The girl stands out like a sore thumb in Miss Diebler’s eighth-grade classroom. Upon first glance, her classmates find it difficult to identify the cause of this impression. She is taller than they are, to be sure, but such a mundane explanation hardly seems sufficient. Or perhaps it is her untenable bulk of frizzy brown hair, which sprawls around her head with the smug dominance of a purring cat. Perhaps that’s it? But no. The hair is obnoxious, but there remains some deeper strangeness about her, some intrinsic brew of the uncommon, simmering just beneath the surface.

The other children feel this, and recoil from her like ripples in a pond. Like most children, these have a knack for sensing a stranger among them. The girl in question, however, does not share this subconscious understanding. Although nobody speaks to her, she continues to smile at the walls with an air of detached contentment – not as though she is deliberately keeping her composure, but rather as though such is her natural state. Occasionally, she glances around the room in uncertainty, blinking her big dark eyes, before reassuring herself that all is as it should be.

Gradually, her classmates begin to understand what sets this girl apart. She is naïve. She is innocent to the point of simplicity. By the age of thirteen, this is a rarity, if not a downright singularity. Her body has taken the height of a woman’s, but remains lanky in some parts and chubby in others, as though it has yet to settle into itself. Her face remains childlike, its proportions mandating an outgrown charm. She has tried to disguise these things with mascara and high-wedge shoes, but both measures prove to be ineffective, as the mascara makes her eyes look even sweeter, and the shoes cause her to waddle.

Now that the other children see her clearly, they are fascinated. They swarm back in like hungry flies. They cannot believe that she is genuine, although they can come up with no alternate explanation for her behavior.

Some try to goad her, all in good humor. “How old are you?” they ask, looking her up and down.

She stares as them for a second, as though discovering a new kind of strange insect on a forest trail. “I’m thirteen.” Her voice is soft and unformed, with a slight lisp. She is the same age as most of her classmates.

A few minutes later, they’re back at it again. “Wait…Sorry, I didn’t catch that. How old are you?”

“I’m thirteen.”

“No, you misheard me, I asked how old are you?”


“Okay, but how old are you?”

There is a long pause as the girl looks at the inquirer with the eyes of a puppy who cannot catch her own tail. There is no hint of suspicion there, no frustration either – just a slight anxiety.

“Didn’t you hear me ask you a question?” repeats the teasing student, in a tone that feigns anger. He will not stop without a reaction.

At last the girl has cottoned on to the notion that his questions are not entirely serious, but it seems to be guilty curiosity she feels, rather than hurt or anger. She stares at him, and then looks around, as though wondering what she has done wrong. Aside from the staring, she does not reply.

The offending child gives up.

Nobody can make head nor tails of her. As the days pass, the girl remains isolated from the social landscape around her. This seems to mystify her occasionally, but she never appears bothered.

At last, one group of girls, all of whom are rather inclined to giggling in class, convene in an officious corner of the classroom and nominate one brave member to approach this stranger. The chosen girl makes a scene, and ultimately agrees. A time is scheduled, a place appointed. The next recess in Miss Diebler’s class becomes a dramatized affair.

“Hi,” offers the nominated girl, who prides herself on her popularity and her ability to get along with all sorts of people. She wears a bright, bright smile, which brims with her eagerness to be liked, if not trusted.

“Hi,” replies the stranger, in a frank and friendly manner.

“Where are you from?”

“I live in this city,” says the stranger.

She receives a hearty peal of laughter. “I meant, where did you go to school? Like, before this year.”

And then, with a faltering smile, the stranger says the two words that explain everything. “I’m homeschooled.”

Homeschooled. Miss Diebler’s students all sneak glances at her in curiosity and, to some degree, pity. Perhaps this stranger learns at a different pace – faster or slower, there is no way to tell. Or, perhaps, she is just like everybody else – but raised away from her peers, brought up in social isolation. Perhaps this student was educated at home because she was already different…or, on the other hand, she could have grown that way as a result. Protected and shielded from the students of Miss Diebler’s class, and the walls come up and up and up, and now they are too tall to be broken down.

“Oh,” says the giggling girl, and her answer says worlds.

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