I didn't see Minerva again for another week, but this time I knew why. She was grounded. Just like me.
A hysterical Mrs. Wimberly had called my mother to tell her that “your son Walter” had ruined her daughter's hair, and “what kind of a mother are you to let such a thing happen in your house?”
So my parents found out about Minerva. And for some reason, the news that I'd made friends with a girl totally freaked them out.
I heard my mother tell my father it was time he had a “man-to-man” talk with his son. My father said he would “see about it,” which meant he didn't want to do it.
So they started to fight.
There was something spooky about the way they did it, too. Instead of yelling at each other, they argued in whispers.
Finally, my father asked me to come into his study. My father is bald, and the top of his head always blushes when he's nervous. It was blushing fiercely now. He sat down at his desk and told me to pull up a chair. Then he started fidgeting with a pencil.
”Walter ... “ He rolled the pencil between his pudgy fingers. “Walter ... “ he said, and he glanced at the picture of my grandfather on the wall. Grampa Frimhaus seemed to be frowning at me.
”Walter,” he said at last. “What do you know about girls?”
I felt my face redden to match the color of his head. “Girls?” I croaked.
My father coughed. “Yes, well, uh, you know that girls, uh, women are ... different?”
”Sure.” Was that all?
My father looked startled. He twisted the pencil. “And, Walter, you know you have to be, uh, careful?” The top of his head looked so hot it could burn my fingers.
”Careful?” I felt spooked and woozy, like the time I was exploring a cave with Eddy and a daddy longlegs walked across my neck. And somehow, I felt sorry for my father, too. I wanted to say something to make him relax. “Uh, sure, Dad, I know that.”
The pencil snapped in half. “You do?”
”Sure.” Cripes! WHAT was he talking about?
My father let loose a long, windy sigh. “Good. That's good. So you'll be, uh, careful, won't you?”
”Good.” My father hoisted himself up.
That was it?
But he turned and took down a thin, brown book from the top shelf of his bookcase, blew the dust off the top of it, and handed it to me.
”Here,” he said. “You'd better read this.”
When I looked at the title, all the blood in my body rushed to my face. “How Babies Are Made.” Oh my Lord! So THAT's what this was all about. I was so stunned that I actually stuttered, “Th-th-thanks.”
”Walter,” my father said. “You're going to be 12 years old in October.”
”And how old is ... “
”Walter, you're almost a man.”
I nodded dumbly.
Then my father shook my hand. His palm felt like a warm fish. He turned away and headed for the door, his head a red beacon lighting the way.
When I walked out of the room, my mother was sitting on the sofa, snuffling into a handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes.
I could not believe this.
”Jeez!” I blurted. “She just kissed me once!”
At that, my mother burst into tears