I sat at the back of the class entranced in my work. I was halfway through writing Eminem’s second verse in Renegade diagonally across the plastic cover of my red history binder. I blew the glittery black gel lightly to dry the words before starting the next line.
“Do you always write with your face so close to the desk like that?” Asked Seth Grady, making me jump, my right hand smudging the lyrics. I hadn’t even realized the bell had rang and class was over.
“I was just comfortable,” I shrugged, throwing my books and pens in my bag casually. For some reason, Seth was waiting for me to get up and walk with him. I glanced around for his other friends in the class, but they’d already left. It was just us. We exited the room together.
“Do you think you’re ready for the test?” He asked while we walked down the crowded hallway.
Seth turned his head slowly to study my face before speaking again. I could see by the slight furrow of his brow that I was being weird again. He spoke in a low voice, “the test we just spent the entire period reviewing for?”
“Oh, yeah, the test in history.” I nodded pretending to remember. “Yeah, I’m almost ready.”
“We’re having a study session at my house after school,” Seth told me as we reached his locker. I’d never been to a study session in my life. I’d never studied before in my life. Nor had I been to Seth’s house. I listened to him intently as he explained, “we’ve got a copy of the test, and we’re going to make cheat sheets for the multiple choice questions.”
“How did you get a copy of the test?”
“Pete Scala’s brother was in Georgeson’s class last year. He’s got all the tests. We’ve been doing it all year.” Seth stooped down and picked up his books for his next class.
“But what if he changes the questions?”
“Georgy’s been using the same multiple choice tests for years. It’s always the same 50 questions. Everybody knows that.”
I didn’t know that. I didn’t have any siblings or connections to this school. It was so weird to be associated with kids who did all of a sudden. Cheating on tests was so Bridgewood, I wasn’t even surprised. Just a bit annoyed.
“Sometimes he changes the essay questions, though, so you have to be careful,” Seth continued to explain as we headed to the science hallway. “We write out our essays ahead of time too, on that yellow legal paper he always gives us for it. I have a ton at my house. During the test, when Georgy’s not looking, we just switch the blank ones with the prewritten ones. Don’t have to worry about timing or anything.”
“What if you get caught?” I wondered. I couldn’t believe how in depth some people would go to cheat. I would just be too lazy to prewrite an essay. And I would be way too scared to switch the test paper with an outside prewritten paper. I would definitely get caught. And then I’d cry.
“Georgy’s too stupid to catch anyone,” Seth laughed. I tried to laugh along, because his laugh was so cute, but I couldn’t. Mr. Georgeson was an older man with a kind heart and a wacky spirit. On Fridays he’d do funny dances. On Halloween, he’d wear the most ridiculous costumes, often involving tights. He loved tights. The thought of taking advantage of him didn’t sit well with me.
We were at the door of Seth’s chemistry class now. We lingered by the doorway. He asked, “so are you coming tonight?”
I hadn’t even realized I was being invited. I thought Seth was just telling me about this foreign approach to education for fun. I felt like I always felt in Bridgewood, a disdainful spectator. But now I was being offered an in. I was being invited to his house, in the old part of town, with the pools in the backyard. As much as I wanted to go to Seth’s house, I was kind of glad that I could honestly reply, “I can’t. I have to work tonight.”
The next morning I trudged into my history class just as the final bell was ringing. I hurried to my isolated seat in the back corner. While my hair was unbrushed and my black eyeliner smudged, my cheating classmates sat up straight at their desks eager to begin the test. I watched from the back corner as Seth and the group of kids around him confidently filled in the multiple choice questions, often glancing at their cheat sheets. I just guessed my answers. I may not be a cheat, but I wasn’t exactly a scholar back then either.
About halfway through the test, I felt a shift in energy. The kids around Seth were mouthing at each other. Something was wrong with their perfect plan. Eventually, Stewie Goode, Seth’s best friend, shot his hand into the air. “Umm, sir. This essay question is really interesting, but yesterday, you pretty much implied the essay question would be about why Napoleon tried to conquer Russia.”
Stewie’s friends nodded and murmured in agreement. Mr Georgeson stood up uncomfortably from his desk. He looped his thumbs into the arm holes of his green sweater vest and replied nervously, “well, yes, that is a good question. I usually ask that one, but I thought I’d ask something different this time.”
“Well, that’s not really fair, because a lot of us studied for that topic,” Stewie argued.
“Well, Stewie,” Mr Georgeson said, an unusual firmness entering his voice, “I did say very clearly during the review yesterday that the essay question could be about any relevant topic.”
Yes! I silently cheered. Go Georgy! You stand up to these spoiled kids! Show them who’s boss!
But Stewie didn’t miss a beat. “Well, by asking us about how Napoleon managed to gain power, and what he did thereafter, you’re moving into Chapter 7, when you heavily implied the essay question would focus on Chapter 6. You mislead us and set us up for failure.”
I didn’t know it then, but Stewie would grow up to become a lawyer, and one of my very best friends. These days, he only uses his powers of argument and persuasion for good. Most of the time.
Back in our history class, the students around Stewie and Seth nodded in agreement. Someone, less elegant than Stewie, coughed, “this is bullshit!!!”
“Alright, alright,” Mr Georgeson said throwing his hands up in submission. “Anyone who studied for chapter 6, you can write about that. I’ll write that question on the board.”
No, Georgy, no. I shook my head as I watched Mr. Georgeson’s defeated shoulders as he wrote the alternative essay question on the board. Behind him, Stewie, Seth and their friends were all surreptitiously exchanging their blank pages with their prewritten essays.
A week later when we compared marks, my 72% somehow felt better than Seth’s 93% and even better than Stewie’s 98%.