Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety

At first quite nervous, Wil found a surprising level of obscurity behind the words of her story. Her audience helped as well; gasping at Carl’s stupidity, glaring at the incompetent office secretary, leaning forward when she told of reading the internet story, then bursting out in laughter at poor Carl’s panic and intentional pants-dropping.

Even Hope giggled, a sweet chirping noise that Wil suspected Hope rarely voiced.

Not everyone laughed; to her side, Stephen appeared shocked. He almost looked as though he had been the one who spilled chemicals on half his group and then exposed himself in mistake.

Reagan noticed his discomfort. “Relax, Stevie,” she drawled. She wiped at her eyes.

“Stephen,” Stephen mumbled in correction as he glanced down at his chocolate cupcake wrapper.

She laughed a snort. “No shit, Sherlock.”

“Reagan,” Hope said.

The outspoken girl turned to the much smaller, meeker one. Their eyes met before Reagan lowered hers. “Sorry, Stephen.”

Wil nearly choked. Again.

“Thanks, Reagan,” Derek said. “Hope.” He smiled. Wil realized Derek smiled to help others calm down; she wished it had that effect on her.

“So…” Art began. Most shifted to face his direction. “Why’re we meeting today?”

All eyes flitted to Derek. “Welll,” their leader answered, “Stephen and I have been talking more about our group-‘

And the name, I hope,” Reagan interjected.

“Sure,” Derek acknowledged, blinking. His confusion cleared, and he continued, “Um, so we’ve talked about why we got together as a group anyway….” His voice cracked a bit and he swallowed. His gaze shifted around the group. Reagan made a rude gesture, which startled him into a shocked expression, then a genuine smile. “Ha! Thanks, Reagan. Thing is, I think we ought to actually do something with this group.”

Stephen nodded but the others’ expressions ranged from wary to (in Wil’s case) blank.

“You mean….” his main heckler said, “…like the Girl Scouts?”

This time, even Stephen laughed.

“Actually, Reagan,” Derek said, “That’s not so far off…”

 

Continued from Eighty-Nine.
Keep reading to Ninety-One.

 

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Nine

“Well,” Reagan greeted Wil, “It’s about time!”

Wil glanced around the blue table’s occupants in confusion but realized none of them seemed upset. In fact, several were smiling. Art laughed outright. Compared to Reagan’s laugh of earlier, his sounded from a well of authentic joy. “Relax, Wil,” he said. “No one’s mad.”

Wil tried to relax, but Reagan looked the way she’d sounded: mad at her. To Reagan’s right, Hope still smiled kindly. To Hope‘s right, Derek also smiled. Wil felt something flutter inside her and glanced in the safer direction of her clutched tray of food.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. She couldn’t help it.

Art rose and headed to another table. “You’re fine.” He grabbed a yellow chair. Carrying it and setting it between his chair and Stephen’s, he turned to Reagan and mouthed, Knock it off! Reagan rolled her eyes in response and continued the serious study of consuming her sack lunch. To Wil, Art turned halfway and gestured for her to sit. She did, sliding her food carefully onto the crowded surface.

“Maybe we’ll send Hope next time,” Derek teased.

Reagan snorted.

“You already had Hope deliver the note,” Stephen stated. His lunch was finished and he was in process of eating his dessert. Bits of chocolate cake clung to his fingertips and lip. “Did that fail?”

Reagan snorted again. “Didn’t you hear?”

“No. Hear what?”

The dramatic girl fixed him with a look. “About this morning?”

Stephen glanced around the table. The rest of his friends appeared bemused, though Wil appeared very interested in her chicken-like gravy. He shook his head in the negative, the gesture making him look like a nervous owl.

“Well!” Reagan began, in a tone of conspiracy, “This morning, right after Wil discovered her note, Ol’ Dr. L. decided to change things up in class.” She took a drink from her water bottle. Swallowed. She leaned forward a bit, then sat back up. “Actually, I think Wil should tell it.”

