“I’m going to be sick,” Beth said.
Jack thought she was just saying it, until she charged out of the class. Patty turned the folded slip of paper around, and pressed it open against the top of the lab table.
“Guess it’s not Beth’s lucky number, either,” she said with a shake of her head.
“Switch with her,” Jack said.
“Please,” he said. “We were supposed to partner up on this. It’s how they did it every year.”
Patty scowled, and snatched her hands away from the desk.
“Sorry, Jack, but it’s the luck of the draw. We’ll just have to make the best of it.” She took Beth’s seat next to Jack.
“All right,” Mr. Abrams said, as he walked between lab tables, handing out yellow sheets. “Here are your birth certificates. If your number was black, congratulations, it’s a boy. Red, and you’re the proud parents of a baby girl. Please be sure to fill out all the information….”
“I wanted a girl,” Patty said, pouting.
* * * * *
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Jack stopped, looking back at Patty. The hand that wasn’t holding the bag of flour was on her other hip.
“It’s lunch,” Jack said. “I was going to—”
“We have a project to work on,” Patty said, hefting the bag of flour.
“It’s lunch hour,” Jack repeated, and turned to head down the hall towards his nook behind the gym.
Patty’s hand closed on the sleeve of his coat. “Since you still live in the stone age, we’ll have to use the computers here at the library. Unless you want to do the research over at my house after school.”
Jack tried to say something, but it was as if all the moisture had suddenly left his mouth. His tongue felt like sandpaper, as he tried to swallow.
“Beth’s dad has a computer. We were going to use his….”
Patty’s eyes had narrowed at the mention of the other girl’s name. “She has her own lab partner to worry about. We have to think about our own grade. And Herbert, of course.”
Jack’s stomach growled. But he gave a sigh, and turned around, heading towards the library. Patty hadn’t let go of his coat.
* * * * *
Beth pushed away from the wall as Jack charged down the hall, holding the art room door for him.
“Hey,” Jack gasped, leaning over, sucking in deep breaths.
“How was lunch?”
“She dragged me to the library. You know the rules about food or drink near the computers. She had a screaming match with Mrs. Simms about bringing Herbert near the computers.”
Beth arched an eyebrow. “Herbert?”
Jack winced. “She didn’t like any of our choices. And the bell was going to ring.”
Jack shook his head, and dropping his bag beside the the stool, and hopped up.
“What about you? You didn’t come back.”
“Hannigan saw me coming out of the girl’s room, and sent me to the nurse’s office. So I took a nap.”
“And the nurse got you up in time to make it back here?”
She have Jack a shove in the arm. “I’ve been sleeping. I got up in plenty of time to get here. Unlike somebody else.”
“She—” Jack growled in frustration, made strangling motions with his hands. Then he swiveled his wrists and wiggled his fingers, as though typing. “‘Just one more thing!’” he said, pitching his voice higher.
Beth stifled a laugh.
“I should have done the straight reading assignments,” Jack muttered, and then the final lunch bell rang.
* * * * *
“No dough boy?” Beth asked, dropping into the seat in front of Jack.
He shook his head. “Patty wanted to take it home. She said something about clothes for it.”
“Somebody is way too into this whole thing.”
Jack could only nod in agreement.
“What?” Jack asked.
“I’m sure she’s looking forward to every moment the two of you will be spending together.”
Jack groaned. “Do you have to remind me?”
A wad of crumpled-up paper bounced off the back of Jack’s head, and he turned.
“Oops,” Kyle said. “Sorry. I wasn’t aiming at you, Shrimpy.”
Beth put a hand on Jack’s arm, squeezing as his hand balled into a fist. “Mark a calendar,” she said. “He actually apologized.”
“I was aiming for my lab partner.”
Beth’s hand tightened on Jack’s arm. She took a deep breath, then leaned, looking up over Jack’s shoulder.
“What do you want?”
“That paper. It has some questions and stuff on it. You’re going to look it all up so we can turn it in tomorrow.”
Jack was glad that his jacket was so thick, because Beth’s hand curled and she dug her fingernails in. Jack could hear them scratching against the heavy weave of his coat.
“Don’t go giving me that look. You should be glad I even gave you those questions, little miss run-out-of-class. Answers. Tomorrow.”
Beth leaned over, and picked up the wadded-up list. Kyle and his cronies began to laugh, and they traded high fives.
Beth side-armed the paper ball, and it hit Kyle’s coat, then bounced to the floor.
“Oops,” she said. “I was aiming for your head. I don’t know how I could have missed.”
Kyle stood up, squashing the homework questions. He ground his boot, then bent over and picked up the mangled mass of paper. He stomped the few steps to loom over Beth.
He leaned over, and his breath stirred the girl’s fine hair.
“Maybe you don’t get it,” he said. “You do the work. I have our little bundle of joy. I might forget him at home if you forget to do your homework.”
Beth’s lips pressed into a firm line.
“And if I do leave it at home, Rex and Mauler might decide they want to play. They like to play a little rough. There probably wouldn’t even be enough to make pancakes by the time they were done.”
Kyle slapped the wad of paper into Beth’s hand. “Answers.”
Beth stared at him for a long moment, and Jack saw the muscles along the side of her jawline fluttering.
“Hey! Siddown, back there!” Mr. Grady called as he revved the bus’ engine. He waited until Kyle had stomped back to his seat before hauling the door shut and pulling the bus away from the school.