Summary: Academics aren't the only stressor in high school
Previous Chapters: Click the Hero In My Life tag.
Our second hike—which we took on the last weekend of October—was a lot less fun than our first one. While the days weren’t too bad—with the amount of hiking and fighting we did, we usually didn’t need sweatshirts, let alone jackets once the sun got up there—night temperatures went below freezing. Getting to the latrine after dark seemed to take a lot longer when the winds blew and we lingered by the dying campfires to warm up before getting back to our tents, where we could crawl back into our sleeping bags and hope we didn’t kick out and hit someone when we did.
Sophie tripped over me on our first night and my leg was still sore in the morning. I knew better than to complain, though.
Foraging was much harder this time. Most of the plants we’d learned to recognize a month ago were either dead or no longer in bloom.
“Maybe I should’ve gone to a KOLT school,” Marianne muttered. “Bet they forage at Loblaw’s in Ottawa.”
Natalie came up behind us. “Morris Island Conservation Area, actually,” she said. “I was there two years ago. Keep at it, ladies, or there’ll be no vegetables with supper tonight.”
“Wonder if we could get that in writing,” Sophie murmured.
“I heard that!”
When we got back to school, I realized that mid-terms would be starting in just over a month. After that, I’d be going home for two weeks before the winter term started. It was weird: we squeezed so much into our days that it felt like ages between morning and lights out, but the weeks had somehow zipped by in no time.
I looked at my midterm schedule and felt my heart sink. Nine midterms in ten days, plus fitness and hapkido evaluations, plus the elective workshops ended the week before midterms started—which was going to cut into my study time. And this week alone, I had two pages of French exercises due tomorrow, a 1000-word history paper—which was, at least, more than half done—for Tuesday, a 2500-word essay for English due Wednesday and a biology test on Thursday. I felt my heart sink further.
There was no way I’d be able to review everything; not with only twenty-four hours in a day and classes still ongoing. Maybe I needed to find a planet with forty-hour days. Forty-hour days, an earth-type atmosphere, and close enough that it wouldn’t take me decades to reach it. Maybe a teleporter could… I sighed. The only person I knew here who could teleport was Stewart and he couldn’t manage more than about five meters in any direction.
I tried telling myself to get a grip. I was a good student; I always had been. I was doing okay on in-class tests and assignments so far. But everyone I knew had warned me last year that high school was going to be hard, that up until now, I’d been coasting on general knowledge, but from this point on, I was really going to have to buckle down, and that midterms and finals were killers.
And Macomber hated me. To be fair, he hated all of us, probably enough to dock us for stupid stuff. He’d yelled at Reggie in class last week for writing o’s that looked “like deflated balloons”.
I sighed, put my camping clothes in the bag to be collected at laundry pickup, and reached for my French textbook.
Reggie texted me about an hour later, to ask if I was up for kettlebells. I almost turned him down, before I remembered that there was a fitness midterm, too. And I had a funny feeling that here, gym classes got taken a lot more seriously than they did at any regular school.
It was almost an hour and a half until supper and I was still trying to figure out irregular adjectives. I texted Reggie back, asking him if we could meet up after supper. Then I thought about something else.
Want to meet in the library and study tomorrow? I texted. Getting antsy about midterms.
Now I’d done it. I’d never asked a guy to study with me before unless a teacher put us in a group together. And why did I text him the question? If I’d asked him during the workout, I could have made it sound casual and he would have known I was just being friendly. Now he was going to think I was interested in him. He was going to think I was coming on too strong. He was going to back off and it was going to be awkward like anything in class from now on. He was…
… He was texting me back.
Yes. And then, about a minute later, Me 2 ;-).
I let out a deep breath, raised my arms over my head and stretched. Except it looked—and felt—more like a cheer. Which was weird. I mean, Reggie was a nice guy and all, but like I’d told Marianne, he was just a friend.
“So,” I told Marianne, “we’re meeting in the library tomorrow. Want to join us?”
Marianne tilted her head. “You mean sit and watch the two of you gaze longingly into each other’s eyes?” she teased.
“Your French and biology marks are higher than mine,” I pointed out. “And I bet, higher than Reggie’s, too. You know Macomber keeps kicking him out in the middle of the lesson. And he’s always clowning around. I don’t know how well he’s going to know his stuff.”
“Well,” Marianne said, “just because he clowns around in class doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his stuff. If you’re that worried, though, why did you ask him on a study date?”
“It’s not a study date,” I protested. “It’s just… studying.”