Wil gagged on her soggy green beans. Startled, Stephen observed Wil’s coughing and then smacked her on the back. Wil managed to wave him off and regain composure. “I…” she began, “I know Hope was there.”

The shy girl gave Wil a half-smile. “I was.” Wil sighed in relief. “But,” Hope added, “Dr. L. was in front of my view when I heard the yell.” Wil’s former optimism died.

“Yell?” Stephen asked. “Who yelled? Wil yelled?”

“No,” Wil said. “Well -maybe yes.” Everyone stared at her. She blushed. She didn’t know how she’d been talked into this but saw she couldn’t back out now. “Carl Hurn yelled. His frien- Harry yelled. That girl probably did, too.” She stirred at her stale rice with a bandaged hand. “You see: she’d just gotten our supplies from the closet and set them on her desk. Carl said something like, ‘I know what to do,’ before heading over and tripping or something and crashing right into her…”

 

Continued from Eighty-Eight.
Keep reading to Ninety.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Eight

Yeah,” Wil said. “Harry.” She adjusted her backpack the best she could and glanced over at Reagan’s face. The girl appeared to be somewhere besides the crowded common room they were about to cross. “You all right, Reagan?”

Reagan’s eyes followed a blue spoon-shaped artwork on the wall before she returned Wil’s attentions. “What?”

“I asked,” Wil stressed the word, “If you were all right.”

A few teenagers brushed past them. “Hm …yeah,” Reagan answered. Another group walked between them, eyeing them; sending a nonverbal query as to why the two girls obstructed the base of the stairs.

“Oh.” Wil thought to elaborate; decided against it. “Well!” she said in a brighter tone, “Should we go see what the others want?”

“Oh!” Reagan blinked. “The thingie! -Yeah, Wil, let’s go!” She grabbed for Wil’s backpack again, but Wil was quick enough to pull it away this time.

“I’ll walk faster without the dragging.”

Reagan faced her, hand on hip and frown on face. “Alright.” Her tone did not sound convinced.

Wil smiled in innocence and started forward at a fairly quick pace. Pockets of chattering pupils and phone-hypnotized stragglers stood between her and the hallway to the lunchroom stairwell. She would have preferred a slower pace, but chose this over Reagan’s alternative.

With only a few stumbles and accidental shoulder-bumping, she and her impatient friend made it across. They turned and rushed down the stairs. Wil had enough spare thought to admire Reagan’s graceful descent compared to her own pell-mell lunges before she made it to the bottom without accident.

“Reagan,” she called, out of breath, just before the girl’s shadow turned the corner. The shadow stopped and looked to turn back. Wil stood and walked forward. “I. have. to. get. lunch. first,” she managed to say.

Reagan responded with another hand on hip pose. Wil took it as permission and headed to the counters.

“I’ll tell them you’re coming,” Reagan called. She left. Wil sighed in relief.

“What’s it today, dearie?” the smiling lunchlady asked. Her hair net head appeared more edible than the fare she offered, but Wil frowned and considered the options anyway. She needed to hurry, before Reagan changed her mind.

 

Continued from Eighty-Seven.
Keep reading to Eighty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Seven

As Reagan near-dragged Wil out of the art room and down the hallway of classrooms and lockers, Wil couldn’t help but recall Art’s tease that their helpful friend was “domineering.” She tried to get a word in, or at least a trailing sneaker. “Reagan, I-”

Drag.

“But, wait! I-”

“No time, Wil!” Yank.

Wil might have found herself in a helpless twist of clothes and backpack at the lunchroom door if, at the exact moment they passed the office, her captor had not looked back to reprimand Wil’s sluggishness. As such, neither girl anticipated the collision with the exiting boy.

“Ouch!” he said. “What the- Wil!

Wil saw Reagan’s impending curse die on her lips. “Harrison?” she said instead.

Harrison’s face clouded into a scowl. He turned to face Reagan; both she and Wil noticed his bandaged hands.

“Oh,” Reagan said. “Sorry.”

