“What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded.
His reaction was so unexpected—so totally unexpected—and his scream so high-pitched and, well, girlish—that, in spite of my anger, I started laughing. I heard Mrs. Bishop’s footsteps hurrying our way, and I tried to control my loud laughter, but I just couldn’t. The more I thought about Gil’s startled scream, the more I looked at him—now he was blushing a deep red—and the more I found myself convulsed with laughter.
“Is anything wrong?” Mrs. Bishop asked as she stepped into the room. “I thought I heard a scream.”
“You did, you did!” I choked through my laughs. “There … was … definitely … a scream in here!” And off I went on another round of laughter. I was nearly squealing by the time I began winding down. I slumped into a chair, trying to catch my breath, perspiring now.
Gil, head down, was stuffing things into his backpack, putting on his jacket, rewinding his microfilm. He did not look happy. And I can’t say I blamed him: Who likes being laughed at? Especially by a member of the opposite sex … and in front of an adult.
“I guess everything is all right,” said Mrs. Bishop, a little confused. “It’s just that both of you are such quiet young people … I didn’t really expect to have to hush you two!”
Gil hadn’t said a word, and now he was moving through the doorway, past Mrs. Bishop. And then I remembered what had started all this.
“Wait!” I cried. “Wait a minute, uh …” I’d forgotten his name.
“Gil,” said Mrs. Bishop, smiling.
“Yeah, Gil!” I said. “Wait up!” I trotted after him, passed him, and turned to face him in the foyer of the library. Another few steps and he would have been outside.
“I’m not letting you out,” I declared. I spread my arms out, as if I could keep him there with pure force.
He just stood there and stared at me. And then it was his turn to smile. “You think you could really stop me,” he said, “if I wanted to leave?”
I looked at him. He was a little bigger than I … but not that much. It would have been an interesting struggle. But I figured I’d embarrassed him enough for one night. And so I backed down. “Probably not,” I said. “You could probably run right over me, if you wanted to.”
Gil smiled, revealing the whitest, most perfect teeth I’d ever seen on a human being. “Right over you,” he confirmed. “No problem. Like a runaway buffalo.”
“You don’t look much like a buffalo,” I teased. “And, you know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a buffalo scream. Certainly not in a public library!”
He blushed again, and I found that some part of my brain—some part of my brain that I had not even known was there—was telling me that when he blushed like that, well, it looked kind of … attractive. Firmly telling that part of my brain to shut up, I remained determined to discover why this stranger was looking at a picture of my house, taking notes on my house, on the night of the biggest football game in the history of Franconia, Ohio.
“Look,” I began, “I didn’t mean to startle you—”
“Startle me!” he said with some energy. “You scared the hell out of me!”
And then I laughed again—but not as hysterically as the last time.
“What’s so funny this time?” he asked.
“I’ve never heard anyone swear in the public library.”
“That’s not swearing, he said. “I can do some swearing, if you really want to hear some.”
“I’ll pass on that,” I said. Swearing never bothered me—but I never did it myself, I had lots better ways of saying what I felt.
For a long moment we just looked at each other.
I broke the silence. “Look,” I said, “would you mind if I asked you something?”
“Okay,” he said, “but let’s not stand here in the doorway like this.”
“Yeah, I’m sure there will be a big crowd of people trying to get into the library during the football game. We’re really blocking the entrance. So rude.”
He was moving toward one of the tables in the main room. “You have an ironic sense of humor, don’t you?”
Ironic sense of humor! I’d never heard a classmate use the word ironic before. I wondered if he knew what it meant. He probably did, because he was right about my sense of humor.
He was sitting at one of the tables. “Please sit down,” he said.
“You sound like a receptionist in a dentist’s office,” I complained, sitting.
“That’s what my mother does,” he said.
I smiled. “You’re a bit ironic yourself, aren’t you?” I said.
“Whatever. Now, first of all, what’s your name?”
“I’ve seen you around. In school.”
“And you’re the new kid,” I said.
“Yuk,” I said. “I hate people who say ‘cha-ching.’”
“Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching!”
“You’re starting to annoy me,” I said. “A lot.”
“So what did you want to ask me?”
“Back there, in the microform room?”
“You were looking at a picture of an old house in town?”
“And taking notes about it?”
“Yes. Is there something wrong with that? It’s for my local history project.”
“Well, Gil,” I said, “your local history projects happens to be my house!”
I don’t know why it bothered me so much that someone was studying my house. Maybe I was just annoyed that I hadn’t thought of it myself. I mean, it was one of the oldest houses in town—maybe the oldest. I’d learned over the last few years that a lot of people used to think it was haunted. And the last couple of months there had been lots of interest in the house because of the carpenters and roofers crawling all over it, rebuilding in weeks what the tornado had taken away in seconds. Lots of people would walk up in our driveway—or park right out at the front curb—and stare at it.
But probably what I found most disturbing was that I felt this kid, this Gil, was invading my privacy. Without my permission. And so I told him just that.
“Your privacy,” he replied. “That makes no sense. All I’m doing is sitting here, reading about an old house. What does that have to do with your privacy?”
“It’s my house!” It’s the only response I could come up with. And I felt myself getting angry—very angry, and all at once, too.
“Well, I’m not stealing it, Vickie. I’m not peeping through the windows at you and your parents, I’m not—”
“My mother’s dead!” I shrieked at him.
I ran from the library, out into the dusk.
As I raced for home—my home!—tears streaking down my face, I could hear the music of the marching band, the cheers of the crowd, floating in the soft air of the autumn evening.
But I was so angry I wanted to grab the edge of the sky and rip it away like a page from Gil’s notebook.