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Chapter no 78 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌The Bus Stop‌

Wonder

olivia’s mom, auggie, jack, and daisy come down the stoop just as i’m saying goodbye to olivia. slightly awkward since we are in the middle of a nice long kiss.

hey, guys, says the mom, pretending not to see anything, but the two boys are giggling.

hi, mrs. pullman.

please call me isabel, justin, she says again. it’s like the third time she’s told me this, so i really need to start calling her that.

i’m heading home, i say, as if to explain.

oh, are you heading to the subway? she says, following the dog with a newspaper. can you walk jack to the bus stop?

no problem.

that okay with you, jack? the mom asks him, and he shrugs. justin, can you stay with him till the bus comes?

of course!

we all say our goodbyes. olivia winks at me.

you don’t have to stay with me, says jack as we’re walking up the block. i take the bus by myself all the time. auggie’s mom is way too overprotective.

he’s got a low gravelly voice, like a little tough guy. he kind of looks like one of those little-rascal kids in old black-and-white movies, like he should be wearing a newsboy cap and knickers.

we get to the bus stop and the schedule says the bus will be there in eight minutes. i’ll wait with you, i tell him.

up to you. he shrugs. can i borrow a dollar? i want some gum.

i fish a dollar out of my pocket and watch him cross the street to the grocery store on the corner. he seems too small to be walking around by himself, somehow. then i think how i was that young when i was taking the subway by myself. way too young. i’m going to be an overprotective dad someday, i know it. my kids are going to know i care.

i’m waiting there a minute or two when i notice three kids walking

up the block from the other direction. they walk right past the grocery store, but one of them looks inside and nudges the other two, and they all back up and look inside. i can tell they’re up to no good, all elbowing each other, laughing. one of them is jack’s height but the other two look much bigger, more like teens. they hide behind the fruit stand in front of the store, and when jack walks out, they trail behind him, making loud throw-up noises. jack casually turns around at the corner to see who they are and they run away, high-fiving each other and laughing. little jerks.

jack crosses the street like nothing happened and stands next to me at the bus stop, blowing a bubble.

friends of yours? i finally say.

ha, he says. he’s trying to smile but i can see he’s upset.

just some jerks from my school, he says. a kid named julian and his two gorillas, henry and miles.

do they bother you like that a lot?

no, they’ve never done that before. they’d never do that in school or they’d get kicked out. julian lives two blocks from here, so I guess it was just bad luck running into him.

oh, okay. i nod.

it’s not a big deal, he assures me.

we both automatically look down amesfort avenue to see if the bus is coming.

we’re sort of in a war, he says after a minute, as if that explains everything. then he pulls out this crumpled piece of loose-leaf paper from his jean pocket and gives it to me. i unfold it, and it’s a list of names in three columns. he’s turned the whole grade against me, says jack.

not the whole grade, i point out, looking down at the list.

he leaves me notes in my locker that say stuff like everybody hates you.

you should tell your teacher about that.

jack looks at me like i’m an idiot and shakes his head.

anyway, you have all these neutrals, i say, pointing to the list. if you get them on your side, things will even up a bit.

yeah, well, that’s really going to happen, he says sarcastically. why not?

he shoots me another look like i am absolutely the stupidest guy he’s ever talked to in the world.

what? i say.

he shakes his head like i’m hopeless. let’s just say, he says, i’m friends with someone who isn’t exactly the most popular kid in the school.

then it hits me, what’s he’s not coming out and saying: august. this is all about his being friends with august. and he doesn’t want to tell me because i’m the sister’s boyfriend. yeah, of course, makes sense.

we see the bus coming down amesfort avenue.

well, just hang in there, i tell him, handing back the paper. middle school is about as bad as it gets, and then it gets better. everything’ll work out.

he shrugs and shoves the list back into his pocket.

we wave bye when he gets on the bus, and i watch it pull away. when i get to the subway station two blocks away, i see the same

three kids hanging out in front of the bagel place next door. they’re still laughing and yuck-yucking each other like they’re some kind of gangbangers, little rich boys in expensive skinny jeans acting tough.

don’t know what possesses me, but i take my glasses off, put them in my pocket, and tuck my fiddle case under my arm so the pointy side is facing up. i walk over to them, my face scrunched up, mean- looking. they look at me, laughs dying on their lips when they see me, ice cream cones at odd angles.

yo, listen up. don’t mess with jack, i say really slowly, gritting my teeth, my voice all clint eastwood tough-guy. mess with him again and you will be very, very sorry. and then i tap my fiddle case for effect.

got it?

they nod in unison, ice cream dripping onto their hands.

good. i nod mysteriously, then sprint down the subway two steps at a time.‌

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