I groaned. This would not end well. Mr. Lewis was walking up and down the rows of desks, choosing pairs at random for the poster project he had just assigned.
I hated working in any size of group, because things always happened one of two ways: we have option A, where everyone shares the work and I get a middle grade, and we have option B, where I do everything and the whole group gets an A. Either way, I'd rather work alone.
I sighed. Brian was a strange, nerdy kid who never paid attention and usually sat in the back of the class reading comics. If I had to guess what Brian's future held, I'd say that in twenty years he'd be living in his parent's basement with a cat named Spock, translating the Harry Potter books into Klingon. Today, he was probably the only person in the class who would make a reference to wizards or zombies in normal conversation.
"Now that you've all been assigned a partner," Mr. Lewis continued, "You must work together to create a poster about chapter 26!" He announced this as if he expected us to start cheering.
There was a collective sigh from the students and the scraping of chairs as people moved to sit next to their partner. None of us were surprised. This was the kind of pointless assignment that Lewis loved to assign us. This might be an AP class, but it was the biggest joke of a class any of us had ever seen. Our days were filled with crayons, posters, writing a rap about progressivism (Women wanted rights, like Susan B. Her last name was Anthony, word!), and making timelines.
I sighed again, grabbed my books that I'd spread out on the table, and moved into the empty desk next to Brian.
He didn't seem to notice me. I cleared my throat, and still he was oblivious.
After a few seconds of silence, I started hesitantly with, "So…"
He closed the book he'd been reading from behind his textbook and turned to look at me with a slightly puzzled expression.
"Who are you?" He asked, somewhat rudely in my opinion.
"I," I said, "Am Lizzie Trezm� ." I made no effort to hide the anger in my voice. I'd been fed up with this project before it'd begun.
"And why are you here?" he asked.
"Group poster project," I replied. "The one that's worth a good chunk of our grade."
"Oh, that," he said, opening his book again. "You just want to do it? I'm not very artistic."
I had to bite my tongue to stop me from yelling something that I wouldn't be allowed to say on public radio. "No," I said, articulating each word very clearly the way I tended to do when I was mad, "I will not. You think that I'm going to go and do this whole project, letting you get half the credit? This is why I absolutely despise group projects. I always, always, get paired with some slacker!"
Brian laughed. "You still care about your grade? I gave up in the second week of the year. This class is a joke."
My self-control was wearing very thin. I was not only mad that he didn't care, but the fact that he called this class was a joke and I hated to admit that I agreed with him. I was about to say something that I would regret, but the bell rang the second that I opened my mouth, and he was out of the classroom before we could arrange to split the work. Muttering a long string of profanities under my breath, I gathered together my things, adding to it the blank piece of paper that we'd been given for our poster.
Apparently, we were going with plan B.
After standing in the overcrowded lunch line for five minutes, I sat down at the end of our usual lunch table, catching the tail end of Erin's story about her, Matt, and the poster project.
"And then he like touched my hand as he handed me back my pencil and I was like O-M-G and then he looked at me! He actually looked at me. Do you think he likes me? Because I have only liked him since forever and I was just thinking…" I started twirling chow mien noodles around my fork, letting Erin's play-by-play of Matt picking up her pencil fade into the background: once she got started, Erin could go on for hours.
"What were you working on?" Sabrina asked me, having also arrived in the middle of Erin's dramatic retelling. Sabrina hadn't had room to fit AP history in her schedule with the other four AP classes she was taking, but we all agreed that she was learning more about history in standard history than we were. She hadn't had to make a poster or write a rap so far, and was hoping to keep it that way.
"We had to design a poster about the chapter," I replied, taking a bite of the bland, semi-frozen chow mien.
Danni sat down next to us with her tray of food. She was the only freshman sitting at our table of Juniors--Roseland high school was small enough that all the students were on one bell schedule and everyone ate lunch at the same time--and we had adopted her as "our freshman," much to her amusement. Ignoring Erin's story as most of us were, she asked, "So, any of you seen the new exchange student yet?"
"No," Sabrina replied. "Is she a Freshman? What class do you have with her?"
"Biology," Danni replied. "She's your year, but she's already taken physics, chem, and anatomy at her school."
"So, what's she like?" Chris asked, stabbing a noodle with his fork.
