Standing at the front of the class, head bowed down, Janice looked disconsolately at the floor. With nineteen in the Creative Literature class, inevitably when paired groups were arranged, one would have to work alone, "But why is it always me that is the odd one out?" she asked herself. As always she knew the answer. "I'm plain, tall and skinny, not really ugly but I'm only very modestly endowed in the breast department, in fact you can almost say I've no tits at all and possess few other womanly curves. My face is sprinkled with brown freckles and spots; my hair is mousy and plain, cut straight to an inch above my shoulders, as mother always insists. Probably my best feature when I look in the mirror, are my large, dark brown eyes, but I'm usually too shy and embarrassed to open them wide when I look at another person, and I daren't smile because of my buckteeth. Perhaps, above all, it is my shyness that makes me a loner."
"Looks like you'll have to work on your own Janice," Miss Rutherford commented, "Sorry, but perhaps you'll prefer it that way?"
"Yes, Miss." Janice answered automatically although mentally she visualised having a nice, kind, attentive, boy as a partner. At seventeen and a few months, she'd still not had a boyfriend, and her mother hardly allowed her out on her own and certainly would not have permitted her to attend those dens of iniquity, teenage disco's and parties. Hence, Janice quietly retired into her shell, did the work the teacher's expected, but hardly spoke to anyone, even her mother. Her divorced father came to her aid several times and overruled her mother's religious wishes but that only served to increase her isolation.
"I'll make allowances for that when I grade your work, Janice, so don't worry on that score. Sit down now." Much to Janice's consternation, only a double desk at the front of the class remained free. She slumped in the seat and tried to make herself as small as possible while ignoring the giggles from the other students. Usually she sat inconspicuously at the back.
"Last year in this sixth form college, you did the Standard English Literature course, but for the next three terms we are going to try something different. I will set you a series of research projects on famous people or events or inventions and it will be your task to find the information on the subject you are given and write and illustrate it as though it were an article in a feature magazine or one of the Sunday supplements. Indeed some of you may try and sell your work and..."
A knock on the door and the entry of a boy interrupted her speech. Ray Singleton, the college's star rugby player sauntered in like an actor about to make a dramatic stage entrance. All eyes stared at the blonde-headed, handsome lad. "I'm sorry Miss, but the office made a mistake with my timetable and they've had to put me in this class to get my quota of English." His voice held no hint of an apology as he handed Miss Rutherford a few sheets of paper, which she studied for a few minutes before shocking Janice by saying he could partner her. For a few seconds her heart fluttered, but the look of disgust Ray gave her quickly turned to shame and once more she cast her eyes down and didn't see the envious looks the other girls gave her, and nor did she see the change in Ray's expression when he saw the hurt he'd caused.
"Hi Jan," he whispered when Miss Rutherford started her spiel again. Jan could only stutter a 'Hi' in response and tried to concentrate on what the teacher said and ignore the close presence of the Adonis next to her.
"Who the hell is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?" Ray exclaimed when the class turned over the cards Miss Rutherford had laid face down on their desks.
Amid the general hubbub that followed the reading of the cards, Janice absent-mindedly answered, "American poet, 19th century I think. Wrote Hiawatha and stuff like that." Turning to face him, she blushed when he looked closely at her, his face only inches away from hers.
"Never heard of him or Hiya-whatever either. Why couldn't she have given us an English sportsman? We're supposed to write an article on a foreign poet and an old one at that? And I have to get at least a 70% to keep my place on the rugby team! They chuck us off automatically if our academic grades are not above that and my maths are weak so I need a good grade in this to pull my average up. You'd better pull your weight on this girl otherwise..." Ray left the threat unsaid but it caused tears to well in Jan's eyes and she thought how much better it would have been if he, this star of rugby, this idol of most females, had not entered the room.
For the rest of the lesson, Miss Rutherford outlined ways her students should consider finding the information, how to interpret it in an interesting way and how to present it in a publishable form. Dutifully Janice took notes but virtually ignored her partner until the end of the session he calmly and arrogantly ordered, "You find out what you can and I'll do the same. Meet me in the Library at lunchtime on Monday. I don't have training that day."
"Is that all you've done? Just pages of handwritten notes?" Ray exclaimed when they met, "Those notes are useless when we've to produce a printed output at the end. You'll have to type them all into to a computer. What a bloody numbskull. Look, see what I've done." Thrusting forward a few pages of information that he'd downloaded from the Internet the previous evening, he tried to intimidate her into producing something more acceptable to him.
Tears flowed down Janice's face as she gathered her papers and left the room. "I'll do the piece myself, he can do the same. I won't be able to get to Auntie's computer till she gets back from holiday," she muttered.
"Janice and Ray, please see me at the end of school today and maybe we can sort out the problem you are having working as a team." Earlier, Miss Rutherford spent some time looking over their individual work during her Wednesday session with the group, before making the request.
"I have a match tonight Miss," Ray smirked.
"Not if I have a word with Mr. Mitchell you won't," Miss Rutherford countered to Ray's shock.
"It's all her fault Miss, she won't talk to me and doesn't produce anything that we can use in our presentation. Please don't stop me playing tonight."
"Actually Mr. Singleton, her ideas and the way she's written it, are readable and interesting. Yours will do fine as an obituary but won't capture readers attention and won't score very highly with me." Laughter erupted from the others. "But if it's more convenient, I'll agree to see you both in my office at lunchtime, say 12:30? You should have eaten by then."
"I have a training session at lunchtime."
"My understanding of the situation is that you will not need to worry over training sessions if you do not pass this course," Miss Rutherford commented icily and added, "And you need Janice's help far more than she needs yours." She let that sink in for a few moments while she looked at her class to quieten their comments before asking, "Will lunchtime be alright with you Janice?"
"Yes, Miss," answered almost inaudibly.
Ray sat slumped in a chair in front of the teacher's desk waiting for Janice to arrive. She wasn't late but he hoped she'd be early so he could get hear at least a few minutes of the briefing for tonight's match. Finally, a tentative knock on the door. "Come in Janice, sit down please and if you don't mind, I'll start with you." Janice nodded. "I know from past experience with you in class, that you are extremely shy and I suspect that having to work with someone who considers himself a superstar, has increased that shyness." Another nod. "Forget the arrogant superstar business Janice, in this class you are more than his equal. He needs to listen to you but that also behoves you to talk to him. He is only another person, a boy of your age who, I agree, is gifted in many ways but that doesn't make him a better person than you." Ray fidgeted in his chair but kept quiet. "His main complaint seems to be that you have produced handwritten notes, notes which these days are not acceptable for publication, which is the ultimate aim of the course, and to me for grading. I know you've produced printed work before, has your computer gone down?" When Janice shook her head, Miss Rutherford went on, "There's always the computers at school or the Library."
"I'm sorry Miss, Mother won't allow me to have a computer at home," she quietly stuttered the words but went on almost in one burst of breath, "I'm also doing the IT course and I have to compile programmes which I can only do on computer and getting on to one at school is difficult and the Town Library only allows half an hour sessions. I use that time to do the IT work because I can only do it on computer. Normally, I use my Aunt's computer several times a week but she's on holiday and even if I could get into her house, mother wouldn't allow me to use it unsupervised. At home I had an old electric typewriter but the ribbon broke and the model's too old to get a replacement, so I'm back to a fountain pen. I'm a good typist so it won't take me long to smash in these notes when Auntie gets home. Sorry Miss."
.... There is more of this story ...