I'm Certain I Won't Stray
Nobody was late and it seemed like it was just another typical, ordinary day at school, with one exception; it was noticeably a little more quiet than usual, since one of the bullies was missing.
At noon, the kids poured out the schoolroom, glad it had warmed up enough so they could eat their lunch outside and maybe have time left for some fun before they had to go back inside to their studies.
As usual, Jed was among the first of the kids to dash out the door. He grabbed his lunch and headed out to the big flat rock near the edge of the schoolyard. It was next to the stream that ran by the schoolhouse and was his and Han’s favorite spot to eat. He patted his pocket, checking to make sure that what he had put there earlier was still inside. Satisfied when he felt the familiar object, he sat back to wait. As the other boys and girls found places to eat, Jed smiled and gave a contented sigh.
“Something wrong?” Heyes inquired as he climbed up on the rock to join his cousin.
“Nope, why?” Jed looked at Heyes, the innocence of his blue eyes connecting with his cousin’s penetrating dark brown ones; his smile was a rival for the sunlight streaming through the trees. Jed Curry loved lunchtime. If anyone had asked him, he would have eagerly told them it was his favorite part of school. Food and playtime; they were just the right combination to almost make it worth the trouble of him showing up for lessons.
“Why? Well, because you haven’t even started on your lunch yet; usually by now you’re done, trying to hurry the rest of us so we can start playing.” Heyes looked down at the lunch that still sat untouched in his cousin’s lap.
“Huh?” With a guilty start, Jed looked down as well. “Oh, I... uh, I was...” He scrambled for an answer that would satisfy his inquisitive relative’s curiosity and then heaved a deep sigh. “Guess it’s jus’ that I’m kinda worried ‘bout havin’ to stand up in front of everyone to do those stupid times tables. Ya know how I hate bein’ up front by myself an’ with all that went on yesterday, I didn’t even get the chance to study! I gotta do ’em right after lunch...” his voice trailed off, a look of anxiety on his face.
Heyes smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. “I plumb forgot about you having to do that today, no wonder you’re worried. But even arithmetic doesn’t usually stop you from eating. I didn’t think there was anything that stopped that!” he grinned.
Jed opened his pail and started to eat. He was hungry and he needed to act as normal as possible to keep Han from asking too many questions. Han always asked too many questions, no matter what, but Jed’s goal was to keep his cousin occupied so he wouldn’t even start today.
Having finished his sandwich, he began to munch on his apple. He darted a quick glance across the schoolyard over to where the bullies sat in the grass eating their lunch. They were so predictable; they always ate in the same spot, too, but today there were only the two of them. Danny Bailey and Matthew Johnson; nobody else would dare sit with them, which was just fine with them. It was also fine and dandy with Jed. He elevated his eyes slightly to a spot above the bullies’ heads and took another bite of his apple, savoring the sweet juiciness of the fruit as he chewed.
Finished with his lunch, Danny stood up. “I’m gonna go get the ball so we can start playin’ as soon as you’re done, Matthew. Hurry up, okay?”
“Yeah, you go ahead. I’m almost done; I’ll be right there.”
Out of the corner of his eye Jed watched Danny leave. Polishing off the last of his apple, he turned to Heyes. “I’ll be right back; I’m gonna go get my times tables so you can help me go over ’em, okay?”
“Sure, I’ll wait right here,” Heyes grinned “’Sides that, I haven’t even started my apple yet!” And to think I was worried he wasn’t gonna eat! With a shake of his dark head, Heyes leaned back against the tree, took a bite out of his apple and closed his eyes. A few moments later he was jolted out of his quiet meditations by yelling and screaming for the second time that day.
Now what? Heyes jumped down off the rock to join the other kids running towards the noise. Once again he was forced to push his way up to the front to see what was going on. When he did, he was as astonished as the rest of the students.
Matthew Johnson, bully and second only to Danny in his meanness, was sitting on the ground with a beehive in his lap, kicking and yelling, slapping at the swarm of angry insects that surrounded him. He hurled the beehive away, but that didn’t help much, since most of the bees were already out of the hive.
Matthew continued to slap frantically at the bees while trying to stand up. When he finally did, the angry insects buzzed even more around his face, an action which caused him to dance around in a wild frenzy, waving his arms.
