The New Lab: Better Climate, Possible Biohazards

(A scene that takes place in When We Made Monsters a few months into the school year. Max is a high school sophomore who enlisted the help of some other kids at his school on a project to find the secret of immortality. Initially they were performing experimental spellwork in an old shed in the woods, but an accident has recently led to its destruction. Discovery of the accident and the experiments by some adults in the community has led to the offer of a safer space to study.

Joe is empathic. Della and Sonia are dating.)

The bright side of losing the shed came in the form of an offer from Professor Stevens. They would be allowed to use the college chemistry lab if they cleaned up after the last class. While Max griped about the waste of time cleaning up after others and having to redraw the circles every day the others pointed out the surplus of equipment and, most importantly, the air conditioning. The first day, however, left them wondering if they had actually been tricked. There was glassware clustered around the sink and scattered almost everywhere else. Spills or graffiti covered almost every lab table. Prof. Stevens was stuffing a briefcase with exams at the front of the room and slammed the case closed as they entered, saying, “I want everything spotless!” as he dashed past them through the door.

“Fuck the police,” Della said, as her assessment of the situation.

“Well we should…” Max put his hand on his chin, surveyed the mess and started again, “Joe and I can wash glassware. Della, Sonia, you can handle the tables?”

“I guess we have to,” Della pushed up the sleeves to her hoodie, which promptly fell back done. Sonia had been staring at a gelatinous looking brown spill since they came in and did not take her eyes off it, but did nod slightly.

The job took less time than they thought, but they also thought that they would be there forever, trapped in a hell of bottle brushes and table cleaner that smelled like the artificial mint and pine of Christmas. Sonia’s initial terror had transformed into giddiness, with an end to the scrubbing in sight she started chasing Della around with a dirty rag, “Oh my God, you have to smell this. I think I have brain damage.”

“No! I already lost half my brain cells today!” Della laughed as she dodged around tables and stools.

Joe looked over his shoulder, pausing mid brush, “Aw, aren’t they just precious.”

“Adorable,” Said Max, scowling and concentrating on a stubborn mass of particles at the bottom of his test tube.

“Jealous?”

Max stopped brushing to glare at him and then returned with renewed energy.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure there are tons of girls who’d go out with you if you just asked them, and maybe didn’t look at them like that, yeah the murder look. Don’t do that,” Max continued to focus on the stain, so Joe kept going, “A couple of boys too, I bet. You know Marcus? I could ask him if you want.”

Max rinsed out the tube, held it to the light, and set it in the clean rack. The stain was still faintly visible. “I have no idea if you think that’s a good idea or if you’re trying to make fun of me, but the whole haha, you actually know how to dress yourself, you must be gay, isn’t that funny, got old in middle school.”

“I… well,” Joe looked down into the drain like maybe the quickly diminishing soap suds would know what he had meant, “I was kind of joking, and I kind of just honestly don’t know. Like, you do realize you can tell me, right.”

Max let his shoulders drop for the first time since he started furiously cleaning and hour ago, “Honestly? I don’t really know either.”

“Really? I thought I told you. I’m straight, unless it’s David Beckham.”

“I meant,” He almost whispered, “I don’t know about me. I’ve never felt that way about anyone.”

“Huh? Not at all?”

Max shook his head. He’d turned to face Joe but now only looked at the ground, “And please don’t act like I’m lying.”

“Why would I? I mean, I can tell. You’re feelings right now are like, the opposite of lying, and actually kind of making me queasy. Can you stand back for a minute?”

That made Max look up, giving a half smile and a nasal laugh as he moved a couple steps backward. “I’m sorry you can’t handle the truth,”

“Ugh, apparently not. The truth feels awful.”

Cleaning had taken so long they only had time to mark out the places they could draw the circles tomorrow before it was time to pack up and go home. Max left dissatisfied at the almost complete lack of progress, but feeling somewhat lighter all the same.

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