A Little Friendly Competition
Rebecca Stone was the only thing blocking my path to a college education. She was also blocking my locker after classes let out on the first day of school our senior year.
“Of course you didn’t; I hate Chemistry. Do you mind moving?”
“What a shame. I thought you were serious about being valedictorian.” She flipped her hair around and started to walk away.
I forgot about getting in to my locker. “Rebecca, wait! What does Chemistry have to do with valedictorian?”
Rebecca smiled. “Everything. Our GPA’s are tied and we share five out of six classes. But that one class makes all the difference. If I score an A in Chemistry, it’s worth five points on the GPA scale. An A in your fourth hour class is only worth 4. So my GPA will be higher, I’ll be valedictorian and I’ll take the Silverton Scholarship.”
I felt as if Ryan Stanford, star of the varsity team, had just used me for tackle practice. My dreams of a higher education hinged on the Silverton Scholarship. John Silverton, the rich founder of our small
“I’m going to win the Silverton.”
“Not without AP Chemistry.”
My best friend Leslie walked up as Rebecca strolled away. “Cami, you look terrible. What did she say to you?”
I explained about AP Chemistry as I shuffled books in and out of my locker. “I’ll never be able to go to the
“It doesn’t have to be
“It does have to be
He had come home to die, his voice scratchy and sharp from the breathing tube that had aided him for so many months. Pressing the ring into my hand he had said, “Promise me you’ll go to college, Cami. Make something of yourself. Don’t waste the precious time you have here.” Two days later, when we laid him in the ground, I had promised myself I would go to college, but not just any college, Daddy’s college – the University of Washington.
“Cami?” Leslie’s voice broke my reverie.
“I’m okay.” Slowly I released the ring. “I’m going to transfer into AP Chemistry.”
A week later, Principal Mallard asked me to meet with him after school. He sat at his desk with his fingers templed together.
"Good afternoon, Cami.” He cleared his throat and gestured for me to sit down. “We need to discuss the honor of valedictorian. The school board has voted to make the selection of valedictorian and salutatorian based off of student GPA’s after first semester.”
“Yes, they feel that this will allow the recipients time to prepare their speeches and have them approved by the administration.”
Principal Mallard rearranged the photo paper weights on his desk. “If things remain as they are, Cami, you and Rebecca will be co-valedictorians and you will split the Silverton Scholarship. However, with the race as close as it is, it could be that mere hundredths of a decimal point will separate the two of you. In the instance that the numbers are that close, the district superintendent feels that the decision of whether to share the honors should rest with the student with the highest GPA.”
“So, if I’m on top I can decide if I want to share it with Rebecca?”
I thought about the Silverton money. One thousand might not be enough. Rebecca had never been very nice to me, except when she needed something. It would serve her right to end up with salutatorian. But that morning in Seminary we’d talked about Proverbs 24. ”Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth.” Thanks Sister Kampton. “Well, if it’s that close, I don’t mind sharing.”
He let out a sigh, removed his glasses and wiped his face with a handkerchief. “Don’t expect the same kindness from Rebecca. I met with her earlier today. She doesn’t care how close the GPA’s are. If she has the highest, she’ll take everything for herself.”
“Oh. Well, that doesn’t change my decision.” Inside I felt miserable, yet I tried to remind myself that I was doing the right thing.
Midterms arrived the week before Thanksgiving. Rebecca caught up with me in the hall outside U.S. History. “Hey
“Okay, I guess. Tomorrow’s the big one – Chemistry.”
“Yeah I know. Hey, I was hoping we could swap notes. It might really improve our chances for a good grade on the test.”
“Sure, that sounds great.” I dug through my backpack for my notes and handed them to her. “When will I get these back?”
“I’ll make copies of yours and mine after school. Meet me outside Government.”
That was the last time I saw my Chemistry notes. I was up well past midnight pouring over my Chemistry textbook trying to remember the explanations Mrs. Johnson had given in class. When my alarm went off at five, I was still sitting at my desk, head down with my left cheek sticking to the open page of the book.
Rebecca was waiting by the chemistry room after school. She shook her head when she saw me. “81% is pretty impressive for someone who didn’t have any notes. But it can’t compete with my 97%.”
I looked her in the eyes. “I hope my notes were useful to you.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I didn’t even look at them before throwing them away.”
