Despite her initial determination to finish out the school day, by the time she reached her sixth period science class, Kaitlin was feeling the same urge to escape that Virginia had just executed as she sat at her desk anxiously listening to Mrs. Shelben, her tall and slim science teacher, drone on and on about the upcoming school science fair. Please no, she fearfully thought, tightly gripping her mechanical pencil as her heartbeat began to rapidly increase. Whatever you do, please don’t say that we have to…
Taking a deep breath, Mrs. Shelben, who was standing at the front of the classroom, finally said, “Now as was the case last year when you were in seventh grade, entering the science fair is optional.”
Flopping back in her chair, Kaitlin let out a breath of relief. Thank God, she thought as her entire body, including her fingers, immediately relaxed. Because I already have enough to do without having to do something for the science fair on top of it.
“But,” Mrs. Shelben continued, “actually doing a project is a requirement to pass eighth-grade science.”
As the teacher finished almost completely reversing what she had just said, Kaitlin’s mouth dropped open in horror. Wait, she thought as every muscle in her body immediately tensed up again. What?
“So wait,” called out Jordan Marshall, an auburn-haired boy who sat in the back of the room, as his hand shot up into the air. “You’re saying that even if we don’t enter the science fair, we still have to do the project anyway?”
Turning her full attention to Jordan, Mrs. Shelben nodded. “Yes,” she confirmed. “That’s correct.”
From the middle of the room, Jordan’s dark-haired friend, Troy Faber, who was sitting slumped in his seat with his arms crossed over his baggy white T-shirt, gave the teacher a disbelieving look. “Then what’s the difference?” he demanded. “How do we have a choice if we still have to do all that work anyway?”
Taking a deep breath, Mrs. Shelben turned to Troy and calmly explained, “The difference is that the science fair involves just a little bit more work. For instance, in addition to writing a paper about your findings, you’ll also have to write an abstract that summarizes them.”
“That’s it?” asked Troy. “There’s just one dinky little piece that we don’t have to do if we don’t enter the fair?”
“Well,” said Mrs. Shelben, “there are a couple of other things that only have to be done if you’re entering the fair.” She shook her head. “But being that the extra things really aren’t that much more work, it’s my hope that all of you will choose to do them and enter the fair too. Because after all. It’s worth it if you win a prize, right?”
“That depends,” declared Jordan, causing the teacher and most of the other students in the class to turn and look at him again. “What are the prizes?”
As Mrs. Shelben opened her mouth and began to answer her classmate’s question, Kaitlin set down her pencil, put a hand to her forehead, and squeezed her eyes shut. I don’t care what the prizes are, she thought as she began to massage her temples. Because whatever they are, they’re not going to be enough to save me from feeling even more stressed out now that I actually have to do this project.
As Kaitlin let out a quiet whimper of dismay, Suzanne, who was sitting in the desk behind her, leaned forward a little. “Hey,” she hissed. “Kate. Are you okay?”
But just as Kaitlin was turning around to quietly share her misery with her best friend, the bell signaling the end of the class period suddenly rang.
“All right, everyone,” said Mrs. Shelben as most of the students in the room began to hurriedly gather their books and other belongings together. “It looks like that’s it for today. But for homework tonight, please start coming up with ideas for what kind of project you would like to do. Because I’m going to want a title and a hypothesis from you by Friday.”
As the teacher started walking toward the door so that she could supervise the hallway while students were switching classes, Kaitlin unhappily shook her head. “No,” she told Suzanne as their classmates began to rush out into the corridor. “I’m not okay. Because this project is the last thing I needed right now.”
Suzanne sympathetically nodded. “Yeah,” she said as Kaitlin braced her hands against her desk and the back of her chair and slowly began to push herself up into a standing position. “I know it’s a lot. But…”
But Kaitlin didn’t hear the rest of Suzanne’s words. Because the minute she was fully on her feet, her ears suddenly began to buzz, and her face suddenly began to feel very warm. And the next thing she knew, a wave of dizziness was rapidly overtaking her. A wave of dizziness that…
“Oh my God!” gasped Suzanne as Kaitlin tumbled back into her seat and immediately put a hand to her forehead again. “Kate, what’s going on?”
After taking a moment to suck in a few breaths of air, Kaitlin helplessly shook her head. “I…” she stammered as she slowly lifted her head from her hand and turned to look at Suzanne again, “I don’t know. I just got really dizzy all of a sudden.”
“Yeah,” said Suzanne as her face contorted with a mixture of uncertainty and concern. “And now your face is really red too.”
Kaitlin frowned. “It is?” she asked as she reached up to touch her cheeks.
As Suzanne began to grimly nod, Mrs. Shelben stepped back into the room and frowned. “Is everything all right, girls?” she asked. “Because if you went to make it to your next class on time, you really should get going.”
But instead of heeding the teacher’s warning, Suzanne shakily stood up and stuffed her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. “I think Kaitlin needs a nurse pass, Mrs. Shelben,” she declared.
As Suzanne’s announcement hung in the air of the empty classroom, Kaitlin shot her a disbelieving look. “Sue!” she exclaimed. “I already told you that I don’t want to go to the nurse!”
Turning her attention back to Kaitlin, Suzanne gave her a pleading look. “I know,” she said. Shaking her head after a moment, she continued with, “But if you’re getting dizzy and hot, Kaitlin, then…”
“Dizzy?” repeated Mrs. Shelben, a concerned expression of her own forming on her face.
Turning back to the teacher, Suzanne nodded. “Yeah,” she confirmed as she reached up and brushed her hair back from her face. “Kaitlin got dizzy when she stood up to get her things together just now.”
“Well, then I agree with Suzanne, Kaitlin,” declared Mrs. Shelben. “You should go to the nurse. Because considering that it’s wintertime, and there are a number of illnesses floating around this school right now, you could have something like strep throat or the flu. So here. Let me get you a pass.”
As the teacher walked over to her desk, opened her middle drawer, and began to rummage through it for her stack of hall passes, Kaitlin shot Suzanne an agitated look. “Thanks a lot, Sue,” she grumbled.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Suzanne gave Kaitlin a serious look. “Hey,” she said, “with the way you’re feeling right now, do you really think you have the strength to make it through gym class and Mrs. Doomsday’s class?”
Looking down at her lap, Kaitlin sighed. “No,” she softly admitted as she slowly began to shake her head. “I guess I…don’t.”
Sympathetically nodding, Suzanne declared, “I’ll get the pass from Mrs. Shelben and walk you there. You just get your stuff together, all right?”
As Suzanne began to make her way up to the front of the room, Kaitlin lifted her head and sighed again. “Maybe Sue’s right,” she muttered. “Maybe going to the nurse isn’t a bad idea. Because at least going there might mean that this terrible day will actually end sooner, right?” Letting out another sigh, she turned and started gathering her books and binder together.