Authors: Rachel Vail
WALKING DOWN TO
lunch, she was next to me. She comes up to my armpit. I have known her since sixth grade and always noticed her, but never talked to her, never before today, anyway. She has a really sweet smile.
As we were walking along I was thinking, this is the time to say something to her. Right now.
I had a good thing to say, too. I was thinking I could say: “Hey, TrulyâI really liked your dust mite feces report today.”
Some people kept going “ew” while Truly was giving her presentation, but I thought it was really interesting. I will never look at dust the same way again. Dust won't be just little puffs of fluff to me now. It will be little puffs of fluff with a lot of tiny bug poop in it. That's how good her presentation was this morning.
I wanted to tell her that.
I couldn't. No words came out.
Truly is tiny, but she was walking very quickly, chatting with her friends Brooke and Natasha as they skittered toward the cafeteria.
I sat down at my usual table, at the end with the other sporty boys. They all got quiet as I unzipped my lunch box. I am famous for my lunches. I make them myself, because it's like an interest of mine, a hobby, and besides my mom used to rush it. Just slap some meat on bread, throw a can of soda crushingly on top. It's not her fault. She has enough to do, and she is one of those people who doesn't care that much about food.
I make Mom's lunch now sometimes, too, whenever she wants. Otherwise she just has a yogurt and a banana, for her whole meal. The people in her office where she works are always impressed on days when she takes a lunch I made her. At least that's what my mom says. But she's like that, complimentary. Especially of me.
Truly Gonzales didn't used to sit at our table, but since she started to, I've noticed that she takes the same thing for lunch every day: two slices of turkey on white bread, no crusts, probably mayonnaise, plus one vanilla wafer cookie. For me, her whole lunch would be a small beige appetizer.
I pulled my sandwich from the bag. Some of the guys were getting impatient. I unwrapped the foil and said, “Pumpernickel.”
Mike Shimizu nodded. He makes his own lunch, too, and takes it as seriously as I do. He's my best friend with the possible exception of Clay Everett, but unlike me and Dave and even Clay, who's medium height and a bit skinny, Mike is sort of a runty guy, real small, so he just can't eat all that much. He does like interesting food, though, you gotta give Mike that. Not Clay, manâhe doesn't care, he'll just eat anything. He doesn't even have a favorite food. One time he was over and my mom asked him what he likes, so she could get it for him. She's like that, always wanting to get people stuff they like. Clay said he liked everything. She asked him if he was home and could eat anything he wanted, what would he chose? Clay said usually he just opens the refrigerator and starts eating from the front and goes on eating until he's full.
My mom thought that was awesome. I do, too. Clay's like that, completely likeable. The only thing is, he doesn't have as much appreciation for the genius of my mad food skills as a result.
I held up the sandwich so everybody at the lunch table could see.
“Tell us,” Dave said. He appreciates excellence.
I told them: mesquite wood-smoked turkey, aged sharp Adirondack cheddar (one slice), deseeded cucumbers, sliced grape tomatoes, one roasted red pepper marinated in olive oil and capers overnight, cracked black pepper, and Dijon mustard.
Some kids said, “Mmm.” A couple guys down by the end shook their heads at each other. They don't get it. Beside me on the bench, Mike was nodding. “Unbelievable,” he said. “The pepper.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I've been working on the balance. Last week I overdid it on the capers.”
“No,” said Mike. “The cracked black pepper. That's exactly right. It needs that, for the bite. I wouldn't have thought of the cracked black pepper.”
Mike looked sadly down at his own spread. He'd done an old favorite: poached salmon on seven grain with tomato. Absolutely delicious, no question, but he had brought it last Monday, too.
We both nodded.
I popped open my club soda and took a swig, then started to eat. I was really hungry. The balance on the marinade was way better than last week's.
I finished before Mike but waited for him before we went out to the lower playground. It's basically a parking lot without cars and a few basketball hoops without nets, but it's perfect for us. We're in eighth grade; we don't need swings and slides, all that, anymoreâjust a good open stretch of concrete with a fence around it, below window level so the teachers inside can't spy on us. The teachers on lunch duty mostly stay up top, with the sixth and seventh graders.
By the time we got out there, Dave Calderon and Lulu Peters were already captains, choosing up sides for Salugi, this game we invented back in sixth grade. Basically you have to get to your goal without being thrown down, and then, the modification we added this year, now that we have control of the lower playground. You have to get
the goal. It gives the smaller kids a role, like kickers or wide receivers in football. The goals are these little spaces under the fence out there. The small kids are good for that, because the bigger kids like me, Clay, Dave Calderon, and Evangeline Murphy would never fit through those tiny holes. Though we are good at grabbing the smaller kids' feet and yanking them so they can't get through. Salugi has been officially banned ever since Evangeline gave Mike a bloody nose last year, but we play anyway. It's a really fun game, and a little collision with concrete never hurt anyone.
Well, not until today.
Lulu picked me, so Dave got Mike. Mike is a great guy and really smart at school, up there in the top group with Truly in every subject, and a really nice person, too. But he will never go pro in Salugi.
I am not in the top class of math this year. I guess I didn't do so well at it last year, or on the state tests last May. My mom says that's okay, but of course she's like that.
