It’s not clear if Saint Thomas More had murder on his mind when he fell from his alcove in the north stairwell and onto my friend Win. It’s far more likely that over the years the vibration of hundreds of high school students thundering up and down the stairs finally shook him free. The statue did a huge swan dive that would have made an Olympian proud and clipped Win right over her eyebrow. She caught him, saving the statue from crashing to the floor. It can be hard to help someone see the bright side of things when they are nearly taken out by a religious icon.
“Sod it all, I’m bleeding.” Win looked at her face in the mirror above the nurse’s sink. When Win was really ticked, she sounded even more like her British-born mom.
I handed Win a wet paper towel. “Look on the bright
side—saving a saint is going to earn you some valuable karma points.”
“Harper, I’m not Catholic.” Win winced as she pressed the towel to her forehead. “And it’s not like I had a choice; the stupid thing basically fell into my arms. If it had been up any higher, it probably would have killed me.”
“I can’t see Tom holding your lack of religion against you.” I leaned over and patted the plaster statue of the saint on the head as he sat innocently on the floor. Our school, Saint Francis, was one of the highest ranked in Washington State. This meant the student body was made up of people who wanted their kids to have a religious education and also those who didn’t mind forcing their kids to wear the most hideous mustard-yellow and navy-blue uniforms ever created as long as they went to a good school. “Having a saint who owes you one is nothing to sneer at. You could club a seal or something and it still wouldn’t be enough to land you eternal damnation.”
“Stop trying to find the silver lining in every situation.” Win squinted at her reflection. “Look at that: It’s going to leave a scar. That’s it. I’m disfigured.”
“You’re fine. The nurse doesn’t even think you need stitches.”
“She’s a school nurse. Do you really think I’m going to leave the destiny of this face in her hands?” Win continued her self-inspection. Only she could get clocked by a statue and still look great. It would be annoying if she weren’t my best friend.
“Fair enough. But we got out of going to chemistry; you
have to admit that counts as good luck,” I pointed out.
“Seems to me you’re the lucky one. You weren’t nearly decapitated and you still got out of class.”
The nurse bustled back into the room. She handed Win an ice pack. “You’ll want to keep this on to reduce the swelling.”
Win blinked. “Ice. Don’t you think I should have a CT scan or something? I could have brain damage.”
“You’d want an MRI,” I said. “CT is more for orthopedic injuries.”
Win shot me a look.
“It basically grazed you. The only part of the statue that hit you was the hand.” The nurse pointed, and I saw that Saint Thomas More had lost a finger in the accident. It looked like his blessing days were over. I wondered if the finger would count as a holy relic if someone found it on the stairs. The nurse yanked a folder out of her desk. “You’ll be fine. Just keep the ice on there.” She scribbled something in the file and then glanced up at the clock. “You two are free to go. If you hustle, you won’t be late for Friday assembly.”
We were barely out of the door before Win said, in a voice loud enough to carry to the nurse, “If I die of a brain aneurysm, my dad will sue this place.”
“Getting hit on the head won’t give you an aneurysm,” I pointed out as we moved down the hall. “They’re usually caused by a weakness in the artery since birth. High blood pressure could cause one too.”
“Having you as a friend is like having my own personal WebMD. Handy and terrifying all at the same time,” Win said.
“You’re welcome.” Having a neuroscientist as a dad made me more knowledgeable on brain function than the average high school senior. It also meant that I was more likely to kick the bell curve’s ass in anatomy.
We were among the last people to get to the auditorium, but the assembly hadn’t started yet. My boyfriend, Josh, yelled out my name and waved us over.
I tugged on Win’s arm. “He saved us seats.” We moved down the row and plopped into our chairs. Josh squeezed my hand and I fought the urge to pull mine back. Josh was only happy when we were constantly touching.
“Heard God tried to take you down.” Josh motioned toward the Band-Aid on Win’s forehead.
“Ha-ha. Maybe as official class president you should figure out if any other parts of the building plan to crush a student. I’m no lawyer, but that seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Josh saluted. “I’ll get on that on at our next council meeting.”
“It could have been worse—what if it had been that statue of Saint Sebastian in the cafeteria, the one with all the arrows? You would have lost an eye,” I said.
“Thank you, Mary Poppins.” Win grabbed gum out of her bag and offered it to the both of us before jamming a piece in her mouth.
