Ted was struggling to account for Mr. O'Neill's bizarre interpretation of Great Expectations. Is he using irony or is this an experiment in reverse psychology? He was just starting speculate that perhaps the teacher was actually describing a different work with the same title when Ms. Li walked into the classroom and interrupted the lecture.
"Attention, young people! I have an exciting announcement. Grove Hills, the school for gifted and outstanding students, has issued invitations to several of our students to visit its campus. And among those so honored is Mr. DeWitt-Clinton!"
"Wow!" Ted exclaimed. The other students were silent. They must be too overcome by admiration, and perhaps even envy, to speak.
As Ms. Li left the room, Ted reflected on the extraordinary good luck of being able to experience not just one, but two schools in such a short time. He wondered if he should visit other schools as well.
Maybe that place just outside of town, the Carter County Center? There are sure to be some interesting people there! I read about the students in the newspaper all the time. And I've heard it's very well-funded. It has a state-of-the-art security almost as thorough as the one at Lawndale High. But would my parents let me transfer to a juvenile detention facility?
Ted turned his thoughts back to Grove Hills as Mr. O'Neill continued his enigmatic lecture. It sounds like it could be an interesting school. I'll have to do some research and find out everything I can! Does it offer a challenging curriculum of advanced classes? Will I have a wide variety of extracurricular activities to choose from? And, most importantly, are any of the students visually impaired?
Ted had become popular almost immediately upon arriving at Lawndale High, thanks to his skill with virtual reality games, but within days he'd abruptly and inexplicably fallen into total obscurity. Barely anyone at school paid him any attention anymore, not even his fellow freshmen.
He couldn't even convince a senior to give him either a "swirlie" or a "wedgie," each of which appeared to be some kind of time-honored hazing ritual. He'd overheard some students mention them once in passing and he was eager to learn more about them--perhaps if he was lucky, even experience them firsthand.
When he first noticed his shift into anonymity, he'd hypothesized that he had turned invisible. Unfortunately, that disastrous experiment at the Seven Corners intersection during rush hour had ruled out that theory. Just to be safe, he'd repeated the experiment with similar results at the counter at Pizza King as well as the Cranberry Commons food court.
Now he was certain, and it was just as well--his parents had soon after expressed very firm opinions on the issue of public nudity.
I haven't been able to account for the strange phenomenon yet, although research so far seems to indicate that it's most prominent here at Lawndale High School. This visit to Grove Hills might be my chance to find out if this was a random fluke or if other schools develop peculiar blind spots for students, as well!
"Welcome to Grove Hills!" A thin girl with honey-colored hair greeted Ted after he arrived. "My name is Marina."
"Hello, Marina!" Ted replied, eagerly shaking her hand and looking around the room. "I'm really glad I could come!"
It had been harder than Ted expected to convince his parents to let him visit Grove Hills, because they kept talking about corruption by other students, the inevitable decay of society, and the utterly depraved lyrics of "Yellow Submarine." In the end they'd given in with the condition that he not, under any circumstances, accept gum from anyone.
Marina moved on to talk to other people and Ted began his observation in earnest. Marina could see me, he noted. So if Grove Hills is vulnerable to the same blind spots as Lawndale High, then perhaps they don't affect the recruiters.
He looked around at the other students, watching for any unusual patterns or strange behavior. He also took in the artwork (reproductions), the potted plants (artificial), and the refreshment table loaded with punch and appetizers (gum-free).
At last he saw a grim-faced blond boy give a half-hearted wave to another student, who immediately turned her back and faced the opposite direction. The blond boy sighed and looked down at the floor.
He's being completely ignored by his fellow students! Perfect! I must study him more closely.
When the blond boy looked up again, Ted's face was inches from his own. "Gah!" he cried.
"Oh, good!" Ted smiled with relief. "So you can see me?"
"Of course I can see you!" the surprised boy hissed, taking a step back. "What's wrong with you?"
"I don't know, but I'm hoping you can help me find out."
The boy took another step back and eyed Ted with no small amount of fear. "Look, I've heard this kind of thing happens to some of the kids who go here. Can you try to keep it together while I go get the school shrink?"
Ted shook his head and laughed. "Oh, I'm not a student here. I'm one of the visitors. My name is Ted!" He abruptly stuck out his arm and the other boy leaped back with a strangled yell.
After a few moments of Ted failing to savagely attack him, the boy relaxed--slightly--and tentatively returned the handshake. "I'm David."
"It's a pleasure to meet you!" Ted tightened his grip and leaned forward, causing David to flinch. "I'm conducting a scientific experiment. Would you be willing to assist me?"
David wrenched his hand free and took several quick steps backward. "Look, uh, Ted," he stammered. "I'd like to but, um, I'm going to go...get some punch. Good luck with your whole being-totally-insane thing, okay?"
