As kids banged and bumped into one another in the hall, I was afraid that Gil would fall. I grabbed his arm. He looked, tried to shake me off. But couldn’t. Once he realized I wasn’t going to let go, he relaxed while I half-guided him to his locker and stood there while he opened it.
“Didn’t know I needed a guide dog,” he snapped at me.
He looked at me quickly. Saw my smile. And couldn’t keep his own smile from spreading across his face.
“It’s hard to win with you,” he said.
“I know. It’s one of my most annoying qualities.”
But he was still smiling.
I waited until he had the books he needed, then watched him shuffle off down the hall to first period while I hurried to my own locker. He reached an arm behind him, gave me a weak wave.
In science class that day—the last one before our trip, of course—Mr. Gisborne was full or reminders and warnings. He passed out copies of a seating chart for the bus, and I was relieved to see that Gil and I were seat partners—with Harriet in the seat ahead. Eddie Peacock would not be going on the trip—part of his punishment for “The Goop Incident” at the science fair. His parents, I’d heard, had gone to the School Board to protest, but the Board had supported the school’s decision. And Eddie’s parents promptly pulled Eddie from school and took him to the Bahamas for a month. Great punishment for his goopy behavior. He came back tanned and full of I-don’t care-about-anything. For a few days, whenever he passed me in the hall, he snarled—as if I’d done something wrong. Yes, he snarled, but he never bit. And his snarls didn’t bother me. He was a coward, and I knew it. And he knew it, too.
But there was a surprise on the bus list, too: Mr. Leon was going. Just as I was wondering what that was all about, Mr. Gisborne said, “You’ll notice that we have Mr. Leon along on the trip. He’s a great mechanic, so if anything goes wrong with the bus …”
“Hey,” cried one kid, “we can throw trash in the aisles now! We got the custodian with us!”
Everyone laughed—including Mr. Gisborne. But I didn’t see one thing funny about it.
Father had a talk with me during and after supper that night. I understood. It was the first time he and I had ever been separated like this. “I’m going to worry about you all the time,” he said.
“Be sure to get some good pictures,” he said. “We’ll put some in the paper.”
“And, you know, if you take some notes for me, we can get a good story out of the whole thing, too.”
“Yes, a good story.”
He chewed awhile. Then looked up. “You know, Vickie, I really will miss you.” I looked over at him. “You’re all I have.”
I knew that, and I wanted to say something. But I realized that if I opened my mouth, I would cry. And so I settled for sort of a half-smile. And that would have to do.