Chapter 9: Love

"I am the hope that greets the dawn. I am the truth that rights the wrong. I am the joy of the redeemed. I am the reason children sing."

Ms. Frizzle arrived at James K. Polk middle school early in the morning. In the short period before any students arrived, she could go over her lesson plans, grade projects, and plan for other classes. Mornings were the deep breath before you charged into battle.

She was not worried about what this week would bring, however. Ever since the fiasco with the missing wood shop money had been cleared up last week, the school was enjoying a lasting peace. The students were collectively ashamed for having persecuted the innocent Jennifer Mosely, and were trying to make up for their bad behavior by being more responsible than usual. There hadn't been so much as an instance of name calling. This revelation was in addition to the bullying deficit that had started after Billy Loomer's accident which had left him a more calm and gentle person.

Ms. Frizzle unlocked her classroom and was greeted by the sight of Jennifer Mosely sitting in her usual seat at the front of the room. This was very odd, since she didn't usual sit there for another hour.

"Jennifer? How did you get in here?" Ms. Frizzle asked.

"I need tips." Moze said, ignoring the question.

"What on?" asked Ms. Frizzle, switching gears.

"It's Ned." Moze said, launching into an explanation. "We went back to being friends after the money was found. I mean, not that we weren't friends, but...well, he kissed me. Which wasn't bad, but then I kissed him. That wasn't bad either, but I didn't know where we stood. We've been friends forever, and I'm dating Faymen, but I think I like Ned."

She stopped to take a breath. Ms. Frizzle could see that she'd wanted to talk to someone about this for a while.

"I don't know if I like him like that, I think I do, but what if I don't. This could ruin our friendship if we started dating and it didn't work out. And anyway I'm dating Faymen, and I like him to, but now I don't know if I like him as much. And I don't even know if Ned even likes me. I felt fireworks when we kissed, but what if he just felt like he was kissing his mother!"

Her whole body sagged as she finished. Ms. Frizzle put a comforting hand on Moze's head.

"You don't need tips." Ms. Frizzle said. Moze looked up at her inquisitively.

"You need answers." said Ms. Frizzle, and she pointed to her touch screen wall.

When Mose looked at it, there were four lines of text on it that hadn't been there before.

They read: 1) Do I like Ned Bigby? 2) Does Ned Bigby like me? 3) Would it be better for Ned and me to stay friends? 4) Do I like Faymen or Ned more?

"Luckily," said Ms. Frizzle, "these are all simple questions. Each question has only two possible answers. It's easier than multiple choice."

"But I still don't know." said Moze.

"Don't worry, Jennifer." said Ms. Frizzle. "You don't have to know the answers. There are test for these things."

Ms. Frizzle pushed a cart down the hall. The cart was carrying a machine that looked like a dentists chair with several satellite dishes welded about the headrest.

As she passed by the library, a book on marriage counseling flew past her head. She looked into the library to see Ned Bigby amid a stack of books on relationship advice. He looked up and saw her.

"The library still doesn't have any answers." he said.

"What's your question?" Ms. Frizzle asked, sitting down next to him.

He looked around the library to see if anyone was within hearing distance, then he leaned closer to Ms. Frizzle for good measure.

"I think I like Moze." he said.

"Really? What tipped you off?" Ms. Frizzle asked. "Was it the fact that you seem to keep kissing? Or was it when you faced down the tiger rather than let her get eaten?"

"She's really important to me," Ned continued, "but I don't know if I like her like that. What if I tell her I like her and she doesn't feel the same way? Our friendship would be over! Anyway, she's going out with Faymen. I don't think I couldmpherph"

Ms. Frizzle shoved a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in his mouth to stop him from building up a full head of steam and charging off the edge.

"The sky isn't falling chicken little." she said. "You need to break down your big problem into smaller ones." she pulled his note pad over to her and started writing.

"One," she said while writing, "you are not sure how you feel about Jennifer. Two, You do not know how Jennifer feels about you. Three, You are worried something might happen to ruin your friendship. Four, Jennifer is dating Faymen Phorchin."

Ned looked over the list.

"Yeah," he said, "that covers everything."

"Good." said Ms. Frizzle. "Now, we solve the little problems one at a time. Now, you can't really do anything about what Jennifer feels or whom she is dating. So, let's focus on items One and Three."

