Chapter I: Up for It

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Penelope drummed her fingers on her desk. Arriving first made her feel lonely. While stomps and chatter spilled through the open door, the room itself was silent. A few seconds passed, and, still, no one entered.

Might as well make use of the time, she thought.

With care and precision, she removed the journalism class folder from her book bag and set it on the desk. Next, she pulled out a mechanical pencil and a green pen. The pen's color was the same lively green as her hair. She placed her final item, a planner, on the left corner of her desk and flipped it to the correct date.

Hiding the phone under her desk, she checked her cell phone. No texts. It was just as well. She had nothing to say to anyone. Not today, anyway. She double checked that the phone was on silent, then secured it in its inner pocket of her book bag.

"Waiting to hear from someone?"

Penelope turned toward the sound of the voice. A junior boy walked into the newsroom to join her.

"No. Why?"

He pushed his stringy hair away from thick, black-rimmed glasses, and grinned. "I saw you checking your phone. You're not sneaky." He plopped his book bag on the floor.

"Well, the teacher didn't see. That's what matters," she replied, smoothing her hair into place.

Elijah, never the kind to stay on one topic for long, kept his tone low as more student reporters wandered into the classroom. "Hey, we're getting the results today."

Penelope felt the color drain from her face. "Today? Are you sure?"

"Oh, trust me. I'm sure." He leaned even closer. "I saw Taylor with a big stack of something. Looked like certificates."

Her stomach knotted up, and her breath escaped her nose in tiny, short huffs. It was too much to process. Not only was her crush talking to her, but her dreams were also about to be crushed.

Say something, her brain shouted at her. "Huh? Wow. That was fast."

"Yeah, for real." Half of his attention was on her and half was elsewhere. "But don't worry. Even if you don't win anything, it's not like she's gonna give you a hard time about it. She's always had a soft spot for you, being the first freshman in, well, ever to make the Bulletin."

"Yeah, but that was last year," Penelope said with haste, although she could feel her insides warming at the compliment. "Trust me, it's no mercy this year."

He flashed her a grin. "Then you're just like the rest of us."

You think so? Penelope wanted to ask. At first, the other reporters had seemed so much more mature, skilled, and connected. She didn't think she'd ever reach their level in writing or reporting. Despite her doubts, she had stepped beyond her comfort zone and had entered one of her stories in the annual student journalism competition. After hours of deliberating, she had decided to enter a profile on the marching band's drum major.

"I'm sure you're going to get something big," she said.

"Huh?" Elijah asked. He had finished up a text when she spoke.

"I said 'I bet you'll do well.' Your spread was amazing." After managing to squeeze out those words, she vowed to eat an extra piece of birthday cake tonight to congratulate herself.

"Oh, hey, thanks. Yeah, that was crazy to shoot." Elijah was the photo editor for the newspaper, and he was "going places." For the contest, he had submitted a photo spread of flash flooding in the St. Louis area. Everyone knew he would do something with his talent, maybe even become a real photojournalist some day.

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