“I’M HERE TO SEE PRINCIPAL Drake.” I hitch my backpack higher on my shoulder. Another year. Another new school. Another boring meeting with a principal who'll tell me all about my academic record—as if I don’t already know what classes I’ve taken or how many schools I’ve attended.
“Oh, yes.” The secretary smiles. “Principal Drake is currently with another student, but he should be finished any moment. Have a seat, and he’ll be right with you.”
“Thanks.” I lower myself into a stiff, cushioned chair. Blowing out a breath, I survey what I hope to be the last principal’s office waiting room of my high school career. The bulletin board to my right contains flyers for upcoming social events, club meetings, and play tryouts—all the stuff I’ve spent years avoiding because I know I won’t be in any one place long enough to join. All the stuff I wish I’d had the chance to do… student council, soccer, Spanish club. This school certainly has a lot of options, more than any other school I’ve attended. This office, though—I scan the room again, just to be sure. Yep, this office is exactly like every other high school administration office I’ve ever been in. I yawn and stretch my legs out in front of me.
A moment later, a tall man with thick glasses and a head full of dark hair comes out of the back office, followed by a female student.
“Thank you, Principal Drake.”
I straighten, my body suddenly on high alert. I know that voice.
“You’re welcome, Isabelle. I appreciate you stopping in.”
Sure enough, the girl from this morning steps out from behind Principal Drake. So, her name is Isabelle, huh? I’ll have to remember that. She tosses a glance at me, keeps walking, then stops to do a double take. Her long, reddish-brown hair frames her heart-shaped face. Freckles dust her nose and cheeks, highlighting her fair complexion. I wait for her to scold me again, but she doesn’t. Giving me a smug smile, she leaves without uttering a word. Well, that’s disappointing.
“You must be Grayson Alexander.” Principal Drake extends his hand. “Nice to officially meet you.” His blue button-up shirt stretches painfully across his thick midsection. I sure hope none of those buttons pop off during our meeting and take out my eye.
I stand and shake his hand. “You, too.”
“Come on back.”
I follow him into his office. He walks around behind his desk, sits, and nods at the empty chair across from him. “Please, sit.” When I do, he clears his throat and flips open a folder. “It says here you were a straight A student at your previous school.” He looks up at me as if he’s waiting for an answer.
“Yes, sir,” I say.
His desk is impeccably clean and organized. Even his pens are sorted by color and brand into various holders. “You weren’t involved in any sports or extracurricular activities.” He pauses. “You’ve taken three full years of Spanish?”
Looking up again, he grins. “Señorita Guzmán has created a Senior Spanish class for students who have taken at least two years of Spanish and want to pursue fluency in the language. She has room for one more student. Would you be interested?”
“Yeah, definitely.” Sitting up straight, I slide my palms along the wooden armrests. Spanish is a cake class, and it will be an easy A.
He flips the folder closed, leans back in his chair, and folds his hands on his protruding stomach. “I’ll have Miss Delilah adjust your schedule so you can take Senior Spanish.”
“Thank you.” So far, this is the only good thing going for me today.
He picks up the phone and instructs the secretary to alter my schedule. When he’s finished, he turns his attention back to me. “Now, I know you’ve been to a lot of schools, and your records show you’ve never had any behavioral issues.” He clears his throat again and leans forward. “I hope that will be the case here, too.”
“Good. Then that little incident on the sidewalk this morning was just a fluke, right?” He raises his eyebrows and gives me a stern look.
I tilt my head in momentary confusion. The sidewalk? And then it clicks—almost hitting Isabelle. I cringe. “Yeah, I’m really sorry about that. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“I take student safety very seriously.” He opens his top drawer and pulls out a folded map of the school. He hands it to me. “All motorized vehicles must be parked in the designated student parking lot.”
“Will do.” I clutch the map tightly. I cannot believe she told on me!
“Very well, then. You’re already late to class, so I won’t keep you any longer.” Principal Drake stands and escorts me out of his office. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to stop back in.”
“Thanks.” I give him a fake salute that would make my father roll his eyes.
“Here’s your revised schedule.” Miss Delilah holds out a sheet of paper. “And a late pass.”
I take them both and thank her. As soon as I leave the office, I find the nearest trashcan and toss the map into it. I head to the second floor and come to a skidding stop. There, a few feet away, stands Isabelle. She’s hunched over in front of an open locker that’s decorated like a shrine. Papers, pictures, and small stuffed animals are scattered around her feet. She momentarily stops rummaging through the locker and rests her head against the door.
She appears… sad? I hesitate but then approach. She can’t tattle on me and expect me to feel sorry for her. “You told the principal on me. What are you, five?”
She whips around and glares at me. Her eyes glisten with unshed tears. “Don’t be mad at me because you’re a lunatic who tries to run people over. Really, you should be thanking me.” She shoves a couple items into her backpack so fast I can’t tell what they are and then proceeds to shove all the stuff on the floor into the locker as quickly as possible.
I lean against the neighboring locker and cross my arms. “Thanking you? Oh, this is going to be good.”
“Yes, thanking me.” She smiles sweetly—all the emotion from a moment ago is gone—and that single action steals my breath. “If I hadn’t told on you, you would’ve eventually run someone over and killed them.” She slams the locker closed, and a white carnation falls to the floor. “And if you’d killed someone, you’d have gone to jail. I saved you from rotting away in prison.” Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she adds, “You’re welcome.” Then she walks away in the opposite direction.
