Before there was the DPA, there were just four friends trying get through high school.
Arcadia High School, Arcadia, CA, 10:30am, November 1999
Brendan Carlisle opened his locker and checked his hair in the magnetic mirror. The black dye he had just applied the night before looked super dark in his eyes. He still couldn’t believe he had done it, he wasn’t sure he liked it, but it did complement the industrial/ cyberpunk look he was trying to achieve. He switched out his calculus books for physics and headed to the science center.
The science center was the center of campus, as far as he was concerned. None of the other buildings contained the potential for discovery and disaster like the chem and physics labs. Kristy felt the same to be true of the library and arts department but that was too philosophical for him. They had agreed to disagree on this matter and it was a topic never to be discussed while they were together.
As soon as he entered the cool interior of the science center he took a deep breath. The combination of the aged architecture from the fifties, purified and sometimes ionized air, along with whiffs sulfur and bleach told him he was home. Best place on campus, despite what the dissenters say.
The physics lab was about half full upon his arrival. The seats were assigned, his partner already in her seat, he made straight for her.
“Dude!” Brendan slammed his books down on the black, stone counter top. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”
He settled onto his stool next to Kristy. He was always the left and she was always on the right, to accommodate for the necessary writing space each of them needed for their dominant hands. Kristy quietly sketched in her notebook. The battered book went wherever she did, in case the moment struck her she could do a quick doodle. Brendan leaned over the edge of the pages to see what she was drawing this time.
“Him again?” He sat back, his eyes flicked for just a second at one of their classmates on the other side of the room. The object of her affection was Will Williams, yes, his parents did that to him. Kristy’s crush on Will Williams had persisted since day one of high school and he had yet to give her one minute of his time. “The heart wants, what the heart wants.” She would say wistfully with a far off look in her eyes whenever he tried to get her to move on. Girls are weird.
“Did you hear me, Kristy?”
She blew on the page and brushed away the excess graphite with the back of her hand. “Yes, of course.” She looked up at him finally. “You mean the camping trip tomorrow. For the meteor shower.”
“Slash paintball slaughter.” He mimicked firing an imaginary gun at the blackboard. “Those two won’t know what hit them.”
“We’re not supposed to be teams.”
“I know. But we’re a team.” He said with a conviction beyond doubt. Just as sure as hydrogen had one proton and one electron in perpetual orbit around each so it followed that Brendan Carlisle and Kristy Holloway would be best friends forever.
But not a couple. Ew. Never that.
The background noise of the room faded as Mr. Scott came into the front of the room. As he did every day, he opened his briefcase and started unpacking the materials he would use during the lecture.
Even though Mr. Scott was kind of a stuffed shirt, not an ounce of any sense of humor to be found, it was actually a little disturbing, but he was Brendan’s favorite teacher. Because he trusted Brendan enough to give him free reign over the chemistry and physics labs, a trust Brendan made sure not to lose.
“Quiet down everyone.” Mr. Scott spread out his notes as everyone settled into their spots. “Before we begin, congratulations are in order. Mr. Carlisle has been awarded the Dr. Lee Smith Fellows Grant for Young Scientists.”
Kristy gasped, applause and cheers bubbled around the room as Mr. Scott looked at Brendan. “Well done, young man,” just the slightest smile at the corner of his lips.
His classmates whopped and whistled their sentiments. Kristy attacked him with a hug.
“That’s awesome.” She said into his shoulder. She sat back, her face beaming with joy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I... I didn’t know.” He looked around the room at the smiling faces and back to Mr. Scott. “Thank you, sir.”
Mr. Scott nodded and turned his attention to his notes. “Alright class, open your books to chapter thirteen.”
The grant was a significant sum and a great honor. It was awarded to only one student in the Western United States and could be used at any university as long as the winner of the grant was studying physics. Receiving the grant would definitely cinch his acceptance to UC Berkeley. Kristy squeezed his forearm. She knew it meant that too.
Both of them had taken the risk of applying to only one university each. Brendan Berkeley, Kristy the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco. They would be living in different cities but they were still close enough to spend their weekends together studying in cool cafes or any number of parks. Staying in California meant they were close enough to visit family for the obligatory holidays but not too close.
