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.
The funny thing about being aware of your feelings for someone is that you suddenly notice all the little things about them. When it came to Cam, I found myself in a strange state where I could be talking to him normally (as normally as I could manage, of course) and then I'd nearly stop mid-sentence because I saw he had a tiny dimple when he grinned or his green eyes had flecks of gold or that his nose wasn't quite straight, but I liked it anyway.
To be honest, I realized I liked a lot of things about him. His odd sense of style. His taste in music. His knowledge of the craziest information the science world had to offer—listen to him talk about Thomas Young's double-slit experiment and try not to swoon, Exam-Grader-Person.
Yes. I tried and failed. Luckily, he continued on with his spiel and didn't notice me practically drooling. But what was really surprising of this whole liking Cam business was that I was pretty adept at keeping my newly realized feelings on the down low. Sure, I did enjoy his company a lot, but at the same time, I was still me. And I don't usually twirl my hair and bat my eyelashes and win the affections of boys. The occasional lingering look or secretive half-smile would have to do, even if flew right past him.
Because we were 'full-friends', weren't we?
"Why haven't we gotten any letters from NYU yet?" Alicia whined one day. The three of us were perched under our usual tree, despite the chill of the changing weather. We were always there, rain or shine. It was nearly spring, I couldn't exactly fathom the fact that in a couple more months, I'd really be done with high school. Time passed quickly and slowly, and it was relieving to know that even nature couldn't make up it's mind. "I feel like we should be drowning in any college acceptance letters by now."
Dylan rubbed her coat-clad arms for warmth. "Dunno," she answered, "but Danny Robbins already got early admission into MIT and Harvard."
"Bastard," I muttered, not trying to hide my jealousy over his success.
"Still," Leesh pressed, "if I'm gonna get rejected from NYU—"
"You're not getting rejected!" Dyl and I said at the same time with equal indignation.
She sighed dramatically. "But if I was rejected, I'd rather it be sooner or later. Like, shit, don't prolong the pain. At this point, they're just hovering over my heart with a knife, waiting to strike—"
Her haunting anxieties were cut short by Dyl smothering her with her scarf. Leesh valiantly tried to fight back, but Dyl proved to be a stronger adversary. In a matter of seconds, Dyl was sitting contentedly on top of Leesh, whose cries for help were still muffled by a mouthful of yarn.
I looked pointedly at Dyl as I rested my head on my backpack to stretch out. "I'm not even going to say anything."
"Your eyes say it all, my friend," she chirped, adding in a maniacal laugh for her own kicks.
"Um, hey guys." My eyes unwillingly opened to the sight of Kristen, Olivia, and Claire looming over us. Instantly, I was hit with a wave of deja vu of another occasion where the three encountered us at our usual spot. But the difference here was that Kristen was in the middle with a toothy grin, while Olivia and Claire stood awkwardly in the background. Not that they were making it particularly obvious, what with their crossed arms and haughty expressions, but I have extensive experience in the realm of discomfort.
"Hi," I greeted her somewhat hesitantly while Dyl and the newly freed Leesh simply nodded in acknowledgment. It wasn't meant as an insult to Kristen as much as it was genuine confusion over why she of all people, would look so happy to see us.
Her smile didn't falter, bless her. "So, um, I just wanted to invite you guys to my birthday party. It's next Saturday." Digging into her hefty school bag, she pulled out three purple envelopes and handed them out to us. Claire rolled her eyes, but Olivia's poker face stayed strong.
"Thanks," I replied with genuine gratitude. "We'll definitely be there."
"Yeah," Leesh echoed, "I'm sure it'll be a blast." Even Dyl was pleased with the prospect of going.
"Great!" Kristen exclaimed with more enthusiasm than I expected from her. But then again, the general consensus was that this party was going to be a real bash to remember. It was common knowledge that Kristen's family wasn't as well off as the Ryans or the Lyons, but that made the prospect of her throwing a huge shindig all the more special. "It's at the Monterrey Hall and it starts at seven. There'll be lots of food and a band and—"
Claire cut in snidely, "It's on the invitation, Kris, spare them the summary." An Olivia-like comment coming from Claire, what a shocker. Olivia herself continued to do nothing, but every so often her pale blue eyes would survey me. But not disparagingly, like I was accustomed to, but just thoughtful. Like my whole existence to her needed re-evaluation. My eyes met hers, and her lips curled up contemptuously.
But then I remembered those same lips have kissed Cam, and I couldn't help but feel a sudden urge to kick something.
