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Breaking the Ice

I’m leaning over Haley’s shoulder, her big brown eyes staring up at me accusingly. I have a clear view of her notebook. The flowchart, or any of the other projected notes we’ve been reviewing for more than thirty minutes, is nowhere to be seen. But she has written her name in several different styles of cursive, sometimes including her middle name—Allison—and sometimes adding an initial. She’s also doodled some hearts, a few badly drawn geometric cubes, and, crammed into the side column of the page, written with slanted print a “Hump Day To-do List.”

I refrain from snickering at the “Hump Day” reference. I’m too old for that. But, while holding her pen still, I do read this very important life-changing to-do list consisting of seven tasks essential to one’s mid-June Wednesday survival in Juniper Falls, Minnesota:

1. Write cheers for July 4th demo

2. Teach Kayla B. (and maybe Kayla S.) newest 3-8 counts of competition routine

3. Check UCF site for tryout/clinic dates

4. Day 5 of teeth whitening

5. Underwear drawer

6. Download calorie counter app Jamie mentioned

7. Tumbling at 6 then make dinner for Dad

It isn’t really my style to engage in conversation during class. Especially to comment on this list. Where would I even start? I mean, what happens if you miss Day 5 of a teeth-whitening adventure? Or I could comment on the ambiguous underwear drawer. That one definitely has my pounding head working on overdrive. But I don’t comment on anything.

Now that my concerns have been addressed, I let go of Haley’s hand, freeing the purple pen, and she immediately gives two quick taps against her desk.

All right. That’s the last straw.

I pluck the pen from her fingers, tuck it behind my ear, and sink back into my seat. “I’m gonna have to hang on to this until the end of class.”

Haley spins halfway around to face me, the surprise in her expression telling me that the most recent taps hadn’t been F-you taps. “That’s my only pen—”

“Miss Stevenson,” our highly caffeinated teacher says, looking right at Haley. “If the president and vice president can no longer serve, who becomes president?”

Haley’s face flushes before she’s even fully facing forward again. “Um…the first lady?”

The entire class laughs. Our middle-aged teacher—who takes Civics very seriously—doesn’t laugh. Her face pinches like Haley’s answer causes her physical pain. “Look at your flowchart, Haley. The answer is right in front of you.”

Mrs. Markson’s already swiped the flowchart from the projector and replaced it with the Bill of Rights. In front of me, Haley’s entire body stiffens. I guess that’s what happens when you’re consumed with thoughts about your underwear drawer instead of copying notes.

Jesus Christ. Now I’m consumed with thoughts of Haley Stevenson’s imaginary underwear drawer (imaginary not because it doesn’t exist—I’m confident that it does—but because I’ve never seen it before). My gaze roams from her ankles, traveling the length of her smooth, very toned, bare legs until I reach the hem of the frayed jean shorts resting high on her thighs. Shorts she’d never be allowed to wear during the regular school year. And yeah, I get this dresscode thing now. I’m completely distracted. I’ve never had a class with the Princess of Juniper Falls before. It’s a small town—one middle school, one high school—so we’ve always been in proximity to each other, but never this close, I guess.

Breaking the Ice
by by Julie Cross