MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Oh god, it’s happening again.
I squeeze my eyes shut to make the dizziness stop. It doesn’t work. I open them again and focus my eyes on my usual seat, like looking at the horizon when you get motion sick on a boat. I steady my feet the best I can and walk into class, navigating the rows of desks like they’re choppy waves. People take their seats around me and I’m caught in a whirlpool, getting dizzier and dizzier, my seat looking farther and farther away and I can’t believe I’m about to pass out in the middle of math.
And here I was thinking math couldn’t get any worse.
“Settle down, everyone, settle down,” Ms. Ramirez yells from the front of the class. “I know you’re all anxious to get your exams back and you will, but we’ve got to get through class first, so take a seat.”
Anxious. Yeah. No kidding, Ms. Ramirez. I’d forgotten we were getting our midterms back until Ramirez dropped a stack of papers on her desk and the entire room tilted as we all remembered what day it is. How does this never get easier?
I make it through the whole period, somehow. I absorb, like, zero percent of the lesson—my stomach is sloshing and my feet are unsteady on the ground. I know I’m going to fall over the moment I stand up.
Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe the test went better than I remember. I tear my eyes away from the spot on the wall and take a quick glance around the room as Ms. Ramirez gathers the stack of paper and starts moving around the room. Yep, pretty much seasick faces as far as the eye can see. Not a great sign.
“… and remember that your workbooks are due on my desk at the start of class on Friday, not the end. I know some of you try to sneak in some work during class…” Ms. Ramirez is talking like half of her class isn’t frozen in fear, but I can barely hear her over the buzzing of dread in my ears. I really am going to pass out.
I watch my hand grab the paper Ms. Ramirez is passing to me as she walks by my desk and feel my sweaty palms dampen the pages. The buzzing is joined by my heartbeat pounding loudly in my head as I turn over the paper.
I got a 57.
The sinking, swirling feeling isn’t relieved by knowing. It squeezes around me. Heaviness fills my body and I lose all feeling in my limbs.
Don’t pass out, Caleb. Whatever you do, don’t pass out.
This is the worst it’s ever been. This horrible, overwhelming feeling is crushing me and has been for weeks and weeks. It might actually finish the job this time and leave me totally squashed.
Before it can, the buzzing starts to die down and the swaying of the room slows. I look up to see if someone opened a window—suddenly there’s fresh air and sunlight in here—and see Moses across the aisle grinning big at his exam. There’s a big 98 circled on his paper. My stomach should drop in jealousy but I find myself feeling weirdly happy for him. Looking at him grinning like a maniac at his test is steadying me for some reason.
“Aw, look, Mr. Popular got a fifty-seven,” someone says behind me, and it’s like the window being slammed shut. “Guess it’s true what they say about Football Brain.”
Tyler snickers and it cuts into me like splinters. I find my spot on the wall again and stare at it like I’m Superman and could laser-eye a hole in the wall and escape. Don’t turn around, Caleb, it’ll just make it worse. You know the moment you look at his smug face, you’ll want to choke him with his hoodie.
The bell rings and I instantly spring into action. I shrug my jacket back on, stuff my test in my backpack, and stand up, my eyes never leaving the spot on the wall. I’ve moved through this classroom for the past two and a half years, I know exactly where the door is, so I start walking in that direction, don’t collect two hundred dollars as you pass Go. Simple. I can do this. I can use my stupid, strong Football Legs to walk the rest of my Football Body toward a doorway.
Goddamn. A 57. Maybe I really do have Football Brain.
“Tell me, Michaels, did your GPA go down each time you got tackled this season, or were you born dumb?” Tyler is right on my heels, which are moving thankyouverymuch, and I feel my whole body grow hot with anger. It itches at my skin but I just keep walking toward the door.
“Shut up, Tyler,” I grind out.
“I’m honestly kinda amazed they even let you play,” he crows—loud enough to draw attention, like he wants—as he follows me into the hallway. “I mean, can you even read the numbers on the field?”
There’s a fire in my chest, choking out all the oxygen in my lungs, and something else—something weighty and dark, making me taste metal. I do everything I can to focus on moving forward.
“And, aw, look,” Tyler says, “little Moses got a ninety-eight!”
I look around to see Tyler snatch Moses’s test from his hands and wave it around. Like always, Tyler is dressed like grunge never went out of style and has got that toothy sneer plastered over his face. It always makes me want to hit something.
I should just keep walking, I know I should, but my whole body seizes up and I stop in my tracks without meaning to. Moses’s face is covered in flop sweat as he tries to get his test back from Tyler and my heart starts beating like it’s been injected with Red Bull.
“C’mon, Tyler, give it back,” Moses pipes up, his soft voice barely getting to my ears. I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe? Am I having an asthma attack? Do I have asthma?
Copyright © 2019 by Lauren Shippen