"Remind me why I signed up for this class?"
"Oh, come on Matty, you know you love it."
"No. I really, really don't. And I don't get it either. I mean, okay. Degrees of freedom and electronegativity, okay, I got that. Everything else?" Matt Seely, high school junior, waved his hand over his head. "Swoosh. Right past me." He paused. "And don't call me Matty."
Nigel Townsend, a recent transfer from somewhere in England (Matt hadn't actually been paying attention when they did the whole 'introduction' thing; and if he had, would have forgotten it by now anyway), grinned. "That's what reading the textbook is for."
Matt grunted at his lab partner and buried his head in his arms, folded on top of the table. Sure, he could read the textbook and study and stuff, but he had tried reading the first chapter and nearly had a nervous breakdown. It was a new textbook, made for the attention deficit generation, so there was approximately fifty pictures on each page, half the words were underlined, bolded, italicized, or in rainbow color, and he only understood maybe a third of the words without the help of a dictionary. Besides, he had practice after school.
He was happily wallowing in his own misery (and ignoring that 'happily wallowing' was an oxymoron) when someone behind him hissed his name. "Psst, Seely! Seely! Psst!" He ignored it, and the voice shut up for a moment. Before he could start feeling triumphant over his victory, something smacked him in the back of the head. Matt jerked up, blurry eyed, and fell off of his stool onto the floor.
"Mr. Seely, get off of the floor and quit screwing around," the teacher snapped at him as he entered the room and set his briefcase down with possibly more force than necessary. Matt picked himself up and righted his stool, glowering at Woody Hoyt – the Wisconsin-born boy had the seat right behind Matt and was therefore the prime suspect for throwing whatever had hit Matt in the back of the head (he was also the only person in chemistry who had a lower grade than Matt). Woody, for his part, was looking entirely innocent and staring straight ahead. This convinced Matt that Woody was indeed the culprit.
Not that he could do anything about it for the next forty-five minutes. Macy was in a bad mood, and even when he wasn't in a bad mood, students didn't act up. (There were rumors that the last thing anyone had ever seen Peter Winslow do before he disappeared was mouth off to Macy – probably not true, or if true, unrelated to his disappearance, but why risk it?)
Macy glowered at them all for a long moment, and then quickly starting snapping off instructions too quick for Matt to follow. He finished off with "Now get into groups and complete the assignment!" and a glower. His eyes were kind of red. Matt would bet his week's lunch money that his esteemed chemistry teacher had a serious hangover. Maybe Principal Walcott would stop by for a visit and Macy'd get fired. Of course, then they'd probably get that Slocum guy again. Matt suppressed a shudder. Ugh, Slocum. He'd been as bad as Macy, plus he instituted a dress code for his class (this hadn't affected Matt much; his outfits where about as neat as you could get without wearing a suit). And Slocum hadn't known his stuff as well as Macy, either.
Matt sighed at his thoughts and moved his books to the edge of the table to make room for Bug's stuff (they didn't have set groups, but Bug pretty much always worked with Nigel, and Matt was just too plain lazy and stubborn to bother moving himself to another table). Nigel and Bug liked to complain about Matt mooching off of their work, but without him, their little science club would have been kicked out of their meeting room about five times over by the debate club – not that he had been hanging around the science club for any reason other than to beg them to help him with his homework. And he had only helped them out because the debate team's captain had stolen his girlfriend. (Not that Lily Lebowski had gone out with Matt more than that once, and Matt wasn't too broken up by their break up, but it was the principle of it all.)
Somehow, Matt managed to make it through the class period with all of his body parts and most of his sanity intact (although there had been a close call when one of the other groups let the local pyromaniac get her hands on a Bunsen burner). He gathered his backpack and was out like a shot when the bell rang, so over hanging with the geeks. And even over hanging with Woody, since the loser kept throwing things at him.
He didn't know what made him think the hallway would be better, because it never was. Everybody yelling across the hallway to their friends, footballs and the odd graphing calculator being thrown around, and, of course, the music. Loud trumpet noise spilling out from the band hallway, the inevitable Green Day song screeching from a stereo, and someone in the computer lab was blaring a song in Japanese. Matt clapped his hands over his ears and slid into the flow of traffic, twisting and navigating the crowd with an ease born of years of public schooling and a strong survival instinct.
"I'm not cutting up a frog." Woody Hoyt's voice was firm, loud, and bordering on hysterical.
"Quit being such a wimp, Hoyt! The thing's dead already." Matt Seely's voice was equally firm and loud, but with more than a touch of annoyance to sweeten the tone.
"So? That makes it worse!"