He shrugged a bit, and then had to readjust the folder and book in his arms. His face still scowled. “I don’t mind the burn.” He glanced at Wil, especially at her own, small bandages. “It’s the name.” As he saw understanding cross Reagan’s face, he said, “I’m ‘Harry.’

He turned back to Wil without waiting for a response. He smiled at her. “Hey! D’ya have my phone?”

Wil blinked to recover from his abrupt manner. She was still processing that they’d crashed and that she was not still being pulled. Her eyes focused on the white, bandaged hands before her; traveled up to Harrison’s -Harry’s- face. He had an expectant expression. He’d asked her a question, something about a phone…

“Oh!” Wil said, blushing. “Yeah! I just realized I still had it, but couldn’t remember your name-”

“Harry,” Harry said.

Wil blushed more, if possible. “Right; yeah.”

He stood, still expectant.

“Oh! The phone!” Wil tried to grab for it with her bandaged hand, causing Harry to try to help her, but they both stopped when they realized neither could grasp it.

“Erm, Reagan?” Wil asked. She looked at her friend, but Reagan seemed a little lost. She seemed to be watching something near Harry’s face, or near his startlingly-blue eyes. Wil tried again. “Reagan!”

“Hm- Yeah?” her former captor turned to Wil.

“Uh.” Wil wasn’t accustomed to a speechless Reagan, though she didn’t know the girl very well yet. Maybe her carpool neighbor was sarcastic and talkative with their lunchtime group but not anywhere else. “Could you get Harry’s phone out of my pocket and give it to him?”

Reagan blinked.

“Please?” Harry asked. His tone sounded nicer than before, but still impatient.

Reagan looked back at his eyes; nodded. She reached forward, extracted the cell phone, then gingerly slid it into the side pocket he offered.

“Thanks.” he told her. Smiling a white flash of teeth at Wil, he added, “And thank you, Wil.” He laughed. “Now, I’m gonna try to eat. See ya!” He pushed past the gaping Reagan and a few other teenagers milling around the area and headed down the stairs to the lunchroom.

Wil sighed in relief. “Well, I’m glad I got his phone back. I didn’t even know his name!” She started walking toward the stairs as well; Reagan followed. “He seems like kind of a jerk, though,” she observed.

“Who, Harriso- Harry?” Reagan sounded surprised.

 

Continued from Eighty-Six.
Keep reading to Eighty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Six

“Wil!”

Wil turned in the crowded hall, but saw no one who might have spoken. She wasn’t even sure she’d heard her name at all, and felt she reacted merely at the hope of being named. Frowning and adjusting her straps, she continued on to her locker. Just past the stairwell, however, something or someone pulled on her backpack. She had just enough time to squeak a surprised, “Eep!” before disappearing into the art room.

“What the -” Wil began, turning, then stopped at the sight of Reagan’s highly-amused face. Wil let out a breath and changed her surprised expression for one of incredulity. “Reagan?”

Her carpool neighbor laughed, though in a more subdued manner than usual. “Sorry, Wil. Had to grab you since Hope said you didn’t get your note.”

Wil’s mouth dropped open, which only made Reagan snort. “I…” Reagan began, a twinkle in her eye and an impish smirk starting at the corners of her mouth, “I heard you had a busy morning.”

“How did you-” Wil asked, but a third bout of laughter cut her off.

In fact, Reagan covered her mouth and leaned on an art table for support. Several times, she seemed recovered, then resumed after looking at Wil’s ever-deepening scowl. Finally, Reagan managed to stop. “Wil,” she explained, “The whole school knows about Flasher Hurn.”

Wil’s eyebrows shot up. “Flasher?” She received an affirmative nod. “Flasher Hurn?” Another nod. “Wow.”

“Yeah. He’s not getting rid of that one for a while.”

“Wow,” Wil said again. She couldn’t help it. Poor Carl.

Reagan smiled, then pulled a pretend-disappointed face. “I just can’t believe none of you got a pic or anything!”

