What a sensitive kid, I thought, looking at the phone now moaning its dial tone. Bruises more easily than a piece of soft fruit. As I sat there, thinking, it rang again, startling me so much I nearly fell over onto the floor.
“Stone’s residence. Victoria speaking,” I said, just as Father had taught me to do.
“Gee, that’s impressive,” said Gil. “You’re really well-trained.”
“Thank you, Underwear Freak,” I snapped.
Gil hung up again.
This time I remembered something: The handout that Mr. Gisborne had given us had two things on it I really needed to know: Gil’s last name and Gil’s phone number. (Even later I remembered I could have just hit *69. I guess I was just too nervous?)
I found my backpack, dug through my science folder, and found it:
Gil Bysshe. The name startled me.[i] But there was his phone number, too.
I returned to the phone and punched in his number.
“Yes?” It was Gil.
“Is this where Hazelnut lives?” I asked.
“And don’t hang up!” I warned. “I’ve got your number now, and I’ll just call you back.”
“Okay,” said Gil in a small voice.
“I promise I won’t say anything more about underwear.”
“That would be nice.”
“You’re a weird kid,” I laughed.
“You should talk.”
I laughed again.
“So do you think Gisborne put the two weird kids together for this science fair project?” he asked.
“I’m not so sure about that,” I said.
“Because,” I explained, “that would mean that Gisborne actually thought about his schoolwork. I’m not sure he really does that.”
“I see your point,” said Gil.
“Gil, do you pronounce your last name like ‘bish’?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “It rhymes with ‘fish.’”
“Hazelnut Fish,” I said. “That’s quite a name.”
“Thank you,” said Gil. He started laughing so hard that he ended up with some kind of coughing fit.
When he quieted down, I asked him: “Do you know how famous your last name is?”
“Sure,” he said. “Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poet. His wife, Mary, wrote Frankenstein.”
“I’m impressed,” I said. And I was.
“Are you related?” I asked.
“My father doesn’t know,” he said. “But we probably are. I mean, it’s a pretty unusual name, don’t you think?”
“Very unusual.” And at that point, I decided to change the subject. After all, I still had not told anyone—not even Harriet—that my father’s family name was Frankenstein. He’d changed it to Stone for obvious reasons. I’d discovered it after the tornado the previous spring when the storm’s damage to our house had revealed a storage area in our basement, a place where Dad had hidden all the papers about our family history.
“Why did you call me?”
“Oh, yeah. I just, you know, wondered what happened in Mr. Tooke’s office the other day.”
Gil had been absent a couple of days, and I hadn’t seen him at all since Mr. Gisborne had sent us to the office.
“Not much. He called me a ‘fresh mouth.’”
“Where did he ever get that idea?” asked Gil with fake innocence.
“I don’t know,” I said, playing along. “It’s a real mystery, isn’t it?”
“So what happened?”
“Oh, he just entered me in his database”—I decided not to say anything to Gil about deleting the entry; I wasn’t sure how much I trusted him yet—“and predicted I’d be back.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Gil. “You’re not that type. I’ll bet you never get sent to the office again.”
“Thank you.” There was a moment of silence. “And what about you, Gil? What did Mr. Tooke do to you?”
“Nothing, really. By the time I got out of the nurse’s office, he was talking to some other kids, and he just sort of gave me a warning.”
“He didn’t put you in the computer?”
“Oh, yeah, he did that. But it’s no big deal, really.”
“And what did the nurse want with you?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Gil. “Just wanted to make sure I was all right. After I fainted and everything.”
“I thought just girls fainted,” I said.
“That’s right,” said Gil. “Girls and guys named Hazelnut Fish.”
We laughed and talked a little more, and then we finally hung up. It was getting toward dinner time, and I had to make something so Father wouldn’t starve. Now that Aunt Claire was gone, I had taken over the kitchen duties. She had taught me a lot about cooking, Aunt Claire. But in so many other ways she was a total mystery. The last I knew she had swirled up into that funnel cloud—and had seemed to enjoy it.
When I put the phone down and turned around, I saw Father leaning in the doorway, staring at me. He had a strange look on his face.
For some reason, I felt myself blushing.
“Vickie?” he said. “That wasn’t Harriet, was it?”
“No,” I replied. “Not Harriet.”
I started to move through the doorway. “Well,” he asked, “who was it then?”
“A kid from school.”
“A kid? Boy or girl?”
“Yes.” For some reason, I was really embarrassed, and I didn’t want to talk about this.
“Do I know him?”
“Probably not. He’s new. We have to work together on a science fair project.” I looked at my father. “The teacher, Mr. Gisborne, assigned us to work together. That’s all.”
“Hmm,” said Father. “You didn’t sound as if you were talking about a science fair project.”
“Father!” I exclaimed with mock surprise. “Were you listening in on us?”
My father blushed. “Oh, uh, not really. It’s just that I, you know—”
I finished the sentence for him: “—listened to your daughter’s private phone conversation.”
“I guess I did,” he admitted.
“And you’re ashamed, aren’t you, Father?”
He just looked at me. “Look, Vickie, I was wrong. I admit it. But don’t try to make me feel too guilty. Adults aren’t good at that, feeling guilty.”
“So I’ve noticed.”