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“Don’t get too involved, dinner will be ready in half an hour,” my mom called after me as I headed upstairs to my bedroom. “Remember, no social media until after your homework’s done! No excuses, young lady!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled as I tossed my backpack across the room onto my bed and flicked on the overhead light. My room lit up with the strange glow of two black light bulbs, which make the posters on the walls and the fun patterns in my rug glow. I went around and turned on my lava lamps and my disco lamp, and soon my room had just enough light for me to be able to work on my homework-
-But there’s always time to check my email at least, right? I mean, Mom only told me to stay off the social sites until I’m done with my homework. What if one of my teachers sent out an email about us not having to do a certain assignment? I probably wouldn’t spin it that way if I had to justify my time spent on the computer to my mom. I flopped down on my bed and opened my Hello Kitty backpack. It took me a few moments to locate the charger cord before I pulled out my laptop.
I snagged the cord with my toes and pulled it up to where I could reach it and I plugged it in. I checked the battery level as I logged in. Twenty-seven percent of battery life remained, and now it was charging. How the hell did I use that much battery? All I did was take notes during Bio and show that music video at lunch, I wonder as my desktop loads up.
My poor old computer was on its way out; Dad and I had already been in talks for months about a shiny new computer for my upcoming seventeenth birthday. We had it narrowed down to either an extremely beefy gaming laptop, or whatever the current most-powerful Macbook Pro is, but the Daddy stopped talking to me about it. He keeps saying it’ll ruin the surprise if I’m involved in any more of the decision-making.
“I don’t hear studying!” Mom called up the stairs and I rolled my eyes.
“I’m checking my email to make sure I’ve got all the right assignments!” I shouted back.
“What?” she asked after a few moments. With a deep sigh, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed her cell number, knowing she’d just get mad if I texted her. She was the only one left in the family that hadn’t upgraded to a smartphone, and she was still trying to figure out the phone she had!
“What?” she repeated as she answered my call.
“I said I’m checking my email so I can be sure I’m doing all the right homework. I don’t want to miss an assignment.”
“Be quick about it. No social media, Kyle Marie,” she said. I could practically hear the eye roll in her first sentence.
“I’m just waiting on my computer to load up,” I said. She seemed pleased with that response, because she hung up. I opened up my mail program and pulled out my math and English literature textbooks while I waited for it to load up. The familiar chime of an incoming email hit my ears four times before I was finished setting up my textbooks. When I finally looked at the screen, I had six messages waiting for me.
Two of my t-shirt orders shipped while I was at school. Good! I’ve been waiting for those shirts since the first week of school, and it’s almost the end of October now. One of the emails is from my boss from my summer job, asking me to take an exit survey about my time with the company. The other three are from school: one from the principal about the dress code with the upcoming Halloween dance; one from the gym teacher about taking gym uniforms home at least once a month to be washed, and one from Señora Filbert, my Spanish teacher.
It was the email from Sra. Filbert that caught my eye immediately. I was used to her sending emails every so often, she had done so since the school started allowing teachers to communicate with their classes this way four years ago. But this didn’t look like her normal emails. The subject read ‘STINKY CHEESE,’ and it there was a little paperclip symbol next to it, meaning she’d attached something.
Normally, I would’ve deleted the message and emailed whoever sent me a strange message, but considering that it was from a teacher who had never sent me anything shady in the past, I opened the message, only to find that it was completely blank except for the attachment.
I hovered over the attached file, ‘STINKYCHEESE.PDF,’ and debated clicking on it for a long moment. She sent out worksheet .PDFs all the time. Maybe she downloaded it from an external website and forgot to change the filename? I thought, or maybe that’s what it’s called and it’s supposed to be some revolutionary new teaching method.
I clicked on the file, and when prompted to confirm that I did, in fact, want to download the file, I clicked yes.
While I waited for it to download, I set my laptop down on my nightstand and turned my attention to my textbooks. Math was a fairly straightforward hell; I only had to do ten questions from the chapter we were working on. Unfortunately, they were word problems that involved showing my work.
Even as unpleasant as the math homework was, it was better than what waited for me in my English lit homework. We were working through Macbeth, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t already read the play four times already. I love Shakespeare but there’s only so many times one can stand to read the same story before it becomes boring.
I was about knee-deep in the second problem on the math homework when my computer started making an awful noise. I looked up just in time to see the screen flicker a few times before defaulting to the blue screen of death. That was about the time that the inhuman howl ripped itself from my throat and I grabbed my laptop off of the nightstand.
“No, no don’t you do this to me,” I shouted at it, “Computer I swear to god!”
Of course, my computer doesn’t respond to my crying, but rather continues to make this horrific grinding noise while the screen remains the blue screen of death. After a few more minutes of me begging it to do something, a high-pitched, steady beep joins the grinding sound before the whole thing falls silent and the screen goes black.
I howl and slam my hand down on the power button, pressing it again and again in a desperate attempt to force my laptop to work again, but nothing happens.
Responding to my screams, my mom came running up the stairs and burst into my room. “Kyle? Kyle, are you okay?” she cried, looking wildly around the room. When her eyes fell upon me cradling my laptop and murmuring to it, she groaned. “What are you screaming about up here?” she demanded.
“My computer won’t turn back on!” I cried, “I don’t know, I opened an email from my teacher and downloaded an assignment or something and my computer won’t turn back on! I think it was a virus!”
