Thursday, December 24, 2009

One Drop

“You promised,” Jack said.

“I know! You can let go of my arm. I didn’t make any promises about not hitting you!

He slid his arm out from under Beth’s, and his pace slowed. Patty was waiting by the door.

“Where have you been? Class is about to start.”

“We had to look some stuff up,” Jack said. “Last minute.”

“What are you doing helping her? She isn’t your lab partner. I am. I had to take care of Herbert all by myself all day, get up, get him dressed.” Herbert was wearing a powder blue hat, embroidered along the edge with puppies. “And now I find you helping her!

Beth went rigid beside Jack, but he tromped on her foot.

“You insisted on taking it—”


Jack sucked in a deep breath. “You insisted on taking him,” Jack said, leaning on the word, “even though I said I’d be happy to. We finished our homework at lunch. Was there something else I was supposed to be doing?”

Patty’s breathing slowed considerably, and a smile flickered around her mouth, even if it didn’t reach her muddy brown eyes.

“So, how is your Fugwumpus doing?” she asked Beth.

Beth blinked. “My… what?”

Patty clucked her tongue, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, some mother you’re turning out to be, can’t even remember the name of your own child.” She reached past Beth, holding her hand out to Jack. “Come on, we don’t want to be late.”

Jack grabbed Patty’s hand, but it was only to keep Beth from charging through the doorway.

“Whoa there,” he said, leaning further over towards Patty, who hadn’t been expecting the sudden strain.

“Let me go,” Beth said, through clenched teeth.

“You promised!”

“That was before I found out he named it ‘Fugwumpus!’”

“Now you know what to fill in on line three,” Jack said, keeping his voice as steady as he could.

Tension ran out of Beth’s shoulders, and the fire flickered in her eyes. It didn’t die, but banked itself, as her lips slid from the snarl back into her usual serene smile.

“That hat is very cute,” she said to Patty.

The other girl shivered, tried to smile. “T-thanks. I made it myself.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Beth said, and Jack stepped aside. Beth swept past him, headed for Mr. Abrams’ lab table at the front of the class.

“Don’t want to be late,” Jack said, and motioned Patty through the door ahead of him.

* * * * *

“What are you doing?” Jack asked, as Patty took the seat next to him.

“What does it look like, silly? I’m sitting next to my lab partner.” She reached into her backpack, and pulled out a square of quilted cloth. She laid it on the table between them with a floruish, and took the bag of flour from her lap, sitting it in the middle of the… Jack supposed it was a flour-baby blanket.

“Did you make that?”

It was mostly light blue, like the cap that still adorned the top of the bag. But here and there were panels of darker blue, or red.

“I had some scraps laying around,” Patty, with a smile and exaggerated shrug.

Beth turned, hitching her backpack on her shoulder, and paused when she saw her seat was already taken. The smile that touched the corners of her mouth wavered, and a frown flowed briefly across her forehead.

She turned back to the teacher, and Jack couldn’t hear what she said, but saw Beth’s hands clench into fists atop the teacher’s desk when the man pointed towards Kyle.

Beth turned again, her back straight. She glanced once over at Jack as she marched over to the far side of the classroom. Jack didn’t miss the corner of her mouth rising in a smirk as Kyle shied away when she brushed past him from behind, nor how the bigger boy scooted his chair a bit further away as Beth took her new seat.

* * * * *

Mr. Abrams set Herbert on the scale, made a notation, and handed him back. Patty actually bounced the sack of flour as she took him from the teacher. Not that Jack hadn’t tired to take it. He got the paperwork, instead.

“So… healthy?” he asked, looking down at the mock medical form. How did his parents make any sense of this stuff?

“Picture perfect,” Mr. Abrams said. He picked up his scale and made his way through the class, weighing each couples’ flour bag. Some had been done up in doll clothes. One had a face drawn on it. Every now and then, Mr. Abrams would draw a slip from the pocket of his lab coat.

The science teacher actually groaned when he got to Kyle and Beth’s lab table. He set the badly crumpled bag on the scale.

“Mr. Thomasson,” the teacher said, not looking up as he wrote up their copy of the medical form.

Kyle looked up, a grin splitting his wide mouth. “Yeah?”

“Perhaps you could tell the class what happened to your boy, here?”

“Well, I guess I must have dropped it.”

“You guess?”

“Yeah. So what?”

“Mr. Thomasson, do you know what sort of effect that has on a newborn?”

“One drop isn’t going to hurt much. What’s the big deal?”

“See me after class, both of you.”

Kyle’s grin collapsed, and he glared over at Beth. But she was paging ahead through the unit packet.

Jack tried to linger near the door after class, but Patty hooked her arm through his, and dragged him down the hall towards the library.

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