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[2 of 5] Dear Martin, Chapters 5-8, by Nic Stone (2017)

Author: Nic Stone

“Chapters 5 - 8.” Dear Martin, by Nic Stone, Ember, 2018, pp. 33–58.

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CHAPTER 5

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The minute Jared, Kyle, Tyler, and Blake step into Manny’s basement, it’s clear Jared’s Equality Brigade thing was a terrible idea.

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In the month and a half since the racial equality discussion in Socio Evo, Jared’s been on a crusade to prove things in America are equal. Last week, he told Manny and his crew about this “brilliant-ass idea” he had: “Bros,” he said, “let’s all dress as different stereotypes for Halloween, and then go out together. It’ll be this massive political statement about racial equality and broken barriers and shit.” Dude even asked Justyce to participate.

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Jus, of course, wasn’t real keen at first…but he let Manny talk him into it.

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He’s regretting that now.

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Five of the six costumes are mostly fine. Jus is the Thug, naturally: pants belted around his thighs with boxers exposed, Thug Life T-shirt, thick gold chain with a huge medallion, fitted flat-billed baseball cap. He and Manny even made a grill out of a gum wrapper for Jus to wear on his bottom teeth.

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Manny’s the Token Black Guy: khakis, loafers, and polo with a cable-knit sweater draped over his shoulders and tied loosely at the chest. He’s really into it too: as soon as he was dressed, he started calling Jus “old chap” and “my good man.”

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Jared’s the Yuppie/Politician. He’s wearing a suit…even has a spot on his chin where he nicked himself shaving and left the little piece of tissue there “for effect.”

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Tyler’s the Surfer Dude: board shorts and a tank top even though it’s only fifty degrees out.

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Kyle went with the Redneck: woodland camouflage shirt, overalls, trucker hat with a Confederate flag patch, dingy cowboy boots. He even had his sister attach a few of her hair extensions so he has a mullet. Frankly, this one is toeing the line, but okay. Not quite crossing it.

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Blake, though? Blake takes it too far. He’s dressed as a Klansman. He’s got on the white robe with the circular red and white cross patch on the chest, and he even has the pointed hood with the eyeholes cut out. If Jus didn’t know it was a costume, he’d be a little scared.

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“J…uhh…can I talk to you for a sec, dawg?” Manny says to Jared, who, to Justyce’s surprise, also seems pretty uncomfortable with Blake’s choice of attire.

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“Sure, man.”

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They walk to Manny’s room, and Justyce is left standing with the others.

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“Justyce, that costume is sick, homie!” Blake says. (Because a Klansman would definitely call a black guy homie.)

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Jus fights the urge to shake his head. “Yours is…uhh…”

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“Wait till I put the hood on, bro. This right here is the genuine article.” He spreads his arms, beaming like he’s wrapped in a garment formerly worn by Jesus. Justyce is tempted to ask where the “genuine article” came from, but he’s not sure he wants to know the answer.

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Just then, Jared reappears. “Hey, Justyce, Manny wants to talk to you, bro.”

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Justyce nods and takes the deepest breath he’s ever taken, then strides to Manny’s room with eight white-boy eyes burning into him like lasers.

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Yeah, this blows.

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“ ’Sup, dawg?” Jus says once he steps in and closes Manny’s door. (Though of course he already knows what it’s about.)

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“So Blake’s costume is…Well, you saw it.”

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Jus snorts. “I did.”

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“If you…umm”—Manny scratches his neck—“don’t wanna go anymore—”

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“It’s cool, Manny.”

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Manny’s thick eyebrows jump to the sky. “It is?”

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“Yeah, man.” Truth is, four hours ago, Jus was ready to back out because the idea of going anywhere with Jared and crew just felt

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wrong, knowing what he knows about how they think. But then he stumbled upon Martin’s definition of integration—“intergroup and interpersonal living”—and decided to just go with it. He’s not sure this is exactly what Martin meant, but what is he supposed to say? “You ready to go, dawg?”

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“Oh.” Manny clears his throat. “I guess so.”

