As Ms. Hupp's class filtered back in from their science lesson, the students snagged their backpacks off the hooks on the way to their desks. In small groups, they talked weekend plans and re-counted the number of school-days they had left to Cathy's embarrassment.
The teacher was currently out of the room.
Lyza waited at her desk, watching the others talk and mingle. Thankfully, she wasn't the only one who was introverted. Panda was doodling something, and Arnold was reading a comic book.
She was tired.
Since the RSBTs, she had started taking a nap after her brother dropped her off. It started off as just a quick one; a small snooze. Over time, it became a half hour, then an hour. She would always wake up before her brother got home, feeling a little disoriented because it was still the same day.
Then, when bed-time rolled around, she would get anxious; she didn't feel sleepy at all. At first, she would lie awake in the dark, staring up at the black ceiling, worried that she wouldn't wake up on time the next morning. But, she took Ket's advice and checked out The Last Unicorn from The Mold Farm. It served as a good way to pass the time until past midnight, when she would feel sleep tug at her eyelids.
”Okay guys, settle down and find a seat,” Ms. Hupp said over the ruckus, holding Beck—who had tried to sneak out—by the hand. She let the pup go, and he scurried to his desk. The other students found a random desk, claiming it as their temporary home. “C'mon, c'mon; If you don't hurry you won't get to leave when the bell rings,” she called attention to the manila folder in her hand by raising and waving it. “I have something I need to pass out.”
After a moment more the kids were finally all settled into a desk.
”What's that?” One of the kids spoke up.
”Glad you asked, John,” the raccoon replied, moving toward the center of the room. “Everyone, I have in my paws,” she held the folder up in front of her, showing it to all the kids like she would when reading a picture-book, “your results of the RSBTs!”
The kids let known their disdain. On Friday, and on this unlucky Friday no less, the test results were a rather bitter end to the bell. They dreaded poor results, and foresaw a difficult conversation with their moms and dads, and, if they were truly unfortunate, the possibility of getting grounded.
”Now don't gimme that,” Ms. Hupp said, dramatically putting her hands on her hips and leaning forward. “You guys did pretty good, for the most part. So let's just get this over with, like ripping off a band-aid.” Another murmur from the imagery of the analogy. “Okay, okay.” She waved her hand, and opened the folder. “When I call your name, come up and get your packet. You can open it up and look at it if you want—but keep the noise down so everyone can hear for their name.” She licked her finger, and singled out the top-most packet.
”Bitty,” she called out.
Tabitha stood up, and quietly went to get her results. The Siamese kitten did not open it right away when she got back to her desk, waiting for her sister to get her results.
”Willy.” Anticipating the Dalmatian would be reluctant to step up in front of the whole class to get his packet, she took the few steps' distance to him and set it down on the desk. “Lawrence—he's not here,” she said, moving that packet to the back. “Panda.”
The bear hopped up, and took his packet. When he sat down, he opened it up right away.
”Lyza,” called the teacher.
The rabbit started to stand.
She paused, meeting eyes with her teacher.
”I think I'm going to save yours for last,” the raccoon remarked, moving the packet to the back.
There was a small murmur, and glances were exchanged.
The rabbit felt her chest tighten, and a nervous swelling in her throat. Meekly, she sat back down with her ears swiveled back. Her stomach twisted into a knot.
Of course it had to happen like this.
She couldn't just be given her fucking results.
She couldn't be like everyone else.
She couldn't just get up when her name was called.
Couldn't get to look at her results like everyone else did.
Had to wait.
Had to sweat.
Had to endure the looks.
”Justin—not here; Ritzer.”
Forced to be patient.
Forced to dread.
The rat accepted her packet.
Ms. Hupp put the packets of the two absent children back in the manila folder, and went over to her desk.
The final sounds of breaking seals tore into the room as the last students pulled out their score cards with trepidation. They gllanced at their results through slitted eyes, like they were staring into the sun.
Lyza watched her teacher with a boiling anxiety. She watched as Ms. Hupp went back to her desk, unlocked one of the filing cabinets, and put the folder in it. Her hands were balled into fists as she waited for her teacher to shut and lock the drawer.
”Wow,” the rabbit caught the rat murmuring to herself amongst the conversations. “I did not do as well as I was hoping... Guess I should've practiced more...”
