The week leading up to finals was extremely stressful. I essentially moved into the library with my brother and his friends. At first, they were a little freaked out, about the exams, not me, but Melinda had some good study tips that seemed to calm everybody, including me. I also kept insisting on study breaks so that by the time classes ended and we had three days to focus on studying for exams, we were probably the five calmest people on campus.
I felt bad for Walter. During study breaks, Melinda and I usually took one chair while Larry and Sarah took the other. Walter either pulled up a chair from the desk or sat on the floor. Even though we were just talking, I couldn't help but wonder if Walter was feeling like a fifth wheel.
One of the things keeping me from stressing too much about finals was my daily run with my brother. We used our stretching time afterwards to have some of our best bonding moments.
"Man, I'm gonna miss this run," I told Walter the morning of our first exams.
"We're only going home for a week."
I shook my head. "Once the snow starts, we have to move indoors. They don't maintain the sidewalks well enough. I nearly broke my neck last year."
Walter made a sour face and I completely understood. Although running the indoor track was better than a treadmill, the two of us preferred running outside no matter what the weather.
"So, you ready for today?" I asked him.
He nodded. "I think so. I'm not worried about the vocabulary too much. Just the actual essay writing. I always seem to have trouble organizing my thoughts on timed essays."
"Spend the extra couple minutes to outline your thoughts. It really does make a difference."
"I'll try to remember that." He paused for a minute. "It's been cool having you studying with us. It felt like home."
"Are the four of us making you uncomfortable?"
Walter shook his head. "Nah. I just close my eyes and pretend none of you are there. I've been studying alone all week. It's amazing how much I could get done."
I sniggered. "I'm serious."
"Me, too. I'm fine. I told you I would let you know if I was uncomfortable, and I'm not. Don't sweat it." He headed up the stairs to his dormitory. "See you at breakfast," he added without turning around.
Seriously? Did my brother just invite me to breakfast? With all his friends?
As I listened to the conversation around me, I wondered if Walter had invited me so I could reduce everyone's anxiety. This was their first final at Hartfield and they were all so clueless. It was kind of funny. Somehow, Melinda had managed to get through the entire term without ever setting foot in the TRAC, so Sarah started describing it to her. After she described what the multi-use court looked like, I explained how it would be used for exams.
After breakfast, we all headed towards the exams together. I felt like a third-former again, walking en masse towards the TRAC. I held Melinda's hand as we walked, noticing her looking in all directions with a concerned look on her face.
I squeezed her hand slightly. "You alright?"
She smiled at me. "Yeah. It's weird. It just reminded me of…Remember that scene in last season of Neogenesis when everyone started swarming towards the beacon of light? They just stopped what they were doing, like they were in some sort of trance? Look around. The entire school is migrating towards the TRAC. Half of them even look hypnotized. It's weird."
I looked around. She was right. The entire student body was streaming towards a single building from every direction, and many had glazed eyes. It wasn't weird. It was downright unnerving. A shiver went down my spine.
"Okay. I did not need that before my exam, thank you very much."
Melinda giggled and asked if I was nervous, so I explained how I was most concerned about my history and English exams, the latter of which was first. I knew the material, but I had missed a lot of the class discussion because of the movie. She tried to reassure me and I had to admit I was calmer by the time we entered the building.
Melinda's teacher and mine were right beside each other, so we were able to sit in neighboring desks. Walter sat behind Melinda, who saved the seat in front of her for her roommate. While Walter crammed, I saved my seat with my bag and sat on Melinda's desk. I played with her hair while we discussed meeting up after the exam.
Someone announced that it was time to find our seats. I wanted to give her a good luck kiss, but I didn't want to make my brother uncomfortable right before his exam. Instead, I traced my hand along her cheek before sitting in my seat. I removed my pens, novels, and notecard from my bag and closed my eyes. While the teachers passed out the exams, I did some breathing exercises I used when acting. Usually, they were for getting into character. Right now, however, I was emptying my mind so I could focus on my exam.
