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V. C. Andrews

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  “Calm down. What are you getting so mad about?” Greg Rosario asked under his breath.

  He leaned toward me, hoping to keep the others from hearing. I got a whiff of his cologne, which I always liked because of its coconut scent. It brought back memories of Acapulco, when I was four and my father took my mother and me to visit his uncle.

  I knew I shouldn’t have sat at Mateo and Greg’s table. I preferred to eat alone or, at most, with Twyla Cross and Meg Adams at what had become known as the “Gray Matter Table” because they were both 4.0 students. My teachers didn’t bother to give me grades anymore. Most of the time, I was doing independent study and simply checked in with my required classes to take exams. They made me do it solely for the benefit of the administration and state laws. I had yet to get less than a hundred percent on any of them.

  “She’s just naturally feisty, chico,” Mateo Flores had just said, with that cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face. He was a tall, lanky boy, with hair as dark as black licorice and eyes of a similar shade. “But I hear that makes Latinas better lovers, better even than Frenchwomen.”

  His eyes brightened with sexual excitement. The others laughed, even the girls.

  I refused to stoop to his level. “And you’re still an idiot,” I said.

  He pulled back, feigning great indignation, but I knew my negative comments rolled off him like water off a duck’s back.

  “Oooooooh,” he moaned. “Does that mean there’s no chance we’ll hook up this weekend?”

  Everyone but Greg laughed.

  “No. It means there’s no chance we’ll hook up ever,” I said.

  Mateo finally stopped smiling and looked away. Greg peered at me a little mournfully. He was always trying to get me to be friendlier to his friends, the girls as well as the boys. He thought I needed more friends, especially these, but I never liked confining myself to what Mateo called the Latinos in our school. Of course, they blamed my independence first on my superior intelligence, which everyone, not just they, claimed made me a snob, and second on the fact that my mother wasn’t Hispanic but Irish. Many times, I was accused of thinking I was better than any Latino because I had a white mother. That was also a stupid misconception. There were many Latinos who were not of dark or even tan complexion.

  Life for minorities was harder because we had to navigate all these prejudices and distortions. Who could blame me for trying to avoid it, even in a school forty miles from San Diego, whose population was mostly Latinos? Most of the inhabitants, including my father, a pharmacist for a privately owned drugstore, worked in or very close to the city. My mother was a hairstylist at a local salon and increased her time there when my little brother, Mickey, entered first grade. He was now in fifth, and although he was not the intellectual phenomenon I was, he was one of the brightest in his class.

  Like me, Mickey was a good reader, but unlike me, he was also a good athlete, enjoying soccer and baseball especially. He was the starting third baseman on the Little League team. Also unlike me, he had no problems with his Hispanic heritage and got along with everyone. He enjoyed being bilingual. I rarely spoke in Spanish, even though I was quite fluent, in both it and French. Lately, I was studying Greek and reading Plato and Socrates in Greek, something that made me even weirder to most who knew me or knew of me, those even my mother occasionally slipped and referred to as “normal students.”

  The implication, however unspoken, was that I was abnormal.

  Some of my mother’s friends went so far as to pity her, and for what? For having a daughter who was so brilliant that the usually accepted methods of measuring intelligence couldn’t do her justice. Because of what I thought was a failure to classify me properly, they called me gifted. According to the guidance counselor and any teachers who came into contact with me, my horizons were limitless. I gathered new information, facts, and statistics so rapidly and processed them so completely that educators compared my mind to a giant sponge and said that what I did was more like osmosis. My absorption of new data had that sort of speed.

  Games and sports never interested me, perhaps because I could outsmart my opponents so easily. Forget about playing cards with me if you ever wanted to win. I could instantly imagine the odds of my opponent getting another jack or queen, and once I studied how my opponent thought, I knew exactly what he or she would do. People don’t realize how predictable they are. The same was true for me in one-on-one basketball and tennis, even Ping-Pong, not that I was that skilled. I never lost simply because I anticipated exactly what my opponent would do. It was boring for me and depressing for them. Eventually, the school had excused me from all physical education classes.

  I didn’t ask for that specifically. My PE teachers complained about my constant questions and my clever ways of avoiding participation. All my other teachers were able to keep from having to confront me daily. Some were afraid of my correcting them; most admitted they were holding me back from making any progress. I think my PE teacher was simply jealous. I didn’t mind being excused, even though I knew it contributed to the negative view most of the other students had of me.

  I was very fond of Greg, however. I took a lot of flak to please him. Lately, he was making more of an effort to start something romantic between us. I didn’t make it easy for him. I knew that a significant reason for the disapproval from my schoolmates resulted from what people viewed as my seeming asexuality. When it came to clothes, makeup, even my hairstyle, I was so indifferent that it even created a wider chasm between my mother and me. Any mother would want her daughter to be more like her, especially mine, who was so attractive and aware of every beauty product and technique. Underneath it all was her suspicion that I might just be gay. What confused her was that I had no interest in other girls, either.