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“Let’s roll, then.” Jus leaves the room. It’s just a costume, right? Brotherhood for the win.

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As soon as Jus and Manny get back to the others, Jared takes a bunch of group pictures and posts them online. Then he says, “Equality Brigade, let’s ride,” and leads the charge to the door.

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When they get to Manny’s car and Blake pulls on the hood and raises his arm in the Nazi salute, Justyce knows the train he just hopped on is headed downhill in a major way. It occurs to him that the moment he said he was cool with the whole thing, he cut the brake lines and completely surrendered his power to stop it.

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And he’s right.

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Not five minutes after they get to the party, somebody sucker-punches Blake in the face. The burst of bright red beneath the eyeholes in his pointed hood makes Justyce sick to his stomach.

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The next thing he knows, there’s a group of genuinely thugged-out black dudes—and one white guy—standing in front of the Equality Brigade, looking like they wanna break ALL of their stereotype faces.

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The worst part? Justyce knows every single one of them. They live in his mom’s neighborhood. This is Manny’s cousin’s crew. Jus is pretty sure they all belong to a gang called the Black Jihad run by a crazy older dude named Martel Montgomery.

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A dark-skinned guy with short dreadlocks gives Jus a once-over and smiles. “That’s a real funny costume, Justyce.”

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“Oh…uhhh…thanks, Trey.” (Definitely not Jus’s most valiant moment.)

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“And you…,” Trey says to Manny. “You Quan cousin, right?”

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“Yeah,” Manny says, scratching the back of his neck.

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“The fuck y’all doin’ here with these assclowns, bruh? Just gon’ letcha boy disrespect our people like that?” Trey points to Blake, who has removed his pointed hood and is holding it to his nose to stanch the bleeding.

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Jared: Dude, we didn’t mean you any disrespect—

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Manny: Chill, Jared.

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Trey: Yeah, Jared. You should really shut ya mouth right now. Your boy has made me and my dudes upset coming in here dressed like that.

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Justyce: Trey, he didn’t mean anything by it, dawg. We were doing this satire thing with stereotypes, and it went too far. Lesson learned.

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Trey smiles at Justyce then. Well, more like sneers. It makes Jus feel like cockroaches are walking all over him. “You ain’t changed a bit, Justyce. Still Mr. Smarty-Pants,” Trey says, and then one of the others pipes up: “Y’all know he goes to that rich-ass white school out in Oak Ridge now.”

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“It’s called Braselton Prep,” Jared corrects.

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Justyce really wants Jared to shut the hell up.

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“Ooooh.” The white dude—Brad, Jus believes—raises his hands in mock adoration.

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Trey looks back and forth between Jus and Manny. “Don’t get it twisted, my dawgs. These white boys might be standing here next to y’all, but y’all still ain’t nothin’ but niggas to them, ya heard me?” he says. “Ain’t no amount of money nor intelligence can change that shit.”

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Jared: Hey, man, that’s not true. You don’t ev—

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“Shut UP, Jared!” (This from Surfer-Tyler.) “Let’s just leave, bro.”

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Trey: Sounds like a great idea to me.

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Jared: Bro, this isn’t even your party. You can’t tell us to leave.

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Trey laughs, and one of the other guys lifts his shirt to reveal the handgun grip sticking out of his waistband.

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“I most certainly can, white boy,” Trey says. “Now you and ya li’l crew getcha punk asses outta here before things escalate.”

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The guy with the gun smiles at Jus. “You and rich boy can stay with us if you want to.” All the Black Jihad guys laugh.

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Trey: Bruh, you know these niggas don’t wanna chill with us. They “goin places” and shit. Gotta stay connected to the white man for the ride to the top….

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He nudges the white guy with them, and they both snicker.

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“Let’s go, y’all,” Jus says.

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As they turn to leave, Justyce can feel Manny trying to catch his attention, but he stares straight ahead. They step outside and the chilly night air hits their faces. Jus hears Jared ask Manny, “You all right, bro?”

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“Yeah, man. I’m cool,” Manny replies.

