The bell suddenly rang, abruptly ending the disappointing conversation. Resigned, Taylor pushed herself off the bench and ran towards the entrance doors, shouting back to Amy that she would see her later. She jostled through the crowded corridor of chattering students and hurried down the hall towards the girls' toilets. Taylor's next class was two periods of Science while Amy had her Spanish class, but she knew they would meet up after school to walk home together. It was their routine and they had done it for years, ever since they first met at eight years old and fell instantly into a firm friendship based on a shared love of Polly Pocket, unicorns, and tabby kittens.
Science class dragged by slowly, every minute as long as an hour. Taylor did not understand Science. Science seemed to require far too much logic. Logic was not something she could relate to on any deep level; Taylor preferred to lose herself in the fantasy worlds in her beloved books. She felt a brief spike of interest when Miss Brougham said the students could use the Bunsen burners for an experiment, delighting in the magical purple flame that jumped from the simple tube, but the rest of the lesson was just a jumble of confusing facts. Taylor didn't even have any friends in the class to pass notes with and pull faces at. Amy was her best friend, as close to her as the sister she had never had. Since the day she and Amy first met, Taylor had never felt any real need to make friends with a lot of other people. Amy understood Taylor and Taylor understood her. She was friendly enough with the other students, no one could call her a snob exactly, but she didn't care to spend a lot of time with anyone else but Amy.
Taylor daydreamed and doodled on her notepad as Miss Brougham droned on, drawing Matthew's initials intertwined with her own inside a lavish, whimsical heart. She smiled as she imagined his warm brown eyes gazing lovingly into her own. She pictured him leaning in close, close enough for her to see the sweet indentation of the dimples on his cheeks. She imagined reaching out her hand and pushing the tip of her index finger into the left dimple to see if it fitted just so.
"Thank you, Taylor." Miss Brougham sounded both pleased and surprised.
Taylor sat bolt upright and looked around. The other students were pushing back their chairs and collecting up their schoolbooks and pens. No one was looking at her, not even Miss Brougham. Taylor squinted her eyes at Miss Brougham, sensing a trap. Why had she singled her out Had Taylor heard her say her name or had she imagined it She never contributed to Science class and Miss Brougham knew that. Why had she said her name Miss Brougham looked up at last, her expression pre-occupied, but she was most definitely looking at Taylor.
"What" Taylor stood up in confusion as the other students began to file out of the room. The period wasn't over yet, not even halfway through. What was going on
"It was so sweet of you to volunteer, Taylor. It's nice to see you getting involved. Please take these over to the library and then you can meet us at the poplar trees when you are done. You can be excused from making a bark rubbing, but you will still need to complete the rest of the assignment at home tonight." Miss Brougham jiggled the cardboard box in her arms impatiently and looked pointedly up at the clock.
Taylor hooked her backpack over her shoulder and walked dumbly across the room to take the box from Miss Brougham's hands. It was heavier than it looked and she had to juggle it to make it sit comfortably on her forearms. When had she offered to do an errand for Miss Brougham She thought back over the previous few minutes, searching for how she might have got herself into this position. She felt foolish when she remembered. In her fantasy, she was just about to push her finger into Matthew's dimple. She must have unthinkingly lifted her finger just as Miss Brougham made her request and the teacher had mistaken the action as a sign that Taylor was willing to help. No wonder she had acted so surprised. Taylor never volunteered to do anything. She was the type of student who sat quietly, completed her work, and left the class when the bell rang. Amy would tease her sometimes, tell her was an observer rather than a participant, but Taylor liked it that way. She would reply primly that not every character could be a hero. Strong personalities are what give a book its substance, Taylor would say, but every story needs a quiet, unobtrusive support crew.
"Mrs. Latham will know what to do with the books. Thank you, Taylor." Miss Brougham briskly picked up her pen and notepad and followed the other students out of the room.
Cursing her own inability to concentrate, Taylor trudged out of the empty classroom carrying the burden she had so blindly requested. Were bark rubbings even Science And anyway, weren't they too old for that type of pre-school activity How could she finish the assignment at home when she had no clue what it was She realized she must have daydreamed her way through most of the lesson. Mad at herself, she left the building and dawdled across the asphalt, silent and void of students at this mid-period time of day, towards the library on the other side of the campus.
Mrs. Latham, the librarian, was busy with another student when Taylor walked in. She sat the box of books down on the floor beside Mrs. Latham's desk while she waited. The library was stuffy and hot and smelt faintly of farts and orange peel. Taylor adjusted her heavy school bag on her shoulder and looked around. A group of students sat over by the large windows that overlooked the sports field, huddled together around one of the low tables with their books spread out in front of them. Her eyes drifted idly over the table before she suddenly stiffened and stared in horror, unable to believe what she was seeing.