Chapter 1: Give me that defining moment!

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I run my fingers over the title and then actually sniff them.

"Neuroprosthetics and Brain-Computer Interface" by Gerard Yu.

I love the scent of ink and paper, and this particular paper, Gerard's paper, a classy, cream resume stock paper, not the regular matte stuff, smells of everything I want to be.

Next Spring - on April Fool's Day, no less (who says science geeks don't have a sense of humor, right?) - Gerard will be submitting his paper to the National Scientific Academy's Junior Masters Competition, which is so much more than a science fair. 

It is a forum for true revolutionary thought and lauds the kinds of ideas that can transform the world! If he wins, or even places, he will pretty much be allowed to write his own ticket. And not just to the university of his choice, which he can already do anyway.

See, the Junior Masters Competition follows you like an Olympic gold medal. All of your life, anyone who's anyone in the science community will point you out at a conference or an academic colloquium and say, "There's so and so. You know she was awarded the Junior Masters." You will be fought over like the last piece of chocolate pecan pie at Thanksgiving! Every article you endeavor to write will pretty much be a slam-dunk for publication, and research monies will follow you like a groupie.

Gerard's paper will be a serious contender, too, I guarantee that. It is a stunning piece of work that covers in literary detail everything from devices that enable to blind to see, and the paralyzed to feel and move, to true telepathic communication! 

Deep breath. Don't cry. It's that good. 

I've read it at least five times now and it has been like pondering a Monet - so many tiny dots of exquisite color, yet somehow they make up a whole. I ache just thinking about it and no, it's not envy talking. It's awe.

Gerard is my friend. Well, sort of. I've certainly known him forever, but it's only since I became a student assistant in Homework Club after school that I really became aware of the vast universe of ideas that live in his head. And you really never would know by looking at him, or even talking to him. I mean sure, Gerard Yu must be a certified genius like we all are - me and my friends and cohorts at Putnam - the educational sweatshop in the supersonic world of smartypants teens, as my Granny Lulu says. 

See, Gerard is quiet and meek, though. He never makes waves or even asks too many questions during class. Unlike me (cringe!). But that must be because Gerard's brain is always going on overdrive and he just can't summon the energy to participate much in school. 

Maybe he focuses all of his attention on the culling of data and the brilliant conclusions he seems to so easily be able to draw and then bring to life with his elegant prose? Or maybe he's only able to really articulate via the written word, and his lackluster bearing at school is the result of social ineptitude? Not uncommon in my world.

Hmm.

I drag my magnifier paperweight off the corner of my desk and use it to study the intricate little brain Gerard drew just above the title of his treatise. Nice touch.

"Neuroprosthetics and Brain-Computer Interface." I say it out loud, but I don't know if I can bear to read it again - even if I do kind of want to. Instead of running my fingers over the title this time, I place my right hand palm down on its face, like it's a Bible.

Out my bedroom window is the half moon, floating above a big bare walnut tree in our neighbor's yard. It looks down at me like Veronica Lake - that old black and white film star with the blonde hair that falls just over one eye. Beautiful. I take Gerard's paper off my lap and place it on my bed, smoothing a small dog-eared crease I'd made at the bottom right corner.

Folding my hands, I make a wish on that moon even though it's not a full moon, or a new moon, which according to my mom are the only moons you can really make a wish on. When I finish, I reach over to my desk and pick up my caramel and fudge sundae, swirling it into a thick porridge - just how I like it.

What I wish for is a defining moment, a true insight. 

The kind Einstein faced when he realized that Newtonian mechanics was not enough to square the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field, or the sort "the greatest generation" faced at the onset of World War II. One Gerard Yu seems to have sewed up every time he sits down and begins yet another stellar project. I spoon a gargantuan load of fudge and caramel and vanilla ice cream past my lips, not caring that it drips down the corners of my mouth.

Plucking my tablet off my night table, I sink into my bed, snuggling Gerard's paper the way I used to snuggle my stuffed koala bear, Sheila, before my brother Franco blew out her eyes with some left-over firecrackers. Sheila looked possessed after that.

But I'm too old for stuffed animals anyway. Mostly. I'll be getting a bonafide driver's license in a few months for the love of God (or goddess, as my mom would insist I say).

And I'm too old to be feeling sorry for myself, waiting for my defining moment to be handed to me like a certificate of participation is handed out to anyone these days.

"You make your own moments, baby girl," my dad would tell me, assuming I would ever admit to him that I'd been pining over the research and reflections of a better mind and making wishes on the moon. I know he's right, but I also know that my own Junior Masters effort - one titled "Perception, Action and Cognition: The Science of Individuality" - is not nearly good enough to compete with Gerard's.

My dad thinks it's good enough to win, but then, he hasn't read the competition.

I melt further into my mattress - my bowl of half-frozen sundae mush on my chest, my tablet balancing on my knees flashing my Netflix app, and Gerard's paper nestled under my arm. I turn my head and breathe in not just the ink and paper aroma this time, but the creeping smells of the daylight hours - kettle chips (my brother Franco's go-to snack for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and the vanilla-scented air freshener that my dad sprays in the bathroom every morning after he's had his second cup of coffee and has to deal with the products there of ;). I yawn and stretch, and by some miracle don't spill a drop of my ice cream.

Morning feels a long way away and I'm not even close to sleep.

I rub my eyes and take a last sip of my sundae - now soup. Carefully, I unravel my bun, pulling my tightly coiled ringlets down onto my shoulders. Feels good, but not good enough. Gerard's paper has begun whispering to me again. It is the "twinkle of the brightest star, the glimmer of the moon," as my favorite poet Sanober Kahn would say (don't mock me!). Tossing my tablet onto my daisy rug, I take three deep breaths.

I have to. I just have to read Gerard's paper one more time. And I have to, I just have to withdraw my own petition for submission in the Junior Masters Competition. Come April Fool's Day, this fool will not be tendering her own field work and meditations on cutting-edge brain science. Not this year. I'm not ready. Gerard's paper has made that eminently clear.

I just wonder how I'm going to tell my dad.

Hello, fantabulous readers! I would absolutely positively love feedback/comments! Even if your comments seem small, they are welcome. Encouraging words are always welcome ;). This is my first try at teen fiction, and as Twila would say - I want to rock this!! Thank you!


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