Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

As you can imagine, everyone was pretty exhausted by the time homecoming weekend ended and Monday rolled around the corner. I'm not even kidding, at least one kid in every one of my classes was falling asleep with their head down on their desk. As for me, I felt pretty worn out too, mostly from staying up past midnight on Sunday doing last minute homework. Not to mention the on the Saturday night of the dance when I stayed up until like four.

When lunch ended and I walked into fifth period chemistry I notice that Ms. Ghafarri has already written on the whiteboard in big blue letters: Science Project! I almost groan out loud. There is nothing I hate more than projects. Besides taking tests, doing projects is my second least favorite thing about school. I sit down at my desk in the back of the classroom and quickly pull my light brown hair back into a ponytail. I then take out my mechanical pencil and agenda and copy down the homework off the board.

As I'm copying, I see Daniel walk in, apparently texting on his phone. He then looks up for a moment and sees me and grins. I grin back at him and my Monday gets just a little bit better.

Once the bell rings and everyone's in their seats, Ms. Ghafarri gets up from her desk and comes to stand in the middle of the classroom.

"So as all of you can see from the whiteboard, today I am going to be introducing our first major project for this year!" she says excitedly.

Nobody in the class bats an eye and I hear one kid in back of me curse under his breath.

"Anyway," Ms. Ghafarri continues, apparently disappointed by our reactions, "the project involves conducting your own science experiment! You can either work by yourself or with a partner," she says and begins to pass out a project rubric to each of us and the requirements for it. To my dismay, the packet containing all of the project info is six pages long! There's no way...

"So there are a list of topics that you could include in your experiment in this packet or you can think of one yourself and just run it by me before you get started," Ms. Ghafarri explains, interrupting my thoughts. "Remember, after you select what you want to investigate through your experiment you must come up with a hypothesis that explains essentially what you are trying to prove," she says.

I flip through the packet to the page where we have to write the hypothesis, followed by the items used, procedures, collective data, and our conclusion. My stomach sinks. It's not even the end of the first quarter yet and we already have to do this huge, time consuming project. It's like the middle school science fair all over again! Maybe I could somehow find my experiment from the seventh grade and pretend that it's my project for this year. That is, if my mother didn't throw it away. If she did then I'm screwed!

"Ok, so now you guys have the rest of class to brainstorm ideas for your experiment and feel free to come up to my desk and ask me anymore questions if you already know what you want to do for it!" Ms. Ghafarri says, and then returns to her desk and continues typing on her laptop.

I look around and see a few people pairing off for the project but mostly everyone is working alone, surprisingly. I stare down at the rubric and sigh, tapping my pencil against the desk, struggling to think of something simple to do for my experiment. I look up briefly and notice Daniel is also still sitting at his desk, texting underneath it. I wonder who he's texting. Julia? Oh god, I hope not. I stand up and walk over to him, paper and pencil in hand.

"Hey Daniel," I say, smiling, "Do you want to work with me on this project?" I ask, laughing a little, hoping he'll say yes.

He looks up from underneath his desk. "Oh, hey Nora! Sure we can work together," he says, putting away his phone.

"Ok, great!" I say and pull over the desk next to his and turn it so that I'm facing him.

"So, have you got any ideas?" I ask him, twirling a stray piece of my hair around my finger.

"Nope," he says bluntly.

"Ok, well we can always just choose a topic from this list," I suggest, referencing the packet Ms. Ghafarri gave us.

"Ok," Daniel says distractedly, turning to the page I'm looking at.

I look at him and he has this expression on his face that I can't quite read. I wonder if it has something to do with the person he was just texting.

"What about something having to do with baking? I'm pretty good at that, and you don't have to do any of the baking part, you can just make whatever observations that need to be made. Or we could do--"

"Hey Nora can I have your number?" Daniel suddenly interjects.

I stare at him for a few seconds in surprise. "Oh, yeah of course," I say, taking my phone out of the back pocket of my denim shorts.

After we both exchange numbers, I suddenly feel more confident, so I then say to him, "why don't we just meet at the library some day after school or something and do more work on this?"

He nods slowly. "Yeah, that sounds good. Maybe not the library though."

My heart does a little skip. "Ok, what about your house?" I ask nonchalantly.

"No! I mean---I think we should work on it at your house, if that's ok with you," he says quickly.

