There was something inherently sadistic about a teacher who sprang a pop quiz on her students the Friday before a long holiday weekend. That thought was firmly in Megan’s mind even as she cast a surreptitiously reproachful glance at the teacher in question, Mrs. Shaw- surprisingly spry and feared by most of the student body even in her late sixties- before looking back down at her test paper.
The empty work-space at the bottom of the page was decorated with a steady progression of butterflies and flowers rather than the sums it had been intended for…climbing up into the margins in elaborate spirals and twining branches. Frankly she thought her designs looked better than a bunch of math busywork would have, but she hadn’t meant them to take up quite as much of the test paper as they had. Mrs. Shaw wasn’t exactly the type to approve of doodling on her quizzes.
As if summoned by her thoughts, a shadow fell across her desk, making the teenager wince barely a second before the teacher’s voice broke the stillness. “I see Mr. Blackwell isn’t the only one having trouble remembering what class he’s in this afternoon.” Unbidden, Megan found herself looking across the room to the trim figure of the boy sitting in the back row, only having enough time to get a glimpse of the named student’s short blonde hair before their teacher continued with her recrimination. “Though, to his credit, he did at least finish his exam before choosing to express his artistic side.”
Scattered laughter greeted that particular remark, and Meg felt a flush darken her skin even as she raked her gaze back over the rows of math problems bracketed by her sketches. She’d made an attempt to genuinely solve some of them, but just as many others had had hastily scribbled guesses put below them, and still others had been left blank entirely. There was a reason why math was her least favorite subject…
“Maybe an afternoon in detention will be enough of a reminder for you two that while art has its place, that place is not in my class.”
“But it’s Friday!” The protest, irate and immediate, escaped her throat before she could stop it- earning a sharp enough look from the elderly woman to cause the words that would have followed it to die before she had the chance to form them.
“Correction; Mr. Blackwell will remain in class for thirty minutes of detention. You, Miss Conroy, I’ll see in my office when the bell rings, is that clear?”
It took a visible effort for her to bite back the retort that wanted badly to free itself from her lips, but bite it back she did. “Yes Ma’am.” The words were quiet, and more than a little curt, but to Megan’s relief they were enough to satisfy Mrs. Shaw.
As the teacher returned to her own desk, Meg looked back across the room at the blonde-haired boy who was going to be sharing in her punishment, albeit in a lesser form. Me and my big mouth, she thought darkly, feeling a bit mollified when she saw the sympathetic glance her fellow doodler was tossing in her direction. She gave him a grateful smile and then turned her head to gaze instead out the classroom window.
In a mute echo of her current mood the sky was a dark, ominous gray, a strong breeze shaking the bare limbs of the old oak standing in the school courtyard; large flakes of snow beginning their slow descent towards the ground as she watched.
“I’m just not sure what else to do with you, Miss Conroy.” For the past twenty minutes or so, Megan had been fighting, and thankfully succeeding, to keep her temper under control. She wasn’t an especially volatile person by nature, but there was just something about the woman sitting in front of her that had rubbed her the wrong way from the first day she’d been in her class. “I’ve spoken to the principal and your parents, and nothing any of them have told me has helped explain why you find it so difficult to behave in my class. You’re not having any problems at home; you’re getting good grades in all your other classes.” Mrs. Shaw paused then, taking her glasses off for a moment and affording the teenager a better look at her narrow, watery blue eyes, “You’re a smart girl; you’re not lazy either, so please tell me what the problem is.”
“I don’t know.” The excuse sounded lame even to her, and Meg distracted herself from the teacher’s soft sigh by pushing one dark auburn curl away from her face before resolutely lowering her gaze to the old worn boards that made up the floor of the math instructor’s office.
“Megan, just hear me out.” Noticing the change in Mrs. Shaw’s tone, she looked back up to see that the woman had restored her glasses to their proper position on the bridge of her nose, and was regarding her with an expression that seemed sincere even in spite of the definite hint of exasperation that was present as well. “You’re almost eighteen now. Just one more year and that’s it- you’ll be an adult out in the real world. Now, your parents told me you’re planning on studying abroad for the first half of your senior year, and that’s wonderful, but you have to start thinking beyond just the short term. What do you plan on doing with your life after you finish high school? What kind of career do you want to pursue? These are all questions you need to start asking yourself, and soon.”
Whatever career I do pick, you can bet it won’t involve having to solve non-linear equations…the girl allowed the mutinous thought free rein inside the safety of her own mind, but out loud restricted her response to the more tactful, “I really don’t know, Mrs. Shaw. I try not to think too far ahead. Heck, I consider it a miracle that I even have a chance of passing your class, but I am trying.”
“If it weren’t for the fact that you’ve done fairly well on your take home assignments and completed every single bit of extra credit I’ve offered this semester, you would be failing my class, and I don’t want that to happen, really I don’t.” The woman’s words were blunt, and she showed no reaction to Megan’s flinch before she continued. “Frankly, it’s your fundamental lack of respect that bothers me the most. Your other teachers tell me that you don’t have these problems in their courses, but in mine?” Mrs. Shaw shook her gray head, “If you’re not drawing on your worksheets and test papers, then you’re reading a book or staring out the window instead of paying attention to my lessons. This has to stop if you want to graduate with a high enough GPA to have a shot at getting into a good college.”
