Instant Karma Page 2

The classroom door swings open, banging hard against the wall.

I jump.

“Sorry, Mr. C!” comes a voice that makes the hair prickle on the back of my neck. My surprise vanishes, replaced with barely restrained rage.

My knuckles clench around the pointer as I slide my gaze toward Quint Erickson. He strolls between the tables and accepts a high five from Ezra, their usual daily greeting.

Part of me wishes he would have stopped by the front first and offered me a high five in greeting. It would have been a perfect opportunity to smack him with the stick.

I grit my teeth, scowling at the back of his head as he reaches our shared lab table in the back row and drops his backpack on top of it. The zipper is as loud as a jet engine. He starts to whistle—whistle—as he digs through the chaos of papers and books and pens and nine months of accumulated junk he keeps in that thing.

I wait. Someone in the class coughs. From the corner of my eye, I can see Jude beginning to fidget, uncomfortable on my behalf. Except, for some reason, I’m not uncomfortable. Normally, an interruption as enormous as this would turn me into a flustered mess, but right now I’m too busy strangling the pointer stick and pretending it’s Quint’s neck instead. I could stand here all day, awkward silence or not, waiting for Quint to realize what a disruption he’s caused.

But, to my endless frustration, Quint seems blissfully unaware. Of my annoyance. Of stopping me right in the middle of our report. Of the awkward silence. I’m not sure he even knows what awkward means.

“Aha!” he announces victoriously, pulling a neon-green folder from the bag. Even from here I can see that one corner is bent. He opens it and starts taking out the reports. I can’t tell how many pages. Three or four, probably double-sided, because who wastes paper on a report about environmentalism?

At least, he’d better have made it double-sided.

Quint hands out the reports—stapled pages for our classmates, and a three-ring binder for Mr. Chavez. He doesn’t do the efficient take-one-and-pass-it-on method that I would have done, possibly because he is the most inefficient human being on the planet. No, he walks up and down the aisles, handing them out one by one. Grinning. Being grinned at. He could be a politician, wooing the masses with that casual saunter, that laid-back smile. One of the girls even flutters her lashes at him as she takes the report, mumbling a flirtatious Thanks, Quint.

My knuckles have gone white around the stick. I imagine Quint stubbing his toe on one of the table legs or slipping on spilled lab chemicals and twisting an ankle. Or no—even better—I imagine that in his tardiness and haste, he grabbed the wrong folder and has just passed out thirty-two copies of an impassioned love letter he wrote to our principal, Mrs. Jenkins. Even he couldn’t be immune to that sort of embarrassment, could he?

None of this happens, of course. My dreams of cosmic justice never do come true. But my nerves have calmed somewhat by the time Quint makes his way to the front of the classroom and finally deigns to look at me. The change is instant, the defensiveness that comes over him, the lifting of his chin, the darkening of his eyes as we prepare for battle. Something tells me he’s been bracing himself for this moment since he entered the room. No wonder he took his sweet time handing out the papers.

I try to smile, but it feels more like a snarl. “So glad you could join us.”

His jaw twitches. “Wouldn’t miss it. Partner.” His eyes swoop toward the model and, for a moment, there’s a hint of surprise on his face. He might even be impressed.

As he well should be. Impressed, and also ashamed that this is the first time he’s seeing it.

“Nice model,” he mutters, taking his place on the opposite side of my miniature Main Street. “I see you’ve left out the rehabilitation center I suggested, but—”

“Maybe if I’d had more help, I could have catered to gratuitous requests.”

He lets out a low groan. “Caring for the animals who get injured as a result of tourism and consumerism isn’t—”

Mr. Chavez loudly coughs into his fist, interrupting the spat. He gives us both a weary look. “Two more days, guys. You have to suffer each other’s company literally for just two more days. Can we please get through this presentation without any bloodshed?”

“Of course, Mr. Chavez,” I say, in unison with Quint’s “Sorry, Mr. C.”

I glance at him. “Shall I continue, or do you have something to contribute?”

Quint feigns a bow, flourishing one hand in my direction. “The stage is yours,” he says, before adding under his breath, “Not that you’d share it anyway.”

A few of our classmates in the front row hear him and snicker. Oh yes, he’s hysterical. Next time, you try working with him and see how funny he is.

I bare my teeth again.

But when I turn back to the presentation board, my mind goes blank.

Where was I?

Oh no. Oh no.

