By lunchtime the next day, Nicky had become annoyed by Wanda Tyler. Not only had Butch sat by her in biology and left him stuck sitting next to Brian, but she also took most of Butch's attention as they ate. Butch tried to convince her to eat a twinkie.
"Ish!" she turned her head. "I wouldn't even feed one of those to my dog."
"Meanie," said Butch. "I bet your dog would like twinkies."
"I take good care of him," countered Wanda. "I feed him healthy food and make sure he gets plenty of exercise."
"Sounds like too much work," said Butch, biting into the twinkie he had offered her.
Nicky, listening intently since mention of a dog, didn't think having one would be too much work.
"It's not too much work," Wanda said the same thing out loud. "Don't you have any pets?"
"Eugene has gerbils," Butch spoke with his mouth full. "And my little brother has a snake."
"How about your own pet?"
"I had a canary once, but my uncle stepped on it."
"Did you cry?" said Brian in a hoarse chuckle.
"I did," Butch looked at him seriously. "I was only five years old."
"I remember how terrible I felt when my first dog died," said Wanda. "Before that, I didn't know things die."
"We all die," said Butch, waving his arms. "We might as well enjoy ourselves while we can. That's why I eat these." He popped the end of the twinkie into his mouth.
A little later, Holly Bunting came to the table wanting to talk with Wanda.
"Can't we do it after school?" said Wanda, grabbing hold of Butch's arm.
"I need to talk to you now," Holly said with a pout in her face. "It's important."
"All right," Wanda gave in. She spoke to Butch as she stood up. "See you tonight."
"Pick you up at six-thirty."
Nicky watched the girls walk away together. He hadn't realized Wanda and Holly were friends, probably because he had never seen Holly with anyone other than Billy Hosin.
"She's going to the races with me tonight," Butch drew back his attention. "She likes cars."
"She just says she does," Eugene was skeptical.
"No she doesn't," Butch argued. "She knows about them; even drove mine."
"You let her drive your car?" Brian raised his voice. "How come you never let me drive it?"
Eugene had an answer for him. "You don't have estrogen."
Nicky worked on his history essay most of the day Saturday, determined to finish it even though it wasn't due until Friday. Although he initially intended to portray Francis Drake as a vicious pirate, as Butch suggested, his research indicated that Drake had been a gentlemanly buccaneer, setting his victims free after a raid and even bestowing them with gifts. Nicky wrote his paper as if it were the journal of a sailor in the expedition.
Nicky's character, named Leonard, served on a ship commanded by Thomas Doughty, an agitator planted in the expedition by the peace faction in England which opposed raiding Spanish ships. Leonard hated his commanding officer because of his strict discipline. Doughty drilled the crew to exhaustion and had anyone brutally whipped for stopping to rest. He also enforced picky rules like one requiring the men to waste none of their ration. Leonard received twenty lashes for refusing to eat wormy bread; Nicky had seen that in a movie once.
Leonard heard of plans for a mutiny, but was too scared to join, even though the conspirators were sure Drake would have mercy on them. Fortunately, Drake himself tired of Doughty's attempts to sabotage the expedition and had him executed.
Nicky took a break in the afternoon for a stroll around the block. He walked in the reverse direction of the week before, hoping to find Beowulf. No dog appeared, however, and Nicky continued around the block. On the other side he encountered his classmates playing basketball again.
"Do you want to play?" Ed Paskei called to him.
Nicky froze in terror. He knew he'd play terrible if he did.
"We need another person," said Ed.
I have to play, Nicky reasoned. I can't turn down a chance to be friends with these guys. "I don't play very well," he didn't want them to expect too much of him.
"Doesn't matter," said Pete Warbler. "Our team's short a player."
Nicky joined Ed and Pete's team. The players on the other side introduced themselves as Ted, Bob, and Frank. The game started but Nicky didn't know what to do. He stood dumbfounded while the others ran around in seemingly organized patterns. I should run somewhere, he told himself, but where?
"Nicky, you take Bob," Ed told him.
Nicky ran towards Bob, but Bob ran behind him and took a pass from Ted to score. Nicky expected his teammates to yell at him, but they didn't. Instead, Ed passed him the ball. Nicky passed it on to Pete before he screwed up. He did this every time he got the ball until one time he rebounded the ball underneath the basket and decided he could make it; except the ball bounced back into his face off the bottom of the rim.
"Good thing you missed that shot," Pete told him. "You have to take the ball out first."
Great, Nicky chided himself. Not only can't I shoot, but I don't even know when to shoot. He resolved not to shoot again and continued to pass the ball off even though he threw it away too much. Then one time when both his teammates were covered and he stood wide open with the ball, Ed shouted for him to shoot. He launched a most disheartening air ball.
Nicky didn't want to play anymore. I'm too lousy, he berated himself. Ed and Pete will never be my friends. Mercifully, another youth arrived so Nicky could offer him his spot in the game and go home.
