A/N: I know, I know. I should be updating 'Breakdown'. But this popped into my head while taking a chemistry test, and I couldn't get it out of my mind until I wrote it down. It's kind of an overdone idea, but whatever. I hope you like it! (And please ignore the stupid title, haha)
Carbon and Corndogs
Okay. One carbon atom on the left. Two on the right. So, put a number two in front of the C. But then that gives the oxygen atoms too many -
"I still don't get it."
Logan snapped out of his concentration, turning his attention to his friend with a tiny sigh. "What don't you get?"
Logan heaved a heavier sigh. That had been Carlos's response the last three times Logan asked him what he didn't understand about the current chemistry problem he was attempting to solve.
They were studying at Carlos's house. The Latino needed to pass chemistry in order to stay on the hockey team, and the semester final was in two days. He was sitting at a D minus. The test would decide if he passed or failed the class.
"Let me see," said Logan, rolling his chair over to the opposite side of the desk. He cleared away an empty pop can and candy bar wrapper as he moved. The boys had been in Carlos's room ever since they left school four hours ago. They had ordered pizzas, and the empty boxes and greasy napkins littered Carlos's unmade bed. Carlos's pop cans and Logan's sports drink bottles cluttered the large desk, along with a bag of chips and numerous spilled kernels of popcorn.
Logan felt a little pity for Carlos. He was never very good at school, mostly because his attention span wouldn't allow him to focus on something for long periods of time. He especially struggled with math and science because the problems required much more computing. This was the only time Logan had ever seen him pick up a book.
Carlos pointed to his textbook. He had been staring at the equation for nearly fifteen minutes, tapping his foot and chewing his pencil, trying to make some sense of balancing chemical equations. "Number three. I got this part here, but what do I do now?"
Logan tiredly rubbed at his eyes. He reached up and positioned the desk lamp so the light shone over the book. His mind began making the proper connections quickly. Academics was always a strength. Logan excelled at every subject, math and chemistry being his specialty. "Oh, this is an easy one," he said. When he glanced up at Carlos, he regretted his words. "I mean, once I show you how, you'll get it."
Carlos groaned in frustration. He was starting to give up.
"Look." Logan took his pencil and copied the equation into Carlos's notebook. "This side of the arrow is called…?"
"The… products?" Carlos guessed.
Logan tried to hide his disappointment. "Uh, no. The products are on the other side. These are the reactants. See, how I remember is that chemicals react to produce. Reactants and products. Get it?"
"No," Carlos replied flatly.
Logan blinked slowly. "Okay…" he drawled. "Well, that's not really important anyway." He went through the same lecture he had given three times prior, showing Carlos how to correctly balance the equation. This particular problem was a bit trickier because it dealt with half-numbers.
"Now try the next one," Logan instructed, rolling his chair back to his side of the messy desk. He took a deep breath, ready to get back into his problem. Logan himself was in advanced placement classes, while Carlos was in normal classes. Carlos was working on problems that Logan remembered doing two years ago.
Alright… The oxygen atom has an extra atom. So if I put a two in front of the hydrogen it will balance the -
"Lo-gan," Carlos moaned, letting his pencil clatter to the desk. "I still don't get this."
Logan bit the inside of his cheek. It was getting a little frustrating having to keep help Carlos with what should be a simple equation. Logan had other homework to do for other classes. AP classes required a ton of studying and preparing, and he had a lot of tests to get ready for. He would have been done hours ago if Carlos hadn't kept interrupting him. But, then again, Logan thought, Carlos needed his help to study. And Logan wanted his friend to pass.
"What part don't you get?" Logan asked.
"I hate chemistry," Carlos murmured, ignoring his words. He slammed his textbook shut and pushed his chair away from the edge of the desk. "I mean, it's not like I'm gonna be a scientist or something."
Logan had never heard Carlos talk about plans after graduation. "What are you going to be?"
"A superhero," Carlos replied, a lopsided grin on his face. "I don't need school for that."
"Yeah," said Logan, rolling his eyes. "That's what the world needs. A superhero that can't spell his own name."
