Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment (3 page)

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
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“Hematite,” I said.

She handed me the mineral. I felt its rough edges. Its bumpy surface gleamed. “Is this the one from your collection?”

“No. I got this one just for you. I had a feeling I'd be seeing you again—since you're the rock club president's grandson and all.” She smiled with her lips closed.

My face got hot, and not from the sun beating down on us from above the treetops. I hadn't been sure she'd believed me about being Grandpa Ed's grandson, since he hadn't introduced me that way at the meeting. “Oh. Uh … thanks.”

“Isn't the botryoidal habit amazing?”

What kind of habit would a mineral have? I examined the hematite as if I knew exactly what she
meant. “Uh, sure.” I shuffled my feet, trying to think of some way to escape her stare, which was as intense as the sun's rays.

“Morgan!” her dad called.

. I was saved—in more ways than one. She turned toward her dad.

“Ready to finish the job?” He held up the rubber mallet he'd been using to pound the tent stakes.

Grandpa Ed said something and slapped the man's back. They laughed. Another car arrived with two men inside.

Morgan turned to me, grinning. “We're going to have so much fun!” She bounded back to the tent. I stood there holding the hematite, not sure what had just happened.

Grandpa Ed came and started pulling supplies from the back of the truck. “Got yourself a girlfriend?”

I shoved the mineral into my pocket. Hopefully he wouldn't ask what it was. “I don't even know her!”

He smiled slightly and slicked his orangish-gray hair away from his forehead. “Don't go getting your boxers in a wad.” He handed me the large canvas bag of digging tools. “Take this, will you?”

I slung the bag over my shoulder and practically fell over backward. I glanced in Morgan's direction, then quickly looked back to Ed, hoping he hadn't noticed me checking to see if she'd seen me stumble. Fortunately, he was fiddling with a knob on his Coleman stove.

“Morgan's been coming to our meetings all summer. Smart girl. Her dad says she's been hounding since she was knee-high. What more could a boy ask for?”

Grandpa Ed pulled out our tent and walked to a spot about ten yards from Morgan and her dad. I dragged the bag of tools behind me, scowling. I wasn't asking for
—not a piece of hematite and definitely not a girlfriend.

I'd have to make sure no one got the wrong idea about Morgan and me.
Not in a million years!

A few hours later, the ten of us on the expedition were spread out along a steep hillside. Scraggly pine trees shaded us, but it was still super-hot. We crouched over screens, panning for crystals like prospectors during the gold rush. I had to use all my Tae Kwon Do balancing skills to keep from sliding down the rocky slope.

My grandpa, the expedition leader, had shown me where to dig and how to move the sand and pebbles through the quarter-inch screen. Quartz fragments littered the ground, but so far I'd only found a couple worth keeping—one about three-quarters the size of my pinky; the other, half the size of that.

I set the screen on the ground, took off my baseball cap, and swiped my forehead with my arm. Panning for crystals was about as slow going as fishing, but with way
more work involved! I had never broken a sweat sitting on the pier with Grampa Clem.

Grandpa Ed handed me the flask. I took a swig of water. He pointed to some rock outcroppings. “Granite,” he said. “You're looking at the Snoqualmie Batholith right there—a huge igneous rock formation, mostly underground. We can see it thanks to erosion and uplift.”

Morgan piped up from where she balanced nearby, still shaking her screen. “My dad and I read about that. The batholith was formed in the late Oligocene epoch, twenty-eight
years ago! It's teeming with minerals.”

I'd read the same thing, preparing for our trip.

“Absolutely right!” Grandpa Ed winked at her. “That girl of yours is sharp as a tack, John. Sharp as a tack.”

I pulled my cap down low on my head and went back to digging. So she'd read a few things. What was so sharp about that?

“Don't I know it.” Morgan's dad leaned on the end of his shovel. “Keeps her mom and me on our toes, that's for sure.”

I grabbed my screen and started sifting. I was determined to find something big. Something Grandpa Ed would say was a real find. Something I could take home and show Dad.

A glint in the dirt caught my eye. I swiped at the topsoil, uncovering a rounded whitish rock almost as big
as a baseball. Sparkly flecks on the rock gleamed, even in the shadows. Was it some kind of mica? Could it be muscovite?

“Grandpa! I think I found something!” I held up the rock. He stepped over and took the specimen.

“Hmmm … yes.”

“Is it muscovite?” Excitement built in my chest.

Grandpa Ed turned the rock over in his hand. “This right here is what we'd call … a throw-it-at-your-cat rock.” He and a few of the guys standing nearby laughed. He plopped the dumb thing back into my palm. I glanced around, feeling as hot as if the granite around us were still magma and not hardened rock. Morgan kneeled with her back to us, intently shaking her screen. She didn't appear to have heard the joke.

“Sorry, kiddo.” Grandpa Ed thumped my back. “Keep looking.”

A few minutes later, Morgan cried out, “Look at this!” She held up a large chunk of something. It didn't look like much. Probably just a big dirt clod around a few tiny crystals.

Grandpa Ed hiked over to where she stood. I stayed put. I could see fine from where I was, and I was sure what I'd see would be the clump breaking up in Grandpa Ed's hands.
Too bad
, I'd say.
Better luck next time

“Mind if I take a look?” Grandpa Ed took the dried-mud-covered whatever it was and knocked off as much dirt as he could. He spit on it a few times and rubbed it
against his shirt. He held it up again. “Well, how about that? You found yourself a

A couple of men and one of the women digging and sifting nearby stopped their work to see what Grandpa Ed was making such a big deal about.

I inched over, still not believing the clump of crystals could be as big as it looked. Grandpa Ed pointed to the large center crystal. Its end was purple-tinged. “Looky here.”

