Ugh, people. She didn’t understand other teenagers. Other fourteen year-olds seemed to do nothing but fight and gossip and drown in hormones. They were like aliens. Horny aliens. Guys had even started to notice Miranda, which is why she’d started wearing baggy t-shirts.
Miranda dodged around Penny Mosley walking hand in hand with one of the football players.
Then she had to slow down so Cindy didn’t notice. It was relatively easy to observe and follow Cindy, since they had Algebra One together.
Miranda really wished she was in college Calculus instead. Dad was helping her with it at home, but said she had to hold back at school. How was she supposed to pretend to be normal when he was teaching her all these things? Why was it so important to fit in anyway?
She’d tried for the first month, she really had. She made sure to get one or two questions wrong on each assignment. She had the best scores in class, but just barely. Maybe she should have varied her mistakes or something because Mr. Hanson somehow noticed.
At first she’d denied that she was bored, but she panicked and the whole thing came flooding out. He’d let her run off to her next class, but on Monday she found a probability and statistics book in her desk. After class he said, “Keep turning in the Algebra homework, and I’ll grade whatever work you do in the college books too.”
She still made one wrong answer on each test, but now she incremented the question number, question one on the first test, question two on the next, etcetera. Sometimes she tried to leave a puzzle for Mr. Hanson in her wrong answer. She sometimes caught him grinning while grading tests.
When she got her learners permit, she could drive to Southwest Virginia Community College. If she got all her electives out of the way in the next two years, she could go to state school and then grad school when she was seventeen.
Not that Dad would let her.
The five-till bell rang. Miranda followed Cindy to Mr. Hanson’s door. Cindy missed the two girls who waved at her as she went into class. One of the girls rolled her eyes. Miranda almost apologized to them on Cindy’s behalf. Neither waved at Miranda.
As usual, Mr. Hanson’s class was in pre-lesson chaos. Her plan to sit right behind Cindy and observe her for (supposedly) magical behavior was foiled by two cheerleaders and two football players pairing up and taking the back row. She slipped around a freshman girl to the door to go in. Maybe she could get the last seat behind Cindy to the left. Someone touched her arm. “Miranda.”
Mr. Hanson stood just outside the door. He gently took the freshman by the arm and walked her out of the way. He was always doing stuff like that, moving the students around like they were invalids. “Miranda, can we talk a minute?”
She tried to be discreet, glancing back into the room. Cindy was sitting in her usual seat. One seat behind her was still open. “But … class.”
He waved it away. “We still have a few minutes. Walk with me.”
She glanced back again and sighed. Mr. Hanson was already a few steps ahead of her. She ran to catch up.
He gave a look at a football player with his face locked against a cheerleader’s, but Mr. Hanson didn’t say anything. He glanced over at Miranda. “I wanted to see if you’d gotten your parents’ consent about taking college courses next year.”
She didn’t saying anything for a moment, but he wanted an answer and they’d have to go back to class soon. “Not exactly.”
Mr. Hanson waved at Principle Wodzinski who was scratching his bald spot and talking to Mr. Brown, the janitor. Mr. Brown looked like he just wanted to be left alone to fix a drinking fountain. Mr. Hanson’s smile dropped. “I know your dad has concerns, maybe if you asked your mom to–“
“Alice isn’t my mom.” That came out harder than she intended.
Mr. Hanson rubbed the back of his neck. Something he often did when he was on the spot. “Oh, I’m sorry.” The skin under the hair on his neck was red. “We better head back.”
They got to the door of the class without saying anything else, but before Miranda went in, he said, “We’ll make it work, Miranda. Don’t worry.”
Class was almost full. The only available seat was dead center, two rows in front of Cindy.
Miranda kept herself from turning around and looking at Cindy. Well, at least after the first two times.
Both times Cindy had been looking right at her! Miranda was still blushing. What was Cindy thinking? Did she know Miranda was watching her?
Mr. Hanson told them to read the section on multiplying fractions, which Miranda had already looked over last night. She took a deep breath and tried to do one of Dad’s relaxation exercises. She wished she could feel as at ease as Cindy looked. It wasn’t as if Cindy was good at math. It wasn’t even that other kids never made fun of her. She just didn’t seem to mind.
Cindy twirled her hair around a pencil while she read. Usually within ten minutes she had it completely tangled in there. Kids called her “Pencil,” because they weren’t clever enough to think of a nickname like “Tangles” or “Hair Extensions.”
Miranda sometimes wanted to smack the thing out of Cindy’s hand. Other times she wanted to sit patiently and work the metal pencil end out without tearing too much of Cindy’s hair.
One of the football lunkheads said, “Pencil” and chuckled, like he just come up with something clever and original. As usual, Cindy didn’t notice. Miranda used to think Cindy was good at ingratiating herself to teachers, but really it was that she never made trouble. Miranda herself was actually popular with teachers, but that was because she worked so hard and tried to make the best of all her school time.
Not that all teachers liked her. She’d been devastated when Mrs. Dover had suggested Miranda “chill out a little.” She suggested Miranda get a hobby. Miranda hadn’t spoken in class for a week after that. She didn’t want to admit Mrs. Dover might be right, but Cindy moved in shortly after that and Miranda took up investigating her as a hobby.
Something hit the back of Miranda’s neck. She felt for the wet of a spit-wad but her neck was dry. She scanned the floor for an eraser or a pen cap, but the only thing down on the floor was a tightly folded note.
Passing notes was against the rules. She’d learned not to tattle, that drew a lot of attention, so she just ignored the note. Someone made a noise behind her. When she looked back, Cindy winked.
Mr. Hanson still faced the board. Miranda felt a little guilty, but she leaned over and grabbed it. Mr. Hanson kept writing on the board, talking about matching divisors. Miranda opened the note on her desk.
Before she even registered the words she noticed Cindy’s tight precise script. Much neater than hers.
Let’s do lunch together, Miranda McGee!
“Is that a note, Miranda?” Mr. Hanson must have turned around the second she’d opened the note. He looked honestly surprised, like it’d never occurred to him that Miranda was capable of doing anything wrong. Everyone in class was looking at her. A few kids giggled.
Mr. Hanson waved his hands, like “whatever” and turned back to the board. Miranda could feel her cheeks burning. Something hit the back of her neck, but she was pretty sure this time it was a spit-wad.