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"Hey, Wumpy," her voice boomed down the stairs. "Where'd you get this thing?"
My room! What was she doing in my room? I stumbled up the stairs, sloshing lemonade.
Minerva Wimberly was draped across my bed, propped on her long elbows, examining my stuffed owl.
"This is a wicked stuffed owl," she said. "Where'd you get it?"
I was all set to yell at her, but no girl had ever admired my stuffed owl before. I never thought a stuffed owl was the kind of thing a girl would even like. I stood there trying to catch my breath, lemonade dripping down my arm.
"You really like it?"
"Like it? It looks almost alive! Did you stuff it yourself?"
"No, I got it at a garage sale. It's a screech owl." Suddenly, I wanted to show her all my things. "I've got a stuffed mouse, too."
"A stuffed mouse! Where? Show me."
I took the mouse down from the shelf and handed it to Minerva. The mouse was fixed to a small platform, and its paws held a piece of orange plastic that was supposed to look like cheese.
Minerva sat up on the bed, her long legs crossed, an impossible pretzel, turning the mouse to look at it from every angle. "Wicked," she breathed. "Truly wicked."
Before the afternoon was over, I had shown her my rock collection, my beetle collection, my feathers, my tadpoles and snakeskins. We sat on opposite ends of the bed and talked. I completely forgot that I didn't know how to talk to girls.
She asked me a lot of questions, like had I always lived in Mystic and what did I want to do when I grew up? And when I told her I wanted to study birds, she didn't even laugh.
She said she'd just moved here from Texas, that her family moved around a lot because her father had a lot of different jobs, that her mother was a newspaper reporter for The Day, and that, because she was always getting into trouble, she had her own personal psychiatrist.
"I heard a lot about how you got in trouble in school," I said.
"Didn't you ever get in trouble?" she asked.
"Once," I said.
"Just once? What'd you do?"
"I was leaving for school one morning, and I found a dead bird - it was a blue jay - lying next to our front window. So I put it in my lunch box and took it to school. Then, in the middle of the morning all these squeaks started coming out of the box.
"So I opened it, and he flew out and swooped around the room. Mrs. Kotfila started screaming, 'It's a bat!' and ran around the room with her hands over her head."
Minerva laughed a deep, throaty laugh.
"Everybody screamed and ran for the door, except for Vicki Johnson. She just sat in her chair and bawled until she peed her pants."
Minerva fell over on her side, doubled up and gasping. "In her chair?"
"Yeah." I grinned. "Right there in her chair."
Big tears rolled down Minerva's cheeks. "What did they do to you?"
"They sent home a note to my parents. They acted like I did it on purpose."
Minerva sat up. She wiped her eyes and shook her head. "If I had done that, you can bet your life it would have been on purpose!"
We grinned at each other.
"You must have a lot of friends, huh?" she asked suddenly.
I paused. "Not a lot. A few."
"It's hard to make friends when you're moving all the time. If you're from somewhere else, people treat you like you're from another planet," she said. "People," she added, "are stupid."
"I guess I wouldn't know," I said.
"We're going to be friends, aren't we?" she said, and she fixed those moony eyes on me.