“Go away, leave me alone, I hate bees!” he cried. “Get ’em off me, get ’em outta here! Make ’em go away!” Matthew had had enough. The bully took off running towards the river and then to the amazement of all who watched, he jumped into the water, clothes and all, still yelling and flapping his arms.
“Never seen anythin’ like it!” one of the boys marveled and gave an appreciative whistle.
“Guess the bullies aren’t really so tough after all,” declared one of the older girls with a sniff.
“Matthew’s a big baby, too! Maybe he should sit up front with the first graders today!”
“Hey!” A highly indignant first grader protested, “even we don’t act like that - we don’t want him ’round us, neither!”
Heyes’ face was thoughtful as he listened to the comments. How’d that beehive end up in Matthew’s lap in the first place? “Did anyone see what happened?”
One of the older boys beside him nodded his head. “It was the darnedest thing! The beehive just kinda ‘fell’ outta the tree. One minute it was way up there an’ the next Matthew was holdin’ it an’ hollerin’. Funny how it jus’ happened to fall into his lap like that, isn’t it? Sure glad it wasn’t me!”
“Yeah, it sure is funny...” Heyes agreed absently. And it’s sure funny that Jed is conveniently missing again. Heyes searched around until he spied his cousin over by the schoolhouse. Jed waved and started walking towards him.
“What I’d miss?” the younger boy called out when he was close enough to be heard. “Sounded pretty excitin’!”
“Nothin’ much,” Heyes answered slowly. “Just a beehive that ‘mysteriously’ fell right into Matthew Johnson’s lap... and him acting like a big baby in front of everyone. He finally jumped in the river to get away from the bees.” Heyes kept his eyes on Jed’s face while he spoke.
“Matthew jumped into the river? Boy, I wish I’d’ve been here!” A crestfallen look on his face Jed added, “Sure must’ve been somethin’ to see!”
Heyes pinned him with a shrewd look. “Yeah, it sure was... where were you?”
“Han, dontcha remember anythin’?” Exasperation tinged the boy’s words. “I went back to the schoolhouse to get my times tables. By the time I got ‘em an’ started back it was all over. Why? Ya think I had somethin’ to do with it?” he demanded defensively.
“Now, don’t get all riled up; I never said you did. It’s just real strange that things keep happening; that and the fact that both boys had trouble with you. Nobody’s accusing you, but you’ve got to admit, it is mighty odd.” With the gnawing feeling that he was missing an important piece of the puzzle, Heyes knew he wasn’t going to be able to rest easy until he had figured out what it was. For right now though, he needed to give the matter a rest while he helped Jed.
“We don’t have much time before lunch is over, give me your paper,” Heyes held out his hand. “Let’s see what we can get done with those times tables.”
His back to Heyes, Jed was occupied with watching a thoroughly drenched Matthew crawling out of the river and didn’t respond. What a glorious sight it was - served him right! “That’s two,” he whispered.
“Huh?” Jed answered absently.
Heyes stepped up to stand beside his cousin and waved a hand in front of his face to get his attention. “If you’d pay attention for a minute, I asked you to get your times tables paper out; I’ll help you study before we have to go in,” he repeated in exasperation.
“Oh, sorry, Han... Jus’ watchin’ Matthew crawl outta that water. Boy, he’s sure gonna be in a heap of trouble!” Jed laughed at the other boy’s misfortune.
“Yeah, and so are you if you don’t get started on those times tables!” Heyes snapped. “Where’s your paper?”
Jed reached into his pocket and came up empty-handed. With a sinking feeling he realized that he didn’t have it. “I uh, I guess I uh, must’ve dropped it when I was, uh walkin’ back here,” he mumbled and turned away. “I’ll go look an’ see if I can find it,” he hedged. In all the excitement he had forgotten to get it out of his desk. His back still to Han, Jed crossed his fingers.
Heyes stood, hands akimbo on his hips, watching Jed trot back towards the schoolhouse. Something was definitely going on and somehow his cousin was involved!
Jed hurried back into the building and grabbed the forgotten paper. “Got it, Han!” he declared, waving the paper as he ran.
The boys worked together for the rest of the break until they heard the bell which signaled the end of lunchtime. The children began to head back towards the schoolhouse. Trailing along behind them, a reluctant Jed walked slower and slower as he studied the paper clutched in his hands.
