A paramedic scowled and applied ointment to the gash on my forehead. “Can you tell me what happened, Miss--?”
“Jennica. I mean, Conrad.” I was still dazed from the injury, and from surveying the disaster in the gymnasium.
“Well, Miss Jennica-I-Mean-Conrad, how did you hit your head?” He covered the wound with gauze.
I looked again at the gym, which resembled a crime scene. “It’s a long story. Can I start at the beginning?”
I was thrilled to be in charge of the Annual Light and Life Christian Academy 5th Grade Science Fair. A first-year teacher, I was full of ideas for motivating my rambunctious 10-year-olds, and this science fair was our focus for the entire month of October.
Yesterday was set-up day, and all fifteen of my students had spent the day hauling tables, propping up displays, and duct-taping minor mishaps. I had stayed long into the evening, leaving only when I was satisfied that fifteen sets of parents and the high school judges would be pleased with what my class had accomplished.
This morning, my scrubbed and shining students stood beside their displays as family members and judges toured the exhibits. The excitement began when Shelby took the mouse out of her maze for a curious preschooler. The child grabbed for the mouse, and it wriggled from Shelby’s fingers. “My mouse!” she shouted. Pandemonium ensued.
Shelby got down on all fours, searching for the animal. Thinking that she saw it across the gym, she stood up too quickly and clipped the table that held Josiah’s model volcano. Mount Josiah tumbled to the floor, causing an eruption of baking soda and vinegar lava.
Always helpful, Brandon ran toward the furry escapee with the butterfly net from his insect collection. He slipped in the lava and landed on his tailbone, sending the butterfly net flying through the air. It landed on a test tube of sulfur from Tessa’s chemistry display—shattering the glass and filling the air with the odor of rotten eggs.
The paramedic wasn’t scowling any more. Perhaps his nose was twitching at the residual odor of sulfur still lingering in the air, but it certainly looked to me as if he were smirking.
I gave him my “this-is-serious” look—highly effective with 5th graders. “Do you want me to continue?”
“Of course, Miss Conrad.” The paramedic placed his medkit on the floor and listened.
Shelby’s mouse was making random appearances all over the gym. Several students and their parents were trying to help, calling out for the mouse as if it would trot obediently toward them. Several other people were frantically attempting to avoid the mouse. I was surprised to see Kendall, the biggest student in the 5th grade, acting extremely skittish.
And of course, since Kendall was terrified of the mouse, it chose to scamper right toward his motorized solar system. Kendall jumped up onto a chair, bumping his head on the display, which must have been poorly wired. A spark jumped between Saturn and Uranus…
The paramedic made a choking sound.
“Are you okay?” I asked. Apparently, he found my narrative amusing, but he just gestured for me to continue.
…and the spark hit Candace’s display of natural and synthetic fabrics. In seconds, there was a small blaze at her table.
Fortunately, Tobias’ pond water aquarium was nearby. He scooted it to the edge of his table and upended it on the smoldering fabrics, sending algae, tadpoles, and yellowish water in rivulets across the floor.
I was running in six directions at once, trying to fix everything and accomplishing nothing, when I slipped in the pond scum and smacked my forehead on the edge of a display table. I must have passed out; when I came to, the gym was crowded with firemen, paramedics, even the police.
My narrative over, I hung my head, tears filling my eyes. This had certainly been the worst day of my life, and a paramedic—a very cute paramedic—had laughed at me. I smelled of rotten eggs and ashes, and my hair was dripping with pond water.
I felt a finger lift my chin, and I looked into eyes that were no longer laughing, but kind and ever-so-green.
“Miss Jennica-I-Mean-Conrad—thanks. Until I walked in here today, I hadn’t smiled in weeks. It’s another long story, but I’d like to tell you about it—when you feel better.”
When I look better, you mean. I nodded. Another experiment—why not?
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