“Fantasy — it gets the best of me.” (Christopher Cross, Sailing)
Do you remember the first time being in love? I do. It was in the sixth grade, and her name was Truvy Bridges.
Well, alright, there was the cute strawberry blonde girl in the second grade. Her name was Tracy. (I don’t recall her last name.) I sat behind her, and I would toss little pieces of red crayon under her seat. I imagined the bits of wax contained some kind of spell that would make her turn around and fall for me. It never worked. The teacher, Mrs. Malone, did eventually scold me for littering the floor. I can only imagine how she might have reacted had I given an honest answer as to why I was doing that. (I don’t think I’ve ever actually shared that little story with anyone until now.)
Anyway, second grade really doesn’t count when it comes to love. But by the sixth grade, well, by then love becomes a serious matter. Truvy Bridges was, and I believe this may have been a nearly unanimously held opinion, the prettiest girl in the class. Sure there were plenty of other cute girls, but there was something about Truvy that was almost, well, almost adult. And I’m not even referring to physical development, though she was one of the taller girls in the grade. It had more to do with her mannerisms and the way she carried herself. I guess you could say she had the aura of a woman about her.
Truvy’s face was doll-like, flawlessly shaped and complected. It was framed by wavy feathered hair of mocha brown that matched the color of her eyes. Like the stem of a fine chalice, her long neck rose up to meet the smooth roundness of her chin and jawline. She was pretty no matter what she was doing, but when she smiled, well, then she became radiant. Her small mouth would stretch to form little creases from the corners to the sides of her regal nose, as an inviting warmth emanated from her big dark eyes. At times when she looked to be deep in thought, some faraway place seemed to be reflected in those eyes, and I’d long to go there with her.
Of course, the problem was that Truvy was so pretty that I felt nervous in her presence. Don’t get me wrong, she was not at all stuck up. In fact, she was really quite friendly toward everyone, as far as I can recall. But on a romantic level, I could no sooner approach the likes of her than jump into the cockpit of a DC-10 and figure out how to take off. Did I mention that she was also very smart? That made her all the more attractive.
I was one of only a few boys in the class who was taller than Truvy. (I’ve no idea if that would have meant anything to her, but my mother always said she could never marry a man shorter than herself.) I wasn’t altogether ugly, I suppose. Some girls even said I was cute. (“Cute” was a word that to me rang just a bit too non-committal.) But it was an awkward age, marked with pimples, orthodontic braces, and a body best described as gangly. With respect to being in close proximity to Truvy, there was one thing that worked in my favor — my last name followed immediately after hers in class alphabetical order. And so it was that I ended up sitting (in most classes anyway) behind the prettiest girl in school. I just needed a plan to get her attention (and little bits of red crayon were not going to work this time either).
There were two new kids, both boys, in the class that year. I normally feel a bit bad for new kids on the first day of school. They typically stand off to one side, shuffling around and looking uncomfortable. I had been the new kid in third grade, when my family moved from the city to this relatively rural part of north Jersey. I don’t remember being traumatized by it or anything, but I’m sure I stood to the side and did my fair share of shuffling. The two new boys that year didn’t seem to be having any trouble.
There was Greg Kesselman. He was from a neighboring town, so he already had people he knew at Frankford. (That was my alma mater — home of the Bulldogs). In fact, he even had a cousin in the class, though it turned out they didn’t really like each other. Since Greg was from the county, he didn’t exactly generate a ton of excitement. Just another local bumpkin.
But the other new kid was a different story. Jimmy Peterson was from out of state, so there was quite a bit of buzz as everyone checked him out. He was from some town in New Hampshire. Bedford, I think it was. (Before meeting Jimmy, I don’t think I could have named any towns in New Hampshire.) Not exactly exotic, I suppose, but it was far enough away to be intriguing. I’m sure many of us thought of New Hampshire as somewhere “up there” on the way to Canada, where people skied and spoke French.
