Chapter 4:

Birds of a Feather

The Unwanted Virginity of a Genius

Is what I told myself then. So why are we still avoiding each other?!

This morning, on the way to school, I managed to bump into her but she took off running before I could say anything. In class, she came in right before the bell so I couldn’t get a word in. And then of course it has been nothing but tests.

Believe it or not, it’s hard to focus on the tests with something on your mind!

Each of these testing days start with two tests and then a long lunch before any extracurricular or elective tests as well as sports or physical education evaluations. This goes on for four days.

Thankfully, I am not in any other classes besides the core classes. But unfortunately, I am using that free period in the day for PE because I don’t want to play any sports. And low and behold, us first years have our evaluations today.

Regardless, I still need to talk to Hope.

“Hey… Ray?”

At the very least I need to smooth things over so things aren’t awkward anymore.

“Um, Ray?”

I can just pretend that nothing was out of the ordinary.

“Earth to Raymond!”

“Gwagh-!” I let out some strange yelp in surprise and I turn around to see Hope standing behind me. “Oh, hey, Hope. Didn’t see ya there.”

“You okay? You seem a little out of it. You weren’t up late last night before the tests were you?”

“Oh, no, no, no! Just, ummm, you know, English and history are pretty draining. Using up a lot of brainpower for memorizing.”


God this is so awkward! Hold on, Ray, she’s doing her best to bring up other topics and ignore yesterday. Let’s just follow her lead and it’ll be smooth sailing.

“So I picked up the book you left yesterday. I figured I should return it to you.”

How am I this stupid?! I glance up to Hope and her face is flushed red. Great going, Ray.

“Oh! That! No, it was just something I checked out of the library! But thanks for grabbing it for me. I’d hate to be late on a return. Hahaha…”

“Oh, right! Yeah that would be bad. Here, I’ve got it with me.” I open my bag and fish around for it.

“You… you didn’t take a look inside, did you?”

“Yeah, I did…” Wait. Think this through. In times like this, it's best I lie. Writing novels can be a scary thing because you are putting yourself out there in your words, or so I assume, “... not. I’m not much of a reader anyways so I wasn’t interested.” There’s a potential bridge burned if she ever wanted to share it.

“Oh, okay! That’s a relief. I mean- I think you should read some more. If you have time, that is.”

I hand her the book and she hastily shoves it into her bag. For a moment we both stand with our faces red, unsure of where to go with the conversation.

“Um, Ray. About the book-”


Before Hope could say anything, both of our names are heard being shouted from down the hall. We turn to see Miss Genius running towards us. While I’m not particularly happy to see her, she did arrive at the perfect time.

“Hi, Sarah. How did you do on the tests?”

“Same old, same old.”

“I shouldn't have asked.” Hope mutters under her breath. Shared sentiment there.

“Do y’all have any other tests this afternoon?”

“We all have our evaluation for PE and whatnot. Were you not paying attention last week when they went over our schedule?” I give her a quizzical look.

“Right, I forgot about that. Where do we need to be for that?”

“Gym for the girls, field for the guys.”


Miss Genius slides up next to me with a grin on her face,“A shame you won’t get to watch me be evaluated~”

“Wha-?! And don’t add emphasis on ‘evaluated!’ That makes it even worse!”

“Worse? What’s wrong with a little evaluation? Oh, would you rather it be an examination perhaps?”

This girl, I swear! My face is burning red with how she’s talking.

“Jealous that someone else gets to do it instead of you? We can always meet in the storage closet for some private examination of each other-”

“Alright, Sarah. You’ve had your fun. Let’s go before I break you- *ahem* before you break poor Ray over here.”

“Boo~! Ray! I’ll be waiting in the storage closet for you!”

“Shut up!”

What’s her problem?! I let out an exasperated sigh. “Whatever, I accomplished what I wanted to get done today. Let’s just hope that the PE test isn’t too difficult.”

I storm off towards the lockers to get changed.

I’m one of the first on the field and I see the PE teacher looking around with concern on his face. “Ah, Mr. Baker! Perfect timing.”

“Need something, Coach?”

“That’s Mr. Burns to you. And I need cones. Another stack if you would.”

“Sure. Where’re they at?”

“The storage closet in the gym.”

“The what now?”

I am convinced my luck sank to zero as soon as I stepped foot on this campus. It’s cursed, I tell you! Cursed! Built on a burial ground!

I resign myself to my fate and sheepishly accept Coach’s request. “Best I just head in and out. Don't make a fuss. Just be as invisible as you always are.”

I open one of the side doors and take the long way around the edge of the court. Thankfully it was already quite crowded in here so one extra body hardly stood out. A minute later I reached the closet. Now it’s just grabbing the cones and… and the doors are locked. Their rattle seems to echo across the entire gym. I take a look around and no one is looking over at me. I sigh with relief and turn back to the door.

“I didn’t think you’d actually come. And in plain view for all to see as well, my my, someone’s shameless. Or perhaps you were just that eager~?”

