Chapter One-Love and Mathematics
"True love's supposed to be bijective, y'know?" Fiona managed to say this with the air of someone who expected at least one of her three listeners to actually have some idea what she was talking about.
"What's that?" Den tilted his head quizzically, a gesture oft-repeated that never failed to lose its charm. Fiona sometimes swore that if he looked puzzled in a crowd every person there would drop what he or she was doing and fight to be the one to explain things best. As one of Den's closest friends, the role of explaining often fell to her, and she accepted it with an air of mild resignation as she did most things about him. She was about to answer when August cut her off.
"Like an unholy combination between bisexual and eject?"
Fiona shook her head slightly, quelling an eye roll. "Bijective is when a mathematical function is both surjective and injective. Surjective means that every value in the range, or target, is used. And injective means that if you know f(x) and the function, you can figure out x, because every x only maps to one f(x). So bijective basically means that everyone pairs up nicely, with one partner for each person."
August raised one eyebrow and said, "Do you listen to yourself?" He didn't bother to look at the reactions of any of his friends.
Fiona mentally blushed, but her complexion never let color rise in her cheeks. August had a manner of twisting a phrase so that it cut exactly where the listener was weakest. It was almost a magic talent. Having put up with him for so long she generally felt like she could handle it, but she hadn't seen him much over the summer and had gotten used to the company of people who at least pretended to care about the feelings of those around them.
"So do you think it's not bijective, then, Fi?" Den's voice was modulated and careful, but he was clearly pretending obliviousness as regarded August's comment. Den's way of coping with his unruly friend was never to deign to acknowledge anything August said when he was being nasty, and only indulge in verbal sparring about harmless topics, like the novels both of them enjoyed or the political issues on which they so enjoyed disagreeing. Fiona was staring down the hallway as she answered and knew that Gwenna, the other female member of their circle, was following her gaze to where it rested on the wavy dirty blond hair and light eyes of Caden Andersen, her crush of the past six month and recent steady boyfriend of Roisin Tierney, an acquaintance of Fiona's from freshman year.
"No, not really." She sighed and Gwenna caught her eye and smiled to cheer her up. She smiled wanly back and said, "Lunch is almost over, guys, and I hate being late on the first day. And I've heard that Mr. Hall is bad enough even when you're on his good side, so..." she let the sentence trail and walked a few steps to put her garbage in the trash can. The school had replaced the old tapering metal trash cans with straight plastic cylinders and Fiona scowled. She didn't like change, plastic, or trash.
"Good idea," Gwenna said. "You've got Calc with Ms. Phillips next, right, Den? I have too, so we can walk there together." She took his hand to help him off of the ledge-Freeville High was small and didn't have a lunchroom, so students ate wherever, including the ledges in front of the large windows in the halls. The group dispersed to go to fifth hour, August getting up last. Miss Moore was a sweetheart who didn't ever lower grades or give detention for tardies, and the entire school knew it and took advantage of it.
August wasn't late, although he just barely made it, and he was still in plenty of time to get the seat he wanted, fourth column, fourth row back, because he made a game of getting that seat in all his classes. He looked around the classroom for distinguishing touches put in place by its primary occupant, Miss Moore, but found very little. It was lacking the inspirational quotes and posters used by many teachers, and there weren't any depictions of scenes from the novels they would read during the year. The lack of decoration, bland grey carpet, and bad lighting combined to give the classroom and depressed, washed out feeling. He wondered if Miss Moore didn't approve of clutter or simply hadn't had time to acquire the customary wall decorations, being a fairly new teacher, but the thought was not particularly interesting and he began tapping his fingers against the desk in boredom as the other students filed into the classroom and didn't stop tapping even when another student stood by his desk clearly trying to get his attention.
Tap tap tap.
Tap tap tap.
The other student hovered.
August sighed. "Yes?" He stretched out the word with annoyance.
"Do you mind if I sit here? I'm new. My name's Horatio." Even the declarative statement of his name sounded hesitant. August was trying to decide between a cutting comment and a curt nod when the voice of Caden Andersen cut in. August hadn't even noticed his arrival, much less his sitting down in the seat behind August.
"Horatio like from Hamlet?"
Not being able to let this stand on its own, August countered with, "Horatio like Horatio Alger, supporter of the American dream and all the wonders of capitalism?"
"Um, yes, actually. Both. I mean, both of those people were named Horatio and I'm named Horatio too, so yeah. I don't know what my parents were thinking." He sounded unduly apologetic for something that patently wasn't his fault, unless you could blame him for the hormonal imbalance that undoubtedly prompted his mother to saddle him with a name like Horatio.
"I don't know what your parents were thinking, either," August almost muttered, but the thought of his own name stopped him. Despite liking his name he was severely conscious that it was just a tad bit out of the ordinary. And hell, maybe Horatio liked his name and the uncertainty and flavor of apology was just a natural bit of his character or of how he responded to new situations. Aloud he said, "I'm August."
