Pete and I had always made sure each of us had accumulated enough rocks to bury the other if we one day decided to point our slingshots across the fence. Of course, we never actually did, too busy pretending to ignore each other's existence. This trend continued into high school, until one day Mary Ann McDonald had made it impossible for us to no longer acknowledge the danger posed by that lanky freckled awkward boy who might possibly be the first to find a good pickup line under a rock.
Mary Ann was the new girl in town, having recently moved here from the big city. It was not long after that she started finding wild flower bouquets and fresh caught trout and interesting quartz crystals left on her doorstep. Each gift more extravagant than the other as if her secret admirer were competing with himself, she thought.
When the school dance approached she in vain looked for hints of which of the young men who asked her out was the one. Finding none, she accepted the offer of Dr. Welsh's oldest son, who consequently pranced around like a peacock for a whole month after, lording it over the rest of us. I did not know whether Pete had found the courage to ask her out. I had figured given my stutter, my chances were close to none and thus had decided not to embarrass myself. At least after that one month, it became clear that the peacock's chances were now close to none as well, which helped somewhat, though admittedly not enough.
When Mary Ann caught Pete first handed trying to sneak away from the hedgehog in a shoebox on her doorstep, I saw it happen from behind a nearby tree. I heard her mumble her thanks and him claim it was nothing. I saw him moving from foot to foot as if he really needed to pee. And then the awkward silence during which neither of them knew what to say, or how to wrap up this conversation. Finally, Pete mentioned that his dad was waiting for him. Funny he should think of that excuse given that his old man seemed to never care about his comings and goings, unless he had sent him off to the liquor store. But Mary Ann would not know that, and was clearly relieved to hear the excuse anyway.
Later in the day, I happened to be in the general store, trying to find a replacement lure, since that perch the other day had bitten my old one off, and swum away with it! I was bending down, looking at the bottom shelf, when Mary Ann and Suzy came in, and I decided to stay there, to examine those lures in more detail.
"Gosh, it was so embarrassing. You know in my imagination, I had all those expectations of my secret admirer. Even though I knew he must be a real boy, one of the boys in town. But I couldn't help but daydream about him. And you know, surely no one can blame me for seeing in my mind's eye the most handsome and nicest of boys. Don't get me wrong, Pete is nice. But you know, I could never think of him this way. He is just so plain and boring! Am I awful to say that?" This was followed by Suzy reassuring her that she of course was not awful, that it was totally understandable, that no one could think that way of Pete, and what a foolish boy he was of thinking otherwise. Plus who on earth could possibly think that a hedgehog was a romantic gift: they had quills. Mary Ann defended the hedgehog. It was cute after all. Unlike Pete.
I thought of Pete. Thought how after that awkward exchange over the hedgehog he might think she felt something, after all she had been as awkward as he had, and that had seemed promising at the time. Somebody had to warn him. I had to warn him.
I waited until the girls had left the store, paid for my lure, and headed for the creak. Not to my favorite place though, to Pete's secret place. Wasn't sure how he'd react to my sitting down and casting right there next to him. On second thought, I shouldn't have been surprised by his silence. We sat there for quite a while. Pete caught a fish. A trout. Too small. Plonk. Back into the water she went.
That's when I decided to break the silence. I didn't know where to start, so I just started in the isle with the lures crouching down, "Hmm y-you know. I I was in in the sto-re, when Ma-Mary Ann ca-me in with Su-Suzy." "Was she very cruel?" He zeroed right in. "Ha How did y-you kno-w?" "I saw the look in her eyes when she looked at that hedgehog and at me. And then I saw the look in your eyes just now. Don't pitty me, Jake, girl is not worth it, if she can't appreciate a hedgehog."
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