Playing for love, for glory and for all of the marbles [Part IV]

Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a short story that has been appearing and will appear in coming weeks.

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Then I was asked again to display my marble and I blushed at the repeated chorus of oohs and aahs it received. For a moment, I was a hero. But inside, all I wanted to do was go somewhere and hide.

Over the next few days, I played several more games. I was still winning, but I still missed often enough to keep the games interesting.

I was still bewildered with all of the attention I was getting. Students I barely knew would walk with me in the hall or want to sit by me at lunch. When I played, there was always a crowd around watching.

In class, I felt that everyone was looking at me. I felt that I had to study harder so I would be prepared when the teacher called on me. It seemed as if everyone was looking up to me now, and I was afraid to do something to let them down.

It seemed that when the students surrounded me, I would see Ann standing near the back, an odd look on her face that I was unable to decipher. I almost spoke to her a couple of times, but because I still felt the shame of trying to cheat her, I would just turn away.

Then one day when the class was at recess, I was sitting under a tree watching a group play kickball. I felt someone sit down beside me, and before I could turn, I heard a soft, feminine voice say, "Hi." I turned to see Ann.

She appeared as nervous as I felt. "Hi," was the only reply I could muster.

We sat quietly for a few minutes. I was desperately searching for something to say, but right then my mind was as empty as a rusted bucket.

It was Ann who broke the silence. "I watched you play marbles," she said. "I never saw anyone play like that."

As unaccustomed as I was to any kind of praise, I blushed at the compliment.

"Thanks," I said, feeling stupid. I wanted to say more, to apologize, to do anything but sit there like a tongue-tied dummy.

"That's really some marble," she said. "Would you let me see it?"

I finally relaxed. Realizing it was my marble, not me she was interested in gave me something to talk about.

"Sure," I answered. Then taking my bulls-eye out of my pocket, I held it in my hand.

As I held it there, I was shocked to see her reach out and pick it up. My first instinct was to pull my hand away, but for some reason I sat there frozen as her fingers lifted the marble from my hand.

Taking the marble in both hands, she rolled it between her fingers, rubbing the smooth surface. For a moment, I was jealous of that marble. I found myself wishing it were me she was holding.

Until that very moment, I had never had much use for girls. They were fun to tease and sometimes they could get mad and chase me. That was OK, too, except that I had no ides what I was supposed to do if they caught me.

Even my sisters were a mystery. Sometimes I would do things with my sister, Frances, who was two years older than me, but I never felt she was someone I could talk to or share things with. She was too bossy and I always felt I would get into trouble if I did something she didn't like. Girls! Phooey! A guy was better off without them.

But here was Ann, just a girl in my class that I barely knew, and sitting there beside her and sharing my marble felt strangely wonderful. I wanted this moment to last forever. I wanted to share everything I had with her.

Slowly, she handed the marble back.

"That's the most beautiful marble I've ever seen," she said.

My hand tingled at the touch of her fingers as she set the marble in my palm. Then the teacher began signaling the end of recess, and I was filled with a sense of emptiness as Ann stood and walked away.

As I stood up, I saw Fred leaning against a tree not far away. I had not noticed him and I wondered how long he had been watching us. There was something very odd about Fred. He was a little taller than me, with thick, unruly brown hair and a face full of freckles.

The only game I had ever seen him play was marbles. Someone told me he had moved to town after his father was killed in some war called Korea.

To be continued ...