HIGHER LEVEL SECONDARY EXAMS (HLSE)
WRITING PORTION (4 HOURS)
STUDENT: MASSIE BLOCK
Prompt: Write a detailed narrative or essay on a person who has had a profound impact on your life.
For the record: these exams are bullshit.
Are you all aware that these exams mean nothing in the grand scheme of life? When I'm on my deathbed, I'm not going to be thinking "Well, that HLSE essay sure did change my life! Oh, to go back to those days. I can still feel the grip of the number 2 pencil in my shaky hands..." Hell, it's not even important in the grand scheme of applying for college. I got a 32 on my ACTs and a 2280 on the SATs. I want to be an engineer (shocking! mind-blowing! the crowd gasps!), so my math and science scores are the only ones I care about. And they are, for lack of a better word, kickass.
I don't need this exam at all.
But you know what? I'll still do it. They have me sitting in this gray concrete room with the entire senior class, biting their impeccably manicured nails and pulling at their salon done hair. Turns out, I'm not allowed to leave and go to the movies, like I had hoped. And they've confiscated my phone, so I can't have my older cousin Kori call me with a "family emergency".
So, I'll humor you all. Person who changed my life profoundly? You got it.
Here's a secret: I know the kind of answer you want for this essay. You want me to write about someone like my mother, except that she's too busy trying to be the toast of Westchester town to realize that her precious jewel of a daughter doesn't want to be a vapid socialite, she wants to change the world with logic and technology. I don't want a white wedding dress, I want a white lab coat.
Or maybe you want me to write about my dad? William Block, that's the name of a champion. He's a business man, so at least he knows a little about the world. Except I can't say he's ever had a profound effect on my life, save for paying for my education at Briarwood and that chemistry kit when I was five.
Perhaps I could write about my best friends, Alicia Rivera and Dylan Marvil? Better known as Leesh and Dyl, if you've known them as long as I have (nine years). Dyl's an all-round sports fanatic, while Leesh's true home is the theater and will probably have an Academy Award before the age of twenty. But still, it's expected for me to write about them. And as much as I love them, I don't want to meet this exam's boring expectations.
No, this essay's going to be different. I'm not going to write about my parents or any family or friends, because those kind of things just go unsaid, right? And plus, you exam folks are going to have to read about mothers and grandfathers and fishing trips and other things that these Westchester kids think you guys will love. I'll make it interesting for you.
I'm going to write about Cam Fisher.
This is the part when you nearly choke on your Perrier water, adjust your bifocals, and clutch your pearls. Go on. I can wait.
You might be thinking, "She's going to write about a boy? The horror! What's next, is she going to expose her ankles in public?"
It's okay, I'm surprised at my choice too. But I read the prompt and (after my spiel on why this exam is nonsense) his name jumped to my mind so fast I nearly got a headache. Then again, that's what Mr. Myner teaches us in English class: go with your gut instinct, it's usually the right one.
But remember one thing before I start this. I'm just an ID number to you, a test score, a statistic. Whatever I write in this standard issued booklet is just words to you, words that decide whether or not I'm ready for college.
They're more than words to me. These words somehow bind and bond together to make a story, a good one too.
So listen up, and listen clearly.
Most "romance" stories begin like this: boy meets girl in some sort of unusual situation, boy and girl connect, sparks fly, and so on and so forth. The boy and girl usually have little in common when you watch closely, but the five minutes or so where they lock eyes for the first time is crucial to the rest of the story. As they say, first impressions are everything.
I didn't meet Cam like that.
I met Cam the same way all of Briarwood met Cam: beginning of senior year as a new face and figure sauntered around the luxe school like it was his living room. If you want specifics, I got my first taste of Cam Fisher during sixth period advanced physics. Nothing says "sparks fly" like dim fluorescent lights and learning about the space-time continuum.