However, there were bigger fish to fry. "Where's Cam?" Kristen asked curiously, pulling out another envelope from her bag.
"He's sick," Olivia and I answered in unison before glancing at each other, bewildered. I only knew that because we had been talking on the phone last night under the guise of fixing the bibliography of our project. Lord knows what he and Olivia were discussing.
Kristen frowned in disappointment. "Oh," she said, "do you think you could give him the invite?" Here's the strange thing: her question was not directed to a particular person. Hell, you could even make a case that at the exact place she stood, she could understandably be addressing any of us. Or all of us. But not just one of us. To this day, I'm still left in a little wonderment.
My gaze flashed to Olivia, who made no move to take the invitation from Kristen's hands. Our eyes made contact once more, but there was something else in hers. She was challenging me. Would I be so daring as to take the envelope, even if that same envelope symbolized the boy we had both been entranced by?
The answer, to my simultaneous delight and amazement, was yes. "I can," I answered slowly, careful not to sound too eager at the prospect. She handed me the invite and I threw it haphazardly in my bag, all to help the illusion that I was doing this as a friend and not for any other possible reason.
Olivia nodded. A tiny, woefully imperceptible nod. Damn her.
"Can we go now?" Claire whined. I never thought I'd say this, but thank goodness for Claire. I didn't know how much more of Olivia's fixed stare I could handle. "I'm gonna catch a cold." Her eyes narrowed at us. "Or something much worse."
"I don't blame you for being cautious," Dyl replied innocently, "you probably haven't had all your shots." Leesh and I had to stifle our snorts, and Kristen coughed suspiciously, but with a conspiratorial smile. Why were we not friends with this girl?
The blond trio turned on their heels and parted from us, but the eyes of their leader stayed firmly in my mind, and I couldn't help but feel that something big was still to come.
Kristen's party came around much too soon. Word spread around the school, and it seemed like the only conversations being had were about potential outfits (dress to the nines, natch) or the quality of the band she hired (some underground Strokes-lite) or the possibility of any celebrities showing up (with a friend like Olivia, you could never know). I wondered if I only noticed this specific buzz of chatter because I had become part of it; it was all too easy to get caught up in the excitement.
At seven thirty-eight sharp (Leesh insisted on being fashionably late) that Saturday night, I was at the front steps of the Monterrey Hall. Unlike Olivia's infamous welcome party, there was no need to dress outlandish tonight, seeing as Leesh, Dyl, and I actually respected and liked Kristen enough to follow her dress code. For me, that meant borrowing a simple purple frock from Leesh along with a pair of nondescript black flats. Nice, but not overdoing it. Just to my preferences
"Get stoked!" Dyl yelled in my ear as we pushed our way past the throng of people. Her exuberance came out in full force when it came to parties. Leesh laughed and grabbed onto my arm for dear life. Nearly the entire junior and senior was there, undoubtedly breaking countless fire hazard rules.
Eventually, we made into the hall. Instantly, I felt a surge of respect for Kristen. She really outdid herself. The decorations were perfect—not too flashy or in your face. The band was decent, and everyone was having a great time, all dancing and laughing.
Dyl waved at a girl from the soccer team. "Time to mingle," she said to us, before cutting across the dance floor to greet her teammates.
The drama club situated themselves in the front, and I knew Leesh was itching to join in the middle of it all, which seemed to be a mini dance contest near the foot of the stage. But because she was a good friend (and wary of my ridiculous reaction the last time I was left alone at a party), she stayed behind with me.
"You can go," I finally said, after she had started tapping her feet to the music. "Really," I added to her disbelieving look, "I'll be fine."
And I would be. Because there was one person I could count on to hang out with tonight. A rather charming person with mismatched eyes that lit up when I handed him the invitation in physics class and said, "I'll definitely be there."
Leesh must've latched on to my train of thought. "Of course you will be," she teased, before shimmying away to the center of the crowd.
Sighing, I retreated to the back corner where all the drinks and food were. Partly because I was hungry, partly because I couldn't shake my innate wallflowerness, and partly because it's much easier to scan the extensive crowd for Cam from there.
A cheer let out and the band stopped playing. Kristen ambled onto the stage to more applause, looking the picture of an overjoyed birthday girl. She said into the microphone, "Thank you all for coming and helping me celebrate. It means a lot to me, really. Now, let's make them regret renting us this hall!" Her mini-speech was met the type of reaction the Beatles would've gotten. She strutted gracefully off the stage, and the band commenced playing a an upbeat tune that got nearly everyone on their feet and on the floor.
