“Girls, two to a seat, please!” Mr. Parson is looking stressed, but he isn’t half as stressed as I am as I search my phone for the perfect prom dress. Retail therapy is necessary considering I don’t even have a date yet.
Also, schools should pay teachers more for working the week before Spring Break. They become glorified babysitters who wrangle hormonal teenagers during organized chaos. Today, my classmates and I find ourselves at the Rockcastle Museum of Ancient History, and the babysitters are acting nervous, as if we might stage a coup. However, I’d be more excited about this field trip if I weren’t so worried about the lack of eligible prom prospects.
A well-dressed, middle-aged woman with a fuzzy red chignon steps up to a microphone in the museum lobby. I swear if she had a chameleon on her shoulder, she’d look like Mrs. Frizzle from Magic School Bus. “Good morning, students. My name is Dr. Rosenbury, and I’ll be your museum facilitator today. After your teacher assigns you a partner, you’ll each receive your scavenger hunt and Rockcastle Museum of Ancient History interactive tour. Please turn both in before you leave today.”
Dr. Rosenbury looks around at each of us. She continues, “You’ll journey through the Hall of River Valleys, the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, and then wind through the medieval worlds of Europe, China, and feudal Japan. Finally, we do hope you’ll enjoy our award-winning exhibit ‘Ask the Oracle.’”
Oracles, pssh. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t buy any of that. I am curious about what makes the exhibit worthy of awards and how it might fit into a museum of history. If I weren’t a cynic, I’d ask the oracle to solve my prom date dilemma.
Dr. Rosenbury turns her attention to Mr. Parson, my AP World History teacher, and they divide students into pairs and distribute our assignments. I have another theory that teachers determine partner pairs with ulterior motives—they may hide behind the guise of pure academic intentions, but Mr. Parson broke the boys only/girls only protocol and partnered me with Cody Jenkins. That dude hates me. Or else I’m invisible but only to him? I know this because we’ve had nearly every class together since fifth grade and I can count on one hand the number of times he’s spoken to me. It doesn’t help my anxiety that he’s such a fine specimen of the male species. Clear green eyes, wavy brown hair, tall…
Cody grabs the papers before I get a chance and leads the way, which is a polite way to say he’s already started walking away with little regard for me. I run to catch up and we meander around the River Valley exhibit, checking out ancient Sumerian tablets with cuneiform script, an elaborate scale model of the Great Wall of China, and an overwhelming display of Egyptian embalming and mumification tools.
“You’re quiet today, Rae. Cat got your tongue?” He leans up against an Egyptian infographic about cat worship and lifts his brow, arms crossed over his chest.
My mouth opens and closes and I’m sure I look like a confused fish out of water. HE. KNOWS. MY. NAME.
“W-what? No, sorry. I was reading about Egyptian river tools, like the shadoof. ’Shadoof” is Words with Nerds gold.” Great. I’ve broken the awkward barrier and entered a new land of embarrassment. He’s going to hate me for real now and think I’m a weirdo.
He lifts his brows and seems to consider me for a short second. It feels like I’m under a microscope. “Shadoof, huh? I’ll add that to my Words with Nerds app list.”
That gets my attention. Words with Nerds is my love language. “Marry me.”
“Nefertiti.” I point to the infographic by the mannequin. “Ancient Egyptian Queen?”
“That isn’t what you said, Rae. Plus, my three-year-old neighbor said I’m already betrothed to her. I’m sure you’re heartbroken.”
He has no idea. “I could take her.” I can’t believe I’m so bold, but that little comment earns me a chuckle that sounds remarkably like the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’
We meander over to a model of the Great Pyramids and I read the plaque. “Only one pharaoh is buried here?”
To me he says, “Yep. Most of the other pharaohs are buried in the Valley of the Kings. All the smaller pyramids in Giza are Khufu’s wives. Plural. Like Sister Wives of the ancient world.” And with that he visibly shudders.
“Pretty strong reaction from the guy engaged to his neighbor and with a marriage proposal before he’s 18.” Are we flirting? We’re flirting, right? Ohmygosh, I’m flirting with Cody Jenkins and he is reciprocating. I need to remember to thank Mr. Parson when we get back to the bus.
