Yang said, “Human reproduction can be a sticky subject-“
“Ewww!” groaned a chorus of students.
“It requires mature handling, And like all science, the best approach is to learn by sleuthing.
For the rest of the class, practice this technique by finding out as much as you can about your new partner.
Tomorrow, bring a write-up of your discoveries, and believe me, I’m going to check for authenticity. This is biology, not English, so don’t even think about fictionalizing your answers.
I want to see real interaction and teamwork.” There was an implied Or else.
I sat perfectly still. The ball was in his court-I’d smiled, and look how well that turned out. I wrinkled my nose, trying to figure out what he smelled like. Not cigarettes.
Something richer, fouler.
I found the clock on the wall and tapped my pencil in time to the second hand. I planted my elbow on the table and propped my chin on my fist. I blew out a sigh.
Great. At this rate I would fail.
I had my eyes pinned forward, but I heard the soft glide of his pen. He was writing, and I wanted to know what.
Ten minutes of sitting together didn’t qualify him to make any assumptions about me. Flitting a look sideways, I saw that his paper was several lines deep and growing.
“What are you writing?” I asked.
“And she speaks English,” he said while scrawling it down, each stroke of his hand both smooth and lazy at once.
I leaned as close to him as I dared, trying to read what else he’d written, but he folded the paper in half, concealing the list.
“What did you write?” I demanded.
He reach for my unused paper, sliding it across the table towards him. He crumpled it into a ball. Before I could protest, he tossed in at the trash can beside Yang’s desk. The shot dropped in.
I stared at the trash can a moment, locked between disbelief and anger. Then I flipped open my notebook to a clean page.
“What is your name?” I asked, pencil poised to write.
I glanced up in time to catch another dark grin. This one seemed to dare me to pry anything out of him.
“Your name?” I repeated, hoping it was my imagination that my voice faltered.
“Call me V. I mean it. Call me.”
He winked when he said it, and I was pretty sure he was making fun of me.
“What are you doing in your leisure time?” I asked.
“I don’t have free time.”
“I’m assuming this assignment is graded, so do me a favor?”
He leaned back in his seat, folding his arms behind his head. “What kind of favor?”
I was pretty sure it was an innuendo, and I grappled for a way to change the subject.
“Free time,” he repeated thoughtfully. “ I take pictures.”
I printed Photography on my paper.
“I wasn’t finished,” he said.
“I’ve got quite a collection going of an eZine columnist whi believes there’s truth in eating organic, who writes poetry in secret,
and who shudders at the thought of having to choose between Stanford, Yale, and… what’s that big one with the #?”
I stared at him a moment, shaken by how dead on he was. I didn’t get the feeling it was a luck I guess. He knew. And I wanted to know how-right now.
“But you won’t end up going to any of them.”
“I won’t?” I asked without thinking.
He hooked his fingers under the seat of my chair, dragging me closer to him. Not sure if I should scoot away and show fear, or do nothing and feign boredom, o chose the last.
He said, “Even though you’d thrive at all three schools, you scorn them for being a cliché of achievement. Passing judgment is your third biggest weakness.’
“And my second?” I said with quite rage. Who was this guy? Was this some kind of disturbing joke?
“You don’t know how to trust. I take that back. You trust-just all the wrong people.”
“And my first?’ I demanded
“You keep life on a short leash.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re scared of what you can’t control.”
The hair at the nape of my neck stood on end, and the temperature in the room seemed to chill. Ordinary I would have gone straight to Yang’s desk and request a new seating chart.
But I refused to let V think he could intimidate or scare me. I felt an irrational need to defend myself and decided right then and there I wouldn’t back down until he did.
“Do you sleep naked?” He asked.
My mouth threatened to drop, but I held it in check.
“You’re hardly the person I’d tell.”
“Ever been to a shrink?”
“No,” I lied. The truth was, I was in counseling with the school psychologist, Dr. Jinyoung. It wasn’t by choice, and it wasn’t something I liked to talk about.
“Done anything illegal? “
“No,” Occasionally breaking the speed limit wouldn’t count. Not with him. “Why don’t you ask me something normal? Like… my favorite kind of music?”
“I’m not going to ask what I can guess.”
“You do not know the type of music I listen to.”
“Baroque, With you, it’s all about order, control. I bet you play… the cello? “ He said it like he’d pulled the guess out of thin air.
“Wrong.” Another lie, but this one sent a chill rippling along my skin.Who was he really? If he knew I played the cello, what else did he know?
“What’s that?” V tapped his pen against the inside of my wrist. Instinctively I pulled away.
“Looks like a scar. Are you suicidal, Mina?” His eyes connected with mine, and I could feel him laughing. “Parents married or divorced?”
“I live with my mom.”
“My dad passed away last year.”
“How did he die?”
I flinched. “He was murdered. This is kind of personal territory, if you don’t mind.”
There was a count of silence and the edge of V’s eyes seemed to soften a touch. “That must be hard.” He sounded like he meant it.
The bell rang and V was on this feet, making his way toward the door.
“Wait,” I called out. He didn’t turn. “Excuse me!” He was through the door. “V! I didn’t get anything on you.”
He turned back and walked toward me. Taking my hand, he scribbled something on it before I thought to pull away.
I looked down at the seven numbers in red ink on my palm and made a fist around them. I wanted to tell him no way was his phone ringing tonight.
I wanted to tell him it was his fault for taking all the time questioning me. I wanted a lot of things, but I just stood there looking like I didn’t know how to open my mouth.
At last I said, “I’m busy tonight.”
“So am I.” He grinned and was gone.
I stood nailed to the spot. Digesting what had just happened. Did he eat up all the time questioning me on purpose? So I’s fail? Did he think one flashy grin would redeem him? Yes, thought.
Yes, he did.
“I won’t call!”I called after him. “Not-ever!”
“Have you finished your column for tomorrow’s deadline?” It was Lisa. She came up beside me, jotting notes on the notepad she carried everywhere.
“I’m thinking of writing mine on the injustice of seating charts. I got paired with a girl who said she just finished lice treatment this morning.”
“My new partner,” I said, pointing into the hallway at the back of V. He had an annoyingly confident walk. The kind you find paired with faded T-shirts and a cowboy hat. V wore neither.
He was a dark-Levi’s-dark-Henley-dark-boots kind of guy.
“The senior transfer? Guess he didn’t study hard enough the first time around. Or the second.” She gave me a knowing look. “Third time’s a charm.”
“He gives me the creeps. He knew my music, Without my hints whatsoever, he said, “Baroque.” “ I did a poor job of mimicking his low voice.
“He knew… other things.”
I let out a sigh. He knew more than I wanted to comfortably contemplate. “Like how to get under my skin,”I said at last.
“I’m going to tell Yang he has to switch us back.”
“Go for it. I could use a hook for my next eZine article. ‘Tenth Chart Fights Back.’ Better yet, ‘Seating Chart Takes Slap in the Face.’ Mmm. I like it.”
At the end of the day, I was the one who took a slap in the face. Yang shot down my plea to rethink the seating chart. It appeared I was stuck with V.