Today's Reading

Ms. Vail pursed her lips. "Cam, I'm not the admissions board. I'm not the one you're going to need to convince. I'm just trying to prepare you. The way things look now, I think you need to seriously consider some other options. I'm afraid you may not be able to get into Columbia."

The bell rang, interrupting us, but I didn't get up. I didn't budge. I was frozen to my chair. I could hear students racing out of classrooms with that rush of excitement that comes with leaving school on a Friday—and not just any Friday. The first Friday of the school year.

"Can you stay a few extra minutes?" Ms. Vail asked, once the ringing stopped.

I nodded. I wasn't going anywhere, not until we fixed this mess.

"Reading," I said, reaching into my backpack and pulling out three books I had stashed there. "I do it all the time. I took these out of the library right before lunch. I've probably taken out more books than anyone at this school. Ms. Chakrabarti can vouch for me—I'd bet she would even write me a recommendation." I knew I was grasping at straws, but how come kicking a ball counted as an extracurricular, but reading—which was so much more mind opening—didn't count?

I droned on and on about my favorite romances to my friends. I'd pretty much given a dissertation about the differences between the book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the movie Love, Simon. They'd tuned me out, but maybe, possibly, that counted as a book club? I'd take any sort of win at the moment.

"I don't want you to worry," Ms. Vail continued. "There are plenty of excellent schools you can get into. Why don't we take a look at some of those?"

Because I didn't want any of those.

Columbia had been my dream forever.

I was so ready to leave this small town and be in a big city. Ever since my aunt took me to Manhattan in fifth grade, I'd wanted to go back. I hadn't had a chance, thanks to my parents' fear of me traveling to the city sans chaperone, but by some miracle they were okay with me applying to school there. I couldn't wait, and Columbia seemed like the perfect school for me.

Marc was the one who first got me excited about it. He was a legacy. His grandma and both of his parents had gone there, and his older brother was enrolled now. The way Marc talked about the campus, the classes, the prestige, and the city had made me fall in love with it—enough that I'd worked my butt off to get straight As so that I could get in.

Ever since freshman year, the two of us had planned to go to Columbia together. It was a pact sealed with a kiss. Cheesy, I know, but the thought still made me grin like a fool. Marc was a shoo-in to get accepted. Not only did he have the family connections, but he didn't have any extracurricular deficiencies. Marc was a star athlete, on the student senate, and took all AP classes—which he aced. Apparently, unbeknownst to me until a few minutes ago, I was the slacker.

I was the one jeopardizing everything.

No. I shook my head. I wasn't giving up. I had worked too hard to not get into my dream school.

"I still have time. I can fix this," I told Ms. Vail. She knew how persistent I was; she'd gotten a taste of it over the summer. Now I was going to multiply my efforts tenfold. Sure, this squashed any hope of applying early decision, but that was okay. The extra time would help get me where I needed to be. "You'll see. I'll get incredible recommendations, keep my grades up, and find some extracurriculars. I'll do whatever it takes. I can make this happen. Columbia will be laying out the red carpet by the time I'm through."

Ms. Vail gave me one of those pitying smiles I could never stand. "I hope you're right. But you only have two marking periods before applications are due. That's not a lot of time."

"I'll make it work."

I had to.

Everything I dreamed about depended on it.

This excerpt ends on page 11 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book THE LAST WITNESS by Claire McFall.

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