Unfortunately, our first meeting was put on hold as I was late to physics that day. Leesh and Dyl had coerced me into ditching the first half of school to go to the movies (alright, you got me, it was my idea first). I would've been on time, but Leesh's car is, pardon the language, a tin piece of shit. Dyl and Leesh took that as a sign from the heavens that they might as well take the rest of the day off, but there was no way in hell I was missing physics, chemistry, or math. See? I've been a good girl all along.
Sprinting down the marble floors of the math and science wing of Briarwood, I secretly commended myself for taking AP physics anyway: there were only ten people taking the class, and I was the only girl. Plus, the guys in there were strictly friends or classroom acquaintances. Therefore, I didn't feel exactly compelled to stop by the bathroom and fix my windblown hair or smooth out my rumpled uniform—who was there to impress anyway?
(Hopefully you can sense the foreshadowing and irony.)
Once I reached the classroom, I didn't bother trying to open the door quietly or make myself less noticed. I was already fifteen minutes late, after all.
I opened the door and waltzed in, trying to play off my lateness as cool as I could. Mrs. Peters, the teacher, caught eye of me and had to suppress a scoff. She's not my biggest fan, and is fully aware of my reputation at school—"brilliant" (at least in the sciences) but wasn't true at all, I at least made it back to class, right? In fact, she refused to take me in her physics class unless I promised I wouldn't ditch, like I did occasionally (read: at most twice a week) in history or literature. All I can say is, is that she's pretty effing lucky I love physics (nerdy, I know), or else I'd be hanging around the mall with Leesh and Dyl.
"Massie Block," she greeted dryly, slipping on her horned rimmed glasses, "what a pleasure for you to finally join us."
"Pleasure's all mine, Mrs. P," I responded, taking my usual seat in the middle row.
"May I ask what was so much more worthy of your time than my class?"
"Bank robbing, drug deals, jaywalking—the usual."
Now, don't go thinking I'm a disrespectful little shit (whoops, language). Mrs. P has earned my contempt, and I'm downright polite to all the other teachers. Usually when I make smart ass comments like that, a few of the guys chuckle under their breath (the ones who joke around in that class anyway) and a few guys sort of roll their eyes at me (the ones who worship the ground Mrs. P walks on).
But this time, someone straight out laughed at the exchange between us. It wasn't a stomach-clutching-tears-in-my-eye laugh, but it was more of a "ha!", but it was genuine. Like somebody thought I was just being funny and you know, not being a disrespectful little shit .
I look up and see a boy I'd never seen before standing at the front of the classroom, eyes dead locked on me. My first thought was, "How the hell didn't I notice him before?" Because trust me, he was extremely noticeable and I'm highly observant. He was tall and lean, with messy dark hair and an easy sort of grin. For whatever reason, the boy had completely disregarded the Briarwood uniform for a mechanic's shirt, brown pants ripped at the knee, and beat up sneakers. If that wasn't enough to make him a spectacle, he had the craziest eyes I've ever seen. One blue. One green. Heterochromia, if you want to get scientific. Amazing, if you want to get descriptive.
Mrs. P looked over at the boy and frowned. "That'll do for today, please take a seat so we can begin today's lecture. Open your notes class, today we'll be discussing the chaotic inflation theory..."
I couldn't help myself as I watched Eye Boy walk from the front of the classroom in search of a seat. The classroom is small, so he was going to have to sit with someone. Class valedictorian Danny Robbins clearly wanted nothing to do with the new guy, and class "rebel" Kemp Hurley looked threatened at the boy's nonchalance about the dress code.
In the back of my mind, I knew that there was one way for this to play out. But I was still surprised when the boy slid into the chair next to mine. My friends tell me that I'm always cool under pressure, but even I couldn't help but thrown off guard when his lips pulled into a half-grin and I got an up close look at his eyes.
