From Tenafly High School’s 2014-2015 issue of Omega Magazine
The first thing I recalled after waking up this morning was that we're building molecular models out of wooden balls in chemistry today. This means there's a likely chance I'll actually be helping my lab partner instead of standing around, wearing stupid looking goggles and acting completely useless. Good news, I guess.
The second thing I recalled was the boy in the red-and-blue hoodie in my Chinese class, twirling the pull-strings on his sweatshirt absent-mindedly. I was thinking about how they looked just like giant shoelaces when our teacher, Wang Lao Shi, announced that she was canceling our oral exam. That was very good news.
Now, I'm standing in an empty bathroom at school, scowling at myself in the smudged-up mirror. My face looks like it got run over by the back of a pickup truck– nothing unusual there. I have a bad case of bed-head, since I didn't bother to comb my hair. It's spiked up so much that I look like an anime character, or a brunette elf. I stick my hand under the leaky faucet to wet my fingertips, then run them through my hair, spiking it up even more. I shoot me-in-the-mirror a crazy grin, and she grins back from behind the glass. Time to go.
Ni hao, Lao Shi! I stroll into Chinese several minutes late, backpack hanging over my shoulder nonchalantly. I make eye contact with the boy in the hoodie, who's sitting next to the only empty chair in the class. Maybe he smiles a little, or maybe he just has a minor facial spasm while coincidentally looking in my direction. He's wearing the white hoodie with red sleeves today.
Thankfully, the teacher ignores me and does not say, "Lona, ni wei shen me chi dao?" which is the Chinese variation of, "Lona, why the heck are you late, you terrible student?" I slip past the front of the room, unscathed.
Once I'm in my seat, I pull my hood up and become invisible. This sweatshirt– my favorite– is a treasure I retrieved from the men's section of Hollister, where all the women's sweatshirts are flimsy and tight and don't come in maroon. Even though it's size small, the end of the zipper reaches almost halfway down my thigh.
Hood up, lurking in my cave in the back corner, I'm safe from danger. I'm like a wolf: completely unnoticed, undetected. I am ready to pounce if the situation demands it, but usually our Chinese class doesn't get that much action. Instead, I pull out my notebook and draw bubbles in the top corner of the page.
I glance to my left at the boy with the hoodie. He's taking notes– bowing his head up and down, from his notebook to the board, his eyes bright and eager. His eyes are two dark orbs: almost black, like two of those wooden carbon atoms our chemistry teacher showed us yesterday during the lab tutorial.
Hopefully my lab partner was paying attention during that. Right after our teacher said, "Listen, this is very important," my eyes glazed over and my brain went into sleep mode. Odds are he was. I'm sure he's going to castigate me for not listening again. Better break out my usual technique: just nod until he stops talking.
After what seems like three hours, the teacher stops talking too and class is over. I watch the boy with the hoodie pack up his stuff, slipping his pens into his pencil case with a precision that is completely unnecessary for putting pens into a bag. There's no one here to wait for him, so he has all the time in the world.
He picks up his notebook, and I study his hand. His fingers are so long and bony; I wonder if he plays the piano. I heard pianists are supposed to have long fingers so they can reach all the keys. I picture him playing a super complex piece, fingers flying, and throwing off his hoodie as the audience applauds wildly. The right side of my lip curls up.
I fling my backpack over my shoulder and walk out. Xie xie, Lao Shi! Zai jian!
Lunch is supposed to mean eating and talking with your friends. For me, it means not eating anything, doodling and staying silent as a bunch of giddy girls chatter around me. Today their subject is "the boy who Lona likes," which makes pulling my hood up and blending into the table a lot harder.
"So, Lona." The girl with red hair and pink eye shadow giggles like a chipmunk and smiles at me. "After this, you have chemistry. With Tyler," They're all smiling, staring at me. I am being stared down by an army of grinning makeup monsters.
I look back down at my notebook paper, which is covered in dizzying multicolored swirls, and pull out a blue pen. "Yep." The girl next to her with kinky brown hair goes "Oooh!"
"How fitting that you have chemistry class together," the redhead giggles.
I don't know why they think I like him. I have shown zero signs of liking him. If anything, I have shown negative five signs of liking him; he's even more irritating than my lab partner. But they needed someone to accuse me of liking, and Tyler was chosen by default; everyone likes him at one point, apparently. The girls at school used to call it “Tyler Disease” back in sixth grade– the most formidable virus known to mankind.
"You two would make a great couple!" the brunette coos. There is more giggling. I glance up at the table next to us; the boy with the hoodie has just sat down with his Asian clique. He pulls a pair of chopsticks out of his lunch bag. I grab a red pen and circle my wrist around on the paper. Just nod until the bell rings and they leave me alone.
"Oh, I have a great idea," the redhead exclaims. “Tomorrow is his big baseball game. We could all go together, and then once it’s over, you could ask him to the dance!”