"Um, ok," I reluctantly agree, ignoring the fact that he just invited himself over to my house. "Yeah, that'd be great!" I say more enthusiastically, "of course we can always talk about it at lunch too since we both sit at the same table and all."

"Alright," Daniel says, giving me a familiar half smile.

I smile back at him and then spot his phone lighting up in his open backpack. I try to covertly read what the text says but Daniel reaches down and turns it off, and then puts it in the side pocket of his backpack. I pretend like I wasn't interested in what it said and instead fake read the project rubric.

When class is over, I move the desk I was sitting at back to its original place and go back to my own desk. As I am putting my pencil and paper away, I spot Daniel looking at his phone again as he is walking out of the classroom. If he is texting Julia, then I'll just have to accept it. Maybe they're secretly dating and haven't told any of our friends yet. However, having a secret relationship with someone doesn't really seem like something Daniel would do. I recalled him making a remark to me on the first day of school. He said that I was really quiet, but if anything, he seemed like the more quiet one to me. Or maybe he just didn't like me very much. No, if he didn't, then why was he always smiling at me and saying hi to me in the hallways and such? I remember the look he had on his face when he asked me for my cell phone number. He looked genuinely interested in working with me on this project and taking the time to get together and work on it. He almost looked excited about it.

I sling my backpack over my shoulder and walk out of the classroom and down the hallway. I unlock my iPhone and look at Daniel's name in my contacts list. It looks good there.

The next day at lunch, I show up at our usual table outside with Lizzie and Julia already sitting there. Julia is reading Catcher In The Rye for her English class while biting into an apple. She doesn't even look up when I stand over her.

"Hey Nora," Lizzie says, smiling up at me and then pats the spot on the bench right next to her. I sit down there opposite Julia who still has her head in that stupid book. A few minutes later, Jake, Asher, and Andrew show up joking around about some math teacher that they all thought was super hot.

"Yo, have you guys checked out the new Grand Theft Auto? I just got it on Sunday!" Andrew says grinning haughtily.

"Oh my god, go and talk about that somewhere else, that's all I've heard people blabbing about for the past week!" Lizzie moans.

"You're just jealous that you didn't get it yet," Andrew says, leaning over the table with his elbows.

Asher takes a grape off of his lunch tray and chucks it at Jake and he catches it in his mouth.

"Oh!" they both cheer and high five each other. Asher then continues to toss the grapes at Jake and he continues to catch them with his mouth.

"You got nothing on me Jake," Andrew says, "here, Asher, try me."

Asher throws a green grape in Andrew's direction. Andrew stands up a little, opening his mouth wide. But instead of the grape landing in his mouth, it hits his chin and goes underneath his shirt. Everyone at our table except Julia cracks up as Andrew shakes the grape out of his shirt and it drops onto the ground.

I laugh and take a bite of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That's when I notice Daniel sitting not far away from us on a bench by himself. He's wearing a black beanie today instead of the grey one I saw him wearing at the first football game. He's looking down at his phone while drinking a can of Diet Coke.

"What's Daniel doing by himself over there?" I suddenly ask.

Andrew looks over at him and Lizzie stops laughing.

"I don't know. I guess he likes being alone," Andrew shrugs.

"But I thought you guys were friends," I say suspiciously.

"Yeah, he doesn't really seem to like me all that much. I'm pretty sure it's because I'm exciting and interesting and he's boring as fuck," Andrew says smirking.

My eyes widen.

"Oh, not to mention the fact that he totally led Julia on!" Lizzie says pointedly.

"What do you mean?" I ask, relieved that my theory about her and Daniel being in a secret relationship wasn't true.

"Julia, why don't you tell Nora what happened," Lizzie says and Julia looks up finally to speak.

"I tried to make a move on him at the after party on Saturday. He resisted me and said that he only thought of me as a friend. Can you believe that? What a douchebag!" Julia says with resentment.

I feel like telling her that just because Daniel doesn't want to be her boyfriend doesn't mean he's a douchebag but I of course, keep my mouth shut and just nod sympathetically.

"I'm sorry Jules, that must really suck," I tell her and she doesn't respond. Okay.

I look back over at Daniel who's now putting his earbuds in and going over to a trash can to throw out his Coke. I silently will him to look my way and to come over and talk to us. Instead, he barely looks in our direction and returns to the bench he was sitting at.