He couldn’t wait to get out of the house and on his own. No more overbearing, even if well-intentioned, supervision from his half present brother, Robert. Brendan loved his brother, but they had nothing in common other than some genetic code. Brendan was ready to be an adult. Senior year felt like a medieval ordeal that society required from him before he would be recognized as an adult by everyone else. Forget the fact that he had made his own meals, gotten himself to bed on time, and was an honor roll student for years while his never present mom sent money to his much older brother who was busy with his own higher education.
But none of none of that would matter this time next year. He and Kristy would be immersed in their respective pursuits in one of the coolest places on earth. The next eight months would be tedious but they would make the best of it and the time would pass faster than expected. He hoped.
Mr. Scott started writing on the blackboard. “Today we begin the chapter on electromagnetism. Does anyone want to hazard a guess?”
Brendan’s hand shot up.
Mr. Scott shook his head. “Anyone other than Mr. Carlisle?”
Kristy pulled his arm down. “Let the others go first. It’s not a guess for you.”
Reluctantly Brendan folded his arms to keep them down. She was right of course.
Matt Holloway slumped down into the hard vinyl chair. No matter how he sat it was uncomfortable. These chairs had to have been designed for just such a purpose, punishment. As he shivered in his soaking clothes, his best friend, Derek, on the other hand chatted up anyone within arm’s length as if they were having a picnic in the park.
Derek’s victims would take one look at the pools of water gathering under their seats and the wet clothing clinging to them, roll their eyes and ignore him. This was of no consequence to Derek, nothing ever was. All Matt could think about was the look if disappointment on his parent’s faces, again.
The door to the principal’s office opened. Principal Miller came up to them with a look of grave concern on his face. “Well. I just got off the phone with both your parents and no one is available to come retrieve you. I think your punishment today is going to the rest of your classes in wet clothes.”
“Yes, Principal Miller. “ Matt responded, eyes glued to the ends of shoes.
“Alright!” Derek nearly launched out of his seat with excitement.
Principal Miller shook his head, instantly regretting this decision. “Derek stop tinkering with things. No more ‘hacking’ the computers in the lab or ‘fixing’ the water fountains. Leave things alone. And Matt.”
Matt flinched but sat up anyways.
“Stop letting him talk you into this nonsense. Your sister is a model student. You should be too.”
There it was. Always living in the shadow of his favored sibling.
“Both of you will be at the beck and call of the janitorial staff during study period for one week.”
“Yes, Principal Miller.” Matt and Derek responded in unison.
Satisfied of their repentant attitudes, no matter how temporary, there was nothing more to be done. “Mrs. Conlon is expecting you in English class. Try not to make a scene.”
The two of them shuffled out of the office and into the near empty hallway, hands shoved into their pockets. There was only fifteen minutes of the period left. If they walked slow enough class could be avoided altogether.
Derek halted suddenly. Matt stopped too, not sure what Derek was up to.
Derek turned at the waist so his shoulders faced Matt. “Sorry.” He said quietly.
Matt nodded. He wanted to say it’s fine, like he always did, but this time he kept it to himself. Derek always got them in trouble. He understood it, school was boring, but in the end he always felt like crap for it. Any thrill of victory was too short lived to really make the trouble worth it. Kristy’s high praises and constructive feedback was beginning to wear him down.
Next year Kristy and Brendan would be out of sight. Maybe then his parents would see him for who he was and not who he wasn’t.
Derek jumped in front of him and started walking backwards. “Do you think we’ll be grounded for the weekend?”
“I hope not.” Matt started to walk again. “I really want to see that meteor shower.”
“Yeah.” Derek kicked at the ground as he walked.
“Kristy will tell our parents it’s for a school project, it won’t be an issue.”
Derek brightened up. “Of course, duh.”
“But next year we’re gonna have to get out of these messes without out those two.” Matt looked Derek in the eye.
“Pfft.” Derek waved off the very notion and put his arm around Matt’s shoulders. “This school will be ours once they’re out of here.”
He was still cold and wet but it didn’t matter in the end. “Totally.”
The bell chimed throughout the campus, time for the next thing.