A little boy, smaller than me, stood in our living room holding some adults hand. I was happy it wasnt the new kid. My dad stood right next to them.
"Hi, Dad," I said.
My dad was a very tall man. He had thick shoulders and shaggy brown hair just like me. Mum said we looked like twins, but she must not have noticed that Dad was much bigger.
"I want you to meet somebody," Dad said. He walked to where they were standing.
"This is Mr. Gullo." He patted the man on his back. "He works with me. And this is his son, Alex."
"Hi," I said.
Alex grinned and waved his hand.
Dad said, "I thought you two might play together."
"Okay, Dad," I said.
I really didnt like Mum and Dad finding friends for me. The kids they got were never any good. Some were too mean and some just didnt like to play anything fun. None of them were anything like Hali. But I knew Mum and Dad really wanted me to find someone to play with. Michael had already made a new friend. He had hit it off right away with this tall, hairy kid from one of the top floor apartments. So I decided to give Alex a chance and I led him to my room.
Right away, though, I noticed there was something strange about him. He wouldnt stop grinning at me.
He sat on my floor with his legs crossed. Really, I had never seen such a thin kid. His face was covered with freckles and he had orange hair, like a pumpkin.
"Lets play Flick," he shouted.
I didnt care what we played. I just wanted him to stop grinning.
I wasnt sure what "Flick" was, but I thought it might be like paper football. Thats where you take turns flicking a folded piece of paper at another kids head.
"Ill get some paper," I said.
"We dont need paper," Alex said.
"What?" I didnt get this kid. "How can you play Flick without paper?"
His grin got even bigger. I didnt think that was possible.
"Ill show you." He hopped on my bed.
"Sit there," he said and pointed to the mattress just opposite him.
I sat down, but I was a little worried. I definitely didnt like the look on his face.
"Its called Flick War," he said. "Heres what you do."
He suddenly stuck his finger right up his nose. He dug around for a second and then yanked out a booger.
Before I could think, he rolled the little snot between two of his fingers and flicked it. It smacked me right on the nose.
"Score!" Alex shouted. "Thats one for me." He laughed. "Now your turn. Whoever runs out of ammo first loses."
I couldnt think of what to say. But I knew this was the stupidest game Id ever seen.
"What are you doing?" I asked. I felt my nostrils get hot, like I was about to breathe fire.
"Dont do that."
"Its the game," Alex said. "Me and Dad play this all the time." I didnt believe that for one second. No ones dad flicks boogers.
"Im warning you," I said. "Dont do that anymore."
But Alex just grinned. "Everythings fair in Flick War," he said. Then he started digging around for another booger.
I was not about to let him throw another snot off my nose. So before I even had time to think, my hands flew out and I shoved him. It was supposed to be a little push, just so hed get the message.
But Alex was very thin and I guess I hadnt figured on that, because he went flying. It was like a hurricane had swept him across my room. He hit my floor, tumbled over once or twice and stopped against my desk chair.
He jumped up fast and he wasnt smiling anymore. He was sniffling. The little snot that hed been digging around for was still stuck to the end of his finger.
"Whyd you do that?" he said. But before I could answer, he burst into tears and ran out of my room.
I guess I let my temper get the best of me. I should have thought of another way to stop Alex from flicking a booger off my nose. But thinking was not usually my best thing. I had always left the thinking to Hali. Now that she wasnt around, I was stuck thinking for myself.
I jumped down from the bed and ran into the living room. Mum and Dad were sitting on the couch and Mr. Gullo was in the chair. Alex was crying, resting his head on his fathers shoulder.
"What happened?" Dad asked. "Why is Alex crying?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I dont know." It was a small lie, but I figured I really didnt know why he was crying. I didnt think a small shove should make a kid cry.
"HE BEAT ME UP!" Alex wailed through his tears.
Michael started to giggle the way he does when he knows Im about to get grounded.
"I just pushed him a little," I said. Someone had to defend me. "Plus, he kind of deserved it."
"Kind of?" Dad looked very stern. His eyebrows were so scrunched that it looked like they were getting ready to crawl right off his face. "Why did you shove Alex?" he asked.
"I dont know," I said. I didnt want to tell them Alex flicked a booger off my nose.
"Thats not much of a reason," Mum said which was one of her favorite things to say.
I looked around the room. They were all staring at me. And Michael was smirking the way he always did when I got embarrassed.