“It wouldn’t kill you to see the positive side,” Josh said.
“It might. Besides, that’s why I keep her around.” Win chomped on her gum with a smile.
We were unlikely friends. People called us yin and yang. She was half black; I was pasty white. I got nearly straight As, and she was happy with Cs. Win was the ultimate social butterfly, and I tended to be shy. Win vowed she wasn’t going to be bothered with a relationship until she was at least forty, and I’d dated Josh for two years already. I always looked for the positive, and she had honed being cynical to an art form. There was no reason for us to get along, but we did.
Our principal, Mr. Lee, was on the stage waiting for everyone to pay attention. He did this sort of Zen thing where he would stand in silence with his eyes closed until we all shut up. You wouldn’t think it would work, but it did.
“There’s your dad,” Josh whispered.
I followed his finger. My dad stood at the side of the stage, fussing with his tie. He almost never wore one. At work he got away with jeans, T-shirt, and lab coat. There are some benefits to owning your own company. Other than wealth and not having a boss, that is. I shifted in my seat. My dad liked to be goofy, which was bad enough at home, but I had no idea what he might pull at my school. I sent up a silent prayer that he didn’t do one of his impressions.
“What’s he doing here?” Win asked.
Saint Francis had a mandatory assembly every Friday with
various speakers. The school promoted it as a chance for us to gather as a “community.” “Community” sounded better than what we suspected, which was that the teachers liked having the last hour of the week free.
“He agreed to do a talk on the importance of science,” I said.
Win pretended to snore.
“How can you say that? Science impacts everything,” Josh said.
Win held up a hand. “Spare me. I’m going to have to hear the talk from her dad; I don’t need to hear it from you, too.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Also, for the record, having a bromance with your girlfriend’s dad is creepy.”
Josh was ready to argue with her, but Mr. Lee was already introducing my dad, so we had to be quiet.
I’d heard Dad’s science talk before. It was fairly interesting. He managed to connect all these major scientists like Darwin and Einstein to random things like punk rock and winning World War II. My prayer must have worked, because so far he’d managed to avoid doing any of his lame Dad stand-up comedy routine.
“Now, some of you know that my company, Neurotech, recently received approval from the FDA to offer our revolutionary Memtex treatment to teens and children.” Dad stood with a Neurotech logo projected onto him and the screen behind him.
“Holy shit, we can go for a softening now?” someone hissed a few rows behind me.
I turned around to hear who had said that. My dad hated when people called it a softening. He thought it sounded too woo-woo. He was not a fan of anything that smacked of being new age.
“I thought you guys might like to be the first group to see our new commercial. Sort of like a movie screening, only without the hot movie stars—unless you count me.” A few people laughed. It’s a well-accepted truth that everyone else will find your parent’s feeble attempts at humor funnier than you will. My dad spotted me in the crowd and waved. I scrunched further down in my seat.
The auditorium lights dimmed, and my dad stepped out of the glare of the projector. The commercial was well done. It showed a bunch of perfectly airbrushed teens in what adults must think of as ideal moments: dancing at a prom, laughing with friends over a bonfire on the beach, crossing the finish line at a track meet. No one had acne or bad hair. I recognized the main actress from some cable show.
“Are bad memories holding you back from doing everything you want and enjoying the life you deserve?” she asked. Her eyes stared out of the screen as if she personally felt bad for us. “You don’t have to be bogged down anymore. Ask your doctor about Memtex today—and imagine what you could accomplish tomorrow!” Her face split into a wide smile and just a hint of a wink.
The lights went up, and people applauded as if it had been an Oscar-winning performance. I wondered if Mr. Lee was ticked that my dad had managed to sneak a commercial into his talk. I could have told him he should have known better; my dad never missed a chance to promote his business. Once he slipped our dentist a brochure in the middle of a root canal.
“Well, thanks for having me today and letting me share with you why I find science so important, and how I think it can impact your life. I’m excited to have Neurotech providing services to teens. To mark that evolution in our company, I’m pleased to announce we’ll be offering a part-time internship for a deserving high school student with a passion for the sciences. Applications are available on our website. At the end of the year the lucky recipient will also receive a grant to assist with college costs.”
Josh jolted straight up in the chair next to me, vibrating with excitement. I couldn’t believe my dad hadn’t said a thing about this to me. He winked at me from the stage. That made me wonder what other surprises he had up his sleeve.