My heart nearly stops.

“Wh-wh-why are you here…?”

Miss Genius is standing between myself and the door. She has a smug expression. Once again, getting the one up on me.

“I told you I would be waiting for you here.” She grabs my hand with both of hers and winks. She brings my hand up and her face close to mine. For only a moment, our faces are almost touching but she moves past me.

“The teacher saw you come in and asked me to give you the key for the room since she had locked it earlier. Be sure to lock up and return it to her when you’re done. Unless you want to keep it and make a spare for us to use whenever~?”

“As if!” I almost shout but restrain myself. In my hand is a small set of keys. “But thanks. Now go before you draw any eyes over here.”

She waves goodbye and trots back to the crowd. I sigh and unlock the door.

I grab what I came for, lock up the door, and return the key.


The final day of testing comes to an end. The only thing to do is kill time until the test scores are posted. Needless to say, my anxiety is through the roof. I’ve put even more time and effort into studying for these tests. Anything to beat Miss Genius.

I and a good amount of people pace around the courtyard where the notice boards are. The air is tense. And after a few hours, a few faculty members arrive to post the results. Everyone holds their breath until they walk away and then a wave of students flock to the board.

Confident, I head to the top of the scoreboard. “Let’s see, let’s see. Oh, Hope got 14th? I’ll have to congratulate her for that. I owe her from the first quarter exams.”

My eyes make their way up. Name after name I don’t recognize until I take a deep breath and dart my eyes to the top.

Earlier, when testing week first started, Hope wanted to have a party to celebrate the end of exams with all the regulars who visited us. Miss Genius, of course, agreed. Two to one, and so I conceded. Nonetheless, I decide to take a detour around the campus before we are to meet. Mainly to cool off and get a clear head.

Afterall, the pain of second place is still a fresh wound. “After all that effort, it’s still not enough, is it Ray? Just gotta try again harder next quarter.”

I pass under the colonnade connecting the north and south buildings. Out of the corner of my eye I see a familiar girl sitting by herself under the shade of a tree. I walk out into the courtyard.

She is hugging her knees and has a sulking expression under her light brown hair.

“Phoebe, was it?”

She looks up at me, her eyes red.

“This is gonna be a heavy one.” I say under my breath and do my best to hold back a sigh. “Alright, what’s the matter?”

I take a seat on the grass next to her.

“I thought you only helped with homework and not social issues?”

“When did you get the sharp tongue?”

She looks away, clearly still in a bad mood.

“Alright, yeah. Sure. My club activities are only for helping with homework, but I’m not so heartless to walk past someone I sort of know, who’s feeling down, and pretend they don’t exist or that I don’t know them.”


“Also it’s not club hours right now.”

“...” She gives me a look and I take the queue to stop joking around.

“So tell me, why are you sitting here all alone in the cold?”

“I feel like I set Sarah down and I don’t know how to face her-”

“Oh thank God!”


“I thought you were getting bullied and beaten up. I have no clue how to help with something like that so I was stressing out there for a second.” A weight is lifted off my shoulders and I finally let out that long sigh. At least it’s a sigh of relief.

“Oh- well- yeah. I do my best to avoid people and stay in the background. I stay invisible so that most people forget about me. I might not make friends, but at least I’m not on anyone’s bad side.”

“You and me both, Phoebe. You and me both.”


“Do I look like the social type?”

“You do have two very pretty girls with you all the time.”

“Ehehehe~” I bashfully rub the back of my head.

“But looks wise, yeah you don’t seem like you go out much.”

Look here you little-

“But you are kind. Kind enough to help strangers you barely know. And I think that’s something that sets you apart from a lot of people. I mean, you almost helped me forget why I was feeling miserable in the first place.”

“I’ll take that compliment.”

We both sit in silence. The sound of afterschool activities bounce off the courtyard walls. The occasional breeze that makes its way into this quiet place rustles the branches above us.

“I still don’t think that I can face her.” Phoebe speaks up, but her gaze is fixed far away. “I was confident going into these tests but after seeing those scores… I really feel like I failed.”

“It happens.” Believe me, I know. “But I always tell myself, ‘No use in worrying about past tests you can’t retake. Use that time to focus on the next ones.’”

“But no matter how much I study, or even if I turn in an A on my homework, when it comes to tests I just freeze up. I feel stupid. I feel worthless.”

“Right. I can understand how you feel-”

“It really was a mistake to come here. I moved across the country and had to say goodbye to all my friends. I’m miserable. But if I quit now, I’d be even more worthless and I don’t want to cause my parents any trouble. Because, at this rate, I’ll be unable to get through a school so many other people have gotten through.”

“Jeez, hitting too close to home.” I mutter to myself and let her words sink in. I am in a very similar situation. I have pride and reputation riding on these four years. Following my older sister to make sure I am not looked down on in the family. But how can I give her advice on something I’m struggling with? I want to help her, but if I can’t help myself…

No. I can’t leave her like this. God, if it were only someone I didn’t know at all. If it were someone who I couldn’t relate to. That’s not true. I’d probably end up getting involved with their struggles either way.

