The teacher stepped onto the platform in front of us and looked directly at me.
“Penny Howler,” he stated.
“Yes, sir,” I replied, slightly nervous.
“My name’s Mr Dowel.” Wasting no time, he asked, “What can you do with fractions?”
Beside me Teritt’s expression became bleak.
“Um, I can add them, take them away, multiply and divide them, and convert top-heavy fractions into mixed numbers and vice versa,” I responded.
Mr Dowel nodded.
“How are you with algebraic ones?”
“Um... okay, I think, sir.”
He turned to the board, picked up a pen and wrote 3x/2 ÷ 1/ (5x+1).
He turned back to me.
“Could you solve that?”
I studied it for a few minutes before carefully replying, “(15(xsquared) + 3x)/2?”
Mr Dowel nodded.
“Good,” he said curtly.
It didn’t really sound like he was complimenting me so I didn’t say ‘Thank you’.
Next he picked up four A4 sheets and an A6 pink exercise book, which really looked at odds in Mr Dowel’s hand. He came down to our level, gave everyone including me a sheet and presented me with the exercise book.
He returned to the front, sat down at the desk on the platform and said, “If you get stuck, ask.” I found the man a little intimidating and wondered how many of the boys actually had asked.
I wrote my name and the word ‘Maths’ on the front of the exercise book, opened to the first page and wrote the short date in the right hand corner.
I looked at the sheet. Fifty fraction-related questions: ten on addition, ten on subtraction, ten on multiplication, ten on division and ten on algebraic fractions.
Teritt groaned softly.
“Don’t like fractions much, eh?” I asked sympathetically.
Teritt shook his head.
“Do ... you want some help?” I asked hesitantly, not wanting to offend him.
Teritt’s face sparkled.
“Would you?” he whispered.
“Sure I would.”
Teritt smiled gratefully.
“Cool. Could you tell me the rules for addition, subtraction and division? Multiplication’s the only one I get.”
“Well, with addition and subtraction, you’ve got to have the same denominator - the same base...”
And so I explained the rules and helped Teritt with the first two questions on the sheet before doing my own work. I got through thirty before Mr Dowel announced that it was our own time.
“Homework is to finish the sheet - that’s in for next Tuesday.”
Teritt looked glum. “I’ve only done 18,” he told me.
“Well, do you want to do some together in the next free we both have?”
Teritt looked awed. “You’re so kind. I completely take back everything I said about you wanting Ed.”
“Thanks,” I said, though feeling slightly awkward because I wasn’t sure I hadn’t wanted Ed.
“So, do you have period 5 today free?” Teritt asked.
I checked my timetable.
“Yes, I do.”
“I’ll meet you in the corridor then - they always leave a room open for people who want to study.”
“Great. So, um, what do we do now? Just chat?”
Teritt looked utterly shameless as he answered, “Oh, I usually send Ed flirty notes.” Out of nowhere he pulled an A6 writing pad and began to scribble something.
I politely kept my eyes on my exercise book.
“You can look,” Teritt chuckled. “I won’t make it too much today.”
Curious, I did look. The note read:
‘Hey, gorgeous, are you thinking of me? I miss you. xx’
“Aw, that’s sweet,” I told Teritt.
He grinned and winked.
“Don’t start falling for me.”
I smiled. He handed me the note and I passed it to Don who needed no telling that it was intended for Ed. I saw Ed write his own note, fold it and pass it to Don, who passed it to me. I passed it to Teritt, feeling like part of a web with invisible, intangible branches.
Teritt unfolded the paper, smiled, and passed it to me to read while he wrote the response.
‘Thinking of you? Oh, I guess I should be since we’re going out. But actually I was thinking of how fun Biology will be, while you’re off doing Chemistry. What would you like me to think?
‘Incidentally, it’s totally irrational for you to miss me, you know. Please don’t get too clingy.
Teritt’s reply was, ‘You never could be honest in a letter, could you?
‘Think of yesterday period 2.
‘I’ll always be clingy. xx’
“He wasn’t honest?” I asked, confused.
“Oh, he’s just overdone the sarcasm,” Teritt explained. “But no, he never writes down he feels. It’s a bit like how he keeps his conversation strictly polite. Really he just wants to come over here and...” Teritt stopped himself. “No, he wouldn’t appreciate me telling you that.”
I passed the note along.
“You’d never recognise him when we’re in private,” Teritt commented, a little randomly.
Ed’s response was:
‘Why exactly are you showing Penny our written conversation?
‘Period 2? I vaguely remember that. Didn’t you start getting paranoid that I’d leave you? Clingy fool.
‘I promised her I wouldn’t be too outrageous. And she’d be bored otherwise.
‘No, I wasn’t paranoid: I was making you a promise that my heart would always be yours.
‘Your clingy fool. xx’
‘Hi, Penny. Yeah, this free time is a bit boring, isn’t it? I hope you’re not taking my notes seriously - I can’t seem to write sincerely about how Teritt makes me feel. I’m not really mean.
‘Teritt, the memory’s still faded: I really enjoyed Flora before that, you see.
‘Who would want a clingy fool? Ed.’
Teritt let me dictate a few words to reply to the part of the note addressed to me.
‘Oh, no, Teritt told me you were being heavily sarcastic. It’s kinda cool how you’ll only express your true feelings when you two are alone together. I still think you’re lovely.
‘I’ll never understand your love of Biology or Flora. I’m more of a Fauna guy myself ;)
‘Um, ... the clingy fool collector? xx’
“Fauna,” I murmured, when Teritt showed me what he’d written, and I blushed. “That’s animals, isn’t it?”
Teritt patted my shoulder.
“One day you’ll get used to me, Penny. For now, just go along with it.”
“Okay,” I said quietly, and passed the note along.
This time I noticed Don say something to Ed as he wrote a response.
The reply looked like this:
‘Hey Penny. Don wants to know if you’re happy. And thank you for the compliment. I’m sorry about Teritt being uninhibited.
‘Teritt, what an allusion to make! Do you feel no shame?
‘When you find this clingy fool collector I should be intrigued to talk to him.
Our response was:
‘Hi, Don. Yes, I’m happy. Sorry for excluding you. xx
‘You’re welcome, Ed. And don’t worry about it. x
‘Better to be uninhibited than inhibited. ;P And yes, I believe I feel none whatsoever.
‘Just look in the mirror, Ed - I hope you have a most interesting conversation. :P x’
This was the last note sent, for when Ed unfolded the letter Mr Dowel gave us permission to go to our next lesson.