We have a normal family dinner again and I find myself wishing Dad wouldn’t take his next job. Now that Mom is coming home earlier from work, we’re like those families on commercials where everyone sits down and passes big steaming bowls of food around. It’s cool. We’re sitting around listening to one of Dad’s stories about a mishap on his last set when the doorbell rings.
“I’ll get it!” Keith yells, jumping up and tearing for the door. I expect it to be one of his grimy little freshman friends but I hear Kara’s voice and remember our homework date.
“There’s Kara,” I say, and I start to get up. Mom puts her hand over mine.
“Wait,” Mom says, and she looks at Dad. “We wanted you to know that Michael called and told us what you did today.”
“Are you okay with that?” I ask, alarmed. It dawns on me that they hadn’t wanted to discuss it at dinner in front of Keith and that’s why they’d waited for this stolen moment.
“I’m proud of you, honey,” Dad says.
Mom nods. “It’s up to you. I like who you are becoming, Jess.”
For some reason that makes me get choked up and I smile but the corners of my mouth tremble.
“Thanks,” I say, hugging Mom. Dad pats my back. Kara walks in and stands uncertainly in the doorway. Keith pushes past her and sits back down to finish his dessert.
“Hey,” I say to Kara. “Want to study in my room or in the office?”
“Let’s go to your room. Hi,” she says shyly to my parents.
“Hello, Kara. Do you want a brownie? I baked a double pan.”
“Um . . . sure. Thanks.” Kara takes the brownie that Mom hands her in a napkin. I grab a second one and we go in the kitchen and each get a small glass of milk before going upstairs to my room.
We eat and wash the chocolate off our hands before even cracking our books. I don’t have too much homework but I want to start working on my science fair project. I pull the packet out of my backpack, careful not to upset the other books that teeter recklessly on the chair beside me.
“What do you think?” I ask Kara. “I want to do something on the science fair about the garden.”
Kara thinks a minute. “I have an idea. I saw this funky movie at my ex-step-mom’s house about how this guy wrote words on these water bottles and then afterward froze the water and photographed the ice up close. The ones with nice words like ‘Love’ and ‘Peace’ had these cool snowflake-looking patterns in them, but the ones marked with words like ‘War’ and ‘Hate’ had these ugly marks when it was photographed.”
I stare at her, wondering what she’s saying. “How does it work?” I ask.
“Well, I can’t remember exactly but I think the water was frozen first and then some thoughts or words were sent to the water. Or sometimes classical music was played. Either way the ones with harmonious thoughts made these cool bright crystals and the ones with negative thoughts just made weird patterns.”
I wonder how I can do something similar. “I can’t really freeze and photograph water. But maybe I can do something similar with plants?”
“Well, you still have seeds leftover, right? Maybe you could plant them and be nice to some of them and mean to others and measure the difference in their growth or something?”
I laugh at the idea of being mean to a plant. In fact, the idea of it sort of bothers me, but it sounds interesting. “That might work! Do you think I have time?”
“The project isn’t due for five more weeks,” Kara reads, pointing to the flier.
“That’s enough time to measure the differences in growth, right? I mean, it’s only been a week and our garden is growing already.”
Kara smiles and her black-rimmed eyes brighten. “I’ve never had a garden before.”
“You have one now. And you’ll be eating vegetables from it soon!”
“I’m not a huge vegetable fan but who cares,” Kara says with a laugh.
“I’ll write up the thesis while you do your homework.”
Kara takes the goldenrod flier from my hand to read it more closely. “Hey, I got this exact same thing at school. You know that I would be going to Hollywood High if I weren’t in continuation school, right?”
“Yeah, you’d be a senior. I know.”
“Well, maybe we can work on this together. This flier says you can have a partner.”
The Granddaughter sensation comes over me at the prospect of working with Kara on the project, especially since we share the garden too. “I’ll call Suzi and ask her if it’s okay, but I have a feeling it will be. She’s the science geek I told you about.”
“I never thought you’d be hanging with geeks,” Kara says.
“Did I mention she has a nose ring?” We both laugh. “I’ll call her right now.”
Even though I’m exhausted from our all-nighter, I get up early before school and check on our now-completed science project. After homework last night we begged Dad to take a quick trip to Home Depot. Dad helped us by staying up late and building something called a cold frame for the plants in his newly buffed-out workshop in the garage. The cold frame is basically a wooden box with no bottom, and it has a piece of clear acrylic glass on a hinged top to protect the plants. He built two identical ones. They are side by side, one with the words WAR, HATE, DESTRUCTION painted in black letters on the front and the other says PEACE, LOVE, GRATITUDE on it, painted in purple and with little colored peace sign and butterfly stickers all around the letters. Using some of Dad’s old set lights we lit up the back yard like daytime and we worked till one in the morning, first measuring the dirt and the water so each squash plant has the exact same growing medium and we put three seeds in each plastic pot. We set up a big lidded bucket for the water and we will measure it out to give the exact same amount for each plant every time we water. We have six pots in each cold frame. I’m excited about the project. When I dip the measuring cup in the bucket to water I focus on the words painted on the side of the cold frame and send that message to each plant. I want to talk to the plants like I do the others in the garden but I refrain, knowing it could contaminate our scientific results. I open both of the cold frames one inch to allow ventilation. After school Kara will come and close the cold frames and water again, and she’ll also send the words written on the cold frames mentally to the plants. Every three days we have to photograph the plants to record our results.
