Maya hurried towards the school canteen to meet her gang.
Gang wouldn’t be the proper word. It’s true that they usually are together, but that’s because they grew up in the same neighborhood together and went to school together and they spend time together because they had no other choices, the other boys and girls were a bit more obnoxious.
Frenemies would be a good term, as it would mean "a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy." But there’s more friends than enemies in the group. “Rivals” is also a good term.
“Have you heard?” Maya said almost breathlessly, “they’re going to suspend John? I don’t believe it!”
You would expect that of Maya. She always defends John’s peccadillos. We all knew she had a crush on John, but we don’t know if he feels the same towards her.
Not that she is bad looking.
Maya has what may be called long, elegant limbs. Straight legs, firm muscle tones, and a good turnout from the hips. She would be an ideal ballet dancer.
“Serves him right!” Dan said.
Dan is John’s best friend. So we all think. It’s because Dan always supports John in many ways.
The exception is when it’s in the presence of Maya. Dan never fails to point out the flaws and the faults of John in front of Maya. He really does have more than a crush on Maya. And being a friend, Dan knows John well enough to dig up and find faults.
Dan is our Martial Artist. He has a brown belt in Karate. When asked what he wants, he said he wants to be a tenth Dan. Somebody who isn’t familiar with martial arts might jokingly point out that there is only one Dan, and Dan would reply “A tenth Dan Blackbelter, dummy!”
Nellie, Maya’s best friend, agreed with Dan “That’s right! Anybody who damages school property should pay for it. But I don’t know, yet, if it will actually result in suspension. It could delay his college enrolment for a year.”
Maya looked at her with irritation. With narrowed eyes Maya tried to convey her displeasure to Nellie.
Nellie is our nitpicker. Oh, sorry, she is our journalist. She will be enrolling in The University of Texas at Austin next year, one of the best schools of journalism in the country. Actually, she is related to Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, whose pen name, Nellie Bly, is world famous.
And like her namesake, Nellie is adventurous, daring, and active. Her personality is somewhat like Dan; they like the active life. She doesn’t care much about John, but she cares much about Dan.
There was a subtle incident. When Maya came and sat down, Dan moved closer to her. Nellie’s eyes flashed subtly. Her pupils dilated and contracted quickly, and she moved closer to Dan, subtly. You wouldn’t see it if you weren’t looking at Nellie’s irises at that moment.
A jealous response?
Of course, Jules didn’t see it. Had he seen it, and realized the importance, he would have been dismayed, even downcast. Luckily he didn’t see it, so he still had hope.
“We still had to know what will happen. It seems to me it’s the school’s fault as much as John’s.” pontificated Jules.
Jules is a likeable, if weird guy. He started out with a healthy interest in books, but because there was a shortage of players for team sports in neighborhood they had no choice but to keep calling for him.
His mother didn’t help. At a time that Mothers were always worried where their children were, Jules mother ordered him to go out and play. So it happened that the reluctant introverted player turned out to be a swell guy.
His collections started with lots of Verne novels, then to adventures, then to astronomy, physics, and even math books. Plenty of his books were on Chemistry. And there’s a smattering of economics and business books. He wants to run a chemical industrial company. But it seems he can’t make up his mind on whether to be the owner of the company or just to be the head of its chemical department.
As of now, he has interest on chemical processes, even in school laboratory setting.
Dan, trying to find fault because Maya was around, said:
“How could it be the school’s fault? John broke the test tubes!”
“That wasn’t a test tube. It’s an Erlenmeyer flask.” corrected Jules.
Having been made a point, Jules looked at Nellie with a trace of smugness, maybe to seek approval for the argument, but Nellie had her eyes on Dan.
Trying to get Nellie’s attention, Jules was about to make another point when Tom showed up.
“Boy, did I get a drilling. Now I know how a Prisoner-of-War feels.”
“What happened?” Nellie was the first to ask immediately. Curious Nellie.
“They called me in the Principal’s Office like everyone else, asked me about the incident at the school lab. So I told them.”
“Told them what?” curious Nellie again.
“You know, you were there. John brought in the Erlenmeyer Flask. He was tightening the ring clamp when I saw that it was the defective clamp. You know, the screw was loose or something and it wouldn’t grip properly. I was about to point it out when the clamp fell and the flask broke.”
Jules smiled at the terms Tom used. He knew that Tom had a mechanical bent and would notice things like that. Tom could fix things. From cell phones to laptops, to a boombox.
Tom likes to hang out at the carpentry shop, or at the construction site, or at a nearby computer repair shop. But he spends most of his time with Jules, at either of their homes. When Jules establishes his company, Tom would be the Vice President. Or Assistant Chief Operating Officer. Or something similar. But he would be there.
“Yes,” Jules added “they didn’t provide John with protective gear like gloves or goggles.”
“Weren’t you supposed to bring that?” Maya, with concerned voice, asked”
“It was a surprise to me. I didn’t know that we were going to have a quiz. And I didn’t know it was a quiz to be held at the lab. Usually, they tell me first and tell me what equipment to bring.” Jules answered with a surprised expression.
Nobody asked anything about what happened next. They were there. The Instructor dismissed them immediately and asked John to stay around.
Maya had hung back until John and the instructor left.
She heard what the Instructor said “So, what do you think?”
John answered “I think the school will suspend me.”
Maya didn’t hear what the Instructor’s response was.
When she came to the corridor she heard the expected announcement from the intercom “Will all those who attended the laboratory quiz please report to the principal’s office.”
Maya thought she was the last one to come in and be asked. The questions were straightforward, and it really seemed like an investigation. It worried her for the sake of John.
It seemed to her that she was the only one worried about John.
Dan would have liked John to be out of the picture, because of ulterior motives regarding Maya.
Nellie goes along with Dan, for her own ulterior motives regarding Dan.
Jules and Tom just calls it what it is, and although they might be worried regarding their friend John, there were no ulterior motives.
Finally, John arrived.
Maya stood up, with a worried look, came straight to John and grasped John’s arm.
John didn’t notice and sat down. Feeling disappointed, Maya sat down also.
“So,” curious Nellie asked “what happened? Will you be suspended?”
“Huh? What gave you that idea?”
Maya chimed in, “I heard you ask the instructor if you will be suspended.”
John laughed. A really delighted laugh that melted Maya’s heart.
“Oh that, that was a joke” explained John. And added:
“You see, the quiz was not for our subject. It was for the Psychology Department.”
Nellie’s eyebrows went up. Curioser and curioser.
“They wanted to know the attention level of students in the school” John added. “So we staged an ‘accident’ in the lab and see if students can give details as to what happened. Actually, I’m not supposed to tell you this, there were cameras in the room. And you’ll be glad to know that that the Instructor and the Principal were pleased at the preliminary report. I am proud to tell you that we are not zombies.” And he laughed again.
And they all laughed, with a little roughhouse. Dan punched John on the arm. Jules slapped Tom on the shoulders. Maya looked relieved. And Nellie still had eyes on Dan.
And it came to pass that after graduating and upon enrolment, John and Dan went to a nearby college. Maya was with them. Dan had double motivations: to be with John and, a bit stronger motivation, to be with Maya.
Maya’s motivation was John, of course.
Jules and Tom went to a nearby technical college.
Nellie, despite strong motivations to go with Dan, had stronger motivations to follow her muse. She enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin.
She made sure not to be absent from the gang during weekends and breaks.