“Father, do you think we could move to another town?”
He looked up from his bowl of chicken soup. His glasses were so steamed from the heat of the soup I couldn’t see his eyes. “Victoria! Why would you want to move?” He wiped his mouth with a napkin. “We’ve just gotten the house back into living condition, and—”
“I just hate school.”
“I know you do,” he sighed. “You’ve never really liked it. And I guess I can’t blame you.” He looked at me closely. “It’s pretty boring for you, isn’t it?”
I felt tears in my eyes. “It’s just so stupid, Father. And now the stupid science teacher is making me work with some stupid kid on a stupid Science Fair project.”
“That’s a lot of stupid.” He waited. “So what’s the problem? Is it someone you don’t like?”
“I hate him.”
“Him? You’re paired with a boy?”
“Yes, him, I’m paired with a boy!” I barked. “But it’s not that …” I couldn’t think of how to finish what I’d started.
“You don’t object to working with a boy, then?”
“No, not really.”
“You just don’t like working with anyone, is that it?”
I looked at my father, who, I realized, could not really see at all because of the thick coating of condensed soup-steam on his glasses. Silently, I rose from my chair and left the room. Later, I wondered how long he’d sat there before he realized I wasn’t in the room anymore.
The next day’s science class arrived too fast—much too fast. For after we turned in our homework, and after Mr. Gisborne talked about football for fifteen minutes (more or less his average), he said we would have the rest of the period to go to the library. “I want you with your partners,” he announced, “and I want you talking about your science fair projects.”
Half the class was out the door by the time he finished talking, but it didn’t seem to bother him very much. The last three out of the room, in this order, were Gil, Mr. Gisborne, and I.
“So have you got any ideas, Victoria?” Gil asked.
We had been sitting in silence in the library for a few minutes, unlike most of the rest of the kids in the class, who were talking about anything except science—until Mr. Gisborne, clipboard in hand, came by their table. Then there was some science talk, but it ended abruptly as soon as he moved on to the next table.
I had decided I wasn’t going to say a word. But now Gil had asked me a direct question, so I couldn’t really ignore him any longer.
“Do I have any ideas?” I repeated.
“That’s right,” he said. “For a project? Something we could do together?”
“How about something with human anatomy?” I began.
Gil began writing human anatomy on a sheet of paper.
“Sounds interesting,” he said.
“Yeah,” I went on. “I could vivisect you and explain to the judges what all your inside parts are.”
“Dissect means to cut open something dead,” I explained.
“And vivisect is—”
“For something alive.”
“Well, that’s nice,” Gil sighed. “At least you’re not going to kill me. We’re making progress here.”
I had to smile. This kid seemed to have a little bit of a sense of humor.
“There’s only two problems with that idea,” he went on.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“One … I hate pain.”
“Well, get used to it.”
“And two … it’ll be such a good project that we will get to go to the state science fair.”
“Why is that a problem?”
“Because I’ll be dead after the first night,” he said. “And I don’t think you could convince anyone else to, you know, take my place.”
“Well, what makes you think we’ll get to go to the state competition?”
“Whose got better-looking guts than I do?” he asked with mock seriousness. “They could win a beauty contest, no doubt about it.”
I couldn’t help it … I was smiling again.
“You’re pretty ridiculous,” I said finally.
“I know,” he replied. “Maybe that’s why Mr. Gisborne put us together.”
I was about to snap back at him for that insult when I saw Gil’s eyes look behind me, and I smelled Mr. Gisborne’s musky aftershave that was so powerful he must have splashed it on after every class all day long.
“You two making any progress?” he inquired.
“We’re thinking about human anatomy,” Gil offered.
“No,” said Mr. Gisborne.
“No?” Gil and I responded in unison.
“I want you to do something real,” he said, “not something with just charts and drawings. And since you can’t bring in a dead body …”
“We can’t?” replied Gil with pretended disappointment.
“What about a live one?” I asked.
Mr. Gisborne stared at me, his face slowly moving from white to pink to red. “Now look here … uh …” He was consulting his clipboard, trying to figure out my name.
“Vickie,” I said. “Vickie Stone.”
“That’s right … Vickie,” he said. “Now look here, this is no place for jokes and other attempts at being funny.” His voice got louder, and people around were starting to notice. “I’m getting sick of all this disrespect! All this make-fun-of-the-teacher stuff. If you want to be funny,” he snarled, “you can just march down to the office, and then we’ll see how funny you are.”
“Mr. Gisborne,” said Gil, “she wasn’t trying to insult you. She was just—”
“Down to the office!” Mr. Gisborne bellowed in the now-silent library. “Both of you!” Everyone was now staring at us. They couldn’t believe, I’m sure, that two of the quietest kids in the whole school had somehow done something to make Mr. Gisborne so angry. As we moved toward the door, I passed Harriet’s table. She reached out and touched my arm. Gently.