Epic Fail

By: Claire Lazebnik



“How’d your first day go?” I asked him after we’d greeted each other.

“Exhausting. And a little worrisome. Take a look at this.” He dropped his overstuffed briefcase with a thud onto the linoleum floor and reached into the pocket of his cardigan, which had a big hole right near the shoulder. Great. He had stood in front of every class he taught in that sweater. Tthe man never looked in a mirror.

He pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to me. I opened it: two neat columns of names followed by phone numbers. I handed it back. “What is it?”

“A list of all the students who came up to me today to request—make that insist—that I contact their math tutors directly. Today’s the first day of school—why on earth would these students already have tutors? It’s one thing if they start to struggle, but it’s like they don’t even trust me to teach them in the first place.”

“I want a tutor,” Layla said. “It would make doing homework so much easier.”

“Me too,” said Kaitlyn. “If Layla gets one, I get one.”

“No daughter of mine will ever have a tutor,” Dad said.

“What if we’re failing a course?” asked Layla.

His graying eyebrows drew together. “If you fail a single course, young lady, we will pull you out of school and get you a job scrubbing toilets for the rest of your life.”

I knew he was teasing her, but he had a scary-good deadpan and Layla’s mouth dropped open in outrage. “That’s so not fair!”

“Then study hard and get good grades. There’s a laziness to this culture that I will not allow my children to succumb to. An intellectual laziness.” He added thoughtfully, “Maybe it’s all the sunshine—corrodes the brain.”

“I like it here,” Layla said defiantly. “I mean, I don’t like being the new kid, but at least we’re finally in a real city where there’s more to do than watch the grass grow. And guess who we met today? Melinda Anton’s son!”

Dad gazed at her for a moment, the edges of his mouth twitching. “How silly of me to worry that you might succumb to the culture. Thank you for putting my mind at ease on that score.” He picked up his briefcase and headed toward his study. “Elise, your mother said she’d be late for dinner. What do you think we should do?”

“We kind of ate already,” I said. “Want a slice of pizza?” Chase had insisted we take the extra, since his own family was—as he put it—allergic to leftovers.

“Do you mind bringing it to my office? I have a lot of work to get through tonight.” He left the room, heading toward what my mother referred to—with more hope than sanity—as “the maid’s room.” It had its own bathroom and hallway and was quieter than any other part of the crowded house, and my dad had instantly nabbed it for his own use when we first moved in two weeks earlier.

I heated up a slice of pizza and brought it to his office, where he sat at his desk, absently rubbing his temples as he worked on his lesson plans. On my way upstairs, I heard Layla’s voice coming from the family room and suspected she was vidchatting.

Up until recently, my sisters and I all had to share one computer, but Juliana and I had successfully lobbied to get our own laptops by quoting the Coral Tree Prep handbook, which said that most high school assignments were posted online. Layla tried to get in on the action, but my parents said she could wait one more year, so she was still sharing the household PC with Kaitlyn.

We had a no-chatting-until-homework-was-done rule, so I headed in to tell her to keep it down before someone less sympathetic (i.e., Kaitlyn) told on her.


The family room was crammed full with two large sofas, a half dozen side and coffee tables, and several rugs with clashing patterns that overlapped, creating long bumps perfect for tripping us up. We had taken all our furniture with us, and our Amherst house had been twice the size of this one. I stumbled over a rug bump on my way into the room, and Layla looked up, closing the image so I couldn’t see what she was doing.

“You know you can’t vidchat now,” I said. “Not until you’ve finished your homework.”

“I’ll get it done. Just give me a minute.”

“Layla—”

“Please, Elise.” She lowered her voice. “All the girls I know are talking online now. Their parents let them do it whenever they want.” She gripped the edge of the computer table. “I have to fit in here. I have to. Or I’ll die.”

“No one dies from not fitting in, Layla. Trust me.”

“It’s easy for you. You have Juliana. You guys are like the three musketeers.” I wasn’t sure about the math on that one. “You do everything together and I’m all alone. Kaitlyn’s too young—she’s useless. And ninth grade is like . . . like some futuristic prison state where everyone’s fighting to survive. And if I stand out like some kind of dork, I’m doomed.”

She did love her melodrama, my sister. “Don’t even try to keep up here,” I said. “We don’t have the same kind of money, and Mom and Dad are stricter than most of the other parents. You have to find friends who’ll accept you the way you are.”

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