Suddenly, out of nowhere, Dale Gilman appeared. He dropped into a chair and pulled off his headphones. “What’re you guys talking about?”
Neil leaned forward, hands pressed on the edge of the table. “Dale,” he said. “You’re our friend, right?”
Dale gave a nervous smile and glanced around at us. “Of course,” he squeaked. “I mean, we’re all friends, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.” Neil swept his gaze around the group. Unlike Dale’s, his expression was hard, but assured. Many of us noticed right then how entirely his acne medication had finally succeeded in clearing up his complexion. He’d even managed to drop the habit of reaching up to feel the phantom spots on his cheek. “All right, guys. Here’s the deal: Calc is going to take us down unless we do something about it. I happen to know of a way, but if you’re not on board, then say something now or forever hold your peace.”
May squinted at Neil. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that if you’re not willing to do whatever is required to get an A in this class, then maybe you should go.” Neil leaned back in his chair, waiting. “Take a minute to think about it.”
We didn’t need to think. Not about Dmitri, how unfairly he had put us in this position. Not about Cindy and Paul and the distinctions that would be tacked onto their names at graduation—valedictorian and salutatorian—while all the rest of us went unacknowledged. Not about our parents, how they thought we were smarter than all the others and how we knew better, but never corrected them. We didn’t need to think about any of it then, because we were already thinking about it all the time.
“Okay,” May said, finally. “Count me in.”
“Me too,” added Vikram.
“And me,” Nancy echoed.
We all agreed, one after the other. Dale stayed quiet, a patient, pug-like look of confusion on his face until Neil turned to him and said, “You’ll have to be the one, since you’ve got the key and all.”
Dale’s eyes widened. “What’ll have to be me?”
“The one who gets a copy of Everett’s test. Teachers have to send papers to the copy room two days before they hand them out. The test is next Monday, right? So they should be in the copy room before the weekend for sure.”
Dale’s glasses had slipped down his nose. He reached up and, grabbing them off his face, proceeded to wipe his eyes with the back of his fist. We all held our breath, waiting. Would he protest? Insist that someone else do the job? None of us was up to the challenge. Breaking and entering was a serious offense, and a short stint in juvie wasn’t going to help our chances with the Harvard Admissions Committee.
Replacing the glasses on his nose, Dale sat up straight in his chair. “I’ll do it,” he said solemnly, looking like he might be sick.
That Sunday afternoon, we met in Jill’s basement. While waiting for Dale to arrive, we talked about Gretchen’s presentation in Government on Friday. She’d made color copies of random senators to try to cover up the fact that she had nothing to say about the difference between expressed and implied powers. Somehow, Mr. Wray had eaten it up. Tran had seen him write an A-plus at the top of the comment sheet.