My bedroom door opened. Startled awake, I rolled onto my flashlight. Oh. No. I reached under my side and set the light on the Remington typewriter between Biggy’s bed and mine. My eyes closed in resignation.
“You still read under the covers?” Mother came in each school morning to make certain Biggy and I awoke to our morning alarm.
I hadn’t been able to sleep after this morning’s paper routes, so I’d reverted to a fourth-grade habit. Mrs. Bailey’s class had been the Hardy Boys repository. I’d brought home a book every other day and read under the covers to avoid disturbing Biggy in the next bed. The Hidden Harbor Mystery had seemed so real, I’d gotten hooked. I’d finally broken the practice fifty volumes later when Robert E. Lee Elementary and the Hell Creek Municipal Library ran out of Franklin W. Dixon novels, but I’d wasted a lot of paper-route money on C cells.
When I was eleven, Mother had said she couldn’t give me money for the sixth-grade carnival, so I’d swiped twenty cents from her purse. She’d caught me because they were the last two dimes she had. I’d gotten an afternoon paper route and repaid her the next week.
Since I didn’t sleep much anyway, I’d asked Mr. Presley for a morning route too, then a second morning route a few months later to make getting up really worth it. I could usually deliver both morning routes, be back in bed by six A.M., and read for an hour before school.
“Why don’t you wake me up the next time it’s cold and rainy?” Mother was in the kitchen by the time I finished showering. “I’ll drive you.” She had boiled a pot of rice, melted butter over the top, added sugar, then poured enough milk into my bowl to make breakfast soup. She could have just served Rice Krispies, but she insisted a hot meal was better for growing boys.
“At four A.M.? You don’t close until ten o’clock. When would you sleep?”
“When else do I get to see you?”
I’d finished Waiting for Godot this morning, and so I put the book in my newspaper bag. I was working my way through the high school library.
“Let us do something while we have the chance,” Estragon had said.
That’s when I’d gotten the idea to leave home. But go where?
I hadn’t seen O’Murphy since before the Christmas break, and there they went on his Yamaha. Scooter glared at me in triumph.
Hey, I’m not your competition. I’ve spoken to her a half-dozen times since school started.
O’Murphy lay contentedly against Scooter’s back, arms wrapped around his waist, the top of her head barely reaching the bottom of his. Her eyes opened for a moment and saw me.
When I biked to the parking lot a few minutes later, she bounced up like I was her besty. “Tommy didn’t want the teachers to see him cutting, so he dropped me off a block away. He’s riding to Richie Richards’s lake house on Clear Creek. They’re going ice biking.”
Banker Boy is buds with Thug Boy now? What an unholy combination.
“And Richie’s ditching his paper route this afternoon so they can ride his Indian.”
That’s why it’s such a darn good idea to be born into a filthy-rich family: Richie had inherited a preposterously handsome 1946 Indian Chief from his grandfather, who’d been president of Boomer National Bank. Yellow-and-black, skirted fenders, black-fringe saddle, genuine silver-conch saddlebags. The first time I saw it, I’d moved closer just to inhale the testosterone.
“If I had a ’cycle, I wouldn’t dump you a block from school.”
She faced me. “I thought you were getting one.”
Stanley Jones staggered toward us.
“Hi-uuuh.” His mouth gaped when he talked, and spit ran down his chin because the bottom of his left lip drooped lower than the right. Stanley never noticed the drool.
O’Murphy turned her head and muttered, sotto voce, “Eww! That boy. Why do they let him in school with us? Obviously, he’s a mental. Don’t you think he’s a little creepy?”
I reached for the white linen handkerchief his mother always tucked into Stanley’s back pocket and whispered, “He’s sweet. He’s funny, if you get to know him. Besides, what are Special Ed kids supposed to do? Stay home? For the rest of their lives?”
“I’m in two classes with him. He takes a lot of the teacher’s time,” O’Murphy grouched.
“But think about what you learn.”
Don’t get upset. Teach. “You’re more used to people like Stan. Were you afraid of him before?” Parents told girls to stay away when mainstreaming had begun last year. Stanley Jones might assault them and get them pregnant with a retarded baby. I wiped Stanley’s chin and stuffed his handkerchief back into his pocket. “Got your gym bag? Good. See you fifth period?”
“Yea-uh. Futh peeer-i-od,” Stanley squealed. His head wagged and he took off.
I saw something in her eyes. Is she impressed? Just a tiny bit? I sensed that O’Murphy hungered for human contact, just like Stanley, just like me. Now. Make contact now. I reached for her left arm, slid my hand down to hers, and paused for a second.
“Well, when you get a motorcycle, come by my house and give me a ride to school.”
“That’s all she asked me,” Sammie said. “‘Do you sit next to Cutie?’”
“But MBe already knows that.”
“You are so adroit at missing the obvious, White Boy.”
Why was I white and Sammie not? She was just a few shades darker. “So what did you say?”
“I said yeah.”
“She said, ‘He’s your friend?’”
“I said, ‘Sorta.’”
“You’re too, too gracious. What’d she say?”
“Does Cutie go out with anybody?”
“That’s what it was about?”
“No,” Sammie said. “It wadn’t.”
“Well then, what?”
“She wanted to find out if I like you.”
“And what did you say?”
Sammie stared. “You’re my friend. But I couldn’t even say that.”
“Because you’re white!”
“Barely.” I’m swarthy. Part American Indian, part Black Dutch. “And you are my friend.”
Sammie’s expressions changed from pleased to proud to frustrated. “It ain’t about talking to each other. The day my moms enrolled me in this school, she tole me, ‘Don’t you never let nobody see you smilin’ at no white boy. You’ll ruin him, and they will visit a terrible destruction upon your head.’”
“Sorry. Now, do you have anything for me at all?”
“She called you Nice Eyes. And then she said, ‘But he doesn’t realize it.’”
“And then you said?”
“Nothing. But I remember thinking, ‘Green. I wish I had green eyes.’” Sammie stared directly into my eyes for just a second, then dropped hers.
“So what do you think was her point?”
“She was sendin’ you a message.”
“What’s the message?”
“I just tole you.”