Chapter 4: Biology Lesson
Dash parked on Church Street in front of the Castor residence, careful not to scrape his hubcaps against the curb. He checked his hair in the rearview. He crunched down on a breath mint and swallowed the bits.
The Castor house was a two-story clapboard in Plainsville. A few skinny trees dotted the neatly kept front lawn. Reverend Castor’s Lincoln Town Car was parked in the driveway. Dash was halfway up the walk when the front door opened and the minister himself emerged. He was in his late forties, his hairline in full retreat. In a dark suit, white shirt, and black tie he looked like he was about to conduct a funeral.
“Oh, hello there, Dash!” said Castor. Dash remembered to look him in the eye as they shook hands. “My daughter mentioned you were coming over. It is so kind of you to tutor Astrid for her science class.”
Tutor? What happened to study buddies? “Oh, sure thing, Reverend Castor. Glad to do it.”
“I wish I could stay, but I’m off to an emergency meeting of the town council. It seems the ACLU has filed suit against our ordinance banning lewd music and dancing here in Plainsville. We had no idea the First Amendment applied to small towns who are simply trying to protect our children from the dangers of music and dance. None!” He shook his head sadly. “Fighting a lawsuit could drain the town treasury.”
“Sure sounds complicated, Reverend Castor.”
“What do you think, Dash? Do you agree with the prohibition against dancing?”
“Well…um…I don’t dance, that’s for sure.”
“I’m glad to hear it! So many of our young people have been infected with a rebellious spirit lately. It troubles me. I blame that new boy, Wren McCord. Do you know him?”
“I…no. I really don’t.”
“No, of course you wouldn’t. He’s a troublemaker, I can tell. Not like you. Do tell your aunt and uncle I said hello.”
Reverend Castor sighed as he settled into his car. “I thought we had this problem licked when the record store closed. I thought the kids would settle down once they had no way to access corrupting music.”
“Except iTunes,” said Dash.
“Except you tune what?” asked Castor, puzzled.
“Er…never mind,” said Dash. “Have a good meeting, sir.”
“Thank you, Dash.”
Mrs. Castor, a slender woman with short blonde hair, appeared at the front door to wave goodbye to her husband as he drove away. “Do come in, Dash,” she said. “I’ll tell Astrid you’re here.”
Dash thought Mrs. Castor looked like an older version of Astrid, which made sense, her being Astrid’s mom and all. She led Dash to the living room, called upstairs to Astrid, then said, “Would you like some apple pie, Dash? I baked it today.”
“That would be great, Mrs. Castor. Thanks.”
She disappeared into the kitchen. Dash sat fidgeting on the couch. He heard footsteps and looked up to see Astrid descending the stairs like an angel from the clouds. She wore pink sneakers, stretchy jeans, and an open denim vest over a pink t-shirt. There were words written across her chest in sequins, but Dash couldn’t read them. He was rendered momentarily illiterate by the way Astrid’s breasts bounced as she came down the stairs. Astrid seemed to move in glorious slow motion, like the way they say everything slows down during a car crash.
“Dash, would you like milk with your pie?” called Mrs. Castor from the kitchen.
“Yes, please,” Dash choked out.
Astrid paused at the bottom of the stairs. She looked almost startled to see Dash there. Not without effort, he dragged his reluctant gaze up to Astrid’s pretty heart-shaped face. Her long strawberry blonde hair was swept back with a pair of plastic combs. A few stray ringlets fluttered against her cheek.
Lucky, lucky ringlets.
“Hi, Dash,” said Astrid. Her pale blue eyes met his.
Dash felt an expanding cloud of butterflies swell through his chest at the sound of Astrid speaking his name. He sprang to his feet, too fast, and banged his shin on the coffee table, almost overturning several ceramic figurines of geese and sheep.
“Uh..hi, Astrid,” he said, needlessly stooping to steady the table. “You look very…er, pink.”
“Thanks?” she said, scrunching up her face in bemusement. She nodded toward the next room. “I’m all spread out on the dining room table.”
“Wh-what?” said Dash.
“My books are in the dining room. Come on.”
Dash nodded mutely and followed Astrid like a puppy chasing a ball.
“Mitochondria!” said Astrid.
“Yep,” said Dash, nodding.
Three hours passed quickly. At first Dash was tongue-tied by the overwhelming awesomeness and awkwardness of sitting beside Astrid. But once they started discussing the parts and processes of cells, Dash was more at ease. He was good at science. He knew this stuff. He could explain it to others.