“You know we can’t have a -” Wil stopped, and her hand moved to her pocket. The phone she’d grabbed from that other guy was still there! They’d all forgotten about it in the excitement of Carl’s performance and the resultant fallout. Mrs. Bird had called everyone’s parents, made Carl apologize, and finally agreed to call the paramedics. Wil had just barely been released. They’d said her burns were practically superficial, bandaged the affected areas of her arm and fingers, and sent her off to lunch.

At which point Reagan had nabbed her. Wil looked at her captor.

“What?”

“That’s what I want to know. Why’d you grab me?”

The twisted smile Wil saw so often returned. “Oh, that. We’re having a meeting. Top Secret.” Reagan put a finger to her lips. “At the Top Secret blue table everyone can see if they want to, in the Top Secret lunchroom everyone eats in, at the Top Secret time of five minutes ago o’clock.”

Wil took a minute to process her friend’s rambling sentence. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Reagan grabbed Wil’s bandage-free arm. “So, let’s go.”

 

Continued from Eighty-Five.
Keep reading to Eighty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Nine

Wil shuffled her grilled cheese sandwich in a circle of its own dark crumbs. The action piled even more bread bits on the plate, due to how long Jakob had overcooked it. All of the sandwiches were blacker than the family preferred, but they couldn’t afford to buy another meal in replacement.

“Next time, put your phone down,” Rob had said after finding the small kitchen full of stink and smoke. Wil had just walked in and started coughing in surprise. They all heard Cynthia echo the noise from her bedroom.

“Sorry,” Jakob had provided, thus ending another of their lengthy exchanges.

Wil had then been tasked with brushing the burnt parts into the garbage. She’d only dropped one of the sandwiches in, and had managed to retrieve it before anyone noticed. To be fair, she’d then placed that sandwich on her own plate.

Perhaps that was why she wasn’t interested in eating. Then again, maybe she was worried about her mother and Dr. Sullivan’s recommendations. Or, Wil might be tired after their long day.

Her lack of appetite certainly had nothing to do with a little exchange at the playground a half hour before dinner.

“Oh!” Wil exclaimed into the silence. Her family stared at her, all raised eyebrows and questioning expressions. “Erm… I remembered some homework I had.” She looked down, blushing. Wil couldn’t lie and they all knew it. She took a hasty bite of her sandwich to avoid further questions.

Jakob drained his glass of water and wiped a sleeve across his mouth. “Welp, I do have homework. ‘Night.” He cleared his place settings and rinsed them in the sink before stacking them on the counter. His pace was quicker than Wil usually saw him move as he headed down the hall to his room.

She swallowed her stale food. “He must have a lot to get done,” she observed. Her parents shared a look she didn’t understand, then turned away from each other smiling. “What?”

Her mother’s beautiful, loving eyes met Wil’s confused pair. “Oh, Wil. I love you.”

“Well, I love you, too, but that doesn’t explain why -” Wil’s thinking finally caught up with her speaking. The way Eric had looked at her in the dark had reminded her of something, and that something had been how Jakob had stared after Reagan as they were leaving the hospital. Two and two added to four in Wil’s mind; her brother was going to chat with her older school friend, just as she’d guessed before her hasty departure from the family car.

She saw her parents exchange another amused expression.

“But… that’s not homework, either!” she managed.

Her mother turned to Wil again. “‘Either,’ hmm? So, Wil, what were you lying about?”

 

Continued from Sixty-Eight.
Keep reading to Seventy.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Six

Wil began thinking up plans in her head for what else tomorrow might hold. Perhaps, once they were all awake, she could get Jakob to let her play his game with him. Maybe her father would take her practice-driving in the nearby church parking lot. Or she and her mother could…

Dr. Winters studied her screen of notes and frowned. The panning list of backlit research reflected in her serious glasses as she read. Despite copious notes and equations, she and her team had yet to produce a working sample of their proposed formula.

The door of her office opened with a snap. It almost upset her cup of coffee, perched atop the sprawling file cabinet and untouched since she’d made it hours earlier. “Dr. Winters!” the harried undergraduate student who’d just entered said. “Reagan thinks she may have found the error!”

