The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (9 page)

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
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Mr. Atapattu had stuck a new handwritten sign under Karen’s. This one said

Sometimes I truly hate living in this building.


Questions I would like to ask Jesse:

1) Why did you do it, you dick?

2) Did you ever stop to think about what it would do to the rest of us?

3) Where did you put the Settlers of Catan game, because none of us can find it anywhere?

4) Why did you do it, you dick?

, F

Trying to tell Farley “no” is like trying to tell a brand-new puppy not to pee in the house: Impossible. The moment he saw me in Math, he made a beeline for me, sliding into the desk next to mine.

you are! I’ve been looking for you all day!”

And I’ve been avoiding you all day!
I wanted to say.

“So? Did you talk to your dad?”

“No,” I told him.

His face dropped. “Why not?”

I took a deep breath. “It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

So I told Farley a portion of the truth, to get him off my back. “We don’t have any money. My dad can barely afford to pay our rent these days, and my mom isn’t working.… ”

Farley studied me with his big magnified eyes. “Where is your mom, anyway?”

“Excuse me?”

“She’s not living with you.”

“Who told you that?”

“No one. I just noticed. There was no girl stuff at your place.”

“You were snooping?”

“No. It was simple observation. Only men’s shoes, no makeup in the bathroom, that sort of thing.”

The tips of my ears felt hot. “This is so not your business,” I said to him, just as Ms. Wrightson entered the room.

“I didn’t say it to make you mad,” Farley said. “And, anyway, it’s no big deal. Did you know that thirty-eight percent of marriages end in divorce before their thirtieth year? I learned that doing a project in Socials –”

“My parents aren’t divorced!” I said, more loudly than I meant to. A few kids looked in our direction.

“Farley and Henry, eyes to the front and mouths shut,” Ms. Wrightson said in her dreary monotone. “Fasten your seatbelts, kids, because today we enter the exciting world of trigonometry.”

Farley tried to get my attention all through class – staring at me, clearing his throat, even poking me in the arm with his compass once. But I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I just followed Ms. Wrightson’s instructions and kept my mouth shut.

The moment Math was over, I jumped up and headed for the door, but Farley was right on my heels.

“Where are you going? We have to meet in the foyer.”

“What for?”

“Duh, our Reach For The Top game!”

I’d totally forgotten. Five minutes later, Mr. Jankovich was herding all of us to the bus stop. We piled on to the number 99. Thankfully Jerome started to quiz Farley, so he stopped bugging me about the GWF.

We played against Borden Secondary on the east side. And guess what: We won!! The other team was really good, especially this girl named Phoebe, who must’ve scored over half of their points. But their weakness was Canadian History. Lucky for us, Jerome is a Canadian History buff (who knew such a person existed). In the final round, we got a “Point Team Question.” This means, the team that
answers the
ten-point question correctly gets dibs on answering the next
questions, and since all of the questions were about Sir Wilfrid Laurier, one of Canada’s prime ministers in the Dark Ages, Jerome nailed them. We edged out Borden by twenty points.

Everyone was in a good mood on the way home. The bus was crowded, and most of us had to stand. Some of my teammates found room in the back. I wound up at the front, with Alberta.

She was wearing a pair of men’s plaid pants and a zip-up sweater with a deer on the back that smelled like mothballs and cheese. I know this because she’s a good three inches taller than me, and every time the bus lurched, my nose got pressed into her shoulder.

When I looked up, she was gazing right at me.

“Intriguing outfit,” I said.

“Thanks,” she replied, choosing to take it as a compliment. “I get all my clothes at the Sally Ann or Value Village. I call it the Recycled Look.”

“Good game today,” I said, even though she’d got only two questions right, the answers which were Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton.

“Yeah, thanks.”

Then the bus jerked to a halt, and we both grabbed on to the same pole to keep our balance. Her hand was directly
above mine, so close that her pinky touched my thumb.

Not that I’m reading anything into this. I’m sure it was totally an accident. She probably didn’t even realize our digits had made contact.