”Mh-mmh,” Ms. Hupp cleared her throat, returning to the center of the room with the packet she reserved for last. “Okay guys, quiet down.”
The kids quieted relatively quickly.
The rabbit felt they were all eagerly awaiting; poised to laugh and tease, to mock and insult. As per usual, Lyza fucked it all up; got everything wrong, would have to take all remedial courses, and everyone would get to take part in seeing it all unfold.
Here's a good example of a failure, class. Take note, and don't be like her.
”Now, no doubt you've all had a chance to look at your scores. The Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA sections are all tallied up. Some of you may have gotten a note about being commended; this means that you've answered a good portion of the questions correctly. You'll also see your results for the writing section. You either have a U, or an S with a number by it. The number isn't so important, but the higher it is the better it is.
”If you have any scores that don't meet the minimum expectations, your parents will be getting a letter from the district in the next few weeks. This isn't a bad thing, it just means you may need to take some remedial courses, to help catch you up.
”Which brings me, to this,” she smiled, lifting the packet up. “Now, you all might recall that there are three possible letter scores for the essay. Well, out of all the fifth-graders in the school, only four,” she held up her fingers, “achieved the Accomplished rank on their essays.
”I'm very proud to say that one of my students got this rank.” She beamed. “Not only did Lyza attain an Accomplished rank on her essay, but she received a commended status in the Social Studies and ELA sections—five questions away from getting it in Math, and just one question shy for Science. So,” she proffered the packet in the direction of her student. “Wonderful job, Lyza. You're one of the top of the whole class.”
The others started to cheer; most clapped, but Panda and, oddly enough, Ritzer whistled. In the commotion, the bell rang, and the celebration was drowned out by the kids beginning to stampede down the hallway.
With her ears swiveled back and her posture slightly hunched, Lyza went up to her teacher to take the packet. She was given a pat on the shoulder as she hurriedly made her way to the door, trying to sneak out.
She heard someone call her name, but pretended not to have. She leaned over more, and started walking faster. “Sorry,” she muttered, as she stepped on a boy's shoes. “'S'cuse me,” she mumbled, slipping between a pair of girls that were joking with one another while walking.
In the cafeteria, the crowd thinned a little. There was a large line, bound by nothing more than relative order, that connected the cafeteria entrance to the doors leading out to the parking lot. She broke away from the line as some other kids did, to dash a little faster and get through the doors quicker.
Just as she passed through the threshold and into the partly-cloudy sunlight, attempting to cut across the sidewalk and weave between the buses to hide on the lower-tier sidewalk, she was pulled back.
”'Ey, whe'ya goin' s'fass?”
Her brows lowered. She gritted her teeth, and quickly whipped around. “Don't touch me,” she snapped.
The hand that had been holding her backpack was now giving her a gesture to calm down. “Whassa prob'm?” The lion kit asked. “Was juss' gonna say 'grats,” he said, proffering his hand for a shake.
The rabbit adjusted her posture, and glanced behind her. She spotted her brother's car in the pickup-lane, and turned back to the lion, hand still poised for a shake.
Her nose wrinkled, and her ears swiveled up. She looked from his hand, to his eyes. He gave her a grin, one that she felt held a sinister curl in the corners. She spat on the ground at his feet, and turned, her ears swiveling back again as she dashed off faster than he could react.
”Whoa, where's the fire?” Her brother questioned, when his sister hopped into the car faster than she ever had before.
”I just wanna get home.” She said, her voice tart.
He looked at her for a second, and when he was given a dagger's-glance, he started up the engine. “You don't look happy.” He commented. “What's that packet for?”
She looked down, realizing she still had it in her hand. “It's—”
”Hang on, buckle-up,” he told her, slowing down at the exit of the parking lot.
She obeyed, pulling the buckle down from behind. Only when it clipped into place did she feel the car relax and then begin the slow turn. She opened her backpack. “It's the RSBT scores,” she replied, amidst the sound of her zipper and the crinkling of the packet as she stuffed it in.
”And?” He asked.
She sat back. When they came to a red light, she saw him look to her in the corner of her eye. She glanced out the window, at the mirror. “And what?” She questioned, rhetorically.