Jimmy was rather something to behold. For one thing, he looked like a character right out of Grease. He wore jeans, but not normal ones like Lees or Wranglers. He wore designer jeans (Jordache, if I remember correctly). He wore boots, which was not uncommon in Sussex County, but his were not your average shit-kickers. These were fancy boots — black with silver buckles and pointed toes. Up top, he wore a plain white t-shirt, tucked into his jeans, and a black leather biker jacket (also with buckles) with the collar up. His mid-length dark hair was slicked back on the sides with Pomade or something, while the top was teased up. (I guess that’s what they called a Pompadour.) He even had a pair of black leather gloves with the fingers cut off. That might have been the first time I’d seen someone wearing those in real life.
At first glance, Jimmy Peterson was not what I would have called handsome, at least not in any conventional sense. He was actually kind of goofy looking. He wasn’t fat, but he did have rather pudgy cheeks and a slightly bulbous nose — and these big droopy Basset hound eyes. His face rather reminded me of Billy Joel. Yeah, that’s what he looked like, Billy Joel dressed like Danny Zuko.
But the thing was, he exuded so much confidence. Standing in the gym on that first day of school, he had one foot raised up behind him and resting against the wall. He casually took in the scene of kids milling about and forming little packs. The gym echoed with sounds of laughter and friends asking one another how their summer was and to which homeroom they’d been assigned. Jimmy had a look of complete poise, with just a hint of something like impatience, as though maybe he needed to be somewhere more important. (Had he pulled a cigarette from one of his pockets, I would not have been terribly surprised.) Suffice to say, I was drawn to Jimmy from the moment I saw him.
As fate would have it, Jimmy was not only a new kid in school — he was also my new neighbor. The house across the street had been the home of my friend, Charlie Holstein (yes, like the cow), before his family moved to North Carolina. Charlie was something of a pipsqueak, and we had been pretty good friends from the time my family moved onto Davis Road. We’d had a bit of a falling out when, while sparring one day, he gave me the only black eye of my life. (The rule had been only body blows, but he got frustrated when I kept getting the better of him, so he took a cheap shot.) We did patch things up before he moved out over the summer. Jimmy’s family hadn’t yet moved into the house when school started, so I didn’t know he was to be my new neighbor until I befriended him on that first day of school.
Jimmy and I didn’t see each other much during the school day. (We weren’t in the same homeroom, so our schedules were different.) But we spent plenty of time together after school and on weekends. We did the things most kids did — rode bikes, played catch, went on excursions into the woods to find evidence of the Jersey devil. Jimmy was a huge Beatles fan (mostly the early stuff), so we’d sometimes just hang out in his room playing records and singing along to The Fab Four. (Jimmy had actually formed a pseudo Beatles tribute group with three guys from school. Jimmy was Paul. I’d always been a little jealous that he hadn’t invited me to join.)
One day, Jimmy showed up at my house after school. He pulled a hard three-ring binder out of his backpack.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a novel I’m writing. A science fiction.”
“Seriously? What’s it called?”
“Mission To Alpha Centauri. Read the first chapter, and tell me what you think.”
I really can’t remember what the plot of the story was. I just remember being duly impressed that someone our age was writing a book. He’d cranked out maybe three or four chapters. I don’t know if he ever finished it, but at the time I thought that was just about the coolest thing.
Back at school, I did what I could to get Truvy’s attention. (Though Jimmy had become a dear friend, time spent with him was making me feel like even more of an underachiever.) I did discover, fairly early in the school year, that one thing I could do was make her laugh. One day in science class, Mrs. Christian asked a question — something about molecules. Dwayne, the class know-it-all, shot his hand up as usual. But Mrs. Christian continued with an unanticipated second part to the question, saying, “But….” Dwayne, realizing he might not have the right answer after all, quickly put his hand back down. I whispered to Truvy, “I guess Dwayne doesn’t like her but(t)!” Truvy started to giggle and that was about the sweetest sound I’d ever heard.
