Instant Karma Page 3

He flashes me a smirk, before turning his back on me. “Sustainability and tourism don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Airplanes create a lot of pollution, and people tend to produce a lot more garbage when they travel as opposed to when they stay at home. That said, tourism is good for the local economy and, well, it’s not going anywhere. We want Fortuna Beach to have a reputation for taking care of its visitors, sure, but also its wildlife.”

I sigh. Didn’t I basically say all this already?

“If you read the report in front of you,” Quint continues, “which I’m sure none of you will, except Mr. Chavez, you’ll see that one of our major initiatives would be to establish the Fortuna Beach Sea Animal Rescue Center as a top tourist destination.”

It takes all my willpower not to roll my eyes. He’s been harping on this rehabilitation center idea all year. But who wants to spend their vacation looking at malnourished dolphins in sad little pools, when they can go swimming with dolphins in the actual bay?

“For people to understand the effect their actions have on the environment, they need to see firsthand the consequences of those actions, which is why we…” He pauses. “Why I believe that any ecotourism plans should focus on education and volunteerism. The report will explain all that in more detail. Thank you.”

He glances at me. We share a look of mutual disdain.

But—that’s it. It’s over. This awful, soul-sucking project is finally finished.

I’m free.

“Thank you, Mr. Erickson, Miss Barnett.” Mr. Chavez is flipping through Quint’s report and I can’t help but wonder if he’s included any of my ideas. The resort, the bikes, the beach parties? “I think it’s fairly obvious, but just for clarification, could you each tell me your contributions to this project?”

“I made the model,” I say, “and the presentation board, and designed and ordered the eco-friendly merchandise. I would also say that I was the project manager throughout.”

Quint snorts.

Mr. Chavez raises an eyebrow. “You disagree, Mr. Erickson?”

“Oh no,” he says with a vehement head shake. “She definitely managed. Soooo much management.”

I stiffen. I can feel the outburst on my tongue. Someone had to! It’s not like you were going to step up and get any of this done! But before it comes out, Mr. Chavez asks, “And you wrote the report?”

“Yes, sir,” says Quint. “And provided the photographs.”

Our teacher makes a sound like this is interesting information, but my lip curls in dismay. Provided the photographs? I’m sorry, but a second grader can cut photos out of National Geographic magazine and glue them to a poster board.

“Great. Thank you both.”

We start to head to our lab table, each of us taking a different aisle to get there, but Mr. Chavez stops me.

“Prudence? Let’s leave the pointer stick at the front, shall we? Would hate for Mr. Erickson to be impaled when we are so very close to the end of the year.”

The class laughs as I walk the stick back to the front and set it on the whiteboard tray, trying not to feel sheepish. With my hands free, I pick up the model and carry it back to the table with me.

Quint has his face cupped in one hand, covering his mouth, watching me as I approach. Or, watching the model. I wish I could read him. I wish I could see guilt there, knowing that he did nothing to help with this part of the project. Or at least shame for being late, on the most important day of the year, leaving me to fend for myself.

I’d even love to see embarrassment as he realizes that my part of the project totally smoked his. Or perhaps some show of appreciation for my carrying our so-called partnership this whole year.

I set down the model and take my seat. Our stools are both shoved to the far ends of the table, an instinct to keep as much space between us as possible. My right thigh has been bruised for months from being smashed up against the table leg.

Quint tears his gaze away from the model. “I thought we decided not to do the boat tours to Adelai, since they could be disruptive to the elephant seal population.”

I keep my attention glued to Mr. Chavez as he takes his place at the front of the room. “You want people to care about elephant seals, then you have to show them elephant seals. And not half-dead ones being bottle-fed on a medical table.”

He opens his mouth and I can feel his response brewing. I ready myself to shoot down whatever inane comment he’s about to make. My fury is building again. I want to scream. You couldn’t be here? Just. This. Once?

But Quint stops himself and gives his head a shake, so I keep my anger bottled in, too.

We fall silent, the model resting between us, one of the closed and stapled reports within reach of my hand, though I refuse to take it. I can see the cover, though. At least he kept the title we agreed on: “Conservation through Ecotourism in Fortuna Beach,” a report by Prudence Barnett and Quint Erickson. Marine Biology, Mr. Chavez. Underneath our names is a gut-wrenchingly sad photograph of a sea animal, maybe an otter or a sea lion or even a seal, I can never tell them apart. It’s wrapped in fishing line, tangled up like a mummy, with lacerations cut deep into its throat and flippers. Its black eyes are looking at the camera with the most tragic expression I think I’ve ever seen.