Megan was actually relieved when the teacher raised her hand to cut off what she hadn’t even been sure she was going to say. “But, it’s been over thirty minutes, and the snow’s starting to get heavy. Go and gather your things and head home before it gets too bad out there.” Mrs. Shaw leaned back in her chair and gave her a long, measuring glance, “Just please think about what I’ve said, okay? And enjoy your holiday.”
Megan gave a mute nod and all but bolted from the office to reclaim her book bag- eager to leave the stern math teacher and her lectures behind, if only for the span of a three day weekend.
The halls were mostly deserted by the time she’d retrieved her backpack and swung by her locker to get the rest of her books. She’d just pulled the zipper closed when a flicker of movement caused her to turn her head; feeling surprise fill her when she saw her blonde-haired classmate standing in front of a locker at the end of the same row that her own was located in.
As if sensing her attention, the boy raised his head; meeting her pale green eyes with his own of dark hazel. “Hey Megan, Mrs. Shaw finally let you out of the dungeon, huh?” He nodded at her in an absent greeting, his light voice as pleasant as his looks, though she couldn’t recall ever hearing him speak in class before.
Her brow furrowed then, as she realized she didn’t even know his first name. That in itself wasn’t so surprising, as unlike most of the other kids in their grade, this was his first year at their school. “Yeah, I’m sorry.” She apologized, slinging her backpack over one shoulder, “I don’t think I’ve caught what your name is. You’re new here, right? I mean, most people around here I’ve been in school with since kindergarten…but not you. What school did you transfer in from?”
He grinned at that, “It’s Finn, and don’t worry about it, I’m not exactly Mr. Popular. Actually, this is my first year braving the scary jungle of the public school system. My mom is a little- well, scratch that, a lot- on the over-protective side, so I’ve been home-schooled until this fall.” Finn closed his locker and shifted the lock to another position before adding, “But as paranoid as she was about bad school lunches and a possibly substandard quality of education, she was even more paranoid that her only son might grow up to be a socially inept hermit. So here I am…getting detention for drawing in math class.”
The deadpan tone of his remark drew a laugh from her, and she relaxed a little. Other than hearing his last name when Mrs. Shaw took the roll at the beginning of class, she’d known virtually nothing about the other student except that he had a reputation for being a bit of a tree-hugger for joining the nature club. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, even if you are a socially inept hermit, getting in trouble in Shaw’s class isn’t going to be what gives you away; she hates anyone who doesn’t worship the almighty equation like she does.” Meg smiled ruefully at her own quip and then gave him a polite nod, “We’d better get going before we get snowed in, but it was nice talking to you.”
“You too, see you on Tuesday.”
Farewells exchanged, Megan steeled herself against the cold wind and stepped outside the main doors; taking stock of the outside conditions before leaving the dubious protection of the covered walkway.
Little more than half an hour after it had started falling, the ground was already covered in a thin blanket of white, powdery down. But this was winter in northeast Pennsylvania, and snow was certainly nothing new to anyone who’d lived in the region for longer than a year. Still, her steps were cautious as she made her way across the courtyard and up onto the small grassy bank beside the street.
The buses had long-since departed and there were only a few scattered cars coming by to pick up other late-staying students, but Megan lived only a few blocks away, and so walking home, even in snow had never been a problem for her.
She looked both ways to make sure it was clear before walking out onto the street. Theirs was a small town but the road that ran in front of the high school was the main route, and thus the most heavily trafficked. The salt trucks hadn’t had a chance to make their rounds yet, and so wary of losing her footing on the wet pavement, it was taking her longer than usual to cross the road- intending on keeping to her usual routine of cutting through the woods to get home quicker than she would have if she followed the streets.
As focused as she was on keeping her own footing, the loud, ugly sound of tires squealing against asphalt took her completely by surprise. Growing up she’d often heard the expression ‘frozen in fear’, but she’d never experienced it herself, until now. Looking up, she had just enough time to see the car that had barreled around the curb careening straight for her, to hear the screech of its brakes attempting, and failing, thanks to the slick road, to stop before reaching her…and then the only thing that she was aware of was a wave of blind, animalistic fear more intense than any she’d ever known before.
I’m going to die. The thought was as clear in her mind as she could now see the panicked face of the car’s driver through his windshield. And then, without warning the strangest sensation swept through her, like something deep inside had been broken open before flooding her entire being with a relentless tide of pure, powerful energy.
“Megan!” She only dimly registered the desperate shout, as distracted as she was with the certainty of her impending death and the alien feeling now coursing through her frame, but she did feel it when another body collided roughly with hers; knocking her out of the path of the wildly-sliding car.
Tumbling in a confused riot of limbs, she found herself flat on her back and struggling to breathe on the snow-covered bank on the opposite side of the road; that strange energy still surging strongly through her trembling form.
She had one dazed view of Finn gazing down upon her- his expression an odd mixture of honest concern and something else- like he’d just seen in her something he’d never expected to see. Then, before either of them had a chance to say anything the rush of energy, adrenaline probably, one corner of her mind tried to reason, reached a sudden, abrupt crescendo. Megan Conroy’s world went black; leaving behind only the sound of distant sirens and a darkness that inexplicably seemed to be edged in faint flickers of golden light.