  “She’ll get interested in those things when she’s older,” my father used to assure her, but even he was no longer reinforcing that idea.

  I felt sorry for them both. Who wants to have a child you can’t understand? It’s natural to wonder what responsibility you bear and what you could have done or still could do to make a difference and get her to be “normal.”

  What would become of me, a girl so intelligent that ordinary measurements didn’t do her justice? A girl who was always smarter than her teachers? A girl whose school administration threw up their hands and let her be and do whatever she wanted because they couldn’t keep up? They eventually provided me with an adviser, Mr. Feldman, who did his best to structure some form of study, but he readily admitted that he was incapable of designing anything that would satisfy my needs. I was a wild card, a force unto myself. What college would have a program good enough? Where should I aim my efforts? Would I invent things, go into medicine, teach?

  Honestly, I had no idea, either. Knowledge, information, problems in both math and science, new languages, all were like mines from which I accumulated more and more facts, but I was like Midas, rich beyond any purpose. I could buy anything; therefore, I bought nothing.

  What did I really have to offer anyone right now, especially when it came to a school social life?

  Maybe that was why Greg’s interest in me pricked my attention. Was it simply sexual? Was I some sort of challenge? Or could he actually
like me, someone who, to be absolutely honest, did not like herself, even though everyone who confronted me thought the exact opposite?

  “So have you thought about the weekend?” Greg asked me now, turning completely so that his friends weren’t part of our conversation. “Saturday, I mean?”

  “Not much,” I said.

  “Well, tomorrow’s Friday. Maybe you can squeeze it in between Dante’s Inferno and Hamilton’s Federalist Papers.”

  I gave him an impish smile. “James Madison and John Jay get credit, too.”

  He held his smile a moment, then turned serious. “We’ll have a good time at La Jolla Beach, stay all day, make a campfire, listen to music, take walks by the surf, and have a picnic. You could tell me about the origin of life and explain how old a seashell is.”

  I looked down, holding back on my own smile. A part of me wanted to just say yes, but that analytic mind of mine had to run it past the pros and cons. I was simply incapable of an impulsive decision. My yeses and nos were conclusions after thorough examinations of the facts, something that often annoyed my parents. Any other girl could easily give an answer when, say, her mother asked her to go shopping with her, but even at age four, I would come back with “When?” “Where?” “Why?”

  “I’ll tell you tomorrow,” I said, without looking at him. If it were only Greg, it would be easier to decide, but his gang of buddies and their girlfriends would be there. I’d have to get along with more than just him, and I’d be the first to admit that my social skills left a lot to be desired. Unlike most people, I was as honest about myself as I was about others.

  “I’ll bring everything we need, Donna. You just have to bring yourself. No books,” he warned. “It’s a day off.”

  A day off? What was a day off? I wondered. Was there ever a day when I wasn’t reading and doing research on one thing or another? Just recently, Mr. Feldman had acquired some graduate-level textbooks in behavioral science and advanced nuclear physics for me, and I had consumed them the following weekend. He told me he was impressed with how I could compartmentalize subject matter and organize my day. As many times as he could, he sat and listened to me explain what I had just learned or what questions I had to solve.

  The bell rang, ending lunch hour. I hadn’t finished eating, but that didn’t concern me. I didn’t move with the ringing of bells. Greg lingered behind his buddies. I glanced at him and looked at my new math text, which explained Fourier analysis of the difficulties in reconstructing arbitrary functions as infinite combinations of elementary trigonometric functions.

  “I can walk you to the library,” Greg said.

  The school had dedicated a room at the rear of the library to me. It had a small window, a desk, two chairs, and some shelves. Years ago, the librarian would put a student in the room and close the door to discipline him or her for talking too loudly. Since that was not permitted anymore, it was a perfect place for me.

  I closed the text and rose. “The way I walk, you might be late to class.”

  “I’ll take the chance,” Greg said, widening his smile.

  Why did he like me, really? I was one of the shorter girls in the junior class—short with diminutive, in my opinion almost childlike, features. After practically twisting my arm at least once a month, my mother washed and styled my light brown hair so that I had the least to do brushing it every morning. She knew that if I had more to do, I wouldn’t do it. To paraphrase her, I’d look like some homeless person. She was always after me to “at least put on some lipstick once in a while.”

  “It wasn’t so long ago when girls my age were forbidden to wear lipstick,” I told her once.

  “Don’t give me a history of cosmetics lesson,” she warned. “Just . . . look after yourself, Donna. You’re a beautiful girl who happens to be . . .”

  “Brain-heavy,” I said.

