“Oh hi Jill, Julie.” Tom only saw one pair of loafers, but he assumed the other was nearby. He didn't even bother looking up. He was frantic now, trying to find the integral of the arc secant. “Damn!” He should have been doing this in study hall, instead of talking with his friends, instead of letting Clara rub her tits on him. “Damn!”
“Use integration by parts,” one of them said. Hard to tell which. They were identical twins, just like the ones in the Doublemint ad, except these girls were ugly. Well, not exactly ugly, plain was more like it. Not pretty. Not by a long shot. Tall, skinny, flat-chested, knobby knees underneath those plaid skirts, hair in pigtails, glasses, braces. They looked like they were still in sixth grade. Not even, maybe fifth. By sixth a lot of the girls had already started to blossom, leaving the boys behind them.
“Thanks,” Tom muttered. Integration by parts, integration by parts … he was supposed to be good at this.
“What's the matter Tom?” It was the other one, leaning over him in mock sympathy. “You know this is going to be on the advanced placement test.”
“Or something like it,” her sister chimed in. That one actually had the nerve to grab the pencil out of his hands. “Look, dear.” Dear? Since when was he her dear? All of a sudden she thought she was his mother. “The derivative of the product of two functions is the derivative of the first times the second plus the derivative of the second times the first.”
“I know that,” he growled.
“Now integrate that. The first function is just x, and the second is arc secant of x.” She started to scribble. “So now you just have to figure out the integral of x times the derivative of the arc secant. See, it's easy.”
“Great.” Tom stared at the paper. “Derivative of the arc secant. Derivative of the arc secant.”
“Chain rule.” It was Dr. G, passing by. “Tom, why don't you come up to the board and show us your solution.”
“What's the matter Tommy Boy? You're supposed to be the math whiz.” It was Julie; at least it was the one sitting at that desk. “Want me to do it instead?”
The class was staring at him.
“Who knows, maybe Columbia made a mistake.” It was the other one, drawling that. They were bitter. Penn State, both of them, on a volleyball scholarship of all things. Not that he had ever seen them play. It was hard to imagine them as athletes. Tall enough, but skinny, gangly, awkward.
“Fucking bitches,” he grumbled, maybe not softly enough, because Jill whispered, “In your dreams, Tommy Boy,” as he went past.
Dr. G was munching on piece of chalk. “Want some? Great for heartburn.”
“No thanks.” Actually Tom was feeling his breakfast pushing back up into his throat. He was trapped. There was nothing but the blank board in front of him, and fourteen of his supposed friends behind him, rapt with attention, waiting for the kill. He thought of Spotty's little gladiators, especially the ones who went out there buck naked. This was how they must have felt, as the mob waited for their blood to be splattered on the sand. And there was Dr. G ready to play the part of emperor, twitching his thumbs. Actually Dr. G was busy wrapping the cord for the Venetian blinds around his arm, then around his neck. Someday he was going to hang himself.
“We're waiting, Tom.”