Chapter 23

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On Monday morning, everyone in my English class looked as though they were on death row, and being subjected to twenty-four straight hours of Peking Opera to boot. This was not a good look. And for good reason(s). First, we were all at school at the ungodly hour of seven. Today was also the day we were going to have to give our unit presentations, which, as Mrs. Reed so kindly kept reminding us, was worth thirty percent of our semester grades.

In other words, anyone who screwed up now could say bye-bye to the college of their dreams…and say hello to fifty long, painfully under-paid years of working in the fast food industry.

Even Patty and Margaret looked slightly downcast. By that I mean their rapid-fire gossip exchange had slowed down by a small fraction. I’m talking microscopic here. When I sat down next to them, they ceased their chatter at once and stared at me like I had just popped out of thin air. The staring went on for a while.

“Hi,” I said when I thought that had gone on for too long. Because I was in a relatively testy mood, I added sardonically, “Yeah, it’s me. I know. Crazy that I’m here, before you, in the flesh. Please, no flash photography.”

Margaret rolled her eyes. “Nancy, you sure like your little jokes, huh?”

“I bet there’s something she likes better,” Patty sing-songed. The two of them laughed. Without reason.

“Am I missing something here, or are you two just confused as to what types of situations are and aren’t supposed to prompt humor?” I said, trying not to sound as annoyed as I felt.

Patty smiled knowingly. “Actually, I do know the difference. And there’s one more thing that I want to make sure of,” she giggled, elbowing Margaret with a look in her eye that I could not like (to be fair, I honestly couldn’t recall ever liking any of their sneaky exchange looks). “Is it true that you and Alexander are an item now?”

I nearly clattered out of my chair. “What? Where did you hear that from?”

“Charlie,” Patty said immediately. Damn Charlie and his big mouth.

“Who heard it from Dana,” Margaret added. I never liked that Dana, either.

“Who heard it from Lauren, who heard it from Mitchell, who heard it from Clara—”

“—and don’t forget about the twins.”

Dang. Apparently, there was a whole underground ring of math geek gossipers running rampant in our school. Harriett Tubman had nothing on Jefferson High School.

“Right. So you can’t keep secrets about Alexander from us forever. We have, like, evidence,” Patty said almost snarkily.

“And you know what I have? A migraine,” I said loudly. “I’m putting finishing touches on my project. Can we talk about this later?” Leaving both girls gaping at me with their mouths hung slightly open and stupid looks on their faces, I stuffed my earphones into my ears and went over my presentation notes.

Ten minutes later, Mrs. Reed arrived, and class started. She was awfully excited about the prospect of torturing us all through these presentations. Or maybe she was just excited in general. I noticed she was wearing bright red lipstick, too-dark blush, and some very amateur-looking eye shadow, evidently an attempt to seduce any eligible male clowns.

Whatever miracle this was, Mrs. Reed was in such a good mood that she let us pick the order we would present in. By the time it was my turn, I was ready. I hadn’t changed topics. I was still dead set on explaining The Mathematics of Love, despite Reed’s warnings. Stubbornness was my specialty.

When I announced my topic, she gave me a funny look. Or maybe that was just the whacky makeup.

In any case, I took a leap of faith, just like I’d done with Harvard, and went for it.

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