Carlos flicked a piece of popcorn at Logan. It hit him in the chest and bounced onto the carpet.
Logan momentarily closed his eyes, fighting off feelings of annoyance. "Come on, man. You want to pass the final, don't you?"
Carlos sighed. "Can't you just do it for me and put my name on it?"
"On your homework? How is that going to help you prepare for the test? You're not going to know what you're doing."
"I don't know what I'm doing in the first place," he said. He ripped a corner off of a piece of notebook paper and began to fold it.
Logan frowned. "Get your stuff back out. I'll help you. Just let me finish this problem first."
Carlos didn't respond. Instead, he kept fiddling with the piece of paper.
Logan looked back down at his book, getting back to work on problem number twenty. He had to admit it was a tougher equation, even for him. Granted, it was the bonus question. The teacher told the students whoever could solve it would get five extra credit points. His foot automatically began to tap, as it often did when he was in a deep state of concentration.
Oh! I got it! If I put the six in front of sulfur, it will also balance carbon which will -
He yelped in surprise, pencil flying from his hand as something smacked against his cheek. Across from him, Carlos laughed.
"Hey," Logan reprimanded, reaching for the paper football that landed in his lap. "Come on, Carlos. Focus." He crumpled the triangle in his fist and stuffed it in his pocket.
"I can't," he whined, heaving a monstrous sigh and spinning in a circle in his desk chair. "This is so boring."
Well, Logan couldn't argue there. Balancing chemical equations wasn't exactly the more interesting thing in the world. But still. Carlos needed to pass. "Dude, come on. Just get out your book. I'll help you through it." When Carlos didn't move, Logan pressed on. "Carlos, come on."
"Fine," Carlos grumbled. He resentfully flipped open his book, the cover slapping loudly against the desk. "But none of it makes sense. I don't get it."
Rolling back over to Carlos's side, Logan could feel his patience thinning. Four hours of fueling up on unhealthy foods and doing chemistry in Carlos's foul-smelling, dimly-lit bedroom was taking its toll. Besides, he had other work he needed to be getting to. He couldn't afford to get off schedule, not with finals coming up. He needed his eight hours of sleep, and by the way things were progressing, he would be up into the night finishing homework and cramming for his tests. "Alright," he sighed. "I'll go over the basics again." He pointed with his pencil. "These are the reactants. These are the products. What we're trying to do is get an equal amount of -"
"Hey, do you want some more popcorn?"
Logan smacked the back of Carlos's head.
"Ow!" Carlos cried. He narrowed his eyes. "What was that for?"
"Focus," Logan ordered.
Carlos childishly stuck out his tongue and Logan rolled his eyes. He began to continue the lecture, but Carlos interrupted him yet again, this time by walking to his bed and grabbing his helmet. He slapped it on his head and plopped his body back into the chair, looking uninterested.
"Anyway," Logan continued. "See, on this side there are two hydrogen atoms. But on this side there is three. So what can we add so that they equal the same - Carlos!"
The Latino looked up from playing with a loose string on the end of his shirt. "What?"
"Pay attention," Logan scolded, a little more harshly than he intended. "I'm trying to help you, but you're making it difficult."
Carlos murmured an apology, rubbing at his sore eyes and leaning forward in his seat. His foot began bouncing from underneath the desk and he pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead in obvious distress.
Logan took a deep breath, attempting to calm his rising vexation. He started over on his instructions, glancing up at Carlos every few seconds to make sure he was watching. He seemed to be pretty engaged, narrowing his eyes and licking his lips, like he was deep in thought. When Logan finished explaining, he asked Carlos if he understood.
"Um… I guess."
"Good," Logan said, feeling relieved. Maybe now he could finish the bonus problem he had been working on for the past fifteen minutes.
Carlos still hadn't picked up his pencil by the time Logan had maneuvered back to his side of the desk. He began to work yet again on the problem. He was so close to the solution that he could taste it. The trusty number-two pencil in his hand began to fly over the page, filling in numbers and erasing as he discovered his errors. Logan stopped, looking over his work. A satisfied smirk crossed his lips as he prepared to write down the final digit that would successfully solve the equation.
