Rafter Fiction is short stories based on songs by Rafter. I am starting the series with the songs from album, “Terrestrial Extras”. This is the eleventh track, “We’re Golden.” Buy it here
When Ms. Thompson was returning out chemistry tests, I knew that the switch Susan Takasaki and I made was successful. We were chemistry lab partners, and even though her contribution was valuable and reasonable, her parents hired me as her chemistry tutor. Within two sessions, I was in love. She did not know I would do anything for her while she sat rigid and straight, leaning slightly forward over the work I was trying to explain to her. Her long hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and the angle of her cheek from her ear to her chin had those little fuzzy hairs that I wanted to gently rub with my fingertips. I didn’t know why her parents wanted her to have a tutor because she understood chemistry, probably better than I did, but one day after lab, she said, “I was wondering if you have time to teach me outside of class?” Of course her face was all I thought about after her proposal. I could not wait to see her again. I stared at her while she stood next to her locker and sat at her kitchen table with a glass of water to her right, her concentrating on everything that I was explaining, and accomplishing the examples I gave her with very little effort. Susan understood chemistry, but I wanted to let her off the hook in this next test.
I told her, “Why don’t we take the test for each other?”
“It will be fine. I have a good grade in that class, and I can help you.”
“You will do that for me?”
She covered her mouth with her hand when she smiled. “What if we get caught?”
I picked up both of our papers. “Our handwriting is very similar.” This was more true because mine was loopy and feminine and hers was rigid. I would just have to print a little slower and make the numbers closer together. “We won’t get caught.”
“I don’t know.”
“Think about it.”
Susan did think about it the next few days, and I wondered if she had forgotten until I got her text message. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. I will be more than happy to help your grade. If this means switching tests, I will.”
When Ms. Thompson returned our tests, I could not believe that my grade, the grade on the paper that Susan made for me, was a 96%. I stopped for a second and looked through the test to make sure I was not missing something, but Susan had only missed one little piece of problem number 4. I looked over to her, but she was staring down at her test, the test that I took for her. She looked as if she was about to cry. I tried to catch her attention, but she kept looking at the paper, forgetting that any of us were still in the room. Neither of us listened to Ms. Thompson go over the problems that everyone missed or the rest of the lesson plan for that hour. I tried to get Susan’s attention the whole period, but she was not looking up from her papers and notes. I knew I must have messed it all up for her to react like this.
When the bell rang, I met her at the doorway. “What happened?”
“I got a 84%,” she said.
“Oh.” I wanted to tell her I was sorry. “It was a tough test.”
“I can only imagine what grade you received. If you didn’t do well, I can’t imagine that I did either.”
I thought about what direction I should take this. I could tell her the truth, but then a whole new set of problems would arise. I said, “It’s okay. We’re good.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. It is all good.”
Her smile was small and shy. I felt awful for not telling her the truth, but it was better to keep my mouth shut. If she knew she would have gotten a better grade without my help, she would not need me anymore. This was not something that I wanted to happen. Susan said, “Can I tell you something?”
“Follow me.” She led me to the gym and out the side door to the outside. I didn’t know what she had planned for me, if she was going to punch me in the stomach or tell me that she knew I was a lousy liar. I held my breath as she led me into a small crevice between the gymnasium and the rest of the school. It was a blind spot in the building architecture, a little space where the ground was covered in cigarette butts because it was hidden from every camera. People came out here to smoke and to ditch classes. I had never been there. When we stepped into this little space, she turned to me, “I want you to know what is going on.”
I almost confessed to hiding her superior score. Instead I said, “What do you mean?”
“We both know I don’t need a chemistry tutor.”
“Honestly. You really don’t.”
“I only told my parents so we could spend more time together.”
I did not know how to respond. I looked into her deep dark eyes and wondered if this was the moment to kiss her. I could not be so bold, especially at school. I wanted to hold onto her, pull her close, hug her, smell her hair, or at least tell her I was glad this was her plan all along and that I would spend time with her without being her tutor, as much time as she ever wanted from me. I could have done or said any of these things, but the only thing that came out was, “You got a 96% on your test.”
I repeated the score, and I knew it was a mistake. Susan turned away from me, headed back toward the gymnasium doors. I followed her. I called her name. She did not turn around. I thought about all of things in my life that I had messed up, and I tried to get her attention all the way inside the building. Finally she turned around and said, “I have to get to my next class.” I let her go.
The next day, I tried to talk to her in chemistry, apologize, tell her I was sorry, tell her I would make it up to her somehow. She said, “I’ll be okay without your help.”
“Don’t be mad,” I said.
“I’m not mad. It happened. Nothing I can do to change it.”
“Are we good?”
Susan paused for a second, looked at her notebook, up at me, and back to her notebook. “Yeah. We’re good.”
And other than words spoke with necessity to get through the year as her lab partner, this was the end of my chances with Susan Takasaki.