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The Dog Days Are Over

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day one.

He’s walking with a friend, speaking in Japanese, when he hears someone behind him remark, "We should speak in Canto right now, make them feel excluded like we do." The rough American accent cuts through the air like a knife.

His back stiffens, and he stops talking in the middle of his sentence. He itches to turn around and snort pompously, "We're international students here at a math camp across the globe. Have you ever thought about what it feels like? And you mock us for trying to preserve a semblance of normalcy?" His fists clench and he glares fiercely. He feels - no, he knows - that he is smoke and fire and he could singe that girl into pliancy.

His friend looks at what his eyes are trained on, “What were you about to say?” She asks curiously. He lets out a small laugh, and assures her that it was nothing.

He still eavesdrops, though. Suddenly, he hears another voice, quiet but firm, "No. That'd be mean." His steps falter, and he almost trips over the curb. His friend frowns.

When he decides that it has been long enough, he swivels his head. He sees two girls, one in a green jacket with bell sleeves, and one in a red shirt.

"Are you okay?" His friend asks, half-jokingly. She's trying to hide it, but her voice rises awkwardly and she's staring at him with furrowed brows. He's usually not this distracted.

He shrugs to assuage her concerns, and she continues talking, albeit reluctantly.

day six.

He spots a green jacket when he walks in the door of Hyperbolic Geometry. It's draped carelessly over a chair. One sleeve sticks out from the top of the chair, making the coat appear like a grotesque monster. It seems vaguely familiar, but he cannot fathom why.

A group of girls - he remembers that they're the counselor group that calls themselves the "Strawberries" - is seated at that table. All the campers have name tags, but theirs is a hideous hot pink. He doesn't particularly like them, because they so mindless that they move as one mass. They even utter incantations in unison. It’s obnoxious.

They are also outrageous and frivolous. He recalls an instance of their absurdity.


He was sitting in the lounge playing Hearts. Suddenly, one of the Strawberries scuttled downstairs, "Who wants to get their nails painted?" She chirped, looking expectantly at the boys. She clutched a fistful of nail polish and wax strips, “I’ll pay you with Swedish fish!”

He shuddered at the thought.


He listens to their drivel anyway, mainly because the girl with the jacket is sitting there. He decides to sit in the table behind hers, propping his face upon a hand. Her voice is just as soft as he remembered, but within the airy tones lies a blade of steel. She doesn't talk much, but when she does, everyone listens.

In class, she often has her hand up. Her neck arches forward as her fingertips bend backwards slightly and reach up, u p, u p -

- she looks like a bird that wants to fly.

day nine.

Her questions are ludicrous.

He realizes this when she asks the Number Theory teacher about usefulness of spherical and cylindrical coordinates. When she asks her counselor, a Physics major, about the environmental damage done by geothermal pipes, he cannot help but stare at her unabashedly.

There’s something about the way her eyes catch the light when she tilts her head to the side and asks a question. He hesitates to say that it is beautiful, but it is interesting. The questions she asks are only faintly related to the topic at hand; it seems like she can make connections no one else can grasp. She sees the tangled web clearly, and can discern the individual threads.

While everyone else laughs at her absurd questions, he sits there, silently watching. She never seems to notice the contempt directed at her. Instead, she continues to raise her hand and tilt her head thoughtfully.

It is as if she doesn’t recognize her eccentricity.

day thirteen.

He has ingratiated himself with the Strawberries; they don’t mind his presence. Usually, he sits there patiently - waiting for her to speak.

She didn’t seem to want to at first, sending him subtle glares. Over time, he manages to conciliate her; now, she talks so much that he has a hard time following along. Her speaking style is superfluous, and very state-of-consciousness. He is reminded of a messy fever dream. It stands in stark contrast to the neat haikus of his life, so he soaks it all in with a wide grin.

Some days, he sits with the Strawberries, just to listen to her rant about GMOs or about the weather and philosophy.

He sits down at the table again today, and she smiles, “Hey!” He admits that they’ve become friends.
Sort of.

day fourteen.

He sees her when he’s in the line from lunch. The words escape unbidden from his treacherous mouth, “Why do you always ask all these questions?”

“What’s wrong with that?” She retorts quickly, her lips arching downward. Her eyes shimmer in the light as they dart away from him. She is focusing on everything but him; he is startled that he notices, and even more so when he finds that he cares about this.

“Well,” he attempts to mollify her, “The questions are startling. But . . . interesting.” Surprisingly, he realizes that he is not even lying when he says that.

day twenty.

They no longer have the same class. He choses to continue his studies in Geometry by choosing Projective Geometry, and she decides to study Ramsey Graph Theory.

