Youre a nut is what you are, said Jim.
The Head Nut, Dennis Deane said. Twice as much for a nickel. Try me just once and youll know why.
The bus grumbled to a stop at the bottom of the steps. The doors swung open and the students from Lynns Mountain climbed off and curled around the front of the bus. In the distance the train announced itself at the state highway crossing with a long blast from its whistle. Jim wondered about the train because it was not one that was regularly scheduled. Like everyone else who lived in Aliceville, Jim knew the timetables of the trains and noted when they passed, even in his sleep.
Prove it, Larry said. What you said about women. He jerked his head toward the bus. How about one of these mountain girls?
How about her? Buster said, nodding at a freshman girl with green, shrewd-looking eyes who came around the front of the bus with her books clutched closely to her chest. A pack of third- and fourth-grade boys chattered by her and up the steps into the building. The girl did not look at the seniors on the landing, but Jim could tell she knew they were there.
Dennis Deane squinted again. Who is it? he asked. Whats her name?
Ellie, Buster said. Ellie something.
Okay, Dennis Deane said. Ellie something. Watch and learn, boys.
When the girl reached the landing, Dennis Deane said, Hey, Ellie Something. When she looked up, he closed his eyes and contorted his face into an enormous pucker. Kiss me, he said.
Jim winced when he saw the stricken look on Ellies face and stepped out of the way to aid her escape. She jerked open one of the doors and ran inside.
You shouldnt have done that, Dennis Deane, he said, although, despite his better judgment, he laughed along with everybody else.
I knew it wouldnt work, Buster said.
Of course it worked, said Dennis Deane. Ellie Something is now in love with me, although, bless her little heart, she would never, ever admit it. Shes just too shy.
Otis Shehan and Horace Gentine climbed the steps and joined the group. The mountain boys were also seniors. Howdy, men, Horace said. Hows it hanging?
Try it on her, Larry said, nodding toward Christine Steppe.
No, dont, Jim thought, but he didnt say anything. As far as Jim was concerned, watching Chrissie Steppe climb the stairway was the best part of the day. And because this information seemed valuable to him in some way he could not name, he had never told the other guys.
Try what on her? Otis asked. I wouldnt try anything on her. Thats Bucky Bucklaws girl.
I dont care if its Franklin D. Roosevelts girl, Dennis Deane said. Hey. Chrissie Steppe. Kiss me. He squeezed his eyes shut and puckered up.
Chrissie stopped and her large, dark eyes blinked slowly as she considered Dennis Deane. Her black hair reached almost to her waist. She shifted her books to her left arm.
Jim noticed that her right hand was balled into a dangerous-looking fist. Hey, whoa, he said, stepping in front of her. Dont hit him.
Dennis Deane flinched. Hit me? he said, without opening his eyes. Is somebody about to hit me?
Chrissies shoulders rose and fell with her breathing. Im about to beat you all over this schoolyard, you little worm, she said. I will not be talked to that way.
Dennis Deane covered his head with his arms and whimpered, Dont hurt me, you big, strong, she-girl.
Excerpted from The Blue Star by Tony Earley. Copyright © 2008 by Tony Earley. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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