Valedictorian

One thing stands between me and the glory of becoming valedictorian. Emily Grace. The two of us have always been amicable but there are so many students and classes in our school that I’ve barely said two words to her in the four years of high school. We’ve had this battle raging for the top student each of the last four years. I came out on top as a freshman and sophomore but she beat me last year as a junior. There is one final exam remaining and unless I can score higher than her I’m going to come in second place.

I know this because the school has been marking just the two of our finals immediately and updating our GPAs. As it stands we are on an identical average and whoever scores higher in the final exam in the only class we share, English, will become valedictorian. I know its Emily’s strongest subject even though its also mine, but I don’t feel safe leaving it to fate because I know she will beat me.

There’s a two week gap between both of our fifth finals and our last and I’m in the library half studying half trying to come up with a way to sabotage her when she comes walking through the door.

The sunlight shining through the enormous glass ceiling catches her in the face and as she flicks her long blonde hair out of her face it gleams with a radiant glow. I’d always been too preoccupied with school to think much about girls but I could appreciate beauty when I saw it and Emily Grace was not only the smartest person at our school, even above myself, but she was the picture of beauty. If she hadn’t been granted considerable smarts she easily could have become a supermodel with her slender figure and stunning sharp features.

A plan formed in my mind, I just doubted that I could match her in the looks department to be able to pull it off. She stepped out of the light and looked around until she spotted me, making her way towards me and giving me the opportunity to find out if my plan had any likelihood of success.

“Greg Haber, of course you’re here studying,” she said matter-of-factly even though she could have said exactly the same words with a condescending tone and given them an entirely different meaning.

“Well Emily, I was actually about to go and grab lunch,” I said closing the books I had spread out on the table. “Perhaps we could put aside the fact that we’re fierce rivals for a second and you could join me.”

She laughed and I immediately wondered why I hadn’t put aside the books long ago and talked to her. Her laugh was as beautiful as she was. “Why not, another hour before I study won’t hurt,” she said and winked.

I laughed as I packed my books into my satchel and swung it over my back as I moved away from the table. So she had agreed to the lunch, I just needed to be as charming as possible and hopefully by using our similar circumstances I could progress with my plan. The only problem was being charming wasn’t in my repertoire. I could only hope that all of the romanticism period novels we had been forced to read would give me some knowledge of how to woo a lady. “We really should have done this a long time ago,” I said as we left the library. “The two of us working together we could have achieved even more than we have alone.”

“I turned down early entry to Harvard last year so that I could complete high school,” she said nonchalantly. “But I know what you mean. We’ve been above and beyond the top two students for the past four years and I don’t think we’ve ever spoken except in passing.”

“Why do you suppose that is?”

“Perhaps because in our case the whole would not be greater than the sum of our parts.”

“Ah Aristotle, how astute. But no I think he was correct when he said it. We could have made something great.”

“Are you flirting with me, Mister Haber,” she said playfully.

“I should be so lucky,” I said and acted abashed. “We might share the same league in brain power but you are far too attractive to give me anything but a parting glance in other circumstances.”

She squeezed my arm and with a smile said, “I’m not that shallow. Not to say that you aren’t quite handsome yourself.”

I didn’t know how I had done it but I had clearly struck gold with my plan and she appeared as interested in me as I was pretending to be in her. Of course she was gorgeous and smart and probably the perfect girl for me, but I didn’t even consider it at that point as all I wanted to do was to set her up to fail. I had to keep my mind clear and not let myself believe what I was saying to be real.

“I know we haven’t even made it to lunch yet,” I said as we walked across campus, “But would you have dinner with me tonight?”

“I would love to, but I really should study. I’ve got really stiff competition to become valedictorian,” she said with a completely straight face and then couldn’t keep her composure and started laughing. “We can make it a study dinner though if you were serious before about us helping each other.”

“That sounds great. I was probably just going to eat and study at the same time anyway.”

