‘A positive number squared is positive. A negative number squared is also positive.’ It made no sense to Anna, even as she wrote it at the top of the blank page. She sighed and turned to her left. He was absent, again. She had soon decided that Jonathan Cooper was definitely not a first impressions kind of guy, or second, third or fourth for that matter. Eventually, she had warmed to him. He could be harsh and bitter, but he was also funny and incredibly smart and he was no more blunt and arrogant than Anna was loud and outspoken. He finished maths exercises quicker even than Amy, who was the smartest of Anna’s friends. He should have been moved out of Anna’s class months ago, but for him to be moved out; he would actually have to turn up. He was always evasive when Anna asked him about the school he had moved from, but she was sure it was nothing like Everman’s Middle School, because no-one else she knew dared skipping class. Even after a year of knowing him year, she had made no more progress with finding the answers that she wanted.
Smiling wryly, she waited for his lectures about her inability to learn anything with acceptable speed to come to a familiar exasperated end. Then, she broached the questioning again.
“Alright grumpy guts,” she rolled her eyes, long past being offended by his opinions about her intelligence, “clearly no-one at Everman’s can live up to the standard of your old school. You’re from London, so I’m guessing it was some big posh school near Buckingham palace.” She amused herself for a moment or two describing his fantasy uniform and had begun dreaming up his French teacher when he decided to stop her.
“No, I’m not from anywhere like that. And definitely nowhere near Buckingham Palace. Have even you been to London? It’s quite big you know? It’s not all like Buckingham palace.”
She laughed as she recognised his tone of voice, the one he always used when he thought he was teaching her something. “Yes, I know that London isn’t just rich people. If I’m so wrong, why don’t you tell me? In fact why don’t you educate me?” She was all playfulness, but there was a part of her that was desperate to understand him, how could he be so smart but break so many rules. Maybe he saw through her jokes, maybe he didn’t, he never gave a straight answer either way.
“I lived here when I was a kid you know?” She looked away from her work towards him, with a confused expression spreading across her face. He enjoyed her confusion. “You’re killing me J.T, don’t you remember me at all?”
“JT? Why would I remember you?” Anna had given up square roots for today, “did I know you?”
He smiled “No, not really, we went to the same primary school for a month or so, when I was still living with my Mum.”
“Why, I mean, you don’t live with your parents?” Anna has been so excited to find out about Jonathan that she hadn’t considered it might be a sad story and had no idea how to react.
“Calm down JT, no-one died. I’ve lived with my Dad since then.”
She was momentarily distracted from the traumatic life history she was creating for him in her head, “sorry, but JT?”
His smile spread into a laugh as he seemed to focus on a nondescript point on the wall next to her face, “I took the last jam tart, which you wanted and you kicked up such a fuss. Always been pretty loud, you have.”
Anna had all but forgotten jam tart incident with the Cooper boy, “I remember, but still, why JT?” Her mouth formed a small, round ‘O’ shape as she understood, “jam tart, JT, I get it.” Her head tilted slightly from side to side and she fitted all of this new information into place. “So, JT, is that gonna stick?”
Jonathan didn’t have a chance to answer as Anna’s attention was brought back to maths when she realised that the answers were being read out. She glanced down at the empty page of her maths book. Her face twisted in thought as she flicked through her exercise book, most pages were empty or only contained a couple of answers. She had been sat next to Jonathan for the whole of year eight and she was distinctly aware that sitting next to a smart guy wasn’t making her any smarter.
Mr Barrymore’s bright voice cut through her thoughts, “Well, that’s you done for the year guys – have a good summer!” Anna packed up her bag and turned to Jonathan, her face serious and questioning. As he caught sight of her, he seemed as interested in her as she had always been in him.
“Anna, what is it?,” he ran his fingers through his fringe as dropped his gaze to the floor as he spoke “You look like you want to ask me something?”
“I already did genius,” her amusement was fuelled by his confusion, “is JT going to stick?”
He shrugged as he turned towards the door, “not sure.”
Anna followed him out of the classroom and as she turned out of the door his signature arrogant smirk appeared, “You as bad at French as you are at maths then?”
Anna laughed, “Probably, but lessons are way more fun, all of my friends are in my class, you see.”
“Right. No chance you wanna skip it then?”
Anna continued laughing, “Maths is the only lesson I’d want to skip, Jonathan.”