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Jared steps ahead to talk to the others, and Jus watches Manny examine his tied sweater, his khakis, his loafers—his “costume” made up of clothes he pulled from his closet. He unties the sweater, then looks up at Justyce.

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For the moment, they understand each other.

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Justyce takes the fitted cap from his head and the fake chain from his neck.

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“Happy Halloween, muthafuckas!” Trey calls out behind them.

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November 1

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DEAR MARTIN,

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It’s 2 a.m. and I just got off the phone with SJ.

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Which is crazy.

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Started out innocently enough…When I got to my room at 10:15 p.m., I had a missed call from her. I figured it had to do with debate stuff since the state tournament is around the corner, so I decided to hit her back. Here’s how it went down:

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SJ: Hello?

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Me: Hey, SJ. It’s Justyce. You called?

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SJ: Caller ID, Jus. No need to announce yourself.

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Me: Oh. Okay.

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SJ: (Laughs.) I was just calling to see how Douche-Nugget Christensen’s experiment-at-you-and-Manny’s-expense went. I saw the pics he posted and had to go for a run to keep from showing up at the party and punching Blake in the face.

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Me: Yeah, no worries about that. Somebody did it for you.

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SJ: Shut up! Someone punched him for real?

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Me: Ruined his pointed hood.

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SJ: (Laughs so hard I think she’s going to choke.)

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Me: So…how was your night?

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SJ: Uneventful. I spent most of it thinking about you.

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Me: …

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SJ: I mean…um. Sorry, that came out wrong.

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Me: …

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SJ: Jus, are you still there? God, I’m such an idiot…

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Me: (Clears throat.) I’m here.

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SJ: Whew. Okay, good.

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Me and SJ: (Awkward pause.)

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Me: So, um…how was it supposed to come out?

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SJ: Well…I just meant because of the costumes? Like I saw the pictures, and was wondering how things were going at the party.

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Me: Ah.

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SJ: You don’t believe me, do you?

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Me: Why wouldn’t I? (Even though in my head I was like, “Hell nah, I don’t believe you, girl.” )

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SJ: (Laughs.) I certainly wouldn’t believe me.

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Me: …

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SJ: I have to say, I’m enjoying this rendering-Justyce-McAllister-speechless thing. Maybe I should say this kind of stuff more often.

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Me: Shut up.

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SJ: (Laughs some more.) So how are you, anyway?

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Me: What do you mean?

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SJ: I’m sure the whole party thing was awkward, no?

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Me: That’s one way to put it, I guess.

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[No clue why, but I tell SJ every detail about the party.]

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SJ: Wow. So they threatened you with a gun to get you to go?

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Me: Yep.

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SJ: That’s pretty intense, Jus.

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Me: Tell me about it. Craziest part is I still feel weird about leaving.

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SJ: You do? Why?

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Me: Well, either way it went, I was sayin somethin’, you know? Staying woulda been a statement of

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solidarity with these guys I grew up with—and who look like me. Leaving was a different statement, and the fact that I chose to do it with a white guy who was dressed as a Klansman… well…

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SJ: Hmm. I see what you mean.

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Me: Yeah. These were the dudes who used to call me White Boy because while they were shooting dice for pennies at recess, I was reading a book. I know there’s no excuse for the idea that we’re all the same “kind,” as that cop Castillo put it, but the moment I saw that gun sticking

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out of dude’s waistband, I felt this flare of pain around my wrists. I had this thought—be forewarned, it’s an ugly one: it’s assholes like Trey and his boys that have cops thinking all black dudes are up to no good.

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SJ: I’m so sorry, Jus.

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Me: Don’t apologize, S. It’s not your fault. It never made sense to me why tryna DO something with myself made me some kind of race-traitor to these guys, but some of the stuff Trey said tonight really got to me.

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SJ: Really?

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Me: Yeah. He said me and Manny were chillin’ with Jared and them because we “need the white man for the ride to the top.” And while I could debate that till I’m blue in the face, didn’t we prove it by leaving with Jared and them?

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SJ: I guess that’s one way to look at it.

