Chapter 16: The Worst Moment of My Life

I guess I was still lying then. I acted like I was being Minerva's friend because I felt sorry for her. I hadn't told Eddy the truth. Just like I didn't tell him I kept one lock of her hair.

I tied it up with a piece of string and folded it inside one of my bird books, in the section about owls. I couldn't even say why I did it. But whenever I took it out and looked at it, my insides felt like soup.

Minerva snuck me a call and said she hoped I could give her a tour of Mystic. So we planned a bike trip for when we weren't both grounded.

When she came by at the end of the week, I rushed to the door, afraid my mother would send Minerva away.

But my mother beat me there, and I was astonished to see Minerva do a curtsy and say, "Dear Mrs. Frimhaus, I am so honored to make your acquaintance. I am Minerva Wimberly."

Before my mother could say a word, Minerva grabbed her hand and shook it up and down.

"I do wish to apologize for Agnes, my mother," she said. "She was upset when she called you, and she didn't mean what she said."

"Well, yes, I can certainly understand that," my mother said.

"It was all my fault, Mrs. Frimhaus, and I have been heartsore about it. I do hope you won't allow this to drive a wedge between us, for that would mortify me to the very depths of my soul."

It was a strange speech coming from a skinny girl whose hair - now - was as short as a boy's.

I could see my mother searching for an answer. At last she said, "Well, of course it wouldn't be fair ... I guess ... Walter?" She turned abruptly, almost knocking me down.

"Mom," I said, as I brushed past her. "Is it OK if I give Minerva a tour of Mystic?"

"I suppose ... " she began, but just then Eddy's voice boomed across the yard: "Hey, Wump, you ungrounded yet?" I saw him come around the hedge, stop dead and stare.

Eddy's squinty eyes - wider now than I'd ever seen them - were fixed on Minerva. Minerva's moony eyes - strangely narrow now - were fastened on Eddy. His face still bore the faded traces of purple glasses, mustache and goatee.

I heard my mother say, "Walter, I don't believe your friends have met. Why don't you introduce them?"

I heard myself say, "Uh, Eddy, this is Minerva."

Eddy and Minerva glowered like two cats. It was hate at first sight.

"Hello," Minerva said at last. The word was chiseled from a block of ice.

"Yeah," said Eddy, then he looked at me. "I came over to see if you want to finish building our clubhouse."

"That's impossible," Minerva said. "W.'s going to show me around Mystic. Aren't you, W.?"

My insides squirmed.

"Uh, yeah, Eddy," I heard myself stammer. "I'm going to show Minerva around." Then, feeling like a total traitor, I quickly added, "You want to come?"

Eddy opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked at Minerva, then me.

"No thanks." He turned and disappeared around the hedge.

We stared at my empty yard.

"C'mon," I rasped. "Let's go."

I jumped off the porch and leaped on my old blue bike. I was halfway down the driveway when Minerva straddled her own battered bicycle and pedaled after me. I heard my mother calling out, "Be careful!"

Furiously, I rode down River Road, pumping the pedals with all my might, down to where the Mystic River spreads into a wide and muddy tidal flat. I slammed on my brakes and stopped. When Minerva pulled up beside me, I was staring across the river.

"Hey, W., what's the matter?" she said. "You look like you just lost your best friend."

That did it. I crossed my arms on my handlebars, and with a sob I dropped my head.

"I think I just did."

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