Still, she didn’t move her hand for the rest of the way home.

And neither did I.

When I got home, it was almost six. I could hear Dad before I could see him. He was on the phone. “… Curly red hair, about five feet two inches …”

I almost shouted out,
Five feet

it’s only been a couple of hours. But you don’t understand –”

I walked into the living room. He was pacing and running one hand through his hair over and over, like he does when he’s anxious or stressed. His work boots were still on his feet, and they were tracking mud all over the carpet.

His eyes met mine. “Never mind. I’m sorry. He just came in.”

He hung up the phone. I knew right away I was in trouble when he said, “Henry Kaspar Larsen!” He only calls me by my full name when he’s really mad. “I was worried sick.” His voice caught. He grabbed me and pulled me into
a bear hug, so tight I could hardly breathe.

“I’m sorry,” I said into his flannel shirt. “I had a Reach For The Top game. I forgot to tell you.”

Dad let me go, but he kept his hands on my shoulders. “Don’t
do that again, don’t
forget to tell me – do you understand?!” He was shaking me now, and for a moment I almost felt scared. My dad’s a big guy, not super-tall but beefy and strong.

“Dad, I’m sorry!”

He let me go and sank onto the couch. He put his head in his hands. His shoulders starting heaving, and at first I thought he was laughing.

But he wasn’t. He was crying. More like sobbing, actually.

Dad has always been an emotional guy. We used to make fun of him ’cause he’d get teary-eyed at almost anything on TV, including those Tim Hortons ads. My mom used to say he was like a peppermint patty: hard outer shell but gooey in the middle.

This was different. I’d only seen him cry like this once before. It was about a week after Jesse’s funeral. We’d been washing the dishes, and he suddenly sank to the floor and started bawling like a baby, for what felt like
. My mom and I finally left him on the floor and went upstairs to escape the awful sound.

I’m not dumb. I knew what had been going through his mind when he came home and I wasn’t there. Once you have a suicide in the family, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to believe that it could happen again. You start to think of it like a flu virus. It could spread.

So I sat down beside him, and I leaned into him and patted his bushy red hair, and pretty soon, I was crying, too, which made me feel like a dork because my tear ducts have been working overtime lately.

“I’m so sorry, Dad. I never meant to worry you. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Henry. I love you so much.”

After a while, we
started to feel like dorks. “Do you think the Great Dane ever cries?” Dad asked as he blew his nose.


“What about Vlad the Impaler?”

“Never. His mother had his tear ducts removed when he was a baby.”

Dad laughed. “We need to get you a cell phone.”

“Dad, we can’t afford it.”

“We’ll get the cheapest plan. I need to know I can get in touch.” He blew his nose again. “I haven’t done anything about supper.”

“That’s okay. I’ll make supper,” I said. I let him choose between the three meals I know how to make. “Beans and
wieners, scrambled eggs and wieners, or Kraft Dinner and wieners?”

“Beans and wieners sounds delicious.”

We ate in front of the TV. After dinner, I asked Dad to measure me, and guess what: I’m now five feet, three and three-quarter inches! Even Dad agreed it wasn’t just my hair this time.

“Tell me when your next Reach For The Top tournament is,” he said when we were both standing by the bathroom sink, brushing our teeth. “Not just so I won’t worry – so I can come.”

And I almost started crying again because
the dad I used to know.
the dad I had up until June 1
, the guy who came to all our school concerts and sports days and plays.

And it made me feel
so good
to realize that
dad was still in there, somewhere.

But all I said was, “I will, Dad. For sure.”

1:00 a.m.

Mr. Atapattu is watching the Home Shopping Network again. They’re advertising something called the Slanket.

1:30 a.m.

I’m pretty sure Alberta’s pinky touched my thumb by accident.

Yup. Pretty sure.

, F

Cockroaches have been around for 350 million years. They can survive anything, even nuclear bombs. And they’re extremely hard to get rid of.