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Me: What if Trey is right? What if, no matter what I do, the only thing white people will ever see me as is a nig—an “n-word”?

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(So glad I caught myself, Martin.)

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Me (cont.): Yeah, Jared’s always talking about how “equal” things are, but that doesn’t mean he sees me as one.

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SJ: (Silence.)

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Me: It’s a conundrum: white people hold most positions of authority in this country. How do I deal with the fact that I DO need them to get ahead without feeling like I’m turning my back on my own people?

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SJ: Sure hope that’s rhetorical, Jus. I certainly can’t give you an answer.

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Me: (Laughs.)

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We shifted gears a little bit after that, and when I checked the clock, it’d been three hours. When we landed on the topic of Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement, I wound up telling her about this Be Like Martin experiment. She said she was “both impressed and intrigued.”

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That’s when it hit me who I was talkin’ to and I said I needed to go to bed.

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Before we hung up, though? She said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget:

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SJ: Hey, Jus?

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Me: Yeah?

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SJ: I want to apologize.

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Me: For what?

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SJ: For stepping out of line in class a while back.

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Me: …

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SJ: I know it’s been over a month, but after talking to you tonight…Well, it wasn’t my place to speak for you. I’m really, really sorry.

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Hearing her apologize after Blake didn’t? It got me, Martin. Now I can’t get her out of my head.

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Which really isn’t good.

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Don’t get me wrong: SJ’s great. We’ve been debate partners since I joined the team two years ago. Only person at that school who knows more about me than she does is Manny.

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Yes, she’s gorgeous for a white girl—she’s tall with long brown hair, and while not a big-booty Betty, the lacrosse body is tight.

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Yes, she’s smart and funny and easy to talk to and kinda

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feisty—which now that I’m seeing her in this new light is kind of a turn-on…

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But, Martin, I can’t fall for SJ! My whole life, Mama’s told me, “Don’t you bring home a white girl.” We’re talking about a woman who low-key disses Melo for looking white. Can you imagine what kind of reaction I’d get if it were SJ? (Melo and I broke up again, by the way.)

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Right now, I feel guilty for even talking to SJ. Especially about race stuff! What does it say about me that I willingly left a party with a bunch of idiots, but the white person who does treat me as an equal is the one I most wanna run away from right now? I can’t believe I told SJ all that stuff! I mean, she’s cool and everything but…I’m shaking my head right now.

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You were the man, Martin. THE man. And I wanna be like you. “Intergroup and interpersonal living”? I really do want that…

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I’m just not so sure I can pull it off anymore.

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I’m going to bed.

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—JM

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CHAPTER 6

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Justyce can’t believe it.

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CONGRATULATIONS! is all big and bright right there in front of him, but he still can’t believe it.

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When he sat down at his laptop, he expected to have to click a bunch of different links to get to his admissions decision, but the second he logged in to the website, a giant bulldog filled the screen as the Yale fight song played all loud and bold and beautiful.

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His phone is in his hand now, and he’s tapping.

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She picks up on the first ring:

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“Hello?”

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“S?”

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“Jus? Is everything okay?”

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“S, I got in.”

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“What?”

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“I got in, SJ!”

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“What are you talki— Wait…you got IN?”

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“YES!”

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“Like, GOT IN, got in? Like you’re IN?”

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“YES!”

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“OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD!”

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Justyce reads the computer screen again, and it really hits him.

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“S, YA BOY IS A YALIE!”

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“HOLY SHIT, JUS. HOLY SHIT!”

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“I can’t even believe it.” Jus drops his head back and closes his eyes. All the bad stuff that’s happened in the past few months falls away.

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After a pause, he hears, “Mom, Dad, Jus is going to Yale!” and then:

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“Wow! Congratulations, Justyce!” (from SJ’s mom) and “Attaboy, Jusmeister!” (from SJ’s dad—who’s been calling him that since the first time he showed up at SJ’s house to work on debate stuff).

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“AAAAACK! JUS! This is the best Hanukkah present ever! You realize this means we’ll only be an hour and a half away from each other, right?”

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That’s when it smacks him again.

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The feeling.

