It's like this every year when spring begins to slide into summer. The air fills with that bubble of excitement that's hopelessly infectious. It combines with a nervousness that only exists around finals or big tests, and blending the two together unleashes this untamed energy that sizzles in the warming air. It spreads through each class as they prepare for finals and make plans for summer.
The students in the year above me carry the bulk of the nerves, you can always tell a senior from a junior, because the seniors will inevitably look more scared, rushing faster than the other students from place to place, as if they need to save every last second to study a little more for their final exams. Maybe they do, maybe next year I'll feel the same way. I know that last year when my sister Lucy graduated, she was like that, she was a whirlwind of activity trying to get everything studied and prepared, and she managed to pass all her finals at the top of her class.
As juniors my friends and I don't have the same level of panic, though we do have final exams to sit as well, and of course even though it's not our last year it would be nice to get good grades. Practically required for me after Lucy's grades.
I love my sister and we've always been pretty close, but sometimes I can't help but think my life would be a little easier, if only she wasn't quite so intelligent. Of course about two seconds after that thought occurs I feel awful for thinking it. It's not that I'm not happy for her, she's at Princeton right where she wants to be and I'm so happy for her, but it's hard sometimes because it comes so easily to her. While I was struggling through math and science, she was taking college level courses after school ever since her sophomore year. It wouldn't matter so much except that according to my father academics are the most important thing to focus on, and sometimes I feel like I'll never be good enough, I'll never be as good as Lucy.
There are other ways to make my father proud of me though, and one of them I'll be exercising this summer. He's decided that it's about time Lucy and I learned how to make a living, and not just rely on handouts from them. Lucy argued that it wasn't hand outs they'd been giving us, it was raising us and that when they decided to have children they signed up for it. My dad debated that since she no longer lives at home, if she expects to spend the summers here she'll have to contribute, and so her argument fell flat and she agreed to get a job. I didn't even bother arguing partly because I didn't see the point, and partly because I'm actually looking forward to working and earning my own money. He figures now will be a good time to teach us the importance of working, because Lucy is already off at college and out of the home and next year I'll be heading to college as well, so he wants us to be independent, which you can't really blame him for.
Before now he's been focused on our education, which for Lucy meant leaving her in peace while she studied for hours each night, and for me it meant asking Lucy's best friend Daniel to tutor me in all of my weaker subjects, which was everything except my literature class, Spanish and music. He's gone now though, off at college as well and I'm trying my hardest to struggle along alone. I suppose I could put my name down for the tutoring program and get a new senior to help me out, but the thought of having someone sit across from me thinking I'm stupid isn't appealing. Daniel never made me feel stupid, but I don't fully trust that a new tutor wouldn't.
I'm even failing gym, which is the class I'm in at the moment, staring at the rope I'm meant to climb with an expression on my face which I'm sure reads as horror.
'Sophia it's not going to bite you.' Miss Preston our gym teacher yells out, because of course she has to show me up in front of the rest of the class. I bow my head a little bit and bite my bottom lip, trying to remember how to climb the rope. Right now I can't even remember how to walk, so I'm not holding out much hope of being able to climb this stupid thing.
'Phia you have to climb it, there is no way I'm going to let you fail gym. It's gym!' Andrea, my best friend says with just a little bit of frustration. She nudges me a little too hard in the ribs, I shoot her a glare which I hope conveys how annoyed I am. 'Don't be a baby.' She adds, clearly my 'I'm not amused' stare needs work. I turn back to the rope and take in a deep breath of warm musty air, close my eyes and step forward. I place my hands firmly on the rope and then let them fall to my sides.
'I can't do it.' I sigh, 'Even if I wasn't afraid of heights, which I am, I don't have enough upper body strength to pull myself up, have you seen my arms?' I hold them out to Andrea and my other best friend Ruth, 'they're sparrow arms.'
'You're stronger than you think and it's not that high.' Andrea replies.
'Maybe you could tell coach that you're sick.' Ruth offers sympathetically.
'With what? The mysterious illness you contract last period every single Wednesday?' Andrea replies, her eyebrow rising and her hands landing on her hips. 'Come on Phia you can climb that rope easily, and then that's it you pass the class.' This, while not particularly helpful, is true, while all of our other finals are a few weeks off still, mercifully our school decided to let us do our gym final early. I'm not taking gym during my senior year, so this will be the last time I'll have to climb a rope, throw a ball or run around in circles. Thank goodness.
The only reason I'm taking it this year is because Andrea begged me to, she said that she needed to take gym because her parents thought it was important, and there was no way she could handle it without me and Ruth. Of course Ruth was already taking it because she loves this kind of stuff, she's a runner at heart but loves any kind of physical activity.
