Genre: YA science fantasy
Title: The Perfect Pairs
I: Silverback Academy
“<i>Scan and transcribe Lorena’s notes.</i>”
The words were scratched on a post-it note in Dr. McLaughlin’s handwriting. The letters curly and thick. Philippa twirled the post-it note in her hand, her eyes transfixed on the flimsy, yellow material, but her mind was elsewhere. She had a plan. She had the post-it note, Dr. McLaughlin’s lab keycard, and a question fueling her wild scheme.
Phil’s desk shook as someone brushed by it. She snapped out of her thoughts. She looked up and saw Renata passing by, also purposely bumping into Maxie’s desk on her way to the teacher’s desk. Renata flipped her mane of curls from one shoulder to another while turning in her work. As if she was telling the whole class, “Look how shiny they are! My natural, coiling, perfect curls.” She strolled back to her desk, smug eyes on Maxie, and Phil turned away.
Renata’s antics couldn’t bother her today. Phil flipped the post-it note again, reading those words. The note had been a reminder, left on Dr. McLaughlin’s desk as part of his daily to-do list. Phil had snatched it the last time she was in his office. She had seen the loop of the L to the O, had craned her neck to read the name Lorena, and her heart had given a jolt.
She never imagined she would be seeing the name of her deceased mom two-thousand miles away from home, here at Silverback Academy. <i>Lorena</i>. She knew it had to be her mom. Her dad was an old friend of Dr. McLaughlin’s. The family friendship was the only reason Phil was stuck in this insane school in the first place. It was too much of a coincidence not to be her mom. But why did Dr. McLaughlin want to transcribe her mom’s notes? What notes?
A buzz of conversation shattered the classroom quiet piece by piece. It was the telltale the period was drawing to an end and most everyone had finished the work. Seniors turned this way and that to chat, or passed notes to their friends. Phil watched her classmates turning to each other while a globe of loneliness traveled down her belly. It was as if she was in the spotlight, as she was the one saying, “Look at me! I’m the new kid without friends!”
No one cared for her too much, though. Their attentions were on Renata, who sat two desks down from Phil. She was heckling Maxie.
In her few days of class, this was a scene Phil was well-acquainted with.
“I can’t believe you told,” Renata told Maxie in her thick Spanish accent.
The boy sitting beside Renata, one of her friends, flicked a small crumpled paper at Maxie’s back, earning him sniggers of amusement from the spectators.
Phil took a deep breath and gazed down at the post-it note, and still Renata went on, saying, “Don’t you know snitches get stitches?”
“He wants beef,” someone added, but Phil muted them out.
She tugged at her memory, trying to think of how Dr. McLaughlin could have something of her mom’s, and could remember only one instance. Her first day at Silverback.
She remembered it had been rushed and awkward, for she had come to school a week late. She had come with her twin sister. Their stepmom had delivered them to Dr. McLaughlin, along with an odd suitcase neither Phil nor her sister had made a fuss about. What was odd about an extra bag when they came to the boarding school with luggage themselves? But Blair had never uttered a peep about that brown leather suitcase. She simply had set it down at Dr. McLaughlin’s office and had continued on with the pleasantries of getting them acquainted with the school—with their new lives.
The suitcase must have had the notes, and who knows what else. What right did Dr. McLaughlin have in keeping them? If anything, Phil and her sister were the only ones with the right to be delivering mysteries suitcases and transcribing notes. Lorena was <i>their</i> mom, dead for years—
“So what, is the requirement for the Dumpster Scholarship that you snitch on us? Whose team are you on? The Keep McLaughs’ Happy So He Won’t Kick Me Out team?” Renata said, prodding Maxie with her mechanical pencil. The people around her stifled their laughter. <i>McLaughs</i> was a running gag within the student body. No one took Dr. McLaughlin seriously. His laissez faire management was probably the reason why everyone was so awful to each other all the time. So when Phil first heard the nickname, she wasn’t too surprised. “Yeah, sure, he’s taking applications, but I’m sure he likes his underage toys to be of the opposite gender, and you’re probably a little too </i>negrito</i> for his taste,” Renata added, finally, and her friends oohed and made hissing noises and murmured, “<i>burnt.</i>”
Phil went red in the face for Maxie. She didn’t want to imagine what he must be feeling, being the subject of Renata’s insults. Renata was loved by their classmates, and she abused it. She was a champion of good grades and perfect makeup. And if anyone ever dared to oppose her, say, by confirming to Dr. McLaughlin or to the vice principal that yes, she was a bully not above exploiting the tiniest flaws, then they were turned into her prey.
Phil forced herself to stare out the window. She couldn’t pick a fight—the period was almost over. The moment the bell rang she could spring out her desk and find out where those alleged notes were, and why they needed transcribing.
She watched the world of green and copper beyond the glass. The classroom window hit just the right angle where she could see the topiary garden separating the school building from the dorm buildings. The boys’ and girls’ dorms faced each other, at opposite ends, each fronted by a wide fountain and both surrounded in a sea of primped trees and gardens. Without the usual bustle the campus grounds looked peaceful, beautiful, the autumn winds caressing the greens in ripples.
Again, Renata’s words wrenched Phil from her musings, “No guys, chill, I don’t think I can burn him anymore than he already is.”
<i>Is she serious?</i> Phil had to bridle her words.
“He’s probably here so he could be the resident snitch. Like a little puppet McLaughs can use to get real-time proof that—”
“Dude, what is your problem?” Phil blurted, unable to sit there any long and listen to one more breath of vile. To hell with the consequences.
Renata, the spectators, and even Maxie turned to her, expressions of shock across all their faces.
“No, it’s okay, Phil,” Maxie mumbled, waving his hand down as if to appease a kindergartener, “It doesn’t bother me, really.”
Renata didn’t falter for long. She straightened up, and with a smile said, “I’m sorry, who are you? I didn’t realize a new student came in today.”
Her friends sniggered. Phil was new, but she wasn’t that new. She had thought to repress her slip of the tongue, but Renata’s smile was an invitation. </i>Come at me</i>, it said.
To Maxie, Phil said, “No, it’s not okay.” Then she turned to Renata and added, “Go validate your insecurities with someone else, but leave him alone for once. I’m so sick of sitting here listening to you lifting yourself up by putting him down, </i>every single class.</i> Like, don’t you have better things to do?”