Excerpted from Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen Copyright © 2003 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Joey's blood got mixed up in mine the same way mine got mixed up in his. Drop by drop. Pact by pact. And there's times that makes me feel good, but there's times it creeps me out. Reminds me.
Seems like Joey and me were always making pacts. Lots of pacts, leading up to that last one. "Rusty," he'd say to me. "I swear to howdy, if you tell a soul . . ."
"I won't!" I'd tell him. "I swear!" Then he'd put out his fist and we'd go through the ritual, hammering fists and punching knuckles. And after we'd nicked fingers and mixed blood he'd heave a sigh and say, "You're a true friend, Rusty-boy," and that'd be that. Another secret, sealed for life.
Joey's family moved to Lost River two years before we did, so Pickett Lane was his turf, and that was just fine by me. Especially since he was so cool about it the summer we came to live next door. "Russell Cooper?" he'd asked me, and I'd thought, Oh man. Here we go again. Cooper-pooper. Pooper-scooper. I get the same old thing, everywhere I go.
But then he grinned at me the way only Joey Banks could grin, with one side of his face looped way up, and teeth showing everywhere. He nodded. "Rusty. That's what we'll call ya."
"Don't stand there looking at me like a load of bricks, boy. You ain't never gonna survive around here with a name like Russell."
I must have been blinking but good, 'cause he slapped me across the face, whap-whap. Not hard or anything. Just playful-like. Then he waved me along, saying, "C'mon, Rusty. I'll show you around."
He tore down to the river, and I tore right after him. "This here's my hole," he said when we got to a side pool with tree branches hanging over it and rocks nearly clear around. "And nobody else better get caught swimmin' in it." He gave me that loopy grin again. "Nobody but me and you."
I almost said, "Me?" 'cause I couldn't believe my ears. It was the coolest pool I'd ever seen. There was a thick rope for swinging, and the rocks were flat and great for sunning. Not the kind of place that's easy to share. 'Specially with a stranger.
But I bit my tongue and filled my pocket with rocks like he was doing, then scrambled up the tree behind him. And when we were perched nice and steady, he started skipping rocks across the river, saying, "Let's see your arm, Rusty. How far can you hurl?"
Not as far as him, that's for sure. Especially since I had the wobbles, way up in that tree. But I chucked them as good as I could, and every time one plopped in the water, Joey'd say, "Nice one, Rusty! You're gettin' it!" Then he'd chuck one of his own nearly clear to the other shore.
When we were out of rocks, he started snapping off sticks. "Here, Rusty. Do like this," he told me, peeling leaves off. "Then shoot it in like . . ." He let it fly like a dart. "Watch it now . . . crappies pop up and snag 'em sometimes."
"Crappies do? You get 'em out here?"
He laughed. "Yep. Dad says they're lost, and I don't doubt it. Dumbest fish known to man. You can catch 'em with your thumb--if you got the nerve."
"You done that?" I asked him.
Snap went another twig, and he shot it in. "More'n once." He eyed me. "Hurts like hell." We watched the twig land and sail downstream. "They're good eatin', though. Man, they're tasty."
But the crappies weren't biting. Not at twigs, anyway. So after a spell Joey said, "Up for a swim, Rusty?"
"Now?" It was getting dark. Cooling off quick.
"Any time's good," he laughed. "Water's always just right."
He yanked off his shirt and his shoes and flung them down to shore. Then came the socks, fling, fling. And with a little scoot forward he grabbed the rope and said, "It's a blast, Rust, trust me."
"You goin' in like that?" I asked, looking at his jeans.
"I ain't gonna drown, if that's what you're worried about." He pulled up the rope, then backed along his branch, getting ready. "And I ain't gettin' down to my skivvies in front of you." He pushed off and swung out over the water, hollerin', "We only just met!"
Mama and Dad were none too pleased to see me soaked to the gills when I got home. And Sissy told me I looked like a drowned muskrat, then went back to painting her toes. But I ate like a horse and yapped like a terrier through supper, and everyone was surprised 'cause Mama claims I'm given to "quiet brooding."
So the next day, they let me go again. And the next, too. And the day after that. And before long Joey and me were swinging doubles and bombing each other in the pool, wearing nothing but skivvies and big fat grins.
We'd catch frogs and launch them into the river, too. Joey'd call, "Come 'n' get it!" to the crappies, but pretty much the frogs would just swim for a bit with their legs all sprawled, then go under on their own. And maybe it doesn't seem too exciting, doing this stuff day after day, but I had more fun in that single summer than I'd had in my entire life combined.
From the Hardcover edition.