However, when she walks by him in the hallways, though, she always gives a little wave and says, “Hi.”

There’s always a tingle that makes its way down his spine at her smile . . . but sometimes he doesn’t reply. Maybe because he doesn’t realize that she’s saying hi before she’s gone, and maybe because he doesn’t really want to.

It still doesn’t explain his pang of guilt when he walks by her with averted eyes.

Eventually, the greetings get softer and more hesitant, and it isn’t long before they are just two strangers walking down the hallway to their morning class sessions.

day twenty-two.

It’s the last day before camp ends, and monthbooks are being passed out. A mayhem ensues as people try to get as many signatures as possible. His hand aches from the countless signatures he’s written, “Have a great summer! Keep in touch.”
His monthbook passes rapidly from person to person, and he has to track down the small yellow book. He flips open each book, trying to find the cramped black handwriting that marks his book.

He finally finds it in a heap on the couch. As he flips through the pages, he realizes that she has somehow gotten ahold of his book.

“Have a fantastic summer! It was nice meeting you; keep in touch? I forgot to include my e-mail, but it’s” He looks in the monthbooks of his friends, and she’s signed them, too.

For a mysterious reason, she didn’t include her email when she signed those.

day thirty-two.

They’ve kept in touch.

He realizes that she has high aspirations. She wants to fly out of her small town into a boisterous city. However, she has to be content with going to her local public high school. She’s looking at a few prep schools, but she’s afraid that they’re too expensive. At the same time, she knows that she cannot stay in her high school for so long; the overpopulated school makes her feel uncomfortable and insignificant.

He smiles when he hears this; he’s going to a private international school, and he completely understands her sentiment of flying. He had wanted to fly as well.

He learned other things, too. She is highly susceptible to public opinion, and so gullible that even though he does not have a glib tongue, he can easily trick her. Yet her beliefs are firm and well thought out, and she relishes having the minority opinion.

She’s a mess of contradictions. He realizes that he is delighted by this - by her.

day forty-one.

They talk about everything.

'We don't have grade portals, but I've definitely gotten B's before. I did very poorly on my first earth science test last year. I even told some people, but word never got around.' She admits.

He replies with a standard, 'That’s not bad! It’s still above average.' Although, to be honest, he would freak out if he received a B.

She decides not to reply with the typical, 'Thanks! :)', but instead goes off with a tangent, 'Funny how that happens; if it doesn't fit your reputation, it gets misted and dug deep into the moist soil.'

He stares at his laptop screen for awhile, digesting her words. He’s at a lost for words. The conversation is getting too . . . whimsical for him to contribute. But he replies anyway,

'But you have to learn from your low points, you know? Realize that one side of your mug has a deep crack and it's preventing the mug from holding the maximum amount of water possible. You have to come up with a solution to get those A's.'

day sixty-six.

School starts, and he’s swept in a whirlwind of figures and facts. His teachers all ask him to memorize the addition and subtraction laws for Sine, or to memorize ancient poems that he finds no use for.

Life has dumped him in a tumultuous river, and he’s drifting in the current. He knows he should find a raft, or just start to swim, but the expectations are too high. He finds himself succumbing to the pressure of being perfect, even though he’s never wanted to. The thought of being perfect had never crossed his mind until now.

But how can that explain the hours spent checking over pages of Physics homework? Or the repeated denials to go hang out with friends? He’s trying to get the straight 4.0 GPA, but no told him about the toil that goes into the two-digit number.
Now, instead of napping during his free blocks, he is getting ahead on math homework. Pages and pages of figures lay sprawled on his desk. His room used to be neat, but now it is a mess of dictionaries and textbooks. He misses the summer days, but it’s not often that he has time to reminisce. He has Chamber Orchestra and the school newspaper and the math team and even soccer to think of.

His mother looks at him in concern, and repeats adamantly, “It doesn’t matter! Really, I don’t care! As long as you get A’s, I’m happy.” But he sees all her friends and their children (their perfect children), with their 2400 SATs and 36 ACTs, and he knows that getting straight A’s isn’t enough.

After all, he’s the only scholarship student among them. They expect amazing things from him. The school must have had a reason when they gave the scholarship to him and not their children. He needs to prove that he deserved such a generous offer. He can feel the pressure of their expectations, and it feels like he is Sisyphus rolling up the boulder.

day ninety-three.

It’s never enough.

He’s adding more activities to his profile, and now his dinners are only ten minutes long before he has to dash to whatever club he has. Every minute of his day is consumed by activities. His homework lasts through the night. Sometimes, if he’s lucky, he sleeps for four hours. Yet, every school day, he is bright eyed and alert. Essentially, he is the model student.