"You'd rather cut into a living animal?" Matt asked in disbelief, staring at his lab partner. Well, he'd always known Woody was weird (look at the girl he constantly mooned over, that was more than evidence enough). "You're a sick little freak."
"I didn't mean that!" Woody protested, but Matt had already grabbed their tray of dead frog and cutting utensils and moved as far away from Woody as possible.
Being that 'as far away as possible' was directly next to (and practically on top of) Bug, Bug was annoyed. "What do you want, Seely?"
"Woody wants to cut live animals. He scares me. So I'm sitting here." The logic was infallible (which, contrary to popular - coughJordancough - belief, was a word that Matt actually knew, thank-you-very-much). And, okay, so Matt knew Woody hadn't meant it the way it had sounded, and he wasn't really scared of his friend (or, well, friend when he's not throwing things, in any case). But it still gave him a decent excuse to sit next to Bug and Nigel. Which he only wanted to do in hopes that he'd absorb their intelligence through osmosis, seriously. No other reason. At all.
Well, it was generally a bad sign when you couldn't even fool yourself, wasn't it?
But in any case, despite the squeamishness and/or budding sociopathy of his lab partner, Matt had no problems with dissection. Except possibly the word 'dissection', since he always spelled it wrong and at some point had added the misspelled word to his computer's dictionary, so it never caught it in spellcheck. He also had a problem with doing frog dissections in a chemistry class, because that didn't make any sense, even to him. And he did not do science good. (Or English, it seemed.)
Matt decided that it must be because this was a large public high school in an urban setting, therefore nobody really paid any attention to what they were teaching as long as it kept the kids from getting into gang wars. Or something. Teachers were weird. But his point was actually proved when, ten minutes later, there was a clatter and a bang and then some loud screeching. Matt immediately dropped the tweezers and the internal organ being held in said tweezers in order to clasp his hands over his ears. (He had, of course, forgotten that the latex that covered his hands was then covered with slime and bodily fluids.)
Lily Lebowski was freaking out and bleeding all over the place from her position in the third row. This was probably not a good thing, but Matt still couldn't help snickering. Again, public school. The knives and scalpels they were using would make a butter knife seem sharp.
The class, of course, descended into pure chaos (not helped at all by the fact that Macy, who was supposed to be the responsible adult watching over them, had decided to step out, supposedly to go to the bathroom, but Matt was pretty sure he was having a little unauthorized drinking session in the teacher's lounge). Bug had fairly flown over to Lily's side and was trying to help her, with Nigel flitting about Bug like a crazed knat. In fact, Matt noted in amusement, the entire class, save two, were hovering around her.
He, of course, was still sitting with his goo-covered hands clasped to his ears. Then there was Kate Switzer, who'd transferred in that semester from a private school in the city and was a complete know-it-all bitch (and, for that reason, Matt's idol). And you could probably count Will, who was amongst the gaggle of concerned students entirely by virtue of sitting at the table next to Lily's, and was observing the hubbub with an innocent expression. (Sadly, this did not mean he had anything to do with the incident; it was just his default expression.)
After about five minutes (Matt's earliest report cards had carried notes of "exaggerates everything to an extreme degree; may be sign of psychological trauma") of never-ending panic and blood spurting all over the place, Matt had had enough. So Matt Seely did what any bored teenage boy would do in a similar situation, and grabbed a handful of frog guts and tossed them into the crowd.
...just in time for Macy to get back from his latest binge. Whoops.
"...and so I finally found my cell phone in the ice cream box." Matt nodded with a fake, appease-the-weirdo smile firmly affixed on his face and scooted away from the crazy, crazy kid who had randomly pulled up a chair and started to chatter at him five long minutes ago. He was just starting to pray for Macy , of all people, to show up, when the door opened. Matt was up faster than you could say kangaroo fandango (why you would want to is another story).
It wasn't Macy, but it did just as well. "IVERS!" Matt said in an overly loud, cheerful voice. "Just who I was looking for!" Will Ivers just stood still and blinked at him, which was not the result Matt usually got when he turned up the charm like that. (No, his mind mocked him, the response he usually got was being smacked, kicked, and/or verbally eviscerated. Blinking was a nice respite from that. Then his mind paused, and began to wonder where it had picked up such a geeky word as 'respite' from, and swore off hanging out with the geek squad anymore. So what if he failed science? He'd just go to community college, that was always an option, right?)
He flung an arm around Will's shoulders and guided him to a table far, far away from the crazy cell phone guy (which he didn't necessarily need to do, as said crazy guy had already zeroed in on Woody as his next target, and Matt could not imagine a better person for it to happen to). "So, Ivers, who are you taking to the dance?"