“Come on, Jed, quit bein’ such a turtle!” Heyes teased and reached back to grab the younger boy’s arm to hurry him along.
Jed winced but managed to stifle the cry of pain that rose to his lips. With a quick jerk, he pulled free and brushed past Heyes to run the rest of the way to the building, leaving his friend to stare at his back.
Heyes followed the other boy with his eyes as Jed shoved his way past the other kids up the stairs and disappeared inside. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jed this worried about reciting. By the time he walked into the schoolroom Jed had already taken his seat up front with the younger children. Heyes frowned when he saw that his cousin had his head buried in his arms.
Jed was doing his best to ignore the pain. In a very short while he had to be able to stand up in front of everyone and pretend that everything was fine. Han would be watching him. What am I gonna do? I’ve worked too hard for things to mess up now!
Miss Frey stood up in front of the classroom and began to assign work for the older students to work on while she listened to the younger ones recite.
Jed groaned silently, wishing that he was as good as his cousin was when it came to math. Han loved math; figures made him happy, though Jed was at a complete loss to understand why. He raised his head and leaned back in his seat, his chin resting on his chest. He closed his eyes while he tried to figure things out. Then, as Miss Frey called the first child up to the front of the classroom, Jed realized it didn’t matter anymore; his luck had just run out!
Since they went alphabetically by last names, he was to be the fifth student to recite. His mind was a complete blank, unable to even recall what nine times two was. It was always like this for him; he hated standing up in front of everyone and being the center of attention, but the part he dreaded most was everyone thinking how dumb he was. He couldn’t help it; he just forgot the answers when he was in front of everyone.
I wish I was invisible!
While he had been busy wishing, Miss Frey had called the second and third child. They had already finished and now the fourth student was walking up to the front of the classroom. Jed panicked. I’m next! His palms were sweaty, it was hard to breathe and he still couldn’t remember what nine times two was!
“Jedediah Curry, please come to the front of the class. You will be reciting the nines times tables for me today,” Miss Frey’s voice intruded into his thoughts.
Jed wanted to heed his teacher’s voice; he tried, but his legs refused to listen. He knew there’d be trouble to pay, but he just couldn’t stand up. He stared down at the wooden boards under his feet and wished with all his might that the ground would suddenly open up, swallow him and put an end to his misery. Instead, he heard his teacher’s voice, only this time it was louder and more insistent.
“Jedediah, whatever are you waiting for? Quit your dawdling and come up here right now, or you will be staying after school to recite and you will also write each multiple ten times to help you remember the answers!”
Great, Jed sighed, now they’ll all be watchin’ me for sure! Why can’t I be like everyone else an’ jus’ walk up there an’ be done with it? He gripped the sides of his desk. One thing at a time... He tried to ignore all the eyes that were upon him as he grit his teeth and managed to pull himself to an upright position. Now, if I can jus’ make it to the front of the classroom... He wished his insides didn’t feel like churned butter!
Before he could take a step, there was a loud clatter from somewhere behind him. Everyone turned away to look, their attention focused there instead of on him. He heard a groan and then Miss Frey hurried past him. Jed turned, but couldn’t see who it was since everyone had stood up and crowded around, but he didn’t care. Whoever ya are, I owe ya a great big thanks! He collapsed in his seat with heartfelt relief, grateful for whatever had happened to take him out of the spotlight.
“What’s wrong?” he heard Miss Frey ask.
The teacher motioned to two of the older boys to help get the student up off the floor. More moaning and groaning followed, then a voice whispered, “It feels like my insides are trying to get outside, it hurts a lot, Ma’am; it feels like I’m gonna be sick... real sick!”
Turning around, she clapped her hands together as she spoke to the rest of the class. “Alright everyone, back to your seats. Open your books and start working on your homework. Joe, you go get Doc Martin - and ask him to hurry, please!”
She returned her attention to the boy on the floor. “And as for you, Mister Hannibal Heyes, this had better not turn out to be another of your clever plans to keep your cousin out of trouble!”
“Oh no, ma’am,” Heyes grimaced and clutched his stomach, convincingly writhing on the floor from side to side. “The pain’s real - honest! I... ooh,” his groans increased in volume. “I’m gonna be sick right now!” The boys wasted no time in lifting him to his feet and escorting him from the classroom in a rush.