”How'd you do?”
She folded her arms, leaning her head against the glass.
”Hey...” He reached for the console, turning the AC down a notch. “You remember the boy I was paired with for my Junior Leadership credits last year?”
She looked at her reflection in the side-mirror. “Yeah,” she replied. “Carl... Kyle-something-or-other.”
”Clay.” Her brother corrected.
”Yeah, that,” she agreed. “Knew it started with a cuh.”
He chuckled. “Well, he was a really bright kid—you two are a lot alike, actually.”
She wrinkled her nose.
”Anyway, smart as he was... He didn't do so well on the RSBTs.” He waved a car that was turning at the intersection ahead. “He actually had a hard time with tests. Something about 'em, just...” He let his words trail. “Lots of people do. It's not really that fair, actually.”
She glanced at her brother as he leaned toward her, speaking in defense of those he was referring to.
”An actress can do an amazing job during every rehearsal, and then mess up only when the spotlight's on her. So... everyone thinks she's not a good actress, and tell her to practice more.”
She took a deep breath.
”What I mean is, the school might look at the test results and... If ya gotta take different courses next year, ya gotta. But, they're not really there for when you get As and Bs on your report card, or when you spend hours practicing for a flute concert.”
She let out her breath slowly.
”Just... It's no big deal. Okay?” He reached over to pat her knee. “You had a rough time a couple of years ago, and... I just don't want you to get discouraged. And if there's something you're having trouble with, you know I'm always here to help.”
”Yeah,” she replied, with a nod.
After a moment of holding back a few more words that came to mind, he turned the classical music up just a little, and the rest of the ride was without much else to say.
When they reached the intersection to their neighborhood, she looked down the other street—the way to Rini's home. She wondered if Rini was already home, would get home after her, or if she went home with Bitty and Betty.
The thought stayed as long as she could see the street without looking in the mirror.
”If you want, I can take you there any time,” her brother said.
”Huh?” She flinched. “What are you talking about?” She questioned.
”Mm, never mind,” he replied, his car rolling to a stop at their driveway. “Yee be home,” he said in his pirate voice.
”Thanks,” she opened the door, pausing for a second. “Have a good rest of your day.”
He smiled. “You, too.”
She shut the car door and slung her backpack onto one shoulder as she walked up the drive. “Hello?” She called as she opened the front door. She walked in, kicking back her heels to tug off her shoes. “Mama, ty doma?” She called. She threaded her way through the home to her mother's usual places, but didn't see her.
Guessing that her mom went to the shop with her dad, she carried her backpack to her room. She dropped it in the middle of the floor, her socked feet shuffling and slipping over papers, her toes sending a pencil gently rolling across the scuffed, uneven wood.
She dimmed the sunlight by closing the blinds on her window. In the softened, yellow glow, she found her way back to her backpack. She pulled out the half-sheet-sized envelope. Using her finger, she opened it, though it wasn't a pretty task.
”Agh!” She hissed, and pressed the side of her finger to her lips, setting her tongue against it. The sharp sting of the paper-cut faded for just a moment, and then became an aggravating ache. Ignoring the irritation, she slid the papers free of the envelope.
There were only three pages. The first page was a letter, that started with “Dear Parent(s) or Guardian(s).” She shuffled it to the back.
The second paper had her test scores.
She could just barely make out the meters that symbolized her score, the mark that indicated commended status, and the resulting letter that summed up the entire experience.
The last page consisted of small text, probably meant to be included but for nobody to read.
She looked back at the score page, holding it on either side. She stretched the pages taught between her hands, the creases in the folds disappearing. She clenched her hands, pressing her fingers against her palms, and the pages crumpled at the sides, shadows forming amongst the uneven stress-lines.
Then, she held the papers at the top with both hands, thumbs and forefingers on either side, knuckles butting against one other. She breathed in slowly, closing her eyes as her hands separated. The protest of pages as they tore into uneven halves made her hair stand on end, and her ears swiveled back.
When the pages were held on either side, in outstretched arms, she slowly released the breath she had taken in.
She placed the two halves of the pages one atop the other, facing inward so she only saw the blank back of the letter to her parents that they probably wouldn't even be able to read without Kval's help.
