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I Hate Maths (But I Guess I Like You)

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Shelby is perfect. At least that’s what most people think.

If you ask Shelby’s parents for example, they’d tell you Shelby’s the perfect obedient child God intended her to be. Her brother would probably say that she can be annoyingly bossy at times, but her sister would argue that Shelby’s her number one role model. People at school might also have other opinions. Shelby is probably – if not – the most popular girl at school. And the most coveted one at that. Being captain of the cheerleading squad and dating the football captain, most people would think she fits the archetypical popular blonde it-girl Regina George style. However, Shelby is a devoted Christian. She obeys the word of God assiduously and with that comes the fact that Shelby is a virgin. That is something she doesn’t mind though; she never felt the need to sleep with her boyfriend anyways.

Although people seem to have this false perception of who she is, Shelby is actually very smart. She has a 4.3 GPA score, acing across all boards, from History to English to even chemistry. Her teachers adore her. She takes part in so many extracurricular activities and is liked by most of her classmates, she’s basically in line to be the next student body president.

Shelby’s got great friends, great family, and a great boyfriend. All in all, Shelby’s life seems absolutely perfect. And she would agree with that statement. That is until her third period advanced algebra class. See, Shelby didn’t become perfect overnight. Her father used to tell her that she had to work hard to be what God intended her to be. That she should strive for excellence. And Shelby never really had it hard with hard work. Determination was in her blood. Everything she did in her life, she did it to please her father – No, to serve God properly. That’s right, to serve God. And if she can’t do that correctly then what good is she?

So it’s pretty much understandable that Shelby outright loses it when she gets an F on her test, a third time in a row. And alright, God won’t look down on her for that, there are worse things than failing the same test three times. However, her father will, with that disappointed frown of his on top of it. And besides it just sucks to fail again, as if Shelby didn’t spend the entire night studying. She even worked hard to even make this class, that she absolutely needs to take if she wants a chance at a decent (preferably faraway) college. And it’s not all her fault, Mr. Young is known to be a messy teacher. She doesn’t even get the point of algebra. How is adding and multiplying a bunch of letters qualifiable to get into a good college? And who’s idea was it even to mix the alphabet with freaking mathematics? And –

“What do you mean you’ll have to cut me off?”

“Shelby, you’re not ready yet for the advanced programs.” Mr. Young sighs, sitting at his desk, her miserable copy in hand.

“But I studied hard. I wouldn’t even be taking this class if I wasn’t ready for it.” Which is true. Shelby spent the entirety of last semester making sure she’d get in. She can’t believe he’d even consider cutting her off after all her efforts.

“This is the third time you failed this test.” Mr. Young points out. “At this point you’re already failing this class.”

“Then I’ll pass it again. And I’ll ace it this time. I promise.” Shelby insists. “Please, sir. I know I can do it I-I just need to get my head in the game and –”

“I get that you’re determined, Shelby.” Mr. Young interrupts her. “But that won’t be enough. We’re in an advanced class. We’re starting a new chapter next week. How can I expect you to keep up if you can’t even solve a simple polynomial equation?”

Shelby scoffs lightly at that and mumbles, “To be fair, nothing about it is simple.”

Mr. Young gives her a look. “I don’t even get why you’re here. I’ve been told you’re quite good at plenty of other courses. Why don’t you get advanced classes in those subjects?”

“I already do. In English, chemistry, History, and biology.”

“Then you don’t need this class. You even have extracurriculars. Far more than enough.”

“But I do! Look I’ve already looked into it. Five advanced classes is literally the minimum. I need this class.” Shelby pleads. Mr. Young still looks unconvinced and so she adds, “Besides, I – I love math.”

Mr. Young gives her a disbelieving look. “What was the other choice?”

“… physics.” She says quietly.

“Alright.” Mr. Young sighs thoughtfully. He rises from his sit and hands Shelby’s paper back. “I’ll give you one more chance.”

Relief spreads into her chest as she almost jumps. “Thank you, sir.” Thank God she won’t have to switch to physics. She hates it more than algebra.

“But you’ll have to take tutoring. And prove to me that you’re able to keep up.”

“I will. I’ll take all the tutoring that’s necessary. Five times a week if I have to. I won’t disappoint you.” She promises excitedly.

“I don’t doubt that.” He says, amused. “You’re determined, kid. I’ll give you that.”

They are suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door. “Hey, Mr. Young. I was wondering if – Oh. Sorry.” Shelby turns to see the person at the door and can’t help rolling her eyes at the sight of Toni Shalifoe. “Toni! Excellent timing.” Mr. Young beams out.

See, here’s the thing about Shelby. Most people think she’s perfect. But if you asked Toni Shalifoe, she’d probably tell you she’s the most annoying person she has ever met. If you ask Shelby about Toni? She’d tell you she’s the most annoying person she has ever met. If you asked anyone in their school, they’d probably tell you that these two tried to kill each other more than once. Their rivalry and dislike for each other, unfortunately precede both of their reputation.  Shelby the cheerleader and Toni the basketball captain, you ask? Forget that. They are the girls who started a food fight in Spring 2020, sophomore year. (They were fighting over the last chocolate mousse. Chocolate freaking mousse. Shelby was grounded for 2 weeks. Her father’s look of disappointment still haunts her.) So, it’s no surprise that Shelby doesn’t like the look on Mr. Young’s face as she starts to put two and two together about what’s about to go down.

“Um, for what?” Toni asks while approaching.

“For you to meet your new student.” Mr. Young says clasping his hands together.  

It takes a second for both of them to register what he says. Then simultaneously, “what?”

“Shelby, I want you to meet your new tutor.”

Shelby looks between her teacher and Toni partly confused and surprised. “Her?!”

