I had barely taken one step away from the door, when the doorbell rang. On the other side was the last person I had expected to see. “MJ?”
He shrugged. “Miss Partridge sent me back here. Says we need to work together, or both of us will be penalised.”
The frown creased my face, and I winced. MJ looked away. “I saw the guys. They’re looking colourful.”
“They shouldn’t be here.” My voice was accusing. “You agreed they wouldn’t.”
Shame seemed to cross his features. Shame? “I told them to let you be, at least for a week. They chose not to listen.” He didn’t look away. “They deserve to be yelled at by Coach.”
Moving away from the door, I picked up the key to the security gate. “You need to come in, so we can work on that assignment.”
I wasn’t sure what made me say that. Maybe it was his sincerity, or the way he had not quite apologised. What it must have really been, though, was his lack of being damp and colourful. Clearly he wasn’t spouting crap, since he wasn’t covered in any sort of dye. It wouldn’t have been hard to miss; he wore a white shirt over blue jeans again.
The gate creaked open, and he stepped inside. I watched him look around, and felt ashamed. What had I called him? Bread mold. But that was now not turning out to be true. There was keen interest in the way he examined the hallway.
Out of habit, I re-locked the security gate. In the meantime, MJ had made his way through to the living room. He turned to face me. “Do you live alone?”
I froze. “What makes you say that?” my voice sounded loud in the silent space.
Waving his arm at the coffee table, he turned to the kitchen. “No dirty coffee cups. No plates, and no belongings scattered around the house. Either, you live with two complete neat freaks, or you live totally alone.”
After a moment of deliberation, I nodded. “My parents work out of state, so I’m here by myself a lot.”
MJ picked the chair nearest to the unplugged TV, and sat. “You’re alone at school too. A lot.”
It was my turn to shrug. “I don’t have many friends.”
“Many? You don’t have any. Very few teachers even like you.”
That one hurt. “You didn’t need to be so harsh, MJ. I’m trying here.”
MJ shut his eyes. “The truth hurts.”
“That it does.” That was no maybe. “Can I give you the notes I’ve made on Gatsby?”
MJ kept his eyes closed, but nodded. “Miss Partridge was shocked at how much you knew.”
The sheets I was looking for were on the top of the pile of books on the coffee table. I moved them to the section in front of MJ, and he picked them up. As he read through them, I began to shift nervously from foot. To keep my hands busy, I proceeded to clean up my books, stacking them neatly to one side. A few minutes later, MJ looked at me over the pages he held. “How well do you know this book, Cassandra?”
The arm of the chair I was seated on became very interesting all of a sudden. “I can recite it word for word.” The words were mumbled into the floor.
MJ leant forwards. “Come again?”
My eyes lifted, and I looked directly at him. “I can recite it word for word.” Hs expression was sceptical. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever-”
He cut me off with a wave of his hand. “I believe you. But how?”
My right hand clasped my left hand tightly. “I don’t know. I’ve always been able to. Remember stuff, I mean.”