Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd Page 54

“You wouldn’t have any more Charleston Chews, would you?”

I shake my head. “But I have peanut butter and fluff sandwiches.”

We slowly untangle ourselves and get to our feet. My body misses hers already. As we head back, she says, “It takes a secure man to admit he eats fluff sandwiches.”

I take her hand and flick on my red flashlight with the other. “I also still watch cartoons. And not the cool ones on at night. The Saturday morning ones.”

“I sleep with seven stuffed animals,” she says. “And two dolls.”

“You win. You’re the dorkiest.”

When we reach our scopes, I go check my camera while Tabitha gets the sandwiches. I’d set the exposure for eighty minutes, and it had just ended. Flicking on the screen I call Tabitha over to show her the results. Hundreds of concentric circles made of light.

“Wow, you’re really good. How did you do that?” she asks, looking from the screen to the sky overhead, and back again. “I don’t see anything that looks like those streaks of light.”

“Those are stars.”

She looks closer, puzzled. “How can those streaks be stars? The stars aren’t moving like that.”

“Ah, but they are moving like that. We just don’t see it because we’re moving, too.”

She sighs and steps back. “Just one more way that reality tricks us.”

I shake my head. “We’ll never have a true picture of reality; it just doesn’t exist. But I’m real, and you’re real, and those fiery balls of gas up there are real, and right now that’s all I need to know. That, and if we hurry, we might be able to catch up to the Marathon. We’re two hours behind, but if we work with both scopes we might be able to do it.”

She looks at my camera screen again. “Or…we can go back where we were and get under the sleeping bag again. You know, to see if we can catch the stars streaking like that.”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s do that one.”

I awake at five AM to cries of M30! M30! Hurry! coming from all directions. Tabitha is just waking up, too. My first thought is to protect her from my morning breath. My second is that I can’t believe Tabitha Bell fell asleep in my arms. Her smeared makeup and tousled hair look so sexy I literally can’t bear it. If Charles Messier were alive he’d be getting the mother of all thank-you notes from me.

A bullhorn sounds. “C’mon, everyone! You’re almost at the finish line! Don’t give up now!”

Our eyes meet. She narrows hers. I narrow mine. She grins. I grin back. In unspoken agreement, we throw off the sleeping bag and take off in a run. We may have missed most of the Marathon, but we are NOT ones to miss a challenge. I reach my scope first, and am glad I had the foresight to put the dew cover on before we left. Tabitha grabs for the star charts and frantically presses buttons on her GoTo. I search for Capricornus, and then use the eyepiece to starhop down the chain of stars off to its left. I barely have time to move the scope before the coming dawn obliterates the pattern of stars I just left. I don’t think I’m going to make it in time. All over the world people are looking for M30 right now and I’m going to miss it. I risk stealing a glance at Tabitha to see her progress. She feigns a yawn and says, “Will you hurry up, already? Some of us are ready for breakfast.” I turn back and peer into my eyepiece again, but I know it’s hopeless. My scope just isn’t powerful enough to cut through the light.

I hold up my hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, you win. You found it and I didn’t.”

“Wanna see it?” she asks coyly.

I hurry over and put my eye to the rubber eyepiece. Her scope is so powerful the globular cluster glows, even in the twilight of dawn. I can even make out the colorful double and triple stars that surround the core. “Thank you, it’s really beautiful,” I say, not caring if that sounds corny. I might have to change my opinion of computerized scopes. And who knows, maybe my mom was wrong. Maybe I won’t have to wait till college to come into my own.

A little later the man with the bullhorn comes by with a stack of certificates. “So how’d we do?” he asks, his magic marker at the ready.

“We made it to the finish line,” Tabitha proudly announces.

“Wonderful!” the man booms. I shake my head at Tabitha admonishingly.

She reaches out to stop him from handing us a certificate. “But we missed the eighty objects before it.”

“Ah,” he says, tucking the papers back under his arm. “Well, I’m sorry it wasn’t a more successful night for you. You can always try again tonight if you’re not too exhausted.”

Tabitha whirls around to face me. “You mean it’s not just once a year? I’ve been crazed all week when I could have done this later on when I was more prepared?”

“There’s a block of a few days when there’s no moon out that’ll work,” I admit. “But it wouldn’t have bought you much time. Most people chose last night because, well, it was a Saturday night.”

“So what do you think?” the man asks. “You up for coming tonight? A bunch of us will be here again.”

