The Best Man

The Best Man by Richard Peck

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Authors: Richard Peck
talking down to you,” Uncle Paul said. “I mean not talking past you. Not everybody in this world’s so open-minded.”
    â€œMr. McLeod told the sixth graders about people who’ll write their fears on your face.”
    â€œThat’s good,” Uncle Paul said. “You have to be ready for people like that.”
    My head was still kind of whirling.
    Uncle Paul
    Mr. McLeod
    Those were the four I wanted to be.
    â€œUncle Paul, do you think I might be gay?”
    â€œI don’t know,” he said. “Do you moisturize?”
    â€œWhere do you stand on exfoliation?”
    â€œWhat’s ex—”
    â€œAnd you didn’t pick that shirt yourself, did you? Tell me you didn’t.”
    â€œUncle Paul, you’re kidding me, right?”
    â€œI’m half kidding,” he said.
    â€œOne more thing then,” I said. “You love men, right?”
    â€œI love one man,” Uncle Paul said.

    T hen here came sixth grade, and bring it on. We’d learned double last semester from Mrs. Stanley and Mr. McLeod. Probably triple. So what was left? And we were going to be the biggest, oldest class at Westside. Perry Highsmith and that bunch would be out of there. We’d even have a new teacher to break in. Mrs. Bickle had retired because she was older than the school.
    These were my thoughts after Uncle Paul dropped me off at home that day. When I started upstairs, Mr. Stanley was coming down from Mom’s office.He wasn’t crying, so I asked him how Lynette was liking camp.
    He said she liked it now that she’d adjusted to it.
    â€œI suppose she met a lot of kids with bigger ones than hers.”
” Mr. Stanley stopped dead on a step.
    â€œVocabularies?” I said.
    â€œOh,” he said. Then he went on downstairs.
    Mom waved me into her office. “You can be my last customer.”
    I settled on the sofa.
    â€œGood day?” she asked.
    â€œThe best,” I said. “We poured some of Grandpa out onto—”
    Mom’s hand slapped the desk. “Don’t tell me that,” she said. “I don’t want to be responsible for knowing that.”
    â€œIt’s not like we’re out on bail,” I said.
    â€œNevertheless,” Mom said. She might have been thinking about Grandma. “What else?”
    â€œWe had a burger and Diet Coke at a place on Sheffield. Uncle Paul didn’t eat his bun, and I had all the fries. I think he’s dieting, and now he’s gone to work out. He may be turning into a gym rat.”
    â€œHmmm. Possibly,” Mom said. “Anything else?”
    â€œWe talked about . . . Excalibur?”
    Mom pondered. “Excalibur. Isn’t that a sword?”
    â€œI think it’s something you rub on your face.”
    â€œExfoliant? You talked about exfoliant?”
    â€œWe touched on it,” I said. “Uncle Paul likes to keep his skin in shape. Also, he’s gay.”
    â€œAh. Well, yes,” Mom said. “We thought you’d know when you were ready to know.”
    â€œMom, I know when somebody tells me.”
    Then Mom’s old MacBook Air pinged, and an email came in that changed everything.
    Mom put on her reading glasses. She went to a link and printed it out. Finally, she said, “Big news. You won’t be going back to Westside Elementary for sixth grade.”
    â€œWhat? Mom, what?”
    â€œI quote,” she said. “‘Due to demographic shifts in the student population, your sixth grader will transition into the former Memorial Junior High now formatted in a grades six-through-eight configuration, to be re-branded Memorial Middle School.’”
    â€œMom, say it in English.”
    â€œThey’re moving your class from elementary school to middle school,” Mom said. “Monday.”
    I keeled over on the sofa.

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