Ted watched the boy flee to the other side of the room. Gosh, I wonder if his erratic behavior has anything to do with his fellow students' obliviousness. Since I'm not in any way abnormal, then it will be difficult to compare our two cases. He looked around at all the other students. Still, there's no reason I can't continue to gather data while I'm here.
As he began heading toward the nearest group of teens, he briefly wondered how his parents were getting along with the other adults. I'm sure they'll be fine as long as they get off on the right foot with everyone else.
"I'm Leslie DeWitt, and this is my husband, Grant Clinton."
"Nice to meet you. My name's Andrew Landon. You might have heard of me--I invented the folding coffee cup."
Ted saw the student who had had failed to see David earlier and headed straight for her. First hypothesis: Grove Hills students have extremely poor vision. He pulled a random book off a shelf as he passed it.
"Excuse me," he said, interrupting the girl in mid-sentence, "but could you please tell me what this word is?" He opened the book, held it a couple of feet from the girl's face, and pointed to a word on the page."
The girl gave him a look of utter bewilderment but then glanced at the book and said, "Ubiquitous."
"Very good!" He pulled the book back a short distance. "And this one?"
"Excellent!" A little further back. "How about this?"
"Diphthong." As Ted started to move the book yet again, she held up a hand to stop him. "You're one of the visiting students, right?"
He nodded. "It's been a very entertaining visit so far, in spite of the appalling shortage of gum."
"Uh huh. So how did you get invited if you can't even read any of these words?"
Ted giggled. "I see there's been a misunderstanding. I can read the words just fine!"
The girl waited, but no further clarification came. "Then why...?"
"Oh! This has just been a simple vision test." He closed the book. "You did surprisingly well. I assumed your eyesight would be quite inferior!"
"I beg your pardon!" The girl drew back, offended. "I have 20/20 vision!"
"Really?" Ted asked, disappointed. He leaned in to peer closely at her eyes. "No sporadic lapses or blind spots, then?"
"I can see perfectly," she replied, flinching away from his examination. "I'm particularly good at spotting idiots."
"That sounds like a fascinating ability!" He tilted his head curiously. "Although I suppose it wouldn't be very useful at a school for the gifted."
She glared at him before turning back to the other kids. "You'd be surprised."
"It's a relief to hear you're no longer with U.S. World, Michele," Grant said, still eying Andrew with mild disgust. "I'm sure you're happier refusing to support a system of exploitation and fraud, right?"
"Actually, I'm going back as soon as Evan is in daycare."
Leslie immediately turned her hateful glare from Andrew to Michele. "You're willing to abandon your own son to the care of total strangers?"
"Damn straight!" Andrew cut in. "That's exactly what I--"
"Shut up," Grant, Leslie, and Michele snapped in unison.
Second hypothesis, Ted speculated as he looked for someone else to analyze. The girl who helped me with my earlier research implied that some Grove Hills students actually have a low mental capacity. This may account in some way for their inability to recognize their fellow students.
He watched as a red-haired boy with a sour look on his face snubbed David completely. Time for my next test.
"Hello," he said to the boy as he approached. "May I ask you a few questions?"
The boy looked witheringly at him and grumbled, "I think I've had enough conversation with wannabes tonight."
"Wannabes?" Ted asked. "Is that a kind of novelty snack food? I've heard of Ding Dongs and Ho Hos, but not Wannabes. Do they contain processed sugar or--"
"Get to the point!"
"I'd just like a few minutes of your time for an important scientific inquiry!"
"Fine. I've got nothing better to do, I guess."
"Thanks!" Ted cleared his throat and asked, slowly and distinctly, "What color is a banana?"
The boy narrowed his eyes. "What is this, a trick question?"
Ted smiled apologetically. "If that one is too hard, I--"
"Right! Now, what do you get if you add two plus two?"
Again the boy looked suspicious, but cautiously answered, "Four."
"Well done! And what sound does a cat make?"
"This is ridiculous," the boy said, throwing his hands up in the air. "I'm not answering any more of these questions."
Ted gave him an understanding nod. "I see. These questions were obviously too challenging for you, which confirms my theory that--"
"Too challenging? I'll have you know my IQ is 165!"
"Really?" Ted asked, startled. He glanced over at David, still on the other side of the room, then back at the red-haired boy. "Do you think it's possible that your high IQ still doesn't make you smart enough to see--"
The boy exploded. "I am smart! I'm not boring! I'm not miserable! And I do not have my head up my butt!" Jamming closed fists against his eyes, the boy turned and ran out of the room with a high-pitched wail.
"'Head up my butt'?" Ted repeated, confused. "I had no idea that Grove Hills participated in such extreme and unorthodox yoga techniques!"
