Gil and I had worked hard on our project—and I’d been working especially hard to make sure that we were on that bus, to make sure that Gil would get to see Niagara Falls before … I didn't even want to write the words. Putting those … words (words—too nice a name for the horror it conveys) … on paper somehow made Gil’s mortality far too real. And I didn't want it to be real.
One day while Gil was at my house after school, we were doing the daily photographs of the items we’d left to sour in my refrigerator. I was putting my digital camera on a tripod so that the image would be perfectly still and stable when I felt rather than heard Gil’s silence. I looked up at him.
He was staring at me. I stared back. And in the river of emotion that flowed between us I could see, floating on the surface, the certain knowledge that Gil knew. I thought I’d been so clever—so careful—not to reveal myself, but I’d failed. I was certain of it.
He finally spoke. “You’re not an unattractive girl,” he said.
“You’re not ugly either,” I said.
“And,” Gil said, “you’ve been … nicer … to me lately.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t intend to be.” This, of course, was true. “I’ll try to be meaner in the future.”
“That’s nice,” said Gil. “Otherwise, I’ll thinking something’s wrong.”
Nothing’s wrong, I thought. Nothing. Is. Wrong.
When I got to our display area (one of the classrooms), I saw Gil wasn’t there yet. And I wasn’t surprised. During the afternoon he’d seemed very tired, standing all that time by our project, explaining to the judges what we’d done (we took turns), answering questions. I’d found a chair for him, but it didn’t seem to help all that much. By the end of the day he was very pale; beads of sweat had formed on his upper lip; his eyes were colorless.
Harriet’s table was right next to us. She had let Eddie Peacock do the explanation of their project, and she had answered the all the judges’ questions. “That’s the only way,” she’d whispered to me. “He doesn’t understand a thing about what we’ve done, but he can memorize his lines!”
Their project was quite interesting—and I’m going to take a little credit for it, too. The night after Harriet had been so excited about their idea for a project (an idea, remember, she’d discussed with me earlier that day), she’d called me at home.
“I decided I don’t want to do a solar hot-dog cooker.”
“Why don’t you?” I asked.
“It’s not gross enough,” she said.
“I mean,” she went on, “the best thing about science is when it’s gross, right?”
I couldn’t disagree.
“The dissections, the skeletons, the smells, the goo—I mean,” she said, “without all of that, I would just go to sleep in Gisborne’s class.”
“You do go to sleep in his class.”
“Well, I’d sleep longer,” she said.
“So,” she said, “any gross ideas for me?”
I had a few … hundred. But I gave her one.
“I love it!” she said.
“And I love you, too, Vickie.” And she hung up before I could reply.