He wrote down the remainder of Leonard's account, recounting what happened after the sailor transferred to Drake's flagship, the Golden Hind. The valiance of Drake, who personally led dangerous shore excursions, impressed Leonard. Drake also treated his men well, giving them rewards rather than punishments, winning Leonard's admiration. Leonard received a silver bowl for being the first lookout to spot a Spanish treasure galleon Drake heard about and searched for. Nicky made up another story about how Leonard saved Drake's life in a fight against some Indonesians and was suitably rewarded. He went to bed when he finished, feeling happy about a good day's work.
* * * * *
The priest talked the next morning about Jesus as a friend. This confused Nicky. He asked himself, how can Jesus be my friend? A friend doesn't tell you what to do all the time. A friend likes you. Nicky didn't think Jesus liked him.
He was writing the final draft of his history assignment that afternoon when he heard his father yelling his name from downstairs. He walked down the steps trembling. What did he do now?
"You have a friend here," his father was standing by the front door.
"Eugene!" Nicky was delighted. "What are you doing here?"
"Butch is going horseback riding with Wanda," said Eugene. "I had him drop me off here."
Nicky took him upstairs to show him his room, although he didn't have much to show other than his butterfly collection. They looked at that and then practiced talking Spanish.
A knock on the door preceded Emily entering the room. "Am I bothering you?" she hung her head.
"Come in, Emily," Nicky said cheerily. "Meet my friend, Eugene. Eugene, my sister."
Eugene asked her some questions, like what grade she was in. Then, since Nicky had kept his sister caught up on what he was learning in Spanish class, she joined their simple conversation in the language.
After tiring of Spanish, they spent fifteen minutes discussing what to do next before settling on playing Monopoly. Emily retrieved the game from Robert's room. She went bankrupt first and left to work on supper. Nicky lasted twenty more minutes before Eugene won the game.
"It's getting late," said Eugene as he helped Nicky put the game back into the box. "Butch should be here by now."
They went downstairs and detected the smell of hamburger wafting from the kitchen. Eugene went into the living room where Nicky's dad leaned back in his armchair.
"Mr. Delgado," he got his attention. "I'm sorry. My brother should've picked me up by now. Can I use the phone to call my dad?"
"Dad, can Eugene stay for supper?"
That was Emily, who had stepped out of the kitchen. What are you doing? Nicky wanted to put his hand over her mouth. You're going to make Dad angry.
The father scowled. Eugene was quick to talk. "I'll just go home."
"No, stay," Mark leaned back in his chair.
"Thanks," said Eugene with an uncertain look at Nicky. "We'll have Nicky over for dinner sometime."
Mark made no response and Eugene called his father. After the call, Nicky tapped Eugene's shoulder to get him to follow him upstairs. Eugene waved him off.
"Nicky says you sell computers. How did you get started in that?"
Nicky's father sat upright. "The company told me that's what I was going to sell, so I learned what I needed to know and did it."
"How did you get started in your company?"
"I busted my butt. I had nothing when I came to this country except common sense."
"What did you do before coming to America?"
"You can go a long ways with common sense," Mark ignored Eugene's question. "You seem to have it, young man, like my son Robert."
Nicky sat crosslegged at the edge of the living room, wishing Eugene would come with him rather than talk with his father but also glad that his dad was starting to like his friend. The conversation became more one-sided as Mark gave Eugene more tips on how to make it in life.
Just as Emily came to announce supper was ready, a loud engine in the driveway signaled Butch's arrival. Eugene excused himself from Mark, thanking him again for the offer of supper even though he wasn't going to stay, and left with barely a goodbye to Nicky before Butch had a chance to come to the door.
Nicky went with Emily to the kitchen, while their father delayed in the living room. "I think Dad likes Eugene," he said.
Nicky stopped, surprised at his sister. "What about Harvey?"
Emily put her hand on her hips. "Nicky, just because I say Eugene's cute doesn't mean I feel all gushy about him."
Wanda continued to hang around Butch that week at school; in biology class, over lunch hour, and after school. Nicky never said much when she was around, which meant he rarely talked.
Tuesday, on his way to history class after another unpleasant hour with Mr. Walton, Wanda greeted him in the hallway. He looked around for Butch but didn't see him. He became nervous. Why was she talking to him?
"Does Eugene have a girlfriend?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Nicky stammered.
"Is there ever a time he's not with Butch?"
"I can't talk to him in there," she pursed her lips. "Are there any other times?"
Nicky thought for a moment. Of course. "Spanish Club, Thursday after school."
"Can I go even if I don't take Spanish?"
"Probably," said Nicky. Miss Wainwright seemed to like anybody going to Spanish Club.
"In the Spanish room?"
"Thanks," Wanda let go of her breath as if she had been holding it and hurried away down the hall.