And there were many moments like that in the weeks and months that followed. Sometimes we would pass notes making little witticisms about whatever was going on in class. I learned that Truvy had a very keen sense of humor, which made her all the more attractive to me, if that were even possible. And you can bet I kept every note she ever passed me.
Feeling somewhat emboldened, I actually worked up the nerve one night to call her at home on the phone. I opened the thick copy of the phone book and looked up “Bridges” in the white pages. There were three listings. I tried the first one. It was some elderly woman who sounded sweet but confused. I apologized and hung up. I tried the second number. A gruff male voice answered.
“Um, hello, Is Truvy there?”
“Who is this?”
“I’m one of her classmates. I had a question about the English homework.”
“Uh, yes.” (I wasn’t sure why I saw the need to specify the subject.)
“You got a name?”
“Yes, sir.” There was a pause.
“You wanna tell me what it is?”
“Oh, yes. It’s Michael. I’m one of her classmates.”
“Yes, so you said. Hold on a minute.” I heard him loudly call out her name. I wondered what she was doing at that moment. I hoped she wouldn’t be annoyed.
“Hello?” My gosh, she even sounded pretty over the phone. Suddenly I got scared. I almost hung up, but realized I’d reached the point of no return when I gave my name.
“Uh, hi.” I tried with only moderate success to deepen my voice. “Do you know which pages of Shane we were supposed to read tonight?”
“She told us to read just the first chapter.”
“Oh, OK. Um, did you read it yet?”
“No, I’ll read it before I go to bed. That’s when I usually read.”
I felt as though she had just opened a curtain on some small window of intimacy, so I decided to step toward it. “What time do you go to bed?”
“I don’t know. About ten or so.”
I didn’t know where else to go with that. (I wasn’t about to ask her to describe her pajamas.) So I asked, “Do you like the book so far?”
“I just said I haven’t started it yet.”
“Oh, right.” (I was imagining what kind of pajamas she wore.) “Well, I mean, do you think it’ll be interesting.”
“I have no idea. I have to go eat dinner now.”
“Oh, sure. Thanks.”
It was awkward, no doubt. But the main thing was that I had spoken to her on the phone, and that was a pretty big deal.
I had another breakthrough in gym class when we got to the dreaded square dancing unit. Normally, Mr. Muskeln would assign us to partners, but I figured what the heck and asked Truvy if she wanted to pair up with me. She said alright. It wasn’t that big a deal. After all, in square dancing, you end up eventually having to hold hands and dance with pretty much everyone anyway. But, still, I was pretty proud of myself just for mustering the moxie to ask.
The school calendar began to fill up with end-of-year events as the warmth of May arrived. One of those events was the 6th grade dance, and Jimmy and I were both on the student council entertainment committee. (I had run for council president twice, but no dice.) We had to come up with a theme for the dance, and it was Jimmy who had the idea of using Sailing, the breakthrough soft rock song that year for Christopher Cross. We set to work creating a big cardboard cutout of a sailboat with the words “All aboard!” across the hull, and decorating the gym with all manner of maritime items.
About a week before the event, Jimmy and I were hanging out in my room when he inquired whether I would be asking anyone to the dance.
“Asking anyone?” I replied, “No, I wasn’t planning to. Nobody really does that. You just show up. Why? Are you asking someone?”
“Sure. I told Tina to meet me there.” Tina Jenkins was very cute. She liked to wear denim and leather. She and Jimmy were friends, and they would routinely flirt with each other quite openly. It was like a show they put on, and I often couldn’t tell to what degree it was real or staged. They rather reminded me of the Fonz and Pinky Tuscadero.
It was then that I confessed to Jimmy my feelings for Truvy. His Basset hound eyes bulged from their sockets. “You like Trout?!”
