This is a new YA short. Not science fiction for a change.
Ted took the sheet and his number 2 pencil. He flipped open the test questions and quickly went down the list, tapping the answer sheet with his pencil in the correct spots. He'd fill them in later. As usual, he finished the first stage quickly. Setting aside the questions, he stared at the standardized test form. Yes, he should go through the list and fill in the ovals where the dots representing the correct answers were marked. But that was boring.
The pencil marks made a pattern, a bit random, but suggestive. He rolled the pencil in his fingers. If he filled in this set...and then moved that set a few millimeters that way... and added this one..and that one... and left the rest alone, then it was clearly a house beside a stream. A bit minimalist, but enough for him. Of course, that would drop his score down to a low C, but that was still enough to avoid trouble. He smiled, added a little density by filling in some of the ovals darker than the others, and erased the stray marks, and he was done.
He wrote TED LAMBERT on the sheet and turned it in to Ms. Calvin.
Hillside High School was not the first item on his favorite places list, but it was better than home, and there were girls to watch. Soon enough, he would like to progress to the level of actually talking to girls, but watching was interesting enough for now. There were social rules to be observed, and he was only a freshman. He was content to spend his time trying to make sense of all the social patterns.
"Hey Ted," Bill Monty walked past in the hallway and slapped him on the shoulder in passing. He didn't wait for a response, because Ted never gave one, but it was a friendly enough gesture. Most people gave him a few seconds to respond to their greetings, and when he didn't, they flagged him as slow, or autistic, and never tried again. That was okay by him. The hardest thing in the world was to hold a conversation with someone. He was smart, but he wasn't glib tongued, and that's what it took to hold a conversation.
He had a few minutes for lunch, and since making decisions in the lunch line was too uncomfortable, he always brought his own. A square of wooden flooring, just behind the flag at the side of the stage was his favorite spot. He leaned against the wall and unwrapped his sandwich, while watching the other students.
Different clusters of people gathered in predictable groups. There were the football players, and there were the younger cheerleaders. The older cheerleaders seemed to attach themselves to dominant males, and so migrate from one cluster to the next as status changes occurred.
Betty was always the center of an art focused group, and they were always working on some project. Leanna was the anchor of a fashion oriented group. Samuel was surrounded by a tight group of males, that were always turning to look at various girls. From their expressions, the discussions were salacious.
Fully a third of the students were in flux, sitting with one group one day, and changing to another the next. Fifteen percent appeared to be loners, sometimes watching the groups with envy. Ted classed himself with them, although a 'group' of loners wasn't a reasonable description.
Isis Kelly had caught his attention. He spent fifteen minutes watching her every move before pulling out his pad of blue colored sticky notes.
With careful block letters he penned:
Bob's favorite color is yellow. At 4:52 daily, he exits the boy's gym after seeing nothing but guys for two hours. There is a comfortable place to stand there, next to the trophy display case.
Folding the note in half, trapping a short piece of string, he wrote ISIS on the outside. He put his trash in the barrel and left the cafetorium and walked quickly to locker 742 and slipped the note into the grill on the door. The other end of the string, bound into a small wad of poster putty, caught in the grill, just out of sight. He was gone in two seconds.
Ms. Nelson, of Economics class had been the source of his greatest stress. It appeared to be her personal goal to make everyone participate in her class discussions. He had been given detention for causing disruption twice, although he had not intended to cause trouble. In fact, his goal was to cause as few ripples among the faculty as possible.
"Mr. Lambert, do you think Angela is correct?"
Progress. The only safe question to ask him was close ended, with a yes or no answer. The only problem was to choose one which would elicit fewer follow-up questions. Angela was obviously incorrect, art was a marketing expense, not a charitable one, but if Ms. Nelson asked why he disagreed, that could be difficult, and might lead to another detention. The case could be made that a company could fund an art project as charity, but wasn't that public relations, which was branding, which was marketing? Unless the company had charity functions as part of its charter, but that might just be so that their stock could be sold at a premium to people who valued charity. Of course, the whole argument was false if it was a privately held company, not answerable to stockholders.
It was obviously not the answer Ms. Nelson wanted, but the long delay before his answer served its purpose. Eventually, she would either stop asking him questions, or else only give him very easy yes/no questions.
She went on to ask another student their opinion, and if history was accurate, he would be safe for the rest of the day.
On the bus ride home, he sat three rows behind Isis, who had not attempted the 4:52 rendezvous since that their bus, number 7, departed at 4:15. Besides, she was wearing a brown and white outfit today. But he did see her pull out the blue colored note and read it again. She looked around the bus, but her eyes did not lock onto his. To most of the students he was invisible.
He was the only one at his stop. His house was on twenty acres, with nothing visible beyond the tree line. His father would be home in a few hours, and he would be pretending to do homework by that time. He went in through the front pasture, following an imaginary labyrinthian path. He stared at the dirt underfoot, kicking at pebbles and scuffing the topsoil. There was a pattern here, even if he was the only one who could see it.