Farley is like my own personal cockroach.

He sat across from me in the cafeteria today. “To recap,” he began. “We can’t ask our parents for the money to go see the GWF Smash-Up Live! Correct?”


“Which means –”

“We can’t go.”

He shook his head. “Henry, you disappoint me. It means we need to figure out a way to make the money.”

“Farley,” I said, trying to be patient, “drop it. There’s no way we can make that kind of money between now
and the end of April.”

“Sure, there is. We have two and a half months. We’ll get part-time jobs.”

“Like what? We’re only thirteen.”

“We’ll baby-sit.”

“Have you taken a baby-sitting course?”


“Do you know anything about kids?”


“Do you know anyone


“I rest my case.”

“What about odd jobs? We could put signs up around the neighborhood, do yard work, mow lawns – that sort of stuff.”

“Farley, it’s
. Plus we’d need to have our own equipment.”

“Hey, nerds.” I glanced up. Alberta was heading our way, carrying a plate of fries with gravy. She looked almost normal today, in a pair of jeans and a pink T-shirt with brown lettering on the front. Then I read what it said:
If God Didn’t Want Us to Eat Animals, He Wouldn’t Have Made Them out of Meat

“Shove over,” she said as she slid in beside me. Her thigh brushed mine, and I was suddenly glad that the table covered the lower half of my body.

“Alberta, maybe you can help us,” Farley said.

I tried to signal to Farley to shut up.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make four hundred bucks in two and a half months,” Farley told her.

“For what?”

“Nothing –” I started.

“The Global Wrestling Federation’s Smash-Up Live! show is coming to Seattle at the end of April. Henry and I are huge fans.”

I waited for it.

She did not disappoint.

she laughed. “And you thought being on the Reach For The Top team was nerdy.”

“You did?” Farley asked, but Alberta kept laughing so I didn’t have to respond.

When she finally finished laughing, she dug into her fries, and I mean she really dug into them, shoveling them into her mouth like she hadn’t eaten for a week. It was disgusting, yet oddly charming.

“Don’t knock it till you’ve watched it,” Farley said to her. “You might just change your mind.”

“Oh, I’ve watched once or twice. You do know it’s totally fake?”

“So? It’s not about that,” said Farley. “They’re amazing athletes. They really do get hurt out there.”

“It’s like theater,” I added. “It’s exciting to watch. They create all these ongoing story lines, and all the wrestlers have distinct roles.… It’s like …” I said, searching for the words.

“Like a soap opera for guys,” Alberta said.

I thought about that for a moment. “Yeah. I guess it is.”

“That makes a strange sort of sense,” she said. “Like ‘The Young and the Restless,’ but for the Y chromosomes.”

“Exactly,” said Farley, just as an empty pop can hit him on the side of the head.

Because Alberta and I were sitting across from him, we could see the culprit. Troy sat two tables behind us, with Mike and Josh. A teacher walking past stopped and glared at him. “Oops, sorry,” Troy said with an apologetic grin. “I was trying to get it into the recycling bin.”

The bin was directly behind Farley. “Next time, walk over and place it in,” the teacher said, falling for Troy’s story.

“Yes, Sir!” Troy replied. “Sorry, Sir.”

Sometimes teachers are so dumb.

Farley didn’t say a word. He just picked the can up from the floor, turned around, and stuffed it into the recycling bin, which was overflowing with cans and bottles.

“There’s your answer,” said Alberta. We both looked at her, not getting it. “You need to make four hundred bucks
fast.” She pointed to the recycling bins. “They get cleared out twice a week. If you go through them the day before, you could bring what you find to the recycling depot on Broadway and get back the deposits.”

Farley’s eyes widened. “And there’s around,” he did the mental calculation, “twenty recycling bins in the school … twelve hundred kids.… If we get just twenty-five cans or bottles from each bin per week … what is it, like, ten cents a can or bottle? We stand to make fifty bucks per week!” He held up a hand to high-five Alberta. She obliged.

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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