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Tied to the Noose

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When he paid for the answers to the make-up exam, Seth knew he was doing wrong but, in his head, it was what his father called a victim-less crime. He truly believed that no one was going to get hurt by him cheating, and he knew he would be able to pull his grades back up given a little more time to study. It was just a few answers after all, just enough to give him the extra time and ensure that he still had a shot at that tennis scholarship.

He wasn't to know that the scholarship would be reduced to just one place that year, rather than the two or three places in previous years. Ben had studied hard all year and was Seth's equal on the tennis court, and with very little to choose between them, the results from that make-up exam had tipped the balance in Seth's favor. Now the knowledge of his cheating felt like a noose tied around his neck, tightening every time he saw Ben trying to shrug off the loss of his future. Ben's parents simply didn't have the money to put him through college so without that coveted scholarship, he had no choice but to finance himself...and that meant giving up tennis to find a part time job.

Ben loved tennis as much as Seth, perhaps more.

Without that scholarship, Seth's chances of going to State university were also just as slim. His parents could afford it but his father was the kind who believed that every man should make his own way in life. He had never set up a college fund for his son on the grounds that if Seth wanted to go then he had to earn it; Seth had squandered the money he was given as an allowance on a car, and that had left him needing that scholarship just as desperately as Ben.

Trying to decide what to do was slowly tearing him apart. If he said nothing then he was assured the scholarship but with the knowledge that he had cheated another boy out of that chance. If he owned up then he would be putting himself into a far worse position than Ben; he wouldn't have the grades he needed to get a place even if he could earn enough money to pay his own college fees.

For days he struggled, unable to sleep more than a few hours at a time. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw the devastation in Ben's that couldn't be hidden behind that accepting shrug. He heard the bitter disappointment lingering behind the forced smile and words of congratulations from Ben... and that noose tightened, slowly choking him with self-loathing.

Telling the truth to Bobbie had released only some of tension in the rope hanging around his neck, and as he lay awake yet another night, tossing and turning in his bed, Seth knew he couldn't live with the guilt any longer. He had cheated, and he had hurt another boy in the process--someone who had deserved the scholarship far more than him.

Seth felt the noose loosen as he confessed his guilt in front of the coach and the rest of the team, and even though Ben praised him for owning up, aware that he would be offered the scholarship instead, Seth could see the flickers of disgust behind Ben's eyes. He knew they would likely never be good friends again, but he could hardly lay the blame with Ben.

Standing by Bobbie as she made her own confession of guilt to her family--of being the one sought by the Police for the hit and run of a small boy--had been the least he could do for his friend. Both of them had been too wrapped up in their own guilt to help the other earlier, and now both of them would have to live with the consequences of their actions.

For Bobbie, as a first time offender and being so young, the Police decided against bringing charges against her for not reporting the accident...but she lost her driving license for a year. Without the license, she couldn't return to the part time job she had loved--the florist needed someone to drive the van to make the deliveries. At least the boy had recovered from his injuries and Bobbie had found a measure of peace through buying him a new bike.

In many ways, Seth had come out worse. He was given a FAIL for the make-up paper, which meant his final grade was too low, giving the coach no option but to drop him from the tennis squad. He narrowly avoided being suspended from school for cheating, but only because he had confessed and because his former coach had requested leniency. Two weeks had passed, and his father was still not speaking to him except to inform him that he would not be paying his college fees even if Seth did manage to pull up his grades to an acceptable level before the end of the academic year.

As he sat in his car waiting for Bobbie to return from visiting the injured boy, Seth breathed in deep and easy for the first time in a week. For all the uncertainty of his future, simply knowing that he was no longer tied to that tight noose of all-consuming guilt had filled him with his own measure of peace. He had let the scholarship slip through his fingers but he knew that if he put as much effort into his studies as he had into tennis, then he would get the grades he needed for State University.

And tomorrow he would look for a part time job.