This Monday, my last week of sixth grade, I was walking up the front steps of Stockton Elementary School and there was Trout. I was sure it was Trout. It had to be and my heart flipped over. He was standing at the top of the steps in front of the double green doors, looking around for me like he used to do every morning of the fifth grade. And my heart flipped over.
"So what's up?" he used to ask.
"Not much," I'd reply.
Then he'd throw his long arm around my shoulder and we'd go in the front door of school.
"Today I was thinking of pulling the fire alarm during sixth-grade lunch," he'd say. "Whaddya think?"
"Bad idea," I'd probably say, but I'd be laughing. I was happy almost every day that Trout was at Stockton Elementary, from the time he came until the end of fifth grade, and then I had to go to sixth grade without him.
I walked up to the top of the steps, hoping and hoping that I was right, but as I got closer to the boy I thought was Trout, I knew with a sinking feeling that it wasn't him at all. Just Billy Blister, who is as tall as Trout with soft blond hair, but with pimples and pink cheeks and no chin. And he is boring. Trout was never boring.
Long before Trout ever came to Stockton Elementary in Stockton, New Jersey, I'd been in trouble at school. I used to think I was an "amazing boy," like my mom said. "More or less perfect," my dad told his friends. I'd spend the days in play groups or at the petting zoo with my sister, Meg, or playing games at the park with my dad or at the circus with my mom or just hanging out kicking a ball on the blacktop behind our apartment, sometimes all by myself. And then I went to school.
I've hated school ever since first grade, when Ms. Percival got me sent home on Halloween for stuffing Mary Sue Briggs's purple teddy bear into the lower-school toilet. The toilet is located just outside the first-grade classroom because six-year-olds sometimes forget they have to pee until the last minute. The door to the toilet is usually kept closed, but on that day it happened to be open while I was pushing the bear headfirst down that long tunnel, and most of the class, including Mary Sue, were standing around the hall watching me. So it wasn't exactly a secret.
But Halloween, of all days in the year. I will never forgive Ms. Percival for that. I had my Lion King costume in my cubby to wear to the parade on the blacktop behind the school just after lunch.
Then I forgot it when the principal sent me home, and the school was locked by the time I remembered, so I had to wear my regular jeans and a black mask to go trick-or-treating.
Mary Sue Briggs deserved a wet teddy bear. Even now, five years later and in the sixth grade, I'd do the same thing again. Except now it wouldn't make any difference to Mary Sue. She doesn't have teddy bears any longer, only purple lipstick and plastic bracelets and rings with colored stones she wears on all her fingers. But she still has the same mean character she had when she was six.
"Character" is a word my father uses. I'm not exactly sure what it means. He refers to my character as "good," even though I have spent five years in nonstop trouble at school. He thinks that Mary Sue Briggs, who happens to be the best student in my class and a teacher's pet as well, is a girl of "questionable character."
"I don't get what you mean," I said, although I certainly agreed with anything bad he had to say about Mary Sue. "Everybody thinks she's perfect."
"Who is everybody?" he asked.
"The teachers like her. I mean, she plays up to them."
"Exactly," my father said.
"So is character about good guys and bad guys?" I asked.
"Sometimes the guys who are considered bad, especially at school, are actually kids of real character and the good guys like Mary Sue can't be trusted. It's worth thinking about," my father said.
He's always telling me something is worth thinking about, like I have all the time in the world to lie around my room thinking about character.
The thing I haven't told you is that I have a lisp. I've always had a lisp since I started to talk. When I was very little, like two and three and four, before I went to school, my parents and especially my sister, Meg, thought a lisp was cute.
"Say 'sweetheart,' " Meg would say to me.
I'd say "thweetheart" and Meg would laugh and call my mother, and I'd do it again and my mother would laugh, and then at dinner I'd say "thweetheart" to my father and he would laugh too. So I thought I was good at speaking and especially funny.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Trout and Me by Susan Shreve. Copyright © 2002 by Susan Shreve. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.