Juniper - Chapter Two

Twenty minutes go by of configuring the equation and testing each chemical, and I’m close to getting the Sodium Chlorite to not react to the Magnesium Glucose Lithium. I noticed that it smokes lightly when I allow any less than three drops and any more than 4. Worse, the chemical needs to be oxygen deprived. Four drops will work but have a delayed reaction when water or oxygen is present. 

I took notes on my findings and started composing an equation that respected those rules.

From the corner of my goggles, I saw Kawoski walking rounds around the room, peering over the shoulder of lab groups with a disapproving smirk.  

A hearty chuckle came from Professor Kawoski’s chest as he eyed the vacant chair beside me with doubt and amusement oozing from his aura. “This is a week-long lab,” He heaved, “You will be deducted forty percent of your grade for any sloppiness or inaccuracy.”

I was working alone, but the absence of a partner had no effect on my progress. Only I was aware of the skepticism, and it was an emotion I’d gotten used to seeing from others. Counselors who told me to look in-state for more financial aid, to my colleagues believing I was intelligent for a black girl, and a personal favorite, how all my accomplishments seem to include references— whispers, of Affirmative Action.

“You may take your written notes, lab guides, but leave the lab portion of this assignment on the table. Class time is now your work time and the only time you will be able to use the equipment and supplies. Dismiss in five minutes.” 

I collected the lab material. Carefully aligning each bottle toward the center of the table. It was unlike Kawoski to assign a weeklong project and not let us take all the supplies home. I desperately wanted a break from this sickly white asylum. It took seconds to slide my book bag across my shoulders and shove my headphones into my ear. On the walk to my apartment, the only sounds I wanted to endure were attached to a Spotify playlist. Ari Lennox’s “Whipped Cream” instantly boosted the levels of dopamine in my system.

“HEY-” a voice yelled near my ear. 

It must have been loud because I heard it through the tunes of beats. I spun my head to the sound. 

“Excuse you!” I displayed a puzzled look. 

“Sorry,” a sheepish grin, “I was tryna get someone’s attention.”

That someone made her way over to him giving this mystery boy a sensual kiss on his lips. Extra but whatever.

“No worries,” I said with a tight-lipped grimace. 

She was beautiful. Had long legs, naturally curly hair and camera-ready cheekbones. And he was absolutely magnetizing. Those connections made sense. At least it’s what I convinced myself before walking out into the cool night.

A buzzing ring came from my phone. I dug through my bag to answer it. My mom’s face and name glared back at me.

“Hey, mom.”

“Nao, sweetie,” concern was laced in her tone, “How are you?”

“I’m fine, mom, but I’m on my way home at the moment. Can I call you back?”

I knew she was frowning at my words. Which made me resent how guilty I felt saying it.

“Oh, well I was just calling to tell you that my artwork was finally mounted at Gilligan’s Museum.” 

“Mom that’s amazing,” I choked out, “You deserve this.”

The excitement I felt for her was indescribable. “What are you going to do to celebrate?”

She gasped, “Darling, your father sent me a beaucoup of flowers this evening and told me to get sexy for tonight.”

“Ew, mom, that’s totally something you didn’t have to share,” I pretended to gag.

Inside, secretly, I was elated at the love between my mom and dad. Wishing one day I’d be as happy as they are.

“Silly girl, you know we’re humans too,” She laughed and I knew she was being lighthearted.

I snickered at that statement. “Yes I do,” purposely fumbling the phone to sound busy. “But I have to go, tell dad I said hi and have a lovely romantic night.” 

“Sure and we will! Stay safe, take your vitamins and come home for Christmas. I love y-,” I hung up before she was able to finish.

“Love you too,” I whispered before entering my apartment complex. The thought of Christmas seemed ages from now but the imagery of cookies, love, and gifts filled my memories. It was all I could think of on the train ride back to home base. 

A screeching wail on the tracks signaled my stop had arrived. Ten minutes later, I was in front of my complex.

Bingham Apartments. The definition of a humble abode. It didn’t tower like the buildings in downtown Chicago but it was decently sized at three stories. The brick pathway led to a ruddy door, and inside its only drawbacks were the mud-colored décor. 

I gave a friendly glance to the desk attendant who absentmindedly typed away on a computer. He didn’t seem to care who walked through the doors. It was nice to know intruders would be easily identified.

I could feel the grumpy mood I was in and it bothered me. 


The elevator doors opened and I stepped inside. A guy in a blue hoodie, two girls carrying groceries walked in aside me. 

“What floor?” he asked us.

I answered first, afterward one of the girls chimed in.

The two girls were the first to get off. Their chatter picked up as the doors slowly shut.


It was all I could do not to run into my room and throw myself into bed. In minutes, however, I’d opened the door to my apartment and locked the door of my bedroom.

None of my roommates were home yet and I was grateful Milani and Brice worked late tonight. The last thing I wanted was to have to pretend I was anything other than in a dejected mood.

Classes weren’t the issue, quite the opposite actually. Something else was putting me in bad spirits. I wondered if I’d ever been anything other than the smart girl. The good girl who does all of her assignments, who obtains above par grades. Would I, could I, be the girl that radiates beauty and charm? 

It felt so far-fetched I wanted to laugh at the insinuation. Girls like me were pretty enough to be treated kindly, but was it enough to get someone like the guy I saw earlier? 

I felt silly that at twenty years old, for the first time, I was broken up about a man. An unavailable one at that. Puzzling emotions swirled inside.

In every other sense, I had success, friends and a kind loving family. The one thing I didn’t have was the thing I treasured most to receive. Love.