Homer made it to school the next day, but something was still bothering him because he fidgeted constantly. By mid-morning, Homer’s nervousness was such a distraction no one could concentrate and Miss Kuelmann called an early recess.
Homer sprinted out the door, ran to the tree, and shinnied up the trunk into the lower branches while Jamie stood in the doorway watching.
Miss Kuelmann walked up behind him and said, “We can’t get any work done, Jamie. Would you please talk to Homer and find out what’s wrong so he’ll settle down?”
“I’ll try, but I’ve never seen him act like this before.”
Jamie tucked his hands in his hip pockets and slowly wandered to the tree to give Homer time to work off some energy climbing around.
He sat down on the ground and leaned against the tree. “Homer? Come on down.”
“No! I’m stayin’ up here the rest of the day.”
“Okay, but at dinnertime, I’m not going to get your pail and hand it up to you. What’s wrong? I thought you told Grandpa that you felt better.”
“That was yesterday. This mornin’, Ma and Pa said I gotta go over to Missus Lily’s after school and ’pologize. How do I do that?”
“Easy. You just talk to them. Mrs. Lily and Mr. Jorgenson are nice and they aren’t mad at you. Neither is Sam.”
After a long pause, Homer asked, “That so? You sure they ain’t mad at me?”
“I’m sure. Would it be help if I went with you? Sam invited me to come back.”
Branches rattled and Homer dropped to the ground. He sat down beside Jamie and said, “I ain’t never ‘pologized before, but it was that or Pa was talkin’ about him and me goin’ out to the woodshed for a spell. I wish he’d quit sayin’ that.”
“You always like meeting new people.”
“Yeah, sure. Long as they ain’t mad at me.”
Jamie rolled his eyes and sighed. “Homer, no one’s mad at you. That’s why Sam gave you the cookies. Just wait. You’ll see. C’mon, let’s go in. Recess has been over for a while.”
Homer was better the rest of the day, but he was still restless. When he began to bother everyone again, Miss Kuelmann sent him outside to do little chores.
After school, Mr. Jorgenson was waiting. Jamie waved as he and Homer walked to the truck. “Hi, Mr. Jorgenson, this is Homer. Could I go along too?”
He smiled. “Hello, Jamie. Hello, Homer, how do you do? I am glad to meet you. Get in and we go.”
Jamie climbed in first so Homer could sit by the window and they drove away. At Mrs. Lily’s, Mr. Jorgenson dropped them off near the front porch and then drove around back.
They walked to the door and Jamie pulled the knob attached to the bell Mr. Jorgenson showed him how to use the day before. The unexpected jangling inside the house startled Homer because like Jamie, he’d never used someone’s front door or a doorbell before.
Sam opened the door holding a plate of cookies. “Hi, Homer. Hi, Jamie. Have a cookie.” He practically stuck the plate under their noses so Jamie took one, but Homer didn’t.
Homer stared over Sam’s left shoulder and said, “Er… Uh… hi, Sam. I… come over to…well… I didn’t mean… to… you know... I didn’t want you to get hurt or nothin’… You know.”
Sam interrupted. “I know. Have a cookie. We’ve got lots. Come on in.”
Homer let out a sigh of relief and slid a cookie off the plate as he stepped through the door. Sam took their coats and hung them up.
Sam said, “You can take your boots off if you want, Homer.”
He looked down. “You ain’t gonna mind?”
When Sam shook his head, Homer stuffed the cookie into his mouth, sat on the floor, unlaced his boots and took them off. He wasn’t wearing socks and held up both feet at the same time, wiggling his toes. “Ahh, that’s a whole lot better.” Then jumped up and took another cookie.
Sam stood Homer’s boots beside the door and led them into the book-filled parlor where Homer’s eyes opened wide in surprise as he gazed around the room.
Sam led them across the room to Mrs. Lily who sat at her desk writing. “Aunt Lily, this is Homer Meiers. He came over and apologized for the accident.”
Mrs. Lily was much taller than Homer and when she rose from her desk and looked down at him, his face flushed red, which was the first time Jamie had ever seen that happen.
She pointed her pen at him. “I hope you have learned a lesson, young man and there will be no repetition of this irresponsible incident.”
“No’m. Er… Yes’m. I mean, no’m. I ain’t gonna do it again.”
“I should think not. Sam, please rest on the sofa. You may speak with your friends there.” Mrs. Lily pointed to the couch, sat down and began to write again.
Sam and Jamie walked to the couch, but Homer stayed and watched Mrs. Lily. He pointed at the stack of paper covered with Mrs. Lily’s handwriting. “That sure is a pile of writin’.”
“Yes, it is. I am writing a novel, which takes many sheets of paper.”
“What’s a novel?”
“A novel is a lengthy work of fiction.” When she saw Homer’s blank look, she picked up a book from the desk and handed to Homer. “This is my most recent novel.”
Homer’s eyes opened wide in surprise as he read the title aloud. “The Torn Blue Curtain. You write books? I never knowed anyone who wrote books.”
Mrs. Lily smiled. “Perhaps not, but there are many authors. Do you like to read?”
“No’m. I ain’t much for readin’.”
She took the book and set it on the desk. “Don’t you read stories in school?”
