Excerpt: Whisper If You Have To

Whisper cover FINAL 7-28-2014Wings couldn’t have felt faster as Chad hurried to English. Once there, he questioned which direction to turn. She was already sitting over in her customary corner. His customary corner was empty.

“Wow. Running those lines must’ve helped your speed,” Kyle said, clapping him on the back. Chad let himself be led to the back. “You think coach is going to run us again today?”

“Of course.” Chad slid into his chair, noticing that she never so much as looked up from reading. He wondered if she hadn’t gotten it read the night before. Maybe he’d misjudged her as deep when in fact she was a flake. However, assessing her outfit today— same white sweater with a white shirt underneath and a simple navy skirt, he began to wonder if maybe she was Amish. She was certainly different from every other girl at Jefferson. Make up and clothes seemed not to be in her vocabulary.

“Ugh. Tell me we’re not doing Beo-boy again today.” Kyle put his head all the way back in agony. “Could this be any more boring?”

Mrs. Whitman walked in and took one look at the class. “Did you all forget? Get in your teams already. You only have today to finish reading this thing— unless you want it for homework.”

Groans crossed the room.

“Good luck,” Chad said, fighting the urge to appear too eager.

“Luck,” Kyle said with much less enthusiasm.

 ***

Alison really should’ve at least made an effort to move, but she just couldn’t. She’d read the assignment, and discussing it with someone interesting sounded so cool. However, how this guy who was walking up looking like cool personified could be someone interesting was beyond her. In fact, his bright, neon-blue T-shirt proclaimed, “Same shirt. Different day.” 

“One question,” he said without pleasantries as he slid into his chair. “He shows up and kills Grendel. Villain vanquished, what’s left to tell?”

She laughed at his assessment. “I don’t know. Maybe he runs off with the queen.”

Chad’s eyes grew wide at the statement. “No. Seriously?”

With another laugh, she shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a thought.” She swung her book open to the page. “So, what’d you think?”

“Well, I felt sorry for that one dude who got eaten before Beowulf swung into action. Munch. Munch. Munch.” He shook his head. “Got to be a rough way to go.”

So he had in fact read the passage. That was encouraging. “Yeah, I would’ve thought he’d have a better plan than to let one of his guys get eaten. I think next time I’d be like, ‘Uh, could we go over this whole plan thing before we start? I don’t really wanna be lunch.’”

His smile was at once soft and amused. “No kidding. But that Beowulf guy was pretty cool. Like irresistible force meets immovable object.” He put his hands together, fist into palm, struggling with himself as Beowulf had struggled with Grendel.

“And then when he ripped his arm out of its socket,” Alison said, the excitement growing at the climax of what they had read. “That was like, ‘Ugh. Gruesome.’”

“The ripping of the sinews,” Chad said, echoing her wonder perfectly. “And all the other guys were like hitting him with their swords, and it wasn’t doing anything.”

“I thought that was cool because mortal weapons were nothing against him.”

“Beowulf knew that.” The battle fell away as Chad’s dark eyes flashed with awe. “And what was up with that other dude? The little guy who was all like, ‘Beowulf. Big deal. I’ve battled monsters before too.’”

“Jealousy, I’m sure, but I think he was pretty impressed when Beowulf hung up that big ol’ hand.”

Chad’s face fell into disturbed disgust. “I’d be impressed too.” He clapped as if to someone standing next to the desks. “Yeah, man. Way to go, Beowulf. Good job, dude.”

“I so think the king is going to get jealous though,” Alison said, dropping the excitement from her voice. “I mean, here’s Beowulf, and everybody’s all in awe of him. He beat Grendel. Don’t you think they’re going to be like, ‘Come on. Be our king’?”

“Bad news though if that happens because the king isn’t going to take too kindly to that. Shades of Julius Ceasar me thinks.”

That surprised her. “You’ve read Julius Ceasar?”

He shrugged. “Sophomore English. Et tu, Brute?”  Putting his hand to his heart, Chad made as if he was dying. Then he sat up. “Figures. They put you on a pedestal and then figure out a way to get rid of you.”

“That’s kind of the way of heroes though. Look at John the Baptist or Jesus. Why’d they die? Because people were jealous of them.” Suddenly she stopped, realizing her mistake. She looked at him for one second, horrified at her slip, and then she ducked. “Sorry.”

Concern wafted through his soft, dark features. “For what?” He shrugged with one shoulder. “You’re right.”

“No.” Embarrassment flooded her heart. She tried to laugh, to smile, but it didn’t make it that far. “I forget sometimes.”

The concern in his eyes deepened. “Forget what?”

She smiled to the best of her ability and shook her head. “Never mind. We need to get reading.” With a glance back at the rest of the class, she confirmed that belief. “We’ve got to get this read by Monday.”

Chad looked like he wanted to argue, but after a moment, he let it drop as his gaze found his book. “So you want to read it out loud or like we did yesterday?”

Quietly Alison cleared her throat. “Like yesterday I guess. That seemed to work pretty well.”

“Okay.”  He bent his head and started reading.

Berating herself for her stumble, Alison anchored her own gaze at the words. Focus. She needed to focus.

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