"Hey," he whispered to me, against a backdrop of Mrs. P chattering about the chaos theory and the scratching of pencils, "I'm Cam."
dylpickles: so, i'm sure you're all wondering why i called this emergency IM meeting.
this-be-leesh: not really, no.
massiekur: you can't just keep calling these emergency IM meetings, dyl.
dylpickles: and why not?
this-be-leesh: because they're never emergencies! we're going to start calling you the little ginger who cried "911" if you keep this up.
dylpickles: fine. but this a true emergency. there is a new boy at our beloved school.
this-be-leesh: beloved? really?
dylpickles: olivia ryan told allie-rose singer who told strawberry mcadams who told kemp hurley who told me that the new boy is smokin'.
this-be-leesh: tell me more, tell me more, like did he have a car?
dylpickles: shut it! did you see him when you got back, mass?
this-be-leesh: and we mean to ask was olivia ryan and her gang of blond brats all over him yet?
massiekur: yeah, i saw him. but he's nothing faint over. trust me. i gotta go, i'll see you guys in the AM. i'm feeling like making some pizza.
Instead of making pizza, I pulled up Facebook and decided to internet stalk Cam Fisher like there was no tomorrow. It took me a while, but I eventually found his page. To my surprise (not), his page was covered with random girls from Briarwood "welcoming" him to the school.
Kristen Gregory: Hi Cam! You might not remember me, but we have fourth period history together :) Just wanted to say hi!
Claire Lyons: Hey (: just showing some love, glad to have you at Briarwood!
Olivia Ryan: Cam! Sushi Samba tomorrow night, a bunch of us are going. Be there :)
"Damn," I thought to myself as I (disgustedly) read their comments. He had been at the school for ONE DAY and this is the kind of response he gets? Meanwhile, I've known Olivia since preschool and she still pronounces my name as "Macy". I hated that. I wanted to hate him on that basis alone, like who is this guy to come in my school and have everyone fawn over him? It wasn't fair, it wasn't right.
But then I'd remember his eyes, the cobalt blue one and the forest green one. And then I'd remember the way he smiled at my comebacks and chose to sit next to me. Sure, I was the only girl in there, but that couldn't have been the only reason, right?
The next day at school, it seemed like all of Briarwood was collectively over aware of Cam Fisher. Here's the thing: Briarwood's a small school. I'm assuming our senior class is barely one hundred students, and we've all known each other for far too long. So, when you throw any new fish into our old sea, people are going to notice. They all watched him intently, waiting to see which group he'd join into.
You could notice the change in people. Anarchists like Layne Abeley go overboard with protesting, hoping that Fisher would be part of the cause. Kemp Hurley and his fellow A-listers try harder to be funny, cracking jokes when Cam is around, testing his sense of humor. Olivia Ryan and her gang bring out the big designer guns, and I'll admit it, they're beautiful. He has to notice them. He had to have noticed all of them.
But he didn't.
Cam kept to himself for the most part in those first days, I noticed, almost like he was simply a spectator to the show that was Briarwood. I'd see him in the hallway sometimes, where somebody would be trying to make a fool of themselves trying to get his attention. He'd raise an eyebrow, smile in a secretive sort of way, and move on with whatever he was doing. That was it. I hadn't seen him try to start a conversation with anyone, but I couldn't get something out of my head: this was the boy who so casually sat next to me in physics and introduced himself with a grin, surely he was like this to everyone else?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Still, I was a bit of a wreck in physics. I didn't put more effort into my appearance like some other girls, but I did make it a point to be on time to that class, even if it meant missing a coffee run with Dylan and Alicia.
Cam was a few minutes late, but I hadn't even noticed he had sat down, as I was engrossed in a reading about the quantum theory. It wasn't until I smelled a combination of sandlewood, Ivory soap, and jasmine did I turn around.
"Hey," he said easily, his voice the shockingly perfect combination between interest and possible ennui. I noticed that he was in uniform today, but his white shirt was buttoned open to reveal a faded gray band shirt. The Dirty Projectors. I could dig it. Something about that kid, I swear.
"Hey," I coughed out, cursing myself for not doing anything special with my frizzy brown hair today.
He peered over my shoulder. "What are you reading?"
"Nothing, just...reading," I stammered. Please don't let him see the article, please.