“That’s what I call her.” Jimmy had a nickname for pretty much everyone. It was usually something he conjured on the spur of the moment. His nickname for me was “Spanky.” The first time he called me that, I wondered what I could possibly have in common with the doe-eyed chubby kid from The Little Rascals. (If anything, I looked more like Alfalfa.) Jimmy explained it was a play on my last name. “You know, Cibenko… Spanko…. Spanky!” I didn’t quite get it, but whatever.
“If you’re going to catch Trout,” he said, “you’ve got to add some tricks to your tackle box.” Jimmy was always coming up with interesting analogies like that. “The first thing we need to do is work on your duds.” He was referring to my clothes. “What were you planning to wear to the dance?”
“That’s what I thought. I have an awesome idea. We’re going to wear tuxes!”
“Tuxedos? Are you joking?”
“I don’t joke when it comes to wardrobe. We’re gonna look like a real couple of Beau Brummels.” He was quoting a line from a song off Billy Joel’s new Glass Houses album. I had bought it just a few weeks earlier at the record store on Spring Street in Newton, the county seat (also home of the county’s only drive-in theater). It was the first album I’d ever purchased with my own money. Prior to Jimmy’s explanation, I had not realized that Beau Brummel was an actual person.
“I’m not going to the dance in a tuxedo. I’ll look like an idiot! Besides, I don’t even own one.”
“You won’t look like an idiot. You’ll look amazing. Trust me, you can never overdress. I’ll wear one too. Since we’re on the dance committee, it makes sense for us to get dressed up. We’ll look cool — like hosts.”
“Yeah, well, like I said, I don’t own a tux.” Jimmy just shook his head. I asked him, “Do you?”
“I was in my cousin’s wedding party last year, so, yeah, I do have one. We’re just gonna have to rent one for you. How much money you got?”
I had about two hundred dollars saved up, mostly from babysitting one of the younger neighborhood kids, Spencer Angel, certain days after school. (His last name constituted the epitome of irony.) One afternoon, the Angels were having their driveway blacktopped, and Spencer’s father had given me very explicit instructions NOT to let their son, or anyone else, tread upon the fresh asphalt. “Not a problem,” I reassured them.
While we were playing Atari, Spencer got up to use the bathroom. I took advantage of the time to improve my joystick skills on Missile Command. I was really getting into it when, after a while, I realized Spencer hadn’t come back. I went to the bathroom, and discovered he wasn’t in it. I figured he was playing one of his little games where he’d act like Cato from The Pink Panther, and jump out from some hiding place to attack me. I searched up and down the house, but there was no sign of him. I was starting to get a little nervous. Then I heard the sound of kids laughing outside.
I ran out and saw Spencer, along with five or six of his friends from the neighborhood, riding their bikes up and down the fresh asphalt, leaving a tangled web of well-defined tread marks. I wasn’t asked to babysit for quite a while after that.
I told my mom I needed to rent a tuxedo. She thought that seemed a bit extravagant. (So did I.) She couldn’t see spending all that money on something I was likely only going to wear once. The following Saturday, she came home with a dry cleaning bag. Turned out she found a used tux in one of the local thrift stores. It was loose in the waist, but she stitched it for me. (Finding pants to fit me was always a challenge. My legs were long but I was thin as a rail.) Mom was always good at finding stuff when it came to clothes.
I told Jimmy about the tuxedo acquisition. He was a bit wary when I told him it was used, but he seemed alright with it once I showed him. The next thing I needed, according to his plan, was to learn to dance.
“I’m not too worried about that,” I assured him. “If she dances with me, I’ll just kind of rock back and forth slow, like everybody does.”
“That’s totally lame,” he said, and gave himself an “I could have had a V8” slap to the forehead. “You gotta show her you have some class. I’m going to teach you to waltz!”
And so, over the next couple days, Jimmy taught me the basic box step of the waltz. He explained that he had been his mom’s dance practice partner for the past couple years since his father, a truck driver, wasn’t home very often. (I think I had only seen the man on two or three occasions.) Even when he was home, he wasn’t the sort who was inclined to spend his time practicing dance steps in the living room. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I mastered the steps, which are really fairly simple. Right up there with typing, the waltz was one of the most useful things I’d ever learned. (Years later, I’d end up teaching it to my students to songs like Journey’s Open Arms.)