The first part of my exam was all vocabulary. I had aced every vocabulary test, but I think using those words when playing Weddas helped make that section so easy. Then there was the timed essay. The teacher had given us the assignment in our last class. We had to compare any two of the novels we had read this term, creating our own thesis. I spent a lot of time last week trying to figure out what I wanted to write, but every outline came out horrible. During first study hours last night, I had finally figured it out and wrote the entire essay. During second hours, I wrote it as an outline and printed it in an incredibly small font so I could tape it to my index card.
Although the essay was easy to write, it did not leave me much time for my extra credit. Since we had to compare two characters from novels we didn't use for our essay, this was a little harder to complete and I wasn't sure how well I did.
When I started second guessing myself, I decided I was finished with the exam. I raised my hand, turned it in to my teacher, and stood to leave. Only then did I realize Melinda's seat was vacant.
When I left the building, I saw her down the road. I called to her, jogging to catch up to her just before crossing the creek. I put my arm around her and held her close. We took a few minutes to discuss our exams as we headed towards the dining hall. As we entered the building, Melinda invited me to have lunch with her.
I wanted to be alone with her, I realized. I had my entire afternoon free. I was supposed to be using it to study for tomorrow's exams. But, I could do that during her math exam. I wanted to spend every free moment with her. Because, in a few days, we were going home and I wasn't going to see her for over a week.
"Can we have lunch alone?" I squeezed her hand as we approached the servery.
She shrugged, releasing my hand to grab a tray. "I don't mind. But, can we? I mean, won't people just sit with us?"
I had something special in mind. I told her to meet me at the salad bar and went off to figure out what I wanted to eat. I wasn't sure if it was finals or the realization that I would be going home soon, but I didn't have much of an appetite. I grabbed a bowl of soup, made a quick PB&J, and balanced it out with a salad. After grabbing a couple of waters, I found Melinda waiting for me.
I said nothing as I led her to my sanctuary, a small dining area just upstairs of the main dining hall. I knew not many people were aware of this room's existence and I could see Melinda's awe as we sat at the lone table.
I explained to her how this room used to be the faculty dining room, like a hundred years ago. Like Meghan and I, Mom was already famous by the time she started at Hartfield. When she told her father how hard it was to eat because everyone wanted her autograph or was staring at her, Pop-Pop talked to some of his Board of Trustees friends. Someone remembered this room and Pop-Pop showed it to Mom. When Meghan was a third-former, Mom showed it to her. When I was a third-former, Meghan showed it to me. I supposed it was my turn to show Walter, but I didn't think he needed it.
I did, though. Although we had been spending a lot of time in the library, there were times when Melinda and I were just walking around campus, holding hands. Times we were in the dining hall, eating together. The staring had begun. Whispering, too. No one seemed to want to come out and ask if Melinda was my girlfriend.
When I pointed this out to Melinda, she admitted she hadn't noticed. And, I knew she meant it. She had half the campus staring at and whispering about her, but she didn't even notice. As I leaned in to kiss her, I thought about how lucky I was to have her.
"You're awesome." My whisper was barely audible as my lips met hers. I held her close, moving my hand slowly up and down her spine. More than once, I thought about reaching under her shirt to feel her bare skin, but I managed to just barely contain myself. I rested my forehead against hers, swearing under my breath. She spoke in a breathless voice.
"What was that?"
"I have no idea." But I wanted to do it again. We were alone in a room no one knew existed. No one would disturb us. At that moment, I wanted to be as close to her as possible. "How long until your next exam?"
I had said the wrong word. She sat up and the moment was gone. As she checked the time, reason returned and I suggested we go somewhere where I could help her study.
We ended up in the library, where I remained while she went off to her math exam. I set a dinner reminder, at which time I texted Frank and Chloe to make sure they ate.