I move to go after her but notice a book lying on the floor. I scoop it up and read the title. Holy Bible. I whip my head around. Did anyone else see the title? Can they guess by looking? Do people even care about Bibles in schools in this part of the country? In my last school, a teacher was fired for giving a student a Bible and encouraging him to read it. He sued the district, but I moved before it was resolved.
I jog to catch up with Isabelle. “Hey, you dropped this.”
She eyes the Bible, as if unsure where it came from.
“You really don’t strike me as a Bible thumper,” I say. Not that I’m complaining. It’s nice to know there’s someone else here who believes in God.
“I’m not.” She snatches the book from my hand.
“No?” I raise a brow, challenging her. “Then why are you carrying around a Bible?”
“That’s really none of your business.”
“People don’t carry around Bibles unless they’re trying to spread the good word.” I smirk.
“Don’t be a jerk.”
“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Luke 6:37.”
She takes a small step back. “You know scripture?”
“I know a lot of things,” I say, pleased with how I’ve managed to shock her.
“Except how to drive.”
I let out a surprised laugh, and she responds with a smile—a genuine one that makes my heart race in a way I’ve never felt before.
She hugs the Bible to her chest. “It’s my brother’s, okay?” Her voice dips with sadness and a hint of gratitude.
“Oh. Okay.” A wave of disappointment hits me. I’m glad she’s thankful to me instead of screaming at me, but is she not a believer herself? Why didn’t she just tell me that in the first place? Is that locker back there her brother’s? I want to ask, but she speaks before I can.
“I’d say this has been fun, but lying is a sin, so…” She shifts on her feet.
“I believe lying about lying is a sin, too. Admit it, this has been more fun than you’ve had in a long time.”
“You wish,” she mutters and then takes off down the hall again.
I glance down at my schedule, then at the nearest classroom door. I’m in the right hallway. In a couple long strides, I’m by her side. “I am sorry about this morning,” I say, hoping she won’t blow me off completely. I don’t know anyone here except her, so I’m kind of at her mercy.
“Thank you. Confessing sin is the first step toward redemption.” She takes a few more steps and then stops outside room 247. “I hope I didn’t get you into too much trouble with Principal Drake.”
“Nah.” I wave my hand dismissively. “He just gave me a warning.”
“Well, this is my class.”
I look down at my schedule once more and grin. “Mine, too.”
“No way.” She takes my schedule and studies it. “You’re seriously taking Senior Spanish?”
“Yep.” And I’ve never been happier about anything.
She thrusts my schedule back into my hand. Without another word, she yanks open the door and walks in. I follow.
A tall, thin woman greets us. “Ah.” She claps her hands. “Señorita Carson. Bienvenido.”
“Hola, Señorita Guzmán.” Isabelle hands over her late pass and sits at the only empty table.
The teacher turns to me. Everything about her demeanor is vibrant, and she’s young, too, probably in her twenties. “And you must be my newest student. Grayson Alexander, yes? Principal Drake called to let me know you’d be joining us.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I hand her my late pass. The administration here doesn’t waste any time, do they?
“Bienvenido.” She smiles. “Please, take a seat next to Señorita Carson.”
This day is starting to get better. I make my way toward Isabelle, and only then do I notice how small the room is. Six tables dot the small space, each only large enough for two students. I drop my bag onto the floor and slide into the chair beside Isabelle.
“All right.” Señorita Guzmán sits on top of her desk and crosses her legs. “Welcome to Senior Spanish. Let me repeat that—welcome to Senior Spanish.” She pauses for a brief moment. “This isn’t an English class, so today is the only day I will speak English. By now, you all should have basic conversational proficiency in the Spanish language, so starting tomorrow, the moment you walk into this room, I expect to hear only Spanish. Understood?”
“Bien. Now, because this is an advanced class, we are going to fully immerse ourselves in the Spanish language and culture.” She grabs a stack of papers and hops off the desk. “As you can see, I’ve seated you in pairs. Please say hello to your partners.” She hands each of us a paper.
It’s written completely in Spanish. I read through it, and I can’t stop the smile from forming. Beside me, Isabelle drops her head onto her folded arms, and I hear a small groan. She may not like what this says, but I sure do.
“This project”—Señorita Guzmán waves the paper in the air—“will be seventy-five percent of your final grade.”
Isabelle lifts her head and smooths her hands over her hair. But she doesn’t look at me.
“Together with your partner, you will pick a Spanish-speaking place—I don’t care if it’s a city or entire country—and you’ll present on it to the class at the end of the year.” She looks down at her notes. “The more creative, the better your grade. Be aware of the requirements, though. I expect everyone to prepare a meal unique to your chosen location. I’ve already reserved time in the culinary room for you to use if needed.”
She returns to sit on top of her desk. “I’ve also reserved the gym so we can all practice a traditional Spanish dance.”
A collective groan ripples through the room.
Señorita Guzmán holds up her hand to silence us. “My goal with this project is to make you fall in love with the Spanish culture. To make you want to visit the place you research. To make us feel like we’re actually there.” She clears her throat. “So, I’ll have no complaining. We will all learn the dance. Each pair can put their own unique flair to it, but it will need to be performed during your presentation. No exceptions.” I’m not a professional dancer, but I’m not terrible, either. I slice a look at Isabelle. And knowing she’s my partner? This is officially my favorite class.