He cocked his head to the side. "Looks scandalous."
"Trust me, it's not." Just incredibly lame. I tried to discreetly slide the over-the-top nerdy article under my binder, but Cam was just too quick. He grabbed it from me, his mismatched eyes widening in fake shock.
"Well, well, well," he said with a little gasp, "what do we have here? I didn't peg you for the type." He made it sound like I was catching up on my hot-and-heavy romance novels, not reading about equations and theorems.
"Give it back!" I couldn't help but shriek, lunging for the paper. He moved out the way at the last second, but that didn't stop me from trying again.
"Miss Block!" Mrs. P cried out, causing me to stop whacking Cam's arms and stare back at her in a dumbfounded gaze. "When you're finished harassing Mr. Fisher, may we get started on today's lesson? Frankly, I find it insulting that wasting our time in the classroom seems to be a hobby of yours. You are not the sun, Miss Block, we do not revolve around you." My face turned bright red, I could feel my blood boiling over. Mrs. P always had it out for me, always. And harassing Cam? He stole my article in the first place,
She needs to get laid.
As my least favorite teacher began her lecture on lord-knows-what, I had to take deep yoga style breaths Leesh taught me to calm myself down. Humiliation was a pain in the ass, and a girl like me likes to preserve her pride at all costs.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Weigh the pros and cons of slashing her tires. Exhale. Ahh.
A tiny piece of paper tickled my arm. Stealthily, I moved it out in front of me and unfolded it. The script was messy and undeniably boyish, all capital letters that blended into each other.
"Sorry for getting you in trouble. Won't happen again. But judging by your face right now, I thought I should warn you that murder could get you in prison for life. Just putting that thought out there."
I had to do my deep yoga breaths again, I was snickering into my palm so hard.
For the next few weeks, Cam Fisher was just sort of there. He had perfected what many of us couldn't do: he was the ultimate drifter. One day you'd see him out at a Slice of Heaven with Kemp Hurley and his lot, the next he'd be speaking in hush tones with bookworms Allie-Rose Singer about Tolstoy. It was mesmerizing, and gave us Briarwood kids something to look forward to: what would the enigmatic Cam Fisher do next?
"You know," Dylan said drowsily one lunch period, as the three of us were sitting around underneath our favorite oak tree. While Dyl stretched out and rested her head on my backpack, Alicia was focused on her math work, her least favorite subject. I flipped through one of Leesh's glamour magazines in boredom. It's strange, the way the three of us are always so connected and always giving and taking from each other. It's strange, but nice.
"Cam Fisher isn't as cute as everyone says," she finished dramatically, watching the boy out of the corner of her eye. Today he was eating alone (most likely by choice, judging by the number of girls eyeing him), but scribbling something furiously in a notebook. "I mean, objectively...Derrick Harrington's a lot hotter."
"You're only saying that because Derrick Harrington's interested in you," said Alicia fairly, to which Dyl stuck her tongue out, "but there's just something about Cam, I guess. Probably the eyes."
I rolled my eyes. "You mean the way everyone's all over his junk?" What was stranger, however, is that I couldn't stand the attention Cam got outside of physics...but when we were together in that class? I got it. I completely understood why everyone was always talking about him. He was smart, even funny (I kept his note secretly in my folder). But once I left that class, I cruelly reminded about his quickly formed fan clubs and the worst five words I could think of: I'm not the only one.
"Don't be so crass, Mass," Alicia teased with a grin.
"You're being way too sassy, Massie," Dylan joined, laughing at their overly lame rhymes. While the two started making up a song to go along with it, a shadow loomed over us. A shadow belonging to Olivia Ryan and her blond brigade.
Olivia's straight out of a bad 90s teen movie, right down to the loyal minions and too-dressy-for-high-school wardrobe. Olivia, Claire Lyons, and Kristen Gregory were highly recognizable from their matching blond hair various styles, year-long tans, and alterations of the school uniform (too tight blouses, too short skirts, and inexplicable knee socks).
They didn't intimidate me at all.