Han? Jed rose up out of his seat when he heard the name, but before he could move his cousin was going past him. Heyes turned his head a bit and opened an eye to give him a brief wink, quickly closing it before anyone else noticed. Jed sat back down, in awe of what his cousin had done. He put his head down on his desk again, but this time it was to hide his grin.
Han sure knows how to fix things, but shoot, that’s nothin’ new. He’s always there when I need him, ready with some kinda plan. I wish I could let him in on what’s goin’ on, but Han’s better off not knowin’; that way they can’t blame him for anythin’. Jed heaved a sigh; none of that had helped to ease his conscious one bit.
Heyes did end up being sent back to the Home and Jed got his reprieve. A very small one, if what Miss Frey had said to him was anything to go by. She had stopped him from rushing out the door when school was dismissed to go find out about Han.
“Jedediah Curry, you stay right there in your seat until after everyone has left; you and I have some unfinished business to take care of!”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. Casting a longing look at the door he trudged back to his seat to wait.
Waiting was not something Jedediah Curry did very well; his patience had reached the breaking point. Worried and not knowing what had happened to Han didn’t help matters, either. His imagination running wild, the frustrated boy was ready to get up and take off running out the door despite the teacher’s warning.
What if the Doc had told ’em at the Home that Han wasn’t really sick? That’d mean they’d punish Han. Jed knew the older boy would take it and never say a word. An’ it’s all because I’m so dumb! Why can’t I be as good as Han at learnin’ stuff? Jed heaved a deep sigh and glanced up to the front of the classroom again and realized that he and the teacher were the only ones in the room.
Miss Frey had already finished helping the children. Sitting at her desk, her hands folded upon it, she was watching him with an intent expression. Jed chewed his bottom lip. It was as if the teacher was waiting for him to do something. Not sure what that something was, he stared down at his hands instead. “Well, Jedediah, it seems as if that cousin of yours has saved you once again, hasn’t he?”
Jed lifted his head and with a shrug of his shoulders he rushed to his cousin’s defense. “I don’t rightly know, ma’am; wish I did. He told me this morning he didn’t feel good, but... well, he didn’t think it was bad enough that they would’ve let him stay in bed, so he came to school anyways.” Jed smiled that special smile of his, his curry-blue eyes full of innocence and charm; a winning combination that usually worked, but not today; not with Miss Frey.
Not totally immune to the young boy’s smile, or his charm, but also not willing to let it sway her decision, she kept her smile hidden and her tone stern. “Well, he may have delayed your recitation, but it was only temporary. I would like you to stand up and say the nine times tables for me, Jedediah.”
This time, Jed stood up with ease. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and started to recite. “Nine times one is nine, nine times two is eighteen...” He made his way slowly through the whole times tables, only stumbling on a couple of the answers, but managing to get the correct answers on his own. When he finished, Jed opened his eyes and caught the look of surprise on Miss Frey’s face. He was even more relieved to see her mouth curved into a smile.
“Very well done, Jedediah, you have certainly surprised me today. I was positive Hannibal did what he did today because he knew you had not studied and he did not want you to be in trouble. He cares for you very much, you know. I believe he would go to great lengths to protect you, even at the cost of his own well-being. I think it is wonderful that the two of you have each other to lean on.”
“Well, Ma’am, I’m not sure you really understand. See, it’s not jus’ Han tryin’ to protect me...” Jed struggled to find the right words. “What I’m tryin’ to say is that I jus’ don’t do so good when I havta stand up in front of everybody, with everyone starin’ at me, an’ watchin’ me. I hate bein’ the center of attention! I forget everything I thought I knew when I havta be up there, like I’m dumb or stupid or somethin’. I get sick to my stomach an’ wish I could jus’ disappear. I don’t know what to do about it, an’ the really bad part is its gettin’ worse ’stead of better.”
“Well, that certainly helps to explain something that has been bothering me for a while, but I wasn’t sure.” Miss Frey gave him a long look over the top of her spectacles. “Jedediah, if I ask you a question, will you promise to give me an honest answer?”
“Have you had that feeling for very long?”
Jed hung his head and nodded, too ashamed to speak.
“Look at me, Jedediah!” Miss Frey commanded in a sharp voice.
