Annie had always been headstrong. She was a smart and persistent girl who never stopped until she reached her goal; whether that goal was getting honor roll or growing sunflowers as tall as her father. In elementary school, she once begged her parents to help her go door to door to have neighbors sign a petition to let Pluto be a planet again. Her natural resourcefulness and dedication led her to many successes, but more importantly, in her mind, failing was not an option.
For better or worse, her diligence was relentless. And in her hunt to better understand Jonah Mathias—the violent, ill-tempered outcast—she hoped diligence would pay off.
“For this project you’ll be working in pairs.” Mrs. McGraw had finished the day’s lesson and was setting the stage for the next assignment. The class seemed fidgety, after all it had been an hour of listening to her ramble on about the origins of religion. While everyone else seemed to be slumping in their chairs, Annie got a glint in her eye at the sound of the word “project”.
The teacher continued in her overzealous, booming voice. “Remember, you’ll be picking an influential person from any religion to research and present to the class for midterms. To keep it fair, I’m using this online random generator to pair you all up.”
She then pecked at her laptop that was hooked up to an old projector while whispering “I love technology…” A few clicks later and indeed there was a two-column chart beaming on the faded projector screen at the front of the room. A name was typed out in Times New Roman in each box, two dozen students accounted for in the chart’s several rows. Mrs. McGraw seemed giddy that it all worked as planned.
“Ok, so find your partner, you have a few minutes now before the end of class to discuss your topics. Choose two or three in case your top pick is taken. Top pick topic,” she giggled at herself before resuming. “Everyone will submit their topic selections tomorrow so I can check there are no overlaps.”
The class began to mobilize, especially after their teacher clapped “chop, chop!” at them. Kids were shuffling around the room and dragging desks into pairs to acquaint themselves with the partner they’d be working with for the next several weeks.
Annie had been slightly shellshocked for the last minute or two at her strange twist of fate. She felt excited at this rare, unforeseen prospect to engage more closely with Jonah. She had been watching him intently for the first couple weeks of school but had never spoken a word with him, save for that awkward bump in the hallway. She felt as elated as Mrs. McGraw was at the randomized results, because five minutes ago Annie didn’t think that she and Jonah would be paired together for anything ever.
“Annie—” Mrs. McGraw chimed above the chatter. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Or, maybe not after all.
Annie made her way to the front of the room, a bit perplexed that she was being singled out while the rest of the class was finding their assigned partners.
Mrs. McGraw was quiet when she said, “You know, I can switch some things around. You’re a good student, and…that shouldn’t be jeopardized. I can understand if you don’t want to work with Jonah, and it might be better that way.” There was some guilt evident in her voice, as even she didn’t predict such pitfalls of her ingenious idea.
Annie processed the words from her teacher’s mouth carefully as if someone was running interference with her master plan. She had just been borderline-euphoric at the revelation that she was partnered with the most intriguing dark horse to have stepped foot in Brooksburg Public High School, and now she was being asked if she wanted to give that up. Hell no!
“It’s alright,” she reassured. “I’m fine with it, don’t worry.”
The wrinkles on Mrs. McGraw’s hollow face doubled when she scrunched up in honest concern. She blinked and then asked, “Are you sure?”
Annie gave an empathic and firm “Yes.”
There was some nervous rubbing of her hands before Mrs. McGraw conceded, “Ok then. Please let me know if there are any problems…” Annie smiled and nodded before retreating back into the newly-chaotic and loud classroom.
Wiggling through a maze of desks, she approached Jonah sitting there in his seat, not having moved an inch since the assignment was announced. To be quite honest, he didn’t want anything to do with whatever the hell was going on. He had stopped listening when the teacher started describing some class project, and then it became way too loud and annoying to do anything but ignore the ruckus around him. He tried to drone it out by drumming a beat in his head, mindlessly tapping his pencil softly on the tabletop along with the rhythm. Suddenly there was a body next to him and his hand stopped.
There was a momentary intense staring contest between the two of them until Annie got up to grab something from her own desk a couple of seats away. Jonah was inexplicably irked by the forcefulness of this girl who came out of nowhere. Nobody at school dared to talk to him, let alone like that—unless they wanted to fight. He was a bit surprised, admittedly, that a small innocent-looking girl like her would be so brazen with him. He wasn’t angry, more like irritated that she was telling him what to do. At school, and well pretty much everywhere else, he just wanted to be left alone.
Annie returned with a small agenda notebook in hand. She sat, and as she paged through to today’s date on a weekly calendar spread, she stated without looking up, “Let me see, I have debate club today after school and newspaper on Thursdays, but I can meet tomorrow. Does that work for you?”
She looked up at him in earnest, her hazelnut eyes imploring for an answer. Jonah couldn’t help but get sucked into the honest, virtuous gaze— the intensity seemed familiar, and he suddenly recalled having stared at this girl at least once before. Her question was dripping in naivety, just like her eyes were, he thought. Most people would find any excuse to not have to be in his presence, so her blind insistence was mind-bogglingly stupid. He dismissively averted his eyes to the side and declared, “I’m not going.”
Annie’s mouth opened for a retort but the bell rang unforgivingly and the sound of metal chairs scrapping on the floor as students packed up to leave echoed in the air. Annie was already approaching wit’s-end with this conversation, but she hadn’t expected to be interrupted so soon. She made one last demand before leaving the classroom.
“I don’t care if you don’t like it, you’re going to meet me tomorrow after school.” Jonah grimaced indignantly as she stood up from the desk.
She began to walk away but turned to add, “In the library.” Her face pouted as she pointed at him, inadvertently acting like her strict mother in doing so. Her stubbornness crossed into bossiness, and while she was no pushover, it was not like her to blatantly order someone around. She had to be tough lest this opportunity slip away, but what exactly had she expected? Did she really think this encounter was going to go swimmingly? She hadn’t planned for it at all, actually, and in retrospect, it went as well as it probably could have with someone like Jonah.
As she walked away, Jonah was left there feeling annoyed and defeated. This girl was going to be hard to shake off. He was not looking forward to that.Continue Reading...