I gaped at our teacher Mrs Patel as she began stacking papers on her desk.
"What?" Demanded Neil, the arrogant guy I was sentenced to work with for the rest of the school term. Even though I loathed him, at that moment, I had to agree with him.
Mrs Patel raised a black eyebrow and stared at Neil coolly. "You two will work together on the project and I expect nothing less than A's. I expect both of you to work to the best of your abilities and anything less than an A will result in me calling your parents in." Whoa, I thought dismally, that's a bit harsh, don't you think Mrs P?
"But Miss-" I began but she held up her hand for silence.
"I will not hear anymore Hannah. I want you to begin tomorrow and I expect a schedule arranging after-school meetings and what exactly you'll be doing by the end of the day. Good luck," she said breezily and ushered us out of the empty classroom before locking the door and walking off in the direction of the Exit.
Neil and I stood still for a moment. I felt like I was in shock and my happy days at school were over. I had been here for almost a year and always excluded from a certain group of students because I wore a scarf over my head. I was the only person who did so from the whole student body so it was pretty hard for me to blend in. And of course, my number one enemy was Neil Parker; an arrogant footballer that played for the school team and hung around with the popular kids. He was around my age and had stringy brown hair with blonde highlights; fair, clear skin and gorgeous cheekbones. No doubt, he was a hottie and the main subject after which many girls lusted. He was a little taller than me, about 6" while I just managed 5"6' and impressive muscles and a six-pack were highlighted through his casual T-shirt.
He may be admired by the others, but he just isn't my type, I thought shrewdly as he glared at me as if this was my entire fault and then stalked away. I watched him depart, my mind in turmoil. He was obviously going to go to all his athletic friends and complain about how he had ended up working with me. I felt sick as I thought of his girlfriend Paula snickering or stroking his hair sympathetically.
Sighing, I walked slowly out of the building, my shoes slipping slightly on the polished marble floors. As I rounded the corner, I caught sight of my one friend Anya swinging by the school gates. As she saw me, she smiled as she chewed some gum and waited for me to catch up to her.
"Why so glum, chum?" She asked as we made our way home. Corny or what?
I shrugged miserably. "Mrs Patel wants me to work with Neil Parker, the Jerk."
"Neil Parker?" She stopped in mid-chew and almost swallowed her gum in shock. "You mean The Neil Parker, Mr-Hottie-and-Fabulously-Toned-Footballer?"
"Well, that's one way to put it," I muttered.
"Oh my God!" She squealed. "You get to work with the hottest guy in school and you're miserable about it…wanna swap bodies for a few weeks?" She winked.
"Sure," I replied, playing along. "But you better keep it in top condition. And of course," I rubbed my knuckles on my blouse and blew on them. "There's a rental price too."
She feigned disappointment. "Oh no Madame, won't you give me a discount?"
I arched an eyebrow. "You offend me honey by assuming that my prices are that expensive."
Our banter was stopped however as we rounded a corner, boarded the incoming Bus and sat down. There was a moment of silence. There weren't many other people on the Bus so we could talk without being overheard.
"So, how's Mark?" I asked Anya. "Aren't you going out with him today?"
She blew a bubble then said excitedly, "Yeah. It's gonna be awesome. We're just going to the movies, but I have every intention of getting him to make a move." She nudged me in the ribs cheekily. I laughed, suddenly remembering how we met.
I'd been new at school and since most of the people were white, I'd felt like I didn't fit in. Anya was one of the average-looking girls who rarely got a date but made everyone's life worth living. She was short; shorter than me by about two inches; she had dark brown hair and blue eyes along with a dozen or so freckles around her nose. She used to wear glasses but two months ago, she'd gotten contacts that magnified her eyes to give her the strange appearance of being ready-to-cry at any moment.
It had been pretty much because of her that we'd become friends. She offered to show me around the school and explain the entire Do's and Don'ts and she helped me to socialise and we hit it off. We both liked partying but because of my protective parents, I hadn't really gotten round to doing that much. Besides, we were both bookworms and lived pretty close so we hung out a lot, although even that was limited.
With the help of face powder, removal of braces, addition of contacts, mascara and lip-gloss, Anya became considerably prettier and more noticed in school and soon, one of the Guys she liked asked her out.
His name was Mark and he was a little geeky-looking with square glasses and a thin, lanky body but from all the time Anya and I hung out with him, we noticed that he was funny and sweet in his own special way. He was blonde and just as tall as Neil Parker but his habit of carrying a calculator in his pocket and of dragging a massive rucksack around made him less of a hottie, according to the class girls. I didn't really care either way, since I found him nice and fun to be around. Besides, Anya liked him so it wasn't really any of my business.
"I'm gonna have the house all to myself tonight," I said with glee as I remembered my parents were going to be coming home really late from some business meeting.
"Awesome!" She squealed. "Let's throw a party and invite all our monkey friends over!" I laughed and hoped she was joking, though there's no telling with Anya.
"You're kidding, right?" I asked, arching an eyebrow at her. "Do you know what my parents would do if they caught me doing something like that? I'd get thrown out the house!"
"So what?" She said indifferently. "I'd take you in. Besides, they can't do that legally. They'd get done for."
"I know," I grinned. "I'm only joking. They're protective oldies but I love 'em to bits. But sometimes," I imitated strangling them. Anya laughed.
"Hannah, every kid feels like that with their parents-"
"Oh no!" I said with mock horror and turned away from her. "Not another lecture on the way the world works, please, I beg of you!"
"Oh haha, I'm not that much of a boring friend yet." She flicked back some strands of hair and said sympathetically, "but it sucks that they're so overprotective of you."
"Well," I knew I was going to start sounding defensive soon. "You're right. It does suck but it's all because they love me, right? I mean, they do it all unconsciously."
"Sure," she said uninterestedly. "Just like my parents don't give two hoots about what I do. Thank God I've got the brains to keep myself normal. I don't now what I'd do if I had the IQ of a mouse."
There was a pause.
"Erm, o-kay," I said and looked at her weirdly. Then, we both laughed and got off the Bus as it stopped.
"Well, good luck with Mark. I have no doubt you'll frighten him off, but if he lives till tomorrow, you have to tell me everything over the phone, no matter how late it is. Got it pea-brain?" I thumped her on the back and she rubbed it, saying, "Steady on Hannah."
"Sorry," I smiled sweetly then turned towards my house. "Don't know my own strength sometimes."