She pointed to the board, where the word “hamartia” was written. My confidence grew, having already had this lesson. Point one for the Laurelton public school system. I briefly looked around the class. No one raised a hand. Oh, what the hell. I raised mine.
“Ah, the new student.”
I really, really needed that uniform.
Ms. Leib’s smile was genuine as she leaned against her desk. “Your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Mara. Have at it.”
“Fatal flaw,” someone else called out. In a British accent.
I half-turned in my seat and would have recognized the boy from yesterday immediately even if he hadn’t looked as distinctly rumpled as before, with his collar open, his tie knotted loosely around it and his shirtsleeves rolled up. He was still beautiful, and still smiling. I narrowed my eyes at him.
The teacher did the same. “Thank you, Noah, but I called on Mara. And ‘fatal flaw’ isn’t the most precise definition, anyway. Care to take a shot at it, Mara?”
I did, particularly now that I knew that British Boy was the notorious Noah Shaw. “It means mistake or error,” I said. “Sometimes called a tragic flaw.”
Ms. Leib gave a congratulatory nod of her head. “Very good. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve read the Three Theban Plays at your previous school?”
“Yep,” I said, fighting self-consciousness.
“Then you’re ahead of the game. We’ve just finished Oedipus Rex. Can someone—not Mara—tell me what Oedipus’ tragic flaw was?”
Noah was the only one to raise his hand.
“Twice in one day, Mr. Shaw? That’s out of character. Please, demonstrate your dazzling intellect for the class.”
Noah stared straight at me as he spoke. I was wrong yesterday—his eyes weren’t gray, they were blue. “His fatal flaw was his lack of self-knowledge.”
“Or his pride,” I volleyed back.
“A debate!” Ms. Leib clapped her hands. “Love it. I would love it more if the rest of you would look alive, but hey.” The teacher turned back to the board and wrote my answer and Noah’s on the board, under “hamartia.” “I think there are arguments to support both claims; that Oedipus’ failure to acknowledge who he was—to know himself, as it were—caused his downfall, or that his pride, or more correctly, his hubris, led to his tragic fall. And for next Monday, I want a five-page paper from each of you with your brilliant analysis of the subject.”
There was a collective groan from the class.
“Save it. Next week we start antiheroes.”
Then she continued on with her lecture, most of which I’d heard before. A bit bored, I took out my thoroughly dog-eared and well-loved copy of Lolita and hid it behind my notebook. The air conditioner in the class must not have been working, and the atmosphere grew increasingly stuffy as the minutes ticked by. When the bell finally rang, I was fiending for some fresh air. I sprung out of my seat, knocking it over. I crouched to lift it and set it right, but my chair was already in someone’s hands.
“Thanks,” I said as our eyes met.
He gave me the same familiar, knowing look as yesterday. Slightly ruffled, I broke the stare and gathered my things before hurrying out of the classroom. A throng of oncoming students jostled me and my book fell to the ground. A shadow darkened the cover before I could reach for it.
“You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, in order to discern, at once, the little deadly demon among the wholesome children,” he said, his British accent melting around the words, his voice smooth and low. “She stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.”
I stood there staring, openmouthed and speechless. I would have laughed—the whole thing was sort of ridiculous. But the way he said it, the way he was looking at me, was shockingly intimate. Like he knew my secrets. Like I had no secrets. But before I could think of a reply, Noah crouched and picked up my book.
“Lolita,” he said, turning my book over in his hands. His eyes wandered over the pink-lipped mouth on the cover, then handed it to me. Our fingers brushed, and a warm current coursed through them. My heart thundered so loud he could probably hear it.
“So,” he said, his eyes meeting mine again. “You’re a smut-hound with daddy issues?” The corner of his mouth turned up in a slow, condescending smile.
I wanted to smack it off of his face. “Well, you’re quoting it. And incorrectly, by the way. So what does that make you?”
His half-smile morphed into a whole grin. “Oh, I’m definitely a smuthound with daddy issues.”
“I guess you nailed me, then.”
“Asscrown,” I muttered under my breath as I headed to my next class. I wasn’t proud of swearing at a complete stranger, no. But he started it.
Noah matched my pace. “Don’t you mean ‘assclown’?” He looked amused.
“No,” I said, louder this time. “I mean asscrown. The crown on top of the asshat that covers the asshole of the assclown. The very zenith in the hierarchy of asses,” I said, as though reading from a dictionary of modern profanity.
“I guess you nailed me, then.”
The words popped into my mind without permission, and I ducked into my Algebra classroom and away from him the second I saw the door.
I sat in the back, hoping to hide from yesterday’s stares and lose myself in the incomprehensibility of the lecture. I cracked Lolita’s spine and hid it under my bag. I took out my graph paper, then took out my pencil. Then exchanged that pencil for another pencil. Noah was getting under my skin. Not healthy.
But then Anna primly entered the classroom, accompanied by her not-so-little friend, and cut off my thoughts. The pair walked in like a matched set of evil. She caught me staring and I quickly looked away, but not without blushing. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her watching me as she sat in the third row of desks.
I was flooded with relief when Jamie slipped into the seat next to me. My only friend at Croyden thus far.
“How goes it?” he asked, grinning.
I smiled back. “No nosebleeds.”
“Yet,” Jamie said, and winked. “So who else have you met? Anyone interesting? Besides me, obviously.”
I lowered my voice and scratched at my graph paper. “Interesting? No. Assholish, yes.”