The head of the department continued her scrolling. Her heart had felt to skip a beat upon Tanaka’s entry, but settled under her usual, cool control.

“Doctor?” Thomas Tanaka closed the door more quietly than he’d opened it, and waited.

“So…” Dr. Winters said after a half-minute. “Reagan has found the error?”

“Yes, she-”

Rose Reagan?”

“Well, yeah; the only Reagan on the team…”

His superior looked up. She had a face that could make a lab monkey decide to stop flinging feces and even consider teaching itself sign language. “I see.”

Her subordinate gulped. “Do you… do you want to verify?” Concerned at the icy response, he began speaking more rapidly. “We weren’t sure, either, as she’s not prone to successful tests in general, but were able to produce a solution with her conclusions and tested it on Subject A this morning and many of his symptoms have not been recorded since -”

Dr. Winters gasped. “What?!”

Thomas swallowed again. “I said she’s not prone to success-”

No, no. After that.” She sounded different; excited. “The bit about Subject A.”

He backed up a step at her intensity; he felt the door handle behind his back. “I said that Subject A has not had many of his usual symptoms since this morning.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Dr. Winters asked. She walked forward and would have pulled at the handle through him if he’d not had the instinct to open it and scuttle out of her way and into the hall. “This is revolutionary!” she continued, taking off at a brisk pace with a breathless Thomas just behind. “Let’s study Reagan’s results and get started in replicating them for a test run on Subject B. Then, if successful, we’ll be able to present to the board and possibly begin human trials before the end of the year!”

Together, they stalked down the fluorescent-lit hallway.

Thomas began to lose some nervousness in the wake of his superior’s growing excitement. “Yes!” he agreed. “When I first read over our results, we were all really happy. Reagan said, ‘We’ve done it! We’ve finally cured Cystic Fibrosis!'”

Eyes closed, Wil smiled; as they pulled into the covered parking space of their silent and sleeping apartment complex.

 

Continued from Sixty-Five.
Keep reading to Sixty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Five

A very somber Winters family walked down the wide hall to the hospital exit, intent on the bleak and cold parking garage beyond. Wil was so absorbed by her thoughts that she bumped right into someone in passing the main reception desk.

“Watch it-!” an angry girl’s voice began, then stopped. Wil stopped as well, her mind slowly catching up with her ears and eyes. “Oh, hey, Wil!” the injured girl said. “Long time no see!”

Wil blinked. It was Reagan. Not sure whether she should acknowledge their friendship or not, Wil decided on copying Reagan’s casual tone. “Hi… um… Reagan. Nice to see you, too.”

Reagan laughed outright. “Yeah.” She could barely suppress a wry smile. “Well, guess I’ll see you at carpool!” And she left, more laughter echoing behind her.

Shaking her head, Wil began walking to the exit once more. She stumbled into her stepbrother this time. “Watch it, Wil,” he grumbled. Surprised at the lack of insult, she glanced up to his face. Jakob was not looking down. He was staring off in the direction of Wil’s carpool companion, his expression one that Wil could not remember seeing before.

Reagan rounded the corner out of sight, and Jakob returned to the present to find Wil staring at him. “Real smooth, Wheels,” he said, shortening his favorite nickname for her due to their parents’ proximity. He slouched out the sliding doors.

“Wil.” She looked to see her mother smiling in an encouraging way. Cynthia held out a welcoming hand. Wil clumped forward to take it and relished the soft, loving, comfortable connection. Her father led her mother led Wil behind her sullen stepbrother and out into the dark winter evening.

Ice cloud crystals hung for seconds before their warm exhalations as they walked. The harsh, cold air cut through their coats and scarves and filled their lungs with frigid breaths. Cynthia began coughing with the strain; they huddled round her and moved more quickly to the car.

Jakob was waiting, leaning against the rusted blue hood of the car. Once Rob unlocked it, Jakob opened Wil’s door for her and half-bowed. Not to be outdone, Wil curtsied. She wobbled to a stand. Jakob pretended to shut the door, so she climbed inside.

