The night before the test, I stayed late at tennis practice because of this girl I liked. I'd been flirting with her since the beginning of the school year, and because she was always with this other girl (I liked her last year but this year I find her really annoying), I couldn't get her to actually talk to me. Every time I tried to corner her, her friend would come running. I think she still likes me, which is awkward, because I'm kind of done with her already. Anyway, this girl, Kara, was picking up balls around the court and I realized that her annoying friend, Missy, had already left. So I ran over to help. We were talking, and I was thinking that I had to hurry up and ask her out because otherwise I wouldn't get her alone again.
I asked her if she wanted to go somewhere the next day—Saturday—and she looked really happy. I thought, AWESOME! But then she said, “Wait, aren't you taking the test?”
“The test?” I almost added, “What test?” But then I realized what test.
“Missy left so she could go to bed early. I guess you must have everything under control.” Kara giggled.
My mind was racing. Test! Test! Holy crap, I did NOT have everything under control. I had forgotten about the stupid test. I had also found reasons not to go to my tutoring sessions for the past month. I just kept calling in sick or busy with homework and tennis. My parents had no clue—why would they, they were both working all the time—and the last thing I wanted to do after school every day was study for a stupid standardized test. Never mind that the test would determine my fate.
This test was a big deal. If I didn't do well on it, I would end up in OH MY GOD PUBLIC SCHOOL. Pretty much every Wilkinson for several generations had gone to one of three or four elite New England prep schools. My parents warned me that I would probably get beaten up and left for dead if I entered ninth grade at the local high school.
WHY had I not remembered the stupid test?
Because I was too busy trying to get Kara to talk to me at tennis practice, and because I spent a lot of afternoons in Jamie's basement rec room, gaming.
Oh, and I was illustrating Star Wars fan fiction for Mike. Drawing takes a lot of time. Especially with water color pencils. I still wasn't done. That was going to take months.
Some things were more important than tests. But I couldn't end up in public school, the first Wilkinson in how many generations to not go to boarding school. And what would my mom do if she had to deal with me at home for the next four years? Yikes. I shuddered.
“How about tomorrow afternoon,” I found myself saying to Kara, as we carried the baskets of balls back to the club house. “The test's at the high school, I can meet you somewhere afterward.”
“That would be great!”
I wasn't really paying attention as I waved good-bye. My mom was waiting for me in the parking lot, listening to NPR.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi.” I could tell she was listening to the story on the radio and not really paying attention. Good.
I can't explain it but when I get into this kind of situation, my mind gets really clear. I was mad at myself for being such an idiot—I didn't have to be in this predicament, after all—but I also knew that I didn't have a choice. I had to take this test and I had to ace it. When I get this feeling, my heart is racing but my mind is super quiet. It's like the beginning of a tennis game.
Failure was not an option.
But when I finally got to my bedroom and shut the door, I was not at all sure about how I would pull this off. I was a great student—I was bright—but this test was notorious. It had a “high ceiling,” which meant that it was designed to be difficult even for smart kids.
Listlessly, I leafed through the stack of sample tests that the tutor had given to me on one of the few occasions I had actually shown up for tutoring. I hadn't even touched them, but maybe if I just went through them with a timer, I could at least make sure I could color in the bubbles fast enough to finish the test. I sat down at my desk, and within five minutes I was asleep.
At midnight, I woke up, the imprint of my pencil on my cheek, and went to bed. As I drifted off, I was half-thinking that fending off the savages at public school might be kind of entertaining, at the very least.
The next day, one of my buddies called me before my mom and I left for the high school. The test was cancelled. There was a water main break and the school auditorium flooded.
I high-fived myself mentally.
And had a great date that afternoon with Kara.
We were given the chance to take a make-up test the following month. I aced it. Nothing like a little adrenaline to get you going.
Part of me was a little bummed that I wasn't going to get to enter the public school fray. Nah, not really.