CHAPTER 10 -- SUGAR CUBES
Nicole opened her locker to retrieve her history book and the Cheryl Strayed paperback as Derek watched her with a look of playful curiosity.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Just a book about hiking," she said, avoiding direct eye contact with his hypnotic hazel eyes as his rugged presence surrounded her. "I'm going to let a friend borrow it."
"Are you going to swing by football practice today?" he asked.
"I would have, but ... I've got detention," she replied with a frown.
"What? You've got detention. That's impossible," he said, his eyes bugging out and his right hand nearly fumbling his English book onto the floor.
"I know it's hard to believe, but I'm a normal person who gets in trouble from time to time, too," she said.
"I like you even more now," he said with a laugh.
Nicole blushed and gazed down at her chipped pinky nail.
"What for?" Derek asked.
"What for what?" she countered, completely forgetting what they had been talking about.
"Why did you get detention, Nikki?"
"Oh ... um ... it's kind of a long story. I wouldn't want to bore you with it."
"No, I gotta hear it."
"Take me out sometime and I'll tell you," she replied slyly.
"Probably not this week. I'm too busy. But next week maybe," she said, looking up at him and smiling now.
"What's your number?" he asked confidently.
"Hand me your phone and I'll make sure you have it."
Derek gave her his iPhone and she added her name and number to his contact list.
"Thanks," he said as she handed the phone back to him.
"You're welcome, Derek," she said, beaming.
"I like what you said about that White Stripes song in Richardson's class today," he said. "I guess I better take you out before this year whips by, too."
"Then that's what will do. Now go practice so you guys win on Friday night," she said.
"OK ... and you enjoy detention," he quipped before spinning around and nearly flattening Melanie Ferguson as she approached Nicole in the hall. "Sorry about that," he said.
"No problem," Melanie mumbled, checking to make sure all her limbs were still intact.
"Hey Mel," Nicole said as the short strawberry blonde began strolling with her down the nearly empty corridor. "I've only got a couple of minutes to talk. I've got detention at 2:30."
"What?" Melanie said, her jaw dropping open.
"What did you do, Nikki?"
"It's no big deal really, but I'll tell you when I have more time to talk."
"Wow ... there's a whole lot of crime and punishment going on around here lately," Melanie noted.
"Why ... what else happened?" Nicole asked with a furrowed brow.
"Well, Valerie just told me that Thomas Harvey got suspended today for calling Mr. Barnes 'a half-blind, faggot Oreo douche bag' in history class."
Nicole's heart skipped a beat at the mention of Thomas Harvey's name. She was so relieved to hear his crime didn't involve a gun that she actually chuckled at the long-winded insult. Melanie looked at her in horror over her reaction and Nicole immediately felt awful.
"How can you laugh at that, Nikki?" she asked. "Mr. Barnes is such a nice teacher. He's our teacher."
"I know. I'm sorry, Mel. I really didn't mean to," said Nicole, who sometimes sat next to Melanie in Mr. Barnes' honors history class -- not the lower-level class taken by Thomas Harvey.
"That's like a homophobic slur, a racial slur and an insult about his bad eyesight all in one sentence," Melanie pointed out.
"What's Oreo mean anyway?" Nicole asked.
"Well, I guess because Mr. Barnes is sort of, you know, half black, half white," Melanie replied.
"Oh ... that is terrible. Mr. Barnes is way too nice. He puts up with a lot of crap and he definitely doesn't deserve that kind of treatment," Nicole said. "Thomas is awful."
"Yeah, he's real bad news. Valerie said she heard he's out through Thursday," Melanie said.
"Wow," Nicole replied distractedly as she processed that nugget of information. She wasn't sure whether she felt safer with Thomas in school or roaming around outside it. Then she checked her watch. "Oh shit, I've gotta get downstairs for detention. I've got my own jail time to worry about."
"Good luck," Melanie said, giving Nicole a look like she didn't quite know what to think of her as they parted -- Nicole toward the stairwell down to detention; Melanie out the door to freedom.
As she walked past the music room on her right, where some band members were tuning up their instruments, Nicole spotted Adam waiting for her several feet before the detention room, also on the right. The door was closed.
"It's still locked. I missed you at lunch today," he said with a weird grin that didn't exactly put Nicole at ease.
"Yeah sorry. I had to hit the library to do some research for my history paper and I totally lost track of time," she lied. "Ms. Alvarez gave me detention, too, so I figured I'd hang out with you here anyway."
"Sorry my hip-check on Timmy got you in trouble, too, but it was really cool of you to back me up," he said.
"No problem, except now I'm super hungry and we've got to sit in detention for an hour."
"I've got just the thing to get you through it then," Adam said, pulling two small white cubes out of a zip-lock bag in his pocket. He popped one in his mouth and handed her the other.
"A sugar cube? You carry these?" she asked.
"Yeah, it'll give you a little burst of energy to make it through detention," he said matter-of-factly.
"Perfect, thanks," she said, popping it into her mouth and savoring the immediate burst of sweetness. "I met a really cool hiker once who carried sugar cubes in his pack. He gave Candace and me a couple of them and we zipped up to Lion's Head in record time."
"It's a rocky landmark that, well, kind of looks like a lion's head above the tree line on Mount Washington," she explained. "It's where the views start getting really awesome on a clear day."
"Oh, well I doubt that hiker had these cubes," Adam said with weird grin No. 2.
Nicole detected a strange, almost metallic aftertaste as she swallowed the cube and was about to question Adam about it, but Mr. Barnes scurried toward them in his dapper gray suit, lavender bow tie and fancy brown dress shoes.
"Oh good, Mr. Barnes is our detention monitor," she said to Adam, who shrugged. He didn't seem to care either way.