His expression was unreadable as he turned in a direction that definitely wasn’t the French department, “I’ll remember that for next year then JT!” A smirk returned to his face as he walked out of sight.
Anna frowned, “I guess I won’t be seeing him in the summer then,” aware that she had not considered the possibility at all until she watched him walk away.
Anna and Charlotte worked in silence as they painted soft watercolours on the rough grey paper. Anna had sat doodling in the classes when Charlotte was sketching the outline of the little white cottage, but now there was only painting to be done Anna could help. Charlotte was carefully mixing three different shades of green whilst Anna painted bold patterns on the butterfly that rested on a stone in the foreground. She twisted her body to keep the circle she was filling in as round as possible, her elbow edged around the corner of the table and collided with the old jam jar of murky water. Charlotte’s eyes widened as she reached out to catch the jar before it ruined her work of art, she sighed. Then she glared at Anna, but she couldn’t hold it for long before they both started giggling, a mixture of amusement and relief.
Grace glared over at the sound of their laughter, her glare didn’t thaw. Amy looked up to see what had caught Grace’s eye and her expression fell. Anna and Amy had been struggling to keep the peace since Charlotte had declared her interest in Grace’s old boyfriend Adam. Amy and Anna shared a look of concern, but also of frustration with their two best friends. Their attention was drawn away from their own discomfort by their art teacher announcing that it was time to start packing away.
They walked out of the school entrance as a four, Charlotte and Grace making an effort not to notice each other. As they reached the school gates they awkwardly turned towards each other and leaned in for their signature four-way hug.
“So, we’ll do loads together over the summer then?” Amy’s brightness was forced as eyebrows were raised around her. Half-hearted goodbyes were muttered as Charlotte and Grace walked away towards their lifts home. Amy let out an exasperated sigh, “I am so sick of this!”
“I don’t even know whose side I’m on, it’s just ridiculous!” Anna shook her head slightly, “Do you want to come over to mine for a bit, it might be nice to spend some time with a friend without it being unbearably awkward?”
Amy let out a bitter laugh, “Yes, that would be nice,” but then something behind Anna’s head caught her eye, “although, it’s looks as though there’s someone waiting for you.” She raised her eyebrows in the direction Anna should look. Anna frowned as she turned, she lived within a ten minute walk of school so hadn’t been picked up by a parent in years. He was leaning against the old brick wall at the edge of the school car park. A book was bent double at the spine in his hands and his attention was concentrated on reading. “Call me later Anna?”
Anna glanced back at her friend, “Yeah, sure – I’ll talk to you later.” She walked towards Jonathan, he was still focussed on his book, so she called out, “Hey, I’m no pro, but if you’re going to skip class isn’t it best not to hang out near school. It makes it kind of obvious don’t you think?”
He turned over the corner of the page he was on and looked up at Anna, “I was hoping I might catch you.”
She frowned, “You were?”
“Yeah, I asked you to get my mark for the English test, didn’t I?”
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Anna fiddled with her watch as she answered, “like you even need to ask though, you got full marks.”
“Sweet, how did you do?” He stood up straight, his eyes playful but challenging.
“Less than full marks.” Anna spoke slowly.
Jonathan laughed and rolled his eyes, “What are your plans for the summer the JT? Adventures with the Famous Four?”
Anna laughed bitterly, “What famous four? With Charlotte and Grace acting the way they are? No thanks.”
“Oh dear, if only Adam knew the trouble he’s caused.” Jonathan hadn’t made many friends since starting at Everman’s, his poor attendance didn’t help with that cause, but Anna had noticed him spending time with Adam in the past few months.
“Still no idea if he even fancies Charlotte then? She’s convinced he does!”
“He’s not mentioned it and I’m not about to start asking questions.” Ever since Anna had told him about the Grace-Adam-Charlotte predicament, Jonathan had insisted he wasn’t going to pry for her.
“Thanks, you sure do help make my life easier!”
“Well, I don’t exist to make your life easier JT.” He smirked as she pulled a face at him; not impressed with the nickname or his attitude towards helping out her friends.
They’d starting walking in the wrong direction for Anna’s home, “Um, are we going somewhere, because I’m kinda just following you.”
“So, we are going somewhere though?”
“That’s what was implied.”
“So,” Anna supressed a smile and raised an eyebrow, “you were hoping to catch me for more than just your English results then?”