A/N: I hope you enjoy this tribute to my inner nerd!
She surveyed him darkly as he wrote down answers in his impeccably neat script, head bent over his work. Looking at his deceptively innocent appearance, one would not have guessed what unthinkable acts he was capable of. Beating her in both the most recent chemistry and biology tests, by margins of two and three percent respectively!
It was unheard of, and the 'ooh's of exaggerated surprise that rippled through the class as he was congratulated for the top mark – an honour formerly hers by default – caused her cheeks to burn and her determination to rise. While she was in high school, she would not let anybody take her place at the top of the class.
It was her own fault, she supposed. She had underestimated the new boy, but then who could really blame her? For one thing, he was not pale and skinny as one would expect a top student (others might use the term 'nerd', but she called it hard-working and intelligent) to be. Also, he was left-handed! By all rights he should have been an artistic or musical type – not a scientist! And for God's sake, he wasn't even wearing glasses! What kind of (she only just stopped herself from using that crude and commonly used term) hard-working and intelligent person did not suffer from myopia? The whole matter was terribly confusing.
'Ten minutes left!'
With a start, she started scribbling down answers, kicking herself for letting him have the extra advantage of time. If she wasn't careful, he would surpass her in psychology as well, and she couldn't have that.
Seething, she carried the equipment needed for their dissection over to the bench. The nerve of that boy! Being assigned as lab partners for the rest of the semester was something she had initially seen as positive, as it would allow her to keep a closer eye on his progress, but now she was beginning to doubt. Being as straightforward as she was, she had told him in no uncertain terms that she would beat him in every assessment they had for the three subjects they shared classes in, and would most definitely reclaim her position at the top of the class.
To her surprise and fury, instead of looking scared or apprehensive, he merely looked rather taken aback for a few seconds before – there was no mistaking it – his lips curved slightly upward as though he was trying his best to suppress a smile and was not quite succeeding. 'I wouldn't bet on it,' he had said, and without another word, had gone to collect the two rats they were to dissect.
Once they had set up, they both started working quickly on their respective dissections, her keen on finishing faster than him, and him keen on not letting that happen. He had the advantage over her, as he had done this dissection before at his previous school, but still he focused entirely on his rat, determined that he would not let his concentration waver through overconfidence. She was similarly intent on her own dissection, except when she looked up to check his progress.
All was well so far – she was quite a bit further than he was, even if her cuts were not so precise. She watched – meaning to do so only for a moment – as he pulled, sliced and poked, and was transfixed. There was something fascinating and strangely beautiful in the way his long, deft fingers steadily and efficiently worked. He was, she thought, handling the rat as gently as if he were a musician playing a soft and lovely piece on a piano, or an artist adding the last few fine strokes to his masterpiece.
She gasped. He looked up, pausing from his work and she was almost sorry to see him stop. 'What happened?' he asked, looking rather concerned.
She wordlessly held up her finger, gashed and bleeding from her careless scalpel. He helped her wash it and bandage it, abandoning his rat, and all the while she was silently kicking herself for losing concentration because she found the sight of him disemboweling a dead rat strangely attractive.
He looked bemusedly at her, the straightforward and abrupt girl who had for the past few days thrown herself so deeply into her work that she hardly looked up from her books. He watched as she typed numbers with lightning speed into her calculator, impatiently brushing a stray lock of dark hair out of her eyes. To his amusement, it promptly fell back where it was before, eliciting an impatient noise from her as she pushed it more forcefully out of her face.
He started as the teacher called for them to set up the equipment needed to perform a titration. Then he smiled. Nothing had ever distracted him from chemistry before.
He helped her set up the burettes and pipettes and flasks they required, both of them silent and business-like as they both swiftly set up their experiments. In their white lab coats and large goggles, they were once more in fierce competition.
He concentrated thoroughly, even on the mechanical task of rinsing all the glassware first with deionized water and then with the reactant that was to be placed in them. He couldn't afford to mix things up – after all, the three substances they were working with were all clear liquids. Once ready for his experiment, he placed his mouth on the end of his pipette and slowly began to draw up the liquid, carefully bringing it up to the right amount.
He chanced a glance at her, to check her progress. She was at the same stage as he was, drawing up the liquid slowly, creating a seal with her thumb and checking the level of the liquid, and then finding it short of the gradation mark, deftly replacing her small pink mouth on the end of the pipette. He observed in fascination the precise and gentle pressure her lips exerted as she gradually drew up the liquid.
Suddenly he spluttered and started to cough. A mouthful of sodium hydroxide was none too pleasant. She looked up at the noise, and seemed torn between amusement and concern, for she knew just as well as he did that sodium hydroxide was corrosive and a gastric and respiratory irritant. Letting the carefully gathered liquid in her pipette drain back into its beaker, she took his arm and briskly led him to the emergency wash station.
They were both sitting in the front row, and she had just begun to write down her first answer when a piece of paper landed in her lap. She sneaked a quick side glance at him, not wanting to look like she was cheating. He seemed intent on his paper, except that his lips were curved into the tiniest of smiles.
Surreptitiously under the desk with her left hand, she unfolded the note:
Iodine lithiumpotassiumeinsteinium yttriumoxygenuranium
She frowned in confusion, scribbling a reply (if it could be called that) before she dropped the note back into his lap.
He rolled his eyes, scribbling something on the note, tossing it back to her.
Look again, he had written, look at their chemical symbols.
She stared at the message again, and then her face broke into a sudden smile.
Iodine lithiumpotassiumeinsteinium yttriumoxygenuranium
I LiKEs YOU
It was a good thing she was anal about chemistry and not English grammar, because however much his grammar might be lacking, his chemistry was one hundred percent correct.
Their hands clasped under the desk, both of them smiling until their cheek muscles began to ache, their test papers largely ignored.
The next week when the top result for the test was announced and the girl who sat in the back row was congratulated, neither he nor she minded in the least.
A/N: How was it? Please review with any comments, criticism, etc.!