He felt more than saw Will staring at him. "Uh, it's a Sadie Hawkins dance."
"Yeah? What's your point?"
"Sadie Hawkins dances are when the girl ask the guys, not the other way around."
Matt made a dismissive gesture with his left hand. "Oh, we all know that girls really prefer having men in charge."
"YOU SEXIST PIG!" (Anywhere else, the blonde cheerleader hollering this out could have been an occasion to stop and stare. At this school, in this class, it was just ignored.) "I can't believe you just said that!"
In a rare moment of solidarity, scary girl Jordan Cavanaugh took the side of cheerleader Devan Maguire. "Oh, he's just saying that because he's too much of an immature asshole for any girl to ask him to the dance." She smirked, and all the other students nearby united to laugh at Matt (the same students who, seconds ago, had been ignoring the loud screeches Devan had been making - although, truth be told, Devan tended to call every guy in the school a sexist pig).
Matt pouted, and Will - despite being part of the initial conversation - went back to his usual status as interested observer. Then Matt, never one to be put off for long, spoke up. "Hey, if the only alternative to not going is to go with one of you, then I gotta say I'm glad I'm not going." He was going to finish off with a smirk, as was customary, but remembered just in time that Jordan had already done that, and settled for a grin instead. This had far more effect than a smirk would have had, given that nobody's quite sure how to react to someone who insults you and then smiles.
He could have just has easily gone with the smirk for all the good it did him, though, since Macy entered a split second later and everybody clattered onto their stools and pretended to be good little kids. Macy was either too drunk or too hungover to bother laughing at that idea, although it gave Matt a nice little snicker. (It also gave Will Ivers time to start meditating in the hopes that it would save him from the obviously unbalanced boy next to him.)
"Today we're learning about rocks. Come up here and grab a rock and a worksheet." That seemed to be the extent of the instructions, as the class waited patiently for a full minute for Macy to, well, teach. They would have probably stayed sitting, except Macy glanced up from his book to snap, "What the hell are you all waiting for?" And then the class jumped up as one unit of scared little bunny rabbits and did as they had been told.
"Let's name it Bob," was Matt's contribution to the rock project, as Will began to fill out the sheet.
"I always wanted an imaginary friend named Bob," Matt said, as if this explained everything (instead of nothing). "A pet rock's like an imaginary friend, right?"
They finished up the worksheet quickly, handed it in, and spent the rest of the class arguing quietly over whether or not Bob was a good name for a pet of any sort, including rock. The bell rang halfway through Matt's latest strenuous argument, and he instantly forgot it in favor of heading out the door happily. He had almost made it when Macy, who had been grading the worksheets, hollered, "Seely! 'Pterodactyl' is not a kind of rock!"
Matt winced. "I guess he does read the work." There went that particular theory. (He wasn't too worried, he had plenty more where that came from - which he was careful not to say out loud, because that Cavanaugh chick was still in the room and he was stupid, so he knew what she'd follow up with.)
He was starving to death. Quite literally. Wasting away to nothing from his high-up perch on a lab stool. Any minute now he was going to faint from hunger, or low blood sugar, or AIDS or something, and then they'd all know better than to ignore his whining, right? Right? No, probably not.
"I need fooooood..." he whined (softly, though, so as to not piss off Herr Macy). Bug and Nigel, far too used to him by this point to care, ignored him and continued reading the chapter they were on (which, contrary to what the rest of the week implied, had nothing to do with rocks or frogs; it seemed Macy had finally remembered that this was a chemistry class, not biology for retards. Although Matt could see how that was an easy mistake to make). Ivers, though, who Matt had dragged over to sit in Woody's customary spot (Woody threw things at him, and hence was Not To Be Trusted, at least for the rest of the week after which Matt would, inevitably, forget), was not used to the constant whining that came from Matt's mouth, and therefore looked concerned that his new lab partner was either going to starve to death or reenact the Donner party (which, when you came right down to it, was not that fun of a party for anyone other than Hannibal Lector, who had not been invited due to not existing at that point in time).
Matt checked his pockets and backpack, accumulating a nice and neat little pile of change, before frowning at it and turning to Will. "Hey, you got a dime?" And before Will could even begin to answer, he continued, "Yeah, but I think I'm gonna need it."
Matt blinked. "What?"
"You just asked me for a dime and then answered yourself."
"Nuh-uh, you just asked me for a dime."
Will stared some more.
Matt thought. "...oh. Right. Well, do you?"
Wordlessly, Will handed over a dime.
"'If x equals four,'" Matt read aloud, "'What is x equal to?'" He paused. "Sir, respectfully, have you been smoking crack?"