I pull my hood over my face, smushing down my spiky hair, and don't respond. The table becomes even more animated and everyone starts talking at once. I just swirl, nod, grab another pen.
The boy with the hoodie is eating fried rice. He laughs, in a normal sort of way, not like a demon chipmunk covered in makeup. I will gladly disguise myself as a Chinese schoolgirl and sit with the Asian clique if it means getting away from this table.
"Don't worry, you don't have to. I know you're super shy. You should really lighten up! I mean, at least smile every once in a while. By the way, I love the way your shoes match your sweatshirt!"
I look down at my filthy Converse high-tops, which represent 50% of the shoes I own. This color coordination was completely unintentional. In Lona land, matching is a major fashion crime.
"Uhh, thanks," I mumble. The two girls in front of me bare their teeth again. My "friends."
I was right– my lab partner was paying attention. Likewise, I was right about him lecturing me for being the horrible student that I am.
"You never pay attention! I can't keep helping you with everything. You have to start listening if you want to pass this class." At least his voice isn't as annoying as his personality. It’s pretty smooth and sophisticated, with a sort of British-sounding accent. Apparently he just moved here from Australia. I wouldn’t have known.
He sighs. ”I'm wasting time. Let's start the lab. But make sure you focus from now on!" His voice doesn't match his outside appearance at all. His face resembles that monkey Pokemon with the bush on its head. If you gave it spiky hair and glasses, they could be twins. "Ok, first we have to make an oh-two. That's two oxygen atoms, double bonded." Nerd Monkey takes two springs from our plastic container.
I grab two red balls, one in each hand. Somehow I remember what color oxygen is. It's too bad we don't need to know that for the test, or anywhere else in life outside of chemistry labs. I hand the balls to Nerd Monkey, and he sticks the springs in, making an elliptical shape. A double-bonded oxygen. "Oh-two."
At the table next to us, Tyler the Virus is sticking two yellow balls together with a stick to make hydrogen. Apparently, this task requires a lot of yelling and cursing at his friends across the room.
Nerd Monkey glares in the direction I’m looking before sketching the molecule in his notebook. "Alright, good. Now, aluminum oxide. We need two aluminum atoms and three oxygen atoms." He pronounces the word like "alu-mini-um."
I get out two grey balls and say it a few times to myself: alu-mini-um, alu-mini-um, alu-mini-um. This molecule is way more complicated than the oxygen one, which a baboon could probably put together without trouble. The springs keep popping out, and Nerd Monkey is getting pissed. After a lot of adjusting, it stays together. "Alu-mini-um oxide." Nerd Monkey sketches it down.
A very loud string of profanities that could kill a nun is shouted from the table next to us. Nerd Monkey glares up again. The Virus sees him, grins, and cracks his knuckles one by one, in a chorus of snaps. I pull my hood over my head and start taking the molecule apart.
"Tong xue men! Students, class is over! Wo men xia ke le!" Another Chinese class is done. Another crappy winter day is halfway over. I am now half a day closer to the weekend.
The bell hasn't actually rung yet. Wang Lao Shi is giving us a minute or two to stare at the wall before we're allowed to leave.
The wall isn't very interesting today, so I glance over at the boy in the hoodie. Today, he's wearing the red one with the big black circle on the front. It looks like a big empty void of nothingness in the middle of his chest.
He's almost done putting away the small office store that he laid out on his desk. I've already slipped my pencil and notebook back into my bag. I was feeling ambitious enough to actually take notes today, but I ended up covering the page with graphite swirls instead. The boy in the hoodie twirls his big shoelace-pull-strings around with his long fingers and runs them through his hair– it's that naturally spiky, poofy kind that seems to defy gravity.
Then he glances at me. Or, at least I think he does. I lower my eyes to my tennis sneakers– the other 50% of my shoe wardrobe, which doesn't color coordinate with anything I own. When I glance back up, he's still looking at me.
"Hey. You're Lona, right?" he says. I don't think I've ever heard him talk before. His voice is just a few notches above a whisper.
I peer at him from under my hood, no longer invisible. "Yeah."
He pauses, studying me curiously. "Why do you always keep your hood up?"
I shrug. "It's a survival mechanism."
He pulls his red hood up, covering his anime-character hair. He half-smiles, nods. "I feel safer already.” I half-smile back. The bell rings. He starts out the door, and I follow behind. Zai jian, Wang Lao Shi!
The boy with the hoodie walks really fast, so I have to half-jog to catch up. I slide into step next to him, and he acknowledges me with his carbon-black eyes.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?" I say.
"Ni hui bu hui tan gang qin?" I just asked him if he plays the piano, in Chinese. For all everyone else in the hallway knows, I could have asked him to move to Guatemala with me.
The boy in the hoodie smiles and cocks an eyebrow. "Interesting question. Wo hui." He does. I am officially a hobby predicting wizard.
In a few more paces, we turn to a door on the right side of the hallway.
"Sorry– what was your name again?" I ask before he walks in.