“Yeah.” I took a deep breath. “When I started with the kettlebells, he could have let me figure stuff out on my own,” I said slowly. “He’s been working out with them for years; helping me was taking a big step backwards. And I know the workouts we’ve been doing together have cut into his own practice time. This is me trying to pay him back.”
Marianne nodded. “Okay. And the reason you want me around is…?”
That was harder to put into words, but I tried. “I like Reggie as a friend,” I said. “I don’t know if he’s a boyfriend or just a friend who’s a boy. And I don’t know if he’s just been helping me to be nice and joking around with me because he jokes around with everyone, or if he really likes me. But one thing I do know is that if people see us together in the library, just the two of us, they’re going to think we’re more than just friends. Until I know what we are, I don’t want everyone else assuming stuff.” I took another breath. “And your grades are higher than mine in everything but English.”
“This is true,” Marianne admitted. “Okay,” she said. “But on one condition: we actually study. If you two start acting like you’re starring in a Harlequin Teen novel, I’m moving to another table. Hey, maybe ask the others: Sharon and Sophie and Tina. And Jeremy,” she added quickly, looking away from me for a moment.
I’d already been about to say yes, but that last name brought me up short. “Jeremy?” I repeated.
“He’s struggling in geography.”
“Jeremy?” I repeated.
“I’m going to be hero stream,” Marianne said, still looking at the ground. “That means helping people in trouble. It doesn’t say anywhere that tutoring doesn’t count.”
“Jeremy?” I was smiling.
Marianne sighed. “He probably doesn’t even know I’m alive.”
“But if you’re sharing a table with him, he’ll figure it out?”
She gave me a nervous half-smile. “Maybe?”
“I’ll send the email. Want me to find a font that puts little hearts over the i’s?”
She gave me an annoyed look. “You know there’s no villain stream option next year, right?”
As it turned out, Sharon and Tina already had a study date planned for the time Reggie and I had set up to meet—in hand-to-hand combat. Sophie was game, though.
“And Jeremy?” Marianne asked offhandedly.
“I’m waiting to hear,” I said. “How come you didn’t email him?”
Marianne looked down. “It’s your study date.”
“It’s our study group.”
She sighed. “I guess, if he can’t make it, I’d rather hear it through a buffer than have him email me directly,” she said.
I tilted my head. “Wait. I’m your… body armor? I thought you were supposed to protect me, not vice versa.” Whoa. I was talking like Tina. Where did that come from?
“Hey. I’ll face down a wendigo army for you, if need be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stand a little help in maybe trying to see if I could possibly get a date. Maybe?”
I smiled. “Well, I already sent that email. If I send another one so fast, he’ll start thinking that I’m the one interested. Unless you want me to tell him that you asked for him specially.”
Marianne shook her head emphatically. “Don’t you dare!”
“Okay, okay,” I held up my hands in mock-surrender. “So… what’s a wendigo army?”
“Wendigo are…” Marianne hesitated. “Well, I guess you could call them evil spirits. Cannibals. You don’t want to run into one, much less an army.”
I shivered. “But they’re made up, right?”
“I don’t know,” Marianne said seriously. “I mean, yeah, they’re considered an,” she made air quotes with her fingers, “Indian legend.” She took a step closer to me. “But the fact is, back in 1879, there was a Cree trapper named Swift Runner, hanged in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta for killing and eating eight members of his family. And he went to the gallows insisting that he’d been possessed by a wendigo that made him do it. Now, of course, most people today would say that he was mentally ill. I’m not saying he wasn’t. But maybe,” she brought her face to within a few centimeters of mine, “just maybe… he was also telling the truth. Seems to me that being possessed by an evil spirit and then realizing what you’d done while it was controlling you would be enough to destroy anybody’s mind.”
Since Halloween was only two days away, I was almost positive that she was just trying to creep me out. Almost.
You’d think that between the five of us, there’d be more talking and flirting than studying going on, but you’d be wrong. A while back, Marianne had said that the reason Macomber hated the Track Ones was because he assumed they only cared about athletics and combat, not academics. As we neared the two-hour mark, I found myself wishing he’d come into the library and see for himself.
It wasn’t that the Track Ones didn’t care about school, I was starting to realize. It was that so many of them were literally planning to go out and risk their lives every day, once they got out of here. Any little bit of training, every fighting technique, could make all the difference. And they couldn’t teleport to a planet with longer days any more than I could. So, something had to give and, for them, it was academics.