'Ok, I'll climb the rope.' I sigh heavily and step forward, swallowing down something that feels like a close relation of panic, and tell myself firmly not to be such a baby.
'Good girl.' Andrea claps her hands as I once again place my hands on the rope. She's right, it's not all that high, maybe 20 feet high, and since I'm 5'5 myself, I already have a jump start, not as much as Ruth who is 5'9 but more than Andrea who is a petite 5 nothing. 'One rope and you'll never have to wear those itchy gym shorts again.' Andrea cheers me on. The thought of getting rid of the gym shorts is enough to get me started. I pull myself up onto the rope and heave myself towards the roof.
'Are you sure you're alright?' Ruth asks for the millionth time since we left school. I'm sitting in the back of Andrea's car as we drive towards my house. Ruth is beside me with a constant expression of worry on her tanned face.
'I'm fine.' I say, rubbing the back of my head with the palm of my hand.
'You hit your head pretty hard.' Ruth says, staring at me carefully, for what reason I'm not sure. Perhaps she thinks she can spot the signs of a concussion, which I don't have, just by staring at me, even though I know for a fact she doesn't know what she should be looking for.
'Ruth stop fussing, it's not like she fell from the top of the rope, she passed out once she was back on the ground.' Andrea sighs.
'She still hit her head.'
'I'm fine.' I say again.
'See she said she's fine, coach said she was fine, the school nurse said she was fine. She doesn't have double vision, she doesn't feel sick, she's not having trouble staying awake. She has a headache, which anyone would after head butting a gym floor, and she's a little light headed, probably because she was hyperventilating while climbing a rope.'
'You could try and show some concern.' Ruth says disapprovingly.
'I did, back at school when she wasn't fine, now she's fine.'
'She has a lump on the back of her head.'
'I'm fine.' I insist as we pull into my driveway. I sit up a little straighter as I see Lucy and Daniel on the porch. I'd forgotten that both of their colleges were doing finals at the end of May rather than the third week of June like my school.
'If you start feeling sick, tired, or the pain gets worse then get your parents to take you to the emergency room.' Ruth says sternly.
'I will.' I promise keeping my eyes on my sister, there's something wrong, I can tell, her shoulders are slumped and her eyes look puffy. 'I have to go.'
'Do you need me to walk you up the steps?' Ruth asks nodding towards the ten wooden steps that lead up onto our porch.
'I'm fine, thanks though.' I smile at them both, say a quick goodbye and hurrying towards the house. The car door closing gets Lucy and Daniel's attention, and suddenly they're both watching me as I climb the steps, feeling a little dizzier than I'd admitted to Ruth.
'Welcome home.' I smile as I reach the porch, holding the railing to stop myself swaying. 'Is everything ok?'
'Nothing is ok.' Lucy sighs and immediately starts crying. Daniel looks stricken, he never has been good at dealing with girls when they cry. It would almost be funny if it weren't for the fact that Lucy is sobbing next to him.
'It's not as bad as you think Luce.' Daniel says, awkwardly patting her arm. I look to him, hoping to get an explanation, but he's looking down at his shoes again.
'What happened?' I ask steering Lucy round to the back of the house to the screened in porch so she'll be more comfortable. I sit her down on the porch swing. I sit next to her, Daniel remains standing a few feet away.
'I failed.' She sobs pulling me close, her arms wrapping themselves around my shoulders.
'Failed?' I hug her close, if she failed, she can only be talking about one thing. Finals.
'I failed my last final.'
'How can you know that? They haven't been marked yet.'
'I walked out before it was finished.' She sobs pulling an exam booklet from her purse.
'Yeah.' She sniffs.
'Lucy what happened?' I ask, but her answer is cut off by Daniel's phone ringing.
'Is that your mom again?' Lucy asks, choking back a sob, so her words come out like she's got hiccups.
'It's fine.' Daniel ignores the call with a swift shrug of his shoulders.
'She's expecting you home.' Lucy sniffs.
'It's really fine.'
'If you need to go, it's fine, I'm here now I can handle it.' I say quickly.
'Well...' Daniel hesitates, probably debating between wanting to be a good friend, and his personal discomfort.
'Seriously,' I smile at him, 'I've got this.'
'Ok, thanks.' He smiles back and my heart does a little flip, but I'm not thinking about that now, not when my sister is starting to sob again. 'It's nice seeing you again Phia.'
'You too.' I reply as he heads down the steps onto the beach.
'So what happened?' I ask again.
'I was in the exam room and I started writing and then I just stopped, I was fine one second and the next it was like I was underwater, everything felt muffled and I started questioning what I was doing. All this time, all the work, the hours spent studying, writing papers, I don't know what it's all for.'
'Well...it's because you want to be a lawyer.'
'I mean no I don't want to be a lawyer any more.'