August 12th, 2012


Tarot Stories: Smart Girl

Angela Mercado sat at the vanity in her room, opening a fresh pair of disposable contacts and then putting them in. She rubbed at her eyes for a moment, blinking, before tweezing her eyebrows to fashionable slender arches. She curled her straight hair into loose waves, brushed to frame her face. Next came makeup: foundation the same shade as her olive complexion, smoothing out barely-perceptible blemishes in teenage skin. A hint of blush to highlight her cheeks, a hint of shadow to accentuate the hollows, eyeliner to make her eyes look larger, white on the inside, black around the edge. Eyeshadow in three different natural shades, to bring out the contours. Mascara to lengthen her eyelashes. Eyebrow pencil to darken the arches of plucked eyebrows. Glossy lipstick matched to her fingernail polish, a shade redder than her lips. A whole new face, like her own but subtly different.


Mask in place, Angela hid her school papers in an oversized purse and slung it over her shoulder, before she went downstairs to eat breakfast and catch the bus.

Before she got off the bus at school, she checked her reflection in a compact and touched up her lipstick. Angela had a secret.

Actually, she had two.

Her first class was on the south side of the second floor, but as always Angela headed to the north stairwell when she entered the first floor of the school building. On the way, she passed locker 117, where Stephen Mamarsh was stowing his jacket and getting out his school books. She gave him a little smile and a wave as she walked by.

Stephen smiled in return, his handsome face open and expressive. "Hey Angela." Her heart skipped a beat, and she paused, breathless. He usually smiled and waved back, but he hardly ever spoke, in the tumult before class. "Do you remember if the quiz in World History is tomorrow or Thursday?" he asked.

Thursday, she thought. "Let me check." She pulled her notebook from her purse and went through it slowly. "It's Thursday."

"Cool, thanks. See you later." He waved. Angela waved again and turned to the stairwell. He said my name! her heart sang.

Stephen Mamarsh was her second secret.

Being a good student was her first secret.

Oh, everyone knew that she wasn't a troublemaker, and her teachers and parents knew that she got straight As. But she was careful not to draw attention to herself in class. She didn't raise her hand to answer questions in class, and if called on, she answered slowly and hesitantly, as if she weren't sure of the answer. Even though she was. Always. She managed her homework with care so that she was never carrying more than two school books home in the evening. She didn't want anyone to think she was an egghead. No one liked a smart girl. She'd learned that lesson in junior high. And she was a good student.

Angela had lunch during fifth period. She sat every day with four other girls at a table in middle of the left side of the room. Stephen and his friends sat at the table behind theirs. Stephen sat down directly at her back today; if she turned her head, she could see his dark hair, wet and freshly-showered after football practice.

Angela's friends were talking about movies they wanted to see, but Angela wasn't paying much attention to them. She was following the conversation at the table behind her instead. Sometimes they talked about football or last night's TV shows or girls, though Stephen never seemed to have much to say about that last. Today, though, they were talking about economics. "It's a simulation," Stephen said. "If you raise the price of your goods, fewer people will buy them."

"But the real world doesn't work that way," one of his friends, Matt, said. Yes it does, Angela thought. "I mean, not if you've got monopoly power."

"That's why the real world has anti-trust laws," another friend, Jose said.

"Even a monopoly doesn't give you total market control," Stephen said.

"Yes it does. Duh. That's why they call it a monopoly." Matt again. No, it doesn't, Angela thought. There are equivalent goods if your raise your price point is too high.

"No, it doesn't," Stephen was saying. "Even if you control all the corn in the US -- heck, let's say the world -- if you raise the price to $10,000 a bushel, people aren't going to buy it. Or not very much of it. They'll do without. They'll buy wheat or potatoes or whatever."

"What if I had a monopoly on all food?" Matt asked. "People can't do without food."

"You can't have a monopoly on all food," Jose said.

"Even if you owned every farm in the world, people would grow their own food in their backyards, or hunt, rather than buy yours, if your price was high enough," Stephen said. "Look, this isn't the point."

"Howabout if I made it illegal for them to grow food?"

