Friday, February 15, 2013

Insect in Amber

Once again, we’re trying something new. Shannon was asked to pick any fiction book, turn to page 77 and give the seventh sentence as the prompt. This week, you will use the sentence somewhere within the body of your story. You can not use it to open or end your story. Please use bold font on the prompt sentence so that it can be found easily. Shannon chose Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” and the prompt is:
He felt like a safe cracker who – partly by luck – had sussed out the first digit in a lengthy, arduous combination.

This is a little long, even after I snipped at it for an hour.  Sorry.  

Matthias always felt uncomfortable around Celeste, the captain of the cheerleading squad.  She was beautiful, with a bright smile and flowing chestnut hair that she kept up in a pony tail, so that her elegant neck was displayed tastefully.  Each school day, when she sat next to him in English III, his shirt seemed to shrink around his neck, and his face felt hot.  Celeste never said a word to him, but his tongue grew thick and whatever words he might choose to say stuck in his throat.  He spent the class like an insect in amber, frozen and helpless, until the bell rang.  He might understand college level quantum physics, but he was at a loss when it came to understanding what his father called the fairer sex.   

Matthias understood the unspoken rules governing social interactions in high school.  She was gorgeous and he was not.  She was popular and he was not.  Balance must be kept in this ecosystem. There was no chance, on any planet, in any other time dimension, that Celeste Harper would give him the time of day.  Ever.  The sooner he got over his little crush, he told himself, the better off he would be.  

Until one day, Celeste Harper smiled at him in the hallway as he walked by her locker. 
Matthias stumbled as he realized that she was smiling at him.  He looked around for the popular student who must be behind him, to find that he was alone.  By the time he had arrived at his next class, he had dismissed the entire event as impossible. She hadn't even spoken to him in class, and it was January--why would she smile at him now?  Celeste had probably confused him with someone else, he decided.

Except that Celeste also waved at him in the cafeteria.  

He looked around as he sat alone in the far corner, where he had been told to sit so the principal could assure his parents that he would not be bullied anymore.  Maybe he had imagined the wave. Surely she had been waving to someone else?  

"Hi, Matthias!" Celeste sat down next to him, her teeth blinding.  "I've decided that you need some lunchtime company. Scoot over."   

As Matthias began to scoot over, and he found himself alone with a table full of giggling, gossiping girls.  He felt like a safe cracker who – partly by luck – had sussed out the first digit in a lengthy, arduous combination. Being in such close proximity to such beautiful girls was disconcerting, as if the natural order had been shattered, but he was determined to persevere.  

One of the cheerleaders asked if Matthias might have a moment after he finished eating to help her with a difficult Algebra equation. When that was finished, another cheerleader asked for help with an economics assignment.  The one after that asked for his help in figuring out chemistry.  As the bell rang and the entire squad quickly gathered their things and headed to the gym, Celeste planted a quick kiss on Matthias' cheek, thanking him for his help.

He just sat there as the cafeteria emptied, his cheek tingling, until the bell rang.  Celeste Harper had kissed him!  He felt altered by that kiss, elevated to a new rung on the social ladder, and he was drunk with the potency of an idea. Popularity had long been denied to him, and now suddenly it was in his grasp, except for a small nagging voice in the back of his head warning him about the natural order of things.   As he made his way down the hall to class, he walked taller, a little spring in his step 

Over the next few weeks, Celeste and her group of girls sat with Matthias in the cafeteria for lunch.  They said hello to him in the hallway.  He was petted and fussed over.  Celeste and her squad smiled at him, hugged him, and kissed him. They posted cute photos of themselves on Matthias' Facebook page.  The girls even had a cute nickname for him--Puppy.  

Other students noticed, especially Emily Morgan, a girl in his advanced chemistry class. She wasn't very pretty, not compared to Celeste, but she was smart, and Matthias' shirt never felt too tight when she was around, so they became friends. 

Emily was waiting for him in the hallway outside of the cafeteria one day in May, her face set in firm lines.

"I can't stay out of this any longer," Emily began.  "Celeste and the other cheerleaders are just using you."

Confused at her vehemence, Matthias just shook his head.

"They do this every year, Matthias!"  Emily was emphatic. "Every year, the cheerleaders "adopt" a nerd.  They call them Puppies, and the cheerleaders hang all over you poor bastards until there is no chance that they might fail and be disqualified from participating in cheer competitions. Then they dump the poor guy, cut him off completely. We are all supposed to keep quiet about it, too, but I hate that they are doing this to you!"

Matthias didn't respond.  He did not want to hear any more.  He walked into English III, his head held high.  He sat down next to Celeste and smiled  at her.   

Celeste cooly stared at him a moment, contempt in her eyes, then she picked up her books and asked the teacher if she could move to a different seat.  Stunned, Matthias heard Emily's words in his head.  He sat alone in the cafeteria for the rest of the year while he ate the cheese sandwiches his mother made for him, and contemplated nature's attempts to restore balance to the universe.


  1. Oh man! I love every second of this and I hate those cheerleaders. Great story!! I want so much for him to get back at them somehow. It's so hard when someone tells you something you don't want to hear only to find out they were right!

    One piece of concrit. The paragraph starting, "One of the cheerleaders asked..." has an unfinished sentence and I think "head to the gym" was meant to be headed.

    Loved it!

    1. You are absolutely right--I was falling asleep while writing, and I missed that I was thinking 'chemistry' but not typing the word on that sentence. I've edited it for you. Thanks for noticing--I definitely appreciate it!

  2. I suspected the cheerleaders were just using him. Poor guy, he just wants love :(

    1. In my experiences, cheerleaders are just as competitive as the boys in their quest to win.

  3. Cheerleaders are a bit of a foreign concept downunder - but I sure got the picture loud & clear from your marvellous story! And the prompt sentence slipped in so naturally I'd have missed it if you hadn't bolded it!!!

    1. They don't have cheerleaders in Oz? Maybe we Americans just have to let girls be involved somehow!

  4. You made excellent use of the MC sentence. It is very well placed. I enjoyed the story, though I felt that it ended before I was ready for it to. Your visuals were good through the story, making it easy for me to place myself in the scene. Good writing.

  5. Smart always wins out over pretty. Too bad we all need to learn that the hard way. Poor guy. I like your use of the prompt. The story is so real, and therefore sad. Nice job.

  6. you brought back the unfortunate and frequently uncomfortable dichotomy of the microcosm that is high school crashing back over 20 years time, and made me want to dislike cheerleaders all over again. also an interesting showcase that book smarts don't always translate very well into street smarts. poor guy, you made me pity a fictional character, and his smart but not so pretty friend, so well done.

  7. Ooooh, I had an experience similar (not that I was smart, mind you), and I was afraid of the ending - poor Matthias. Hope he at least began to see Emily in a different light!

  8. I always find it interesting that the terribly intelligent are often the easiest fooled. Or do they just ignore the obvious answer?
    I hope in a future chapter, Emily proves prettier than he thinks she is right now.

  9. In the microcosm that is high school, social smarts trump books smarts every time. Sadly, those who most need the social smarts don't figure them out until much later.


I welcome comments, but reserve the right to correct your spelling because I am OCD about it!