2011 Second Prize in Prose

Electron Affinity by Dana Lew

            Our starting gate is a bench in the empty hallway, the boy's bathroom is two steps on the left, the girl's two steps on the right.  We try to have a fair countdown, but we both start on 3 anyway, too excited at this new challenge—being the first one in and out of the bathroom—to  wait for the word “Go.” I have the disadvantage. Girls aren't made for bathroom competitions, but as I open the door to the girl's bathroom, I hear Max slam headfirst into the door across the hall.  His hand must have missed the doorknob.  I don't have time to giggle.
            Max needs to beat me now because earlier today, in Chemistry, I brought the paper towels back to our table first.  He was at the dispenser first, but I grabbed his ribcage and pushed.  He is trying to gain weight, eating whole watermelons and bars of chocolate, but my footing is still sturdier than his.
            He didn't want to stay in AP Chemistry this year, always thinking of excuses to drop into a lower level class.  He told me that we are only sophomores, and he isn't all that good at science, and he's a boy.  I begged him to stay with me, but now, he can't wrap his head around quantum mechanics and I am acing every test.
            We were doing a lab today, playing with water and soap and surface tension.  When the school year was young, we signed a paper with lab rules on it, but nobody read them.  Our teacher said that we all should know them by now and then started to mock them. She specially loved rule number 53.
            Max had decided he had had enough of surface tension.  He understood how to make a paper clip float in a cup of water, and instead of waiting for the lesson on capillary action, he  moved to vacuum action. There was him, his face moving closer and closer to the capillary tube, not stopping to think that the soap would taste bad.  There was me, yelling his name and smacking his shoulder, telling him to stop.  There was the teacher, pretending she didn't hear or see us, but I saw the smirk crawling across her face as she turned around, remembering when she asked the class, “Why would they need rule 53?  Who on earth would feel the need to pipette by mouth?”

            As I try to close the door to my stall of the bathroom for the third time, I hear the door to the boy's bathroom closing.  The faster I try to close my latch, the faster it bounces back at me, but finally, I manage to find the lock.  I'm in and out faster than anyone I've ever known, but I am still ready to hear the door across the hall open, the triumphant yell.
            I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the way to the sink.  I can see that the week has started to wear on me, the 5:45 mornings and the 11:30 nights.  Our school had a delay this week, so embracing the extra hour I got back into bed. At 6:15 my phone woke me back up with a text message from Max.  I was hoping for something simple, a, “WE HAVE AN HOUR DELAY!”, but instead, the text read, “Can I layer gray on gray?”
            “How far apart are the grays?” I asked, thinking that an off white wouldn't look too bad next to heather gray.  He never answered. Walking into school I think of how he is going to see the girl he likes today, and so he probably wants to look nice.  I have watched him do this with other girls.  I know his moves by now.  The way he looks down at his hands when he talks, throwing facts about Mount Kilimanjaro, or Stephen Hawking, or a giant squid he was reading about last night.  Then he looks up when the girl he likes talks and uses a voice that he thinks will show her that he cares. The way that when they sit next to each other, he looks at her every so often, just obvious enough for her to notice. He doesn't look good today, but I don't say anything about his shirts.

            With the soap almost rinsed off my hands, I run.  Using my pants as a towel, I hope that what is left of the soap won't dry out my skin.  I barrel through the door and scan, but the hallway is still empty, so I lean against the wall, hoping to look just bored enough to bother Max.

            Earlier today, I asked Max if we could go to prom together and get married when we get older and be surgeons together, like we planned when we were younger.
            “Maybe.  Probably.” He says, talking about prom. “If I don't have a girlfriend or something, okay?”
            “So I'll probably have to find my own prom date?”  I challenged him.
            “No, I probably won't have a girlfriend, don't worry.”  He is lying and we both know it, but I let it slide.
            “Why are we friends?” I ask.  “Because if someone met each of us separately, they would never think we were best friends, you know?”
            “We're like a covalent bond.” he says.  “We just fit.”

            Max comes out of the bathroom at a run.  His eyes (“Hazel, not brown. And do you see those black flecks, they mean I'm special!”) are wild, but finally, they rest on me.
            “I win.”

<Thornton Wilder Writing Competition