"Kai. It's Chinese for 'victorious'."
A chemistry lesson from a few weeks ago– probably the only one I'll ever remember– flashes into my mind. "Electronegativity is an atom's tendency to attract electrons," the teacher said. These words somehow managed to stick in my head as I drew stars all over my notebook paper. "Fluorine and oxygen are the most electronegative atoms. The more electronegative an atom is, the harder it is to pull electrons away."
I should probably leave now, but my legs are being annoying and not listening to me. Instead, I just stand outside the door with nothing to say, frozen in place like an idiot. Kai, as in victorious. I like it.
"Ming tian jian, Lona!" he says. See you tomorrow. He slips through the door.
My legs finally start listening again, and I pull myself down the hallway.
The clock in our chemistry classroom was programmed to run twice as slowly as a normal clock. No one told me this, and no one else seems to notice it. But I'm sure of it; no normal clock can run this slowly.
Our teacher just left the room for a moment, so of course the whole class has erupted into complete chaos. A bunch of people have gotten out of their seats to talk with their friends. Nerd Monkey and I are the only silent ones. He's scrolling through pages of who-knows-what on his phone in the chair next to me. I notice he's wearing a grey sweatshirt, which is a bit odd because Nerd Monkey never, ever wears sweatshirts.
I glance behind me and see The Virus surrounded by his baseball friends, shouting and being an idiot as usual.
“So this kid was giving me a hard time today. He was pissed at me for picking on his brother or something." He cracks his knuckles.
"You mean the new kid?"
“Yeah. Why the hell would his own twin brother live so far away? He just showed up one day from across the world. Like, 'Surprise, I have a clone!'”
"I heard his parents divorced, and he was living with his mom. Then she died or something, so he had to move back."
Nerd Monkey’s face whitens. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and runs a bony hand through his hair.
"Wow, did his parents really hate each other so much that they had to live on different continents?" The Virus tilts his chair back so it's balancing on its back legs. "Sucks for him."
“Wait, Tyler, what happened? Like, today, with his twin,” one of the baseball jerks asks.
“Oh, yeah. Just a punch in the face and he shut up pretty quickly. Seriously, that kid deserved it. He's such a spaz.”
Nerd Monkey turns around. “Hey, Tyler!”
“Yeah, what do you want, Aussie?”
All the baseball robots go “Ooooooh!”
“Whoa, watch your mouth there, kangaroo boy! You don’t want me to fuck up your face too, do you?”
I can practically see steam shooting out of my lab partner's ears. I’ve never seen him get this mad. Not even that time when I spilled hydrochloric acid during a lab in October. It looks like his head might explode, but he doesn’t say anything else. He just hunches down in his chair and pulls his hood over his eyes. For the first time ever, I actually feel sorry for Nerd Monkey.
Our chemistry teacher walks into the room, and everyone gets back in their seats like nothing happened.
As if spending lunch with them every day isn’t enough, the giggly girls clique comes to my locker every day after school too.
“OMG, did you hear what Tyler did?”
“Do you think he’s gonna get suspended?”
“I hope not!”
“Hey, Lona, what do you think of Tyler now?” the redhead nudges me.
This is an open ended question, not a yes or no one, but I just nod anyway. She turns back to the group, and they all chatter away as I drop my books into my backpack. Just a few more minutes and I'm free. At least until tomorrow morning.
I glance to the right, leaning back a bit to see past the sea of people on my side of the hallway. Then I see them pass my locker, just like they do every day after school. Two figures: one with a black eye, one with glasses. Twins. A pair of double bonded oxygen atoms. “Oh-two.” Or “alu-mini-um oxide:” red and grey. The boy with the hoodie– Kai– nods at me. He has his hood pulled over his spiky black hair, but not low enough to cover his bruise. I nod back. Nerd Monkey just stares straight ahead.
The giggly girls shift their focus.
“Oh, look, it’s the Chinese twins.”
“One of them is in my math class. The Australian one, I think.”
“If it weren’t for the accent and the glasses, I’d think they were the same person.”
“Yeah, I know! They’re, like, exactly the same!”
I close my locker. "You're all exactly the same," I mumble. Then I swing my backpack and stroll off.
“What is with her?”
“I don’t know. Lona's weird.”
My lip curls up. Weird is good.
Ni hao, Lao Shi! I stroll into Chinese, late as usual, and slip into my corner. Kai is wearing a red-and-black sweatshirt today, with a keyboard snaking down the zipper. I pull out my notebook and run my hands through my hair, making it stick up.
“Ni hao,” I say.
"Ni hao." He nods, doesn't smile.
I pull out a red pen and draw molecules on a clean sheet of notebook paper. The boy in the hoodie flips his hood up and acknowledges the board with one carbon-black eye.
Vivian Holland has been writing stories with chemistry metaphors since she was 15 years old and is thrilled to be a part of this experiment. Read more at vivianholland.com or @VivWritesStuff.