“Good morning, everyone,” says the teacher standing in front of the class.
A few people mumble “Good morning,” in reply. The man raises his eyebrows in slight surprise, as if he hadn’t expected an answer from anyone at seven o’clock in the morning.
“Welcome to Biology 101,” he continues. “I hope you all had a fun summer break. My name is Mr. Astor, and I will be your teacher for the duration of this year. Any questions before we begin?”
The class is silent now, and I take the opportunity to look around and estimate how many students there are—there seem to be around fifteen to twenty people. I tuck my elbow-length, chestnut hair behind my ear and rub my eyes, still trying to fully wake up. After three months of summer vacation, I wasn’t exactly prepared for my alarm to go off at six-thirty A.M. today.
"Okay then, if there are no questions, I'm just going to go ahead and take attendance," says Mr. Astor, looking at a sheet of paper in his hands which undoubtedly contains a list of all our names. "When I call your name, just say 'here', alright?"
A murmur of assent spreads across the class. Okay, Eleanora, I tell myself, it's going to be fine. All you need to do is put your hand up and say 'here'. Not hard.
I take a deep breath and nod slightly, when something suddenly occurs to me. Wait, should I put my hand up and say 'here', or should I just say 'here'? What about if I say 'present'? Will people think I'm weird if I do? What if my name gets confused with the other Eleanora? It's just my luck that there's another Eleanora in my class. What if my voice cracks? Oh, god, what if my voice cracks? Okay, I'll just see what everyone else does.
"Here," a boy says from behind me. Oh, shoot, I didn't see if he put his hand up. Dang it.
"Here!" she announces clearly.
I frown. Okay, that was kind of loud, right? I don't know if I want to say it that loud. She put her hand up, but it was, like, really enthusiastically. You want to be cool about this. All the teacher's doing is saying your name. You're not a celebrity.
I look around the room. No answer. Wait, he did say 'Ariana', right? Did I totally zone out? Did he say my name? Oh, god, did he say my name and I misheard? I'm going to look like a total idiot—
"Ariana's absent," the boy next to me says. I exhale in relief. Thank god.
"Thank you," Mr. Astor says, making a mark on the sheet as he looks at the next name, "Katelyn?"
Okay, he definitely said Katelyn. Oh god, am I in the right class? What if he doesn't call my name? I remember signing up for Biology 101, and he said that at the beginning, so I must be. But is this the right period? Wait, no, I checked my schedule this morning, and yes it is. I’ll be fine. Oh, god.
"Here," Katelyn says, flicking her wrist slightly as she speaks.
Yeah, I guess I could do that. I discreetly try flicking my wrist, thankful beyond measure that I'm not in the front row. Ouch! Did I sprain something? Ugh. Okay, don't do the wrist thing. This is stupid.
It's literally the first day of school. In fifty years, nobody's going to remember that you messed up, right? Right? Ugh.
"Here," mumbles Jesse.
Mr. Astor looks around. "I didn't hear you. Jesse, are you here?"
Oh, god, I think, panicked, What if I do it right but I don't speak clearly enough? How is everyone else doing this?
"Here!" Jesse repeats, louder this time.
"Got it, thank you," says Mr. Astor, checking off Jesse's name and looking at who's next on the list. My heart pounds. It's going to be me next. Oh, god, someone help me.
What? Did he mean me? I mean, sometimes people call me Nora, but that's just my family. Oh my god, am I somehow related to this teacher? No, no, that's impossible. I swear I've never seen or heard of this man before in my entire life—
"Present," Nora says. Phew. Lucky escape. Wait, did she say 'present'? That's fine, then. But she's the only one who said 'present', so if we're the only two people who say it will it be weird?
"Hmm," Mr. Astor murmurs, "Lee-ah? Lay-ah? I'm sorry if I mispronounced your name, it's L-E-A-H?"
"It's Leah," says a girl a few rows ahead of me, "it rhymes with 'Mia'." She sounds resigned, as if she's done this countless times. The class ripples with quiet laughter, and Leah looks embarrassed.
"My apologies," says Mr. Astor, with an apologetic look towards Leah, "okay, who's next? Andrew?"
Oh, no. What if he says my name wrong? I mean, 'Eleanora' isn't that hard to pronounce, but what if the 'a' at the end throws him off? Also, Leah didn't say 'here', right? Oh, god.
Mr. Astor looks at the paper and frowns. “Eleanora?”
My eyes widen in alarm. Aahh! What do I do again? Open your mouth, you idiot!
“Oh, there seem to be two ‘Eleanoras’ in this period,” Mr. Astor says, and I wait with bated breath as he says, “Eleanora Gardner?”
“Here,” someone else says.
Thank god, I think gratefully, sinking further into my seat in relief, and he can pronounce my name just fine.
After Andrew has confirmed his presence with a relaxed "Here", a feeling of dread swoops over me.
Mr. Astor looks around the class before looking back at the sheet. "Eleanora Hale?"
I can't help it—I panic. My mind goes blank, and I'm unable to make a sound.
"Eleanora Hale?" Mr. Astor repeats, "Are you here?"
Someone taps me on the shoulder, and I'm jerked out of my stupor. Just say it, Eleanora!
"Absent!" I squeak. Dang it.