Before reading this, please go to chapter one: here.
On the 26th of August, 1956, I awake from a dream of chasing Judy Forneau through a forest, a slow-motion chase in which I shoot arrows, arrows made of putty which travel through the air as if underwater. On the 26th of August, I awake to find white stuff on my hands, my shorts, the sheets, and I sit up and push down my soggy underpants, I've got them half off––when Clarence walks in, he walks straight into my room, unannounced. Mom's told him to wake me for breakfast and there I am: underpants around my knees, white stuff dripping from my hands. I look up, he looks down, he mumbles something about oatmeal, then turns and quickly leaves, shutting my door behind him.
Clarence is going to hate me.
* * *
There are just seven days before Clarence returns to school and all that week, though he tries to hide it, he no longer treats me like he has before. He no longer has time for me and there can only be one reason. I’d like to apologize, promise never to let it happen again, I'm embarrassed and ashamed, I know he thinks I'm a sinner; and suddenly it's the day before he leaves and I have to do something. But I can’t just walk into his room and start talking; that's how we got into this mess. I need to do something else.
So I gather my notebooks and to make it impossible to choose the one I like least, I close my eyes, shuffle them around and pick without peeking: One-Hundred Mazes (thirty-nine completed). I take it down to my cave, gather sticks, and build a small fire. Then I tear out the pages, one by one, and throw them into the flames. When the fire burns down, I climb the hill, being careful to think no impure thoughts, and I’m about to go up to Clarence's room, when his friend Albert knocks on the front door.
“Is your brother here? I’m supposed to help him pack.” I point up the stairs and he cuffs me on the neck as he passes.
I must have done something wrong, otherwise things would have gone right.
So I sit on the top step, around the corner and out of sight, and try to think positive. I sit, waiting for Albert to leave, but hours pass, they pack, talk, smoke, play records––and then I hear something I shouldn’t.
“I can’t stand him,” Clarence is saying. “That’s another good thing about Harvard: close enough for a funeral but too far for anyone to simply ‘drop in.' After graduation I intend to move even further, Rhode Island, say, or Maine, as far as I can get.”
Clarence is talking about Dad.
And for once I’m feeling sorry for my father––when Clarence comes walking through his door on the way to the bathroom and discovers me sitting there.
“Are you eaves-dropping?”
I start to defend myself but he points to his watch and barks, “Aren’t you supposed to be delivering the papers?”
* * *
Delivering my route, I can think of nothing but how Clarence hates Dad and wondering if when I’m absent he tells Albert he hates me, too. Or did he like me before but hates me now because of the thing that happened? He’s never said anything outright, but who in our family ever does? Yet, I need Clarence to like me so I’ve got to try again. But by time I arrive home, Clarence and Dad have left for dinner.
"Only the big guys, tonight,” Mom explains, hoping I’ll understand.
I try not to fall asleep until they return but wake in the morning with the same mess in my pants and by time I clean up, they're already down at breakfast. I run down to find them eating Grape-Nuts and I pour myself a bowl. I want to make up with Clarence, but everyone’s talking, there’s no privacy, and when I eat Grape-Nuts I make so much noise I sound like a pig. Of course, Clarence doesn’t have that problem.
“I wish I could eat as quietly as you,” I say, to Clarence.
“What kind of smart-Aleck remark is that?” my dad asks.
“I wasn’t being a smart-Aleck. I meant it. When I eat Gra...”
Dad stops me. “Perhaps you’d better go to your room.”
But Mom interrupts, “I don’t think Michael was being mean-spirited. I think he was being sincere and meant it as a compliment. So could we just drop it?”
I sit there trying to figure out how to make-up with Clarence before he leaves, to get him to forgive me without letting on that I know he hates Dad––but Dad won’t let me get in a word edgewise. I want to yell, “Clarence doesn’t like you!”
And suddenly my chances are gone: bags locked, car loaded, and Clarence and Dad have disappeared down the driveway.
I go to my room, lie on my bed––not crying, but pretty close. About noon Howard asks me to help him wash the car. Since he got his Learner’s Permit, it’s gotta be clean and shiny all the time. I trudge outside. “Vacuum the interior,” he commands. I pull out the cushions, pocketing the coins, but it's while I’m cleaning the glove compartment my mood finally improves. In it I find the Phillips Exeter Academy Scholarship Application. I look it over: three pages, not complicated, with a test to take in December.
And it’s like it’s predestined I find it today: tf I win the scholarship, Clarence will have to forgive me.