To some people, mathematics came naturally. I was never that kid. Some of the most vivid memories of my childhood revolve around school, and the academic environment I found myself in. Competitions were held daily to see who could solve the most arithmetic problems, and who could do it the fastest. I was never the winner. I never came close, not even once. I learned by third grade that math was not going to be a fun class, and it had been doubly reinforced by the time I entered the fourth grade, and found my recess privileges revoked in response to a lack of completed homework assignments.
Needless to say, I was not pleased.
As an active child, I had always felt that the world around me was far more interesting than anything anyone could ever say to me. The endless, senseless blatherings projected at me from the time I was able to understand speech had never done much other than bore me. My attention was endlessly seeking other outlets, looking for anything substantial to latch itself onto, anything worthwhile to focus on, to bore into, like a venomous little insect intent of tearing everything there to bits and pieces.
If given free time, my mind could not be engaged by lectures provided to me. The concepts were easy to understand, to wrap my mind around and consume, so while my classmates would prattle on, giving answer after answer to an infinite amount of check-your-work problems, I would seek anything that might engage me. More often than not it would get me into trouble. This did not change as I aged, much to the frustration of my teachers.
One of my fondest memories as a child has been the time in fifth grade that I constructed a bow and arrow within the confines of my cluttered desk, comprised of two pencils, a rubber band, and tape I had stolen from another student's desk during my last study hall. To clarify, this was the period of time given to students who had not completed the previous night's homework assignments, supposedly to encourage they work on their papers that would be due tomorrow. Naturally, it occurred during recess. Anyways, I digress.
“Put it down, Miss Abadeer.”
My head lolled back, eyes blank as they stared at the ceiling. Two pencils dangled from the asbestos-ridden tiles above. They hadn't been changed since the sixties.
“Do I need to call Mr. Petrikov?” The Principal, her weapon of choice.
I sighed, and lowered the bow down to the top of my desk. I had improved my model since the fourth grade. This one was made of one ruler, aluminum and cork construction, flexible but firm. With one extra large industrial rubber band and two smaller protractors between, rigged to perform as weight distributors, it was my finest model yet.
“I'm just testing the draw weight,” I tried to explain.
I sighed, and stuffed it back into my backpack. Mrs. Berry continued to explain something about functions and lines, parabolas, something or other. I couldn't be bothered. A foot reached out and nudged the hind corner of my chair, and I peeked back.
“Do you have a death wish?” Keila snickered.
I smiled. “You know I do.”
“You're actually an idiot.”
I shrugged. Mrs. Berry was old and tired with less than two years until retirement, and just doing her best to get through the year. One month until school was out, and the following year my class would graduate. She and I were just trying to make it through and reach the same goal. I could respect that, so why couldn't she?
Keila leaned forward. “If you get suspended one more time-”
“Could you chill out, maybe?” I cut her off, whispering as loud as I dared to with Mrs. Berry back turned. “For even three seconds?”
She sat back in a slump.
It seemed an eternity before the bell rang, signifying the end of the day. Mrs. Berry handed out homework assignments at the door, and huffed as I dropped mine in the trash bin just beside her before walking away. Keila slapped the back of my head.
I rubbed the spot and glared. “What has your panties in a twist today?”
“You do, idiot!”
My eyes scanned over her face, noting the deep furrow between her brows and the stern, drawn set of her jaw. Okay, so maybe I had miscalculated.
“You know, for a genius you're really an idiot sometimes.”
“Yeah, you said that already,” I groused.
She shoved her hands in her jacket pockets, exasperated. “Well, you obviously don't listen. Why are you acting like you never even got that letter last week? Are you actually in denial, or just being a reckless asshole like usual?”
I scrunched up my nose. It had arrived last week, and I'd nearly missed it. We hardly ever took the mail in at the condo, maybe once a month if we were lucky, and more often than not they'd just amass it at the post office and wait for someone to come pick it up. The letter was an official warning, some nonsense about a probationary period pending my academic performance and ability to work alongside my peers and teachers in a successful, progressive manner. Barf.
I had more or less written it off, but it would appear she had not.
“They're not gonna expel me, Keila,” I said, voice gruff and posture mimicking her now, with my hands buried deep into my pockets. “if I got kicked out Marshall would too, and our test scores alone maintained their excellence rating last year. They'll mourn the day we graduate.”
She rolled her eyes. “Look, let's just get to lunch. Maybe if the fries are still warm by the time we get there you'll get lucky and I'll decide not to strangle you.”
