A Surprise

Alex opened the door, but instead of a pizza delivery person, there was a lady with laugh lines and steel-gray hair and a pencil behind her ear. There was no pizza.

“Hello?” Alex looked around for the pizza. “Three pepperoni, extra cheese, right?”

The lady looked concerned. “Alex, didn’t you get your letter?”

“How do you know my name? What letter?” Alex stood a little more behind the door, prepared to slam it shut and lock it if the old lady took a step forward.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

Alex thought through the long list of teachers and librarians and neighbors and old ladies from church. Maybe she was familiar. Would she be offended if he admitted he’d forgotten her? Would she cry?


The lady leaned forward and whispered. “I’m the principal of the Chickenfeather School of Mathematics and Science. There was a picture in the brochure we sent in your letter. Your name has been on our rolls since you were a tiny baby. You’re a mathematician, Alex.”

“Why are you whispering? Everybody knows about math. And I’ve never heard of your school.”

“What do you mean?” The lady looked around and spoke loudly. “Of course everybody knows about math. It’s so boring and pointless.” She leaned in and whispered. “That’s what they think, right? Only mathematicians know the true power of math.”

Just then, a car drove up. A large man with a scruffy beard jumped out and retrieved three pizza-sized boxes from the back seat. Finally, something that made sense.

The lady frowned as she watched the pizza delivery person approach. “I’ll be back later. We can’t talk now.” She hurried down the front steps and passed the delivery person before turning left and disappearing around the corner.

“Three pepperoni, extra cheese?” The man said. Alex shoved his hand in his pocket to pull out the money. Below the stack of bills there was an envelope that he didn’t remember putting in his pocket.

He put the envelope back into his pocket to look at later. He paid for the pizza and took the boxes inside. Mysteries could wait when there was food. “Pizza’s here,” he called as he shut the door.

His grandparents and little brother Marcus appeared as he set the pizzas on the table. “Happy birthday,” his grandpa said.

“Yay, pizza! Oh, and happy birthday,” Marcus said.

As Alex sat down, the envelope in his pocket made a crinkling sound. He’d forgotten it. He took it out and opened it. There was a letter and brochure inside, all about that Chickenfeather School. Where did the envelope come from? How did it end up in his pocket?

“What’s that?” his grandma asked.

“A letter I got today. Did you sign me up for a math school?”

“I don’t remember, but maybe grandpa knows.”

Grandpa handed them each a plate. “Remember what?”

“Did we sign Alex up for a math school?”

Grandpa thought for a moment. “Maybe. I think free enrollment came with a set of encyclopedias. You remember? And that nice set of kitchen knives.”

Grandma clapped her hands. “Oh yes, I still use that nice vegetable peeler.” She jumped up and started rummaging through the drawers. “I know it’s here somewhere.”

“I don’t really need to see the vegetable peeler,” Alex said. But Grandma ignored him. Grandpa was leaning over her shoulder telling her where he thought it was.

“You’re going to a math school?” Marcus made a face as though he’d tasted something sour. “I thought you were going to school with your friend Harry.”

Alex sighed. “No, Harry is going to some magic school.”

“Magic?” Marcus looked impressed. “Do you think he’ll learn how to pull a bunny out of his hat? I always wanted a bunny.”

“Yeah, well, apparently magic school didn’t come with the encyclopedia and the kitchen knives, so I’m going to math school.” Alex rolled his eyes. “Or maybe I’ll just skip math school and go to regular school.”

“Nonsense.” Grandma appeared at his elbow, triumphantly raising their old vegetable peeler in the air. “If they know how to make great kitchen knives and encyclopedias too, then they obviously know what they’re doing. You’re going to math school.”

“I am?” Alex frowned. Then he looked up at her hopefully. “Well is math really super powerful or something?”

“No, it’s really boring,” Marcus said.

“And mathematicians are kind of useless,” Grandpa added.

“Don’t listen to them,” Grandma said. “They’re just jealous. I’m sure it will be fine. Now eat up, the pizza’s getting cold.”

And as they ate the extra cheesy pepperoni pizza, Alex wished more than ever that encyclopedias were like pizza. You knew what you were paying for when you ordered it. Ten years later, there were no hidden school enrollments from ordering a pizza.

Alex took out the letter again and started reading it more carefully. It was time to find out exactly what he had to look forward to in a few months. Like it or not, apparently he was a mathematician.