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Fiction #498
(published August 5, 2010)
by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
My mother was concerned about my lack of friends though I assured her I had people to eat lunch with.

"You should be out playing football or sharing songs you've just downloaded. Hey guys, listen to this new song by Jay E," she said mimicking a teenager's voice.

"It's Jay-Z."

"Whoever. I'm just saying boys your age should be interested in things other than gadgets."

I wanted to remind her that I have always loved gadgets; it fascinates me, taking electronic things apart and putting them back together, figuring out how they operated. Much easier than girls, but I wasn't about to get my mom started on that topic.

Still at the next parent-teacher conference, she conspired with Mrs. Hathaway, my homeroom teacher, to improve my social life. I'd mentioned an upcoming group project for my English class and my mother asked if I could be placed with some of the more popular kids. Mrs. Hathaway said she'd see what she could do.

About a week later when the teacher posted the assigned groups, I found myself with Robbie, Jeff and Thomas, guys who lived on my block. Never really friends in elementary school, I was even less an acquaintance in middle. I stepped away from the bulletin board, telling myself to keep calm. My stomach tightened every time I thought of the assignment, but what could I do?

My mother next suggested I ask "my group" over to our house to discuss the project. Or she could do it, she said. Call their mothers.

Okay, okay, I'll invite them!

On the day we were supposed to meet, I asked each in class if he were still coming. Not the most enthusiastic, but the answer was yes dismay. Hyperventilation aside, we still had a project to do so we gathered at my house afterschool.

In my bedroom, I shared my ideas for what we might do.

Robbie shrugged. "Sure, whatever," he said. "Do what you want."

"Uhm, guys it's a group project. You can—and should—have some input."

Jeff rolled his eyes and laughed.

They looked at each other, their expressions unreadable to me, though there was something clearly being said.

Take a breath, I reminded myself. Breathe.

"I'm gonna get us something to eat," I said, leaving the room and heading to the kitchen. My mom was planning to make sandwiches and she'd bought those boxes of juice, but I told her if she really wanted to help me, she'd buy all things bad for our teeth.

Returning with soda, chips and snack cakes, I found my room empty though I heard the guys down the hall.

I rushed down to my mother's room to find them going through the drawers in her dresser.

"What are you guys doing?"

Robbie looked over his shoulder at me. "Parents always have cool shit."

I walked over to them. "We're supposed to be working on the project."

"You got it covered."

"Look at this," Jeff said. He turned to the other guys with a box in his hand. Opening it, he took out an elongated plastic gadget. He flipped the switch and it began to quiver.

The soft humming of the motor thundered in my head. "What's that?"

"Your Mom's boyfriend," Jeff said.

"Her battery-operated one!" Robbie added.

Their laughter was suffocating.

"Y-y-you guys should put that back. And maybe you should leave," I said, feeling like I wanted to throw up.

Jeff said that was no problem, though they goofed around some, trying to touch someone with or not get touched by the thing.

When my mother got home, she knocked on my door and asked how things had went.

"They went."

"Well you can tell me more at dinner."

"I'm not hungry," I told her. "Working on my share of the project," I said.

I didn't want to see my mother more than I never wanted to see those guys again. Deciding to avoid another group meeting, I stayed up that night and wrote the paper for our class. I made note cards for the guys for the oral presentation. I put all our names on the title page.

When it was graded, we all got an A. Nobody said thanks but they never mentioned going to my house. Not till that day when Mrs. Hathaway was having problems getting the monitor and DVD player to work.

She called me up from my desk to help her. "You're good with these electronic things."

"It runs in his family," Robbie said as I passed his desk. "They love their electronics.

"Z-z-z, z-z-z," he said, Thomas and Jeff joining in and laughing. "Z-z-z, z-z-z."

Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz likes to write, and does so from Las Cruces, NM.

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