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Foxes and Friends

12/20/01 12:00AM

They had math and a spelling test scheduled before recess, then the holiday party until they were dismissed for vacation at noon. All morning long Jimmy wanted to open the grocery bag to check his drawing one last time, to make sure it would make a good present.

Finally, at recess, he slipped out into the hall, carrying the bag like it held nothing of interest, ready to lie if anyone asked. He ducked into the doorway of the janitor's closet and gently pulled open the tape.

When Jimmy looked at his drawing, panic grabbed him like a fever. He couldn't give this to Jennifer. It suddenly didn't look like her at all. Her head was crooked on her body, and the fox he had drawn was almost as tall as the woods. Jimmy wanted to run out of the building and never come back until after vacation. He wanted to go find his mom at work and hide against her familiar but out-grown warmth and never tell anyone about his drawing.

A door opened across the hall, the teachers' room, and Jimmy stepped quickly back into his classroom, re-sealing the tape as best he could. He knew he had no choice but to stay, because the bus wouldn't leave until noon.

He sat at his desk, cradling the bag in his lap, watching as other people exchanged presents, occasionally sneaking a look at the back of Jennifer's head. There was music playing on a tape deck on Mr. McClure's desk, and finally, when he felt like no one was watching, Jimmy stood up and walked straight to Jennifer's desk. He set the bag in front of her, brown and awkward compared to everyone else's package.

"Merry Christmas," he said. "I got your name."

Jimmy barely heard her "thank you" before he turned and ran back to his desk. "Hey, nice wrapping," he heard somebody say, and Jimmy closed his eyes, wanting to disappear. He folded his arms tightly against his chest, rocking back and forth slowly, almost to the music,

Then the room grew quiet, between songs, as though everybody had stopped to pay attention. Jimmy peeked, and there was a crowd around Jennifer's desk. Jennifer's friend, Melanie, was staring directly at him.

"You drew this?" she asked, and Jimmy nodded once from where he sat.

"Awesome."

A new song started and Mr. McClure came over to look, too. Jimmy watched and couldn't watch as Jennifer handed her drawing from person to person, showing it off. Jimmy opened his desk and began rummaging through it, pretending to look for something. He heard Jennifer laugh and point at her picture. "See, that's my dog."

"Nice job, Jimmy," said Mr. McClure, stopping to touch his shoulder as he walked past. "Excellent."

Jimmy squirmed and tried to hide deeper inside his desk. When he finally closed the lid, Jennifer was standing beside him.

"Thanks," she said, holding out the drawing like he was the only one who hadn't seen
it. "It's me, isn't it?"

"Yeah," said Jimmiy, eyes darting, in case anyone was watching.

"And Willie, right?" said Jennifer.

Jimmy nodded. "Yeah. Them ears." He wanted to ask her if she recognized the place. He wanted to hear every detail of what she liked and what she noticed; he wanted to talk for as long as it had taken him to draw it, but he was afraid to ask too much.

"Hey, you didn't sign it," she said. "You should sign it, in case you're famous someday."

Jimmy laughed, a quick burst of relief, then grabbed a sharp pencil from inside his desk.

"J. Bickford," he printed in neat letters in the bottorn right corner, just beneath the fox.

"Merry Christmas," he said again, handing the drawing back to Jennifer and looking all the way up until he met her eyes.

-- Mac Parker is a writer and storyteller who grew up in the Northeast Kingdom. He now lives in Addison County.
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