Cast of Thousands, Chapter 27
Tuesday dawned bright and frosty, again. Jess biked to school briskly, feeling that she was slowly adjusting to the early morning hours it forced her to keep.
The sky was intensely blue, the sun split everything into brilliantly lit scenery and crisp dark shadow, and the landscape was as jeweled with birds and dew as it could be, but for once none of this had any chance of catching her eye.
She was remembering a conversation that she and Marcy had had on Saturday afternoon. Marcy had mentioned that her therapist, Cal, had claimed that everyone their age felt abnormal. Like everyone was normal and they were the outcasts, either because they were in reality or because they were sure they would be pariahs if people only knew their terrible secret.
Jessie, upon learning Marcy's therapist's name, felt bound to sing the Cal Worthington jingle from all the car commercials. "If you want a car or truck, go see Cal. Don't wanna try your luck, go see Cal. If you wanna car or truck... la la la la la la la la... something something la la la, go see Cal!"
Marcy made a face at her. "But don't you think it's true? I mean, do you think it's true?"
Jess wasn't sure, and had avoided really thinking about it. If anything, it made her feel like more of a freak, because she'd never really thought that hard about whether she was different from everyone else or not. Now that the issue had been brought up, she was becoming uncomfortably aware of how much she felt like she didn't fit in, at school and in general. The thought lurked at the edges of her awareness like a threatening spectre.
She threw herself into Algebra that morning, hanging on the teacher's words with fascination. The equations danced for her that morning. She solved for X, and then for Y, and did practice word problems in class with ease. Her energy was catching, waking up the students around her. Mr. Cabrillo sensed the higher level of interest in the classroom, and took advantage of it, showing them slowly but intriguingly the steps that solved a quadratic equation.
Jess left with a spring in her step, muttering "A squared plus two a b plus...." under her breath. She doodled equations in the margins of her English notes, drawing elaborate patterns around them to illustrate the way she saw them moving in her mind. Variables hopscotched around and leapfrogged over each other; the two sides of each equation swung violently back and forth as they struggled to change and still remain balanced; the different parts of each problem slowly morphed and changed like a turning kaleidoscope, draining away until only a few simple colors were left proclaiming that Y Equals Four or that Five X Equals Three Halves. Multiply both sides by two, Jess muttered to herself, which is the same as... two over one... so three halves becomes six halves... and five X which is the same as five-over-one X becomes ten X... wait, that didn't do anything... erase all that and divide both sides by two so that three halves is... no, six halves before equaled three because six divided by two is three, so ten X is three so... move the ten over to divide both by ten and X is three over ten and that is ... probably good enough.
She was called out of her algebraic meditations by the sound of Mr. Bunting's voice saying, "All right, everyone get out a piece of paper. We're going to have a pop quiz on chapters seven and eight."
Jess froze, pencil in mid-air. Seven and eight? She was only on chapter five, and she had thought she was ahead of the class!
She raised her hand cautiously. "Did you say seven and eight?"
"Yes, seven and eight. You all read them over the weekend for your homework assignment."
"Oh... yeah... now I remember," Jess said miserably, her head buzzing. She couldn't remember for the life of her whether she had forgotten to do the assignment or not known that there was an assignment at all. She clenched her pencil in her teeth, trying to convince herself that one failed quiz wouldn't hurt her grade. If only she had been listening beforehand, she might have heard some of the answers being discussed.
Well, at least she had paid attention in class the day before. She read over the short list of questions being passed out, and tried to breathe. At least they were fairly simple questions; she knew a few of the answers, and thought she could fake her way through others.
By the time she finished, she was sweating. She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand and stared at the paper, trying to find another question she understood or an answer that she could lengthen. She reluctantly gave up as the teacher came to her, and handed her quiz to him. At the last second, she grabbed it back, signed her name and date to it, and handed it over again. He took it, and smiled at her sympathetically on his way down the rows. She twirled her pencil nervously between her fingers.