She only has a hundred words to plead her case, but she thinks they're the best words she's ever compiled on paper. Words like 'ambition' and 'inspiration', 'opportunity' and 'commitment'.
She makes the sign for 'government' repeatedly as she thinks to herself. Pressing her finger to her temple, entwining it in her hair.
Scrawls her name at the bottom with a flourish of blue ink.
She folds the pages in thirds, crisp creases, slides them into the envelope. Tucks it safely in her backpack. Dashes down the steps, two at a time, just as the bus is pulling in to the stop.
It's overcrowded, and she's pressed up against the football players in the aisle, her fingers apologizing by reflex. She keeps thinking about the envelope. Guards her bag reverently as everyone spills off the bus.
She's disappointed to find Matthew waiting for her; he isn't on her roster this week. He's too slow, treats her like a child. "Josephine," he always complains, mouth moving with exaggerated care, "there's no need to hurry." But there is a need, she thinks. Only three more days.
She already has the postage stamps.
She slides her arms through the straps of her pack, starts signing at him rapidly as she whirls past, daring him with the set of her jaw to keep up.
"I have to get to the principal's office before class," she says, hands flying, doesn't slow for his reaction.
The principal's secretary makes her wait. The upholstery on the armchair itches the backs of her legs and she fidgets, signing nonsense questions at Matthew to make Mrs Dover uncomfortable. The old woman stares at their hands suspiciously, as if Joey is weaving incantations. Finally Mr Mitchell opens his door and waves them in.
He unfolds the pages and stares at them too carefully. Finally he takes his spectacles off and lays them on the desk, lacing his fingers.
"Josephine," he begins, his thick beard making her name seem foreign.
'Joey' she automatically corrects, fingers twisting in her lap so that Matthew doesn't see.
"It's a first-rate application. But I think we need to talk about the logistics of this." A fleck of saliva catches in his beard. He doesn't look at her, focuses instead on Matthew's hands moving in translation. "There are some excellent summer programs right here in San Francisco."
She knows the taste of disappointment, won't swallow it this time.
"Yes sir," she says, willing him to look at her and not at Matthew. "But not ones specializing in government."
Finger to temple.
"Washington D.C. is a long way from here, Josephine. The Presidential Scholars Program won't pay for an interpreter, and the school certainly can't afford to send one with you."
She wonders if he would have the good grace to appear apologetic if he looked her in the eye.
Joey picks at the fraying hem of her sister's old skirt.
Her hands finally still on her knees.
She doesn't lift them as she says, "I'll make myself understood."