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Figure 1: Sample keyword research report for lost footballs across the United Kingdom

Saz doesn’t have some striking story about the moment she knew she loved numbers, how one day she was sitting in maths and realized she was being given tools to help her unlock the mysteries of the world around her. Quite the opposite, really: By the time she realized there was anything special or unusual about her focus on data, she couldn’t imagine looking at the world in any other way.

It wasn’t about being top of the class, although she can’t deny that there’s a rush of satisfaction every time she’s the first to finish an exam. She gets a particular vindictive pleasure out of it if there are any know-it-all dickheads in the room - even the boys who acknowledge that girls can be good at maths tend to assume that they’re better than she is, but there’s nothing in the world that makes more sense to Saz than the way numbers fit together.

It’s not just school, either. It’s no big leap from solving hypotheticals in class to noticing that the girls’ football team from Highpoint Academy always underperforms on Tuesdays and alternate Fridays, or figuring out the optimal time and location to go to the toilet so that nobody will be around to hear her, or estimating how late the buses tend to run when it’s raining out. Saz doesn’t even think about it. When there’s something she wants to know, she gets the data she needs and she works the answer out. Most things about the world make sense if you know which numbers to pay attention to.

Figure 2: If a train bound for King’s Cross departs Leeds at 9:45 AM at a speed of 30 km/h and a train traveling in the opposite direction at 38 km/h departs King’s Cross at 10:03 AM, at what point on the 300-kilometer route between the two stations will you know for sure if someone thinks you’re a total freak?

It’s not that Saz hates people, really.

She just doesn’t understand how they do it. Most people are idiots, Saz knows this without a doubt. Teachers, coaches, counselors, classmates, sisters - everyone’s a bit thick, when it comes down to it, and yet somehow it’s Saz, every single time, Saz who makes careful observations and takes notes and makes charts and looks for patterns - she’s the one who ends up without any idea how to make anything work. How is it that Leon wanted Viva and Morgan wanted Holli, and even Josh, Death Boy of all people, had gone after sunny, happy Amber out of all of them? Not that Saz wanted Death Boy anywhere near her, but you’d think someone so self-torturing that he wore a pendant made out of the hip bolt of one of the grandparents he accidentally killed would go right for the girl with the sharp tongue and harsh judgements.

She’s terrible at reading signals, is the thing. Viva’s always saying that this person seemed upset and that person was acting weird and so on and so forth, but half the time Saz never notices anything. A lot of it’s disinterest, of course, because Saz has very clear ideas about who is and isn’t worth her attention, but it seems like over time that has left her at a disadvantage, because even when she’s looking for signals she’s usually lost in all the ambiguity. And that would be fine, because everyone knows there are problems that can’t be solved or that nobody’s been able to - P versus NP, for starters, although Saz is sure that in another fifteen years or so she’ll be well on her way to sorting that one out - but nobody else seems to be flying quite as blindly as Saz does, and if they are, they’re definitely much better at correcting for it than she is.

Even Amber is better at figuring people out than Saz is, and she shows up at school wearing two left shoes at least once a month.

Figure 3: Long, long emails...many of them with attachments that were spreadsheets charting your emotions.

Sometimes the best Saz can do is to take what she’s observed and combine it with what she’s seen other people do and try to extrapolate how she’s supposed to behave. That’s probably just how human interaction is supposed to work, only it’s meant to be subconscious. When Saz was with Joe, and then when she wasn’t, she paid a lot of attention to what her friends’ boyfriends were like. Rocky, for instance, couldn’t go five minutes without texting Viva to ask if she thought aliens had pets and would leashes still work with no gravity, and Brandon would go completely mental if he didn’t hear back from Holli right away, and whatever delinquent Holli was not-banging in any given week was sure to be slobbering after her all the time, and everyone said that if she and Joe were going to be long distance, communication was even more important, so Saz communicated.

