Rex Shelby stood in the cafeteria line, trying very hard to appear indifferent to the fact that the prettiest girl in school was standing right behind him. Katie was in two of his classes but he hardly ever talked to her. While most of his friends had gone through pre-K and elementary school together, Katie had moved over the summer and appeared in the sixth grade, fitting right in with everyone as if she was one of them. She was small and efficient; something about her reminded him of a hummingbird, always flitting from one place to the next. Also: she was was the purest ivory-cream perfection, with wide-spaced hazel eyes, thick brown hair and pale skin. Under her prim blue shift, he could detect a supple developing body.
He turned around and looked at her, trying very hard to be casual. “Hi.”
“What’s up, cowboy?”
He grabbed a chicken sandwich.
Katie smiled. “I’m a vegetarian.”
He wasn’t sure what to say about that. He grabbed a carton of milk, paid for his lunch and walked to the table where Scott, Ken and Joe had witnessed the whole miserable exchange.
“She talked to you!” Joe hissed at him.
“I’m an idiot,” he said and took a drink of his milk. “I’m a complete idiot. She told me she was a vegetarian and I didn’t say anything. I just walked away.”
He glanced over at her, now sitting at a table with her girlfriends. She was smiling and laughing with the group; she didn’t even noticed that he hadn’t said anything.
He knew it as certainly as he knew his own name: he had really, truly messed up his only chance to impress her.
She was in his language arts class and science class. In science, after lunch, she sat in the middle of the classroom, her intelligent little face watching the teacher with an earnestness that made his heart ache. He didn’t understand her at all. She unexpectedly glanced over and smiled. Only then did he realize he had been holding his breath. Breathing was suddenly the most wonderful, fizzy feeling in the world; he had to smile back.
He blinked, realizing the teacher was speaking to him.
“Mr. Shelby, is something funny?”
“No,” he replied and looked down at his paper. Though he was smiling and happy, this was most definitely not funny. It was the most serious thing he had ever known. Therefore, he could not risk looking at her again.
It was fortunate that his logical side kicked in because the teacher was assigning a very big project and he had to pay attention. The task seemed crazy: “invent something”.
“It can be anything,” the teacher was saying. “It just has to be your own idea and you can not spend more than $100 on it.”
Rex wrote down, “$100″ on his paper.
“You will work in teams of four. Any questions?”
Katie raised her hand. “Is the $100 for each of us, or for the whole project?”
“For the whole project,” said the teacher. “However a company in California has agreed to partner with our school. Whoever makes the best project will get a four thousand dollar check to put toward your college education. That is one thousand dollars for each member of your team.”
Rex wrote down, “$1000!” on his paper. The number seemed incredibly huge. If his team won, he wouldn’t need to work as much through college, which would enable him to concentrate completely on his studies. This seemed like a great opportunity.
“Any other questions?”
Katie raised her hand again.
“Does it have to be, like, an actual thing or can we make an idea like a business plan?”
The teacher smiled. “There has to be some physical component. Okay? Any other questions?”
With no further questions, the teacher directed them to get into their groups and brainstorm on their inventions. Naturally, Rex, Ken, Scott and Joe gravitated together. Once he was with the boys, he didn’t look back at Katie. He was working and he took work very seriously. “I have an idea,” Scott said. “What if we make, like, a way to watch movies on the internet.”
“Like DVDs?” Joe asked.
“No, like you go to a website and you can watch movies.”
It sounded good to Rex. And more importantly, he was sure it would win the $1000.
Hours later, in Language Arts, the boy behind him tapped him on the shoulder. Rex turned and the boy handed him a piece of paper. Rex took it, holding it under the desk to keep it out of the view of the teacher. Very large blue loopy writing jumped off the page; all the loops seemed for a moment unreadable, so he looked immediately at the bottom of the page. It was signed Katie. He felt a pulse of surprise and pleasure. He squinted and read through her viney handwriting:
Hi Rex, it is me Katie. What is your project in Science?????? Our group is making a delivery service for kids we are buying Baskets for our Bikes and we are making a website where kids can make orders for things like candy or pizza or pencils or stuff like that. I want to make sure we have like pink pencils and blue pencils and green pencils and some cool pens and some nice erasers and maybe some pads of paper and like some rubber bands for girls who wear their hair back and because it can get really annoying in the Summer Time to have your hair down, it is very hot, you would not know about that because you are a boy, hahaha but you do have nice hair and I like your eyes a lot, they are very pretty, you have nice eyes. We think it is a good project. We think we will win the prize. What is your project???????