Jed dutifully raised his head, his troubled eyes looking deep into hers.
“You are not dumb, and you most certainly are not stupid! A bit lazy, perhaps, and while you may not enjoy being the center of attention, these are things that can be overcome. As you get older, there will be times when you will have everyone’s attention, whether you want it or not. We can work on that here at school, starting with you not having to stand up in front of the class to recite.
“This is something that is only temporary,” she continued, “trust me, in time, it will get easier. I think Hannibal is doing his best to help you. Together, you and your cousin make a great team; you’ve both been through a lot. But you have to be prepared to do your part by learning all you can, doing your best and being the best you can be, no matter what that is.”
“But what about the other kids?” Jed’s doubtful expression was proof he wasn’t convinced. “Won’t they notice I’m gettin’ treated different? I sure don’t need any more problems than I’ve already got!”
“There won’t be any more problems for you, unless you don’t study like you are supposed to or you don’t do your homework every day. In addition to you, I have been thinking about allowing some of the other children to recite to me alone. Believe it or not, there are a few others who have the same feelings that you do, Jedediah. They don’t have it quite as much as you do, but with a little help from me and some hard work on your part, I think we will be able to make things easier for you.”
This time when Jed flashed his smile, Miss Frey allowed it to work its magic on her and she returned it. He crossed the room to stand in front of her and after a slight hesitation, stepped closer and wrapped his arms around the teacher to give her a hug.
Touched by the gesture, Miss Frey embraced the boy. Then she broke the spell and ran a hand through his sandy curls. “I believe you mentioned something about wanting to find out about that clever cousin of yours?”
Jed leaned back and, with an ear-splitting grin on his face, nodded.
“When you find him, would you please give Hannibal a message for me? Tell him he’s going to need a much better plan the next time; that one will only work once with me.” Although her tone was stern, there was still a smile on the teacher’s face.
Jed stepped back, his own smile still firmly in place. He nodded again, then grabbed his books and flew out the door.
“Boy, Han, do I ever have a lot to tell ya, an’ you are not gonna believe it!”
VALPARAISO, LATER THAT SAME AFTERNOON
The boys were sitting together on a bed in the ‘sick room.’ Jed had managed to sneak in when no one was looking and had just finished telling Heyes about all the wonderful things that had happened at school in his absence.
“Miss Frey said that?” Heyes was amazed. “And she did what?” Jed was right in thinking he would have a hard time believing it all. “Kid, are you sure you didn’t get knocked in the head or fall asleep in class and had some kinda dream or something?”
“No, Han, honest; she really said all of it! But the best part of all is that she says I’m not really dumb or stupid!”
Heyes rolled his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. “That’s what I keep trying to tell you, Kid! You just have a different way of learning. I’m glad you finally decided to listen to someone. Maybe from now on you’ll try to do your work and not give up so easy.”
“Han, it’ll all be worth it not to have to stand up in front of everbody an’ recite! I’ll do anything she tells me to do if it means I don’t havta do that!” he promised in a fervent tone and stood up. “Oh, yeah, I’m s’posed to give ya a message. Miss Frey said ya needed a much better plan next time, ’cos that one was only gonna work once with her.”
Heyes grinned, relieved that someone had finally been able to understand what Jed’s problem was and was going to help fix it. He was also glad that Miss Frey wasn’t angry with him, although he was a little chagrined to know that she had been able to see through his plan. He hadn’t had much time to figure one out this time, but just wait, he’d show her; his next one was going to be great!
“So how’d you do those times tables anyways? I thought you couldn’t remember ’em.”
“It was the strangest thing, Han. Since nobody was watchin’ me, I could think about the answers. All the help ya gave me today must’ve sunk in somehow too, ’cos it was your voice I heard sayin’ the answers. When I said the times tables to Miss Frey, I jus’ repeated what I heard YOU sayin’; it was easy!” Jed gave his cousin a smile that lit up the whole room.
“Glad I could help, Kid, anytime,” Heyes grinned back. “Wonder how long they’ll keep me in here? I really want to get out of this bed so I can see what else is going to happen today,” he aimed a questioning look at his cousin.
“Ya really think more’s gonna happen today, Han? I think enough has happened already - don’t you?”
