Mrs. Kesselring spent first hour explaining an upcoming English project which Nicky didn't look forward to. Everyone would have to give a ten minute speech to the class. Kesselring dismissed her students with a directive to think about topics for their speeches.
"That speech is going to be easy," Butch told Nicky and Brian as they walked to Mr. Much's room. "I can talk about the Indy 500 for ten minutes off the top of my head."
Much gave Butch a box about the size of a box of facial tissues after biology class, but Nicky didn't get a chance to find out what it was until lunch time.
"Today I play a joke on Mr. Fulcroft," said Butch, placing the box on the table for his friends to examine.
Eugene opened it and took out a pointer like the history teacher used. The box contained several dozen of them.
"What are you going to do?" asked Brian, taking another one of the pointers and pulling it out to its full length.
"Nicky can tell you afterwards," Butch leaned back with a smile. "I'm going to do it in his class."
"Why don't you do it in your class?" Nicky wondered.
"I need Mr. Much to delay Fulcroft in the teacher's lounge," replied Butch. "He can do it fifth hour when he doesn't have a class."
"I wish I could come see it," said Brian. "But gym class is the one class I can't skip."
Butch refused to divulge the details of his plan even though Brian persisted in asking. He spent fourth hour playing table football with Nicky and accompanied Nicky to history class.
"So far the plan's working," Butch grinned. "Fulcroft isn't here."
He handed a pointer to Nicky and everyone else in the class.
"Keep the pointers hidden until Fulcroft's back is turned," he stood at the podium to give instructions. "Then wave them around like this." He waved his up, down, and sideways. "History is important," he imitated the cadence of Fulcroft's voice. "You think it's boring, but I say it's important. Very important."
The bell interrupted Butch temporarily. "What would Ferdinand Magellan say if he knew you thought he was boring?" he resumed. "You must study history because it's important."
"Very funny, Simpson," Fulcroft strolled into the room, and the class stifled giggles. "Give me my pointer."
Butch moved like he was going to place the pointer into the teacher's outstretched hand; then in one swift motion, he snapped it in half across his knee.
Fulcroft's eyes widened and his mouth moved, but no words came out. Soon some did. "I can't believe you did that!" he screeched. "How could you break my pointer?"
His back was turned, so Nicky joined his classmates in pointer-flapping. Fulcroft heard their laughter and turned around. He stood speechless for a moment, shaking his head.
"What's going on here?" he found his voice again. "Which one's my pointer?"
"It's right where you left it," Butch took another pointer from the tray below the chalkboard.
"Oh." The muscles in Fulcroft's tense body visibly relaxed. He took his pointer from Butch and clutched it to his chest. "Good prank, Simpson. Very imaginative, like your essay."
The class applauded.
"What class are you supposed to be in?" Fulcroft asked Butch.
"You better get there."
Butch collected the pointers he had handed out and left. Nicky caught a glimpse of Mr. Much in the doorway.
"Didn't I tell you history class can be fun?" Fulcroft told his smiling class. He took his place behind the podium and adjusted his spectacles. "Today we start a new unit. We're going to form the United States of America."
He went on to explain that the class was going to be the Continental Congress. The students would debate the question of independence, appropriate funds for the Continental Army, and determine a constitution for the new country. Fulcroft assigned each student to represent a colony. Nicky was paired with Billy Hosin to be the Delaware delegation.
"You need to know your colony's position on each one of these issues," Fulcroft used his pointer to indicate a list written on the chalkboard. The list included items such as slavery, federalism, and equal representation versus representation by population. "We'll meet in the library tomorrow for research."
The bell rang but Nicky was too busy copying the list to have a chance to talk to Hosin. I'm glad he's my partner, he reflected. I might be able to become his friend.
* * * * *
Billy approached Nicky and his friends at the lunch table the next day, with Holly attached to his arm as usual. Wanda came too, reminding Nicky that she hadn't spent any time with either Simpson that week.
"That was an excellent prank you pulled on Fulcroft yesterday, Butch," Hosin complimented. "He looked like he was in the Twilight Zone."
Nicky noticed the 'R' on Billy's jacket. How did he get a letter? Nicky wondered. Nobody else in the sophomore class has one, not even Larry Harris, and Hosin doesn't look like an athlete.