Dash recalled Max’s “dumb bunny” comment about Astrid. But she was no dummy. Not that she was Marie Curie or whatever, but she asked good questions and listened intently as Dash explained the function of each cell part, from the membrane to the organelles to the nucleus. Their textbook wasn’t the best and Mr. Randall’s lectures were pretty fast-paced. If you didn’t already know what he was talking about, it was easy to get confused.
Dash did his best to focus on the studying. Sure, an electric thrill ran through him every time their feet accidentally touched or their arms brushed together, and he had to resist the urge to look down her shirt whenever Astrid leaned over the table. But Astrid seemed not to notice. She just wanted to learn the chapter.
It was a relief, really. So long as they were talking biology, Dash didn’t have to wonder what to say or worry about saying the wrong thing or trying to get out some smooth line.
It also kind of took the pressure off that Mrs. Castor was hovering just out of sight the whole evening. She served Dash dessert and retreated to the kitchen. She reappeared later to offer them popcorn and orange juice. Dash never felt like he was actually alone with Astrid. So it was all science and cytoplasm and RNA. At the end, Dash quizzed Astrid by pointing at a cell diagram so she could name and explain the function of each part. She got them all right but two.
“You’ll ace the quiz,” said Dash.
Astrid beamed. “You’re a good explainer, Dash! You made it, like, so much more understandable. Thanks!”
“Uh…sure. You’re welcome. It was fun studying you. With you! Well, as fun as studying gets anyway.”
Astrid laughed. “Yeah.”
“But, I guess I better get home. Church tomorrow.” He grinned.
“Right,” said Astrid. “Well, I’ll walk you out to your car.”
Really? Dash felt panic sweep over him. What does that mean? Am I supposed to kiss her? Is she just being polite? What do I do? What do I say? Help!
“Okay,” he said. Yeah, that was smooth.
Dash gathered his books, said goodbye to Mrs. Castor, and followed Astrid to the front door. He happened to glance up as he stepped outside, just in time to see a big blue ball of light zip across the western sky. It moved like a shooting star across the dark horizon, but it was bigger than any he had ever seen. Then it was gone as if it never existed.
As it passed, all the lights on Church Street flickered off for a second, then came back on. In windows, on porches, the street lamps—everything.
“Whoa! Did you see that?” said Dash, pointing to the sky.
“I did!” said Astrid, clutching his arm in excitement. This sent a warm shiver right up the back of his neck. “What was it? A comet?”
“No,” said Dash, shaking his head. “Meteor, maybe. Or some kind of static discharge, I guess.”
“You mean lightning?” said Astrid, cocking her head prettily.
“Yeah,” Dash nodded, impressed that she knew what he meant.
Now Astrid pointed up, shaking her head. “No clouds.”
“True,” said Dash. He shrugged. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Astrid closed the front door behind her and walked with Dash to his car. “Do you think we’ll see another?” She craned her head up. Dash studied the line of her neck and wondered how soft her skin was. She smelled like lavender and some other flower he didn’t know the name of.
“If it’s a meteor shower, we might see more,” said Dash doubtfully. He glanced up. “But I don’t think so.”
Astrid looked at him and smiled and bit her lower lip in a way that drove Dash crazy. They stood together in the street, next to the Tercel. The light in the sky had distracted Dash from his panic and confusion, but now those feelings returned. Should he make a move? Was she waiting for him to? Or was he reading too much into this? Astrid was super hot, but also super nice. Maybe she was just being nice walking out with him. Or maybe this was his big chance to…no, that was crazy! Wasn’t it?
“Thanks again,” said Astrid. “I really appreciate you coming over.”
Astrid hugged him. Dash froze like a baby caribou that had just wandered into a clearing full of wolves. Then, a beat too slowly, he returned the hug. Was I supposed to kiss her just then? Argh! Why is this so complicated?
Astrid stepped back. “See you at church,” she said.
“Yeah,” said Dash. He was at once disappointed at no kiss, excited he would see Astrid again in a mere twelve hours, and relieved to know exactly what to do next: get in his car and go home.
Astrid motioned for him lower the window. Dash rolled it down by hand—nothing automatic in this car—as he turned the key.
“Dash,” said Astrid, leaning down into the open window. “There is something I wanted to ask you. Do you—”
“Damn!” said Dash.
I wonder what the problem is?
Be sure to check back for the next episode, when Astrid shrieks: “Oh, my God! What was that!”