It can pull my heart
to pinnacle heights or deep abysses,
leaving me all euphoric or destroyed.
I am his to bend.
My heroine writes this short poem for her AP English assignment.
Okay, need to return Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire.
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“All you have to do is tell him you’re pregnant.”
When Clay Roman passed me a note during chemistry telling me he had good news about my tuition woes, I thought he meant he’d found a scholarship I was eligible for. I ran to the football field bleachers, hoping for some good news. This wasn’t good news. This… this was a curveball straight from the underworld.
I rubbed my ear and dramatically inclined my head at him.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
His icy, almost lifeless, pale blue eyes rolled in exasperation. As if I were frustrating him. Me. The girl he’d just asked to fake a pregnancy. Where can one buy that amount of nerve? Amazon? Sam’s Club? Did he get frequent shopper points with The International House of Audacity? I mean seriously!
“Tell Julius you’re pregnant and he’s the father, and I will ensure your tuition is paid in full for the next two years.”
Yup. That’s what I thought he’d said.
I planted my hands on my hips to keep from flipping him off.
“You made me walk all the way across the football field to ask me to commit pregnancy fraud? What kind of girl do you think I am? Do I look like I’ve ever been on a daytime talk show?”
His demeanor was cool. Calm. He leisurely leaned on the sun-warmed bleachers, totally at ease with the fact that he was asking me to tell the biggest lie of my life. Meanwhile, my temper was at DEFCON 1.
“Think about it, Meg,” he said. “All your money problems can go away just like that. You won’t have to switch schools or leave your friends. Your parents won’t even have to know.”
I scoffed and ground a pebble into the dirt with the toe of my sneaker.
“I know you don’t understand how the world works, so let me spell it out for you. My parents get a bill from this school every semester. I think they’ll notice a big fat zero next to the amount due box.”
“Tell them it’s a scholarship, or that you’ve received a grant. The means don’t matter to me. Your cooperation is what’s important.”
He placed a hand on my shoulder and smiled as if he knew I’d cooperate.
Not so fast Clay. It’s going to take a whole lot more than a slick smile, enviable blond hair, and a hot body to even begin to convince me to go along with this crazy plan.
I lifted his pointer finger from my skin and slid his clammy hand off of me.
“Ok. Let’s assume for one minute that I’m a crap daughter who would lie to my parents. How am I supposed to pull this whole charade off? Number one, I’ve never even spoken to Julius Samson. Number two, I may be three steps from impoverished right now, but I still have a moral compass. And three, how am I supposed to trust that you’ll pay up?”
I gave myself a mental pat on the back. These were all valid questions, and if Clay was smart, he’d take this opportunity to apologize for even thinking of such a terrible plan. Then he’d kiss my feet and beg my forgiveness. Some tears would be shed. It’d all be very beautiful, really.
Clay was too slick for that. He just stood there in the sunlight and stared at me like I was an old horse he was about to put out of its misery. “Meg, Meg, Meg.” His head shook each time he said my name, making me even madder. “Don’t you think I’ve thought of that? I already told Julius that the girl he took off with that night might be knocked up. Everything is in place. Megera, I’m offering you the world.” He placed his thumb and forefinger on my chin, squeezing it. His skin was cold, even though it was a warm October day. Makes sense. After all, snakes are cold-blooded.
“I’ll give you twenty-four hours,” he said. “Either tell one little lie or say goodbye to St. Mary’s Academy forever. The choice is yours.”
He gave my chin one last squeeze before picking up his black book bag, hoisting it onto one shoulder, and walking away.
I watched him go, my body feeling on edge. My gut dipped and twisted as if I were riding a rollercoaster, and tension sat heavy on my shoulders. Something about this didn’t seem right. Well, nothing about this was right, but there was one thing that especially bothered me.
He turned, his icy eyes finding me. The longer he looked at me, the more I felt my blood freeze.
“Isn’t he your friend?” I asked. The ‘he’ in this equation was, of course, Julius.
He dropped his chin slightly. “My best friend,” he replied.
My shoulder’s rose. “So, why are you doing this?”
His lips raised at the edges. “Twenty-four hours, Meg,” he said. “I hope to hear from you.”
Regardless of what type of person Clay assumed I was, I wouldn’t be shaken off so easily. This was someone’s life we were talking about. I took another step forward.
“What’ll happen to him?”
He scoffed. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned about what will happen to you?”
“I’m not heartless.”
“I never said you were. And, if your ex is to be believed, it was your celibacy rather then your heartlessness that was the problem.”
The stinging words were like a right hook straight to my heart. “Leave Homer out of this. He would never say that?”
Clay’s words hung in the air, and my cheeks warmed. I crossed my arms to hide my heaving chest.
“Look, all I’m saying is that men are dogs, Meg. Consider this your opportunity to remove another hound from St. Mary’s Academy.”
“Is Julius a hound?”
Clay smiled. “One of the worse. That’s what makes this so simple.”
I dropped my gaze to the field turf.
Could I really do this? Could I really destroy someone’s life to protect my own? Even if they were a so-called ‘hound’? I didn’t really know Julius Samson. I knew that everyone called him Hercules or Herc. He always seemed like a standup guy to me. Never bullying anyone or anything like that. But then again, I didn’t really know him. Clay did. Was Clay telling the truth about Julius?
I rubbed my hands on my jeans, my increasingly agitated state making me fidgety.
“What about me?” I asked. “Everyone will be calling me a whore for the next two years.”
Clay shook his head. “Once Julius is gone, it’ll be old news. Think about it, Meg. Are you willing to face a little humiliation to remain at your family’s alma mater? In a month’s time, you won’t even remember this conversation. Julius will be out, I’ll be the new Quarterback, and you’ll get to say in school. Everyone wins.”
“Twenty-four hours,” Clay said. He turned around, his long legs making quick strides across the field. “This offer expires in twenty-four hours. Tick tock, Meg.”
I watched him until he disappeared around the front of the school. My legs felt weak and I collapsed on the bench with a sigh.
This morning, I was Meg Kotopuli. A junior at St. Mary’s Academy. Resident film geek with modest grades and an ex-boyfriend with a penchant for cheerleaders way outside of his league. Now, Clay expected me to lie to someone I’d never even met. And not just anyone. The most popular guy in school. Was it worth it? Could I do it?
My chest felt tight and I rubbed it.
The right thing to do would be to tell Clay to shove his idea where this sun didn’t shine.
The right thing to do would be to tell Julius about this conversation.
The right thing to do was to not consider this offer at all.
But it was hard to do the right thing.
Sometimes, it was absolutely impossible.