact on the financial system that took years for the markets and society to adjust to. The reason it applied to me is that if I didn’t find out who I was in a past life, I would never be able to cash in when I turned thirty. That was one of the rules put in place after the Supreme Court allowed the transference law. You couldn’t collect on your self-inheritance until the age of thirty. I’m not sure why they decided that, but we were going to learn all about it this term.

My next class was Statistics and boy was that brutal. By the time the class-ending bell interrupted Mrs. Dalwani, my stomach was growling and I didn’t even care that I hadn’t brought my lunch.

I entered the lunchroom, grabbed a tray and parked myself behind a couple of freshman short enough to be in the fifth grade. The line moved slowly and the shorty directly in front of me gave a nervous glance. He conferred with his buddy and they asked if I wanted to jump ahead. I shook my head and motioned them to move forward.

I found their behavior amusing because I remembered exactly how they felt. I walked on eggshells for two months my freshman year and I wasn’t alone. Everyone did it, but at the same time did their best to hide it. No one wanted to pay the price for not being cool, or more accurately, for being labeled a dork. It could take years to work that stigma off your reputation.

The stew looked like it had tails swimming in it, so I ordered a turkey sandwich and grabbed a bag of chips. The kid in front of me noticed no one else had ordered the stew, shook his head at the bowl of swamp juice on his tray, and made a short jerking movement as if to order something else, but didn’t; his fear of public attention overcoming his desire to eat lunch that day.

My stomach suddenly panged and another kind of fear launched its attack. I realized that in less than one minute I would be in the seating area with no one to eat with. Matt and I were supposed to have lunch together, but since he changed his schedule, I was left high and dry.

I couldn’t believe I found myself in this position. I mean, I knew plenty of people and was good friends with about five or six guys, not to mention Allison. Unfortunately, my luck stunk and every single one of them had lunch during one of the other four lunch periods. For a moment, I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the odds of that happening and figured someone had been playing a pretty orchestrated practical joke.

After paying, I stepped into the lion’s den, keenly aware of the audience and watched several remaining souls jockey for seats in an effort to avoid my fate. If I really wanted to, I could nestle into some group’s table, but thoughts of a similar scenario during freshman year surfaced.

Matt and I were lucky enough to have lunch together that first term, but on the first day, by the time we had bought our food, most of the seats where we knew people had already been taken. We were just about the last two standing when pure panic set in. Fortunately, we spotted two end seats at a distant table and quickly sat down.

We didn’t really know any of the guys. They had gone to a different middle school but didn’t seem to mind. They were just happy to not be in our situation and talked amongst themselves. However, not more than ten seconds later, a nasty voice declared we were in his and his pal’s seats. The table went silent and Matt and I glanced at each other fearing the worst humiliation in our lives was about to be administered.

We turned around and none other than Malton Corbett and his squeaky side-kick, Chuck Sweeney, were eyeing us with bad intent.

“I said you’re in our seats ... now move!” Malton spat.

I saw Matt’s fist clench, which surprised me, and I instinctively wanted to hit the jerk over the head with my tray. Fortunately, a lunch monitor appeared and the situation didn’t evolve into anything embarrassing – or at least more embarrassing than it already was for the two of us.

“No problem, we’ll move,” I said, and we picked up our trays and stepped away.

I noticed a couple of empty seats at one of the senior tables nearby, but no one dared sit there unless they were a senior. With nowhere left to go, we eyed their table like frightened cubs in the wild. The lunchroom din had picked up again and only one of the seniors was paying attention to us. I’ll never forget the stare he gave us because it suggested an insight or higher knowledge. I was glad for it though, because just as we were about to wet ourselves, he glanced at the empty seats then nodded. We never spoke to him, but he had saved our lives and I would be forever grateful.

I now found myself in a similar situation, but fortunately, this time I was much older, wiser, and less scared – dare I say, more confident in who I was. Not that I wanted to sit by myself and risk having the big scarlet L for loser stamped on my forehead, but I could suck it up and handle the mocking glances.

Okay, who was I fooling? This sucked and I secretly hated Matt for switching lunches, but there was nothing I could do about it short of forcing myself into a table of people who would know that I was only doing it to avoid sitting by myself. Nope, I thought, I was just going to have to accept the humiliation.

I spent the remaining twenty minutes dismantling my turkey and chips as slowly as possible. In no way did I want to sit there with nothing to do – that would be more embarrassing than anything. Keeping myself occupied was the key to this game and I had a feeling I would soon become a master.

My next class couldn’t come soon enough despite the subject matter. It was Chinese with Mr. Garcia. We had to take four years of a foreign language and Chinese was the most popular. But I wondered if it was as popular as believed or were the administrators cleverly pushing it on us by limiting the availability of other foreign language classes. I thought Spanish would be easy and Arabic interesting, but they were hardly available and didn’t fit my schedule. Those in charge were up to something and I’d bet all the tea in China this was by design.

In my next class, I finally had a break from the day’s mental gymnastics. Physical Education was always a breeze, but kind of a pain in the butt because not only did you have to change clothes in the locker room, but you also built up a sweat. I mean, who wanted to reek of body odor the rest of the day, especially when you were trying to impress the ladies?

Anyway, this gym class wasn’t my first choice. I actually wanted to take fencing, but, unfortunately, it was only offered during first period and there was no way I was going to deal with worrying about smelling bad the rest of the day. I think that would’ve been worse than eating lunch alone. Instead, I signed up for the afternoon period and was rewarded with the sport of pickleball.

“Dude, this is going to be awesome,” Malton boasted to his sidekick and I cringed.

“I bet it stings like hell when you get hit,” Chuck replied, sadistically.

Why the hell did these two morons have to be in this class, I asked the pickleball gods. My stomach interrupted with a growl and a candy bar came to mind, but just as quickly switched to Jessica Barrera, who was sitting ahead of me in the next row. She sure was pretty and knew it, I thought, as she swung her head to fluff her long brown hair.

Strange, I considered, how many thoughts float through your mind in a matter of seconds. Then it suddenly dawned on me that Matt was supposed to have first period gym and must have switched his schedule to avoid dealing with the whole sweating thing. Damn morning gym classes.

Luckily, today we didn’t have to change into our gym clothes. Rather, we spent the hour going over the rules and examining the equipment. Pickleball combined Ping-Pong and tennis and used a Wiffle-ball, which meant you could put massive spin on it or slam it hard and it wouldn’t sail too far. In addition, a Wiffle-ball didn’t hurt that much if you got hit, which I’m sure would happen to quite a few of Malton and Chuck’s opponents. I bet Chuck hurt small animals when he was young. What a jerk.

We also learned that the entire term was going to be set up like a tournament. We would practice half the period and play a tournament game the other half. In all, we would end up playing each person in class twice. Whoever had the best record would be the champ.

Predictable as it was, Malton and Chuck were already thumping their chests. However, we all knew Chuck was only there to support his master and play the partner in crime. What a bunch of losers, I thought. It would be nice if someone put them in their place. Do it for the poor birds whose wings I’m sure that idiot clipped.

Anyway, I’d never played the sport, but thought it was a cool concept and who knows, I used to play Ping-Pong a lot and liked tennis. Maybe I would be decent at it.

The last two classes of the day, which would have been study hall and literature for me, were canceled in light of the day’s big event. After gym, we would all gather in the auditorium and try to contain ourselves before finding out who we were during that first recorded life. Of course, I wasn’t going to open my letter, but it was still exciting to be part of the buzz as everyone desperately wondered who they once were.

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