"Shut up, Michael," I said.
"I didnt say anything," Michael answered and he smirked again.
"Ill give you one last chance," Dad said, "and then Im afraid youll have to go to your room." Alex was still sniffling. Geesh, you would think I clobbered the kid.
"Why cant you play nice?" Michael whispered.
That was all I could take. They were looking at me like I was crazy. I had to say something.
"He flicked a booger at me!" I yelled. I felt tears come up in my throat, but I pushed them down. I wasnt going to cry in front of my brother. Everyone got real quiet, like adults do when they dont know what to say. It was just like the time I threw-up on Dads pants.
No one looked at anyone else until Mr. Gullo turned to his son and said, "Thats okay, Alex. There, there." The kid was still crying and Mr. Gullo didnt seem to care that Alex had shot a booger at me.
"Its getting late anyway," he said.
Just like that, Mr. Gullo got up and carried Alex to the door. He shook Dads hand and nodded seriously, like they were agreeing to a plan for world peace. Then he carried Alex away. And believe me, I wasnt sad at all. Id rather spend the rest of my life writing e-mails to Hali than have to spend five more minutes with Alex.
I watched through the window as Mr. Gullo put Alex in the car and then walked around to the other side of the car. Just before he got in I could swear I saw him pick his own nose! No wonder! Poor Alex was probably telling the truth. His father did play Flick War with him.
At least the rain had stopped.
Dad said, "Well talk about this later, young man."
But he didnt send me to my room. So I grabbed my bike from the hall outside our apartment and ran down the stairs for a quick ride. I wanted to forget about stupid Alex.
I flew down the hill. I thought about the new kid, but I knew I didnt have time to dig up the hole. Dinner would be very soon. The wind buzzed by my ears and I couldnt hear a thing. The woods rushed by so fast, they looked like one of Halis sloppy green and brown paintings.
After a few minutes Michael called me in for dinner. While I was carrying my bike up the stairs, puffing all the way, Michael said I ruined my only chance for making a new friend in Massachusetts.
"And you embarrassed Mum and Dad," he said. I didnt think it was true and besides, I had more important things to think about. I still didnt know what was buried in the box at the end of the street.
At dinner Mum and Dad were still mad at me for shoving Alex.
"I understand what he did was wrong," Dad said. "But what you did was wrong too."
Dad liked to explain things that way, like he was a Supreme Court Judge. "Pushing people is wrong."
"Im sorry, Dad." That was a definite lie. I wasnt sorry, but I knew there was no point in telling Dad that.
"Thats fine," he said. "Your mother and I have discussed it and decided not to punish you. But if you mess up again, therell be no bike riding for a week."
No bike for a week? All because I gave a little shove to a booger flicker? That didnt seem fair. I felt my face get red hot and I wanted to tell Dad that Alex really deserved a good shove. But this time I controlled my temper and didnt say anything. Bike riding was too important.
"Did he really flick...?" Mums voice trailed off. "You know." Mum had small brown eyes.
When she was about to laugh, they practically shut. So I knew she was trying to hold back a big laugh because her eyes had closed to tiny slits. I could hardly see her eyeballs!
"Sure did flick..." I said. I let my voice trail off just like Mums.
Mum and Dad couldnt hold it in. They burst out laughing. I was glad. When they werent looking I stuck my tongue out at Michael.
Then I said, "I cant wait to see whats buried outside."
"What do you mean?" Dad asked in between chuckles. And I told him all about the strange new boy and the hole and the shoe-box.
"I think it might be some stolen report cards or something."
Michael interrupted. "I thought you said you saw a bunch of little monsters. Hah! Its probably some secret agent reports." He got that look on his face, like he was king of the world and I was his pet frog.
"I doubt its that," I said. "Its not a little monster either."
"I told you so," Michael said, grinning.
"I was just kidding about the monsters," I said. "Theres no such thing."
"Youll never find out whats down there. Youre too chicken."
"Yeah? I will so find out. Tomorrow I will. Youll see. Ill show you, for sure."
"Eat your peas," Mum said.
I ate my peas, but imagined myself digging up the box at the bottom of the hill. I would show Michael I wasnt afraid.
Before bed I took one last look out the window. There wasnt a cloud in the sky and I knew it would be safe to take my bike out the next day. A streetlight was shining at the end of the street and I could just barely see the little mound of dirt. Tomorrow would be the day. I would find out what was in that box, once and for all.
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