tell him the exact circumstances of the exchange—I was too embarrassed to let him know that someone had teased me for having a lady-mustache and unibrow. But I told him that I hadn’t run away and hid from one of the mean girls.
“I stood up to her,” I said. “It won’t be as much fun for her to pick on me anymore.”
“I knew it, Shalu!” my lovely fiancé said. “Things will turn around for you now. You’ll see.”
Two weeks later, when we were getting our homework back in algebra class, I heard Charlie cursing under his breath at his grade. Mr. Jeffries handed me back my paper, which had a large, red, circled A on the top, the words Well done! scrawled underneath. I looked up again at Charlie, whose face was pale, clicking his pen nervously.
As we were leaving class, the teacher asked Charlie and me to stay behind. I was puzzled. I couldn’t have been in trouble. The classroom was now empty apart from the three of us. Mr. Jeffries adjusted his glasses.
“I want to try a little experiment,” he said, now resting his chin in one hand. “Our school promotes a program where students in the higher grades coach or tutor those in the lower grades. But we’re going to do something different here.”
I bit my bottom lip. What was he going to suggest?
“Shalini, you’re probably my best math student,” he said. “And you, Charlie, well—you’re struggling.”
Charlie looked down at his feet. I followed his gaze. One of his shoelaces had come undone.
“So I’m thinking, Shalini, that maybe you can help Charlie out. Be his tutor.”
I froze on the spot. I had never even spoken to this boy and had no desire to after the way he had made my first day here a misery. I pulled the stack of books I was holding closer to my chest like a shield.
Charlie’s head snapped in my direction and then back to Mr. Jeffries.
“What?” he snapped. “No way! I’m not having her anywhere near me.” He said it as if I had leprosy. I hated him. It should have been me saying no. I was meant to be in AP Math. I shouldn’t even be here.
Mr. Jeffries squared his gaze on Charlie, his eyes hardening.
“I don’t really think you have a say in this,” he said. “You’re close to failing. If you want to have any chance of passing, you need the help of this young lady here. But if you have a better idea, I’d sure like to hear it.”
Charlie glared at Mr. Jeffries for a second.
“Fine,” he said under his breath, as if he were doing me a favor.
My heart sped, rage gathering in my belly. I was furious. I had no interest in helping this boy, and I was mad at Mr. Jeffries for just springing it on me. I had way too much work already. I decided I would tell him as much.
I opened my mouth, but the protests got stuck in my throat. The obedient girl kicked in again, the girl I had always been, the one who did what was asked of her.
“I will do my best to help, sir,” I said quietly. I glanced over at Charlie. His face was sullen. His left cheek twitched nervously.
Charlie and I left the room together. We stood awkwardly in the hallway.
“So, like, what day?” he asked, looking right past me.
We settled on Wednesdays after school, in the library, for an hour. He tapped it into his phone, stuck the phone in his back pocket, turned around, and walked off.
A few days later, I found him waiting for me at a table in the farthest corner of the library. He barely looked up. I had been nervous about this all day. But now, looking down at him, I was just annoyed. An ache had started to form in my left temple. I sat in the chair across from him, staring at the pile of books that were scattered on the table. On the top was his most recent test paper, the one on which he had scored a D.
“Where are you having the most trouble?” I asked him. He shook his head and folded his arms across his chest.
“All of it,” he said. “I don’t see what the point is. I’m never gonna need any of this crap. I don’t