Chapter 2 (Section 1)

My name is Thorn Levenger. I’m telling you that right now so I won’t have to misquote my friends and acquaintances in order to fit my name in somewhere.

Now that you know my name, it’s time to start building the world around me. I mean, the world revolves around me. I don’t actually believe that; it’s just a phrase adults love to put into my mouth and the mouths of every other person of high-school age. This story will have to revolve around me, though, because if I tried to make it revolve around anyone else, I would probably make a mistake.

Take a moment to give the page/screen a kiss. Good. Let’s continue.

Where was I? Actually, let’s answer that literally. Our (my + your) story begins (or is it your – my?) at Thaumatin Secondary School. Well, there’s also a Thaumatin Primary School, but I actually went to a public school called Washington for my first six years of doodling in social studies. Thaumatin, I know now, is also (coincidentally?) a chemical that causes your taste buds to mistake sour tastes for sweet ones. That is the very mantra of Thaumatin School. When I had first arrived in 6th grade, I learned that “testing” had been deemed a stressful word by the Thaumatin staff long ago, and that all the tests at my new school were called “demos”, or demonstrations of knowledge. Strengths and weaknesses became strengths and “stretches” so that students didn’t have to cope with the idea that they might somehow be weak by not performing up to expectations. And instead of letter grades, we were given grades called “exceeds” (student exceeds expectations; this was the limit of the grade as student performance approaches infinity) “meets” (student meets expectations; this was like an A), “approaches” (this could be anywhere from an A- to a C-), and “does not meet” (which was like a D or F).

These terminological improvements had never bothered me in 6th grade (though my friends and I made endless fun of them) because I believed they reflected actual improvements over the public school system I was used to. By 8th grade, I had been set straight. Nothing had changed about these things except for the names.

Thaumatin was very different from Washington Elementary School, though. It was tiny; there were only about 54 kids in a grade at any one time, 648 in the whole school. Bullying was almost nonexistent— the population wasn’t nearly large enough to provide cover for that sort of thing. People weren’t unnecessarily mean unless something bad happened, and they talked to you when you wanted to talk to them. By the second quarter of 9th grade, I had successfully calibrated my moral compass, learned how to conduct myself reasonably well in social situations, and mastered the art of passing off my actual awkwardness as Internet-stereotyped awkwardness. The price of experimentation was much lower at Thaumatin than it would have been somewhere else, and I’m grateful for that.

Let’s get started already. On the first day of my 10th grade year, I was on the bus at 8:00 AM (I’d complain, but then I’d get a flurry of angry letters from people who have to board even earlier), yawning and blinking after a 3-month summer of alertness. This year, my grade was going to be in classes with the grade below. The last time I’d been with the younger grade was in 8th grade, and the some of the 7th graders were the loudest little creatures I had ever met. To be fair, some of them were quiet and intelligent, but the loud ones were so disruptive that I learned less in that year than I learned from the back of the Cheerios box every morning. Part of the reason was the curriculum— at least Cheerios changes which animated movie they’re sponsoring from time to time— but part of it was that I could actually read the Cheerios box without some prick in the back of my house yelling, “PENIS!”

I noticed plenty of new faces on the bus, as well as familiar ones from years past. Iconic seats were still taken by iconic riders, but the bus had become more crowded since last year. I greeted the bus driver and sat next to my friend Danny.

“Thorn!” said Danny with a smile. “We’re in the same division again this year.”

Good,” I said. “I finally have someone I can plot unspeakable crimes with.” Danny was one of the handful of 9th graders I liked. He’d joined as a 7th grader when I was in 8th, and my first impression of him was, That kid is going to talk. Little did I realize how fruitful our conversations would be.

“I’m thinking we should try larceny this year, but we can also do some good old vandalism if you really want to. Speaking of which, how was your summer?” Danny gave me an evil grin.

I laughed. “It was great. I went to the Galápagos.”

“I saw the pictures.”

“You should see the videos; they’re even better. How was Cambridge?”

Well, what can I say? Astrophysics!

The bus stopped at the last stop on its route, as a matter of routine. Though I had the penultimate stop, I had always been the last person to get on. Until now.

The doors opened, and a person walked straight out of her own imagination onto our bus.

E ∃ A

The End

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