For the next hour, I lamely hung around the food table, desperate for any sight of Cam. It was anguishing to be so eager to see him, but I couldn't help it. The time was spent by nibbling on food, listening intently to the music, and making awkward small talk with the other lonely denizens there. Every so often, Dyl or Leesh would break off from their respective groups and drag me onto the dance floor, but they couldn't keep me there for more than a couple songs. That back table and I had a magnetic bond.
Finally, Cam walked into the party at a quarter till nine. I was beginning to think that punctuality wasn't one of his strong suits. Anyway, I had been discussing an upcoming history test with Dahn Bondok when I noticed his lanky figure saunter in. As expected, his attempts to dress up were mildly unsuccessful, but admirable nonetheless. His eye caught mine, and he waved with a smile before making his way over to me. But he hit a speed bump on the trip there.
Olivia had even better Cam-senses than I did. Within seconds of his entrance, she had attacked him with a quick hug and a brilliant smile. That show of affection made me sick to my stomach, and I tried to fight off the slight headache from the way my heart beat in my throat. It was only amplified by the fact she looked nauseatingly gorgeous in her skintight black dress and meticulously styled hair. Cam seemed to appreciate the effort, judging by the way he didn't protest when Olivia whispered in his ear and then led him into the pulsating crowd.
"I think I'm going to fail," I told Dahn, though I wasn't sure if I was talking about the lasting effects of the Cold War anymore.
Twenty minutes of sulking and watching Cam and Olivia now talking intently at a lone table got me to thinking. If Cam could have fun with a girl, why couldn't I go out and have a grand old time with some guy? We weren't in a relationship, and granted I did have feelings for the boy, that shouldn't reduce me to some blubbering and insufferable mess. I was young! And free! Who the hell was he to make me feel so pathetic?
I just had to find a willing partner.
The nausea transformed into a fierce determination, something that almost always had awful consequences for me. Not that I minded. In that moment, I wasn't going to think any more, just act. There was nothing to lose.
Target acquired. "Kemp!" I shouted over the music, spotting him swaying from side to side on the fringes of the crowd. Despite Kristen adamantly not serving any alcohol, he was as drunk as could be. Go figure. His bloodshot eyes flicked down at me in surprise, but I didn't blame him. How often did I speak to him willingly, especially outside of school? Firmly, I grabbed his arm and pulled him onto the dance floor with me. "Dance with me!" I said it animatedly, but we both knew it was a demand.
Kemp shrugged carelessly. The second we were on the floor, his slovenliness dissolved into pure drunken mania. His energy exceeded everyone else's, and needless to say, he was dead set on me doing the same.
"Come on, Massie!" Bobbing his head almost violently to the music, he thrashed from side to side in a jerking motion to the drum beat. "You said you wanted to dance!" His breath was hot on my face, smelling sourly of tequila and vodka.
Regardless, I couldn't help but laugh at him. At least I was spared from the dreaded grinding everyone else seemed to be undergoing. "Fine!" I mimicked his crazy movements self-consciously, but the more I saw how completely inhibited Kemp was, the more I let myself go. Before I knew it, I was twirling and spinning and jumping in time to the music. We were quite a spectacle, but I was steadfast on not over-thinking anymore, and Kemp was too drunk to care.
I couldn't have imagined a better pair. Well, I could have. As Kemp sloppily tried to teach me a move called 'The Cyclone'—which was actually his version of the twist—I caught a glimpse of Cam and Olivia. They were still sitting at a table, but they were watching Kemp and me curiously. At least, Olivia was. Cam's face was agonizingly unreadable. Typical.
I tried to stay in the zone and fight off the swirling images of the two sitting so close to each other and having some wonderfully secretive conversation. Instead, I kept up dancing with Kemp for several more songs, even though he was beginning to sing along to the band very badly. Admittedly, I did make a bit of a show by giggling harder than I should have. But I was genuinely having a nice time.
But then, the melody slowed down and the lights dimmed. It didn't take a genius to know what was coming next: the slow song—champion of couples everywhere and detriment to singletons.
Taking advantage of the short break between songs to catch my breath, I looked over expectantly at Kemp and silently shrugged at the people pairing off around us. Even in his intoxicated state, he knew what I was inferring.
"Oh, no," he chuckled, throwing his hands in the air in defeat, "oh, no."
