David showed up with a knapsack on his back, a big grin on his face.
“What’s with all the mystery?” he asked. “Note in the mailbox? Ya’ll can still come to my door.”
Efrim shrugged. He didn’t want to explain. It seemed too complicated and he didn’t want to hurt David’s feelings.
Elani smiled when she saw him. She always smiled when she saw him, and she pointed at the bag. “Whatcha got?”
David brush an errant pine limb from his head. “I love the smell of these old pines, but they get in the way. They could trip a boy up.” He smiled back at Elani. “Some of my old books. I already read them to pieces but thought you might like them. Seriously, Efrim, what’s with the secret message? You’re lucky I checked the mailbox first. My folks would wonder what the heck was going on.”
Efrim shrugged again. “It’s hard to explain, I guess.”
“Our daddy doesn’t want us to play together anymore,” said Elani. “But he’s hardly ever home, and Mom doesn’t care.”
“Oh,” said David. “It’s like that, is is?”
“Never mind,” said Efrim. “You can’t stop friends from being friends.” And then, shyly: “Right?”
“Right,” said David, but he frowned. “I don’t want to get you guys in trouble.”
“It’s our trouble,” said Elani. “We’ll be careful, won’t we, Efrim?”
“We’ll be careful,” he said. “What kind of books?”
‘Aww, I got some Hardy Boys, and some Tom Swift, and there’s one, To Kill a Mockingbird, you might like. My dad says I read to much white bread, but it’s still a good story.”
Elani giggled. “How do you read white bread?”
“It means they’re too white,” said Efrim.
“What’s that mean?”
“Doesn’t matter,” said David. “They’re all right. Hardy Boys are sorta dumb, but I read them all. There’s a couple of Westerns, if you like that kind of stuff. Louis L’Amour. I thought they’d be fun to read when it’s too hot to play.”
“I don’t read a lot,” said Efrim. “Some of the words… I can’t read so well.”
“You read me a lot of stories,” said Elani. “Some of the big words are hard, and I don’t understand them all, but you read okay.”
He shrugged. “I make up some of the words,” he said.
“Context,” said David.
“You might not know what the word is, but you fit one in that works. I learned that in school last year. You know what the word’s supposed to be, but sometimes it’s too fancy.”
“I know that,” said Efrim. “My teacher says I’m lazy.”
David looked around, uncomfortable. “You’re not lazy. It was your idea for the rope swing and how to put it up. And the steps to climb it up the tree. That’s not lazy, it’s good thinking.”
“Oh, I’m all right for building things and figuring out how things work. But reading and writing, not so good.”
“You know how to tell stories,” said Elani. “That’s pretty smart.”
David nodded. “It took me awhile to figure out how stories work, Efrim. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it just means you don’t care about them as much as you do other things. Me, I can’t figure out how to build a soap box car with my dad. I bet you could figure it out in a minute.”
Efrim thought about it. “Wouldn’t be that hard. Probably get most of the stuff from the dump.”
“Sure, but I wouldn’t know how to start. Maybe we could–”
A rumble from the sky, flat and distant, and a rush of wind, almost ticklish in the heat, swaying the leaves and grass. The sky was still bright, but it wore a yellow second skin. Something coming in from the lake, something serious if it moved fast enough. The raindrops would be fat and hard if it took hold.
“Oh oh,” said Elani, and her voice sounded like an echo.
Excerpt from The Stone Age, a work-in-progress