"...and it's not due for six weeks." Ms. Remail clanked her bracelets with a wave of her hand. "So you don't have to start working on the paper right away. Just start thinking about it. And, of course, read your assigned book."
I moaned to myself. As if I wanted to think about a major assignment on the weekend before Valentine's Day.
"Also," Ms. Remail added a bit too cheerily, "you might want to start consulting with your partner. On an informal basis, of course."
I moaned again. Out loud this time. Fortunately, I was drowned out by the bell. As I gathered my books, I glanced at Lucas Blair, the partner I'd been assigned to work with on a paper about Pride and Prejudice. Now there was a combination. Farmboy Lucas, with his old yellow dog and dented blue pickup, and Jane Austen's romantic 19th century novel.
I mean, I knew that my living in a Victorian house in the center of Alder, Oregon didn't exactly make me a sophisticated cosmopolitan. But it sure beat living on a farm somewhere on the outskirts of town. Lucas had moved here at the beginning of the school year and I'd heard that he thought Alder, population 19,231, was "too big."
Still, there was no arguing with Ms. Remail about partners or topics. She'd made that clear when she made the assignment.
Lucas was so quiet, I was sure he'd never go looking for me to talk about working together. I scanned the hallway. His head of thick black hair stuck up several inches above most everyone else's, so he was easy to spot.
I wanted to avoid him. Nothing personal. I just had better things to do than working on our assignment this weekend. Besides, I'd already read the book last summer just because I liked anything by Jane Austen. So I'd have to wait for Lucas to read it anyway.
Suddenly Lucas saw me, caught up and touched my sleeve. He shouted to be heard in the hallway as noisy as falling barbells. "Emily, we need to talk!" He stepped back against a locker and pulled me aside.
I craned my neck to look up at a craggy sort of face that was already showing signs of becoming leathery. Bright blue eyes and amazingly white teeth almost jumped off his face in contrast. With my light brown hair and eyes and pale complexion I felt kind of blah in comparison.
I planned my pre-emptive strike. "I think we'll need to read the book before we do anything. So next week is probably soon enough for us to start working on our assignment."
"Well, sure," said Lucas. Only he pronounced it "shore." "But, you see, I've already--"
"I really have to run, Lucas," I said quickly, making a big deal of looking at my watch. "I'll talk to you next week, after--" I almost said Valentine's Day. But I didn't want to sound too...unscholarly. "...after school."
Lucas rubbed his sharply squared-off jaw. "But--"
"I'll miss my ride," I said, already turning and heading down the hall. "I'll talk to you next week!" I ran outside and jumped in Alicia's car. She would never leave without me. But Lucas didn't know that.
"Hurry," I said. "I need to get out of here before Lucas sees me."
"And hello to you too, Emily," Alicia said as she pulled out of the parking lot.
"Hi," I said, and then explained the circumstances.
"So," Alicia said as she slowly pulled away from the school. "Your big plans for this weekend are...?"
"Making a Special Delivery Valentine for Todd Cole. Remember?" Every year the French Club raised money by delivering valentines, from anyone to anyone, anonymously, for fifty cents a card. For fifty cents more, they'd make a card for you. But I wanted to create my own. Fancy and romantic and poetic enough to grab Todd Cole's attention. And after he asked around school what girl could possibly have sent him such a completely magnificent card, I'd tell him. And he'd fall as hard for me as I had for him.
Alicia sighed. "Give it up, Emily. Todd is the handsomest, most popular guy in the senior class. He isn't even going to notice a card from some lowly junior."
It was my turn to sigh. "He won't know it's from a 'lowly junior.' He'll just know it's from someone who is his soul mate. Someone who is as poetic as he is. Someone he'll be just dying to meet."
"If you say so."
Alicia was about as romantic as eggplant.