My cheeks burned. Facing rejection from Kemp Hurley was not on tonight's agenda. "Why not?" I tried to keep my tone playful, but on the inside I wanted to shake him and screech, "You're ruining everything!"
"Because," Kemp slurred, leaning in closer as if he was divulging a major secret, "camel hill me."
I scoffed, confused. "What?" Clearly, he was more sloshed than I thought.
He struggled to keep his balance, a task made all the more difficult given how hard he was laughing at me for not understanding him. "Cam," he said slowly, "he'll kill me." At first, I had to suppress a snort at the notion of raised-by-hippies Cam harming anyone. But then, my face heated up for an entirely different reason.
"Oh," was all I could say, overwrought with a frenzy of thoughts. Was Kemp being serious, or was this just a case of drunk word vomit? Then again, if he could barely stand straight, I had to doubt his abilities to lie coherently. But assuming he was correct, why exactly would Cam be upset? And how would Kemp know that—
I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Mind if I cut in?" Speak of the devil. Cam's sudden appearance only increased Kemp's hysteria.
"Of course you can," he garbled. "Don't have too much fun, now." Winking at me wolfishly, he clapped Cam on the shoulder and stumbled away to go dance obnoxiously on some kissing couple.
Cam turned to me with a mischievous grin. "Shall we?" At a loss for words, I simply nodded. Gingerly, he placed one hand on my hip and the other in mine, and I settled my other hand on his shoulder. For a second, I had to weigh how cliched it was. I mean, shit, I could've rested my head on the upper part of his chest so my hair could tickle his chin and we could gaze at each other romantically to the hum of some overplayed radio love song. This was the stuff of teen movies.
But we didn't, and I wouldn't have wanted to. The electricity that seemed to radiate off of his hand was thrilling enough. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheek out of habit and said, "So."
"So?" he repeated. Cam was a better dancer than I would have predicted, he was smooth and light in his step without looking like he was putting too much thought in it. If you could get a degree in 'being effortless', he would receive a PhD, full stop.
"We're dancing." No, we were flying a damn rocket ship to the moon. Goodness.
He laughed. "That was sort of the idea. And also to save you from the wrath of Mrs. P from dancing with her man." He feigned seriousness, but I could spot his wit from a mile away.
A snort escaped from my lips. "How could I be so careless? We'll never be in that made-for-TV movie, will we?"
"Not at this rate." He let out a tiny cough. "You looked like you were having fun, though," he commented. His tone was friendly but his eyes gave him away. There was a definite underlying bitterness swirling around in them, something that put a tiny smirk on my face. Even a hint of riled-up Cam was welcome. It wasn't fair he got to be so collected all the time, after all.
"Yeah, I did," I replied cheerily, "Kemp's got some moves." Cam raised an eyebrow skeptically, but I could tell that wasn't the response he was searching for. Hastily, I added, "Where have you been this whole party? I hardly saw you." Good, let him think I was too busy carousing to notice his presence or not.
His eyes locked with mine. "I was just...with Olivia."
I resolved not to show any change in emotions. "Ah, doing what?"
"Just, you know, talking. About stuff." Now, he was the one who was squirming. If I hadn't been enjoying his fidgeting so much, you better believe I would be trying not to seethe out of envy. The low voices, the serious looks, the way she would casually move closer to him as he spoke. When it came to being effortless, Olivia was his perfect match.
Forcing myself to smile wryly, I mused, "What a way to spend a party."
He exhaled slowly and his stare flicked up to the colorful lights surrounding us, and then back down to me. "Yeah," he said simply, and my hopes sank down to my stomach. Of course he would have fun with her. How naive of me to think prancing around stupidly with Kemp would change anything or make him think twice about me. Classic me, finding imperceptible signs in the most obscure places, trying to piece them to make sense of whatever situation I found myself in. If only I could accept the truth, and the truth was that for all my big talk, I couldn't figure anything out.
"But this is pretty nice, too." Cam jokingly dipped me, and suddenly my heart beat and the drum beat were synchronized in a spectacular rhythm.
We swayed to the music in a peaceful silence, and I tried not to have a mini anxiety attack when Cam lightly pulled me closer. Except, it was probably because a rush of people were running behind me. Probably.
AN: Sorry for the delay in posting this and being M.I.A. in general. I went on a family trip, and so me and FF were forced to take a little break. I should've posted this earlier, though :p
Thank you so much for all the amazing feedback for the last chapter! You guys are really something great. Tell me what you think of this one!
Thanks for reading,