Rex surreptitiously wrote, “Movie website.” He passed the note back to the boy behind him. The note made its way across the classroom to Katie, who was sitting by the windows. The afternoon light was streaming through the windows; she looked angelic with the blue sky and fluffy clouds behind her. He watched as she unfolded the note. She didn’t smile. She didn’t appear to think the movie idea was very good at all. With an expressionless face, she read the words, then tucked the note neatly inside her book. She didn’t look at him for the rest of the class.
He wasn’t sure about this Katie girl. She didn’t act like other girls. He just didn’t know what to make of her. Anyway, he had work to do. He bent his head to the worksheet the teacher had assigned.
After the bell rang, he waited until Katie had packed up her stuff and walked with her into the hallway. “Did you like my project idea?”
She turned to him with a frown. “Yes I like it a lot but you apparently don’t like mine at all. You didn’t say anything!”
“You just asked me what our project was.”
She rolled her eyes. “I said you had pretty eyes.”
Rex was in completely unfamiliar territory. He looked at her helplessly, trying to figure out what he was supposed to say. “Sorry,” he said finally.
She smiled. “It’s okay.”
He saw Scott coming down the hallway so he said, “See ya tomorrow,” and walked away. Scott said, “What was that about?”
“She needed help with her homework.”
Later that evening, in the large dining room at Ken’s house, the boys sat around the table with notebooks.
“I’m the leader,” said Ken.
“Why are you the leader?” Joe asked.
“Because I said so.”
“I want to be the leader.”
“You can both be the leader,” Rex said. He was eager to get to work and didn’t care for the self-imposed bureaucracy of official roles.
To his surprise both Joe and Ken seemed to accept that. Scott rolled his eyes and Rex laughed.
Ken said, “What we’re going to do is, make a website where you can download videos, like YouTube but for movie companies. Rex, you’re the technology man. Scott, you’re going to find us a client.”
“What are you going to do?” Rex asked.
“I’m going to manage.”
Rex didn’t want to argue. He would concentrate on his own part of the project. He had been playing with computers since he was four; he was very certain he could put together a great website. Any obstruction to success wasn’t the bickering between Joe and Ken, it was the fact that Katie kept sneaking into his thoughts, distracting him.
The day before the project was due, Rex walked into the cafeteria and saw Katie in line. She waved at him, and he approached. “Here, you can cut in line,” she said.
“No, it’s okay, I’ll wait.”
She squinted at him.
“I can’t cut. That’s cheating.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
He walked to the back of the line and watched as she paid for her vegetarian lunch and walked over to the girl’s table.
Rex ate his lunch with Scott, Joe and Ken as they talked about their project. Ken suddenly dropped his fork. “Oh my God, we forgot to make a video to upload.”
Rex slumped in his chair. He had been so busy with the technology he hadn’t thought about the actual video. “Okay,” he said, “come over to my house after school and we’ll make some videos.”
During Language Arts, he received a note from Katie.
Hi it’s me Katie!!!! Are you finished with your project? We are finished with ours. We are going to win the prize tomorrow hahaha I hope you do well though!
He picked up his pencil and wrote:
Do you want to come over to my house this afternoon to help us with our videos?
He passed it through class. It returned thirty seconds later:
YES COOL OKAY!!!!!! OKAY I WILL BE THERE AFTER SCHOOL OKAY THANKS!
That girl was a spaz. But she was cute.
By three o’clock all the boys and Katie were in Rex’s room. Katie looked uncomfortable. She looked somehow smaller without the context of school. Maybe it was just because there were four boys and only one girl. “Okay, we need to make a video,” Scott said. “What should we do?”
“I’ll just talk about the technology,” Rex said. “Then we can upload it onto the website and show it for our final presentation.”
“What do you need me for?” Katie asked.
“You can introduce us,” Rex said. What he was thinking is that he would get extra points for having a member of another team on the video.
They went into the living room to film. Katie sat on the sofa while Scott filmed the introduction. Then he turned the camera to Rex. Rex talked for two minutes about the technology. He described what the technology could do right now, and also how it could be expanded to be even better.
“That’s it,” Scott said and put the camera on the table.
“I’m thirsty,” Joe said.
“There’s soda in the fridge.”
Scott, Joe and Ken went into the kitchen. Katie sat very still on the sofa. Rex sat down beside her. “You looked really cute,” Katie said.
She smelled nice, like Hershey kisses and cherry lip gloss. He picked up her hand, and she looked at him. He made his move and kissed her.
He pulled back just as Joe came around the corner. “You want a soda?”
“I have to go,” Katie said suddenly. She said goodbye and ran out the front door.
Scott grabbed his camera. “I have to go too.”
