Boys

Gunther Reef and Taddy Markum might have been Cardington’s most likely pair of best friends. They met, unofficially, in Cardington Memorial’s maternity ward, when fate placed them side by side in the viewing room after being born a day a part from each other.

They met officially in kindergarten. Due to Gunther’s preoccupation with tiny metal robot toys and Taddy’s incessant drawing, it was three days in before they actually connected. It could also be said that fate played a strong hand in their association, for the occasion of their connection, the spark as it were, was a shared deep, rolling on the floor type belly laugh generated when Cassidy Lombeck dropped her glasses in the class fish tank.

All the elements were there. Both Gunther and Taddy had independently come to the conclusion that Cassidy Lombeck was a snob. She hovered over that fish tank like she owned it. She took great pride in telling everyone everything she knew about aquariums and fish and such because her Daddy told her it was so when they got a fish tank at home. Which, of course, was much bigger and better than this.

Cassidy was holding court at the tank on the morning of that third day. It so happened that the boys were in proximity to each other, not by design, but by happenstance.

First, Cassidy explained the proper way to feed the fish to prevent them from over eating, getting sick and possibly exploding. It was a delicate balance she liked to say and her hands moved with a fluid grace as she demonstrated her technique.

After the feeding lesson, Cassidy explained to her curious onlookers that if you wanted the fish to like you, you needed to talk to them. The best time to talk to the fish of course is when they’re eating because it brings them closer to the surface and they can hear you better. Duh.

Despite the grace she displayed while feeding the fish, her method of establishing communication was less so. The table on which the aquarium sat was sturdy but high and Cassidy needed to step up on a chair to look up and over the edge so that she might share her wisdom with the lesser creatures. When the eager to watch and wanting learn Orlan Phibbs stepped a little too close, a little too fast, he jostled Cassidy, forcing her to jerk in a way that saved her balance and avoided toppling the aquarium, but launched her glasses into the air.

It was enough of a commotion that the boys turned from their respective hobbies to watch as the pair of glasses lifted off the girl’s grimacing face. They floated and spun in mid-air for what seemed like a long slow motion movie shot before descending with a plop into the water. The moment of hilarity was not so much the glasses hitting the water, their long slow, swirling decent to the bottom of the tank, or the look of complete terror and rage that contorted Cassidy’s face.

Rather, the glasses landed in such a way that, from the boy’s perspective, when Rascal, a Black Demecin swam into the lens, it made his already large and bulbous eye appear cartoonishly enormous and somewhat expressive.

After watching the action unfold before them, they turned to face each other, as sometimes people do, they caught each other’s gaze and burst into speechless laughter. The fact that the first outburst forced a glob of snot from Gunther’s nose, which landed squarely on the toe of Mary Hasting’s shoe, bumped the laughter level up from holding your sides funny to silent, hard to catch a breath, tears dripping from your eyes hysteria.

Once they figured out that they lived three slight blocks away from each other, they became virtually inseparable. Not in a “peas in a pod” or a “two sides of the same coin” kind of way. There were definable differences between them. But, their friendship grew from the basis on which it started, a silent common understanding, a way of communicating beyond the standard surface chat, and in many ways, unknown to them at the time, a certain admiration and respect.

On the night of the storm, when it was still just large weather pattern far off to the west, the boys were setting up for a night of monsters and snacks in the converted attic of the Markum house. Both sets of parents were set to be out for the night and agreed, that if they boys could be responsible they could stay alone together without someone to watch them.

Of course they could. They were in the seventh grade now and practically invincible. Plus, as Taddy’s mother pointed out only about fifteen times, the number for Mrs. Krepp’s from next door was on the fridge if they needed anything.

It was all they could do to contain themselves as the cars drove off in the night, with the boys waving vigorously from the large bay window in the Markum’s front room.

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