We lined up in the center of the playground and started. It was a hot day, still summery even though it was almost October, so I was sweating pretty soon. I love Salugi. The game was going really well, lots of interceptions, well-balanced teams. Evangeline is very strong, probably the best athlete in the grade. She forced a couple of fumbles in the first few minutes, but Lulu made a great catch and faked out Evangeline beautifully, then tossed the ball to me. Clay almost intercepted, but I caught it and started toward the goal. Lulu sprinted ahead, shouting, “Jack! Jack!” ready to get the last-second pass from me.
I knew we were going to score. I could already see exactly how I'd block Dave away from Lulu's feet after she caught the pass from me.
I had maybe three of their defenders hanging on me. I'm strong, though, and I'd just eaten that really great sandwichâI could still taste the clean of the cucumbers blending with the smokiness of the turkeyâso I was well energized. I focused on Lulu's feetâjust get to those white Keds with the blue laces and we'll be up one-zip. That's what I was saying to myself when I decided to kick it up a notch and, dipping my right shoulder to lose one of their pesky defenders, plowed smack into Truly Gonzales.
What she was doing in midfield I have no idea. She never used to play Salugi. I don't know when she started. All week I was noticing her out there. What she does during the game is, she stands around until the action comes near her and then does this skittering thing with her tiny steps to get away.
Only this time she didn't get away.
I hit her with the full force of my shoulder on her back.
I'm not saying it was her fault. Not at all. I should've seen her there, near the sideline. I read somewhere that great ballplayers can see the entire field at all times. But I didn't see her until I'd already slammed into her.
She went way up in the air before she slammed into the concrete a few feet downfield.
Everybody crowded around. I still had the ball tucked into the crook of my arm, no fumble.
“You okay?” Brooke asked her.
Truly blinked her pale eyes twice, then smiled slightly at Brooke.
“Oh, no!” Mike screamed. “Look at her knee! Ew!”
All of us, including Truly, looked at her knees. One of them was fine. The other was not. It was cracked open. It wasn't bleeding that much, but there was gook in it and under the gook, something hard-looking and white, maybe the bone.
I think that's when some kids started screaming.
Truly's face went from surprised and pink to blueish white. She made a little sound in the back of her throat.
I dropped the ball and without really thinking it through, picked her up. I didn't want her to faint right there on the lower playground. “Time-out,” I mumbled as I carried Truly toward school.
She rested her very pale face against my shoulder and closed her eyes. I know this is selfish of me, when I should've been focused more on sympathy about her bashed-open leg, but her head on my sweaty T-shirt felt nice.
“Sorry,” I whispered. First thing I ever said to her: sorry.
She didn't answer. You can't blame her. It's gotta be hard to work up any politeness toward the guy who just completely crushed you in Salugi, even if it was an accident and he's sorry.
I didn't say anything else, just carried her to the nurse's office. The nurse wasn't there. Some sixth-grader lying on a cot with an ice pack on his nose said the nurse had gone to the teachers' room and would be right back. I wasn't sure what to do with Truly, where to put herâthe kid with the nose had closed his eyes, so he was definitely in no hurry to give up his spot on the cot. I wasn't sure if Truly would want to be put on one of the plastic chairs or not. She still had her head on my sweaty T-shirt, so I just stood there holding her.
She is very tiny but my arms were starting to lose their grip. I didn't want to drop her on the floor so I had to shift around a little bit. Truly's eyes opened and she stared right into my face. She seemed surprised to find me there.
“I likeÂ .Â .Â .” I started. “I liked yourÂ .Â .Â . bugs. That poop in dust. Thing.”
“Project. Report,” I said. “Today. Science. Poop. Bug poop.”
A drop of sweat fell off my forehead onto her nose. I tried to wipe it away quickly so she wouldn't notice it but I almost dropped her, moving my arm like that and maybe almost slapping her on the nose.
“Sorry,” I said again. I quickly hiked her up but she sort of yelped at being tossed around like that. I stopped moving. She wiped the sweat ball off her nose herself and asked, “Dust mite feces?”
I nodded slightly. I didn't want to shake any more sweat balls loose.
“It didn't gross you out?” Truly asked.
“No,” I whispered.
She stared at me for a few second, then smiled a bit and said, “Thanks.”
I forgot I should say you're welcome until she closed her eyes and lowered her head onto my shoulder again. By then it was too late.
The nurse came back after another minute or two. She took one look at Truly's knee and said, “Uh-oh.” I could feel Truly starting to breathe faster at that.
The nurse said, “You can put her down and go back to class now, Jack.”
I said, “That's okay.”
The nurse called Truly's mom, sent Nose Boy back to his class, and told me to lay Truly down on the cot. I shook my head.
“I ate a big lunch,” I said, trying to explain why I wouldn't run out of strength. The nurse looked very confused at that, but I saw a small smile on Truly's mouth. She has such a sweet smile. She wasn't too heavy at all. I could've stood there in the nurse's office holding Truly Gonzales until the end of time.
I got 10 stitches plus an internal running stitch. And a double scoop of ice cream on the way home.
. Get Notifications
like this comment.
Brooke Armstrong, Natasha Lawrence,
others like this.
Are you okay? â¨Call me.
September 28 at 6:17pm
September 28 at 6:18pm
September 28 at 6:19
September 28 at 6:19