“Ya think?” Mom asked dryly. She stalked across the room and unplugged my computer from the wall before snatching it out of my hands. “I’ll have your dad look at it after dinner. For now you can work on your homework. I don’t want your teachers to be telling your dad and me about how you never turn in completed assignments this year, Kyle Marie.”
“I haven’t done that since sixth grade,” I said, indignant. She shrugged as she turned to walk out of the room. “Come on, you can’t seriously hold that over me forever. I’ve obviously gotten to be a better student!”
“I’ll stop riding your ass about it when you’ve graduated and you’re off to college.” With that, my mom exited my room and slammed the door behind her. She never liked to leave room for an argument when she’d said her last words on something. I stuck my tongue out at the door as I listened to her sashay down the steps and back off toward the kitchen.
Sighing, I turned my attention back to the math problems at hand. I still didn’t understand quite how I managed to be put into pre-calculus when I still hadn’t quite managed to figure out algebra. I’d been pretty good at math until letters started getting introduced into equations. Solve for x? How about no.
Still I faced the textbook with a brave face, knowing that there was at least a super tiny chance that I actually guess the right answer and the right formula. Even if it was so incredibly unlikely that I stood a better chance of being struck by lightning twice while winning the lottery, it got me through. Mr. Anderson even seemed to understand that I was trying my hardest. I’d yet to answer a question right in class or on a test, but I had a steady ‘C’ going in math.
Mom wanted better of course, but I couldn’t complain.
I was almost halfway done with my math assignment when Mom called me down for dinner. I breathed a sigh of relief as I slid my math book off my lap and stood up. I stretched and yawned as I walked across the room, not bothering to close my door behind me or turn off my lights. My lava lamps hadn’t even properly warmed up yet, so it would be pointless to turn them back off already.
My Dad was just coming in as I hit the bottom of the stairs, and he smiled when he saw me. “Heya, kiddo! How was school?” he asked cheerfully. I can’t help but smile at him.
“Hey, Daddy,” I said, “school was okay I guess. How was work?” He slipped off his shoes and set his briefcase down by the door before walking into the dining room with me. Mom was just finishing scooping mashed potatoes onto Dad’s plate as we walk in.
“Oh, you know,” he says, feigning boredom, “same old, same old. Johnson downloaded some new virus this afternoon and that kept us busy for a few hours, but there really wasn’t that much going on today.”
“A new virus, huh?” Mom asked, raising an eyebrow as we all sat down, “Anything particularly nasty?”
“Nah,” Dad replied, “Run of the mill stuff. Gave us the old blue screen of death for a bit, then his computer was down for a while. I had to go in and manually reset the fan, but after that the computer was working fine. We ran a couple of antivirus/anti-malware programs and caught a few things, and now it’s running like normal again.”
“I think I downloaded a virus,” I said as I poured some gravy on my turkey and potatoes. I wondered briefly if Mom realized that neither Dad nor I were fooled by the turkey roast she was using. She’d gone back to work finally after sixteen and a half years of being a stay at home mom, and because she was working and trying to do all the thing she’d done before she was working again, things were beginning to change. Meals were becoming lazier and she’d all but completely abandoned dusting in every room except for the living room.
She had gone so far as to form the turkey roast into chunks instead of slices, thinking that we might mistake it for turkey breast, but it was clearly one of those roasts that is both white and dark meat with the even split along the middle. One glance at Dad and I can tell that he’s noticed the same thing as I had, but Mom looks tired and she was already being kind of cranky when she’d snatched my computer away from me, so I decided not to say anything. Dad seemed to decide against saying anything as well, and we began eating in silence.
After a little bit, Mom cleared her throat, “Today at work, I got to sit in on a meeting for Mr. Jay. He was supposed to be back to the office by two, but his plane got delayed so I had to sit in on his two-thirty meeting and you know I’m pretty sure I’ve never been quite that nervous in all my life? All those old men in suits, they all sounded so angry about everything!” She shuddered as she spooned up a big bite of potatoes.
“What was the meeting about?” I asked, trying to appear interested as I pushed my food around on my plate, hoping that if I mixed the turkey, gravy, and potatoes together well enough they would taste better than they did. So far it hadn’t worked. Mom’s smile is so sincere when she starts to answer me that I almost feel bad for not being more interested in what she’s saying.
“I’m not even really sure,” she said, “something about a merger they’re trying to push through or something. I guess the company that we’re merging with isn’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of being a part of the WM family.”
“That sucks,” I said.
“Did Mr. Arnold at least thank you for staying late to attend that meeting for him?” Dad asked as he finished his food. It was hard for me to tell if he gulped it down because he was hungry or because he didn’t like the taste and just wanted to get the meal over with as quickly as possible. I wished that I had the fortitude to speed-eat an entire plate of potatoes and not upchuck it all halfway through.
I shoved my plate away from me, everything except for the potatoes precisely half-eaten. “I’m not that hungry,” I lied, “and I got a whole lot of homework to do yet.” I shoved my chair away from the table. “If I can be excused, that is,” I add, mostly as an afterthought.
“Yeah, of course, little scholar,” Dad said with a sly grin, “I’ll bring your computer up in a little while and we’ll see if we can get it working again.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” I said, and I kissed Mom on the cheek as I snuck past her. She scowled at me as I disappeared up the stairs and closed my door behind me.