Fiona liked to call herself a wannabe. A wannabe artist, a wannabe actress, a wannabe detective and a wannabe guitar player. “I wannabe everything,” she said. And she meant it too.
Once, when we were in the seventh grade, she wanted to be a fish. She used one of the permanent markers they kept in the back of the closet in the art room and drew three lines on each side of her face, right where her neck met her chin. All day long she walked through the halls like a complete freak. She sort of glided while sliding her feet and swaying from side to side. I wouldn’t even call it walking. But Fiona didn’t either. She said she was swimming. She also stuck her head in the drinking fountain and let the water run over the side of her neck where she had drawn her gills.
“What are you doing?” I asked. We were in the middle of C hall and everyone was already staring.
Water spilled down her chin and the top of her shirt was getting soaked.
“I’m getting oxygen from the water.”
She straightened up, and wiped the water off her chin with the back of her arm.
“I’ve been holding my breath all day.”
When we got to math, Mrs. Howard asked Fiona why her shirt was all wet. Fiona looked down like she was surprised. Like she didn’t even notice her shirt was sticking to her chest.
“I’m always wet,” she said.
In the back of the room Jay Wagner and Eric Moor started laughing. I hoped Mrs. Howard didn’t say anything because then it meant she knew what they were laughing at. And if she knew then everyone could know, and then everyone else had to make the choice whether to laugh or not to laugh. Except me. I didn’t have a choice. Everyone already knew what I’d have to do.
“Aren’t you cold?” Mrs. Howard asked Fiona.
She didn’t even look at Jay and Eric.
And that was all she said about it. After that, she just turned back to her desk and asked the rest of the class to get out last night’s homework. Then she turned around, pushed her glasses back on her nose, and looked straight at me.
My seat felt small. Or like the cheap blue plastic had become twisted somehow and now it didn’t fit the desk right.
“What did you get for number one?”
This is why I didn’t like Mrs. Howard. She was one of those teachers who always called on you even though she knew you didn’t know the answer. I hated it when teachers did this. It’s like they thought being embarrassed would somehow inspire you to find the right answer when really, if you knew the right answer, you’d say it right away. You’d already have it and you’d tell everyone so you wouldn’t have to be embarrassed.
“X = 10,” I said.
Mrs. Howard grabbed a piece of chalk from the ledge at the bottom of the chalkboard and held it forward.
“Show us how you did it.”
I got up from my desk and grabbed the chalk then stood in front of the chalkboard with my back to the room.
Having to show your work was the worse. Because then you couldn’t just give some random answer and say, “Oh, oops. I guess I got wrong.” You couldn’t act like you didn’t care. Or like it was just some small mistake. You had to sit there and show everyone, step by step, how stupid you were. How you didn’t get anything. How you didn’t even know where to start.
I lifted the chalk and wrote out the question.
2(X – 5) = 1/2X + 1/2 (X -15)
And then I stopped writing. I looked down at my paper. All it said was X = 10. The chalk didn’t move. It stayed still on the board. Someone shifted in their seat then a small laugh came from the back of the room. I turned around.
“I forgot to show my work.”
“That’s okay,” Mrs. Howard said. “You can show us now.”
“I don’t remember how I did it.”
“Why don’t you just start with the first step?”
“I don’t remember.”
I looked over at Fiona. She was making a fish face at me.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
“What part of it don’t you get?”
“All of it.”
“All of it?”
Fiona crossed her eyes. I put the chalk down and wiped the dust off on the tops of my pants.
“Yup, all of it.”
Mrs. Howard sighed. She didn’t even try to hide it.
“Okay, then. You can sit down.”
Jay and Eric were laughing of course. And so were Susy Meyers, Liz Jenson, and a few of the others. Paul, who was my partner in gym, was studying his paper really hard. Mrs. Howard was looking at her grade book and writing something down. Probably something like, Lucas does not get it. Or, Lucas still does not get all of it.
I always thought Mrs. Howard didn’t get it but maybe she did. Maybe if she let Fiona sit there wet and dripping and acted like it was no big deal, she got it at least a little. Maybe she called on me because she really thought I knew the answers. Or maybe she thought that the attention was helping me. Who knows, teachers are weird. She probably just liked Fiona more than me and gave her a break.
When I got back to my seat Fiona was still making the fish face and crossing her eyes. I shook my head and sat down. She looked like a total idiot.