We’re now busy in the Greek and Roman exhibit, trying our best to complete the scavenger hunt Dr. Rosenbury gave us. We’ve located Rome, Sparta, and Athens on a map, labeled an Athenian home, designed a mural, completed a chart of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, but we’re still not done.
Cody stops at a display of a—ahem—scantily clad athlete throwing a discus. “Whoa. Did you know the ancient Greek Olympians performed naked and only men could compete? Women couldn’t even watch.” He pronounces “naked” like “necked” and I will, from this point on, do the same.
“They are so behind on Title IV. Zero equality for women in the ancient world. So sad.” What else am I supposed to say while I stare at a nekked man with my attractive classmate who may not actually hate me? I wonder who he’s going to prom with? I doubt it is his three-year-old neighbor and it definitely isn’t me.
At last, we reach the much anticipated Ask the Oracle exhibit. This exhibit is much more modern than the rest of the museum. It is set up to resemble a fortune teller’s parlor with stations along the outer perimeter of a dark, circular room. The stations follow a timeline of sorts, presented in chronological order by civilization, each station illuminated to emphasize the contents of its display.
A large infographic at the entrance reads:
“Welcome to the Rockcastle Museum of Ancient History’s ‘Ask the Oracle’ exhibit. Civilizations throughout history, from the ancient world to the modern, have sought counsel and prophetic predictions from various priests, priestesses, gods, goddesses, and even objects. From kings who sought wisdom in decision-making to Biblical figures casting lots to determine God’s will, there are countless examples of mankind’s desperation to determine the future. We hope you enjoy exploring the methods ancestors used.”
“Interesting.” Cody looks at me and shrugs, then leads me to Station 1: Oracle Bones of the ancient Chinese. We stare, wide-eyed, at the giant shoulder blade from an ox with a huge crack down the center. The placard indicates that priests would interpret the cracked bones to offer guidance from ancestors or deities.
“This might have helped with matchmaking and crops, but it sure didn’t do much against the Mongols.” He continues to stare at the giant bone.
“Touché,” I agree, and we wander over to Station 2: The Oracle at Delphi from ancient Greece. After reading the infographic at this station, we’ve decided Pythia didn’t expect Roman emperor Theodosius to shut down the temple to end pagan cults, so she lacks credibility. We aren’t too impressed with Station 3: Agalmatomancy in ancient Egypt, but both agree ‘agalmatomancy’ is a clutch Words for Nerds dinger.
I check my phone and realize time is of the essence. “Want to skip Station 4 and head straight to Station 5: Modern Mediums.” He does. So we do.
This station contains an iPad to check your daily horoscope, instructions and paper to create an origami fortune teller, and a Magic 8 Ball. There is also an infographic with a brief history of each. Cody and I look at each other as I reach for the Magic 8 Ball.
Cody asks the first question, “Does Rae Baughman still hate my guts because I copied her math homework in 6th grade?”
“You did?” I’m confused. I feel like I would remember that.
“No. No, I didn’t. Never happened.”
“That’s why you don’t speak to me? You think I’m mad because you cheated off some old homework assignment?” I give him a pseudo-stink eye and he blushes. It is kind of adorable. He continues.
“Will Mr. Parson actually grade these scavenger hunts?”
I shake the ball and wait for the tiny neon blue triangle to share our fate. “No. Wow, this toy is clairvoyant.”
“Clairvoyant. Also a good Words with Nerds term.”
I’m surprised by his next question: “Will Rae Baughman please go to prom with me?”
I almost drop the Magic 8 Ball. I recover and give it a shake. Hmmm…I don’t love the answer ‘My sources say no,’ so I give it another shake. Told you this stuff gets it wrong most of the time. Fortune telling is NOT a science…
“Outlook good.” I smile. “Rae Baughman will go to prom with you.”
I wasn’t expecting Cody to fist pump the air in victory when I answered, but it does wonders for my self-confidence. I wonder what dress color would complement his gorgeous emerald eyes?
The speaker system cracks and pops as Dr. Rosenbury’s voice instructs students to report to the museum’s main lobby. Moments later, Mr. Parson counts each student as they climb the steps to the bus. We’re headed to Chick-fil-A for the Lord’s Chicken, I have extra praises to lift His way.