"Hey, what are you staring at?" Asher says to me in a patronizing tone of voice. He puts his arm around me and I try not to flinch. Ever since the incident at homecoming, I've tried to avoid any physical contact with Asher for as long as possible. Today, he was breaking it, acting like nothing was wrong between us and stroking my hair with his right hand.

"Haha, Asher's petting you, Nora!" Jake laughs, imitating Asher and I by stroking Andrew's hair in an exaggerated manner.

"Dude, what the hell?" Andrew says and pushes Jake off him. Jake just chuckles and tries to stroke Julia's hair and she smacks his hand away.

If only I could do that to Asher.

"I wasn't staring at anything," I respond, and take another bite of my sandwich, willing him to take his hand off my thigh.

When he finally does, I get up to throw my trash away. I turn around and see Daniel getting up from the bench and he looks over at me. I wish I could smile at him or wave but I don't want my friends to suspect anything. Wait, suspect what? I turn away and walk back over to my friends' table. I decide it would be a good idea for me not to tell them that I'm currently working on a major chemistry project with Daniel. After all, Julia would probably be furious, not to mention Asher.

I look over at Asher and notice that he is staring at something quizzically. I follow his eyes and realize that he is looking at my wrist. My wrist that has a scar on it from the cut I made. I non conspicuously pull the sleeve of my creme colored sweater from Forever 21 down, in order to cover my wrist. Asher quickly looks away and begins to develop a hardened expression on his face. I pray that he doesn't think anything of what he just saw, but knowing him, he probably can guess what the scar is from.

At the end of the day, I am able to catch up to Daniel walking ahead of me and talk to him about our project. It's the only excuse I really have to talk to him now that he doesn't hang around my friends anymore.

"Hey, Daniel," I say.

He turns to look at me and gives me a half smile. "Hey, Nora, what's up?" he says.

"I was just wondering about when you wanted to work on our project for chemistry. I mean, I'm free after school today if you want to work on it at my house." After I said this, I immediately regretted it. How desperate can a girl sound?

Thankfully, Daniel doesn't seem to care. "Sure, we can go to your house f you want," he replies.

"Ok, you can just come with me on my bus," I offer.

"Alright, sounds good," Daniel nods.

All of a sudden, through the crowds of students, I spot Lizzie talking to Anna Flynn at the water fountain near the front entrance. My heart starts to pound. She can't see Daniel and I talking together!

I decide to pretend that Daniel just happens to be walking next to me, and pull out my phone, intentionally ignoring him.

Thankfully, Lizzie doesn't see me with him because she is too busy giggling at something that Anna told her. When we are finally free and outside of the school building, I lead the way to my bus and get on, Daniel close behind me.

"We can just sit here," I say, and plop down in a seat in the middle of the bus. Daniel slides in next to me and accidentally bumps my arm. I look down and see that our knees are almost touching. I scooch over a little so I can be closer to the window.

The entire bus ride we sit in silence. Mostly everyone else on the bus is chattering away, but not us. Daniel has his earbuds in and I can tell that he is listening to some rap artist but I don't know which. They all sound the same to me. As he stares ahead, I look out the window, my mind racing. I can only imagine what Asher would say if he saw Daniel and I together. But we weren't together because we wanted to be. We had to because we would fail chemistry if we didn't get this project done, most likely. I didn't know anyone else in my class and Daniel didn't know anyone either so that's why we were working together.

When the bus lets us off at my stop, we only had to walk down the street and around the corner. My mom's house is smaller than our old house was with my dad. It's only one story like most middle class homes in our area with a Spanish style roof and it is shrouded by palm trees. Of course, my mom's car is gone from our garage, and our next door neighbor, Clyde Davidson, is out working in his garden again, tending to his forever dying plants.

I walk up to the side door where my mom usually keeps her car parked and unlock it with my spare key. When I open the door I let Daniel step inside first and be both walk through the mud room and enter the living room area and adjoining kitchen.

"You can just set your stuff wherever," I say, while going to place my backpack in its usual spot in my bedroom.

When I walk back out into the living room, Daniel is awkwardly standing there with his backpack still slung over his shoulder.

"You can just place your backpack there," I say, pointing towards the rail that separates our circular dining table and the area around it from the living room area.