During the lessons, Jimmy noticed my sweaty hands. I’d always had hands that would perspire profusely. What made it worse was that I was a lefty, so whenever I had to write a composition in class, my wet hand would drag across the paper and smudge the ink. (The ink in those new Erasermate pens made the problem even worse.) I’d end up turning in my paper, soggy and ink-smeared, with a look of apology for my teacher, and the ridge of my left hand thoroughly blue. Jimmy recommended I acquire a pair of white gloves before the dance.
So now I had the clothes and the moves. “Is there anything else I need?” I asked, knowing full well that the one thing I was sorely lacking was the confidence to actually ask Truvy to dance with me, let alone reveal to her my true feelings. But that was precisely the thing I planned to do. After a year of tickling her funny bone, and the milestone of talking to her on the phone, I felt it was the next logical progression.
I really had no idea exactly what I was going to say to her. I just hoped it would somehow flow out of me while we were on the dance floor. I admit the reason I planned to do this at the dance had everything to do with timing — not just the timing of the moment, but the timing of what might follow. The dance was on the last Friday of the school year, so I reasoned that if she shot me down, at least I wouldn’t have to face her or public humiliation the next day. The summer would go by, and all would be forgotten. After all, summers were like mini eternities.
“You need to give her flowers,” Jimmy said out of the blue.
“You mean, like, bring a bouquet to the dance? That would be way too conspicuous. I don’t want to draw more attention on top of the tuxedos!”
“So keep it simple. You get her one of those little wrist corsages. You keep it in your jacket pocket and, when you get her on the dance floor, you pull it out and slip it onto her. Girls eat that shit up!” The certainty in Jimmy’s tone bolstered my resolve.
“Are you getting a corsage for Tina?”
“Nah, me and her are just platonic.” Only Jimmy would use a word like that.
So, the next day after school, I jumped on my three-speed English racer and rode to a florist about five miles from my house to buy a corsage. Thankfully the lady there helped me to decide on something under ten bucks. It was a simple arrangement of two small white roses (surrounded by some kind of green stuff) on a lacey elastic band. I only hoped it wouldn’t scare Truvy off. I started to worry she might think I was a weirdo (if she didn’t already).
The day of the dance arrived. The plan was for me to get a ride with Jimmy. My father, who commuted to Newark where he was a cop, didn’t get home until late, and my mom had to attend my kid sister’s dance recital. Jimmy’s mom worked the evening shift as a nurse at the local hospital, so she would drop us off at the school in time for us to get things set up. (In all my preoccupation with getting myself prepared, I had almost forgotten that we had some responsibilities as members of the dance committee.)
Jimmy told me to be at his house by 5:30, but I got there ten minutes earlier. I was looking rather dapper in my second-hand tailored tux. Dad had helped me the day before to get my dress shoes polished to a mirror shine. He’d even lent me his dress uniform white gloves. I took Jimmy’s advice and slicked the sides of my hair back with some Pomade. (I kept my bangs down to cover up a pimple on my forehead.) Checking myself in the full-length mirror in the foyer, I had to admit I looked pretty sharp. Suddenly, Truvy Bridges didn’t seem quite so far out of my league.
I knocked on Jimmy’s door and noticed there was no car in the driveway. The door was opened by Jimmy’s older brother, Toby, a high school student. “Hey, Mikey, you’re looking snazzy! What’s going on?”
I was caught off guard by the question. “Um, I’m getting a ride with your mom and Jimmy to school for the dance.”
“Oh? Well, they left about fifteen minutes ago.”
“B-but, I was supposed to get a ride with them. Jimmy told me to be here at 5:30.”
“Yeah, well, my mom got called to go in to work earlier, so they had to leave right away. I guess he figured you could get a ride with your parents.”
