At home that night after supper, Jamie talked to his grandpa about Homer. “Grandpa, I’ve known Homer forever and he’s never acted like this before.”
He pushed his hat back with a thumb. “Humph! You’re right and that ain’t like Homer at all.”
What should I do?”
“Well, it don’t sound like you can talk ’im out of it so the best you can do is be a good friend.”
“But I am. We’ve been best friends since before first grade.”
“I know, but Homer’s a lot like his pa. He’s got lots of pride and every so often, it’ll bust out and make him do things he shouldn’t. What you gotta do is be with ’im as much as you can. No matter what he says to you, don’t leave ’im alone. That way, if he’s gonna to do something that’ll get him or Sam hurt, you’ll be there to talk ’im outta doin’ it.
“But what if I can’t?”
“Then, you come to me straight away and we’ll think of somethin’. You promise?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do that. I don’t want Homer or Sam to get hurt.”
The next day, Homer sat at his desk working, not clowning around or even talking. Miss Kuelmann thought he was finally getting serious about school and told him how well he was doing. Jamie knew better. Homer was thinking of a way to get even.
Jamie did what his grandpa said and sat with Homer at recess, moved his desk closer and even tried to help with his assignments. Homer ignored him. After school, Jamie tried to talk to him, but he just yanked his boots off and took off running toward home.
That night, Jamie and his grandpa talked about what else he could do but couldn’t think of anything so they decided to wait and see what Homer would do next.
Friday, Homer seemed to be back to normal and at morning recess, he ran out the door to the tree and waited for Jamie. When they sat down against the trunk, Homer said, “Okay, I got it all figured out.”
“How I’m gonna get even with Sam.”
Jamie frowned. “You remember what your dad said he was going do if you were fighting again don’t you?”
“Sure, but there ain’t gonna be no fightin’. That way, Pa can’t take me to the woodshed.”
“Sounds pretty risky to me.”
“Don’t matter. I been talkin’ to my sister that graduated from high school two years ago. She told me what to do. I’m gonna make Sam think he’s got a secret admirer. How about that?”
Jamie rolled his eyes. “What does that mean?”
“See, when my sister was in high school, there was this girl that nobody liked. So the other girls got together and sent her notes and stuff ‘til this girl thought she had a secret boyfriend. Then, in front of the whole school, they told her it was a big joke and she busted out bawlin’.” Homer crossed his arms and smiled. “See, there ain’t no fightin’ and I’ll be gettin’ even. Maybe he’ll get the idea we don’t want him here and go back to New York.”
“Wait a minute. Why are you saying ‘we’?”
“Well, you’re gonna hafta write the notes. I can’t spell and everybody knows what my writin’ looks like.”
“Homer, no. Maybe there won’t be any fighting, but I don’t think it’s right. Ask your sister to write them.”
“I did and she said she don’t have time, but she’ll tell me what to say. It’s gotta sound like a girl writin’ and I dunno how girls write to boys.”
“No! Get someone else.”
Homer frowned. “And here I thought you was my best friend.”
“I am your best friend. And that’s why I won’t help. Let it go.”
“No! Some friend you are.” Homer got up and stomped off.
At dinner recess, Homer was waiting at the tree again. Before could say anything, Jamie said, “No, Homer. I’m not writing letters for you.”
Homer put his hands on his hips and scowled. “Why not? There ain’t no fightin’ and nobody’s gonna get hurt.”
“That’s not so. When you embarrass someone like that, you hurt their feelings. That’s not right.”
Homer stepped up to Jamie so they were nose-to-nose. “Yeah? Who got socked and ended up with a bloody nose and black eye in front of the whole school? Who got yelled at by Miss Kuelmann? And who didn’t? I know all about gettin’ my feelin’s hurt.” He turned and walked around to the back of the school, swinging his dinner pail.
Jamie sat under the tree and thought about what Homer had said. He had a point because losing the fight and apologizing must have hurt his pride terribly. Jamie liked Sam and didn’t want to do anything that might hurt him. But he and Homer had been best friends for years and he didn’t want to lose that over a new kid who might not be around long. Tipping his head back, Jamie looked at the sky through gaps in the leaves, thinking about what to do, but couldn’t decide by the time dinner recess was over.
At afternoon recess, Homer stood in front of him on the porch. He put his hands on his hips, leaned forward and stuck out his chin. “Well, best friend? You gonna help or not?” He made the way he said ‘best friend’ sound like he didn’t mean it.
Jamie said, “You’re not being fair, Homer. You expect me to do something I don’t think is right just because we’re friends.”
“Now you’re gettin’ it. Best friends help each other, no matter what.”
“Best friends don’t help each other hurt someone.”
“Look, I told you, nobody’s gonna get hurt. You’re just gonna write some words on a piece of paper. I’m doin’ the rest. If I get caught, I’m the one that’s gonna be in trouble, not you.”
Jamie sighed. “Let me think about it over the weekend.”
“Okay. I’ll get my sister to tell me what to say.”
“I didn’t say I’d do it!”
Homer flashed Jamie a grin. “That don’t mean I can’t get ready—just in case.”
Jamie scowled. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
Homer grinned wider. “Right. I gotta get home and do chores.”
“Me too. See you in church?”
Homer’s grin vanished. He put both hands around his neck and made a face as if he were being strangled.
In spite of being mad at him, Jamie had to laugh. “See you then.”
They waved and walked toward home in opposite directions. Jamie was unhappy because Homer was taking advantage of their friendship. He kicked a rock and sent it sailing into the grass. Why couldn’t Homer and Sam be friends? That would solve everything.