Rob turned the key in the ignition and was rewarded with a low *chhh-chhhh-chhhhk*. He tried again, to no result. The third time, he offered it some verbal support. The fourth time, he remembered to give the old sedan encouragement from the gas pedal. At last, it clunked to life. They all relaxed to a shivering relief as the air slowly warmed up.

Rob put the car into reverse. He backed out, straightened, and headed for home. Cynthia turned to smile warmly at Jakob and Wil in the backseat.

“What do you say we all sleep in tomorrow?”

Wil thought that was a great idea.

 

Continued from Sixty-Four.
Keep reading to Sixty-Six.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Nine

Wil was last to reach the minivan. She slid open the side door and climbed over seats to sit in the back row.

Besides an encouraging smile after a brief glance up from her phone, Reagan pretended she and Wil did not know each other any more than they had before Wil was listed as “talented.” Wil knew the group wanted anonymity, but that didn’t prevent a sudden, small, hard lump of self-consciousness from forming in her stomach as Reagan acted obliviously.

They moved out toward home. Wil watched the gray, February landscape of commercial suburbia flash past the minivan windows. Why do they pretend they aren’t friends, except at lunch yesterday and today? She wondered to herself. Surely, the secrecy didn’t matter if everyone in the school saw them all eating together.

With that in mind, she pulled a notebook from her backpack.

Next, she withdrew half of a pencil. She tried to write, but found the tip was broken. Sighing, she dropped that pencil back in the backpack and rifled around some more. After withdrawing the same broken tool twice more, she remembered her pen was inside the folder from History class and took that out instead.

She glanced at the other passengers, and even Mrs. Crandall. Vic was engrossed in their English reading assignment; Reagan and Jorge interacted with their screens; and Mrs. Crandall was eating chips from a crinkling bag, reading a celebrity gossip article on her phone, and occasionally looking out of the windshield. Eric was looking steadfastly forward, though Wil thought she’d seen him move a few moments before she’d looked up.

With waning ink, Wil scrawled a hasty message. Then, keeping her eyes on the back of Eric’s head, she dropped the note discreetly into Reagan’s lap.

Reagan casually dropped her hand down to cover the note. After a minute, she looked at her midsection and read it quickly from a carefully-cupped hand. Wil heard Reagan sigh. Reagan rotated her head a bit to stretch her neck, then grabbed a pen from her pocket and wrote something under the original message. Looking around the car and out the window nonchalantly; she yawned, stretched her hands to her shoulders, and dropped the note back on Wil.

Impatiently, Wil picked up the note and read it. Under her own, “Why all the secrets if we eat lunch together?” Reagan had scrawled what looked like, “Speciel meetings for you.”

Wil sat in her seat, blank-faced and blinking. She didn’t even notice Eric glance back at her quickly. She barely saw another wad of paper -this one purple- drop over Reagan’s shoulder and onto Wil’s boots.

Copying Reagan’s subtlety, Wil stretched down to pick up the paper, then smoothed it out quietly across her legs. Reagan’s handwriting spelled out, “Sorry. I was supost to tell you details. Sorry.”

The minivan screeched the turn into their complex, forcing everyone to one side as their bodies stretched at their seatbelts. It bumped gratefully into a parking stall and Mrs. Crandall remembered to put it into Park before turning off the engine and getting out.

Eric, Vic, Jorge, and Mrs. Crandall exited. In the brief few seconds they were inside together, Reagan looked right at Wil and said, “I have a paper to give you, but I lost it. Stephen is supposed to sneak it to you Monday. It will explain everything.”

Reagan grabbed her things and got out. Following suit, Wil took her backpack and lurched outside. Again, she thought she saw movement; but Reagan and Jorge were almost to their street corner, Vic had almost reached her building, Mrs. Crandall was absently staring at her phone with her mouth open, and all she could see of Eric was his curling red-blonde hairs on the back of his head. He was looking elsewhere again.

Wil shook her head and walked to building four.

