Episode 6: Poetry Slam

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I'm so nervous I could throw up. Spill the contents of my stomach right here, then rush out of the room shaking, hoping my classmates will mistake the tears in my eyes for simple post-barf watering.

It's poetry reading day in Lit and Mrs. Milan is going in alphabetical order. I've been sitting here for the better part of my life waiting for W.

Isn't Tenacity Prime supposed to be the most advanced society in the universe? Why are they still forcing kids to do public speaking? The people who are meant to do this kind of stuff, they do it without being forced. And they get nervous too, but it's the kind of nervous that I get when Sargent Rath pits us against each other in drills and I beat that kind of buff, mostly fat kid who is always smirking. It's the nervousness that says you care about something.

Tiffany Swanson just sat down.

"Ben, you're up kiddo," Mrs. Milan says.

I can get this over with now. As I head up to the front, I briefly consider walking right out of the room.

"Uh, this is called Fate and Expectations," I say. I glance up, hoping to see fourteen teenagers scribbling in notebooks and dozing off, but they're paying a whole lot of attention I don't want. Dominick is drilling a hole in my face the way he's staring at me. He can probably tell I'm nervous and is waiting for something bad to happen. I hate that kid and his stupid hair that looks cool even though it looks like he cut it himself.

Remember to look up periodically. Don't fidget. Enunciate. May as well get an A while I'm up here. I take a breath and begin.

The oldest war

Is between wisdom and will

You must heed what's been set in stone

You must push, pull, deconstruct and build again

Both lead to death

But only one leads to life

It doesn't matter what we do

It only matters more than anything

Exist only to serve the dreams of others

And cease to exist twice

I only look up once in the middle, and I look right at Ebony Belafonte. It's the first time she looks at me like she can actually see me, so I look away quickly and don't look up again. There goes my A. Damn it.

There's a second of silence, and then everyone claps politely. It's over, and I didn't embarrass myself.

Lauren and Stephanie offer fist bumps as I go back to my seat. Someone says, "Good job" and I say thanks.

At lunch, I sit with the guys I know from TPEF, I'm doing that more and more these days. Lauren and Stephanie were the first kids that were nice to me on Tenacity, so I feel a certain sense of obligation to sit with them at least once a week. I think I'm too nice. This table is closer to the cool kid's table, anyway. Why are there still cool kid's tables? Isn't Tenacity Prime supposed to be the most advanced-

"Westley."

I turned to see Dominick, who had slid into the empty seat to my right.

"Yeah?"

My TPEF buddies are staring, Dominick glances at them and leans in a little. I have a strong urge to punch him.

"We have a writing workshop for Lit," he says, tilting his head towards the table where Ebony and the rest of their friends are sitting, "we're meeting tonight, you wanna come?"

I pretend to think about it, and say, "sure," as nonchalantly as I can manage.

"We'll meet you on Nova at five. Just get off the elevator and wait, you'll need clearance."

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