"Oh, right, injecting then." He winked. "Yeah, I know how that goes."
Matt sighed and went back to the worksheet like a good little sheep-drone. For all of a minute before he was nudged, hard, in the ribs. "Psst," said a voice that was thankfully not Woody, because Matt would not have been able to resist punching him if it had, indeed, been Mr. Wisconsin once more. "An ion walks into a bar and says, 'I think I left an electron here last night.' And the bartender says, 'Are you positive?'"
Crazy cell phone boy got stared at for a long, long moment, before Matt weakly raised his hand. "Mr. Macy, can I move? Oliver's disturbing my sanity."
Matt pouted and rested his chin on his crossed arms, which were resting on the edge of his book, which was resting on the desk, which was resting on the floor, which was resting on the ground, which was resting on the earth, which was resting... well, on centripetal force, really. Or maybe centrifugal. He had never gotten the difference between the two, except that one had different letters than the other.
They carried on with the silent (heh, 'silent', in a public high school, like that was happening this century) work for another fifteen minutes, and then Macy had them hand in the worksheets and put their books away in preparation for an exciting demonstration. Matt planned to catch up on the sleep he'd been missing due to practice and actually doing his homework for the first time in recent memory, due to a stern talking-to his nanny gave him on the command of his parents (Seelys, after all, were not C students, and definitely not D students!).
All was going well for both plans when Macy, mid-lecture, started to add sulfuric acid to whatever concoction he was making and some smart ass (for once, not Matt) decided it would be hilarious to fill a paper bag with air and then, yes, pop it right as the pouring started.
Macy's hand jerked and sulfuric acid went all over the table, where it sat and plotted to take over the world. Or whatever. "Seely!" Macy shouted.
Matt's head jerked up and smacked into the bottom of the table he'd automatically dived under when the bang had sounded. (Everybody else's reaction was to turn and gawk, but when Matt heard a sound like a gunshot, his instinct was to make himself into as small a target as possible. And really, which was the smarter reaction is somebody was shooting at you? That's right. Duck and hide.) "I didn't do it!" he protested.
"Seely, get your ass down to the principal's office now."
"Yeah, yeah, you 'didn't do it'. Now GO."
"Actually, sir, he didn't do it," Will Ivers offered. When Macy turned to glare at him, he shrugged. "Just letting you know."
While Macy did not like Ivers any more than he liked Seely (well, a little more, because Macy didn't even really dislike Slocum any more than he disliked Matt Seely), Ivers was well-known to have a scrupulous honest streak. (And/or be good enough at lying that he never got caught at it.) So he believed Ivers, to his disappointment.
After class, Matt grabbed Will by the shoulder. "Hey, man, thanks," he said, for once in his life trying to show some sincere emotion.
Will shrugged. "Well, you didn't do it, so I don't see why Macy should be allowed to blame you for it."
"Yeah, but..." How was Matt going to tell him that he doubted Woody, the closest thing he had to a best friend, would have done the same thing in Will's place? Or, rather, how could he tell him that without sounding like some whiny chick from an after school special? "Just... thanks."
Will nodded, and headed off.
Okay, Matt, breathe. You can do this. You are Matt Seely. You're badass. You're hot, smart, funny, what's not to love? Except that whole being an asshole thing, but it's just chicks who think that, so you should be fine. Hell, you are fine.
There was a reason Matt was not a cheerleader, and it was not because he felt too manly for it. Or because he was not flexible or athletic enough. It was because he i sucked /i at things like pep talks and encouraging people. And also because Devan Maguire would shoot him, and then light him on fire, and then really hurt him.
Will Ivers was coming up the street on his bike, so Matt had to make up his mind real fast. And he did, because he had really made up his mind before he came over here or otherwise he wouldn't have come, would he? Nope.
Will stopped his bike when he saw Matt standing on the sidewalk outside his house, hands stuffed into pockets in a careful study of nonchalance. He climbed off and walked closer, and Matt could both see the confusion on his face and hear the clicking of the ever-present pedometer Will had on his ankle.
And just like that, he knew he'd made the right choice, because there were very few people who called him by his first name when there wasn't another Seely in the room. "Go to the dance with me tonight."
"Please?" And now, Matt released all the stops and pretended he was just a sweet little kid like he'd never been, and gave Will the single biggest pleading look he'd ever even thought of giving someone.
Will blinked at him and the street was eerily quiet for a few long moments until... "Okay."
He shrugged. "Why not? Of course, you realize that-"
"This makes me the girl? Yeah, kinda got that."
They both shared in the grin of teenage boys thinking dirty thoughts.