Just because we don't forget doesn't mean that some memories don't stand out in our minds more clearly than others.
I was ten, and school had just started up again after a long, wonderful summer of playing games and swimming in the lake, and I was sorry that it had ended for a few reasons.
One being that over the past six months I'd started to put on weight. My parents had been worried about that, making me exercise and eat more of my brother's vegetables but it didn't do much good. I wasn't obese, but I was big enough that some of the kids at school had noticed and commented on it.
For another reason, I had the great luck of getting Mrs. Horwig as my teacher.
Mrs. Horwig had transferred from Seta to our school last year, and I'd heard enough horror stories about her to be on my guard. Contrary to what you'd expect, she wasn't old and ugly, she was actually young and very pretty. She was also mean as a rattlesnake.
I don't know what it was about me that set her off so badly, made her single me out for her extra-special attention, but she did. Right from the first day of class she was on my case about everything, every small detail. Other people could run around like animals but let me sneeze when she was talking and I wouldn't hear the end of it.
Telling my parents would have been pointless, since they had nothing to relate to. Otosan had been educated in a science lab, and the only formal schooling my dad ever had (not counting going undercover during the war) was during the brief time he'd lived in the Maxwell church. So they didn't understand mean teachers, or just how much it hurts when you realize an adult hates you.
So I kept my mouth shut and tried to keep my grades up, and told everyone "fine" when they asked me how school was going. I tried to ignore Mrs. Horwig's little digs and comments, tried to ignore the teasing about my weight, which began to increase under the stress, making things worse. There were days when I'd come home from school and lock myself in my room, and wish that I could die, just so I wouldn't have to face another day.
Everything came to a head when they gave the advanced math exam.
Deran schools allow children to learn at their own rate, kind of like Irnao Montessori schools. I had a knack for math and computers so that was where I focused a lot of my energy. Numbers made sense to me; equations felt like puzzles to solve, and I could look at the finished results and think that at least I was good at something.
The advanced math exam was just an indicator. There were other exams too, so the teachers could get a better idea of where student interest lay, and perhaps even discover hidden talents. The questions on the math test started off very basic, 2+2, and went on to end with things like calculus.
Over the summer, Jazz had given me his old school books, and I'd amused myself by learning to do advanced math. Yes, maybe that is a weird thing for a ten-year-old to do for fun, I'll admit it. But that's what I did; it was more of a game than anything else.
So although there were some things on the math exam I didn't have a clue about, for the most part I breezed through it, thinking that so far this was the best day I'd spent at school since starting the term. I handed it in, and didn't think anything else about it.
Two days later, as we were headed to lunch, Mrs. Horwig asked me to stay behind. I was leery, wondering what I'd done now, but I sat down next to her desk anyway. She pulled out my math exam.
"You answered 95% of these questions right." She began, and she sounded pleasant for a change.
"Wow is right. Considering that up until this point, the highest anyone has ever scored in your age group is 48%."
"I studied my brother's math books this summer." I explained, feeling a burst of pride. "Guess it paid off."
She picked up a pen, and wrote a huge "Invalid" across the top of my test.
"What?" I jumped out of my chair in anger.
"Where did you get the answers to the test, Luke? Who gave them to you?"
"You think I cheated? I told you, I studied my brother's math books! Ask him! Ask my parents! They saw me studying!"
"Oh, I intend to talk with your parents, Mr. Maxwell. Now you have one more chance to tell me where you got the answers, or I'm going to recommend you be suspended for two weeks. We both know you're not capable of that kind of score without cheating."
"I didn't get any answers from anyone!" I was so furious I kicked over my chair, and she jumped. "Go ahead and kick me out! I'm never coming back here again!" I ran from the room.
I'd taken my hoverboard this morning instead of transporting, and I grabbed it from the pile now, not caring how many more I knocked over in the process. I was crying so hard I couldn't see straight, but I could feel the eyes of the other students on me as I took off. I was glad that Rosie went to the secondary school now, and wasn't there to see me like this. I heard someone yelling my name, but I ignored them and went faster.
"LUKE! Luke, what's wrong?"
I tried to turn the board at the curve in the road, but I miscalculated and ended up sailing headlong into the grassy shoulder, scraping my knee on a rock, and banging my head on the front of my board as I fell.
"Luke, are you okay?" Someone was holding my head. "You're bleeding!"
"Leave me alone, 'Shel." I snapped, still crying. "Go away."
Seeing me leave, she'd jumped on her own board to follow. "What happened?" She wanted to know. "Who made you cry? Tell me." She put her arm around my shoulder, and I really lost it.
I blurted out everything through my tears. How Horwig had picked on me, how people teased me about my weight now, how I hadn't cheated on that test, but no one was going to believe me over her.
"And everything I do again, they'll just say I cheated if I do it well. I'm never going back to school! You should go back, though. You'll get in trouble for leaving."
She shrugged that off, and kissed me on the cheek. "So what? Come on, I'll go home with you. I believe you that you didn't cheat. Why would you cheat at math? You're really good at it."
I tried to stand up, and winced at the pain in my knee. "Don't know if I can steer my board right now."
"Here, get on my mine." She held my own board in her arms as I stepped up behind her, grabbing her waist. She went slow, and by the time we reached my house I was almost cried out.
"Luke, what happened? Your school called!" Dad met us at the door. "You can't just run away like that! They said something about cheating on a math test?"
"He didn't cheat!" Meishel answered before I could. "His teacher is a witch and she's lying! That's why he left."
Not trusting my voice, I nodded.
