Zach shifted his numb rear-end on the metal folding chair and checked his program for the millionth time. The silly hat threatened to slip, but he was afraid one more adjustment might send it sliding off. He cast his eyes down his row and caught Collin staring at him. Zach swallowed the rising bile and gave him a single nod.
Zach agreed the plan was do-able, but actually doing it was raising more than butterflies in his stomach; it felt like the Radio City Rockettes were dancing it up down there.
I can't do this. Dad's going to kill me! Why did I say yes?
Then he remembered why. The intersection of No way! and okay. Collin's closing argument.
"If we all go at the same time, he won't be able to stop us. Come on, who's in?"
Zack had wavered at the back of the group of boys as Collin issued the challenge, but when everyone else shouted their assent, he was carried along on the wave of camaraderie and common convictions.
The first pang of regret and the first panic attack collided in his gut when Collin turned the spotlight directly on Zach.
"But it all depends on you, Zach. Are you up to it?"
How was he supposed to say "no"? He'd look like a wimp and a chicken. Besides, he believed it was right. And if everyone else did it, what could happen? Zach didn't trust his voice not to crack, so he just nodded and tried not to vomit.
Three bottles of antacid and three days later, it was finally time.
Zach watched Chris Rheingold, class salutatorian, shake the principal's hand and exit the stage to a round of applause. Zach hadn't heard a word of his speech.
The principal took the podium and, before he'd finished introducing him, Zach was on his feet and fumbling in his pocket for the notecards he wouldn't be using for his valedictory address.
He managed to make it down the aisle and up the steps to the stage without stumbling, and when he took his place behind the podium and looked at his classmates, he was relieved and lifted. Each one had a finger on one eye--the sign--"I'm in."
"Class of 2011, family, and distinguished guests. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize someone who has helped this class through four years of high school. He made sure we all made it here today. In fact, 25 graduating classes flourished under his teaching and mentoring. Coach Jacobson." Zach took deep breaths as the applause and cheers rang through the auditorium.
"I'm going to steal the principal's thunder here--I know he was planning to make this announcement. The Class of 2011 will be the last group of kids to benefit from Coach Jacobson's tutilige." Zach ignored the shuffling and shifting of the faculty seated behind him and plowed on. "He has been asked to resign."
As shouts of dismay and murmers of disapproval swept through the room, Zack geared up for the hardest part of his impromptu speech.
"It seems that Coach is too old to be a good teacher now. Well if that's true, then the education we received from him is worthless. And if our education is worthless, then so are the diplomas we're about to receive." Zach shook the principal's grasping hand off his arm and hurried on, raising his voice to be heard above the protests of the audience.
"Coach J, we love you, man, and if you're going, we're going with you." Zach was shaking as stepped away from the podium and walked back down the steps. The entire graduating class rose to their feet and, row by row, silently filed out of the auditorium to a growing chant from the crowd.
"Bring back Coach J! Bring back Coach J!"
When feet started stomping, the ruckus shook the building and the pyramid of rolled diplomas stacked on the stage quaked. One by one, the diplomas slipped off the stack and tumbled to the floor.
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