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The one that makes his heart beat faster and his head go fuzzy when he’s talking to her sometimes. It’s different from how he felt about Melo…and that’s what scares Jus. It occurs to him that he dialed SJ before he called his mama. Which says way more than he wants to hear right now.

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“S, I gotta go,” he says.

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“Okay! I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m so EXCITED!”

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Justyce smiles, very much in spite of himself. “Me too.”

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Yeah, this has to stop.

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“Thanks for calling to share the news,” she says. “Means a lot to me that you did.”

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“Means a lot to me that you’re so amped.”

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(Damn, prolly shouldn’t have said that.)

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“Are you kidding? How could I not be?”

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Justyce clears his throat. “I hope you have a nice night, SJ.”

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“You too, Jus. Sweet dreams.”

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But Justyce doesn’t dream at all. He can’t sleep. Too much on his mind.

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Yale, for one. (Hello, dream come true!)

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And then SJ. How could I not be? she said.

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What is he supposed to do with that?

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He called Mama as soon as he and SJ hung up, but it went to voice mail. And since he couldn’t bring himself to leave such big news in a

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message, he went to bed with the weight of SJ knowing before Mama on his chest.

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The next morning, he’s standing near the omelet station in the dining hall when he hears his name shouted from across the room.

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It’s her. And she’s bounding in his direction.

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“S!” Justyce shouts, throwing his arms wide without thinking. She leaps into them and wraps her legs around his waist. It’s…a lot.

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She’s also in uniform, which means…“S, you know you’re in a skirt, right?”

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“Crap!” She scrambles down. “Oh my god, I’m so embarrassed.” Her face is all red, so she covers it with her hands.

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It might be the cutest thing Jus has ever seen.

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He pulls her hands down. Smiles. “That was prolly the best hug I’ve ever gotten in my life.”

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She shakes her head. “I can’t believe I attacked you. I just got so excited.”

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Jus laughs. “Me too, S. Hope you’ll come see ya boy every now and then. I’ll definitely come see you.”

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You would think Jus had just proposed, the way SJ’s face lights up. He should not be saying this kinda stuff…And he definitely shouldn’t be meaning it.

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She smiles.

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He smiles back.

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She stares.

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He stares back.

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He realizes he’s still holding her hands and looks at her lips—

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“Umm…Hey, Jus.”

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Jus’s head snaps to the right.

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Melo.

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He snatches his hands away from SJ’s. “Uhh…”

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When he turns back to SJ, her smile is melting off her face.

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He watches Melo’s green eyes shift back and forth between him and SJ. SJ’s smile has melted so thoroughly, it’s officially a scowl.

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Melo clears her throat.

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“Oh, uhh…’Sup, Melo?” Jus says.

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“I was hoping you could tell me, Justyce.” Except her eyes are on SJ.

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No one speaks.

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Then: “Okay! Umm…Guess I’ll see you in class?” SJ says. Tongue-tied, Justyce watches her pivot and walk away without looking back.

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When he faces Melo again, she’s smirking in SJ’s direction. Justyce coughs to get Melo’s attention.

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She turns to him and crosses her arms. “So I hear you got into Yale,” she says.

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“Yeah, I did.”

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“That what SJ was so excited about?”

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“Yeah.” Justyce gulps. “She’s going to Columbia. It’s pretty close by.”

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Melo shifts her focus to the doorway SJ disappeared through. “So you two are a thing now?”

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“What? No!”

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“I saw her jump on you, Justyce.”

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“It’s not like that, Mel.”

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Except it is, obviously.

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“We’re just good friends,” he says to the air. “Debate partners. You know what I mean.”

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“Good.” She takes a step closer. He can tell she’s not convinced, but that’s the thing about Melo: if she wants something, she’ll do whatever it takes to get it. “I was hoping we could hang out soon.” She runs a finger down the center of Justyce’s chest and hooks it into the waistband of his pants.

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“Uhh, yeah.” His voice cracks and everything. “That’d, uhh…That’d be cool.”

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“Awesome. I’m actually pretty sad you’re gonna be leaving me. You sure you wanna go so far away?”