This is it. My worst nightmare. I knew this would happen. I knew I would forget.

And I know it’s all Quint’s fault.

Panic floods my system as I pull out the notecards and fumble with them single-handed. Resort and spa … electric bike rentals … A few cards slip to the floor. My face is suddenly as hot as a stove top burner.

Quint stoops down and picks up the dropped cards. I grab them away from him, my heart racing. I can feel the class’s eyes boring into me.

I hate Quint. His complete disregard for anyone but himself. His refusal to ever show up on time. His inability to do anything useful.

“I could also say something?” says Quint.

“I’ve got this!” I snap back at him.

“All right, fine.” He lifts his hands protectively. “Just saying. This is my presentation, too, you know.”

Right. Because he did so much to help us prepare for it.

“What’s really going to set Fortuna Beach apart?” Jude whispers. I go still and look at him, as grateful for him as I am irritated with Quint. Jude flashes me another thumbs-up, and maybe our twin telepathy is working today, because I’m sure I can hear his encouraging words. You’ve got this, Pru. Just relax.

My anxiety ebbs. For the millionth time I wonder why Mr. Chavez had to torture us with assigned lab partners when Jude and I would have been such an awesome team. Sophomore year would have been a walk in the park if it hadn’t been for marine biology and Quint Erickson.


Thanks, I mouth back to Jude, setting down my notes. All I needed was that reminder, and the words come flooding back to me. I continue with my speech, trying my best to ignore Quint’s presence. At least some of our peers have turned their attention to the papers he passed out, so not everyone is still staring. “As I was saying, what’s really going to draw in a whole new variety of enthusiastic eco-conscious travelers is our phenomenal array of events and adventures. Visitors can go to the bottom of the ocean aboard private-party submarines. There will be kayaking tours to Adelai Island where you can help tag, track, and even name your own seal. And, my personal favorite, we’ll host weekly raging beach parties.”

Some of the glassy-eyed stares of my classmates come into focus at this. Ezra even lets out a hoot. He would, of course.

Bolstered, I forge ahead. “That’s right. Fortuna Beach will soon be famous for its regular beachy shindigs, where you can dine on sustainably sourced seafood and all-organic hors d’oeuvres while hobnobbing with other eco-conscious individuals like yourself. The best part? Everyone at the party receives a garbage bag and a grabber upon arrival, and at the end of the evening, after they’ve filled that bag with litter they’ve collected off our beaches, they can trade it in for a reusable tote overflowing with hand-selected gifts. Things like…” I set down the stick and reach for the bag on the floor. “A BPA-free aluminum water bottle!” I take out the bottle and toss it into the crowd. Joseph barely catches it, startled. “Take-them-anywhere bamboo utensils! A journal made from recycled materials! Shampoo bars with plastic-free packaging!” I throw each of the gifts out. My peers are definitely paying attention now.

Once all the gifts are gone, I ball up the tote bag and launch it toward Mr. Chavez, but it only makes it halfway. Ezra plucks it from the air instead. People are starting to notice that each of the gift items has been branded with the new logo and slogan I came up with.


“These ideas and many more are outlined in detail in our report,” I say, gesturing at one of the stapled papers on the nearest lab table. “At least, I’m assuming they are. I haven’t actually seen it, as something tells me it was finished about ten minutes before class this morning.” I smile sweetly at Quint.

His expression is tight. Annoyed, but also a little smug. “I guess you’ll never know.”

This comment sends a jolt of uncertainty down my spine, which I’m sure is exactly what he intended. The paper has my name on it, too, after all. He knows it’ll be driving me bonkers to know what’s in it, and if it’s any good.

“Before we finish,” I say, turning back to the class, “we want to take a moment to say thank you to Mr. Chavez for teaching us so much about this amazing corner of the world we live in, and all the incredible sea life and ecosystems right in our backyard. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I know I want to be a part of the solution, to ensure that we protect and maintain our oceans for our children and grandchildren. And luckily for us, as I think we’ve managed to prove today: By going green, Fortuna Beach can bring in the green!” I rub my fingers together, pretending to be holding a handful of cash. I’d told Quint about how I was going to conclude my speech. He’s supposed to say it with me, but of course, he doesn’t. He can’t even be bothered to hold up the imaginary money. “Thank you for listening.”

The class begins to clap, but Quint steps forward and holds up a hand. “If I could add one thing.”

I wilt. “Do you have to?”

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