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CHAPTER 1: The Trade

If you're going to cheat, do it properly

Leonard held his breath as he tested how far he could see out of the corner of his eye without noticeable movement. Patterned wallpaper. Dark wooden desk. Just a little more and he’d be able to see the answer sheet of the kid to his right. Nope, he’d have to turn his head. Leonard sighed quietly. If the teacher saw him doing that it was game over. School rules were as strict as the place was prestigious, meaning there was no way he could afford to get caught.

There was no way he was going home with a subpar grade either.

Movement. The teacher looked up from the book on his heavy ebony desk. Leonard slowly returned to neutral position. Haste would only get him caught; he’d learned that the hard way. He fiddled with his light blonde hair, doing his best to look like he was thinking hard about the test. There, the teacher looked down once more. Back to the task at hand. Leonard made another attempt to sneak a glance at the other kid’s sheet.

Chad. Patched-up clothes and dirty blonde hair. Hell, Leonard didn’t even remember his last name. Harris? Nollis? Not that it mattered. The kid was dirt poor and regularly picked on for it.

Leonard ground his teeth. He usually did decent at maths but he couldn’t wrap his head around the current topic at all. Then he’d been sick of trying, and then it suddenly was the day of the test and now he was sitting in the sea of desks unable to remember any of what he’d read.

He gripped his pen tighter. Disappointing his father was not an option. Cheating beat failing any day. The kid to his left had no idea what he was doing and the seat in front was empty, but Chad was steadily working his way down the problems. Even a middling score was better than what Leonard could achieve on his own. Though someone who was uncertain ought to hesitate more than Chad did. He was either overconfident or he was right. Leonard was betting on the latter.

It took some time but Leonard eventually figured out how to stealthily peek at Chad’s answers and copied them onto his own sheet. He was so focused on the task that he hardly noticed the sounds of pens scrawling, although the occasional frustrated groan of someone unable to work out the problems might snap him out of it for a moment.

There. All the problems had their answers neatly written out. He was surprised to look up and find that there was time left on the clock. Only ten minutes, but still. He was feeling pretty good about himself.

■□■

“Explain this.”

Leonard wasn’t feeling so good about himself now. He ran a hand over his hair, trying to smooth out some unruly strands. People let you get away with more when you looked good.

The teacher had him and Chad sat down, their tests placed for them to see on his desk. The paper almost seemed to glow in the afternoon sunlight. Leonard’s cheeks were glowing with the beginning of shame, though he hoped not too visibly.

The teacher, Chad and himself were the only people in the room and the door to the classroom was closed to prevent eavesdropping.

“It’s just a coincidence,” Leonard attempted. “There are a limited number of ways to answer a math test.”

“The options are limited, yes,” the teacher agreed. “But not so much that having two identical answer sheets being handed in is a normal occurrence. You two sit next to each other. I wasn’t born yesterday, boys.”

Leonard groaned. Just his luck. Now he’d have to try to convince the teacher that Chad was the one who had copied off him and not the other way around.

“Anyway, it’s not like I-“ Leonard began, but he was cut off by Chad, who was raising his hand.

“I did it,” he said. “It was me who copied off Leonard. Don’t give him trouble for what I did.”

Leonard’s eyes went wide. Why would Chad say that? Wasn’t he angry at him?’

“A confession, huh? At least you aren’t that stupid,” the teacher said. He waved Leonard off. “Leonard, you can leave now. Keep up the good work. As for you, Chad, you should know that at a school as ours…”

Leonard quickly exited the room, lest someone change their mind. He decided to wait some distance from the classroom. While he couldn’t tell what was said, the teacher was clearly giving Chad a severe scolding. Chad was probably offering some sort of apology. Leonard was glad it wasn’t him in there, but why would Chad endure all that for something he didn’t even do?

Once the volume finally lowered Leonard took care to hide just out of sight. The last thing he wanted was to have his teacher suspect him.

“Now, off with you,” he heard the teacher’s gruff voice. “Don’t let me see a repeat.”