Sometimes, he gets another email from her, but he never replies immediately. He waits for the weekend, when he has a spare hour, and when he can formulate an intelligent answer. She answers promptly, but she never complains when he waits another week.

But soon, that effort seems wasted to him. He could be using his brainpower to study for the Science Olympiad. Why bother emailing a girl across the world?

He starts emailing twice a month.

day one hundred fifteen.

The days following Thanksgiving break are so rushed that it's painful.

He misses sitting on his stomach, idly watching BBC’s Sherlock Holmes. He misses not having to think so deeply about his future. Hot chocolate beckons him, and he resolves to brew a cup the minute school ends. Meanwhile, he trudges along the icy paths, cursing at the lack of a free in his schedule. All his friends have better schedules. He decides to take a nap instead of doing homework like all his friends will be doing.

In the meantime, he walks up the spiraling steps up to his English classroom, stepping over the metal strip in the doorway, making a solid clanking noise. That's his foot, he’s not dreaming and cuddled in his favorite blanket, he’s in school and now it's back to focusing on his GPA and getting out of detention.

His friends whine about their A-'s and 3.75 GPAs, and he wants them to stop because they don't understand the concept of "failing." But then he realizes that he thinks an A is failing, and he shrugs.

day one hundred twenty-eight.

Tests whir by, and the snow dances to the same tune; it’s a haunting melody that nature spins. Everyone is smiling, and everyone understands Her song, but he’s left out; he has no idea what's so exciting about a new whir of problems he can’t solve. He tries to huddle up with more textbooks, but the words start spinning and the pictures blur together.
He knows he’s sick, with a fever (perfect people don’t get sick). He feels lethargic, and he cannot concentrate. But he persists. As the teachers say, "These weeks are going to contribute immensely toward his Winter Term grades."

So he reminds himself that experiencing hardship builds a depth of character. He strains to remain resolute in the sufferance of hardships.

That day, he gets his Physics test back. He’s sitting there, thinking, 'Why is he in honors, again? Wasn't that for truly smart people, like the boy sitting in front of him? Unlike him, the boy actually understands the material.'

And he knows that tests and quizzes will comprise 80% of his term grade. It’s a ridiculously high percentage, and he’s never done very well on tests. As a result, he’s gnawing at the side of his mouth. Tiny needles of pain shoot up from his teeth. He pays no attention, too focused on his test.

It looks like it was mauled by a shark. Blood is splattered everywhere.

A 82.

The teacher says he'll give half credit for corrections.

82+(100-82)*.5 = 91

But it still doesn't beat the grade of the boy sitting in front of him - 97. He resolves to do better. No more distractions.

Later that day, he sees an email from her waiting in his mailbox.

He doesn’t open it.

day one hundred ninety-nine.

Sometimes, in the middle of figuring out the sixth roots of unity, he recalls a green jacket and outstretched fingers. In those moments, he turns on his laptop, hurriedly types in his password, and pulls up his email account.

A pang of disappointment shoots through him every time he sees no new email.

But then he has to remind himself that he was the one who cut off their relations.

day two hundred fifty-three.

It’s almost Christmas. He doesn’t really celebrate it - it’s too commercialized for his tastes - but his mother insists that he send out greeting cards to friends and family.

He’s typing in the address of his friend in Kazakhstan - they used to go to go to the same music conservatory - when suddenly, her email address pops up. He stares at it for a second, trying to place the name.

Suddenly, he’s flooded by memories that seem bathed in evening sunshine. They are wrinkled and old; he can’t make out the outlines of everything. But he can tell that there was a girl with eyes that were doll-like in the way that they never stared at him. They stared through him, as if he weren’t there. Her glares were scary. Her eyes were lifeless, yet they were most definitely alive.

He remembers that this is the girl of contradictions.

Before he knows it, he is frantically typing an email to her, 'Merry Christmas! Or Happy Holidays. How are you?
I never understood why, in our efforts to embrace diversity, we strip ourselves of culture. Do you ever mind it when someone says Happy Hanukkah to you, even if you don’t celebrate it? Isn’t it the thought that counts? We should be striving to become multicultural. Instead, we have no culture.

What’s more, Christmas is already commercialized to the point where it has no religious connotations for the majority of the people.'

It’s an email that she could smile over, he knows. She adores poking at life’s idiosyncrasies.

day two hundred sixty.

He checks his email every day.

She doesn’t reply.


“You know, I never really thought of it that way. Ordinary friendships might just snap like how I've mentioned, but I believe other friendships work differently. Threads don't snap; they fray. Eventually, you drift so far apart that you can't really click like you used to.
It's a gradual process.”

-email from her to him, day seventy-two.

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