Curiosity overcame him and he began to lean forward, seeing how far he could bend himself. Then he stopped himself and sighed. One experiment at a time. I need to come up with a new hypothesis before the evening is over and it's time to go home.
He closed his eyes and forced himself to concentrate. It's not eyesight. It's not mental capacity. Could it be some kind of paranormal phenomenon restricted only to teenagers, or perhaps even just teenagers in Lawndale?
Ted opened his eyes. Time to gather more data. And to see if the refreshment table has any of those Wannabes.
"Look, there comes a point when you have to let your children out of your sight!" Michele crossed her arms and glared back at Leslie and Grant. "Your son goes to school for six hours a day, just like our daughter."
"Only six?" Andrew snorted quietly. "Not if I have anything to say about it."
Leslie ignored him. "For your information, we homeschooled Ted until recently."
Andrew sputtered, "Homeschooling? Oh, this just keeps getting better."
"What's wrong with that?" Grant demanded.
"Oh, nothing." Andrew smirked. "If you want to coddle your kid with an easy workload instead of letting him learn to deal with real challenges and pressure."
Leslie scowled. "In other words, turn him into a mindless shill for capitalism with a soul that's completely black?"
Tensing at the word "black," Michele screeched, "And what is that supposed to mean?"
Third hypothesis: some kind of supernatural interference is causing the blind spots. Ted chose a girl at random and walked up to her. "Do you attend this school?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied politely.
"How is your vision?"
"Okay, I guess," she said slowly, looking at him with mild curiosity.
"And would you say your intellect is at least slightly above average?"
"I'd like to think so." Her expression was beginning to shift toward one of concern.
"Please look over there," he said, turning to point directly at David. "Do you see that young scholar by the fireplace?"
The girl sneered and rolled her eyes. "Scholar? I don't see anyone who meets that description!"
"Fascinating! Finally, have you ever noticed any unexplained occurrences, perhaps along the line of space-time anomalies or even alien activity, either at this school or anywhere else in Lawndale?"
"Whoa," the girl said, staring at Ted. "Usually the nine percent of students who bug out wait until after they enroll before they join the Nutcase Brigade."
"Nutcase Brigade?" Ted asked, eyes wide. "Something tells me you're not referring to a novelty snack food, are you?"
Andrew snorted. "You can say all you want about capitalism, but it's been pretty good to us!" He jabbed a finger toward a nearby window. "You see that Jaguar out there? I earned that through hard work and ingenuity!"
Grant snorted. "You mean you used your ill-gotten corporate gains to pollute the environment and display to the world that you worship at the altar of crass materialism!"
Andrew stared incredulously at him. "And I suppose you walked all the way here? Or did you float along on your own smug sense of self-righteousness?"
"We took the bus, of course," Leslie replied, shaking with indignation. "As it happens, we also use solar power and grow our own food!"
"What, you can't even afford to buy groceries? Exactly how poor are you, anyway? And, more importantly, how much of my taxes are supporting your ridiculous lifestyle?"
I give up, Ted thought sadly. Not one of my hypotheses has been supported by research. All I've learned is that one student has 20/20 vision, another has a 165 IQ, and the last one is obsessed with nine percent of something.
He gasped in surprise. But maybe that's it! Perhaps these numbers they've all mentioned--20, 165, and 9--all combine in some way to construct a formula that explains the mysterious circumstances I've been struggling to understand for so long. Perhaps, after all this time, I'm finally on the edge of a breakthrough that could completely revolutionize everything the world thinks it knows about the laws of physics and--hey! That guy has gum!
As Ted raced toward the gum-bearing student on the other side of the room, he decided his research would just have to wait. I hope my parents had a more productive evening than I did.
"Immoral corporate puppets!"
"It's just as well you've decided not to go to Grove Hills," Leslie said across the bus aisle to Ted as they rode home. "If there's one thing we've learned tonight, it's that corruption and greed are lurking everywhere, no matter where you go."
Grant grimly added, "There's no escaping it these days. Some people might not see it, but we'll never turn a blind eye. Right, Ted?"
Ted nodded, glad that someone else understood what it was like to observe other people's selective vision. "I just wish I knew what caused it!"
Leslie snorted. "I blame today's shallow, materialistic culture. At least our family can resist the empty promises and artificial products society forces on everyone else." She peered more closely at her son. "Are you eating something?"
Ted immediately swallowed the gum he'd been hiding in the side of his cheek. "Oh, no. Just, er, reflecting on your words. So, did you meet any interesting people tonight?"
The distraction worked perfectly. "We did battle against the very personifications of evil," Leslie said.
"And tore their repulsive philosophy of corporate slavery to shreds!" Grant added. The two solemnly thrust their fists into the air in triumph, and a man sitting behind them quietly moved to another seat.
"Oh, that's a relief!" Ted smiled. "I was worried you wouldn't have any fun."