Rex said goodbye to his friends and slumped down on the sofa. He was excited about the project but he was also worried because Katie didn’t seem happy. “Girls,” he muttered, “what do they want?”
The next morning, Scott cornered Rex before first period. “The video,” he hissed. “It shows you kissing Katie!”
Rex betrayed no emotion. “Are you sure?”
“Dude, I think I would know if I am seeing you kiss Katie.”
“Okay, well we can’t show the video then.”
“We have to. You explain how the technology works.”
Rex shook his head. “I’m not going to embarrass Katie that way. No way. Just don’t use it.”
“You think we can still win?”
“Sure. But don’t use the video. And don’t tell Katie.”
Scott said okay.
When Rex saw Katie at lunch she was already sitting at the table with the girls. He smiled and she smiled back. He was feeling better about the whole thing.
During science, he watched Katie’s group give their presentation. The girls had hand-made some baskets for the handlebars of their bikes and handed out papers that showed a business plan for their delivery service for kids.
After they were finished, the teacher called Rex’s group. Each of the four boys spoke about their video system.
They didn’t show the video, but Rex was pretty sure they did okay. The students clapped wildly and the teacher even said it was amazing. They would have to wait until Monday to find out their grades, and who won the $1,000.
During Language Arts, he sent Katie a note:
Hi Katie, you look pretty today.
Within seconds, the note returned to him with her large, blue, loopy, crazy handwriting:
Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was worried because you didn’t talk to me during lunch after you kissed me yesterday. Hahaha you kissed me, that was nice I really thought you were very sweet but when you did it it surprised me so I hope that’s okay that I left like I did but I felt shy and I thought your friends needed to finish the project and today I see that you did a lot of good work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You have a great project and I am sure that you will be getting a 100 but I hope our team wins the $1000 because I would spend it on books, I want to go to medical school!!!! I want to be a heart surgeon because they make a lot of money and are good people!!!!! XOXO Katie
On Monday, as soon as Rex sat down at his desk in algebra, he was surprised to hear his name called over the loud speaker with Joe, Scott and Ken. The four boys convened in the principal’s office. “You’ve been accused of cheating,” the principal said. “The website doesn’t do what you claim it does.”
Bewildered, Rex looked to Scott, who shrugged.
“The teacher is willing to give you an opportunity to re-do the project. Meanwhile, you’re all getting detention.”
Rex stood in mute shock.
“Rex, apparently you showed a video about the technology?”
Rex shook his head. “No, I didn’t.”
“He did!” Ken exclaimed. “He did! He lied about the technology. It was his idea. He said in the video that you could buy movies from big movie companies but really you couldn’t. It was like YouTube and he was saying it was like Comcast OnDemand.”
Rex listened calmly. He did not understand what was happening. Why was his friend, and the project leader, lying about him? Why would he do that?
“Go back to class, boys.”
Rex walked back to class with a heavy heart. He kept trying to figure out what happened. He got a partial answer at lunch. Ken wasn’t at the table. Scott and Joe looked as depressed as he felt. “The principal is saying if I admit to cheating, I can serve a week detention and be done with it,” said Joe. “If I don’t, he’s threatening to fail me for the year.”
“What are you gonna do?” Rex asked.
“I can’t admit to something I didn’t do,” Joe said miserably. Rex thought of Joe’s family. His mom and dad and siblings were all very accomplished people. If Joe failed sixth grade, they’d be extremely upset.
Scott was angry. “This is bullshit! This is totally bullshit! I’m going to the superintendent. I’m not letting these assholes get away with this. No way.”
After lunch, Rex saw Katie in the hallway. He pulled her out of the flow of traffic to the lockers. “I guess you heard that we’re accused of cheating.”
She smiled. “I know.”
“Ken said we did. And I think Joe is going to say so too.”
“I know you didn’t.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
“I have to tell you something,” she said. “Our team won the $1000.”
Rex was genuinely happy for her. He thought of her in medical school, mending people’s hearts. It seemed to fit. Spontaneously he leaned forward and kissed her again. “You’re gonna get us in trouble!” she laughed.
He shrugged. There was nothing anyone could do to him. He was innocent.
As of this writing, Ken was given detention and released.
Joe confessed to cheating and is expected to receive his detention in the next six months. He is expected to graduate with the other sixth graders.
Scott took his case all the way to the Superintendent. The superintendent will rule on Scott’s case in the next month.
Rex maintains his innocence. The principal has agreed not to assign Rex to detention until the superintendent rules on Scott’s case.
Katie has changed her mind about medical school and plans to get an MBA instead, so she can implement her idea of a delivery service for kids.