“Here, read this.” Jeremy shoves the book into my chest with his big, meaty palm. I’d seen him digging in his backpack but had no idea he’d come out with this. I figured it would be an apple or granola bar or something to eat. Jeremy always seemed to be eating.
“What is it?” I asked, fumbling to get a grasp on the book as we walked so I could look at the cover.
“A book,” Jeremy says with a mouthful of banana rolling around the words. Because of course he’d also gotten a banana from his bag and was already eating it. He swallows. “I wrote it.”
I freeze on the sidewalk. “You wrote it?” I look down at the book. It’s clearly brand new, the spine unbroken. “But it looks so… professional,” is all I can sputter out in my amazement.
“I know a guy,” Jeremy is already far ahead of me and done with his banana, the peel dangling in his hand.
“You know a… Never mind. Of course you know a guy,” I mutter. I jog to catch up. Once I do, I look back down at the book. Simple gold letters are pressed into the dark red cover: All Things Elves: Theories and Musings About the Elven World by Jeremy Wolstein.
“Elves?” More amazement from me. What is happening? What is this book? Who is my best friend right now? He doesn’t write. And even if he did, it certainly wouldn’t be about elves.
“Yep. Elves.” Jeremy reaches over and taps a big sausage finger on the book, nearly knocking it out of my hands. “All my theories are in there.”
“Theories? What are you talking about, Jeremy? You’ve never said a word about elves to me before, in all the years we’ve been friends.”
“Are we friends?” I can hear the smirk in his voice.
No one ever believes Jeremy and I are friends. But we are. Really. It’s just that I’m not quite average sized - not puny or anything, but a little small for my age. And nerdy. I’m pretty nerdy looking. And Jeremy, well, he’s huge. But he’s actually a nerd, too. We’re total opposites, looks-wise, but friend soulmates when it comes to interests.
We met in second grade. I was the new kid. It was my first day. When I hadn’t made any friends, or found anyone to latch onto, by recess, I sat on the buddy bench. I knew it was lame, but I didn’t know what else to do. I thought, surely, one of these kids’ parents had told them that if they ever see a kid on the buddy bench to go and invite them to play.
But I sat there, alone, for what felt like ages. Really, it was probably only five minutes. But when you’re seven, five minutes can be an eternity. I barely even looked up, just stared at my shoes. Now that I’d sat on the bench, it would be even more awkward to try and join a group already playing a game or climbing on the playground. I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed put.
Then a big shadow crossed onto me. I figured it was a teacher coming to sit by me. But it turned out to be Jeremy. He was seven too, but way bigger than me. I wasn’t scrawny or anything, I’m still not, Jeremy is just a big dude.
“That’s where I sit,” he told me, matter of factly but also with a hint of surprise, wondering why someone other than him was sitting on this bench.
Jeremy told me that every day, helped the lunch lady tidy the cafeteria after all the other kids went outside and then he came and sat on the buddy bench to eat the extra apple the lunch lady gave him as a thank you before he joined the other kids. It wasn’t a punishment or anything, and he claimed he didn’t do it for the extra apple but I’ve never been so sure about that. He told me he just liked to be helpful and he felt bad the lunch lady had to do all that work herself.
After Jeremy finished his apple, we joined a group playing freeze tag. At one point during the game, we were frozen near each other and the rest of the kids were at the other end of the field. I risked talking.
“Hey,” I said. “Thanks again for sitting with me.”
“That’s where I sit,” Jeremy said without moving, but the shrug could be heard in his voice.
“Well, it was great,” I said and paused. I didn’t want to depend on Jeremy too much, but he seemed like the kind of kid who wouldn’t care too much about a tag-along. “Do you think I could help you and the lunch lady tomorrow?”
Jeremy risked an actual shrug now, despite still being frozen for the game. “I guess so. I’m not sure she’ll give you an apple though.”
“That’s ok,” I said, the biggest grin glued to my face. “I don’t need one.”
So, yeah. We were friends. Like, walk to and from school every day, hang out every weekend, text each other every night kind of friends. Since second grade. And now, seven years later, I’m hearing for the first time that my best friend has a theory about elves. What?
“You think you can read it all tonight?” Jeremy asks. He’s rarely nervous, but I can hear the edge creeping into his voice. I can tell he’s worked hard on this, and also worked hard on keeping this secret from me for who knows how long.
I glance down at the book again, cracking it open. The font is standard size. I flip through. It’s a slim book, no page numbers but looks to be about 80 pages.
“Do you want comprehension or just finished?” I ask, taking his request seriously because I know he needs me to.
“Finished for now. Comprehension will have to come later.” Jeremy sounds a little relieved that I’m not asking too many questions, that I’m jumping on his crazy train. Because, let’s face it, elves? That’s crazy talk.
“Ok. I can do that.”
Jeremy stops walking. I stop beside him. He’s squatting down beside a tree. We’re out in front of his house now, my house is just a few doors down. “Good. That’s good,” he says. “Because, Gray?” He looks up at me. I stare at him with my eyebrows raised. Jeremy knocks on the tree.
Almost immediately a tiny door that blends perfectly into the bark glides open, revealing an elf.