When I tried to decide what to write this month, I had a thought. Two thoughts actually. It was the second one that I found interesting. The first thought was… I bet this would be easier if I could post fiction. The second thought was… Who says I can’t?
I decided to pluck a couple of characters from my next book and give them their own short story to post here. This story takes place about 11 years before They See a Family. If all goes according to plan, the book will be released in January, and I’ll post the end of The Study Group shortly before that.
“What are you working on today?” Annie asked. She leaned closer, not so much to see but to smell. Carlos smelled awesome. She wanted to ask him what it was so she could get a bottle to use as air freshener for her dorm. She had to wait though. Why do you always smell so awesome seemed more like a second date question and they hadn’t even been out once yet, much to Annie’s disappointment.
“Statistics,” he said.
“Oh.” Her nose wrinkled, despite the pleasant scent.
“Not a fan of statistics?”
“Let’s just say I’m glad I only needed one semester.”
“I could help you with statistics.” Jake leaned across the table with an earnest expression.
Annie sat back. “I took that last semester,” she reminded him.
He nodded. “I remember.” His eyes stayed wide as though he was still offering.
“So I don’t need help anymore.”
“I think this semester seems to be going better for everyone,” Hannah observed as she looked around the group. There were six of them at the table, all sophomores. They went to the same church and formed a study group at the beginning of the school year. Since they were mostly taking different classes, they usually just sat together while they worked on different homework. Sometimes they did help each other study, and sometimes they talked so much that nobody got any work done. Hannah’s eyes lingered on Aaron longer than anyone else. They’d recently started dating.
“Yeah,” Annie said, “I know Mallory’s as glad to be through that tough English class as I am to be done with statistics. That class was a huge disappointment.”
Mallory was on Annie’s other side. “You actually thought it might be interesting?” she asked.
“Sort of. I mean, when I think statistics, I think of a bunch of cool facts. Like this percentage of people use their right hand even though they’re left-handed and one out of every so many cows has twins. But the class was like memorize this formula. Now memorize this formula. You need to know all six of these formulas for the test.”
Everyone at the table laughed at her impression of the class until Carlos shushed them. “Quiet, guys,” he said. “I’m trying to memorize a formula here.”
Then they laughed harder.
Annie leaned over his paper again. “That does look vaguely familiar.”
“You’re interested in left-handed people?” Jake twirled his pencil while he talked, in his left hand. Annie hadn’t noticed he was left-handed before. She knew Carlos and Hannah both were. The fact that half the people at the table were left-handed was probably statistically significant in some way and far more interesting than the whole semester of formulas had been.
Mallory poked her in the back. “Your idea of what constitutes a cool fact is a bit of a stretch.”
Annie rolled her eyes at herself. “Well, I didn’t have time to look anything up.”
“Is there such a thing as a cool fact?” Hannah hitched her eyebrows together skeptically.
“Sure,” Jake said. “There are whole books of weird but true things.”
“Weird, not cool,” Hannah said.
“Weird can be cool.” Carlos tipped his head as though giving the matter serious thought, probably more serious than it deserved.
Annie found this serious nature attractive. It wasn’t as though he went around brooding or anything. He just seemed more mature than a lot of the young men at school who thought bodily functions were necessary for comedy. “I agree,” she said. “At least sometimes. But I was talking about statistical facts, not which animals can turn their tongues upside-down.”
“But what about the percentage of animals who can turn their tongues upside-down?”
Carlos smiled and said, “Good one, Jake. I bet that’s a small number.”
Carlos had a nice smile and a nice serious face and Annie could not inhale often enough whatever that great scent was. Why were they talking about tongues?
“Ow!” Annie turned around as she felt another jab in her ribs.
Mallory handed her a notebook. “Here. Quiz me on those names again.”
“Okay.” She took the notes and began to go down the list. It was difficult not to laugh whenever Mallory struggled for an answer. She’d open and close her mouth while she twirled red curls around her fingers. It almost looked as though she was treating herself like her own ventriloquist’s dummy. They were working through the notes a second time when Hannah snapped a textbook closed.
“Wow,” she said, “I can’t believe how late it’s gotten.” She stuffed her book into a bag.
“You’re always the first one to turn into a pumpkin,” Mallory teased.
“Sorry, guys. I’ve never been a night owl.” Hannah had stood and was putting on her coat.
Aaron was gathering his things as well. “I’ll walk you back.”
Hannah paused long enough to turn gooey as she thanked him. The others waved as the two of them walked away from the table holding hands.
“How about those of us who are night owls head over to the Sundial for a late night snack?” Jake suggested. “I’m thinking French fries.”
“Sorry, man.” Carlos was the first to answer. “I gotta stay put. This is due tomorrow.”
“Anyone else?” Jake’s eyes landed hopefully on Annie with little flickers over to Mallory.
“Count me out,” Mallory said. She was collecting her books and papers. “Even though I gave Hannah a hard time, I should get to bed, too.”
Annie hurriedly stuffed everything she brought into her bag to keep up with Mallory. “It is probably time to call it a night.” She grabbed her coat and put it on as she and Mallory left the library together.