"Okay," said Ned, relieved that half the issues were gone already.

"Item Three is the easiest." Ms. Frizzle went on. "You two have been friends as long as you've been alive. Unless one of you murders the other's family or something equally terrible, that probably won't change. If it happened that Jennifer said she liked you and you just wanted to be friends you wouldn't abandon her would you?"

"No." said Ned with the tone of someone who had just been asked if planet Earth was flat. (In case you were wondering: the Earth is not flat. There are some planets that are flat. Some of them are even carried on the backs of four elephants riding a giant sea turtle, but Earth is not that planet.)

"So, there's no reason to assume she would do any differently." said Ms. Frizzle. "Item One, unfortunately has no clear answer, however it doesn't really need one. The fact that you've overlooked in your panic is that Jennifer isn't going anywhere. She isn't eloping with Faymen and running away to Brazil. She isn't dying from flesh eating protozoa. She will be here tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that."

"I don't follow." said Ned.

"You have time." clarified Ms. Frizzle. "You don't have to decide how you feel right now. Just let go of it, and focus on other things. And some day, down the road, without having given it any thought, and without worrying yourself ragged over it, you're going to wake up and realize 'Ah, hah! That's what I feel.'"

"Seriously?" asked Ned.

"Yep." said Ms. Frizzle. "That's how it works. One day you'll be completely confused about something and the next day it will be as obvious as fire being hot."

She let this sink in for a minute. It was always a revelation to learn that parts of you were making decisions while the rest of you went on uninformed. You always think you're an individual, but you're actually an entire committee.

"When you are confused about anything," Ms. Frizzle continued, "always stick to the facts. Facts can't lie. They can't fail. You hit confusion with the facts and it can't get back up again. And the fact is, even if you don' know how you feel about Jennifer, you definitely care about her."

"Of course." said Ned.

"If you care about her, you'll make whatever decision will maximize her happiness." said Ms. Frizzle.

"And that means not making her as confused as I am by bringing this up." said Ned. "And she's happy with Faymen so I shouldn't do anything to mess that up."

"You're a good friend, Ned." said Ms. Frizzle, getting up and tousling his hair. "You're a real firework."

She walked out of the library with evil glint in her eye. Let the tests begin.

"This," Ms. Frizzle told Moze, "is a portable PET scanner."

They were in Ms. Frizzle's empty classroom. The PET scanner was plugged in against the far wall, looking intimidating.

"What are we doing with it?" Moze asked in apprehension.

"We are going to determine empirically if you like Ned." said Ms. Frizzle. "To that end, we are going to hook you up the scanner and show you a series of pictures."

Once Moze was strapped in, Ms. Frizzle swiveled the chair to face the touch screen wall. A photo of her mother filled up the wall. after a few seconds, it was replaced by a kitten. Then, a waterfall. She kept watching the seemingly random images for the next few minutes. Some were of cute animals. Some of them were of battlefields. Some where of her friends. Some were of her family. One was of Ms. Frizzle floating in Outer Space.

"And done." said Ms. Frizzle, unbuckling her from the chair.

"What was that supposed to do?" asked Moze, nonplussed.

"Good question." said Ms. Frizzle. "Jennifer Ann Mosely," she typed a command into her wall and a picture of a brain appeared. "This is your brain. This is your brain when it sees your mother." The brain on the screen started to twinkle with little sparks. "The PET scan allows us to see how your brain is thinking. These images," multiple pictures of her brain appeared on screen at varying levels of activity. "were taken when I showed you a specific picture."

Moze gawked at the wall. Looking at someone's thoughts couldn't possibly be legal.

"These images of your brain," Ms. Frizzle continued, pulling new images up, "were taken when you saw a picture of Ned."

Her brain was lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Compare them with these images of when you just saw Cookie." said Ms. Frizzle, bring the new images along side the other ones.

Cookie wasn't even close.

"And here's Faymen." said Ms. Frizzle. "Your brain on Faymen is indistinguishable from your brain on Ned. So, it is resolved: you like Ned as more than a friend. Also, this scan here indicates that you think Billy Loomer is cute."

Moze hung her head, embarrassed.

"Delete these. Now!" said Moze.

"...and that is why it is better if Moze and I just stay friends." Ned finished. He had been telling Cookie about his resolution.

"I thought the paradigm was for people to make fools of themselves for love?" asked Cookie.

