September:

"Hey, Santiago!"

Amy looks over, towards the shout, but she knows who it's going to be before she sees, because it's only Rosa Diaz who calls everyone by their last names, like they go to Hogwarts instead of Schur High.

"Hey, Rosa. I didn't know you were in this class."

"What, you think I don't have the balls for AP English? Please."

"Right. Are you excited? Because I'm super excited."

"Dork," Rosa says, not unkindly. "Who's teaching it? Holt, right?"

Amy nods. "He's supposed to be fantastic, you know."

"Tough grader?"

"I hope so."

"Weirdo."

"Hey, I'm not the one who tried out for football. Guys' football."

"The shoulder pads are badass," Rosa shrugs. "I'm still pissed they wouldn't let me on the team. That's gotta be some kind of discrimination thing, right?"

"Maybe."

The other students are filing into the classroom now: big, burly Terry Jeffords, whom Amy knows is secretly a huge softie, and Gina Linetti, whose hair is pink today, in blatant violation of school dress code, and those two dumb jocks who aren't even good at being jocks, Hitchcock and Scully.

"Hello, Amy," says Jake Peralta, sliding into the seat next to her. Charles Boyle, behind him as usual, takes the seat next to him and commences gazing at Rosa across the room. Jake rolls his eyes.

"Hi, Jake," Amy says, smiling tightly at him. "Decided to challenge yourself for once?"

"Oh, what, 'cause this is AP you think it'll be a challenge? Dream on. You know I'm smart enough."

He's right-he is smart, smarter even than Amy, maybe, not that she'd ever admit it. But he seems allergic to effort of any kind, and that's why Amy gets As and Jake gets Bs.

"Are you ready to take on Holt the Hardass?"

"You seriously call him that?"

"Everyone calls him that."

"I am more than ready. I am going to wow him."

"Did you get him a cute little present? An apple?"

"Apple-shaped pencil sharpener," Amy mumbles.

"Oh, that is cute," Jake says sarcastically. "You're such a little suck-up."

"I just want to make a good impression! All this 'Holt the Hardass' talk, you'd think you'd want the same thing."

"What did you just call me?" He's behind her, of course. Holt, "the Hardass," toughest teacher there is, and he's just heard her insult him. Great job, Amy.

"Mr. Holt! I, um, I was just quoting someone else…"

"I don't need an explanation."

Amy nods quickly, shoots Jake a dirty look (how dare he not warn her?), and fixes her attention on Holt, anxious to make a better second impression than she has a first.

"Welcome to AP English Literature," he's saying, staring at them over his glasses. "I trust you are aware that AP stands for Advanced Placement, and therefore this is one of the most rigorous classes offered in this institution. If you feel you cannot handle the upcoming workload, I advise you to drop this class. There are still, I believe, some seats open in the honors section."

Amy sits up straighter. This is more like it; a challenge she can dig her teeth into. Holt can't help but be impressed once he reads her writing, once he hears her analysis in class.

"I expect a classroom to operate efficiently. Dress code will be strictly-" (he glances meaningfully at Gina) "-enforced, and I will not tolerate talking out of turn, or frivolous behavior of any sort. Assignments will be on time, or they will receive a zero. I do not give extensions and I do not accept excuses. Understood?"

"Yes, sir!" Amy chirps, well ahead of the rest of the class. Jake rolls his eyes, and Rosa sighs, but she thinks she sees a hint of a smile on Holt's face-though it's hard to tell.

They're dismissed with fifty pages of reading for the next day, and it turns out most of them have the same lunch, so Holt's AP English class heads down to the cafeteria together.
"Well," says Jake loudly, "Holt's nickname is not undeserved."

"I like him," Amy counters quickly. "You have to admire his strength of character."

"He doesn't take bullshit from anyone, I'm guessing," Jake admits. "Which means you'll be in a bit of a pickle, won't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"All that I'm-so-diligent crap. Holt won't fall for that."

"It's not crap! I really do work hard."

"You're admitting to having no life?"

"I do so have a life! A life of rewarding work."

"In what sense is slaving away at homework vaguely rewarding-never mind. Hey, question."

"Yeah?"

"Want to go to winter formal with me?"

Amy's taken aback. One of the less-pleasant side effects of having no life is never getting asked to things like winter formal. So she says the only thing she can think of.

"It's September. Why are you asking now?"

"Gotta scoop you up before someone else does."

She squints at him, not sure if he's kidding or not. "Are you for real?"

"What, you think I'm that far out of your league?"

"You wish. No, I mean-wouldn't you want to bring, like, a date?"

"Yeah. You."

"Why?" She's frankly baffled. Yeah, okay, she and Jake are sort of friends, and sure, he's kind of cute, in a scruffy teenage-boy way, but this matter-of-fact romantic overture is out of left field.

"It'll be fun. Come on."

Amy's still confused, but hey, what the heck, right? And she can't really think of a polite way to say no, and it's not like the guy's asking her to marry him. "All right, sure."

"Sweeeeet. I'll get on hiring a limo."

"Oh, wonderful." She rolls her eyes and walks ahead of him into the cafeteria, hoping that maybe by December he'll have forgotten about this whole thing.

October:

Unsurprisingly, Jake and Holt don't exactly get along. Jake slouches in his seat and makes smart-ass comments, and half the time Amy's not sure whether he's even done the reading. But Holt hasn't kicked him out of class yet, or even sent him to the principal's office, and Amy has this weird feeling like maybe the Hardass likes Jake.

