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Chapter 6 - Jane

So Thursday I woke up in a really good mood, which isn’t typical for me, not by a long shot. It must have been a little leftover joy from finding out that Isabel was actually interested in my opinion. Little things like that can really do wonders for me. I slept well, beat the alarm up and hit the ground like a track start. Gave me a good twenty extra minutes to take care of my morning routine.

Ah yes, that all–important routine that I follow religiously every morning. Oh what, you think a beautiful rose like me just wakes up looking like this? Far from it. First, a few minutes at the antique vanity that mother insisted on giving me because “every blossoming young woman needs one.” Still got those three pimples that refuse to go away even after several weeks? Well, good thing I’ve got all this flat and mousy hair to cover them up. Next, to the closet to pick out a nice ensemble, which today is a t–shirt for a band I’ve heard like twice coupled with the same jeans I’ve been wearing all week. Then, with the extra time, I can go over all the messages I’ve received from my many suitors. Or to do some touch–up on those personal stories that you don’t get to read.

Okay, I’m being a little unfair here. This is kind of a game I play with my mom, who clearly had dreams of having a glamorous little princess that she could shop with and help with her makeup and dresses. Instead she got a skinny weirdo who writes stories online under the name “Erika Luxure.” A real parent’s dream, right?

But that’s okay, I don’t let it get me down – especially not that morning. After my sublime act of diplomacy in getting Hannah Bae to sign on with our team, I decided to take some initiative and pick out our fourth member on the spot.

Now, going into this I had a few names in mind. One was Clarice Adams, a junior I knew from some club a few years back. She usually sits Trivia Master out, but she’s smart and honest and just in general the kind of person you’d want for something like this. But lately, she’s been acting really squirrelly lately. Anyone so much as looks at her, she makes herself scarce and you don’t see her for the rest of the day. If it was anyone else, I’d blame it on a guilty conscience, but Clarice? What’s the worst thing that she could have possibly done? Maybe she just has bad nerves or something. In any case, it was obvious that I wasn’t getting her.

My other choice was someone from years back, a girl by the name of Karen Schumaker who had asked me to be on her team back when we were freshmen. Weird as it sounds, I always felt a little bad about that. Yeah, it’s no big deal, but I hate disappointing people like that. It just seemed like a good time to make things right.

Karen Schumaker really is the Midwest personified. You know the type – always grinning, greets everyone she sees, friendly to a fault. She was raised on a farm in some tiny little town fifty miles away from here and has more practical skill than everyone I know combined. She’s really out of another time, when people did everything on their own. And she’s nice, which is always a plus. People around here aren’t nice. The student body of Northwest is truly dominated by rancorous assholes, and the fewer I have to put up with the better.

Finding Karen is the trick. I swear that Karen has a sixth sense that enables her to find anyone who wants her, because she just turns up at the damndest times. But sitting and waiting is no way to find someone, so I started my day by scouring the school for her. I would have bet good money that she’d be early, but not that day. But who did I manage to bump into?

“Hey, Jane!”

“Hey, Ken.” Oh boy.

Ken Greevey, of all people, was sitting outside some classroom with Trevor Galloway (in one of the rare occasions that guy was by himself), flashing one of his notebooks of doom. And of course he saw me before I could retreat.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Oh, this is Trevor. You know Trevor, right?”

“Of course. Morning, Trevor.”

Trevor waved at me. “Jane.”

“Where’s Duncan?” I said.

Ken cut Trevor off before he could mouth a single world. “Oh, he’ll be along later. Say, I know this is a long shot...”

“I’m already on a team, Ken.”

“Of course,” said Ken.

“Of course,” I said. “Hey, have you seen Karen Schumaker around?”

“Nope.” Ken whipped out a pen and flipped through his notebook for a blank page. “So, Karen’s going to be on your team?”

“Goodbye, Ken.”

Oh Ken, it’s not your fault that you cause narcolepsy. I learned the hard way not to get into conversations with that one. I’m the bright bulb who made the mistake of asking him about one of his projects while we were working on some group activity like four years ago. Hey, it sounded interesting at the time. Three consecutive class periods of him rattling off stats later and I realized how very wrong I was. And the last thing I’m going to do is tell him anything that he’ll end up using in his weird crusade for the Trivia Master championship. Lucky me that he let me get away so easily.

I did eventually find Karen, but it wasn’t that morning. It wasn’t at noon, either, or between any of my classes. For a while I thought that she was gone, that I was completely wasting my time. Then, at the end of the day, I took a break outside of the building in preparation to grill all the clubs for her location. Sure enough:

“Jane Anders! It’s been forever!”

“Karen! What do you know, I was just looking for you.” Usually that’s a lie, but not that day.

“Oh, you were?” She smiled, this preposterously big smile of hers. “How long has it been since we spoke? Last year, Spring Homecoming?”

“That sounds about right. I’m really sorry I haven’t been in touch.”

Karen laughed – she had a big hearty laugh, the kind you hear and recognize from down the block. “Well, we do live our own lives, don’t we? But here I am, yammering away about unimportant things when you’ve been looking for me. What can I do for you?”

“Okay, you know that Trivia Master is coming up.”

“Of course. Wow, I really wish I were in it this year.”

That caught me a little off guard. “You’re not participating?”

“No one’s asked me.” Her grin turned into this exaggerated pout. “You know, I used to go around, trying to put together my own teams, but it never really worked out. Now I just watch like everyone else.”

“That’s too bad. I had a slot open, and I thought you might be interested.”

I never saw anyone’s jaw actually drop before that. “Really? Me on a team with you and Isabel Morelli? Oh Jane, that would be terrific!”

“It’s not like it’s a big deal or anything...”

“Not a big deal? Jane, I have always wanted to do something like this but my friends were not interested. Not at all. And it does my heart good to know that someone as talented as you thinks so highly of me. Thank you!”

“Well...” Gotta tell you, that little speech put me off guard a little. “...I’m happy too. Oh, and Isabel likes to take the team out on the town before the tournament starts, so you might get a call.”

“That sounds great! I look forward to it. Thanks again.”

Really unexpected. What can I say? Never underestimate the power of trivia to bring different people together.

I was headed home when I spotted poor Paul Liston sitting a few yards away. Waiting for me, I figured. Yeah, real cute.

Maybe some tiny bit of this fixation he has is my fault. He used to be normal around me – or at least as normal as he ever is around people – and then it all went downhill. It was some school–sponsored social event they put on when we first got to Northwest. My mom bought me this dress for it – I think she saw it as an opportunity for me to get out and mix it up. So I went along, and you know what? I did enjoy it, that tiny bit of glamour I had that night. I really wasn’t hanging out with Isabel yet and I didn’t want to go in alone, so I thought it might be fun to get some boy to accompany me in. That turned out to be Paul. He was a good sport about it, too. We danced a few times, he listened to my crap, and I probably would have listened to his if he ever spoke more than five consecutive words to me. To me it was nothing, just a little arrangement so I could say I had a date that night. But it must have done something to Paul. That one little act of socialization apparently had some deep, profound impact on his psyche. An act of kindness was all it took to get me stuck in his brain.

So usually I just sidestep him when he does this, but every so often I think it’s nice to talk to him a little bit. This was one time I should have just headed home. This time, I was the one making it awkward. But it wasn’t really my fault. How was I supposed to know that his friend was keeping secrets?

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