"That fate is for people who don't have Ms. Frizzle as a teacher." said Ned.

As they approached the corner, they heard loud guffawing from around the bend.

"Dude, she really did it?" someone said. It sounded like Michael Corner from his Algebra class.

"Yes, she did." said Faymen.

Ned flattened himself against the wall, pulling Cookie with him.

"What -" Cookie started.

"Hush." said Ned. He strained to hear what was being said.

"You've been trying go get her to do that for ages, haven't you?" said Michael.

"Yes, she has been very resistant." said Faymen.

"When?" said Michael.

"She finally rolled over last night." said Faymen.

"Ned," whispered Cookie, "your grip is fracturing my Radius."

"Will she do it again?" Michael asked.

"Every time I ask." said Faymen.

"I can't feel my fingers." Cookie whined.

"That's great, Faymen." they heard Claire Sawyer say. "I didn't think you'd ever teach your dog to roll over. Can you teach her to beg next?"

"Oh, I was way off." said Ned.

"This next test," said Ms. Frizzle, "will evaluate if Ned is boyfriend material or if you should just keep him in the friend pile."

"I don't really see how all this ties together." said Moze, as she looked over the gym.

The gym floor was littered every piece of sports equipment ever invented. There were croquet mallets, volleyballs, bowling balls, shuttle cocks, tennis rackets, foot balls, pool ques, and there was a sumo wrestler sitting near the bleachers.

"I could explain," said Ms. Frizzle, "but I'll just show you."

The doors of the gym opened and the fourth period gym class came in.

"Okay, everyone!" called Ms. Frizzle. "I'm taking over this class. Coach Dirga came down with a nasty case of sudden chronic neck pain and had to be rushed away for an emergency spa treatment. We're going to divide up into five teams."

A while later, Moze was on a team with Faymen, Ned, Cookie, and Loomer. They were wearing blue jerseys with the words 'Team Jerboa' stitched on the front.

"What happened to your arm?" Moze asked Cookie, indicating the sling he had his left arm in.

"It got crushed by the power of love." he answered cryptically.

"Eh?" asked Moze.

"Alright!" shouted Ms. Frizzle. "As you can see," she indicated the equipment, "the game is Calvinball. Any questions?"

"What are the rules?" asked Seth Powers, who was wearing a red jersey with 'Team Tapir' stitched on it.

"It's pretty simple." said Ms. Frizzle. "You make it up as you go. Begin!"

On the bleachers,Martin Qwerly and Scoop were giving a running commentary for the school podcast.

"Hello folks! I'm Martin Qwerly."

"And I'm Scoop! Were coming to you today from Ms. Frizzle's first gym class, where five teams are competing simultaneously for the Calvinball Cup."

"Today we have optimum conditions for a great Calvinball match: We're inside, the lights are on, and the floor isn't wet."

"The game has begun, and Loomer of Team Jerboa is going full speed from right out of the gate. He's running a soccer ball down the northwest quadrangle of the Vortex Zone. Lisa Mytner of Team Koala is trying to block him. He dodges past her and slips between Josh and Kyle. He's going for the goal, but Missy just pushed the sumo wrestler in front of him. He adjust his position and he kicks! It bounces off the Pillar of Despair to where Faymen Phorchin is waiting in front of Team Boojum's goal and FAYMEN SINKS THE GOAL!"

"Meanwhile, in the Osmosis Zone, Missy and Bianca of Team Tapeworm are pelting Ned and Moze of Team Jerboa with a volley of shuttle cocks. Ned and Moze are making a break for the safety of the western strip of the Melancholy Zone. Missy is in hot pursuit, but she needs to reload and Moze blitzes her while she's unarmed and, yes, she's challenged Missy to sudden-death Rock/Paper/Scissors. There building up to it and...Moze wins with Scissors!"

"In the Prestidigitation Zone, Cookie is locked in a keep away game, being taunted by Zack of Team Tapir and Cody of Team Koala. But Loomer catches Cody off guard coming in from southern most spiral of the Gravity Zone. Loomer has tackled Cody to the ground and the ball is out of play. Cookie is running after it with Zack hot on his tail, and Cookie gets it!"

"In the Perpetual Suffering Zone, Ned and Coconut Head of Team Boojum are locked in a vicious staring contest... … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … and … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Ned Wins! Finally."

