Bitter 416

It was surprisingly easy for Britta to put the game to one side, and put her efforts into a different kind of grinding.

It was very different, going through various sites and checking recommendations for tutors. It had a weight to it the game had never had.

Reality, it turned out, wasn’t just about how things looked or felt, it was also affected by your purpose.

If you could convince yourself climbing a mountain to fight a dragon was vitally important, then you might be able to match that real world intensity, but in the real world, you didn’t need to pretend. Being late for the bus was enough to allow panic to set in.

In fact, the two were total opposites. In the real world, you did your best to control your emotions, and not blow things out of proportion. In the game, you tried to buy into the world as adventure playground, even though you knew nothing could really hurt you.

Spending a few days with Mum, watching how she tore through the research like a demon, was like watching a master at work. She could type incredibly fast, which wasn’t that impressive, except she didn’t have to pause to think about what she wrote. It flowed effortlessly, and was at once polite, warm, businesslike and friendly.

She was also a woman who had contacts. Lots of them. Britta was shocked by how many.

She had numbers and emails for most of the parents of her classmates. Kids she didn’t even talk to, which was most of her class. Parents from other classes she wasn’t even in. She had the teachers’ personal contacts. She had phone numbers for retired teachers.

Britta had been to parent-teacher meetings with Mum. She was always full of questions and had always got on with her teachers, almost like she knew them. Maybe she did.

Between them, they quickly compiled a list of suitable candidates, both from recommendations and from searching the web. They set up interviews for seventeen people.

Britta had made a list of her subjects, identifying the ones she felt she needed most help with. She was good at everything, at least in terms of passing exams, but she wanted to be the next level up.

There were some kids at school who were like that. The really smart ones, who could solve a quadratic equation before most people had finished reading it. But no one was at that level across the board.

She didn’t need a tutor for every subject — it probably wasn’t physically possible to fit that much tutoring into a normal week — but her plan was to only hire the people who would be able to give her the kind of knowledge she lacked.

It was quite a specific thing she was looking for. Simply helping her get better at answering test questions wasn’t it. She had that side of it covered. What she wanted was to be able to approach the exams like someone who understood the point of the questions, not just the answers.

Maths was the best example of how you could get full marks without really understanding why the way you were taught was the best way. You just learned which numbers went where, and repeated the pattern for every question.

Every maths teacher she’d ever known had explained with examples. They showed you how to do it. Then you did it. Eventually it clicked, and you could do it.

There were always some people who clicked quicker, who could see beyond the surface without help, but she wasn’t one of them. She was an unskilled labourer who did the heavy work.

The problem was that the people who taught maths often weren’t very good at putting it into words. They could do it, they could show you how to do it, but when they tried to put it into English, things got confusing.

It took meeting six different maths tutors before she found one who could understand what it meant to explain something in terms you understood, but which the other person didn’t. She was a university student who didn’t even have her degree yet.

Physics was much easier to decide. There was only one candidate, a retired professor. He spent his days looking after his grandchildren, three of them. His son and daughter-in-law both worked, and he was a widower. He had spent his life researching the mysteries of the universe, as he put it, and deeply regretted it. He had been so absorbed by his work, he had hardly any time for his family. He had considered it a worthy sacrifice, to work as hard as possible to provide for them, but he had missed out on a lot of what the mysteries of the universe were there for.

Now he was finding that connection with his grandchildren, but his evenings were free. As much as he loved his belated family life, though, it only took a couple of minutes listening to him talk about nucleons to understand where his true passions lay. His eyes lit up in a way they hadn’t when speaking about his dead wife.

Britta chose two people for Chemistry, one for organic, one for inorganic. Which was far more than she needed, but far more was what she was aiming for.

French was a black woman who had moved to Britain for love. She had a strong accent, but her English was otherwise perfect. Her French sounded nothing like the French teacher at school, who was very clear and precise. Britta didn’t want to learn how to conjugate and decline, she wanted to be able to speak like a French person.

She didn’t bother with English. Mr Maxwell was good enough, and he was always happy to help after class. She didn’t feel there was much to gain from studying texts in greater depth. It was mainly just opinions masked as subtext.

It took three days to get her team together, and the one time she had logged into the game during those three days, she exited after exactly twelve minutes, never having left the Church of Roha.

She was only 2 XP off Level 5. It probably wouldn’t have been that hard to find a way to get them a basic quest in town would be enough to allow her to level up, but she felt no particular urge to do it, much to Dad’s discomfort.

He would never have been able to resist diving straight back in to find those two measly points. The thought of it was enough to make him itchy.

He looked at the list of tutors, with Britta’s notes next to them, and their rates. He let out a low whistle.

“Won’t be cheap.”

“No,” said Britta. “Worth it, I think. They all have really good qualifications.”

“Yes, I can see that.” He laughed.

“What?” said Britta, not seeing what was so funny.

“Nothing. It’s just that it reads like you’ve put together a band of adventurers to go on a quest. The old guy, the young girl, the foreigner, the two who always bicker.” He grinned at her. “Let me know when the anime comes out.”

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.