I stared down at the reflection in my shoes and mumbled, “They’re not around.”
I couldn’t believe Jimmy had just ditched me. I mean, what the hell? I lived right across the street, for crying out loud. He could have called me, or just run over and knocked on my door. Maybe there was some good explanation, but I wasn’t going to get it right at that moment. I turned and walked back to my house. I think Toby said something, but I didn’t hear.
“OK,” I said to myself, “So now what?” There in the driveway was the only answer. I jumped on my English racer and started to pedal. It was only about six miles to the school, but it was all hills the entire way. The fastest I’d ever made it on my bike was thirty-two minutes, but I was bent on breaking that record.
The distance to the end of my road was all downhill. I rode it at least twice a week to get milk and eggs from the Dutch dairy farmer. (That was one of my chores.) The problem was the great long uphill after the intersection. If I stopped at the end of the road (which, according to the stop sign, I was legally obliged to do), I would have to walk the bike up a long steep stretch. But, if I blew past the stop sign (though it meant the possibility of being sideswiped by a motor vehicle), I could coast up that hill on the speed harnessed from the downhill run. Under the circumstances, I felt justified in taking that calculated risk.
As I approached the dairy farm, I pedalled in high gear with everything I had. I kept my head and eyes straight ahead as I defied the stop sign and shot across the roadway. I was lucky. No car hit me that day. (I envisioned my guardian angel shaking his head in disapprobation.) For the better part of the trek, I was able to make similar use of the downhills to minimize the imposed slowdown of the ups. As the warm late spring air whipped through my now thoroughly tousled hair, I fancied myself a knight errant in tuxedo armor and atop my two-wheeled steed. I was on a quest to rescue the fair damsel from the doldrums dragon of dull country life. For one brief moment in time, I felt virile and quite invincible. And then everything just stopped.
The bike came to a jarring halt as I felt something jerk my right leg. I toppled to one side and landed in a ditch littered with bottles and aluminum cans. Looking down, I saw that my pant leg had gotten snagged in the bike chain. I tried my best to gently wriggle it free, but the fabric tore, leaving a noticeable flap along the calf. (Why I hadn’t the foresight to roll the pant legs up, I don’t know.) I stood and realized my entire right side was covered with mud. Then, though I hadn’t noticed any dark clouds, it started to rain.
It was just around dusk when I finally rolled into the school parking lot. I placed the front tire of my racer between the bars of the bike rack by the rear entrance of the school, the one closest to the gym. I walked in and could hear the unmistakable sound of Devo’s Whip It echoing into the halls. As I walked past the gym and glanced through the open double doors by the water fountain, I could see Rosanna Falcone in the middle of the dance floor. A crowd of admirers surrounded her as she deftly gyrated her way through a choreographed routine. (She took modern dance lessons, so she knew what she was doing, and she would strut her stuff at least once every school dance.)
I kept going straight to the boys bathroom at the end of the hall by the payphone. The first thing I did was take a long leak. I shivered and realized I was soaked through from the steady rain. Washing my hands, I saw in the mirror above the sink that I was a wreck. My windblown hair was now matted down, and I realized I hadn’t brought a comb. I turned the crank on the paper towel dispenser and tore myself a long sheet to try and pat myself dry. Looking in the full-length mirror on the wall, I could see my mud-caked right side, and the long tear in my pant leg.
Three boys walked in and took quick notice of me. One of them asked, “Dude, what happened to you?”
Another one commented, “Nice tux!” The three all laughed.
I was debating whether I should bother offering them an explanation, when something caught my ear. It was the lush sound of symphonic strings, giving way to gentle guitar-plucked arpeggio triplets. Then an instantly recognizable pinched tenor voice, “Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me….”
My mind snapped back to the entire reason for my being there. “I’m supposed to ask her to dance to this!” I may have said it out loud as I dashed from the bathroom.
