But maybe he’d begun to sense that that was never going to happen.

Trapped, she waited for the classroom to empty.

To avoid fueling the gossip mill, she did her best to appear as though she was only taking her time in pulling her things together. Tugging her backpack into her lap, she rifled through the front pockets like there was something inside that she just had to find before heading out.

She looked up only when she heard the door click shut.

Staring straight at her, Mr. Swanson wore a blank expression, which Isobel thought must be his stab at a poker face. The fixed, deadpan look gave her the distinct impression that he was pulling a Clint Eastwood, waiting for her to draw first. It was like he hoped that any second now she would freak and launch into a word-vomit session of the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Isobel tried to keep her face as blank as possible as she held up the quiz paper, Post-it side out. “I didn’t cheat,” she said.

Mr. Swanson frowned, his wiry white-and-gray eyebrows drawing in close enough to touch. He pressed his thin lips together, rocking on his heels with his hands still tucked inside his pockets.

“I know you didn’t,” he said. “Actually, this isn’t about the quiz.”

Shocker, Isobel nearly muttered. Instead she did her best to look perplexed.

“It’s about your project paper on Poe,” he said.

This time, his words did manage to catch her off guard.


Isobel watched him as he went to stand behind his desk. He slid open the top drawer, extracted a small stack of stapled papers, and dropped them onto the desktop. “I’d like you to tell me how much of it you actually wrote.”

Uh-oh, Isobel thought, realizing that Swanson must have made copies of all the papers before handing back the originals. Of course he had. Knowing him, he probably kept a backlog of every single assignment he’d ever given. He probably had an FBI-style database of every student he’d ever taught too.

Isobel picked up her pen, twisting it around and around, trying to think of an honest yet nonincriminating way to answer his question.

There wasn’t one.

The truth about the gargantuan ten-page essay was that Isobel hadn’t written a single word of it, something Varen had assured her wouldn’t be a problem.

Obviously, among other things, he’d been wrong about that.

But it wasn’t the possible change in her grade that made Isobel nervous so much as the prospect of a call home from a teacher. After the night her father had found her swinging the fireplace poker in the living room, he’d of course drawn the false yet inevitable conclusion that she had smashed the lamp. Even though Isobel had been able to convince her dad that she’d been sleepwalking, she didn’t need another reason for either of her parents to reconsider the Maryland trip. And she certainly didn’t need another instance of her involvement with Varen being brought up, least of all by Mr. Swanson.

Isobel tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um,” she began.

“It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to worry. Last grading period’s grades are locked in. Report cards already went home, remember? Besides, I wouldn’t change the grade even if I could. I’m not doubting that you earned it. That’s not why I’m asking. It’s just that I happened to read over the essay again during the break and . . . well, it made me curious, is all.”

Over the break? Seriously? Was that what he did in his spare time? Reread old papers when he ran out of pop quizzes to grade? Or had he reread the essay because it had been hers and Varen’s?

Maybe he had thought the same thing about the paper that he seemed to presume about her—that it held some kind of special information.

Isobel sat up in her chair. She cleared her throat. “Everything kind of got down to the wire,” she said.

Mr. Swanson nodded as though she wasn’t telling him anything he hadn’t already concluded for himself. “Mr. Nethers has a very distinct writing style,” he said, “even when he tries to hide it.” Rounding his desk, he folded his arms and perched on the edge of one corner. “And so now I guess it’s only fair,” he went on to say, “that I ask how much of the presentation Varen contributed to.”

“We worked on it together,” Isobel said. “Whenever we could, that is,” she added. “Sometimes stuff . . . got in the way.”

A stern look of concern clouded Mr. Swanson’s features. “You know,” he said, “despite what I’m sure the two of you must have thought, I didn’t pair you together on purpose. I really did draw names at random. Though I have to admit, I did get a kick out of seeing the two of you side by side on the day you presented. . ..” A wistful smile breezed across his face, vanishing as quickly as it appeared. “I take it then that you two got to know each other fairly well.”

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