Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
WHEN VICTORIA WRIGHT WAS TWELVE YEARS OLD, she had precisely one friend. In fact, he was the only friend she had ever had. His name was Lawrence Prewitt, and on Tuesday, October 11, of the year Victoria and Lawrence were twelve years old, Lawrence disappeared.
Victoria and Lawrence became friends shortly after Lawrence’s first gray hairs appeared. They were both nine years old and in fourth grade. Thick and shining, Lawrence’s gray hairs sprouted out from between his black, normal hairs and made him look like a skunk. Everyone made fun of Lawrence for this, and really, Victoria couldn’t blame them. Victoria decided that these hairs were a cosmic punishment for Lawrence’s inability to tuck in his shirt properly, use a comb,
pay attention in class (he preferred to doodle instead of take notes), and do anything but play his wretched piano. Not that Lawrence was bad at piano; in fact, he was very good. But Victoria had always thought it an incredible waste of time.
After a few weeks of watching Lawrence’s gray hairs sprout thicker and thicker, and hearing everyone’s snickers, Victoria put aside her general dislike of socializing with, well, anyone, and decided that Lawrence would be her personal project. Obviously, the boy needed help, and Victoria prided herself on telling people what to do with themselves. Sacrificing her valuable time to fix Lawrence would be a gift to the community of Belleville. “How charitable of you, Victoria,” people would say, and beam at her and wish their children could be like her.
So, at lunch one day, Victoria marched from her lonely table to Lawrence’s lonely table and said, “Hello, Lawrence. I’m Victoria. We’re going to be friends now.”
Victoria almost shook Lawrence’s hand but then thought better of it because she feared he might very well be infested with lice or something. Instead, she sat down and opened her milk carton, and when Lawrence looked at her through his skunkish hair and said, “I don’t really want to be your friend,” Victoria said, “Well, that’s too bad for you.”
Over the years, Victoria pushed herself into Lawrence’s
life and was pushed out of it when he decided that enough was enough, and then pushed herself back in, and finally they were really, truly friends, in an odd sort of way.
Every weekday morning, they met at the crossing of Silldie Place (Victoria’s street) and Bourdon’s Landing (Lawrence’s street) and walked together to school. Most mornings, their conversation went something like this:
“Honestly, Lawrence,” Victoria would say, leading him briskly down the cobbled walk, for Victoria never walked anywhere without extreme purpose, “can’t you tuck in your shirt?”
Sometimes it would be, “Can’t you comb your hair?” or “How do you manage to get past your parents with those ugly shoes?” or “Did you finish your essay on the Byzantine Empire for extra credit like you were supposed to, or did you spend the entire weekend playing that silly piano?”
And Lawrence would roll his eyes or cuff her on the shoulder and say, “Good morning to you, too, Vicky,” which Victoria hated. She abhorred nicknames, especially that one. She also abhorred how Lawrence was always chewing on something, like a toothpick or pen or whatever nasty things he pulled from his pockets.
Nobody liked Lawrence, because he never really bothered to make friends. He lived in a dreamer’s world of ivory keys and messy shirts, unconcerned with the people around him. Those gray hairs of his didn’t help matters. He didn’t seem to mind what anyone thought of him, though. He didn’t seem to mind about much at all except for his piano—and Victoria. For Victoria’s twelfth birthday, Lawrence had written her a long letter and read it aloud right in front of her. It was full of jokes and funny stories, at which Victoria tried not to laugh too loudly, and that was all well and good, till the end happened.