The Rising(4)

Cara rolled her eyes again. “Really? Fine. Whatever. Just tell me if you’re going to help us out or not.”

Sam was spared an answer when the upcoming kickoff forced Cara back to the rest of her squad.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she yelled over her shoulder above the cheering crowd, smiling. “I know you won’t disappoint the CatPack. We’re your friends.”

Sam lifted her backpack from the concrete and laid it on the bleacher seat next to her in the very front row. Earlier in the day, Cara had stuffed Monday’s AP bio exam, pilfered over the Internet somehow, into one of the backpack’s side pockets after a request, more of a demand, that Sam provide the answers over the weekend. The cheer squad liked calling themselves the “CatPack.” But Sam preferred to think of them, less affectionately, as “Cara and her Clones.” And now they wanted to be spared the bother of studying for a test none of them stood any chance at all of acing, maybe not even passing. They didn’t even belong in AP bio and Sam had no idea how they’d managed to qualify, wanted to tell Cara maybe the CatPack should just transfer into a different class.

But she hadn’t and now the test for which Sam was supposed to provide the answers made a slight bulge in that side pocket of her backpack, overstuffed to the point of being stretched at the seams.

You make up your mind yet?

The truth was she hadn’t, and Sam turned back to the game to distract herself. She understood the concept of football. She just wasn’t sure that she liked the game. It was everyone trying to get the ball over the goal line—and willing to crunch, bang, and shove one another to do so.

But Alex played football, and while Cara (of course) was dating Alex, it didn’t stop Sam from admiring him from a distance. In Sam’s code of honor—perhaps a foolish one at times—friends didn’t betray friends. In this group, she’d seen a lot of cheating and lying, and she kept her mouth shut when someone had said something in confidence. She wasn’t sure that paid, really.

Sam was sitting down low in the stands, in the closest seats to the field, the only reserved ones, because Cara had secured the ticket for her. A nice gesture, Sam thought, until Cara had stuck the stolen test into her backpack along with the ticket.

“We’re counting on you, girl.” Cara winked and bounced off with her tumbling hair glimmering over her shoulders in her prissy cheer uniform.

Sam hadn’t had any intentions at all of going to the school’s first playoff game in fifteen years, but now she had a ticket and, well, her own reasons for going. All of which were spelled A-L-E-X.

The thing was, Sam liked being friends with Cara, even though they weren’t friends anymore, not really. Sam holding on to what they used to have because some part of her still craved it, and Cara holding on for reasons akin to the test now stuffed in Sam’s backpack to claim her expert scientific eye. That must’ve been the main reason Cara seemed so happy when Sam landed the internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center, home to the Astrobiology Institute, located down in Silicon Valley. She should’ve just said she wasn’t about to answer the exam questions ahead of time and chance being caught as a cheater herself. Risk maybe her whole future, because she didn’t want to be the outcast she often felt like, because she was afraid of running afoul of Cara and the Clones, who could make her life a living high school hell.

Well, screw the CatPack.

Easier said than done, of course. The school belonged to this group, who loved parading about in their clingy uniforms, the halls lacking only red carpets rolled out ahead of their strut.

Yeah, screw them.

The cheer ended and Sam watched Cara shoot her a look that stopped just short of a smile, more a warning than a glance. Help us or else. Sam always helped because she didn’t want to find out what “or else” entailed.

Sam imagined herself dressed in a CatPack outfit, bouncing about and playing to the crowd.

No, actually, she shouldn’t imagine the sight because when she did, she’d see herself jumping about while trying to keep her glasses on at the same time—a book or her iPad stuck in the extra pocket she’d sewn into her short, short skirt falling out with each bounce. These girls didn’t care one iota, smidgeon, gram, molecule, or some infinitesimal quantum particle about anything in any way involving a worldview. Their lives were limited to the confines of the school and the city where they were treated like royalty simply because of who they were. Never mind the fact they hadn’t contributed or discovered a damn thing, never anything of worth to anyone beyond themselves.

Sam, on the other hand, had just made an amazing discovery she couldn’t wait to share with Dr. Donati, her supervisor at Ames. Not that Cara and the Clones would understand, much less care. But Donati surely would, because the pattern she’d uncovered was undeniably there.

Sam wanted a career in NASA. She wanted to become an astronaut and go into space as part of the next phase of the manned program. She wanted a different kind of crowd than this to applaud, as she made her way to the capsule of some futuristic spaceship.

Now flying for the USA, Samantha Dixon!

Just as she finished that thought, the crowd jumped to its feet, cheering. Sam returned her gaze to the field to find Alex Chin strutting away from a ball carrier he’d deftly avoided for a twenty-yard gain on a quarterback keeper, to the high-fives of his Wildcat teammates. She felt her own heartbeat slow again, after fearing herself caught in a fantasy.

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