I know they've had meetings without me there, as well as the awkward ones where I'm dragged out of class and forced to sit in Mrs. Miller's office staring at the wall and trying to nod in all the right places. And then there's 'this' kind, where I'm waiting outside, the problem they need to solve.
I curl my knees up toward my chest. It makes me feel sick when the adults start snarling at one another. I take a breath in, but it shudders through me. I can hear my heart thumping in my ears. The smell of the chair fabric is causing a headachy throb behind my eyes.
"I think it'd be best if you take her home this afternoon, have a chat. We've got the exams coming up next term, and you need to stress to her how important it is that she's focused in class. There's only another week left until the holidays."
There's a silence before she adds an afterthought—and she sounds half surprised as she says it.
"Grace is a very bright girl, you know."
I slouch down at the click of the door handle opening, making sure I look as if I'm staring absently into space, and definitely not eavesdropping on the whole conversation with my super-bat-hearing powers.
"Mrs. Miller and I have had a little chat."
I look at them as if I'd forgotten they existed. They fall for it and explain that under the circumstances, Grace, it's best if we just remember that we don't just walk out of the classroom, Grace, even if we are feeling a little overwhelmed. And don't forget, Grace, you can always tell the teacher if you need some time out.
It's not that easy. It's like there's a wall that stops me from saying the words, even if I need to. And that's before the whole everyone-else-looking-at-me thing, because we all know school is basically just a socially acceptable version of the Lord of the Bloody Flies. But there's something that makes saying the words I am a bit stressed—can I please go outside to the carefully constructed quiet room? just a tiny bit completely impossible.
Oh, and then there's the fact that the quiet room is (a) next to the cafeteria, so it smells of hot metal and thin, pointy headaches and (b) is opposite the gym hall so the thud thud thud of basketballs makes me want to scream. But I suppose they tried. It's a shame they didn't actually consult anyone who'd want to use it, and that's why it ends up being a glorified store cupboard with a wall stacked with props from the end-of-term performance and a stack of leftover copies of Of Mice and Men beside the ergonomic beanbag (hissing noise, weird smell) and a token lava lamp and some inspirational posters. And a dying plant.
Anyway. None of that matters because we're in the car now and it's one more week until half term and that means (a) I can be at the stables all week and (b) oh my God, the party. A tiny little bubble of fizzy excitement flirrups through my stomach. And yes, I know "flirrup" isn't a word, but it is in my head. In fact, that's one of the things my best friend, Anna, likes best about me. My words always make her laugh. I like her because she's nice and she makes me laugh and she's kind and funny and she doesn't mind that I'm a bit—
"Grace, if you don't like geography, it's not too late to drop it as a subject, concentrate on the ones you like. We're only seven weeks into tenth grade."
Mum, who's been driving in silence, turns to look at me as she pauses at the junction. I'm tapping thumb against fingers, one after another, in time to the clicking noise of the blinker.
I close my eyes so I can concentrate. I hear her sigh in irritation.
"Grace, you're just being bloody rude, and that's not okay. I've told you before if someone asks you a question you have to answer them."
We turn onto our road and the ticking stops. I open my eyes again, staring ahead. I'm counting the road signs down. NO LEFT TURNS. ONE-WAY STREET.
20. It reminds me of being four and coming home from nursery school. "GRACE, I am sick to death of this."
After a few moments, I find my voice. "I don't dislike geography."