"Sorry I'm late ... aah," Mr. Barnes said, opening the door with a key. "Follow me."
Nicole was thrilled a familiar teacher was overseeing detention today as she and Adam entered the small, dungeon-like classroom and sat down next to each other. There were seats for about a dozen kids and no windows. A few posters broke up the beige walls, but there was no chalkboard and only a small desk and chair for the detention monitor.
"I'm glad to see you brought your history book, Nicole," Mr. Barnes said, smiling and pointing enthusiastically as his brown pupils darted back and forth behind thick glasses. "At least your time here won't be for naught," he added in his effeminate voice.
"Yes I did. And I also brought this book for Adam to read," she said, holding up "Wild" for Mr. Barnes to see before depositing it on Adam's desk. He gazed at the beat-up hiking boot with the red laces on the cover for a moment and smiled before leafing through the pages aimlessly.
Mr. Barnes jumped out of his chair and stood over Adam to get a closer look.
"Oh gosh, I loved this book. Oprah picked it for her book club and I was all over it," the teacher raved, his hands all over the place.
Adam grimaced and let the book fall to the floor.
"Aaah!" Mr. Barnes cried, bending down to pick it up and place it back on Adam's desk with a protective hand over it. "No, no, no, Adam. You should really read it. I highly recommend it. Listen to Nicole here."
Nicole chuckled at the whimsical interaction between Mr. Barnes and Adam. She truly felt awful that the harmless, well-meaning teacher had been verbally abused by Thomas Lee Harvey earlier in the day.
"OK," Adam said reluctantly, then opened the book after Mr. Barnes released his grip.
"Good boy," the teacher said, returning to his seat.
"Yes, good boy," Nicole chimed in, smiling at Adam but suddenly feeling hazy and light-headed as she gazed at him. He looked back at her, studied her face for what seemed like a minute and Nicole couldn't look away. Adam's eyes were the only thing keeping her steady as the room around her began to spin. She felt so relaxed, numb and confused all at the same time.
Then Adam flashed her a mischievous smile and whispered, "Feeling anything yet?"
"Yeah, I'm definitely feeling something," she said before giggling. She had no idea why.
Adam laughed, then snorted in response, drawing a curious stare from Mr. Barnes, who had been marking papers with a red pen.
"You two seem to enjoy detention more than most of the kids I get stuck with," he said. "I'm surprised you're the only two today ... of course, Thomas ... no, I won't even go there."
Nicole and Adam didn't even hear Mr. Barnes' aside. They were too busy staring at each other, making funny faces and giggling.
"That was really fast," Adam whispered loudly to her.
"What was so fast, fast, fast?" Nicole asked, turning her hand into a speeding jet taking off from her history book as she smiled from ear to ear.
"It usually takes at least a half hour to kick in," Adam whispered a little lower this time, "but ... oh ... that's why."
"What's why, why, why?" Nicole asked again, unaware that Mr. Barnes was studying her weird behavior more closely now.
"You skipped lunch," Adam replied, pointing to her and then actually touching her maroon long-sleeved shirt where her belly was.
As soon as Nicole felt Adam's finger touch her belly button, she made a raspberry sound with her mouth and howled in laughter.
"Oh my God," Mr. Barnes cried out with his jaw wide open. "What's so funny, Nicole?"
She ignored the teacher and kept laughing hysterically. Adam snorted several times, pointed at one of the posters on the wall -- the one promoting the school's upcoming October production of "Romeo & Juliet" -- and said to Nicole, "Make sure to stare at that and see what happens!"
Nicole sprang out of her chair and walked with some difficulty over to get a better look at the poster. There was a young man and woman staring into each other's eyes, but that's not what she saw.
"Oh my God, they're totally making out!" she yelled and then laughed like it was the funniest thing she had ever witnessed.
Adam howled and started clapping as he, too, jumped up from his seat to join her next to the poster.
Mr. Barnes' pupils fidgeted rapidly as he processed the strange and totally unexpected scene in front of him. Then, when the band began playing in the next room, Nicole suddenly stopped laughing, pretended to keep a straight face and marched around the room to the beat of the drums. She soon collided with an empty chair and tumbled onto the floor. That's when she and Adam launched into another round of hysterical laughter.
The craziness continued as Ms. Alvarez arrived in the room's doorway. She tried to ask "What the hell is going on?" over the howling and band music, but Mr. Barnes jumped out of his chair and rushed over to guide her back into the hallway.
"What the hell is going on in there, Ron?" she asked again loudly.
"I have no idea, Maria," he replied, waving his hands frantically. "They were completely normal a few minutes ago and now they're hysterical. It's like they don't even know I'm in the room with them. They don't respond to me at all."
Ms. Alvarez peered back through the doorway and saw more of the same. It was clear the teens had no idea where they were or that the monitor had left the room. She sighed, frowned, shook her head and folded her arms across her chest.
"I'll bet my paycheck they're on something, Ron," she said bitterly.
"Drugs? Nicole?" he wondered incredulously.
"It wouldn't be the first time for Adam Upton and they've been hanging around each other a lot lately," Ms. Alvarez said. "Go home, Ron. I was coming down to relieve you anyway and now I have a really good reason."
"Are you sure, Maria?"
"Yes, you've had a trying enough day already thanks to Thomas Harvey," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Oh, I've been called worse," Mr. Barnes said with a drained, forced smile.
"Well that's a shame then," she said, shaking her head in disgust.
"Like the world isn't bad enough already, and then we're supposed to teach kids like these," she added, jerking her head and thumb toward Nicole and Adam. "More crazy people heading into the real world -- just what we need."
Mr. Barnes nodded somberly and then departed. It was Ms. Alvarez's turn to enter the acid den.