I swallow. It’s effective for stirring up emotions, I’ll give him that.

“I see you put my name first,” I say. I’m not sure what makes me say it. I’m not sure what makes me say half the things I do around Quint. There’s something about him that makes it physically impossible for me to keep my mouth shut. It’s like there’s always one more bullet in my ammunition, and I can’t help but take every shot.

“Believe it or not, I know how to put things in alphabetical order,” he mutters back. “I did pass kindergarten, after all.”

“Shockingly,” I fire back.

He sighs.

Mr. Chavez finishes making notes on his clipboard and smiles at the class. “Thank you all for a fantastic group of presentations. I’m impressed with the hard work and creativity I’ve seen this year. I’ll have your grades handed out tomorrow. Please go ahead and pass your final lab reports up to the front.”

Chairs scrape and papers shuffle as my classmates start digging through their backpacks. I look expectantly at Quint.

He looks back at me, confused.

I raise an eyebrow.

His eyes widen. “Oh!” He pulls his backpack closer and starts rifling through the chaos inside. “I forgot all about it.”

Friggin’ figures.

“You forgot to bring it?” I say. “Or you forgot to do it?”

He pauses with a grimace. “Both?”

I roll my eyes and he lifts a hand, his momentary embarrassment already evaporating. “You don’t need to say it.”

“Say what?” I respond, even as a flurry of words like incompetent and lazy and helpless are circling through my thoughts.

“I’ll talk to Mr. Chavez,” he says. “I’ll tell him it’s my mistake and that I can email him the report tonight—”

“Don’t bother.” I open my biology folder, where the final completed lab report rests right on top, neatly typed and featuring a bonus environmental toxicology pie chart. I lean over the table and pass it up the aisle.

When I look back, Quint looks … angry?

“What?” I ask.

He gestures toward the paper, which has disappeared into the stack of assignments. “You didn’t trust me to do it?”

I turn to face him. “And I was right not to.”

“What happened to being a team? Maybe instead of doing it yourself, you could have reminded me. I would have done it.”

“It is not my job to remind you to do your homework. Or to get to class on time, for that matter.”

“I was—”

I cut him off, throwing my hands up in exasperation. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just be grateful this partnership is finally over.”

He makes a noise in the back of his throat, and though I think he’s agreeing with me, it still makes me flush with annoyance. I’ve carried this team all year long, doing far more than my share of the work. As far as I’m concerned, I’m the best thing that could have happened to him.

Mr. Chavez takes the last of the papers as they’re passed to the front. “Now, I know tomorrow is your very last day of sophomore year, and you’re all eager to get on with your vacation, but tonight is still a school night, which means, here’s your homework assignment.” The class releases a unanimous groan as he uncaps a green marker and starts scrawling across the whiteboard. “I know, I know. But just think. This could be the last chance I get to impart you with my superior wisdom. Give me my moment, would you?”

I take out a pen and begin copying the assignment down into my notebook.

Quint doesn’t.

When the bell rings, he’s the first one out the door.


“I’m not opposed to homework, generally speaking,” says Jude, idly flipping through the pages of his marine biology textbook. “But homework on the second-to-last day of school? That’s the mark of a tyrannical overlord.”

“Oh, stop whining,” says Ari from behind her menu. She spends a great deal of time studying the menu each time we come in, even though we always end up ordering the same things. “At least you get a summer break. Our teachers gave us detailed reading lists and assignment plans to ‘keep us busy’ over vacation. July is Greek mythology month. Hooray.”

Jude and I both give her dismayed looks. The three of us are sitting in a corner booth at Encanto, our favorite spot on Main Street. The restaurant is a bit of a tourist trap, right off the main thoroughfare—you can even see traces of the beach through the front windows—but it only ever gets crowded on the weekends, making it the ideal quiet hangout after school. In part because the fusion of Mexican and Puerto Rican food is mind-blowingly good. And in part because Carlos, the owner, gives us free sodas and as much chips and salsa as we can eat without ever complaining about us taking up valuable booth space. To be honest, I think he likes having us around, even if we only ever order food between three and six o’clock so we can get the half-off appetizer specials.

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