And me? I was enjoying the fitness and hapkido classes. I was starting to wear a belt with my pants, because they had gotten a bit looser in the last couple of months. I didn’t get winded as quickly when I was working out either. But for me, even though I knew that self-defence would give me an edge, like running fast, and pull-ups, and everything else I was taking outside of academics except, maybe, jewelry-making, for me, academics came first. I knew how my parents would react if I came back from a fancy boarding school ‘up north’ with worse grades than I’d had going in. I’d be at Simcoe Collegiate so fast I’d think Sharon had run me there. Plus, there was almost no way they’d buy that I’d gotten another scholarship if my average slipped.
And I wanted to go to university. Despite what Dr. Percival had mentioned, I wasn’t at all sure if I wanted to be a doctor. I knew I’d love English literature and I could definitely see myself teaching Victorian literature. Or maybe, nineteenth century English Lit—I didn’t want to leave the Brontёs out of it.
So, I guess it was fair to say that while athletics were important to me, academics had to come first. The kids who were probably going to be Hero stream next year had it the other way around. It didn’t make them lazy or flighty (okay, actually, Jeremy could fly; that’s not how I mean it). It just meant that they had different priorities.
I realized that Marianne was waving her hand in front of my face. “Huh?”
She grinned. “I think you’ve just answered my question, actually. I was just suggesting we call it a night. I want to give that history paper another read-through; I finished it right before supper. And you look pretty beat.”
I felt it, too. But it was a good kind of tired. We’d really covered a lot of ground. And Jeremy had shown us a trick for memorization involving index cards. It took a lot of time to make them up, but once they were done, they made review a lot easier. And once you had a card memorized, you could take it out of the stack and just review the ones you didn’t know yet. I liked that better than my old method of learning vocabulary: writing out words on one half of the page, definitions on the other, and then covering half the page. I always seemed to memorize the order of the definitions, instead of connecting them to the words.
“I should probably look mine over, too,” I admitted.
“You had yours done before the camping trip, right?” Reggie smirked.
“The night we came back,” I corrected. “I’m not that good.”
“Better than me,” Reggie insisted. “I have to start writing it now.”
I tilted my head and looked at him sideways. “You’re right,” I said seriously. “I am better than you.” By now, I knew that it wouldn’t offend him to hear me say it. Sure enough, he laughed.
“May we see you lovely ladies back to your dorm?” he asked, pushing back his chair and elbowing Jeremy to do the same.
Sophie got up, too. “I’ll come with,” she said. “And then, the three of us can walk back to Track One territory together.”
I fluttered my eyelids and pushed my voice up a few notches. “My hero!”
Marianne was quiet as we walked back to our suite. I wished her a good night and went back to my French exercises. I was just starting to think that I might be getting the hang of it, when she knocked on my door. “So,” she said, her eyes darting everywhere but in my direction, “about Jeremy. Do you think he… likes me?”
To be honest, I didn’t have the faintest idea. “You barely spoke two words to each other all evening,” I pointed out. “It’s a little hard to get a feel for how things went.”
“Well I wasn’t going to confess my undying love for him in the middle of the reference section!” she snapped.
I raised an eyebrow. “Undying love? Seriously?”
She sighed. “Well, not really. Undying hope that there might one day be love?”
I tried hard not to laugh. The last thing I wanted to do was insult her. But… “Jeremy. I mean, he’s so… small.” He looked more like eleven than fourteen.
“And he’s smart, and he can fly, and he never gives up—even though so many of the others are faster and stronger. And I just…” She blushed. “I know it sounds stupid, but when he looks sad, I just want to hug him and tell him it’ll all be okay. I mean, I wouldn’t. He’d probably get offended and we’d both be embarrassed and…” she sighed, “…this place is really too small for anyone to be able to avoid anyone for long. And it’s not like there are a whole lot of places I can transfer to if everything goes wrong. So,” she sighed again, “I guess I’ll just have to live in hope. If I can stick it out until graduation, I can tell him on the last day. Then, if things don’t work out, I’ll be back in the Soo and he’ll be off in Niagara Falls.”
“Niagara-on-the-Lake,” I corrected.
She made a face. “It is really annoying that you know that and you don’t even like him.”
“I like him!” I protested. “I mean… I don’t like him, like him, but I don’t hate him or anything like that.”
“So… could you sound him out?”
I blinked. “Me?”
“Hey, you and Reggie seem to be hitting it off fine.”
Were we? And what did that have to do with anything? I guess my uncertainty was showing, because Marianne added, “Just find out for me if I’ve got a chance with him.”
I sighed. “Okay.”
Oh sheesh. I sighed again. “So much for taking out a full-page ad in the school paper. Wait. Have we got a school paper?”
Marianne rolled her eyes. “No. And all of a sudden? I’m glad we don’t. You’ll do it?”
As she headed back to her own room, I found myself wishing she’d asked me to help her with her homework instead.