As it turned out we didn’t just have being smart in common and as we ate lunch and got to know each other the chemistry between us was real. I tried not to grow too attached because as I had to keep reminding myself I was only doing this to distract her from getting a better result than me on the final test. I felt pretty confident about how I would go in the test and I didn’t really need to study as much as I had planned so it was an easy decision to blow off studying before dinner and hang out with her for the rest of the day. Before either of us knew it we had been talking in the coffee shop where we had eaten lunch for nearly five hours. By that point I started to realise that I was in trouble if I expected this to just be a short fling to break her heart on the eve of the final. I was going in head first into the deep end with no sign of a ladder and she was right there beside me. When both of our stomachs started to rumble and we noticed the time we decided that studying and eating wasn’t likely to happen so I picked the nicest restaurant I could afford on my allowance and turned the evening into a proper date. By the time we left dinner it was already nearly nine and then after strolling through the park for more than an hour we both decided we probably should call it a night and get home so that we could at least have the full next day to study after a good sleep. I had fallen head over heels for her in less than a day and I wasn’t going to leave without kissing her even if I had been faking my feelings. She wasn’t the first girl I had kissed but she certainly meant more to me in a day than any of the others had in the several week or month long relationships I’d had. I was glad to feel her reciprocate because even after the amazing day we had had I was still unsure if she was as in to me as I was her.

It stayed PG rated and we promised to meet at the library the next morning and actually study when we departed. I couldn’t resist talking longer and it seemed neither could she as we both messaged each other less than a minute later. We talked well into the night and eventually she fell asleep with her phone in her hand. It might have been obvious to an outsider but it wasn’t until after midnight that we actually discussed and determined that we were now dating.

Fast forward through a whirlwind week of a lot of making out and no studying and definitely nothing beyond kissing because we were both too responsible for that, and we were almost inseparable on the eve of our last final. Outside of our very brief study periods that always turned into make out sessions we hadn’t discussed the test at all and what it would mean when one of us was crowned valedictorian. I had avoided it because of what I had initially planned to do and still contemplated doing in the very few moments when she frustrated me beyond relief.

But I realised it would be ridiculous to even attempt to break up with her because it would destroy me too.

We went out for dinner with the promise that after that we wouldn’t see each other again until the next day in the exam hall so that we would have the time to at least get in some last minute study. I was low on cash but as I had discovered Emily wasn’t a high society girl just because she had grown up with super rich parents so she was happy for us to eat at a cheap diner.

I walked there thinking that we could take a brief stroll after and I could walk her home even though it was against the rules we had decided upon. We would both be happy with the end result of the rules being broken so I didn’t see the harm in it. By the end of the night I would be wishing that I had borrowed the car.

“You’re being oddly quiet,” I said as I polished off my last few chips and stared across the table at Emily who had given up on her meal and was sitting with her head down and her body tucked in as tight as possible. “Are you worried about the test.”

She looked up and there was a viciousness in her eyes that I hadn’t thought her capable of producing. It quickly faded and was replaced with sadness as tears started to well in her eyes.

“You’re going to do fine,” I said and quickly wiped my hand clean on my pant leg and reached across to console her but her hands were hidden in her lap. “You’re way smarter than me so you’ve got the valedictorian in the bag.”

“I thought it was going to be easy to end this, but damn you Greg you made me fall in love with you,” she said and I was stunned to hear her say that she loved me because even after how far we had come I didn’t think we had progressed that far. I didn’t even realise the meaning of the rest of her words until she continued. “I came to find you last week in the library to lure you away from studying so that I would have a better chance of beating you on the test tomorrow. I was planning to string you along and make you think we were dating so that I could break up with you tonight and you would be too distracted tomorrow to focus.”

I was too stunned to move let alone react and get her to stop talking. Everything that she had done that first day started to make sense. Her sentences had always started out defensively and then she would change tact to agree with me or to suggest we do something together. That was obviously her brain fighting her from flirting with me.

