This wasn’t the first time Gabby Wells had snuck her way through Safety Harbor High unnoticed. It probably wouldn’t be the last. Heck, she could do it blindfolded.
Actually, she had, once. But that wouldn’t help her now. Not today.
Down the long, empty hall, the gray cinderblock walls resembled a prison and the harsh florescent lights cast a light green hue. Flanked on either side by two-tiered lockers, classroom doors interrupted the repetitive pattern. Each door included a window resembling a square porthole peering in on the students and teachers.
All was quiet, except for two grumbling figures ducking behind a large trash bin at the far end of the hall.
Traversing the school during seventh period unseen was difficult, especially on a Friday. Impatient students, struggling to maintain focus during last period, let their minds and eyes wander. They gazed into the halls, longing to be on the other side of the door, daydreaming about a life outside of school.
Gabby wouldn’t normally risk getting caught navigating the school when she should be in her history class. Well, not again. But today was different. The stakes were high and the clock was ticking.
She slid out from behind the trashcan and glided up next to the first door, motioning for Emma to join her.
Emma. Her best friend was now her biggest obstacle. Gifted with the agility of a lead anchor, Emma plodded up behind her. She might be funny, spontaneous, and wild at parties, but today, Emma was a liability. With the clock ticking, Gabby had no time to give her a crash course on moving with stealth precision and avoiding areas of high visibility. She simply tried to pull her along, hoping the wake she left behind wouldn’t undermine the task at hand.
“We should head back!” Emma said, her gaze darting down the corridor.
“Lower your voice,” Gabby said. “We’re almost there.”
Detention today would be worse than expulsion. Okay, maybe not that bad, but pretty close. Today was the last day of Gabby’s freshman year and no one, especially Gabby, wanted to have to stay after school when that last bell chimed. It would be like eating a chocolate-covered peanut with the peanut missing. Like winning the lottery and losing the ticket. Not that those two things were at all similar, but never mind. It would suck.
Which was why Gabby had to hurry and pray Emma wouldn’t blow it. Why, in situations like this, Gabby preferred to work alone. Why she would have today, if she had a choice. But she didn’t. And, whining about it wasn’t going to help.
Bobbing and weaving their way through the hall left Gabby, and a panicked Emma, outside Mr. Thompson’s empty office. Gabby tried the knob. It was locked.
“We’re toast,” Emma said, glancing down at the man’s wristwatch in her hand. “And we’re down to ninety seconds.”
“Plenty of time.” Gabby knelt in front of the door.
“What are you going to do?”
“What I always do,” she said, pulling a pair of bobby pins from underneath her fashionably tattered baseball cap.
If Gabby had a vice, it was her love of hats. She didn’t remember when her affinity for them started; she just knew she looked better wearing one.
Plus, they were a great place to hide things.
She felt for the tumblers, wiggling the bobby pins in the lock like a skilled thief.
Emma peered over her shoulder. “You really have to show me how you do that.”
“I don’t think so. You are many things to many people, Em. You’re a great friend, you’re smart, and you tan really easily…”
The tumblers fell into place and made a satisfying click. Gabby swung the door open. “But you can’t keep a secret to save your life.”
“You did it!”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
“Considerable.” Emma closed the door behind them. “And you’d better hurry.”
Gabby slid Mr. Thompson’s chair up to his worn wooden desk and turned on the monitor of his ancient computer. The high school was way past its prime, but Gabby didn’t complain. Older technology meant easier access.
With a quick crack of her knuckles, she began to hack into Mr. Thompson’s computer while Emma stood on her tiptoes and kept watch through the small window.
“I can to keep a secret, Gabs,” Emma said.
“Like how you and Jake are dating again?” Gabby asked as she typed.
“We are not,” Emma blurted. “We only went to the movies. And got something to eat. And made out for a while in his car. But we’re not dating. I guess some would call it a date, but I wouldn’t. I didn’t. I don’t.”
Gabby chuckled and raised an eyebrow.
Emma bit her lip. “You had no idea, did you?”
“But I do now.”
“Don’t tell anyone, okay? Everyone hates Jake after what happened last fall.”
“And so should you,” Gabby said. “Most people don’t like getting duct taped upside down to the school fence. I know I didn’t.”
“I’ve forgiven him. You should too.”
“No. Forgiveness isn’t exactly my strong suit. And Jake’s not worth the effort.”
“He is to me,” Emma said, glancing at the watch. “We’re down to sixty seconds.”
“Just one more sec.” Crunch time. Gabby loved it. That was when things finally got interesting.
Thompson’s computer hummed as Gabby scanned the files. Then she saw it: a folder labeled “Final Exam.” A few keystrokes later, the test printed out behind her. She held it out to Emma with a flourish.
“This is really it?” Emma asked.
“I’m both impressed and concerned.”
Gabby smirked. “You should be.” She folded the test and stuffed it under her cap.
Emma looked at the watch in her hand again. “We’ve only got twenty-five seconds left!”
“I hope you have on your running shoes!”
They ducked and dodged through the corridors like pinballs being thrust from one bumper to the next. Adrenaline pumped through her veins, and a smile crept across Gabby’s face. When everyone else panicked, she felt calm. For Gabby, chaos was comforting.
They sprinted past the principal’s office and burst into the auditorium — running straight into Mr. Thompson’s class.
Thompson stood in front of the students, his arms crossed. “Ladies,” he said. “What a surprise.”
“Hey, Mr. Thompson,” Gabby panted.
“Do you have something you’d like to show me?”
Emma swallowed hard.
Gabby reached under her hat and removed the stolen test. “Is this what you are looking for, Mr. T.?”
Mr. Thompson snatched the paper and scanned it closely, jutting out his chin as he read each page.
Gabby surveyed the rest of the class, trying to gauge the tension in the room. Hoping for some support, her gaze stopped on her friend Hamilton.
Mr. Thompson sighed. “Well, Hamilton?”
Hamilton looked at his vintage watch and smiled. “One minute, fifty-eight seconds! She did it!”
The class cheered in victory, and Gabby bowed.
Mr. Thompson held up a single finger for silence, and the buzz in the room quickly diminished. “I am a man of my word. Pizza is on me!”
The cafeteria staff brought in boxes of pizza, and hoots, whoots, and all sorts of other celebratory chants erupted from the class.
Emma returned Mr. Thompson’s watch to him. “I never doubted her for a second.”
“I bet.” Thompson said with a smirk.
As Gabby watched her grateful classmates devour their year-end pizza, she allowed herself to enjoy the moment. Partly because of the smiles on their faces, but mostly because she won the bet. No one knew she couldn’t turn down the challenge even if she wanted to.
Gabby felt a firm hand on her elbow.
“Well done, Ms. Wells,” Mr. Thompson said. “I guess everything I’ve heard about you is true.”
Gabby blushed. “I hope not everything.”
“A lesson learned. I’ll know better than to challenge you again.”
“Yup. The odds were definitely stacked against you.”
“Confidence. I like that. All said—the cost of a pizza party was worth knowing what you are capable of, Ms. Wells. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the next three years.”
“What I’m capable of, Mr. Thompson, is worth a heck of a lot more than a pizza party.”
Tomorrow – Chapter Two