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Naomi glanced behind her at the rest of the group. Mrs. Sharma had asked Naomi to walk next to her to more easily point out danger, and Naomi wasn’t sure she liked being appointed Mrs. Sharma’s right-hand woman.

In high school, Naomi had been singled out as the teacher’s pet more than she would have liked, and the resentful looks from her classmates had been almost unbearable.

She studied each face, searching for signs of that resentment. Chelsea, still linked with Jen and Angelina, gave her a warm smile. Naomi tried as well as she could to return it.

She made eye contact with Lachlan, who mouthed the words “suck-up”. She rolled her eyes pointedly at him, then turned back around before he could see her face flush.

Was he annoyed with her, or was he just being Lachlan? Sometimes, it was hard to tell.

“So Naomi,” said Mrs. Sharma. “What are you studying in school?”

Mrs. Sharma was making small talk with her now? Ugh. Not only would it make her look more like a suck-up, she’d have to worry about Mrs. Sharma judging her answers to questions.

“Um, I study music,” said Naomi.

She hated how awkward and unsure her voice sounded.

To Naomi’s surprise, Mrs. Sharma smiled at her and gave an approving nod.

“That’s great. Not enough people study music seriously.”

“Really? Honestly, most adults just tell me that it’s a waste of time, or that I’m never going to make a living doing it or something.”

“Money isn’t everything,” said Mrs. Sharma. “It’s important–don’t get me wrong–but it’s not everything. Few things are a waste of time if you dedicate yourself to them and fully commit. Being a musician is something that takes a lot of discipline. And if you apply enough discipline, you can make a living doing almost anything.”

“I, um, mostly play rock music,” Naomi said.

“So does my daughter,” said Mrs. Sharma. “She wants to study it in college too someday.”

“How old is she?”

“Her twelfth birthday is coming up.”

“Wow, she’s twelve and she’s already picked her college major?”

“She had it picked out since she was eight. She always knew what she wanted to do with her life, and she’s always applied herself. My son’s the same way.”

“What does your son want to do?”

“He doesn’t know yet, but he’s only nine, so he’s got lots of time. He’s one of the top students in his class, so he could do anything he wanted. Right now, he’s saying he might want to teach like his dad.”

“Where does your husband teach? Maybe I’ve taken a class with him before.”

Naomi glanced back at her friends again, hoping she wasn’t earning any resentment by making polite conversation.

“UNCC. He teaches computer science.”

“That’s where I go to school. I wouldn’t have had any of his classes, though.”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t have.”

The conversation fell into a lull, and Naomi wondered if it would be rude to bring up Sarah.

Then again, if she fell out of Mrs. Sharma’s good graces, she wouldn’t have to worry about her friends thinking she was a suck-up.

“So, uh, sorry if I shouldn’t be bringing this up, but how do you know Sarah?”

Mrs. Sharma gave her a long look.

“It’s complicated. It’s hard to explain without knowing how much you know.”

“I know you were some kind of scientist for CPSI. And I know she’s a piece of biotechnology.”

Mrs. Sharma’s more easygoing expression fell from her face, her steely look returning.

“No. She’s way more than that.”

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