She was two years old the first time she realized there was something special about her. Mimi had the flu and was not able to take care of her, so she went to the library with her mother for the day. She sat in a small, wooden chair painted avocado green, her feet dangling beneath her. A woman walked in with her young son and noticed Janine in the children's section, a small tuft of black hair peeking out from behind a neat stack of picture books piled high on the table next to her. "Hey there, sweetie," she said. "Are you having fun looking at the pictures?"
Janine looked up, annoyed at the distraction. "I like the stories."
The woman looked over her shoulder to see Rioko working at the front desk. "Does your mommy come over and read them to you when she's not busy?" the woman asked.
"No," Janine replied. "I can do it myself." She traced her finger underneath the words as she read, "They left the house at half past nine in two straight lines."
The woman's jaw dropped. "How – wha?" She looked toward Rioko then back down at Janine. "Where did you learn to do that? Janine just shrugged, not understanding what the fuss was about. The woman rushed over to the front desk, making much more noise than Janine thought she ought to in a library. She watched the woman flail her arms around at Rioko before burying her nose back in her book.
Janine regrets not learning Japanese. She understands it just fine and can even say a few phrases, but she never learned to read or speak it properly. Mimi had tried to teach her when she was in middle school, but she was too busy taking apart electronic toys to see how they worked to pay much attention. Now that Mimi is gone, Janine really wishes she had.
Sometimes when Claudia is off babysitting, Janine will sneak into her room to borrow a Nancy Drew book. Claudia thinks her hiding spaces are so clever, but it never takes Janine very long to find them. She knows that they're junk, but she loves escaping to Nancy's adventurous and exciting life. Sometimes even geniuses need brain candy.
For her fifteenth birthday, Janine decided that she wanted to have a party like a normal teenager. She invited the other members of Math Club, and some students from her class at the community college who had always been nice to her. Janine painstakingly arranged the snacks on the dining room table while Claudia haphazardly decorated the room with colored streamers to make it more festive. Two hours after the party was scheduled to begin, no one had arrived. John took her to the movies to see Space Camp. By the time they had returned, Rioko had removed any trace of the failed attempt at a party. Janine had never in her life wished that she were like Claudia more than she did at that moment. And even though the idea of going to space thrilled her, she never watched Space Camp again.
Janine's favorite possession is her computer.
One lazy Wednesday evening, she was sitting at her desk, the reflection from the screen giving her face a soft, green glow. She heard a knock at the door, followed by a slow creak as it opened. She was surprised to see not her sister, as she expected, but Charlie Thomas. "Oh, I'm sorry, Janine," he said. "I thought this was Claudia's room. It's 6:15 and Kristy hadn't come outside yet, so I figured I'd come get her."
Janine pushed her glasses up her nose. "Claudia's room is the next one over. I can only speculate that they're plotting another inane scheme to entertain the neighborhood kids."
Charlie laughed. "Probably." He glanced over at her computer screen. "What are you working on?"
Janine blushed furiously. "Oh. It's, nothing really. I'm in the midst of writing code for a computer game, although I haven't worked all of the bugs out yet."
"You're writing a computer game?" Charlie asked, in awe.
"That's so cool!" He moved closer and sat down on the bed right near her desk, asking questions almost faster than she could answer them. Before they knew it, there was a knock at her door.
"What are you doing in here? It's past 6:30. We have to be home for dinner or Mom and Watson will be mad."
Charlie looked down at his watch. "Oh, I hadn't realized it had gotten so late. We'd better get going. It was nice talking with you, Janine." She fidgeted with the contrast dial on her monitor and waved as Kristy practically dragged Charlie down the stairs.
Friday afternoon at 5:31, there was a knock at her door. "It's probably a waste of gas to drive all the way to the other side of town just to turn around and come back. Mind if I stick around here for a while?" He was there again the following Monday.
On Wednesday, Kristy was sitting for the Pikes with Claudia until 5:00, which Janine was surprised to find disappointed her. She'd begun to look forward to Charlie's visits. She quickly reminded herself that he was only trying to save himself from making unnecessary trips across town.
Not long after she arrived home from school, there was a soft knock at the front door. Janine was surprised to see Charlie standing there. Before she could say a word, he leaned forward and kissed her square on the lips.
Janine loves her computer.