“Well, we’re supposed to, but I usually don’t and have Jamie tell me about ’em.”
“Miss Kuelmann must read stories to the class. Do you like those?”
“Yes’m, but those are for the little kids. I can tell better stories than that.”
Mrs. Lily set her pen down. “You tell stories?”
“Yes’m. I make ’em up all the time.”
“Can you tell me one? I’d like to hear it.”
Homer made a show of scratching his head to help him think and then said, “Okay, I got one. There’s this little gray mouse with crooked whiskers that lives in a barn with a bunch of cats. This don’t bother the mouse none because he’s smart and runs real fast. He likes playin’ tricks on the cats and then runnin’ away. The cats don’t mind much ‘cause they know it’s all in fun and the mouse don’t mean nothin’ by it.”
Mrs. Lily smiled. “The name of this mouse wouldn’t be ‘Homer’, would it?”
“No’m. That’s too common a name.” Homer rubbed his chin. “Lemme see, now. The mouse is Orville. Yeah, that’s a good name. Anyways, there’s this cat named Ralph and he don’t like havin’ tricks played on ’im at all so he’s out to catch Orville, but he can’t ’cause Orville’s so fast and smart. Well, one day…”
As Homer told the story, he became the mouse and scurried from hiding place to hiding place. Then he’d be Ralph and padded around on his toes like a cat. By the end of the story, he’d used the whole room, running from place to place, hiding behind furniture, making voices and funny faces for each character. It was easy to imagine the cat chasing the mouse, even though it was just Homer pretending. Jamie had never seen anything like it.
When Homer finished, Jamie jumped to his feet while Sam sat up on the couch and they applauded and cheered.
Jamie asked, “That was amazing! How did you do it?”
“Well, I been listenin’ to my uncles tell stories long as I can remember, but I made this one up all by myself.”
“That’s not what I meant. Where did you learn to do the acting that went with the story?”
“Actin’? I ain’t no actor.”
Mrs. Lily said, “Why, certainly you are, Homer. While you told the story, you took the part of each character.”
“Well, sure. Since we ain’t in no barn, I had to show what the cat and mouse were doin’.”
Sam said, “It was wonderful. Have you told your stories to other people?”
“Naw. Just relatives.” He shrugged. “Nobody’d wanna listen to me tell stories.”
Mrs. Lily pointed her pen at Homer. “I disagree, Homer. You have a great deal of natural talent and if this story is a fair example, many people would want to listen and watch you tell stories. You should ask Miss Kuelmann if you can tell that story at school to determine if other children would enjoy it.”
“Well, okay. It’s fun tellin’ stories and maybe the little kids would like ’em. My little brother, Wilbur does.”
“I am sure they will, especially if you act out the parts as you have just done. With your permission, I would like write your performance as a short story.”
He grinned. “Yes’m. I’d like that. Nobody ever wrote down any of my stories before.”
“It will be my pleasure to write the first one then. You must be thirsty after all that exercise. I’ll get you something to drink with your cookies.” She stood and left the room.
Homer sat on a footstool and snatched a cookie from the plate. “Story tellin’ sure makes me hungry.”
While Homer and Sam chatted about school, Jamie got up and walked along the rows of books, reading titles.
Mrs. Lily came in carrying a tray with glasses of milk and more cookies then set it on a table. “Homer, I am fortunate you came to visit. Sam and I made far too many cookies.”
Homer lifted his glass and took a big gulp, giving himself a milk moustache. He smiled and picked up another cookie. “Eatin’ cookies is a chore I’m always willin’ to help with.”
Mrs. Lily walked over and stood behind Jamie. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
He touched the spine of a book. “No’m. I never knew anyone with so many books. Have you read them all?”
“Yes, I have. Do you like to read?”
“Yes’m. I like exciting stories.”
“I have a number of books of that kind.” Jamie followed as she walked across the room took a book from the shelf and handed it to him. “Perhaps you would enjoy Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s a story of a boy who is the son of a British Lord and Lady marooned on the coast of Africa by mutineers. After the boy’s parents die when he is a baby, he is raised by apes.”
“I’d like to read that one, but…” Jamie flipped through the pages. “It’ll take a while and I don’t want to keep coming over and bothering you.”
“You are not bothering me by visiting. However, you may take the book home and bring it back when you are finished.”
Jamie stared at the wealth surrounding him. “You’d let me take your book home?”
“Yes, but I expect that you will return it in the same condition. Then you may borrow another.”
Jamie looked at the hundreds of books and felt like he’d just opened a pirate’s treasure chest like Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. “Thank you ma’am. I’ll be careful with it.”
“Sam should rest now. Philip will meet you in front.”
Sam gave Homer the leftover cookies and led them to the door where Homer put his boots on. Outside, as they waited for Mr. Jorgenson, Jamie said, “See, I told you they were nice.”
He munched a cookie. “Yeah. Good cookies too.”
Homer stared off across the bare fields with unfocused eyes. “Think they liked my story? You know, for real?”
Jamie socked him on the arm. “For real. You never told me you were a storyteller.”
“I didn’t think nothin’ of it ’cause most of the men in my family tell stories. That’s the first time I ever told one to someone that wasn’t family.” He got the far-away look on his face again and smiled. “They liked it. Didn’t they?”