A Different Blue Page 10

He laid a sheet of paper on my desk. I looked down at it in surprise. My eyes shot up to his and then back down to my paper. It was the paper I had thrown away. Twice. He must have retrieved it after I left the room that day. It had been smoothed and pressed flat again, as if he had laid it between a couple of heavy books. My words stared back at me, almost mocking.

“There's no sense in running from the past. We can't throw it away or pretend it didn't happen, Miss Echohawk. But maybe we can learn something from it. You have an interesting story, and I'd like you to tell me more.” He turned to walk away.

“Seems a little unfair to me,” I blurted out, and I immediately wished I had kept my big mouth shut when thirty pairs of eyes zeroed in on me.

Wilson raised his eyebrows, tilted his head inquisitively and folded his arms.

“What do you mean?” he asked quietly. I expected him to get red in the face or kick me out. That's usually what happened in my other classes when I couldn't keep my sassy comments to myself.

I shrugged and popped the gum I wasn't supposed to be chewing. “You ask us to bare all, write our little secrets down, our lowest moments, but I don't see you sharing anything personal with us. Maybe I don't want you to know my story.”

The class was quiet. Shockingly so. It seemed everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see if Blue Echohawk had finally gone too far. When Wilson didn't explode but merely eyed me owlishly for several long seconds, the tension eased somewhat.

“Okay. Fair enough,” Wilson acquiesed quietly. “But I am the teacher, which by definition means I instruct and you learn, so things are not going to necessarily be fair because we have different roles. And in the interest of time, I'm not going to spend the class period talking about myself.”

“How about twenty questions?” somebody spoke up from the back of the class.

“Or spin the bottle,” someone else shouted out, and a few people snickered.

“Tell you what. I will give you a brief timeline, just like you've done for me, and then I'll tell you my turning point moment. Deal? That way Miss Echohawk can be confident that everything is fair.” He winked at me, and I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue. Teachers were not supposed to be young and cute. Somehow that really irritated me. I just arched one eyebrow disdainfully and looked away.

“I was born in Manchester, England. I have two older sisters. One sister still lives in England, as does my mother. My oldest sister, Tiffa, lives in Las Vegas, which incidently is what brought me here. I am twenty-two years old. I finished what we call college when I was fifteen, which I suppose is about the equivalent of graduating from high school very early.”

“Wow! So you're really smart, huh?” This brilliant deduction was offered by a girl with a Marilyn Monroe voice who used glittery pens and wrote each letter of her name in a different color, surrounded by hearts and stars. I had dubbed her Sparkles.

I snorted loudly. Wilson shot me a look, and I decided it was probably time to shut up.

“We moved to the states when I was sixteen so I could attend university early, which is simply not done in England. My mum is English, but my dad was an American. He was a doctor and took a position at the Huntsman Cancer institute in Utah. I graduated from university when I was nineteen, and that's when I had my turning point moment. My dad died. He had wanted me to be a doctor like he was – actually four generations of men in my family have been doctors. But I was rather a mess after he died and decided to go another direction. I spent two years in Africa in the Peace Corp teaching English. I discovered I really liked teaching.”

“You shoulda been a doctor,” Sparkles volunteered breathily. “They make more money. And you woulda looked super cute in scrubs.” She giggled into her hand.

“Thank you, Chrissy,” Wilson sighed and shook his head in exasperation. So that was her name. It wasn't much better than Sparkles.

“This is my first year teaching here in the states. And Bob's your uncle.” Wilson looked at his watch.” My life in two minutes. Now it's your turn. You have the remainder of the class.”

I looked down at my paper. Wilson's life was a neat little row of events and achievements. So he was smart. That was fairly obvious. And he was nice. And he was nice-looking. And he came from a nice family. All of it . . . . . . nice. So different from my own history. Did I have a defining moment? One moment where everything changed? I had actually had a few. But there was one moment when the world spun, and when it settled, I was a different girl.

I had been living with Cheryl for about three years, and in that time there had been no word from Jimmy. Nevada search and rescue had eventually suspended the search effort after they had been unable to find any trace of him. There was no outcry, no public awareness of his disappearance, no demands that the search continue. He was an unknown. Just one man who meant the world to one little girl.

During that three years, I had tried my hardest not to give up on him. Not in the first weeks when my social worker told me they had to put my dog, Icas, down. Not when, week after week, there had been no sign of Jimmy. Not when Cheryl smoked incessantly in the apartment, and I had to go to school smelling bad, my hair and clothes reeking of cigarettes, friendless and clueless, awkward and strange, in my own eyes and the eyes of my classmates. I was not willing to admit that Jimmy was gone, and sheer stubborn will kept my eyes straight ahead and made me strong.

If not for the occasional teasing, I would have really liked school. I liked being around other kids, and school lunch seemed like a daily feast after years of eating from a camp stove. I liked having more books at my disposal. My teachers said I was smart, and I worked hard, trying to catch up, knowing how proud Jimmy would be when I showed him the books I could read and the stories I had written. I wrote down all the stories he had told me, all the things that were important to him, and, therefore, important to me. And I waited.

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