"I'm Caden," Caden said, "and I think Horatio is a very pleasant name."
August found Caden's supreme good nature almost nauseating, but he didn't have a chance to say anything because Miss Moore started talking and August stopped thinking about Horatio or Caden or anything else. It was common knowledge that you could get away with anything in Miss Moore's class. What was less common knowledge, possibly because it wasn't true for everyone, was that you wouldn't want to. Miss Moore had an odd, captivating sort of charisma and an unusual lilt to her voice that made listening to her talk, even just about the syllabus and what they were to be reading during the course of the semester, a pleasure. August found himself watching her oddly graceful movements as she animatedly discussed the course with increasing captivation, following each motion with his eyes and letting the pencil he'd been holding clenched in his fist fall lightly to his desk.
Horatio, on the other hand, was watching August with increasing agitation. He saw nothing of the Miss Moore that so mesmerized the other boy, only a young woman in her twenties faded to blandness. What he did see was that August was following her slightest movement with rapt attention, like a man bewitched. This annoyed him. He'd known from the first moment that he'd walked into the classroom that August was the only person in the class he had any inclination to talk to, but there seemed to be no sign that the feeling was reciprocated. Well, that was only because August didn't know him yet, Horatio reassured himself. He simply liked August so much that he could not conceive of the feeling not being mutual. He wasn't completely sure what it was. Something about August's delicate features, or the way he held his head that screamed indifference and arrogance. Several times during the class he had to force himself not to reach out and try to get August's attention and distract him from Miss Moore. He was terribly relieved when it was time to go to sixth hour, thus giving him both the opportunity and the excuse to talk to August.
"Hey, do you think you could show me the way to Mr. Smith's room? I've got Calc with him next, and I don't know my way around the building, and the room number was wrong for my Latin class earlier, anyway, so I'm a little wary of these schedules to begin with."
August was not the sort of person who was in the habit of escorting newcomers to their classes, not being the sort of person who could care less if newcomers got to their classes at all, but the words were out of his mouth before he considered them. "Sure. Mr. Taylor moves classrooms all the time, so the computers can never figure out where he is. But Mr. Smith is pretty stable. I can take you anyway. The room's a little hard to find."
He led the way out of the classroom with Horatio following behind. Also following was Caden, although only because he was also headed for Mr. Smith's 6th hour Calc class and was therefore logically following the same path. He ran into Roisin halfway there, and would have stopped to spend as much of passing time with her as possible without risking being late, if she hadn't stood on tiptoes to whisper in his ear, while pointing her small, delicate finger at Horatio, "Who's he? I don't think I've ever seen him before. And he looks so fascinating. I want to follow him." And then she walked off after August and Horatio without waiting to see if Caden was following. Caden didn't particularly mind. He was a fairly laid-back person, and he was used to Roisin, as they'd been best friends for almost a year before progressing to anything considered 'more' (although in so many ways less, he sometimes reflected). He knew the ins and outs of her preoccupations and sudden obsessions. He wasn't concerned as she chased after Horatio.
Roisin, on the other hand, was very concerned. The two boys she was following-August, who she knew well enough as a heartless but intelligent member of Freeville High's community, and the new boy, the one she'd never seen before, the one she was sure was the most attractive thing she had ever seen in all of her seventeen years, up to and including her boyfriend, Freeville High's resident heartthrob, Paul Nelson, and every movie star who had ever been in any movie she had ever seen. It was a sort of attractiveness seemingly tailored to her personal tastes perfectly, like some heavenly sculptor had chiseled his face and body out of stone in accordance with the mental blueprint Roisin had been developing and updating since the third grade. She momentarily wondered if his looks would fluctuate to mimic her preferences, but experiment was impossible. And he was getting away. She wished they would walk slower.
Horatio also wished they would walk slower, but for a completely different reason. He wanted to spend as much time with August as possible before they inevitably arrived at the door to Mr. Smith's classroom and Horatio's excuse to talk to August dissipated. But August kept walking quickly and didn't try to make small talk with the boy beside him. He was silently questioning why he'd even agreed to this in the first place. He didn't need someone following him around and looking to him for guidance in coping with a new school. He didn't want another friend. He tolerated and sometimes ever enjoyed the company of the few he had because they were intelligent, interesting people, but there was nothing about the new boy to indicate that he was as well. And if he got anywhere near Fiona she'd insist on mothering him for the rest of the year and making him a part of their group. It was just Fiona's way. She was friendly and welcoming and hated hurting anyone's feelings or seeing anyone excluded. This was mildly admirable in theory, but in practice it meant she had a ton of friends she didn't even really like, much less August, and sometimes she dragged him into being nice to them and it wasn't something he had much tolerance for. August refused to entertain the idea that Horatio might actually be someone he could consider worthy of his friendship; surely if that were the case the boy would have more confidence.
August kept walking and he and Horatio arrived at Mr. Smith's classroom and parted, losing Roisin in the process. She went to her own class distracted.