|Trial By Fire
by Hallan Mirayas
© Hallan Mirayas -- all rights reserved
"Cassidy! Front and center! Give me thirty."
"Good job. Go sit down."
"Sykes! Front and center! Give me thirty."
"Nice try, Sykes. Go sit down."
It was the first day of gym class, and Mr. Jones was on the warpath. He'd been calling people at random out of the class and demanding 30 push-ups, immediately. Some could do them, but most couldn't. "You all have been going soft on me over the summer," he growled as he paced back and forth in front of the class. "Sitting around on the computer when you should be out enjoying the sunshine and keeping in shape." He stopped suddenly, and snapped around to face me. "Myers! Front and center!"
I came forward, feeling confident, and a little bit smug. I was ready for this. Mr. Jones had loaned me a set of barbells over the summer, and I'd made sure to use them. Thirty pushups? No problem!
"Give me fifty."
Fifty? The class behind me murmured. "Um, don't-"
Mr. Jones lowered his head slightly like a bull setting up to charge. "Seventy-five." I opened my mouth to protest again, but he cut me off. "Are you trying for a hundred?"
My ears burned as I hit the floor, catching a snicker from Eric Neumann, who was three rows back and had already made his thirty pushups. As I started punching out my own, I could almost hear Eric sneering.
'Why is he punishing me?' I thought to myself as I passed ten. By twenty-five, my mane, which I'd had pulled back in a ponytail, flopped down and made an irritant of itself by tickling my nose. By forty, my arms were burning and I had to keep blowing my hair out of the way to keep from sneezing, shooting a glare every so often at Mr. Jones' black tennis shoes lurking in the corner of my vision.
Somewhere around fifty, I started to hear people counting. All the murmuring had died away. My arms ached. My back hurt. But I'd sooner burn than quit!
Seventy... home stretch now, Hallan.
Seventy-one... keep going...
Seventy-two... just picture Eric's face...
Seventy-three... watch that snicker melt away...
Seventy-four... just one more...
I hit the mark, then collapsed to the floor, sucking air in great panting gasps. I could feel the slick sweat spots on the polished gym floor where my hands had been. Oh, I hurt... Huh? Mr. Jones bent down and put his hands on my shoulders, and his voice was gentle. "You okay, there?" All I could do was nod, trying to understand. "Congratulations, Mr. Myers. You've improved immensely over the summer." To the rest of the class, he added, "If you'd kept in shape over the summer, you could do this, too." He patted me on the shoulder and said, "Go get a drink before your tongue falls off, Harrison. You look like you could use it. And come see me after class."
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
I was still in my gym uniform, black shorts and a reversible black and orange top. Mr. Jones was in his office, and beckoned me in from the locker room doorway. "Yes, I did. First off, I think you'd better get a new uniform... that one's getting kind of small on you. Secondly... I believe you have a question for me."
"I... why did you do that?" I asked after a few moments' thought.
"Why did I do what? Give you more pushups than anybody else? Because I knew you could do them if you'd done the 'summer homework' I gave you."
I blinked, and I could feel my ears and whiskers pull back slightly. "So it was a test?"
He nodded. "Fifty pushups makes a great lie detector. If you hadn't exercised over the summer, you'd have run out of steam by thirty. That and it shows you out on the first day of school as somebody who's not to be messed with."
I thought about that for a while. "Then... why the seventy-five?" I asked.
Dr. Jones leaned back in his chair and smiled slightly, a predator's grin. "Because you hesitated. I'm supposed to be a holy terror, remember?" He laughed, then waved me out the door as the lunch bell rang.
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