She communicated a lot. She spent a lot of time thinking about things she could ask Joe about his day so he’d know she was genuinely interested. And she knew she wasn’t great about being honest and sincere about her feelings, and that sarcasm didn’t translate well to email, so she tried to be as clear as possible. What’s clearer than a spreadsheet? Saz doesn’t know how to make something more real than by showing the numbers to prove it. But that didn’t seem very romantic, and Joe was more of a words guy, and everyone told her compromise was important, so she wrote the poem, too, and just to be sure she was getting her point across, she made the collage.

All that, and she got called a psycho for her troubles. She’s still not sure where she went wrong with all that, really. Wordy people make even less sense than the rest of them.

Figure 4: Pie chart regarding the time my three best friends will walk three across on the pavement with me behind

The trouble is that data doesn’t lie, and lately the data has been fairly adamant that she’s the problem. Somehow it’s always Saz, walking behind the rest of the group, being on the receiving end of that look from Morgan, being humiliated by Joe, eating alone in a bathroom stall, having her coach position usurped out from under her.

Well, not always. Saz respects the accuracy that numbers provide, and she knows it’s not always. Still, 67% is more than her fair share, and the difference from the expected result is definitely statistically significant.

Viva and Holli are best friends, and Viva’s always looking out for Amber, and Amber and Holli share that special bond of being completely thick, but Saz feels sometimes like her problems are only ever noticed when she makes them conspicuous, and she’s only ever Amber’s first choice for help or Holli’s first choice for advice when Viva’s unavailable because she’s off snogging Tyler Blaine or whatever improbably attractive boy is in love with her this week. She’s only voted football coach because nobody wanted Holli, and even then they decided they actually did want Holli after all. They hadn’t voted for Saz because they’d been paying attention to all the suggestions she’d been making to Bitchcock - if anything, once they saw how she thought about the game, they turned on her completely.

Saz worries sometimes that she’s too harsh, that she’s closing herself off to new experiences by judging them too harshly, or that she’s driving people away by being too acerbic and too, well...herself, really. Saz knows she’s bitchy and closed off and has a tendency to be defensive, really she does, and she worries. Of course, being aware of all that bullshit and making the effort to be more open to new experiences and honest about her insecurities and approachable to others got her into the Morgan situation, so obviously all of that stuff was utter crap.

Figure 5: A girl’s shoe has an 8cm heel. How deep must a cut into the heel be so that the shoe can withstand the normal pressure of walking but will snap under the pressure exerted on it during a dance routine?

“Hang on,” says Amber, who’s found one of the weeks-old photocopied pages of Saz’s diary crumpled at the bottom of her bag because true humiliation never dies. It’s one of the pages where she logged how often she was stuck walking behind the three of them, and Amber smooths the paper out to study it. “I remember this week,” she says. “You were acting proper strange.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Saz tries to keep the sneer out of her voice. (It doesn’t work, but she does try.)

“Well this line right here, that’s Brandon’s birthday,” says Amber, pointing to one of the last lines on the page. “And that week I thought Wolverine had scale rot so I brought him to the vet, but then I didn’t have any money to get Brandon a present, and I remember you were acting strange because whenever I asked you and Viva and Holli what I should do, you didn’t say nothing because you were so busy writing in your book. You’re really slow when you write and walk, it always takes us ages to get to the bus stop.”

Saz never thought of it that way, but it certainly seems like the kind of thing that would skew her results, if they walked ahead of her because she was too busy writing about how they were walking ahead of her to actually walk with them. Her head hurts a little thinking about it. The human element always makes things so messy. “Sorry,” she says faintly, although she’s not sure what she’s apologizing for.

“Well, Holli figures that whenever you’re figuring stuff out, it’s usually something really helpful, like how you always know exactly when to get in line so we get the freshest chips. I thought before that it was because you had my princess powers but Viva says it’s just because you’re so smart, and I don’t mind walking slow if that’s what it takes. You always figure out things none of us can.”

God, Amber really does see people more clearly than Saz does. Saz is running through her options, trying to think of a better, more objective way to evaluate her position in the group, but Amber’s standing up, shoving everything back in her bag, and looking at Saz expectantly.

“We’ve got Geography next,” says Amber. “Are you walking over with me?”

“Sure,” Saz says, and falls into step beside her.