“No, I’m sure something else is going to happen; I might not know what or when or where, but I’m positive the excitement isn’t over...yet. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”
Jed shrugged, “If ya say so, Han; Anyways, I gotta skedaddle before they come back an’ find me here. Do what ya can to get out; it’s not much fun without ya. An’ hey, look at it this way, you’re gettin’ outta doin’ your chores - that oughta be worth somethin’!” With those final words, Jed snuck out the same way he’d gotten in.
Hands clasped together behind his head, Heyes leaned back against the pillows to think things over while he waited for the doctor to turn him loose.
Jed knew he had to work fast; he only had a short while before Han got out and came looking for him. “I sure don’t know how Han thinks up all the things he does! How in the heck does he do it?” His own mind was frazzled from thinking and he was sick and tired of having to watch his step around Han all the time; it just didn’t feel right. Oh, well, it would all be over soon and things would go back to being normal.
At least that was what was supposed to happen, according to Jed’s plan.
Everyone was busy with their chores. As soon as they were finished, they would start on their homework. Jed’s chores for this week were to gather the eggs from the henhouse and to sweep off the porches of the Home. He had finished up with the eggs in record time, but with his sore arm, sweeping was taking longer than usual. He hadn’t forgotten his promise to Han, but there had been too many other things on his mind. Besides that, he couldn’t tell him or he’d miss the final chapter in his plan.
Jed bit down on his lower lip and kept sweeping. This is gonna take forever! he groaned. Then, a funny feeling came over him; the kind he got when he felt like he was being watched. Bet Han got out an’ he’s checkin’ up on me; guess I’d better make it look good, or I’m gonna be the one stuck in the sickroom! He forced himself to put his other hand on the broom and kept his back to where he figured his cousin had to be hiding. Finally finished, he breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Nice try, little cousin,” Heyes muttered before he stepped out of the shadows and walked up behind Jed. “Hey, guess who got sprung?” he called out in a louder voice.
Jed whirled around, a look of surprise on his face. “Hey! ‘Bout time ya showed up, now that all the chores are done! Any trouble with the doc thinkin’ you was pretendin’?”
“Nope, said I probably just ate something that didn’t agree with me.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re not sick anymore, it was sorta quiet around here.”
“Aw, you did miss me then, didn’t you?” Heyes grinned.
“Didn’t say that,” Jed cocked his head to give the other boy a look, “Said it was quiet around here - ya know, without ya talkin’ all the time.”
“Well, that’s a fine way to say thanks for saving you! Of all the ingrates -”
Jed held up a hand and surrendered to the laughter he had held inside. “Hold on, Han, don’t get all worked up. I never did get the chance to tell ya thanks for savin’ me today; I should’ve known you’d have a plan!” He walked up to his cousin and stuck out his hand. “I’m tellin’ ya now, thanks - I thought I was a goner for sure!”
And that, along with Jed’s impish smile, patched things right up between the two boys.
Chores over with, everyone was occupied with schoolwork until suppertime. Kids were scattered all over the place, some working alone, others in pairs or groups.
His chin resting on his fisted hands, Jed was one of the kids who sat alone, curled up cross-legged in a big chair in the hall where Han had left him.
“It’s quieter here,” he had declared, defending his choice of a place to study in answer to the questioning look Heyes had given him. “An’ I need all the help I can get – I’ve got lots to study, see?” He held up his book for inspection.
“I will,” the younger boy nodded. “An’ I’ve got a new dime novel, too – see?” He held up another book.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Heyes held his hand out. “Hand it over.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Jed pleaded and put the book behind his back. “One of the other boys let me borrow -”
“I don’t care about the other boys! You promised Miss Frey, and you don’t want to disappoint her on the first day now, do you?”
“No, but -”
“Uh, uh, homework first - promise me.”
Desire battled with honor before Jed grudgingly agreed. “Okay, I promise,” he grumbled. “I’ll do my homework first, but I’d rather look at the book!”
“I mean it, Jed; I’ll be right back to check on you as soon as I’m done.” Taking in the crestfallen expression on the younger boy’s face, Heyes relented. “Tell you what, if you finish that homework, you can start in on the dime novel - okay?”
“Sure, Han, whatever ya say, but it’s gonna take me forever to do it an’ the longer ya stand here jabberin’, the longer I havta wait to get started!”