“Is that
?” Morgan asked. She sounded in awe of her own find.

No way
, I thought.

“You bet,” Grandpa Ed said.

Morgan's and my eyes opened wide at the same time.

Grandpa Ed patted Morgan's shoulder as he handed back the crystals. She held up the specimen for her dad to see. He smiled and nodded in approval.

“I haven't seen a cluster that impressive in at least two or three years,” Grandpa Ed said.

Two or three
? The odds of me discovering anything close to what this girl had found were suddenly a big fat zero. She had gotten my specimen. The huge one
was going to find!

Morgan smiled from ear to ear. Her mouth seemed almost too big for her face. “Do you want to see it, Brendan?” She held out the quartz. The amethyst-tinged quartz.

Of course I did. But I couldn't bring myself to say so.

Morgan came closer with the cluster, still holding it out. I took it in my hands, solid, heavy. Purple, like my Tae Kwon Do belt, which stood for “growing nobly toward harvest.” I imagined myself running and sliding down the hillside with the crystals in my hand.

And then what? Making a getaway in Grandpa Ed's truck? Not exactly what I'd call noble.

I gave her back her find. My mouth said, “Sweet,” but my mood had turned sour.

After another half hour or so, we headed to a different site in the same area. I dug for a little while, but when I wasn't finding much, I threw sticks for P.J. to fetch, until he got bored and wandered off. So then I got out my notebook and tried to think up some more Big Questions, like “What makes amethyst purple?” and “How does deodorant work?” and “Could cow farts actually heat homes?”

Finally, we all hiked back to the campsite. While the others crowded around Morgan's specimen, the biggest catch of the day, I stayed near our tent, using a metal brush to scrub the few measly pieces I had to show for all my work. At least P.J. didn't care about Morgan's “amazing” amethyst. He lay at my feet, pooped from all his exploring and retrieving. I nicked my knuckles on the brass bristles and winced.

Grandpa Ed kneeled next to me. “I'd say those are about as clean as you're going to get them.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

He put his hand on the back of my neck. “Remember, finding minerals is one part skill, one part knowledge, and two parts luck. We'll have better luck next time.”

“Sure.” I kept my eyes on my crystal fragments.

“This one right here's a solid find.” He picked up the nearly clear crystal that was almost the size of my pinky. “Nice hexagonal form … not too cloudy.”

I tried to see the specimen for what it was instead of in comparison to anyone else's. Grandpa Ed was right. It wasn't so bad. It was pretty cool, actually. And I'd dug it myself.

Dinner was potluck style. Grandpa Ed fired up his Coleman stove, then went to his truck and brought back the most gigantic can of baked beans I'd ever seen in my life. Mom had sent me with fruit salad to share. Everyone put their food on the picnic table.

I filled my plate and sat in one of the low-to-the-ground folding chairs near the fire ring we'd made. I was working hard to keep my paper plate from sagging in the middle so that I wouldn't end up with a fruity baked-bean mess. I didn't like my foods to touch.

Morgan sat in the chair next to mine—the one I'd been saving for Grandpa Ed. He was still at the grill serving up franks and beans. “So, do you attend club meetings during the school year?” she asked.

I supposed I would, even though Grandpa Ed and I hadn't exactly discussed it. “Yeah. I mean, I guess so. I
just became a member.” Grandpa Ed had paid for my membership as part of my birthday present.

“Us, too. My family moved to Tacoma this summer.”

People actually move to Tacoma?
I thought, stuffing a spoonful of beans into my mouth. Everyone I knew had always just lived there, like me. “Why'd your family move?”

“My mom got a professor job at University of Washington–Tacoma. She's a marine biologist.”

How had this girl gotten so lucky? To have
scientist parents! I'd learned on the dig that her dad was an archaeologist.

“So, where do you go to school?” she asked as I took a big bite of hot dog.

“Eastmont Middle, as of next week,” I said through my food-filled mouth.

“No way! Me too!”

I coughed up a chunk I'd accidentally inhaled.

“Dad, guess what? Brendan and I are going to be at the same school!”

“Is that so?” Her dad sat in the chair on the other side of her. “That's great. You know, Brendan, you could do me a huge favor.”

I was still coughing. “Okay,” I said hoarsely, trying to get all my food going in the right direction.

“This will be Morgan's first experience with public school.”

“Dad!” Morgan looked as embarrassed as if her dad
had told me she wet the bed. But if he noticed, it didn't stop him from going on.

“And we just moved here from Florida. Morgan's mom and I would feel so much better if there was someone she already knows looking out for her there.”

Morgan huffed. “I don't need anyone to look out for me.”

I glanced back and forth between them, feeling caught. Her dad waited for my answer.

Morgan smiled suddenly and her face lit up. Literally. The sun reflected off her braces. The plastic spacers had glitter in them. “I don't need anyone to look out for me, but … we could be friends.” Her voice went up and down on
, like a shrug. Her eyes had gone all googly and she grinned like a clown.

“Uh … sure.”
What was I saying?
I had just committed to being friends with a girl I barely knew. The words had slipped out before I'd really taken the time to calculate their mass.

So she knew about mineral habits and epochs and finding gigantic crystal clusters. These things were interesting to me, but not so much to my buddies at school. I didn't need a girl trailing me around Eastmont talking loudly about the prehistoric formation of basalt as if it were as exciting as baseball. A girl who used words like
—whatever she'd called the hematite—and
. A girl who had glitter in her braces! The guys would totally hassle me!

But I'd said okay. That meant now I'd have to do it. If Tae Kwon Do had taught me anything, it was the importance of integrity, which means keeping one's word.

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
2.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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