Eric turned to watch the retreating figure of Wil and her black scarf blowing behind. She and it disappeared around the nearest building. Sighing, he turned back to the car to retrieve his bag. His eye caught something else moving, but through the open door of the minivan. Moving forward, he saw two notes -one purple- lying on the floor of the car. The slight wind caught at their edges, gesturing to him.

 

Continued from Forty-Eight.
Keep reading to Fifty.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Six

“I hate math!” Reagan exclaimed. Wil’s hand was delivering pork substitute to her mouth, but stopped in surprise at this announcement. The rest of the lunch table’s occupants laughed or smiled, commiserating with Reagan.

“Yeah,” Art said. “I feel you. I’d much prefer English any day.”

Reagan was stirring her instant potatoes. She looked at Art in surprise. “English?” She questioned. Her eyebrows raised and her mouth twisted distastefully. “I didn’t say that was much better.”

“I like English,” Stephen supplied quietly.

“Well, of course you do,” Reagan responded, a bit sarcastically. Wil noticed that Reagan’s tone was almost always sarcastic.

“Guys, guys,” Derek said, his hands in a calming gesture. “We can all agree that math sucks.” The others laughed, except Wil. She blinked.

“What, Wil?” Reagan asked her. They all turned to look at Wil, and she blushed.

“I… um, I like math,” Wil said quickly. She looked down, wishing her reheated frozen vegetables were interesting enough to keep her attention the way she was pretending.

“Really?” Reagan asked, in an unusually sincere tone. Wil glanced up. Reagan’s face also seemed sincere, even curious.

Wil noticed the others bore looks of interest, while Hope wore her kind and humorous smile. “Yeah,” Wil said; then, a bit more loudly, “I don’t have a problem with math.” She cleared her throat a bit. “Maybe it’s the teacher?”

“I know you have a different teacher,” Reagan stated, as if Wil’s class schedule were common knowledge. “Hope told us.” (That explained things, Wil thought.) “But, I don’t think that’s why math sucks.” They laughed again, at Reagan’s bluntness.

“Oh, duh,” Art said, acting like he was smacking his forehead. “You’re in the higher math class.” He smiled, then chuckled a bit. “We need to add that to your talents, Wil. Cool.” He turned his smile to her.

Wil was surprised, then pleased. If they all really didn’t like math, and were not in the higher math class, then here was a talent she really did have. The Talented Teens were nodding and making sounds of agreement. She watched Stephen pull their secret paper from a folder, then carefully pencil “Mathematics” on the line with her name.

“Um,” Wil began. Everyone except Stephen looked at her. “Um, speaking of… um, why did you?.. I mean, how did you?” She felt flustered, and their staring did little to help calm her thoughts. She couldn’t even bring herself to say the word imaginative.

Reagan understood. “I’m in your English class, remember?” Wil looked at her, then did remember. How could she have forgotten? Reagan had composed and read a truly terrible poem about a woman waiting for a phone call that had turned out to be a salesperson.

“I told them all about that story you wrote, that Mr. P. liked so well.” Reagan stuffed a wilted bean into her mouth, chewed, swallowed, and added, “He kept saying ‘imaginative’ so many times, that’s what we wrote for your talent.”

Wil was surprised. She had forgotten about that story.

“In fact,” Reagan added, “It was kind of an inside joke for a bit with us.” She looked at Wil and gave a sarcastic half-smile. “Sorry.”

Wil wasn’t hurt. She felt relieved.

“Well, that’s settled then,” Derek said. He smiled at them all, then pulled out his sandwich and began unwrapping it. Reagan turned to Art and began discussing a book they had to read for class. Stephen showed Derek his latest sketches. Hope watched silently.

Joining in the group’s happy feeling of resolve, Wil ate the remainder of her food with a contented feeling. She listened with half an ear to the snippets of her friends’ conversations.

Glancing up, she caught a meaningful look from Hope. Remembering the events of the morning, Wil ate more quickly. She had work to do.

 

Continued from Forty-Five.
Keep reading to Forty-Seven.