The school bus shuddered to a stop.  As Joey stooped to retrieve his books, which he'd stacked in a neat pile, in the snow and ice, on the sidewalk, next to the telephone pole, he felt a pair of strong hands tighten themselves like steel bands around his bony elbows, pinning his arms to his sides.

     "Ow!  Hey, what are you doing?"

     "You're always getting on the bus first," Wayne spoke up behind him.  "Today, you're gonna let some of the other kids have a chance to get on first."

     Wayne held Joey, until the other kids had boarded the bus.  Then he roughly propelled Joey down off the sidewalk.

     "But what about my books?" wailed Joey.  "I can't go to school without my books."

     "Relax, Picks.  Your books are fine right where they are."

     Wayne marched Joey up the steps of the bus and down the tight, narrow aisle.  He shoved Joey into an empty seat, near the rear of the bus, and sat down close beside him.

     The bus driver shifted into first gear.  The ancient bus' exhaust system produced a loud, flatulent sound like a senior citizen passing gas.  Then the bus lurched forward, lumbering in a wide arc to their left, like a great pre-historic beast.  Looking out the window, Joey saw his school book, still lying on the icy sidewalk, next to the telephone pole.  The bus cleared the corner and his books were gone---forever, he thought.

     For the rest of that day, the only thing Joey could think about were his school books.  He had no idea what he was going to do if they weren't there when he got off the bus, later that afternoon.

     Joey knew those books weren't cheap.  On the first day of school, when they were handed out, Mr. McAllister had informed the class that their history books cost thirty-five dollars.  And that was just the price of one book!  God alone knew how much his grammar book cost and his math book, and all his other books.

     Joey figured that the total cost of all his books probably came close to two hundred dollars.  Joey didn't have that kind of money; he didn't even have a job.  And he certainly couldn't ask his parents for the money.  If he even dared to ask them for such a large amount---and to Joey, two hundred dollars seemed like a fortune---then he would have to tell them how he had come to lose his books in the first place.  And he would rather die than have to tell them that.

     Oh, God, he wondered, what am I going to do?

     Joey started to pray.  "Oh, God, please let my books still be there when I get off the bus, this afternoon.  Please let them be there, God.  Please, God, please!"

     He prayed that way for the rest of the day, until he jumped off the bus and saw his books still lying on the sidewalk, as if somehow magically preserved.  The cover of each book was moist and damp, and the pages were stiff and waffled from the cold.  But other than that, his books appeared to be fine.

     "Oh, thank you,  God," he said aloud to the leaden-grey sky.  "Thank you, very much!"

     He scooped his books from the sidewalk, clutching them to his chest like a girl, and ran as fast as he could up the hill, before anyone could even think to try and take them away from him, again.

The End

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