Daniel sets it down next to the rail and then asks, "Where can I sit?"

I can't help but giggle a little into the palm of my hand. He's acting as if he's never been over someone else's house before. Similar to a caged animal being let loose into the wild.

"What's so funny?" he smirks as he sits back on the olive green colored couch.

"Oh nothing," I say with a sigh and sit down in an arm chair across from him.

"Do you have any thing to drink?" Daniel asks after a moment of silence passes through.

"Yeah, I'll get you something," I offer, getting up from the arm chair and walking into the kitchen. I open the fridge and peer inside.

"There's Arizona Iced Tea, pink lemonade, Dr. Pepper, Coca Cola, milk, and orange juice," I call out to him.

"Yes, I know I'm right here," a voice says right behind me. I jump and turn around to find Daniel standing right behind me. I start laughing hysterically for no reason at all. He smirks and when I finally calm myself down he asks if he can have a Coca Cola.

"Yeah, sure," I say, my voice still shaking with laughter.

After I hand him a tall iced glass of the Coca Cola, we head back into the living room.

I take my chemistry notebook out of my backpack and bring it into the living room. I open it up to a clean page and write down Chem. Project Ideas as the header.

"Ok, so how do you feel about plants?" I ask, trying not to laugh at the strange question.

Daniel raises his eyebrows at me and then sighs, "Well," he says, "I did have a thing with this ficus not long ago, but it didn't last long."

After he makes this joke we both laugh until I can almost feel tears at the corners of my eyes. I know I can't lose my cool around him though and look like a complete idiot so I turn serious again.

"Ok, seriously, though, we have to think of something," I say insistently.

"Yeah, you're right sorry," Daniel says putting his hand over his mouth and I assume that he's thinking.

During those few seconds of silence my eyes wander around the living room, desperate for an idea for our project, when suddenly, my eyes land on the Coca Cola glass on the table.

"That's it!" I exclaim, "we can do an experiment involving Coca Cola!"

Daniel looks at me and then smiles. "You're a genius, Nora," he says to me, and I feel myself blushing.

"No, not really," I say dismissively.

"What are we going to experiment with it?" Daniel asks curiously.

"We can do something similar to this Coca Cola and Mentos experiment that I've seen on YouTube. Only, we can put something else into it maybe and see how it reacts," I suggest, hoping that doesn't sound stupid.

"Sure! That's a great idea," Daniel says and then holds up his glass of Coke and drinks more of it.

After another half an hour discussing when we're gonna get together again and who's going to do what part of the project, we both settle on us working on it at my house again next Monday. Until then, we'll briefly discuss about it before class and I'll be in charge of typing up the procedures and Daniel says he can buy all the ingredients for the experiment.

When we're finished going through everything, I feel pretty relieved that we were able to come up with an idea and that there wasn't any trouble or disagreements. And to my surprise, Daniel seemed very willing to do his share of the work.

"So I guess we'll chill here again next Monday, huh?" he says as I walk him to the front door.

"Definitely, and we can also talk during Chemistry too all this week," I assure him before hesitating and going on to say, "and we can talk at lunch too if you want."

"Ok," Daniel says, giving me one of his signature half smiles.

"Are you still sitting with us at lunch?" I ask in a small voice, realizing I sound pathetic.

Daniel shrugs. "If you want me to come over and sit with you just holler," he grins.

I feel like saying that he didn't answer my question but I decide not to say that. After all, I would sound totally desperate if I continued to press him on the issue.

Instead, I open the door for him to leave and he steps out before turning to face me again. He stares at me for a moment as if he wants to say something else.

"You said your older brother is picking you up?" I ask, afraid of knowing what he would have said next.

"Yep, he should be here soon. I'll just start walking," Daniel says.

"Ok, see you tomorrow!" I say as he starts to walk away.

"See ya, Nora!" He says, giving me a salute.

For a few minutes I stand outside there with the front door still open behind me. I cross my arms over my chest and lean against it as my eyes follow Daniel walking away. His black Swiss Gear back pack hung loosely over his shoulders, his hands in the pockets of his grey sweatshirt, and with his earbuds in, tucked underneath his black beanie. He rounds the corner and soon his figure disappears. I then turn to walk back inside my house and close the door behind me.

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