This pisses her off, because she wants to be Holt's favorite. She's been teacher's pet since kindergarten, because how do you not like the girl who does all her homework and participates in class and never, ever breaks the rules? But even though she's turned in two Santiago-style, single-spaced, double-sided papers, all she's getting back are A-minuses and comments to "be more concise" and "stay within the length limits." Not that constructive criticism isn't great, because it is, but it would sure be nice to get a little adulation once in a while.

"Hey, how'd you do on that Great Gatsby essay?" Gina asks the lunch table. "Because I have to tell you, I did not understand that shit about the green light. Making us write about it is clearly discrimination against color-blind people."

"B," Rosa says tersely.

"I got a B, too!" Charles chimes in eagerly. "You know what they say about great minds…"

"That they get acceptable grades on papers? What, did you cheat off me or something, Boyle?"

"No! No, of course not, I mean, how would I even do that without Holt noticing…"

"I'm just messing with you." Rosa stops him with a hint of a smile. "Calm down, little guy."

"I got a B-plus," says Jake, "which I figure is pretty good considering I only read the last two pages of the book."

"Are you kidding me?" Amy asks, outraged. "You didn't even read it? It's not like it's that long!"

"I didn't need to. Essay was on the last two pages, I read the last two pages. Bam, done."

"Well," Amy says, smiling, "I read the entire thing, twice, and I did better than you, so maybe your method isn't all that rewarding."

"Yeah, but I don't really care, though, is the thing."

"You ought to! Junior year grades are the number-one thing colleges look at, you know. If you want a shot at getting into an Ivy-"

Jake rolls his eyes. "Amy, you're the only one who gives a fuck about getting into an Ivy. I just have a more lassiez-faire attitude. Why stress myself out over something I can't control? Right, Terry?"

Terry looks up from his yogurt. "I wasn't listening. Sorry. What?"

"You agree with me that being stressed out is a waste of time?"

Terry nods. "Yeah. I used to be so hung up on stuff, like my performance on the field, my relationship with my girlfriend, everything. But then I had that breakdown-you all remember the Jeffords Debacle from last year-and now my therapist says that I'm doing way better at letting things go."

"See. Maybe you need therapy, Amy."

"Maybe you need to mind your own business!"

"Maybe you ought to take your own advice! Do whatever the fuck you want about college, I don't care, just don't pressure me to do the same, all right?"

"All right! Geez. But you know-" She stops herself, embarrassed.

"What?"

"You know I wouldn't be saying this stuff if I didn't think you had potential, right? I mean, God, Jake, you didn't even read the damn book and you did almost as well as me. Think about what you could do if you put some effort in every once in a while!"

"My life, my choices," Jake says, "but, for serious, I appreciate your concern. Truce?"

"Truce."

On Halloween, Holt is absent for the first time. The AP English class is not assigned a substitute. Instead, Principal Goor wheels in the school's derelict television, presses play on a DVD copy of the Great Gatsby movie from 1974, turns down the lights, and leaves with a warning not to make too much noise.

"Anyone want some herbed popcorn?" Charles asks, proffering a bowl to the room at large.

"You knew we were gonna be watching a movie today?"

"No, I just always keep a supply on hand. It's a deliciously savory snack."

"Okay," says Jake, "who wants to run down to the library and get a real movie?"

"Slasher flick," Rosa answers, and is out the door before anyone can object.

"Should we be doing this?" Amy asks, and kind of hates herself for always being the person who asks that question.

"Relax," Jake says, rolling his eyes. "We are told to watch a movie. We watch a movie. Fact that it's a different movie? Not all that important."

Amy sighs. "Look, you may not take anything seriously, but-"

"I resent that! I take a lot of things very seriously indeed."

"Oh yeah? Name some."

"To begin with, my Halloween costume. I have elected to go as Woody from Toy Story, and Charles has agreed to be my Buzz Lightyear. And therefore I have, for the past three months, been engaged in a harrowing Internet search for the best possible ten-gallon hat. Tell me that's not serious?"

"You still go trick-or-treating?" Amy asks incredulously. "I stopped years ago."

"Oh, Amy, you precious innocent. You may not have heard of that cultural touchstone known as the Halloween party, but for us youths it is a night of debauchery and costumed fun. A latter-day masked ball, if you will."

"Do you want to come, Amy?" Charles offers. "A whole bunch of us are going to be there."

"Thanks, but no thanks. I'm not really a Halloween person."

"Or a party person," Jake mutters.

"Oh, shots fired!" Gina reaches over and grabs some of Charles' popcorn. "This is gonna be good."

"Anyway," Charles says, "if you change your mind, the party's at Hitchcock's house. That means he has to clean it up."

Amy nods, hoping it seems noncommittal, and is saved by Rosa's re-entrance.

"All right. I got Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th. What d'you guys think?"

That night, against her better judgement, Amy sneaks out of the house and over to Hitchcock's. She has, of course, no intention of putting on a costume, but in order to have something to say, she throws on an Oxford shirt and hangs a cardboard comma around her neck: the Oxford Comma. Which most of her peers ought to find pretty damn frightening, if their essays are any indication.

No one even looks at her, though; the door's opened by some guy she doesn't recognize, and the house is so dark and packed that she can't find anyone she knows in the swarming masses. The music's blaring, some song she knows but doesn't like, and it seems like everywhere she turns someone's grinding against someone else, or taking another shot of whatever the hell's in those bottles, or drunkenly making out in a corner.

Halloween is definitely scary, all right.

This was a bad idea. She stumbles back out the door, walks home with ringing ears and vicarious nausea.

It's not, she insists to herself, that she doesn't like to loosen up. It's that standing in that crowd of indistinguishable bodies makes her feel hollow, fills her with a longing to connect.

She's fucking terrible at being young and carefree.