Bracing a few inches from one end with her left hand, her right pinched the corner. With quick mercy, she tore short strips from their bodies, letting them fall to the floor. They separated on their way down, landing upon each other at her toes.
She tore another strip, sliding the body along with her left thumb. Another, and another, until the whole thing was now in a puddle of roughly half-inch by four-inch strips, give or take.
She tilted her foot and swept the strips of paper toward her bed. Some of them lifted up a little, as if in a meager effort to rise up and float away to freedom. But, all of them fell back down, resting at the edge of, and underneath, her bed.
Satisfied, she hopped onto her bed. It squeaked beneath her, bouncing a few times. She sprawled out atop the covers, for they were too much in the mid-day warmth. They were beginning to be too much at night, but there was still the occasional chilly snap.
She closed her eyes, breathing in the dusty air of her home. Outside, she could hear something like the growl of a chainsaw, or a weed-whacker. She lifted up her pillow, and slid her ears underneath, helping to muffle the sound.
Just as she was relaxed, just as her shoulders finally loosened and her cheek found a comfortable spot on the corner of the pillow that covered her ears, the phone whined.
She winced, not wanting to get up. But, it could have been her brother. It could have also been someone calling for her mom or dad, but since their answering machine was always full, she had learned to at least answer to take down who was calling and the number.
She dashed into the hallway beside the kitchen, picking up the phone just a second or two before the end of its last ring. “Allo?” She asked.
”Hey Lyz! Glad you were home to get this.”
”Hey... Emmy, yeah, I just... Just got settled... Um... What's up?”
The tigress let out a short giggle, “Well, I tried to call out right after the bell rang, but you were already zipping out the door.”
The rabbit bit her lip. “Um... yeah, I... I didn't want to keep bro waiting if he was there... and he was, so...”
”No biggie, it's cool. But, hey, Ket and I just wanted to say 'grats on your essay and stuff. That's really cool, and nice to know you don't gotta worry.”
”Mmh... Yean,” the rabbit said, nervously.
”I got a U-3 on my essay,” the tigress whispered over the line. “So... I was really worried, but Ket says I just need to read a few more books or something. Just not so fun when all the letters are hopping around like bunnies, ya know?” She giggled at her own crude joke.
”Yeah... I guess.”
”One sec,” the phone was muffled for just about that long. “Oh, right,” she said as her hand slipped away from the mic, “So, I also was callin' cuz your brother mentioned ice cream a while back and we never really talked about it. So maybe this weekend?”
”Uh...” She gritted her teeth. “I'm... I've been kinda busy and... y'know, family stuff... And, there's a concert in the summer so I'm... I'm having to practice for it...”
”Well, no big deal,” the tigress replied, holding back her disappointment a little. “Ket and I are up for it any time, you just let us know.”
”Sec,” Emmy said. A moment later, the rustle of her hand moving away came over the receiver. “You there?”
”Yeah,” the rabbit replied.
”Sorry, Ket was just kicking himself cuz we could have gotten some while we were at the zoo, but hopefully we can by the end of the school year.”
She emitted a hesitant mumble.
”You feeling all right?” Her friend said with concern.
”Mmmmm go take a nap,” the tigress suggested.
”I... was gonna, b—”
”Oh! Sorry-sorry-sorry,” Emeral apologized, anticipating her friend's full thought. “Okay, I'll let you sleep.”
”Byeeee, see ya later.”
”B—” The line clicked; “—ye...” As the dial-tone hummed in her ear, she felt sort of guilty. The knot that had tied in stomach earlier was starting to tie itself again.
So, now she didn't feel sleepy anymore. She was tired, but she knew she wouldn't be able to fall asleep; just lie awake on her bed in frustration.
She went to the computer. Opening up the browser, she clicked on the Text Twist 2 bookmark. But as her favorite color filled the screen, regret and disgust trickled down her neck. She took one look at the game and covered her eyes, realizing she didn't want to play.
Seeing the test scores was the final confirmation. The one goal she had to occupy her was finally laid to rest. There were no more tests, no more evaluations, no more real grades for the rest of the year.
She felt like she was on a bike without breaks. She had crossed the finish line, but she wasn't ready to stop. She had only just started pedaling, and now she was pumped and ready for a race that was already over.
What was she supposed to do, now?