My father knelt down in front of me, and looked into my eyes. "You didn't cheat?"
"No, Dad. I didn't. It was just easy questions, that's all. Like from Jazz's books." I started bawling again. "I'm not lying. You always told me to never lie and I'm not!"
"Come here." He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. "I believe you, Luke. Tell me everything."
I repeated my story as he stroked my hair, and I felt calmer by the time I was done, better. If my father believed me then who cared what Horwig thought? Otosan would believe me too, and that was all that mattered.
"You know what we're going to do?" My father asked. "We're going to go back to that school, and you're going to take that test again. We'll prove you're telling the truth, and I'm going to make that teacher of yours apologize in front of everyone. Okay?"
I smiled and nodded. "You'll make her stop picking on me?"
"Luke, after I get done with her she'll NEVER pick on you again." He promised. "But you should have told us what was going on. I would have stopped it weeks ago." He glanced over my shoulder. "Where did Meishel go?"
I looked around too. "I don't know. Maybe she went back to school."
"Maybe. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be the one to explain to Wufei that we lost his daughter." He was trying to get me to laugh, and it worked.
He bandaged up my leg, and we had lunch, and we got in the transporter to go back to my school. I couldn't stop smiling. I had some power on my side, and Horwig was going to be sorry she ever messed with a Maxwell.
When we got there, we saw that even with lunch over, my classmates were still wandering around outside. No one laughed at me, no one would dare with the look my father gave them. I had a feeling that Mrs. Horwig wasn't the only one who wouldn't be harassing me any longer.
But when we entered the building, it was to find Wufei and Denea already there. Denea had her arm on Meishel's shoulder, and Meishel's face was red. Mrs. Horwig looked pale. Shan stood near his sister, but when he saw me, he moved over and took my hand. "I believe you too. Meishel was SO awesome. You should have seen it." He whispered.
It took a while to get all the details. Meishel had held her temper long enough to make sure that I got home safely. Then she'd ridden back to the school as fast as she could.
Horwig had resumed class again and was in the middle of actually telling them all how I'd been caught cheating when Meishel stormed into her classroom and called her a liar right to her face. Horwig may have intimidated everyone else, including me, but Meishel was growing up with Wufei and Denea. She didn't cower for anyone, especially when she knew in her heart that she was right. The louder Horwig yelled at her to get out and mind her own business, the louder Meishel yelled back that I WAS her business. For good measure, she'd also threatened to "beat the bones" out of anyone who ever teased me about my weight again.
Even when Horwig left to call her parents, Meishel followed along right after her, demanding not only that Horwig apologize to me, but that she quit her job and get off of Dera as well. Never let it be said that the Changs do anything in half-measures.
It had taken both Wufei and Denea to get their daughter calmed down. Horwig also learned that her word didn't matter jack to either of them over Meishel's, and they felt her actions were completely justified.
Horwig glared at me now, and I smiled back evilly. "Let me take the test again. You can use the computer to mix up the questions if you want. But I want to take it again right now. And you can watch me take it."
I did not manage to get another 95.
I got a 97.
Still not convinced, Horwig called in a math teacher from the high school to ask me random questions. I only missed one, and I thought my father was absolutely going to burst with pride. That alone would have made it all worth it.
Horwig did apologize, although reluctantly, and I didn't have any more trouble with her after that. And I lost a good deal of weight that year, although I gained it right back the next. The only thing anyone teased me about was my "girlfriend" coming to my defense.
But never when Meishel was around to hear.
We walked in silence now down the path that split the fields in half. Having asked her here to talk to me, I now found my tongue wouldn't move. I knew what I had to do, but I didn't know if I had the courage to do it.
Our Meishel, my Meishel. Our maiden warrior. Always the first to rise up and fight for us if we were wronged. But who fought for her? Who made sure the wrongs committed against her would be addressed? And I had wronged her, over and over, and still here she was, waiting patiently for me to say something, explain myself, do something to make everything okay again.
The image of my birth father swam into my mind, and I shivered, but it gave me the strength I needed to speak.
"How are you holding up? I mean about Pell and Adyn and Macus?" I began.
"Okay, I guess." She kicked a rock. "I just can't believe I'm never going to see them again. I want the Deran Pure to pay. I'm going to make sure that happens." She gave me a "Just try and stop me" look.
"Meishel... " I stopped walking. "The reason I asked you to come here was because there's something important that I have to tell you. It's over."
"What's over?" She asked, confused.
"It. This. Us. We're over."
"I see." She paused for a moment, looking away from me. "Do I at least get a reason why?"
"A lot of reasons. 'Shel, I'm not boyfriend material. I'm no good at it. I'm too busy right now with work. I neglect you and I feel guilty about it, and then we're both miserable. We've been miserable for a long time now. I want it to stop. We've been friends since we were babies, and I don't want to lose that. But we can't be anything else. Not now and not ever. I'm sorry."
She started walking again, and held up her hand when I tried to follow. "Please. I need some time alone."
"Meishel, I never wanted to hurt you." It sounded corny and lame even to me, and I hoped that she couldn't hear the sound of my heart breaking. I wanted to grab her, hold her, pull her down to the ground and show her just how much I loved her, how much I wanted to spent my life by her side, but I couldn't. I had to love her enough to let her go, or risk destroying her by asking her to stay. I owed it to the woman she was now, and the fiery 8-year-old she'd been once upon a time.
I turned to walk away, and I heard her say "I used to wonder who you loved more, your computer or me. I guess now I know the answer."
No, I thought, feeling as if I'd swallowed broken glass. This time, 'Shel, you don't know a thing.