"Actually," Danni said, dropping her voice, "she's a little creepy. She didn't talk to anyone, just sat there and looked around. She was sitting right behind my, and every time I'd look at her, she was leaning back, like she didn't want to be near me. I don't think she said one word through the whole class, just took notes.
"Well," I said, "it's her first day and she's learning a new subject in a foreign language. Maybe she's just different." Most of Roseland's students had lived here for generations' I'd moved here two years ago and was still referred to as "the new girl" every once in a while. I felt a little sorry for this girl. More people here had no idea how hard it was to move to a new school, to move to a new town, leave everything behind and have to start over.
"Well, it wasn't just that," Danni continued. "There was something about her that was just--" she struggled to find the word, "well…um…creepy," she finished somewhat lamely.
"Intangible strangeness," Chris said. "The creepiest kind." Everyone burst into laughter.
Contemplating my chow mien, I tuned the conversations out. I started thinking about my first day here, and, when I decided not to relive that day, I cursed Brian, the poster project, and Mr. Lewis until the bell rang.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully: we were still studying trigonometric identities in Pre-Calculus, and in Physics we studied acceleration by rolling a bowling ball down the main hallway. We accidentally hit a water fountain and knocked a chunk of cement out of the bottom, but Mrs. Edwards said that we'd just blame the Leadership class like we always did, so everything worked out all right.
After the final bell rang, I rushed to the student parking lot and climbed into my silver '91 Volvo 740. It was probably one of the oldest cars in the lot, and its outdated, boxy shape definitely stood out, but I loved it.
I managed to get out of the lot before most students had even gotten to their cars, but I had to slow my driving as I left the school grounds. In my rearview mirror, I could see the usual daily traffic jam in the lot behind me; the lot was poorly designed and anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in it would spend a good fifteen minutes
trying to get out. Rushing out had its disadvantages--I never got to talk to people after school--but in my opinion it was worth it.
I pulled into my driveway ten minutes later, grabbed all my books off the passenger seat, and headed inside.
Mom wasn't home, and she rarely was at this time of day; she worked as a hygienist and surgical assistant at the local dentist office and usually had appointments until five. I grabbed a piece of sugar free candy from a jar on the kitchen counter and headed upstairs to my room.
My room hadn't changed much from the way that it was when we bought the house. It was still painted bright blue in an attempt to make it seem less depressing. It was oddly shaped, long and narrow, like it had been put into the house as an afterthought. I sometimes thought that it would look like some sort of evil dictator's office, like it should have a menacing-looking desk at the end instead of my bed and dresser. I flipped on the light and threw my school things onto the floor, then flopped down next to it. Grabbing my pre-calculus book, I started tonight's homework with a sigh.
By the time I'd gotten my way through the trigonometric identities, though I still didn't understand any of them, Mom had come home and heated up leftovers for dinner. I grabbed the Tupperware full of lasagna, shoveled some onto a plate, and sat across the table from her. She was pushing the little food she had on her plate around with a fork, eating nothing. I knew this mood of hers all to well.
"Root canal?" I guessed through a mouthful of lasagna. She didn't like having to serve as surgical assistant, but often had to: Roseland Dental Services was a vary small office.
"Second grader. Jelly beans. Eight fillings." She sighed as she systematically shoved the lasagna from one side of her plate to the other. "So," she looked up from her leftovers. "How was your day?"
I wasn't sure if she actually wanted to know or if she just wanted something to distract her from the memories of the second grader's teeth, but I started telling her about breaking the water fountain in Physics. She found it rather funny.
"Anything else? What's your homework?" She always asked about my homework, even though I usually had it finished before she got home.
"Trig identities are done, rhetorical devices still to be done," I replied, forcibly not thinking of the other homework I had to do, that I shouldn't have to do. I'd figure out what to do about that one later.
Although the rhetoric should have taken fifteen minutes, I managed to drag it out and make it last forty-five, while the hopeful, illogical part of me hoped that the history poster would just disappear. Of course, it would have been much easier just to get it over with, but I made it harder than it had to be on principle. I wavered between doing a terrible job on it to make sure that Brian got the grade that he deserved and doing a great job on it to make sure that I got the grade that I deserved.
I sighed again and turned the history book to chapter 26. I really hated group projects.