"Logan, I need help."
Logan slammed his pencil down. "With what? I've explained it to you five times! How do you not understand by now?"
For a split second, a hurt look flashed in Carlos's innocent eyes. But it was gone in an instant, replaced by a tiny attempt of humor. "Well, if you're gonna be like that, then maybe I don't want your help."
Logan didn't seem amused. He threw his hands up in frustration. "Dude! You've been on that page for forty-five minutes and you're only on number three. How else am I supposed to help you?"
This time the expression of hurt didn't leave Carlos's face. He lowered his head and whispered, "It's not my fault."
Logan groaned, running a hand through his hair and rising to his feet. He began to close his textbooks and notebooks, stuffing them into the backpack by his chair. "I give up," he said.
Carlos straightened up, though his voice was still low. "You're… giving up?"
Logan didn't respond; he only continued to shove his things into his backpack, brow furrowed together.
"Wait," Carlos said as Logan slung his backpack over his shoulder. "How am I gonna pass if you don't help me?"
"Get Kendall or James to help you," Logan told him, starting for the doorway. "I have to go."
Carlos didn't say goodbye or even offer to walk him out, as he usually did. Instead, he stayed put in his chair, nervously twiddling his thumbs in his lap.
Logan stomped down the stairs and to the entrance of the Garcia's home. He located his shoes by the door and quickly slipped them on, wanting to get out of there before he was forced to say goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Garcia. He didn't think he could fake being happy and polite at the moment. Grabbing his coat from the hanger on the wall, he yanked open the door and stepped into the chilly Minnesotan air.
He zipped up his coat as he walked down the sidewalk and started the two block walk to his house. The backpack over his shoulders was heavy from the weight of his books and binders. He had mittens in in there too, but wasn't motivated enough to stop and pull them out. Logan settled on burrowing his hands into his coat pockets instead.
Continuing to walk briskly down the block, Logan had to admit he felt slightly guilty for blowing up at poor Carlos like that. But he had explained the process to him five times. He obviously wasn't trying his hardest, or wasn't paying attention, or something. Or else he would have understood. It really was not very hard.
Besides, why should Logan sacrifice four hours of precious, independent homework time for Carlos if he wasn't going to cooperate? Carlos could get help from someone else, like Kendall or James. Well, maybe not Kendall, because Kendall never studied and instead settled on getting Bs and Cs, so he probably wouldn't be the best teacher. And maybe not James, either, because James's grades were only a tiny bit better than Carlos's.
He could hire a tutor, then. Or stay after school and ask the teacher for help. There were plenty of options for Carlos.
Logan looked both ways before crossing the street. He could see his house down at the end of the block. A few minutes later when he made it home, he greeted his parents and headed straight for his room, where he closed the door and flopped down onto his bed. The walk had cleared his head a bit, and his irritation had subsided.
He really had been a jerk. But he could apologize tomorrow at school. For now, he needed to finish the rest of his homework.
The next morning was a blur. Logan could hardly pay attention during lectures, scribbled notes on autopilot, and skimmed over his assigned reading. He even answered a question incorrectly when his AP psychology teacher asked him to name the famous behaviorist who emphasized positive and negative reinforcement. Skinner. He should have known that. Obviously he needed to study more for the final tomorrow.
He couldn't shake Carlos from his mind. Logan knew he had been a total jerk, and he needed to apologize, big time. He was too stressed out about finals and homework and studying that he lost control of his frustration and took it out on his innocent friend.
When lunch time came around, Logan shuffled out of the classroom and made his way to the cafeteria. Logan, along with Carlos, Kendall, and James, had a usual spot in the lunchroom. However, upon entering, Logan noticed Carlos or James were no where to be found. Kendall sat alone at the table, looking bored.
He pepped up when Logan approached him. "Where's Carlos and James?" Logan asked, dropping his backpack into one of the empty chairs.
"In the library," Kendall replied. He stood, ready to follow Logan into the lunch line.
Logan made a face and narrowed his eyebrows in disbelief.
