As soon as my parents left the next evening, I jumped on my bike and rode upriver. It wasn't far. A mile or two maybe. I'd see Minerva and get back to Eddy's, and they would never know.
I rode past the river and beyond, into flowing fields of grass. I came around a bend and stopped. There, set back in a thicket, was a faded gray, sway-backed house. I straddled my bike and panted. This was it. I took a deep breath, then climbed the steps of the sagging porch and knocked on the door.
For a long, still moment I held my breath. Then I heard quick footsteps, and the door flew open.
She was taller than I remembered, and thinner. Still, I thought, she was beautiful.
"I … I wanted to see you," I stammered.
"Is your mother home?"
"No, she's out chasing a story."
I stepped into the living room. There was an old brown sofa, bleeding stuffing from several holes, a lopsided rocking chair and a coffee table with a bandaged leg. A boom box sat on a shelf of bricks and boards in the corner.
"C'mon in," Minerva said. "Sit down."
We sat on the sofa, and when our eyes met, her gray eyes clouded.
"I'm really sorry about what happened. I didn't mean for you to get caught."
"No, really, I mean it. I figured you would get away in that boat."
"You do?" Her hands twisted in her lap.
"Oh, W., why does everything always go so wrong?"
She bowed her head, and I saw a tear trickle down her cheek.
"You're the one true friend I ever had," she sobbed. "And I blew it."
"Hey, it's all right," I said.
"I always thought that when you moved, you could start life over," she said. "Become someone else, someone new. But you can't. You always end up being you."
I wanted to reach out, to touch her, but I was afraid.
But no! Not now. Not anymore. I took her cool, slender hands in mine.
"It's all right," I said again.
She looked up at me through shining eyes.
"I tried to call you, but your parents always answered the phone."
"I wanted to go see you, but my mother wouldn't let me. She told me you were nothing but trouble."
My mouth fell open. "Me?"
We both burst out laughing.
"Walter Frimhaus!" Minerva screamed. "Nothing but trouble!"
We laughed and pounded the sofa, beating up clouds of dust, until we lay back, sighing and sneezing and wiping away our tears.
I gazed into her moony eyes, and I wanted to tell her ... what?
"I love you."
"I know," she said, her growly voice so soft and low that I could barely hear her. "And I love you."
A pink glow spread across her cheeks. Could Minerva really be blushing? I wondered if she could hear my heart, it was beating so loudly.
"Hey!" she said, leaping up. "Let's you and me dance!"
"Yeah, c'mon. I feel like dancing."
She tripped over to the boom box and dug through a stack of CDs.
"Here, this is a good one. This is a song my parents used to dance to."
"What is it?"
She squinted at the label.
"'Sleepy Lagoon' by Harry James."
She put the disc in the boombox, then took my hand.
"What'll I do?" I said.
"Put your arms around me, like this." She put my hands on the small of her back. "And I'll hold you like this." She draped her arms around my neck.
The music started. It was a funny song, lush and mushy, like a jungle of trumpets. I held her in my awkward arms, and we slowly swayed.
It felt so good to hold her, to feel her arms around me. I felt dizzy, giddy, loony, crazy, all grown up and still a baby, and I knew I was - I really was - in love. I closed my eyes and wished this funny song would never end.
Suddenly, she stepped back, her eyes alive with light.
"Hey, W., I just figured it out!"
"Figured out what?"
"How we can get them ALL out!"