The following is an excerpt from Kansas Bradbury’s novel, The Rushing of the Brook.
Chapter 1 – We’re Just Boys
“Did you see the Money Movie last night?” Joe asked as he sipped a juice box.
“Nah,” Hayward replied. He had seen it, but wasn’t in the mood to talk about it.
“The word was ‘gulch!’”
Hayward didn’t respond; he was fixated on the girl and boy at the end of the pavement playing hopscotch.
“I called, but got a busy signal,” Joe said before sipping noisily.
Hayward stood where the edge of the playground meets the tree line. What was she doing with him? He watched Beth toss a rock along the pavement and hop toward it, her ponytail bouncing wildly with every jump.
“I was gonna try again, but Dad yelled that I would never get through.”
Daniel Green. Of all the guys in elementary school. My Beth, playing with . . . him, Hayward thought, then pushed his foot down on a small stump.
“I’ll never get through if I don’t try,” Joe went on before trying to suck the last molecule of juice from the box.
Hayward pushed his foot down harder. It felt as though the stump was about to bust through the rubber of his sneaker and plunge into the sole of his foot. He welcomed the pain and kept pushing.
“Do ya think I’ll ever get through?”
Hayward watched in disbelief as Daniel produced a pack of gum from his pocket and gave it to Beth—not a piece, but a pack. Hayward realized that, even at only eleven years old, the girls in his grade five class at Lady Madonna Elementary School were already impressed by money—something that Daniel Green’s parents were free with, especially when it came to their son. He’d seen Daniel coming back from the corner store with piles of candy and showing it around like he was some sort of elementary school tycoon. Not just pieces of candy but boxes, displaying them on his desk for the whole eleven-year-old world to see. His showboating can’t be working on Beth. . . my Beth.
Hayward ignored Joe and pushed his foot harder into the stump; he imagined he must be bleeding by now, his sock soaked with blood.
Hayward looked up at Joe.
“Aren’t you listening?”
Hayward stared at him without saying a word, still thinking about the hopscotch players.
“Do you think I’ll ever get through on the phone to the MoneyMovie people—you know, if I keep tryin’?”
Hayward just stared. Joe began to look distressed. Finally, Hayward responded.
“You gotta be in to win.”
Joe’s eyes widened as Hayward continued.
“Your dad—he’s never going to win because he’s not in.”
Joe’s smile got so big that Hayward thought the corners of his mouth would fall right off his face.
“That’s what I keep telling him,” Joe replied, pointing at himself. “If I don’t call, I don’t even have a shot.”
Hayward looked back in Beth’s direction, but she and Daniel were gone. “Great!” he said suddenly. No longer paying attention to the pain, he took his foot off the stump.
“Nothing.” Hayward changed the subject. “Are we going to go with Davey and Pete to the junkyard this afternoon?”
“I want to, if they’re still going.”
Hayward, Joe, Davey, and Pete lived on the same street. Davey and Pete were a year older, and in the sixth grade. The four boys were great friends and did almost everything together. Most of the time they all got along, but the older two occasionally gave Hayward a hard time because he was smaller. As a bigger kid, Joe fit in a bit better.
Joe finally accepted that the juice box was empty and tossed it into the trees. “Do you want to go over to the grade six area and ask them?” he asked.
“Nah, lunch is almost over. We’ll see them after school. Let’s head over to our door.”
Joe nodded in agreement, and they walked toward the side of the school with the grade five entrance. As they rounded the side of the building, Hayward saw Beth and Daniel standing by the door. They were standing very close together—too close. Heat built up in Hayward’s belly, and his head felt like he was wearing a helmet that was too small. He had to do something. Daniel can’t be on school grounds, in front of everyone, standing that close to Beth. . . my Beth, he decided.
“I gotta do something!”
Hayward marched up and stopped in front of Daniel and Beth, leaving Joe looking completely confused. They halted their conversation and looked at him, obviously waiting to hear what he wanted. Suddenly, Hayward was overcome with nervousness and unable to speak. His body froze and his mind went blank. Seconds passed, and he watched both of their faces begin to reflect the awkwardness. He was just about to turn and walk away when he felt his mouth open. He had no idea what would come out.
“Are you guys going to Kevin’s birthday party on Friday?”
They both looked relieved.
“I think so,” Daniel said.
Beth looked at her feet, and then at Hayward. Her face was bathed in sunlight. Her eyes were so blue, and Hayward thought that she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
“Yeah, I’m going,” Beth said, shyly looking down again.
