Linda Allison ~ Science Project

Katie Katherine

part of: Short Fiction

by Jake Wickenhofer

I never really knew what to think of Mrs. Gavins, my physics professor. She was certainly one of the most confident women I had ever met, but she had a major social stipulation: Mrs. Gavins was undeniably sexist. This serves to be quite the problem because she decides the fates of all her male students that worked under her.
Her reputation wasn’t something that she was proud of, however, because it earned her a dishonorable position among the other teachers. Derogatory terms were never spared when students and teachers alike would describe her masculine ways.
Mrs. Gavins enjoyed one thing and one thing only: proving people wrong. She would die before she would spare someone the humiliation of a loud, public correction. My fate had placed me in the last class of the day.
This class called for many group activities. Some of the labs were done in groups of three or four, while others were a more intimate one-on-one experience. My friends and I have acknowledged her sexism, but I only have one male friend, Rick, in the class.
Be it her prejudice or simply that I got on her nerves, Mrs. Gavins was hardly a fan of me. The instances in which she discounted me were numerous, and as if this was not degrading enough, she would allow the females to get off task and joke around with her, but the moment I stepped out of line I was disciplined.
For today’s experiment, our task was to implode a can of soda. It was a two person lab, and I was planning on having Rick as my partner as I always had.
“ I will be assigning your lab partners myself today,” she rang out. My eyes widened and I joined the class in a group groan. She paired students off, sending Rick to work with Gabi, Mrs. Gavins’ Teacher’s pet. He would surely get a decent grade and he knew it as he looked back at me and stuck his tongue out. When Mrs. Gavins came to me, she pointed to a quiet brunette girl in the back of the room that I had hardly before noticed. She looked up at me only for a moment before returning to her notes.
“Hey there,” I said. “I’m Josh.”
She said nothing; she only flashed me a faint smile and nodded her head.
Mrs. Gavins passed by us, setting a can on our table. She smiled at the girl and patted her shoulder, then looked at me as if I had just spilled a bottle of chemicals. I stared down at my notes on today’s lesson and waited for Mrs. Gavins to begin instruction. She stood at the front of the room and waited for everyone to ready themselves.
I walked out of the lab with thoughts buzzing about my mind like hornets trapped in a jar. Mrs. Gavins had never assigned partners before, why did she today? I shifted gears to my partner from today. She hadn’t talked much; she mostly just stole glances at me and wrote down the answers to the questions before I even had the chance to help. I remembered seeing her write her name on the paper. All but three of the letters were covered up. I thought to myself, ‘K,’ ‘A,’ and ‘T.’ Maybe her name was Katie, or Katherine.
“Hey man, wonder why Gavins gave us lab partners today,” said Rick beside me as I grabbed a couple of books from my locker and replaced my physics book. He began to brag on his new lab partner and how excited he was about getting a better grade.
The next day, I was fully ready to burst Rick’s bubble and become his lab partner again. I chuckled as I pictured him whining and complaining about not getting to work with his little genius girl up front. I should have been expecting for Mrs. Gavins to pair me with Katie Katherine again, but I wasn’t. Rick giggled as I picked up my books and moved to sit next to her in the back.
The next lab we were given was designed to take up an entire weeks worth of classes. Our task was relatively simple: create a roller coaster out of household items. Katie Katherine spoke a bit, but mostly wrote down ideas on her floral notebook and slid them to me as she continued busying herself with a makeshift blueprint of what she thought might be a good roller coaster design.
Throughout that week, I got to know Katie Katherine quite well. She was actually quite an interesting person. I found out that she had moved here last year from Arkansas and was now living just down the street from me. She had a hard time making the adjustment. A picture of her old town that she showed me had several other girls surrounding her, all of there arms linked.
“Those were amazing years,” she said as she tucked the photo away in her purse.
After we had finished the final work on Friday, we walked out into the hallway together. I was poking her in the side flirtatiously and caused her to drop one of her books. She smiled at me as I picked up the book and rose to my feet, placing the book squarely back in her grasp. On an impulse, I swooped down and kissed her. I might have expected her to hit me, but instead she kissed me back. She inched toward me as I was pulling away, but then stopped once she realized it was over.
She looked at me for a minute, then down at the floor; she was beginning to shake. I smiled for a moment but all my joy ceased to exist when she rose her head and I saw a tear streaming from her eye. Her arms relinquished her books and papers scattered all over the ground as she walked hastily away from me.
I took her books home with me that evening, and after mustering all of the courage I could find, I went in search of her house. With the street address she gave me, it was easy to find. When I rang the doorbell, a tall skinny woman that looked a bit like Katie Katherine accepted the books.
“You’re Josh right?”
“Yes..” At this, the woman’s eyes began to well with tears. She thanked me and shut the door. I was genuinely worried. What had I done that was so horrible?
The next class period Katie Katherine wasn’t there.
And the next.
For those classes, I did exactly what I had said I would and partnered myself with Rick. He complained at first, but soon settled into a “C” average routine. Friday came faster than I had expected, and Katie Katherine was still missing. After that class period, our teacher sat behind her desk grading homework from another period. She pretended not to notice me but I could tell she knew. I approached her desk, running my hands along the cool plastic surface.
“Mrs. Gavins, I was wondering. Where has my other lab partner been. You know, that girl?”
“She won’t be back.” She said without looking at me.
“What?”
“She won’t be back.” Mrs. Gavins stood from her desk and sobbed quietly. My face paled as she told me about the brain tumor, about how she had to finally commit to a hospital bed last Friday after my kiss with her. She told me that Katrina (not “Katie Katherine”) had wanted me as her lab partner before she passed on.