“Sorry, it won’t happen,” Chad mumbled.

Leonard allowed for a moment to pass before he ducked out of his hiding place. He blocked Chad’s path.

“Hey. What was that all about?” he demanded.

“A trade,” Chad said. “You owe me now.”

Leonard grimaced. He owed Chad? The mere thought was ridiculous.

“What do you want? A new sweater?” he taunted.

Chad’s expression darkened. “You’re aware I can go back and tell him the truth any time I like, right?”

Leonard tensed up. “Hey. No. Wait. I’ll provide what you want, okay? So don’t tell anyone.”

“That’s more like it.” Chad nodded and extended his hand. “In that case… I know you get a generous allowance. I want yours for this month. Do we have a deal?”

It wasn’t an offer Leonard was eager to accept, but it stung less than the prospect of being discovered and ridiculed. After all, cheating only worked when other people didn’t know, and it would showcase his ineptitude to his father. Hesitantly, Leonard offered his hand and shook Chad’s. Contrary to his expectations Chad’s hand didn’t feel grimy, just completely ordinary.

“It’s a deal,” Leonard huffed.

■□■

It was with a great deal of discontent that Leonard prepared his allowance and went to meet with Chad in secret. Behind the school, where the risk of witnesses was minimal. It still galled him that he’d ended up in this situation, but it was better than the alternative. Besides, Chad had no idea how big his allowance was. He’d easily be able to get away with paying just a fraction of the cost. A smirk crept onto Leonard’s face, but he quickly put on a neutral expression as he rounded the corner.

Time to bring this misadventure to an end.

“You sure left me waiting long enough,” Chad commented, wearing a sweater that had at least three visible patches. “I was wondering if you’d decided to have me spill the beans after all.”

“No, of course not,” Leonard snapped. He pulled out his wallet and retrieved some bills, making a show of how it pained him. Chad smirked and Leonard had to resist the urge to punch him as he handed over the money.

“Hmm.” Chad frowned and counted the bills. “This wasn’t the deal. I want all of it.”

“What do you mean, all of it?” Leonard said, feigning innocence. “This is all I’ve got!”

“Not according to my calculations,” Chad said. “This isn’t even half.”

“Your what?” Leonard sputtered. How the hell would someone like Chad know?

“Really?” Chad sighed and rolled his eyes. “You show off with new stuff all the time and you didn’t expect anyone to do the math? You made it way too easy for me.”

Leonard hissed in anger and threw the remaining bills on the grass. “Fine, have it your way! But you’re going to be dead the next time you mess with me, got it?”

Unexpectedly Chad was already scrambling to pick up the bills. It was a pathetic sight and it served him right. Crawling around like the insect he was. Leonard huffed and stomped off.

■□■

Some days passed and Leonard kept an eye on Chad. It was his hard-earned money, so he had every right to know how it was being spent. He expected Chad to show up with new clothes and fancy gadgets to show off to the other kids, but neither happened. Chad wore his usual ratty sweaters, brought his usual sad stone age phone, and ate his usual sad lunches.

Several more days passed and Leonard decided to confront Chad during one of their breaks. He made sure no others were around and stepped in Chad’s way.

“Hey. What’d you spend the money you got on?” he asked.

Chad’s expression hardened. “It’s none of your business.”

“Seriously. You know some new clothes would be in order, and you could’ve gotten a handheld or a new phone or-“

“I told you it’s none of your business!” Chad suddenly snapped. “Now stop bothering me about it. I earned that money fair and square. It’s mine to spend however I want.”

“Just saying, those ratty old sweaters don’t make you look good,” Leonard continued pushing. “I’d have thought you at least would bother to get something nicer.”

“There are more important things,” Chad said in a tone that indicated no room for debate. “Not that someone like you would understand.”

“But-“

“End of discussion,” Chad said. “If you keep pushing me it’s not going to be pleasant.”

Leonard decided to leave it at that. Chad had already proven that he was a handful, and Leonard didn’t need another allowance to go down the drain to who-knows-where.

CHAPTER 2:

Get lost


Coming soon