“Great!” Hayward exclaimed, “I guess I’ll see you there, then.” He turned and walked away with Joe in tow.
“What the hell was that?” Joe asked.
“What was what?”
“What you just did there.”
“You did something. You looked nuts.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Okay, okay, you didn’t,” Joe said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I didn’t!” Hayward insisted, and then looked over his shoulder. Beth was looking in his direction. He quickly looked down.
“Why won’t you trade with me?” Pete asked.
“Because, I want this one,” Davey replied.
“I really think you should trade with me.”
Pete didn’t understand what was going on; he could normally get Davey to do practically anything. What he wanted now was the topic of the ruffed grouse Davey was assigned for their latest school project. Pete’s father was a hunter and sometimes brought home a ruffed grouse after a hunting trip. If he had the ruffed grouse instead of the squirrel, his father would be eager to help him and they would get to spend time together.
But none of that would happen, though, because of Davey. He glared at him. Davey was oblivious to his anger, intent on drawing a picture on the last page of his notebook—a picture of a ruffed grouse. Pete felt his body temperature rise.
“Are we still going to the junkyard after school?” Davey asked, without looking up from his drawing. Pete said sternly, “Trade projects with me.”
Davey stopped drawing and looked up at him. Pete saw a frightened look on his friend’s face as their eyes locked. Suddenly, Davey’s frightened look turned to one of determination, as if he had just been injected with a syringe of courage.
“No!” Davey snapped.
Pete looked away in frustration, not only because he couldn’t get the topic he wanted, but also because Davey had never stood up to him like that before. Their relationship had just changed. Suddenly he didn’t have Davey under his thumb anymore. Pete felt wounded.
Hayward sat at his table with Joe in their grade five classroom. His mind kept replaying what had happened with Beth. What did she think of it? He wondered. You know what she thought. You looked like an idiot in front of her and Daniel. . . and Joe. Joe was his oldest friend. They had met when they were four years old, and they used to make mud pies in his backyard. He knew Joe was not really concerned with girls yet; his focus was on going to the junkyard after school with Pete and Davey. He still liked hanging out with those guys more than girls. He’s lucky. He just looks forward to the next time he can be with his idols. He’s not thinking about Beth Cooper and what she’s doing now . . . or now . . . or now. He turned to Joe.
“Okay, I guess I looked stupid in front of Beth earlier.”
“I guess you did,” Joe replied.
“Did you see this coming?” Hayward asked, wanting to blame someone else for his problem.
“See what coming?”
“This thing with Beth and Daniel.”
“No?” Hayward’s tone was accusatory.
“Look, if you like Beth, do something about it.”
“What do you suggest I do?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know, either.”
“I think you’re too young to worry about this. Davey and Pete don’t have girlfriends, and they’re a year older than us. What’s your rush with this girl stuff? What is so special about Beth?”
What isn’t special about Beth? “I just have a gut feeling about this,” Hayward replied.
“About this Daniel and Beth thing. I think it’s very bad, and I feel like I need to stop it.”
Joe turned to Hayward and looked him in the eyes. “Look, Hay,” he began. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and this is how I see things. You are making this situation into something it doesn’t have to be. We’re in grade five! We have the rest of this year—and another whole year—before junior high, which will be three full years of girl drama. After that, there’s the soap opera of high school, where everyone dates everyone.”
“How do you know that?”
Hayward nodded in approval.
“Hay, you are way too young to be thinking about this right now. We’re just boys. Yes, we are mature boys, but still boys. Let’s enjoy it.”
Hayward stared at him, amazed at how dead-on Joe’s analysis was. It was the smartest thing he had ever heard Joe say.
“You’re right,” he said to Joe. “You’re totally right. And thank you.”
Joe nodded firmly, ending the conversation now that he’d finally gotten through to his friend. Hayward turned around at his desk, more determined than ever to stop this Beth-and-Daniel relationship— or whatever it was.
Kansas Bradbury was born and raised in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. He graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Commerce and subsequently became a drug store manager. In 2008, he moved from the retail business and began working as a heavy equipment operator in Alberta’s oil sands. He started creative writing as a hobby, composing film scripts and short stories for fun. After receiving encouragement from his family and friends, he wrote The Rushing of the Brook, his first full-length novel. He currently resides in Fort McMurray with his wife Colleen and their two children.
Image: Flickr / mthornton88