“Toni here, is a certified algebra genius.” Mr. Young points at Toni proudly. Toni looks a little embarrassed being put on the spot like that.

Shelby looks at Toni and shakes her head, confused. “She is?! How come you’re not in this class?”

Toni shrugs nonchalantly. “I’m taking another advanced class. Specialized program.”

Okay now Shelby is truly shocked. She never imagined Toni – out of all people – to be a total math genius. The Toni Shalifoe. Captain of the basketball team who once threw piss out of her hand at some girl during one of her matches – an actual nerd. “You are?!”

“Geez, don’t sound so surprised.” Toni says sounding offended while rolling her eyes.

“And she also happens to be in trouble.” Mr. Young continues. “Which is why she will tutor you for the next couple of months.”

“Months?!” Shelby asks at the same time as Toni says, “Are you kidding?”

“Yes. And No.” Mr. Young replies to both girls.

Toni frowns, “The deal wasn’t supposed to last that long.”

“The deal was for you to take up an extracurricular if you wanted to keep your spot on the basketball team. You chose to tutor. So now you’ll get to tutor Shelby.”

Shelby turns to Toni and scoffs, “You got kicked out of the basketball team again?”

Toni glares at her then smirks. “Foul attitude.”

“Punching a classmate in the face isn’t just foul attitude Toni.” Mr. Young interjects.

“He deserved it. Andrew’s a dickhead.” She says defensively.

“Language!” Mr. Young warns, raising an eyebrow.

Shelby scoffs. “Of course, you’d punch my boyfriend.”

“As I said he deserved it.” Toni seethes.

“Can I just not get another tutor? One that isn’t an arrogant asshole.”

“I said language!”

“As if I wanted to tutor you.”

“As if I wanted to be tutored by you!”

“What is it princess? Can’t stand the fact I bodied your little boyfriend or that I’m good at something that you’re not?

“You’re full of yourself.”

“And you’re full of shit!”

“Girls!” Both of them go quiet still seething at each other. “Beggars can’t be choosers, kids. You want things to work out for you then this is the price. Besides Toni is the best student of this class. If you improve well together, maybe you won’t have to stand each other for too long.”

They both glare at each other briefly. Shelby can’t believe this is happening. She would rather walk down a busy highway than be tutored by Toni of all freaking people. But Shelby also knows she doesn’t have a choice. Her father’s disappointed look flashes before her. I expected better from you. Relatively, Shelby admits that spending time with Toni sounds better than being looked down by her father. Besides, Shelby would rather die than take up the advanced physics class.

“Now do we have a deal?” Mr. Young asks expectantly.

“Yes, sir.” Shelby agrees quietly.

“Yeah. Whatever.” Toni mumbles.

Mr. Young dismisses them both shortly. Toni leaves the class quickly with Shelby hot on her trails. “Hey! Wait.”

“Make it quick, Goodkind. I’ve got places to be.” Toni says while she continues walking.

“Yeah, right.” Shelby rolls her eyes. “History class only starts in fifteen minutes.”

“What you’re keeping track of my program now?” Toni smirks at her.

Shelby rolls her eyes. “We literally share the same classes.”

“Mmh. I never noticed you. You must be obsessed with me.”

Of course, she can’t have a normal conversation with Toni without her having to push her buttons. “You’re so annoying.”

“That is no way to speak to your tutor.”

“God! You’re such an asshole! Forget it.” Fuck algebra. And fuck Toni and that stupid smirk of hers. Maybe taking up that physics class doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Shelby turns to leave but Toni stops her. “What?” She asks, frustrated.

Toni looks at her in the eyes, her expression mildly exasperated. She sighs and says, “Tuesdays fourth period and Thursdays after school.”

“What?” Shelby asks taken aback.

“Your lessons.” Toni says. “I know you’re free at those times, so we’ll meet then.”

“Two times a week?”

“Well, the sooner we get your grades up the less time we’ll have to spend with each other, right?” Toni huffs out. Her demeanor softens a bit. “Look I don’t want to be stuck with you any more than you do. But by the looks of it, stupid Young isn’t giving us any choice. We’re gonna have to… work together.”

Shelby gives her a look. “How do you know my programs?”

Toni smirks lightly. “As you said. We share the same classes.” As she walks away, she turns around and adds, “We meet at the library. Don’t be late.”

Shelby watches her leave. She thinks about the whole situation. She can’t believe she’ll have to deal with Toni for the next couple of months. Toni, who she thought was nothing more than a douchy jock will tutor her on algebra. Shelby just knows that Toni feels at least a little smug about it. During class she can’t help but think about it and it takes all of her strength not to turn to her right where she knows Toni is sitting. At some point she concedes and turns to observe her. She notices the way she’s slumped low on her seat, staring at her textbook on her desk. Shelby is sat close enough to distinguish the slight bored frown she wears and the freckles that dust her face. Shelby gulps when Toni catches her staring. She catches a slight smirk on Toni’s lips and she turns back swiftly, her face warm.

Here's another thing about Shelby. Everybody thinks she’s perfect. But if you ask Shelby, she would tell you there are things about her that she would never admit to anyone, not even to herself. For instance, she’ll never admit how freckled skin and dark brown eyes make her stomach tingle. Or how bickering with a certain brunette is the highlight of most of her days. Or even worse, how Shelby is secretly looking forward to spend more time with that brunette, even though she knows how to get on her nerves. Shelby would never admit how she likes it when she gets on her nerves. Those are things she keeps deep within herself. Things she worked hard to contain. Things that, if her father knew, would get her a one way ticket to that place up in Plano he’s been talking about.

She looks back discreetly at Toni who’s now chewing on her pencil. Of course, she’d make chewing on a pencil look hot.

Shelby groans internally. She so screwed.