√64

By Samantha Wahl, Contributing Writer

He hadn’t raised his hand.

Not once, this entire class, had he raised his hand.

My eyebrows knit together. This was math. Math was his thing! I couldn’t imagine he had nothing to say.

“Stuart.” I stage-whispered in my androgynous, eleven-year-old voice. The teacher stood less than twenty feet away from us, but I whispered, so I figured that didn’t matter. You whisper in fifth grade, and you really think no one can hear you.

“Hmm?” He peered at me through rectangular glasses.

“You okay?”, I asked. I was usually too nervous around my classmates to ask them questions, but Stuart was different. He and I were two of a kind. We both lived inside books and dressed like old people, which is not a ticket to social stardom in middle school. We stuck out like sore thumbs. Together, though, we were a matching set of sore thumbs. He was my favorite person in the world.

“Yes, I’m alright.” His dark eyes flitted sheepishly down to the desk. “It’s… it’s just that there’s a hole in my shirt.”

He lifted his arm so I could see. Sure enough, right under the armpit was a gap in the seam. I smiled and shrugged.

“So what?”, I said. I wore clothes with holes in them, I told him. Sometimes my clothes didn’t even fit, like this one, see? I gestured to my wrinkled tunic as if it solved the problem completely. Stuart did not look convinced.

A moment passed, and I looked at him with renewed interest. “Hey, what’d you get for number five? What’s the squiggly box next to the sixty-four?”

“I got eleven. And that…” he paused to point at the squiggly box in question, “… is a square-root symbol.”

I stared at him in horror. I had heard about square roots once on Jimmy Neutron, and if Jimmy was learning it, it had to be genius-level stuff.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“What’s what?”

“A square root.”

“The square root of sixty-four is eight.”

“Okay, but why? What’s a square root? Why’s it eight?”

Stuart looked at me like I had just asked why the sun came up in the morning.

“Um. Well, not all of them are eight, I know that. And I don’t really know why. It just… is.”

“But-”

The teacher shot us a quick look, and the conversation was over as quickly as it had started.

I was unconvinced by Stuart’s explanation, but I marked “eleven” as my answer.

Our next lesson together was English. I liked English because, to me, it made sense. But sometimes Stuart, being mathematical as he was, would struggle, and I’d attempt to help.

“How do you write like that?” he asked, staring bewilderedly as I filled sheet after sheet with words.

“Well, first you write down all your ideas, like this. See?” I showed him a rudimentary splash diagram of things that had been floating around in my head, ranging from ‘cats’ and ‘pizza’ to ‘what makes people lonely’ and ‘lunch is in twenty minutes’.

“But where do you get the ideas from?”

“Whataya mean, where? They show up in your head.”

Stuart gave me something between a cough and a laugh. “Yes, of course, but how do you… how do you…” he gestured to the paper, his eyes searching for understanding in mine. For once, they did not find it.

“You just…”, I paused a moment, searching for words. “Alright, so try drawing a circle like this-” I reached over to his paper and demonstrated. “-And writing down whatever comes to mind in there.”

Stuart looked unconvinced, but obeyed. The first words came down slowly, tentatively; eventually, though, the pen began to move faster and surer across the page.

I smiled to myself. We might not have been a matching set, but we coordinated just fine.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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