The next day was pretty much the same as they day before. My English teacher said that I over thought the rhetorical devices, but the dinnerware set from Ceramics was going along nicely. In AP history, I turned in the poster; Lewis said that I should have used more colors. His favorite poster was very bright, he guaranteed that they would pass the AP test. Personally, I didn't see what making pretty posters would have to do with the government-run test that we took at the end of the year, but I wasn't going to argue.
I glanced at Brian while Lewis was commenting on 'our' poster. I wanted to judge his reaction: would he be mad that he didn't get the best grade, or feel that he got what he deserved?
He was neither. As far as I could tell, he wasn't even aware of the fact that I'd turned in anything. He had his history book open--most likely hiding another book behind it--and was reading intently.
The majority of the class was taken up by a study of the posters. I noticed that Lewis didn't care about the factual content, but was very interested in the layout and design. I didn't have high hopes for my grade if he decided to assign these again: I wasn't very artistic.
Mr. Lewis got distracted after a while and started talking to the students on the golf team about the upcoming game against another school, and the bell rang before he could assign homework.
As I passed Brian on my way to the door, I muttered, "Thanks for your help," but I didn't stop to hear his response or see if he noticed me.
"Where's Danni?" I asked as I sat down with my lunch. Our table was unusually empty today.
"She probably faked sick," Chris answered. "The Biology lab was scheduled for clam dissection today. I think it got postponed, though."
"Well, she'll have a chance to do it tomorrow." Erin said. "Cutting apart formalin scented invertebrates is an essential part of your high school experience."
"Sabrina really is sick, though," Chris added. "She fainted in the middle of anatomy."
"Really?" Erin asked. "What's wrong with her?"
"I don't know, we were blood typing and she just passed out when she saw me stick my finger."
"Oh, that's right. She's got a problem with blood," Erin remembered.
"That explains it," Chris mumbled. Seeming eager for a change of subject, he said, "So, did you hear? The Leadership class broke the water fountain in the main hall. Mr. Buttler isn't happy about that." Mr. Buttler, the vice principal, was always looking for some reason to cut the Leadership class, but every time that he had a legitimate excuse, some teacher from the science department went to defend them and remind him why it was an important class.
"I'll prove it," Chris said. "Here, I'll show you."
And, just like that, I was suddenly sitting at a table alone, hopefully not looking as pathetic as I felt. I sighed and contemplated my salad, debating whether or not to take out a book and look like I was working, hopefully fooling people into thinking that I wanted to be alone and not that I had just been abandoned by my friends.
I looked up and dropped my fork in shock. The girl who asked was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. Her face looked like it had been stolen from an angel, with dark, pure blue eyes. She was too pale to be porcelain-skinned; she was paler than any other human I'd ever seen. Her deep black hair flowed down to her waist with a smoothness that I'd only seen on shampoo commercials; she'd pulled it away from her face with a bright red ribbon. Her eyes narrowed in concern as she looked at me.
"Uh, I'll go sit somewhere else then,"
Belatedly realizing that I was staring quite rudely at her, I hurriedly grabbed my food. "Uh, no, I was just leaving," I said, and hurried off, my face red with embarrassment.
"Lizzie, what on earth?" I was stopped by Chris and Erin at the cafeteria door.
"Why is there a foreigner sitting at our table?" Chris demanded.
I looked back. The girl was sitting alone, not eating, just pushing her salad around with her fork. I hoped that I hadn't offended her
As I drove home, my car started shuddering slightly, which was not a good sign. Although I loved it, it was uncharacteristically faulty for a Volvo, and I didn't have the money to get it repaired. All the students could get their cars diagnosed for free and repaired for the cost of parts by the Auto class, but I tried to avoid that as much as possible: most of the Auto students were also in Leadership. Thankfully, I did make it home, for which I was grateful.
I started my homework as soon as I got inside, working at the kitchen table, but I didn't pay attention to the math. My thoughts were at lunch today and the strange exchange student. I understood what Danni had meant when she'd called her "strange." Strange didn't even begin to cover it. There was something about her that didn't seem human.
What was I talking about? Of course she was human. She was just a little different. Sure. Let's go with that. No need to bee all prejudiced. She was different, that was all. The poor girl probably had a hard enough time, going to a new school in a new country, without me making it harder.