I mumbled something about trying harder, while Mr Brunner took one long sad look at the stele, like he’d been at this girl’s funeral.
He told me to go outside and eat my lunch.
The class gathered on the front steps of the museum, where we could watch the foot traffic along Fifth Avenue.
Overhead, a huge storm was brewing, with clouds blacker than I’d ever seen over the city. I figured maybe it was global warming or something, because the weather all across New York state had been weird since Christmas. We’d had massive snow storms, flooding, wildfires from lightning strikes. I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was a hurricane blowing in.
Nobody else seemed to notice. Some of the guys were pelting pigeons with Lunchables crackers. Nancy Bobofit was trying to pickpocket something from a lady’s bag, and, of course, Mrs Dodds wasn’t seeing a thing.
Grover and I sat on the edge of the fountain, away from the others. We thought that maybe if we did that, everybody wouldn’t know we were from that school – the school for loser freaks who couldn’t make it elsewhere.
‘Detention?’ Grover asked.
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘Not from Brunner. I just wish he’d lay off me sometimes. I mean – I’m not a genius.’
Grover didn’t say anything for a while. Then, when I thought he was going to give me some deep philosophical comment to make me feel better, he said, ‘Can I have your apple?’
I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I let him take it.
I watched the stream of cabs going down Fifth Avenue, and thought about my mom’s apartment, only a little ways uptown from where we sat. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas. I wanted so bad to jump in a taxi and head home. She’d hug me and be glad to see me, but she’d be disappointed, too. She’d send me right back to Yancy, remind me that I had to try harder, even if this was my sixth school in six years and I was probably going to be kicked out again. I wouldn’t be able to stand that sad look she’d give me.
Mr Brunner parked his wheelchair at the base of the handicapped ramp. He ate celery while he read a paperback novel. A red umbrella stuck up from the back of his chair, making it look like a motorized café table.
I was about to unwrap my sandwich when Nancy Bobofit appeared in front of me with her ugly friends – I guess she’d gotten tired of stealing from the tourists – and dumped her half-eaten lunch in Grover’s lap.
‘Oops.’ She grinned at me with her crooked teeth. Her freckles were orange, as if somebody had spray-painted her face with liquid Cheetos.
I tried to stay cool. The school counsellor had told me a million times, ‘Count to ten, get control of your temper.’ But I was so mad my mind went blank. A wave roared in my ears.
I don’t remember touching her, but the next thing I knew, Nancy was sitting on her butt in the fountain, screaming, ‘Percy pushed me!’
Mrs Dodds materialized next to us.
Some of the kids were whispering: ‘Did you see –’
‘– the water –’
‘– like it grabbed her –’
I didn’t know what they were talking about. All I knew was that I was in trouble again.
As soon as Mrs Dodds was sure poor little Nancy was okay, promising to get her a new shirt at the museum gift shop, etc., etc., Mrs Dodds turned on me. There was a triumphant fire in her eyes, as if I’d done something she’d been waiting for all semester. ‘Now, honey –’
‘I know,’ I grumbled. ‘A month erasing textbooks.’
That wasn’t the right thing to say.
‘Come with me,’ Mrs Dodds said.
‘Wait!’ Grover yelped. ‘It was me. I pushed her.’
I stared at him, stunned. I couldn’t believe he was trying to cover for me. Mrs Dodds scared Grover to death.
She glared at him so hard his whiskery chin trembled.
‘I don’t think so, Mr Underwood,’ she said.
‘You – will– stay – here.’
Grover looked at me desperately.
‘It’s okay, man,’ I told him. ‘Thanks for trying.’
‘Honey,’ Mrs Dodds barked at me. ‘Now.’
Nancy Bobofit smirked.
I gave her my deluxe I’ll-kill-you-later stare. I then turned to face Mrs Dodds, but she wasn’t there. She was standing at the museum entrance, way at the top of the steps, gesturing impatiently at me to come on.
How’d she get there so fast?
I have moments like that a lot, when my brain falls asleep or something, and the next thing I know I’ve missed something, as if a puzzle piece fell out of the universe and left me staring at the blank place behind it. The school counsellor told me this was part of the ADHD, my brain misinterpreting things.