She had come to find me with exactly the same plan in mind that I had come up with but there was no way that I could tell her that. It would only make this harder for both of us considering that she was already breaking up with me even though she had fallen in love.

“All I’ve done is screw myself over as well. I’m not going to be able to concentrate tomorrow either. I knew it was a bad idea but I went with my gut instead of following my head.” Suddenly she stood up knocking the chair over behind her. Not even bothering to stand the chair up she said goodbye and took off towards the door.

I was out of my chair almost instantly knowing that I couldn’t let it end like that. We had both come into our relationship with misguided goals but we had come too far to let that stand between us now and I didn’t see why we should end it all.

She was already out of the door even though I reacted straight away and I had to run after her.

“Emily,” I yelled as soon as I got outside and she stopped at the edge of the car park but didn’t turn around. “You might not believe this because you’re the beautiful one and I’m just a guy but I intended to do exactly what you did.”

Finally she turned with a snap of her head and a shocked look on her face as I slowed to a stop several metres away. “You know great minds and all,” I said and laughed but immediately stopped as she glared at me in disbelief. “I’m serious though. Which is just one of many reasons that we’re perfect for each other and we don’t have to end this here.”

“If I believed you, which I don’t, then I think that means we definitely shouldn’t be together. We both entered this relationship with the one goal to wreck the other’s chances on a stupid test.”

“You know what the outcome of that test means to me? Nothing. I’m already guaranteed entry to MIT next year and Harvard is practically begging you to attend. Neither of us needs to be valedictorian or to even take the test. But what I need is you. Because if it isn’t already obvious I love you too. And I knew from the moment that I saw the sunshine hit your face last week when you stepped into the library that I would never be able to break up with you if I ever had the chance to even get a date with you. And if I’m not mistaken you didn’t break up with me inside you just told me that you had hatched this plan but you didn’t go through with it. So how about-” I wasn’t really paying attention to her reactions more than I was focussed on saying as much as possible in the hopes that I could win her over so I didn’t see her take two quick steps forward and plant a kiss on me mid sentence. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her as tightly against me as I could praying that I never had to let go of her again.

She pulled her head back and we locked eyes. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said and rested her forehead against mine.

After who knows how long of blissful silence she whispered, “Are we crazy?”

“All of the sharpest minds are a little bit crazy, but what’s life without a little bit of craziness.”

We both found it hard to separate especially considering we didn’t care about getting in any last minute study before a test that would truly have almost no effect on our futures. It would have been nice to have been able to drive her home at that point and snuggle up together on her bed but I suppose the walk through the starlit night laughing at ourselves was pretty special. By the time we made it to her house she insisted that I leave for the night or we would never get any sleep and probably miss the final altogether. We did at least have to attend in order to register our attendance. I made her promise before leaving that no matter what we would both put our all into the test even after everything that had happened because otherwise we would only be cheating ourselves.

When the results came out it was obvious that we had both done exactly that. There was still nothing to separate us as we both scored a 100. Meaning our GPAs remained level. The school had no option but to declare us both valedictorian and we shared the glory. It was the happiest moment of my life when I received the honor on stage in front of my class, but it wasn’t because of my academic achievements it was because I was sharing it with the love of my life. It was also Emily’s happiest moment and I couldn’t comprehend how either of us could have thought we were selfish enough to have taken that moment away from the other on the day that we had met. We both might have felt as happy as we did standing on that stage alone but the agony we would have felt by breaking the other’s heart would have overshadowed the joy. We were joint valedictorians but I was much happier that we were a couple. We had both written our own valedictorian speeches a long time before knowing that we were the only likely candidates. Both of those speeches were suddenly unsuitable. We had a week between finals and graduation to write a new speech and we decided would be best if we did a shared speech.

The principal called the both of us onto the stage to a raucous cheer and I stepped up to the microphone first. I had the speech on the lectern in front of me but the words we had written suddenly didn’t feel right.

Emily was standing right beside me and I held onto her hand as I said, “Aristotle once said that the whole is greater than the sum of our parts.”

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