"See you in the library later," Billy broke into Nicky's thoughts.
"Yeh, sure," Nicky returned as Hosin and the two girls with him departed.
"Is Billy working on Delaware with you?" Butch inquired.
"Yes. Which colony did you say you had?"
"That's right," Nicky recalled. "You used to live there."
The history class gathered among the tables in the back of the library like usual when Fulcroft held session there. Sometimes he took attendance and other times not. This time he did, calling roll by colony. Nicky sat at a table with Billy, and Holly who belonged to the New Jersey delegation.
Fulcroft handed out packets of paper to everyone, the top sheet of which listed the same issues that Nicky had copied from the chalkboard the previous day. The teacher referred to the packet while making research suggestions to his students.
"The second sheet lists the representatives who actually attended the Continental Congress." He paused until the ruffling of pages subsided. "You can learn some things by studying the biographies of the men who represented your colony."
Nicky recognized some names; Adams, Franklin, Hancock, and Jefferson; but not those of Caesar Rodney, George Read, and Thomas McKean who represented Delaware.
The rest of the handout packet presented general facts about each colony, such as population and economic production. According to Fulcroft, more information was available in the Atlas of Colonial America which could be found in the reference section of the library.
"And don't forget your textbook," said the teacher, tapping his copy on the table beside him with his pointer. "It discusses each colony, including how it was founded." Then he told everyone to get to work.
A number of students rushed for the reference section, apparently to get the Atlas of Colonial America. Nicky decided to look at it some fourth hour when he wouldn't have to fight over it.
"I'm going to try and find a book about Delaware," Billy told Nicky, rising from his seat. He walked several steps and turned back. "Coming, Holly?"
"I'll stay here," she replied.
Billy frowned and walked on. Nicky felt awkward sharing a table alone with Hosin's girlfriend. He opened his textbook to read what it had to say about Delaware.
"Nicky," he heard Holly speaking to him. "How good of friends are you with Eugene?"
Nicky kept looking into his book. He wasn't sure how to answer Holly's question. "He's the best friend I have, I guess," he responded after a moment's thought.
"Do you know why he doesn't like Wanda?"
"I don't really know," Nicky had to think. He knew Butch didn't like her because she wanted to spend too much time with him. Although Eugene didn't seem to want to like any girl, maybe he didn't like Wanda for the same reason. "She wants to spend all her time with him, I think."
"She wants a boyfriend pretty bad," Holly nodded.
Then why isn't she interested in me? Nicky wondered. Girls never like me. Not that it mattered. He wouldn't know what to do if one did.
"I don't know what I'd do without Billy," Holly continued. "We had an argument a week and a half ago and I thought I was going to die."
"Why do you like him?" Nicky had pondered that question since the first day of school. He looked up from his book for the first time.
Holly threw a glance at the ceiling. "I don't really know," she shrugged. "We would get to talking after gymnastics last year and we ended up spending all of our time together."
Gymnastics, Nicky echoed the word in his mind. That's how come Hosin has a letter.
Billy returned with two books in hand. "I found a book on the history of Delaware," he said, giving Nicky the thinner volume. "And another one on New Jersey," he told Holly.
He resumed his seat between Nicky and the girl. Nicky waited for a chance to speak to Billy about their research, but Hosin became engrossed in helping Holly study about New Jersey. Nicky fingered the edges of the Delaware book, thinking. How can I make friends with this guy when he doesn't pay attention to anybody but her? Doesn't Billy have any friends besides Holly?
* * * * *
"It's for you, Mark," Nicky's mother stretched the telephone cord from the kitchen and handed the receiver to her husband seated at the supper table. She resumed helping Emily clear the dishes.
Nicky's father frowned as he listened.
"Who are you?"
He listened again, and then put his hand over the mouthpiece.
"Emily. Do you know a Harvey Sumner?"
Nicky's sister stopped in her tracks on a trip back from the kitchen. "Yes," she said in an unsteady voice. "He's a boy from school."
"What do you want?" Mark spoke into the telephone.
He listened for a good minute as Emily fidgeted in her place between the kitchen and the dining room. Nicky watched his father's forehead for a telltale furrow indicating his irritation, but none appeared.