"In the Caustic Zone Buzz Rodriguez of Team Boojum and Jerry Crony of Team Tapeworm are having an open and honest discussion about their feelings. And I think there might be … yes, I think … yes! There's hugging!"

An hour of this silliness past and Ms. Frizzle called game over. The players were gathered around her, waiting to hear the final score.

"I've tallied up all the points!" said Ms. Frizzle. "Team Jerboa: 42 points. Team Koala: 'Q'. Team Tapir: 'Jello Cake'. Team Tapeworm: 'H2SO4'. And for Team Boojum: They handed me three marbles and a live chicken."

The chicken clucked quietly as the class looked on confused.

"Team Boojum Wins!" declared Ms. Frizzle.

The players in brown jerseys went wild in celebration.

"Ok," said Moze as she and Ms. Frizzle got back to Room #102, "what was the point of that?"

Ms. Frizzle waved a hand at the touch screen wall. Dozens of moving pictures appeared on the screen. When Moze stopped to examine them, she realized they were video images of the Calvinball game she was just in.

"I planted cameras all over the gym to review what happened and extract the raw data." said Ms. Frizzle.

"What did you find?" asked Moze.

"Well, for one thing, Coconut Head can take down a sumo wrestler using a tennis racket." said Ms. Frizzle. "But as far as Ned is concerned, please view these videos."

A few of the video files where brought moved to the area of the screen in front of Moze. They were the plays where she and Ned were working together.

"When ever Ned moved," Ms. Frizzle explained, "it was in reference to your movement, like two orbiting planets. He made sure to keep your blind spots covered, and he was right there to catch you when you slipped on that banana peel."

"In contrast," said Ms. Frizzle bring up a different video file, "Faymen used you as a meat shield when Zack and Tyler were barraging you with dodge balls."

"Ah." said Moze. She was going to have a word with him about that later. Just one word in fact: 'slap!'

"Ned is attentive to your needs and supportive to your actions." summarized Ms. Frizzle. "So, it is resolved: Ned is boyfriend material."

"... and that's why it's better for Moze and me to stay friends." Ned finished.

"Interesting." said Gordy from his sofa. "I was under the impression the two guys had to duke it out for the fair maiden's hand."

"That's just archaic." said Ned.

"Weren't Moze and Missy fighting over you a few weeks ago?" asked Gordy.

"That's totally different." said Ned.

"How?" asked Gordy.

"Because I said so." answered Ned.

Before Gordy could point out the flaw in his logic, they heard two people talking outside the supply closet door.

"Dude, you got it!" said a voice that sounded like Tyler Philmore from Ned's Science class.

"Yes, my cousins in Columbia sent it." said a voice that Ned recognized as Faymen.

"Nice, I heard this stuff will have you bouncing off the ceiling." said Tyler.

"That and much more." said Faymen.

"Isn't this illegal?" asked Tyler.

"I won't tell if you won't." said Faymen. "Don't take it all, some is for Jennifer."

Ned already had his cell phone out. 9 - 1 -

"Why would they make it illegal to mail Columbian cocoa beans to the United States?" Tyler asked. "They seem so harmless."

"It's a quality control policy." said Faymen. "Only major growers are allowed to export it."

Inside the closet, Ned scowled at the door and shut his phone while Gordy muffled his laughter with a pillow.

Moze looked at the little box Ms. Frizzle had given her. It was about the size of a business card and one side had a tiny speaker on it.

"What does this do?" Moze asked.

"This test," said Ms. Frizzle, looking furtively out the kitchen door into the cafeteria, "will tell us if Ned likes you."

"Couldn't we just hook him up to the PET scanner?" Moze asked.

"This method is more cost effective, but we have to do it while lunch is in session." said Ms. Frizzle. "Put the box in your pants pocket, grab a lunch, and sit next to Ned, and I mean right next to him. He's in his usual seat."

Moze slipped the box into her back pocket and joined the lunch line. As Rose, the lunch lady, served her chili, she wondered what the box did. It probably recorded the electromagnetic waves he was emanating or took pheromone levels.

"Hi, Ned." she said casually as she sat down next to him.

"Hi." he said in a dead voice.

"Are you alright?" she asked. "You look a little harassed."

"Nothing desert can't fix." he replied. "All they have is rice pudding, though."

They launched into a conversation about who in their right mind would make a desert out of such a bland grain.