Leslie found me as I was unlocking the door of my 1975 Buick Apollo. Its puke green color matched the way I felt.
“There you are, girl! Did you forget about Debate Team?”
“Then what’s going on? We were supposed to start the practice session for next week’s big meet ten minutes ago.”
I picked at a piece of peeling paint on the roof of my car. “I have to drop the team.”
“I got a B on the midterm. Every assignment, every test or quiz from here on out has to be perfect. I’ll be living and breathing Chemistry until after finals.”
“Why did you trust Rebecca anyway?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t mind sharing my notes. She’s never been super nice or anything, but I never expected her to steal them.”
Leslie laid her hand on my arm. “Rebecca’s your alternate. If you drop the team she gets to participate in the state meet.”
“What else can I do? She has me at every turn.”
On the day of the big debate meet I walked with Leslie to where the bus waited to take the team to
At home I grabbed a bag of pretzels and got to work. Midway through the first page my mom rushed into my room, carrying two-month old Vanessa Carter.
“Cami, I need you to watch Vanessa. I’m late for work as it is.” She plopped Vanessa in my lap. “Her bottles are in the fridge, diapers and wipes are in her bag, and her schedule is on the notepad by the phone.”
“Why can’t Mrs. Carter watch Vanessa? She’s her baby.”
“Mrs. Carter is at the hospital. Her son is having an emergency appendectomy. Please, Cami, Mrs. Carter helped us during our time of need, let’s return the favor.” She kissed my forehead and hurried out of the house.
I looked down at Vanessa. She smiled and cooed at me. “Well, baby girl, I’ve got some school work to do. Why don’t you play on your blanket right here by my desk?” I spread her blanket out and laid her on it. As soon as I did, her innocent face puckered up and she began to howl. I gave her my stuffed animals to look at and the few toys I had kept for sentimental reasons. She continued to cry. I begged her to stop and promised to buy her a car on her sixteenth birthday. She continued to holler. Finally I picked her up. The second she was in my arms, she was quiet.
The schedule mom left indicated that Vanessa would probably nap in thirty minutes or so. I grabbed a couple of my old kids’ books and sat with Vanessa in the recliner. Part way through The Monster at the End of this Book she was asleep. I stood slowly, holding Vanessa against my chest. With infinite gentleness I laid her in the playpen Mom had set up. She fussed for a moment then settled down with an airy sigh.
I crept back to my homework. Before I could even pick up my pencil, her wails began again.
Vanessa and I had just drifted to sleep when my mom got home around 3 a.m. My arms ached from holding the baby and my chemistry work sat unfinished on my desk. Mom relieved me of Vanessa and sent me to bed. I set my alarm for an hour and a half earlier than usual and crawled under the sheets.
The sun creeping in my window woke me up long after my alarm should have. I grabbed the first clothes I could find, threw my books into my backpack, and spent fifteen minutes looking for my car keys.
At lunch, I was just desperate enough to ask Rebecca for help on my Chemistry assignment. She refused. When the fourth hour bell rang I still had a half a page left.
“In my class, Ms. Taylor, incomplete work is unacceptable. If you expect to pass the Advanced Placement Exam at the end of the year and receive college credit, I expect you to behave like a college student. I made my expectations clear at the start of the year: incomplete work is an automatic zero.”
I watched Mrs. Johnson draw a large red “0” on the top of my paper and viciously slash a line through it for emphasis. I could feel Rebecca’s laughing eyes on my back as I slunk to my seat.
It’s tradition for the teachers at Desert West to provide study notes on the Monday before finals, making attendance that day a must for any academically minded students.
I expected to see Rebecca already in her seat when I walked in the classroom after lunch, but her chair was empty. It remained empty all through class.
I had just pressed the handle down on the door to the U.S. History room when a voice behind me called out, “Cami, wait!” A sense of déjà vu struck me when I turned around and saw Rebecca. I hugged the folder that held my precious chemistry notes to my chest.
“What do you want?’
“I took some friends to the Pizzeria at lunch and my car wouldn’t start. I just got back. I need your notes; you know Mrs. Johnson will never give them to me.”
“You’re crazy. There are nineteen other people in the class. Ask one of them.” I shook my head, determined to enter the classroom and leave Rebecca to her woes.
