I took a deep breath. I'm going to do this, I told myself. There's nothing to be afraid of, really.

I had just resolved to go over to Bryce's house to thank him for planting the sycamore tree. I wasn't quite ready to try and be good friends with him yet. But at least we could talk, like we never really have done.

I took another deep breath. I had a sudden urge to run into my bedroom and stay there. But I knew I couldn't.

I opened the front door and stepped out onto the front path. I looked at my newly planted sycamore tree. It was little now, but I could hardly wait until it was all grown up. I admired it for a bit more, and then kept walking. I went across the street, and then, hesitantly, stepped onto Bryce's porch. I raised one hand slowly and uncertainly, and rang the doorbell. I listened to the doorbell ring inside the house. Then, the door flew open so fast I jumped backward.

"Oh…H- Hi, Juli." It was Bryce. We both clammed up at the same instant.

"Um, thanks for the sycamore tree you, uh, planted in my yard. It's going to grow up to be a really nice tree," I stammered.

"Sure, no problem." We just stood there, staring at each other in an uncomfortable silence. Then, Mrs. Loski happened to pass the front door with a pile of folded laundry in her hands.

"Oh, Juli! Hi. We weren't really…expecting you here," Mrs. Loski said, looking surprised. "Why don't you come in?"

"Sure, thanks, Mrs. Loski," I said as I stepped over the threshold.

"Show her around, will you, Bryce?" said Mrs. Loski, who was walking away. "I've got to put away all this laundry."

"Do you need some help?" I asked.

"No, dear, you're a guest. Bryce'll just show you around," she said as she left.

Silence. Both of us stared at the ground. Then Bryce said, "Um… So why don't I show you around?"

"Sure," I said, and he led the way.

He led me into the entry hall, the front room, the dining room, and the kitchen, where I've been before, of course, at the time that we went over for dinner. Then, Bryce took me into the hall where the bedrooms and the bathroom was. He showed me his parents' room, the bathroom, and Lynetta's room. Finally, we stopped at his room.

"Wanna come in?" he asked shyly.

"OK, I guess." I wasn't entirely sure that was appropriate, walking into a boy's bedroom, but I did so anyway.

His bedroom was regular, with a bed, a closet, and a desk. There was nothing special about it. However, I wanted to be nice, so I said, "Nice bedroom."


Another uncomfortable silence. Then he surprised me by saying, "Look, Juli, I wanted to apologize for… You know. Trying to do the thing in front of everybody."

That was pretty awkward. "That's okay."

"I planted the sycamore because I wanted to, like, I don't know, show you that I do care, I guess," he said, his cheeks turning scarlet.

"To try to get me to talk to you?" I guessed with a half smile on my face.

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Well, that worked. Here I am, talking to you," I said, trying not to show the fact that I was very uncomfortable.

He laughed. "Yeah, that worked. You're talking."

I took a deep breath. "It occurred to me that we've never actually talked, all these years we've been neighbors."

"Yeah, I realized that too," he said, looking at the ground. Then, suddenly, he stood up straight and tall, put a hand on an imaginary hat on top of his head, took the "hat" off, and sank into a deep bow. Then, he put the "hat" back on, extended a hand, and said sort-of sarcastically, "Would you like to start now, Lady Julianna?"
I burst into laughter. So did he, after bowing again. "Yes, I do not see why not, Sir Bryce," I said once my laughter subsided.

"Let us start now," he said formally. "Would you like to stroll about in our delightful backyard?"

"Yes, that would be wonderful," I said, emphasizing "wonderful" with fake emotion.

And so we went out the back door, and sat down on the porch. Through this silly conversation, I learned a lot about Bryce, and he learned a lot about me. Okay, it wasn't a lot, but still, it was something. I learned that his parents were fighting almost daily, and that afterwards there was always a "warzone," as he calls them. He learned from me the origin of the name "Mystery Pisser." It was funny and sad, having to tell him the story but without Champ next to me.

When it was dinnertime, Mrs. Loski found us talking on the back porch, and said, "I hate to interrupt, but it's dinnertime. Why don't you stay for dinner, Juli? Then I won't be interrupting anyone."

"Thanks, but I have to go home for dinner," I declined with a slight smile. "Thanks for having me over."

"Thank you for coming over," she said, and then the three of us went inside. Bryce walked me to his front door. Then, I opened the door.

"Thanks for talking with me today," he said.

"You're welcome. It was a lot of fun," I said.

"'Bye," he said,

"See you," I said.

As I stepped through the front door, I felt like I knew a whole lot more about Bryce Loski than I had learned during all the six years I've lived across from him.