Ms. Frizzle stood behind the counter, looking out across the sea of students. She decided the circumstances were just right and pulled out a remote control. It had only one button on it. It was a large red one, clearly conveying that you should think twice before pushing it. She pondered the morality of this test for a second. It was exceptionally accurate, but the cost was terrible. She took a deep breath, said a prayer for forgiveness, and pushed the button.

The box in Moze's pocket blared out the loudest farting noise ever heard. Elephants would get together and make fun of how loud that was. Moze felt the color drain from her face and all of her limbs. The cafeteria went dead quiet and every head swiveled to face her general direction.

Across from her, Faymen was wearing an expression that could only be described as 'blown away'.

"Sorry!" said Ned. Moze's head whipped around to face him. His eyes were clenched shut, like a man who didn't want to watch as a firing squad was getting ready to shoot.

"I had too much chili!" Ned finished.

Then, Moze realized what was going on. He was putting his head on the chopping block and saving her from utter humiliation.

The cafeteria burst out in raucous laughter. Ned slid down until he was under the table.

Behind the cafeteria counter, Lunch Lady Rose and Ms. Frizzle were watching him.

"Now, that's love." said Rose.

"Yes," said Ms. Frizzle, "yes it is."

Ned was sitting in the air ducts above the art classroom. This was the only place in the school where he wouldn't be laughed at. When he found who called Guinness World Records he was going to feed them their own face. He didn't even know there was a category for loudest evacuation.

This was the worst day ever. He'd worried himself into a harassed state because Faymen couldn't specify he was talking about something innocuous at the beginning of a conversation. He'd become a pariah because he covered for someone else's girlfriend. On top of everything else, His feelings for Moze, which were no more clearer, kept interrupting his waking thoughts. When Ms. Frizzle told him that he should focus on everything else she hadn't mentioned that the topic he was trying to avoid would be barging into his mind at every opportunity.

It was understandable he got worked up over Faymen. He wanted Moze to be happy. Right now, that meant Faymen, but if Faymen was doing things that were untoward Moze would suffer collateral damage. He didn't want to be worried about whether or not she had a good boyfriend. He wanted to be a good boyfriend for her. He didn't want to worry whether her special someone was making her happy or sad. He wanted to be the one to make her happy. He wanted to be the pair of arms she ran to when things got bad. He wanted it all. Talking to her all night. Slow dancing at parties. Giving her heart shaped candies on Valentines day. The whole damn works.

Ah, yes. This must be the 'wake up' Ms. Frizzle was talking about. It seemed the next logical step was to defeat Faymen in a duel and ride off into the sunset with Moze.

However, Faymen was not a bad guy, Moze was happy with the way things were, it would be unfair to them to cause discord because of his own problems, and he didn't even have a horse to ride off on.

So, it was resolved. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Moze was sitting in her usual desk in Ms. Frizzle's empty classroom. She was giving Ms. Frizzle a look that could make a lion back up.

"Well," said Ms. Frizzle, unfazed by the glare, "a good days worth of scientific inquiry done and we only have one test left."

"What is it this time?" Moze asked bitterly. "Are you going to test if I'm flammable?"

"No. This test will tell us if you would prefer Ned or Faymen." said Ms. Frizzle.

"You're going to set them both on fire and see which one I save first, aren't you?" asked Moze.

"Normally, yes." admitted Ms. Frizzle. "However, we will also need a test that tells Ned if he prefers you over Suzie."

"Why?" Moze asked, confused.

The door to the classroom opened and someone knocked.

"Excuse me." a voice said. "I was told to come here. Jennifer?"

Moze whipped her head around to the door.

"Suzie Crabgrass?" Moze cried in shock.

Suzie ran to the front of the room as Moze got up and she hugged her.

"I'm so glad to see you again!" Suzie said. "My dad got a job in town, so I can come back to school here!"

"Amazing." said Moze, very glad that Suzie couldn't see the face she was making.

Another voice came from the door.

"You wanted to see me Ms – Suzie?" said Ned.

"Ned!" Suzie cried happily.

She ran over and hugged him. He hugged her back, but his expression remained in shock mode.

"Now that you're all here," said Ms. Frizzle, "I have some exciting news to share with you, that I think you'll love."

The three turned to her. She drew herself up for effect.

"We're going on a field trip."