"That sounds fine," he finally said.
"I can't. Emily's mother and I are going out on Friday night."
One more pause.
"I'm looking forward to meeting you too. Good-bye."
"Dad. What's going on?" Emily bounded to the tableside in excitement.
"Harvey asked if you could go to a football game," he said, handing the receiver back to his wife. "His parents are going along so I don't have any objection."
"Daddy! Thank you," she hugged her father.
"I knew you'd have to start liking boys sooner or later." He stood up and Emily's embrace fell away. "At least you picked a nice one." He headed for the living room.
"Nicky," Emily was jubilant. "Isn't this wonderful?"
Nicky returned her smile. He carried his own plate to the kitchen so he could talk with her some more.
"I told Harvey today I was afraid to ask Dad to let me go to the game," she continued. "I had no idea he'd do this."
"I can't believe it," was all Nicky could think of to say.
"And you can meet him when his parents bring him to pick me up."
Emily clutched her hands to her chest and gazed at the ceiling. To Nicky she looked absolutely lovesick. He thought about what Eugene would say about it. Testosterone, he figured.
He tried to imagine what Harvey looked like, in anticipation of meeting him on Friday night. He didn't have any idea, except that perhaps he wore eyeglasses. He thought about Harvey and his sister together in school, and the image of Billy Hosin and Holly Bunting came to his mind.
"Emily," he said. "Do you have any other friends yet?"
"What do I need other friends for?"
Nicky was afraid of that. He offered advice. "There might be other people who want to be your friend if you give them the chance."
Emily's exuberant smile faded. "What other friends do you have besides Butch and Eugene?"
"None," Nicky had to answer. He wasn't going to count Brian Muttilege. Before he could respond that he was trying, his father interrupted him.
"Nicky. Get out of the kitchen and let your sister do her work."
Nicky left somewhat willingly. He didn't want to spoil Emily's happiness with an argument.
Deciding to use his daily allotment of television, he went to the living room. He settled in front of the set to manually flick the channels since he wasn't allowed to use the remote control.
He reluctantly flipped past Star Trek to the public station. There a documentary about the Berlin Wall caught his attention. He saw a family with young children escaping from a tunnel dug beneath the wall. They looked into the camera with dirt-smeared but happy faces. Nicky wondered if his family had been like that when they escaped from Communism.
Hearing his father settling into his chair with the newspaper, Nicky pulled back from the television set before he was chided for sitting too close. To his dismay, the television screen flashed blank. He looked at his father holding the remote control in his hand.
"That's bothering me," said the father. His face disappeared behind the business page.
Nicky wasn't too upset as he walked upstairs. He had a topic for his English speech. He would talk about the Berlin Wall.
* * * * *
Nicky thought on whether to discard his three of clubs or five of hearts. He wanted to get rid of a card Butch didn't need. I've already given him a five, Nicky recalled. I'll play the three.
"Don't tell me you need that one too," he groaned as Butch reached for the club.
"You got it," Butch smiled.
He settled the card into his hand and dumped a ten of spades.
"Hah! I've been waiting for that one," Nicky said in glee. He grabbed the ten, threw away the five of hearts, and tossed his hand face up on the table. "Gin!"
Butch revealed his hand. Nicky couldn't see any pairs or streaks in it of any kind.
"Why did you take all my cards?" Nicky wondered.
"I enjoyed watching you get irritated," Butch smiled.
"What's going on here?"
Nicky jumped at the sound of Mrs. Kesselring's voice.
"Jimminy Christmas!" Butch tossed down the cards he had begun picking up. "You guard the library too?"
"No," Kesselring placed her hands on the table and leaned toward Butch. "I have my class in here this hour."
"Oh, joy," Butch rolled his eyes.
"Tell me," said Kesselring, collecting the cards. "Why do you persist in breaking the rules?"
"Nicky and I aren't breaking any rules."
The teacher held a fistful of cards under Butch's nose. "What do you call this?"
"We're not gambling."
"I have a class to teach," she pulled the deck back. "Go to the office if you must argue. Both of you."
A stabbing sensation seared through Nicky. He couldn't believe he was getting sent to see the principal. He felt like he had been incredibly bad.
