Cheater

I should have just accepted a zero on the assignment.
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I cheated. I couldn't get those two words out of my head as I silently followed my friend Heather* out of math class. When I'd handed in my homework at the beginning of class, I'd almost convinced myself that "borrowing" Heather's homework and copying her answers was a necessity. I needed to keep my A average—and getting a zero on the homework would spoil that perfect grade.

It's just this one time, I told myself as I quickly scribbled Heather's answers. I've never done anything like this before. And it isn't exactly cheating. I mean, I'm not copying from a test or anything. …

When I got to my locker, guilt had begun to sink in. My stomach churned at the thought of what God would say or do if he were standing next to me. He'd probably give me that disapproving look that I'd seen in Mom's eyes from time to time. Or worse, maybe he'd tell me how sad and disappointed he was in me. I closed my locker door, hung my head low, and fought back a tear.

"What's wrong?" Heather asked. "You're never this quiet."

I simply muttered, "Nothing," and walked on alone to my next class.

By the time Heather and I met for lunch, I felt like I had "cheater" written across my forehead.

I should have just accepted a "zero" on the assignment, I thought. My heart was so heavy it felt like it could drop into my stomach at any moment. I knew what I had to do. I muttered a quick and silent, "I'm so sorry, God," swallowed hard, and then blurted out: "Heather, I'm sorry I pressured you into letting me copy your homework this morning. Sometimes I get crazy about my grades because I don't want to disappoint my parents. And I stress so much about getting into a good college."

Heather was quiet for a moment. I couldn't tell if she thought I was overreacting. But the look on her face said it was something else.

"It's kind of my fault, you know," she said rather quietly as she stared down at her tray. "I let you have my answers, even though I felt funny about it."

"I shouldn't have put you in that position," I said.

"Emily, I totally understand why you panicked this morning. I almost did the same thing last week in Spanish class. I didn't realize Mr. Ruiz had assigned all five sections, and I'd only completed the first three."

"So, what did you do?" I asked.

"I handed in what I had," she said. "I was mad at myself for messing up, but I told Mr. Ruiz what I'd done, and he let me turn in the rest the next day."

"Oh, I should've just been honest with Mrs. Drake," I said, angry with myself. "She might have cut me a break, too."

"It's not too late," Heather said.

"But if I tell Mrs. Drake I copied from you, you'll get in trouble, too. I don't want you being punished because of something I did."

"It's something we did. I messed up, too," Heather sighed. "This has been bothering me all morning. I'd like to come clean, too."

We picked up our book bags and headed toward Mrs. Drake's classroom. It was hard working up the nerve to confess. I was scared, embarrassed and ashamed, and I know Heather felt the same. But we knew it was the right thing to do.

Mrs. Drake gave us both zeros on our homework and assigned us an extra set of problems for that night. She also warned us: "Don't do it again, or I will have to report you to the principal." I appreciated the warning, but, honestly, I'd rather flunk the class than go through that again.

Emily, a senior who loves to sing and dance, once won an award for "best karaoke singer."

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