Before that, when Ronny was nine years old, he’d allegedly killed hisnext-door neighbor’s horse, and the story had followed him ever since.Once while he was trading insults with Roger Mahalak in gym duringa game of broomball, Mahalak shouted that Ronny was a sicko who’dused his alchie dad’s rusted-out truck to knock the head off a horse.In response Ronny just stood there, using the handle of his broom toscratch his chin while we all stopped to look at him.
“So,” he said after a while, “what’ve you ever done?”
There were plenty of reasons for me not to be excited to find my-
self sitting next to Ronny Trezzo, but on that day I was thinking mostly
about Annie Miller, whom I’d practically been sitting next to before
Ronny got moved to the empty seat between us.
Annie was a serious girl with brown hair who wore floor-lengthdenim skirts and mature-looking blouses with lace collars and ruffledsleeves. She approached life science with an air of professional determination, taking relentless notes and prolonging the end of class by askingHyde lawyerly questions about the homework. When called on, she answered in a tone that suggested a deep and long-standing knowledge ofthe subject matter, as if oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange was something she and her friends liked to discuss in their free time. I was anaverage student and came from what I’d heard adults refer to as a brokenhome. My mom was a single parent who worked hard but could get sofar behind on bills that sometimes there was no electricity when I gothome. For me, Annie wasn’t just a crush. She was a glimpse into a worldof dizzying stability, a place where there were beautiful girls with greeneyes and all the right answers.
We never spoke. I knew without having to try that I couldn’t flirtwith her like your pretty-boy Eddie Vecklemans or your jockish LucasMurnsens. That’s why Ronny’s idiotic questions had been a godsend.When he asked if alligators were bulletproof or why no one had ever invented a shower you could flush, the students around us typically joinedin the resulting laughter, but to impress Annie I always shook my headas if I disapproved. The first time I did it, she nodded in agreement andmouthed, “Oh, my god.” Over time we settled into looks of studiouscamaraderie that were the highlight of my day. But those fleeting interactions were gone forever, now that Ronny occupied the space betweenus, his body odor making the air smell suddenly like lunch meat andcut grass. I leaned forward to exchange a glance with Annie, hoping she