Tanner Hughes was in the process of smacking me in the head and making some unflattering observations about my masculinity while his girlfriend, Madison, leaned against the wall, tapping on her phone. This was the music of my humiliation—the vacuum whoosh of texts on their way out and the chime of those coming in. We were in my science classroom, and I was supposed to be taking an after-school makeup quiz. Mrs. Capelli, my teacher, had stepped out ten minutes before, telling me she was trusting me to conduct myself responsibly. I wasn’t sure if retreating with my arms raised to protect my face qualified as responsible behavior.
I wasn’t a total coward. Under the right conditions, I was willing to take a stand. When you traveled as much as my mom and I did, and started a new school every year, you had to be ready to face guys like Tanner Hughes, who were always on the lookout for fresh victims. That was the theory, anyhow. In practice, I wanted to keep things from escalating. I was in sixth grade, Tanner was in eighth, and he looked like maybe he had enjoyed some of his earlier grades enough to want to repeat one or two of them. He was easily six inches taller than I was and had about a twenty-pound advantage, all of it in muscle. I’d confronted my share of bullies, and I knew how to play the odds. In this case, I put my money on holding out until the teacher returned, which I hoped would be very soon.
I also wanted to believe that maybe after Tanner got in a couple of jaw-rattlers, Madison might possibly ask her boyfriend to back off. Girls were apt to become bored with felony assault. No luck there. Every time Tanner took a swipe at me, Madison sighed, like she was OMG, so bored, and then went back to her phone.
I’m not saying I hadn’t given Tanner Hughes good reason to hate me. I had after all, shown up in his school, offended him with what he considered a lame haircut (I had been trying to coax my slightly limp brown hair into looking like Matt Smith’s, and I was happy with the results, but I respect dissenting opinions), and, perhaps most seriously, looked at him in the hallway. In my defense, he had been standing in the part of the hallway where I was heading, and I like to look where I’m going, but still. I understood his point.
We had, in other words, pretty much irreconcilable differences. He found my existence offensive. I wanted to exist. I didn’t have a lot of faith that we were going to work out a compromise.
I was considering the hopelessness of my position while also sidestepping a shove that would have knocked me into, and possibly through, the wall, when Mrs. Capelli returned to the classroom. She’d left me alone and made me promise to do nothing but finish my quiz, so I could understand how it might look bad to see me with Tanner and Madison in the room. That said, Tanner was in the middle of stamping his boot treads all over the emptied contents of my notebook, which he’d taken the time and trouble to scatter across the floor. I kind of thought the evidence might point toward me not really welcoming the company.
In a perfect world, Tanner Hughes would have been delivered over to our educational correctional machine and suffered a stern talking-to for his crimes against society and my notebook. This was not a perfect world, however. Tanner was the goalie for the school soccer team—it never hurts to have a guy the width of a garbage Dumpster standing in the way of the opponents scoring—and that team was one game away from securing a place in the middle school st*"First in a series, Randoms is an exhilarating read that will have no trouble hooking sci-fi fans—particularly with its many sf references—and it carries enough fun and excitement to appeal to reluctant readers, in spite of the intimidating page count. With a tip of the hat to geeks everywhere, this novel is a class act."