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Jus shifts his attention over her shoulder and scratches his head.

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“I’ll call you later, okay?”

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“Aiight,” Jus says.

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She squeezes his biceps and kisses him in the little nook where his jawbone meets his neck. “Bye, Jus.”

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Jus doesn’t say a word. Just stares at Melo’s butt as she saunters off.

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CHAPTER 7

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Justyce is still in a daze when he gets to Societal Evolution two periods later. He knows he messed up—just can’t figure out exactly what went wrong with which girl.

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When he steps into the classroom, Manny comes forward and drapes an arm around his shoulders. “Dr. Dray, allow me to introduce you to Justyce McAllister, soon-to-be Yale undergrad and my very best friend.”

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“My man!” Doc says, lifting his hand for a high five. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

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It makes Justyce smile.

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Unfortunately, the minute he takes his seat, SJ comes in and won’t even look at him. And hot on her heels is Jared Christensen, who glares so intensely, it’s a wonder Jus’s head doesn’t burst into flames.

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The bell rings, and Doc closes the door and turns around to face the class, but before he can say “Good morning,” Jared’s hand is in the air.

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Doc: Yes, Mr. Christensen?

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Jared: I have something I’d like to discuss today, sir.

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Doc: Okay…Let’s hear it.

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Jared: I’d like to discuss how affirmative action discriminates against members of the majority.

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Justyce: [Eyebrows rise.]

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SJ: You’re not even serious.

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Jared: Oh, I certainly am. Let’s observe, shall we? I’m ranked number two in our class, I’m captain of the baseball team, I do community service on weekends, and I got higher test scores than Justyce…yet he got into Yale early action, and I didn’t. I know for a fact it’s because I’m white and he’s black.

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Doc: That’s quite an assumption, Mr. Christensen—

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Justyce: Hold up…what makes you so sure you got higher scores than me?

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Jared: Dude, I got a fifteen-eighty on the SAT.

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Manny: What’d you get, Jus?

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Justyce: Fifteen-sixty.

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Jared: See?

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SJ: What about the ACT?

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Jared: Thirty-three.

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SJ: Jus?

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Justyce: Thirty-four.

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Jared: Bullshit!

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Doc: Watch it, Jared.

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Jared: Dude, there’s no way he got a thirty-four.

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Justyce: What reason do I have to lie, man?

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Jared: It just doesn’t make sense—

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Justyce: Why doesn’t it?

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SJ: Because it negates his assumption that because he’s white and you’re black, he’s more intelligent than you are.

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Jared: Why don’t you stay out of it, SJ?

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Jus: Hold up, man—

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Doc: This is an open forum, Mr. Christensen. Anyone in this room can contribute to the discussion.

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Jared: Whatever.

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Manny: So let me get this straight, J: It bugs you that Justyce is just as smart as you?

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Jared: That’s not my point.

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SJ: You said affirmative action “discriminates against members of the majority,” and you cited Jus’s acceptance to Yale and your lack thereof as supporting evidence for that assertion. Ignoring how effing racist it is to assume your test scores would be higher than Justyce’s, the counterevidence—namely that you and Justyce are more or less equally qualified—has nullified your assertion.

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Jared: It doesn’t nullify anything.

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Justyce: [Shakes his head.]

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Jared: If we’re equals, we both should’ve gotten in.

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Manny: You got rejected?

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Jared: …Deferred.

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SJ: So you’ll probably still get in—

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Jared: That’s not the point!

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Doc: Let’s keep it professional, Mr. Christensen.

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Manny: For real, J. Chill.

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Jared: No, dude. I’m not going to “chill.” You of all people should know what kinda shit I caught from my dad for getting deferred.

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Manny: That doesn’t have anything to do with Jus, though, man.

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Jared: Yeah it does. He took a spot I didn’t get because Yale has to fill a quota—

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Justyce: Excuse me?

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Jared: Just stating the facts, man.

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SJ: Those aren’t facts, dipshit.

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Doc: Sarah-Jane…

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SJ: Justyce got in because he deserved to.

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