I look at Tabitha. “What do you think?”

She contemplates for a minute, and then says, “Well, I never did get to see the Ring Nebula….”

I feel a grin spreading across my face. “We’d have to miss school on Monday. We never miss school. But it is for a good cause….”

“Definitely an educational pursuit,” she adds, slipping her hand in mine. “And this time we’d actually do it though, right?” She blushes and the pink on her cheeks match the approaching sunrise. “I mean, we’d do the Marathon this time. And not for our college apps, but just because it’s fun?”

I smile. “I knew what you meant. Yes, we’d really do the Marathon this time. Well, except for between midnight and two when no new objects rise or set.”

“What would we do during that time?” she asks teasingly.

Instead of answering, I lean in to kiss her. I’m a few inches from her lips when I hear the guy with the certificates clear his throat. I’d totally forgotten he was there!

“So you’re in, I take it?” he asks wearily.

I quickly un-pucker and step back. “We’re in.”

“We’re definitely in,” Tabitha confirms.

“Teenagers,” the man mutters. He shakes his head as he walks to the next group.

We turn to each other and laugh.

“What should we do now?” I ask.

Tabitha picks up my star atlas and settles into one of the beach chairs. “I’m going to read this cover to cover so by tonight I’ll be able to teach you something. What are you going to do?”

I sit down across from her. “I’m going to watch you read that cover to cover.”

“I don’t think that will be a very exciting use of your time.”

“Oh, yes, it will,” I argue.

“Whatever you want,” she says with a shrug, and opens the first page. For the next four hours I watch her face as she teaches herself thousands of years of astronomical history. I watch as the patterns of the stars take up residence inside her head. When she turns the last page, she pushes the book into my hands. “Thank you, Peter,” she says so earnestly I want to scoop her up and run around the field with her.

So I do.

In her eighth grade yearbook, Wendy Mass was bestowed the dubious honor of Most Likely to Solve Rubik’s Cube because she spent so much time fiddling with it instead of paying attention in class. Always fascinated by the night sky, she took Astronomy 101 in college. It was so complicated that she never got higher than 45 out of 100 on any exam. Fortunately, neither did anyone else and the professor graded on a curve. She got an A! She loves writing about astronomy now, and tries to make it so easy to understand that the reader will fall in love with it, too.

Wendy is the author of eight novels for young readers, including A Mango-Shaped Space (about a girl with synesthesia), Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Every Soul a Star, and Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall. She lives in northern New Jersey, where she can be found staring up at the sky with her telescope, or down at the ground with her metal detector, hoping to find gold. She can do Rubik’s Cube in less than two minutes.

Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Hope Larson.


by libba bray

“How did she get ahead of us?” Agnes whispered to Leta.

“I can’t believe her. She came earlier than us on purpose,” Leta said.

Five people up in the line, Jennifer Pomhultz, in a rabbit-fur jacket and side ponytail, executed a perfect step-ball-change while her older sister and a handful of others applauded.

Leta sneered. “There’s the dance move. I knew she’d do it. Like we’re supposed to care that she got a callback for Six Flags.”

“I don’t care. Do you care?” Agnes asked.

“You can’t imagine how little I care.”

If there was anyone Leta and Agnes hated, it was Jennifer Pomhultz, and for very good reason. For six months, Leta and Agnes had a Friday night routine: At eight o’clock, Leta went to Agnes’s house. At nine, they started getting ready—plumping their lips with Bonne Bell Lipsmacker, experimenting with eyeliner, torturing their hair (Leta’s was shoulder length, stick-straight, and brown; Agnes’s, long and blond and wavy-thick) with curling irons and Aqua Net. By eleven-fifteen, their parents would drop them off at the Cineplex for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Leta and Agnes would take their places in the long line that snaked from the box office around the side of the Cineplex and into the back alley. Waiting in line was as much a ritual as the movie itself, and the girls delighted in singing along to “The Time Warp” and comparing props—toast, bags of rice, newspapers—with the other moviegoers. Rocky Horror was their church, and they were devout. But Jennifer Pomhultz had only been coming for a few weeks—anyone could see she didn’t even know the lyrics to the songs—and already she was acting as if she’d been a Rocky devotee for years. She wore a stupid hairdo and too much blusher and a jacket made from bunnies. Maybe that’s what ninth graders did, but Leta and Agnes didn’t have to approve.

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