Kendall laughed. "That's what I thought. But James is helping Carlos study for chem, or something."
"James?" There was no way any good could come from James helping Carlos study. Logan could picture it. The brown-haired boy telling the Latino all the wrong answers, confusing him even more. Or worse, what if Carlos thought James was right and ended up learning an incorrect method? "But… it's corndog day."
Logan and Kendall weaved their way through tables and chairs, progressing towards the lunch line. "I know. I guess Carlos really wants to pass. I've never seen him try so hard."
"It's because if he does bad on his chemistry test Coach is kicking him off the team."
Kendall blinked in confusion, stepping in line next to Logan. "Seriously?"
"Yeah, he didn't tell you?"
Kendall shook his head.
Logan sighed, rubbing his hand over his sore shoulders. "I was at his house last night and was helping him study. But he… you know, needs a lot of help. And I got a little mad, and kind of stormed out."
Kendall raised an eyebrow, grabbing a tray as the line moved up. "Huh."
"Huh what?" asked Logan.
"Nothin'," said Kendall.
The two boys thanked the lunch ladies as a corndog was plopped on each of their trays. They filled their plates with food and headed back to their table. A few of their other friends, mostly guys from the hockey team, were seated as well, but Logan and Kendall secluded themselves on the end.
Kendall bit into his corndog and chewed. Logan just stared at his food. "I really need to talk to Carlos," he thought aloud. "Maybe I should go to the library right now."
Kendall swallowed before speaking. "How come you got so mad at him?"
"Because," Logan muttered with a sigh. "He wasn't getting it. I explained how to balance atoms like, five times, and he still didn't understand."
"Well that's not his fault," said Kendall, chuckling. "It's yours."
Logan frowned. "What do you mean?"
He took another bite of his corndog, chewed, and swallowed before speaking. Logan tapped his foot under the table. "Carlos isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the box," Kendall started slowly. Logan raised his eyebrows as his friend's words. Kendall must have noticed. "Oh come on, Logan. I just mean he doesn't think like you and me."
Logan nodded. Kendall made a great point.
"If you're gonna help him study, you have to find a way to get to him, you know?" He chomped down on his lunch yet again and continued speaking with a full mouth. "Tap into Carlos World and find a way to make it click with him."
He nodded again. Kendall made a really great point. "You're right." Logan smiled at him. "Thanks, Kendall."
He knew just what to do.
After school, Logan stopped by his house to inform his parents were he was headed, then started down the sidewalk with his backpack on his shoulders and a new attitude. He had a psychology final and a chemistry final tomorrow. His AP European history test was on Monday, as well as his economics test. But, Logan figured, he could devote two hours before bedtime to review his psych and chem, leaving the weekend to study Euro and econ.
He took a deep breath as he approached his destination, and knocked on the door. Mr. Garcia answered, dressed in his police uniform, as always. "Come in," he said, stepping aside for Logan to enter. "My son is in his room."
Logan thanked the man, flipping his shoes off by the door and bounding up the stairs. Carlos's bedroom door was open, and he laid sprawled out on his unmade bed, pizza boxes from the previous night strewn about his floor.
Logan knocked lightly on the doorframe. Carlos looked up, then let his head drop when he saw who it was. "Hey."
Logan took it as his cue to enter. He approached the bed and moved Carlos's foot out of the way so he could sit on the edge. "I'm here to help you study," Logan declared, letting his backpack fall off his shoulders. He dug around for his chemistry book and a notebook.
With a confused look on his face, Carlos sat up, crawling to sit on the edge of the bed next to Logan. "James already helped me."
"Yeah?" Logan flipped back the cover on his notebook and scrawled out an equation. He shoved the tablet into Carlos's hands. "Solve it."
Carlos stuck out his chin. "No problem." He snatched Logan's pencil, eyes scanning over the paper. He hesitated.
"See? You still don't know what you're doing," Logan said.
Carlos misinterpreted Logan's words as condescending. "Well, whatever! I can figure it out on my own. I know you don't really want to help me."
Logan closed the notebook. "That's not true."
Carlos rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. You said it yourself. You gave up on me."