"Can I help you?" I asked politely, while three sets of blue eyes bore into me.
Instead of making a snide comment about my nonchalance about my appearance, Dyl's athletic abilities, or Leesh's musical talent, Olivia dug into her obnoxiously large handbag and pulled out three gold flyers. Obediently, Claire and Kristen handed them to us.
"What the fu—" Dylan began, only to be kicked by Alicia (who can't stand our cursing). I didn't blame Dylan for her reaction, once I read over the flyer myself.
"OLIVIA, KRISTEN, AND CLAIRE PRESENT...
THE WELCOME TO BRIARWOOD BASH IN HONOR OF CAMERON FISHER!
WHERE: THE RYAN ESTATE
WHEN: 8 TO WHENEVER
DRESS CODE: PARTY CASUAL
A NIGHT UNDER THE STARS TO WELCOME THE NEWEST STUDENT!"
"Okay," I said after reading over the blindingly glittered flyer, "what the hell is this all about?" We were never invited to Olivia's parties, and if we were, we would never be caught dead there. Wannabe Gossip Girls and trust fund brats going psycho on a dancefloor? Please. Movie nights at anyone of our houses would be much better.
Olivia scoffed indignantly. "We're head of student council, Macy," I cringed at the butchering of my name, "and it's our duty to welcome new students." Her eyes sparkled as she said that garbage.
"Why don't you just save yourself the trouble and give him a lap dance?" Alicia asked innocently, to which Dyl and I snickered. We love it when our level minded friend gets snarky.
"Whatever, Rivera," Claire snorted. Claire hates all of us, but she hates Leesh the most ever since she snagged the lead in a school production of Cabaret. "Are you guys coming or not? We need to speak to the caterer this afternoon."
Dylan piped up excitedly. "Catering, you say?"
"She loves catered food," I explained dryly, "she's fancy like that."
Kristen cackled, and Claire and Olivia threw her the look of death. "Listen, we wouldn't invite you to one of my parties anyway," Olivia began slowly and condescendingly, "but Cam mentioned you at lunch, so..." She curled her lips at me in disapproval.
Now there's a shocker. Cam? Mentioning me? "What did he say?" I asked quizzically.
"Nothing important," Olivia sighed with boredom, "he just mentioned your name, is all. And seeing as you three are attached to the same tacky umbilical cord, we thought we'd give you a pity invite." She gave one last lingering look before saying, "Your call, Macy," and walked away with her fellow leggy minions.
"It's MASSIE!" I yelled back out in frustration. "How hard is that name, really? She can speak French, but suddenly Massie is such a stretch?" I grumbled to myself.
Alicia and Dylan stared at me in disbelief. "What?" I said testily, "it's a valid complaint!"
My two best friends exchanged a Look before Dylan locked eyes with me and said, "The kid nobody will shut up about, Cam effing Fisher mentioned you. We're going to that party, Mass," she declared with certainty.
"Have you been drinking my coffee again? I thought we discussed what caffeine does to you," I responded before turning to Alicia. "Tell her we're not going to the party, Leesh."
She shrugged. "Why not? We're never invited, might as well see what it's like."
No. Just no. I couldn't believe those two, acting like we suddenly hit up Olivia Ryan's parties for fun. Even if Fisher mentioned me. It was a mention. I mention my crazy aunt Cecelia all the time, doesn't mean I want to invite her to any parties.
"We're going," Dylan repeated with the determination she's known on the soccer field for, "we're going, whether you like it or not."
author's note: sorry this chapter was so beastly, I didn't mean it to be 4000 words, but it gets the story moving/set up. and personally, I like reading longer stories. Hopefully you guys like this one! Asha (commander in blue) rec'd Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriary (Year of Secret Assignments :p) and I loved it! I'm so inspired by the epistolary style and making exam essays fun. This one wasn't too much of a stretch, I've actually had an exam prompt like this before.
This is the longest chapter, I swear.
Hope you guys like it! Be sure to leave me your thoughts!