I WAITED OUTSIDE FOR JAMIE UNTIL THE EXAM WAS over. As he walked out of the room, I snatched the strap of his backpack and pulled him over to me.
“How do you like them cojones?” My grin threatened to split my face in half as I held out my hand for a fist bump.
Jamie returned it. “That was—that was just …” He gazed at me, awestruck.
“I know,” I said, high on victory.
“Stupid,” he finished.
“What?” I’d been brilliant.
Jamie shook his head and stuffed his hands into the baggy pockets of his pants as we walked to the back gate. “She’s going to try and fail you for sure now.”
“What are you talking about? I nailed that answer.”
He looked at me like I was an idiot. “It was an oral exam, Mara. Completely subjective.” He paused, watching my face, waiting for it to sink in. “No one in that classroom is going to back up your story except little old me. And my word don’t mean shit around here.”
There it was. I was an idiot.
“Now you get it,” he said.
Jamie was right. My shoulders sagged as if someone let all the air out of the smiley-face balloon that was my heart. Not so brilliant after all.
“It’s a good thing I recorded you.”
I whirled around. “No!” I said. Yes!
Jamie’s grin matched my earlier one, tooth for tooth. “I thought you were going to freak out that you failed afterward, so I recorded an MP3 of your performance for posterity. Thought you’d want to dissect it later.” He held up his iPhone as his smile grew impossibly wider. “Happy Purim.”
I squealed for the first time in my life, like a piglet, and threw my arms around Jamie’s neck. “You. Are. A. Genius.”
“All in a day’s work, sugar.”
We stood there hugging and grinning and then things got awkward. Jamie cleared his throat and I dropped my arms, shoving them in my pockets. There may even have been some shuffling of feet before Jamie spoke. “Um, I think your brother might be waving at you. That, or trying to guide a plane to safety.”
I turned. Daniel was indeed gesticulating wildly in my direction. “I guess I should—”
“Yeah. Um, do you want to hang out after school this week?”
“Sure,” I said. “Call me?” I walked backward in Daniel’s direction until Jamie nodded, then turned and waved over my shoulder. When I reached Daniel, he did not look pleased.
“You are in big trouble, young lady,” Daniel said as we headed to his car.
“I heard about your performance in Spanish.”
How was that even possible? Crap.
“Uh, yeah. You have no idea what you just stepped in,” he said as we climbed in. “Morales is universally reviled for a reason,” Daniel went on. “Sophie regaled me with horror stories after she broke the news.”
I reminded myself to whine at Sophie for being a tattletale. My insides squirmed a little but my voice was collected when I spoke. “I’m not sure it could get much worse. The witch tortured me daily.”
“What did she do?”
“She made me stand in front of the class while she hurled questions at me in Spanish on stuff we haven’t even learned yet, and she would laugh when I answered incorrectly—” I stopped. Somehow, my arguments sounded less convincing out loud. Daniel looked at me sideways. “She laughed meanly,” I added.
“And she threw chalk at me.”
I grew irritated and shot him a look. “Says the student who has never been yelled at by a teacher.”
Daniel said nothing and stared blankly ahead as he drove.
“It was pretty brutal. Guess you had to be there.” I didn’t want to think about Morales anymore.
“I guess,” he said, and gave me a weird look. “What’s with you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I mumbled.
“Liar liar, pants on fire.”
“That hasn’t been funny since you were five. Actually, it was never funny.”
“Look, don’t worry so much about the Morales thing. At least you don’t have to apply to seven competitive internships for this summer.”
“They’re all going to accept you,” I said quietly.
“Not true. I’ve been slacking on my independent study and Ms. Dopiko has still not written my recommendation—and I might have overestimated my AP load, and I don’t know how I’ll do on the exams. I might not get into my top schools.”
“Well, if that’s true, I don’t have a prayer,” I said.
“Well, maybe you should work on that now before it’s too late,” Daniel said, staring straight ahead.
“Maybe that wouldn’t be so hard if I were a genius like my older brother.”
“You’re as smart as I am. You just don’t work as hard.”
I opened my mouth to protest but my brother cut me off.
“It’s not just about the grades. What are you going to put on your college résumé? You don’t do drama. Or music. Or the newspaper. Or sports. Or—”
“Well, do something with it. Enter some contests. Win some awards. And rack up other organizations, they need to see that you’re well—”
“God, Daniel. I know, okay? I know.”
We drove the rest of the way home in silence, but I felt guilty and broke it when we pulled into the driveway. “What’s Sophie doing this weekend?” I asked.
“Dunno,” Daniel said as he slammed his door. Fabulous. Now he was in a pissy mood too.
I walked into the house and went to the kitchen to rummage for food, while Daniel disappeared into his room, probably to limn the contours of some exquisite constellation of philosophical nonsense for his internship applications and gasp in the throes of his overachieving OCDness. I, meanwhile, mulled over a bleak future starring myself as a New York sidewalk sketch artist living off of ramen noodles and squatting in Alphabet City because I didn’t have any extracurricular activities. Then the phone rang, interrupting my thoughts. I picked it up.
“Tell your husband to drop the case,” someone whispered on the other end of the line. So low I wasn’t even sure I’d heard correctly.
But my heart thundered in my chest anyway. “Who is this?”
“You’ll be sorry.” The caller hung up.
I broke into a cold sweat and my mind went blank. When Daniel walked into the kitchen, I was still holding the phone, long after the dial tone went dead.
“What are you doing?” he asked as he passed me on his way to the fridge.
I didn’t answer him. I checked the call history and scanned for the last one that came in. My mother’s office, two hours ago. No record of any calls after that. What time was it now? I checked the clock on the microwave—twenty minutes had passed. I’d been standing there, holding the phone, for twenty minutes. Did I delete the call? Was there even a call?
I turned to Daniel.
“Yeesh,” he said, taking a step back. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Or heard one.
I ignored him and took out my cell on the way to my room. I’d taken my pill this morning, just like I had every morning since the art show. But if the phone call was real, why wasn’t it showing up in the call history?
Freaked out, I dialed my father just in case. He picked up on the second ring.
“I have a question,” I blurted before even saying hello.
“What’s up, kid?”
“If you wanted to drop the case now, would you be able to?” My father paused on the other end of the line. “Mara, are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just an academic question,” I said. And it was kind of true. For now.
“Okaaay. Well, it’s highly unlikely the judge would allow a substitution of counsel at this point. In fact, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t allow it.”
My heart sank. “How did the other lawyer get out of the case?”
“The client agreed to have me step in, otherwise Nathan would have been out of luck.”
“And your client wouldn’t let you back out now?”
“Doubtful. It would screw things up for him pretty badly. And the judge wouldn’t let it happen—she’d have me sanctioned if I pulled something like that. Mara,” he said, “are you sure you’re all right? I meant to ask you about therapy last week but I got tied—”
He thought this was about him. About him not being here.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” I said, as convincingly as I could.
“When’s your next appointment?”
“Okay. I gotta go, but we’ll catch up on your birthday, all right?”
I paused. “You’ll be home Saturday?”
“For as long as I can be. I love you, kid. Talk to you soon.”
I hung up the phone. I paced in my room like a wild thing, running over the phone call in my mind. I was on antipsychotic medication for hallucinations and possibly, probably delusions. I’d been all right for the past week, but maybe the pressure of exams had gotten to me after all. If I told my parents about the phone call but there was no evidence for it, nothing to back me up, what would they think? What would they do? My father couldn’t drop the case anyway, and my mother? My mother would want to pull me out of school to help me cope with the stress. And not being able to graduate on time or go to college right away—that would not help me cope with the stress.
I didn’t mention it.
I should have.