Logan could sense the hurt in his voice. Carlos was the class clown and always hid behind a smiling mask when he was upset. The boys had learned to be experts on Carlos's body language, noticing even the subtlest of gestures. Like the way he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together when he was distressed. Like he was doing now. Or the way his eyes didn't seem as bright and wide. Like the way they were now.
"Carlos, I was mad, okay? I would never give up on you. Ever."
Carlos looked down. "Then why'd you say it?" he whispered.
Guilt thumped in Logan's chest. "I didn't mean it. It's just… I was really stressed out, having to study for all these tests and stuff. But even after all that studying, I was too stupid to realize you needed to learn by a different approach."
Logan spotted Carlos's backpack laying by his door. He stood from the bed and fished around until he found Carlos's chemistry book. The paper he was working on the night before stuck out from the binding. Problem number three was smudged with eraser marks.
"Let's try this," Logan said, plopping back down next to his friend. "Pretend like you're sharing these atoms with that girl… What's her name? The one you sit by in English that you have a crush on?"
"I don't have a crush on her!" Carlos cried defensively, though his blush said otherwise. Logan gave him a look. After a short pause, Carlos gave in. "Mandy."
Logan smirked. "Right. So, pretend you're sharing these atoms with Mandy. Only they're not atoms."
Carlos scratched his head. "Wait. If they're not atoms, then what are they?"
Logan pointed to the C, carbon, with his pencil. "This one is corndogs." He pointed to the H, hydrogen. "Hockey pucks." And the O, oxygen. "Orange tic-tacs."
Carlos's eyes lit up, and Logan continued. "This side is yours, and this side is Mandy's. But wait! What's this?" Logan mock gasped. "Mandy has more corndogs than you!"
Carlos gasped for real.
"So now," said Logan, passing the notebook and pencil to Carlos, "you need to make it so you have the same amount of carb - I mean, corndogs."
He nodded slowly, staring at the paper for several seconds before making an uncertain move. Logan looked over his shoulder to get a better look. "Carlos!" he cried.
The pencil flew from Carlos's hand. "What?" he exclaimed.
"You got it!"
He gaped at his friend before looking back down at the notebook. "I did?"
"Yeah!" Logan held out his hand and Carlos slapped him five, grinning proudly. "Now keep going. It looks like you have more hockey pucks than Mandy does."
"I can fix that," Carlos stated. It took him a second or two, but he eventually came up with the correct answer. "Is that right?"
"Yeah, it's right."
"Sweet!" Carlos cried, happily bouncing up and down. "You were right. This is easy." He breezed through the rest of the problem. When Logan confirmed he was correct, he grinned broadly and moved onto the next. "Is it right?"
When Logan nodded, Carlos jumped from the bed and did a victory jig in the middle of the room, stomping on the pizza boxes as he did so. Logan chuckled. When Carlos was ready to get back to work, he flopped back on the bed and started on problem number five.
He stopped. "What does the S stand for?"
"Sulfur," Logan replied automatically. "Oh… I mean… Uh, I don't know. What's something you like that starts with S?"
"Smoothies!" said Carlos, getting back to scribbling. His tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth as he worked. Once again, he held the notebook out to Logan.
"Right again. See? You're getting the hang of this."
Carlos nodded excitedly and went back to work. Logan watched him for a moment, cocking his head to the side to see if Carlos was properly solving the equation. He was.
"Hey…" said Logan. "Look, Carlos, I really am sorry about yesterday. I'm sorry I got so mad. And I didn't mean what I said. I would never give up on you."
Carlos stopped writing, putting his pencil down and looking up. "It's okay," he said, truthfully. "I forgive you." He gave Logan's shoulder a friendly pat.
Logan returned the gesture, smiling. "So, you get this stuff now, right? It's simple?"
"Yeah, I get it," Carlos said. "Thanks."
"Alright. Good." Logan began to pack his things away in his backpack, preparing to leave.
Carlos dug through his backpack as well. "Oh, Logan. Wait."
He stopped. "Huh?"
Carlos sheepishly held up a textbook. "Can you help me with my history?"