Marianne Blume didn't know a lot, but she knew she was stupid.
And so did Mr. Garcia.
"Alright, Ms. Blume," he said, serious as ever, giving her a look like this was her one last chance.
When the class heard him call on her, most of them tuned out, scribbling on worksheets until they could actually learn something again.
"Let's give this one a try," he went on.
Oh no. He wasn't really going to make her do this, was he?
That afternoon she'd tried a couple of her usual strategies to get him to leave her be: sighing here and there like she was having outside-the-classroom troubles, and scribbling in her notebook so it looked like she was taking notes.
"Who, me?" She raised her eyebrows in the doe-eyed way she'd learned meant "I know nothing."
Kylie Chen, seated in the chair next to her, snorted. The class giggled at her snort.
Thanks, Kylie. Maybe Mr. Garcia would move on. Too much distraction.
Marianne heard Vi Cross mutter something to herself two desks over. She glanced back just in time to see Vi roll her eyes.
Marianne could see that Vi was annoyed, and she understood she'd already frustrated Mr. Garcia, but what she couldn't wrap her head around was how in any world, in any version of any universe, she was supposed to figure out the value of X.
"Hmm. Sorry. I don't know this one." She threw Mr. Garcia a big smile. The more you smiled, the more people liked you. And man, did she want Mr. Garcia to like her.
"Let's walk through it together," Mr. Garcia went on, offering no sunshine in return. Why was he doing this? He knew she didn't—and wouldn't—know the answer.
Ms. James, Marianne's English and history teacher, would've let her off the hook. So would her math teacher from last year, Ms. Corwin, who made Marianne and a few other kids spend a couple of lunches a week in her classroom completing extra worksheets. Ms. Corwin loved to chat, so they spent most of the lunch hour gabbing with her about stuff like the best mystery shows on Netflix and what they'd do if they had a million dollars. Those teachers understood Marianne. They wouldn't put her on the spot. Even Mr. Hedley from sixth grade, a famously grumpy science teacher, would've joked around with Marianne instead of embarrassing her. Marianne figured out early on that Mr. Hedley was like most cranky old grandpas—a softie. After a few post-class questions about his grandkids, they became the best of friends. She still stopped by Mr. Hedley's room to see if his ski champion grandson was getting closer to the Olympics.
"Okay, let's work through this together..." Mr. Garcia turned to the Smart Board, which was Marianne's cue to shut off her brain. Like she always said, mostly just to herself: If you don't listen, you can't not know.
Her thoughts drifted to her best friend, Skyla, and what she might be doing in her science class across the hall right then.
Mr. Garcia kept talking.
Marianne put a finger to her temple and tried to send Skyla telepathic messages: Skylaaa, my mom will only buy me all-natural deodorant and it doesn't work. Help meee.
He went on and on.
Marianne forced herself to think about the pair of red shoes she really wanted from the thrift store downtown. She thought of how she couldn't wait for lilac season, when the whole town smelled like a perfume shop. She thought about how weird it was that killer whales were dolphins, not whales, and how she wished she could be a killer whale right then, splashing freely in the sea instead of stuck in an uncomfortable metal chair, bent over a desk, a bright overhead light making it impossible to hide the big pimple on the side of her nose and Mr. Garcia making it impossible to hide that she hadn't taken in a single thing from his class all year.
Mr. Garcia inched closer to the end of his lecture, and she knew he'd ask her to say something soon.