But I was invincible. “Dávila is remembered as a cruel man and as a liar.” I emphasized each adjective and stared hard at Morales, watching the veins in her forehead threaten to explode. Her corded neck turned purple.
“Get out of my classroom.” Her voice was quiet and furious. “Senor Coardes, you are next.” Morales half-turned in the too-small chair and nodded at a freckled, openmouthed classmate.
“I’m not finished,” I heard myself say. I was almost bouncing with energy. The room itself seemed sharp and alive. I heard the footfalls of individual ants scurrying to and from a prize piece of gum stuck to a bookshelf on my left. I smelled the sweat that trickled down the side of Morales’s face. I saw the individual dreadlocks fall in slow motion over Jamie’s face as he planted his forehead on his desk.
“GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM!” Morales bellowed, stunning me with the force of it as she rose from her chair, knocking over the desk.
At that point, I could hold it in no longer. A smug smile lit up my face and I sauntered out of the room.
To the sound of applause.
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—”