Marceline snickered. “Sounds fair.”
Walking through the halls of their school was not unlike walking along the carefully manicured pathways of a zoo. All around her she could observe wild animals in varying stages of disarray, and if she was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, she was even able to see them salivating, defecating, and fornicating in their natural environment. Lucky her.
Walking into one of their school's three cafeterias, Marceline kicked out the legs of a chair supporting a freshman couple thoroughly invested in melding their faces into one horrifying, amoebic mass of grossness. They toppled to the ground and she whistled away her innocence while Keila did a poor job of hiding a laugh in the crook of her arm. Winding their way through the tables and towards the lines, Marceline looked ahead to find a crowd waiting for them.
“What's going on?” Keila sighed out, frustrated.
Marceline shrugged, and rocked up onto her tippy toes. She saw the purple curls of Elle Espie and a semi-circle of people ringed around her, and nothing else. “Nothing good. Come on, let's get a better look.” She began to fight her way through the crowd. The teachers would come break it up soon, and Marceline wanted to see it with her own eyes before that happened, instead of waiting for the gossip.
She wasn't prepared at all, even slightly, for what awaited her. Elle was a brash girl, one Marceline had known since Pre-K. She had always needed to be in charge of a room and Lord help you if you got in the way of her unquenchable thirst for the spotlight. As a diva of the highest order, Marceline had never been terribly fond of her, and had done her best to keep out of the much more popular girl's way. Not that it had ever stopped her from keying the girl's ridiculously expensive car.
Anyways, Elle had some poor thing held up against the wall by her shirt collar. The girl was curvy and short, with cute pixie-like features and long hair that might have naturally been a strawberry blonde, but had been died a pale coral color. Maybe the dyed hair had marked her out as a new rival for Elle, because the girl definitely wasn't attending school before this year. Marceline was sure she would have noticed.
“What did you say, you pink-haired dyke?”
“Y-your bag is open?” The girl tried to cringe away, but the wall offered no leniency. Marceline's heart stuttered.
“I think I heard you say my bag is old news, and I'll have you know my bag is worth more than your entire wardrobe. At least by the looks of it.” Elle got in her face, and sneered.
Marceline didn't notice she was moving until her left fist connected with Elle's jaw. The purple-haired girl stumbled backwards, crying out like a braying donkey. Marceline swung again with the other.
“Hey Elle!” She called out. “That bag is an ugly piece of shit, and by the looks of it, evidence that no matter how much money your Daddy has you can't buy good taste.”
Elle surged up from the floor, hands out and clawing for Marceline's eyes. The taller girl stuck out a foot, deftly tripping the other before she could reach her. Elle fell face first onto the ground, just as Mrs. Berry stormed onto the scene.
Sitting across from Simon never got any easier. He wasn't just her Principal and he wasn't just her next door neighbor, either. After her Mom had died and her father had left for his business, Simon had taken her and Marshal in. Hunson disappointed eyes never made Marceline feel anything other than vindicated. Simons, on the other hand, made her squirm.
The older man sighed, running a hand through his white, wiry hair.
“Elle had her pinned against the wall, Simon!”
“Mr. Petrikov,” he admonished gently.
“And it was all for show, the girl was just trying to be nice-”
“You didn't have to get involved, though.”
“But all Elle cared about was making a scene! It was bullshit-”
“-Of the highest order and I couldn't just-”
Simon sighed again, and Marceline clamped her mouth shut. The squirming resumed. He reached across his desk and pulled a file from a small divider sat upon it's corner. He began to flip through it.
“Do you know how many times you have spoken with a school administrator since the sixth grade?”
Marceline sank in her seat.
“More than fifteen times in a quarter, every year. More than once a week.”
“Do you know how many of those you have claimed to be someone else's fault?”
“Maybe half,” she grumbled, striving for accuracy.
“Maybe half,” he agreed with a small smile. It faded quickly. “Marceline, since I have known you you've always stood up for the little guy. The number of times you came to me dirty and bloodied because the other kids were picking one someone who didn't deserve it, I can't say I'm sitting here surprised today.”
More silence. She knew he was working his way to what he really wanted to say. Maybe he thought this made it easier.
For the third time, Simon sighed. “Mrs. Berry told me you were acting out in class today as well.”
Well, fine. She was doomed then. At least she'd gone out in style, fighting for a pretty face. “Do I get to clean out my locker myself or does it get mailed to me,” she scoffed without any trace of humor.
“No, neither. Instead you're getting a tutor.”