Bonus scene in Ash's point of view

An Exercise in Probabilities
Chapter 1 – Scene 2

 

My statistics teacher had reserved the empty desk beside me for the fifth person on my project team. I watched the clock uneasily, wondering who it would be.

As the bell rang, the final stat student strolled into the classroom and headed for the back row.

I stifled a groan. Please. Not her.

“Wait, Eden,” the teacher said, pointing to the empty desk. “Sit there.”

My throat thickened with dread. It was no secret that Eden Moore and I didn’t get along. Why had Mrs. Menzies put us together?

“All right, everyone. I’m glad that you’ve chosen to take Advanced Placement Statistics…”

I bowed my head, no longer listening to what the teacher was saying. This was a disaster. I was carrying my toughest courseload ever, and the last thing I needed was to expend any energy battling Eden. Maybe I should talk to Mrs. Menzies after class—and beg her to move me.

“… Form into your teams. I’ll hand out your first project.”

Dev, Upala, Eugene, and I shifted our desks into a circle, but Eden stayed where she was, her face blank. She glanced at me.

“You’re with us, Eden.”

Rolling her eyes, she shoved her desk around, close but not quite in the circle. Not surprisingly, she remained emotionally separate from us too, brooding in silence while the rest of the team talked about our summers.

Mrs. Menzies stopped by our circle last and handed out instructions and supplies. Before she walked away, she gave Eden a hard stare. “I expect collaboration from everyone.”

Eden didn’t acknowledge the comment. Instead, she tore open the bag of M&Ms and sorted them by color, each candy dropping into a paper bowl with a hostile click.

Fine. If she wanted to be left alone, I was good with that. I turned to the others with a smile. “Before we go any further, we should pick a leader for the team. How do we want to choose?”

The clicking candies paused. “Might as well cut the bullshit, Ash. You want the job. No one’s going to fight you. Just take it by acclimation.”

I side-eyed her. What was she implying? That I was being a jerk, hiding my grab for power behind a smile? I picked up a pen and drew squares in my notebook. Tiny, perfect squares.

The clicking resumed. “See. Done.”

When I looked up, the others were watching me in shock. I cleared my throat and reached for the instructions. “Let’s see when the first project is due…”

~*~

The next hour dragged by painfully, so it was a relief to hear the bell ring. In a flash, Eden had her desk back into place and was gone.

“Are you okay?” Upala asked as we exited the classroom.

“I’m fine.” I scanned the chaos in the hallway, feeling restless. Ahead of me, Eden closed her locker with a bang and turned toward the cafeteria, unconcerned about the trouble she’d caused. It was disturbing how she never missed an opportunity to mock me.

Even more disturbing was that I let her attitude matter.

Although confrontation wasn’t one of my favorite things, I couldn’t leave this alone. It was time.

I chased her down. “Eden? Can I ask you something?”

She halted. “Sure.”

“It’s the first day of school. Did you have to take me on already?”

“Take you on?” Her blue eyes narrowed impatiently. “If I’d wanted to come after you, I would’ve done a better job than that.”

“Then what was the point?”

“You were wasting my time on fake modesty. And while I don’t care what you think, I would like to make a good grade in statistics.”

My jaw clenched. It usually took a lot to get to me, but she’d managed it this year with the first thing she’d said. What was it about her that affected me so much?

I studied her from her scraped-back hair to her shabby shoes. She always wore baggy jeans and ugly shirts, and why did I even notice that?

“Ash? Are you done?”

Heat crept up my neck as I returned my gaze to hers. “If you don’t mind, I’d like us to call a truce.”

“Why? We’re not at war.”

“It feels like it. You fight me every chance you get.”

“I don’t fight you.”

I gave her a really? look.

“Like when?”

“You rewrote every one of our lab reports in freshman biology.”

“You had just moved here and didn’t know how to impress Mr. Tuttle. I did.”

Wait. She’d done that to impress the teacher? Not the way it felt at the time, but I would concede the point for now. There were plenty of other examples. “On our project team in US history, you vetoed every suggestion I made.”

“We were capable of more. You never took chances.”

Ouch. Was that what she really thought?

Of course it was. Eden might be a pain to be around, but she wasn’t a liar.

I stepped closer, blocking her from my friends’ view. “You propose insane ideas just to stir things up.”

“Not the reason at all. An idea has to be insane to make an A-plus.”

An A-plus was the goal? It wasn’t worth the risk to me. But if she was willing to jeopardize her GPA for a little glory, she was welcome to do that all day long—by herself.  “Insane is more likely to crash and burn.”

“Students like us do not crash and burn, Ash. You play it too safe.”

Easy for you to say. You’ve got valedictorian in the bag.

She gasped.

Holy crap. Had I said that out loud?

She considered me for a long moment, then gave a slight shake of her head, her expression softening with sympathy. “I don’t care about being valedictorian. Do you?”

“My parents—” I bit off what I’d been about to say. My parents were disappointed, but they’d accepted that I would probably rank second. Not something I wanted to discuss with Eden.

She looked around and back at me, her brow creasing in confusion. “Why is this so important to you?”

“I’m not sure. Why did you punt control of the project to me?”

“You were the best person for the job.”

“Wow.” Was she mocking me again?

I searched her face, but all I found was sincerity. She’d actually given me a compliment. “That was not what I expected you to say.” I really did want to be a good project leader. To listen and include everyone’s ideas and be…the best person for the job. It amazed me that Eden had noticed, even if she’d masked the praise behind harsh words. “Thanks. I think.”

Her lips curved into a sweet, beautiful, tentative smile.

Damn. I’d grown used to Eden being bored or aloof or grumpy. But a nice Eden? I couldn’t help smiling back.

With a nod, she continued to the cafeteria. I watched her go, trying hard to take in what had just happened. And trying even harder to ignore a shiver of awareness.

~*~

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