“Alright, I’ll see you in a little bit. I have something important to do and I need you to wait right here for me until I get back.” He glanced out the window. “I have to take care of it before it gets dark.”
“Outside?” Jed’s face lit up. “Where?”
“Don’t worry about where it’s at; you’ll be busy, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Jed grumbled.
“I’ll be back before you know it. Now, open your book and get started – or else!” Heyes warned; the words were accompanied by a smile and a wink before he turned to walk away.
Jed blew out an exasperated breath and opened his book, but his eyes weren’t on the pages. Instead they followed Heyes as he walked down the hallway. “Didn’t wanna go with ya anyways; I’ve got plans of my own,” he muttered under his breath. “But it sure would make things easier if I knew where ya were!”
And so Jed studied. At least he tried to look like he was studying; the look was one that would have fooled most people. After a quick peek at the clock, he propped the book open in his lap. Staring straight ahead, he turned a page. A bit later he turned another. That worked, at least until he glanced impatiently up at the clock again.
Just one minute later than the last time he’d looked! Wish I could reach up an’ move the hands myself!
Jed glanced around, searching the room again to see if Han had showed up yet. That was the one thing he couldn’t control; if this was going to work, he had to know where Han was!
Nope, still no sign of him yet; dang it all, Han, where are ya? The frustrated boy checked the clock once more, staring at the hands as if by sheer willpower he could convince them to move faster. His head fell back against the chair in defeat and he closed his eyes.
“Hey, Jed... are ya really studyin’?”
The voice coming from right beside him startled Jed enough so that the boy bolted upright and leapt completely out of his chair. Great, he groaned, it’s not bad enough I havta try an’ keep track of Han, now she’s gotta show up, too? Disgruntled by her arrival, he snatched the book from the ground and dropped back into his chair with an exaggerated sigh. He opened the book and began to read again, completely ignoring her.
Once her giggles had subsided, the girl tried again. “Hey, Je-ed... didn’t ya hear me!?” This time the voice was louder and more insistent. “I asked ya a question; dontcha wanna talk to me?” The girl’s crystal blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “Oh, I know, - you’re mad ’cos I sneaked up on ya, ain’t ya? Or maybe it’s ‘cos I scared ya, huh? An’ ya don’t want anyone to think you’re a scaredy cat, right?”
“I heard ya jus’ fine, Jamie! I’m pretty sure the whole daggone school must’ve heard ya, too!” Jed hissed in anger as he stood up to look around to see if, in fact, anyone else was paying any attention to them. He relaxed a bit, relieved to see they weren’t. “An’ no, ya didn’t scare me when ya snuck up on me, an’ yes, Miss Busybody - I am studyin’ - see?” He held up his book as proof.
“Really?” Unperturbed by his display of anger, the girl began to giggle again. “Well, it must be kinda hard to read – since you’ve got it upside-down!” She reached out a hand to right it, but Jed jerked the book away and slammed it shut before she could touch it.
“Jus’ go away - can’t ya see I’m busy right now? Go bother somebody else!” He flopped back down in the chair and opened the book. “Why can’t things go right for once!” he muttered in frustration.
The smile slipped from Jamie’s face, her bottom lip began to tremble and her eyes clouded over. “Sure - I can tell when I’m not wanted; I don’t care if I never see ya again! Dontcha worry none ’bout me, Jedediah Curry, I won’t bother ya no more - EVER!” She turned and took off running down the hallway, her blonde braids flying behind her like twin kites.
Jed jumped up, the book falling from his lap to hit the floor with a loud thud. “Jamie, wait,” he called after her, “I’m sor -” his voice trailed off as he realized too late that she was already too far away to hear. A feeling of remorse hit him; he hadn’t meant to hurt her. Jamie Thompson was his and Han’s only real friend here at the Home and they trusted her almost as much as they trusted each other; they even had adventures together.
Heck, most of the time it didn’t matter none to him that she was a girl, neither; she was still his friend. He picked up the book and sat down into the chair in defeat. Well, he heaved a deep sigh, at least, she used to be! After he had directed another anxious look up at the clock, he closed his eyes and heaved another deep sigh as he remembered the look on Jamie’s face.
“The list of people I’m gonna owe an apology to is gettin’ longer by the minute!” he groaned.