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Excerpt from ‘The ‘Test Taker’ by Tom Perrotta

Forthcoming in “Nine Inches: Stories” (St. Martin’s, September 2013):

I’d taken the SATs seven times so far, twice for myself, and five times for Kyle’s clients. Up to now, the kids I’d impersonated had all been strangers from nearby towns. This time, though, the ID came from my own school, Greenwood High. It looked totally official, a dead ringer for the one I carried in my backpack. It even had the same unflattering picture of me — a pudgy nerd with a pained smile and a touch of bedhead — plastered above the bar code. The only difference was the name beside the photo: Jacob T. Harlowe. That was the thing I couldn’t stop staring at.

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It wasn’t that I was worried about getting caught. The test was being administered at a private school about a half-hour away, where I didn’t expect to run into anyone I knew. I’d never tested there before — Kyle tried to avoid sending us to the same place twice — and I couldn’t imagine that the proctors would know Jake Harlowe or have any reason to suspect that I wasn’t him. All they ever did was glance at the ID and make sure it matched the name on the admission ticket.

And it wasn’t like I’d come down with a sudden attack of conscience, either. I honestly didn’t mind cheating for strangers. If somebody wanted to pay me to help them get into a good college, I didn’t see any problem with that. My only problem was the client. Jake Harlowe didn’t seem like the kind of kid who needed to cheat. I always figured that everything came easily to him, the grades as well as the girls and the games, and it troubled me to discover that this wasn’t true. I felt like I’d been peering through his bedroom window and seen something I shouldn’t have, a shameful secret I wished he’d kept to himself.

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