Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment (5 page)

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
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Mom pulled in to the turnaround and stopped near the front of the school, in line with several other cars dropping kids off. “First day of middle school. My boo is truly growing up.” She was getting mushy on me again. I had to make my escape quick, before she planted her lips on my face.

“See you later, Mom.” I hopped out of the car.

Mom leaned over and looked out the passenger door. “See you right here after school. Got it?”

“Got it.” I shut the door firmly and turned toward the building. I heard the automatic window roll down.

“Love you!” she called out.

“Me too!” I yelled over my shoulder.

A few steps later, I turned for real and waved. The car hadn't moved, of course. She blew me a kiss. We grinned at each other. I love my mom. I just didn't want her to give me a big smooch in front of a bunch of other kids on my first day of middle school.

I walked toward the entrance, gripping the straps on my backpack. Khal had told me he'd heard of sixth graders getting shoved into lockers, or having their underwear ripped off and hung in the bushes. Would I get stuffed into a locker or be tackled for my underpants?

Dozens of kids milled around on the sidewalk and playing field. No one else seemed in a hurry to get inside, but I wanted to go say hi to Mr. Hammond. My fifth-grade and favorite teacher of all time had taken an open science position at Eastmont, so he was moving from grade school to middle school, same as us. Knowing Mr. H was somewhere in this big sprawling building helped me feel a little less nervous.

A blur came at me from the side. Was someone after me already?

I shouted and put up my hands in a
—a block. After two years of practicing almost every day, Tae Kwon Do moves came as naturally to me as riding my bike.

The blur rammed into me. Khalfani wrapped his arm around my neck and pulled me into his chest. “Hey, man! Where you been? Oscar and I been waiting ten minutes already.” We pretended to spar for a second; then he tugged me in the direction of the far side of the building. Oscar and Marcus stood on the other side of the chain-link fence, throwing a football back and forth.

I was glad I wasn't being led to a bathroom stall to have my head flushed in a toilet, but I didn't feel like playing ball right then. “Wait a sec.” I stopped and Khal let go. “I was headed in to say hi to Mr. H.”


“Mr. Hammond. Our science teacher.”

Khal rolled his eyes. “Aw, man. That can wait. Come on, we need you to play two-on-two!”

A girl's voice came from behind. “Brendan! Brendan!” I didn't need to look to know who it was. Even though my Tae Kwon Do integrity meter told me I shouldn't, I started walking toward the field. Quickly.

Khal caught up. “Did you become a celebrity recently or something? Because you've got a girl chasing you.”

I didn't stop. “Oscar and Marcus are waiting, remember?”

“Too late,” Khal said.

Morgan rushed up, her eyes gleaming. “Hi, Brendan! Isn't this so exciting? Our first day of middle school! I was hoping I'd see you outside, so we could walk in together.
It's much nicer to walk into a new place with someone you know. Don't you think?”

She was talking a mile a millisecond. “Sure,” I said. I didn't want to be mean, but I already
friends to walk into school with.

Morgan held out her hand to Khalfani. “Hi, I'm Morgan. What's your name?”

Khal scrunched his face. “Morgan? As in Morgan Freeman? Isn't that a boy's name?”

“Actually, it's unisex. And how do you know I'm not named after Morgan Freeman? He's an extraordinary actor.”

“Extraordinary?” Khal's eyes slid over to meet mine.

“This is Khalfani. My best friend,” I said, so she would know the position was already taken.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Khalfani.” Morgan held out her hand again. If she ever took up Tae Kwon Do she wouldn't have any problem with tenet number three,
in nae
. Perseverance. “What's the origin of your name? It's beautiful.”

Khal's face scrunched even more. He looked at Morgan as if she had just dropped in from outer space.

“I mean, it's—it's very n-nice,” Morgan stammered. Her cheeks turned pink.

I felt kind of bad for her, but she had brought this on herself. Calling a boy's name beautiful was never a good idea.

“It's Swahili.” Khalfani puffed out his chest and lifted his chin. Morgan and I still stood taller than him. “It means ‘destined to lead.' But that doesn't mean I want
to follow me.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me along.

The skin between Morgan's eyebrows crinkled. I saw the hurt look in her eyes, but I turned and walked away before that look could get to me and make me do something I'd regret.

“Who was
?” Khal asked.

I had a feeling she was still there, watching us walk away—watching me do something that I knew was cold. But didn't
know she was embarrassing me in front of my best friend? Maybe this way, she'd get the message.

“Just a girl from my rock club.” I wasn't about to tell him that I'd spent a night in the woods with her. Or that I'd promised to hang around with her at school.

“Why was she talking to you like you're her best friend?”

I shrugged and kept walking, but I felt like a slug trailing slime. I started to run. When I got to the fence, I glanced back. She was gone.

When we got to homeroom, Morgan wasn't there. My shoulders relaxed with relief. I wasn't trying to be mean. It was just that Morgan was like this wiry, bouncy, talking paper clip. And I was a giant magnet. I didn't want a
talking paper clip stuck to my backside my whole first year of middle school. Hopefully she'd find some
to be friends with and wouldn't want to be around me so much. Problem solved.

