I pushed my hair back from my forehead. “I can take it.”
“But you shouldn’t have to,” Noah said, his nostrils flaring. “I wanted to show them you were different. That’s why—Christ,” Noah said under his breath. “That’s why everything. Because you are different,” he said to himself. A shadow darkened his face and he was silent as he stared at me. Studied me. I was lost, but didn’t have time to ask what he was talking about before his expression changed. He withdrew his hand from mine. “If you’re getting hell for this—”
Without thinking, I took his hand back. “Then I’ll put on my big-girl panties and deal.” I indicated the cafeteria. “Shall we?”
Noah didn’t speak the rest of the way, and I mulled over what I’d said and what it meant. People would think I was a slut. They likely already did. And even though Noah was different—seemed different—from the person Jamie had warned me about, that didn’t mean our thing wouldn’t be over tomorrow. Was it worth it? Noah’s reputation didn’t seem to ruffle Daniel, and I thought—hoped—that Jamie and I would stay friends anyway. And for now, there was Noah.
I decided that was enough.
We were still holding hands when we arrived at the cafeteria. As he opened the door for me, I finally understood why Noah called it the dining hall. The ceilings were chapel high and arches spanned the length of the space, housing floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The stark white of the walls contrasted with the burnished walnut floors. Nothing could have been further from the image the word “cafeteria” normally conjures.
“Any seating preferences?” Noah asked.
My eyes scanned the bustling room, filled with uniformed Croyden students. “You’re kidding, right?”
Noah led me through the hall by the hand, and eyes turned up and followed us as we passed. He caught the eye of someone he knew in the far back and waved, and the person waved back.
It was Daniel. His eyes were wide with surprise and the table went silent as we wove through the chairs to meet him.
“Oh my God, if it isn’t my baby sister. Here, in this very cafeteria!”
“Shut up.” I sat down beside Noah and took out my lunch, too self-conscious to meet the eyes of the rest of the seniors assembled at the table.
“I see you’ve brought surly Mara out to play. Thanks for that, Noah.”
Noah raised his hands defensively.
Daniel cleared his throat. “So, Mara.” I looked up from my sandwich. “This is everyone,” he continued. “Everyone, this is my sister Mara.”
I mustered up some courage and looked around the table. I recognized Sophie but no one else. Noah slid into a chair across from my brother and I sat next to him, across from Sophie.
“Hey,” I said to her.
“Hey,” she answered, smiling mid-chew. She swallowed and introduced me to the rest of their group. Noah and my brother chatted away, Daniel’s friends were incredibly nice, and after only a few minutes, Sophie had me laughing so hard I almost cried. When I caught my breath, Noah caught my eyes, took my hand under the table, and smiled. I smiled back.
I was happy. I wanted more than anything for it to last.
EXAMS WERE BRUTAL, AS EXPECTED. I KICKED ass in History and on my English paper, did not embarrass myself in Algebra, and dreaded Spanish, my second-to-last one.
Noah tried to study with me the first night of exam week, but he was an abject failure of a teacher; I ended up throwing a package of flash cards at him after ten minutes. Thank God for Jamie. We studied every day for hours, and by the end of the week, he was explaining Algebra to me in Spanish. He was amazing and I felt amazing, despite the stress. In the past week on Zyprexa, the nightmares had stopped, the hallucinations were gone, and I walked into Spanish feeling prepared, but still nervous.
The oral exam should have been straightforward; we were assigned list of topics, and we were supposed to be able to speak about any of them, waxing poetic with proper grammar and pronunciation until Morales was satisfied. And naturally, the second Jamie and I walked into the classroom, Morales seized on me.
“Meez Dee-er,” she sneered. She always said my name wrong and in English. Annoying. “You’re next.” She pointed at me, and then at the blackboard at the front of the classroom.
Jamie gave me a sympathetic look as I passed his desk. Vainly trying to calm my breathing, I trudged toward the front of the classroom. Morales was prolonging my misery, shuffling her papers, writing in her book, what have you. I braced myself for the coming onslaught, shifting my weight from foot to foot.
“Who was Pedro Arias Dávila?”
I stopped fidgeting. That wasn’t one of the topics; we never even mentioned Dávila in class. She was trying to throw me. I lifted my gaze toward Morales, who was sitting alone in the front row, her body stuffed unceremoniously into the student chair. She was poised for the kill.
“We don’t have all day, Meez Dee-er.” She tapped her long fingernails on the metal surface of her desk.
A tingle of victory crept into my bloodstream. I took World History last year, and it just so happened my final project was on sixteenth-century Panama. What were the odds? I took it as a sign.
“Pedro Arias Dávila led the first major Spanish trip to the New World.” I responded in flawless Spanish. I had no idea how, and I felt giddy. Everyone in the room was staring at me.
I paused to reflect on my genius, then continued. “He was a soldier in wars at Granada, Spain, and North Africa. King Ferdinand II made him leader of the trip in 1514.” Mara Dyer for the win.
Morales spoke in a calm, cold voice. “You may sit down, Meez Dee-er.”
“I’m not finished.” I couldn’t believe I actually said it. For a second, my legs threatened to bolt to the nearest desk. But as Morales quickly lost her composure, a juicy thrill coursed through my veins. I couldn’t resist. “In 1519 he founded Panama City. He was part of the agreement with Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro that allowed the discovery of Peru.” Suck it, Morales.
“Sit down, Meez Dee-er.” Morales began to huff and puff, strongly resembling a cartoon character. In thirty seconds, smoke would start radiating from her ears.
“I’m not finished,” I said again, delighted by my own audacity. “In the same year, Pedro de los Ríos took over as governor of Panama. Dávila then died at the age of ninety-one in 1531.”
“Sit down!” she screamed.