Nicky was confused. What did Wanda want to talk to Eugene about? Maybe she wanted to ask him something about Butch, since she didn't want him there. But then, what did Eugene having a girlfriend matter? Did she like him? That didn't make any sense. Wasn't she Butch's girlfriend? Nicky gave up trying to figure out Wanda, and decided against telling Butch or Eugene about the strange encounter.
* * * * *
Sure enough, she showed up at Spanish Club, waiting by the door until Eugene arrived.
"Wanda, I didn't know you take Spanish," Nicky heard him as he walked past her.
She followed him into the room. "I don't, but I wanted to."
Eugene sat next to Nicky and Wanda took the seat on the other side. Miss Wainwright asked Pete Warbler and Ed Paskei to set up a table and had the other students unload utensils and food from some shopping bags she had in the cupboard, while she finished setting up a portable gas burner.
"Now we're ready to make tomales," she said with a clap of her hands when everything was set up. "I need two people to cut onions."
"I will," Wanda raised her hand.
Miss Wainwright cocked her head. "I don't remember you," she said. "I thought I knew all the students in my classes."
"I don't have Spanish class."
"That doesn't matter," Wainwright smiled. "Pick someone to cut onions with you."
"Come on, Eugene," Wanda grabbed Eugene by the hand and led him to the section of the table with the onions. Eugene glanced over his shoulder to Nicky, looking disoriented.
Nicky resented Wanda for taking his friend away from him. He ended up opening cans of beans with a fellow he didn't know. After the ingredients were prepared, Miss Wainwright showed everyone how to put their tomales together, which they did, and then they cooked them. The whole time, Wanda never strayed from Eugene by more than two feet.
Nicky pulled his desk to join them when they sat down to eat. He bit into his first tomale. It wasn't as spicy as one of his mother's, but it didn't taste too bad.
"How do you like yours?" Wanda asked Eugene.
"I'm not sure," Eugene examined his once-bitten tomale. "Are they supposed to be crunchy, Nicky?"
"Try one of mine," Wanda offered.
Eugene liked her tomale better so she gave him most of the rest of hers.
"You'll all want to come back next week," Miss Wainwright encouraged later as they cleaned up. "I've invited my friend from Spain to come and talk about her country."
Wanda parted from them at the bottom of the stairs on the way out. Good, Nicky thought. She's not riding home with us.
"Whew! She was hanging all over me," Eugene told Nicky.
"I guess she likes you now," said Nicky.
"Nah!" replied Eugene. "I bet she's just trying to make Butch jealous."
* * * * *
A shivering ride home in Butch's unheated car caused Nicky to wear his thickest jacket the next morning. He knew he had made the right decision as soon as he stepped out the door and saw his breath. Taking notice of the strangely white grass, he bent over to touch some of the blades. They felt cold as he expected, but the frost melted quickly on his fingers.
"Even frost is new to you," Eugene commented when he took his place in the car.
"Does this mean it's going to snow soon?" asked Nicky, thankful that Butch had the heater on.
Eugene answered. "Maybe a flurry, but we don't get anything that stays until November."
The history paper came due that day, and Butch gave his to Nicky to read.
"Look at page seven," Brian leaned over from the other side of the back seat. "It's great."
Nicky leafed back to the seventh page and read. Pilot's Log, 1 April 1521. Today we discovered an island full of naked women. Our clothes frightened them so we took them off.
He closed the paper, not wanting to read any more. "You're going to hand this in?" He didn't think even Butch could be so daring.
"Why not?" said Butch. "Mr. Fulcroft says history should be interesting."
"I wish I had Fulcroft," said Eugene. "My history teacher's boring."
"Hey, Mutt," called Butch. "Coming to the races tonight?"
"Huh? Isn't Wanda going with you?"
"Nope. She likes Eugene now." Butch smiled at his brother. "What a lucky guy."
"You seem so depressed about it," Brian said in his raucous chuckle.
"Right," Butch said with sarcasm. "She was fun at first until I got tired of her always wanting to spend time with me."
"Looks like you got yourself a girlfriend, buddy," Brian teased, patting Eugene on the shoulder.
"She even called him last night," added Butch.
Eugene, who had been trying to ignore the conversation, responded. "Shut up you guys."
Butch and Brian laughed. Then Butch mentioned the races again.
"I can't go," said Brian. "I'm going to the wrestling matches."
"How about you, Nicky?" Butch inquired. "Do you want to go to the races?"
Nicky had no choice, whether he wanted to or not. "My family's leaving tonight to visit my brother. We're going to be gone the whole weekend."
"Really," said Eugene. "Where does your brother go to school?"
"That sounds like a fun trip."
Not on your life, Nicky disagreed in his thoughts. Maybe with your dad, Eugene, it would be a fun trip, but not with mine.
Read Chapter 8.
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