“Cami, no one else in that class can take notes like you do. Please.”
All I had to do was open the door and go to class. Rebecca could never pull an A on the final without the notes and I, Cami Taylor, would be Desert West’s Valedictorian.
“Meet me by the flag pole after school. Give me ten minutes to get the copies made.” I opened the door without waiting for her reply.
I didn’t hear much of the lecture on the Great Depression. My thoughts kept wandering to the notes I had slipped into my backpack at the start of class. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was share them with Rebecca. A little voice kept whispering that poetic justice would be served if I left Rebecca standing at the flagpole, waiting all afternoon. Or I could give her blank pages. Or make five copies of just the first page. My head began to pound from the thoughts of retribution that flooded it.
It would serve her right. After all, she’s not willing to share valedictorian if our GPA’s are hundredths apart. And she stole my midterm notes. Why should I feel obligated to help her?
My headache continued throughout Government where Mr. Shaw offered tips on how we should determine which candidate to support in our upcoming mock election. I jotted quick notes down as he spoke: share beliefs and goals, clear and precise, does not avoid issues, honest. I put my pencil down and breathed out slowly. That was why I had to give Rebecca the notes. Because I believed in being honest. I rushed to the copy room after class.
Rebecca’s eyes widened in a surprised-relieved look when she saw me. “I didn’t think you’d show up.”
“If I’m going to be valedictorian and win the Silverton, it will be because I earned it, not because I cheated. Besides, I told you I would.”
She didn’t flinch. She snatched the notes out of my hand. “You’re not going to be valedictorian. You probably need a perfect score on the final just to pull an A in the class. We both know Chemistry is not your best subject. I, on the other hand, can get a B on the final and still have an A. And now that I have these notes, that won’t be a problem.”
I clenched my teeth and stomped away. Rebecca was close – I needed a 98%.
Leslie came over the night before the Chemistry exam. In between mouthfuls of ham-and-pineapple pizza she quizzed me on terms and formulas. After she left, I spent another two hours reviewing my old assignments and rereading the portions of the text that Mrs. Johnson had mentioned in the study notes. At ten I decided that all the studying in the world wouldn’t help me if I didn’t get enough sleep; I closed my textbook and went to bed.
When I walked into the Chemistry room the next day, my hands had already started shaking and my stomach was working on setting a new world record in summersaults. I sat at my desk and pulled out my notes; I had three minutes to fit in some more studying.
“I bet you studied all night.”
“I’m studying now, Rebecca. Go away.” I kept my gaze on my papers.
“I spent about thirty minutes looking over the notes you gave me before my parents took me out to dinner in anticipation of my victory.”
“Congratulations. Now go away.”
Five minutes later, after taking roll, Mrs. Johnson passed out the exams. Then she stood at the front of the classroom with a smile. “You may begin.”
It seemed only minutes later when the bell startled me out of my intense concentration, signaling the end of class.
Semester grades wouldn’t be posted until after Christmas break. I tried to enjoy shopping, watching movies and Christmas caroling from a trailer full of hay, but worry about my Chemistry grade hovered at the back of my mind. It was a relief then, when Principal Mallard called Rebecca and me to his office during second hour the first day back after break.
He asked to speak with me first and a sense of failure washed over me. Second place is always announced first. I sat down and fought with the tears that threatened to fall. “Meeting with us individually must mean we aren’t tied for first anymore.”
“A very intelligent deduction.” Principal Mallard replied as he sat down as well. “You know, Cami, I am a firm believer that people often get what they deserve.”
“That’s probably true.” I was losing the battle against the tears.
“So, I would like to congratulate you on obtaining the honor of valedictorian!”
“What? Valedictorian? Are you sure?”
“Quite sure, Cami.”
“Through a lot of hard work! Of course, it didn’t hurt any that you got straight A’s for the semester, again.”
“I got an A in chemistry? But then I should be tied with Rebecca.”
“You would have been, except that Rebecca got a B in Chemistry.”
Rebecca had no way of knowing the tears streaming down my face were tears of joy; she offered me her smug grin and walked into the principal’s office. My left hand clutched at my father’s ring. Principal Mallard was right – we do often get what we deserve. But I was much happier knowing that I had treated my “enemy” fairly and reserved judgment for the Lord.