“I know it’s hypocritical of me of all people to say it, but don’t base your worth on test taking. Hell, don’t base your self worth on scores and points in general.”

“That sounds like just cheap advice.”

“Because it’s been repeated over and over again. Just like this line: you are not alone. But I mean it. For me, school has done nothing but make me miserable.”


“Call me lazy or whatever. I don’t like school. I have my own reasons for being obsessed with my grades, certainly not limited to just being a probationary student, but pride, expectation, reputation, you name it. But I got sucked down into a pit where I feel burdened to score high. To not let people down and eventually, I convinced myself that I would be letting myself down if I didn’t get a perfect score. It’s a miserable life to live, basing your worth on scores.”

“If it’s miserable-”

“And you know it’s miserable, why do you continue to live that way? I’ve asked myself that question many times. Phoebe. I’m imperfect. A far cry for the man I want to be. I have no passions or interests and I blame it on all the time I spend studying to not fail out. Even though the answer is probably laziness or just me being a boring guy with no ambition. But you have things you are passionate about, don’t you?”

“I do, but nothing that can get me a job.”

“Can’t get a traditional job, maybe. The issue is that we’re all told that there’s a specific path we need to follow and that it’s the right path. You are smart. And you are worth far more than this school or any of the tests you take.”

If only I could practice what I preach. God knows I don’t. But as I said, I have no ambition. All I really have is just study, study, study. After this, I enroll into college for my parent’s sake and repeat the cycle again. Get a job for their sake and repeat. Always living to not let others down. But that’s just life, I suppose.

“But all the hard work she did to help me- for all that to go to waste.”

“Still on that… Miss Genius isn’t a hardass you know. She might be some super intelligent genius who takes every opportunity to let you know how naturally it comes to her and does it with some smug expression on her face-!”

“I feel like most of these things are personal.”

“But, as much as I hate to admit it, she scores another point ahead of me. This time in relationships and connecting with people. I just make myself unknown so I can get through school and get my stupid piece of paper. She actually tries to make these years enjoyable. Though I guess her enjoyment is just annoying me whenever she sees me.”

“Would it be cliché to say ‘it sounds like you two get along very well?’”

“Yes. Very.”

“Because it does.”

“Shut it.”

I prop my arm on the ground and push myself up. After brushing off my rear, I extend my hand to Phoebe. “Come on, let’s head to the clubroom. We might just make it in time for the party.”

She takes my hand and I hoist her up with ease. “Things won’t change overnight. I’m just giving you some things to think about. And it makes my job easier if I don’t have to worry about you.”

“Still as blunt as ever.” Phoebe lets out a weak laugh.

We walk in silence on our way to the clubroom. I probably said too much then but I couldn’t help it. I see enough of myself in her to not want her to fall down the same hole I’m stuck in.

Phoebe and I arrive at our clubroom considerably late. Everyone but Miss Genius had left.

“Sorry we’re late. I lost track of time wandering around.”

I unsling my bag and walk over to the table.

“Um, Sarah?” Phoebe sheepishly walks in after me. “You didn’t happen to see the test scores, did you?”

“I did.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to-”

But Phoebe is cut off abruptly. Miss Genius runs over to Phoebe and embraces her in a big hug. “I’m so proud of you, Phoebe! You worked so hard!”

“But-! My scores were nothing-”

“You made the top 60! You went from the bottom and placed higher than half the students! That’s beyond amazing! I’m so so so proud of you!” Phoebe looks over to me and I give her a solid nod.

Making very little sound, I notice the door open and Hope silently makes her way in with a few drinks in her arms.

“Were you two waiting here all this time?” I lean back to ask Hope.

“Sarah was insistent on waiting for Phoebe. She really wanted to congratulate her, but she was also worried that she wouldn’t show up today.”

“I see.” I look over at the two. Miss Genius nearly suffocates poor Phoebe in her embrace.

“Thank you,” Phoebe’s expression softens and tears ball up in the corners of her eyes. “C-Can I come and study here again with you all?”

“Of course! All my friends are welcome!” Miss Genius almost jumps for joy.


“Yup! Hope and Ray, too! We’re all friends here.”

“Of course.”


The afternoon goes on. We manage to cram in enough celebration before the intercom announces that it is time for all students to return home.

I start making my way to the door before a voice calls out to me, “Hey, Raymond.”


Phoebe looks back to see Miss Genius and Hope talking about something. She turns back to me and speaks in a hushed tone, “Thank you for opening up to me. I promise to take all you said into consideration.”

Her sullen expression from earlier is gone. She blushes slightly from under the light brown hair that covers her face.

“Don’t mention it. Especially all the things I said about myself. Just pretend you heard none of it.”

“I’ll be sure to remember those parts in particular.” Phoebe runs up to my side and grabs a hold of my arm.

Oddly enough, I can feel the piercing gaze of two sets of eyes from behind me. Best I ignore it.