"Then they'd break the law. Being illegal doesn't make something impossible, it just raises the cost of doing it. If your price is high enough that the risks of law-breaking are cheaper, they'll break the law. But my point is, there's an optimum price point for goods. Based on cost of production, supply, and demand," Stephen said. "And, um, how much the most demanding consumer is willing to pay. Because selling one uint at $10,000,000 is better than selling ten thousand at $100, even if your cost of production is negligible."

"Okay ... "

"There's a formula for figuring it out," Stephen continued. Yes, Angela thought. That's what you use calculus for. "But I don't know what it is." I do.

"Don't look at me," Matt said. "I'm still not convinced markets even work like that."

"Well, I need to figure it out if I'm going to finish this paper." Stephen sounded glum. Angela tried to will the formula to appear in his head.

"So what did you think of The Hunger Games, Angela?" Michelle, sitting next to her, poked her arm.

"Calculus," Angela blurted out.


Angela tried to cover up her mistake. "I was just thinking there's a lot of math in it. Economics, I mean." The other girls looked at her askance. "You know. The way the artificial food shortages caused by the Capital prompts District 12 residents to hunt, even though it's illegal."

Michelle gave her an are-you-crazy look, but Kiana said, "Uh-huh. You don't see it so much in the movie as in the book, but there's a lot of interesting stuff on the periphery about how what the government's doing makes them poor. It's not like there really isn't enough to go around."

Stephen leaned back in his chair to look over at them. "Hey, are you all talking about economics too?" he asked.

"Apparently?" Michelle said.

"Because I'm writing this paper, only I'm stuck ... " He explained the problem to them. "I don't suppose any of you know? It seems like it should be something simple."

"I don't think it is," Kiana said. "Simple, I mean."

Angela didn't say anything. Don't be smart don't be smart guys don't like smart girls. Stephen was giving her a pleading look. ".. do you know how to do integrals?" Angela mumbled, almost involuntarily.

"... kind of?"

"I think that's what you need."

"Really?" He passed over his notebook. "Hey, can you show me what you're thinking of?"

He's talking to me! Angela's heart sang. Yeah, so you can do his homework, her mind thought, bitterly. She gave up and wrote out the formula for him, and then drew a graph to help explain. "It's a lot easier to understand if you look at it visually."

"Wow, yeah. I didn't know you were so good at math." Stephen looked from the page to her with an admiring smile.

Angela couldn't help blushing. "I'm not."

He chuckled. The end-of-period bell rang and everyone got up to go to their next class. "Thanks, Angela!" Stephen said as he headed out.

Her stupid heart would not stop rejoicing, no matter how many times she told it she had just relegated herself forever to the status of "undateable girl who will do your homework".

On Wednesday, Stephen was standing by the school's front door when Angela walked in. "Hey, Angela!"

She couldn't stop herself from smiling. Please don't ask me to do your homework please don't ask me to do your homework, her mind chanted. "Hey," she said, softly.

"Thanks again for your help yesterday." Stephen fell into step next to her. Out of habit, Angela walked her usual circuitous route that would take her past his locker.

"You're welcome." Please don't ask me to do your homework.

"So ... I was wondering ... "

"Yes?" Please don't ask me to do your homework.

"I was going to see this play The Invisible Heart on Friday and would you like to come with me?" Stephen gabbled out in a rush. Angela blinked at him, too surprised to respond. "See it's sort of about economics but it won't be boring I'm sure it's also a romance I know that sounds weird but the troupe is really good -- "

Angela touched his arm and he cut off in mid-sentence, holding his breath. "You mean like ... a date?"

Stephen gave her a panicked smile. "Yes? It doesn't have to be The Invisible Heart we can see something else if -- "

"I'd love to."

Stephen's face lit up. "Really?" She nodded. "All ... all right then. I'll pick you up at 7?" She nodded again. "Great. Great! See you then!" He stopped by his locker and waved to her.

Angela waved back, smiling, stunned, and walked on to the north stairwell, as part of her mind filed away a new lesson: Maybe not everyone dislikes a smart girl.

[From a prompt by the_vulture, requesting a story using the cards from this reading. It uses more the message I got from that reading ("don't be afraid of what other people will think, and don't be afraid of using your abilities to their full potential") than from the individual cards. I think this is the first time since 1996 that I've written a story that wasn't fantasy or sf. Also, I'm now done with all the tarot story prompts. Yay!]