I clean up and get dressed, ready for my second day back at school. I’m not even worried about what people will say about me today. Let them talk. What do I care?
Time marches on, they say. Whatever that means. The plants continue to grow in the cold frames in my backyard. In the three weeks since we started our science fair experiment I have come to hate, really loathe, the plants in the War and Destruction cold frame. They are eeky, oily little buggers, twisted and deformed, but they are still growing like the cockroaches that they are. I’m appalled at myself for not being able to love them or to give them any comfort when I send them thoughts about war, hate, and destruction. Kara tells me she feels the same way about them.
In the Hippie cold frame, as we call it, the love and peace thoughts have brought us forth a bouquet of darling squash plants that curl and vine around their little box home with abandon. Kara and I are in love with these plants and we are both shocked that our experiment has worked, and we are really proud of ourselves for the amount of time and commitment that we’ve put into it. Mrs. Bandy, the science teacher, came and looked at our experiment becauseSuzi told her about it. She is really impressed with us, which feels great.
I write in my journal about this and other things. It’s been the best month I’ve had in a long time. Jimmy has been a dull ache that plagues me sometimes, especially when I see him at school and he bats his eyes at me in a sad way. I’ve even cried a few times over him. And sometimes I wake up with a start thinking that I’m missing an appointment with Michael, and then I remember I don’t see him anymore. It’s really weird that these spirits still haunt me, ghost pains like missing appendages that I can still feel.
Outside the day sparkles bright as LA days do, and I pine for The Granddaughter. She hasn’t come to see me in a long time and I fear she is unable to return to me. I wrack my brains trying to remember what she said to me last– her words have been swallowed up by each passing day. I call out to her mentally and she doesn’t come. It’s like empty nest syndrome, that thing my mom’s friend has because her college-age daughter moved out and after years of being a soccer mom, she’s now all alone.
Science fair day turns out to be a bigger deal to me than I thought it would be. Kara and I carefully pack up our plants and the cold frames in Mom’s minivan. We bring the colorful cardboard display that includes photographs documenting the growth of our plants and the way we conducted the experiment. Some of the War plants have died, and all but one of our Hippie plants are thriving beyond expectation. Suzi says there’s a lot of buzz in the science club about our project, so when we get to school a whole bunch of science geeks come and help us unload everything and carry it to the gym. We quickly set up our display in an area marked “Biology” and then go and wander around and look at the other entries. There are more than I thought there would be . . . at least 200.
“All the sophomores in biology had to participate,” says Suzi as Kara and I walk around with her. “And a lot of people want the twenty extra credit points for their science grades. Like you.”
I smile. That was originally my intent, but since then science has sort of sparked my interest and now my grade is going to be a B anyway.
“There’s Jimmy,” I say in a low voice to Kara and Suzi.
Kara sighs. “He’s a real hottie.” I smack her arm. “Well he is!”
I look him up and down and he glances over at me then looks back to Cristabelle, who, in a putrid twist of fate, he’s hooked up with.
“Yeah, he is fine, damn him!” I agree. We all giggle as we meander down the makeshift aisles grouped loosely as Biology and Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Physics, and Engineering.
There are some interesting experiments, I have to admit. I’m surprised by what kids at my school have come up with. There are projects on global warming, water pollution, black holes, and some bizarre stuff like something called a parallax, the effects of cooking with fresh vs. canned pineapples, the heat coagulation of egg proteins, and even a description of why the sky is blue.
The school bell rings but it’s Saturday so we know it means that judging will start soon and we need to get back to our display in case the judges have questions. I clutch Kara’s arm as we head toward the Biology aisle.
“See ya,” Suzi says as she ducks into the Physics aisle. “Good luck!” I beam at her. The gym comes alive with nervous excitement. I see my mom and dad in the bleachers and wave at them from our booth.
Next to us a cute guy with long black dreadlocks is still setting up his display boards. I can’t tell what nationality he is other than he has beautiful latte-colored arms. I find myself staring at him almost trance-like until Kara nudges me. He looks up and smiles. His teeth are white and even, really beautiful. It makes me wish I’d been to the dentist more.
“Hi,” he says to me, and I actually feel light-headed, he’s so good looking. Kara nudges me again. I realize I haven’t answered him and I blush.
“Oh . . . hi,” I say. We both laugh.
“Uh . . . cool project. I got so busy reading yours that I forgot to set mine up.” He smiles again and I get that deja vu, the-universe-is-one kind of feeling.
“Thanks,” I say. “I’m Jessie. This is Kara.”
“Taz,” he says, smiling again. We shake hands for some reason.
I think I’m in love.
The judges finally round the corner and Kara and I anxiously hop from foot to foot while we wait for them to come to our table. They look at our project and read all about Dr. Emoto’s experiment with water that inspired us. The judges, all professors from UCLA, look at one another and nod. Mrs. Bandy, who is escorting them, winks at me and Kara. The judges check a few marks off on their clipboard sheets and walk away without asking us any questions. Now we just have to wait.