The final bell rang and Ms. Manley called us to attention. “Okay, listen up. You are currently in Room 6E. Look at your class schedule and make sure you're in the right place. This is where you'll come at the start of each day for roll call and advisory. We'll work on the skills you need to make the best possible transition to the new and exciting world of middle school.” She didn't sound too excited. “If you're in pre-algebra, you'll stay with me for first period as well. Got it?”

Several people nodded, including me. This woman was serious.

Khal smacked his gum. The teacher eyed him, lifted the garbage can, and walked to our row. She didn't say anything—just held the can in front of Khal's face. Her biceps were nearly as big as Dad's. Khal spit his gum out.

While she was taking roll, the door opened. I expected it to be an adult with some kind of message, but it wasn't. It was a short kid with a buzz cut wearing camouflage pants, a brown T-shirt, and a military dog tag around his neck. His skin was brown, but he didn't look black, exactly. His eyes were shaped like footballs and were black as coal.

Behind him was Morgan. The rims of her eyes looked pink and watery, and her face was splotchy.

I shriveled like an ant under a magnifying glass in the sun.

“She was lost,” the boy announced, “but I found her.” He led her to Ms. Manley's desk.

“Thank you, Mister …” Ms. Manley waited for the boy to tell her his name.

“Del Santos. Dwight David!” The boy threw back his shoulders, clicked his heels, and saluted the class. Some of the kids laughed. Was he joking? Or did he really think school was like the army? Ms. Manley sure enough could've been a drill sergeant.

“Thank you, Mr. Del Santos. Have a seat.”

The boy marched to an empty chair, spun a one-eighty, did another salute, and sat. Definitely joking. More kids laughed, including Khal and me. Ms. Manley gave the class a sharp look and we all shut our mouths. She turned to Morgan. “And you are?”

“Morgan,” she said quietly. She pointed to her name on Ms. Manley's list.

“Thank you, Miss Belcher.”

Khalfani practically shouted.

Cordé Wilkins, who'd been known throughout our elementary school for his crazy-loud burps, must have seen his chance to establish a reputation at Eastmont. He let out the longest, juiciest belch I'd ever heard.

“Ewwww!” Both girls
boys were grossed out.

Khal waved his hand in front of his nose. “Man, Cordé! What'd you have for breakfast? Chili dogs?”

When people laughed this time, I bit the side of my cheek. Morgan had turned about as pink as a flamingo.

“That's enough!” Ms. Manley commanded. She glared at Cordé. “Young man, I'm confident you don't want to spend the first hour of your first day of middle school in the principal's office. Am I right?”

Cordé looked genuinely scared. I didn't blame him. Ms. Manley wasn't taking any mess.

Welcome to middle school

Turned out Morgan and I not only shared the same homeroom, we also had our first two classes together—pre-algebra and computer keyboarding—
we were locker neighbors. She
have to have a last name that started with
. The first time I saw her getting things out of the locker next to mine, I hung back, waiting for her to leave.

By the time third-period science rolled around and I still hadn't talked to Morgan, I felt like a moldy sandwich—the guilt was eating at me like a fungus on bread. I tried to forget about it as I joked around with Khal on the way to Mr. Hammond's class. Khal and I had gone to different elementary schools—we'd met at Tae Kwon Do—so he didn't know Mr. H. “You're really going to like him. His two favorite foods are chocolate and Coke.”

My arms swung free and easy. I had my brand-new
spiral-bound science notebook in my hand. And I was walking toward my favorite teacher's class for my favorite subject with my best friend. Life couldn't get any better than this.

The science room door was closed. Black paper covered the window. A sign on the glass said
! A hand-drawn lightning bolt was electrocuting a stick-figure person—some poor sixth grader who hadn't taken the proper precautions.

Inside, several kids sat in pairs behind long tables, all facing the counter and whiteboard at the front of the room. Mr. Hammond had his back to the door, talking to someone. I was dying to talk to Mr. H, too, but I'm not the kind of person who goes up to people when they're already speaking with someone else. Gladys would, but not me.

Khal and I sat at an empty table. I opened my notebook, which was full of blank pages just waiting to be filled with observations, data, and sources. Tables, charts, and graphs. Questions, hypotheses, and conclusions.

I wrote my name and “Mr. Hammond—3rd Period Science” on the first page. I had just started to write “Lab Notebook” when the person Mr. H had been talking to laughed. I already knew whose giggle it was, but I looked anyway. Morgan. A little bug of jealousy crawled up my neck.
Don't be stupid
, I thought.
Mr. Hammond was your teacher for a whole year. She just met him today

Morgan looked a lot happier than she had all morning. She had a big, goofy smile on her face. She came out from behind the counter and sat in the first row next to Aadesh Kapur, who everyone called Dash, because it sounded sort of like the second half of his first name but also because he had been the fastest kid in the fifth grade. He was also the brainiest. He and Morgan would get along well.

The bell rang and a few more kids rushed in. Without saying a word, Mr. Hammond pulled out a green balloon and began blowing it up. He tied it off, then blew up a red one. It grew bigger and bigger.

“Pop,” Jaivier Brown said, breaking the tense silence. A couple of girls giggled. I sat forward in my chair, eager to see what Mr. H would do next.

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
9.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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