"Don't worry," Butch assured him on the way to the office as he struggled to keep from crying. "Mr. Moss is a good time."
They entered the office. "We get to see Mr. Moss," Butch told the secretary.
"Go on in, Butch," she said. "He'll be back soon."
Nicky shuddered as he stepped through the door into the principal's office.
"Check this out," said Butch, strolling to a juke box in the back corner. "I wonder if he's got any new tunes in here."
He ran a finger up and down the list of songs as he read them. "Here's a good one," he tapped the glass. "Listen to the Music."
"Hello, Butch," the principal arrived. "You brought a friend with you this time."
Moss had slick dark hair on a round head. Nicky could see Butch looking like him when he grew older.
"It's so much fun here I thought I'd share it."
"Good one, Butch," Moss pointed his finger at Simpson and chuckled as he sat behind his desk. "What else do you have to tickle my funny bone with?"
"I haven't heard any good jokes lately."
"I have a good one," Moss leaned back in his chair. "What did Spock find in the john?"
"The captain's log."
"Aw, you already heard it," the principal's mouth downturned in disappointment.
Nicky laughed to himself, even though the joke reminded him of the show he wasn't able to watch.
"Oh, yes," said Butch. "I do have a joke."
"Let's hear it," Moss adjusted himself in his seat.
"Why do farts smell?"
"So the deaf can enjoy them too."
"Ha! Ha! Ha! That's a funny one," Moss slapped his thighs. "I wish I could tell that one to the school."
Butch looked at Nicky with a broad grin.
"You give me good laughs, Butch," the principal continued to chuckle. "Donald E. Much told me about history class."
"I planned it for a week," Butch boasted.
"Come to think of it, I haven't seen you in at least that long," Moss composed himself. He leaned forward. "I was afraid the incident in gym class tamed you down."
"I'm always tame in gym class."
"That's smart. Walton has no sense of humor."
Moss paused, folded his hands on the desktop, and then unfolded them. "Well," he said. "What's the purpose of your visit this time?"
Rats, Nicky thought. He had started to hope the subject wouldn't come up.
"Nothing," said Butch. "We were just playing cards."
Moss shook his head. "I'm going to have to give you detention for that one."
"Detention for playing gin?" Butch was incredulous. "You didn't give me one when I wrote fat teacher on the field marshal's chalkboard."
"That was a good joke," said Moss. "This is breaking the rules."
"My dad doesn't care if I play cards in school."
"I'm sure he doesn't, but you still broke a rule."
The principal asked Nicky for his name before dismissing him and Butch. They would have to serve one detention over the next lunch hour.
"It's only a detention, Nicky," said Butch. "No big deal."
"My dad's going to kill me," Nicky shuddered. "I'm going to be grounded for a long time."
"Who says you have to tell him?"
Nicky pondered that question for the rest of the day. He didn't want to tell his father. Then he wouldn't be punished. Going to detention was punishment enough. But what if his father found out? He would beat him and ground him. He'll do that anyway if I tell him, Nicky realized. So why should I tell him? That would be bad, Nicky had guilty feelings. Why? Because my father says so? What makes him right all the time?
Brian had a good laugh when he heard about the detentions on the ride home. "I have to get myself a detention by tomorrow," he decided. "I gotta see this."
And get he detention he did; for shooting spitwads at his art teacher, he told Butch when asked why at the door of the detention room. The detention supervisor, Mr. Peterson, made the students sign a register before they took their seats. Nicky signed his name with the feeling that he was committing himself to prison.
He was glad Butch was with him, and even Brian too, because some of the other characters in the room made him uneasy. One guy, with several days' growth of beard, looked too old to be in high school. Another one, Sam Holte, Nicky knew was there for pushing Mrs. Kesselring in the lunch room.
They were given ten minutes to eat their lunches, and not allowed to talk of course. Then they had to spend the rest of the hour copying pages from the school rulebook. When the time was over, Nicky left the room with the same sense of freedom he had after physical education. The feeling dissipated, however, as he hurried to the locker room with Butch.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Not as bad as gym class," Nicky answered Butch's query. "I'm glad it's over though."
He hoped it was over. It was only if his father didn't find out.
Read Chapter 10.
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