Chapter Two

Ms. Kelly tried to hide her exasperation with her fourth block English class – the freshmen athletes of Aiming Academy. Even on the best of days she had a hard time getting them to pay attention. Aiming wasn't known for its emphasis on academics, after all. They were known for turning out famous athletes, pros, and Olympians, and the freshmen were usually the cream of the crop, the ones who'd shown bright enough, early enough, to catch their scouts' attention before they even made it into high school. The school board didn't care about these children's educations, and they all knew it. The athletes took advantage of every teacher that let them, and though Ms. Kelly tried to be one of the exceptions, she found that it was like swimming against the current.

Today they were worse than ever before, and Ms. Kelly knew why. It was Parents Weekend. They were all excited and for once it wasn't because of their sports. She couldn't say that she disapproved, but still . . . she had a job to do. There were precious few other teachers who actually made an attempt to get those kids to learn.

"So why, if Prince Hal's challenge would save countless lives, do Hotspur's kinsmen and allies not even let him know of it until it's too late to accept it for the original stakes?" she asked, and waited, pretending she thought someone might raise a hand and answer.

There were a few students who she could tell knew the answer. Adam Lovell, for all that he was completely obsessed about a future in hockey, was actually a rather good student, as long as he wasn't asked to write about what he wanted out of life other than a future in hockey. He'd done the reading. She could tell. He knew the answer too, but he couldn't raise his hand, of course. That would only result in him getting teased by the two other members of his team who sat on either side of him.

Eian Cassidy also had the answer, Ms. Kelly knew. Despite the fact that he kept his expression carefully blank, rarely volunteered information, and never seemed to be paying attention – not to mention that he was a football player – Ms. Kelly knew from Eian's (she refused to call him "Cassidy" as he made everyone else) quiz scores and essays that he was, without a doubt, the most intelligent child in her class. She'd spoken with some of his other teachers and they all agreed, even Mr. Chaplin. Eian Cassidy was smarter than he let on.

Tamara Truman was a good student too. She did well on everything Ms. Kelly asked of her. Cain Winchester as well, though he seemed to struggle a bit more. There were others who more often than not did the assigned work, but today most of them looked like they either didn't care or didn't have a clue. Instead of looking at her they were watching the clock as it ticked the seconds away.

Ms. Kelly made her selection of which student to ask. "Spencer?"

"Huh?" the class clown stared up at her, baffled. He obviously didn't even know what the question had been.

"Why do Worcester and Vernon not let Hotspur know about Prince Hal's challenge to meet him in single combat to end their dispute?"

"Because . . ." Spencer's expression made it obvious that he neither knew nor cared. "Because they thought it would take too long?"

"Not quite. Natalie? Do you know?"

The cheerleader shrugged but didn't look apologetic. "Sorry. I don't have a clue."

Ms. Kelly sighed and glanced at the clock over her shoulder. While it was frustrating, it was also . . . sort of endearing. Her sports obsessed students were more anxious about seeing their parents again than they were about games or practices or races.

"You know that normally I don't let you out early," Ms. Kelly started. "I don't believe that sporting events are more important than education . . . but since it's Parent's Weekend and you're all anxious to see your parents rather than go running off to the weight room or gym . . . go ahead and get out of here. Class dismissed."

She expected a storm of commotion, papers rustling as students hurried to shove them into their bags, books slamming shut, chairs scraping against the floor. Instead there was complete silence. Every kid in the class just stared at her as though they didn't believe their ears.

Ms. Kelly shook her head. "Go on and go, before I change my mind."

Then the room did erupt into a flurry of movement as all her students bolted. All her students, except four.

Adam Lovell, Eian Cassidy, Claire Lyaness, and Trent Winters took their time gathering up their stuff, obviously in no hurry – if anything, dragging out their departure. Ms. Kelly smiled at them sadly. She knew why they seemed almost reluctant to leave.

"I hope you all have a good weekend," she told them. "And if you need anything . . . just remember, by door is always open."

They nodded, some with a little mistrust in their eyes, others with resignation or apathy. Then without a word to her or each other, they made their way to the door.

When they were gone Ms. Kelly sighed again. "Poor kids."