  She laughed. At least occasionally, she had a sense of humor about me. Sometimes, especially lately, I thought my father was a little afraid of me. No matter what comment he made about what was happening in the news, he always paused to look at me to see if I would agree or correct him. Silence was my best defense. I was afraid I already had lost his love. He concentrated more on Mickey. I told myself that was what men did. They favored their sons. However, almost the nanosecond I told myself that, I followed it with an imaginary ding-dong and thought, Rationalization, Donna Ramanez, the route out of a facetious argument.

  “Come on,” Greg urged. “Your future is calling.” That was one of his favorite things to say to me.

  “What future?” I muttered, and joined him.

  Despite the intensity of my thinking, I was never unaware of my surroundings. No one could call me an absentminded professor. If anything, my status in school and the image practically everyone had of me made me paranoid. Maybe that was because I didn’t have to look far to see resentment. It was splattered like egg yolks over the faces of the girls in Greg’s class. More than one of them obviously wanted his attention, and here I was, the one they probably thought the least attractive, capturing it.

  “You know Mateo is really harmless,” Greg said. “He’s really very impressed by you.”

  “Save your breath.”

  “No, really. When you’re not around, he’s always asking me questions about you. He thinks you’re going to be very famous someday.”

  “Well, then he’s smarter than I am,” I said.

  We paused at the corner of the corridor. I was going in a different direction.

  “He thinks I’m lucky,” Greg said.


  “He thinks you like me. Is he right?” he asked anxiously.

  Nothing in this world made me panic as much as having to express my feelings for someone else, even my parents and my brother. I had been dabbling in studies of human emotions. It was still very confusing to me, because there were so many contradictions. Strong, positive feelings for someone else could be a real paradox. There could be so much about that person that you didn’t like, and yet you could feel an attraction that would refuse to be defeated.

  If I paused now to list what I thought were Greg’s weaknesses and mistakes, I’d be here for an hour. Top of the list was his tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, as he had just expressed when it came to Mateo. He was too trusting, too eager to please and be pleased. The survivor in me wished he would be harder, more cynical. Years from now, his wife might wish that, too, I thought.

  And yet it was exactly that softness, that sweetness, that drew me to him. In a world full of spiders weaving traps for everyone else, he was a butterfly. He was a respite, a harmonious pause in a world where everyone was shouting, pushing, and demanding. His beautiful black eyes with their flashes of green pleaded with me to take a breath and forget explaining the tide or what made clouds in the atmosphere and just enjoy the moment.

  “Yes,” I said. “Mateo is finally right about something.”

  He smiled. If he only knew how hard that was for me to say, I thought, he would smile like that all day.

  Perhaps scared that my brain would retract the statement of my tongue, Greg lightly touched my hand and hurried off to class with a “See you later.”

  The feeling of his touch lingered. I gazed after him for a few moments and then went to the library. The prospect of going to my special room to study math theories was suddenly distasteful. Would I go so far as to think it would be boring? This feeling was so rare that I couldn’t recall when I had last felt it.

  The librarian, Mrs. Kasofsky, glanced at me when I entered and then looked down at her new shipment of library books. Perhaps nothing affected me as much these days as the way teachers looked or, more correctly, didn’t look at me. It was as if they were afraid I’d ask them a question that would expose something they didn’t know. Consequently, I was practically invisible.

  No one else was in the library yet, so I wal
ked through the silent space quickly, stepped into my cave, as I was wont to call it these days, and plopped into my chair. I tossed my books onto the desk and sat staring at the wall. Idiotically, every other student in this school was envious of me for having such freedom. If I wanted to, I could get up right now, walk out of the library, walk out of the building, and either go home or go to the mall. No one, not even the school’s security guard, would stop me or even ask me where I was going. After all, I might be off to do some special research.

  But who would be with me? Who would laugh with me and enjoy the freedom? How much could I talk to myself? I could go visit my mother, but I’d have to stand there and watch her work and talk with her client more than she would with me.

  I opened the textbook and began to read, but after only a minute or so, I closed it and got up, walked to the window, and looked out at the corner of the parking lot and a portion of the baseball field. A tenth-grade girls’ PE class was organizing for softball. Normally, I wouldn’t give them a second look, but for some reason, at this moment, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I could see some of them laughing.

  My gaze went to the nearly cloudless late-spring sky. A chatter of facts about the atmosphere, the climate-change crisis, and entropic algorithms of weather systems clotted in my mind for a few moments, until I literally shook my head and forced myself to concentrate on simply observing the girls, the way they ran, the joy they exhibited when one of them made an error, and the PE teacher, Mrs. Grossman, waving her arms and shouting something to get them to be more serious.

  It brought an unexpected smile to my face.

  I did little else for almost the entire period and then looked at my watch and hurried out of my cave. Some of the students looked up from their reading or writing in their notebooks as I marched through the library with an intensity that probably surprised them.

  Someone, a girl, said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Looks like someone really has to poop,” and all the students laughed.