The lecture hall drained of students as though a giant plug had been pulled, chattering bodies sluicing through a doorway meant for half as many people. The dwindling echoes of students bounced off walls of silence as the doors hissed shut.
“Is there something you need, Miss Pepper?” Professor Kawai asked as he wiped the blue and red notes from a board that had long ago ceased to be white.
Jess stared intently at the open chemistry book before her, willing the sticks and letters to form the words she sought.
Kawai cradled the eraser onto the ledge and packed his belongings into an ancient valise. Stopping another moment to examine the lone tableau figure before him, he snapped his bag shut, the click reverberating off the walls.
As his hand depressed the door handle, he felt more than heard the words directed at him.
“You said something, Miss Pepper.”
Without moving, the words fell out of Jess’s mouth and into her book. “I studied.”
“Apparently, the wrong chapters,” Kawai responded without emotion, as though reciting a number from a phone directory.
The indifference drew Jess to face Kawai, her eyes registering something between shock and incomprehension.
“Perhaps you’ll do better on the final,” Kawai added, as if by rote.
“I won’t be writing the final,” Jess responded, slowly pulling her bag to the next seat and closing her text.
Kawai sighed and turned back to the door. “Then maybe next—“
Kawai was unable to finish his though, his focus drawn by the loud noise and the searing pain as two ribs shattered from his back to his chest, splattering the door with blood.
Kawai’s cheek slammed against the door, his knees buckling below him and he slid down the slick door.
As Kawai’s body flopped sideways and his head struck the floor, the lecture chamber filled with another explosion.
Other than the odd drop of blood, Jess’s mid-term exam paper remained largely unscathed, the purple “84%” clearly emblazoned in the upper right-hand corner.
Jess’s parents had sacrificed so much for her to succeed at school. Her failure in chemistry would be unacceptable.
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