The gym was darkened as colored lights projected from a machine swirled along the walls and ceiling. On the stage was the giant cardboard ship with its message of “All aboard!” (to which someone had added, “for the 6th grade dance”). I pulled the wrist corsage out of my inside jacket pocket. It was still in good shape considering the overall condition of the rest of me. On either side of the gym was a row of folding auditorium chairs. Boys were sitting on one side, girls on the other. (That’s the way it always worked at school dances.) I scanned the row of chairs on the girl side in search of Truvy, but I didn’t see her. Perhaps she decided not to come. A wave of disappointment washed over me, but at the same time some degree of relief. There were several couples on the dance floor, including two of the teacher chaperones, Mr. Cooper and Miss Grayson. (They were both single, so some of the students around them were ooh-ing and ahh-ing.)
Then I saw Jimmy. He was dancing with a girl with a ponytail and a short skirt. I was looking at her from behind, and I assumed it was Tina Jenkins. Jimmy was looking suave as I’d ever seen him. His tux suited him perfectly, and a long white scarf draped down his sides added extra flair. The hand of his extended left arm held her right hand, while his other arm was wrapped securely around her shapely waist. He was leading her in what I right away recognized as the box step of the waltz. (His execution was much smoother and more stylish than the basic one I had mastered.) As he led her in a half turn, I saw her face. As I’m sure you may have guessed, it was Truvy.
I stood there in the shadows with the corsage in my hand, not quite comprehending what I was seeing. I suppose it would have been much worse had they been kissing. They weren’t, but she had her chin resting upon his shoulder, a demonstration of a degree of intimacy that was really just too much to bear. For a brief moment, I imagined myself walking over to them, tapping him on the shoulder, and asking, “May I cut in?” (I was sure I’d seen that in more than one old movie.) But I just couldn’t do it. I turned around and walked out into the hall and back to the bathroom. Standing with slumped shoulders in front of the full-length mirror, I saw again what a mess I was. Then I heard the patter of liquid droplets striking the hard tile floor beneath me. They were coming from my eyes.
Walking back into the hallway, I headed in the direction of my homeroom. I’m not even sure why. I grabbed and turned the door knob, but it was locked. Bucky, one of the custodians, was at the end of the hallway. (Bucky wasn’t his real name, but everyone called him that on account of his pronounced overbite.) He was going through the empty lockers. I saw him take something out of one and put it in his pocket. I guessed it was loose change. He spied me and yelled down the hall, “You need something?”
“I… I think I might have left something in the classroom.” I’m not sure why I said that, just like I wasn’t sure why I headed to the room in the first place. Perhaps I was just looking for a place to hide.
“Oh?” He looked at me with a hint of suspicion. Earlier in the year, Tom Stanhope and I had gone into one of the classrooms after school, and stuffed the pull-down screen full of confetti. The prank had the intended effect. The look on Miss Henderson’s face had been priceless when she pulled the handle on the screen and found herself covered in thousands of little circles of paper we’d collected from hole punchers. She was not amused and thankfully we never got caught. But Bucky knew what we’d done. Custodians always know.
“Yeah, I think I left my hat in there.” That was all I could think of. I actually had been missing one of my baseball caps for a few days.
Bucky took a big ring of keys from his waist. It looked like something a prison guard might carry. He unlocked the door and said, “Well, go have a look.”
I walked into the room. The chairs were all turned up on the desks, and you could tell it was in summer mode. I walked over to my desk at the back of the room and looked inside. It was empty except for a paper clip and some of the tattered edges from pages torn from one of my notebooks. Then I looked in Truvy’s desk. It too was empty. I realized I was still holding the corsage. I looked at it, and then placed it inside her desk. I imagined her finding this wilted thing when we came back in September. (But then I remembered that we wouldn’t be in the same room.) I walked back out into the hallway.
Bucky was standing there waiting for me. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Oh, no, it wasn’t there. I guess I just lost it.”
“Well,” he said, giving me a look meant to be reassuring. “Maybe one of your buddies grabbed it.”