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Slightly Baffled

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Meg could no longer ignore the sound of Calvin's No. 2 pencil bouncing against his glass of water. Doing homework with Calvin was always difficult, even under the best of circumstances. Lately he'd been secretive, holding things back when they would normally discuss everything in their minds. Tonight she was working on an English paper that made her want to pull her hair out and throw it down on the ground, stomping on it until it was part of the carpet. She didn't care if she looked odd afterward just as she didn't care if the paper ever got done. In her opinion, high school was turning out to be a terrible wast of time.

It was only for Calvin that she was even putting up with her classes. She didn't know what she was going to dnnext year. It was hard enough to handle the days when he was late coming over because of a basketball game or a council meeting and she had to sit at the table by herself, staring out the window and forgetting that she had work to do while she waited for him to come riding through the night shadows on his rickety bike. Now that he was here, she wished he wasn't.

"How was practice?" she asked and found herself surprised that he didn't look up immediately. Usually he was eager to tell her about the games even if she didn't understand a word he said most of the time.

"Fine." He didn't sound convinced, though, and Meg wondered if there was a problem with the team. Since everyone liked Calvin and he liked everyone, she knew it wasn't a personality conflict. Was there a problem with those free throws Calvin was always talking about? Had they forgotten how to do them?

After clearing his throat a few more times, Calvin tried again. "When I was ten, I played the triangle for the school orchestra."

"Is that considered a real instrument?" she mused, wondering where this was going. "As far as I can tell, it is a percussion instrument although the sound it makes isn't all that melodious. I suppose if a person became truly competant and understood where the certain sounds came from, it might make pretty music. What?"

Calvin's pencil was moving again in that same agitated manner. "That wasn't what I meant."

Something Charles Wallace told her suddenly came to mind. Sometimes you have to listen when people talk, Meg. You have a tendency to think you know what they're saying by their words when you really need to be listening to what they mean. In typical Charles Wallace fashion, the words didn't mean anything to her. She supposed that was part of the problem. This time, instead of trying to talk her way through it as she had that day with her little brother, she stayed silent.

"There's more to me than just basketball and school. More than even my family." She nodded here because she agreed with him. While they didn't spend a lot of time with the O'Keefe's, she knew enough about them to know that Calvin was definitely a breed apart from the rest of his family. "But I'm still who I am. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"No. Sorry, but I'm not following. I'm trying though. I can see that you're agitated and that you feel very strongly about whatever you're trying to say. And I'm assuming this has nothing to do with your homework."

"Count on you, Meg, to bring this all back to schoolwork."

She scowled down at her paper as if it was the cause of her trouble understanding him. "It's always on my thoughts. I don't get most of it but you tell me it's important and I believe you."

"What will you do next year when I'm not around to make you buckle down every evening and do it?"

He wouldn't like her real answer so she shrugged. Better he not know that she was thinking about dropping out and seeing if her father couldn't put her to work. He had more work than he could handle these days and she understood that it was important because there was an end result that came from all the testing and research. As far as she could tell, her math homework was only a bunch of numbers on a paper that was supposed to tell her teacher if she could memorize the textbook.

The pencil had stopped moving. "I don't like thinking of the future," she told him as she tried to gauge if the pencil's quiet attitude was a good or bad thing.

"Do you know what today is?"

"February 14th."

"Did you notice anything odd at school today?"

Meg thought about this for a moment before answering. "We had meatloaf when we normally have fish sticks. The brownies were a nice change from the fruit cup, though." When Calvin began to laugh, Meg wondered what she'd said. She thought back over what she'd said and blushed. "Oh, you meant did I notice that it was St. Valentine's Day? Yes, I suppose I couldn't miss that sort of thing."

"I didn't mean to laugh, Meg. It's just that you don't look at the world the same as other girls. I forget that sometimes. Forgive me for my earlier rant?"

The old fear was creeping up and taking root in her heart. She didn't like to be laughed and she especially didn't like to be asked silly questions meant to make her look stupid. Calvin had never done that before. He'd always understood her the way that other people didn't. She nodded even as she sank back against the back of her chair, her arms crossed over her chest.

"In honor of the day and of our... relationship, I got you a present."

In the days when they'd just met, Meg might have stayed scared for days after a conversation like this but she was learning that Calvin was Calvin just as she was always Meg. He wouldn't suddenly stop liking her, even if he asked her strange questions sometimes. And his smile... she loved when he smiled at her like he was now. Since he'd put the present in her hands, she felt as if she needed to concentrate on unwrapping it instead of staring at his smile and perfect teeth.

Meg stared down at the book in her hands. "Crosswords. A whole book of them bound together. Where did you get these?" Now it was his turn to shrug and turn red. "I really like this present, Calvin. Mom doesn't like it when I do the ones in the Sunday newpaper before she gets a shot at them. I never leave her any part of it to do."

"I figured you would appreciate the gift. I shouldn't have been worried about it."

"You were worried?" she asked, forgetting that she'd been feeling the same thing just a moment ago. "Why?"

"Because I don't want you to forget me next year. I'm getting that scholarship and it's looking like I'll be able to get some grants and scholarships. The university is a long way from here."

"We'll have letters. I'll write everyday."

"Will you? It will be nice to think of you sitting here, writing out a letter to me every night."

"And where will you write to me?"

"The library. Right by the natural history section," he told her with all seriousness even though that was a slight joke between the two of them. It was nice to know that he still remembered.

"Thank you," she whispered, staring in awe at the glossy cover that bound together the mimeographed sheets. Her name was spelled out in his strong handwriting and she traced her finger over the letters. Without knowing it, he'd given her a reason to get through her last year of school without him. Her parents had helped him fill out the paperwork for the college he would be attending so they'd be able to help her do the same thing. It was only a year. A blink in the whole universe, after all. And they still had letters.